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Eulogy for Marvin Spafford (12/10/2021)

12 Dec

Thank you for coming out today to help us honor the memory of our dad, Marvin John Spafford.

I want to start by quoting my dad’s favorite President, Bill Clinton (Long Pause). I’m just kidding. That’s not his favorite president at all. We didn’t agree on politics. I told him a couple years ago if he ever passed away before me, I was going to start with that. He laughed. His favorite president was Harry S Truman. I don’t know if this is because of his policies or the fact that he won a 12 pack of beer from the bet he placed with a friend. And it even felt better after he found out that Dewey didn’t actually win. Truman said, “There’s nothing new in the world, except history you do not know.” To this end our dad strived to read as much about history and historical figures as he could. One of those historical figures was Winston Churchill. He read all 5 books of his biography and pored over every word and speech. A quote from Churchill’s biography that my dad pointed out to me and resonated with him was, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, it’s also what it takes to sit down and listen.” Another quote from Churchill which my dad enjoyed was, “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” My dad spent a lifetime of looking at results. No, he wasn’t a scientist. He was a farmer, father, husband, brother, son and friend.

Over the years, my dad kept many diaries or journals or calendars where he marked important facts. Yes facts. There were no pages filled with his feelings on a certain thing – but instead when it happened, how much it cost or how much it rained. Numbers remained important to my dad throughout his life. Passing along information about family – past and present – was also important. When his sister, our Aunt Juanita, got involved in genealogy and found out that the Spaffords had a castle in England – the Spofforth Castle – he was very intrigued. He remained intrigued even when he found out that it was mostly in ruins. He needed to know everything about each generation. There are 10. 10 generations, that is, from the first recorded Spafford to my dad’s father Joseph.

Connie & Marvin Spafford by the Chippewa River

After high school, my dad worked on the farm for his dad. He worked for a percentage of the profits. He did this for about 5 years until he was drafted. In those five years he saved money and bought 100 feet of lake frontage on Moens Lake. His dad thought he was crazy. It cost as much as a 40. He could swim anywhere for free, why did he need a private beach. Before joining the army in 1953, he loaned the Ford Garage $10,000. Shortly after returning from the army his father died. He and my uncle David took over the farm. When uncle David was drafted, he was left alone to run the farm. His older cousin Chet would come over once a week in an International utility truck that my brother Matt recently had restored – there’s a picture of it on the back of the program today. Chet came over weekly to counsel my dad and answer questions about farming. It was also during this time that my dad had doubts about whether he wanted to spend his life farming. He got through it, and soon Uncle David was back to help, but he still wasn’t sure. He started to take a correspondence course to be an accountant. That’s when he met Connie Croker from Eagle River. Connie’s father was also a potato farmer. Apparently, 60 years ago in these parts, if you threw a potato in any direction, you were bound to hit another potato farmer. My dad used his interest in accounting and did the math and asked Connie to marry him. She turned him down originally and my dad felt like he had dodged a bullet. A week later she asked if the offer was still available. It was. My mom and dad were married in 1960 and remained married until my mom’s passing a couple of years ago.   59.    They were together 59 years. By the way, the Ford Garage repaid him with interest. $13,500. They got a washing machine and a car and saved the rest for the bad years ahead in farming.

My mom helped on the farm seasonally. There are long hours and the kind of labor that most occupations can escape. It can be a hard life, but it can be rewarding. I asked my dad once if he ever regretted not becoming an accountant. He was quick to say he didn’t regret a thing. I asked him if he had wanted me to follow in his footsteps on the farm. He was even quicker to respond with a solid no. He wanted us to get a job where we weren’t worried about if it was going to rain enough, too much or freeze too early. A few years ago, I saw a documentary about farming. They pointed out that in farming you only get so many chances to get it right – most of the time 1 crop per year. They farmed from 1956 to 1991. They had 36 chances. The number is 36.

Many kids have heroes from old movies or comic books. One of my heroes was Spider Man. And what kid didn’t run a garden hose up his shirt and out his sleeve to mimic spraying a spider web. I also had heroes that others didn’t have. My dad built a sandbox for us, and I have fond memories of Matt, Justin and me playing in the sandbox for hours on end with our toy tractors and equipment. Being the oldest, I always played my dad. Matt played Uncle David and Justin played Daryl Cornell. Justin was pretty small, so I don’t really know if he knew he was playing Daryl Cornell. Our heroes were just a stone’s throw away out in the field, and we went through the motions and did the work in the sandbox. Those heroes weren’t wearing capes, just Dickie’s brand work pants and shirts. Three heroes in the field. The number is 3.

We had a cottage on Moen’s Lake – which Bruce Carlson, our funeral director, knows well, having owned it himself for almost 30 years. Standing at the back pier that drooped over the Gudegast Creek – a pier I watched my dad install with steel pipes and concrete, to inadvertently make Bruce’s life hell later while trying to remove it – by that creek, my dad told me that if we paddled down the Gudegast creek and into Moens Lake, to Second Lake, to Third Lake, to North Pelican Lakes, then Fourth Lake, into Fifth Lake, into Fish Lake, then down the Pelican River to the Wisconsin River, The Wisconsin River would take you to the Mississippi River and the Mississippi River could take you to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. I never forgot this. It all seemed so close and connected. Years later my wife Cynthia and I quit our jobs, bought a houseboat, and went down the Mississippi River. My mom and dad came with us for 5 days, starting in Prairie du Chien and ending in Burlington, IA. They loved it. My dad was thrilled to be traveling down the Mississippi River. The next summer he got his cousin Ed and wife Jessie to put their speed boat in the Mississippi. Ed never thought of doing such a thing. My dad proudly told me how much fun they had going through a couple locks – going to Burlington, IA for lunch and coming back the same day. Giving him the experience to make that trip on his own was only a fraction of the debt I owed him for showing me what was possible and how connected we are to everything. The numbers are 4 rivers, 7 lakes and 1 gulf.

Marvin & Connie Spafford on Houseboat Trip on Mississippi River with Jason Spafford & Cynthia Berger

There were also times when I annoyed my dad – you know, like any kid – just worse. You see, as I mentioned, I learned to work hard from watching my dad. But I was, probably am, the laziest Spafford on record. People in the outside world think I’m a hard worker and I just think, man you should see the rest of them go. I came home from college for Christmas break. My dad wanted me to help load a semi and I needed the money. When I got to the warehouse, I realized it was to be loaded with 50-pound bags and this was done by hand. There may have been a conveyor involved. All I know is that it was one bag after another going into that 53-foot trailer. I was 19 and my dad was probably 55. With half the truck loaded, I was dying. I tried to convince my dad that we should take a break. I told him I was worried about him, and his face was red and he was 55 and I was afraid he would have a heart attack. Suddenly, he stopped, but only briefly – just long enough to tell me his face was red because he’s working and that’s the kind of thing that might happen if you work. I gave up on my complaining and my face got red – more from embarrassment from not being able to keep up with a 55-year-old.     Oh, and …. 860 50-pound bags of potatoes on that 53’ trailer.

One summer in high school, my friend Len Frederickson and I had my dad’s boat and its large old motor at the afore mentioned cottage on the lake. My dad had come down with his truck to pull the boat back. Len and I took my car and got back to the house. We were eating lunch before my dad got back. My dad drove in with no boat behind the truck.  He came in and calmly got some carrots from the plate on the table. I asked him where the boat was. He said, the trailer came off the truck and rolled into the ditch. He asked if we could come and help get it. I calmly said, “sure” and got up from the table. Len and I got in my car, and we followed my dad in his truck. Len seemed in shock and was confused. He asked what just happened and if my dad was joking. Why was he not really upset? He said his dad would have been furious. I think it was a combination of who my dad was and also being tempered by farm life, where you’ve watched your potatoes floating in lakes of rainwater, hail stripping all the leaves off your plants, or you’ve raced to sort a rotten pocket in the warehouse that won’t stop spreading – a boat tipping over – on land – is not that bad.  We retrieved one 25 horsepower Evinrude weighing 115 pounds and the StarCraft boat. We lost 5 gallons of gas/oil mixed 50:1.

