Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Only Eloquence in Death

Today is Christmas Eve, and I'm sitting at the counter/bar at my mother-in-law's house. My wife and her mother are at the kitchen table wrapping presents, my child is downstairs with the Basset Hound I schlepped from Charlotte (to hang out in Hickory at ANOTHER dog's house, by the way), and there are scatterings of my sisters-in-law and father-in-law blowing in and out of the house. Something of a frenzy, I am surrounded by fun and laughter and stress and just plain old fun. It makes me think about the fun of Christmas and everything that makes it so.

And then I think about my friend Jody McPherson. He died two days ago, and he leaves behind a wife and precious twin boys. Jody was one of my fraternity brothers, and it completely sucks that he's gone. Jody was a dedicated husband and father and police officer who suffered from a form of brain cancer. I will always remember Jody from our college days - he was a big man, probably less so after his diagnosis, but he had a smile and a charm that matched his muscular body. It hurts my heart that he died days before Christmas. And even though his boys knew he was sick, I cannot imagine what they are going through right now. No one can.

My paternal grandfather died around Christmas many years ago, and though he never said anything about it, I know it devastated my father. It had to have been one of the hardest things he's experienced in his life; the passing of his mother several years later was equally as painful for him. Not one day in my 37 years have I ever seen that man cry, but to have lost both of your parents certainly gives you that right. God only knows how he dealt with his grief. I don't know what I'll do when faced with the same situation.

A couple of years ago, I sat in a dimly lit hospital room and watched mother softly stroke my maternal grandfather's hand as he slowly lost his life. I wasn't there, but I imagine she did the same years before when her mother died. I sat on the other side of the bed, also stroking his hand and marveled at how lucky I was to be there with him. It makes me cry now just thinking about it. How I loved him - and still do. Just me and my mother and my grandfather, sitting quietly, each of us in drastically different places in our lives; each of us dealing with the inevitability of what we didn't know was less than twenty-four hours away. He couldn't talk, and he smiled as best as he could when I walked into his room. I will never forget the smell that lingered in the air, or the ragged sound of his breathing, or the way he gripped my hand with what was left of his strength. I imagined him thanking me for being there. I was in agony that I was watching him die. And at the same time, I was thankful that my grandfather would soon be free of his pain.

If you've read 'I'm Probably Going To Be Thirsty', (and you'd better have), you'd know that I'm not the most religious person on the planet. I don't know what happens after you die, even though I really want to believe that Jody and my grandfathers are in Heaven. I know people die every day. I know that people are aching right now either because of family and friends they've lost years ago, or earlier today. I know that. But whether you knew your 93 year old grandfather had reached the zenith of his life, or that a young man with whom you shared the bond of Brotherhood had unexpectedly lost his battle with a ravaging and deadly disease, the death of someone you love is never easy to rationalize and the pain never goes away.

As they prepare to say a final goodbye to their father, in twenty years Jody's precious twin boys might only remember the 1000-watt smile and a bear hug and their daddy's hearty laugh; in twenty years, my father might only remember the bald head and glasses and soft-spoken nature of a father of nine; in twenty years, I might only remember the time I sat in a dimly-lit hospital room and held the soft, wrinkled hand of the funniest man on the planet.

With each year I've aged, I have been enriched by my varied experiences; sometimes in ways that I never would have asked for or even appreciated when I was younger. I know now that the only eloquence in death is its finality. Inherent in finality, though, is its converse - new beginnings. And woven inextricably within new beginnings are the memories we create.

Every day of your life, be it Christmas or the 4th of July or just a Tuesday, I hope that you take time to treasure the loved ones in your life. Hug and kiss and laugh. And make memories.

May Jody McPherson, Garfield Vertreese, and Joseph Vernon Sears rest in peace.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Rich or Famous - Call It In The Air

Sometimes I wonder if I really do want to be famous. When I'm done drooling over their homes and private planes, the reason I tell myself that it won't be worth the trouble for every man, woman, and child with purchasing power (or influence over those who have it) to know my name smacks me in the face. Jesus, this weekend Tiger was in some kind of car accident and everybody from TMZ to CNN to the almighty Fox News (hee hee)was up his butt in two seconds. It would be harder to find a more perfect example, right?

What would have happened if the rich and not famous guy or lady who lives next to Tiger had smashed their Escalade at 2:25 in the morning? The Isleworth Police Department would have investigated, the injured would have been taken to the Emergency Room, and they would have had a funny story for next year's Thanksgiving. "Remember last year when Greg smashed the car because his foot slipped off of the brake and he nailed the gas? If it hadn't been for Laura knocking out the back window (insert: laughter and Greg groaning playfully), he might have been trapped in there forever."

Everyone laughs and they go on with their evening, complaining about how they ate too much and wondering what was for dessert.

Tiger put a statement on his website today giving some insight into his emotion, but nothing that alluded to the details of the crash:

"This situation is my fault, and it's obviously embarrassing to my family and me," Woods said. "I'm human and I'm not perfect. I will certainly make sure this doesn't happen again." Woods said it was a private matter, and he wanted to keep it that way. What he failed to address was where he was going at that hour. "Although I understand there is curiosity, the many false, unfounded and malicious rumours that are currently circulating about my family and me are irresponsible," he said.

I understand the argument from regular people about celebrities knowing full well the world they've entered once they hit it big. I understand their seeming loss of privacy as it is connected to their chosen profession. I even understand the meteoric and unabashed curiosity we 'regular' people have with the lives and private times enjoyed by celebrities. Hell, what good reason is there for me to know what Mary J. Blige keeps in her meticulously maintained refrigerator or where the magic happens for every member of KISS?

By the same token, I can also understand why celebrities get pissed when they feel like they are required to share with us every aspect of their existence. From the angelic A-listers and B-listers, all the way down to the unimaginably funny Kathy Griffin and her supposed D-listers, we want to know everything we can about the people we see on television, watch at the movie theater, sing along with in our cars and on our treadmills, and (seemingly less so), those people whose words we read in murder and political and trashy novels. I understand how those people may feel like they are simply doing a job. I understand having a calling, and wanting some way to express whatever talent they believe has been either bestowed upon them or carefully cultivated. I understand wanting to share that talent with the world around you and hoping that the exposure results in glowing recognition. Maybe with success you can finally have some fancy clothes and fancier friends, a house larger than 1600 heated square feet to shelter your family, and quite possibly more than enough cash to quell the nagging 'how the hell am I going to afford to retire?' fears ping-ponging around your head. I get it.

