Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Beautiful Smile of the Broken Boy

A small story with a happy ending.

Together, my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, and I have 10 children and eleven grandchildren, with grandchild number 12 due in about a month. She and her first husband had three boys and four girls, while I had two boys and one girl with my previous wife. We both love all of our children and grandchildren, and the only clue as to which is the genetic donor is found by checking pigmentation. We both love our kids, see? And we both love our grandchildren.
And yet...
And yet, in a way I do not quite understand, even after being a parent for more than 34 years, I have a unique affection for every single one of my offspring. Sometimes it's easy to identify why I have a special place for each one of these 21 individuals; Mickey takes me to the range with him; Tobiyah boldly moves cross country. Other relationships, particularly with the littles, are a bit more difficult to to differentiate. I can't tell you exactly WHY Trey makes me light up a bit differently than Eliott does; I just know that it's true. There is plenty of Papa love to go around, and every one of them gets all of it I can give them.
But ONE grandchild has an easily identified place in my heart. Four-and-a-half  year old Heath is the first-born son of MY first-born son, the first grandchild I was able to hold in my arms on the day he was born. I have so many images of him stored in my memory, littles snippets I can take out and look at when I want, or need, a special boost. The internal snapshot I have of the day I walked into his house, to be greeted me "Hey, Papa!", is radiant in the cells it occupies in my brain. The first time the firstborn son of my firstborn son greeted me by name; yeah, that's a grand and lovely thing.

Heath loves his Papa. He loves GranNessa, too. And he especially loves 12 year old Kenneth and 10 year old Alicia (we Patterson Boys have an eye for the ladies) because they play with him and let him play with their toys when he comes to our house for a visit. And last week, he was excited about having a sleep-over at his house, and he told me repeatedly how either Kenneth or Alicia could sleep on the bed in his room. Just one, because the bed wasn't big enough for two, but it might be Kenneth who slept there, and it might be Alicia. He was going to be a good host.

His mommy and daddy were going to take a small trip just for themselves, to celebrate their anniversary. He was going to miss them, but he knew that he was going to have fun with Papa and GranNessa and especially Kenneth and Alicia, and also his little brother Eliott. He likes to play with Eliott, but he's just a little boy,  who really hasn't learned (yet) how to kick the soccer ball back and do other big boy things.

But Kenneth can do all of that, and Heath was bouncing up and down in anticipation as he persuaded Kenneth to go outside with him and play ball. Alicia found a copy of "The Wizard of Oz" to read; Eliott was down for his morning nap, and GranNessa was still at work, so it was just Papa and Kenneth and Heath who went out to the front yard to play. It's a quiet street; no traffic to speak of. Still, the first time Papa heard Heath yelling at Kenneth to stop the ball from going into the street, I knew we had to make a change. I wasn't able to play, because I had the baby monitor, so I sat on the front porch and supervised. 'Supervised' means I'm the guy who decides it's time to do something different when we can't kick the ball more than twice without it getting near the street. So, what shall we do? First, Heath and Kenneth picked GranNessa some flowers. Several dandelions got plucked, and set aside to wait for a vase to present them to GranNessa. Next, Heath wanted to play in the dirt, but Papa thought his clothes were a bit too nice. Then, Papa heard Eliott making a noise, so we moved inside for a while.

Inside, it turned out to be: WATER TIME! Heath stopped up the sink in the bathroom by appropriate plug use, and took several of his toys for a swim. That was HIGHLY entertaining, and really not very messy at all. Then we had a snack, and Heath removed his shirt, so he could hang it on the back porch so it could dry in the sun. Then, he and Kenneth played a game, and won, while Papa helped Eliott wake up all the way, and gave him a yummy lunch of hot dogs, carrots, cantaloupe, and some other green fruit. And then, Heath and Kenneth wanted to go outside and play again, this time in the back yard. It's fenced in, which is really a good idea, because it lets Presley and Fiona, the basset hound girls, and Bebop and RockSteady, the big six month old ducks, run around safely. And Heath and Eliott have a nice playground set.

And Papa stayed inside and helped Eliott eat, which means he kept putting food on the plate.

Then, Alicia came downstairs, and with that regal presence only attained by 10 year old girls, let me know that Heath was crying.
"Kenneth is with him," I responded.
She did not deign to respond, but merely swept outside with a superior look on her face...
...only to return, two minutes later, with Heath in tears, holding his arm, and wailing.

It has been 45 years since I went through medic training in the Army at Ft Sam Houston, but I knew a break when I saw it. Appear to be calm, first order of business.
Ice pack time; until Kenneth could find the baggies for an ice pack, we used the field expedient of a bag of frozen vegetables.
Comfort wailing grandson; attempt to determine how it happened ("I fell").
Make phone calls:
1. GranNessa to tell her what happened, and ask her to leave work right now and come home.
2. Call Uncle Mickey to get him to come over and watch Kenneth, Alicia, and Eliott while I took Heath to the hospital. Mickey completed an EMT program, so I got a confirmation of my diagnosis of a fracture.
3. Call Heath's daddy. 'He fell off his playground, and his right arm is broken. I've called Mickey, and as soon as he gets here, I'm going to take him to the hospital.'
4. Quick survey of nearby emergency care centers. Decide not to do that; I believe he's going to need a hospital.
5. Talk to Heath's mommy. She has arranged for dear neighbor April to come and get Eliott. I explain Mickey is on the way, but April is a better choice. She sends me a text with information I will need for Heath at the hospital. They are on the way home, having spent three minutes inside their vacation room.
6. Mickey shows up. April shows up. I prep Heath by putting his Batman bathrobe on him, shoes and socks, and attempt to make a sling out of a towel.
7. Decide NOT to try to drive into Atlanta to the hospital, given that it's Friday afternoon at 2:30; Canton has a good facility and it's closer.
8. Heath, by this time, is much more in control. He is still in some pain, but is able to speak clearly, and only tears up when he tries to tell  me what happened.
9. Get to the hospital, only to discover they've moved it, about a month ago. Go to the new location. Heath calmly tells me not to step on the brakes so fast. I comply.
10. Carry my grandson across the parking lot, because there is no space nearby. I have to stop and rest.
11. The people at the hospital, once we get to the front of the line, are lovely, sweet, and solicitous of Heath's well-being, and give him a Batman sticker.
12. I speak again with Heath's mommy and daddy, and let him speak to his mommy. I tell Heath I want to take a picture of him to send to his mommy, so will he please smile, to show her that he is being brave? He smiles. He also wants to look at the picture of his arm. I show him.
13. And then everything is out of my hands, and the waiting starts. I wait until his mommy and daddy get there. Then, I go to their home, and take Eliott from April. Eliott and I have a snack and hang out. Then his mommy comes home, and she tells me that his daddy will be in the ambulance with Heath when they transfer him to the Children's Hospital.
The rest is just shuffling around and details.

But, after the immediacy of the crisis is behind me, the self-accusations start. I had PROMISED Courtney I could take care of her little boys. 'This isn't my first rodeo,' I assured her, as she was loading up her car to leave.
Now, I have run the tape back and forth I don't know how many times. What could I have done differently?
My conclusion is this: there was no reasonable precaution I did not take. There was no foreseeable event I could have avoided. Heath was playing on his own equipment, in his own back yard, and he was under reasonable supervision. Perhaps I should have taken him to the Children's Hospital straightaway, but I wasn't familiar with the route, and I wanted to get him to a full-service ER ASAP, and I didn't want to get tied up in Atlanta traffic.
And it doesn't seem to help at all.

What will the outcome be? Well, much of that is out of my hands. The docs say that he should get full recovery. Vanessa and I went to visit last night, and he was still talking to me, and didn't express any fear or anger. I'm hoping that means that I still am the Papa he loves.
His mom and his dad have both recently expressed appreciation for my regular baby-sitting for Eliott. I'm hoping I'll still get to do that; but, who knows? Maybe the association of me with the accident is going to be something it takes them a while to get over. I KNOW what it's like to so passionately love a child, that you go to ANY length to protect them.
I was hoping I was going to get a word from God on Saturday at church.  I was hoping for one of those dramatic events, where the scales fall from my eyes, and I see the truth! Well, nothing like that. What I got was: this is what you have to deal with. I'll be with you in this, just as I have been with you in everything else. No matter what, that won't change. (Didn't happen in fiery letters on a purple scroll, either; just a confident understanding that this is Who He is, and He still loves me.)

