Dale Says

August 27, 2021

I like to eat

Filed under: Miscellaneous — Mr. D @ 2:24 pm

I took my dad to the barber for his last real haircut. He was in his 80’s, his Parkinson’s was getting worse, and he had macular degeneration, so he didn’t get out much. And he hadn’t had a haircut for a while. I came home for a few days to help mom take care of him, and dad asked if I would take him for a haircut. At the time, he had very little hair on the top of his head (like me now), and the hair around his ears was thin and wispy. But it must have bothered him, because he really wanted a haircut. So we drove down to Kerk’s Barber Shop on Highway 30 in the downtown section of town. No appointment was necessary, and when we arrived Willard was sitting in one of his two barber chairs, reading the sports section of the Omaha World Herald. When we walked in, Willard put down his paper, brushed off the chair, and helped dad get settled in. I sat in the other barber chair and thumbed through an issue of Sports Illustrated.

Willard put the barber cape around dad, picked up his clippers, and started to work. Dad wasn’t very responsive in those days, so Willard’s small talk about the wheat harvest and Nebraska football team didn’t go far. Eventually, Willard started to visit with me. After a few minutes I asked him why he was still working, since he was in his 70s.

“I like to eat,” he told me. I waited to hear what that had to do with the question.

“If I don’t work,” he continued, “I don’t earn any money. And if I don’t earn any money, I can’t buy food, and I can’t eat. And I like to eat.”

I thought that was a good answer, although I knew Willard had plenty of money. And I think he liked to work. Or at least he like to talk to people who came into his shop.

Years later, after my dad and Willard had passed away, Willard’s wife called on my mom and I, and I told her what Willard had said that day.

“He said that to a lot of people,” she replied. “The truth was he drove me crazy at home. He was always in the kitchen, asking for something to eat. So I told him to go to work.”

I’ve thought a lot about Willard since then. I miss his presence in his barber chair, and I miss his attitude toward life. And every now and then I use his answer and tell his story when someone asks me why I still work.

June 24, 2015

Steven King and the Writer’s Toolbox

Filed under: Miscellaneous — Dale @ 11:08 am

Stephen King didn’t want to go back to work. He was in pain, unable to bend his right knee, and restricted to a walker. Five weeks earlier, in June of 1999, Bryan Smith, a loner with a terrible driving record, reached behind him while driving and steered his minivan into King, who was out for his daily walk. The crash smashed King’s head into Smith’s windshield and threw King over the van and into a ditch. The impact cut a huge gash in King’s head, punctured his lung, broke his right leg in nine places, shattered his right knee, fractured his right hip and pelvis, broke four ribs, and chipped his spine in eight places. King survived, but he suffered. He faced five surgeries, three weeks in a hospital, massive pain, and a nearly-unimaginable recovery.
Now, more than a month after the crash King sat in his home in a wheelchair, facing a temporary writing station that had been set up by his wife, Tabby.
That first writing session lasted an hour and forty minutes; after which King was exhausted and dripping with sweat. There was no inspiration that afternoon, only undaunted determination and the hope that things would eventually get better.
Things did get better for King, slowly, and he did finish the book, On Writing.
In the book, which he calls “a memoir of the craft,” King describes a writer’s toolbox, choosing that metaphor because his grandfather and uncle were carpenters who used toolboxes for their work. His grandfather’s toolbox (a “big ‘un”) included all the implements needed to do his work. He carried it with him to every job, and he told Stephen, “It’s best to have your tools with you. If you don’t, you’re apt to find something you didn’t expect and get discouraged.”
King says a writer’s toolbox should have at least four levels of tools. “You could have five or six, I suppose,” he writes, “but there comes a point where a toolbox becomes too large to be portable and thus loses its chief virtue.”
First Level
Common tools go on the first level of a writer’s toolbox, including vocabulary. King advises that writers work with their existing vocabulary without feeling guilty or inadequate, and he recommends against trying to compensate for a small vocabulary, which “is like dressing up a household pet in evening clothes,” he warns.
Grammar should also be on the top shelf of your toolbox, and King suggests the best way to improve grammar is to read. “If you don’t have time to read,” he argues, “you don’t have the time (or tools) to write. Simple as that.”
Other tools on the top level of your toolbox should be nouns and verbs, which King calls two indispensable parts of writing.
Second Level
Lift out the top layer of your toolbox and on the second level should be the elements of style, the basics of word usage and sentence structure. King recommends the book, The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White, which is his go-to authority on style.
He also recommends adding tools at this level to eliminate passive voice and reduce the use of adverbs.
“You should avoid the passive tense,“ he advises. And he says adverbs “are not your friends.” He likens them to dandelions and tells us that “one on your lawn looks pretty and unique, but if you fail to root it out your lawn will soon be covered by dandelions.”
Paragraphs are another critical tool that all others build on. Carpenters build using one plank of wood or brick at a time, and King believes writers should build stories one paragraph at a time, constructing them by using vocabulary, grammar, and basic style.
King calls paragraphs “maps of intent,” which tell the reader whether your book will be easy or hard to read. He recommends taking a book down, opening it, and scanning a few pages. If you are looking at a wall of words it’s going to be hard to read. If, on the other hand, it has a variety of paragraph lengths and a lot of white spaces, the book will be easier to get through.
Third Level
The third level of the writer’s toolbox should have tools that give the story shape and individuality; including description, dialogue, and character development.
Good descriptions, according to King, begin with clear seeing and end with clear writing, using fresh images and simple vocabulary.
- Thin description leaves the reader feeling bewildered and nearsighted, but
- Over description buries the reader in details and images.
The trick is to find a happy medium.
Dialogue is crucial to defining characters. The key to good dialogue is honesty, and King suggests you let your characters speak freely. “In the end,” he writes, “the important question has nothing to do with whether the talk in your story is sacred or profane; the only question is how it rings on the page and in the ear. If you expect it to ring true, then you must talk yourself.

