Striving for ‘A Big Agenda’ Instead of ‘A Small Life’

In 2014, just after turning 50, I pursued a dream – for the second time – of running for political office, this time for Maryland state delegate. In 2016, I published a nonfiction book recounting the rollicking, 10-candidate free-for-all campaign that some observers called a “circus,” and taking a look at the dog-eat-dog, mucky, incestuous, narcissistic business of politics from the trenches. Don’t Knock, He’s Dead: a Longshot Candidate Gets Schooled in the Unseemly Underbelly of American Campaign Politics, would “amuse FrontCover_FINAL_6283732some and infuriate others,” wrote a local political blogger and campaign strategy consultant who reviewed the book.

Here is the story of how I came to enter this exhilarating yet disillusioning political world, and an excerpt from Don’t Knock, He’s Dead describing my final push over the precipice of reservation and into the tangle of the state race.

A Midlife Slam-Bam Combo: Job Loss and Divorce

I was 42 years old, and midlife was slamming me hard, hurricane-force winds compelling me to grip a light pole tight lest my legs blow out from under me and hurtle me adrift. For the second time within two years, I had been laid off from a public relations job with a nonprofit organization because of budget cuts amid a post-9/11 World Trade Center terrorist attack economic slump.

Following the second layoff, I entered the Baltimore City Teacher Residency program, seeking a new challenge to do something more meaningful at midlife, an opportunity to make lemonade with the lemons I was accumulating. I taught elementary school in low-income communities. I struggled to survive the torrent of urban education: The needs were great; the resources and support meager; the kids lagging woefully behind and a handful to manage. I met with the principal, who emphasized if I didn’t commit to the task with every ounce of energy, I would drown. I contemplated for a night, and accepted reality: Mentally and emotionally, I was half in, half out. The next day, I submitted my resignation, jumping ship from my fledgling teaching career with no life preserver.

Only four months earlier, I had separated from my wife, headed for divorce, with two young kids. I was both free and free-falling.

When I quit my teaching job, it was just short of a year before the next election, and the dormant thought of running for political office surfaced. It was one of those bucket-list things, something I didn’t want to go six-feet-under without having attempted.

As a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, I covered a largely rural county’s political delegation to Maryland’s state legislature. It was my first glimpse of citizen legislators up close. The part-time lawmakers were provincial men, long-established and well-respected in their tight-knit, small-town communities—a tire shop owner, a gentleman dairy farmer and banker, a pharmacist, a Realtor, a stock broker. Covering them alerted me it was possible for regular folk to ascend to political office and become bedrock representatives. I wondered if I could do what they did. Anyway, it was a moot point as a journalist; the two endeavors couldn’t be intermixed.

It wasn’t until I transitioned into public relations eight years later that the light bulb came on. As community affairs director for a social services agency, I organized political forums for state candidates. Observing the forums, I thought that I could perform as well as many of the inexperienced, run-of-the-mill candidates. A seed was planted; the roots didn’t strengthen for another few years, until I was left blowing in the wind, unemployed and on the path to divorce.

Maybe I would have time to campaign while I looked for a job, I thought after bailing out of the Baltimore City classroom without a parachute. I didn’t know if it was a life raft to cling to or a bold dream to fulfill, or both. Meanwhile, I obtained a communications position at a health insurance giant—far from a dream job, but a consistent paycheck. Instead of waning, however, the idea of running for council fortified, even with that new lifeline.

I knew the Democratic county council member from my suburban Baltimore district had fallen out of favor. I gathered my courage and filed as a candidate to challenge him. Soon after, the incumbent announced he was resigning before completing his term – a sign from God? I thought. Maybe the idea wasn’t so quixotic after all. A county Democratic Committee would interview applicants and make an appointment to complete the term.

It was almost a great break—except that the one other officially registered candidate had run and lost against the departing councilman in the previous election and since had become a connected political insider. The insider with a track record was selected.

One and Done?

In that 2006 Democratic county council primary, I ran a bare-bones campaign against the newly appointed councilman with party backing. I lost, garnering 34 percent of the vote—respectable for a late-arriving political no-name who couldn’t check the prerequisite boxes as stepping stones. I had not “paid my dues” or built my political network.