So, here's what I have at the end: A beautiful smile from a sweet and broken boy. He put the smile there because his Papa asked him to, so he could show his momma that he was being brave. And this is the lesson that I must learn from my four-and-a-half year old grandson; to smile, NOT because I am happy, or pleased with the way things are going. Instead, my grandson teaches me that I am to smile because it is good for others to see that I can do that.
And, like him, I will rest when I can & when I need to, and allow others to care for me, and accept the gifts I am given; and continue to trust the Big Guys.

Peace be on your household.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

How I Interact With Cops While Bearing Arms

This is prompted by the recent jury verdict on the police shooting of Philando Castile.

I'm not going to go over circumstances of the shooting, nor the trial which gave acquittal to the police officer who shot and killed Philando Castile. I want to make two quick comments about that specific case, and then tell you what I do when I get pulled over while carrying.

Comment # 1. Philando Castile was legally carrying a firearm, and in no way using the firearm to present a threat. He did ABSOLUTELY nothing wrong, and I want to be clear about that.
Comment  # 2. His family asked that any financial support to be directed to Shiloh Hills Missionary Baptist Church in St. Paul. It is my understanding that they do not have financial needs at this point, but a letter expressing your support and prayer might mean a lot. The snail mail address is : 501 West Lawson AvenueSt. Paul, Minnesota 55117; the email is at the weblink.

And now for the general information about driving while armed:

I have a concealed carry permit. Any time you see me out in the world, it's a sure bet I am carrying a loaded firearm on  my person. Why? Because I want to! I ALWAYS am in compliance with applicable federal and state law. 

I also have, from time to time, conditions permitting,  a tendency to exceed the speed limit. In addition, up until about a year ago, I drove a raggedy old truck with the rear windows duck-taped in and tail-lights that took a lot of maintenance. Consequently, on at least seven occasions in at least four jurisdictions over the last six years, I have been pulled over by the police, and in every case, here is what I do:

1. I roll down the driver's side window, and I stick BOTH empty hands out, in plain sight. As the police officer approaches my car, as soon as I'm sure he can hear me, I state "Officer, I have a concealed carry permit, and I have a 9 mm on my hip and a .380 in the glove compartment."  (Or a .38 special in my pocket, or a 1911 in a shoulder holster; you get the idea.)

2. I then SHUT UP, and await further instruction; and, I am holding both hands in plain sight at all times.

Sometimes, they just tell me to leave my firearm where it is. Sometimes, they ask if they can place my firearm in their vehicle for safety while we talk. Sometime they ask me to step out; other times, to stay in the vehicle. I have never gotten an unreasonable request, and I'm always compliant.

I'm a big guy, with long hair, and a beard, AND A GUN, but I do my best to make that cop NOT see me as a threat. Does it work?

Well, I haven't been shot YET. That doesn't mean I won't get shot tomorrow, but it's worked, to this point. Therefore, I can suggest this to you as a plan of action, should you find yourself in similar circumstances. This much, EVERYONE can, and I feel should do.

Frankly, it aggravates my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock GA, that in addition to not getting shot, I haven't gotten a ticket, either. She's not sure if I'm given a pass for my firearm compliance, or for Driving While White And Married To A Foxy Black Woman, but it doesn't really matter; it ticks her off. That's okay with me; living bland is not my idea of a fun time.

Peace be on your household.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Fathers' Day Meditation: How the Curse Was Vanquished

Growing up ain't easy for nobody. Didn't you ever wonder why Tom and Sid Sawyer were being raised by Aunt Becky?
So, I'm not trying to say my sneaky passage into adulthood was any better or worse than anybody else I know. I just know it had all the bad stuff I wanted, thank you very much. Plenty of good stuff! Yes indeed! But my older sister and I were unique on that little dirt road in Macon, GA, in the early 1950's because we were the only kids living with a single mom.
However, we were ASTOUNDINGLY fortunate to be living in one side of a rental duplex right next door to the house where my mom grew up, and where my grandmother and grandfather still lived. So, when my mom went to work, my sister and I went next door, and that's how childcare worked in the country in Georgia in the early/mid 50s.
And therefore, the only father I had, to speak of, for the first five years of my life was my grandfather, William (Bill) Jordan Paulette. He worked for the railroad, and delivered the mail, and was a Primitive Baptist preacher. He took me fishing, and to baseball games held at Luther Williams field at Central City Park. He told me stories, and sang ridiculous songs. We sat on the porch in the hot summer evenings (this was LONG before air conditioning). He could only tolerate me swinging with him for a short time, because I wanted to go HIGH! and he just wanted to relax. But he WOULD tolerate that short time.
My biological father wasn't ENTIRELY removed from my life. He lived in faraway Atlanta, and I believe the arrangements were that he got to take my sister and I for one weekend, every two months; two weeks in the summer, and every other Christmas. I don't remember much about those visits.
In 1959, my mother married again, and for the first time in my life, I had a live-in father figure. It was great! At first. Then, not so much, for the next many, many years.
Also in 1959, my father remarried, and with the new bride came stability: a house in the suburbs, two new little brothers. I got to know my father in a little more depth. It was not a very successful relationship.
But, as an adult, you have obligations. So, every Fathers' Day, I'd buy three cards. One went to my grandfather; it was the most expensive, sentimental card I could find. The other two went to my bio-father and step-father, and were just as plain and simple as could be.
In 1975, my grandfather died while I was in the Army, stationed in Germany. Tore me to pieces. A few months after that, it was Fathers' Day again; I went to the PX, and looked at the card offerings, and thought, "I only have to buy two this year." I guess I bought them. I guess I bought other cards for other years. And sometimes, I used the occasion to try to make an approach. I remember one card said "A father is someone who a son always looks up to, no matter how tall he gets." That one made me want to throw up a little bit, but I sent it.
But, essentially for me, after 1975, Fathers' Day was over. I resented the fact that it was on the calendar. I wondered if there might be a niche for "Toxic Greeting Cards: When You Really Want Them To Know What You Think Of Them." I drew sample cards out in my head, when Fathers' Day came around.
One said "Father, All that I have accomplished, All that I am, All the wealth I have accumulated: None of it is due to you!"
There was one that said : "Fathers' Day! : Just think of all you threw away!"
And it seem like there was another one that said something like "Because it's Fathers' Day, I have to get you a card: This is it."

Even when I had kids of my own, I still hated Fathers' Day. In fact, I didn't like ANY holiday. That wasn't due to any religious belief; I didn't like Fathers' Day because I didn't have a good impression of fathers (with some GREAT exceptions!) I didn't like Christmas because we spent most of our adult life making it on one income, and didn't have much money to spend on Christmas presents. And I didn't want my birthday noted, because I didn't want MY kids to feel compelled to give me something, just because.

Yes, I WAS known as the Grinch.

(Parenthetical note: in the last days, both my bio father and my stepfather reached out to me in very authentic ways, and we forgave each other for the bad. It was greatly healing. Didn't save the holiday, though.)

But: I'm a little bit okay, now. A little bit. How did that happen?

In 2011, I married my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA. And so, at age 58, I found myself a father again, this time to a 5 year old girl, and a 6 year old boy. They were Vanessa's grandchildren, and we are raising them.

Vanessa already knew I didn't like holidays, because I told her.
Actually, Christmas was redeemed, but that's another story.
She fussed at me about not liking my birthday.
BUT! When Fathers' Day came around, and I was starting to make noises about not wanting any observation, she put her fists on her hips, and spoke energetically to me.

"You listen to me!" One hand comes off her hip. A finger extends from the fist, and waves under my nose. "You are going to shut your mouth, and you are going to let those children give you presents for Fathers' Day! This doesn't have anything to do about what you like and what you don't like. This is for Kenneth and Alicia, and you ARE going to accept whatever they give you, and you are going to appreciate it! Do I make myself clear?" 

