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FOUNDATIONS – Chapter 50

Websters dictionary – Foundations   a: funds given for the permanent support of an institution — 


I never go to sleep angry when I can stay awake all night pissed off. Any perceived injustice, rightly or wrongly, broils my brain into the wee hours. The “what was said, could have said, should have been said” pummels through the hours till exhaustion sets in.

 It is a rare opportunity when you get to say exactly the right words you wish you’d said, that your fury requires. Rarer still, when after saying it, you aren’t absorbed with regret and kicking yourself in the ass in the light of day.

 Such is the case in an interview I gave The Chronicle of Philanthropy, published for charity leaders and foundation executives:

Question: “Is the civics work these foundations are funding doing some good?”

Answer: “Not necessarily in governance. They want a Big Mac, a quick satisfaction kind of solution to problems:  Fund a program and will voters show up? Fund a program and will special interest influence disappear, etc?  If you can’t strike quick gold that can be easily measured and valued, someone at the foundation that supported it isn’t going to look good.”

Question: “But you apply to foundations for grants?”

Answer: “Yes, but I constantly struggle with grant writing language that makes us appear like the champions of the latest foundation fad, when the reality is that we don’t really care what the fad is; we just mold our language to adopt it.  What Vote Smart cared about last year, cares about this year and will care about next year is just one thing: That voters have the facts to make wise choices regardless of their political view and that we stay so pristinely clean that everyone could take our data to the bank. If you are going to toss power out to the mob you’d better make sure the mob knows what it is doing.

 Civics grantees become contortionists who twist their needs into the never-ending new language and new ways to serve whatever the latest foundation fads are.  That is the game.”

Question: “If you don’t want the money for the latest fad why ask for it?”

Answer: “Fall out.  With every grant for some new project there is at least some fallout that helps us with our primary goal, our reason for being.  It might be in the overhead, it might be in the volume.  For example: If a foundation thinks the public cares about or should care about campaign finance information which we provide but know they aren’t asking about, what the Hell, we can still be their man.  So, we don’t poopoo the project they want us to implement, we simply play Father Knows Best, give them what they want and we get the grant knowing the personnel or equipment the grant pays for will be un-used or under-utilized and thus available for other worthwhile endeavors. Sometimes all of this twisting gets pretty batty.  For example, one foundation wanted to fund bi-lingual researchers to handle new immigrant callers to our Voter’s Research Hotline. That is fine with us even as we know every Spanish-speaking immigrant interested in voting research can easily get by in English, but if we let the foundation do what it wants, we get two more researchers with nothing to do, who can help us with the research and answer those phones.”



Question: “Why not ask for what you need?”

Answer: “We do, but all proposals need to be put in a pretty package.  Some concerned people at foundations know the game and they know you know the game, but because they support what you do, will help you convince their own board with advice. Usually choosing the right words, just the right colored wrapping paper and bow that a foundation board will find attractive.

 If you ask boards directly for help with your REAL year-in, year-out needs you will hear: “We do not fund existing programs,” or “We don’t provide general support,” or “We do not provide sustaining support,” or” Our new president is interested in changing directions.”

 As I mentioned, few foundations will fund good government organizations or what they call “GooGoo” efforts.  This is often true when a big foundation changes presidents. New presidents or boards want their own moment in the sun and will not build a reputation on the fresh droppings of their predecessors no matter how fertile those droppings may have been. Of course, that behavior makes building anything substantial or sustainable in civics education unlikely.”

Question: “What is wrong with foundations investing in new innovative ideas?”

Answer: “Nothing, if it is successful and that success continues to be nurtured, but civics success rarely is. Big foundations get bored if there are not instant results, a kind of “been there, done that, move on” mentality.  Their attention span is like kids at recess.  They will play for a while, and if not quickly ahead pick up their ball and go home. They do this in part because civic non-profits cannot prove success. Vote Smart cannot prove that it is enabling better self-government because of its work. It is simply reasonable to assume that if a people are going to self-govern, it would be nice to make sure they have access to abundant, accurate, relevant information.”

Question: “But don’t they start a lot of good programs?”

Answer: “They sure do, and we have many of them. We have a Reporter’s Resource Center, a K-12 Education Program, and Inclusion Programs for minorities, low-income and youth, Vote Smart at your Library Program, Congressional Snapshot programs for newspapers and radio.  We have had publications for journalists, schoolteachers, and new immigrants, some printed in Spanish, Mandarin and Vietnamese.  All these programs were created at the behest of some foundation, all successful, used and needed by the end users.  All of those foundations that funded those programs knew at the outset that those programs had little chance of becoming self-supporting because the users had no money and almost every foundation eventually got bored or changed leaders and pulled their funds to do something else.

  “By 2010, you could walk through our offices and see volunteer after volunteer struggling to sustain the remnants of such efforts or visit our archives and see them boxed up. Efforts that ate substantial portions of our funds and enormous amounts of staff and volunteer time.  It is very disheartening to a volunteer-based non-profit like Vote Smart when so many of our resources are consumed by foundations that have junked their notions onto the shoulders of our students and volunteers.”

 Question: “Some think commercial interests can and will provide all of this information.”

Answer: “Could be, but we can still hope that in the thousands of years of human existence we might have learned that putting all political power, which is what access to information is, in the hands of for-profits is a dangerous thing to do. They are “for profits,” and serving the bottom line is their reason for being, not We, The People.  Foundations often make righteous efforts to combat special interests’ influence, while leaving voter education to those same interests who so clearly twist and manipulate information to scare voters into behaving the way they want them to in a voting booth.”

Question: “Why do you think voter turnout is so low in the U.S.?”

Answer: “It is hard to get energized choosing between your jerk and their jerk.  People aren’t stupid. They know that no one can win public office without playing the game and that playing the game requires one to become damaged goods and far less honorable than voters want and should expect. The wonder is why the people take it, why they do so little to encourage and support honorable citizens they know to run and then protect them from this unseemly mess.

 Let us say you and I run against each other for governor.  You want to be real, do the right thing. You spend your days talking to voters, maybe in workplace meetings, churches, schools, and neighborhoods telling people why you are running, what you think, listening to what they think, sharing ideas about how to best represent them. It’s a real give and take, learning, getting to know them and they you, all that good useful stuff.   

 At the same time I spend all my time raising big money from the wealthy, corporations, labor unions and other large professional associations who will want access to me if elected.

 In the end I will have money, you your passion for good. I will make you look foolish and I have the money to do it.  I will bombard you with trashy ads all designed to humiliate you. I’ll embarrass you in front of your family and friends and there will be nothing you can do to defend yourself, because you did what was right, honorable and helpful to all, instead of what the system requires you to do, if you want to win.

 That is why so few honorable people run, people you know, people in your own community, people who have spent lifetimes doing good. They aren’t going to run, it is just ugly, and they are not going to subject themselves or their families and friends to the process.”


 This interview was never published, I presume because an old friend I worked with in Senator Mondale’s office conducted it for the Chronicle of Philanthropy and wanted to protect me.

 When he told me I was angry, so like I said, I let it broil my brain into the wee hours and when I got up, I published it to foundations myself.


(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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The Daisy Commercial

 We handled 211,000 Voter’s Research Hotline calls that 1992 Election, with many times that number of calls not able to get through at all.  You would think I could do the math and listen to reason.

 If we grew as the numbers suggested and I thought we would and mostly did, we would need a room big enough for a thousand phones. 

 Scott Langley, a young genius grad student who volunteered in our IT Department, gave a lot of thought to our dilemma, when he was not thinking about Gundula, a drop-dead gorgeous brainiac intern from Germany. Unrecognized by me, the love affair, unrequited I think, forecast a number of future Vote Smart trials. Life with the young!

 Scott approached me one afternoon and suggested that we create a web site, put all our researched data on it and let people review it for themselves.

 Like many of an older generation I dismissed this innocent naive young pup. “No way Scott, isn’t gonna happen” I firmly ruled. “It took the telephone a hundred years to saturate 97% of American households. Everyone has access to a phone, you do not need to know how to type, you do not need to have an education, you do not need an expensive computer, you just need to be able to dial. Hell, you do not even need your own phone, you can just go to a pay phone on any street corner and dial our 1-800 number. Forget it.”

 I successfully fought Scott and his growing number of young web site intern advocates from burdening us with some real progress. Finally, they got so irritatingly bothersome that I chucked a couple thousand dollars at them just to shut the Hell up.

 I do not really know how they did it, I didn’t pay much attention.  In hindsight, they put in a few bazillion extra hours and then asked if they could go live and announce our data was on the “Vote Smart Web.”

 You have to understand here that this is back in the early 90s, no one had such a website, not news organizations, universities or anyone else.

 “Jesus Christ! OK, OK, get out of here,” I bellowed.

 Some weeks later, Scott and his little gang surrounded me and handed me a single white sheet of paper.  It turns out that they had in those weeks more inquiries for our data on the Vote Smart Web than we had in the prior three years over my cherished phoneasaurus.

 We attracted a great many more users of our factual data, which attracted some curiosity from other foundations.

 Foundations do not often fund good governance efforts, or what they called “googoos,” largely because it is difficult to measure success in governance or in our case, making smarter voters.  In fact, there was considerable evidence that American voters were becoming dumber.

 Anyway, those foundations willing to give a pittance of what they have, saw some pretty solid evidence of our success with those we could reach.  We could show a lot of people trying to use what we had done, quite a few that would send in contributions to help, and actually generating more volunteers and interns willing to work for free than we could afford to accommodate.  Most importantly to foundations, we were a new group and thus a new find for some foundation staffer that wanted to look good in a board meeting.

 Most major foundation staff had an attitude: all had the power (dollars) to lord over non-profit startups, they knew it, and insisted that you knew it too. Having a humble, subservient hang-dog demeanor was the rule for all non-profits. Even as the staff of large foundations existed on the droppings of some dead person’s pile of success from long ago. As consequence, a lot of groveling was involved.

 My discussions with smaller foundations, where the source of their funds was often still breathing and happy to meet with me, were very different, always fun, and included lively conversations where I could harvest new knowledge and ideas.

 Russ Hemingway, a 78-year-old with rugged good looks, created a foundation that supplied millions to congressional candidates. Because of his political bent, I would not accept money from him but that was not all I was after. Firsthand experiences on how things got to be such a mess could be as valuable as cash in hand.

 As a young man Russ had been Adlai Stevenson’s (a Democratic presidential nominee beaten by Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s) Campaign Manager. Of all the wisdom he pumped into my brain this unknown story is amongst the best.  Adlai was campaigning from the back of a caboose somewhere in the mid-west on what was called a “whistle stop tour” when Russ saw the first political television commercial ever produced. It was done by Eisenhower.  Rushing to catch up with the train, Russ told Adlai he had to get off that caboose and go cut a commercial, that Eisenhower was talking to millions in their living rooms on these new televisions while Adlai only a few hundred at each stop.  Adlai refused to get off the train, saying, “If we are to advertise ourselves like boxes of cereal, democracy will die, for you could not win the Presidency without proving you were unworthy of the job.” 

 Russ, the “young pup” of his day, eventually broke Adlai down and they did cut a silly commercial with some woman singing “Vote Stevenson, vote Stevenson, a man you can depend on-son……!”

 Candidates quickly caught on to the new power of simplistic mass massaging soon enough. A few years later Lyndon Johnson cut one of the most effective political ads ever aired.  It was anchored in the height of the Cold War. In 1964, Goldwater had responded to a reporter questioning whether he would ever consider using a nuclear weapon with, “It is just another weapon” and he would not lay his cards on the table in front of our nation’s enemies.  A pretty stand answer that had been given by our other leaders for almost 20 years.  But this was right after the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis, when Americans had been digging holes in their back yards to hide from the end of the world. Johnson saw his chance and created what was called the “Daisy Commercial.” It filmed an innocent little girl in a pasture counting the petals on a daisy while a nuclear bomb explodes in the background, and Goldwater saying, “It is just another weapon.”  Its point: Goldwater is crazy and if president, would start a nuclear holocaust should conflict with Viet Nam escalate.