I received compliments during the campaign from insiders about my potential and encouragement to stay involved and build upon my effort. I didn’t. Life intervened: an aggravating divorce, a new girlfriend, young kids, aging parents, a stressful job. I figured the newly elected council member would become entrenched, and he did, ultimately serving the maximum three terms. The desire didn’t burn intensely enough, and I faded from the political scene.

I was satisfied to have given electoral politics one shot in midlife, so I wouldn’t spend the rest of my life wondering whether I had the courage to run and what it would be like to put myself into the court of public opinion, to expose myself for all to judge and render a verdict. I had closed that chapter and had no plans to return. I’d sworn it off, closed the door—but left it unlocked. I was occasionally reminded by friends about my run and was asked if I was going to run again, as if I really was a dyed-in-the-wool politician. My answer was no…followed by the caveat that allowed for a sliver of possibility: But I never say never.

Seven years later, the perfect storm conspired to compel me to open the door again, when all three Maryland state delegates representing my district announced they were retiring from office, an unprecedented exodus leaving a gaping hole in a business where participants typically solidify their vise grip on power like the Jaws of Life tearing the roof off a car.

A Dream II Takes Shape (Excerpt from Don’t Knock, He’s Dead: a Longshot Candidate Gets Schooled in the Unseemly Underbelly of American Campaign Politics)

The momentum toward registering as an official candidate was growing in my own mind, yet I still hadn’t talked to anybody about my intentions…I knew the time had come for a Come-to-Jesus moment with my wife Amy.

“I’m thinking of running for state delegate,” I blurted over dinner, and braced for a catapult of mashed potatoes.

 “What? Are you serious? Where did that come from? When did you decide that?”

 “I’m just thinking about it, checking it out. I haven’t decided.”

 “When were you going to tell me?”

 “Tonight. I just did.”

 “I’ve supported you in a lot of things before, when you quit your teaching job and when you ran for council and when you went back to school. I don’t know if I can support this.”

My proposition had landed like a Biggest Loser contestant’s balance beam dismount.

“How will you have the time?” Amy asked. “You complain about not having enough time to do things you want to do now.”

“I’ll just use whatever time I have. Maybe it won’t be enough time, just some time.”

She had a good point, but I didn’t care about such logic or practicality. The idea had taken root, and it had grown hardy, and I couldn’t prevent its development. Like a cocaine addict, I knew I was too far gone to stop.

My council run in 2006 was an easier sell. Since our relationship was new, I had decided I was going to run for county council no matter Amy’s opinion, and Amy would have to adapt—or leave if she really didn’t like it. It was an early test of our relationship, whether we could support each other’s goals. Seven years later, it was harder to take such an uncompromising position since we were married. I didn’t feel I could be as cavalier—and maybe self-centered—anymore. There’s no ‘I’ in ‘Team’ mister, Amy would rib me cornily when I was all about me, which was often.

Still, I countered Amy’s reflexive dismay at the idea by expressing concern about being controlled and giving up dreams for my life. Amy and I were fundamentally different. She valued safety, security and predictability. I felt restless and stifled without risk, ambition, challenging goals and freedom.

 I Want The Real Life

At 50 years old, I wanted the freedom to live life my way, like Sinatra crooned, the freedom to make my own choices and to live with the consequences of success or failure. A midlife crisis? No. I didn’t give a crap about a red Porsche or Botox injections. But I did feel the clock ticking on the time I had to do meaningful things with my life. What was I going to wait around for? A heart attack? Dementia? Retirement? I don’t even play golf. I had the nagging sense, as John Cougar Mellencamp sang in The Real Life, that opportunities to grab the “gold ring”—hell, even bronze—would be continually dwindling:

My whole life
I’ve done what I’m supposed to do
Now I’d like to maybe do something for myself…

I guess it boils down to what we did with our lives
And how we deal with our own destinies
But something happens
When you reach a certain age
Particularly to those ones that are young at heart
It’s a lonely proposition when you realize
That’s there’s less days in front of the horse
Than riding in the back of this cart