The finger withdrew into the fist. The fist remained alarmingly close to my nose. I could read the message without glasses.

"Okay, dear, I get your point. I'll be good."

And so, now it's okay. It's not that I look forward to it or anything, but I DO so appreciate the lovely messages I get on Fathers' Day. I boast "I have 10 children and 11 grandchildren, and number 12 will be here next month!"

And the ONLY purpose that the memories of the old pain and resentment serve, is to remind me that I don't have them any more.

Peace be on your house, and Happy Fathers' Day!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Melon-Baller Blues

Remember the first time you used a melon baller?
Magic, wasn't it?
Those long summer afternoons, curled up with an assortment of fruit.
Melon ballers, and a cool glass of water by your side.
Using the big ones for watermelon, cantaloupe, pumpkin.
The medium size melon baller for calabash, sponge guard, and yellow squash.
And the day when you finally graduated to the miniature, jewel like elegance of making melon balls with the smallest baller; a platter-necklace of peach, strawberry, apple, and walnut, and the delicate traceries of blue agave.
Dipping the melon ballers in the cold water to rinse between each fruit, until finally, you had the utmost in organic drinks: God's fresh spring water, lightly kissed by the fragrance of cucumber, lime, and snake gourd!

Those sweet, long afternoons, working out in the orchard.
Playfully interacting with those mischievous hornets! Oh, how they loved to sway and dance with you!
Will we ever see days like that again?

It's really SUCH a personal experience. I don't recall seeing anyone, not Mark Twain, not Flannery O'Connor, nor even Stephen King risk exposing this fundamental aspect of character formation in our personal iteration between Ice Ages. You won't hear a word about melon balling from Bruce Willis, Leslie Uggams, Robert DeNiro,  Peggy Lee or even Denzel Washington. I understand that. Everyone has a right to keep their most precious memories safe in a vault, to draw on in times of need.

But today, as I melon balled this cantaloupe, I remembered. It was a sweet moment for me.

And I hope it was for you.

Peace be on your home.

Monday, June 12, 2017

How DaddyBear Rescued Me From the Dentist

And my book review is found here.

I have numerous reasons for loving DaddyBear the Minivandian and his crew: they are funny, heroic, silly, and real. The stories range from flatly ridiculous negotiations with a maple tree to stay out of the septic tank, to classically formed tales of the struggle between the Bad Guys and the Good Guys. This particular book, by the way, combines all of that. Here's how:
The ancient & wise terrapin storyteller gives  young Elsked, the son of DaddyBear and Ruarin, the backstory of his family. This provides the epic part of the book. In exchange, however, he demands that Elsked tell HIM stories as well. And so, the lad relates the things he knows about, and these are the sweet and delicious nuggets about flying dogs, etc. It's a nice, long compilation, and I can see this as being done very nicely as a book reading before a fire on long winter nights, with big-eyed children sipping hot chocolate, as Papa turns the pages and adds expression to his voice to   make the characters come alive.
Doubt that would work, but it's a nice image, isn't it?
So, those are the CONVENTIONAL reasons I love this book. Great story, stories-within-a-story, resolution of things I wondered about, and so forth. For this particular book, though, I have an additional and highly personal reason for my affection.
A million years ago, it seems, I started having really bad toothaches, which were to be expected, since due to some medical stuff, my teeth are all broken to pieces. So, partway through the million years, and as soon as possible, I got an appointment with the dentist, and she agreed to take me on an emergency basis. And shortly thereafter, I found myself hyperventilating in the dentist's chair, waiting on her to rip the crumbling chalk out of my jaw (one from the top jaw, one from the bottom). And, to help me get through the ordeal, I had this book on my Kindle reading app. So, I read about DaddyBear and Elsked killing the snow monsters, and it helped, it really did, to sooth my anxiety. (When the actual ripping-from-the-living-jaw part started, I turned to a podcast on military history.)
Wasn't done yet.
Later on in the million years, I realized I was still hurting more than should be expected, and had to return to the dentist to, it's just too horrible. I can't describe the experience. It would cause you to have ugly children.
Anyway, I again read about the adventures of Elsked and his family and the terrapin. And it helped.
By the way, the million years looked like one week to everybody else. To me, between the pain and the goofed head, it was a million years. And that wasn't helped by the diet Dr. Akbar stipulated: only soft and cold food.
So, lots of yogurt & banana smoothies, with vanilla protein powder. It's really a great exchange for a meal; for ONE meal, that is. For a regular diet, not so much. Soft and cold does NOT describe the French Fries everyone else was munching last Friday.
And then I made a WONDERFUL discovery on Saturday night! Do you know what ELSE is soft and cold, besides yogurt and banana smoothies?
And I had a big honken ham in the refrigerator, $2.49 per pound, because it's a whole shoulder, not a half shoulder! I took that 95 pound (I exaggerate) ham out of the fridge, got a knife and a Tupperware container, and I carved off my dinner!
Yes, it WAS delicious!

And, with the pain easing, and my hunger temporarily abated, I was able to return to my reading again. And last night, I read about "The Derby of the Wooden Chargers," and snickered, and hoped I didn't wake up my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA. You see, I am personally familiar with this event in our mundane world. It's called the Pinewood Derby, and it's something Cub Scouts do. In the story, Elsked negotiates with the ancient maple tree for a branch, then carves out a horse and rider. In real life, the boys are given a wooden block, and a bag of hardware. In BOTH worlds, there are rules. The racer must be under a certain weight; the majority of the work is to be done by the  Scout, etc. Elsked crafts a magnificent horse and rider, which are magically imbued with the ability to move, and despite a wonderful race, he comes in second. In REAL world, my son the Moose painted his block green. That's it. No attempt at customization, just enough wood shaved off to get it down to the prescribed weight; just a green block. And he came in second, too! It was delightful. I think him standing there at the awards ceremony with his ugly green stick and a big smile, while the first and third place winners had these ultra wind-tunnel hyper-realistic flame-painted monsters, was THE best part of the experience of scouting for the Patterson Boys.

And, dear friends, I apologize again for the hiatus in reading and reviewing this past week. It was unavoidable; the pain made me unable to concentrate; when I took the pain meds, THEY made me unable to concentrate. Hopefully, I'm back on track!
Peace be on your household!

Friday, June 9, 2017

No, I Am NOT Okay. Continue The Mission!

Gonna try to get this down before the meds kick in and I fall asleep. Or whatever.

The dental hygienist said to me, "Are you okay?"
And I turned to look at her with amazement and said, "Are you crazy? She's stabbing me in the mouth with a needle!"

Today is Friday. I had two teeth extracted on Monday: one from my top jaw, left side, the other from the bottom jaw, also left side. I've had double extractions before, and I just don't remember it hurting this bad, for this long. So, I called the dentist today, and she told me to come in and she would look at it, and she said it sounded like I had a dry socket.
Doesn't sound bad, does it? Hey, the socket is dry, just squirt it with some WD40 or Rem Oil or a light coat of LSA, whatever, and tootle on down the road!

Oh, nay, nay. That is NOT what they do. First she shot my poor jaw full of novocain, then she grabbed a...

...I don't know WHAT she grabbed. I think it had a diesel-electric motor.



and SCRAPED on my jaw, until the people below us in the restaurant downstairs started to bang on the ceiling, asking us to keep the noise down.

And, rather than add to the ruckus by screaming like a little girl  big boy grown man in a dentist's chair, I just grabbed the fabric of my jeans and squeezed.

Which is when the hygienist asked "Are you okay?"

Well, shortly after that, it was over. And I commented to the sweet little hygienist, bless her heart, that I hadn't meant to be rude, but that I was hurting like the dickens because the doctor was scraping my jawbone so I would bleed and not get a dry socket any more.

(And we also talked about the fact that NOTHING pleasant ever follows the instruction "try to relax." Nobody ever says "try to relax" just before they kiss you, for example. Unless vampires do that.)

