Ed Spivey Jr. was working as art director of the Chicago Sun-Times Sunday Magazine in 1972 when God called him to join the fledgling Sojourners community and work for its publication, then called the Post-American. The fact that Ed has not heard from God SINCE is not what's important here, because Ed figures God had other things to do, what with making the world a more peaceful place. Why the world is still NOT a more peaceful place is none of Ed's business and he would never think to criticize God for slacking off since, who knows, God could have been sick or something.
But, 36 years later, Ed is still with Sojourners, still the art director, still happy with his life-long dream of working hard for very little money. The only down side is that Ed is beginning to feel his childhood plans of being either a cowboy or an astronaut may not be realized in his lifetime. But such are the sacrifices one makes when one responds to the call of the Lord, even if immediately after that the Lord apparently changed His phone number.
Of a more biographic note, Ed holds an associate degree from Vincennes University. He was denied a bachelor's degree from Indiana University because of a disagreement with his psychology professor who did not appreciate Ed's refusal to complete his rat experiment. Apparently, Ed's was the only laboratory rat that bit, so Ed insisted on wearing huge motorcycle gloves when handling the animal, which, the professor insisted, skewed the rat's response to stimuli. Ed told the professor what he could do with his stimuli, which unfortunately did not put the professor in the mood to accept Ed's alternative suggestion, which was to study the response of rats being loudly cursed at while simultaneously being flushed down university toilets.
Since his college days he has made a bit of a name for himself, and not just “You, There,” which is the name his mother calls him when she forgets. Ed has won numerous awards for his design of Sojourners magazine, and his monthly humor column consistently garners top honors from both religious and secular media associations. His book A Hamster is Missing in Washington, D.C. won the top prize in humor at the Independent Publisher Book Awards in New York City. (Due to scheduling conflicts, Ed was unable to attend the gala tribute and banquet, but had he gone he would have ordered the fish.) Now in its second printing, Ed’s book is available at store.sojo.net and at online booksellers near you.
Ed is married and has two daughters, all of whom refuse to walk in public with him, on account of the little whoop-whoop sound he makes when he sees a fire truck.
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From Hollywood ... And Beyond
WHILE DESPERATELY PERUSING the news for anything not related to the coronavirus, or the economy, or the fact that we have one last chance to save our democracy—you know, the boring stuff—I read that NASA will be making a movie on the International Space Station, featuring Tom Cruise. The $150 billion laboratory orbits about 250 miles above the Earth, which is 250 miles farther than was necessary to achieve its principle scientific discovery: Camping in space is expensive.
I could have told them that.
If there were justice in this world, Tom Cruise would instead be making a movie at the Superconducting Super Collider, a much less costly project that could have produced innumerable scientific breakthroughs in physics. Plus, its site in north-central Texas is well known for its ample gravity and breathable air. But Congress canceled it mid-construction in 1993, and the U.S. instead spent more than 10 times as much on the space station.
The collider was my fave project in the 1980s. You want breakthroughs in understanding how our physical world came to be—I used to say at parties—you go with the collider. You want to watch an astronaut drink upside down—I would add, ruefully, at that same party—then the space station is your boondoggle of choice.
But since I lobbied for the project mainly at parties instead of, say, congressional budget hearings, we’re stuck with the space station. (Too late I realized my considerable influence was directed at the wrong people, just because they had beer.)
Where Are the Woolly Mammoths When You Need Them?
THE LEAST FUNNY thing in the world today is the novel coronavirus. Unless it’s how I look breathing through a Brita filter, or opening doors with my feet, or the phrase “under the leadership of this president.” But that’s not what’s getting me down today. (Ask me tomorrow.) I can’t stop fretting about climate change. Even though the virus has actually slowed human impact on the environment, I’m not content. And it’s showing.