I know full well that I'm riding a double-edged sword in professing my desire to be an A-lister or B-lister...or whatever novelists who sell a bunch of copies of their latest tome are considered to be. The nature of the beast seems to require that swells of interested/nosy people must be afforded the ability to root around in your business as their supreme right because they are footing the bill. Your fans are the people buying whatever it is you're putting out there - and that's the only way you'll be able to enjoy the life of luxury that comes with the fame. What I can only assume is that once the awards shows are over, the red carpets are rolled up, the rented jewelry and cars and women are returned to whomever rents such things, and people forget about the celebrity du jour on the cover of People magazine or the next premiere or nasty celebrity divorce story in some gossip rag, celebrities close the doors to their mansions and turn back into regular people.

I want all the trappings that come with celebrity, but none of the bullshit. Too bad that ain't possible. It hasn't happened for anyone you can possibly think of who still enjoys any kind of fame or notoriety. Hell, even those has-beens who fell off the face of the earth still get press every now and then (think Celebrity Rehab). My delusions of grandeur, mind you, do not extend to my becoming a wealthy celebrity writer who enjoys a life of extreme anonymity. Should I become far too famous and wealthy and tracked by Lady Ga Ga and the paparazzi until I can no longer get my own mail without a disguise, I'll gladly send my personal shopper to Wally World for my boxers and dress socks.

Maybe Tiger should have used some of his millions to pay a lacky to make that late night Wally World run for him. Fifty grand a year for somebody to duck out for diapers or whatever celebrities must have in the middle of the night seems like a worthy expense in order to avoid the controversy he's going through right now.

The populaces of America and those from abroad have contributed to help possibly make this man wealthier than any golfer/athlete in history - and he stands to make a helluva a lot more before he's done. Is it our business, then, to know what he was doing at 2:25 in the morning? Is it our business to speculate what's going on between Tiger and his wife? Or is it because he's a celebrity that we automatically believe we have the right to know the details about an accident that may have been innocent; details of the kinds of accident that happens every day across the country that nobody gives a damn about? Greg and Laura, who?

All I can say for sure is that when I crash my brand new model year Caddy and my wife breaks out the back window to free me, I hope I'll be wearing clean underwear, I'll be famous enough for anybody to freaking care, and that the crushing press and vicious rumors spike the sales of my latest novel.

Otherwise, what's the point?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

For All Who Serve

Todays is Veteran's Day. And no matter what you believe about war, the protection of the United States of America, or the powers-that-be who make policy decisions with international impacts, today we honor the men and women who have sacrificed their lives so their fellow citizens can live a free and independent existence.

They should be thanked more often.

My brother-in-law is a Marine who, today, is somewhere in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan at Camp Leatherneck. He is risking his life doing a job he absolutely loves - and one which completely suits him - in place of civilians around the world who aren't compelled to do the same. I am so very, very proud of him.

They should be thanked more often.

Google's home page art today, of course, honors those men and women who chose military life and all that it encompasses. Veteran's Day comes this year in the midst of the 40th Anniversary of Sesame Street, a groundbreaking television show that made significant educational and developmental contributions to the formative years of American children, the author being among those beneficiaries. No doubt, over the decades, that transformative experience has been shared and translated for countries the world over to enjoy. Interestingly enough, there are actually parallels that can be drawn between Sesame Street and the military.

The molding of young minds and training them to perform tasks they once could only imagine is a parallel. Entrusting young people with the responsibility of not only caring for themselves, but teaching them about personal integrity and caring for others is a parallel. Constant technological change and updating of concepts, understanding the determination of establishing consequences and how they constantly impact decision-making, all the way to recognizing authority and respecting leadership are all parallels. There are so many more.

They should be thanked more often.

My father was in the Navy. My neighbors (both husband and wife) were in the Navy. Two of my fraternity brothers (Once A Pike, Always A Pike) served in the Air Force; another is a Marine. Everyone has some kind of connection to someone who served this country - it's like a military version of Six Degrees of Separation to be sure. I never had the first inkling of desire to join any branch of service, just like millions of other Americans. And that's probably why I think Veteran's Day is so much more special than most people understand. People have given up what most of us call normal for strangers like me. Men and women have lost limbs in the pursuit and protection of my freedoms. Soldiers and Marines and grunts and plebes and drill sergeants and Seals have elected to put themselves in harm's way to afford me with the right to bear arms and to vote and to say what I want, when I want to say it.

The Marine Corps. The Navy. The Army. The Air Force. The Coast Guard. The Reserves. The National Guard. Today is Veteran's Day.

They should be thanked more often.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Obama Chronicles: (Vol. I) "Something Wicked This Way Comes"

I’ve got to go around my house and office and gather up all of my Obama stuff. Campaign stickers? Check. Campaign buttons? Check. Campaign emails that I’ve printed and hung on my cube walls? Check and check. Magazine covers in cellophane that I was going to keep forever, prideful in the fact that the first partially African American had been elected president? Yeppers. And check. That really funny Obama face mask with the eyes and mouth cut out – and matching cardboard suit with the neat red, light up tie? Amen. Uh huh. And triple check. I’m keeping my Obama t-shirts, sweatshirts and bumper stickers, though.

Just kidding. I don’t have any of that stuff. Not one bit. But if I did, I’d already have my user name and password typed into eBay, ready to pawn it off on some sucker.

The election was historic. The inauguration was unprecedented. The first 100 days, where the president and his agenda are strictly scrutinized and rated, were robust. And then the change. Michelle’s arms should be covered, they said. The president stuck his nose into a regional, racially-tinged argument that was blown out of proportion. And somebody brought up this idea about national healthcare, and the ‘public option’ I still haven’t been able to fully understand.

Most people won’t tell you this kind of thing, especially not in the south where we don’t talk about the person for whom we’ve voted unless it is in the confines of a party-specific environment. But I voted for Barack Hussein Obama. And, for a while, at least, I believed I was part of the group that made the correct decision. Maybe I still do. Sorry, Mr. Burnette, my fellow registered Republican. I just couldn’t, in good faith, support John McCain in his bid to run the country. Now, however, something wicked this way comes. And I’m not talking about Macbeth.

