Bedford Falls vs. Pottersville.

There’s been a great comment discussion the last couple of days, over small towns, large cities, and what we owe both of them. It made me think of 2001-02, when we were both miserable at work, and Alan had a promising job interview in Traverse City. I gave considerable thought to how we’d live and what I’d do there.

“You can freelance,” everybody told me. “After all, with the internet, it doesn’t matter where you live.”

This was a big article of faith with the head of our editorial page, who, truth be told, was a bit of a hermit. The internet meant anyone could work from anywhere, which meant…all sorts of things. Less traffic, fewer days spent in boring offices, and of course, the flowering of many charming towns for those who love them. You could have a house with a walkout deck overlooking a lovely valley, while behind you the world of work simmered away on your monitor, and you joined it when you liked.

Not 20 years later? That hasn’t happened.

It’s happened for a handful of lucky souls, sure, but for most of us? No. In fact, a lot of these towns don’t even have broadband. And didn’t Yahoo call a bunch of work-at-homes back to the office corral a while back? The aphorism I recall from that was, “if you want people to be productive, keep them apart. But if you want them to be creative, they have to be together.” Yahoo needed some creativity, so the roundup began.

Someone said on the thread yesterday that cities are the future. Well, duh. But cities can’t be everybody’s future; too much density isn’t good for anyone, and I for one don’t want to live in some slightly cleaner and less polluted version of Mexico City, or even Los Angeles. In the last six months, I’ve met two couples who’ve bought houses in Grosse Pointe because, get this, they were priced out of Detroit. Not all of Detroit, mind you — you can still find hundreds of houses for a pittance — but the good parts, yes. Not everyone can live close in, where the action is.

But everything some of you have been saying about small towns — and small cities — is true. This is a painful time for the U.S. economy, and everyone is right, at least in part. This is about a shift, and if you can’t shift, or at least adapt, you’re going to be left behind. Anyway, I’m glad I have some smart readers willing to bat this stuff around.

So. Today in other Chaos Reigns news:

Subpoenas for the Trump Organization.

The president admits lying to our closest neighbor and their very handsome prime minister.

A brand-new bridge falls from the sky in Florida. It was put up using something called Accelerated Bridge Construction Methods, which I’m going to bet maybe don’t come out of this smelling like a rose.

Oh, and Don Jr. and his wife are splitting. Five kids, these two have. As Philip Larkin said, they fuck you up, your mum and dad.

Boy, am I tired. Good weekend to all.

Posted at 9:02 pm in Current events |

72 responses to “Bedford Falls vs. Pottersville.”

  1. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 15, 2018 at 9:26 pm

    Don Jr. will never, I must note, live in a small town. So we got that going for us.

    And I am looking forward to cheering for Sherri as she comes up onto the stage with the screenwriters at the 2022 Oscars!

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  2. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 15, 2018 at 9:36 pm

    Just catching up at home tonight from today’s news: so, does anyone have any idea which cabinet post to which Trump is going to name Sean Hannity? DCI? Interior?

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  3. Suzanne said on March 15, 2018 at 9:43 pm

    Just read that McMaster is out.

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  4. beb said on March 15, 2018 at 10:13 pm

    Isn’t Hannity already Minister of Propaganda?

    It looks like the “accelerated bridge construction” involved building the central span off to the side than lift it into place with a crane. So maybe the supports weren’t large enough for the weight or wasn’t secure enough. Then again maybe the per-manufactured span collapsed under it’s own weight.

    If the city of tomorrow is LA I don’t want it. But what about a city like Paris? Or DC? Dense with low rise buildings.

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  5. Deborah said on March 15, 2018 at 10:32 pm

    My husband says that building more “housing” isn’t the solution but instead building more flexibly is the solution. Build for mixed use, don’t thwart zoning that allows for buildings to be offices when they need to be, residences when they need to be etc. This is apparently not allowed now as the floor to floor dimension is completely different for office and residential, not to mention light manufacturing. He says granny flats aren’t the answer to increase density because the number of them would just be a drop in the bucket. He thinks developers need to change their thinking drastically to make it viable and more pleasant for more people to move to the city. I realize that not everyone wants to live in a big city, got it, but something needs to happen and soon, that allows people to live where they want and still be economical, environmentally sustainable etc. You can’t always get what you want, but you just might find that you get what you need.

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  6. Bitter Scribe said on March 15, 2018 at 10:51 pm

    What Yahoo! needed, and still needs AFAIK, isn’t “creativity.” They need an identity, a business plan, a purpose, a function. They evolved, or rather stagnated, into something that’s not quite a search engine, not quite a browser, not quite a news site. They need someone to figure out what they are, or want to be, and get there quickly. If it’s not too late, which it may very well be. Oh, and losing that silly exclamation point couldn’t hurt. Until then, they can force people to come to the office, but it just means they’ll flounder and suffer collectively rather than individually.

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  7. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 15, 2018 at 10:56 pm

    Deborah, to paraphrase the Bard: Zoning is an ass.

    (I say this as the chair of our village Board of Zoning and Building Appeals for many years, and who has been hauled into meetings on multiple occasions by village managers and mayors, asking “why do you all grant so darn many variances?” to which I reply “well, if you want to yank me, I’m an appointed position [they wince], but as you know, your zoning ordinances are a lovely straightjacket which, if followed to the letter, would mean we’d not build or open a blessed thing in this fine community — am I confused? I thought you wanted more development?” “Well, Jeff, yes, but we have heard complaints from . . .” “Give me names, or we’re done talking. If you’re unhappy, I’m fine talking about that?” “Oh, no, I don’t, I mean . . .” “Great. Well, if you need me to step down, just send me a letter, and I get my Thursday nights back! But we’re doing variances according to legal processes that have held up in court the last three times they’ve been challenged, except when you on council overturn them, which have both been overturned. Let me know!” [cheery wave, I trot down the stairs]

    Irritatingly, they never yank me. Twelve years now I’m stuck with this — but “standard” zoning ordinances poorly adapted for local use are why we have to keep issuing variances . . . and the mayor knows that, even if her friends complain about the garage rebuild next door, if she could find a goober to take this position who would refuse most or all variances, the screaming would be louder and from more quarters after the implications dawned.

