In Search of Good News

The weather was quite nice in Wichita on Wednesday, with sunny skies and highs in the 70s, and on a brief walk around our picturesque Riverside neighborhood we noticed that flowers are blooming and the trees are coming back to life. Somehow the beauty of nature seemed slightly eerie, given that all the news is about nature trying to wipe out humankind, but we found it heartening nonetheless.
We returned home to read that the Senate unanimously passed a $2 trillion spending bill in response to the economic effects of the rapidly spreading coronavirus, which is expected to be quickly passed by the House of Representatives and signed into law by President Donald Trump, and we hope that turns out to be good news. The smart money on Wall Street seems to think so, as all the stock markets went up for a day, but no one expects it will stave off a severe recession and markets will likely go down with the next employment numbers. Despite the hopefully bipartisan agreement the bargaining it took get it seems to have exacerbated the the country’s political polarization, with everyone accusing the other side of exploiting a crisis for ideological reasons, which will make it harder for our democracy to make the hard decisions that are sure to come.
Sorry to sound so gloomy and doomy, but the news lately has little to offer but gloom and doom. A few days ago 100 Americans died of COVID-19 and now it’s more than 200 a day dying, and although the rate of increase in infections might be slowing — there’s no way of knowing given the limited testing that’s been done — there’s no sign of a decrease. Hospitals in such densely populated cities as New York and San Francisco and New Orleans and Detroit are running out of beds and
essential medical equipment, even the sparsely populated and mostly rural states have lost lives, and no one but Trump seems hopeful that it will take weeks rather than months before things will start getting better.
There’s still good news in the world that’s not in the news, though, and we urge you to look around and find it. The West Douglas Church of Christ is closed for the duration, but one of our fellow congregants called us today to say they’ll have carry-out communion bread and sealed communion cups, and to inquire if we needed anything the church might provide. We were happy to say that we’re getting, and volunteered for any errands that need to be run, and we much appreciated the call.
Some people have been selling stocks on inside information and hoarding toilet paper and otherwise acting with no regard for others, but we happily note that most people are being more considerate. We have to venture out of the house occasionally to obtain necessary supplies, and when we do the people we encounter maintain a polite distance but are friendly. Our Facebook friends keep posting hopeful messages and gallows humor, and people seem to be keeping in touch one way or another.
The flowers and the trees and greening grass and blue skies are good news, too, and if you’ve got that going on in your neighborhood we think it safe to advise you go out for a walk and take a look. We don’t expect to be able to celebrate Easter with our church and family and friends, but even in the spring of a plague year we believe in the miracle of resurrection.

— Bud Norman

When Even the Good News is Bad News

Sundays are usually slow news days, when we show up at the West Douglas Church of Christ across the Arkansas River in the rough Delano district to hear the two-millennium-old good news of the gospel, but yesterday it was hard to avoid the more recent bad news abut the coronavirus pandemic that seems to spreading exponentially and has pretty much every person on the planet freaking out. Attendance at our small and aging congregation was down, and when we awoke from our usual post-church nap we saw that the Federal Reserve Board had lowered interest rates all the way down to zero.
That’s good news, we suppose, as it signals to the suddenly bearish stock markets that the federal government is doing everything it can to sustain the economy, including quantitative easing of freshly printed money and another trillion dollar or so of deficit spending and other governmental actions that used to offend Republican free market sensibilities. The bad news is that by doing so they acknowledge such extreme measures are now necessary, as people all over the world are starting to think we’re all going to die, which of course is very bad for most businesses.
We have no idea what the stock markets will do today, and we’d be far too rich to be writing at an obscure internet publication if we did, but as we write this the future markets that keep going overnight and through weekends are seeing the zero interest rate announcement as a glass half full and are again deep in the red. Given what we’ve seen over the weekend here in Wichita, where the coronavirus is currently taking up just one hospital bed, we can well understand the pessimism.
Around 8 p.m. on Friday we dropped in on the nearest Dillons’ grocery store, which is the Kroger-owned chain where most Wichitans buy their groceries, and even at that usually late hour the place was packed with customers, all of whom had carts stacked chest-high with at least a month’s supply of meat and beans and frozen food and toilet paper and whatever else they considered essential. It took us longer than usual to pay for our meager single guy’s day-to-day purchases that fit in a small hand-held basket, and the woman at the cash register apologized for the wait, but we told her we’d seen how hard she working and very much appreciated the effort, and we wished her well. For now business is good at Dillons’, but if things work out for the best they’ll wind up selling the same amount of goods over the long run, as people deplete their hoards, and if it doesn’t we’ll probably all be dead.
We also dropped in on the notorious dive bar called Kirby’s Beer Store over the weekend, where business was also down. Kirby’s usually thrives on wizened customers from the across-the-street Wichita State University in the afternoon and the more youthful music lovers who crave its eclectic offerings in the evening, but WSU is extending spring break and offering only on-line classes due the coronavirus, and the bands who were booked on their way to Austin’s big and recently cancelled South-By-Southwest Festival are now cancelling their engagements. There were a few hardy daredevils among the regulars who ventured out to have a beer with us, and we had a good time with them, but we couldn’t avoid the topic of the coronavirus.
Sunday was supposed to be the day when the National Collegiate Athletic Conference announced the field for its basketball championship, which might or might not have included WSU’s Wheatshockers and most certainly would have had the University of Kansas’ Jayhawks as a top seed, but all of “March Madness” was cancelled due to mania about the coronavirus. The National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball an golf’s prestigious Masters Tournament have also been postponed or cancelled, and we figure the economic fallout from just that sector of the American economy is enough to send the stock markets into bear territory. Throw in all the economic fallout hitting all of sorts of large and small businesses all around the world, and we can’t advise anyone not to panic.
We’ll stay cool, though, as we’ve thus far survived an appendectomy and several global pandemics and numerous recessions and an F-4 tornado that ran right over us, as well as our many vices, and we maintain an irrational but unshakeable in faith our invincibility. We’re not so sure about the rest of you, but we wish you the best. We can’t look to either of the political parties for salvation, but if worse comes to worst we’ll be counting on the good news that’s still being preached to the dwindling congregation at the West Douglas Church of Christ.