If you didn’t already know this, (from Wikipedia): Something Wicked This Way Comes is a 1962 novel by Ray Bradbury. It is about two 13-year-old boys, Jim Nightshade and William Halloway, who have a harrowing experience with a nightmarish traveling carnival that comes to their Midwestern town. The carnival's leader is the mysterious "Mr. Dark" who bears a tattoo for each person who, lured by the offer to live out his secret fantasies, has become bound in service to the carnival.

Taking great artistic liberties, of course, you can draw parallels between the story and reality, replacing the boys with Obama and Biden. The traveling carnival is, quite naturally, the madness that is Washington, D.C. For our purposes, Mr. Dark is the personification of politics, itself. If you’re a Democrat, you’d probably say Mr. Dark is Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee. No pun intended on the Mr. Dark reference, Chairman Steele (hee hee). Again from Wikipedia: The novel combines elements of fantasy and horror, analyzing the conflicting natures of good and evil, and on how they come into play between the characters and the carnival.

The day after his inauguration, Obama’s approval rating was a juicy 65% (according to the site Problems he inherited from Bush (and to some degree, even Clinton), an ever-raging war in the Middle East, bank failures and bailouts, the implosion of the real estate markets, a frightening collapse of industry, the severe and unbending contraction of economic growth, record unemployment and continued nationwide job losses, and myriad other factors that many would deem my kicking a dead horse, dropped his approval level to 47%, as of October 24.

Thanks to 43, we know that 44 has a long way to go before the wheels completely and totally fall off the wagon. Many people are gunning for Obama to make missteps and miscalculations, but for reasons both practical and emotional, this man cannot fail. He just does not have that opportunity. Like his mother and I used to tell our son when he was very young and about to do something bad, “That is not a choice.” As long as the carnival and Mr. Dark are present, they are allowed to operate in the same status quo (some would say quid pro quo) manner, and bipartisanship is used more in sound bites than in constructing true and lasting change for Americans, the chance remains that he will err, and in dramatic fashion. Either by his doing, or at the hand of others.

The president of the United States has been given an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by the citizens of the country he has been charged with helping to govern. Obama has an obligation to do whatever is necessary to safeguard our rights as Americans here at home. He must balance our responsibilities to allies around the globe while strengthening weakened relationships, a weakened dollar, and a weakened sense of America as the last remaining Super Power on the planet. And among the many items on his agenda, he has to operate under the unfathomable pressure of carrying the hopes and dreams and delusions of grandeur of minorities and Democrats and the left-leaning Republicans, like myself, who installed him in the Oval Office.

A Change We Can Believe In had better damn well be on the horizon. Because we all know what comes after 44.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Mayonnaise-colored Benz / I Push Miracle Whips

One of the worst character traits a person can have is negativity. I remember telling my wife that I don’t believe in the concept of ‘character flaws’. What the hell is that, a flaw in my character? That just doesn’t make any sense to me. How can my personality, my character, the essence of who I am, be flawed from someone else’s point of view? Don’t presume to tell me anything about myself, especially if you’re coming ‘from a place of no.’ (Thank you, Betthany, for that gem.)

In my quest to become a published author, and a writer of material that people will not only enjoy, but tell others about….I have struggled at times. I suppose it’s part of the creative craft, but I write and write and write, keeping very little actual material. I come up with bits and pieces of ideas, I squirrel them away on legal pads in corners and on floppy disks and flash drives; I think about them over and over again until I’ve rearranged dialogue, scene setting, and even mood. You all may think I’m crazy, but I’ve got a sticky note on my desk right now with the title of a painting (Lush Spring), the name of the artist who created it, and a line about how the vice president is to be laying on a sofa under this painting, on the phone with her estranged husband. It is a scene in my third novel, “The Situation Room.” I haven’t even really started the project yet, but that sticky note will live with me until the book goes to print.

Nothing is ever really finished. I rewrite and rewrite and, well, you get the idea. The effort that goes into coming up with ideas and complex turns of multi-faceted plots can be draining. And exhilarating at the same time.

At my second job, I have been so lucky to meet two kindred spirits, Mason and Daniel. What we three have in common is the desire to create. Mason is a movie and play producer, he is an upstart magazine publisher, and a serial networker. He is going to make a wonderful life for himself and his family. I have no doubt that he is well on his way. Daniel’s strength is music. Whether creating beats, writing lyrics and music, or producing tracks, music his passion. You all know that I’m addicted to writing – novels, short stories, magazine articles, plays, blogs, whatever. Among the criminals and would-be criminals, the miscreants, and the innumerable lazy box shufflers, there are quite a number of people who work on my shift. I could easily have walked by these two guys and never been the wiser.

Think about something for me. Think about sitting in a movie theater and watching a terrible movie. You ask yourself how in the hell it got made. Think about listening to the radio and wondering who gave the yahoo with the awful voice and bad lyrics a record deal. Think about the last time you sat through chapter after chapter of a book until you could stand it no more, finally laying it on a table or in a drawer – or giving it away. If you aren’t artistic, or if you don’t consider yourself so, it might not bother you that much. But it burns me up. Writers and producers and musicians are egotistical. You have to believe that what you’ve created is the best that anybody has ever heard or read. Otherwise, what’s the point in creating? To be mediocre? To be run of the mill? I’ve read some truly awful, poorly written, badly conceived, horse shit books and stories, and each time I wondered what the author had to do to get a deal.

But I persevere. And so do Daniel and Mason. And countless others. We have to.

I absolutely cannot stand Kanye West as a person, but I admire the hell out of him for his ability to create. On his 2004 release, The College Dropout, he has a track called ‘Last Call’. And it’s on this track that he describes the rocky road he endured on the way to fulfilling his dream of not only producing (which he was doing before, but on a much smaller scale), but also of rapping. In a rap he freestyled for Jay-Z, he says, “I’m killing ya’ll ____ on that lyrical shit / Mayonnaise-colored Benz, I push Miracle Whips.” The rest of the rap sucked, but that line stuck…in my head and evidently in Jay-Z’s head, too, because he’s on Jay-Z’s label and doing very, very well for himself. Though I seriously caution taking inspiration from him, Kayne is an example of what can happen if you stick with something. If you continue to work toward a goal or a dream, and if you meet the right people along the way, anything is possible.