YOLO

As I pondered launching a campaign, my sense of urgency about life heightened. A month after my 50th birthday at my daughter Rebecca’s high school graduation, the student commencement speakers referenced the new buzzword “YOLO” —You Only Live Once. They were right, of course, but what can a teenager realistically know about YOLO? It’s not until we’ve had dreams dashed, experienced bad luck and bad timing, suffered life’s tragedies, disappointments, cruelties and failures, come to terms with our own limitations, and battled against becoming stultified or buried in mediocrity and tedium that some of us truly embrace the YOLO creed. Much more than failure, I feared regret. I subscribed wholeheartedly to the saying that you will not regret the things you did; you will regret the things you didn’t do…

Courage

Some people told me about the courage it takes to run for public office. It might take a certain kind of courage to expose oneself to public scrutiny and judgement, step into the spotlight and put reputation and ego on the line. But I never thought of running for public office as something that requires real courage. To me, real courage defines people who put their lives on the line, military members who defend our country and liberate other people, or police officers, firefighters and other rescuers. Or teachers who face the toughest challenges in the roughest school districts. Or people who take a stand despite risks and public condemnation, whistleblowers and civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela and Harvey Milk. Or people who are unflappable and unstoppable in the face of abuse, tragedy, disease or disability.

A Hat over the Wall

112 - CopyFor me, entering a political race was more like throwing a hat over the wall. “Throwing a hat over the wall” was the metaphor used by President John Kennedy, referring to America’s determination to explore space and land a man on the moon. Kennedy appropriated the expression from Irish author Frank O’Connor, who wrote a parable about two adventurous boys who were halted in their journey by an imposing stone wall—until one threw his hat over the top, inspiring them both to scale the barrier to retrieve it. For me, it was crossing the line from consideration to commitment—throwing my hat over the wall…

I drove to a nondescript, red-brick State Board of Elections office in Annapolis, threw my hat through the third-floor window and, for a $50 fee, filed my official registration papers as a candidate…

A Big Agenda

I had told my 17-year-old daughter Rebecca, who had just started college, about my plans the day before registering. She was supportive. The same day I talked to my 15-year-old son and budding computer scientist Daniel about being my “Chief Technology Officer” —a cool title that wasn’t to be found on the state registration forms. Daniel already knew about my potential candidacy; he had helped me shoot a video promoting a single-payer health care system.

I knew I couldn’t rely on either of my teen-agers to be big-time volunteers, with one in college and each with big academic loads and teen social lives. More importantly, I hoped I could serve as a model for striving for something meaningful, accepting a challenge, and being bold in life—maybe even a little courageous. They had seen me run for county council as 10- and 8-year-olds and had enthusiastically passed out literature to voters on primary election day. Now they had more maturity and wisdom to understand what being a political candidate meant and what it entailed. Still, they were baffled by why I would want to do such a thing, viewing it as another one of dad’s quirky “adventures,” like when I pulled them on a sled through two feet of snow and over snow banks a mile-and-a-half to Blockbuster, or when I suggested going to a remote, mountainous West Texas national park for Christmas. Regardless their involvement and the outcome, I wanted them to know and remember that I had a dream and wasn’t afraid to pursue it, that I strived for a Big Agenda instead of settling for a Small Life even though success was a longshot.

 

 

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Book Signing Appearance at Bethany Beach Books for Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet

I will be appearing at Bethany Beach Books in Bethany Beach, DE at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, August 6, 2017 for an author book-signing event for my novel, Three Yards and a Plate of Mulletbased on my experiences as a rookie sportswriter in a small Florida city.

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Appearing August 2016 at Bethany Beach Books to promote political memoir based on my longshot run for political office

Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet, published by Sirenian Publishing, follows a season of a rookie sportswriter who rejects a big-city corporate slog to pursue his passion in a semi-backwater Florida town where high school football is king, the coaches are royalty, schools from opposite sides of the tracks vie for supremacy, and the old-boy network holds sway.  Amid an intense season of high school football, the sportswriter discovers the coach of the worshiped local football powerhouse and scion of a family dynasty may have masterminded a conspiracy to return his alma mater to statewide dominance, and redeem himself in the process. As the sportswriter covers rivalries and relentless pursuit of the ultimate prize, and digs deeper into the scandal, he seeks to unravel the truth that could bring the beloved football program down – that is, if he doesn’t get run out of town first.

Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet is a humorous romp through 1980s Florida, a cross between Friday Night Lights and The Hangover, featuring eccentric characters and uproarious buddy adventures against the Florida backdrop, part Paradise, part Schlock.

I made an appearance in 2016 at the same bookstore, a block from the Bethany Beach boardwalk, to promote my political memoir based on my run for Maryland state delegate, Don’t Knock, He’s Dead: A Longshot Candidate Gets Schooled in the Unseemly Underbelly of American Campaign PoliticsIf you are anywhere in the DelMarVa Coast area on August 6, drop by and say hello!

Click here for the bookstore’s event promo.

Farewell Greatest Manatee Who Ever Was

It’s a sad day in Gulf Coast Florida and for manatee lovers throughout the world. A day after a birthday party celebrating his 69th birthday, Snooty the Manatee, the oldest manatee in captivity, was found dead under suspicious circumstances at the South SnootyTheManateeFlorida Museum’s Manatee Aquarium in Bradenton, Florida. Snooty the Manatee, the lovable sea cow, had been entertaining and socializing with audiences since calling the museum tank his home in 1949.

I met Snooty when I worked in Bradenton as a sportswriter in the mid-1980s. During our visit to his tank, Snooty took an immediate attraction to my friend, most likely because of my friend’s large 6-foot-6 1/2 frame, propelling himself out of the water to nuzzle.

Snooty was immortalized in my book, Three Yards and a Plate of Mulletbased on my experiences as a rookie sportswriter in a football-crazed small Florida town. Patterned after Snooty, Sneekey the Manatee develops an instant mutual kinship with a basketball player/teacher, the roommate of the sportswriter.

Now that Snooty has moved on to the Great Manatee Tank in Sea Heaven, I am glad that my book includes an ode to The Most Famous Manatee There Ever Was, who brought awe and delight to millions of visitors.

Manatees have faced harm from humans and boaters and near-extinction for many years. But the prehistoric, shallow water floaters are making a comeback, thanks partly to the work of the Save the Manatee Club. Consider supporting this organization.

Here is my tribute to Snooty, from a chapter in Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet:

Sneekey the Manatee

We had heard so much about the manatee – there’s even a county on Florida’s Gulf Coast named after the lovable, docile sea cow, also known as floating speed bumps by callous motor boaters who carve them up and threaten to drive them into extinction – we decided to visit one at the Drabenville Sloane Marine Aquarium.  We approached the admission window and saw the marquis announcing $15 for general admission and $20 including the 15-minute film, “Manatee: Peaceful Giant of the Shallow.” As I reached for my wallet, I heard an unusual sound behind me.

“BU-BU-BU-bu-bu-bu-bb-bb-b-b…”

“What the hell is that?”

Again: “BU-BU-BU-bu-bu-bu-bb-bb-b-b…”

“Shlomo, is that you? What’s that noise?”

“That’s the radioactive bagel.”

“The what?”

“You know, the Jew-dar.”

“Judo? You’re practicing karate?”

“No. Don’t you know? Jewish Radar. The Hebe-horn.”

“I don’t get it.”

“Whenever I’m about to pay too much, I start to sweat and the bagel goes off in my head. You know, BU-BU-BU-bu-bu-bu-bb-bb-b-b… It’s automatic. It’s a common Jewish affliction but it’s also helped us survive and prosper, you know, control all the banks and media and Hollywood.”

Shlomo motioned me to step out of line before I forked over a couple hours’ worth of paycheck. “Let’s go around to the side. I saw a door to the theatre there. You got to go through the side to get in free,” he said as he excused himself from the line and loped toward the theatre.

The manatee film was finishing its 15-minute loop and several Aquarium patrons left via the exterior door. Shlomo dutifully held the door open for the departing patrons and wished them “good day” as if he were the doorman at an exclusive New York Park Avenue apartment. “Follow my lead,” he said. As the last patron left, he casually entered with Dieter and me trailing, and continued loping along, feigning all-encompassing interest in anything that caught his eye – an Aquarium guide he found on a seat, a photo on the wall, a velvet rope – any distraction that would make him seemingly oblivious to anything else around him.

