Author Archives: Jody Seay

(Come on, Walmart, don’t be) Bastards


Today, I became my mother.  Again.  It seems to happen a lot as I age.  I don’t look like her, nor sound like her, nor share in any of her political or religious beliefs.  I have my own path to follow. Still, every so often, something she would say creeps out of me and I am shocked, then thrilled, secretly, that she still rides around in me, and grateful to realize that again and again.

My mother was very conservative – in almost every way you can imagine. The worst word I ever heard her say was “…Bastards…,” something she usually reserved for watching Meet the Press or some other show with liberal-minded people on it.  I said that word today, several times, actually, but I wasn’t watching the tube or surfing the net to see what conservative jackass might piss me off.  I was buying cat food.

Stef and I live in a small Oregon town.  Walmart has a huge store here and does an equally huge business.  I try not to shop there, not because I think the people who run it or work at it are bad people – they’re not.  I object to how Walmart runs their business of paying their employees the minimum that they can get away with; so little, in fact, that those people must be on food stamps and the rest of America has to subsidize that huge gap which is – big surprise – money those people then spend at Walmart.  Certainly, I can’t be the only one getting pretty sick of this. Plenty of American companies have realized that paying their employees a living wage creates a happier, healthier, and more dedicated work force.  Why can’t Walmart step up to the plate and realize that this is not only the right thing to do, but a good business decision, as well?

I don’t doubt that there is lots the Walmart folks have done with some of their money which is good for the rest of society. In a trickle-down sort of way, I once was the recipient of a tiny portion of that largesse when I was first getting my TV show, BACK PAGE, off the ground, and again when the cowgirl musical I wrote, BUNKIN’ WITH YOU IN THE AFTERLIFE, was being produced, something I greatly appreciated.  It was small potatoes in their world, I’m sure, but huge in mine. By the same token, I know people who have worked for Walmart for years. They have done well by the company and the company by them.  All of that is good.  But, jeepers, we are talking billions and billions of dollars that could be used to help keep people who are working full-time from having to be on the dole, you know?  Why, as a nation, do we put up with this?  I know we have all heard the saying, “Freedom isn’t free,” but, really, the free market shouldn’t be entirely free, either, for companies making that kind of profit.

So, how does this relate to cat food?  I’ll tell you. There are a couple of stores here called Pet Mini-Mart, nice stores with just about anything you’d want for your pet.  I like shopping there.  The stores are clean, the people are friendly, the prices are competitive – plus, they give you this little punch card and when you spend enough that all of your little holes are punched out on that card, they scrape off a little gold circle and give you back, in cash, whatever it says on the card.  It’s not much, usually, and it takes a while, like a slow-motion lottery, but I always feel like I’ve won something huge whenever they do that. Makes me strut around all puffed out like I’ve just finished first in the decathlon or some giant, impressive thing like that.

Today, I walked into the Pet Mini-Mart and announced, loudly, “I decided I’d rather spend my money with you than Walmart!”  The staff all yelled, “Yay!” I grabbed some IAMs cat food for our mean cat, Bennie, and some pill pockets for Toby’s medicine.  I checked out.  The young lady punched my card.  I said, “I don’t like shopping at Walmart because I don’t like how little they pay their employees.”  Then, I muttered under my breath, “Bastards.”  I headed toward the door.  Suddenly, I remembered I needed cat litter for our mean cat, Bennie, so I went back and grabbed a jug of that stuff.  I checked out again. The young lady punched my card. “Not only that,” I said, “since most Walmart employees have to subsidize their income with food stamps, you and I wind up paying for it – did you know that?”  She said, “I did.”  I muttered under my breath, “Bastards.”  I headed toward the door when I remembered I needed some glucosamine chews for Toby’s knee, so I went back and grabbed a bottle of those.  I checked out once more.  The young lady punched my card. “Hey! she said, “Time to see what you’ve won!”  And she began scraping on my card. She punched the register open, came out with a dollar and slapped it on the counter in front of me.  “I bet Walmart won’t ever do that,” she said.  I agreed, saying, “No, I can’t imagine that they would.” Then, I heard her mutter under her breath, “Bastards.”



Bossin’ Me Around


Last week sometime was National Boss’s Day, which set me to thinking about some of the people for whom I’ve worked in the past. Most were actually quite wonderful people; a couple of them were pricks, but most, whether good or bad, are memorable. When I was quite young, I worked for an import/export firm, quietly tapping away on a 10-key adding machine back in my own little office, pretty sure the guy who owned the place didn’t even know my name (he didn’t – or, if he did, he could never remember it.) Besides, his secretary’s name was also Jody, so, whenever he blasted into the showroom yelling, “GODDAMN IT, JODY!!!” I would instantly jump up, bashing my legs against my desk and, thus, kept a permanent bruise across my fat little thighs right above my knees. He was never yelling at me, but you wouldn’t have known it by watching me react.

When I worked for a Johnson & Johnson company in the early 1970’s, my boss was a great guy with terrific dimples and his name was Max Odom. He was kind and thoughtful, slow to anger and easy to make laugh, a gentleman and a gentle man, and that made going to work each day a delightful thing.

After that, rock ‘n roll radio got into my blood and I worked for 5 years at KZEW-FM in Dallas, I had a number of great bosses there. John Dew was the Station Manager when I arrived, a good guy with the know-how to get things done, those “things” being the brain-child of The Zoo’s own creative genius, Ira “Eye” Lipson. If Eye was the driver of the Merry Prankster’s Bus, John figured out how to get the bus financed. I loved working at that station where creative juices got to flow down the hallways, where nothing really seemed too insane to try, where I could cha-cha around the studio when Jon Dillon played Carly Simon’s YOU BELONG TO ME, or Mark Christopher and I could lock ourselves in the production room and create promos or crazy commercials that made all of Dallas and Ft. Worth sit up and take notice.