Now, if you have known me for any significant period of time, you know that I have a chronic pain condition. It was a great relief to me when I was diagnosed with it 12 years ago, because I was wondering if this was just the way things were for everybody, and I was just a wimp. As it turns out, no, that's not the case. I have ankylosing spondylitis, due to my genetic inheritance from my Neanderthal ancestors. There have been several manifestations of this among the men in my family; we just have to learn to make the necessary accommodations, and to fight back whenever possible.

In fact, I started a new counter-attack last January 29, when I hung my cane up on the wall of my man-cave, and bought a FitBit, and started walking every day. And yes, it's going great! Just had my blood checked today, so the doc can see if he needs to adjust my blood pressure and diabetic medication yet.

But! I'm NOT okay. I am, however, continuing the mission.

This was tough for my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA to accept, in the very early stages of our relationship. From time to time, I'll get a stabbing pain in my back, just because, and I wince. She'd see me do that, and say "Are you okay?"

"No," I'd reply. "I'm not okay. I'm hurting, but that's all."

And eventually, I was able to get her to realize that it WAS just pain. It's not going to kill me, but neither is it going to go away. And I hope, hope, hope that through the six years of living with me, she has seen how this thing is dealt with, because recently she received her own little bit of an explanation for her painful joints. Seems she has either rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, and they aren't sure which, but it's one of those diseases in that cluster. And it's not okay.

But that's not the point, really, is it? She and I are a devoted married couple. We are parents. We are grandparents. We do things for other people. We get paychecks. We love God, and serve Him, and we are determined to become sweet old people. (Already there, actually: she's sweet, and I'm old. Her words, not mine!)

None of that depends on ANYBODY being okay, if okay means 'free of defect' and 'functioning as designed.' Instead, it all depends on our determination to continue our mission. That's the part that's important.

"Are you okay?"
"Can you get pizza on the way home?"
That's what matters for hungry children. And so, despite the fact that we are not okay, we continue the mission, get the pizza, and then go to bed when we get the opportunity.

And we even have a cute saying we can use! When I was in the Army, they taught me the phonetic alphabet. The phonetic spelling of the phrase "Continue the Mission" is "Charlie Mike." Isn't that sweet? I'm gonna start saying that. I may alternate it with a core-value phrase I used constantly, during one of the roughest times of my life: "I am yet holding on." And maybe I'll use them both:

"How are ya doin'?"
"I am yet holding on. Charlie Mike."

Peace on your household.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Renegade, then and now

I got a note from John Kay yesterday.

In case that name isn't familiar to you, he created and lead the group Steppenwolf, which was a dominant force in rock in the late 60's and early 70s.  I was a huge fan back then. I remember dancing to the albums with my eyes closed. Couldn't have been a pretty sight.

They were unconventional even for the time. Two of their biggest hits were anti-hard drug songs penned by Hoyt Axton: “The Pusher” and “Snow Blind Friend.”

And then, in 1970,  'Renegade.' 

It tells John Kay's story. He was born in Tilsit, along the Baltic Coast in 1944. The area had been annexed by the Nazis in 1939; when that regime was collapsing, with the Red Army rolling in, infant John and his mother were two of the thousands of refugees who fled to the west. Unfortunately for them, they landed in what later became East Germany, in Arnstadt, and had to run again, escaping to West Germany in 1948.

The first two verses (transcribed here in paragraph form) tell the story:

My birthplace would be hard to find; it changed so many times, I'm not sure where it belongs. But they tell me the Baltic coast is full of amber, and the land was green before the tanks came. One day I learned just how it used to be: the devil's curse brought the whole world to its' knees.
And it was "Hey you, keep your head down, don't you look around, please don't make a sound! If they should find you now the Man will shoot you down."

It's a mighty long way out of the darkness to where the sun is free to shine. Well, the truck came by to put us in the back, and left us where the railroad tracks cross the line. Then the border guide took us by the hand, and led us through the hole into the promised land beyond. And I can hear him now, whispering soft and low, "When you get to the other side just you run like hell!”
"Hey you, keep your head down, don't you look around, please don't make a sound! If they should find you now the Man will shoot you down."

As a boy in Hanover, West Germany, he learned about rock and roll, listening to the British Forces Broadcasting Service before moving to Canada at age 14. In 1967, at age 23, he and his band moved to California, and became Steppenwolf. They achieved commercial success; two of their songs 'Born to be Wild' and 'The Pusher' featured in the 1969 movie 'Easy Rider.' They appeared with the Doors, the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, Canned Heat, and many other headliners of the era. So, a happy ending, right? Well, mostly, but:

But for the young man who had literally risked his life to escape to freedom, TWICE, the violent politics of the time was sickening. Those of us who were sentient at the time remember the cities burning; the assassinations of King and Kennedy; the protesters brawling with the cops at the Democratic National Convention, while the crowds chanted “The whole world is watching, the whole world is watching.”

He must have thought we had lost our minds. And he wrote a third verse to his song:

I thought I had a quiet place where I could learn how to catch my childhood dreams; but on my left and to my right they keep on shouting, while I'm just stuck here in between. Lord! I'm tired of running and I don't believe I can; I can hear them calling time and time again: 
And it's "Hey you, keep your head down, don't you look around, please don't make a sound! If they should find you now the Man will shoot you down."

Now, on this lovely spring day in Georgia in 2017, I don't THINK we are in the same place that we were in 1968. But I think it's just a matter of intensity. The division between people is every bit as deep as it was when John Kay wrote this song about his experiences. So, the responsibility is mine to teach my children what is important, and what we have to lose.

So, on weekday mornings, my 12 year old Kenneth and I spend an hour before school, studying the ancient wisdom in Proverbs, and discussing how those apply to our lives today. After setting an example by the way I live, it's the most important thing I do.  And one day last week, I started by printing him a copy of the lyrics so he could read along as he listened to the song. I showed him on our world map where the Baltic is, and about where Arnstadt is, to bring him closer to the story. I told him about my own experience in the Army in Germany, crossing over through Checkpoints Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie, to go from West Germany into West Berlin and East Berlin. I told him about the Berlin Airlift. And I showed him pictures of the Berlin Wall, and how it finally came down.

John Kay's story had an impact on my boy. I could tell by the questions he asked; his nephew Trey is a bit older than Kay was the first time had to run; his nephew Heath is the age Kay was when they finally reached West Germany.

And then I applied the lesson of the third verse to his life. “Kenneth, today and for the rest of your life, you are going to have people on the left and on the right shouting at you, and you are going to be stuck in between. Don't give up! You find the truth, and you hold on to it. It won't be easy, but it's worth fighting for. And you can help to make this world a place where mothers never have to run away with their little boys, in the freezing cold, just so they can be safe.”

 He got it. (I love it when it works.)

And then, riding the crest of the wave of a successful Teachable Moment, I wrote a few lines about that morning's experience; and I submitted them to the 'CONTACT' link on the Steppenwolf website. I didn't really expect anything in particular; it's just that I owed a debt of thanks, and I wanted to do my best to pay it back. And I went about my day.

Until yesterday, when I get an email out of the blue:

Pat, I've forwarded your email to John Kay and here is his response:  "Please tell Papa Pat that I found his note and what he does, very rewarding as a song writer. But I also found it quite moving. I will keep his note as a reminder that music can make a difference in our lives".

WOW. Naturally, I responded, and they responded to that, and then, out of the blue, I'm given four tickets to a Steppenwolf concert this summer near Atlanta.

What's our takeaway?

Well, it's not 'honor rock and roll musicians.' John Kay is just this guy, right? Incredibly talented, true, but mostly he finds purpose in his family, and their foundation supporting human rights and protection of wildlife and the environment.
I THINK the takeaway, for me at least, is don't miss an opportunity to say 'thank you.'  You never know who it might bless.

And if you wind up with tickets to a rock concert, that's gravy!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Left Overs

Is it true that anything you make with noodles is better as leftovers?

Here's what I made last night, and today for lunch it was truly wonderful:

Lackadaisical Prep:
I made a marinade sauce with honey, garlic salt, mustard, soy sauce, olive oil, corn starch and water, and smurfed all up together in a tupperware marinating container. I don't know how much of each ingredient I used; I knew I wanted the honey and mustard flavors to come through, and I added things by taste.

