Always More Solutions than Problems:  George Needs a Job

My friend, George, who earlier readers of this column will remember as the ginseng evangelist, is a wise man in many ways.  He’s also a freaking lunatic, as evidenced by his decision, when I offered him an all-expense-paid trip to anywhere in the country, to haul us off to Wasau, Wisconsin, in July, to study domestic ginseng cultivation.  That’s right, with New Orleans, San Francisco, the Rocky Mountains and the glorious Southwest on the table, George chose rural Wisconsin so he could learn how to grow ginseng.  That’s the lunatic part.

The evidence for wisdom is contained in a pearl he has shared with me in a variety of different circumstances:  there are always more solutions than problems.  I repeat:  there are always more solutions than problems.  This gnomic morsel, I think, suggests that every problem has a variety of solutions so the universe of solutions is larger than the galaxy of problems.  Something like that.  This has given me hope in many difficult situations: if I take my time, examine the problem from different angles and breathe, a solution will appear.  Since it’s always worked—I am a man with no problems right now other than single-digit temperatures outside the Tiny White Box and a particularly gassy Sam (is a dog) inside—I have to give George credit.

I first met George four years ago, when he was completing a stay as a resident of the state facility for the convicted and I was director of Liberty House. Since that time, George was first a good resident, then a good volunteer, then a good paid employee of Liberty House in charge of donations and volunteers.  If you’ve dropped anything off at Liberty House in the last three years, George is the energetic 70-year-old man who looks like a professor of history, a Vermont shopkeeper or an ardent vegetarian, all depending on your background.

I left Liberty House in August. Things change. Priorities change. Despite George having become a fixture, organizing the food and clothing so generously donated by the community, his position has been eliminated effective December 31.  I assume there are reasons for this decision, but it hasn’t been any of my business for the last four months. George and his future, though, are my business.  Hence, this.

I’d like to help George find a job before Christmas. He’s hard-working as hell, smart as hell, talented as hell, honest as hell and, despite his lunacy, a great employee. He started off as a volunteer at Liberty House, soon spending so much time that I couldn’t help but create a paid position for him.  In the time I’ve known George, he has been scrupulously, religiously, annoyingly honest about anything not belonging to him.  One time in particular, while he was going through donations, George found a brown leather belt with a zipper on the back.  When he opened it, $600 was inside the money belt.  With no cameras to record his behavior and no way to identify the donor, most men would have applied the moral calculus of “finders keepers, losers weepers” and pocketed the money.  Not George.  He brought me every penny of it.  This kind of thing happened over and over, George finding large and small amounts of money inside pockets while processing donated clothing, and bringing the cash to be listed as donations to Liberty House.

George, age 70 but with the energy of a man 20 years younger, seeks employment.  His organizational skills are outstanding as is his character.  While he can be a pain in the ass, he works as hard as three other employees.  I would trust him in any situation, and he has shared Thanksgiving with my daughters and me on more than one occasion, not as an act of charity on our part, but because George is a good guy and a family friend.

If you need an employee who will give you every bit of energy and knowhow that he’s got, and will work until the job is done, please email me ( ) your contact information and I’ll pass it on to George.  If you end up hiring him, you may get a dollop of wisdom like, “There are always more solutions than problems.”  If you or your family is planning a trip, though, don’t let George know.  He’s a freaking lunatic in that area.


My Muse Lies Buried on Woodman Avenue: Little Fanny

Little Fanny was three months old when she died in 1861.  When I was six in 1965, I discovered her grave in a falling-down cemetery in Durham, NH.  She continues to haunt and amuse me to this day.  Let me explain.

Fanny was born to Charles and Victoria Woodman, who are also buried in that same graveyard.  Judging by the size of the size of the funereal phallus over Charles’ grave, the family was wealthy—and Charles was compensating for some part of his life with that granite obelisk pointing rigid toward the sky.  Their family burying ground was surrounded by cast-iron rails barely held in place by eight granite hitching posts, and sat past the end of Woodman Avenue.

I discovered Fanny—or her grave at least—when I was exploring the territory near our new house on a new road—Beards Landing.  To my seven-year-old mind, Fanny’s death 104 years before, placed her during the precolonial phase of Durham.  After all, before television was “a long time ago,” so before electricity was one nugget of time, encompassing an ice age, the age of Indians, pre-revolutionary and revolutionary ages and the Civil War.  After that, to a second grader, time became knowable, measurable.  It became time instead of simply part of the olden days.