I have other memories as well. Doing donuts in the 1976 GMC four door pick-up with the entire family in the vehicle was a thrill – even with the high-pitched half laugh half scream of my mom wailing MARRRRVINNNNNNNNNN! I also remember the sound my dad’s seat belt made as he cut it out of the car, because it was in his way. We eventually got him to wear a seatbelt. I heard how he quit smoking in 1970 when he first heard cigarettes could cause cancer. He had been smoking since 1947 and stopped cold turkey. At a half a pack a day, that’s 83,950 cigarettes.

God and faith were very important to my dad, but he very seldom went to church – only if it was required of him. My mom was raised Catholic, and we went to church when she could wrangle us out the door. When my dad went to church, he never dipped his fingers in the holy water at the entrance. He said he didn’t know where people’s hands had been. Turns out, he was ahead of his time on that thinking. He also said that the Lord took the seventh day off and he was sure the Lord would understand him doing the same. I never knew until much later that my dad began saying a prayer at the age of 10 and said that same prayer every night for the rest of his life. Some will argue that that’s not enough work when it comes to salvation and such. I would say that the real work is being good, honest, kind and leading a life that inspires others to do the same. And that’s what he did. By the way, I know you need to know. That was 29,930 prayers. I also know that those keeping track noticed that he had more cigarettes than prayers. But these were powerful prayers and those were cheap sinful cigarettes.

Grandpa Marv with Hoyt, Iris, Lila Spafford – Thanksgiving 2021
One of dad’s last journal entries

Upon retiring, my dad got his realtor’s license and worked for a builder near Madison before my mom and dad moved back up north to Eagle River. He designed and began building his house – by himself – on his 70th birthday. This would be the house where they lived for the next 20 years. For the past forty plus years my dad was a member of the Shriners. He was very proud of raising money for the Shriner’s Children’s Hospital, where we’ll be sending a donation in his name. Finally, he worked with Matt as a freight broker before deciding he wanted to focus more time on mowing his lawn and woodworking projects for family and friends. This past Thanksgiving my dad sat in his chair at his house that is now Justin’s and was surrounded by family. After the meal he went to his chair and in his journal, he drew a diagram of the table and labeled where everyone was sitting – to better remember the meal. Come to think of it, maybe there were feelings mixed in with all those facts. You just had to read between the lines, like in life.

Regarding Churchill’s quote, I don’t know what my dad’s strategy was, but today we are looking at the results of a life lived well. Although myself, Matt, Justin and Nicolle are different people, I know we inherited a lot of my dad’s traits. It was very important to him, and my mom, that we be independent people. I know he was very proud of all of us. I know that because he made sure to take the time to tell us that. I know that he loved his grandchildren very much and that he was proud of Brianna, Lydia, Lila, Hoyt and Iris. I know that because he showed that to them whenever he saw them. Finally, I know that he loved our mom very much and will be happy to be with her again. The number is 2 – together. And there are no more numbers. We’ll move forward with the memories of those numbers and make our own numbers and we can only hope that we have the courage to stand up and speak and sit down and listen.

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The Social Media Legacy

07 Oct

Alex Crenev has a social media legacy problem. He has no one to look after his social media in the instance should he become incapacitated or experience the unfortunate path of death. He has no one to whom he can turn over his many creative and strong passwords. He has no one to properly label and weed through his numerous selfies. Alex is on the high side of 28 and has only known forms of social media for communication. He did write several letters when younger, prompted by his parents, to respond to a birthday card laced with money from an aunt.

Alex has a twitter account for work and one for personal use. He’s concerned about his work Twitter and LinkedIn accounts after his demise. He feels pretty good about all the important work related articles he’s shared with others. For not being a celebrity he also has a fairly high followers to following ratio (Fers/Fing Ratio). In the twitter sphere many people trade. You follow me and I’ll follow you. Those not dubbed celebrity need to produce the kind of meaningful content that others deem valuable enough to follow. Alex worked hard on providing this kind of content and he acquired far more followers than he is following. It’s a shame to give up this achievement just because of a silly thing like death. But what is the alternative?

A handful of years ago, a company called SM Legacy was formed by technologist Edward Tress. The “SM” in the title stands for “Social Media”. Edward set up an organization that was well-funded, allowing it to plot a plan forward several generations. This was necessary if Mr. Tress was to create the kind of company to provide the most forward thinking social media services.

Mr. Crenev was one of SM Legacy’s earliest customers. Fortunately, Alex was a trust fund kid, because the expense to manage one’s social media for several generations forward can be cost prohibitive. Trust fund kids are quite simply the best people. In many cases, that last statement can be modified to read best consumers. With many advantages, the weight of the little things can be hoisted off the shoulders of the young dilettantes. Sometimes this can translate into much free time to prattle on about the finer things in life, like how to cure meats, the best cigar humidor and complaining about improper levels of service. Other trust funders will focus on community and public service because they realize they’ve been afforded a great opportunity. Alex Crane fell somewhere in between. He felt that the preservation of his legacy was itself a form of public service.

After leaving college, supply chain management and logistics became a passion of Alex’s, quickly followed by expertise. He wanted to know as much as possible.  Supply chain is big business in these days of “Just in Time” delivery in order to keep one’s inventory as low as possible. Supply chain has become one of the last places for companies to shave costs and become more efficient.

He paid a small amount of money and received his Six Sigma Black Belt certification, skipping right over his brown belt certification, so he could speak in the language of the practitioners of Six Sigma. He learned agile development methodology so he could understand the processes that were created to force flexibility and creativity onto traditionally uncreative and inflexible people – allowing for the rigid to have a set of rigid principles to follow, forcing them to be flexible. And, just to be well-rounded, he also learned several selling techniques, including the popular Action Selling – breaking down the “act of the sale” into a painfully intuitive 9 step process. He found that the people loved the steps.

On a regular basis, Alex pulled information together to write somewhat thoughtful musings on how enumerated steps and top 5 or top 8 this or that impacted his industry.  He learned quickly that people generally liked or shared top 5 more than top 8 just because there were 3 less to read and everybody is very busy. He regularly posted these as well as re-posting via Twitter, LinkedIn and other business social networks. His followers (Fers) numbers slowly crept up to the point of corporate respectability. As he gained Fers numbers he shed his following (Fing) numbers and began to look quite important and knowledgeable with all those Fers.

On the personal side Alex, had rolled up quite a number of connections on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even Snapchat, for a man of some 28 years. “Likes” flowed over his selfies, posts and re-posts like a chocolate fountain over strawberries – thick, delicious and indulgent. What would happen, he thought, if something happened – to him?

Alex Crenev’s first thought was that he needed to find and marry a person and procreate, so as to create a professional adult who could manage his social media when he could no longer do so. He quickly found a woman through a fellow trust funder named Kevin. Her name was Lizzie.  Alex was drawn to her gymnasium looks and she to his Range Rover and watch. Their selfies together looked fantastic from every angle. This was truly a match made by Kevin.

While Alex and Lizzie worked on creating a baby, Alex continued to post and repost. This added a new dimension to his personal posting. He found that images containing Lizzie increased his likes, by what appeared upon first calculation, some 63%. Alex made a joke to Lizzie that seemed like it wasn’t a joke at all.

“My likes increased by 63% when you were added to my images. I hope you don’t take over my Facebook page.”

The statement seemed odd, but Lizzie only smiled as those in love sometimes do.

One day while scanning for content to repost professionally, he came across an article by Edward Tress talking about his company and the algorithm behind the long-term success of what he was building. The article was much longer than he was used to reading. It seemed to go on for paragraph after paragraph and he was trying not to think about all the tidbits of information he could pick up elsewhere in the time spent reading what seemed like an unnecessarily long article of some 3700 contiguous words.

Mr. Tress didn’t get too much into the details of the pricing for SM Legacy’s services in the article, but Alex’s attention was peaked. Oddly, he decided not to repost or tweet this article. He felt this article was something that would give him an eventual edge and it shouldn’t be shared.