    Most zoning is not planned development, it’s people wanting to pull the ladder up after they’ve clambered into their idyllic treehouse, to not let anyone else in the club. Or klub. I enjoy granting variances. Call it my orderly form of protest.

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  8. Sherri said on March 16, 2018 at 12:47 am

    Most zoning is not planned development, it’s people wanting to pull the ladder up after they’ve clambered into their idyllic treehouse, to not let anyone else in the club. Or klub.


    Deborah, I invite your husband to come out to the West Coast, and the decide whether we need to build more housing. Yesterday, I got a tour of a new development that just opened a few weeks ago in downtown Redmond. Just under a 100 units, the preferred term now is eco-suite, but they’re also known as micro suites and apodments. Think dorm rooms with bathrooms. Common kitchens. A quarter of them have already rented in the first two weeks, with the rents running from $950-$1100, utilities included. Internet is another $23/month, a parking stall is $150/month or $75/month for a lift stall (or you have to sign an affidavit that you don’t have a car.)

    And oh my, you should have seen the fight that happened before that development was allowed.

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  9. Sherri said on March 16, 2018 at 12:50 am

    And I just want to know who is going to play me in the screen version!

    My husband, bless him, suggested Natalie Portman.

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  10. BigHank53 said on March 16, 2018 at 1:24 am

    Towns used to die all the time. All over the Appalachians (even up in New England) you can find abandoned homesteads and even villages. When the flat, rock-free fields of Ohio and Indiana opened up, people packed up every tool they owned and said goodbye and good riddance to the family farm. There’s the mining towns in the West that cleared out when either the ore did or the government stopped buying silver. You can visit Thurmond, West Virginia, which got flat-out given to the National Park Service because the railroad that owned it didn’t feel like tearing it down.

    Most of those folks knew what they were getting into, though, and more importantly, they knew what they were getting out of. If you’re in a mining or railroad boomtown, you’re there to make money, and when the money goes someplace else, so do you. The just-above-subsistence farmers that went West were still farmers; they just wanted better land. Nowadays, though, the inexorable economic vise that’s been tightening in this country has been tightening everywhere. After the factory moves 800 jobs out of the country, and the hardware store closes and you realize the two highest paying jobs left in town are the managers at the Dollar General and the Taco Bell, what do you do? Where do you go? Dollar General’s already there. Your kids aren’t moving back, because they want the grandkids to set their sights a bit higher than Taco Bell or Dollar General. You’re just fucked, along with everyone else in your town.

    There’s no inherent reason why every town should continue to exist. I grew up here, and I like it is whining even when it’s true, and realizing that it’s whining will make you look at a bunch of American platitudes–Work hard and own a piece of the American Dream! Pull yourself up by your bootstraps! Quitters never win and winners never quit!–and know that they’re the worst sort of advertising, the sort that works its way into your head and leaves you feeling utterly cheated when you find out the truth.

    In 1975 the most expensive car in this country was a Rolls-Royce, and it would set you back $147,000. Today you can walk into a Ford dealer with $150k and come out with two F-150s, and one of them won’t even be fully optioned. The most expensive car is somewhere north of three millions bucks, and they’re all sold before the factory’s done building them.

    Bitter? Get down on your knees and thank whoever you like that all of the deeply ripped-off white schmucks in this country are just bitter. You think they’re bad now? Wait until Trump’s out of office and they get the bill. Wait until there aren’t any “illegals” around to blame for their problems.

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  11. Dexter said on March 16, 2018 at 3:22 am

    “…two couples who’ve bought houses in Grosse Pointe because, get this, they were priced out of Detroit.” I read that and stopped to re-read. I instantly thought of all the houses sold for $1 or $100 if the buyers signed papers committing them to make these places livable. Then I read on. “…the good parts”. I don’t even know where those neighborhoods are because all I remember from TV are all the stories about the run-down places, like Sixto Rodriguez’s neighborhood featured in that doc about him.

    You’d think I’d be done with dreaming of geographical moves that would garner happiness and even long-term contentment as I age ever so quickly it seems. The old adage about when you move, when you arrive you still see yourself in the mirror is true, but that’s only a downer if your life is all fucked up from the start. A few weeks ago old man Clint Eastwood was a guest of Dan Patrick’s sports show, and reminiscing a bit from Pebble Beach (Carmel, Monterey County) about his love for the Monterey Peninsula, going back to the early 1950s when he was a soldier at nearby Fort Ord. He promised himself he was going to live there someday, and he has for decades now. I felt the same way, also living on that post 18 years after Clint was there,but I lack the means to live there, so we do the best we can. I lived in Waterloo, Indiana from 1962 until 1969, went to school there, made friends there, and recently joined one of those Facebook “You know you’re from X if…” web pages, and that place apparently has been worked and “funned” out…all the places are totally gone, the fun events stopped repeating years ago. It’s very apparent the town which had 2 lumber yards, 5 barber shops, restaurants , bars, a club where drunken dancing went on, 2 truck stops, doctors, a major NY Central RR depot and a fucking opera house…well, “they hain’t nuthin’ left no mo”. Well, there is a re-habbed Amtrak station for former Fort Wayne Baker Street Station customers, but that’s IT. Maybe it all on lack of town planning…Kendallville and Auburn seem to be thriving. Sedan, Indiana, gone, too. All that’s left are the outlines of buildings visible from satellite photos. I suppose in another one hundred years Waterloo will be like that…gone. Oh yeah…they do have a Dollar General and a Subway sandwich shoppe. And , of course, a liquor and beer & wine store, the kind they call “Party Store” in Detroit.