Over time, Little Fanny has appeared in my fiction in a bunch of ways, both implicit and explicit.  If I’d never spent time turning Fanny’s death over and over in my head, I don’t think I’d be the man I am today.  That an infant who died more than 150 years ago continues to have as much substance for me as many folks I’ve known in real life says something, although I’m not sure what.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

“Because James Beard was murdered,” said Jacob, in a soft, conspiratorial voice.  “It was back in 1675 and he was a wealthy landowner.  Down at the end of our street, where the Keesey’s house is, he had a fine wooden house.  That’s exactly where his house stood.  He lived there with his wife, Mary, a couple of servants, and the pride and joy of his life, his little nine-year-old girl, Fanny.”

Scott giggled at the word.  Jacob ignored him, hypnotizing himself with the tale of long-ago evil.  He felt closer to manhood than to snickering over fannies.

“One day in early November, he was coming home from hunting,” Jacob continued.  “The sun was just starting to set and he wanted to be inside before dark on account of there had been rumors of Indian activity.  James had killed a wolf on general principles but hadn’t seen a single deer.  He walked down the strip of land that today bears his name and saw his house in flames.  In those days, of course, there was no fire department.  People just worried about getting as much of their stuff out of the building as they could before it collapsed.  So James went running down the street, although it wasn’t a street then, of course.  Maybe it wasn’t even a path.   Still, he ran as fast as he could.

“When he got to his burning house,” Jacob continued, “though, he found an even worse surprise.  Right down at the water’s edge was a war party of Indians, three of them still carrying the torches they had used to ignite James’ house.  The Indians laughed when they saw James approach.  He raised his musket to fire at them, but he saw they had Little Fanny.  He didn’t want to risk shooting her.

“He searched the Indian band, looking for his wife, but she was nowhere to be seen.  Then he looked up at the house.  There was his lovely wife, face up in the dirt and naked from the waist down.  Her wrists were tied together with a brown leather strap and it looked like gallons of blood was pouring out of her skull.

“Although people don’t talk about it much,” said Jacob, “in those days the Indians took a lot of white slaves, mainly young girls.  Fearing Fanny was destined for slavery and surmising what the Indians had done to his wife, James wanted to do something.  He wanted to hurt every single one of the 20 Indians now standing and laughing at him.  He saw a group of them standing away from Fanny and decided to take aim.

“Before he could even raise his muzzle loader,” said Jacob, “an arrow got him through the heart.  The Indian chief came over and cut off his head with a single tomahawk blow, just like Gary did with the catfish.  In fact, ancestors of those crows we saw probably dined on James and Mary Beard’s remains that very afternoon.  To add insult to injury, and probably as a warning to the other settlers, the Indians took James Beard’s head and literally posted it, sticking it on a post that was part of a primitive clothesline.”

“Wait a second,” said Scott.  “I’m a little bit confused.  If the mother and father were both killed, how do you know this story?”

“Fanny was taken north toward Montreal,” said Jacob.  “She was freed when she was 14.  She came back to tell her story and the story of her family.  It’s one of a bunch of escaped slave narratives.”

“So, who told you about it?” asked Scott.  “How did you find out?”

“I read the town history, dipshit!” said Jacob.  “It’s all there.”

See, Little Fanny, birthed and deathed during the Civil War, became the victim of an Indian massacre and kidnapping almost 200 years before she didn’t even crawl the earth.  It may be that Joyce Maynard, the novelist, essayist and Durham native, who lived, I believe, right up Woodman Avenue from the graveyard, visited Little Fanny for inspiration.  Because I’ve always had a crush on Joyce, without having met her except when, I think, I was her paperboy, I’d be willing to share Little Fanny with her.

Or Little Fanny’s inspiration may be mine, all mine.

Science, Creepy Crawlies and My Basement Cell

My parents were good parents, a sentence I need before I tell you about my time in a basement crawl space.  Oh, they didn’t lock me in there—I loved that crawl space, an eight-by-eight cement area under the family room, lit by a single bulb that had an electrical outlet attached at its base.  The reason I want you to know my parents were good parents is that I risked the family’s safety, the house’s existence and, most important to me, my life almost every single time I was down there.  Let me explain—and remember my mother and father are both dead so the Department of Children, Youth and Families can’t touch them.