People tell me I’m no fun anymore because I fail to see the silver lining in clouds which, I keep pointing out, would not actually float if they contained metal of any kind. (Nor do they contain stuffed-animal parts, despite often resembling your favorite childhood comfort friend.) Nor do I “walk on the sunny side of the street,” since that side is no longer protected by a healthy ozone layer. If apocalypse were a color, I’d be looking at the world through apocalypse-colored glasses. And that glass would be three-quarters empty, not half full. And yes, I’m mixing metaphors, because I like them shaken, not stirred.
The front of my mind may be on the virus, but the back of my mind is on the climate. And it’s a small mind, so there’s not much distance between the two.
Hope Is the Substance of Things...No Wait...That's Faith
HERE AT SOJOURNERS, we’re all about hope: Finding signs of hope, praying for the gift of hope, living a life that embodies hope. Heck, I’ve even designed bumper stickers with that word, some of which are still on cars, expressing hope—albeit a weathered and faded hope—from the parking spaces where they’ve been for weeks.
But sometimes our hopes crumble in disappointment. As scientists work feverishly to develop drugs to counter the coronavirus, many alternative treatments trigger our sense of optimism and raise our hopes, only to be dashed when they prove ineffective, unproven, or laughably ridiculous to most sentient beings except Sean Hannity.
The promise of hydroxychloroquine, for example, was touted by Fox News for a month before it was finally debunked as ineffective and, in some cases, fatal. But now that the president claims to be using it, I’m glad I worked on the pronunciation: Hydroxychloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, hydroxychloroquine. (See? I’ve been practicing.)
A similar, more pronounceable chemical compound—chloroquine phosphate—also showed promise. Mainly used for cleaning aquariums, its medical efficacy was suggested by its ability to clear glass of slimy buildup that appears much more tenacious than any virus. (Despite being exposed to the chemical for years, those little deep-sea divers show no ill effect.)
Ode to Spring (From a Safe Distance)
DESPITE THE GUT-DEEP fear in the world today, I couldn’t help but sit in awe of the cherry tree in my front yard. Spring seemed more beautiful this year, and the fallen petals covering our lawn—like snow from the winter we never had—lifted me to a brief, dreamlike reverie.
As it turned out, I was sharing that moment with the cats, who had joined me on the porch. Their unusual attentiveness prompted me to explain why I was at home on a weekday, why they now get their breakfast at 7 a.m. instead of 6 (despite their desperate scratching on the other side of a newly closed door), and why life had otherwise changed in our house.
I told them that a virus was taking hold of our world and that our nation, in crisis but true to its exceptional nature, was led by a president who is exceptionally unqualified for this moment. One of the cats licked his hindquarters in unspoken agreement, and neither contradicted me when I added how shameless were Republican leaders who wanted corporate tax breaks in a rescue package.
When one of them (a cat, not a Republican leader) tried to jump into my lap, I demurred, if demur is the correct word when describing a quick swipe of the hand. I apologized, and started to explain social distancing, but you know how it is when you talk to cats. They maintain eye contact, seeming to treat the matter seriously, but their minds are elsewhere. Perhaps contemplating the sweet sound of a can opener at 6 a.m.
Attorney General, or Just a Candle in the Wind?
By the time you read this, Attorney General William Barr will have resigned in disgust, or been fired in disgust, or is still on the job, disgusting the rest of us. Or has been forgotten by an American public that at this moment is preparing to shelter in place from the COVID-19 pandemic, which I wasn’t allowed to write about because “Pandemics aren’t funny, Ed!” Unlike William Barr, who isn’t funny either, except for one thing ...
ANYBODY ELSE THINK William Barr looks like Elton John? Barr never wears those heart-shaped glasses during congressional hearings, but other than that—and the pinstripe suits Elton wouldn’t be caught dead in—I can’t tell the difference. It would be nice if Barr actually was Elton John; then he would spend more time at the piano and less time undermining judicial process and the rule of law.
I’d have little complaint if the worst thing the attorney general had done was write “Philadelphia Freedom,” a song so sappy it makes me hide from the radio, unpatriotically, and that’s hard to do while driving. I’d let that slide, of course, if he had also written “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting”—which still gives me chills at the hook—and a dozen other hits that occupy what’s left of my aging brain cells. I might not remember the names of beloved relatives, but I’ll never forget the words to “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”: “Goodbye yellow brick road, where the something ti tum ti tum, you can’t plant me in the something, I’m going tum ti tum it tum ...” Great song.