Several months pass, and find Lizzie with a baby blooming in her belly like an onion – not cut open, battered and deep-fried, but instead, a human form with layers and layers of complexities – that will be subject to smelling at times. Alex is overjoyed to have an heir, but first things first. He needs to jet to California to meet with Edward Tress and discuss his legacy. He thinks maybe he should wait until after the baby is born, but he’s torn.

The room is sterile and institutional. The fluorescent lights manage a cool bluish grip on all eyes entering the hall. A mail cart scoots unevenly down the hallway with one of its four wheels barely touching the reflectively clean tile, being pushed by a man in a lab coat displaying a short manicured beard that is most likely curated by the love of his life. Alex enters the hallway and walks towards the man who is now standing by a reception desk.

“I’m here, I’m here,” Alex sounds frustrated and a bit anxious. “I’m here to see….”

“Yes, I know. They’re in the OR room. I’ll take you there,” says the mouth in the man’s curated beard.

Alex follows the man down the hall, all the while thinking how much work it must be to continually control one’s facial hair. Then he wonders how he can turn a beard analogy into a post that would address something in a company’s supply chain. The face in this scenario could be likened to a warehouse and the hair could be akin to inventory. It seems to write itself.

The man stops his cart and points to the door that has only the letters O and R on it.

“I can just go in?” Alex quizzes.

“Yes. They’re waiting for you,” and he slowly wheels away.

Alex enters the room and first sees banks of mechanized flashing red and green lights. Upon closer inspection it looks like a large server room and he can hear the low, slow machine hum, thick like a milkshake blanketing the cool room. A second later he sees a man and woman in the corner of the room at a desk. They stand to greet him.

“Mr. Crenev?” says the man.  Alex nods in the affirmative. “This is Eleanor, and I’m Edward Tress.”

They shake hands and Edward ushers him to a small conference room just off the main OR room. The conference room is a warmer setting and contains a white board and many elements one would find in a conference room. Table, chairs and cups for coffee. They take a seat at the table.

“Eleanor is one of our engineers and I wanted to have her here to explain some of the basics of the technology and answer any questions,” said Edward.

Alex, sitting up straight, asks, “Ok, first off why is the room out there called ‘OR?’”

“I can explain that,” says Eleanor. “OR refers to the core of what supports Mr. Tress’ algorithm. There is something in logic called an OR Gate. You see, it’s a connective in logic which yields true if any one of a sequence conditions is true, and false if all conditions are false. A product of ORs is called a disjunction. This room creates disjunctions and they are denoted in something called truth tables. We feed all our clients’ social media data through this system creating truth tables from social media data to drive what we call resiliency.

There is a pause as Alex is taking this information in and not understanding a word of it, then Edward continues.

“Resiliency refers to improvements. Over time we bolster and improve the client’s social media based on the incoming data of past social media occurrences.”

“So after I die you can continue to “bolster” my social media?” asks Alex.

“Yes. Using machine AI we are able to read through your content, and those that you interact with, and begin building new content and reposting new content based on machine learning with the OR Gate logic at its base.  In effect, we push you further than you can go by yourself. We also create a hologram of you that can be used in speaking engagements in the future. You can now understand why we needed financial information before we continued this discussion,” Edward said.

Eleanor adds, “After the client’s death and over time – looking forward a couple of generations or more – all the content created can also be monetized. Your heirs can be awarded the rights to ad dollars and you can put a percentage back into the process, so our team can keep your social media profile optimized. Spending more money in the future will short your ad revenue to loved ones, but push your profile higher, eventually causing more ad dollars a couple of generations out. You can compare that scenario to investing.”

“If you move forward you’ll be here for a month while we gather all the data we need from you to create a realistic hologram that allows for voice dubbing coordination. We could start as early as three months from now.”

“My wife is pregnant with our son and due then.  Does the following month work?”

“That month was a cancellation. Our next open slot is in 18 months. ”

“Let me talk to my wife first.”

“Alex, I will only add that the harder you work to create valuable content before your death, the easier it will be for the algorithm to be more successful. You’ll have to decide, regarding your legacy, if there will be a professional or personal focus. Both can rise, but it’s up to you if there is a preference for how you want to be remembered and perpetuated.”

“I understand,” said Alex.

Alex is in his home office and surrounded by the things that interest him. Items like books and games that he’s collected over the years and has continued to learn about. He’s become a 28-year-old sage with regards to obscure games from India and has created a small following with his posts discussing the differences between Shooting Ball and Volley Ball.

Lizzie enters the office and moves stacks of papers off the small couch in the room. She appears relatively small for being over six months pregnant. She sits her small frame plus one onto the cleared space of the couch. She watches Alex for a short time. He doesn’t seem to notice that she is there. This weighs on the corners of her mouth and eyes.

“What did you want to talk with me about?” Lizzie starts.

“Remember how we talked about making a great future for our son? Well, I have that chance but I have to go away for a month. It would have to be during the month that you’re due.

“That won’t work.”

“I’m sorry, but it’s the only way. I don’t like it either.”

“Who will help me name the baby?”

“We can do that ahead of time.”

“I’d like to name him Alex, Jr., that way at least I can have one Alex around.”

“Well, we can’t name him after me. That would add a level of confusion to the SM Legacy algorithms trying to discern what Alex, Jr. said versus what I said – once he’s old enough to use social media.”

“I see.” Lizzie says before getting up and exiting the office.

Alex looks troubled for a moment but immediately goes back to finishing his current post.

Three months later Alex is in California at SM Legacy’s office. He’s sitting in a library and reading lists of words out loud into a microphone in order to create a vocabulary library for the future hologram of himself. Eleanor is sitting across the table from him and taking notes. He finishes and leaves the room to take a break.

In the hall, he sees a text from his wife saying she has had the baby along with a picture of the baby. He gives her a call immediately and Lizzie answers from her hospital bed.

“I got the text and saw the picture. How are you and Everett doing?”

“There was a change of plan. He is now Alex, Jr.”

“What? That can’t happen. Why did you do that? I thought we agreed on Everett for the name?

“Nope.  Alex, Jr. I’ve got his Facebook and Instagram accounts already set up and there are already pictures of him up there. You would not believe the number of likes he’s getting. Like father, like son I suppose.”

“That’s great. Ok. I was on a break here and its ending. I’ll talk to you soon.“  Alex hangs up abruptly.

Alex enters the room with Eleanor to continue reading the words. Before he begins again, he tells her that he needs to have them up the percentage of ad revenue that goes back to the company so as to make his profiles stronger in the future.

He realizes that he hadn’t noticed earlier how attractive Eleanor is. He thinks about showing her his watch. Talking about it as a piece of art has worked for him with women in the past. But he decides that bringing another person into his world is not worth the risk of damaging his social media profile.

That evening in California, Alex tries to write something that he hopes will eventually soften Lizzie so as to persuade her to change the name of their son. But as he writes, their struggle turns into another analogy about the supply chain industry. He does mention her real name and his son’s name – as Alex, Jr. Throughout the next couple days he notices that via his professional networks this article is getting the most reads of anything he’s ever written – once again, with Lizzie’s and Alex, Jr.’s pictures, over 60% more than his previous best.

Before he leaves California he replaces Lizzie with his son to be his sole heir. For a moment he thinks about his son’s future and he hopes the best for him in the way one might dream about how helpful a new inventory analytics tool will be to the future of an organization.  Once you input all the correct data, it will take on a life of its own and correct all the mistakes of previous generations.

Lizzie is sitting at a kitchen table typing on a lap top. Next to the computer on the table is a key chain that looks like the state of Florida. She’s posting on Facebook as Alex, Jr. Her post is from Alex, Jr.’s point of view.

It reads, “Went to the store today just in time. I needed a supply of diapers. I got a fancy key chain for my mom.”

Lizzie gets up and walks out of the kitchen and into a bedroom where a 2-year-old Alex, Jr. is lying asleep in his bed. She takes a picture and adds it to the post. The phone rings and Lizzie smiles towards Alex, Jr. and slowly moves to pick up her phone, seeing that its Alex calling.

“Hello, Alex. I don’t think you’re supposed to be calling me.”

“Listen, I spent half my trust fund with SM Legacy and you’re not going to get the other half of it,” Alex says while walking down a very busy sidewalk with the sounds of the city almost drowning him out.

