Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Letter to Editor

The Minnesota House and Senate should submit a resolution to impeach President Bush and Vice President Cheney for their crimes and misdemeanors against the constitution and citizens of the United States. Impeachment is not a far-fetched or radical process. It is the beginning of an inquiry into the allegations of wrong-doing of a public official.

US House members will not risk the presidency by pushing this issue, so it is up to the states to do so, and it would take only one.

If a state legislature presents a resolution to the US House, they have to investigate the allegations with impeachment hearings. Our state representatives promised to defend the constitution from enemies foreign and domestic. The Bush-Cheney White House is a far greater threat to our democracy than terrorism, and their devastating legacy is widespread and deeply felt by Minnesotans, most recently, by supression of state consumer protections during this sub-prime maelstrom. For Minnesota alone the cost of the Iraq war is over $12 billion and climbing by the second, in addition to the effects the war has had (and will continue to have indefinitely) on Minnesota soldiers and their families, livelihoods and emotional well-being. Minnesota has the responsibility to act to bring the president and his corrupt administration to justice. What our "leaders" are doing is not for love of country or democracy but for power and money.

It is not enough to let the clock run out on the reign of the Bush administration. When they leave office all evidence of their abuses will go with them, as will the political will to hold them accountable. Besides, they have all gotten so rich on taxpayer dollars they will be able to repel the most vigorous lawsuits against them. What's more, precedence will bequeath similar powers to subsequent presidents, regardless of ideology.

Thomas Jefferson had the foresight to provide states with this option to redress the abuse of power by the federal government. Let's use it.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Impeachment news update

This didn't make headlines in the major news outlets, but it's news nonetheless: John Conyers has promised to pursue impeachment after the election -- or sooner if Bush tries to invade or attack Iran. I'm not exactly satisfied with that pledge, but it's a step in the right direction (or left direction, as the case may be). His reasoning for holding back until then is that it would make impeachment the central theme of the election, potentially jack-knifing Obama's campaign.

"Dear friends, this [impeachment] is a decision I am struggling with, and I want to share it here. Do I want to jeopardize the election by taking up this issue?" Conyers asked. "The problem is, this could become the issue of the 2008 election. This brilliant, talented Senator (Obama), who has more delegates and more votes than anybody else, could get derailed."

I don't agree, but there you have it. It could certainly derail Clinton, since she was in on the security briefings and probably knows the case for war was a sham. But Obama would not be implicated. No, I believe the Democratic congress would get some respect for finally doing the right thing despite what they perceive as a politically risky move.

Impeach for Peace

I attended an Impeach for Peace rally at the state capitol on Monday. It wasn't well-advertised -- in fact the only way I knew about it was from the impeachforpeace.org website -- and the turnout reflected that. We were a rag-tag bunch of 20 or so. To some appearances, a bunch of weirdos and outcasts, I'm sure. But there we were, bundled against the cold wind jetting up the capitol steps, holding our signs and trying to kick up a ruckus that would be worthy of our outrage at the abuses and crimes against the constitution by the Bush administration and the lack of accountability with which they are being held.

The event was part of the effort to escalate impeachment pressure, this time on state and city representatives.

Impeach for Peace researched a method for impeaching the President or Vice President using a little known and rarely used part of the Rules of the U.S. House of Representatives ("Jefferson's Manual"). This document actually empowers individual states to initiate the impeachment process. All that's required is that the MN House and Senate pass an impeachment resolution.

I wasn't able to speak to my rep that day -- she was introducing a bill of her own at the time we got to her office -- but I made an appointment. Meanwhile, I'm getting my presentation in order. Keith Ellison submitted one several years ago, I'm told, when he was in the Minnesota congress. They may have gotten this resolution from that:

Resolution to Impeach President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney

WHEREAS, George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney conspired with others to defraud the United States of America by intentionally misleading Congress and the public regarding the threat from Iraq in order to justify a war in violation of Title 18 United States Code, Section 371; and

WHEREAS, George W. Bush has admitted to ordering the National Security Agency to conduct electronic surveillance of American civilians without seeking warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, duly constituted by Congress in 1978, in violation of Title 50 United States Code, Section 1805; and