After John Dew left, Ivan Braiker came on board as the new Station Manager. Ivan loved us and we loved him. He understood business, but he also understood creativity and never made us sacrifice one for the sake of the other. We played killer music all day long but, more than that, we were all bonded by a singular notion, which was to do some good in the world and cleverly disguise it as work. That’s what we did at The Zoo. What a time. For those of us who worked there during that era, the 1970’s, it was our Camelot. And, for that, I give thanks to Ira Lipson, Ivan Braiker, John Dew, Kenny Rundel, Mark Christopher, Mark Addy, Gary Shaw, Jon Dillon, Mike Taylor, John Baker, Michael Brown, John LaBella, Diana Marquis, Syd Meredith, Charley Jones, Sally Francis, Sharla Taylor, Beetle, Rick Ferguson, John Rody, Wally Campbell, Jim Stansell, Chuck Moshontz, Dave Lee Austin, Bill Harrison, Mike Ceferatti, The Amazing Beesley Sisters, and anyone I’ve left out. All of you were my bosses – and my teachers – in one way or another, and I thank you for that.

I hold that time and place so dear, and I suppose there are not many jobs I could have had in my life where I could have gotten to listen to great music all day, write and produce as much crazy stuff as I wanted to – actually get a paycheck for it – and, still, at the end of each day feel like I’d done some good in the world. I am lucky. And, I have some wonderful bosses to thank for that.

I worked at SEARS when I was in college, back shortly after the earth cooled, and I had a terrific boss named Jeanne Barnes. I’ll tell you why. I worked in Ladies Ready to Wear but, on this one day, Mrs. Barnes had asked me to fill in at the Children’s Clothing Dept., which was right next to ours. There was a sale going on and, without realizing what I’d done (because I was too busy talking) I over-charged a woman for some little kid’s underpants she’d bought for her daughter. I failed to ring up the ON SALE price and had charged her the regular price and didn’t see what I’d done until after the woman had already left the department. Well. The rule was: IF YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE IN THE DEPARTMENT, DO NOT LEAVE THE DEPARTMENT UNTIL YOU HAVE SOMEONE THERE TO COVER FOR YOU. But, what could I do?? I didn’t want that lady to think I was a crook – or – that SEARS was a crooked store. I grabbed five bucks out of my wallet, stashed my purse, locked the register, and took off running. I ran across the store, vaulted down the escalator, screeched through the rest of the store and out the front door where I just happened to catch that lady in her car before she turned onto Jefferson Blvd. “I charged you too much,” I gasped, “I’m really sorry. I think this will cover it.” And I tossed my five dollar bill into her car. Then I chugged back up to the Children’s Clothing Dept., found my boss, and, between wheezing gasps for air, explained to her what had happened. Mrs. Barnes pulled out her wallet and handed me a five dollar bill. “Walk with me,” she said, draping her arm over my shoulder. We walked to the escalator, over which was an enormous sign that read: THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT. It was our motto back then; I hope it still is. “See that sign?” she asked. I nodded, because, at that point, I still could not speak without sounding like a bagpipe. “That woman will never forget what you did,” Mrs. Barnes said, and she looked me right in the eye, touching my heart with her hand, “And, neither will you.” She was right. I don’t know about that customer but, as for me, clearly, I have never forgotten it.

I am a good worker, conscientious and thorough. But, I am a terrible boss, and I should know, because I’ve been my own boss for the past 35 years. I have difficulty delegating, compounded by the fact that, since I am in business by myself, for myself, there is actually nobody else to delegate TO. Oh well. The good part is that I don’t have to answer to anyone or explain just what I was doing in that part of town when the muffler fell off. The bad part is that it makes the Christmas parties almost achingly dull. And, giving myself a raise? That’s the hardest thing of all – like doing Gestalt Therapy.

I am easy to work for, I gotta say that, though, because nobody understands as well as my boss how it feels when there’s a story cranking in my head that needs to be told. She understands that sometimes the best thing to do is just sit down and write the thing. I’ll whimper and look pitiful like an old dog. She’ll roll her eyes, let out an almost-disgusted sigh and say, “Okay, okay, just take the day off.” And, so, I do. I love my boss.





Death has been a big part of my life, beginning with my own mother’s death in 1986, which was the first time I’d ever been with anyone at the moment of transition from this life to the next.  After that came my friend Lou who died in 1998, then my friend Shirley in 1999, and my friend CarolAnn whose very last heartbeat I felt against my palm in 2006.  Of course, there have been several other deaths – relatives and friends I’ve lost in the past few years – but these four are the ones where I got to be present and to help with their crossing in that holy moment when the door to the next life swings open and their soul departs for brighter days, shedding the shell we call our body and moving on to matters of Light.

Shirley Hudgens was like the big sister I never wanted, always bossing me around, telling me what to do, but her heart was huge and kind, which is probably why I never punched her in the nose.  She was from San Angelo, Texas, a self-made woman in the world of information technology, having begun so when computers were as big as Studebakers and you had to kick start ’em.  She made her way up in the hierarchy at Dallas Federal Savings and Loan, then started her own company handling on-line data processing services for smaller savings and loan organizations. She was successful, proud of all she had accomplished, and rightfully so, with only a high school diploma and strong intellect which took her far in her life.

Shirley drove a big, floaty Lincoln Town Car, wore custom-made Leddy Bros. cowboy boots, a full-length mink coat in the winter and a gold nugget Rolex watch as heavy as a box of rocks.  She was everything we think of when we picture successful Texas women – larger than life, almost obnoxiously proud of her Texas heritage, too flashy to be tasteful. Or ignored. I always expected to see a set of longhorns strapped to the hood of her Lincoln and hear the car horn blasting out THE EYES OF TEXAS when she came driving up.

In the 15 years since Shirley’s death, I have never written about it, how profound it was. It is finally time to do that now. I had finished a rolfing trip to Dallas and Tulsa, then spent  several days with Shirley at her place out at the lake, east of Dallas.  I was finishing up the editing of my first book, so we quickly fell into a routine.  We would drink coffee in the morning, then Shirley would work on her computer stuff while I slogged through yet another rewrite of my manuscript. At noon, we’d get in the car and go up to the Chinese buffet joint for lunch, come back and watch GOLDEN GIRL reruns for a couple of hours so we could laugh and laugh before Shirley fell asleep in her recliner.  She was quite ill at that point and on lots of pain meds, but still functional.  Besides, whenever her doctor said, “Shirley, I’m sorry, but you’ve only got 3 months,” Shirley would say, “Okay, I’ve got 9 months.”  And, usually, she was right, as she kept tacking on an extra 6 months to whatever amount of time her doctor had given her. Shirley always thought she could figure out a way to last longer and live better than everybody else because she always did. We called it TAKING THE LIBRARY BOOK BACK AND CHECKING IT OUT AGAIN.