I followed Shlomo’s lead by meticulously inspecting a seat cushion, as if investigating for DNA. Eventually a Sloane employee cleaning and preparing the theatre for the next showing addressed the elephant in the room: “Can I help you?”

Shlomo continued intensely reading the educational display on the wall about the manatee’s diet and gestation cycle, completely enraptured.

“Can – I – help – you?” the usher asked again, this time in the loud, slow, meticulously enunciated cadence typically used with 80-year-old tourists. The usher approached Shlomo. Just as she did, Shlomo loped obliviously toward a statue of a giant loggerhead turtle on the opposite side of the theatre.

Visibly frustrated, and probably paid $6 an hour with no financial incentive to enforce any rules, the usher gave up chasing the rogue giraffe, finished her duties, and left the theatre, not even bothering to question me and Dieter, still curiously examining the architecture of the theatre seats, and with our more human-like size, much less conspicuous than the Sasquatch.

We hunkered down in our seats as paying customers began filing in the proper entry door and handing tickets to the usher. After the film, we sauntered into the main exhibit hall, right by the elderly security guy working a cushy retirement job, alongside the suckers who paid full price. Shlomo’s side-door, intensely-curious-demeanor ruse worked.

“I like to do things for free,” Shlomo repeated as we visited each exhibit room and aquarium tank.

We came to Sneekey the Manatee’s tank, a sad and dirty circular blue pool, like the oversized bathtubs that people who can’t afford in-ground swimming pools put in their backyards and euphemistically call an “above-ground pool.” Sneekey was 1,200 pounds and 40 years old and had lived most of his life in the oversized bathtub at Sloane Marine, so was used to people watching him, but apparently had encountered few as enormous and affectionate as Shlomo.

“Oh, Sneekey, you’re so beautiful. You’re so large and gray and gorgeous. I love you, Sneekey,” Shlomo kept repeating in his best bedroom voice. It seemed to have an effect on Sneekey, who elevated himself above the water to the top of the tank to get closer to Shlomo to…see?…smell?…hear? Who knows, but to get a better sense of a fellow gargantuan mammal speaking the language of love.

I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t actually see it, but it was clear that Sneekey was returning Shlomo’s affection by nuzzling up to him and coming out of the water to visit Shlomo frequently while ignoring the loud and obnoxious kids screaming for his attention. “Oh, Sneekey, blow me some lovin’ out of your pretty blowholes, you big boy, you. I’ve missed you so much!” Shlomo prattled on to Sneekey’s growing delight.

This love-at-first-sight encounter lasted 30 minutes until Dieter and I pried Shlomo away from the tank.

“I have to go but I will return. We will see each other again Sneekey, I love you, don’t forget that,” Shlomo bid, a scene as maudlin as Rhett Butler leaving Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind.” Before we left Sloane, Cheap Bagelman Shlomo plunked down a $195 check for a lifetime membership in the Save the Manatee Club.

Intersection of Beginning and Ending

For the second straight day, I couldn’t get my mother on the phone and got no reply to my messages. The last time I called from work and left a message, I got a sick feeling. I knew something was wrong.

I called my wife Amy and told her to meet me at my mother’s apartment building, where we had struggled to move her a year earlier during a period of my mother’s physical health decline and struggle with a mental health disorder. At midlife, roles had reversed and we had become my mother’s caretakers and support system.

When we got no response to our knock on the door, dread came over me. We entered and found her dead on the bathroom floor, cause of death unknown. Though she had been experiencing health problems, they were more the nagging kind than life-threatening—until they were even more than that, suddenly.

It was a tragic start to a political campaign. Only five days earlier, I had registered in dontknockfront-cover_6283732Maryland’s capital of Annapolis as a Democratic candidate for state delegate. I had never told my mother I was considering running—our relationship had been strained during her time of unpredictable and volatile mental health, exacerbated by her stubborn nature and rebellious streak. I didn’t want to mention a political run until I was fully committed to entering the race and felt she was on firmer ground. I had planned to let her know I was in the race the next time I saw her. I never got that opportunity. I felt terrible I had never shared the news.

The profile story on my candidacy in the Baltimore Sun with an October 8, 2013 dateline coincidentally hit the newsstands the same day that Amy and I found my mother dead. That day, I was going to proudly present the article to my mother, my biggest supporter, as I broke the news to her about my candidacy.