Negativity abounds, and it rears itself in ways you can predict, and in ways that take you by surprise. All three of us have faced negativity in the form of rejection, and in lack of support from friends, family, co-workers, and industry professionals. And all three of us will continue to do whatever we can to get our names out there, our voices heard, and our visions seen. We are destined to entertain the world. Our Jay-Z’s are out there somewhere. But unlike Kanye…..

I’ll take my Benz in black.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

I'm Probably Going To Be Thirsty

My mother is one of the most religious/spiritual people I have ever met. I love that about her. She has the ability to look at any situation and understand…no…to feel that the message has come from God, Himself. There is a sobering quality about the way she looks at the world, relying on her faith to get her through horrible events in her life. It is magical and, I suppose, an example of billions of people around the world who deem religion to be their saving grace, the Benadryl that helps them get through the day or the week or the year without freaking out and running through the streets like a Starbucks Barista who has suddenly run out of the House Smooth and doesn’t know to whom she can scream her disgust and injustice at not being able to serve the corporate coffee snobs who must silently practice their order under their breath as they stand in line so as not to make a fool out of themselves when it’s their turn to order. Religion, for many, is just as powerful as a Grande Mocha Espresso….only its effects last much longer and doesn’t burn your mouth (generally) as it goes down on the first sip.

Just like left-handed scissors, religion is as powerful a tool as has ever been created. This blog’s email address ( is going to implode before I get through all of the messages from angry people who took offense to the word ‘created’ just now. Everyone in my family is right-handed, and although I chuckle at the thought of them using left-handed scissors, the irony is electric. Admittedly not a student of religion, I am as ignorant to the religions practiced around the world as I am to the most effective way to throw a curve ball. Created – a word that when combined in a sentence with the word religion evokes passionate responses. For the record, the 2010 Census will list me as Christian and I’m pretty sure I believe that there is a God in the Heavens and that He has a son, Jesus Christ. I do have a tiny issue with the Immaculate Conception and the creation of the Heavens and the Earth. Damn the Discovery Channel and all that cable contributes to life!

My only reasoning behind saying religion is something that has been created stems from my ignorance. There, I’ve gone ahead and told on myself. Next to being one of the most brilliant people I know, I must say that I am ignorant a good deal of the day. I was brought up to go to church every Sunday. I didn’t know what was going on then, and I haven’t increased my level of understanding to this day. All I know is that when you are in the middle of an Episcopalian church service when you are five years old and sitting next to your older sister, it is inappropriate to wait until there is a lull in the sermon and shout, “Amen!”

How many religions are there around the world? How many of us know about them? How many of us have decided that since their religion is not the same religion that I practice, it must be inferior in some magnificent way? How many people are going to burn in hell for ignoring the bullhorn? Betcha it’s more than you think. Save me a glass of very dry red wine, please. I’m probably going to be thirsty.

Religion is funny on so many levels. I mentioned my mother previously. I think the way she looks at religion, however, is not funny. Not to say that she doesn’t appreciate those things that are funny, just not church. Why, you ask, is religion funny? Because people go out of their way, one way or another, to embrace it like one of those orange and white ‘your dumb ass fell overboard, so you’d better cling to this thing so we can save your life’ Styrofoam floats; or they go the complete opposite direction and make it their life’s work to renounce God, Jesus, Mary (why doesn’t Joseph get any props?) and all of the Prophets and Apostles, not to mention the stories and oral traditions that give meaning and purpose to many.

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. And to the Republic for which it stands. One nation. Under [insert least offensive non-religious reference that will both please the masses and irritate that one lonely asshole hell-bent on grabbing his fifteen minutes of fame at the expense of his dignity and the reputation of his child, the little girl for whom he claims to have undertaken this mission of anti-Christian, anti-patriotic insanity]. [Insert alternative for ‘Amen’. Perhaps: “Git ‘Er Done.”]

But I digress. There is so much love inherent in what religion offers. Christianity, in my unskilled viewpoint, is based on the ultimate love a parent can have not only for his child, but for others.

Past my ramblings, religion can set the tone for the entire familial relationship. I have neighbors who are Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are a wonderfully close family with two children, one boy, one girl. They regularly attend meetings (services to the layman), they are active in their community and they have a very profound understanding of where they fit into this life and the world around them. Their religion does that for them. And they are grateful for it. Their religion makes them who they are, good or bad, and it grounds them to an exact center around which they know that deviation is not acceptable. Their religious orbits do not wobble. Birthdays, Christmas, Halloween, etc., pass without mention. It is their religious commitment not to recognize those events. As a family, they are passionate about their beliefs. As individuals, they adhere to the lessons and teaching they absorb in order to more fully attain the religious and spiritual harmony they seek. And they’re good people. Religion has done that for them.

On the other hand…

The people who covet religion as their form of income absolutely kill me. Pulpit Pimps. The 700 Club? Really. The folks who lord over (or should that be under) the Crystal Palace? Uh, right. Don’t get me wrong, there’s great money in preaching the Word. It’s great work if you can get it. How many Baptist preachers have you seen drive away from their inner city parsonages driving used Hondas? Somewhere in the preacher code, it is bespoke to pilot a Lincoln on the blessed highway to the Lord. If only they drove Hondas, they could afford even more expensive suits.

What was that guy’s name who was a very popular televangelist who had an affair with someone in the church, of course after whole-heartedly denouncing adultery as a sin, and made an emotional (contrived) apology to his flock on national television, saying how he shamed the church and how wrong he was to have been overtaken by Satan and his plan to corrupt the soul of a preacher (millionaire who made his money from the donations of old people too mentally malleable to understand that he was bilking them for their retirement savings as he laughs his ass off driving his Lincoln to the bank)? I am searching my brain, but I think there are too many examples of them for me to pin down just one. I’m still trying to figure out what his public apology was trying to teach me about religion. Was it that I should pray to God that I am not besieged by and fall victim to Satan’s temptations of the flesh? Or was it that I should pray to God that I don’t get publicly busted for having been having been besieged by and fallen victim to Satan’s temptations of the flesh? Like I said, I’m still working that one out. The crying was a nice touch, though.