It was hard to leave Shirley that last time; I wasn’t sure I’d see her alive again. Even as she drove me all the way to DFW Airport, I kept glancing over at her, wondering how much longer she’d be able to stretch out this diminishing life of hers. She looked frail and drawn, a little jaundiced, but I thought that might have been the overdose of Chinese food.  Still, she seemed okay.  Two days after I arrived back in Portland, Randy Toups, a Dallas friend and hospice nurse, called and said, “You need to get back down here.  Shirley’s starting to crash.”  I said, “That can’t be.  I just talked to her yesterday and she was fine.”  Randy replied, “Well, she’s not fine today.  Get on a plane.”  So, I flew back to Dallas, borrowed a car and drove back out to the lake. Randy was right; Death was close, peeking at us through the blinds, waiting, just waiting, for us to turn our backs. Randy had gotten a hospital bed delivered and I called our friends Judith and Tina who arrived within an hour.

Departing the body is not an easy thing, like being born is not an easy thing, and that’s how I’ve come to view Death, as a birth into the next life. It’s often a painful and smelly and scary process, but the four of us were all determined not to run from it and to stay with it right up until the last horse bucked.  Due to the pain meds she was on, Shirley’s bowel had become impacted and it was quite uncomfortable for her so Randy, ever the hospice nurse, gloved up to remedy the situation.  It was late at night. We were all in our pajamas, standing around Shirley’s hospital bed in the middle of her living room. We gloved up, too, however, like comrades-in-arms, like we were all just gonna get right in there at the same time and get the job done.  We had all pulled our pajama tops up over our noses and I remember I was crying, just thinking about how humiliating this must be for the woman who ran her own company she had created from nothing more than an idea, her own steely determination, and some wickedly superior computer skills. When we got Shirley all cleaned up, she began acting agitated and I was certain she was going to die right then.  “Oh, Shirley, oh, Shirley,” I said, “Can you see the Light?  Can you see the Light?” Shirley opened her eyes and looked right up at the ceiling. “Uh-huh,” she said.  Well.  We exploded into laughter.  Tina said, “Maybe you should ask her if she can see the ceiling fan so we’ll know which light she’s talking about.”

The next day, Shirley slipped even further away, becoming non-verbal and mostly sleeping.  I had a ring I used to wear, a Hopi design, which represented the kiva, a place of prayer and meditation.  For some reason, I took it off and placed it on Shirley’s heart.  All day, friends arrived from all over Texas to say good-bye to her.  They would sit beside her bed, hold her hand, and tell her what a good friend she had been to them.  I watched in awe as each of these visitors would take off a ring and place it on Shirley’s heart, too. Nobody – NOT ONE PERSON – looked at that pile of jewelry resting on Shirley’s sternum and said, “What the hell??”  Nobody questioned it at all; they just chose to participate in whatever wonderful thing was happening. There were 8 rings at one point, all just sitting there, a sign of something magical and true. When the people left, they would each walk over, pick up their ring and put it back on, kiss Shirley’s forehead and then leave. I won’t ever forget how moved I was by that. Deep in my own chest, I felt my heart crack open and gratitude for the life my friend had lived spilled out, running like honey down a tree trunk, golden and pure.  Oh. It was so, so grand.

Late that night, everyone was exhausted.  Randy was in the front bedroom, snoring; Tina was on the couch, snoring; Judith was in the recliner, snoring. And, Shirley’s breathing had sliced into that death rattle phase, so, the sound was like 6 percolators going all at once.  I was sitting at Shirley’s desk with her cat in my lap, writing letters to my cousins who had just lost their mother when I got this feeling that something big was about to happen, like the feeling you get just before a big storm blows in. The air changed in the room and I felt my heart shake off the exhaustion and stand up straight, ready to look Death in the eyeballs.  I took Shirley’s cat over to her hospital bed and placed him beside her, then I held up her hand so he could rub his head against it one last time. I went around and woke everyone up.  “I think this is it,” was all I said.

Still sleepy, but determined, we gathered around Shirley’s bed and thanked her for being our friend, for intertwining her life with ours.  We lit white candles; we said prayers.  We paved the path as carefully and with as much love as we could, laying warm stones for our friend to follow. I felt like we should be singing a hymn, but I couldn’t think of a hymn all four of us knew the words to all at once, so, slowly – very slowly, I began singing THE EYES OF TEXAS and the others joined in.  We turned it into a hymn, as sweet and as solemn as we could.  Then Shirley lifted her upper body off the bed, arching her back, and took 3 short gasps of breath before falling back, totally depleted. She was gone. Her soul had found its boots and she was moving on.  And I remember thinking, “That’s not a bad way for a Texas girl to make her exit.”

In the 15 years since her death, I have told this story many times, but have never written it, which seems to be something I do to let go. Finally. Let. Go. This is the hardest thing of all, finally letting go, especially since I’ve been dragging her around with me for so long, and my tears, which flow so easily, don’t disappoint me as I write this, streaming down my cheeks in great rivers, dripping off my jaw and gathering in puddles above my collar bones. It is sad. But, it is cleansing, and I am grateful for the tears I still shed for Shirley. They are my touchstone, the mark of a true friendship.

I miss my friend Shirley, the big sister I never wanted. I’ve no doubt she’s bossing the others around wherever she is now, keeping them in line, showing them the ropes, being a good friend.  That’s who she was in this life and I can’t imagine she’d be any different in the next one. She taught me how to tell, at the end of your life, if a good friend is what you’ve been to others. It’s easier than you might think, rather like guessing the age of a tree. I learned this about Shirley’s life by witnessing her death: Just have somebody count the rings around your heart.




I love Billy Crystal.  Almost everything he does or says makes me laugh, but now I know that some of the things he says and does can make me cry, too, which is a good, good thing.  Plus, despite the fact that he grew up in New York and I grew up in Texas, it appears that we have about three things in common, something I could never say about myself and, oh, say, Lindsay Lohan, for example.  So, today I sent a package to Billy Crystal, along with a letter that said this:

Dear Billy:

Last night, I had the accidental delight of tuning in and watching 700 SUNDAYS on HBO or some channel – I never really know since the cable guy was here and screwed with everything.  Still, whatever channel it was, the whole thing made me happy.  Thank you for being as open and honest about your life as you were so more and more people can understand that we all have more in common than not.