— Bud Norman

Joe Rio, RIP

Sunday was another one of those bittersweet winter days we sometimes get here on the harsh Kansas plains. Until the sun set in beautiful pink pastels the endless prairie sky was brilliantly blue, the temperatures were as moderate as one can hope for this time of year, and our day began with another invigorating worship service at the West Douglas Church of Christ over in the rough Delano neighborhood, where we joined the small low-church congregation in singing “Go Tell It on the Mountain” to celebrate the upcoming anniversary of the earthly birth of Jesus Christ.
A good friend of ours delivered the communion message, and he spoke eloquently of how a good friend of his had recently prevented another good friend of his from committing suicide, and the guest lay preacher’s sermon was about Christ coming to earth to redeem all of us sinners, so we went home with a hopeful feeling. During our usual post-church nap we had a very modern nightmare about losing our debit card, however, and then were obliged to head to one of the musical joints in the rough Old Town neighborhood to attend a memorial service for a weird but dear rock ‘n’ roll friend of ours who recently shot himself in the heart.
You’ve probably never heard of the guy who called himself Joe Rio, but judging by the standing-room-only crowd at Barleycorn’s on Sunday afternoon he had a lot of friends around here. One of them, a fellow we vaguely know but can’t quite name, asked us how well we knew Joe, and we had to admit we only knew him well enough to appreciate his unique creativity, and to consider him a friend, and to appreciate the friendship he generously extended to us, and to sympathize with the obviously troubled life he chose to end. That was more than enough, though, to make Sunday one of those bittersweet Kansas days.
Joe wasn’t a notably gifted musician if you’re judging by strictly technical standards, but he always added an irresistibly human thing to the old-timey country and post-punk bands he played with in Wichita’s roughest musical joints, and even his most talented former band mates were at Barleycorn’s on Sunday to attest to his expressive gifts. He had a knack for the visual arts, too, and we also enjoyed his similarly primitivist verbal skills, and we’re told that in his younger days he was one hell of a skateboarder. He more or less made a living for himself as a handy-man, plastering all the dives in town with stickers promising that “If I can’t fix, I know who can,” and although he never came through on that promise for us for us we know he was a an undeniably resourceful fellow. For all the undeniable flaws that everyone at Barleycorn’s could to attest on a bittersweet Kansas winter Sunday, Joe was an irresistibly likable fellow, even if he never much liked himself.
Joe had tattoos up to his neck, a scary surgical scar running down his body from the shoulder to the belly button, and deeper psychological scars from an unhappy childhood in small town Kansas. We were also “Facebook friends,” and every Father’s Day we’d read Joe’s posts about the drunken old man who would daily beat him. We’re even older and dearer friends with one of Joe’s ex-wives, who is also the mother of one of his children, and she’s a Wichita school teacher and we trust her confirmation of every tragic detail. Joe apparently ran away at a young age to the big bad city of Wichita, where he lived for a while under one of the bridges over the Arkansas River, and given everything we’d have to say he made the best of it for a while.
By weird coincidence today is the 85th birthday of our beloved Dad, who is about the best earthly father one can hope for, although he still he insists that his own beloved Dad was the better man. We can’t brag much about what we’ve made with that blessing, however, so we’ll leave it our merciful heavenly father to judge how Joe Rio played his hand. We wish the best to all those friends of Joe who showed up at Barleycorns in their biker gang jackets and neck tattoos, and those who brought food and donations and pamphlets with the 1-800-273-TALK suicide help line, and especially to all of the children he has left without any earthly  father. We also wish  a Merry Christmas to all of us sinners in need of Christ’s redemption.