 The commercial was incredibly successful even though Johnson paid to play it only once. It was played over and over as a news story on all the networks, and started a media feeding frenzy that Goldwater would not survive.  Johnson would not even have to play his grossly unfair back up commercial, one no one saw, where he unfairly imagined Goldwater with the burning crosses of the Ku Klux Klan.

 Over the coming years our board meetings would take place at the Capitol Building or in various congressional offices in Washington, where most of our founding board resided. Little ever changed from the original concept of collecting factual data and laying it out in free, easy-to-access categories.

 And, of course, the three basic rules to protect Vote Smart’s integrity were scrupulously maintained: 1.  Board members with political reputations had to join with a political enemy. 2. We accepted no funding from any organization that lobbied, supported, or opposed candidates or issues. 3. All staff signed up for a two-year election cycle or whatever remained of one, and was paid only Peace Corps-style wages—just enough to subsist on.

 My foundation groveling became modestly successful, raising a few hundred thousand dollars during each of a half dozen election cycles.

  To give you some idea of how we attracted foundation support: A most promising grant was given so we could test our programs in disenfranchised communities with low civic involvement. We selected a few dozen precincts around Atlanta and San Francisco and saturated them with Vote Smart programs while staying completely out of other similar precincts.  When the election ended, I asked a wonderfully supportive good friend, prominent professor, and survey specialist, who I asked to join our board, Dr. Brent Steel to do a survey. Using a team of students making calls he went back into those precincts to see if any impact could be measured. To our happy surprise we found that those groups receiving our programs got excited about their ability to impact governance and each of these precincts measured a 5% higher “confidence in government” rating than those not receiving our programs. As Brent reported, in the world of civic engagement in a single election season, that is huge movement. But then, as happens with large foundations, their board leadership changed and neither they nor any other foundation was interested in continuing what had been a previous board’s idea.

 After some years of such foundation behavior my anger with large foundation arrogance would boil over in an interview, I gave a publication for foundation executives called The Chronicle of Philanthropy. The interview would scald Vote Smart for years to come.

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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Kimball with nieces 


 “Can I please have a bicycle, or a doll house, or a football, or a tea set, or a baseball glove, or some skates, or a bow and some arrows, or a cap gun with holster, or a pair of ballet shoes, or a basketball, or a jump rope,  or some marbles with agates and steelies, or a swing set, or a play house, or a Pogo stick, or a ping pong table, or a Barbie doll, or a chemistry set, or a couple of Nancy Drew mysteries, or a BeeBee gun,  or a Hula Hoop, or some swim fins, maybe some monkey bars—- I just want to do stuff.”


 “I just love my room.”  59% of girls and 86% of boys ages 10 to 17 are asking Santa for video game-related gifts this Christmas.”

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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  Nothing is more dangerous than the illusion of knowledge.  Political preachers cast out their spurious nets each day to capture more devotees and then suffuse them with hatred toward any that disagree.

  It is the poison in our democracy and what can lead to the intractable Hell in the Middle East.

  Israel has known no peace, nor is it likely to ever know peace surrounded by political preachers whose mantra is “death to the Jews.”

As consequence, Israel does what it does or dies!

   And so it goes, more terrorists created than killed.

   The only alternative would take years of flaunting our humanity while expunging the hideous with selective attacks, thus cleaving the population from Hamas and the politics of hate.

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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Isn’t what it once was!

 One incorruptible source for the facts. A source void of opinion or interpretation that both the right and the left could turn to in absolute confidence for the documented records on those who govern or wish to replace those who do.

 Detailed biographical, educational, financial and voting records, comprehensive public comments made, and evaluations by dozens of conservative and liberal groups were available to anyone caring enough to gather them. All could easily be made searchable by name and issue of interest.

 Like a bat to the head, it struck me: a candidate could be forced, with or without their cooperation, to provide a detailed application of employment, just the way all people must do—only better.

 Hell, I thought, voters wouldn’t have to listen to all the self-promotional nonsense milking the people’s emotions. Voters could clearly see what candidates had done in the past and then know what would be done for them or to them if elected. Frustration would no longer be a citizen’s only alternative; they would mob such a system.

 In February 1988 I left my grass hut and by March the Internal Revenue Service received an application for a new non-profit called the Center for National Independence in Politics.

 An absurd meaningless name for sure! Such things can make sense after passing a barber shop called SNIP and when out of oxygen during a challenge match of racquetball with an older brother. That is exactly how I came up with an acronym before I came up with an actual name. I wanted something that would fit the logo I had in mind:

 That is to say, I made some mistakes. Although my idea was a great one, it had a bit of slop stuck to it.

 With just a few former campaign volunteers who still had faith in me we could test the idea in a couple of states. That, and finding some prominent people of both major parties to back up the work and you had the makings for a cure to all the choreographed chicanery of then-day American Politics. Everyone in politics knew this cancer was now eating away at the heart of our democracy.

 Yes, this would work, I was certain of it. I was excited, I had something to do, something important to do. I felt like I had seen the Holy Grail off in the distance. All I had to do was go get it and bring it home to a needy nation. So, I caught that train and headed home.

  As it would turn out, I had little trouble finding the Grail. Bringing it home would prove difficult, and once it arrived a few million instantly used it.  But as I would discover, the other 200 million or so just wanted to enjoy whatever their version of a Barco Lounger, beer and a football game was.

 Back home I had to find some means to earn a bit of money that didn’t take much time so I could work on CNIP. Substitute teaching and teaching a few classes at a community college would be perfect, only it required a college degree.  So, I took my Mexico walkabout to visit the Dean of the Languages School at the University of Arizona. It seems that my crude, largely street slang Spanish impressed him so much that he passed me out of my two-year language requirement on the spot. So, twenty years after entering the University as a wholly irresponsible young man I got my degree. When I mentioned it to my mother, she was not so much surprised as she was in disbelief. I think many mothers always see their children as they were when young. In her mind she still saw her children as the nitwits we would forever be, and in my case not without some reason.

 The only thing pressing on my mind when I returned from Mexico was my need for an office to work on my idea and some place to live. Either one would also serve as the other. I purchased an old liquor warehouse which had been on the wagon run from Mexico to Tucson in the 1800s. It had 12-foot ceilings, thick adobe walls and was located in a poor neighborhood, filled with down on their luck men smelling of malt liquor, and bottom rung strung out prostitutes. It was all I could afford, but I loved it.  At the same time, I started doing that teaching work to pay some bills.

 Being a substitute teacher was perfect.  As it turned out substitutes don’t do anything, certainly no teaching.  You were expected to show a film or whatever time-consuming monotony had been assigned by the absent teacher to keep them busy. Most often I simply sat in the back of a class writing letters and stuffing envelopes to everyone I could imagine might help me with my vision, while National Geographic played on a screen or kids wrote reports, usually on one of three things: What I did with my summer, what I got or gave for Christmas, what I plan to do with my summer, all depending on the season.

 As a result, I got some money to eat on and a lot of time to map out a strategy to bring home the Grail.

 Education, the staple of human advance, is in large part due to teachers. After all, next to parents and perhaps peers, they have the greatest impact on child development and each generation’s ability to achieve bigger, better, and cheaper. I always got great support from teachers’ unions. Like all special-interest, labor or corporate unions, teachers want more money. But it wasn’t until I became a teacher that I experienced how ruinous our lack of support for teachers had become. Teachers are no longer supported or have any standing in their communities. With funding often anchored to attendance, schools are more dependent upon students being in the classroom than they are teachers being there.

 Classrooms are stuffed, not with teachers (outgoing money), but with students (incoming money). As a result, students are now in control and teachers suffer the slings and arrows as if responsible for every imagined social ill.

 Public schools are often built and managed like prisons. They need to keep students (money) in. Substituting back at my alma-mater, Tucson High, where my father was student body president, it was easy to notice all the new fences and locks.  The administration told me that it was to keep the unwanted (drugs, weapons and such) out. But that was not actually true.  It was instantly clear to all that fences couldn’t keep anything out, but it could keep students in.  That was the point, the administration wanted to keep its students inside, their funding depended upon it.  Even if they ditched all their academic classes, which a good number did, they got funding if they were at school in any sort of organized class.  So, for those that did not want to learn any geometry or what a constitution was, or even how to read it, the administration had a day long GYM class where the willfully ignorant could play basketball and other games all day long.   

 I always wanted to be sent to the schools where substitutes often refused to go. They were always in troubled neighborhoods where broken homes and alcoholism were common. At 6’ 4” and 260, I could look intimidated and had no problem being assigned to the toughest schools.  Had I been a petite gentler soul, as most teachers were, . . . well, I don’t know how they could do it and my respect for them grew enormous.

 In one, I was assigned 8th graders for a week who had to take their class in a portable classroom that had been erected out on the playground because of overcrowding.  As typical, I started the class with roll call. Also, as typical with students hitting their first teen years, they quickly recognized a “substitute-free day” and were a little unruly—many sitting with their backs to me on top of their desks, blurting out some form of “here” when their name was called. When told to sit down some objected that they did not need to listen to me and one simply refused and told me to “fuck off,” to the laughter of a few of his friends. I asked again and got a “go fuck yourself.”

 The inevitable slip was written out, he was shown the door and directed to go to the principal’s office.

 For the next 40 minutes I wavered between abandoning a classroom of unrulies and running outside to stop the “go fuck yourself” student from pelting the portable with bricks.  Just as the bell ending class was about to ring, the air conditioning unit took a direct hit and began to smoke.  As I unplugged it the bell rang, students streamed out the back door with me quickly following to find the vandal.  Seeing me coming he ran around the unit with a couple of his friends. As I chased them, they ran back into the classroom through the front door trashing all the papers and desks and back out the rear door as I entered.

 As I cleaned up, my next class entered.  Each student looked at me and immediately took their seats – might have had something to do with my countenance. I went on with my day.

 At this miserable day’s end, I stood at the one and only exit to the school and saw my thirteen-year-old, “go fuck yourself,” vandal approaching.  I stood in his path and said, “You need to come with me to the principal’s office.”

 As I blocked his escape, making a path to the principal’s office, his only road, he began a torrent of expletives and descriptions of me that were evidence I was with a prodigy. He was, without question, a young and highly skilled linguist. The unending vulgarity cascading from his mouth was a real marvel to behold. During our walk to the principal’s office, I became a “fucker, mother fucker and a fucker’s fucker,” along with being a “queer, bastard, homo, and shit faced cock sucker,” sprinkled with occasional requests to “suck his dick” or “lick his balls.”

 Through the school’s halls and breezeways to the administrative offices we went.

 The school’s principal came out to investigate the disturbance.  When I told her what had happened, she became annoyed, said, “I have no time for this now,” and exited the building. The smiling little snot quickly followed her lead.

 In my portable the next morning there was a note, “Report to the principal’s office immediately.”  As I entered her office, seated across from her was the couple that had bred the little snot, all claiming that I had twisted the little darling’s arm when I walked him.

 With an apologetic, hopeful smile the principal said that such behavior was not tolerated at the school and that she had called me in to prove it so. Then with a glare at me she spat, “Your services are no longer required here Mr. Kimball, pick up your things and go.”

 Did she know me?  Did she hate my politics? Or was she so unsupportive of all her teachers? Stunned, and more than a bit confused I stammered out a quick defense, saying that I never twisted any arm, or acted angrily at all.  Halfway through the principal’s repeated order to leave, another teacher entered the room, then another, and another until the room was jammed with a dozen or so.  They, too, were angry and ready to unload.  For a moment I thought it was at me and I had re-entered some other unworldly Twilight Zone.

 But it wasn’t at me that the teachers focused their anger, they had the principal in their sights.  They had apparently heard I was being discharged and were now surrounding her desk.  

 It turns out that my focus the afternoon before was so riveted on keeping the little snot on the road to the office that I never noticed all the teachers up and down the hall who had come out to investigate the little angel’s torrent of obscenities.

 The principal was still seated at her desk and now a bit flustered herself when the commentary flew from one mouth, then another and another.

 “You are not firing this man!”

 “I have never witnessed anyone subjected to such disgusting abuse as Mr. Kimball was.”  

 “He never got angry or even raised his voice at (whatever that snotty, con-to-be’s name is).”

“He was completely calm, unbelievably calm, never touched that kid.”  