You grew up in New York; I grew up in Texas.  Our lives didn’t parallel in any way that I can see, other than the fact that we are both Baby Boomers.  And this:  My grandmother farted in the morning in very much the same way your grandfather did.  The first thing she did each morning was open the fridge and pour a small glass of cold water, then place that tiny glass back into the fridge next to her water bottle. It made a very specific clinking sound on that half-circle, aluminum shelf.  Then, she would pad across the kitchen to turn on the light and, in that short trip, let out these tremendously long (what we called) “growler farts,” as if she were stepping on a duck or a bagpipe under water for a really long time.  They weren’t smelly farts, not really, as farts can go, just loud.  And long.  And horrifyingly, uniquely her own.  Now, since she’s gone, our grandmother’s farts belong to us, her grandchildren, to include in funny family stories about her, and I’m sure she is laughing about them as loudly as everyone else, although not as loudly, I am certain, as were her farts.

And this.  When you went to see your mother after her stroke and she could do nothing but stare.  Mentioning the Yankees brought her back to the surface.  I can relate to this.  My mother loved baseball; specifically, the Brooklyn Dodgers.  When the Dodgers left Brooklyn and moved to Los Angeles sometime in the 1950’s, Mother never forgave them.  Thirty years later, as my mother lay dying from emphysema, on a ventilator, in the ICU @ Methodist Hospital in Dallas, I went in to see her.  She was sitting up in bed, with her glasses on, watching a baseball game on TV.  I kept thinking, WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE???  Her lungs were shot; the machine was breathing for her. She couldn’t speak with that tube down her throat.  But, still, she could watch a ball game.  My sister Peggy came in and we were standing on opposite sides of our mother’s hospital bed, both of us making random remarks about the baseball game to keep from talking about any of the things so obvious and difficult.  Speaking of the World Series, I said, “I was kind of glad to see Kansas City win it last year.” Peggy said, “Yeah, I was, too, but I can’t remember who they played.”  I shrugged my shoulders and shook my head; I couldn’t remember, either. Mother took her pad of paper and her pen and wrote, with a shaky hand:  R E D S.

So, thanks, Billy, for this latest gift of yours to all of us.  And, thanks for the wonderful memories.  I am enclosing a gift for you, too, my newest book called DEAD IN A DITCH – Growing Up In Texas & Other Near-Death Experiences.  It’s a collection of essays about all the ways Mother thought we, her five children, would die.  It’s also like looking at someone else’s picture album and, in doing that, if you pay attention, you can begin to see the story of the family emerging.  I’m not doing this to ask anything of you.  It’s a gift.  Read it, if you would like, or pass it along, if you don’t.

I guess my biggest wad of thanks should go to the cable guy.  If he hadn’t come out the other day to screw with the cable box, drag wires everywhere, and chastise us for being so out-of-date with our equipment, I might never even have seen your show, 700 SUNDAYS last night.  I might never have known that your Mom loved baseball like mine did, or realized that you and I both grew up in a similar miasma, in the crop-dusted fog of our grandparents’ farts.  We have more in common than I thought.  Lucky us.


Jody Seay

Blogger’s note:  Please do whatever you can to see Billy Crystal’s new one-man play, 700 SUNDAYS, another touching and funny sparkle of brilliance from a funny, sparkly and brilliant man. It might be on HBO, but I’m not sure now, thanks to the cable guy.






I miss writing letters.  I hardly ever do it anymore.  I send an e-mail, or a Facebook message, or make a quick phone call.  Maybe I’ll scrawl my name inside a card and drop it in the mail, but not much more than that. I don’t send a text message, only because I never learned how to do that and don’t really care to learn.  And I’m pretty sick of seeing everyone all around me hunkered over and staring into a tiny screen where someone has just sent them an almost meaningless missive and substituted u r for you’re somewhere within the text. I suppose this is how we communicate with each other now, which is a little heart-breaking, really, given how much letters have meant to us for so long.

I’ve written some of my best thoughts in letters.  I courted the one I love by writing a letter every day for two weeks – some of the best writing I’ve ever done.  She saved them all in a notebook.  Fifteen years later, they are still there, inside the notebook which gathers dust on the bottom shelf of my desk. And the desk belonged to my great-grandmother; it’s where she sat to write letters to her relatives as her family grew.  There are still ink stains forever in the wood, stains for which I am grateful.  Sometimes I think I’d like to write to my great-grandmother and tell her how much it means to me to sit where she sat, running my hands across the smooth oak on a desk I know her hands had touched,too.  Since she died in 1957, it would be hard to know where to send such a letter.  And, figuring out the postage might be tricky, too.

I wrote a letter to President Obama a couple of  years ago and he wrote back, surprisingly enough, I’d just seen that Academy Award-winning documentary about the financial crisis, how it began, etc., and I told the President I wouldn’t be voting for him if Timothy Geithner stayed on as Sec. of the Treasury, as well as a bunch of other guys I saw as foxes guarding the hen house. I just couldn’t do it, not in good conscience.  The President’s letter was a very nice one, full of assurances about all of the safe-guards that had been put into place to make sure such a financial crisis never struck us again.  And, even though he never said, “No sweat, Jody.  Tim’s practically out the door,” or anything approaching that, pretty soon Tim actually was out the door, and so I felt better, which was what I wanted. Maybe I’ll write and thank him.

I wrote to Vice-President Joe Biden in 2012, right after his debate with Congressman Paul Ryan during which Joe spanked little Paul pretty hard.  I wrote to Joe to congratulate him on what appeared to me as a clear win, but also to invite him over for a barbecue.  He might be gaffe-prone but so am I, and I figured Joe Biden would be fun to hang out with.  I never heard back, which was a little disappointing, but I did write to him in November and I do live in Oregon which, as we all know, is prone to rain and rain and more rain during that time of year.  Maybe Joe just couldn’t wrap his brain around the idea of a barbecue during a downpour.  Maybe I’ll write and ask him about that.

