The Local Voter’s Pamphlet Documents Our Descent into Lunacy

Look, I know how crazy our national political scene is. Sara and I joke that the NPR News Summary we listen to every night should be renamed “Crazy shit Trump did today.” (We try prompting our Google Home with this cue once a week and it never works, but it makes us happy.)

But I think I told myself that it wasn’t so bad locally, at least over here in Western Washington. Yeah, I knew we had our share of loonies, but they generally did their thing east of the mountains. Read the recent The New Yorker piece about the sheriff of Klickitat County or check out the podcast Bundyville by Leah Sottile, which touches on Republican state representative Matt Shea’s dark appeal, if you wonder what I’m talking about.

I truly understood just how deranged it had all become, though, when I sat down to read the Snohomish County Local Voter’s Pamphlet in preparation for casting my primary vote. Now, I was used to local characters like Mike the Mover and Goodspaceguy, who ran for some office nearly every year to promote their cause. Their’s is a lighthearted kind of lunacy, akin to that of the Congressional District 1 candidate whose voter statement was a poem: “In 2016, I ran on my plan called Real Deal, We were facing so any problems it would make a nun steal. Since that time, Congress has stabbed us in our backs, Making a bonanza for dirty lawyers and their political hacks.” It goes on.

But this year, it was clear that “pandemic derangement syndrome,” coupled with the ongoing chaos coming out of the Oval Office, had inspired a different class of nutcase. There were a number of candidates who claimed “Trump Republican Party” as their affiliation, somehow different from the mainstream Republican Party. “Elect me,” promised one such candidate (I’ll pass on promoting the names of these folks, but you can find them easily), “I will drop everything, go to D.C., and support every legislative action that helps Trump succeed, so we all prosper again.” Another candidate tips his hat to a QAnon hot button with the claim that “WWG1WGA, so, I can’t lose. We will change it from the tippy top.”

But derangement was distributed well beyond the Trump Republican Party. It also infected a gubernatorial candidate who claimed the Fifth Republic Party and vows “Israel is the enemy”; a Democrat Party candidate who wants to “redefine ‘race’ based on hair color”; and–by far my favorite–the candidate from the StandupAmerica Party whose platform consists almost entirely of the repeated phrase: “Stop Seattle / King Fascism with idiotic face!”

There are some candidates who are rational and experienced, with a track record of making decisions based on what is best for their communities. I’m voting for them.

Caribunkle Is a Made-Up Word

“Caribunkle!” called Alex from down the steeply sloping snow.

“What?!” Asked Nick.

“Caribunkle!! Throw me a caribunkle,” called Alex.

“Alex, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” cried Nick. He looked at me and John and we stared back blankly.

“I need a caribunkle, I’m out of caribunkles!,” Alex’s voice rose in frustration.

And then it hit us—he wanted another carabiner. “Oh for fuck’s sake Alex, it’s a carabiner,” I yelled down. We didn’t know if he’d forgotten the word or if we’d just misinterpreted his thick Glaswegian accent, but we sent him down a carabiner.

Heading up Rainier

Ever since that day in the spring of 2007, we’ve called ourselves the Caribunkle Boys. We were training for a summit attempt on Mt. Rainier, so we hung out a lot. We were prone to call out “Caribunkle” when we had gotten spread out on the trail, or when one guy on the rope line needed a break. Sometimes we’d just call it out because something was fucking absurd. We never just spoke the word, nor did we use it in a sentence. It was always a call—“Caribunkle!”—with a faint Scottish accent. It knit us together.

I’ve known Alex for twenty years now, and for the first 15 minutes of seeing him, I don’t know what the hell he’s saying. On the phone? Forget it. It’s usually he wants to go for a hike or to get together for a beer. We figure it out. Once I’ve been around him a bit I warm up to him and know just what he’s saying.

Every now and then he gets exasperated with us, and he puts on what he considers to be a John Wayne accent and talks real slow: “Well boys, let me tell you …”

It’s good to have friends like these. We’ve raised our kids together, summited some peaks and turned back on others. We’ve enjoyed each other’s company in 2-man tents amid too-friendly goats and over beers at Fred’s, Trail’s End, Josh’s … where-ever it’s quiet enough for us to hear each other.

So what’s caribunkle mean? Well, I guess it literally means carabiner … but let’s not let that hold us back.

Suck It Up

How I learned that my kids actually were listening to my very best parenting advice.

My daughter Louisa had taken up podcasts and we found that we both liked The Moth, so when I saw them doing a live event down at the Fremont Abbey, I grabbed us a pair of tickets. I can’t find the exact date, but my dead reckoning–my triangulation puts it between the end of high school and the last years of college–puts in somewhere in the summer of 2013 or 2014. No matter.

To start the show, the hosts passed out note cards and asked everybody to write down something they remembered about parenting advice that they had been given–that would be the theme for the night. I recall that nothing struck me as very relevant. I’d put money on me thinking about the lack of parenting advice I’d ever gotten, which I often complained could be summed up in the phrase “when you pour, pour.” But I didn’t want to expose that to public scrutiny.

Not Louisa. She leaned over: “Dad, look what I wrote,” and passed me her note card. “My dad’s parenting philosophy,” she wrote, “can be expressed in three words: Suck It Up.”

This was not something we had really discussed before, not a family joke that we all made. She just came up with it on the spot … and dammit, she was dead right.

From pretty much the moment Sara and I started talking about having kids, we were in solid agreement on one thing: our goal was to raise independent adults. We wanted kids who were capable, self-sufficient, and able to figure out how to do stuff on their own. So we always tried to create the conditions that would allow the kids to solve their own problems.

I won’t get into a long, moralizing ramble about parenting–that would run counter to the “philosophy” Lou had nailed me on. But how about a few examples?

Don’t want to swallow a pill? Chew it and see if you like that better.

The hike is too long? Just do three more switchbacks and let’s see how it feels.

Your friends get to stay out later than you? So what: they have different parents and different rules.

Why do I have to get all As? Because we know you’re capable and why would you want to do less than your best work?

It comes down to this: The world doesn’t owe you anything. The only thing you control is your actions and your reactions. So suck it up.

Yup, she nailed me.