Schoolyard Picks

I suspect the ball bounced off my foot.

I was just diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) in December of 2022, a few weeks before my 58th birthday. I wrote about what caused me to seek this diagnosis here. I’m rather new at this stuff, and I’ll be blogging quite a bit about various aspects of it as I go along, reading and learning and wondering what this means for me, as I suspect that quite a few other people are experiencing a similar thing.

Check out my autism category for a list of relevant blog posts, and never forget that 1) I’m just one person, writing about my personal experiences with a thing I only just learned I had. 2) No two people on the spectrum are alike. 3) I am not a medical or mental health professional. 4) I’m not attempting to write a one size fits all autism advice column.

Having been born so close to Christmas, I was always the youngest, smallest kid in my class. Picture that, then add a heaping helping of undiagnosed autism to that tiny little sundae. What you’re left with is a kid who is all but invisible when it’s time to do a schoolyard pick for any sport.

Kids are cruel at the best of times. But always being the last person to be chosen for a team is an extra-special level of excruciating and humiliating. Autistic kids already get the message that they’re not good enough without having to participate in a daily bit of rejection theater for all the world to see.

But for one brief, shining moment in elementary school, I got to be picked first. It was a pure accident, but in one particular soccer game, I kicked the ball so high and so hard that it flew halfway across the field, over everyone’s head, and landed neatly in the net. Gooooooal!

I was just as shocked as everyone else. As per usual, I had been in my own little world. I suspect the ball bounced off my foot. I know it wasn’t dispatched with any intention or skill or forethought on my part. But because of that spectacular fluke, for the next two games I was picked first.

Those teams lived to regret that decision, because I never again duplicated that move. In fact, right after that epic kick I was instantly back in my dissociative state, probably imagining some scenario from the book I was halfway through reading and longing to return to. That incident certainly didn’t motivate me to try to be some kind of a soccer star.

Oh, you’re picking me first now? Wow. Okay. Yeah. Anyway. . . La, la, la. . .

I don’t think schoolyard picks are the best idea. There are already plenty of opportunities for kids to be mean to one another. Gym teachers shouldn’t give them one more.

Instead, why not draw marbles or something? Everyone takes one, and they’re all revealed at the same time. Black marbles put you on team A, white ones on team B. Nobody gets picked first or last. Not only would that be more kind, but it would be a teaching moment.

Kids shouldn’t learn that it’s okay to rank everyone from superior to inferior. They should learn to play with the cards that they are dealt, or in this case the team that they wind up on with little personal input, because that’s how life usually is. They should learn to assess strengths and weaknesses, and work together to make lemonade out of lemons.

That idea probably came into my head when I should have been concentrating on something else. But I view thinking outside of the box as an autistic strength. If you think that skill is not valuable, then go ahead and pick me last for your think tank. You won’t know what you’re missing.

I wrote an actual book, and you can own it! How cool is that?


American Cruelty

You have to eat or be eaten.

I can’t speak for the rest of the world. At the rate this pandemic is going, I might never be able to travel internationally again, so I’m losing perspective. But I certainly have ample opportunity to observe my fellow Americans from my exclusive perch in the tower of my drawbridge, and I also read enough of the news to believe this to be true: Americans, in general, are getting increasingly cranky to the point of being really terrifying.

I get it. This pandemic has us worn out. The state of politics, especially since Trump came along, has our nerves shredded. And the way that we have all been forced to answer certain moral questions of late is revealing that a lot fewer of us are decent human beings than I previously imagined.

Even though this post is not strictly about masks and vaccines, I do have to say that it seems like a no-brainer to me: If I’m asked to do something that I’m not thrilled with, but that thing will potentially help to prevent someone from dying, I’m going to do that thing. I got vaccinated. I wear a mask. But there are people out there who genuinely believe that they should not be personally inconvenienced just so someone else might live. It astounds me. Public health isn’t about just you. If the golden rule means anything at all, it means, hey, maybe I shouldn’t have a hand in bringing about someone else’s demise.