WHEREAS, George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney conspired to commit the torture of prisoners in violation of the "Federal Torture Act" Title 18 United States Code, Section 113C, the UN Torture Convention and the Geneva Convention, which under Article VI of the Constitution are part of the "supreme Law of the Land"; and

WHEREAS, George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney acted to strip American citizens of their constitutional rights by ordering indefinite detention without access to legal counsel, without charge and without the opportunity to appear before a civil judicial officer to challenge the detention, based solely on the discretionary designation by the President of a U.S. citizen as an "enemy combatant", all in subversion of law; and

WHEREAS, In all of this George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney have acted in a manner contrary to their trust as President and Vice President, subversive of constitutional government to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice, and to the manifest injury of the people of _____insert_your_City/Town/State______ and of the United States of America; and

WHEREAS, Petitions from the country at large may be presented by the Speaker of the House according to Clause 3 of House Rule XII; and

WHEREAS, Jefferson's Manual section LIII, 603, states that impeachment may be set in motion by charges transmitted from the legislature of a State;

Be it resolved that George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney, by such conduct, warrant impeachment and trial, and removal from office and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States;

Be it resolved further by the legislature of the State of _________, That our senators and representatives in the United States Congress be, and they are hereby, requested to cause to be instituted in the Congress of the United States proper proceedings for the investigation of the activities of the George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney, to the end that they may be impeached and removed from such office.

Be it resolved further, That the Secretary of State of the State of ________ be, and is hereby, instructed to certify to each Senator and Representative in the Congress of the United States, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, under the great seal of the State of _____________, a copy of this resolution and its adoption by the legislature of the State of _____________. The copies shall be marked with the word "Petition" at the top of the document and contain the original authorizing signature of the Secretary of State.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Did you hear about how Iraqi insurgents are selling their looted antiquities -- the treasure US soldiers failed to secure and protect five years ago when they went into Baghdad -- to buy weapons of mass destruction to kill US soldiers?

Marine Reserve Col. Matthew Bogdanos, who led the military probe into the looting at Baghdad's National Museum after the fall of Saddam Hussein, claimed both Sunni insurgents such as al-Qaida in Iraq and Shiite militias are taking funding from the trafficking in antiquities.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, captains of industry have joined the welfare class this society claims to hold in contempt. The feds have begun a bail-out of the financial industry after their deregulated markets neglected to protect them (or us) from their perversely avaricious assault on the middle class. They fought for government deregulation of their transactions but now require rescue from that same government, ala S&L debacle of the '80s. That from cherished conservative icon Ronald Reagan. E.J. Dione, writing in yesterday's Washington Post, echoes my sentiments:

Never do I want to hear again from my conservative friends about how brilliant capitalists are, how much they deserve their seven-figure salaries and how government should keep its hands off the private economy.

And from The Nation editor, Robert Scheer, "Idiot's Grin:"

They will take care of their own, which is why Bush was smiling, happily posed in that photo op between Henry Paulson Jr. and Ben Bernanke announcing the Bear Stearns bailout, made possible only by the federal government using your tax dollars to pick up the bad debt of the banks. Tape that picture to your wall to remind you, when you open a credit card bill with a 30 percent interest rate--not the 2 percent the Fed will charge banks--or see the increase in your adjustable rate mortgage, of just what your government will do for the really big guys that it will never do for regular folks.

None of these greedy tycoons can claim to love their country while raping and pillaging it and leaving it bruised and bloodied. How does that feel, by the way?

It should make your blood boil to know that BushCo has hindered states' efforts to protect consumers against the subprime meltdown. According to investigative reporter Greg Palast, Eliot Spitzer, on the fateful night in Washington when he got caught making an appointment with a call girl, was on the verge of blowing that story wide open:

Here’s what happened. Since the Bush regime came to power, a new species of loan became the norm, the ‘sub-prime’ mortgage and it’s variants including loans with teeny “introductory” interest rates. From out of nowhere, a company called ‘Countrywide’ became America’s top mortgage lender, accounting for one in five home loans, a large chuck of these ‘sub-prime.’