Apparently, Donald Rumsfeld writes a letter to the Internal Revenue Service each tax day where he complains that he doesn’t really know if his tax return is right because the tax code is so confusing and he must hire a tax accountant to figure it out.  Mr. Rumsfeld is a very wealthy man, so I’m assuming he has no trouble hiring a tax person to figure out his tax return; I’m not wealthy at all and I must hire one, too.  I look at a tax form and it might as well be written in Farsi.  But somehow, you know, as confusing as it is, I bet Mr. Rumsfeld gets a better break on the percentage of tax that he pays than I do. Just a feeling I have. But, still, he writes his letter each year.  I used to do that, too, during the 1980’s.  I always enclosed a letter to President Reagan with my tax return.  “Dear Mr. President,” I wrote, “Please do not use my tax money to build a bomb.  Thanks so much.  Sincerely, Jody Seay.”  He never wrote back which, in truth, was a little disappointing.  I would have felt better knowing my tax money was being used to help fund the Head Start Program or something more important to me than firearms and things that go boom.  In fact, I have often thought we should have a pie chart on the back of our tax returns where we could mark what percentage of our taxes we would like to be spent on national defense, social services, arts and education, national parks, etc.  I think the percentages we write down would be far different, and surprisingly so, than the arbitrary number the government comes up with to spend our money. Maybe most people don’t really want 30% of their tax money to go for weapons and such. Maybe most people are like me and would rather have, oh, maybe, only five percent of their tax money go for national defense, freeing up a whole wad of tax money to spend on things that might make this country a better place in which to live. Just a thought. Maybe I’ll write to the I.R.S. about that.

The thing about letters is that they take some effort.  You have to write it on paper, sign it with just the right flourish (“…your sworn enemy, Jody Seay”; “…your faithful cohort in crime, Jody Seay”; “…yours for a better America, Jody Seay.”) Then you must properly address the envelope, put a recent stamp on there – or several outdated ones, just as long as it adds up to the proper amount – which nobody knows anymore without going to the Post Office to ask.  FOREVER stamps , by the way, seem to be costing more all the time, which leads me to believe that FOREVER isn’t as long as it used to be. Then, you must actually put the thing in the mail. And, because of all that, you expect a reply.  Really.  You do. It used to be that getting a reply was almost a sure thing. Now, not so much. Still, hope springs eternal, I suppose, which is how I manage to keep my peak physical conditioning by sprinting to the mailbox each day to check. MAYBE VLADIMIR PUTIN HAS FINALLY WRITTEN BACK TO ME, THAT LITTLE FERRET-FACED TYRANT! That’s what I’m thinking as I race toward the street.

So, no, I don’t write as many letters as I used to but, then, I don’t get as many letters, either, unless you count politicians and Political Action Committees asking for donations as real letters, which I don’t.  But that’s okay.  I miss it, that whole process of sending and receiving letters, but now I have this blog and I can write to you anytime I want.  There’s even a place for you to write back.  It’s quick.  It’s immediate, even.  And, neither of us has to spend FOREVER looking for stamps. JS





God by Any Other Name


Fred Phelps, founder and leader of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, died yesterday.  He was 84 years old.  I don’t know what he died from, but from the pictures I saw of him recently, well, old Fred was looking pretty ragged.  I think maybe he died from hate.  He seemed to be filled with it, determined to make the world understand that every death we were witnessing, whether from these endless wars we’ve been engaged in, or from anything else, really, was a direct result of having pissed off the Almighty over our acceptance, more and more, of people who are gay.  Fred and his church members would jump in their cars with their GOD HATES FAGS signs and drive for hours to picket the funerals of fallen soldiers, or police officers, or tiny children, or even people like Elizabeth Edwards who had the misfortune to discover that her husband was cheating on her right around the same time she discovered the breast cancer that would soon kill her. It didn’t seem to matter to Fred Phelps and his crew that their own actions, although protected by the First Amendment, were just in such bad taste, so inappropriate, and just so flat-out WRONG and that the people burying their loved ones deserved better than to have to put up with the hateful antics of the Westboro Baptist Church

I kept thinking, WHY WOULD SOMEONE DO THAT?  And, from what I’ve read about Fred Phelps, indeed, he seems to be a man of some contradictions. In his younger years, apparently, he was one of the lead attorneys working to get Jim Crow laws overturned, so we know his heart could be open to the plight of others who were experiencing discrimination.  But then something happened, and we don’t know what.  Now, I don’t suppose we ever will.  When Fred found Jesus in a big, bad way, his cause became gay people and how they were all building a big hand cart and taking this whole nation straight to hell in it.  Nobody was immune from the wrath of Fred Phelps after that, and the hatred spewed out of his pores like sweat.

It is doubtful that Fred Phelps ever spent much time on introspection, really examining what the motivating factors were in his life.  I think it was very simple, though.  I think, deep down, Fred Phelps was terrified that he was gay. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have bothered him so much and he would not have felt so driven to stamp it out of the country he claimed to love.  We tend to want to destroy in others that which we most fear in ourselves.  Pretty simple. In Fred, that terror manifested as hatred.  It never saved America, but it killed Fred, that’s what I think.

Oddly enough, by doing some of the really creepy things they did, by showing up at funerals to picket and such, Westboro Baptist Church actually helped form alliances between disparate groups such as the LGBT community and the Patriot Guard motorcycle folks.  Whodathunkit? And, even though there is rarely any news coming out of Mississippi that makes me want to cheer, this story did.  A young soldier’s body was brought back to his home state of Mississippi for burial.  Word got out in this small town that the Westboro Baptist Church people were coming to picket.  People organized.  The desk clerk at the motel where the Phelps people were staying made a call and, before long, there was a car parked perpendicular to the back end of every car in their motel parking lot bearing Kansas license plates.  When called, the two tow truck companies in the small town both swore all of their trucks were out on calls and would be for a long, long time.  The cemetery was too far away to walk to and Westboro Baptist Church missed its opportunity for hatred and harassment.  Darn! All dressed up and nowhere to go; all that gas money spent for nothing.  WAY TO GO, MISSISSIPPI!  Who was God smiting NOW, Fred?

If the God Fred Phelps claimed to know is real, I bet Fred was scared out of his gourd to die.  I would be.  Fred’s God is vengeful and mean; actually quite a bit like Fred, really, if all that could be expected of Him is condemnation and punishment.  That’s not the God I know; that’s not my Creator. The God I know is one of love and kindness and compassion.  I am not afraid to be who I am in front of the One who created me, and I’m not afraid to die and be reunited with my Source, either.  My God knows I will probably screw up and miss the mark from time to time – and it’s true – but I don’t question that the love and forgiveness will always be there for me and my bumbling ways. So, given that, I also know my job is to try to behave as closely to the One who created me as possible, to shadow those who have come before me trying to teach us all enlightenment.  Will I always succeed?  No.  Is it a noble goal? Absolutely.