The whole mask and vaccine thing is just the tippy top of a huge iceberg of cruelty that is becoming increasingly evident. I’m seeing more people shouting at each other from the bike lanes and out of car windows. More horns are blaring. The schizophrenics among our homeless people, who I view as the human equivalent of canaries in coal mines, are starting to rage even more as tensions increase. It’s like we are now in a constant state of full moon. All bets are off. It’s impossible to predict who will lose it next. All that you can do is hope that you’re not anywhere near ground zero when it happens.

My friends who work in the medical field are being screamed at more often, and sometimes even assaulted. Here on my drawbridge, more pedestrians are refusing to cooperate every day. To hell with the 3000 gross ton gravel barge that’s bearing down on us. They have places to go and people to see. Screw the flashing lights and warning gongs.

More people are cutting in line in general. More people are blowing through red lights. The other day I saw two guys engaged in a fistfight on a street corner in broad daylight.

I can’t emphasize this enough: There is NO EXCUSE for yelling at and/or assaulting someone for doing their job. You may not like the policy they’re having to enforce, but they’re just trying to make a living. You want to shout, shout at the rich person who probably owns the company. Rich people should be shouted at a lot more often, if you ask me. They certainly deserve it more than cashiers or wait staff do.

It’s getting so I’m afraid to ask anyone a question, even one as innocent as, “How late are you open?” because responses to any type of question seem to be hostile these days. I spend a lot of time wondering what I’ve done to people. But it doesn’t just happen to me. Not that that’s any comfort.

I just read a fascinating opinion piece by Umair Haque, entitled, “Why America is the World’s Most Uniquely Cruel Society.” It really made me think about how America is set up to operate. It also made me think about how this country came to be the way it is.

In that article, the author posits the theory that we have a very unusual origin story, even for a colonial country that has been trained to utterly ignore the native people who were here first. Throughout colonial history, America has been colonized by people who were leaving home because on one level or another they were not wanted.

Everyone’s immigration story is different, of course, but we didn’t tend to attract the rich upper classes. Royalty wasn’t trying to move here. Some common reasons for coming to America included getting away from religious or political persecution, or avoiding violence at home, or desperate poverty and no opportunities in their homelands, or they were criminals. Let’s face it. There’s no need to pursue the American Dream unless you’re living a nightmare.

One thing that all desperate people have in common is the desire to no longer be at the bottom of society. They want to experience dignity, respect, and a sense of belonging. Who doesn’t? But in order for you to rise up in the hierarchy to the place where those things are obtainable, someone has to be below you, and that person doesn’t want to be there either, so it becomes a fight. And as more and more waves of immigrants washed up on these shores, more people had to get stepped on, and, the author suggests, this cruelty has since become a habit that has been passed down through the generations.

The English settlers hated the Native Americans. Then they had to hate all the people that came after them and threatened their place in the societal pyramid. So the English hated the French, the French hated the Germans, the Germans hated the Irish, who hated the Italians, and on and on. And of course, slaves got to be the scapegoats for everyone even though they never asked to be here in the first place. Then came the Asians who did the great service of also not looking like us, so they, too, were easy to spot and be cruel to. When we took the West from the Spanish-speaking people who had taken it from the Native Americans, we hated them too.

And through all of this, which is still ongoing, we have learned, consciously or unconsciously, that you have to be cruel to survive. You have to be violent to get ahead. You have to eat or be eaten.

Over the centuries, the cruelty has become institutionalized. Homeless? What a shame. Glad I’m not you. Less than desirable as a neighbor? Lock ‘em up and throw away the key. You don’t deserve universal health care. Higher education is only for those who can pay for it. Can’t get a job? Well, then, join the military and become cannon fodder or the good of the country.

We have one of the lowest life expectancies of any rich nation, and while that’s embarrassing, nothing need be done about it unless it starts impacting ME. We have the highest rate of mass shootings in the world, but hey, that helps decrease the surplus population. The only country that has a higher death rate per capita due to drug use is the Ukraine, and yet we put very little money into our substance abuse infrastructure. Let ‘em eat cake.

Based on this hierarchy of ours, the conservatives should encourage immigration, not attempt to squash it. Because if they are successful in their policies of exclusion, one day they may look around and realize that they no longer have anyone to step on, and it’s awfully lonely at the bottom.