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  12. Jerry said on March 16, 2018 at 3:35 am

    Here in London we desperately need more affordable housing. But we have a major problem of property bought as a safe place to store money against an uncertain future. Stories abound of foreigners (frequently Chinese or Russians) buying an expensive flat and immediately sealing it with plastic sheeting rather than living in it. They are prepared to pay a premium for something luxurious so that’s what developers build. And many are bought through offshore companies to avoid taxes. A double loss.

    I’d like the government to pass a law along the lines that a property not being occupied or developed should be acquired at a low rate by the local council to use for housing the homeless and low paid. And that should be only the start!

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  13. Deborah said on March 16, 2018 at 7:44 am

    Sherri, my husband doesn’t think we don’t need more housing, he thinks we don’t need more “housing”. He thinks we should be building more buildings that can be adapted to lots of different uses as needs change. So when they need to be used as residences they can be and should be but as time goes on into the future those buildings can be used for other things as needed.

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  14. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 16, 2018 at 7:46 am

    BigHank53, you are most assuredly right about the waves of displacement and the long history of small towns closing or disappearing, but what I’m talking about is something that seems to be happening to . . . small towns. Period. When folks came back on the Pennsylvania RR to Decorum, PA in 1900 and said you could plow a furrow all the way across a field in Iowa and never hit a rock, most of my forbears packed up wholesale from the family farm and headed for Shelby and Anita and Atlantic, Iowa (where not one of them ended up farming, they became shopkeepers and telegraphers and stationmasters and schoolteachers).

    What I’m trying to figure out is the relative economic non-viability of small towns in PA, IA, or CA. I’m not angry about it, nor bitter, just trying to figure out what we should be saying to those who found themselves in the rural community chair when the music stopped. It’s also something I think about a great deal in my denominational life as a pastor who’s part of a regional body (think diocese or synod or conference, a middle judicatory). My tradition was big on the early American frontier, and as a congregationally governed church, tended to put all of its eggs in small towns and rural county seats; we’ve never been terribly good in the cities nor suburbs, and we’re now paying a steep price for that demographic emphasis. Lots of opinions in clergy circles about what the remainder of us should be doing in the future, and not a few argue that we should move aggressively to close small churches to push for urban and suburban “third place” models that are potentially more welcoming to younger and more diverse audiences than we currently reach. Of course, being congregational in our polity, “we” can’t close anything, but we could invite/encourage/demand that middle and upper judicatory bodies stop “propping up” small churches. And we do indeed have many buildings constructed for 100 or 200 or 300 that have had 20 to 30 people a Sunday inside of them for the last couple of decades.

    I think many of the closures will take care of themselves, one roof truss at a time, as deferred major maintenance catches up with us, like many Protestant bodies are seeing.

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  15. Sherri said on March 16, 2018 at 9:31 am

    I think that in many ways, we have lived through an anamolous period which is ending, or has already ended. The New Deal, the post war economic boom, and more redistributive policies created a time when when good fortune was spread more widely and while the perception is more often of individuals being propped up, that props up small towns.

    We started undoing the redistributive policies and a lot of the underpinnings of the New Deal in the 70s and 80s, and accelerated it since. We have a greater gulf between a smaller number of haves and the have nots than before, and that’s going to hit small towns harder.

    I’m getting on a plane to go to a small town today for my MIL’s service tomorrow. Cleveland, TN basically has two things going for it: Lee University and Allan Jones, who made his bucks in payday loans. Jones grew up in Cleveland and wants to live there, so he creates the place he wants to live in.

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  16. Peter said on March 16, 2018 at 9:36 am

    Wow, a lot of meat to chew on here today, and I’m not even counting the good stuff in DC.

    Deborah, it is a nice idea to have buildings that can be easily adapted into other uses as time goes on – it’s an underlying principle to Mies’ universal space theory. While you’re right about different requirements for housing vs. office spaces, it really isn’t about the height – it’s about the depth. Housing development typically have many more columns spaced closer together – even open plan condos have a lot of little rooms and nooks and crannies where you can place columns – good office space requires open flexible plans, and you won’t get those from hi-rise housing.

    I’m not saying it can’t be done – let’s use DC as an example. Very strict height restrictions and the desire to be in the right place in town has resulted in buildings with really low floor to floor heights – some buildings are even lower than newer housing towers. They achieve that with really small bays (20′ x 20′ and smaller) so they can have really thin floor slabs. Some buildings also have several vertical mechanical shafts instead of one large shaft with a loop – that way there’s no 18″ plenum above the ceiling. And, many of those buildings have 8′-0″ ceilings.

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  17. Bruce Fields said on March 16, 2018 at 10:08 am

    “Stories abound of foreigners (frequently Chinese or Russians) buying an expensive flat and immediately sealing it with plastic sheeting rather than living in it.”

    I’ve seen some of those stories too, about various cities, but can’t recall seeing a lot of actual numbers attached to them.

    I’m interested in any evidence to the contrary, but meanwhile I’m skeptical of the idea that there are enough uninhabited investment properties have a measurable impact on housing markets.