Even more important, you must shut up and listen to others talk.”
King believes character development boils down to two things:
- Paying attention to how people behave, and
- Telling the truth about what you see.
He offers a hint to building characters: “… in real life we each of us regard ourselves as the main character, the protagonist, the big cheese; the camera is on us, baby.” He recommends adding that attitude to the characters in your writing. “If you do your job,” he promises, “your characters will come to life and start doing stuff on their own. I know that sounds a little creepy if you haven’t actually experienced it, but it’s terrific fun when it happens. And it will solve a lot of your problems, believe me.”
The tools on your third level can all be learned through living. “Skills in description, dialogue, and character development,” he argues, “all boil down to seeing or hearing clearly and then transcribing what you see or hear with equal clarity.”
Fourth Level
The fourth level of your toolbox should include tools to help with revisions; including character motivation, coherence, recurring elements, theme, and resonance.
Character motivation is the reason or reasons your characters do the things they do. Do their actions make sense? Have you explained to your readers why they do those things – in an understandable and interesting way? If not, King suggests going back to fix it.
Coherence is another tool King uses during revisions. Is your story intelligible? Is the plot consistent? Are ideas connected throughout? Does the story flow smoothly? Does the plot stick together?
Identify the recurring elements in your writing (e.g., colors, emotions, qualities) and make sure they are consistent.
Make sure you have a strong theme, to help get your message across to the reader. Without a theme, your reader will be lost, and so will your writing.
Resonance is probably the most important revision tool. It is also King’s most desired. His goal is to write something significant that will linger after the reader has closed the book and put it on the shelf.
Other Tools
There are other tools, too, and King would probably advise writers to put them in the little drawers of their toolbox – in case they need them. Among them he names onomatopoeia (using words to imitate sounds), incremental repetition (repeating a line with minor changes to the repeated part), stream of consciousness (showing a character’s thought processes through free-flowing narrative), interior dialogue (depicting a character’s non-verbal thoughts), changes of verbal tense (to indicate, for example, a time change from past to present), theme (the central idea or subject explored), alliterative phrases (a series of words with the same first consonant sound), and symbolism (using an object to represent something; e.g., a dove to represent peace).
Regarding those tools, King simply advises us to “use anything that improves the quality of your writing and doesn’t get in the way of your story.”

That’s it, four levels of basic writing tools and a few specialized ones. Together, they make up quite a toolbox; a “big ‘un.”
Most writers already have many of the tools needed for their toolbox, and King advises us to look at each of our tools again. “Try to see each one new, remind yourself of its function, and if some are rusty (as they may be if you haven’t done this seriously in a while), clean them off.”
Writing is a learned skill, but King contends that sometimes the most basic skills can create things far beyond our expectations.
“We are talking about tools and carpentry, about words and style,” he summarizes. “But, as we move along, you’d do well to remember that we are also talking about magic.”