As a seven-year-old kid, I was strange.  (As a 59-year-old man, I am strange, but, I think, in different ways.)  When we moved into our brand-new house on Beards Landing, I had a big room with big closets and we had a good-sized front yard with acres of woods behind us.  Since we arrived in July, I think, those woods were mine to explore for the first four or five months—there was an abandoned, uncapped well to bring an old ladder to and explore, a dangerously high rock face to climb and a dam to walk across.  It was a great place to be a little kid, except there were no other kids on my street that first summer and autumn, and my kid sister was too young to take on real adventures.  Still, I could be Daniel Boone, a Civil War soldier, an Indian and a dinosaur hunter in an afternoon.  By mid-November, though, with the days getting colder and shorter, I needed to find adventure inside the house.

The crawl space was in the corner of the basement, beside the washer and dryer and next to the huge oil tank.  Since I was on pace to become a midget, I needed to bring a chair over to the hole in the wall that was its door—maybe four feet off the ground.  From the first mid-November day I climbed in, I knew where I’d be wintering.  Here, unimaginably, was a Keith-sized room, with a four-foot-high “ceiling” composed of the two-by-fours that were the family room’s floor support.  The single light and outlet made this into heaven.  I immediately brought a couple blankets and a small chair down, along with some of my favorite books and made myself a home within a home.

My father, unlike most other dads in Durham, a little college town, made his living with his hands, creating dentures for dentists in the seacoast area.  Mornings, he wore a sport coat, shirt and tie to drive to work, but there he put on a scientist’s lab robe to prevent being covered by grinding dust and other byproducts.  I didn’t really know how he did what he did, but whenever I went to the dental lab with him, he’d let me take extra fake teeth and sheets of dental wax, the same pink color and thickness of the bubble gum inside trading-card packs, but about the size of a piece of paper folded into fourths.  I squirreled these away in a cardboard box in the corner of my new home, pulling the box out occasionally to melt the wax with the light bulb’s heat then making dental sculptures of nightmarish shape.  Soon the lightbulb would become so covered with wax residue that the only thing that could be done was to use a paper towel to clean it, hoping I wouldn’t break it.  If second-grade Show-and-Tell had been the debut of my artworks, I likely would have spent less time in the principal’s office and more time with the school psychologist.

If my mother had any concerns about her oldest child and only son spending hours at a time inside a womb in the basement, I don’t remember her mentioning them.  At Christmas, I got a chemistry set, along with a Creepy-Crawly machine and lots of Plasti-Goop.  Unless you are, maybe, 55 to 63, you may have no idea about Plasti-Goop, so it was some proprietary plastic in small bottles that was sold with metal molds and a Creepy-Crawly “machine”—a tiny hot plate that heated the substance until it became rubbery spiders or rings or rats—the kind of thing sold in machines outside a supermarket.  Of course, the Creepy-Crawly Machine came with all kinds of warnings about adult supervision and fire safety, but those warnings were on the box that went out with the December 26 trash.  The chemistry set, the Goop, the molds and the Machine all disappeared into my laboratory.   Then began the experiments.

When I use the term “experiments,” it suggests the application of the scientific method, which involves generating a hypothesis, creating a way to test that hypothesis and then reporting the results.  Of course, I was doing nothing of the kind.  I was mixing poisonous chemicals with abandon, overloading an electrical circuit with the Creepy-Crawly machine, melting wax on a light bulb and generally walking a dangerous ledge.  If I’d needed to generate a hypothesis, it might have been something like: “Given a curious and secretive seven-year-old boy, a variety of ways to die and a small private space, the gods that oversee fools, drunks and little kids will prevent death before spring comes and it’s time to continue exploring outdoor life-threatening activities.”

The results were positive—I lived.  If you’re a seven-year-old kid, though, please don’t replicate this experiment.  After all, you might not have parents as good as mine.

The Closest I’ll Come to a Blog Post–Newsy, Upbeat and Short

I write this in Manchester, where I’ve been visiting since Wednesday—to attend the Army-Navy Game fundraiser at Murphy’s Taproom Saturday, then to collect on my daughter Libby’s birthday present to me:  two tickets to see Cirque du Soleil on Ice on Sunday.  What follows is not a review of either event, but some random thoughts.