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  18. nancy said on March 16, 2018 at 10:25 am

    Back to Dexter’s remark about doing a double take on the Grosse Pointe/Detroit pricing conundrum. While it’s true that there are still many, many “fixer-uppers” out there — a term I use ironically — they are either in undesirable neighborhoods or basically blighted messes that aren’t worth the effort or money. One couple I recall said they were faced by rent hike after rent hike on their nothing-special downtown apartment, so they started a house hunt. It came down to a house in Grosse Pointe Park with a pool, or a duplex in southwest Detroit (desirable) for roughly the same price. The latter required some work, and they’d eventually have a tenant to live on the other side of the wall.

    They went for the pool, and a 15-minute commute to the action downtown.

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  19. Suzanne said on March 16, 2018 at 10:33 am

    Bruce, I do believe it’s true. We know a young man who does work for a communications/marketing firm in New York and some of his work is connected to luxury housing. He has mentioned more than once that many of them are purchased at a premium by foreigners as an investment, not as a home. Many have occupants only sporadically, maybe a couple of weeks a year. So builders build the high end stuff. They don’t care if there are people living there as long as they pay. So they build more.

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  20. nancy said on March 16, 2018 at 11:03 am

    There was an episode of “High Maintenance,” one of my new fave HBO shows, that addressed this issue: A couple finally gets an apartment after years of communal living — a designated “affordable” unit in a Brooklyn building full of rich yuppies. They moved in, and discovered all the amenities of the building — the rooftop social space, the sauna — weren’t available to “third-floor” residents.

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  21. Icarus said on March 16, 2018 at 11:24 am

    Curious, what is the attraction of Traverse City? My BIL, whose master plan was moving back to Grosse Pointe and living there for eternity is suddenly thinking of moving there.

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  22. 4dbirds said on March 16, 2018 at 11:38 am

    A house for sale in Detroit or close to it.

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  23. Suzanne said on March 16, 2018 at 11:50 am

    Wow, 4dbirds, just, well, I am speechless over that house. Wow.

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  24. Connie said on March 16, 2018 at 12:09 pm

    Icarus: the big lake. Or as they say about TC. Live by the bay on half the pay. My brother is a very highly paid Adobe consultant who could locate his home office anywhere. He chose to move from South Bend to Suttons Bay, near Tc, a few years ago. And having a relative with a spare room in TC is a good thing.

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  25. beb said on March 16, 2018 at 12:27 pm

    When we moved moved to our current location in Detroit it was one of the more desirable parts of Detroit, a “copper alley” in what was described as the white ears of a black dog (meaning extreme northeast and northwest Detroit) but 30 years later we have easily a dozen boarded up houses on our block and most of the rest are probably rentals. A neighbor of ours walked away from their house because it needed major repairs and there was no market for housing here. I would love to have a dozen Muslim refugees relocated to our street to occupy those boarded up houses. As Nancy has mentioned, there’s an active downtown with old buildings being converted into lofts.

    Years ago we were invited to speed a weekend in Toronto with a friend. He lived in an area of older houses. There was 3 foot clearance between his neighbor on one side and a wider space on the other end for a shared driveway leading to garages in the rear. Here in Detroit our house is separated from our neighbors by individual driveways. So Toronto was more dense than Detroit. The other thing was that 2 blocks away was a main street with a lot of retail businesses and a trolley line. You really didn’t need a car to get long there.

    I don’t think we need to design some sort of generic building that can convert from retail to residential or back. All you really need to do is plan for retail on the first floor, maybe offices on the second and residential on the remaining higher floors.

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  26. Julie Robinson said on March 16, 2018 at 12:33 pm

    “Unique barely begins to describe this one of a kind Grixdale Farms estate. Every aspect of “Lion Gate Estate” has been articulated with painstaking attention to detail and mind blowing decorative flair. Too many custom features to list!”

    People, you NEED to go peruse that house. It is truly incredible, in a jaw-dropping way. I guess, as Dolly Parton said, it takes a lot of money to look this cheap.

    “Only shown on sunny days” Electricity cut off?

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  27. nancy said on March 16, 2018 at 12:34 pm

    The job was doing comms work for an environmental nonprofit based there. Money was pretty bad, but the location was appealing, if you like the outdoors. After 9/11, being far from a major population center had its appeal. But ultimately he didn’t get an offer and I think it went to a trust-funder, which makes more sense.

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  28. Dorothy said on March 16, 2018 at 1:25 pm

    OMG Julie you weren’t kidding. At first I thought “Oh look, Liberace came back to life, but then died and now they’re selling the place where he’s been hiding out!” That is the most garish, awful looking place I think I’ve ever seen. Who would seriously consider buying it while it’s decorated like that!?! “Mind blowing decorative flair” my ass.

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  29. Jolene said on March 16, 2018 at 1:30 pm

    I’m amazed that any realtor would take on that house without insisting that it be emptied out and stripped of wall coverings and such. When I sold my house in Pittsburgh, my agent wouldn’t let me leave the toaster on the kitchen counter.

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  30. Connie said on March 16, 2018 at 2:05 pm

    My eyes hurt.

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  31. Judybusy said on March 16, 2018 at 2:28 pm

    Those huge dolls sitting on the dining room chairs in picture #8 are so creepy! I’m feeling very tasteful right about now.

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  32. Dorothy said on March 16, 2018 at 3:02 pm

    Oh I forgot – who puts that kind of weird attachment thing to the lid of a toilet? How are you supposed to lift the lid to do your business? That real estate agent needs his/her head examined.