I skinned, boned, and sliced two chicken breasts and two chicken thighs into tiny little pieces, and dumped them in the marinade. I froze them slightly before hand, to make them easier to slice.
I sliced up a red bell pepper and a yellow bell pepper and dumped them in the marinade. These were just on hand. I don't buy this sort of thing; someone was attracted by how pretty they were, and they were in my way, so they got selected to add color to the meal.
I steamed a pound of broccoli florets and dumped them in the marinade.

I closed the container, shook the bejabbers out of it to get everything mixed up and coated, and put it in the fridge for an hour and a half. That was based on the fact that dinner was at 6, and I started prep at 4. If I had started earlier or later, the marinade time would have changed.

Made four packets of ramen noodles, using only two of the chicken flavor packets, and set aside.

Fried four large slices of hog jowl to get the bacon drippings, as well as giving me something to munch on while cooking.

I was skeptical that the amount of bacon was going to give me enough to stir fry with, so I added about the same amount of olive oil.

In three portions, I stir fried the contents of the marinade container, between 5 and 10 minutes per portion. I cooked until the chicken was done. I scooped out the cooked chicken and vegetables with a slotted spoon, so the marinade got added to the bacon drippings and olive oil as time went on. I dumped the cooked chicken and vegetables over the ramen noodles.

With the last portion, I poured most of the accumulated marinade over the noodles along with the chicken and vegetables.

I set the bowl with the noodles and stir fry on the table, announced "FOOD IS READY" and walked out of the house, drove to Waffle House, and ate a cheeseburger. I was mad about something, and you don't need to know what it was. I just didn't want to be around people for a while. So, my rebellious act consisted of drinking coffee with my double quarter cheese plate, scattered and smothered. (It was an act of rebellion because my doc took me off caffeine.)

By the time I returned to the house, I wasn't mad any more. Much of the Honey Mustard chicken pepper stir fry had been eaten. However, there was plenty left for my lunch today.

It really was delicious!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Next to Last Gift

"Mama, do you remember when I had some really bad problems getting along with _________?"

"Yes, I certainly do. It was awful for you."

"Well, we're doing just fine right now, and we have for years. But there were a couple of things that happened back then that I just don't understand. I was thinking about asking him about it."

My mother and I sat in silence for a moment. I was trying to work up the courage to say the next thing. It took a LOT of courage! I was afraid of what I was going to say. I was afraid of what her answer might be. I was about to cross a line, and there was no reverse.

"Well, anyway, when I was thinking about that, it made me wonder. Are there things that you want to ask me about? Is there anything that's bothering you?"

She was struggling to answer. Until she spoke, I didn't even know if she understood what I was talking about. This woman, this incredible intellect, had ALWAYS had a book in her hand, had ALWAYS know the answers to my homework; she had gone back to college and earned her degree when her own children were of college age; but now, she couldn't remember how long it had been since her own parents had died. 

She looked away for a moment. But when she began to speak, it wasn't with the voice of a helpless old lady in a care facility. 

She spoke as much power, and confidence, and complete assurance as she had ever had. She spoke with the certainty of a wise mother, who KNEW what she was talking about

"The one good thing about this is that I don't remember any of the bad things. All I remember is the love. I remember the love I have for you, and for your sisters, and I remember the love my parents had for me. I don't remember anything bad at all. But the love is right here with me, all the time, every day. 

So, you don't need to explain anything to me. There's nothing to explain. I know you love me, and I know I love you, and that's all there is."

I leaned forward and kissed her cheek, and she put up her frail hand and stroked my face. We smiled at each other. 

The love was there. The love was always there, and it would be always there.

I've thought about that a lot over the past week or so. And I have come to accept that this is the next to last gift my mother will receive from God, the forgetting of turmoil. 
When she thinks of her children, her husband, her parents, her friends, she knows nothing about tension and struggles. 
She sees the pictures of her grandchildren and great grandchildren on the walls and tables in her room, and even when she can't remember their names, she remembers the love. 
She knows the thing that matters; these are the people she loves. 
These are the people who love her.

I MUST find a way to visit my mother more often. My sisters, especially our baby sister, do a wonderful job of visiting her. I need to do more of that. It will be good for her.

But it will also be good for me.

It's always good to spend time in the company of someone who knows only love.

Happy Mother's Day, Mama!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Re-visiting the Future of War

In 2015, Castalia House re-issued Jerry Pournelle's series "There Will Be War." I rejoiced! For a long time, it had only been possible to obtain volumes in the series by judicious searching of the very best used book stores, and by 'very best' I mean the one down the street that has what I want to read. At one point, I owned this series in paperback, and re-read it many times. HOWEVER! Evidently, it is not possible to own a nice collection of military sci-fi, AND have literate sons: they take your stuff. But somewhere, at rest on any of the voluminous bookshelves owned by Patterson boys, the tattered originals rest.

I was a young father and a relatively recent vet when these books came out, and the world was a scary place then. The idea of Soviet subs lingering off the coast was given vivid imagery in 'The Hunt for Red October,' and we absolutely KNEW the madmen in the Kremlin would go to any length at all to preserve their positions. Do you remember that the Soviets shot down an unarmed civilian aircraft, Korean Air Lines 007? At the time, we all KNEW Ivan was crazy. In the face of THAT terror, the radicalized Islam that had produced the fiasco in Iran for 444 days seemed less significant.

Was it a lack of foresight? Should we have aligned ourselves with the Soviets, and produced the CoDominium in reality, in order to stamp out the current greatest threat to world peace?

I don't think so. We had a different enemy then, and a different war. Under the leadership of Ronald Reagan, America raised the stakes again and again, until it became impossible for the pitiful Soviet economy to sustain the technological war, and they folded. It was a remarkable achievement. Reading 'There Will Be War, Volume I' has brought back a snapshot of those times when we thought the bombs might fall, and were seeking space-based solutions.

Our enemy then was a formal nation-state, supporting conventional forces as well as nuclear weapons on intercontinental ballistic missiles. Today our enemy uses small arms, rental trucks, and hijacked airliners to bring about terror. Threats to national integrity mean nothing, when the enemy has no single national identity.

A MOAB might get the job done, though.

PS: This blog post only addresses some of the political changes between the time of the original publication of the series and the current re-release. The fiction is magnificent, and if it isn't timeless, it comes close. I reviewed the book here. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

A minor Easter Meditation

Understand this: At one time, Easter was THE focal point of my year. It mattered more to me than my birthday, Christmas, and all of the other celebrations combined.

That was because I regard Easter is THE point of transformation, of victory, in the existence of the universe. This is more instant change, a bigger upset, than the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded home run, because up until Easter morning, victory wasn't even on the horizon.

Up until Easter morning, all hope was lost. On this huge globe surrounding the Sun, every little peasant uprising, every palace intrigue, every great momentous trembling of armies preparing for battle: all of it was NOTHING, because in Jerusalem, the Son of God had been put to death. And after that, it was all going to be a picnic for the Evil One. There was no  one left to stand against him; he was going to be able to feast on our misery, openly or in secrecy, depending on his whim.

And then: Sunday morning.

I know the factors that lead me to the truth that Easter is the most important day EVER, and I'm pretty sure of the factors that have caused my outward celebration of that to be toned down over the years.

It's NOT a loss of faith! Call it, instead, a loss of opportunity; a loss of circumstances; in the case of THIS year, a loss of health. I've spent most of the past several days coughing my lungs up with allergies, and last night, I kept waking up with my throat and chest in pain, hunting around for a piece of citrus fruit to eat to sooth my throat and let me sleep for another hour.

I should, in every year, greet the dawn of Easter Sunday with the shocked joy of the three Marys; having accepted the worst, they were nearly blasted into infinity by the realization of the very best.

Circumstances prevent me from doing what I should, but I want to affirm the truth:

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down Death by death,
And upon those in the tomb, bestowing life!

He is risen, He is risen indeed!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Getting Outshot by Moose, and 'A Small Medium at Large'

Yesterday, I went shooting with Moose.