March 23, 2015

Your Generation

Filed under: Miscellaneous — Dale @ 11:47 am

Your generation thought it could fix the world,
And you had a right to think that way.
Yours was the smartest and richest lifespan ever.
You tried to work hard enough to end poverty, erase injustice, and stop wars.

Then the economy fell apart and the world tore apart,
And your time was spent putting things back together again.

My generation thought it could fix the world,
And we had a right to think that way.
Ours was the smartest and richest lifespan ever.
We tried to think clearly enough to end poverty, erase injustice, and stop wars.

Then life got in the way and distracted us from our goals,
And our time was spent getting through each day.

The next generation thinks it can fix the world,
And they have a right to think that way.
Theirs is the smartest and richest lifespan ever.
They think they can build technology fast enough to end poverty, erase injustice, and stop wars.

Will they develop concern for their fellow man?
And how will they spend their time?

February 25, 2013

Filling In

Filed under: Miscellaneous — Dale @ 4:25 pm

I guess that woman is coming again tomorrow and I don’t really have anything for her to do. What’s her name again?

Abbey.

Right. Abbey. I just can’t seem to remember her name.

Do you remember … um … what’s the name of the man who used to live in that house on the hill — across from that big white house?

Mr. Jones?

Right. Jones. Well, do you remember when he was … oh, what was I starting to say? Well, anyhow, did I tell you that Marge Anderson’s daughter … what’s her name?

Debbie?

No, not Debbie — the other one — the one who’s husband died.

Betty?

Right, Betty. Did you know that her son died in a car wreck?

Yes.

Well, I think that all three kids in that family got divorced. Let’s see, there was Jack, and the oldest girl … what’s her name?

Amy?

Right. Amy. What was I saying?

Her son died in a car wreck?

Anyhow … I probably already told you that what’s her name — John Wright’s wife?

Cathy?

Right, Cathy. Good heavenly days … I never thought I would forget her name. Did I tell you about the time we drove up to that town north of here — what’s it’s name?

Scottsbluff?

No … that other town.

Chadron?

Yes, I think so. Anyhow, that night it was really cold, and all the car windows were rolled up and all three of them were smoking, and I asked her … what’s her name?

Cathy?

Right. I asked Cathy to put her window down, and I nearly froze to death. What a night that was! Oh, well. I guess that was a long time ago.

Do you know that I’m the only one on this block that hasn’t moved out? Everyone else on this block is new, and I hardly ever see them.

I guess it’s supposed to snow again tomorrow. It seems to snow a lot more now than it used to.

I suppose that woman is going to come again tomorrow, and I don’t really have anything for her to do … what’s her name again?

January 23, 2013

Dear Bank of America

Filed under: Miscellaneous — Dale @ 11:24 am

It is hard to know who to address this letter to because the letter I am responding to did not include the name of anyone at Bank of America. That makes me assume that no one at your organization wanted to take responsibility for sending the letter.

Your letter dated January 15, 2013 informed me that the customer service for my Bank of America checking account is being downgraded. You put it this way:

“After a recent review, we believe your above-referenced account is better aligned to the value and convenience available through the standard Bank of America service options available to consumer customers, rather than through Wealth Management Banking.”

Your letter also included an extensive schedule of additional fees that your letter described as “Standard Account Fees” that will now be charged to my account; including Check Image Service, Non-Bank of America ATM fees, etc., etc.

I have been a loyal customer of Bank of America for over 30 years. My checking account is at Bank of America. I have a savings account at Bank of America. My mortgage loan is through Bank of America. I have an equity loan account at Bank of America, and I have borrowed money from your bank. I assume that Bank of America has made a profit from each of those relationships.

My loyalty to Bank of America has been repaid (twice now) by downgrading the level of service provided to me. A few years ago, Bank of America laid off my personal banker, who had provided excellent, personal service to me. Since then, I have had to deal with your Wealth Management Banking personnel, who, while friendly have no relationship with me, don’t know me, and have no interest in my history with your bank. And now, I have received a letter that informs me that my continued loyalty is to be repaid by further downgrading the level of customer service — and by a plethora of additional account fees.