We need to find a way to break this cycle of cruelty and hate. We need to lift each other up if we want this country to succeed. We need to realize that our current behavior is not serving us well.

But most of all, I think we all need to take a deep breath, pause, and grow the f**k up.

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Security Blanket

Most children will learn that the world is cruel soon enough.

I hadn’t thought of this in years. When I was young, I had what I called a security blanket. It was flannel. Cozy. I couldn’t sleep without it.

I kept it to an embarrassingly old age. Into my early teens. I also watched Mr. Rogers Neighborhood to an embarrassingly old age. Comfort and security was hard to come by in my household. In fact, the inmates were pretty much running the asylum. So I clung to my security blanket until it was a ripped up rag.

Then one day my mother threw it out. And I fished it right back out of the trash. I’ve always thought it was extremely arrogant and insensitive of parents to rip comfort objects out of the arms of a child. The world is harsh enough as it is without that foolishness. Rest assured that most children will learn that the world is cruel soon enough without you providing a demonstration.

I never really got rid of that blanket. It just sort of disintegrated one day. By then I had outgrown it anyway. I was just clinging to it to prove that there was something in this life over which I had control. Ah, well. So ends a delusion.

Now, after 13 years of working graveyard shifts, I’ve gotten in the habit of having something covering my eyes when I sleep. I still do this even though I now have the luxury of sleeping in the darkness again, and have done so for many years. I was positioning that cover just so last night when I thought of that security blanket.

Perhaps I never really gave it up after all. I just replaced it with something else.

Security Blanket

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A Wicked Sense

Now I can’t abide bullies in any form. But it took me a minute.

When I was young, I used to delight in friends who had wicked senses of humor. I liked to hear them poke fun at others, or be capable of the kind of snappy, sarcastic retorts that have always eluded me. It was fun to sit with them on a mountain of mockery and quietly witness these friends cutting down all comers. It felt powerfully entertaining.

I wasn’t mature enough to realize that their behavior was just mean. I didn’t realize that what I thought of as a rapier wit and a superior intelligence was actually a lot of misplaced anger and the hallmark of being a bully. I also didn’t understand that by being a silent and amused witness, I was being a bully, too, or at the very least, propping one up.

If it’s any comfort, though, I did draw the line at physical bullying. Even I had the sense to know that was intolerable. Physical intimidation is so blatantly wrong that even my clueless young mind couldn’t overlook it.

And I learned my lesson about the sarcasm the hard way. Because there’s one thing you are bound to find out sooner or later: If you have a “friend” who is cruel to everyone but you, even if it is tinged with humor, eventually their wrath will turn in your direction as well. Count on it. I guarantee it.

Now I get that words can hurt as much as physical assault. And I know that if I stand by and do nothing while it’s happening, then I’m complicit. Now, I can’t abide bullies in any form. Now, I surround myself with respectful, loving people. But it took me a minute to get there, to my everlasting shame.


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Neurological Methane

I’m not going to live my life chewing on a fetid stew of insults.

I seem to have been thrown into a wood chipper of insults the week before I wrote this. At various times I was called unprofessional, lazy, cruel, ignorant, and a liar. These pronouncements were made by people who clearly know me not at all.

I’d also been informed that my apparent past cruelty has generated a very long, narcissistic, bitter, self-indulgent poem in which the author beats himself up for being ugly, a loser, and the stuff of nightmares, rather than the all-American boy of my dreams; dreams that anyone who bothered to scratch the surface would know are of a kind that I never have had and never will have. I’ve never sought perfection. What would I do with it?

I’m not that shallow, and those types of insults are not in my nature. That, and it would take a special kind of person to be that lowly and beneath contempt so as to merit some iron-clad, lifetime-guaranteed seal of disapproval from me. From a purely statistical standpoint, most of us, this person included, are average. (So sorry to disappoint you out of your exaggeration.) That’s not an insult, it’s just a fact.

I’m average. You’re average. The average person is, well… average. If you think you stand out that much, you think way too highly (or lowly) of yourself.