What about all of those people who have been deluded into believing that killing thousands of people will get them into Heaven? How do you spell Infidel, exactly? It is capitalized? Or spelled in lower-case? I’ll have to check Come to think of it, am I one? I must be since I don’t even know how to spell it, right? I’m not saying you have to be a non-Muslim to be an Infidel by any stretch of the imagination. Those poor Muslims who have zero connection to the madness (is that a Christian perspective, or what?) are getting the shaft. So what if their skin is darker than your average Caucasian? The fact that their form of dress may sometimes include long flowing robes and ornate jewelry does not signify that their husbands are part of America-hating organizations bent on the destruction of the people amongst whom they live and work. You don’t even have to be Muslin to be labeled as a traitor.

The Middle East, a potpourri of wonderful and peaceful religions, just happens to be one of the many places around the world from which people of varying economic and social classes are fleeing, seeking a home in the Land of Freedom and Tolerance (I remember something about the Statue of Liberty and “huddled masses” from my high school social studies classes). Those people, religious and familial, seeking the American Dream, have taken the place of blacks in this country, in this case, lionized at first sight for what their beliefs may or may not be. Shame on us.

“Arabs Are The New Blacks” does make a catchy bumper sticker, though. Somebody call Al Sharpton.

The fact is, there is a torrent of religious activity in the Middle East that constantly threatens to piss somebody off. Anti-American, Anti-Christian, Anti-Arab, anti-yours is not mine religious sentiment and fanaticism is everywhere. The area boasts many different religions, not just a sect of the ones that people blindly associate with having flown jets into the Twin Towers and the madness that is killing mothers and the elderly and children and people at wedding receptions and the corporate coffee snobs who must silently practice their order under their breath as they stand in line so as not to make a fool out of themselves when it’s their turn to order at the Starbucks in Beirut.

I wonder if the Christian Crusades in medieval times bore the same brunt on those who did not believe. If one of the Ten Commandments says that Thou Shalt Not Kill, how the hell can you justify killing in the name of God? Talk about hypocrisy. Picture this scene: A sunny day, the breeze rolling across the green pastureland of medieval Britain. A gentleman on horseback, resplendent in his gleaming gold-embroidered outfit pulls back the reigns of his trusty steed and stands in the footpath of a woman in a dirty dress carrying a bucket of potatoes.

“Good day, young peasant woman. I am the brave Sir Finklebutt. I am on a mission handed down on virgin parchment paper, written by the hand of the aide of the King, himself.” About
now, the peasant woman is looking around to make sure that she is the target of the words from this beautiful man sitting atop his beautiful horse. “I am charged with spreading the word of God to every person in this land. You, dirty little woman carrying a bucket of potatoes, must answer but this one question. Do you believe that God is the ruler of Heaven and Earth and that our King is of divine instruction and lineage?”

“That’s two questions, actually,” the woman replies.

“In either case,” the knight retorts, “what is your answer?”

“I think I’m going to have to have go with no to both. Is that bad?”

If a bucket of potatoes and the severed head of a woman in a dirty dress fall to the ground from the same height, which one will hit the ground first? Obviously, she didn’t get the ‘You’re a Christian or we’re going to kill you in the name of God’ memo. Shame.

I love my mother more than anyone could. With religion on her side, she can probably do just about anything. But I’ll just bet she can’t use left-handed scissors, either.

The Longest Yard

Effort is simply not commensurate with financial capability. It just is not. And that’s why I don’t understand the rationale some people use when excusing poor behavior, poor execution, and poor instruction based on what something costs, or what someone could afford to spend. Be it in school or on the football field, I find it repulsive and, frankly, a cop out that someone would make that correlation.

It costs nothing to pay attention when someone is speaking to you. It costs nothing to do what you’re told. It costs nothing to work your butt off in class, continuously building on your successes. It costs nothing to give your absolute gut-wrenching best in pursuit of a win. The expectation of structure and order is also free.

In his first year of tackle football, we signed our son up for a league with a $35 cost of participation. Our other options were higher-priced; some were upwards of $200. Because this was basically an experiment to see whether or not our child would enjoy hitting others, and not freak out at being hit by others, we were leery of spending a lot of money.

I fully disclose that I do not have any insight into the behind-the-scenes operations of the organization that runs our son’s league, but I can tell you from day one that I was not impressed. Again, the ‘get what you paid for’ excuse was used to combat not having a fixed schedule, not being able to depend on players’ parents to step up to their obligations, or teaching their children what my wife and I believe to be the basics of acceptable behavior. What was most telling, though, was a conversation I had with a grandparent who said that he and his grandson experienced the same kind of organizational apathy the previous year when they, themselves, participated on one of the $200 teams.

For the first three games of the season, our boys were 3-0 and after each win, they were over the moon. Their first loss was a hard-fought battle, resulting in a 0-2 final score; a safety in the final two minutes sealed their fate. From that moment on, the wheels began to come off. Not everybody, but some people, theorized that the $200 teams were probably better, based on what their parents could afford to contribute toward their success. (You have to wonder what the $200 teams were using as their excuse when they lost to us.)

Today, our $200 opponents seemed to operate in unison. They stood quietly in line during the pre-game weigh-in, and moved in silent lock step afterward, walking seamlessly back to their gathering area. They warmed up as a unit, and they listened to their coaches. In contrast, my wife (and me, to a very minor extent) had to repeatedly admonish our team to do what she’d just told them moments ago. Stand there with your mouth shut, looking forward, and keep your hands to yourselves. Warm ups weren’t disjointed, but fluid wasn’t an adjective I would have used. Our attitudes handicapped us from the beginning. You could see it on their faces and in their actions, and you could hear it in their voices. They were defeated before they began. We got our butts kicked 32-0.

The longest yard these boys have to face isn’t on the football field; far from it, in fact. Life is hard enough, and only gets crazier the older you get. If we don’t prepare them well to face challenges, then who will? Whether our pockets are lighter by $35 or $200 or $1,000 dollars, what’s most important is what we’re teaching our children, and how they react to both the joy of winning, and the abject heartbreak of losing. By not instilling in our children a passion for excellence, we are failing them. By allowing our children to do their best until such time as they don’t think they can win and simply throw in the towel, we are failing them. In not providing our children with a basic understanding of how you are to act in public, how you are to appropriately address an adult, and how you overcome adversity, we are failing them. When we expose our children to chaos, thinking they aren’t paying attention to how we approach a solution to a very simple problem, we are failing them.