I want someone at Bank of America to know how it feels to receive a letter like that.

• Your letter makes me feel that Bank of America no longer cares about customer loyalty.
• Your letter makes me believe that Bank of America’s top priority is income and profit – not customers.
• Your letter makes me feel disappointed in Bank of America, which used to be a much better organization.
• Your letter encourages me to tell everyone I know that Bank of America is a cold, impersonal corporation that can be counted on to treat its customers coldly and to provide them with the cheapest possible customer service.

The Bank of America that I signed up with 30 years ago was proud of its heritage, proud of its customer relationships, and proud of providing caring, personal service.

The Bank of America that I am now dealing with has no similarity to that once proud organization. The corporation I am now dealing with apparently values profit above all – even above its customer relationships. That is a very bad path for Bank of America to follow.

Perhaps I read your letter wrong. Perhaps what you really wanted to say is that you value customers who are loyal to Bank of America. Perhaps you sent the letter to me by mistake, and perhaps you will change your mind and decide to reward three decades of loyalty by retaining my current status and waiving the account fees. We will see.

I am providing my name and contact information below, so that you can contact me to let me know how Bank of America really feels about me as a customer.

Sincerely,

November 19, 2012

Thank you, Dr. Harris

Filed under: Miscellaneous — Dale @ 1:16 pm

I don’t know how to reach you any other way, so I hope this will find you. You are the doctor that saved my brother’s life, and while he might not have the ability to thank you, his family is most grateful to you!

You rescued him from a very deadly disease that almost killed him.

You took the time and effort to give him the tests, medicines, and support he needed to bring him back from near death.

You cared enough about a fellow human being to tell him exactly what was wrong with him and what consequences await him if he ever repeats the behavior that brought him to that point.

Instead of sending him back on the street, you sent him to physical rehab, where other caring professionals helped him further recover and gain strength.

I know you don’t expect a bunch of “thank-you” notes, and I know you didn’t spend all those years studying and working to be able to do what you do so well — to hear gratitude from your patients. But you saved a life, and we thank you for that.

Thank you, Dr. Harris, for caring enough to go beyond the basics. Thank you for doing all you could to help another person. Thank you for giving my brother another chance at life!

November 5, 2012

Dealing with the Devil

Filed under: Miscellaneous — Dale @ 4:20 pm

He held the bottle in his hands for quite awhile; feeling it, looking at it, and turning it around and around. He had held hundreds (maybe thousands) of similar vodka bottles in his hands over the years, but this one was new and it felt different. It was exciting and dangerous, and his pulse raced as he thought about it.

Less than a week ago the doctor in the hospital where he had been de-toxed had told him in no uncertain terms, “If you drink again you will die!”

And now he held in his hands this incredibly powerful weapon; this devil.

After a while he opened the top — just for a smell. It was smoky and a little like turpentine. A vapor came out of the neck that stung his nose and caught his attention. It was amazing how much better he could smell now that he had quit smoking. And, probably because he hadn’t had anything to drink in nearly two weeks he could actually smell the vodka. It was definately a stong odor — an intriguing smell — something dangerous and exciting.

Just a small sip — to find out how much better he could taste things now that he had quit smoking. Just to see what it really tasted like.

He put the bottle to his lips and let just a few drops hit his tongue.

The first thing he noticed was the vodka stung his tongue and excited the tastebuds in his mouth. It was sharp and strong, and he noticed that it had an unpleasant aftertaste.

When he swallowed the little bit of vodka he noticed it felt warm on the way down his throat. It was a good feeling, and he felt he was finally going to be warm for the first time in the past couple of weeks. Ah … that really felt good!

Would the second taste give him that warm, pleasant feeling, too? He took another swallow. Now he felt what he had been missing the past couple of weeks — he had a slightly fuzzy feeling around the edges. He was happy and uninhibited. And he noticed that the bad taste in his mouth was going away. Wow … maybe he would only drink every couple of weeks. This is a really good feeling!

Another drink wouldn’t hurt if he was only going to drink occasionally.

But this time, he would try mixing it with Gatorade. That’s how he usually drank vodka, and the Gatorade helped keep his electrolights in balance. Yeah, that’s it! He was really starting to feel it now, and he finally had the answer. He would drink just enough to get happy, and he would only drink once in a while.