A Heartbeat Away from a Hot Dog
WHAT BETTER MOMENT to have a medical stress test than during this most stressful of times. Yes, there have been other stressful periods in our nation’s history. For our “greatest generation,” it was Pearl Harbor. For their children, it was the last episode of Seinfeld. (Yes, we’re shallow, but it’s not our fault. We baby boomers were over-loved by the greatest generation. So shame on them!)
But nothing compares to living on the brink of war, with a planet on fire, and no confidence in our leadership (especially after my sweet dream about President Martin Sheen). These days, one wonders why stress tests are given in a medical office when mine could just be in the kitchen, where physicians could simply monitor me as I read the morning newspaper. An EKG tracking my rage sweats before I get to the sports page could be useful in determining a treatment plan, which should include at least switching to a monthly newspaper subscription, if there is such a thing.
But when, in the course of human events, you get chest pains, you do what the doctor tells you. Which is get on a treadmill. It seems odd that, in this age of technological innovation, such a crude and simple contraption still provides the best window into one’s cardiological health. And the doctor’s procedures are similarly tedious and unchanged. I start walking at a comfortable pace, then the doctor increases the speed, then a little more, and a little more. Then the angle is increased, then a little more, until I’m gasping for breath and convinced of one thing: This doctor is trying to kill me.
What Does a Girl Scout Cookie Say About You?
I'M SLEEPING MORE soundly now that Jared Kushner has solved the intractable Israel-Palestine conflict and, for his next big project, is taking on the troublesome border wall. With his track record of success, we’ll soon see the long-promised barrier protecting our nation from nefarious foreign agents with malevolent intent.
But enough about Rudy Giuliani. I got my own problem: It’s Girl Scout cookie season.
When the two girls knocked on our front door, I was immediately thrown into my annual agony of temptation. I’m a big fan of the Girl Scouts and their molding of young minds and hearts, but I try to avoid simple sugars and white flour. Girl Scout cookies, while delicious, contain few beneficial nutrients. There are no ancient grains, no organic fruits, no locally grown vegetables (a cookie named “Cauliflower Cremes” wouldn’t stand a chance), nor any of the spices now known to benefit healthy longevity. I’d buy a box of “Turmeric ’n’ Cumin Samoas,” but I doubt anyone else would.
So I grudgingly ordered my usual: Two boxes of Thin Mints and a box of Do-Si-Dos. I do this to support an institution I admire, but also to continue an ongoing ontological study of human behavior and my theory that there are only two kinds of people in the world: Thin Mint People and Do-Si-Do Folk.
I set both cookies out for guests, then watch as they unconsciously reveal their personal character traits—for better or worse—by the choices they make.
This Election Year, a Change Is Gonna Come. Or Not.
DO PEOPLE MAKE New Year’s resolutions anymore? Is that still a thing? I’m asking because maybe it’s time we stop pretending we’ll lose weight in the coming year, or learn a new language, or defend democracy. Best to admit that lethargy is the only promise we keep to ourselves and settle for the small goals we can achieve. Such as eating with the family without your cell phone. Okay, forget that one. We have to walk before we can run.
My personal goal for the new year is to improve my emoji selection. It’s fun to add those cute little pictures to texts, but when I try to click on “thumbs up” from that tightly packed list of icons, I somehow click on “high heel shoe” instead. I have no problem with women’s footwear, but it’s not a good fit (I wear a 9 narrow) for most of my messages. And it requires lengthy re-texting to clarify it was a mistake and stop trying to read something into it and, no, it’s not a subliminal retro jab at a woman’s right to shoes. I tried switching to the “high-five,” but it’s positioned perilously close to “face of a terrified cat” and “bright red lips,” neither appropriate to my usual texts, which mainly consist of “heading home now” [“thumbs up”] and “Yes, I will pick up milk” [“terrified cat” with “high heel shoe”]. “Oops, sorry” [“barfing smiley face”]. What?!