“The lawyers think otherwise and say we should have everything wrapped up within a month, so you can get back to your posting.”

“Not going to happen! And I saw Alex, Jr.’s Facebook and Instagram pages. I see what you’re doing. You’ve copied articles of mine and you’re using key words from my posts. I see what you’re trying to do,” Alex yells as he approaches a crosswalk.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You make me so angry. I’m calling my lawyer as soon as I get off the phone, “ and he hangs up.

Alex immediately looks at his phone and starts checking his social media, as he briskly pushes through the people waiting at the crosswalk and quickly walks into a street now crowded with moving traffic. As luck would not have it, Alex stepped immediately in the front of a city bus while staring at his phone and died instantaneously. He would not be calling his lawyer and their divorce proceedings would be over in a much sooner fashion than the aforementioned month.

The next morning in Lizzie’s kitchen the sun enters through the window in an organized single file procession and lands on the table, illuminating her closed lap top. Lizzie enters the kitchen on the phone. She’s just woken and in her pajamas. Her words come in intervals that allow time for someone on the other end of the phone to give information.

“What? When? I see. I’ll talk to him. I’m so sorry. Ok. Goodbye.”

Lizzie picks up her cup of coffee, walks to her table and opens the lap top, pulling it out of the sunlight and ending its light landing pad status. She logs into Alex, Jr.’s Facebook account. She calmly goes into the settings and changes his name to eliminate the “Jr.” so his name now reads only as “Alex.” She saves the change and slowly closes the lap top and sips her coffee.

In California, upon hearing of Mr. Crenev’s untimely death, the SM Legacy team turns the Crenev account to “automation mode”. This is where searching of previous content and creating new content begins. The OR Gate algorithm is set to do its work.

As Lizzie and Alex, Jr. sleep, robots and spiders and web crawlers made their way across the internet collecting data about Alex Crenev. During this collection, they come across Alex Jr.’s Facebook page that is now listed as “Alex” and latch onto the words “just in time,” “supply,” and “chain” from the post Lizzie wrote a few days earlier. They also come across copies of the father’s posts on Alex’s Facebook page.

Within a few weeks of gathering data from both sources something occurs, which was not caught by the SM Legacy team. At 3:22 am on a Tuesday there is a glitch that allows the OR Gate to make Alex’s son Alex the client. Alex’s son Alex has an average of 60% higher ratings on the truth table. It will now only be a matter of time before this change is propagated across the network. Going forward the original Alex Crenev will not be credited for any of his posts, but it will still be an Alex Crenev.

Generations from now will only know the current Alex for what are sure to be some captivating machine learned postings on the subject of Supply Chain Management. His Fers/Fing ratio will be celebrity like. He will be a public speaker backed by a hologram, for generations to come, that will adapt itself to his look – a look that will not be that dissimilar from his father’s.  A father that he will never know. A father that the world will never know anything about.


ATVs and Rock Picking in Eagle River, WI

16 Jul

I love to vacation in Eagle River, WI. I never considered myself a guy who would get into ATVing, but that all changed this summer. However, I came to ATVing in a less conventional way.

As a child I spent a lot of time in Eagle River not even knowing anything about the full on vacationing going on there. We lived thirty miles away, on a potato farm outside of Rhinelander, and came up many Sundays to visit my grandparents, Bob, Sr. and Caroline Croker on their farm – Maple Ridge Farm on Croker Road.

In the 1970s, I didn’t even realize that there were lakes only a few miles from the farm that could be used for swimming, and reportedly also boating or fishing. I have great memories of coming to Eagle River, but most are of visiting with my grandparents and relatives. My grandfather was a great storyteller. I heard stories about old timers with names like “Happy” and “Barefoot Charlie”. It seemed like he was always only one name away from a list of Snow White’s BFFs.

There was no swimming or boating – only haying and stories. My dad always put on his Sunday best to get out of any haying work. He picked up this gentleman farmer routine after throwing his back out years earlier while haying, only to have to work on his own farm the following Monday. His pristine white 1970s slacks assured that there would be no weekend slinging of hay bales.

As kids, my brother and I would help with haying occasionally, but it was the rock picking that we loathed. Yes, rock picking. Every farm kid knows it. While “vacationing” at my grandparents, a couple of days were spent following my grandfather and a Bobcat bucket around the field picking rocks. The following year the rocks seemed to reappear. I suspected my grandfather of spreading them around the field the week before we arrived. He seemed to know where they all were.

Until this summer, I could safely say that I enjoy every form of recreation over rock picking – save for one. I have never had an interest in ATVs and the like and would rather be on a hot dry field picking rocks eternally, rather than fill my lungs with the thrill of trail dust.

Almost 20 years ago my parents moved to Eagle River and now live right next to Maple Ridge Farm. My wife and I and three kids make the 5 hour journey from Minneapolis as much as possible. And now, with no rock picking field work, I have more time to explore the Eagle River area in a way that I didn’t know as a kid.

Only a few years ago we began taking advantage of the public beaches in the area. One such beach is on a little lake only a few miles from my parents. We normally take Croker Rd, past my parents’ house, to the end where it becomes a dirt road. To the left is Deer Lake Road.  The difference from the 1970s and even a few years ago is that Deer Lake Road is now a road / ATV trail.

Deer Lake Road was our path to an afternoon of swimming at the lake. We were packed into our minivan – the kids, my wife and I and my sister and her daughter – all seats occupied. As we headed down the road I was grumbling to my sister about the condition of the road. It seemed like it was becoming more trail than road and the minivan suspension was not built for this. At about a mile in, the road turned into something from yesteryear. I felt like Pa Ingalls moving his family wagon to a new place where I would have to build a new cabin – by myself – again.

We were travelling at about 10 mph and the road had become a motocross track (from yesteryear). I hadn’t been on the road since last summer, and was amazed at its current condition. I was cursing ATVs and UTVs and any other kind of “TVs”. Our VW minivan, which was really only a Dodge Caravan with a German accent, ambled up and down the hills of the road, tip toeing around the sand potholes, trying not to complain.

As we crept up a hill, an ATV came over the hill and the woman on the back stood up and gave us an excited thumbs up. She appeared to slur some kind of “Yee Haw” that appeared to me, for some strange reason, in slow motion.  Good God, contain yourself, woman. I could only think. They seemed to be going too fast for the condition of the road and I wasn’t sure what the thumbs up and exaltation was all about.

Next, we approached a UTV and the driver pulled over and just stared at us as we drove by. Finally, some respect for my vehicle on this road that had been torn up by the likes of their “TV” kind. The pulled over driver’s expression was mixed with confusion and fear and that seemed odd to me.

My sister broke through my intense road concentration and asked,

“Don’t you think we should have been back out to the black top by now?”

Then it hit me. She was right. Even though we were going slower than usual, we should have crossed the other road by now. I realized that the road went left a few miles back and I had thought it was the trail. I veered right to stay on the road, which was actually — the trail. For the past few miles, we had been four wheeling in the Northwoods with our minivan. I had invaded their trail with my big minivan. I was actually the crazy one, not the Yee Hawing woman. She must have thought she was speaking my crazy language, her brief attempt to try to communicate to me.

The thumbs up ATV woman was simply being inclusive and encouraging our choice of our 7 seater VWTV option. That must have been what “Yee Haw” meant. I guess she was just very excited for our experience. On the other hand, the pulled over driver showed concern about the size of my terrain vehicle. I believe I scared him with my recklessness and he may never look at that trail in the same fun loving way again.

The VWTV in the Northwoods

My sister and wife were laughing so hard that tears were streaming from their off-roading faces and the kids were laughing and cheering as my suspension system finally bounced us back onto a black top road a few miles away from where we wanted to be. As we pulled onto the black top, we looked back at the sign that marked the ATV trail. Sure enough. We had just done that.

I have always felt that Pa Ingalls was sort of crazy the way he picked up his family continually chasing the need to be on some kind of frontier. Now I was like crazy Pa Ingalls of the ATV trails.