So, no, I won’t be one of those picketing at the funeral of Fred Phelps. Even Fred’s family deserves the respect they did not give to others.  My biggest spiritual challenge has always been to not become like the people who want to kill me.  I work on it constantly; I’m not that pure. But, I can’t help thinking that God and Michael the Archangel and St. Peter put their heads together and came up with a plan, just to make it rich, then hid behind a pillar to watch this unfold, all three of them giggling behind their hands.  Oscar Wilde and Gertrude Stein were there to meet old Fred at the Pearly Gates and welcome him home with open arms.  “Fred!” they shouted, as he stepped inside Heaven’s Gate, “Heaven is all about learning and well, old boy, it’s time for you to go back to school!”


All It Takes


When Harvey Milk was murdered by Dan White in San Francisco so many years ago, the defense attorney said it was because Dan ate a lot of junk food and was really hopped up on sugar when he took his gun downtown and into the Mayor’s office where he shot and killed the Mayor of San Francisco, George Moscone, and Harvey Milk, an openly gay man recently elected to public office there.They called it the “Twinkie defense,” but, I don’t think sugar was the culprit. I mean, there are lots of things to blame on sugar, but murder is rarely one of them. Dan just couldn’t stand to see his city, the town where he grew up, changing into some place that he just couldn’t wrap his brain around. They were stealing his memories of how his home town was supposed to be. Nothing fit his pictures anymore. That’s why I think he did it. A belly full of Twinkies won’t make you murder two people in cold blood in the middle of the day. But hatred will. Rigidity will. Fear will.

Ellen Page, the young actress who starred in the movie, JUNO, came out as a lesbian because she got tired of living with the pain of hiding.  I know that one. I will never hide again.  Just before that, defensive lineman, Michael Sam, from the University of Missouri, announced to the world that he is a gay man. Uproar over that, and the problems facing the NFL with an openly gay man in its midst ensued; people wringing their hands over how “uncomfortable” those poor players might be in the locker room, knowing that there’s a queer in there with them.  And I’m thinking REALLY?  ARE YOU SURE??  Are you sure that NFL players won’t just say, “So?” and keep playing the game, grateful that Michael Sam is the powerful football player that he is.

I have often said that I wished, for one day each month, all the gay people in the world would suddenly turn bright purple so the world could see who we are and where we are. Chances are, we are at work with you, at school with you or live next door to you.  We are your sisters, your brothers, your aunts, your uncles, your doctors, your nurses, your teachers, your boss, your friends and, sometimes, even your minister. There would be no more hiding.There we would be, flamed out in all our purple glory, for the world to see.  Can you imagine how freeing that would be – not just for all the gay people, but for the world?  There would be no choice about whether or not to COME OUT! (what Harvey Milk always said we all should do) because OUT is what we would be. So, what Ellen Page did, what Michael Sam did, was not only brave but healthy – for themselves, and for the rest of us, too. There is no shame in speaking your truth and claiming your place in this world; the shame comes from NOT doing that.  That’s what I think. And, I don’t care how much people claim to love the Constitution, until ALL Americans are included in We, the People, with all of the equal rights and responsibilities guaranteed therein, we still have a long, long way to go “…to form a more perfect union…” Gay rights are civil rights, human rights, and rights that need to be granted, finally, in this 21st. century. Oh, and, guess what?  To quote Rachel Maddow, “You don’t get to vote on my rights – that’s why they call them ‘rights'” Indeed. There are fewer things in the world more humiliating or maddening than to know that, every few years, a whole bunch of people get together and vote on my life. Trust me, if you were in my shoes, you wouldn’t like it, either.

In the movie,42, about Jackie Robinson, the first black major league baseball player, there’s a scene where the crowd in Cincinnati is booing that Jackie’s even on the field playing for the Dodgers.  PeeWee Reese, the Dodgers’ shortstop, trots over to first base and starts talking to Jackie.  The crowd continues to boo and yell racial slurs.  PeeWee tosses an arm over Jackie Robinson’s shoulders and keeps it there, then thanks Jackie, and the crowd goes nuts, shouting and booing. Jackie looks at PeeWee and asks, “Why are you thanking me?”  And PeeWee Reese nods toward the stands. “I’ve got family here today,” he says, “They came all the way from Louisville. I need ’em to see this. I need ’em to know who I am.” And, so, they did. Such was the measure of that man.

We got to see the measure of another man last week, something I hope inspires more people to speak up, step forward, take a stand. Dale Hansen is a sportscaster for WFAA-TV in Dallas, the guy who gave the most eloquent commentary about this issue of equality just recently, then was invited to appear on the Ellen Degeneres Show to talk about it last week. You can see it on YouTube, if you’d like. He took a stand and he said what needed to be said.  Sometimes, it takes all you have to speak the truth.  Sometimes, the truth is all it takes: people of good will and compassion standing up for what’s right and fair. His commentary has gone viral, as it should have, and the worldwide response has been overwhelmingly positive, even though he’s caught some flak from certain groups, as you might imagine. In his interview with Ellen, he referred to himself a couple of times as “…an old, fat, white guy from Texas…” but that’s not how I see him at all. In my eyes, right now, he’s the cutest, sweetest guy on the planet. And, a man of courage, too. Some people think our day has come, but I think our knight has arrived, as well. Thanks, Dale. You made us proud.



Universal Luna


A big storm blew into southern Oregon late yesterday afternoon with lots of wind and rain, rain, rain.  INTENSE rain, impossible to escape, unless you were already snuggled up and inside – which I wasn’t – but I was close, except for the firewood, which needed to be gathered.  Then, drizzled on, soggy and bogged down, and with rain dripping off the bill of my wonderful, waterproof cap,I dragged in firewood and built a fire in the wood stove before settling in for the evening to grab a bite of dinner, do some laundry and watch TV.

Hours later, when the rain finally let up, I stepped outside to retrieve something from my car.  The clouds had lifted and the silvery moon shimmered right there in front of me, almost close enough to touch, it seemed like, as if a spotlight was shining on all of us, just another little reminder that we are all in this together.  It was so beautiful, so exciting, so thrilling that I almost hopped, like a flea, around the front yard, shouting out “WAHOO!” and waving my arms in the air, before dancing toward my Subaru.  I was wishing that the one I love was here to witness this with me; hoping that the clouds around British Columbia last night had lifted, as well, so she could see what I was seeing in Oregon, that she could gasp at its beauty along with me.  Our own luminescent touchstone.