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  33. Julie Robinson said on March 16, 2018 at 3:09 pm

    Wouldn’t you love to hear the story behind it? Kids inherited and can’t stand to spend another second dealing with the house, cars, and crap? Owner in a nursing home and won’t let anything be touched? Or, more prosaically, bank-owned in a bankruptcy?

    And all the mirrors in the bathrooms and bedrooms! Based on our renovation experiences over the last 18 months, that house needs at least 100K of work, that is if there aren’t major problems with the pool, foundation, or mold.

    It also needs an exorcism.

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  34. LAMary said on March 16, 2018 at 4:13 pm

    Don Jr.’s wife hired a criminal attorney to handle the divorce.

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  35. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 16, 2018 at 4:45 pm

    Sherri, that’s what I’ve been trying to say to my colleagues in ministry, at least in my denomination, that there was “a bubble” from the 30s to the 80s in congregational life when even small churches could “afford” a full time seminary trained and ordained minister; our problem now is that churches think they should still be able to have one — and contrariwise think that without such a staffing profile, they can’t function as a meaningful Christian community . . . which I think is too bad, as well. No reason you should have to have 24/7 access to a pastor in order to be a church; we’re nice, and have our place, but it was (in my perspective, not being from a sacramental tradition anyhow) a mistake to over-identify church life with one employee job title.

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  36. Icarus said on March 16, 2018 at 6:38 pm

    “Only shown on sunny days” Electricity cut off?

    even the realtor knows this is a long shot and wants to invest as little time as possible. Plus this weeds out people who saw the pictures and want to see it for voyeuristic reasons.

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  37. Suzanne said on March 16, 2018 at 9:31 pm

    Jeff, I think you are right about the church membership bubble. What is interesting are the solutions I hear, like that churches are failing because (white) Protestants aren’t having enough kids or that people refuse to give enough to support their church (if you have only 50 members, even if each family unit gives well, there will not be enough money coming in). Most denominations have online directories and many list individual church membership numbers. There are many, many churches with around 100 members or less. How can they afford a full time pastor?

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  38. BigHank53 said on March 17, 2018 at 2:58 am

    Man, I know Protestants hate to hear things like this, but it’s time to start paying attention to the Catholics. They’ve been dealing with declining congregations, getting rid of churches, and generally downsizing for decades now. In a lot of New England, they built huge churches for the populations that worked in the textile mills well before cars were invented, so they had no parking, which crippled the usefulness of the building when the mills closed. (Many of the mill workers were French-Canadian women, who were mostly Catholics.) They’ve been deconsecrating and selling off property for a long time.

    Of course New England’s dense enough that it usually just means that it’s a fifteen minute drive to church instead of seven, which I’m willing to bet is not quite the same in the Midwest.

    Sherri, your comment about the undoing of redistributive policies–I believe it’s at the root of the issue. We’ve all seen that little graph about the growth of the economy and the share going to the working class: if your paycheck is smaller you need to shop at that new Wal-Mart and drop a ten in the collection plate instead of a twenty. It doesn’t seem like that much but it sure adds up over four decades; vacations that don’t get taken and a new canoe that doesn’t get bought and there goes the sporting goods store and the travel agent. And then one day four-fifths of the pews at the church are empty.

    We’re short-term creatures. Something changes overnight and we notice it: Need to keep an eye on that in case it changes tomorrow! If it changes over five years…the kids are growing and my hair is getting grayer and the rust hole in the car is getting really bad…it’s hard to pay attention to background stuff.

    Down here south of the Mason-Dixon line there are a lot of churches that rent a room in the local library for their Sunday services, or a run-down commercial property in a bad location. I can think of at least two faded signs on empty lots proclaiming “Future Home of ________ Church!” I’ve no idea how you get a congregation to accept their altered circumstances gracefully, though. I don’t envy the task.

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  39. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 17, 2018 at 8:15 am

    It takes grace, indeed.

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  40. Sherri said on March 17, 2018 at 9:01 am

    I think it’s going to take a different mindset, one that’s not going to be comfortable for the churches to adopt. Having sat through meetings discussing how to get people to come to church, I think that most people in church operate from a basic assumption that everybody else needs to be there, and if they just tell them about the church, they’ll see it. I mean, if you said that to people in the church, they might quibble, but their actions and what they suggest to draw more people usually fit in that framework.

    I’ve tried in the past to suggest that if you want to attract people, you need to give them something that they need, you need to be of service. Knocking on doors inviting them to your St Francis Day service is not finding out what your community needs.

    I think this ties into the question about a full-time minister; if the focus of the church is service, rather than being served, that dynamic changes. (Incidentally, even in the bubble times, in the rural area I grew up, it wasn’t unusual to still have shared ministers among churches.)

    Maybe I’m overly influenced by a few things: living in the very unchurched PNW, AA as a program of “attraction rather than promotion”, my own feelings about the meaning and purpose of church and whether I belong since the election, a little Diana Butler Bass. But I think the church’s problem goes beyond the small town problem.

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  41. basset said on March 17, 2018 at 9:23 am

    “I think that most people in church operate from a basic assumption that everybody else needs to be there…”

    Exactly, and that’s the issue for me. Look at who’s around you, judge them, see how they are deficient, then get to work on fixing them. At least that’s how I have always understood it, over on the target side of the equation.

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  42. alex said on March 17, 2018 at 10:14 am

    All this church talk calls to mind an experience from maybe ten years ago, when friends tried to get me and my partner to attend a local Episcopalian congregation and, they hoped, choose it as our own.

    I wasn’t all that enthused about the idea because organized religion has never been a part of my life, but my partner grew up in a religious household and also filled in as a church organist as a sideline, and finding a church did seem at the very least to offer the benefit of fellowship, a good way to expand our social outlets.