Here’s how it worked: The Grinning Family, with US average household income, gets a $200,000 mortgage at 4% for two years. Their $955 a month payment is 25% of their income. No problem. Their banker promises them a new mortgage, again at the cheap rate, in two years. But in two years, the promise ain’t worth a can of spam and the Grinnings are told to scram - because their house is now worth less than the mortgage. Now, the mortgage hits 9% or $1,609 plus fees to recover the “discount” they had for two years. Suddenly, payments equal 42% to 50% of pre-tax income. Grinnings move into their Toyota.

Now, what kind of American is ‘sub-prime.’ Guess. No peeking. Here’s a hint: 73% of HIGH INCOME Black and Hispanic borrowers were given sub-prime loans versus 17% of similar-income Whites. Dark-skinned borrowers aren’t stupid – they had no choice. They were ‘steered’ as it’s called in the mortgage sharking business.

‘Steering,’ sub-prime loans with usurious kickers, fake inducements to over-borrow, called ‘fraudulent conveyance’ or ‘predatory lending’ under US law, were almost completely forbidden in the olden days (Clinton Administration and earlier) by federal regulators and state laws as nothing more than fancy loan-sharking.

But when the Bush regime took over, Countrywide and its banking brethren were told to party hardy – it was OK now to steer’m, fake’m, charge’m and take’m.

But there was this annoying party-pooper. The Attorney General of New York, Eliot Spitzer, who sued these guys to a fare-thee-well. Or tried to.

Instead of regulating the banks that had run amok, Bush’s regulators went on the warpath against Spitzer and states attempting to stop predatory practices. Making an unprecedented use of the legal power of “federal pre-emption,” Bush-bots ordered the states to NOT enforce their consumer protection laws. Indeed, the feds actually filed a lawsuit to block Spitzer’s investigation of ugly racial mortgage steering. Bush’s banking buddies were especially steamed that Spitzer hammered bank practices across the nation using New York State laws.

Spitzer not only took on Countrywide, he took on their predatory enablers in the investment banking community. Behind Countrywide was the Mother Shark, its funder and now owner, Bank of America. Others joined the sharkfest: Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and Citigroup’s Citibank made mortgage usury their major profit centers. They did this through a bit of financial legerdemain called “securitization.”

What that means is that they took a bunch of junk mortgages, like the Grinnings, loans about to go down the toilet and re-packaged them into “tranches” of bonds which were stamped “AAA” - top grade - by bond rating agencies. These gold-painted turds were sold as sparkling safe investments to US school district pension funds and town governments in Finland (really).When the housing bubble burst and the paint flaked off, investors were left with the poop and the bankers were left with bonuses. Countrywide’s top man, Angelo Mozilo, will ‘earn’ a $77 million buy-out bonus this year on top of the $656 million - over half a billion dollars – he pulled in from 1998 through 2007.

But there were rumblings that the party would soon be over. Angry regulators, burned investors and the weight of millions of homes about to be boarded up were causing the sharks to sink. Countrywide’s stock was down 50%, and Citigroup was off 38%, not pleasing to the Gulf sheiks who now control its biggest share blocks.

Then, on Wednesday of this week, the unthinkable happened. Carlyle Capital went bankrupt. Who? That’s Carlyle as in Carlyle Group. James Baker, Senior Counsel. Notable partners, former and past: George Bush, the Bin Laden family and more dictators, potentates, pirates and presidents than you can count.

The Fed had to act. Bernanke opened the vault and dumped $200 billion on the poor little suffering bankers. They got the public treasure – and got to keep the Grinning’s house. There was no ‘quid’ of a foreclosure moratorium for the ‘pro quo’ of public bail-out. Not one family was saved – but not one banker was left behind.

Every mortgage sharking operation shot up in value. Mozilo’s Countrywide stock rose 17% in one day. The Citi sheiks saw their company’s stock rise $10 billion in an afternoon. And that very same day the bail-out was decided – what a coinkydink! – the man called, ‘The Sheriff of Wall Street’ was cuffed. Spitzer was silenced.