I posted a version of this story earlier on Facebook, and it’s fun to read what people have written back about their experiences of the moon. It connects us, that moon of ours, with all of us staring in amazement at its beauty and wonder. A high school friend told me how lovely the moon looked last night as it rose over downtown Dallas. I grew up in Dallas; I can see that in my head. Another friend said she sends “Moon Alerts” to her grandchildren across the country when that silvery orb is giving us an especially great smile in the sky. Sweet stuff. Connection.

Few things in this life have that same kind of connecting quality.  In America, we all stare at our flag and sing our national anthem with our hands over our hearts, often with tears in our eyes.  Our flag connects us as countrymen, but we can pretty much bet that the Russians, say, or the North Koreans, or the Iraquis aren’t going to have that same visceral reaction to our American flag that we do, nor would we to theirs. The moon, though, well, that’s a different story. The moon is an equal opportunity mesmerizer for the whole world as it shimmers out there in an indigo sky, reminding us that we are one world with one moon and that, if we try really hard, we can sometimes think of this family of man as one, also. Really, it’s like a Coke commercial without the great graphics but, truthfully, the moon doesn’t need the great graphics.  It just needs us to pay attention.

The moon was not yet full last night, I know, and, thus, it is not yet perfect. But, then, neither are we and, maybe, that’s what makes it all so wondrous. Even in our imperfection, our shiny, magical imperfection, we all still have a chance to glow.  To shimmer. To sparkle. To shine so brightly it takes someone’s breath away. And, like Buffalo Gal doing the cha-cha across her rain-soaked driveway last night, to even dance by the light of the moon.



That Snapping Sound You Hear…


On the night of Sept.11th, on a late flight from Dallas to Portland, I made every bad assumption I could have possibly made, and I was wrong about every single one.  God has a way of snapping my garter right when I need it, just when I am SO SURE I am right about someone and their evil intent.  You see, that day, Sept. 11th, was a day of rememberance for Americans and most people around the world.  It changed this country forever.  Twelve years ago on Sept. 11th, angry Middle Eastern men took over U.S. jet airliners and crashed them – screaming at full throttle – into the two World Trade Center towers in New York, The Pentagon in Washington, and into a field in rural Pennsylvania.  The death toll of Americans for that day alone was almost 3,000.  On that day, after suffering such a major blow, we became a nation on HIGH ALERT, vowing not only to never forget, but to never let our guard down, either.

Our flight out of DFW was completely packed that night.  As we were getting settled in, two very young, Middle Eastern-looking men hurried onto the plane. They were sweating and frazzled; oddly, despite the September heat in Dallas, they were wearing coats, and carrying small bags.  When I picked up one of the bags to get it out of the aisle, one of the young men quickly snatched it from my hand.  I urged them to take off their coats and put them in the overhead bins because it was already so sweltering in the plane with all those people and, besides, I thought it might be easier to spot a vest full of explosives under their clothes without coats covering them up.  I must have looked panic-stricken, with that same strained expression I know I have when I am double-parked.  As I scanned the faces of others in the plane, our eyes would lock and their eyebrows would shoot up, like, OH, DEAR, WHAT DO WE DO NOW?  The young men did stash their coats and then sat in the two seats right next to me.  They didn’t smell very good and they looked like terrorists, or how I would imagine terrorists to look, so, of course, IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING, that their seats would be right next to mine.  Certain, by then, that they intended to blow up our plane on Sept. 11th with whatever they were carrying in that bag, I managed to ride for almost an hour with most of my weight onto my left butt cheek, almost pushing myself out into the middle of the plane as I leaned as far away from them as I could get.  It became clear, however, that, if they did explode a bomb right next to me, I would be sucked out into the night sky no matter how much of my butt I had managed to wedge into the aisle seat.  So, I sat there, wedged onto one butt cheek, awaiting doom, wondering, if the blast didn’t kill me, if hurtling through the sky would be as horrible as I’d always imagined in my head it would be, screaming, “AAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIEEE”  all the way down.  Would I die somewhere in mid-fall? Would my heart just give out? Or would I make it all the way to earth, splattering like a bug on a windshield?  Would there be no more left of me than there was of those brave souls on Flt. 93 which crashed into a field in Pennsylvania on 9/11?  Would there be just an imprint of me, my Chapstick and some loose change to prove it was me?


So, that’s what happened.  And, boy, was I right about that, because, boy, was I wrong about them.

Turns out, these two young men were from India and they were headed to Portland State University to work on their Master’s degrees in electronics.  They didn’t smell very good because they’d just spent 25 hours on airplanes getting from India to London to Dallas.  And they were sweating so much because when their plane landed @ DFW, they only had 45 minutes to make it through Customs, catch the SkyLink to get to another terminal and race to the gate to check in for this last leg of their trip to Portland.  They had run most of the way through the airport – IN THEIR COATS – to get there before the doors closed.  They weren’t terrorists at all, just sweet young men a long, long way from home and now, here they were, sitting next to me.  I knew their families would want them to get to know someone who would make them feel at welcomed and, so, for that moment, on that night, it became my job.

I told them everything I know about Portland, in particular, and the state of Oregon, in general.  I told them about the sweetness of the people here that I enjoy so much and how there’s an undercurrent of kindness and politeness not always seen in big cities.  I told them about all the things they could do in nature in Oregon, especially since Mother Nature seems to have smiled her prettiest smile on this state. I asked them about India and the Hindu religion and when I said I didn’t really know much about Hinduism except the Elephant God, Ganesh, the remover of obstacles, one of the young men pulled out his wallet and gave me a laminated drawing of Ganesh as a present.  It’s in my pocket at this moment.. Right now, it feels like I will carry it forever.

I am not proud of how quickly I jumped to the assumption that these young men were dangerous.  I don’t like it that I thought badly about them without even knowing them; that I made every terrible assumption so quickly and without knowing all the facts of their lives.  I AM proud, though, of listening to the whispers God puts in my head every so often, snapping my spiritual garter just before I say something that could turn out to be really stupid or really hurtful.  I am proud that I acted on that whisper and that I got to know them, AND THAT I LET THEM KNOW ME, when I could have just as easily stood up and yelled, “TERRORISTS, EVERYBODY!  RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!” and turned everything into a real mess.