I  have a new love for the world of ATVs, trail riding and maybe even Pa Ingalls. I’m thinking about opening a shop that rents minivan terrain vehicles (MVTVs) for those looking to ride the trails in minivan luxury. In fact, the next time I go MVTVing I’m going to take a page from my dad’s book and wear a nice white pair of slacks. I’ll be a gentleman MVTVer.


Of Rats and Men and Caddyshack

26 Mar

Many years ago in a far, far away galaxy named Madison, Wisconsin I was single. In between pints of beer I thought it would be acceptable to meet and date somebody. One night through mutual friends I met a woman who I thought may have had the best sense of humor I had ever seen (actually heard – although she seemed to handle slapstick with equal competence). I laughed so much the first night we met that I asked if she would like to get together again.

She said she was available the next night and I should come over to her apartment for dinner. What? No shampooing of the hair? No other plans for the next six weeks? Wait. Maybe this is telling something about me. I said yes immediately. Then she suggested that we watch her favorite movie of all time. Oh, no. Here it comes. What could this be in 1988 – Dirty Dancing? Pretty in Pink? Beaches? So, I asked with teeth invisibly clenched what that movie might be.

She responded with “Caddyshack.”

It sounded like she said Caddyshack. Like a cross examining attorney with the whole case on the line, I asked her to repeat her previous statement. Once again, she responded, “Caddyshack.” I thought it would be an extra measure of caution for me to clarify that this was the Caddyshack I was thinking of – you know, Bill Murray and Chevy Chase, just in case there was a black and white French movie of the same name.

“Caddie Chiac” could have been a movie about a trolley (Caddie) that is owned by some people that speak a mix of French and English (Chiac). The whole movie would have the prerequisite amount of “I love you, I hate you lines” and the screen filled with fog – no, wait. That’s just cigarette smoke. In the time I asked the question and before she had a chance to answer me, I had played the trailer of my make-believe movie in my head. I had also realized that even if this was the film, I would still show up.

“It’s a Cinderella Story,” she said.

I was stunned from my black and white dream.

“What did you say?”

“It’s my favorite line from Caddy Shack.”

Now we were truly talking a “Cinderella Story”. I believe my eyes may have batted like a girl Rankin/Bass Reindeer. I exhaled a sigh of what I thought could have been love, which I would find out later was mostly comprised of relief commingling with lust.

Before we completed our plans for the next evening she said she had an important question for me. The question was if I liked pets. Of course, I like pets. Who doesn’t like pets? If she had asked if I liked feral cats I probably would have said “sure”. The term “pet” assumes that said creature is paired off with an adorning human. I can most certainly get behind that. If she had asked if I would like to have a pet, that may not be a simple answer – but in this situation I could probably, once again muster up agreement with her particular leanings, based on the intonation of her asking voice. That’s sort of the beginning of any healthy relationship – right?

The next night I showed up with a bottle of wine that probably was bad, but neither of us had any knowledge to determine one way or another, so we drank it. We had dinner. Most likely spaghetti. Then it was time for the movie.

Before starting the movie she said she wanted to show me her pet. It was in her bedroom. OK. I followed her into the room and the late setting summer sun threw thick orange light in from the outside. I saw what looked like some kind of cage in a shadow in the back of the orange room. I sensed that the pet was going to be a guinea pig or maybe a hamster. I was starting to talk myself into maybe touching my finger to the top of its little rodent head.

“Hey, Ben!” She said with the kind of excitement that warrants an exclamation point.

We approached the cage and I could see that it was actually made of glass, like a large glass fish tank. I didn’t see anything in the tank.

“Do you see Ben hiding?” She asked.

I didn’t see anything. So technically, I guess I did see Ben hiding. If that’s what she meant. She approached and deftly reached in under some kind of plastic bridge. I was right behind her. As she grabbed at this unseen pet I could only see her back – until she wheeled around with said pet in hand – actually both hands.

I was face to face with the biggest, oddest looking guinea pig I’d ever seen. Then I realized that this guinea pig looked remarkably like a huge mouse. But the moment she kissed the top of Ben’s head I realized that Ben was in fact a rat.

I think she was thinking that I was thinking that I might want to pet the rat on the top of the head – maybe even in the region that had just been kissed – by the same lips that she might use to kiss a human person. I pulled myself together to gingerly pet its little bony rat head a couple times.

Kind, pet friendly animal loving reader, this was in a time well before the lovable rat from the movie Ratatouille broke down the walls that kept rats from being highly successful French chefs. The time of my first pet rat encounter was in a time closer to movies like Willard and Ben, when rats were sort of bad.

Well, that was fun. It was now time to watch the movie. And she carried the rat with her to the living room. The rat – Ben, that is – perched on her shoulder as she got the movie and put it into the VCR. We took a seat on the couch together. And when I say “we” I mean me, her and Ben. Ben was on her lap as the movie began.

Eventually, she put Ben on the floor to wander around and get some exercise – I guess. Things were getting better. I had put Ben out of my mind. At some point during the movie we kissed. I even put the rat kissing lips out of my mind – because I’m a guy and that’s the kind of thing guys can do.

As we were making out I realized that her petite slender finger was running along my leg. I knew wearing shorts was a good idea. Her finger weaved back and forth along my leg like nothing I had ever felt. Out of nowhere she pinched me. I paused mid kiss and pulled back slightly.

“You like to pinch?” I said coyly.

“What?” she replied.

That second I knew to look down. My leg was bleeding and Ben was sitting on the couch next to us. Ben had bitten me. I saw his long tail weaving around and realized it was not her sexy little finger on my leg but Ben’s big ratty tail. I jumped up. I startled Ben and he scurried away – you know, like a rat.

“Be careful. You scared him,” she said.

“He bit me,” I countered.

She kissed my leg where the blood was. Now the blood was on her lips. I hate to dwell on this, but once again, those same lips that kissed the rat that bit me.

“You must have sat on his tail or something. I have some Band-Aids in the bathroom cabinet if you want. I’ll pause the movie.”

Some kind of bandage made sense. Cover the wound so the tetanus or whatever other rat disease could stay in there and do its work. I went into the bathroom and found the Band-Aids and applied one to my rat bite. An odd odor caught my attention. It is a bathroom so not totally unexpected.

The shower curtain was pulled shut and it seemed taut at the bottom, like weight was being applied all along the bottom of the curtain. Just great. I needed to look behind that curtain and there was really no way around it. I pulled it aside at the top and peaked behind. I spotted a couple banana peels on top of what looked like seven inches of spaghetti filling the entire bottom of the tub. Then I looked closer. That spaghetti appeared to be moving. That spaghetti was not spaghetti, it was an entire bath tub of mealworms. Undulating, wriggling mealworms.

For a brief moment my dinner spaghetti almost made an appearance on top of the spaghetti of mealworms. I composed myself and went back out to the living room. Mentioning the mealworms seemed as natural to me as mealworms ridding one of their banana peels.

“You have a tub half full of mealworms,” I opined.

“Yeah. That’s where I compost.”

I stared for a moment.

“I shower at the gym,” she added.

That’s where things ended. No matter how funny you are, a bath tub of mealworms doesn’t add up. Throw in a biting rat and you’ve got a solid deal breaker. I would like to say that I had a heart to heart with her explaining how a rat bite and a bath tub of mealworms just didn’t work for me. I would like to say we exchanged a warm hug and bid our adieus, agreeing that it just wasn’t meant to be. But I didn’t.

She was really attractive and we had Caddy Shack on pause. I sat down next to her and watched the rest of the movie with one eye looking out for Ben the rat and keeping the information in the back of my mind that there was a tub of mealworms in the bathroom.

We went out two or three more times. One of those times involved bringing Ben along on a picnic at a park. The other couples were playing Frisbee or fetch with their dogs and we were freaking everyone out with a huge rat on our picnic blanket.

I don’t even think we officially broke up. We just stopped hanging out and doing things together. It’s possible she just thought I wasn’t that funny. You know, not pulling my fair share of the funny weight in the relationship. Or she could see that I was a rat hater and didn’t have a gym membership for showering.