Do I believe the banks called Justice and said, “Take him down today!” Naw, that’s not how the system works. But the big players knew that unless Spitzer was taken out, he would create enough ruckus to spoil the party. Headlines in the financial press – one was “Wall Street Declares War on Spitzer” - made clear to Bush’s enforcers at Justice who their number one target should be. And it wasn’t Bin Laden.

It was the night of February 13 when Spitzer made the bone-headed choice to order take-out in his Washington Hotel room. He had just finished signing these words for the Washington Post about predatory loans:

“Not only did the Bush administration do nothing to protect consumers, it embarked on an aggressive and unprecedented campaign to prevent states from protecting their residents from the very problems to which the federal government was turning a blind eye.”

Bush, said Spitzer right in the headline, was the “Predator Lenders’ Partner in Crime.” The President, said Spitzer, was a fugitive from justice. And Spitzer was in Washington to launch a campaign to take on the Bush regime and the biggest financial powers on the planet.

Spitzer wrote, “When history tells the story of the subprime lending crisis and recounts its devastating effects on the lives of so many innocent homeowners the Bush administration will not be judged favorably.”

But now, the Administration can rest assured that this love story – of Bush and his bankers - will not be told by history at all – now that the Sheriff of Wall Street has fallen on his own gun.

And don't be so sure the incoming regime will be so quick to correct these injustices. Clinton played his own part in market deregulation. My advice is to get rid of your debt as soon as possible, because this type of bailout will not be offered to you when your personal fortune is at risk, proven by the treatment of millions of families losing their mortgages in this subprime fiasco.

Save your money under your mattress and forget about retiring.

Or move to Canada.

Or better yet, get busy and join the revolution.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Why do gay guys love Hillary?

No, I'm asking. I've noticed this trend among my gay (mostly male) friends: they are crazy for Hillary. I wondered what the deal might be with that, but since so many of the gay men I know are feminists, I chalked it up to that. Don't they remember the mockery of "don't ask, don't tell" or the Defense of Marriage Act? Not that Hillary is Bill, but she is running partially on his record and popularity.

Even many feminists are shying from Hillary. It's an issue that has feminists riled up, the chance to vote a woman into the presidency and why so many of us are ambivalent about that. My favorite is Jessica Parenti, who writes the Feministing blog. She said in a recent The Nation article, "Let's use this moment, when our politics and emotions are raw, to push for a better, more forward-looking feminism." I don't get the impression from reading her many postings that she will be voting for Clinton.

Anyway, this weekend I was in Des Moines visiting my "other brother" and he had me watch this episode of Bill Maher's show Real Time, in which sex columnist Dan Savage explains that it's the Diva thing. I hadn't thought of that. Nor wanted to be so sexist as to characterize it that way.

After going to an Obama rally, Savage says he's now a little gay for Obama.

On Sunday night we saw John Doe and Wilco at this very groovey venue in Des Moines called the Val Air Ballroom, which reminded me of a Texas honkey tonk. It's an old concert hall with a huge wooden dancefloor and raised seating and bar area adjacent to that. Free parking. Tickets were thirty bucks a piece. I spent more than that on drinks. The cool kids were in attendance, 30-somethings with thick, tousled hair, some even with small children in tow. They were there for Wilco, of course, and they knew all the lyrics. It was a great night.

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Buddha, the Dharma and the Media

It's Friday and I'm clock-watching and poking around some of my book-marked sites. One I've been keeping tabs on lately is The McGill Report, maintained by veteran journalist Douglas McGill. A recent entry, The Buddha, the Dharma and the Media, yielded this gem, so simple yet so solid:

A journalism grounded in Buddhist morals would display two salient traits derived from its moral purpose and methods. Such a journalism would be:

1. A journalism of healing. Buddhism is often not classified as a religion because it teaches no theology, declares no divinity, and requires no faith. Instead, its doctrines revolve entirely around the achievement of a practical goal: “the end of suffering.” Nor is the definition of suffering complex or esoteric. It is ordinary everyday suffering, aches and pains, mental moods and afflictions, sickness and death. On a social level, suffering in Buddhism is defined as any harshness, violence, and division of the community. A Buddhist journalism would therefore be aimed at helping individuals overcome their personal sufferings, and helping society heal the wounds caused by injustice, hatred, ostracism, and physical violence. Such a defined professional purpose would give the Buddhist journalist a measuring stick for each word and story produced: does it help overcome individual and social suffering?