As it turns out, our child has flourished in tackle football and has moved up the ranks on his team. He proved himself by doing what he was told, the first time and without argument. The rewards of his efforts were increased adulation, increased respect by his coaches and teammates, and an increase in his self-awareness and pride. Our child isn’t perfect. He makes mistakes just like any nine year old. His mother and I aren’t perfect, either. We make mistakes, too. And all three of us try to learn from those mistakes.

Parents and coaches and teachers and administrators have a no-cost obligation to do right by the children in our lives.

If we don’t, they’re the ones who’ll pay the price.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Cupcakes & Blue Star

I had to hit ‘pause’ on my DVR to write this post. I’m on the sofa watching FlashForward, the new show on ABC. Good God is it good. I don’t know who writes this stuff, but I wish it were me.

Anyway, so I woke up this morning to my wife reading me her CNN Breaking New text that President Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Outstanding! And then the realization set in that she would be leaving in about an hour, on her way to Chicago to run one of the most famous marathons in the world, and that I wouldn’t see her for three days. Bummer.

On the flip side, I will be very busy/distracted with a full agenda of my own. Gotta run our son to school, then I’ve got to ferry a Basset Hound to the vet for a very long overdue checkup, moving swiftly on to lunch, right by the Harris Teeter to grab cupcakes and Capri Suns for a class full of fourth graders to belatedly celebrate my son’s birthday, and then a drive-by from our house to the football field for practice. Whew. And that’s just today. Tomorrow brings a football game, a cookout, and an experiment in making fried chicken. On my own. Without help. Wish me luck.

As it happens, the only things I’ve accomplished today are taking my son to school, and chauffeuring my ‘please don’t get car sick’ doggy to the vet. Where I got a talking to. You know how southern women have the ability to curse you out without uttering any four-letter words? Well, I have no idea where she’s from, but the vet practically skewered me. (I just looked at Beauregard, splayed out on his sofa cushions, eyelids trying desperately to stay up, and wondered what I wouldn’t do for him. I’d take a thousand punishing conversations from a vet if it meant he’d live forever.)

Before our appointment, though, while we were in the waiting room, an elderly couple and their tiny poodle walked in. I was, quite literally in a poodle sandwich, as a tea cup poodle sat in its owner’s lap to my right – the elderly couple and their little baby were to my left. The lady on the right told me that her dog is so small (something like less than five pounds) she is building a sun room on the back of her house. You see, he or she – I didn’t think to ask, and wasn’t paying close enough attention to remember what she said – is so tiny, in fact, that it can’t stay outside by itself for fear of being whisked away by an eagle or hawk or something just as menacing. I didn’t tell her this, but if your dog can be mistaken by a bird of prey simply by its size, you might consider a new, perhaps much larger pet.

The lady with the bird food poodle was called back into a room, so I turned my attention to the elderly couple. I have no idea how old they were, maybe in their early eighties, but you could tell they’d been together for a long, long time. They smelled like their old house. They wore old clothes, but were still as stylish as they could be. And they each doted 100% on their dog. I heard their doctor say that their preciousness might have kidney stones. It was going to require an overnight stay, some x-rays (at $130 a pop!), and some special medication. I hope it was just my imagination, but you could hear the unspoken how can we afford the treatment and x-rays question in the elderly woman’s voice as she slowly agreed to whatever it would take to make her baby better. She actually said something like ‘we’ve got to keep him alive.’ I felt so horrible. I didn’t know them. I had never met them, and I will never see them again in my lifetime. But I still felt bad.

Beauregard has some issues, yes. The vet thinks he might have picked up a little case of ring worm. That’s some kind of Immaculate Conception if you ask me. How the hell does a dog that only goes outside for five minutes twice a day because he’d rather nap on his sofa cushions than commune with freakin nature get ring worm in the first place? He’s also got some dirty ears. Whatever. He’s a Basset Hound. Isn’t that just how that goes? So when the vet told me how much everything was going to cost, and what I needed to do to fix his issues, I gladly handed over my debit card.

Later today, I’ll be buying cupcakes and Blue Star (ring worm, jock itch, psoriasis, tedder….nobody really knows what the last one is); party treats for my son, and topical medication for my doggy. Tomorrow, an elderly couple will find out whether or not their baby is going to have to have an operation to ease its pain. Sunday, my wife will have completed the Chicago marathon; I will have made my first foray into making soul food. And for the rest of his life, Barack Hussein Obama will be a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

What did you see in your vision?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

It Ain't Jazz

If anybody can actually roll over in their grave, I’d bet good money it’s Francis Scott Key.

Every weekend, all across the country and presumably wherever Americans gather around the globe, somebody skewers the National Anthem. How many of you remember Rosanne Barr and her public defacing of The Star Spangled Banner? From county fairs to any sporting event under the sun, there is a significant chance that someone is doing their best to make a mockery of a beautiful song.

In an era well before the invention of Ella Fitzgerald-esque scatting and Mariah Carey-esque vocal runs, Key’s poem “Defence of Fort McHenry” was set to the tune of a British drinking song (of all things). It was 1812 and war was raging. I imagine his desire was to pen something emotional and deeply personal, and the resulting combination of his words and the infectious British tune, quickly became the song of our nation. Instead of cannon balls and other assorted ammunition exploding above us, each weekend spectators at NASCAR races and baseball games are bombarded with ‘Experiments in Song’.

Like her or not, Whitney Houston (Bobby!) will be forever associated with the most stirring and passionate rendition ever heard. Name another artist whose version of The Star Spangled Banner ran up the music charts and stayed there for weeks. I didn’t think so. I can still remember when Whitney (Crack Is Whack!) performed during the 1991 Super Bowl, and I am still in love with her performance to this day. She knew how to do it. She knew how to push the limit of her voice and our collective appreciation of her talent to ensure that nobody would soon forget how our National Anthem is supposed to be sung.

Today at the NASCAR race in Kansas, some up-and-coming country artist virtually gave himself a hernia trying to belt out too many notes, too close in succession, too slowly at times, and too quickly at others. It ain’t jazz. No free expression here, please. Tap your foot to keep time, write the words on your hand if you must, and close your eyes if you think the size of the crowd will intimidate you.