No, I did not take a giant herbivore to the range; Moose is the nickname of my youngest bio-son. His first name is Mickey, and we would have called him Mickey Mouse, but he was 10 pounds, 9 ounces at birth, and that wasn't a mouse. That was Mickey Moose. Over the years, he maintained his status as the biggest, and today, at age 25, he stands 6'5" and weighs over 300 pounds: he's the Moose.
I taught him to shoot when he was 9 years old, and for birthdays and Christmas, he frequently wanted, and received, either a firearm or ammo. We did baseball, soccer, scouts, and karate when he was younger, but the shooting sports stayed with him to this day.

For various reasons, we took a total of three rifles and eight pistols to the range with us. Some had never been fired, others had only been fired by one of us, and still others were just old friends that we love. And for the first time, with EVERY single firearm...

...Moose outshot me. It wasn't even close. He outshot me with his guns, he outshot me with my guns, he outshot me with guns he had never fired before. It was funny to me, but it bothered Moose a bit. He was used to Papa being the man when it came to the range. He started making excuses for me! I actually had to stop him, and pass on one of the basic life truths:

"At some point, sons are SUPPOSED to exceed their fathers. It's how the world gets better."

And now, I have to go to Stephanie Osborn's wonderful book, "A Small Medium at Large," and there are GOING to be SPOILERS.
By the way: there really is not a medium in the book; there is an alien masquerading as a medium, and that is the reason for the pun in the title. Actually, it's the other way around, I think: in order to get the pun in the title, the alien character was given that role to play. But I digress.

Here is the guts of the book: Special Agent Omega (Megan) was kidnapped by a Bug-Eyed Monster as a child, and for reasons best known to him, had her DNA modified to include that of seven people and five animals the BEM had killed. The net effect was to make her stronger, smarter, faster, and more resilient than other humans, yet leave her completely human. Now, whereas I rather think those would be nice characteristics to have, there were initially other side effects that weren't so great (like wanting to kill her partner) which she overcame through grit and determination. And when she discovered that the reason for her abilities was due to the alien tampering with her DNA, she felt unclean.

Meanwhile, she finally admits to herself that she is in love with her partner, and unbeknownst to her, the feelings are reciprocated. But JUST before she admits her feelings, she discovers the truth of her DNA, and not wanting him to be disgusted or show her pity, she keeps her feelings to herself.

And the book ends with the relationship unsettled.

Now, at FIRST, I was rather impatient with Agent Omega's dithering. After all, the doc had reassured her that she was completely human, and her partner and boss had both gone to great lengths to confirm that she was in no way responsible for the fates of the seven individuals murdered by the BEM. Why can't she understand that? Why must she persist in feeling unclean and unworthy, when there is a perfectly good life partner eagerly awaiting her?

Why can't you just GROW UP, Agent Omega?

Well, it turns out, it ain't that easy. 

Moose inherited other things from me, in addition to his proclivity for firearms. One of those things is HLA-B27, a fragment of DNA we can trace back to the Neanderthals. Remember all those pictures of cave men, hunched over with bad posture? That understanding was based on a few knobby bones found in Neanderthal burial sites. They appeared to be heavily arthritic, and as it turns out, carriers of HLA-B27 have a tendency to develop auto-immune diseases, and in particular, ankylosing spondylitis. I have it, and Moose has it. Coming back from the range, we talked about the  back pain we were both experiencing, but how this wasn't something that could kill us, unlike some of the other auto-immune diseases.

I did not have any idea when I was about the business of conceiving children that I had ankylosing spondylitis, that the chances were good that I would be passing along a crippling disease to them. But what if I HAD known? I've spent quite a few hours in excruciating pain, and I had to retire from a career I loved because of the complications associated with the disease and treatment. If I had known that my children might have similar experiences, would I have decided NOT to procreate?

If I had known that I would have to look on in helpless GUILT as my child suffered from pain from a disease inherited from me, would I still have had children?

It's a stumper, isn't it?

Well, fortunately for me, I did not know about the clinker I was passing along, so I didn't have to face THAT particular quandary.  And as I look at my children now, I am so grateful to be in a world in which they exist. It's a better place because of them. And I did everything I could to give them the tools they would need to live long and prosper. And I think that's about the best any parent can do. And while I wish things could be otherwise with our pain levels, that's just the way the genetic dice rolled for us. And we have to play the hand we are dealt.

And that's the REAL message of this blog post: play the hand you are dealt. Do the best you know how to do. 

And to return from the real world Moose and I (and you) inhabit, to the fictional world Stephanie Osborn has built for Agent Omega, I hope that's the message she eventually allows herself to hear. Choose love, Agent Omega. Nobody has any guarantees, not of anything. So: choose love.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Whatchu talkin bout, Willis? The Sunday church version.

Kenneth, Vanessa, Me, Alicia
November, 2016

This is without a doubt one of the most glorious times of my life. Just shy of 64, I'm well into retirement; my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA has the flexibility to tell her job to take a flying leap any time they get too abusive, and there are only 33 days left in the school year. My delightful 12 year old Kenneth is in his first year of middle school, and the glorious 10 year old Alicia (who turns 11 next month) is our VLESS (Very Last Elementary School Student).

Ummm...that last school fact? That smarts a bit. Alicia is our last elementary school student. Vanessa became an elementary school parent in 1982; I got a later start, in 1988. And I've had kids at Alicia's current school since Jordan transferred there in the 4th grade in 1992. So, lots of ways to slice it, but the bitter-sweet milestone is there; in 33 days, we will no longer be parents of an elementary school child.  

But, aside from the comments by that great Philosopher Poet Maudlin Lachrymose, it's a truly lovely, lovely time. Kenneth and Alicia are both sponges; sometimes, you can actually SEE them learning some life lesson, and that is a treasure I would never swap (for money, fame, or a book contract. But feel free to make offers!). And yes, they can be rotten little monsters sometimes, and it's not always intentional. 

And that's what prompted this blog post. 

Last week, Kenneth and I had an opportunity to review his domestic responsibilities. The foundation principle is this: It is MY job to give Kenneth as much freedom as he can handle; it is KENNETH'S job to demonstrate just how much freedom that is. Pretty much all parent-child interactions touch on this principle in some way.
One of Kenneth's assigned chores is to take out the trash; to take the trash can to the curb on the appropriate day, and to bring the emptied trash container back to the house. I explained to him that I didn't want Mom to have to drag the trash cans around, nor did I want to have to remind him to do this job which has been his for five years at least.
And I pointed out that this was a GREAT opportunity to practice his negotiation skills. It would be up to him to offer me a plan that would be effective in reminding him to deal with the trash; I was open for anything. I reminded him that in a good negotiation, both parties gain something, and both parties contribute something. And I closed with pointing out that the chore itself was non-negotiable; no matter what, he was going to be taking out the trash, etc. 
That was the home front.
Meanwhile, Kenneth, who truly IS a bright young man, had been slacking off in school. I can say without fear of contradiction that he is very capable of making straight A's; However, I've told him that while he COULD make A's, as long as he makes no progress report/report card grade lower than 'B,' I will give him the freedom to schedule his leisure time, which in his case means video games.

And then I got his report card with a 70 in Math, 71 in Advanced Reading, and 75 in Science. I came to the conclusion he had been allowed too much freedom so, I impounded all the power cords to his electronics. No games, no TV, and I impounded his tablet as well. And his freedom to schedule his leisure time is forfeited. 
I told him he had to fill out his agenda, daily, in each of these three subjects, AND have the appropriate classroom teacher initial it, and I would return to verifying that all assignments were completed. IF his daily grades (which I can access online) showed a satisfactory turn-around, meaning that he started earning a 'B' or better in all subjects, he could have temporary access to the electronics, and not have to wait for the end of the grading period before getting some relief.
He grumphed.
I understood.
He didn't like it.
I explained to him that I was not REQUIRING him to LIKE it; I was just requiring him to DO it. His emotional reaction is his business, as long as it doesn't bring gloom on the others in the house.
 And for a while, I had a grumpy 12 year old boy, sighing and making sure I knew he was being woefully mistreated.
After a few days of that, I took him for a walk. I reminded him that I wasn't trying to raise a child; I was trying to raise a person who could function as an adult. And I pointed out that he had not troubled to try to negotiate a better deal for himself with respect to taking out the trash. Why did you not offer to take out the trash if I gave you $10, I asked. The worst that would happen is I would say no. But because you didn't even TRY to negotiate a better deal, you've gained nothing, and you still have to take out the trash.
He grumphed.
And I left it alone. I guess he's just going to stubborn this one out, I thought.
Until the NEXT day, when Vanessa and I returned from our evening walk, to discover he had locked us out of the house, and taped the following note to the door:

Yes, you have been locked 
out of the house, 
And also to remind me to 
take out the trash Just
pin a 5 dollar Bill to the door (Papa Pat's idea)
He said ten but I ain't
no thief so HA! 