As he mixed a stiff drink he thought to himself, “Wow! Why didn’t I figure that out earlier? I would have saved myself all that hassle in the hospital, and in the physical rehab place, with all their rules and all their bullcrap.”  

Oh, well, he reasoned, at least he had the answer now. Yeah, that was it … he would just drink once in a while … and he would just drink enough to get a nice buzz.

August 16, 2012

Headwaters

Filed under: Miscellaneous, Travel — Dale @ 2:27 pm

The snow melts on the mountain
And the water runs down to the spring
And the spring in a turbulent fountain,
With a song of youth to sing,
Runs down to the riotous river,
And the river flows to the sea,
And the water again
Goes back in rain
To the hills where it used to be.

- William Randolph Hearst

A bottle sits on my desk, filled with water from the source of Hot Springs Creek. It reminds me of a special group of friends and a unique place—a place of beauty and worth.

Each August, we don hiking boots and sun hats and we march over dusty trails and hillsides to search for the headwaters. Each year it gets a little more difficult to climb over downed trees and cross the streams that lie in our path, and each year more of us require encouragement and help. But together we make it.

The “kids” go ahead now, scouting out the best route. We’re slowly passing the leadership to the next generation. When they were young, we helped them lace up their boots, carry their water, and get over downed trees. Now, they help us, holding low-hanging branches out of the way, and taking our hands to help us across streams. They are smart and kind, and it makes us feel good about the ability of the next generation to run the world.

The sound of the spring floats over the hillside and reaches us as we are tiring, and we know we are close. That encouragement helps us up the final slope, and we step into a glen where a mountain spring is cloaked by blooming lilies and dark green ferns. Butterflies and bees float among the plants, carrying out their lives. We drop our packs, congratulate each other, and take time to admire the beauty and peace. We fill our water bottles from the spring; the water is cold and pure—perfect water from a perfect place! Some of us circle around the spring, taking photos and absorbing the natural beauty. It’s tranquil and sublime—our special and magical place.

We have lunch by the waterside, and the conversation is light and easy. We are happy here. We try to take it all in because it means so much to us, and because we don’t know how many more of these moments we will have. None of us know for sure what lies ahead, but we do know that it won’t always be like this. So we soak it up and relish the moment.

As we gather our belongings and get ready to leave we sense a relaxed mood in the group. Any troubles we brought have been washed away, and we are refreshed. We reluctantly start the hike back, helping each other along the trail. It’s been a remarkable moment, shared with extraordinary friends. We’re refreshed and we can go on.

We’re back to our usual lives now, and the bottle from the headwaters sits on my desk. It’s just water, and yet it means so much more. Whenever I look at it I think about what it represents, and a warm feeling comes over me.

August 20, 2010

Building Water Wheels at Drakesbad

Filed under: Miscellaneous — Dale @ 12:52 pm

Building water wheels is an ancient tradition — honed in Rome, ancient China, and medieval Europe. Water wheels have been used for centuries to convert flowing water into useful forms of power, and to demonstrate the intellect and skill of the male species.

Constructing water wheels at Drakesbad is also an ancient tradition, practiced by only the most daring guests. This year a relative newcomer took on the challenge and exceeded beyond expectations.

Using only material found in nature and the force of his own hands, Mr. Bill managed to construct the ultimate Drakesbad water wheel, install it without mishap, and destroy the previous Drakesbad water wheel speed record. His sleek, symetrical beauty twice achieved 83 revolutions per minute — thereby overshadowing the old record of 72. Lest skeptics think this involved some form of trickery, let the record state that the performance was verified by Ranger Chris, using a non-governmental watch, and witnessed by a vast crowd on impartial observers. Comments from the crowd included, “pretty spectacular,” “gorgeous,” and “a darn nice water wheel.”

The newest addition to a stable of Drakesbad waterwheels was christened by a spray of beer, much of which landed on the observers.

The durability of the water wheel was attested to by Drakesbad Trail Boss, Billie, who verified it was still running at full strength a week later. Mr. Bill believes it will survive the winter.

July 22, 2010

Remember Me

Filed under: Miscellaneous — Dale @ 3:36 pm

We had our time together and I loved like I could.

You taught me, and loved me, and shared a part of you.

I carry that gift forever and cherish it and you.

Please remember me for what we were.

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