Archive for March, 2011

It’s the Impression That I Get…

 

Originally published in the Grand Rapids Press, March 26, 2011

I’m guessing that even for you who live outside of West Michigan this week’s cartoon won’t require too much explaining. Wes Leonard was the young man and star athlete from Fennville, Michigan who on March 3rd collapsed and died after scoring the winning basket in a playoff game. It was an absolutely stunning tragedy, bordering on unreal. It was international news for quite some time as the Fennville basketball team continued to win before being knocked out by the eventual state champs.

Last week, Wes Leonard’s family wrote an open letter to the community, which was published in the Grand Rapids Press. If you have not read it, follow the link. It’s definitely worth it. It struck me as one of the purest, most graceful examples of human dignity I have ever experienced. Something to be inspired by and to aspire to. But it also made me wonder — could I handle something so horrible as well as the Leonards? And it made me wish — I hope I never have to find out.

There was a song by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones called “The Impression That I Get,” which was running through my head as I was drawing. Sample lyrics:

Have you ever been close to tragedy
Or been close to folks who have?
Have you ever felt a pain so powerful
So heavy you collapse?

No? Well…
I never had to knock on wood
But I know someone who has
Which makes me wonder if I could
It makes me wonder if
I never had to knock on wood
And I’m glad I haven’t yet
Because I’m sure it isn’t good
That’s the impression that I get.

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Sharing in Belt-Tightening…

Originally published in the Grand Rapids Press, March 19, 2011

When I hear the term “belt-tightening,” the first image I get is of my Auchter ancestors. Family lore has it that my great-great grandmother (a severe German-Catholic woman of the late 1800s) wore a rope with knots in it around her waste under the untold layers of Victorian clothes. Whenever she was feeling particularly sinful, she would notch the belt tighter so the knots would dig into her, the pain a reminder for being so awful. (Ah, yes — those wonderful, carefree days of yore when everything was so much better than today….)

The other image I get is of adolescent me. To say I was skinny is to say that salt tastes salty. With most pants, wearing a belt was an absolute necessity. Belts, I might add, that my Dad had to create additional holes on with a leather punch — the extra belt sometimes wrapped through two or three belt loops and ended near my spine. Because I liked to run and play and not have my pants slide off, my belt was often cinched to the last leather-punched hole to keep them tight. At the end of the day, the points of my hips would often be bright red and sore.

So for me, “belt-tightening” means something more than “a little snug.” And having lived in Michigan for the past 10 years, which has been one continuous belt-tightening, my hips points start to pulsate when I hear the term. That, and it makes me somewhat less sympathetic (no, make that “angry”) with those who don’t know what it’s like. Big oil companies, for instance. No matter what, they just seem to keep piling up the cash. And, yes, it’s a gross generalization, and I’m sure there much more to it than that. But I did write “seem to” because that’s the way it feels, especially at the gas pump.

I noticed this week that some sort of gas and oil trade group is running full-page color ads in the Grand Rapids Press. They extol the virtues of gas and oil and gainful employment with lots of smiling, happy people. I’d like to think this is in direct response to my cartoon. But I’m pretty sure it is part of a PR campaign developed long before. Well, I hope they are at least paying full price for those ads. A lot of belt-tightening at newspapers these days….

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A Cartoon Swimming in Awesome Sauce! Too Bad…

This was going to be tomorrow’s GRPress cartoon. I really like it. It has a unique style, a nice rhythm, accessible design, stinging punchline. Unfortunately it wasn’t until I got to the point of the rough sketch that I realized (and accepted the fact) there are probably only five people in the world who would understand it. Sigh.