“Did you go see what that kid did to the classroom, to the air conditioning unit?”

 And then my favorite:

“He took that horrid abuse with a dignity that was as awe inspiring to me as it should have been to (the snot’s name again).”

 In the middle of this most amazing and gratifying release from the Twilight Zone, someone said, “Hey, they’ve gone!”

 The snot and his breeders had vacated the building.

 Most importantly, the Grail: In those classes I found that I was very good at signing and stuffing envelopes.  In fact, even 30 years later I still held two Grail seeking records: One was my ability to sign 1000 letters in 20 minutes, the other was to fold, seal and stamp them by the time Johnny Carson went off the air.

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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Loving Matt Gaetz

Gaetz mocking Covid on House floor

 For decades I have been arguing about the power of ONE.  I argue with “doubt I will vote” citizens: “A vote is like a little hard chunk of power, if you don’t use it, it doesn’t disappear it just makes everyone else’s chunk more powerful.”

 And as a long forgotten influential once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

 WOW! What more proof is needed than Matt Gaetz.

 Even the slimiest can do it!

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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Excerpt from the Mircle of Me

An Autobirography of a Nobody

Chapter 29

 I had not fully understood party caucuses until I participated in one.  I knew these closed-door affairs were used to share information and pressure any unruly members on the fence regarding some issue. However, to any fly-on-the-wall outsider, to was the focus on tactics, (how to screw the Republicans), that could be jaw dropping.

 Of course, Republicans met too, to design a good screwing of Democrats.  In my first meeting, on my first day, there was no caucus talk about the citizens, legislation, or any other matter of substance, just how to get it up and get ready to screw. When we were done, we marched on to the Senate floor, the session was gaveled to order, we exchanged a few formal niceties and got right down to the issue of the day and every day: screwing.

 It was a horrible revelation, when my first Senate session was over and everyone had filed out, I sat in what I imagined was my dad’s old Senate seat, and thought, “My God, was my dad one of these people?”

 I don’t believe he was and as the decades passed, I would come to know that as bad as we were that day, few elected today could measure up to those in either party I served with, nor could have we measured up to those that had served in my father’s era.

 Today, it has deteriorated so badly that visiting some legislatures or the Congress would be like visiting a zoo to find that we had captured all the animals and then put them in the same cage.

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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                    MCCAIN ON A BOX TOO HIGH

 It was three in the morning, I was a bit drunk, and pretty weepy sitting on the floor with the last surviving Hard-on, who had won my trust and become what I was certain to be a lifelong friend. He was the Press Secretary on loan from a U. S. Senators office and the only other person left in the office that night.

 I looked over at him, “We can do this.  Forget the money, forget the commercials, let’s do it differently, we can change the way people campaign.  Let’s just get in the car, head out non-stop and start talking real to real people, every group, every church, every club that will listen about things that matter. Screw all this puffed-up manipulative nonsense. It will catch on; I know it will.”

 His response was conventional prudence, dead on accurate, safe, Hard-on realism, and ended the last flicker of hope that I could campaign honorably with my head held high. “If you do that, you will be a joke, I will quit and you will be alone,” he said.

 I simply did not have the confidence to watch all the paid staff pack up, move out and leave me to campaign with real supporters, real friends, and family. Even though I almost certainly would have fallen back to 16% by election day, I have deeply regretted that lack of courage for almost 40 years.

 The following day I was sandbagged in a meeting with major contributors, staff and some close friends who pleaded with me to change my mind. I relented and let the Hard-ons stay.

 The race was over for me, there was no passion, no interest, no desire to run or to serve.  I hated politics and could not wait for Election Day to come, get spanked, and be done with it.

 Appearances had to be maintained for the down ticket candidates, even if just a passionless façade. I owed that, if not to the Hard-ons, at least to the volunteers, my family and friends that had done so much to support me and really did feel that “We need you, Richard Kimball, in the U. S. Senate.”

 I would get a final last chance to be heard in one statewide prime-time televised debate. I had challenged John to debate me in each of the state’s 14 counties knowing McCain would say no and maybe take a hit in those he refused.  His public response was a more effective and amusing, “I want to debate him not live with him.”

 The two-campaigns met and argued over every little detail: Would the candidates stand or sit, would there be podiums, would there be chairs, would the candidates be allowed to walk, what subjects could be covered, how would the set be designed, who would sit on what side, would the questions be known in advance, who would ask the questions etc. etc.

  Each side saw advantage in one thing or another.  One was that they wanted to sit but we wanted to stand.  We wanted to stand because I was 6’ 4” while John, a jet pilot, was somewhat smaller enabling him to fit in that A-4 Skyhawk cockpit he got shot down in.

 My Hard-ons were pleased that they won the stand argument, but failed to see the simple remedy McCain would employ so as not to be seen looking up at me.

 My campaign tried to do as all campaigns do, that is to put me through a series of rehearsals where the Hard-ons and staff fired questions and I would practice giving responses.  Within 30 minutes or so when it became apparent that I would not tolerate my answers being tweaked, the first and only rehearsal ended.

 Discussion after that simply focused on what the Hard-ons considered a “Hail Mary” effort attacking McCain.   John had a temper, a pretty bad one, and we knew it. There were rumors about his behavior toward his staff, colleagues, and family some of which came in firsthand.  The guy had a fuse, and it could be ugly and easily lit. The plan was hatched, that at the end of the debate, when he was comfortable and having only his prepared closing remarks to make, I would hit him with a vicious attack exposing the previously unknown “truths” of his behavior, and in doing so hopefully, expose his inner self. The Hard-ons greatest hope was that he might take a swing at me.

 Adding nothing to my credit, I did not oppose the idea and prepared to deliver the slimy sodden mess.

 On the day of the debate and particularly in the car with my mother on the way to the debate hall, nightmarish thoughts swirled in my panicky brain as I struggled mightily not to show it.  I was certain that my ignorance and foolishness would be dramatically exposed for all to see and be aghast.  In my mind, my incompetence was real, the thought that I should desire to be a member of the most powerful governing body on earth was such a farce, that when all was said and done at the debate not one on my campaign, not a supporter, friend or even mother would be able to vote for me or even look me in the eye.

 Then an odd thing occurred.  We arrived at the hall, and I suddenly felt calm, resigned to my fate. It did not seem to matter much what I did, there was nothing I could do about it, what would happen, would happen.

  I spent a few minutes shaking hands with members of the audience, most particularly those in my opponent’s camp. I heard one of John’s Hard-ons jokingly ask him if he wanted to work the audience.  He didn’t.

 As I shook hands I came eye-to-eye with some of his family, I knew I couldn’t close with the slimy attack thought so crucial to my chances of shaking things up. There was something else I thought I might close with instead.

 During the debate, I only got hit by one or two questions that I had not expected. My answers were largely unpracticed ramblings but not out of line.  I even had a few moments of fun, or what I thought was fun, though much of it would again ensure that the media coverage would say little about anything of substance.  

  John had voted for full funding of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, a new military transport that was supposed to be indestructible with substantial defensive and offensive capability.  The vehicle was grossly over budget (as was usual with military contracts) and had flunked its field tests.  When the vote failed, John had voted for a bill providing half funding for the vehicle which also failed.  Then finally, when legislation was proposed to strip all funding for the vehicle, John voted for that too. I had a bit of fun with his support for full, then half, and finally no funding for the Bradley suggesting that John wanted to be all things to all people.

 Most impactfully and perhaps stupidly I then added emphasized with a bit of information completely unknown to the television audience. “You are so insistent on being what you are not, that you even pretend for the audience to be taller than you are by standing on that box hidden behind your podium.”

 A spattering of cheers and boos came from the various partisan factions in the audience, while several photographers edged out of their front row seats to take side shots of John standing on his box.

  He was upset.  And the debate suddenly became far livelier off camera during the commercials than on.  During the breaks we would glare at each other, he would bark things suggesting I was naïve, and I would fire back that he was incapable of honesty.

 Finally, the debate, which the League of Women Voters ridiculously claimed was the most substantive ever, came to the final commercial break just prior to our closing arguments.  I looked over at John, who stood there stiff, and lock jawed staring out above the audience but at no one in particular.  I thought about the scummy attack I had prepared to make in my close. 

 I wouldn’t do it, as I have said, I did not really know the man, had no real reason to dislike him and I was not going to trash his personal behavior. I could not imagine the Hell he suffered as a prisoner, and I secretly admired that he had fared so much better than my imagination suggested I would have.

 Tossing out your all-important closing remarks just before you are about to make them in front of a large audience and thousands of viewers on state-wide television is an odd thing to do.  A kind of discomfort settled over me that I had not felt since before my State Senate filibuster. What was I going to say? My knees began an uncontrollable shuddering behind my podium.  Afraid that the audience might notice I jammed my knees together in an attempt to settle them.  An action that simply made it appear as if I badly needed to pee.  

  The camera came back on and the moderator said, “Mr. Kimball it is time for you to give your closing remarks, you have two minutes.”  What the Hell, I thought.  The election is over I might as well say what had been tormenting me since I took that first $50,000 check. I looked directly into the camera and said these words.  Now I have never gone back to look at what I actually said, but I am pretty confident these words if not spot verbatim, are damn close.

 “Understand what we do to you,” I started, nodding to John. “We spend all our time raising money from people we do not know, people who are going to want access to us if we win and we both spend it in the same identical three ways; First we measure you, we hire pollsters to find out what it is you want to purchase in the marketplace, just like Campbell’s soup or Kellogg’s.  Second, we then hire some consultants who know how to tailor our image to fit what we then know you want to buy. And finally, the most expense thing we do is bombard you with the meaningless, issueless, emotional nonsense that inevitably results. And which ever one of the two of us does this to you best, is going to win.”

 The audience sat in goo goo eyed disbelief without the tiniest peep.  Then John went and gave a standard patriotic close and the debate was over for everyone but the media. For them, or at least their coverage of the debate, it had not yet begun.  The media’s debate coverage would focus almost entirely on what happened next.

 As the announcer was thanking us and the television audience, I decided to have a last bit of fun. While the cameras were still on, I leaned over to John and reached out my hand to shake as he began to reach out his. Only I did not take the last step to be close enough for John to both reach my hand and stay on his box at the same time.

  He quickly retracted his hand.  I just smiled and kept my hand out. His anger was converting into silent fury.  Suddenly, recognizing my thoughtful gesture the moderator chimed in, “Yes it would be appropriate to shake hands now.”   I smiled again at John as my hand went to that same just out of reach spot.

 John crimped a smile to cover the pure venom underneath and stepped off his box to take my hand.  My God, I thought, I have him, he’s going to strike me.  When the camera lights snapped off the stage was instantly rushed by his Hard-ons.  Within seconds he was snared and maneuvered out the back door and into a waiting car before the media could get to him.

 The media coverage had its usual cow pie focus.  On television, when he stepped off the box to shake my hand it looked like he fell into a hole. The following day all the newspapers had stories and pictures of the soap box, little if anything was said about our differing opinions on any issue of significance.

 Years later when he was running for President, I would read a short memoir from a person that had been on his staff the evening of that debate. Writing about the debate’s ending he wrote, “John wanted to kill Kimball.”

 After the debate no one, not my family, not my staff, not the media — no one mentioned my closing remarks. It was as if I had only imagined saying them, and no one heard them but me.  Some weeks later I discovered one person did hear them and that would finally drive me toward a chance at making my life worth the living of it, after all.

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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  Cults comfort and nurture the most vulnerable and quietly desperate to find relief from the most broken and painful abscesses brought by life, cracking one’s natural humanist nature.

  Impossible it is for loved ones impacted to use reason with such captured by an idea that takes hold, locks in, and holds out resolution and relief to one so afflicted with pain.

  Most distressing for survivors is not just the loss of a loved one taken, but the common history gone and shared joy in the experience of life.

  It is not uncommon for those whose love is the grandest, whose care is most passionate and devoted, to take the most brutal hits from those seized by a cult’s unerring, regimented, hardened truths.

 To any that might identify with these words:  This night, I feel your pain!

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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 The delusional are no longer marginalized in America. The malignancy is in full bloom invading the civic tissues of every American household.

 You think you matter? You think what you think matters?