This is J.P. Marzullo and Jeff Chidester’s third Army-Navy game viewing party, a chance for representatives of the two branches to talk crap to each other, eat and bid on some pretty amazing items.  I can tell I’ve buried the lead, though.  Army won!  I managed to get most of my Christmas shopping done while supporting Liberty House, and watching Army win.  At the beginning of the party, the Honorable Al Baldasaro, a retired Marine, declared himself rooting for Navy, since the Marines are, technically, part of the Navy, although most right-thinking people see the Navy as the woman’s auxiliary of the Marines.  Although I didn’t have a chance to check with Al at the end of the game, I’m fairly certain he’d changed his allegiance midway through, when he saw the light—that Marines have much more allegiance to infantrymen than they do to sailor boys.  Also, Army won.  I passed up a chance at the greatest prank weapon ever—a surprise concert by a New Hampshire men’s chorus at a place and time of my choosing—and let Al’s wife, Judy have it.  Just imagine the fun I could have had, though, assigning the chorus to appear at a friend’s wedding to sing “The Man Who Got Away,” “Second-Hand Rose,” “Me and Mrs. Jones” and other songs of faithless love.  Or:  the men’s chorus singing “Sixteen Tons” and “Working on the Chain Gang” at a friend who’s cleaning his yard.  Or:  “You’re Sixteen, You’re Beautiful and You’re Mine” at Roy Moore’s swearing-in ceremony.  You get the idea.  If there is one. I also had a chance to catch up with a lot of people at the fundraiser, hearing their complaints and joys and general gossip. While Liberty House is permanently in my rear-view mirror, it’s nice to still be part of the community.

Libby and I had a magical, wonderful time at Cirque du Soleil, although I’ll never be able to write those words without double-checking I’ve got the spelling right.  Like “parallel,” “harass,” and “perseverance,” no matter what letters I put down, they seem wrong.  The show had a story, I suppose, and Libby tried to explain it to me, but what really mattered to me was seeing the skating, acrobatics and gymnastics of the performers; I actually cried out “No” at one particularly difficult and dangerous stunt, embarrassing (another word I look up) Libby no end.  With two large pretzels, a diet Coke and an enthusiastic crowd around me, I was transported back to being a child at the circus.  Luckily, Libby was there to hold my hand during the scary parts and give me a patient smile when I applauded too long.  Without reservation, I can recommend Cirque du Soleil, and would suggest you buy me a ticket and take me the next time any of their performances are in town.

Never Poor but Plenty Broke

“We’re not poor, just broke.”

Thar’s how comedian/social activist/fruitarian Dick Gregory began his autobiography, Nigger (and if you haven’t read that book, drop your electronic device IMMEDIATELY and purchase a copy ( and read it).  If you don’t like it, I’ll buy your copy from you for the $7.99 you paid.  Really and for true.

In case the meaning escapes you, being broke means you’re out of money, but you can still hold your head high.  Being poor is a state of mind, a brokenness of spirit, a belief your state will never end.  If a broke man comes into a thousand bucks, he’s not broke any more.  If a poor man does, the poverty remains.  Like Gregory, I’ve never been poor—even when living on the streets—but I’ve spent a lot of time broke.

For the last six or seven years, I haven’t been broke, but I’ll never forget how it feels.  After I moved from drinking stolen mouthwash and wondering where I’d sleep, I still didn’t have any money for the next few years, as I struggled to clean up some of the wreckage of the past.  In some ways, the working poor have it even harder than the unemployed, because you can’t visit social-service agencies during the day, and those places, claiming to help you, close at five.  When you’re working but broke, the judgment is that you’re irresponsible; nobody does the math and sees your 35 hours a week running a cash register at Office Depot doesn’t cover keeping a car on the road to get you to work, paying rent and buying food.  Throw in child support on top of that, and most working broke folks are drowning by degrees, their noses above water for about 15 minutes after payday—until they pay their bills.

As director at Liberty House, I became reacquainted with the facts of being working broke, since most of the folks who passed through had been living the same barely-hanging-on existence until something snapped:  a lost job, a busted car, an increase in drinking.  Once veterans were homeless, we could offer them a place to stay, heal up and head down a new path with, we hoped, better jobs and a better shot of making it.  Just as important as the veterans we housed, though, were the folks who came to us for food and clothing.  After my experience of being unable to get any assistance at the end of the work day, we expanded our hours, staying open into the evening and opening on weekends.  Being aware that I’d been in the same space a few years before, we focused on the needs of the needy instead of the ease of the staff.  When you’re working and broke, a couple bags of groceries and a new winter jacket, picked up outside of working hours and without having to write your name down anywhere, help prevent:

  • Not having the money for an oil change, even though your car is 4,000 miles overdue. Knowing you’re doing long-term damage but not having the 30 bucks.
  • Sneaking past your landlord and not answering the door because your rent is late, and you won’t be able to get caught up until Tuesday—if you put off paying your car loan
  • Kicking yourself for going to that payday loan place and climbing on the financial wheel of death. You’ve paid them $40 a week on a $300 loan for tires to pass inspection.  You’ll continue paying them $40 a week until 2020 at this rate
  • Not having money for milk, so eating dry generic cereal given to you at a church pantry where they wrote down your name and eyed you suspiciously.
  • Not being able to afford laundry soap, and hoping a half-cup of shampoo will be enough to get your clothes clean at the laundromat
  • Not having enough quarters to fully dry your clothes, so hanging them up around your apartment

It’s expensive to be broke, an idea that’s hard for middle-class folks whose idea of brokenness means the electricity got shut off once.  When you’re broke, there is no economy of scale, because you just damned can’t afford it.  Jumping back to laundry, as a non-broke guy, I go to a big store for laundry detergent and buy the economy jug, with 100 loads inside for nine bucks.  Nine cents a load.  As a broke guy, I pay a buck a load at the laundromat for the single-size serving.  Multiply this for coffee, cigarettes, cereal and the rest of the non-c alphabet that makes up consumer culture, and you’ve got a pretty stiff penalty for being broke.  That kind of informal tax on poverty wears a man down over time, and can transform him from being broke but not poor to just a plain old poor man.  Every man has his breaking point in the battle between poverty and self-respect.  I didn’t reach mine, but that’s not because I’m better or smarter or more deserving than the broke and poor folks who came to Liberty House.  As the preacher John Bradford, seeing a group of condemned men marched to the gallows, put it, “There but for the grace of God goes John Bradford.”  I saw Keith Howard in the face of every single broke, poor or broke and poor person who came to Liberty House’s door.  I caught the right waves, got the right breaks and now I can afford to live in a Tiny White Box in the Great North Woods—with a huge jug of detergent under my bed and a giant bag of dog food for Sam (is a dog)—not by right but by grace.

A Five-Star Review of a Homeless Shelter

Some faces are meant to be punched—but shouldn’t be.  Some faces are meant to be kissed—but shouldn’t be without permission.  Some faces are meant to hear the confessions, conspiracy theories and complaints of friends and acquaintances.  I have one of those faces.  Because I still have the soul if not the certifications of both the pastor and the journalist, people bring me stories.  I listen empathetically, and ask probing questions, leading to more revelations.  It’s a gift, I guess.

Usually, this face of mine brings me friends who want to unburden themselves of negative and pessimistic stories.  So-and-so is a so-and-so is a typical introduction.  Nobody understands my gifts is another.  That organization/employer/institution has wronged me is another common one.

Yesterday, I had breakfast in Manchester with a friend who’s fallen on hard times through no real fault of her own, unless developing a life-threatening disease and falling for the wrong man—or the right man at the wrong time—can be tallied in the fault column.  Eleanor, not her real name, has been living at New Horizons Homeless Shelter for the past three weeks.

(Full disclosure:  when I was at Liberty House in Manchester, which offers food and clothing to anyone who needs it, I met a lot of New Horizons residents, and they almost universally complained about the place.  Their complaints focused on what jerks the staff was, how unfairly they’d been treated and how inhuman the interactions were.  In short, they made it sound like something out of Dickens—and not the happy-ending parts of the great man’s novels.)

When Eleanor and I had ordered our omelets, grits and chicken-fried steaks, I told her, in my either optimistic or insensitive way, that she didn’t look homeless.  She beamed, and said that was the look she was going for—another woman going through life, instead of a potential bag lady.  She talked about the challenges of walking the streets for eight or nine hours a day—needing to find spots to escape the cold, places to recharge her phone, avoiding the creeps—and of the night with some folks who are drunk or high, some who have pretty serious mental-health issues, and almost all who are in a state of high anxiety.  Life inside those boundaries must be exhausting.

I mentioned the journalistic part of me, which kicked in as I asked her about the staff at New Horizons, fully expecting her tone to change from resolute optimism to a laundry list of complaints.

“They’ve been great!” Eleanor said brightly.  “They’re not paid much money, but they’ve been patient and kind and compassionate.”

Eleanor said she didn’t want to stay at New Horizons one second longer than she had to, but the staff there was incredibly professional, human and caring.  No matter what kind of verbal abuse they faced from homeless guests, the staff had maintained their cool, enforcing rules but doing so with gentleness.