I wrote about my mother’s political influence on me and the impact of her death on my nascent campaign in Don’t Knock, He’s Dead: A Longshot Candidate Gets Schooled in the Unseemly Underbelly of American Campaign Politics:

I credit my mother Sandra Sachs, a diehard liberal Democrat from Boston who had a fascination with the Massachusetts Kennedy clan, a devotion to other charismatic pols and a penchant for volunteering for campaigns, for getting me interested in politics…

The Sun article provided me a nice opening salvo. Now I just had to back it up with real action. That is, as soon as I could plan a memorial service for my mother, meet and make plans with funeral directors, coordinate with out-of-town family, untangle her financial affairs, launch the bureaucratic estate settlement process with the Register of Wills, negotiate with her landlord, make repairs to her apartment, sell her furniture on Craigslist, and move all her other belongings out of her apartment within three weeks. Not the ideal way or frame of mind to launch a campaign.

So the first month of my campaign was put virtually on hold while I dealt with my mother’s affairs and coped with the sudden loss emotionally. In a spiritual way, I felt Sandra Sachs with me during the campaign, watching over me as I traveled door-to-door and marched with people who were struggling day-to-day. It occurred to me that maybe it was fate that I was running at all. It was my mother who loved politics and took pride in identifying herself as a Democrat, the party of inclusion and champion of the vulnerable, with her roots as the daughter of Eastern European immigrants who settled in the gritty outskirts of Boston and who lived a hardscrabble, working-class life. She would have been proud, I thought, looking down. No one from my family had ever run for political office before. The Kennedys we were not.

My mother’s keen interest in politics landed her on Capitol Hill as a staffer for U.S. Senators Bill Bradley (D-NJ), who ran for president in 2000, and Daniel Moynihan (D-NY), no small feat for a woman who spent her initial post-college years in the 1960s into the 1970s raising kids, and then battled back from debilitating depression to gain a foothold in the workforce.

At one candidates’ forum in particular, at a large residential retirement community outside of Baltimore, I felt my mother’s presence with me. I eschewed my usual stump speech in favor of an effort to connect with the seniors on an emotional and personal level, as excerpted from Don’t Knock, He’s Dead:

“I have a good idea of the issues you have faced and your current challenges,” I told the Charlestown [Retirement Community] residents, “but not because I read it or heard a policy wonk or a politician talk about them. I know from personal experience, from trying to help my mother with problems the last couple of years of her life before she died, when her health was going downhill.”

I told them about my mother’s challenges with downsizing and finding appropriate housing; exploring assisted living facilities; searching for viable transportation when she couldn’t drive; navigating a poorly coordinated, frustrating health care system; determining finances; and finding social outlets.

I wasn’t aiming for sympathy, but nevertheless several of the attendees and my fellow candidates offered me condolences and said my speech was heartfelt afterwards. Once again, I didn’t know if my speech had earned me any votes, but I was proud that it was memorable.

Nearly four years later, following a dinner celebrating my daughter Rebecca’s graduation May 20, 2017 from the University of Maryland, Rebecca told me she was sad that Nana – my mother – wasn’t there to celebrate with us. Another prideful campaign sadly missed. Whenever Maryland plays the University of Michigan, often now that Maryland is in Michigan’s athletic conference, Rebecca said she’ll think of her grandmother, who took great pride in transcending her poor, neurotic family in working class Malden, Massachusetts to arrive at a beacon of rah-rah American collegiate life in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and who ingrained the “Go Blue!” Michigan chant in her grandkids.

And I’ll always think of my mother when I recall my run for politics, one of her other great loves.

 

‘The Time of Your Life: Don’t Waste it in Your Parents’ Basement’

It’s one thing to write a novel. It’s wholly another to market, promote, publicize and sell the work, something known as “establishing a platform.” Doing interviews with book high-resolution-front-cover-5243558bloggers is one way to get the word out. Here is an excerpt of my interview on my debut novel, Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet, with Fiona McVie, who writes the Authors Interviews blog and has interviewed more than 3,000 authors:

Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?