 Do you ever wonder why there is global warming, the extinction of half of all other earthly species?  Why religious demagoguery has replaced science, why we do not invest in educating our youth in mathematics, literacy, and science, why we have stripped social studies from school curriculums?  Why our health care is the most expensive in the world, why banks steal and are protected from their thievery?  Why we have gone from the largest creditor nation to the largest debtor nation, obligating you and every other taxpayer to pay $183,000 in damages?

 No, it isn’t what you want, what you support, nor is it what other citizens desire.


“THE PREFERENCES OF THE AVERAGE AMERICAN APPEAR TO HAVE ONLY MINISCULE, NEAR ZERO, STATISTICALLY INSIGNIFICANT IMPACT UPON PUBLIC POLICY.”  (From a Princeton study showing that a bill introduced with no public support, none at all, has a 30% chance of passage, while a bill that has significant, near total public support also has only a 30% chance of passage.)

What moves the needle is money, the $5.8 billion spent by the country’s elites to obtain the $4.4 trillion in payoffs you pay for.  And that is only the nation’s 200 largest banks, insurance companies, pharmaceuticals, and such.  They have the power to stop any legislation no matter how publicly popular, along with twice the power to pass any legislation they want even as public support measures at the zilch level.

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder  

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Years from now honey I will be blamed for everything you do!

You would do well to have a Maxine Christy Kimball as President.

She raised four boys alone. By rough calculation she had changed almost 5000 diapers, prepared 65,700 meals, swept, vacuumed, and scrubbed 10,200 rooms and laundered a pile of clothes, that if neatly folded and stacked (not always the case), would have roughly equaled the cruising altitude of a 747. The number of motherly events she shepherd, Sunday masses, birthdays, holidays, PTAs, Cub Scouts, football, baseball, basketball, swimming, science fairs, school shows, doctors’ visits, teacher conferences, summer camps, picnics, vacations, and at least one enema on yours truly, were more numerous than my memories can reasonably be expected to calculate. Not to mention the budgeting, taxes, investments, house maintenance, debts and such other adult fare we never knew about. (excerpt from my Autobiography of a Nobody).

As for the four boys she pushed into college: Well, with them there was alcoholism, thievery, drug use and smuggling, which got one a bit of prison time.

She was qualified to be President, we weren’t!

— —

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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New Year’s resolutions

Losing weight.  The most popular New Year’s resolution.  Started with dogged determination and ending with that first tempting French fry, potato chip or cream puff.

Hard to imagine a resolution more made and less kept.

Maybe this year try something new, less narcissistic and a little more egalitarian, something that helps us all.

Something that gives an option to the easily digested partisan news and provides us with the nutrition we all so desperately need: Supporting a source of accurate, abundant, dependable facts on those that govern or wish to replace those who do:

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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free pics

Yard Sale on American Ethics

If you, as an American citizen are captured, tortured, murdered, and dismembered with a bone saw it’s A-OK with Joe.

That is precisely what your President said last week when he gave immunity to Prince Muhammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, in an obviously agreed to subterfuge using international precedents.

That would be the same Prince that imprisons, tortures, and kills dissenters in Saudia Arabia and sends his agents elsewhere in the world to torture and dismember our fellow Americans like Jamal Khashoggi.

That would be the same two-faced Joe who previously called the prince a “thug” who had “shocked him to his very core.” The same Joe that promised he would make him a “pariah” on the world stage.

Want to celebrate American backbone Thursday by eating some off a turkeys? Just go to Joe’s house.

Richard Kimball

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The “Deplorables” lose!

Hard to win a gun fight with a butter knife but turns out that slathering deplorables with butter seems to be a survivable strategy.

I am a BANG! BANG! kind of guy. I will always want a gun, but I have now been given a lot of leeway in my wrongness. Turns out most American’s, including a lot of captured Republican’s and a whopping number of Independents have said, “Take it easy Richard, we’ve got this.”

Hate for now, grows weaker, making November 8th a day for celebration, when the responsible showed their muster. When the red tide of galactic stupidity was turned away at the door.

Richard Kimball

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Aborted fetus — free clip art

My Take

Back when I was in politics there were many legislators who wanted to find means to reduce the number of abortions and the means to protect a woman’s determination regarding her own life. Had we politically survived and worked together, millions of women would never have felt the need for an abortion and millions of fetuses would never have been aborted.

But such rational communication is long dead.

Such leaders no longer survive and the views now so hardened — “I’m right, you’re wrong”, to win at any cost, effectively causes millions of avoidable abortions.

Over time, resignation and acknowledgement of the absolute victory these two intransigent sides have had, has changed my view somewhat. Now my position on abortion simply depends on my mood when I wake up in the morning.

Some mornings I am full of love and want to save every life. So I am an absolute NO. After all, I say to myself, I am the kind of guy that catches indoor spiders to set them free outdoors. If I can avoid it, I won’t step on an ant. I just do not want to cause the end of any kind of life.

On other days, I wake up pretty sour, thinking of what my species has done to countless other species (like the Bambi experiment pictured above), including our own. I think YES, abortions should be required of every pregnant woman and post-birth abortions should be the law of the land for anyone not obeying. Only in that way can we rid the earth of my species’ befoulment of it.

Now I know on those days all people are aghast at my position, but I feel confident that every other species on the planet stands in thankful celebration and ovation.

Which leads me to my point and the truth of it. Most voters standing self-righteously on either side of abortion, really don’t care all that much. That is why a few weeks ago abortion may have been the #1 issue in this year’s election but, as always, as the election draws near, such issues of grand importance fade, taking a distant second to the true heart of voters’ real concern: MY MONEY! MY MONEY!

Richard Kimball — Vote Smart Founder

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First, they took my civics education.

Then they de-funded my school.

Then uneducated, ignorant of democracy and unable to think critically, I was set free and found my faith in what I wanted to believe rather than what I should believe.

Once American education was the envy of all, our student performance second to none, our skill at self-governance a beacon the world over.

The attack on education, truth, and the facts is no accident. The dimmer we become, the more malleable we are.

The only remedy is to sustain at least one source for trusted facts that any citizen can turn to in confidence — facts without interpretation and protected from influence. is exactly that, but requires a people’s will to use it, believe in it, and to support it. A source to which all conservative and liberal citizens can turn in confidence for the facts and the truth that is dependent upon those facts. Without that, we cannot sustain an ability to self-govern successfully.

It can be done, ensuring its integrity with an elected board balanced between the multiple sides on major national issues. Supported without dependence upon self-serving interests and operated by those willing to commit their time and expertise in the national interest and not financial self-gain.

That is what strived to be. As a young man, my boss once said, “You’re entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.” Without or an organization very much like it, it is not the meek that shall inherit the earth, but the stupid.

Richard Kimball

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“Let Them Eat Rocks.”

I have often wondered why God did not say that, but “he” didn’t. He said, “Let them eat Life.”

Rocks are mixtures of one or more minerals. Just like apples, butter, flour, and sugar are the ingredients of apple pie, minerals like quartz, mica, and feldspar are the ingredients of granite. Mixing and matching various proportions and degrees of heat make an unlimited variety of could have been, should have been foods. Not to mention other types of rocks.

We could have evolved with suckers, dissolvers or diamond encrusted teeth and systems that made good use of such nutritious minerals. But he didn’t, he said, “Let them eat life.”

Was it an error in judgement or did he really intend the consequences?

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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“What do you do?” I asked. Answer: “I raise moms. I let only the females live. They are expected to get pregnant every year. If they do not get pregnant themselves, I impregnate them. If they still do not, I butcher them or sell them off to someone who can make good use of them.”

It is an odd world, where one male will do, and that most Americans, including me and much of the world, lives by.

What is it?

Richard Kimball

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Intelligence is a disease?

It is a statistical absurdity to think our life on earth is all there is of consciousness in the universe. As a statistician once demonstrated, there are more suns in the sky than there are grains of sand on earth. And in case you missed it, the new Web Space Telescope just upped that number of suns 10-fold. Trillions of those stars have been around for billions of years longer than our puny, insignificant, unexceptional sun.

Yet here we are, alone, no one reaching out to us or making themselves known, even though so very many other worlds have had incomprehensible amounts of time to advance further than we.

Science suggests several reasons for this, most related to space and time, but perhaps the reason is closer to home, perhaps intelligence is a disease that no matter where it takes root, it inevitably comes with a deadly cancer called arrogance.

All developing intelligent life would naturally, routinely believe themselves exceptional, the chosen ones, superior to all and perhaps even made by a God, in God’s own image and thus all-powerful, God-like themselves.

It could be that arrogance inevitably kills its host and intelligence can never significantly develop enough to discover an antidote to arrogance or even recognize that one is necessary.

Most everyone I know would quarrel with the notion that intelligence is a dangerous thing but if I asked every other species on the planet, not a one, not even the earth herself would disagree. Our intelligence has come with catastrophe for the earth and all those we share it with.

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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There is no original thought in this book. I do not believe there has been a wholly original idea since someone said, “I think I will stop using my arms as legs and stand the fuck up.”

Those of us thinking today flow from that original thought and have merely borrowed from it and wrinkled it into an incalculable number of permutations over the ages.

Everyone copies, plagiarizes, and hopefully grows the efforts of others. If there were other original thoughts, they are now lost to us, buried under the passage of time and the infinite number of embellishments that were born by it.

As a plagiarist and absolute center of all that I know, of every experience ever had and the few that remain to be had, the diminishment of my aspirations seems unavoidable. Aging has settled me into a slowing dance between spasms of desperation and quiet resignation. I’ve never had an original thought. A few good tweaks were the best I could hope for.

My ego has become an uncomfortable thing. Un-stroked by recognition, awash with influence or at least a lot of cash, it gnaws as I age.

How can a life that began with extraordinary good luck, mostly happy and honest, surrounded by love, be unfulfilling? I think it must happen to many of us as our lives are stretched out in the rear-view mirror, and we see the attainability of so much more that now the loss of time and energy has rendered unobtainable.

As a six-year-old I knew time was short. It was on that birthday that one of my always wiser brothers informed me that life expectancy was 60. Just nine more, six-year birthdays and it will all be over I was told. I am fairly certain not a day has passed in all the days that followed that I have not thought about the time I have left. Time left that past none fourteen years ago.

I now live on lucky time. In my youth I responded to that calculation with a spasm of discomfort but would quickly recover and head out for some more play, always thinking that I would make my life worthwhile another day. When another day finally arrived, I would be 31 and about to be born again but not in any Christian sense.

Everyone has a story to tell, and this is mine. No great drama, no epic events, no marks to be recalled by anyone but me. Telling your story in a way that would have anyone else give a damn seems farcical. I have no confidence that I will tell mine in a way you would give a damn, but it has some interest to me and there seems some value in thinking through all that has been me and imagining what might have been. So why not? Hell, now in the retirement I wish I had never attained, what else do I have to do?

In the end, what I see of human beings is what little it would have taken to make life so much better than it is for all of us. If only we would recognize and invest in the obvious, that one precious difference that sets us, as humans, apart from all other species: our abiilty to know.

In case you missed it, I am as close to a miracle as you will ever know, and so are you. If the teeniest difference in time or circumstance had changed in your line of ancestors from the very first time a cell split, 3.8 billion years ago, you would not exist. Having been given such a fantastically improbable chance, you would think we would make more of it.



My first memories are not of events or moments of significance, but of ordinariness, a sudden interest and comfort of just being aware, aware of textures, smells, scenes and the presence of people and objects.

Everything seemed smooth and rounded in some way and mostly white in my most distinct and perhaps earliest memory. It is of sitting alone at the kitchen table, in my highchair. In front of me was a bowl of soup that had come out of a red and white can. I was focused on the tiny, shiny, clear flat spheres of oil floating on the surface with various waterlogged bits of what I would come to know as noodles, vegetables, and chicken on the bottom. Out the window in front of me was our round driveway and rounded car with rounded fenders, hood, and roof. A Packard I would later learn. My table was white and smooth except for a spot or two on the rounded corners where the porcelain had chipped away, exposing the metal underneath. Around the room were the refrigerator, freezer, stove, and sink, all white, all smooth with rounded corners.

