A new chapter: Going farther west

Considering the politics involved in drawing up congressional districts – aka CDs – and how those districts shift over time, it can be hard for a body to land in one that feels like the right place.

We lived in conservative districts at times in our Iowa days and in majority Democratic Party districts at others. We left in 2010 well into, if not exactly because of, the state’s headlong decline into governance by mindlessness, pettiness and ignorance.

When we escaped to Colorado, we landed in Fort Collins for a while before moving to a little piece of Boulder County that somehow ended up in the 4th CD. We endured “representation” by Cory Gardner for a while until he went on to a dismal single-term career in the U.S. Senate, and now we’ve coped with being ignored by Rep. Ken Buck since 2014.

Boebert and Buck posing with a deadly weapon.

May her first term be her last.

Our recent decision to abandon the busy, expensive Front Range for the more affordable but scenic far Western Slope was not at all political. The natural evolution of careers getting closer to retirement, a realization that I can work from anywhere with reliable broadband, and our granddaughter’s move from New Jersey to Salt Lake City (along with her parents and other grandparents, of course) made it inevitable. We will be much closer after years of too far apart.

The one thing to which we’re not looking forward in this latest new chapter is becoming denizens of Colorado’s massive and misguided 3rd CD, which is far too short on Democrats.

Gardner to Buck to Boebert. May her first term be her last.

We’ve been told a number of times that we’ll need to buy guns and ammo to live over there. Funny, in a dark humor sort of way, but it’s probably not a good idea to assume anyone is not already heavily armed. Because how would you know for sure?

I will say that my first purchase in Grand Junction after we close on the new house is more likely to be a new mountain bike than a deadly weapon.

Pedal on, my friends.

B.J.

Ute Canyon, Colorado National Monument

Do you care what 14 Trump voters think?

My first thought when I saw the headline just below was to ask why the New York Times and other media keep probing Trumpist brains as if they hide some great secret we must expose. You might call that intellectual curiosity, something the voters quoted in the article hide well if they have any at all.

What 14 Trump Voters Think About George Floyd’s Legacy

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Time and time again, what these articles and opinion pieces reveal is a disturbing lack of empathy in the hearts and souls of the voters and poor judgment by the writers and editors who give voice to their shallow views of the world.

The voters’ responses show a distinctive selfishness and a clear inability to empathize or think very deeply about how others experience the world. They spout the usual right-wing talking points and blame the media and even social media for division and discord while forgetting that people much like them spread hate and lies through media and social media alike.

I’d like to see someone ask Trump voters – if they feel the need to ask those voters anything ever again – if they know what empathy is and why it is a good thing. If they don’t know, show them a definition.

Carry on.

B.J.

Sanity check? Find a better term

The topic of inclusive language grabbed my attention again yesterday when I caught part of a Slack channel exchange about something done as a “sanity check.”

Anyone close to the world of coding and computer science has likely heard the term or even used it without any idea of what effect it can have on others.

Image by Lorenzo Cafaro from Pixabay

It’s not my place to tell anyone what words to use or not to use, but as a writer and editor I do value clarity and effective language right along with empathy. I wrote something about why inclusive language matters back in January.

Beyond altruistic considerations, less than thoughtful word selection can prevent some of your readers or listeners from getting and understanding your message. Those of us who have experienced mental illness, either our own or through the struggles of loved ones and friends, might see something you don’t when you’re doing a sanity check.

One might flash back to the memory of a cousin who suffered from schizophrenia for years until she was beaten to death with a shovel by her schizophrenic roomie.

Another might remember checking a sister into a hospital in such a deep depression that she thought about taking her own life, or remember a young man who did just that.

Choose your words carefully if you want everyone to hear them. Alternatives are easy to find.

Check your language.

B.J.

What does a yard sign say about you?

May 21, 2021: The little Trump/Pence yard is gone.


In the months before the 2020 presidential election, every time we walked Red Dog to Golden Ponds and back we passed a house with a large Trump flag blowing in the wind.

Why does this arouse so much anger? The image is from this story about people being threatened by a neighbor over a yard sign.

The flag no longer flaps in the breeze but a little Trump/Pence yard sign remains nearby to this day.

Is absence of the flag progress, or is the sign a reflection of more stubborn defiance?

I always wonder what the people who live there are thinking. We nod and wave to each other, have met once or twice only to forget each other’s names, and we go on minding our own business.

The sign is a pretty clear message, though, as is the colorful sign a few steps closer to the ponds on the other side of the road.

Both tell us something important about our neighbors.

What do they say to you? What do your own signs and your own votes say about you?

The Missing Kite

Kalmo Bettis woke up in mid-snore from a rare midafternoon nap. His first thought was about the dream he’d just lost, hot seconds away from either carnal relief or more frustration. He rolled off the sofa, grabbed his service pistol from the coffee table and held the Glock 22 behind his back. Peering between the curtains, he saw no sign of either visitor or prankster who might have rung the doorbell. The street was quiet.

He opened the door and relaxed, then cursed himself for letting the lilacs grow so out of control that he hadn’t seen the kid. Bettis knew from experience that little ones seldom attacked cops. More important, he recognized this one. He hid the pistol in his waistband and stepped outside. “What do you need, young man?”

Bettis towered over the boy, who took a few steps back, ready to run. “I’m sorry to bother you, Officer, but my mom said I should report it to you.”

“Report what to me?”

“Somebody stole my kite.”

Bettis smiled and looked up and down the street. “I see. What’s your name, son?”

“James, sir. James Wagner.”

“I’ve seen you around. You live down on the corner, right?

James nodded.

“And how old are you?”

“Seven today. I got the kite for my birthday.”

Bettis sat on the top step and gestured for the boy to join him. James took a spot at the far end, leaving a couple of feet between them. Bettis shook his head, studying the row of houses on the other side of Blakemore. “Now that’s a real shame,” he said. “Some criminal stole your birthday present? Did you call 911?”

“No sir. My mom said that’s just for emergencies, like if my dad comes around.”

Bettis looked at him and nodded. “Your mom told you right, James. You listened to her. That’s great.” He reached over and gave the boy’s shoulder a pat, taking note of a slight flinch. “Does your dad come around very often?”

James looked down at his feet and shook his head. “Not much.”

“You have any brothers or sisters, anyone else at home?”

“No, just me and my mom.”

“Does he call?”

James shook his head again and turned to Bettis. “On my birthday. That’s about it.”

“Did he call today?”

“Yeah. He told me happy birthday and asked if I liked the kite. He said he dropped it off in the night.”

Bettis nodded. “And did you tell him you like the kite? What did you say?”

“I didn’t see it. There wasn’t anything inside the front door like he said.”

Bettis stood and locked his eyes on the house on the corner. A siren sounded in the distance. It grew louder. “What did your dad say then?”

James stood and followed the cop’s gaze to his house. “He started swearing and said someone must have stolen it and he’d get me another one. He wanted to talk to my mom.”

“Did she talk to him?”

“For a minute, then she said he couldn’t come over and she hung up.”

“And then what happened?”

“She started crying,” James said. “I told her someone stole my present and he was going to bring me another one. Then she told me to come over here.”

Bettis reached back and touched the Glock, reassuring himself that it was close. “Where does your dad live?” he asked.

“Over on Clayborn,” James said.

“Does he have a car?” Bettis stepped to block the boy’s view of the house as James described a rusting pickup that squealed around the corner and stopped. Close behind came a police cruiser with lights flashing and siren blaring.

James lurched down the steps. Bettis was quicker. He grabbed the boy and pulled him close.


This story first appeared in Bright Flash Literary Review in 2020.