You’ve probably already mastered emojis and are raising the caliber of your texts with video gifs using actual cats (without high heels), thus proving your maturity as a citizen in modern society.
Dinosaurs, Rudy Giuliani, and Other Antediluvian Muck
ONE OF THE advantages of living in our nation’s capital is visiting world class museums at no charge. It’s your tax dollars at work, particularly for residents, and we don’t have to wash cars and sell wrapping paper for the school band to get here. Nor do we walk in groups wearing matching shirts with beleaguered adults anxiously counting heads and hoping to get back on the bus with the same number that got off, give or take.
Bless their hearts, these impressionable young people, choosing to spend their vacations in the fetid swamp of Washington, D.C., despite their parents’ fearful warnings. They move in self-conscious clusters, drinking our water despite the intestinal risks endemic to foreign lands and unaware of the local swamp creatures like myself slithering around them. We would be invisible but for our anachronistic clothing that does not say “[name of school] ROCKS!”
The most popular of all museums these days is the Museum of Natural History, with its redesigned dinosaur exhibit tracing life on Earth back to its very beginning. I was awed during my recent visit, and not just by my newfound agility to dodge double strollers blocking the bathrooms. The interactive displays are stunning, with state-of-the-art technology that brings ancient epochs to life. So absorbing were the graphics that it took me several minutes staring at one fascinating display before I realized it was a thermostat.
For Christmas, Let's Give Mitch McConnell a Heart
BECAUSE OF PRESIDENT Trump's order to increase tariffs on imports, Christmas shopping this year could be more frenzied than usual. That last shipment of Chinese-made items is selling fast at Walmart, so you’ve got to shove your shopping cart into the fray if you want to preserve our constitutional right to low prices. Not to complain about Trump’s attempts to bring manufacturing back to the U.S., of course. We look forward to our factory smokestacks once again belching the sweet soot of freedom, but it probably won’t be in time for Black Friday.
I got a jump on shopping this year by buying that new acupuncture cell phone app. Just released, it’s really [ow!] great, although you have to [ow!] hold it just right or [ow!] it doesn’t work. Okay there ... that pressure point ... No more neck pain. Unless I get a phone call [ow!]. “Hello?” [ow!]
We’re especially looking forward to the holidays this year, since getting to Christmas means we made it past Thanksgiving, when for the first time in history the president declined to pardon the White House turkey and, instead—at the urging of adviser Stephen Miller—cooked it and its entire family.
Heaping Scorn (When Nothing Less Will Do)
WITH THE ELECTION only a year away, our nation is hopelessly divided between good people on one side and painfully foolish people on the other. The only thing that can bring us together is to find common ground and agree that the second group is completely out of their minds.
Nah, that won’t work. Because as much as you want righteous retribution brought down on your crazy uncle, he’s not the real problem. He’s just the pawn of greater forces that feed his tiny, brittle mind that nonetheless figured out how to get seconds on turkey before you.
No, the real deplorables are the super wealthy who, since the Reagan presidency, have built a conservative infrastructure that controls Congress and undermines our democracy. The Mercers, the Kochs, the Walmartons, and their kind have financed the seeds of our disharmony and inequality by lobbying for tax breaks, denying climate change, and supporting divisive social media. They should be the real targets of our wrath, nonviolently of course, because we’re still stickin’ with Jesus and that cheek of his.
Why I Only Buy in America
WITH THE NATION'S economy on the brink of another crisis (what, you haven’t heard?) and major banks expecting their feckless greed to again be punished with a harsh government bailout, what can we citizens do to help? We can shop, that’s what. It’s our patriotic duty.
In this capitalistic democracy we cast a vote for freedom every time we make a purchase. The more we buy, the more freedom we celebrate. (I didn’t just buy cat food this morning, I made a profound statement about America. And I’ll make it again when I go back for the cat litter that I forgot.)