With a nod to Jimmy Hendrix as he closed Woodstock, the instrumental recordings at the Olympics, and my own performance at a Varsity basketball game during my senior year at Jesse O. Sanderson High School (Go Spartans!), I beg anyone who has designs on flexing their golden pipes to think twice about trying to impress us. Just sing the song.

Francis will thank you.

Bulls & Berries

I’m sitting here, on Saturday night, watching bull riding. Like my wife says in jest, “Don’t judge me.”

I shake my head repeatedly because I don’t have the first clue what in the hell would draw someone to do this. Why, I ask myself, would you knowingly strap yourself atop a bull named after the devil? Why, I ask myself, would you allow someone to anger said bull by constricting his ‘man parts’ in such a way that he foams at the mouth, and unconsciously craps himself? And….finally….why, I ask myself, would you let some idiot open the gate, letting a large and pissed off El Diablo attempt to thrash your ass into the dirt?

What kind of perverted thrill seeking junkie do you have to be to do this? I mean, is the same person who rides a snotty bull the same person who jumps out of a perfectly good airplane or straps a rubber band to himself and leaps from a bridge or helicopters to the tip top of a mountain and speed-skis to the bottom or crams his entire body into a barrel hoping that he doesn’t drown in the undertow of Niagara Falls? It’s absolute lunacy.

My wife told me she’d give me a dollar if I’d change the channel. Cha-ching.

We went from Versus to the National Geographic Channel and some moron on a show called “Alone in the Wild.” Go figure what it’s about, right? I don’t understand the fascination behind these types of programs, or their hosts (and that’s a term I use loosely). Man Against Nature. Survivor Man. Thrill Seeking Tools Trying to Get Famous By Eating Bugs and Wild Berries Whilst Using Super Charged Batteries to Video Chronicle Their Misadventures and Dumb Decisions Before Getting Into A Van and Driving Away With the Production Crew. Amazing.

This guy is actually twittering about setting rabbit traps. Excuse me? Twittering? How are you alone in the wild if you can twit or tweet or whatever the conjugation might be?

I know I’m not the smartest person in the world, and I’m sure I don’t use anywhere close to 100% of my brain power. But, just as I’m pretty sure I’m never going to attach my good arm to an angry bovine and hope that I don’t find my limp body stomped under foot, I’m confident that the first thing I do after my plane crashes in the middle of freakin no where – and I realize I’m not dead – won’t be pulling out my BlackBerry and updating my Facebook status, my MySpace page, or tweeting about the berries and bunny traps that will keep me alive until I find my way to safety.

“57 channels and nothin’ on.” - Bruce Springsteen

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Nigga, pleez!

Everyone who read that title reacted differently. Every one of you. I can guarantee it. The reactions were probably as widely varied as the cultural and socio-economic backgrounds of my reading audience. I had second thoughts about the title, but the very discomfort it engenders goes a long way in striking the tone I wanted to create.

I was six years old when I was called a nigger for the first time.

That was 1978 and I’ll never forget it. We had just moved from St. Louis, Missouri to Raleigh, North Carolina, and I was looking out the front door at nothing in particular when he appeared. I saw this teenager walking across MY grass, and for whatever reason, I decided he needed to know where he was. “Get off my grass,” I yelled, my tiny little voice booming as loudly and as menacingly as I could muster. Without skipping a tenth of a beat, this kid – normal white guy; no different than any of the older neighborhood kids I knew and played with in St. Louis - screamed, “Shut up, nigger!”

Excuse me? Offended that he rebuffed the way I was protecting MY grass, I shot back and said, “You shut up, nigger!” Clearly, I didn’t understand what I was saying.

Thirty-one years later, and I still don’t understand. I don’t understand why it’s used. I don’t understand why there is a double standard around who can use it. I don’t even understand the nonsense around funeralizing something that apparently will never die. You may or may not remember the funeral the NAACP held for the N-word:


It was done in a ceremony during the 1998 convention in Detroit. Seems like it did a hell of a lot of good, huh?

I ask myself, “Just how black do I have to be in order to not only use the word, but to feel comfortable with it falling out of my mouth, or effortlessly sinking past my inner ear – and not react?” (Hell, the whole what’s black enough topic carries enough drama and historical venom to have its own post.) People of all backgrounds – and I’m talking black folks – use it freely. In his attempt at defending the use of the word, Ludracris (in an appearance promoting the movie ‘Crash’) just about made Oprah’s head spin on its axis. Is he blacker than me? A guy at my second job the other day told me he had to ‘nigger rig’ something. Is he blacker than me? Jesus Christ, president Obama used a Jay-Z song during his campaign that – surprisingly as hell – didn’t censor the N-word. You should have seen the deer-in-the-headlight reactions on the faces of the audience. Is he blacker than me?

Or is that even the issue?

Racism is never going away. People should come to that conclusion, if they haven’t yet. People should also realize that the use of the N-word isn’t limited to the rural South, but spread internationally thanks to an ever-expanding global community. However, to legitimize anything that has divided races and cultures – and you cannot tell me that we, as a black collective, have not legitimized this word – is questionable, at best, and shameful, at worst. Some of my friends use the word, and my perspective may irritate the hell out of them. I can’t help that.

And I can’t blame them because I’m also conflicted in a way. I don’t use it, and I cannot fathom my child using it, but one of my favorite artists of the day, Lil Wayne, couldn’t write a song without its inclusion. I bob my head to his songs, rapping along with him as best I can until one of the N-words creeps in, and gets blurred out. I know what he said. Everybody knows what he said. There inevitably comes a moment of reflection about it, and then I start bopping my head to the music, and rapping along with him as best I can – until it happens again….and then the song is over. Am I perpetuating the use of the N-word by not crying out against artists whose every day vernacular would be void without it? Do I shame myself and make moot my argument that the N-word does nothing to positively contribute to our society – let alone define our society? Does it count it if I’ve only said it in my head, but not out loud? “What do you mean, ‘you people’?”