These two sweet young men and I chattered away for two hours with only 30 minutes or so of that time being spent with my going, “What?  Back up for a second and let me hear that sentence again.”  People from India and Pakistan tend to emphasize a different syllable in some words than we do, making my brain screech to a halt and go into INSTANT REPLAY MODE.  They were patient with me, however, and so, so kind, as was I with them.  As our plane came out of the low clouds covering Portland and the city lights sparkled beneath us, we banked to the east for just a bit before banking back to the west and lining up to descend into PDX.  Lower…and lower…and lower we came in for our landing.  I turned to them and I touched each young man on the forearm.  I said, “I know your mothers would want to know that you had met someone from Portland who made you feel welcomed and unafraid, that you could begin your new journey here with a feeling of friendship and acceptance.”  They smiled at me.  I smiled back.  The wheels of our jet touched the runway.  “Gentlemen,” I said, holding out my hands for them to grasp, “welcome to Portland.”  They were gone from my sight very soon after that, and I was left to my own thoughts and that feeling of coasting in the Golden Glow.  It’s not a new feeling, but it is rare and wondrous.  And so, I say THANK YOU to Ganesh for removing one more obstacle between me and kindness.  And, I say THANK YOU to my Creator for snapping my garter one more time.  God knows me just well enough, I think, to keep me in sight, to make sure I don’t wander off and do something dumb. I am grateful for it.  Humbled by it. Lucky me. What a feeling.


Workin’ It. And Making It Work.


My niece Kelli made a fascinating post on Facebook the other day.  She’s a brilliant, good-hearted young woman, so I’m always interested in the things she finds to share with the world.  This was the story of what is, probably, the world’s most welcomed and useful billboard.  As a general rule, most of us don’t care for billboards.  They are gaudy and distracting, almost screaming at us as we drive along, whether it’s about what beverage to drink, what car to buy, what lawyer we need to call to get us out of a jam, or whether we have found Jesus somewhere along the Interstate.  This particular billboard, however,  is a very special one in Peru, in a village that gets very little rain, even though the air is quite humid.  The well water there is contaminated and, until now, is all the people in this village had to use for drinking, cleaning and bathing.  Thank God for engineers.

The engineers who designed this special billboard in Peru figured out how to draw the humid air around this village into three chambers attached to the sign.  The moisture is extracted, filtered, then funneled into a pump so the people of the village can now go and fill up their containers with clean, fresh-tasting water.  The water is plentiful and sparkling; kids can stop and cool off there after playing, and nobody is getting sick from the contaminated well.  The engineers have performed, for the people of this village, what surely feels like a miracle.  We should be getting used to this, really.

I love engineers.  My Daddy was an engineer – Methods & Tooling at Texas Instruments, working his way up from the shops where he ran a jig borer for years before T.I. decided to use his brain over his hands.  I love how engineers think, that they can see a problem and, faster than most of us, can ferret out a solution or, sometimes, even several solutions.  That’s a gift I don’t have, so it’s one greatly admired by me.  Someday I hope to have a linear thought, but it may not happen in this lifetime.  One of my publishers at Koho Pono Press, Scott Burr, is an engineer by training.  Scott and his wife, Dayna Hubenthal, not only run a publishing company, but also have another company called Innovation Scientific which is a problem-solving company for other corporations. I love spending time with them because, not only do they think bigger than most people, they also, in the kindest and most gentle of ways, make me dig deeper and think bigger, too.  They drag me out of my fog of right-brained living and shine the light on solutions in such a way that even Right-Brained Representative Jody can see them.  What a joy.

In 2012, I was badly injured with a brain injury.  Everything was difficult to do.  No thought or action or word came easily.  All of my life suddenly became a struggle; if I wasn’t raging, I was crying. Or sitting, staring blankly, and rocking, just rocking back and forth, like the kids at the Denton State School in Texas.  It was an awful time.  And tormenting. Going to my first brain therapy session at Emmanuel Hospital in Portland, I forgot about the camper on top of the Bubba Truck I’d borrowed from my friends (because my car was in the shop) and got the thing wedged in the entrance to the parking garage.  I was in tears.  Distraught.  Desperate.  The sweet little security guard who came to help sensed that something good needed to happen quickly or he’d have a real mess on his hands – a woman old enough to be his mother, big enough to be a linebacker, and upset enough to be suicidal.  Or, even worse, homicidal. He made a quick call to the engineering department right across the street. Within seconds, about six engineers, The Pocket Protector Brigade, came charging across the street.  My half-dozen heroes.  Here’s what they did.  First, they let almost all of the air out of the tires on the Bubba Truck, then four of them hung onto the back of it, forcing Bubba as far down as they could get him, which left just enough room at the top that I could ease that big boy back out of the garage.  Then, we slowly drove Bubba across the street to their engineering dept. and they filled the tires back up with their air compressor.  To me, this felt like a miracle.  Left to figure this out on my own, I would have gunned it and raked the camper off or just laid down in front of one of those big tires and hoped that it would eventually roll over me.

In truth, I think engineers live for this kind of thing.  They love being the heroes; Daddy did.  And I think they love being able to laugh to each other about it and to tell the story over and over. (“You’re not gonna BELIEVE what that dumbass had done!”)  I don’t mind that.  After all, I have told the story over and over, as well.  And what I did was a dumbass thing to do.  This got me to thinking, though, about the people we call upon to solve problems facing this nation and, once again, I don’t think we are making proper use of our resources.  Our government isn’t a business and shouldn’t be run like one.  It is a giant entity, a wheel with many spokes, all of which have to be aligned and working properly in order for the whole thing to function efficiently.  Perhaps, rather than electing business men and women to public office and expecting them to “fix” whatever is broken about our government, we should be electing men and women whose brains work in a different way than those of most people.  We should be electing engineers.  I would vote for them, with their slide rules, mechanical pencils, graphs, work orders and computer printouts.  They are often shy, so I’d probably have to campaign for them, too, but I’m okay with that.  Engineers can get it done, whatever it is.  And, when I tune in to watch the State of the Union Address and see half of the Congress sitting there in shirtsleeves with what is no longer just a pocket protector but now a badge of honor, I’d feel like we were about to get this baby back on the track.  Another miracle. Engineers, workin’ it.  And makin’ it work.