    I thought that if we joined a church, we should reward one that takes a more progressive and courageous stance on LGBT inclusion and the Episcopalians weren’t the most advanced in this regard, but better than many.

    So we attended one random Sunday and our friends were delighted to see us there. And the congregation, I observed, was fairly high-society and aging. I recognized a lot of prominent people there. And as it happened, on that particular Sunday after the service, the social gathering was intended to be a forum for discussion about the future of the church.

    Like the local symphony, also patronized by many of the same congregants the very night before, the church doesn’t have a younger generation of movers and shakers coming of age with the kinds of funds the organization needs to sustain itself in the long haul, not to mention an interest in being active in the church, and the discussion focused largely on how to make the church relevant to young people and renew its vitality.

    As casual outside observers, we held our tongues, but it was obvious to us that it’s a losing game. We ended up never joining that church or any other. It’s not even an idea we would entertain these days.

    My parents told me that when they were young they got social pressure to attend church, and indulged some of their friends by attending services once or twice, but they didn’t like it enough to become committed to it. My dad thought the friends were just trying to suck up to the higher-ups at the husband’s and my dad’s place of employment and didn’t want to be alone in their nakedly shameless efforts to join all the right clubs while my parents didn’t want to be seen as the sort of people who would do just that.

    I have a completely secular world view and it just doesn’t jibe with churchgoing. And I don’t feel any need to congregate with secularists either.

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  43. Jim G said on March 17, 2018 at 12:23 pm

    Do you suppose that the rise of megachurches has anything to do with the decline in church attendance? Or is that more of a regional thing?

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  44. Suzanne said on March 17, 2018 at 12:35 pm

    I think what many churches have failed to grasp is that back in the day, church was simply what the majority did. If you wanted to be somebody in town, wanted to move ahead in business, network with other leaders in your town, church & the Kiwanis Club, & Rotary Club, and the like was where that happened. That is no longer the case. There is very little social pressure to join these organizations so people don’t.

    Also, young people have been in the vortex of hyper marketing all their lives and can spot it a mile away. If they think a church sees them as a potential “customer” rather than a person worthy of their time and love, they will run the other way. I’ve attended a number of different churches in my day and at some point, the conversation always veers toward the dilemma of getting more people to join, which has always struck me as no different than a marketing meeting at any local business.

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  45. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 17, 2018 at 12:48 pm

    Yay Diana Butler Bass (and Barbara Brown Taylor, if anyone is looking for reading in the “spiritual but not religious” territory, plus my friend Linda Mercadante who literally wrote the book on that subject).

    Y’all should see this:

    In my more mordant moments, I see many megachurches as a way to go to church without going to church. There are ways and places I’ll defend them (by most metrics, the average Catholic parish is a megachurch, just by membership & attendance) as efficient and more adapted to modernity than the old standard “family chapel” model of Protestant parish, but an awful lot of what they do is give 90% a place to get a quick jolt of religion without the full structure.

    Do I think more people than not need some kind of community in their lives? Yes; not everyone has to go to church, nor do I think you must attend to be a good or happy person, but I do believe that it’s good to at least give everyone you can the opportunity to experience worship and prayer together — the purely individualistic and isolated experience of spirituality doesn’t tend to self-sustain. IMHO.

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  46. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 17, 2018 at 12:55 pm

    (And I worry in general about how consumer capitalism has a vested interest in keeping us all isolated in our media-hyperlinked cocoons, with home delivery to our camera-monitored doors, warmly nested and focus grouped into our respective categories, getting our targeted ads and demographically appropriate reasons for anxiety, all soothed and eased by the next product which is available only for the next ten minutes at the low, low introductory price of $19.99 per month, withdrawn automatically for your convenience. Here, have another Mallowmar.)

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  47. nancy said on March 17, 2018 at 1:27 pm

    A megachurch, or something akin to that, is the reason the Methodist congregation that Alan’s family supported is now on hard times. People like the music, the clappin’, the razzle-dazzle. It’s the same as in higher ed, when kids overenroll for classes, spend a week shopping, and then drop the ones that don’t feature enough edutainment.

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  48. Suzanne said on March 17, 2018 at 1:37 pm

    Yes, and when people find a church with better razzle dazzle, off they go. So as a church, you spend your time not in serving the needs of the people around you and giving them assurance that love and grace win out but are constantly trying to up the ante and be cooler and better than you were last year because the church down the road is gaining on you.

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  49. jcburns said on March 17, 2018 at 2:08 pm

    That probably explains why church audio-visual people (often) nowadays have enormous budgets and are the ones at the broadcasting equipment conventions with big money to spend and the fawning attention of the video manufacturers who used to save their open arms for the TV and cable networks.

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  50. Jolene said on March 17, 2018 at 4:00 pm

    Having grown up in perhaps the plainest Methodist church in the country (no indoor plumbing!), I am amazed by the idea of a church in that denomination with any amount of razzle-dazzle. Clearly, times have changed.

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  51. Deborah said on March 17, 2018 at 4:19 pm

    Church started to go down hill for me when it tried to be cool to appeal to young people. I was one of the younger people but I loved high church (I call it that, classical music with instruments, rich vestments, incense, chanting etc). When they started having Christian rock and stuff like that, ugh. I was gone before they had videos and other multimedia. I guess I was raised with high church and that’s what feels right to me.

    I’m glad not to be in Chicago today, St Pat’s. Too much vomit on the sidewalks. Tomorrow we head back, just in time for snow or rain.