I was gobsmacked.  This conversation had never veered in this direction before. Because of that gobsmackedness, I have an obligation to share that good news.  From at least one temporary resident of New Horizons Homeless Shelter, a woman I know and respect, the staff gets an excellent review.  Over the two years Eleanor and I have known each other, she has not been a Pollyanna, whitewashing the problems in her life, her relationship or her universe.  If she gives New Horizons a positive rating, I believe it must be doing a much better job than the Oliver-Twist-David-Copperfield stories had suggested.  If I’m going to rake muck and reveal hidden problems, I want to also hold up spots in the world that deserve praise.

After all, I may have a share-your-darkest-revelations face, but I also have an honest one.

Dead Oxen and Personal Evolution

I am not a biblical exegete, someone capable of reading scripture and offering clarity and explanation.  I am not a born-again Christian, nor a Christian of any kind, really.  Still, I used to be both, and with a passion.  Without a lot of hesitation, critical thought or thought of any kind, really, I accepted the Bible as the Word of God, the New Testament written in Greek and translated into English without any meaningful crumbs falling to the floor.  Because I believed that, I also believed the messages within, no matter how shadowy or confusing

Feed the poor?  Of course.

If you don’t work, you don’t eat?  Absolutely.

Long-dead prophets walked the streets of Jerusalem following the resurrection?  Well, yeah.

If a man slaps your face, offer him your other cheek for more?  Ummmm.  Yup.

Jesus is coming back with a pack of angels for vengeance on those who don’t believe in him?  Well, why wouldn’t he?

After a while, I couldn’t keep the story straight, in my head or in my heart, and each new situation would lead to a need to pull out all the relevant scriptures to figure out the Christian thing to do.  In the born-again circles I swam in, this was called “proof-texting” and it was frowned upon and universally practiced.  Eventually, the Bible came to feel more like the I Ching, or a stacked Tarot deck than the Word of God.

The above is not to say I was a good Christian, or a good man.  I wasn’t either.  I was, though, a serious Christian, one who believed all the right things without doing them.  Orthodoxy over orthopraxis was, if not my motto, my operating principle.  I believe I told more lies and hurt more people during my two-and-a-half years as a Christian than I did before or have since.  Many folks accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior, clean up their acts a bit, and move on with their lives.  Not me. I just put on the armor of God and protected myself from the slings and arrows of common decency.

That said, I do read the Bible.  I read it until my brain swims, and I wonder how I managed to balance all the contradictions and still walk down the street.  For example, this morning I wanted to look up the context of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” thinking that this part of Exodus was demonstrating a bit of moral clarity.  I think most of the ancient world saw all crime as capital crime.  You’ve slept with a married woman?  Death.  You’ve broken another man’s false idol?  Death.  You’ve knocked out your uncle’s tooth in a drunken brawl over the last drumstick?  Death.

My naïve thought had been that God was saying, in effect, “Hold your horses, Boys.  Let the punishment fit the crime.  If someone has stolen your ox, they owe you an ox, not their lives.  If a man has poked your eye out in a game of mumblety-peg, you get one of his eyes, not his whole head.”  While moral evolution still had a long way to go, the notion of equivalence is at least equal to our simian ancestors getting out of the trees.  Unfortunately, the context for this edict is bushels of horrifying nonsense, like pulling a Pop-Tart out of a Porta-Potty.  Three sentences after “eye for eye” we get:

If an ox gores a man or woman to death, the ox shall surely be stoned, and the meat shall not be eaten. The owner of the ox shall be free.

Then, shortly  after that, we find:

If a man lies with a beast shall be put to death.

So, to clarify, if my ox, Hilda, gores your husband to death, leaving you without support, we kill Hilda, let her corpse rot and I go scot-free.  If, that night, I become amorous with Hilda’s sister, Millie, and get caught in flagrante de-oxen, I am killed.  One ox kills your husband=death to that ox

I have sex with an ox=death to me

Now, before I get letters accusing me of being soft on hot loving between men and beasts of burden, I don’t think men should put their private parts inside any creature incapable of saying, “Ohhhhhhhhh!” or “Are you almost done?”  Still, to return to the ox-caused death of your husband—and now that you’re a widow, why don’t you give me your number?—I think most folks would stipulate a fundamental disconnect between the dead, uneaten, ox and a human life.  Most folks except Yahweh and his amanuensis, Moses.

As I said, I am not a biblical exegete, someone capable of reading scripture and bringing moral lessons out of three-thousand-year-old civic codes seemingly based on an unrecognizable notion of justice.  Still, I do like dipping into the Bible now and then, if only to show myself that I’ve positively evolved over time, even if it hasn’t.