2. A journalism of timely, truthful, helpful speech. A Buddhist journalism would need tools and materials adequate to its healing purpose. The Buddhist “Right Speech” doctrine provides many of them. Right Speech sits midway along the “Noble Eightfold Path,” the Buddha’s prescribed method to reach the end of suffering. The midway place of Right Speech along the Noble Eightfold Path is interesting, because speech is the first action to follow the gaining of wisdom and positive intention, as developed in mediation. By this view, speech is a person's very first chance to act morally in the world. It is followed then in the Noble Eightfold Path by “Right Action” and “Right Livelihood.” Also, very helpfully for journalists, the identifying traits of Right Speech are specifically defined as “timely, truthful, helpful, and spoken with a mind of good will.” Likewise, the five main types of speech to avoid are lies, divisive speech, harsh and abusive speech, and idle and distracting speech.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Polar Vortex

The MPR meteorologist said this morning that we are in the middle of a polar vortex. That's why we're still in the deep freeze. It's bloody March, a couple weeks shy of the spring equinox, and temps are in the single digits again. Because the temperature has remained cold, despite low snow fall this season, we have kept a constant snow cover for the three months of winter, the first time in 11 years. And it looks like that trend will continue for the next several days.

While we've been cooped up inside (and, mind you, I am what Garrison Keillor calls an "indoorsman." I don't mind hanging at home most of the time), there's been a writers strike, so nothing but reruns on tv. So if you're a tv watcher, you end up watching shows you never used to watch (mostly because they didn't interest you in the first place) to see something besides reruns. That, or you watch really OLD reruns.

Last night I watched three shows I formerly eschewed. The first was American Idol. I've been watching that a little more than I ever have this season, partially because there's nothing else on. But another reason might be that there some pretty cute boys on this season, and a couple are even openly gay (or should be). I doubt I'll keep it up past spring. The second show I watched was one of those crime-profiler dramas, the one starring Mandy Pantinkin and, last night, featuring Alyssa Milano. That show is probably part of the Law & Order franchise, which I loathe, mostly for its glib one-liners. Both those shows I watched with tepid interest, dipping back into my book throughout.

The third show, the one I watched with enthusiasm and delight -- which when it originally aired I didn't watch and never would have admitted to it even if I had -- was an early episode of Baywatch. This episode starred Kelly Slater as local surfing hero Jimmy Slade, who has since become the world surfing champion several times over (8!!) -- along with many other accomplishments. Turns out Kelly has quite the lengthy filmography, but that's another story. This is from a 1999 interview in Outside Magazine:

"All the stories were pretty stupid," Slater says, popping grapes into his mouth. "They showed me waking up in the morning in my van, and the sun is setting over the water, with an onshore breeze, when in the morning it's always glassy—ridiculous. Though watching myself and trying not to think of it as me, I thought I wasn't that bad." He glances over shyly, and then hurries on."But overall it inspired me not to act. Don't tell Bryan that."

Still, Slater says, "I begged to get off the show. The motivation was 30 percent me just wanting to be a serious athlete and 70 percent surfers saying, 'Slater made a mockery of surfing, there's no forgiveness, fuck him.' That hurt. In fact, that was probably 95 percent of my decision," he adds ruefully. His face firms up. "But I used that grudge against those guys to drive myself harder, and I won my first world title that year."

The episode I watched last night was one made in the early 90s, but the fashions are pure 80s: tanned, not-too-skinny girls wearing nothing but a bikini and thick white socks and sneakers, small waists and big hips, frizzy, over-teased hair, and glitzy, gaudy earrings. And men in short-shorts. The kid in the story, Mitch's son, Hobie, was stomping (rather, skating) the same grounds at about the same age as me when I lived there, way back in the early 70s: the pedestrian strand that separates the beach from the south bay towns of Manhattan, Hermosa and Redondo beaches. Those storefronts couldn't still be the same as when I was hanging around there, but they sure looked familiar.