I saw her a couple months later in a bar and we said hi. Later that night some guy was obviously hitting on her and I could tell she was ok with it. When she went to the bathroom I thought I should go and warn the guy about the rat and mealworms. But who was I kidding. He was a guy. She probably had him at “Caddyshack”.


Hurricane Trump Headed for Florida

13 Mar

Enormous amounts of heated moist air twisted high in the atmosphere. This is how my son explained the formation of hurricanes per his second grade classroom research. Just the discussion of twisted hot air made me think of the current state of Republican presidential politics.

A lot of people have been piling on Drumpf and I feel bad about that. I should clarify. I feel bad about that not happening earlier, because now we have a full-blown category 5 bashing the shores of this country, set to make Florida one of its next targets.

I wanted to write something earlier, but this political stuff is not my sweet spot. I was too fascinated by the brooding storm to turn away and look at my computer screen – coincidentally where my typed words appear. Besides, who wants to hear another opinion? But I thought, what the hell. Maybe I’ll just weigh in as the non-political pundit, non-celebrity AND the guy who came up with this little analogy comparing Donald Drumpf to a Hurricane. And watch how I do that without once comparing his wonderful hair to a swooping, spiraling hurricane pattern. That’s solid integrity, if I do say so myself.

So, are you sick of the analogy? Yeah, me too. Why don’t I just finish it off? But, first let me ask if any readers are voting for Drumpf. Just raise your hands. Not like you’re taking an oath or anything. If you are a Drumpf follower you’ve at least got to admit that when Drumpf made people pledge to him that they would vote, it looked a little German 1930ish. I apologize for that comment and I don’t blame you Trumpeters if you stop reading now. Just let me get through the next paragraph. I’m even using the more royal name of Drumpf and have not gone to the Drumpf side. Give me a shot.

I grew up on a farm and went to farm auctions with my dad and uncle. That’s the fun of farming. Everyone is on the brink of going out of business and when your neighbor goes out of business, you feel bad, but go to his auction to see if you can get a deal on something – to help keep you from going out of business.

Can you imagine running into someone like Drumpf at a farm auction? Of course not. But if you did, that guy might be called a “Blowhard”. It’s sort of a funny word when it’s written. Most of the common sense oriented people I grew up knowing and know today would think a “Blowhard” is a guy who might say outlandish stuff and be all about themselves. Sometimes the “Blowhard” might even say what’s on your mind but you couldn’t bring yourself to say it. Possibly, because it was really something that shouldn’t be said (ah, and maybe deep down you knew that it shouldn’t be said because it was wrong, misinformed and not very nice –that’s really why you didn’t say it – except to your circle of friends who also said the same stuff and knew deep down it was wrong and not very nice).

Am I convincing any of you Drumpf friends to unfriend him? I thought probably not. But, bear with me. I think you’ll like how this hurricane analogy ends. I’ll give you a hint. There’s sunshine on the Drumpf fans.

We had a local blowhard. I remember my dad smiling at him and nodding and listening while looking for an escape route. Sometimes these blowhards can work themselves into a county clerk position or even make it up to higher levels of government. And that is a real shame, because these people will say anything to advance themselves. You could say this of your most hated Democrat or most hated Republican. Hell, I bet you’ve got a couple of names rolling off your tongue right now.

For good or bad, these politicians believe that what they are doing is for the good of the country and they generally stay a course. The blowhard – who makes you pick up your pace, so as to not bump into at the auction entrance – will say anything for the good of themselves. The blowhard has no time to listen. I guess that’s because he’s busy blowing hard. Hot air coming out of him to no possible end. Some will call the blowhard fancy words like “authoritarian” or “narcissist” or less fancy like “con man”. But we know he’s just a blowhard. Sometimes he may go by the moniker of “Loudmouth”.

Most of us wouldn’t be tricked into making the blowhard from the auction President of the United States. In my modest opinion, we also shouldn’t elect a blowhard from a TV show or a blowhard building contractor to be the president. If I were voting for Tump I would worry for my grandchildren that one day some Russian leader will make fun of his small hands. Then you’ve got President Drumpf offended and launching missiles with one of those tiny fingers (For the record, I never noticed how small his hands were until he held them up at a presidential debate and explained his whole situation to the American people). See what I’m saying, people? Pure blowhard move.

As usual, I digress. I promised to wrap up my analogy. You get it. Drumpf is the hurricane because he’s twisted hot air. Back in July of 2015 it looked like he was just regular blowhard hot air. But something happened. People at the auction started showing up and listening to him, more or less entertained and seriously irritated by the other people talking.

The other thing I learned from my son’s second grade class is that the hurricane can’t just happen on its own. You’re way ahead of me. You got it. There needs to be a “pre-existing disturbance” like, for example, a Tropical Depression. Maybe just really depressed and frustrated people for this analogy. And finally, there needs to be a large body of water feeding the hurricane. I guess we can say FOX news is that body, but that would not be fair and balanced. CNN and any other news outlets, where the name Drumpf could be heralded, were happy to feed the growing storm.

When Pat Paulsen ran for President five times (those under 40 may need to Google this one) between 1968 and 1996 no news outlets carried any of his speeches – and he was really funny. I think it was because he just didn’t seem like a serious candidate. He may have become a serious candidate had most news outlets covered all his speeches. Sorry, Pat. The news people of the time were not interested in that kind of fun news. However, things have changed.

Now everyone is running for their cars, grabbing bread and water off grocery store shelves and boarding up their windows. Meanwhile Drumpf supporters are standing in the eye of the storm with the sunshine of Drumpf smiling down on them like that big sunny, giggling orange faced baby in the Teletubbies (those over 40 may need to Google this one). I would say he’s preying on a group of people who are fearful and tired of the slow workings of a democracy, and in turn putting at risk many ideas held dear in this country – all in the name of having a blowhard get his way.

I would hope that Drumpf supporters will not go with the blowhard, but I find solace in the fact that I believe the hurricane will dissipate. I don’t think that he will ever quit – he shouldn’t, he’s winning. He’s in the process of being a winner. He’s a totally big winner with what looks like about 15% of the voters in the country picking him.

In true political fashion, the uncharacteristically large egos of those seeking the presidential title should diffuse each other. You know, like two negatives make a positive. The Republicans will do all in their power to wrestle Drumpf’s mantle away from him pre-convention or during convention. If unsuccessful, the other leading candidate will run as an independent. If Drumpf can’t get his tiny hands on his party’s thrown he will run as an independent.

In my optimistic view Drumpf will not become the next President and the hurricane will blow through having done its damage. I hope I’m right. But I’m still preparing for a long storm. I’m guessing my words may not have dissuaded any Drumpf fans. If Drumpf does become the Republican nominee, I’m planning on turning this essay into a reality TV show in an effort to get it in front of a larger audience.

My bigger concern is for the next hurricane season. It looks like it’s fairly easy to dupe the American people in a major way. And now all the news channels see how great the frenzied media pulls in the ratings and money. All that’s needed is a better looking man or woman with good, normal looking hair, regular sized hands and a willingness to say anything. Be on the lookout at the next auction you attend. You could find a blowhard who will be the next political hurricane and possibly our next President.

Sadly Yours,

Jason Spafford


Gotta Look

16 Feb

Hey you with your books
Don’t gimme your looks
Off your high horse
And talk to the pawns
We don’t live in fastidious times
Puttin’ down hideous rhymes
But to get to the point
We’ve gotta look around
To get to the truth
We’ve gotta be found
Love is like
The longest hike
A blackboard with writing
Two kids play fighting
The tide and the moon
Makin’ an agreement
Dove being sent
You paying rent
Cherry bombs
With a vodka furnace
It’s gonna churn us

Hey you with your books
I’ve got my hooks
And ladders that shatter
The windows above
The mercury will give ya a shove
Fire on the second floor
Kills the third floor
Fire on the first floor
Squatter on the dirt floor
Bustin’ up chifferobes
Dancin’ like Hazel Motes
The prophet dotes

Hey you with your books
Call ‘em chefs or call ‘em cooks
When the sun hits the pan
Egg’s gotta fry
When the boy hits the street
Mama’s gonna cry
Love is like
A cruise missile
Gotta blow the whistle
Lay in my bed
Of silk and thistle
Held back by the bottom
Pushed down by the top
You’ve got your presidents
But we’re the residents

Hey you with your books
What’s your favorite hymn
This life is crooked
It needs a shim
Sham is to the public
Shiv is to the rhetoric
Wake before you go
To sleep
Shut up before you go
To weep

Hey you with your books
It’s your move
Queen me with your rooks
Catch your breath
Take my breath
Knock this world
Inside out
Books make the route
Move over
Hey you move over
I’m comin’ up
I’ll eat those books like fire
Spit out the words
My mouth’s for hire

Hey you with your books
I’m comin’ up
I’m givin’ the looks
And makin’ them mine
It’s all gonna be real
Real fine.