I was not happy or sad, just content. I could not say why I remember this eventless scene but sitting in that white rounded highchair that moment somehow imprinted on my memory and represents the point that is as far back as my memory can go.

I have one other distinct memory of that moment. She stood behind me, again all round and dressed in white, but black. Her name was Essie, our maid and cook. My mother did not have her help long and I do not remember much about her other than the chicken she fried, great chicken my older brothers later assured me. Chicken that our mother, the German antithesis to fine dining, could never duplicate.

A few years later I visited Essie’s house. She lived in a home very unlike our own. My mother was bringing her some Christmas gifts and I happened to be in the car.

We lived in a big house. I didn’t know it. We lived in the nicest neighborhood. I did not know it. As we turned onto Essie’s street the houses became tightly jammed, any half-dozen of which could have easily fit into our front yard. As best as I can recall, there were no driveways, and the yards were all barren dirt with a few broken toys, flat balls and scraps of various objects scattered about. Inside, where doors would be, were hanging sheets and there was one stuffed tattered chair. The walls were unpainted with one wall having a large chunk of missing plaster which commanded my attention because I could not imagine the purpose of the wooden slats that were now exposed underneath.

Above all, I remember that Essie had a family; this was a very big surprise. It never occurred to me that she would be a wife, have children, a home, a life. Essie was just our maid.

I did not feel sorry, have any sense of pity, I was not old enough to know such things. I only recall being confused, wanting to leave and being happy that my parents chose not to live that way. I would not see those kinds of living conditions again for 15 years, not until I stood in the dump three of my college buddies and I could afford and used to eat, sleep, drink, and smoke dope in.

Anyway, I am still very young in this beginning of my story and looming in my happy memories are the few horrors I am anxious to get to.

I had three brothers. Like all brothers, they were both horrible and wonderful. My mother was ruler of all that we knew, and my father was God, or the closest thing to it I would ever know.

My childhood nickname was Kimmy, the third in line, and shy enough to be in need of some professional counseling, which never came, or at least not for that reason. I remember my young life as being full of energy and adventure with my brothers and our tight circle of neighborhood buddies but never with strangers. When visitors came to the house I would hide in the back yard or up some tree, any place where I was certain they would not be or have any reason to come.

Of course, certain communications with outsiders could not be avoided, and on occasion I was cruelly forced to deal with those unknown. A couple such instances became top hits in the family’s folk tales.


The announcement was casually made in front of our living room mirror as Mom stroked my hair, “We are going to get this cut.” The shock was instant. I was going to be “cut.” Cutting hurt and I had no reason to believe cutting my hair would be any less painful than cutting off fingers or toes.

My protests, apparently laughable, were ignored, and I was unjustly packed into the Packard and off we went.

Entering the shop there he stood, as sinister a sight as any little boy had ever seen. He just stood motionless looking down at me. Recognizing my fear, that grim-faced, slick-haired, spectacled little man with the tiny mustache and stiff white shirt grimaced and looked up at my mom. I was doomed.

My terror was splayed open for all to see as I took in the various fluid-filled jars containing combs and cutting devices, along with assorted objects plugged into electrical sockets behind him. And the chair, OH GOD that chair, what was it? Huge with various handles and levers and a long leather strap swaying at its side. I lost it!

Dismissing a child’s fears as simple childishness is so convenient to an adult who has long forgotten the traumas of their own first-time childhood horrors: the time you first got the needle at the doctor’s office, wobbled and crashed that first two-wheeler attempt, the dark that came at night, when you first rode The Hammer at the State Fair, or just the creaking noises in the closet when all were asleep. . . and a hundred other childhood traumas.

Most adults could easily revisit those fears by trying a bungee jump or first sky dive, taking a quick dip into a frozen lake or maybe a bit of harmless water boarding — all would likely do the trick and give a taste of what we have forgotten about first-time events. And you will never have so many first-time events as you did as a child.

Anyway, I stood in front of the barber butcher, and he was going to cut me. For some incomprehensible reason the person I trusted most in life, picked up a box, placed it on the torture device and stuck me to it — then let the butcher have his way with his sharp pointy objects. My fear was intense and real. My mother, like all mothers, knew such fears absurd, but mine also had the presence of mind to see an opportunity for posterity and documented the event.

Pictures by Maxine Christy Kimball



The Barber Butcher torment takes only slight precedence over that time as a seven-year-old when Bobby, one of my older brothers, second in line, thought it a fun idea to shove me out of the house naked and lock all the doors. However, my first days at school take a back seat to nothing.

St. Ambrose School would be all that I knew and loved ripped away as I was tossed amongst strangers and strangeness on every conceivable level. A world governed by scowl-faced, rigid women cloaked from head to toe in black sheets.

Mother made careful plans all designed to excite me about the new adventure. We bought new clothes at a local store that had just installed the town’s first escalator. Magical moving steps I did not really understand the need for, but fun like some carnival ride. And right out of Buck Rogers, the store had a new x-ray machine for your feet, which mom said could magically tell us what shoes would fit.

Mom did her best, and succeeded in making the preparations exciting, but then came that first morning when she woke me up singing the most dreadful lyrics ever written for a child’s ear: “School days, school days, dear old golden rule days….” To this very moment, I could have sworn that the next line of those cruel lyrics went, “The teacher’s going to hit you with a hickory stick.” But looking it up to validate my memory, I discover the line was actually, “Taught to the tune of a hickory stick.” A small difference from my memory which always tends to make traumas more traumatic than they were.

She dropped me off with my two older brothers, Billy going into the 7th grade and Bobby going into 4th, then pulled out of the parking lot and headed for home. My brothers being popular old pros, and suffering from none of my affliction regarding strangers, dashed off for a little pre-class play with old friends.

For me, panic had set in. I stood alone looking across the parking lot at St. Ambrose School when it occurred to me that the easiest way to escape was simply not to cross the parking lot at all. So, I didn’t.

It was never quite clear how I managed to do it, and I do not recall myself, our house was one mile away, but as my mother pulled into our rounded driveway, there I was sitting on the front steps gasping for air.

This irrational fear would never really leave me, not entirely, or at least not until sometime later when I stood in front of a room of politicians as a state senator on behalf of everyone I ever knew.

School did get a little better, very gradually. For a few days, when I woke up to my mom’s favorite song, I would plead with her not to make me go. When I got to class, I did all that I could to be invisible. I would sit in the last row and adjust my desk just so, in a not all unsuccessful effort to hide, particularly from that woman dressed in the black hoodie and draperies. My greatest fear being that she would begin the once-a-day trauma of calling on us, one at a time, to stand and answer some question, thus exposing ourselves as brighter or dumber than dirt.

In the years since I have often fantasized about forcing those nuns to stand and recite, not the Lord’s Prayer or the Ten Condemnents, but the Bill of Rights, the application of which never applies to children, and I feel certain had never been heard of by any of the nuns.

I hated everything about school and focused far more on the ticking of the big, black-rimmed clock than I ever did on the nun droning on and on about reading, writing and arithmetic.

No sound has ever rung so sweet to me as the school bell ending another day’s torture. The lunch break itself, which seemed to thrill my classmates, filled me with apprehension. At St. Ambrose I was to learn that all the food we ate came directly from God and that God could cook up some real shit.

The nuns and priests of St. Ambrose expected you to eat anything and everything put in front of you, which included their Sunday mass special, “The body and blood of Christ,” arguably the best tasting thing they forced down your throat.

Years later I would understand that with all my mother’s special wonderful qualities, cooking was not one of them. But in grade school when I was finally lucky enough to get a lunch box, Mom was the grape jelly, Skippy’s, baloney, graham cracker queen. A kid’s real Julia Child of the lunch box.

What a marvel it would be to re-live the extraordinary experience of tasting the things you love again for the very first time. For me as a kid an Oreo cookie, a baloney sandwich slathered with mayo, Bazooka gum or mint chocolate chip ice cream come to mind. Later in life it was my first taste of a Macadamia nut, Cream Bruleé, foie gras or my wife’s pecan pie that locked in days to be remembered.

There were, of course, those things that revolted, those first pioneering repulsive bits that adults see as a duty to cram past your convulsing taste buds. Every child and most adults, me included, know of foods you simply will not, cannot eat. Things you would fight heaven and hell to avoid ingesting. For me, the blood red repulsion found in red beets, or the damp, gagging chalkiness of lima beans are near the top of my list. But nothing, not anything on earth matches my memory of that first globular bite of stewed hominy slopped into a puddle of canned tomato sauce at St. Ambrose in first grade — the memory of which can still make me retch.

I only swallowed one tiny spoonful that one time, but many years later I was in Birmingham to give a speech. Hungry, I walked into a little earthy sidewalk cafe. Sitting down, looking at the menu I got the slightest whiff, the unmistakable odor from a moment in time 45 years in my past. What is that? I know that smell, I’m sure I know that smell, I thought. Then the waitress threw open the kitchen door to deliver someone’s order. The stench overwhelmed me. It couldn’t be, no one would ever order it, request it, want it, be able to swallow it! An instant later the shallow bowl with slopping red sauce and super-sized corn kernels passed by me. To the great good fortune of everyone in the cafe, my stomach discreetly informed me what was going on and that the deal was up. It said, “You have ten seconds!” There were still five seconds on the clock when I blew out the front door.

It was one of the nun’s specialties requiring only a large pot and the will to boil the mass to within an inch of Hell for certain putrefication. The first and last time it had ever been set in front of me I was able to hold dignity through the dried corn bread and the canned beans. Then, just as I skipped over the main course to the other side of the tray for the orange Jell-O with the nun cook’s fancy flair of a few pineapple chunks, another nun, this one on lunchroom patrol, stopped behind my chair. “Finish lunch before you have that dessert!” She didn’t move. Hoping for some divine intervention I moved slowly. I took my spoon and dabbed it in the red chunky goop. She said, “Hurry up, you are not going to waste God’s food or get up from that chair until you have finished every drop of that gift.” I raised the spoon in the general direction of my mouth but not quite meeting the target.

As I recall my nose got between the spoon and my lips making a rejection much like a professional basketball player would of an opponent’s best shot. The nun was not to be denied. She said, “You will sit here until you finish all of God’s great gift.” To my added horror I now had the attention of all the students across the table and for a few tables beyond.

To this all-trusting five-year-old it was a convincing argument. It wasn’t the nun cook, it wasn’t the nun who had ladled it onto my plate, it was God giving me this food and now everyone was focused. Could I down the repulsive stench given by God himself? You can do it I thought. The spoon dove into the goop with good intent and then with God in my mind I closed my eyes and crammed it in my mouth.

Now my experience with throwing up had been limited to being sick or having an upset stomach. It was always the same. You knew it was coming, then you really knew it was coming and you bent over the toilet or the pail your mother somehow magically appeared with. Even when you didn’t have sufficient warning you still had time to bend over and make your deposit on the floor. But at that lunch table, with those students surrounding me, the nun behind me, and God above, it was my first experience with the shot gun method.

The event ended with me unscathed but a few of my classmates had to go find something else to wear. And the nun, looking repentant, said, “OK Kimmy — — I guess you don’t have to eat that.”

THE MIRACLE OF ME — Chapter three


I was the tallest kid in class, something I took pride in, imagining that I might be more adult than the others. I could jump and catch better than most, even those a grade or so ahead of me. Thus, at recess and after school, I was the one young kid that got invited to play with my older brothers and their friends. At play I could shine, and I eventually learned to survive each school moment waiting for those recesses or glorious after school sessions with my brothers and neighborhood friends.

In third grade my St. Ambrose torment would abruptly end. It appeared that the nun teaching us suddenly disrobed, and joined the real world. With God’s habited disciple out of the picture, a mere disciple-in-training was put in her place so my mother took the opportunity to send me to a “lesser school,” my brothers would say, a public school. Which in my experience it was not, but then that was back in the day when teachers were admired and supported because they had authority, could enforce order, effectively reward achievement, or discourage a willful lack of it.

I believe the truth of the matter was that mom had concluded that I was not only miserable but that I was in route to becoming an illiterate nitwit.

Anyway, so I packed up what had by then become my mystical ability to disappear and went public.