What's a better tonic for a weather report that promises a bone-chilling weekend than an escape to the beach? Here's Kelly in action.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Sound Construction 2.0

If you called Wain’s cell, you might get this voicemail message: “Hello, you’ve reached Sound Construction Company and Wain Anthony McFarlane . . . Create a great day.” Wain is a working musician – and by that I mean that music is his day job. Wain is Sound Construction Company and as such he writes and records music; manages up-and-coming artists, including having mentored one blond, dreadlocked teenager who now has his own presence in the cities’ music scene; rents sound equipment; operates a recording studio; and coordinates musical events. Mostly he sings and plays guitar, but he has been known to fill in on keyboards or drums when needed. Wain has many hobbies. He keeps Japanese koi in the water garden he built one summer in the yard of his girlfriend’s house. He spent a couple weeks (and all the money that should have been going toward living expenses) sanding the floors and white-washing the walls of his warehouse so he could provide art space as part of the Northeast Art-a-Whirl last spring. He recently was given 35 old red pay phones that he wants to weld together into a working phone booth and hopes to get a commission from the city for an installation of the phone booth as an art piece downtown.

I picked Wain up at his Northeast Minneapolis home one cool morning in November to drive him to the hospital for outpatient surgery. His girlfriend, Catherine, with whom he lives, asked me to be his driver that day since she couldn’t get off work. As he collected his keys and cell phone, I noticed a painting on the wall I hadn’t seen before. It was a portrait of Wain flanked by Ziggy and Stephen Marley from when Wain’s reggae band, Ipso Facto, opened for the Melody Makers at the Quest in the early 90s. In the painting, Wain is smiling broadly, wearing his signature black top hat. Wain is a robust guy, five feet nine with the shape and temperament of Santa Claus. As I followed him out the door I noticed how scrawny his dreadlocks had become. When I met him over a decade ago, they were plump and long and doubled the sized of his head. Now they were sparse and barely hanging on.

Wain was diagnosed with hypertension in 1997, but it wasn’t until he went in for a hip replacement (years of jumping on and off stages, combined with prescribed steroids and Jack Daniels, destroyed his hips) in February 2006 that he was sitting still long enough for tests to be taken, which diagnosed kidney failure. Hypertension, along with diabetes and glomerulonephritis, is the leading cause of kidney failure. Until a compatible kidney donor could be indentified from among the many family members who volunteered to be tested, his dialysis treatments could continue indefinitely. He needed a permanent dialysis access site (called an “arterio venous fistula”). The fistula, a device implanted under the skin, joining a vein and an artery, offers efficient access for removing the patient’s blood for filtration. It is also less likely to get infected than a temporary access site that has to be opened anew each time.

In the car, he made several calls to “take care of some business before I go to sleep.” One almost never has his full attention. It is rare for Wain to go more than a few minutes without an incoming or outgoing call. If you are ever out in public with him, there will always be someone – fan, friend, someone who saw Wain play at a wedding or prom – who stops to say hello and chat. That day he made calls to solicit help for the move of his studio equipment from his warehouse, which he could no longer afford, to a smaller office space, and to coordinate an up-coming gig at Famous Dave’s.

I dropped him at the hospital and went back to pick him up several hours later. He would not be released until he had feeling in his arm (where the fistula was implanted) which would take another hour, so they let me wait with Wain in his cubicle. The nurses were in and out, monitoring his progress. One of them told Wain some other nurses had been talking about him. He grinned from ear to ear and said “gossiping about me, how fun is that?!” Eventually a nurse told him he could leave, but he still didn’t have control of his right hand so I had to help him get dressed. He laughed as I helped him get his jeans on and started singing the Dionne Warwick song, “That’s What Friends Are For.” We were singing it together as we walked out to the administrative station, where six nurses were bustling but stopped when Wain approached. They asked him to sing them a song and he crooned the first couple verses of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.” One nurse asked what band he was in. He said, “My band is called Wain McFarlane. My big band was called Ipso Facto.” I saw the recognition in their faces as they nodded and looked at him with renewed interest. “I was the guy in the top hat. My brother, Greg, played drums and that was my brother JuJu in the leather chaps and nut cup. I got you through the 80s!” he chuckled. “You were drunk, but I got you through it!”