But this is a person who wears his wounds on his chest like badges of honor, a man in his 50’s who still blames the shit we all go through in high school for his current misfortunes. It saddens me, but no one can heal him. He can only heal himself. And to do that, he must first fall out of love with the cruel, cruel world in which he seems to take a perverse pleasure in dwelling.

Ah, but if the world is cruel, you don’t have to try, do you? Failure is pretty much guaranteed. No need for higher education or taking risks or making an extra effort that way! You need not stick your neck out at all. Whew. What a relief!

Why do we give the negative so much extra weight? We all do it. These things ferment in our brains, producing gasses that seem to alter our judgment and perspective in the most toxic of ways. Neurological methane.

Hmmm. Maybe I’ve been tossed into the insult blender for a reason. It’s an opportunity for growth. But I’m not gonna lie. It smarts. And it stinks. But then growth isn’t always pretty.

This much I know: I’ve wasted entirely too much time trying to reconcile my knowledge of the person that I am with the opinions that I’ve been tarred and feathered with this week. Why do I let them clog my pores when I’ve received so many more compliments than insults in my lifetime?

You can give someone a million compliments, support them financially and emotionally, do everything you can to broaden their horizons, and yet all that is forgotten based on some remark that you can’t remember or even imagine having said. That’s the remark that generates a poem. (Or, let’s face it, a blog post.)

Insults are somehow more emotionally dense. They are the virtual fruitcake of words. I get it. I really do. That’s why it’s so important to be kind to one another.

The more you chew on these insults, the more altered your truth becomes, until nothing good can be celebrated or remembered. What a waste. I’m not going to live my life eating that fetid stew, no matter how filling it is.

I choose pragmatism, and therefore, joy.

Thanks, Angiportus, for coming up with the title for this post!

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An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book!



Drunken Karaoke

It’s funny, unless you live next door and are trying to sleep.

I don’t drink, myself. And I’ve written about the havoc alcoholics can wreak. It’s actually one of my most popular posts.

But I don’t begrudge you your right to partake. Unless you get mean when you overdo it. There’s nothing worse than a mean drunk. If drinking lowers your inhibitions, and that was the only thing standing between you and being violent or destructive or cruel, then there’s something fundamentally wrong with you. I have zero tolerance for that.

People frequently use drinking as an excuse. “I was drunk. I’d never do that, normally.”

Well, I don’t think alcohol invades your body and turns you into someone else. I think it strips you down to your bare essence. Drinking lowers your mask. It’s kind of sad when what’s underneath isn’t pretty. (That, and nobody held your nose and poured the vodka down your throat. You chose to drink, so you need to take responsibility for your actions.)

I must admit that I do find happy drunks kind of amusing, within reason. I know some who like to have a party once a week in which everyone gets drunk and sings karaoke. They don’t drive. They don’t mean anybody any harm. They appear to be relatively functional the rest of the week. It’s funny, unless you live next door and are trying to sleep.

I know others who get all romantic when those inhibitions take a hike. Not that they can follow through, but at least it’s positive energy. That counts for something.

But when all is said and done, you need to make very sure your behavior isn’t negatively impacting others before you indulge. If you aren’t capable of doing that, then you should take a good, hard look at your life. Because it’s not only about how much fun you have, it’s about the legacy you leave behind.

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Hey! Look what I wrote!

Do You Know What Your Problem Is?

Tell me: when a conversation starts that way, is there any chance of it going well? And can a person who is that tactless and cruel really think that he or she has all the answers? It beggars the imagination.

The way I see it, we are all like icebergs. Only the very tip of who we are is on view. There is a whole lot beneath the surface. Anyone who is looking at just the visible parts of you and then passing judgment is not dealing with a full deck.

Honestly, isn’t it hard enough to solve your own problems without attempting to tackle the problems of the rest of the world? I mean, criminy sakes, get focused. If you actually have the gall to talk like that to people, then you clearly have a lot of interior work to do.

The next time I’m asked that question, I hope I have the presence of mind to say, “Here’s my problem: I have been putting up with people who think they could live my life more effectively than I do.”



An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book!

Nature Doesn’t Clash

I have a friend who is an artist, and when choosing his color palette for any given creation, he looks to nature for inspiration. He’ll take a leaf or a flower petal, for example, and put it under a microscope, and then use the colors he sees there. I think that’s a brilliant idea.