We cracked up. Humor is SUCH a life-saver when it comes to raising kids! Just when it seemed like I was in for a LONG period of grumping, Kenneth found his funny bone, and used it to make contact.
And I DID negotiate, by the way; ordinarily, I would have paid a buck, so he could have some spending money, learn to budget, and I wouldn't have to nag. In this case, though, because he had spontaneously reached for restoration with humor, I wanted to do some more. And I agreed on three dollars, and I explained that his good nature had produced the bonus. And since then, I hang three dollar bills on a bit of wire just inside the front door, and I don't have to say anything.

Which brings us up to yesterday.

Kenneth has just made the transition from Children's Church to Adult Church. He has also moved up in the youth group he attends. He is well behaved in church, and we made the agreement years ago that if I stand up, he stands up; if I sit down, he sits down. It works for us all. And I don't know how much of the adult sermon he is absorbing, but he is seeing adults worship God, so that's a win.

Yesterday was the second sermon in a series about mercy, forgiveness, and judgement. The pastor was making the point that the people we are most likely to judge harshly are our parents (much more to the message than that, but I'll leave it there). And he was contrasting extremes in family dynamics, with one extreme being "I think everyone has a good heart" and the other extreme being "You did that because you are a rotten kid and you are just trying to make everyone around you as miserable as you are." 
And he asked, "How many of you grew up in a home in which there was a lot of yelling and screaming and blaming?" Regrettably, I had to put my hand up, along with about two thirds of the congregation.
And then I noticed, out of the corner of my eye: KENNETH HAD HIS HAND UP!
So I backhanded him across the chest, and said "WHATCHU TALKIN' BOUT, WILLIS?"

I'm not sure he got the cultural reference, but I DO know what happened. Kenneth is off in Dreamland for 12 Year Old Boys in Adult Church, and notices that I have put my hand up. So, he applied the rule, in which he copies my behavior, and puts his hand up as well.  
He had no idea what he was raising his hand for. I hope.
Of course, the people sitting behind us who see him raise his hand to testify about a toxic home situation, and then see me backhand, probably had a nice little conversation about that mean old man beating on that poor little boy.
Well, That's the way it works, sometimes.

Friday, April 7, 2017

R.E.D. on Friday, and Dead in April

R.E.D. on Friday:
First, a memory of
Garvin Ray Bell
9/30/1954 - 5/5/2014 

My dear departed biker brother, Garvin Ray Bell, was a deeply committed Christian believer; a veteran; a  small business owner who wasn't too proud to take part time jobs when the economy went bad; and a man who celebrated sharing the truth he had been given. Every Friday, he wore R.E.D. for Remember Everyone Deployed (until they all come home.)  And that was a gift he gave me that was a major part of my life for a while. It's a family tradition to serve our country, going back to my grandfather who took care of the mules in France in WWI; my father, stepfather, uncles, cousins (me, too) all served. However, when my frirstborn son's National Guard unit got sent to Afghanistan, right after HIS firstborn son was born,  suddenly stuff got SERIOUS! I don't think I missed wearing red on any Friday, and I sent Kenneth and Alicia to school wearing red, even if it was school spirit day: we had a higher calling.
Every once in a while, Ray would go off on a tear about something political, and my response to him was always the same: "You need to buy more guns, Ray!" I told him that if he had enough firepower up there on his farm in Blue Ridge, he wouldn't need to worry about what the idiots were doing in the city. He had at one point been active in Cowboy Action Shooting, and I was thinking about that as my next project, so we talked about what kind of gear I needed to get. I had a standing invitation to bring the family up to his farmhouse, and help him pick and prep his vegetables, but we never really took the time to make it happen. I talked to him the night before he died; he wanted me to get the brothers and sisters from a retreat program we shared to pray for him, because he was going in for surgery. We prayed, but we didn't get the answer we wanted; Ray never woke up. And that will be three years on May 5.

Second, Dead in April.
I am about as politically bland as it is possible to be. I do not give a fuzzy rip for the idea that the government is going to look out for me, or that it has my best interests at heart. I believe that the best government is that which governs the least, and I guess that makes me fall into the conservative camp; I also think that the government ought to concern itself with national defense, international trade, public health, a good transportation network, and guaranteeing that every child has access to a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. Anything else you feel it's essential the federal government be involved in, please feel free to attempt to convince me that it's necessary, but my default position is : NO! I spent around 22 years of my life in the  employment of national, state, and local government agencies. and there is a horrid diffusion of responsibility that takes place with big government (and I suppose, big corporations as well). A citizen is presented with some low ranking person, who is allegedly tasked with providing some service. That low ranking person gets paid the same, whether they render good service or not. It is amazing just how often you can get good service, sometimes even courteous and helpful service! But I think we all have had the grinding experience of being face to face with a bureaucrat who has absolutely no care for example, that THIS IS YOUR CHILD'S BIRTHDAY and you want them to get their driver's license, and you got here before the deadline, but because THEY moved so slowly, now there isn't time for your child to take a test. And they don't care.
I hope you never have to deal with the people who work in a jail. I don't like going through the humiliating process, I don't like being treated with contempt, just because I am visiting an inmate. Sure, I get it that the inmate is there because there is reasonable cause to believe that they have committed a crime, but VISITORS haven't committed a crime, and are already looking at the heartbreak of visiting son/daughter/wife/husband/etc behind bars. So, why treat them like dirt?
BECAUSE THEY CAN. And they have the power to deny the visit if you take issue with the way you are being treated.
Now,  EVERYTHING I have talked about in this second section is minor, trivial, and essentially meaningless. It does however, serve to demonstrate (at least to me) that the BEST government actions are those which are presented on a personal level, by a person who has demonstrated that they value their job, and that they understand that the person seeking service is deserving of courteous treatment (unless they start getting nasty, for which there is no excuse).
Now, where can we find, today, an EXCELLENT example of the OPPOSITE approach, where the government comes across as uncaring, unfeeling, and inconsiderate? Hmmmm...
How about:
Arkansas has not carried out a death sentence since 2005, due to problems obtaining the necessary drugs and legal challenges. So, after 12 years, on February 27, 2017, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson signed one of the most bizarre directives in modern history. The order is for two prisoners to be executed on each of the following days: April 17, April 20, April 24, and April 27.
Eight prisoners over a period of 10 days.
Why eight?
Because the state only has eight dosages of midazolam (Versed), the sleep drug.
And those eight doses expire at the end of April.
It's not an expensive drug, either. One source said a vial of the drug costs thirty-five cents.
So: let's not let the drug go to waste; it's there to be used, so use it! Hurry, before someone discovers that the convict with the longest stay, 27 years, is a delusional paranoid schizophrenic, who has persistently refused to cooperate with mental health investigators because he is convinced that he will be released and pardoned, and go forth from the jail to be welcomed by society, and have a movie made of his life.
Heck yeah, we've GOT to kill him: he's crazy!
(Ummm, no, we don't.)
He's not the only crazy person in line for the Arkansas needle with the soon-to-be-stale drugs. It's hard to know whether some of them were non compos mentis at the time of the crime, or lost it in prison. One of the eight was 20 years old when he murdered a friend; he's been on death row for 17 years. A parole board recommended clemency yesterday. QUICK! KILL HIM BEFORE SOMEONE STOPS IT! We can't poot around with this anymore, the DRUGS will EXPIRE!