— Bud Norman

A Weekend With Partial Government

The federal government has been partially shut down since midnight last Friday, but around here you would have hardly noticed it over the weekend. Maybe it’s because the federal government is always partially shut down on the weekends, or the almost tolerable winter weather we’ve lately had, or everything else that’s going on around here and the rest of the country, and as bad as partial federal government shutdown inarguably is it didn’t seem a big enough deal that any of the responsible parties have any incentive to resolve it soon.
After watching Friday’s desultory news late into the night We slept through most of Saturday morning, and by the time we arrived at the local “women’s march” in front of the Wichita City Hall the speeches had concluded and the crowd was dwindling. Even before the federal government partially shut down a comely young woman outside the Vagabond bar in Delano had handed us a handbill about the event, which we immediately understood to be the feminist sisterhood’s collective outrage about President Donald Trump, and we had been looking forward to it ever since. As aging white male Republican heterosexual Christian conservative Republicans we have our own reasons for being outraged about Trump’s presidency, and by now we’re quite sympathetic to all the gripes by women of color and women in general and even those darned liberal women, and with all the required apologies and assurances that at least we’re not all creepy about it we’ll confess the girl-watching is always pretty good at these sisterhood gatherings.
A couple of handsome young Wichita police officers told us they estimated the crowd at its peak between 300 and 500 people, although they admitted they weren’t much good at estimating crowd sizes, which is not a bad turnout for a liberal rally in this town even on a tolerably warm winter day, and we saw on an afternoon’s internet surfing that hundreds of thousands had shown up in more populous and it all added up to the millions around the country, which suggests to us that all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons had gripes with Trump even before the federal government partially shut down.
Saturday night was the second night of the “Meat Fest” at Kirby’s Beer Store, and if you ever find yourself in Wichita, Kansas, on a tolerably warm mid-January weekend we highly recommend you attend this annual event. Kirby’s is a subterranean low level dive bar right across the street from the residence of the president of Wichita State University and just adjacent to a ghetto laundromat, its clientele is comprised of counter-cultural types stretching from the beats to the hippies to such to Republican but punk sorts such as ourselves, and as you head to an evening all those bearded and tattooed and tight-pansted sorts of hipsters we don’t what to call. Once a year they offer two nights of free charbroiled meat along with a jam-packed line-up of the local weird talent they offer on a pretty much nightly basis, and on Saturday night that featured an excellent set by our old friend Alberto Alfonso’s one-man-band which included a rousing rendition of Frankie Laine’s theme song to “Blazing Saddles.”
The rest of the acts were too loud and noisome to our ears, but there was free char-broiled meat, and with the requisite apologies and assurances that we weren’t at all creepy about it we’ll say the girl-watching was pretty damned good. All in all, we were pleased that another “Meat Fest” went full-steam ahead even as the federal government partially shut down.
Somehow we still made it to worship services at the West Douglas Church of Christ on Sunday morning, where we were honored to be asked to deliver the opening prayer, which gave thanks for the relatively warm weather and all the preceding cold weather that made it seem almost tolerable, and no mention was made of a partial government shutdown. After that we took a nap, then shook our heads while reading the latest internet accounts of the American president’s alleged but very believable account of of a sexual tryst with a porn star he paid an alleged $130 thousand dollars to hush up about it, even though she’d already given an interviews to a tabloid about how he liked to be spanked with a rolled-up copy of Forbes magazine with his picture on the cover, and the latest admittedly funny story has her capitalizing on her notoriety by appearing at strip clubs with the promise to “Make America Horny Again.”
By early Sunday evening we were back at Kirby’s Beer Store, where they were no long offering free charbroiled met but did have a jam-packed lineup of weird local musical offerings. Three of our fellow old-tmers and good friends were there, one a predictably liberal gay guy and another a conspiracy-theory nut from one of the local aviation plants and the third a pragmatically old fashioned professional Democrat lawyer who’s currently a disability judge, and it in our brief conversation about the partial government shutdown we all agreed it wasn’t that bit a deal and there’s plenty of blame to spread around.
So far as we can tell the sticking points in this partial government shutdown are about funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and those designated “dreamers” who are illegal immigrants because they were brought here as blameless children, and we all agreed that sooner or later the Republicans are bound to cave on all of that. There’s a convincing argument that no Democrat should should even partially shut down the government over something the Republicans will eventually cave to, and a similarly convincing argument convincing argument that the Republicans shouldn’t allow a partial shutdown over something they’re eventually cave to anyway,and no plausible argument that Trump is the great deal maker he always claimed to be. The conspiracy nut noted that we were making the same glum assessment of the situation as that Joe Scarborough guy on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show, which is embarrassing enough, but we all pretty much agreed it was true.
Once upon a time the entirely believable accounts of the president and the porn star would have been a bigger topic of conversation, along with all the news about the “Russia thing” that was scrolling on the muted television, but all that chatter was pretty jocular. The relatively young folks on the small stage of Kirby’s Beer Store were mostly acoustic and playing at a volume that allowed for old-timers’ political discussion, and we have to admit it mostly sounded pretty darned good. Although we can assure you we weren’t at all creepy about it, and were careful to also compliment one handsome young man, we also noticed that a couple of the performers were rather comely young women.
Today is Monday and all the responsible parties will probably spend it pointing fingers at one another, and they’ll all have a reasonable enough argument to make for themselves, but here in Wichita we’ll trust that the rest of us will muddle through it somehow.

— Bud Norman