It had been a manic journey to this moment. Soon after the diagnosis of kidney failure, many of his family members offered to be tested for compatibility as donors. But because he didn’t have the proper health coverage, navigating the kidney transplant program was like slogging through molasses; nobody could be tested for donor compatibility until the seemingly limitless paperwork was complete. For instance, they would fill out a form and submit it. The next week they’d check back to see how the process was going and would be told it was never received. Or they weren’t informed of all the parties that needed to receive a copy. They eventually learned to keep copies of everything and follow up, ideally in person, to make sure the information was logged where it should. There were two or three different forms a week for roughly six to eight months. As Catherine described it, they had to stand on one foot facing east while the moon was rising to get the accurate and complete information and she was afraid Wain might not live that long.

That fall Wain went to Walker, on Leech Lake in northern Minnesota, for a couple of weeks. He has a good friend who runs a resort on Leech and visits several times a year. One night he was sitting at a bar and struck up a conversation with a couple sitting next to him. It came out in conversation the hassles he was having trying to get a kidney. The woman had connections through her work with the Mayo Clinic and could get him in contact with a kidney surgeon there. What’s more, the couple had a big house in Rochester and would welcome him as their guest, giving him his own suite and run of the place for as long as would be needed. Within two weeks Wain and Catherine were sitting in the kidney surgeon’s office. Soon after that, the first family member was tested for compatibility.

A week after the fistula implantation I went with Wain to one of his thrice weekly dialysis treatments. We stopped at the convenience store to buy coffee and sweet rolls for some of the other patients. He told me, “I’m the pacifier. You can tell how the day’s going to go by those first few minutes.” He was referring to his neighbors who sit in the “Tahiti” section of the clinic (the other two being “Jamaica” and “Maui”). He explained that some mornings the patients were grumpier and needier than others.

There are 28 “chairs,” or dialysis stations, in the privately run clinic he goes to in downtown Minneapolis. Nearly all the patients are black. African-Americans have disproportionately higher rates of kidney disease and are also less likely to be placed or even referred to kidney waiting lists. African-Americans are more likely to find a compatible kidney from another African-American, but they have a low instance of donorship compared to white Americans. When we arrived at the clinic he was glad to see who his technician would be that day and greeted her as “my Nubian princess.” He passed out the coffee and made sure everyone had some munchies. “Everyone is happy this morning,” he grinned. “It’s a good day.”

It takes four and a half hours for the dialysis machine to clean Wain’s blood of impurities and excess water, the work his kidneys are no longer doing He tries to get started by 7:00 a.m. so that he can be home by noon to start his day. The guy to his left let out a belly laugh, and Wain said, “He’s watching Sanford and Son. She’s usually watching it too,” he continued, gesturing toward the woman to his right (each chair had its own television). “They laugh in stereo and that makes me laugh.” He giggled. He told me about his plans to take them fishing to Leech Lake. They would all “dialysize” at the small clinic in Walker.

“Oh look, it’s that country guy, Keith Urban, he’s gonna be here this weekend.” Wain’s channel was tuned in to a morning news and entertainment program. “He’s that country dude. Catherine says you don’t like him,” he said to me, not quite approving of my music snobbery.

“I never said I didn’t like him, I said it’s not country. It’s pop,” I contested.

“I like him. And what’s that other guy’s name? Kenny Chesney. I saw him once in Jamaica. Do you like him?”

“Kenny Chesney is a virulent homophobe.”

“Yeah, they’re all homophobes down there,” Wain said, referring to Jamaica, where he visits about once a year.

Wain’s father grew up in Jamaica; his mother is from Mississippi. Wain was born in Kansas City, MO, and the family (ten children at the time; two more were yet to be born) moved to Worthington, Minnesota, in 1964 when Wain was 11. They were the first black family in that small town. He recalls his childhood in Kansas City, watching movies from the balcony of the theatre, feeling like a king. He didn’t realize he wouldn’t have been allowed in the other section of the theatre. On one of the first days in Worthington he was checking out his new neighborhood and ran into a white kid on the street. He hadn’t yet seen a white person up close and the sight scared him. He screamed, which startled the white kid, and they both ran off screaming in opposite directions. Wain always laughs when he tells that story. The kid, Phil, remains a good friend.