The Founders might not have had this in mind when they conceived our republic, but they never felt the joy of buying a 24-pack of tuna at Costco, did they?
On Fox News, There’s No Global Warming
AS WE MOVE into the hottest part of the summer and the likelihood that only two-thirds of the planet’s species will survive until the next election (oddly, presidential candidates as a species seem to be increasing), two things occur to me:
• I forgot to work on my beach body over the winter. And now it’s too late. (Next year, baby!)
• This might be a good time to check in on that climate change panel the Trump administration formed a few months ago.
The panel still has no official name, although any reference to it is usually preceded by “ad hoc,” which is Latin for “spitting distance.” It’s not clear if that distance is from reality, but we have a guess.
New Look, Same Attitude
It’s no surprise to my loyal readers—both of them—that when I’m not writing this column, I’m spending the other 97 percent of my time working as art director for Sojourners magazine, the magazine you are now holding, or perhaps reading on the floor, if you’re doing planks. (I used to do planks every morning but stopped after the internet said that planks are less important than a healthy breakfast. I think it was an ad for Egg McMuffins.)
The fact that I’m the art director is actually printed at the end of my column but, let’s be honest, how many readers get that far?
Voices from Beyond
THE UNIVERSE, as you may recall from a previous column, is an incalculably vast space that is constantly expanding. So it was surprising when scientists claimed that recently detected radio waves came from “halfway across the universe.” Not to quibble, but if the universe is infinitely large and expanding, how did they figure the halfway point? Our annual family drive to Dallas feels endless, but Memphis is definitely halfway.
Look to the East, and Don’t Look Back
SUMMER VACATION planning has begun, and it’s time to choose which parts of the country to avoid—or drive through under cover of darkness—in our hybrid car bearing D.C. license plates, a combination that tends to inflame a variety of tribal prejudices.
Drivers of gas-guzzling cars get peevish when more responsible vehicles pass them on the highway (my Prius is old but moves like the wind!), and the D.C. tags immediately invoke ire. Leaving nothing to chance in its efforts to make residents afraid to leave the city, the District of Columbia also emblazoned the phrase “End Taxation Without Representation” on its license plates. This lets hinterlanders know—if they had any doubt—that we hold the Constitution and its authors in lesser regard. To put it bluntly: We’re whiney. (At this point, I’ll simply note the injustice of having no vote in Congress, although few want to read that in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel.)
Over the years, I have given up trying to reassure incensed people on the road that, whatever their complaint about the nation’s body politic, it isn’t my fault. But they can’t hear me at highway speeds—even when I shout through an open window—and I haven’t perfected my shoulder shrug to communicate, “Hey, I just live there.” Worse still, there is no effective counter to the axiomatic efficiency of another driver’s middle finger.
Curling Up With a Good Book...
LATELY I'VE BEEN reading nonfiction books, finding their less-debatable truths a comforting contrast to the fearsome unpredictability of today’s world. Previously, I had blocked out that world by reading fiction from the horror genre, but stories about people facing unspeakable terrors just seem too cheery these days.
So I’ve settled on works that detail the hard facts of science, lately the origins of humankind. Did you know that we modern human beings are only one of several species of humans throughout evolutionary history? (Evolution being what Charles Darwin dreamed up to cover his childhood disappointment that unicorns weren’t allowed on Noah’s ark. So sad.)
I didn’t realize that we current humans—called homo sapiens, which is Latin for “smarter than those Neanderthal doofuses” (doofi? )—didn’t evolve as one species, seamlessly blending into each next version, like that drawing of hunched figures emerging from the sea to eventually straighten to full height and check email. No, each human species came into existence in a distinct arc of development.
Neanderthals, which preceded us, were actually stronger and had larger brains than the later homo sapiens, but lived virtually unchanged for millennia, their tools never improving, their nomadic lifestyle never maturing into more organized communities. They stubbornly stuck to their ways, and might even have said, “Hey, why reinvent the wheel?” had they invented the wheel in the first place. Which they didn’t.