My first effort at disappearance at Robison Elementary was a tragic failure. I was instantly exposed as an idiot and behind the other children in the three Rs so they made me take second grade again.

Completely humiliated I redoubled my efforts at the dark sciences. Invisibility I now understood had to be kneaded into complete non-existence. My success in this work is, I suppose, the reason that I can’t remember but one of my elementary school teacher’s names.

It was Mrs. Shenfield. She was about five feet tall, somewhat shorter than I was in her third grade class. She was nicely rounded and somehow shockingly managed to only call on me when I knew the answer to a question. She was no beauty, but no nun, and became the most jaw dropping, stunningly gorgeous thing I’d ever seen.

Going to sleep at night, thinking of Mrs. Sheffield, the oddest things would happen. I had noticed that on occasion, for reasons I could not know, when I woke up, I had a stiffy. And although I did not know what it was or why, I instantly recognized the truth of it. It was true love. But I will save my sexual awakenings for another time — or maybe not at all.

Falling in love at that age is easy, I found it somewhat more difficult to learn how to read, find joy with digits or as I was about to discover, even learn where to properly go to the bathroom.

It is difficult to learn how to read or learn much of anything else if you don’t exist. And if you are truly nonexistent, as I was in my reboot of second grade, people will simply not notice that you cannot read, or even when you must poo or pee. It was their not recognizing the latter two that turned into a serious liability for someone struggling to stay invisible and that liability would first exhibit itself to the toughest kid in school.

Raising your hand in class! I had actually seen other people do this. I could not understand what compelled them to jump off such a cliff, but they did. Some like Lacy Scanlon, jumped all the time. Lacy, clearly more deserving of existence than any other child I knew, knew everything. All that she did was perfect. I became convinced of this one recess when Stevie Bogard, my neighbor, best friend, now classmate came up with an extraordinary idea.

Until Stevie’s brilliance burst forth, we had been resigned to recess games involving spitting, making fart sounds, or just about anything we could do in the dirt. His idea would require courage, athleticism, cunning and some exhilarating aspect we were not quite old enough to grasp but was very exciting none the less.

He called his game “The Panties Report.”

Understand that this was the 50s and schoolgirls still wore flouncy dresses. The basic idea was to chase each other around, one at a time and at the key moment push or trip whoever’s turn it was and have them roll under some unsuspecting girl. With that you were able to return to the group with the “Panties Report.” The reports were almost always of white panties, color was a rarity, but on one fabulously triumphant occasion I excitedly reported back, “purple polka dots!!” It was so rare as to be unbelieved by my classmates. I was immediately tackled and piled on by every giggling boy in the group. In the dirt and spitting out dust I looked out from under the pile of classmates and across the field, there was Lacy. She was standing with her friends in a crisp clean yellow dress with a satin bow around the waist. All of them were quietly ignoring us and playing a game of hopscotch. As I looked at her from the grit and grime, I knew, as I have known ever since, that Lacy Scanlon and all her kind were of a different, more advanced sort.

Anyway, back to raising your hand in class. The first time I had to raise my hand in a class had nothing to do with a teacher’s question. I actually had to raise it 30 minutes earlier than I did, but didn’t, and I would regret it for years and I am sure if childhood relevance cared any weight in adulthood, I would say that I regret it more than any other single self-inflicted event in my life.

The quiet rumbles in my lower stomach started while we were saying the Pledge of Allegiance, but the discomfort was minor, and I gave it little thought. Ten minutes later my view had changed somewhat, the early rumbles had become a bit gassy, but if I softly eased it out and looked busy and innocent, I could escape detection. Another ten minutes and I was out of gas, one leg here, move another there, put my weight on the right butt, then on the left, gave only seconds worth of relief. Another 15 minutes and I was in serious trouble. That is when my butt said, “Raise your hand or poop right here.”

I did not raise my hand, I launched it as high as I could stretch. The teacher looked at my sudden appearance like one would a stranger, not at all sure that she recognized me, confused and busy with more important matters she said, “not now.” Like stretching rubber, my arm went to unnatural heights. She took a second look, whatever sub-human quality she saw in my eyes gave me a reprieve. I told her, and announced to all that I, me, the invisible one, needed to go to the bathroom. She said, “Can’t you wait,” and then thought better of it, “OK go.”

I had so wanted to make it. With my first step into the hall, I knew it was now a race, but if I moved too quickly, I would not hold. Only thirty feet left, now twenty, at the ten mark it was over, out it came. Like a green horn just off the saddle, I waddled the last few feet to the boy’s room. It still would have been OK, no one was in the halls, but as I threw open the restroom door there stood Jerry Egerton, the toughest, nastiest kid on the planet.

I did not hear his hackling end even after the bathroom door closed behind him. I cleaned up pretty well and I covered up my underwear with a mountain of paper towels at the very bottom of the trash can, but the damage was done.

The humiliation should have been crushing, but as it turned out, only Jerry Egerton had been humored because everyone hated the bully as much as I did. If truth be told no one was that far removed from a poo in the pants at some point, and simply thought, “Thank God that wasn’t me.” Within a couple of days, Jerry’s finger-pointing shoutouts of “poo boy” got old and ended. By week’s end no one remembered, no one but me, who still winces at the ancient memory of my final delicate waddling steps.

THE MIRACLE OF ME — Chapter Four


I was the tallest kid in class and skinny as a stick, which branded me with the name Skinny Kimmy and two never ending kid comments: “How’s the weather up there?” And, “Look out — it’s the Jolly Green Giant!” More importantly and impactfully I was also certain that I was the class dummy.

When I finally got back to third grade, I felt that my feeble mind was universally acknowledged, largely because I still could not read anything but the simplest lines in Dick and Jane books.

My greatest dread was that once-a-day class ritual where my love, Mrs. Shenfield, would start in the first row and have every student, one at a time, read a page from that week’s story. It was the only truly horrible thing Mrs. Shenfield ever did. I paid no attention what others were reading, had no enjoyment or even knowledge of the adventure that was being told one student at a time. I was completely occupied in calculations. My only hope was to successfully cipher what page they would be on when it finally became my turn to read out loud. One page, one student, how many students were left, how many pages in that chapter. When I was sure I had it right, I sat quietly and practiced my page preparing for my moment of unavoidable visibility. Of course, it did not always work, sometimes Mrs. Shenfield would skip one student or another or let someone read more than one page, particularly if it was someone like Lacy Scanlon, who I was certain was bored by the daily reading ritual and simply looked forward to relaxing at home, enjoying the smell of a freshly printed volume of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in Middle English. Not that I or anyone else other than Lacy would have known what that was.

When it came to me, I would be so tense as to stumble even over the words I did know, prompting Mrs. Shenfield to have the class help me out, in mass. Oh God, forgive her for she knows not what she does.

Anyway, it was all humiliating to me and a real worry to my mother. She tried to tutor me and was tough but had little patience with my stunted attention span. She hired tutors who fared no better until finally concluding that whatever existed between my ears, it couldn’t possibly be a brain.

I had no awareness of what was about to happen, and she denied the reasons for it to her very last days, but the fact remains that I was scheduled for an evaluation at the University. To be more precise I was to take an IQ test. My memory of the test is of an odd but fun series of games involving circles, triangles, sticks, shapes, memory, and a few races against a clock. At the conclusion of the games, I overheard the doctor, or professor, or whatever the tester was, telling my mother that I was at 132. It was all meaningless to me, and my mother simply grabbed my hand and turned around and walked out.

A week later playing ball with some of the older kids I embarrassed John Cole, a neighbor, with my ability to throw a football further than he could. So John, older, heavy-set and, not much of a student himself, got mad and tried to pick a fight with me. His initial verbal attack had nothing to do with our game but simply focused on how stupid everyone thought I was. It was then that I first witnessed what was to become a brotherly tradition. It was Bobby, second in line in the Kimball brotherdom who leaped to my defense. Clearly having information that I did not, he told John Cole that I was close to genius and the university tests proved it, while he was just a well-blubbered, ignorant Cave Newt. None of us had any idea what a well blubbered Cave Newt was but it had us all doubled over in laughter, and John huffed his way home.

That was the thing about my brother Bob. While I, like everyone else on the planet, would spend a good amount of time during our lives mumbling to ourselves the things we wished we had said during a heated moment, my brother Bob never needed reflection, he had the enviable ability to punch you out right on the spot with nothing more than words.

Well, I was no genius, but for the first time I had some evidence that I was not an idiot. I just couldn’t read, but that was about to change.

Not long after testing with circles and squares at the University my mother went to the library, and I was along for the ride. All the teachers, all the tutors had no effect, but walking into that library and having my mother dump me in the toddler’s section did the trick. She did not plan it or think it mean, but for me, standing there towering over all the toddlers in the cartoon and picture book section of the library, something snapped. As soon as I saw my mother disappear into the stacks of grown-up books so did I. To prove that I was really a big kid to anyone that might have seen me with the toddlers, I wandered around looking for the biggest, wordiest book I could find. Twenty minutes later I pulled in next to my mother to check out; in my possession I had a book titled 20 Best Plays of the Modern American Theater. Mom looked at me, then at the book, then back at me, but had the wisdom to say nothing.

That night I learned to read. I was instantly fascinated by the dialogue in plays. I could make out just enough words to get some sense of what one character was saying to another. Once I figured out what one person said, I just had to know the response. It seemed to me that very character’s response to another was a story in itself. I was up for most of that night with that book and the family dictionary, finishing the first play. Over the next few weeks, I lived with that wonderful book and read the whole wonderful thing and can still recall the play I liked best: a gambling comedy called Three Men on a Horse.

It didn’t cure my shyness, dread of school and strangers or even my apprehension about reading out loud in front of others, something I still avoid to this day. I so dread reading out loud, that I rarely do it even when putting children to sleep, preferring to simply make up stories in my head. Something I seem to have a talent for, and they prefer.

Anyway, getting through 20 Best Plays was liberating. It was the second sign that I was not necessarily an idiot. Although, a year or two later, my addiction upon discovering my favorite reading material, hidden under a brother’s bed, might convince you otherwise.



 My mom was funny, but duty bound to bring up 4 sons who were abnormal to nearly normal. When I say she was funny, I mean really. Her dream was Hollywood, she was a jaw-dropping beauty with a degree in drama and a sense of humor that sold.  After seeing her speak at a convention, Bob Hope asked her if she would come out to L. A. and write for the Joey Bishop Show.

 She didn’t. She had Kimball Boys to raise and with the little time that left to spare, she settled on just dabbling with local radio and TV shows and convention appearances.

 Mom’s endless press: “Comb your hair, tuck in your shirt, stand up straight, rake up the yard, turn off that TV, do your homework, did you wash your hands, take your elbows off the table, no dessert if you don’t finish those vegetables, wash the dishes, turn off the lights, it’s 7 get into bed, say your prayers.”

 With dad so often sick, or off to the state capitol where he ran some show of his own, what an endless burden the Kimball boys were.

 It is always the same with kids.  You want to live in your parent’s world. To you, it is there that all the rules expire.

 As a young boy you don’t spend time on your parents’ nonsense, you’re thinking about more pressing matters:  Some dreaded encounter with a school bully or that stiffy you get when thinking what girls must look like without their clothes on.

 In third grade you are not likely to see naked girls, so up front and center stage was your relationship with your kind.

 Being forced to fight is chiefly reserved for the male gene pool and best limited to one’s brothers. What you were angry about was obvious at the moment, but quickly forgotten. And the results?  Well, they were forgone conclusions.  If you were the oldest brother you won, if you were younger you lost.  On rare occasions, it was possible to win without a blow by appealing to one of the Supremes, almost always Mom. At a weak moment Mom might be convinced through acts of bewilderment, confusion and a “what, me?” expression that you were innocently sound asleep when the vicious unprovoked abuse from a brother took place.

 My greatest brotherly conquest happened this very way. It was with my little brother, Johnny who was 7 or 8 at the time and who, as yet, lacked experience fighting without fists.  I belted him out cold with one little lie: “Mom, Johnny said Fuck.” 

 I believe that is the first time that word was ever uttered in front of her by one of her little boys. It left an irregular, never seen before expression on her face that caused me to recoil, and I instantly sought distance from what, for my little brother, would be the End of Days. 