It was a lifelong challenge and dream to write a book, and I spent many years putting it off or not thinking about it at all. More recently, there came a point where I knew if I did not start writing a book, I never would. Then I got more serious about determining a topic that I would write about and working out a plot. In the end, I was inspired by events and the era in my life when I worked as a sportswriter in Florida, which was a new adventure for me, and all the people I met there and things I did as a young adult.

Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?

I don’t think so. But in Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet, I strived to be conversational and humorous and light-hearted and have compelling dialog, and pushed the boundaries a little on crudeness and offensiveness. I tried to be very descriptive and detail-oriented. Many of the characters have quirks and particular physical characteristics.

Fiona: How did you come up with the title?

It came up organically. It just kind of came to me after playing with some words and themes. Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet is a play on the football saying, “Three yards and a cloud of dust,” which describes a team that is very physical and grinds down the opponent by giving the ball to a bruising running back who plows into a pile of bodies and falls forward three yards, creating a cloud of dust. It originally described the Ohio State football teams under Coach Woody Hayes. The “Mullet” is a reference to a popular and plentiful fish that is eaten at fish fries in Florida. Mullet also has a double meaning as the popular hairstyle – short in front, long in back – in the 1980s, the era in which the book is set. A coach of the dominant high school football team in the small town where the sportswriter works uses the phrase as a catch-phrase meaning that his team will roll over its opponent and then go out to celebrate at a big fish fry in town.

Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Yes, young adulthood is a time of adventure and new experiences and new friends, and “living it up” as much as you can. You are going to look back on that time of your life with nostalgia and hopefully have great memories and feel that it really was the time of your life! Don’t waste it in your parents’ basement. Take some chances. Pursue your dreams.

Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

Not yet. I know there are a few parts in the book that go up to the edge or maybe a little over, as far as sexual escapades and hookups and male dialog about their adventures with women. However, this book is written from the perspective of a 22-year-old male. Let’s be realistic. Men in their early 20s can be pretty crude in the way they talk with and interact with women! I’m sure if women heard some stuff men say, they would find it offensive – at least some women. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take place.

Read the full interview here.

No Lifeline for an Obamacare Replacement

pic_0114New Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said if congressional Republicans, in conjunction with President-elect Donald Trump’s exhortations, vote to repeal Obamacare, Democrats won’t participate in crafting a so-called “replacement.”

“If they repeal without a replacement, they will own it,” Schumer told The Washington Post. “Democrats will not then step up to the plate and come up with a half-baked solution that we will partially own. It’s all theirs.”

I agree wholeheartedly with Schumer’s approach and urge Democrats to stick to that plan, instead of capitulating to the Republicans and trying to modify or soften whatever plan the GOP hatches once health care coverage is thrown into uncertainty, or worse, chaos, and millions potentially suffer.

To do so would be akin to the Democrats turning over ownership of a marginally inhabitable building to the Republicans, who level it with a wrecking ball and wander aimlessly through the rubble, only to have the Democrats return with hard hats and shovels and mortar to salvage the wreckage, with the promise, “We’ll help you rebuild from these ruins, but we gotta warn ya, dollars to donuts, this salvage job will be condemned.”

As I advised Democrats previously, Do The Opposite, like Seinfeld’s George Costanza. The GOP will expect Democrats to come running to save the day for people who may be losers in the Obamacare tug-of-war. Then they will become complicit in whatever is enacted. Then they can be blamed for screwing up whatever plan Republicans wanted to enact in the first place, which of course will be the reason said GOP plan isn’t working as effectively as touted. Don’t do it. Let the GOP plan ride; measure the results.

I argued in my political memoir detailing my campaign for Maryland state political office, Don’t Knock, He’s Dead: A Longshot Candidate Gets Schooled in the Unseemly Underbelly of American Campaign Politics, that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is largely a piece of legislative manure that leaves the foxes – the health insurance industry – guarding the henhouse, but that it’s certainly an improvement and does a number of good things for people who need health insurance.

“Obamacare is a Rubik’s Cube—lots of turning, spinning, head-scratching, reverses, glitches, bad moves and confusion,” I wrote in Don’t Knock, He’s Dead. “Historic and groundbreaking yet torturously overwrought, the law certainly does some good, but adds yet another layer of preposterous bureaucracy and complexity and supposed ‘consumer choice,’ which really is massive consumer overload and confusion, onto a preexisting byzantine miscreation, and will become another cement-hardened convention impossible to undo.”