Fire they mastered quickly, of course, using it for cooking and warmth, but the programmable thermostat never occurred to them.
Is There Something I’m Forgetting?
ONE OF THE disadvantages of living a long life is that you forget much of it. Parts of the past are a closed book to a deteriorating memory, although I do remember every single embarrassing moment when I should have kept my mouth shut but didn’t, falsely thinking at the time that a clever remark about, say, a person’s lamentable haircut would be both humorous and instructive, and generally enjoyed by all. Unfortunately, those excruciating social misdemeanors number, at last count, in the millions and lay in the forefront of my consciousness while other more important things—such as, what 8 times 7 equals—I have long forgotten. It’s the normal consequence of aging, but these days what you don’t remember could hurt you.
For example, have I ever lied to Robert Mueller?
I’VE NEVER MET Robert Mueller, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never been in the same room with the man. But I can’t be certain.
Unlike our president, I’ve never made payments to an adult film actress or Playboy playmate. But does memory really serve? I admit I have seen Playboy magazine, the first time when I was 12, well before the age of consent and possibly in violation of local morality laws at the time. But copies were just lying on the little table in the barbershop, and since I had already read the old issues of Field & Stream, I decided to leaf through a different publication.
Instead of seizing it from my fingers, quelling my innocent curiosity, and using the moment to teach an important life lesson about the clear demarcations of youth, the barbers just giggled.
Anyway, a young Robert Mueller wasn’t there at the time, observing with a stern eye, carefully documenting my actions for use in future judicial proceedings. At least, I don’t think he was. But can I really be sure?
Look Both Ways. Pray. Repeat.
BY THE TIME you read this, I will either be recuperating from multiple contusions or hugging the outer walls of buildings as I walk from corner to corner, trying to avoid said contusions. Either outcome is apparently the price we pay for progress, although I’d be happy to let another loyal citizen experience that progress. (Why should I use up my sick leave?)
My anxieties of late have nothing to do with the usual political hypocrisy that stalks the streets of our nation’s capital. I speak instead of thousands of rental bicycles and electric scooters that flit about like troublesome insects, albeit insects completely lacking in judgment and common sense. They are everywhere and, counterintuitively, can come out of nowhere. And they move with a speed matched only by the wobbliness of the inexperienced riders who thought it would be cool to “arrive in style.” Or “in ambulance,” depending on conditions.
To make matters worse, one scooter company recalled thousands of its vehicles because some were at risk of spontaneously catching fire, an extremely dangerous occurrence that would both threaten the lives of riders and look totally cool as FLAMES COME OUT OF YOUR SCOOTER! But like I said, very dangerous and, after I do it once, it must be stopped.
The Key to a Long Life
TO TAKE MY mind off Ted Cruz being with us for another six years, I’ve found that repeatedly jabbing a needle into my knee seems to work best. But today I’m thinking of the more comforting world of assisted living, specifically the current residence of my elderly parents. Although I have to be careful using that word “elderly,” since I am, ahem, of a certain age myself. And I have my own burden to bear. (Recently, several people remarked that I look like Clint Eastwood, that handsome paragon of Hollywood masculinity. But they weren’t talking about Clint Eastwood in his prime, but rather the current Clint Eastwood, who’s 88. That hurts.)
My parents reside at a Baptist senior center near Florence, S.C., a town not named after a recent hurricane that bulldozed its way through the South. There wasn’t much left, anyway, after Hurricane Matthew came through earlier. (And then there was Michael, another “100-year storm,” a phrase that apparently now means “monthly.”)
Visiting my parents is always a joy, as well as a jolt. The jolt comes when driving from North Carolina into South Carolina, where the road immediately becomes cracked and rough, registering the difference between a state that responsibly maintains its highways and one that instead puts its money into maintaining the 41st-best health care in the nation, not to mention the 48th-best education. (High fives for Mississippi, which is way up at 46th!) In fairness, South Carolina ranks 12th in gun ownership, so you probably don’t want to complain about the roads.