When I hear that word – not always, of course, but just sometimes – I think about my parents, growing up as teenagers and young adults in the fifties and sixties. They lived in Kansas City (one in Kansas and the other in Missouri). My parents and grandparents were witness to some of the most horrible treatment one person could dole out on another. And they survived. When I hear that word – not always, of course, but just sometimes – I think about Theophilus Eugene “Bull” Connor ordering dogs and firehouses to tear into black men and women and children in Alabama. And the way president Kennedy only intervened when politics came into play. When I hear that word – not always, of course, but just sometimes – I think about my son, and how the world has changed in so many ways that he’ll never be able to fully understand or appreciate. I think about how lucky we both are that times have changed. I wonder how many sons saw their fathers fight back after being called a nigger, only to be beaten down and hanged in a throng of excited witnesses murmuring about how “he got what he deserved.”

I hear variations on a theme every day. Every day. It’s on the radio. It’s in movies and on TV. I hear it as I walk through the crowds of young men at my second job. What up, my nigga? Nigga, pleez. That nigga crazy. You my nigga. Each occurrence, no matter the context, no matter how it’s pronounced or even spelled, boggles my mind. And makes me angry at the same time. How black does that make me?

Or is that even the issue?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

One more year, please

Today is my birthday. Hooray, me! In five days, my son is going to turn nine years old. My wife and I have talked about this at length, but we are both on the same some point in the future (we don't know when), we will have another child. At least that's the plan. Whether we have another, or if we adopt one of the countless children in this country who are in need of a loving home, our family will expand by one more - at a minimum.

She just called me from the road, between Michael's and Target. Two of our neighbors have been sidelined with the flu. One of them is confirmed to have the H1N1, and the other, we're not sure. Julia wanted to make them some chicken noodle soup, and couldn't get Paula Dean's recipe for it out of her mind. So she called me. In a matter of moments, I had Googled the recipe, copied/pasted to my Gmail address, and sent it shooting through cyberspace toward her smartphone. Really? Wow. Thirty-seven years ago, if my mother had decided on a whim during a shopping trip that she wanted to make some chicken noodle soup for ailing neighbors, the flight of the bumble bee would have been much different. Of course, she would have been in labor thirty-seven years ago today, so chicken noodle soup might not have been foremost on her brain at the time.

I'm sitting next to my son, who is fully absorbed in something called Fusion Fall. It's an online game he's playing on his mother's laptop. I am working on my blog and checking my email using a laptop of my own. Without causing him too much "soon-to-be nine years old and I don't like attention from my parents" anxiety, I look at him every now and again, and marvel. At breakfast this morning, Julia and I reminisced about how it didn't seem that long ago when he was a baby, and we'd just set his carrier on the restaurant table. Now he's the Right Tackle on his football team, he stands just under five feet tall, he can put down the majority of an IHop Breakfast Sampler, he loves the new math he's learning in his fourth grade class, and he's as smart as a whip.

The plan in my head that needs to come to fruition before the Christmas buying season begins is to have my first novel, "The Brotherhood" published via (you'll hear more about that in the near future, of course). It's a print on demand service, meaning your book isn't printed until it's ordered. And all of the technology is digital. It's amazing. I can't wait to share this, and subsequent novels, with the world. If it works the way I hope it will, I might use for every title I publish.

I don't know what's going to happen by September 27, 2010. My family might be larger. I might be sending my wife recipes using some undiscovered technology. My child might be even smarter than me than he is already. And I might be well on my way to earning a spot on the New York Bestseller List (which would solidify my next choice of tattoo, by the way).

If there are things you can look forward to achieving or accomplishing in your life; if you can still smile at the memories you've already made; and if you can swallow the bad taste of the times in your life that you screwed up or did something stupid, getting older doesn't have to suck. It can actually be a lot of fun. Today is my birthday.

Hooray, me!

Five minutes in my psyche

So I was thinking about this website the other day. I was trying to come up with some rules for what I was going to do. When was I going to update the site? How often would I post topics? How many times during the day would I restrict myself from commenting on something I'll see or hear. I couldn't think of anything. And then I thought, 'You know what? This is my website and I can do whatever I want.' Isn't that the point, anyway?

I think so.

My wife has often told me that she'd like to spend five minutes inside my head. I do not think that is such a grand idea. Besides the various female body parts, the cars, memories about great pie and wedding cake I've experienced, and the other random nothingness that impulsively fires the synapses in my brain, five minutes in my psyche could leave her more damaged than even I could imagine.

From book ideas, book dialogue, mental notes about researching snippets of history that I'll eventually ADD to a book, and the inconsistent decisions I make where any of my novels are concerned, most people would need a map to figure out how in the hell they got so turned around amongst my thoughts and memories. A good bit of the time, that includes me. My uncle was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's (sp?) when he was in his fifties (if not very late forties, I'll have to ask my mother). For a long time, my memory has been crappy, and even when I'd like to use it as a crutch, I don't always remember why. LOL! Just kidding. But even with my family history staring me in the face, and the prospect of falling into the same mental quick sand, the space between my ears isn't for the faint of heart.

So, without rules to guide me, and having forewarned you all that the things you're going to read (and maybe reread, and then email your friends about) in this blog....okay, I've succumbed to calling it a blog 'cause that's just'll learn more about me than maybe you thought you would. Don't be scared. I'm here for you.

Who's got the map?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Happy Birthday, Magnolia Rambling!

It's official....I'm on the Web! A special thanks to my good friend, Valerie, for inspiring me to set up an opinion page (I'm NOT calling this a blog! LOL!). I can't wait to see what this brings.

Who Am I?

I am many things, I guess. I'm a father and a husband. An aspiring novelist with a big mouth and more dreams than I have time to fulfill. I'm a brother and an uncle. A best friend and a fraternity brother. I love cars in almost every flavor. I love country music and riding my motorcycle for hours.

Who Am I?

I am an opinionated son of a bitch, and as my wife will tell you, it's not a good idea to ask me something if you don't want an honest answer. I love nerd TV, factories, and generally any show that details how things are made. I love meeting people, making friends, and having a great time. I love going to the movies and giving the 'shut up' eye to noisy kids and adults, alike.

Who Am I?

I am a fan of small government, social liberalism, and tight controls on spending. I love a great ice-cold wheat beer, NASCAR, extra pickles and sour cream on my $6 burger, and cursing a good blue streak. I love to sit on the floor and rub my 11 year old Basset Hound. I am on the path to wealth and success. I am ready for whatever is on the horizon. And you are all invited to come along for the ride.

Who Am I?

I am Magnolia Rambling