My campaign for Maryland state delegate in 2014 was largely based on advocating for accessible, affordable health care for all – universal health care, single-payer health care, Medicare for All – whatever you want to label it. My call was for a nonprofit system that covered everyone, regardless of employment status or personal wealth, one that constituted a right rather than a privilege, and that reduced or eliminated the corporate profit motive. It was for a more humane system that would put Maryland – and ideally, ultimately, the rest of the nation – in line with other democratic, industrialized nations that provide all their citizens essential health care at about half the cost or less per person than the U.S., and achieve better health outcomes on many common measures.

Numerous grassroots and health care organizations continue advocating for such a system, and several state legislatures have made attempts to establish one. But entrenched, opposing, big-money interests are strong – hence, Obamacare was the best we could get.

Wendell Potter, a health insurance public relations executive turned industry critic, nailed the dynamic in his insider tell-all book Deadly Spin, as I quoted in Don’t Knock, He’s Dead. “The health insurance industry is dominated by a cartel of large, for-profit corporations…[T]he top priority…is to ‘enhance shareholder value.’ When that’s your top priority, you are motivated more by the obligation to meet Wall Street’s relentless profit expectations than by the obligation to meet the medical needs of your policyholders.”

I still believe a single-payer system is the only real, equitable, sustainable solution to the ongoing health care mess. Perhaps a failed “replacement plan” full of tired old ideas like Medical Savings Accounts and insurance sold across state lines and free market competition that can be laid squarely at the feet of Republicans could stoke a revival of a single-payer revolution.

Of course, that will bring out the critics and naysayers who will charge that single-payer is an un-American, “socialist” system, an asinine argument. What is Medicare? What is Medicaid? What is Social Security? Socialistic! For that matter, what are our police forces and fire departments and public schools and state universities? Socialistic! We all contribute toward them because these systems and institutions are deemed to be beneficial to society collectively. American rugged individualism is a great concept. But in some aspects, like outstanding health care and the overall health of our citizenry, we are all in this together, and will be stronger as a nation for that.

So, as Schumer said, no lifeline. There could be regression and pain in the short-term, but maybe it could turn the tide for the long-term.

Video: A Sportswriter’s Irreverent Romp through 1980s Florida High School Football

football-wl-omhs-009My post-college career began with the most entertaining job I have ever had to this day: sportswriter for a Florida newspaper in a small town, where high school football occupied major real estate on the sports pages, unlike many newspapers where the “preps” reporter would hang on the bottom rung. Football rivalries were heated, coaches were revered and fans were passionate. And Florida was, well…Florida: gorgeous and schlocky; honky-tonk and moneyed; citified and deep-fried; primitive and over-developed; bonkers over high school football; and hot as a sweat lodge.

Decades later, a novel came from my experience: Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet. This video about the Florida Football Sportswriter’s Novel will tell you more and give you a taste of the sportswriter life. It stars the author himself, in a half-assed imitation of a quarterback.

More description of the novel is below. Give it a glance on Amazon: www.amazon.com/author/adamsachs

THREE YARDS AND A PLATE OF MULLET

If you’re a football fanatic, then you’ve probably heard the term “three yards and a cloud of dust.” Well, in Drabenville, Florida, they do things a little differently.   Twenty-two-year-old Jake Yankelovich is learning that the hard way.

On the precipice of a soul-crushing slog into the corporate world, he decides to become a sportswriter—and he has to start somewhere…

As he covers an intense season of high school football, Jake is blown away by the passion everyone has for the sport. But as the new guy in an alien, insular town, he’s also running up against the old-boy network. That’s making it difficult for him to get answers about murky financial dealings and a dubious school redistricting decision that just so happens to have brought some of the best players in the state to perennial powerhouse Dolphin High, which had fallen from dominance.

Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet, a flashback to 1980s Florida, unites the worlds of high-stakes high school football with newsroom drama and hijinks, and eccentric characters, as it follows Jake working to make it in the business while finding his way around a peculiar culture.