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  52. brian stouder said on March 17, 2018 at 4:24 pm

    Alex’s comment –

    It used to be said that Fort Wayne withered and died when in the 1940s it rejected plans for I-80 to run through it thanks to lobbying by the now-defunct mom-n-pop businesses on secondary roads that ended up dying out anyway. Plans called for the road to bisect the city on its east-west axis and it would have displaced a lot of people and neighborhoods including the few historically significant ones we now celebrate. It also would have intersected downtown with I-69, which ended up being built further to the west.

    reminded me of our Proprietress’s husband’s great series* of articles about a seminal moment in the development of Fort Wayne…when (in the mid-20th century) our city rejected putting an expressway through the city at the same moment that the railway elevation was installed.

    My dad always pointed to that moment as when he knew Fort Wayne was incurably backward….

    *I went googling for them and came up empty – except for this bit, which I don’t recall having participated in…

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  53. David C. said on March 17, 2018 at 4:33 pm

    I was conned into going to my sister’s mega-church once. It was supposedly so I could watch my niece teach her first Sunday school class, but I’m sure it was to try to get the heathen older brother to see the light. I don’t even remember what the lesson was about, but within ten minutes the subject veered into “Is Bill Clinton going to hell?”, and there it stayed. I felt they were more concerned with everybody’s political well-being than spiritual. The actual service wasn’t so bad, but I see enough damned PowerPoint at work, and isn’t Sunday supposed to be a day of rest? Heathen older brother is still heathen older brother.

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  54. brian stouder said on March 17, 2018 at 4:44 pm

    Here’s an interesting bit of stuff, which could have been some of Mr Derringer’s source material, back in the day

    (and which begs the question – is our local/state government ‘on the ball’ as much as they used to be?)

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  55. Deborah said on March 17, 2018 at 5:08 pm

    Interstates bisecting cities are anathema.

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  56. basset said on March 17, 2018 at 5:41 pm

    My DNA test says I’m twenty percent Irish, and I know I had an Irish great-grandmother, so I’m pretty confident that I have standing to cook the corned beef brisket that’s simmering away in the next room right now. Gonna throw some cabbage and carrots in there after awhile, and make some soda bread; Kroger didn’t have any Guinness so I got some off-brand stout instead.

    And Trump, Comey, Mueller, the CIA, and everyone outside my immediate line of vision will be a million miles away for awhile.

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  57. susan said on March 17, 2018 at 6:21 pm

    deborah @55 – That’s exactly what happened to Seattle, to its eternal regret.

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  58. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 17, 2018 at 6:41 pm

    A friend from high school days, now in Texas, was reading about my recent medical challenges, and innocently posted “Jeff, my pastor just preaches the Saturday night service, and replays it for the three Sunday ones, you try do that.” When I replied simply “No screens” his unironic answer was “don’t tell me you still use hymnals?”

    Yep. With an organ and a choir . . . but I do read the day’s texts from a Bible on my Kindle. If that helps! But he really couldn’t fathom a church that didn’t have projection screens and full A/V capacity.

    I need to make some soda bread, with or without off-brand stout. Gotta go get some buttermilk.

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  59. Deborah said on March 17, 2018 at 7:38 pm

    I thought I commented about what we’re having for dinner, this our last night in NM for a while and also St. Patrick’s day but I don’t see it so I’ll repeat: having shepherds pie and a salad provided by our neighbors upstairs in Santa Fe and Irish Apple cake with caramel gelato for dessert. Also beer and Guinness.

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  60. Brian stouder said on March 17, 2018 at 8:13 pm

    Irish Apple cake sounds goooood!

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  61. Heather said on March 17, 2018 at 10:20 pm

    Haven’t had any interest in going to church since I went to college. Just never got much out of it. I do however have an intellectual interest in Christianity and how it was shaped into what it is today. I’d like to read Elaine Pagels’ books about the Gnostic Gospels one of these days.

    Interestingly, my cousin starting going to a church (and not the Catholic one we both were raised in) after she stopped drinking–I don’t think she is particularly spiritual, but she gets something out of it. Having had my own spiritual/emotional crisis in middle age, I recognize that church is one way many of us seek to connect with something larger than ourselves. I went the meditation route, but I believe it is the same impulse. I understand, too, why AA uses the idea of something larger than ourselves in their method. This is also why I get so annoyed with atheists who are so dismissive of believers. I wonder if they have never been truly at the end of their psychological or emotional rope. Sometimes you have to stop intellectualizing everything and just surrender to the reality of not knowing.

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  62. Dexter said on March 18, 2018 at 2:17 am

    A couple times Ron Bennington (XM-99, noon-3:00PM) has mentioned how eerie it is that nearly entirely all the units in the luxury apartment buildings he walks by heading home from Times Square towards the Upper East Side (Manhattan) are empty, owned by Chinese as money holders, maybe Russians too, or anybody who needs a place to use as a bank. Sort of comically, other people, shady crooks who actually have to store real green cash, do rent regular apartments, seal everything off with plastic, and use the place to stack cash everywhere. That reminded me of the Netflix show Peaky Blinders in which the family had a huge room full of shelves of hard cold paper cash. Ha. Once many years ago I was laid off for a long time and finally our S.U.B. pay hit the banks and I went from $15 in my wallet to $3,500. That was the only time I had too much cash to fit in my wallet, and I had it about 20 minutes and then paid off my car note.
    “My” Michigan Wolverines basketball team won and made the Sweet Sixteen, NCAA tourney. Yea! A buzzer beating 3-pointer by a freshman. Yes!

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  63. basset said on March 18, 2018 at 9:38 am

    Dinner went over, we had the neighbors in and watched “Notorious,” a Hitchcock movie I’d never heard of. Mrs B found a recipe for chocolate brownies with little peppermint patty candies baked in, if we take an extra hit of insulin we can each have a small piece.
    The NY Times online recipe selection has become my default cookbook – never made Irish soda bread before, was surprised to learn that the dough is essentially the same as for a buttermilk biscuit.