Wain was looking forward to the Famous Dave’s gig coming up the following night. He doesn’t have many these days. Dialysis exhausts him and makes his hands too sore to play the guitar. Furthermore, to qualify for Medicaid, he has to limit his earnings, keeping them under about $1000 a month. That means itemizing every dollar that comes in and accounting for that to Hennepin County Health, Housing & Social Services, which distributes his disability and EBT (food stamps) benefits. He exceeded the upper limit once last year and hasn’t been getting EBT since. By the time he pays all the musicians after the Famous Dave’s gig, he won’t even clear $100. As Wain has said many times, you don’t play music for the money. The preparations, the assembling of musicians, the audience, the music – every aspect of the show energizes him, gives him purpose. He rarely frets about money, usually spending all that is available to him, a quality that is not always endearing to Catherine.

* * *

The night of the gig, about half an hour before the band would begin, Wain and I were grabbing a drink at the bar. A blonde, college-aged woman tapped him on the shoulder and asked “Are you Wain McFarlane?” He nodded expectantly. She said she was from Walker where she had seen him play. She said her mother was sitting at a table on the other side of the bar and wanted to talk to him. It turned out her mother is one of the owners of the Moondance Jam, a festival that takes place every summer, Walker’s Woodstock, and Wain has wanted to play there for years. They agreed to meet in a few weeks when Wain would be up at the lake.

Catherine brought some colleagues to see the show and one of them brought her seven-year-old daughter, Olivia, specifically to meet Wain. Wain asked Olivia if she wanted to come up on stage and sing. She shook her head, pinching her brow. As he was about to turn away to talk to another member of the party, Olivia found her courage and told him she plays the guitar. Wain asked, “What’s your favorite song to play?’ “Back in Black” she said with a straight face.

Even though Wain hadn’t decided the playlist until he was standing in front of the audience, the band followed his direction without faltering. As it turned out, he started with a bluesy rock instrumental then lead the band into “St. Thomas,” the pop-calypso version from the jazz-fusion wave of the 80s. These are followed by an R&B number Wain wrote, “That Was Then, This Is Now,” which was used several years ago as background music in a scene on the soap opera “The Young and the Restless.” I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve heard him play this song. I asked Catherine if she ever gets tired of hearing it. She shook her head and smiled dreamily, “No, it feeds me every time.” Many people forget that Wain isn’t the only one going through his health crisis. Catherine is also bearing a heavy weight. It was good to see her enjoying herself. She told me once that he is too big for the world, that this earth can’t contain him.

It was past Olivia’s bedtime and Catherine walked her to the stage so Olivia could wave goodbye to Wain. He took Olivia by the hand and brought her up on stage, handing her his white Stratocaster, which was about the same size as she was. She leaned the guitar against her small body, concentration etched into her small features, then plunked out the opening chords of AC/DC’s “Back in Black” while the band quietly backed her up.

* * *

That was Wain’s life for the past two years, undergoing dialysis three days a week and working the few gigs his health and energy level would allow. On Tuesday, February 26, Wain was gifted a kidney from his niece Yai, the 26-year-old daughter (and angel of mercy) of his sister Patricia. The day of the surgery dozens of anxiously waiting friends and family were kept updated on a website set up specifically for that purpose by one of Catherine’s sisters. In the waiting lounge, at least 20 family members, including siblings and their children, were lead in murmured praises to Jesus by Queen Mother McFarlane for Wain and Yai’s successful operations and recovery, and for other patients whose family members brought good news.

When Wain was wheeled out of surgery, the first thing he asked for was his guitar. Catherine said that he writes a new song for every occurrence, such as “my IV monitor is beeping, my IV is done,” and “she’s putting in my Heprin, la la la.”

In addition to being grateful to Yai for the kidney and the chance to continue following his life’s purpose, Wain feels that he is getting some feminine insight from the new body part in his abdomen. He gloated, “I’m part Nubian princess now.”