If you want the ultimate arbiter of good taste, nature is it. First of all, it’s been around a heck of a lot longer than we have. It knows how to play the game. It doesn’t like short-term trends. I can’t think of even one example of a natural thing that irritates my sensibilities. I definitely can’t say that about humans on an average day. (Nature wouldn’t be caught dead in sandals with knee socks.)

Nature also doesn’t wage war, shut down the government for selfish reasons, or pollute itself in the name of greed. It sees no need for firearms. If anyone were to support health care for all, it would be nature.

While nature can seem arbitrarily cruel, it definitely looks at the big picture and the long term. These are qualities that modern man seems to lack, to our everlasting peril. The more we ignore nature’s warnings, the more we will suffer. Nature is patient. Nature will win. The question is, will we be around to see it?

Painted Hills Oregon
Painted Hills, Oregon

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Pick on Someone Your Own Size

Of all the collateral damage caused by our Grand Poobah, I have to say I feel the most sorry for Barron Trump. If he’s not being criticized about being sleepy at 3 in the morning, he’s being called “Poor Little Rich Boy” or being accused of mental health issues.

Childhood is hard enough without being bullied by the internet trolls and the comedians of this world. We all have scars from the cruelties we experienced growing up, but there’s absolutely no excuse for this. Give the kid a break. There are some lines that no one should ever cross.

Barron Trump did not ask for any of this. He didn’t choose his parents or the paths they decided to take in life. He had absolutely no say in the matter. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be him. He will never experience the luxury of a normal life. His father is fair game, but he isn’t.

Satire is fine. Criticism is often necessary. Opinions have a right to be expressed. You don’t have to agree with me. I don’t have to agree with you. But direct your slings and arrows at the adults of this world. Pick on someone your own size.

Say what you will, but at the end of the day, this is just a 10 year old boy. And he’s a 10 year old boy who gets to look forward to experiencing puberty under public scrutiny. Can you imagine?


A big thanks to StoryCorps for inspiring this blog and my first book.

Adult Bullies

The psychiatric community does not like to place the label of psychopath on children. I suppose that is understandable, because there’s no known cure for psychopathy, and if you get that diagnosis wrong, you could drastically damage that child’s life. No one wants to give up on a child. But the theory is that one percent of the population is psychopathic, and the current thinking appears to be that this is not a trait that you suddenly acquire one day like a new pair of shoes. You are born with it. So it stands to reason that one percent of all children are psychopathic as well.

Most psychopaths do not turn into violent serial killers. Many of them are quite successful in business and relatively functional members of society. A lot of that has to do with their upbringing. Put a psychopathic child in a warped and abusive family, and you might get a murderer. But put him or her in a healthy, loving environment, and chances are you’ll get someone who can at least pass as being a normal person much of the time.

When children behave badly, it’s their parents who are usually blamed, or lack of education, or inadequate role models. The assumption is that their behavior can change if these factors are altered. But when an adult is violent or cruel, those excuses, as far as I’m concerned, only go so far. Adults, you see, should know better.

I’ve known my fair share of despicable adults. Many of them have had horrible childhoods. But after a certain point, one ought to be able to put on one’s big boy pants and take responsibility for one’s actions. If you are incapable of doing that, then there’s a good chance you have psychopathic tendencies.

I’ve known people who were 65 years old and were still bullies. They delighted in making life a living hell for those around them. They were cruel, hostile, aggressive, and completely devoid of compassion. If you’ve functioned like that for decades, that’s not some mere character flaw, that’s a lifestyle.

Speaking from painful experience, people like that are not going to change, and your best defense against them is to avoid contact as much as possible. Woe betide you if you have to work with this type of individual. If your human resources department thinks that these negative traits can be reversed with some sort of communications or anger management training, they will be sadly mistaken. If they don’t have the courage to cut these people out of the company like a cancerous tumor, then your only hope, unfortunately, is to try and outlast them with your sanity intact, or move on.

Yes, I know, it should be
Yes, I know, it should be “than”, not “then”. I didn’t make the meme.