Marry Me – A Poem by Jason Spafford (click below to hear song with vocals/music by Rob Meany)

09 Feb


Down by the creek doors always open
I said marry me
You said ferry me
To the other side of this wide life
You’ll be my wife
Little white church
In a green green field

Dancin’ in the aisles when the prayin’s done
Rippin’ an’ shoutin’ like the Lord wanted
Us ta have fun til the morning sun
Sunday’s here, Saturday’s gone
But you and I can’t be wrong
Down by the creek doors always open

Pretty pretty woman
Gonna be my bride
Goin’ down that river side by side
Dressed in white
My heart high like a kite
Pull my strings

Dancin’ in the aisles when the prayin’s done
Rippin’ an’ shoutin’ like the Lord wanted
Us ta have fun til the morning sun
Sunday’s here, Saturday’s gone
But you and I can’t be wrong

Doors always open
Put on those rings
Down by the creek
Find what you seek
Little white church
In a green green field

Stands so quiet for us to arrive
Then makes us dance when the prayin’s done
Floors creakin’ to the beat of our hearts
Just like the good lord wanted done
You and I have become one

Little white church
In a green green field




Poem/Lyrics by Jason Spafford


Texting “Oh For Cute” (OFC)

24 Dec

I’ve never heard the phrase “Oh, for Cute” anywhere but in Minnesota. It’s not something new and hip, like artistic types using the phrase, “Yeah, yeah, yeah” in rapid fire succession to express unmitigated and emphatic agreement in the coolest way ever. I’m no linguist – unless there is a way to twist the definition into “somebody really liking linguini” – but I do enjoy listening to language and phrases.

I started thinking about phrases the other day when a friend – in this instance, I’ll use the made up name of David Swirnoff – pulled me aside (it was really only a verbal pull aside because we were talking on the phone) and told me that I use the phrase “at the end of the day” a lot. Dear and good natured readers, this is the kind of honesty that I really like to hear. This is coming from the person who for many years has impersonated all of the slightest mannerisms or speech patterns of all his friends. Once I asked a friend what I did or said that he could mimic.

He said, “Nothing.”

“Really? Nothing?”

He responded that I didn’t really do or say anything interesting that he could put his finger on. Then I realized it was because I was too busy doing impersonations of other people all the time. Maybe this would have been admirable, had I made a good living at such a thing. But I had not. I then decided to tone it down a bit. And tone I did. Now, I mostly listen and become amused – inside my head – by the words and mannerisms of my fellow beings.

A few years ago, when I started to text, I became intrigued with the phrases and the acronyms for the phrases. But I didn’t catch on quickly. My text messages seldom use acronyms and can run into the paragraphs. I hate to report, but I had the wrong meaning of LOL for almost one year. I thought it meant “Lots of Luck”. Usually if someone texted LOL to me after one of my texts, I assumed they were wishing me “Lots of Luck” with my problem or maybe even “Lots of Luck” with me being able to write less than a paragraph

It wasn’t until I heard it in person by a woman saying LOL after she heard a joke. Then she “Laughed Out Loud”. I immediately got it and immediately found it redundant in this instance. Why would she say it and do it. I then stopped myself from being so judgmental.  Maybe she worked in the subtitling or captioning industry and was just used to showing both forms of communication.

Just a short time ago a friend’s daughter was at our house while the friend ran some errands. She texted me “OMW I’ll be there in 5.” I hate to say it, but my first thought was that she had typed, “Oh my word, I’ll be there in 5.” I never heard her speak like this before. It’s truly and sadly amazing how confused I was as to why she would talk like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. But I just thought it was different. I saw that my wife – I’ll refer to her, for practical purposes, as Cynthia – was included in this group text. I couldn’t take it anymore.

“Why would she say, “Oh, my word” to begin that text,” I said, squinting because my brain hurt so much.

She looked at me coolly (not “hip”coolly, but “cold” coolly). She paused from reading her book and I waited for her eyes to march all the way from the back of a freezer where they had been made cold. Then I saw her cold eyes squint because I was actually hurting her brain.

“OMW means On My Way.” Her icicle eyes slid back in front of the fire that was her book.

“Oh,” I said, leaving off the “my word” part.

So, it was actually me who was the Dorothy. Why, in heaven’s name, would “Oh my word” come to the front of the line in my head? Come to think of it, why did I just use the phrase “why, in heaven’s name?” (WIHN)

Maybe it could be my job to come up with the acronyms. What if there are Scandinavian women of a certain age, texting in Minnesota. I could let them know that they should use “OFC” instead of typing out all of the “Oh, for cute.” Maybe the hipsters had not figured out that the way to vehemently agree with someone via text is to type “YYY” instead of wasting their valuable time slogging through “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah”. Maybe I could end my wrap up statements with “ATEOTD” instead of always saying, “At the end of the day.”

But I want to take it a step further. I want to become the overseer of text. If I could win this position I would create a searchable text glossary (I have not even Googled it, but yes, I’m sure it already exists. So please humor me). I will come up with new acronyms like “GHRN” for “Get home right now” – you know, for the teens. But my new favorite will be a phrase that shouldn’t be used often. It’s “MGMA”.

Kind reader (KR), please forgive me if I digress, but I need to relay the origin of “MGMA”. Just the other evening, my beautiful and loving wife – who I shall not mention her name again as to avoid her irritation with my doting – was preparing for herself a hot toddy of sorts. A small glass to take the edge off a winter’s eve. A glass with a scant amount of honey flavored whiskey. This glass was presented on the counter awaiting some cherry juice. This glass was perched next to a plate of crackers and cheese and a glass of apple juice, not far away, for our dear and sweet cherub of a child named Iris.

Iris, being still three months shy of the age of six pulled herself upon one of the stools next to the counter island. While Iris’ mother was peering into the refrigerator, searching for the elusive cherry juice, she asked her loving mother if the drink on the counter was hers. Now, her caring and thoughtful mother had placed her apple juice on the edge of the counter and the wonderful whiskey drink sat back out of reach.

The mother responded “Yes” to the question and there was a moment’s pause. The pause was followed by Iris screaming as if she had been burned. In fact, the mother quickly turned and found that she had been burned. Burned by the quick taste of whiskey going all the way down her throat. Iris cried immensely because the whiskey tasted nothing like apple juice.

The entire family ran into the kitchen to see what was happening. The mother explained to Iris that Iris drank her drink by mistake. Gobs of tears splattered all over everything, like some pathetic sad drunk.

When the siblings arrived at the scene, Lila, the eldest, asked Iris what had happened. Iris slowed her tear rivers for a moment and caught her breath long enough to say, “Mommy gave me alcohol.” This would have been unquestionably less traumatic and social servicey sounding if it could have been “MGMA.”

I will continue to work on understanding the meanings of texts and creating new texts for those not represented fully by the texting general public. At the end of the day, I see this as my job, ATEOTD.


Star Wars Hype

17 Dec

It’s like being 13 again. This time around with a wee bit more hype. When the first Star Wars came out in 1977 I was an anxious newly teened boy.  I don’t remember any hype other than the normal new movie advertisements, and then I started hearing movie reviewers talking about Star Wars. They compared it to old-fashioned good guy / bad guy movies. They compared it to cowboy movies – it was just good clean shooting at other people fun – but way better. Just beams of light. Ok. Relax Star Wars nerds; I’m sure it’s way more complicated than that.