Now, in case you think I'm making this up, look it up yourself. It's THIS kind of stuff that pushed me, kicking and screaming, into the camp of those advocating an end to the death penalty. Some really weird people in here with me, but there are others that have come to the same conclusion that I have: The government cannot be trusted to administer the death sentence, and the cost of a death penalty trial is AT LEAST 4 times as much as  trial seeking life without parole.

Please note: I am not arguing for short sentences or turning people loose because there aren't enough rooms in the jail. Instead, take the money you were going to spend on a death penalty case, and pay the guards better, hire more of them, and make sure you have enough cells.

Submitted with respect, and NOT proofed, because the whole topic is rather nauseating.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

TheTime I Played Drums for Fleetwood Mac

I wasn't EVER going to tell this story, but what the heck.
I have to leave a LOT of details out, because there was at least one misdemeanor involved, and probably a felony.
I was recruiting high school seniors for a college at the time (1979), and that's what took me to the Los Angeles area. It was basically a scam; I had just bought a new car, and I needed to put a lot of miles on it, so I could get the mileage reimbursement, so I could make the car payment. Sound  complicated? Not really. As long as I had SOME results, or could fake them, they never looked at my expense statements that closely. And all I had to do was bring in a couple of students, and I essentially had a summer vacation paid for. Heck, I was 26 years old; who cares?
So, I'm basically hanging out in Los Angeles, doing pretty much nothing. I had picked Will Rogers State Beach as my main hangout because it was closest to where I was staying, but there are seven or eight pretty good beaches in the area, so I'd swap around. It was early summer time, and all the really hot college prospects had long ago made their commitments; I was just picking up the few who didn't get their first, second, or third picks, and were on a stand-by list for number four. Sort of like picking late apples off a tree. During the day, I'd make a few phone calls, in the evening I'd drop by for a home visit. Really low pressure stuff; I didn't care, but often the parents of the kid did. They rather liked the idea of having an admissions rep from back East trying to recruit their Susie or Johnny; it gave them something to mention at the Rotary Club lunch. After my usually short visit, I'd drop by the hotel where I was staying, dump the coat and tie, and go out to the party scene.
But it was actually a home visit, not the beach boogie, that got me the experience. Seems that the kid I was visiting had an older brother who was in the USC Trojans marching band, and they were set up to do a gig at Dodger Stadium while the Dodgers were on a road trip. It was bizarre: they were going to be doing a set for Fleetwood Mac. The older brother, and I can't tell you his name, was rather put out; he played the bass drum, and he wasn't going to be able to be there for the recording. He was also enrolled in ROTC, and he was on duty then.
And I had an idea.
I had actually played the bass drum. Once. For about three days. It was when I was in the Army, and even though the only thing I could play was the radio, I told them I was a bass drum player, just for something to do. So for a few days, I marched with the drummers, instead of being in ranks, until our syncopated rhythm got me tossed out, and I went back to first squad. BUT: I could say I had experience. So, I asked the older brother if I could have his spot.
It cost me $300, which was all the cash I had on me, and I had to agree to keep it a secret. Which I have done, until now. He said the money was to protect him in case I messed up his uniform. I think he slipped the band manager some cash, too, because I never got challenged.
It was no big deal, really. Everybody in the band got paid $1, and had to sign a release. I signed mine "Mickey Duck," because I figured Mickey Mouse would get noticed.
It was hot, I do remember that.
I got to see Stevie Nix twirl a baton.
The bass player, John McVie, was a no-show, and they used a cardboard cutout of him for the group picture.
Mick Fleetwood came over to talk with the percussionists, and that was cool, but I hung WAY back at that point, so I wouldn't get caught.
I didn't get caught.
You can see the back of my head at 3:03 on the official music video.
That's it.
You were expecting a better story, weren't you?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Preserving and Pack-Ratting & Storing e-Things

I'm SLOWLY working through the details of migrating over from one internet service provider to another, and from an old clunky pawnshop laptop to brand new shiny black desktop.

I hate to throw things away. Right now, in my man cave there is a box of 5 1/4" diskettes with DOS 2.1 programs on them. I have textbooks from courses I dropped. There are cables hanging from my wall that go to ports that aren't MADE any more.

And the computers themselves? Well, before the LAST pawnshop laptop expired, it was the top of the stack of three of them. That's right; when one died, I buried it under the next one. Desktops? Yeah, I have three of them lined up against the wall in my man cave. There is one up in the attic, and one next to the furnace in the basement.

I think I finally threw away the Color Computer I had stashed out in the shed for years and decades. Still have the slimline tape recorder that stored the programs on cassette tapes, though. It works, if I ever find a cassette tape I want to listen to.

Printers? Well, yeah, they are here as well. At least three in this room, which includes one that was working just FINE until I upgraded to Windows 10, plus the one that works, and I don't know WHAT that other one is. I did take one out in the woods and shoot it, but anyone would have done that. It was a Lexmark.

My gun cabinet is topped, NOT with cleaning supplies, reloading reference manuals, etc, but keyboards and mice. And I have multiple boxes with more of the same.


Well, in the case of the 5 1/4" diskettes, I DO actually have a defensible reason: those are from the days when I first owned a personal computer. I keep that for nostalgia. The rest of it?

I don't have a good answer. I suppose in the case of the desktops, I always started by thinking that I could harvest parts for a new build. That would have worked, too, had it not been for the fact that memory modules changed pretty rapidly back in the day. And the graphics board that was state of the art was soon surpassed with what was built into the motherboard of the next system. Same for sound cards. Modems? Same thing.

Monitors are a different story. I've only got two of those, and they are both twenty-something inch flat panels. I'd still be using the first one I got, except my first-born son gave me a better one a couple of years ago. The first one still works, though. We plugged it into the TV base in the living room where there isn't a TV, just to make sure the connection worked.

But apart from the monitor, I don't think my life would be any the worse if I were to dump all of it. And if my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA reads this, she may sweetly encourage me to do so. Maybe not; after all, SHE still has textbooks from Spelman. I can always fall back on that, I suppose.

But today, NONE of that is my problem. Instead, it's data that I would LIKE to keep, but will have to work to do so.

I've been writing book reviews on Amazon since July 6, 2014, with Cedar Sanderson's "Plant Life" and I (sort of) turned pro in 2015. Which is to say, in 2015, I realized that writing reviews was what I did. And, as of today (I just checked) I have written 365 reviews.

Now, when a review goes live, Amazon sends you an email. In the past, that email included how many reviews you had written, your Amazon ranking, and other stuff. Later, they dropped that info. I didn't save the first few emails; it wasn't until my sixth review on October 28, 2014,   of Amanda S. Greene's "Nocturnal Origins", which was a TOTAL spoof, by the way, that I started saving my email receipt from Amazon in a newly Created folder in my Inbox (300+ of them).

According to my record of review #6, and at that time, my reviewer rank was: 14,360,604. Today, I am ranked 6,502, and I have hovered in the six thousands for quite some time. After I post each review on my Facebook page, I make a comment in the next line, of my Amazon rating.

It was a bit of fun to watch my numbers climb, and I think that's what prompted me initially to save the reviews. Afterward? Just continued out of inertia. I rarely went back and looked. On occasion, I would look at the records Amazon kept of my activity, but that was mostly on the occasions when I THOUGHT I had reviewed something, but had no record of it.

And now? Now I'm wondering whether it's worthwhile to try to save a record of the reviews. I might, perhaps, create a notecard of my progress up the rating system, just for remembrance, and tuck it into my box of floppies, but I can't think of a single FUNCTIONAL reason for keeping them. Especially since the ONLY way I know of getting them over to my new email system is by forwarding them all, then moving them into a new designated folder. If there is a way of saving emails in any other form, I don't know what it is. I can print them, of course, but I don't want the paper. And the NEW Amazon email doesn't contain the entire review, EITHER! Just the first couple of paragraphs. Maybe that's all the mundane reviewers NEED, but I write more words than that.

Well, unless someone provides me with a suggestion on how to do it easily, or a reason I should do the work to do it the hard way, I'm inclined to just let these things go away. And then, maybe I'll throw away some of these cables and what not.