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  64. Deborah said on March 18, 2018 at 10:22 am

    I read the tweets Trump put out there this morning and yesterday morning. Coming from the president of the United States isn’t that obstruction of justice in and of itself? Something must be done to get rid of him.

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  65. Icarus said on March 18, 2018 at 11:31 am

    Deborah @ 64: indeed but you need more people with a backbone to stand up to him.

    PS: my last comment, I thought it daid Sunday not sunny days although my comment sort of still works

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  66. LAMary said on March 18, 2018 at 2:14 pm

    Basset, try the NYT recipe for Italian sausage and white bean stew. I made it the other day and it was a huge hit. I did toss in a small can of diced tomatoes at the end which was not part of the recipe but I think it improved it.

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  67. Deborah said on March 18, 2018 at 3:41 pm

    If I were a betting person, I would put money on the fact that Trump will fire Mueller, the only question is when. And I would put money on the Republicans not doing one damn thing about it. Trump is as guilty as can be of collusion and financial shenanigans, and we all know that. He couldn’t be acting more guilty. But the Republicans will not want to give up one iota of power so they will do nothing. Will they be voted out eventually? I sure hope so. Will there be a lot of damage done in the meantime? You betcha.

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  68. David C. said on March 18, 2018 at 4:36 pm

    I wouldn’t worry to much Deborah. My understanding is that everything Mueller digs up is being fed to New York State AG Eric Schneiderman. I wouldn’t even be surprised if Mueller is fired that he would be hired by Schneiderman. He’ll go down one way or another. I’m pretty confident in that.

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  69. Jolene said on March 18, 2018 at 5:38 pm

    Some highlights from SNL: I particularly like the moment when John Goodman breaks the glass in the cold open, and Kate McKinnon as Betsy DeVos is excellent.

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  70. Deborah said on March 19, 2018 at 12:06 am

    We are back in Chicago where it’s warmer than it was in Santa Fe. We walked to our airport shuttle stop in the windy snow there. It’s good to be back.

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  71. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 19, 2018 at 7:18 am

    Why do people like to go to church; why should people attend a weekly gathering — reading some of the comments above, and as (I think) the only pastor regularly commenting here, though I’m sure there’s a few who lurk in a friendly manner, I wanted to say something about that subject.

    Being a mainline (aka liberal, in some circles anyhow) Protestant preacher, my tradition is not as big on the “shoulds” as some Christian communions. We’ve never said your Sunday obligation is a “matter of salvation” or any other central theological concept, but we do tend to agree implicitly that regular gatherings for prayer in community are important. Important for the individual believer, because our sense is that spiritual practices done on one’s own can tend to curve in on one’s self, to your own detriment. But we also affirm regular public worship because it is both a witness to the wider community that we are living out what we believe, even in this one small way at 10:30 am on a Sunday morning, and because it’s the hinge of the week, and the pivot point to leverage the gathered community’s ability to perform acts of mercy, works of grace, mission efforts we can only do together, in the “many hands make light work” spirit. Building ramps for homes where there’s a need doesn’t happen on Sunday, but the planning does; meals are prepared and delivered or set up on other days, having been put in motion through our shared commitments voiced and fleshed out in the weekly worship.

    That’s my take on why “should” someone seriously consider worship; the barriers for some to do so has to do with why others “like” worship — to see friends and family, to get reaffirmation that you are right, with the residual thrill of knowing then that others must be wrong, to get a big dose of the familiar and the established while the world seems to be getting weirder and more unfamiliar and random. Those are all powerful motivations which bring and keep in the pews the people who are already there when most of us parsons were called as the settled minister to a place, and anything we do that shakes up those regular patterns will evoke a reaction all out of scale to the significance of what we’ve altered (the order in the bulletin, the removal of a hymn, the change in method of communion). And it’s because of the power of the familiar, the reassuring, the regular, which I have to remember myself is a very real hunger, and not just for the elderly or the socially conservative. Many want church to be an oasis of stability in a world filled with chaos, and that’s not entirely a false religion — but what they want to see stay certain is not always the stuff of eternal verities (like how the flower chart works, or which hymnal we use, or even what topics we preach on or texts we preach from). So there’s a balancing act there.

    Anyhow, I hope that helps folks see what’s going on in churches a little differently. Of course, the megachurch contemporary worship phenomenon is phenomenologically a completely different set of motivations at work. And I’m curious to see over the next few decades as those giant worship centers watch their members age, and collect up their walkers, and start heading over the border from life into death — how will they deal with those desires to be reassured and reaffirmed and comforted in crisis when they, too, have a ratio of as many funerals per attending member as folks like me do?

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  72. Dorothy said on March 19, 2018 at 9:18 am

    David C – that’s exactly what I have been assuming all along. Mueller has had to operate under the assumption that Dumpy McPresident will likely fire him at some point, one way or t’other. He has to have had a system in place to protect all the work he’s been accumulating, and the country will survive the asshat currently at the head of it, albeit bruised and battered. Isn’t it nice to day dream about seeing him in handcuffs at some point in his life?! Probably won’t ever happen, but it sure is nice to imagine.

    I am guessing Mueller isn’t one to seethe and foam at the mouth. I like picturing him steadily doing his work, and laying the foundation, brick by brick, to get rid of that putz.

    Jolene Saturday’s SNL was so, so good! Bill Hader cracking up during Weekend Update was such fun! And the skit with him in the wheelchair had us dying, it was so funny.

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