 Although I felt guilty and was instantly full of regret, it was a victory for the ages.  The vileness of the lie was on such an unheard-of scale that my mother could not imagine that I made it up.  To this day, even as he is in his sixties, it is the one “fight” remembered and remains un-forgiven.

 Fighting with those outside the family was a different matter entirely.  We might abuse each other but you couldn’t be abused by outsiders.  It was a standard set by the oldest, Billy and Bobby, and of which Johny and I were most often the beneficiaries.   No one could touch a brother.  My memories are filled with heroic deeds each brother did in defense of another.

 Bobby, the top student of the four brothers, but the least athletic, who was once quoted in a teen newspaper article, to Mom’s embarrassment that he “wouldn’t walk a mile if his life depended upon it” was my most ardent defender.

 Once during the neighborhood pastime (football), when an older, stronger player pushed me into the hedges simply because I snatched a pass intended for him, the fight was on.  Not with me but with Bobby, who had glanced up from his book on the sidelines and seen the injustice.  The members of both teams were in shock. Bobby?  He could trash you with words but not fists — if he fought, he’d be killed.  I did not disagree and sat in a big circle with everyone else sheepishly awaiting my intellectual brother’s certain death, a death that never came.  The fight did not last long.  Right turned to might and Bobby’s blows landed fast and furious until he stood alone with his opponent running home blubbering in tears. The pride I felt at that moment would never subside.

  The pencil-up-the-butt incident was my first call to brotherly arms.  I entered our kitchen one Saturday afternoon to hear my little brother crying. Bent over my mom’s knees with his pants down, he was telling her how Tommy Kurtin, a boy up the street, and his friends had de-pantsed him and then took a pencil and stuck it up his bottom. While my mother checked his bottom for a #2 (pencil, that is), I was off on my two-wheeler steed, carrying the lance I would stick into Tommy from orifice to orifice. 

 When I got to Tommy’s house, I did not knock but simply stomped in through the open back door and yelled TOMMY!  Tommy, wisely sent out his second—his mother.  As she scowled down at me, Mrs. Kurtin and I had some heated words, but she convinced me that she was not likely to allow me to enter Tommy’s rectum with the thick long handle to a broken garden spade.

 It wasn’t that we liked to fight with others.  We didn’t, and I for one was always scared and would avoid any confrontation to the point of private if not public cowardice.  No one really wants to fight.  If we could all choose within the privacy of our own thoughts and without any judgment of others whether to punch people or not to punch people, we wouldn’t punch people.  There are just so many more pleasant things to do with your day. 

 Unfortunately, sibling rivalries, mob expectations and the actions of those choosing to dislike us can make peace difficult.  Fighting, because it is what the mob expects, promotes, and is just an all-around excellent entertainment for them, is one of the few childhood rites of passage that grows more serious, widespread, and far deadlier with age.

  I only had two fights on my grade school fight card.  In each, a deep sense of entrapment and panic ruled my private senses while I hid it as well as I could.  It was, of course, difficult to stay invisible and be in a school fight.  Fist fights were the grandest of all school boyhood events. Talk of one will instantly pulse through every student in your class and maybe a few classes beyond.  In a boy’s world it takes precedence over Mom’s “Eat your vegetables” or “Say your prayers.” Your pre-fight prayers will finally be said in earnest.  

  In the 1950s, grade school fight training was generally confined to name calling. Name calling was the least serious but most common type of fight and had degrees of escalations usually depending on age and experience. Success was measured in the complexity of a slur and the number of multi-syllable words used.  At first, you learned simply derogatory descriptions of your opponent’s vulnerabilities:  fatty, dum-dum, spaz, klutz, sissy, poo poo head or anything else you thought damning.  But if the contestants were experienced on the field of verbal battle they might employ more complex word combinations, like mucus brain, puss head, vomit breath, lard butt, and such.

 It wasn’t until you were a little older, say fifth or sixth grade that language turned nuclear, and you could incorporate words that had been reserved for grown-ups and were taboo for us: Asshole, shit-head and the multi-megaton mother of all cuss words, fucker.

 Unless you were like me, a Catholic.  Then the chain would start with equally accelerating damnation “damn it,” “go to hell” and end with the big dog “God damn you,” which Sister Mary Margaret assured us would reserve you a place on the everlasting roasting spit in Hell.  Because of her, I would soon leave the Catholic Church and not think very much of God, but right now I am just trying to get through third grade.

  My first actual fist fight had none of this pre-fight warm up language; I went straight for physical violence. It was on odd sort of matter, where a kid actually a year younger than my friends and I, would taunt us as we all walked home after school. I cannot remember the little snot’s name, but I do remember that we ignored him, because he was younger, but mostly because we wanted to avoid trouble with his older brother Brad.  Brad was known around school for being a black belt judo champion or some such thing. One afternoon the little snot decided to escalate by saying that my mother was a “fucking pig.”  She wasn’t, she was thin and very pretty, but that didn’t matter, he had gone nuclear. 

I did the only sensible thing and chased him down the street yelling something about his mother being a maggot turd.  Animal references in attacks were seen as a good thing, the smaller, less significant the animal, the more effective the attack. So, by everyone’s calculation, my maggot reference was a winner.  Unfortunately, my comments were not only offensive to the snot but also to Brad, his judo-chopping older brother, who happened to be hiding in the bushes.  Now cowardice was the chip on the table.

 There was no getting out of it. My friends and other students from the school gathered around and do what mobs do, “FIGHT! FIGHT!”  I looked at Brad, he looked at me and we began to circle first one way and then the other, pushing at each other until he threw a first punch, hitting me square on the shoulder and following up with a few more swings that missed. You have to understand here, that in my school in third grade, there was a kind of fighting etiquette.  You didn’t kick or bite, that was “dirty fighting.”  And hitting in the face was just bad, and no one ever did it.  Mostly contestants would throw a few body punches and fall on the ground in a jumbled mess of arms and legs in the dirt.  A good fight would usually be completed in less than a minute before it was broken up by some adult or some clear victory had been won.  Well, we were in a ditch behind the school and with no adults, there was nothing to stop it from going a full fifteen rounds and might have, had I not decided to break etiquette and punch Brad square in the face. 

 The blood came gushing out in shocking amounts, very dramatic.  Typically, this would have been the end of the fight with me being the acknowledged victor.  But Brad looked confused and in kid-dom, mortally wounded, but without any adult to break it up, we just kept circling.

 Wiping blood from his face and unwilling to approach me again from a standing position, Brad suddenly dove for my legs and with a completely foreign, twisting, perfectly-executed action, I found myself on my back.  He scrambled on top of me and fearing that I was about to pop him on the nose again, which I fully intended to do, Brad struggled to hold my hands down as his blood dripped on my face. We squirmed in the dirt until the little snot of a brother yelled out, “COPS! COPS!” I was particularly relieved and as everyone scattered Brad and I happily joined them.

 There were no cops and, on my walk home, my friends treated me as some sort of hero, kept slapping me on the back and demanding all the gritty details. The next day the story got around the school that I had beaten up Brad and people who had never said a word to me or even knew I existed, looked at me with a kind recognition I had not known. I didn’t really feel like a hero because I had ended up being pinned to the dirt but being suddenly visible with all this admiring attention felt pretty good, so I went with it.

 It all had zero impact on my home life. In fact, right after the fight, when I was met by Mom at the back door, she said, “You’re late, wash your hands, ice cream if you finish your broccoli.” And with that, I was slammed back into every childhood’s alternate universe. 

 My second school fight did not take place until four years later in seventh grade. Again, I had no wish to fight, but again the mob was in the business of converting my private cowardice into a public one if I refused.  The issue at hand was simple.  I had been elected home room basketball captain and Rudy Rios had not.  I did not campaign for the honor, nor did I want it, but I was a fair basketball player, so they selected me anyway.  Rudy, a tough kid and a bit of a bully did want to be captain and was not happy.

 At recess, when I checked out a basketball and organized a little team practice, Rudy came over, walked onto the court, and took the ball. He then started playing his own game with friends on the other court.  I knew this was not going to go well for me.  I looked around at my classmates and they all stood silently looking back at me. They had elected me leader and were very thankful that the issue was now in my hands and not theirs.  Oh Christ! I thought, I have to go get the ball.

 I walked up to Rudy hoping beyond hope that with my sheepish grin and joking attitude the matter could be resolved. “Hey,” I said, “very funny, we were practicing and need the ball back.”  He tossed the ball to one of his friends and sneered, “Why don’t you try to take it.”  Of course, the classmates that had elected me to represent them in this matter started helping me again in the way all such groups do, “FIGHT! FIGHT!”

 In the seventh grade, looking cool and winning is more important than it ever was in the third grade. It certainly drew a bigger crowd.  Also, hitting in the face is not taboo in seventh grade, even kicking was accepted.  It meant you were a hardened fighter, someone to be avoided at all costs.  Of course, no one really knew how to fight very well or kick, particularly Rudy, who, after a little bit of very cool pre-slug prancy dancing in front of me, tried to kick me.  This was not good for Rudy, because I caught his foot, and he was now prancy dancing on one foot.  As it turns out it is very difficult to look cool that way.  It was even more difficult for him to protect himself from a spot-on poke on the nose.

 Well, that was it, my grade school fight card ended 2 and 0.

 From there I would simply fight the crazies and mobs that formed and foamed in adult life. Those “leaders” that would forever, as they had forever, use patriotic, flag waving, oratory fervor, to enchant dewy-eyed seconds, with those words, “FIGHT! FIGHT!” to fight in their stead.



Learning to fight had hazards but being schooled on SEX was a killer. I presume that it is the same with all Catholic boys coming of age at a time when any talk of those exquisite new sensations would bring God out of his vomit-inducing kitchen and strike you dead.

My shyness and practiced invisibility worked against me in many ways but never more so than with girls. I was certain they did not know I existed and when they did it was not good. Some girls seemed to get pleasure making fun of the skinny, gawky, goofy, class idiot that towered over everyone, including the teacher. When girls showed distaste for me it seemed far worse than Jerry Eagerton’s “poop boy” mantra, simply because Lacy had convinced me that they all had something boys didn’t: brains.

My pants were always too short, showing my white socks which was generally referred to as my “high water look.” My hair was combed in one of two ways depending on how long ago I was last willing to let a barber touch it. If recent, it would be a flat top with a sharp spiked front kept perfectly stiff with stuff called Butch Wax. If it had been a while, then the front would be doubled back in an enormous front wave. In my old photographs it made me look even taller, something I was learning to regret simply because it made me stick up and out more than ever.

I was learning that slouching helped with my invisibility. If I had to stand up, I converted myself into a walking slump. This drove my mother crazy, “stand up straight” was her constant badger.

One particular group of girls (Wendy, Janice and Helen), took a shot at me every time we passed in the halls. If a sound can be condescending, they had perfected it. They would place their tongue on the roof of their mouth near their teeth and give off a short tisk-tisk sucking sound. Its knowing effect was to announce my sliminess and their wish that I would vanish for real. When I mentioned this shame to my mother, she gave me a bit of advice that only great mothers can give, advice I was able use to good effect. “The next time, why don’t you just ask if they have something stuck in their teeth,” she suggested. The next day, as they passed by with lifted noses and began their suck-it chorus I said just that. The joyous effect was instant, embarrassed silence and I never heard that sound again.

I never told anyone about the stiffies I would get when seeing magazine ads for women’s undergarments or that most fantastic painting Rubens did of Venus, found in an art book my parents had.

Any kind of nudity was an entirely private and secret affair, most particularly in our Catholic household. Some weeks after my one-sided love affair with Mrs. Shenfied began, my affections took a dramatic turn. It happened one day when Mrs. Shenfield was teaching us about Australia and asking us questions in a learning game. If you were able to answer her questions you got to stay in your chair if you couldn’t you had to move to the very back and everyone else that had been seated behind you got to move up one seat. I was doing well, for again Mrs. Shenfield seemed to only ask me questions that I knew. Anyway, I had moved up right behind the most perfect person in class, Lacy Scanlon. The game was just about to end, the last question was about to be asked and Lacy, holding the front chair would have the first go at it. The teacher asked, “What is the name of the wild dog that lives in Australia?” In a very rare event, Lacy looked confused and then said, “I don’t know.” She got up, turned around, smiled at me, and walked to the end of the long line of chairs leaving me in front. Mrs. Shenfield looked at me and said, “Richard (my formal name), do you know the answer?” Far more surprising than my knowing what a Dingo was, was that when I said it, Lacy squealed in delight. I had won my first and last academic contest, more importantly I was now bright and even grander still, I now went bonkers for the brightest, most beautiful girl in class, Lacy Scanlon.