As briefly as possible, here’s what you would need to know:

  • Michigan has a thing called the Natural Resources Trust Fund. It collects money from oil and gas extracted here and uses it to purchase Michigan land for the public enjoyment.
  • Dave Agema, a state representative from Grandville, is introducing a bill to raid this money and spend it mostly on building and maintaining roads.
  • Dave Agema has a history of doing and saying audaciously thoughtless things. His justification for his bill? “It’s getting to the point where the state of Michigan will own the state and the people won’t.”
  • As it turns out, our government is, as Lincoln put it, a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Which is to say, the government is us and we are the government.
  • In 1787, after the original form of government and the Articles of Confederation were proving disastrous, a constitution convention (with James Monroe as a key writer) created and adopted our current constitution, which begins with “We the people…” and so on as the cartoon indicates.

See now?! What’d I tell you? Awesome cartoon, right? Wait, what? You stopped reading a long time ago? Sigh.

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Grand Rapids LaughFest…

Originally published in the Grand Rapids Press, March 12, 2011

It isn’t often that an editorial cartoonist gets to be a cheerleader for the community. Boosterism isn’t (and, frankly, shouldn’t be) a big part of the job. But then when something exceptional happens, like when private and public communities work together to stage a world-class event and for a more-than-worthy cause, there is no reason why an editorial cartoonist shouldn’t step up and give it some praise.

Presently Grand Rapids just so happens to be staging one of these exceptional events. It’s called Gilda’s LaughFest. From March 10th through the 20th, there will be a wide variety of comedy events held throughout the city (from movies to standup to rubber chicken tossing) with a variety of entertainers (from Betty White to Ralph Harris to Mike Birbiglia) and all for a single cause: to benefit cancer grief and support programs offered through Gilda’s Club of Grand Rapids.

Please check it out!

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Michigan: Kinda Screwed up, but…

Originally published in the Grand Rapids Press, March 5, 2011

Back in my college days, I spent a summer as a supervisor in a General Motors foundry in Saginaw. I was a 20 year-old kid supervising adults at least 12 years older than me. (Because of seniority rules, anybody younger than that was laid off.) I didn’t know what I was doing, which was okay because I didn’t actually have anything to do. Well, not anything beyond filling out time cards and searching for bins of parts hidden by the previous shift somewhere in the massive plant. And then there were the cat and mouse games like the one with the raging alcoholic who also happened to be a forklift driver. I felt obligated to find him after the first break to make sure he wasn’t drunk. Generally he was, and I would have to talk him into going to visit the medical office because he was “sick.” (I couldn’t actually demand that he go — even though he was a really nice guy and an amiable drunk; ordering him to go would reflexively trigger the union vs. management dance, and that would keep him on the forklift for the whole night.) So you might assume from that experience that I am anti-union….

One day after getting the besotted forklift driver to sleep it off in the med office, I was sharing my situation with a fellow supervisor — a real one, not an intern. We were up in the supervisor offices high off the plant floor. I hadn’t met many alcoholics and I was not quite sure what to do to help, but I was aware of programs and inquired how I might be able to make this happen. The unhappy with his life supervisor glanced up from his porno magazine (not the girly kind, the horrific gynecological kind), surveyed the room to make sure only the right color ears would hear what he as going to say (re: White), and offered, “F him. Good thing they have a union. If they didn’t, I’d fire all them fing n*****s.” So you might assume from that experience that I am pro-union….

Like most things where humans are involved, management/labor situations are more nuanced than sound bites would lead you to believe. Throw government and taxpayers into that mix, and it gets even more involved. I think it’s better to try to understand the full story and, you know, not assume.

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Racing to the Bottom — Viva la Revolution!…

Originally published in the Grand Rapids Press, February 26, 2011

Originally, I used the word “crappy” instead of “lousy.” I liked “crappy” better but ultimately felt (along with my editor) that it drew too much attention to itself. That is, some readers would miss the point by focusing on it (whether being offended or enthused about seeing a semi-naughty word it print). I only tell you this because I quite literally have lost hours of my life (mostly sleep) trying to sort out these type of word issues. Most writers have, so it’s nothing special. It just occurs to me now, though, if I could have invested that time more productively, perhaps my family’s medical insurance wouldn’t be so crappy. Eh. Probably doesn’t matter — we all seem to be heading in the same direction.

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