Then it was compared Flash Gordon. These were all important comparisons. See, good and kind intergalactic reader, I had no wheels, man. I was 13 and lived ten miles from the Rhinelander Theater which was actually Rouman’s State Theater. I needed my mom or dad to buy into this very small amount of hype to get me a ride to the theater.

Rouman’s State Theater was built in 1921 and owned and operated by two Greek brothers. Their nephew ran the theater in the 1970’s and his children run the multiplex that was put up around 2000.  I was not originally sure of Mr. Rouman’s ethnicity. There was not a lot of variation, aside from your Polish, German and Irish, in this ethnicity parched region. Was he called Mr. Rouman because he was a Roman? Was Rouman another word to describe Greek? In fact, I always thought his last name was spelled “Roman”.  But as I got older I found out that he had nothing in common with Romans – whom I associated with a keen ability to guard things.  For example, he was not good at guarding the door. If you were old enough to walk and give money for a ticket, you could get into an R rated movie.  Maybe a positive spin was that he was not so “judgy”.

My younger brother saw the Jaws 3D movie at the State Theater (I’m not really sure why he would have seen it anywhere). When his pair of flimsy 3D glasses came apart causing the blue side to fall out, he went to Mr. Rouman to procure a new pair. Mr. Rouman, in his staccato English, told him, “It still works. Cover one eye. It will work.”

Flash Gordon was the clincher. My dad had grown up watching Flash Gordon. I had watched repeats of Flash Gordon. I liked Flash Gordon, in that they were battling in space and on other planets. The thing I didn’t like about Flash Gordon was the way those old serials from the 1930s were made. You see, they were trying to figure out how to create suspenseful cliffhangers.  It was story-telling 101 for this new medium they were trying to figure out. I didn’t like that at the end of one segment, if Flash’s space ship was headed for a crash, they would just crash it. Now why would I come back to see if that really didn’t happen. And in the beginning of the next episode he would come ever so close to crashing – but not. I hated being lied to, but there was nothing else on my three channel television. It’s sort of how today’s political parties still work – only with two channels.

I envisioned this new War of Stars movie trying to trick me in the same way, but by the 1970s there were new ways to trick people. Spoiler alert: Like having a dude almost make out with his sister.  By the 1970’s and moving forward, there were also more effective ways to end stories that you knew weren’t really going to end. But how do you get people to remember to come back and see more of the story three years later?

With regard to hype, the 1970’s may well have been the 1930’s as compared to what 2015 hype looks like. But here’s the honest to goodness truth amicable reader, I love the hype. There are a certain amount of people who have no interest in seeing the new Star Wars, and that’s fine. It would be really weird if everyone wanted to see Star Wars. Like, who would run our stores and businesses?  Luckily there are not enough theaters to hold all the Star Wars viewers on opening weekend.  That could be a national code red, with everyone in a theater. Our defenses would be super down. Although I don’t know if you will be much help in a crisis if your response is to make sounds like “Schrvmmmmmm! Kwishuuuuuu! Vrummmmmmm FVISH! while swinging some kind of imaginary sword. So, it’s really ok that everybody isn’t into Star Wars.

But I have to file a complaint against those who are sick of the hype. I have heard that some are tired of seeing Star Wars oranges, Star Wars cereals, Star Wars Target, Star Wars this and Star Wars that. My complaint is that all the things that are getting in on the Star Wars hype are not bumping space that previously held Part 1 of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. The stuff on the cereal box before the Star War themed tie in was probably a toucan in a jungle maze. The Target commercials that reference all things Star Wars were probably talking about another thing at Target with some kind of thing trying to motivate you – like cold or hunger or kitten pictures.

The term “over-commercialization” can apply to Christmas, but the term cannot apply to a movie. You see, I’m here to say that a movie is a commercial item. The movie commercial attention is only taking the place of some other commercially sponsored item. There is only so much time in the day for commercials and you are just seeing more of that time for one thing. I’d rather watch the Jimmy Fallon YouTube a capella Star Wars theme than something Jimmy Fallon does with Madonna, whereas both are promoting something different (and the same – Jimmy Fallon).

Flash Gordon was the clincher to get that parent ride into town to see Star Wars. I was happy to see that the main similarity between Star Wars and Flash Gordon – aside good clean fun fighting in space – was the opening titles coming in from off the front of the screen and other technical things like side wipes. There was not a totally false ending – only unresolved pieces.

I will not be rushing out to see the newest Star Wars this weekend – even though I have a car these days. I will bide my time until the crowds subside. Dear readers, I am an oak tree in the face of hype. My 13-year-old daughter is more like a willow in the face of hype, but Star Wars hype is like Kryptonite to her. She will not be seeing Star Wars until Adele or Taylor Swift are involved. However, my 8-year-old son really wants to see it, with no suggesting on my part.

Since I have wheels now, we may take a road trip to my hometown of Rhinelander and go to the Rouman Cinema and see it in 3D. I bet Mr. Rouman’s kids would give me a new pair of 3D glasses if my pair broke. They, like the hype, have evolved. I bet they’re not unhappy about all the Star Wars hype. Now we just need to see a reinvented and hyped Flash Gordon, and all will be extra well with the Science Fiction space genre.

Sadly yours,

Jason Spafford


2015 Rejected Christmas Letter

15 Dec

What follows is the 2015 Christmas letter that was voted down. I thought it would be a waste not to put it someplace.

Spafford / Berger Christmas Letter

 I wasn’t going to do a Christmas letter this year, but Cynthia reminded me that we haven’t done one in a couple years. So, I’ve been tasked with updating you on our 2015. I’ve decided to waste no time in getting this letter completed. In the spirit of the season I have uncorked a fine box of wine and I’m committed (not institutionalized, but rather “focused on completing”).

2015 will be remembered as the year that came after 2014. This is the year that Iris, Hoyt and Lila each took turns at becoming another year older. Man, those kids are sharp. If I weren’t directly related to them in a parental way I may even be convinced to believe the same.

This letter seems to just zip along for you, but it took me an entire glass of wine to get those first two paragraphs down. Let’s hope glass two is more productive.

I can recall that 2015 was the year Iris entered kindergarten. She’s learning the things that kids learn at that age and exceling at recess. Hoyt is in second grade and attends school most days – as far as we know. Lila has gone into the middle school and is learning more about math, science, Adele and Taylor Swift.

Lila and Hoyt have continued to take piano lessons. Iris is excited to begin piano lessons after the Christmas break. She’s may be interested in music or the opportunity to argue with her parents about practicing every day, as her older siblings have demonstrated great skill in this field.

Hoyt has become crazy about playing soccer and has finally become a Packer fan – though no coercing on my parts. Yeehaa!

This wine tastes better than it did on the first glass. I wonder if there is a scientific explanation to for to explain why a third glass of wine would taste better than when the first one was taken down the throat hole. So, this hole year Cynthia taught. Cause she taught summer school and now she is very happy to be teacking as a teacher at the high school level in Minneapolis – where a lot of the kids go to school.  She is very enjoying of it and happy to be working there if she has to be working there.

Oh, geez. I wish I had some cheez, it would be good and help to cleaning my plate – you know in case I want to try a different kind of wine. But this won keeps tasting better and better. My year has been interesting, too, say the least. Actually the least would have been less than that – weird would be less than interesting. Hah. I sort of lied by accidentally saying that first thing. I been working with a software company start-up to help start-up things. And oddly enough before a Happy Thanksgiving! I was lucky to have a stroke. Wait. Lucky even though I had a stroke, I’m ok or just like I was before it – anyway. I feel very fortune cookie, if I maybe too bold in typing that two you(s). I’m a OK, so no need to sweat for me.

We r super dupery happy about the way 2015 went all the way threw the end. The hole bunch of us is looking to Ward 2016 and continuing to continue being a family together and when we go to work and school – like nobody’s bizness. From all of ours family memos to all of you and theirs, what we are going to do is wish you a mary Chistmas and a happy sleepy time after it.

Sal U. Tations (get it?? It’s the man Sal’s name made from the word”saltatiions)“?

fmaily sign it hear.


Sadly yours,

Jason Spafford