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