She had a new devoted lap dog but never knew it because I wouldn’t be able to start a conversation with any girl for some years. This is not to say I did not have any early sexual experiences; I had a lot of them, beginning with my best friend Stevie Bogard.

We were still in third grade, at some point after the Dingo incident. I was sleeping over at Stevie’s house and we were talking about girls — their breasts and what pussies must be like, when we both noticed our hands were down our pajamas. Giggling we looked and touched each other’s erections and then laid down and talked about girls and their privates for most of the night. This began months of searching for sex as we saw it — women’s magazines with underwear ads, swiping panties and bras from mothers’ drawers, and little tubes inscribed with the word Kotex, (whatever that meant), we knew must have something to do with their privates.

One of our biggest finds was at another friend’s house whose father happened to be a doctor. There we discovered a medical journal with pictures of nude women. To young boys who spent much of their lives with rocks, sticks, dirt and the mud they could make of it, it didn’t matter one little bit that some of these nude women had strange exotic, often grotesque diseases. What did matter was tits.

It would be a few years before I had any idea what these feelings were all about. And when finally, I was sort of told, I would be so completely repulsed that it would take me the better part of a day to get another stiffy.

My brother Bob was always on point, said exactly what was necessary to convey his meaning, no more, no less. “Mom and Dad took off all their clothes” he said, “and dad stuck his penis in mom’s pussy and that is where I came from.” My reaction? “That’s disgusting, you liar!”

What child, so isolated from such intimacies could envision their parents doing that? I so wanted to unhear it, but it rang with the sudden sense it made of many things.

Anyway, somehow, I got through early adolescence without getting it or even hearing about a thing called orgasm. Then one day hidden under a brother’s bed I found a secret folder. I had been home alone, bored and rummaging through all sorts of things I shouldn’t, and there it was, hidden under some Mad Magazines and comic books, a prize unequaled in all my kiddom’s worldly experience: a nudist colony magazine.

How my brother had obtained such a prize I never knew but as I flipped through the pages of pictures, my body went into shock and awe and then howled at me, “I have a secret! I can only tell you in absolute total isolation.” I gave one anxious check of the house for any other sounds of life. There was none, the bathroom door slammed shut.


A wife, brother and close friend became too squeamish reading this and agreed that it was way TMI (Too Much Information). So, no more for them and none for you.




XXXXXXXXXXXXX. I knew that something inside me had burst. Scared, I just sat there waiting for death to settle in.

It would be a few years, getting close to when dad was so sick he died (more later), before I would get any official parental words about sex. But finally, one evening, long after my number of orgasms exceeded the number of Big Macs sold, my mother thought it time to give me “The Talk.” I wanted to be more than invisible, I wanted to be dead. A devout Catholic mother who by all appearances never took her clothes off and a youngster who could secretly fill buckets like a milk cow.

As the word penis came out of her mouth, I would have willingly stretched out underneath an elephant turd and hoped to be stepped on.

My fondness for invisibility, would still take me some time to ask anyone on a date. When I finally did, I got my first look through the eyes of someone on the other side.

I was perfect, did everything perfect, polished my parent’s car and my shoes. Carefully selected the best from my wardrobe. Not the stuff jumbled in the dresser drawers but from the items actually hanging in the closet. I shaved what little fuzz I had so close I cut my chin and then took a painful hit of an older brother’s cologne.

She was nice, the daughter of a former Mayor and I really liked her. I always let her go first, opened all the doors, made sure she was comfortably seated before I sat and of course paid for everything. I don’t recall what she wore, hair style, smell or much of anything about her. All such recollections, which should have been, would have been, locked into memory departed with that first kiss that came with a kicker.

Should I, or shouldn’t I? The mere thought of it had me excited as I walked her to the front door. We turned and she said she had a nice time, I dumbly stared at her for a few seconds and then with all the courage I had to muster leaned forward fearing she would somehow be outraged. The kiss was magical, and it was long, and then longer and then her knee slowly raised up and rubbed between my legs.

Stunned and confused, I found myself alone, back in the car blabbering to myself as I wondered what just happened, what was that knee all about?

Then it came to me, just as the front door closed, while I had dreamed of first base, this never-to-be-a-nun girl was seeking a home run.

Years later after telling that story to a friend, a former girl, now a woman, she bellied over in laughter, telling me I had that Catholic thing, the “Virgin Mary Complex,” meaning, I thought girls were always innocent, pure, immaculate, and never thought of sex. Had she added the word brighter, it would have been spot on how I viewed the opposite sex.


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If you want to scare the hell out of a child and assure stunted emotional development and a twisted perception of the world, send them to a 1950s nun at St. Ambrose for an education. More specifically, send them to Holy Sister Mary Margaret.

She is probably dead now, and the children of the world are better for it. Should I think her still alive I would have a moral duty to seek her out, rip out her tongue and stitch her mouth closed forever. In the 1950’s, she and her ilk could cause serious damage to any child true to the faith.

Religious instruction was not a matter of faith to a child at St Ambrose, it was fact. Front and center in a child’s mind and training was not God or Christ but the “everlasting fires of Hell,” where, as Sister Mary Margaret put it, “your flesh would be consumed by fire, yet continually be reborn so that you would suffer the unimaginable agony of your flesh burning for all of eternity.” God’s desire was to get you to Heaven through your fear of Hell.

According to the good sister the great joy of getting to Heaven was not to be found in mounds of candy bars, cookies, cakes, and endless feature cartoons, but the ability to “look upon the face of God.” To a seven-year-old, my age at the time, I simply wondered how someone could possibly look so good that seeing them would beat out a Root Beer Float.

But Holy Sister Mary Margaret had much more to offer, not the least of which was her informing us that it was not necessary to actually commit a sin in order to be guilty of the sin. All you had to do was think of the sin and you were equally guilty. This was very discouraging. Now I was guilty on so many layers of sin that I had no hope of escaping the fiery pits.

It was the stuff that put thinking and believing believers into insane asylums as they aged. At seven years of age, I had not yet come to realize that these nuns torturing children with their unforgiving, cruel nature of God should be imprisoned, if not themselves thrown into that everlasting roaster.

Holy Sister Mary Margaret understood that our minds were too young to comprehend such horror. To remedy this unacceptable situation, she would tell us stories that were sure to reach into our imaginations with lasting effect. One juicy illustration was her telling of the “very real possibility” that our classroom might be broken into by Nazis. Nazis, who would shove us up against the wall and then ask with a gun pressed against our heads, “Are you a Catholic?” The holy Sister Mary Margaret, wanting to tempt an incorrect answer said. “If you deny that you are a Catholic, they will let you live.” But then quickly followed with, “If you love God and admit that you are Catholic, then you will be shot and experience the joy of looking upon the face of God.”

Years later I would remember thinking of all the children she must have tortured with that kind of question, and fanaticized entering her classroom, gun in hand, and offering her that very choice.

However, at seven years old, I hung on every word she said and believed every story that horrid human being told. That was until she told us how God handled the dead guy.

The previous week she had gone through some pains to explain the difference between a Venial Sin and a Mortal one. With Venial Sin (a small sin), God would place you in Purgatory, a place much the same as Hell only with a possibility that at some future time, after you experience adequate flesh burning you would be given a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free-Card. However, Mortal Sin was a sin so egregious that you roasted for all eternity in the real Hell. She just loved telling a little story or two to make certain her little charges could understand.

All her stories kept us in frozen attention, but the story about the dead guy stands alone and still rots away in my brain.

The following, minus modest changes, since I cannot remember each word precisely, is a fair if not precise representation of Sister Mary Margaret’s example for Thou Shall Not Kill:

“A long, long time ago there was a man suffering from a very strange disease causing him to fall into a deep, deep sleep where his heart quieted to a soft undetectable murmur. The people thought he was dead. They dug a deep six-foot hole, took his body, and placed it in the tight confines of a coffin and nailed down the lid. They lowered the coffin into the pit and filled it over with dirt.

Sometime later the poor, sick man woke up in the darkness. Alone and unable to move in the black tightness of his coffin, the man realized his predicament, was terrified and began to scream. But in the blackness, six feet under the ground he knew no one could hear his cries for help. Unable to withstand the horror of it, the man drove the forefingers of his hands into the temples of his head to kill himself. Even he, today, is burning in the everlasting fires of Hell.”

That night when I went to bed I could not sleep. I was tired but every time I started to doze off, I woke with a start. If I slept, I was sure someone would think me dead. Finally, in the wee hours of the night I had an idea. I got up, stumbled over to my desk and switched on the light. Searching around in the drawers I found my drawing book and ripped off a little piece of paper and wrote out a short note. I then quietly crept down the hall to the bathroom where my mother kept the safety pins. A few hours later she came in to wake me up for Sunday church. Pinned to the middle of my pajama shirt, where no one could possibly miss it, was the note: “Pleese do not berry me, not dead.”

You must understand that I believed the Holy Sister Mary Margaret’s story, absolutely. I had not the slightest doubt that was exactly what God did. Only the effect of the story was not what the Holy Sister hoped for. That morning at church, sitting at my mother’s side as she dutifully focused on the word of God, I was staring above the alter where Christ was draped on his cross, thinking, “Asshole!”

Today, I think a kind of God may exist but one that is wholly unlike the insanely narcissistic jackass preached by so many religions.

My best guess is if there is a God, it is far beyond any lowly human’s ability to comprehend its existence and would clearly be powerful enough to talk to me directly, without need of some self-anointed human middleman. The same middlemen so galactically arrogant to presume to speak in God’s name that billions pay homage to and fund their nonsense.

If there is a God, and I hope there is, he already knows how to and actually does speak to me directly through the guilt, shame, pain, and pleasures I feel with my every intention and action I take.

And what is this with so much unimaginable, often inconceivable, grotesque agonies that consume the utterly innocence? No God — not yours and not mine — can answer for the unfairness of life, the damnable repugnance of the hulking injustice that puts one existence in the convulsions of death before a single step is had and another’s anointed with a passel of servants to care for their every need.

The line, “God works in mysterious ways,” exposes the poppy cock heart of much religious training for any willing to open their own eyes. What is the mystery in a child who has done nothing, can do nothing, unable to speak, raked with painful cancerous cysts, gasping a final breath in a struggle to whisper, “Please help me mommy?” Every conscious soul on this planet would struggle so to stop such a horror if they could, but the “all-powerful” God of organized religions does not.

The incomprehensible suffering of incalculable numbers of starved, enslaved, diseased, burned, bombed, drowned, murdered, maimed, tortured living things repudiates any notion of, or any need to be humbled before the nonsense of an all-powerful, “loving,” living God. I may have a good life, you may have a good life, and we feel compelled to thank our lucky stars, but we do not represent, nor can we poll the countless, faultless others who never asked to be born and now largely reside amongst the gratefully dead.

Ok, ok, I am just a bit bitter about Sister Mary Margret’s loving God. There is some part of me that hopes I am wrong, that there is an answer that an ignoramus-like human such as myself has no hope of grasping. There is even a part of me that envies friends who have faith in this kind of God. It is clearly desirous: stats show you live longer if you are comforted and smother yourself in such beautiful, irrational, thoughtless delusions of a loving God.

There are few things more uncomfortable than that moment in an argument when you realize you are wrong. Perhaps that moment will come for me when I die, and somehow, magically, miraculously, and thankfully I will be given the power to see that all is right with God’s world. I am just not ready to bet on it. In fact, after an adult life in politics, being God is the only job I feel certain to be better at, or at least fairer, only it never comes up for election.

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

Sign up on my Blog at:

or at:

(Chapters will be added roughly one a week. Preface published earlier)

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