Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Hail to Michigan!

A decree, if you will!  2018 will heretofore be noted in my college sports history as my debut year as a Michigan fan.  Part of the Big Blue Nation.  A Wolverine, baby!

People who know me and my football leanings will tell you that I change college teams about as often as Henry the Eighth changed wives.  And with just about as much ceremony.  (And, by the way, King Henry Ocho really had only three wives.  Three other marriages were annulled.  As were a few of my college football allegiances.)

For most of my life I was a Tennessee fan with the most satisfying memories being the Bill Battle, Johnny Majors,  and Phil Fulmer eras.  I even hung in during the short and sweet Kiffin and Dooley seasons, though I believed the handwriting appeared on the wall pretty darn early those particular years.  I took a shot at being an Alabama fan but decided that was WAY, WAY too much pressure.  A bad game, or jeepers, a LOSS even, and the season was pretty much over.  As well as the coach getting a moving van dispatched to his home with a one-way ticket to the Brazilian rainforest.  I took a shot at being a Razorback before discovering that, much like Bama fans, you have to be born into that neighbors need not seriously apply.  So, weary of searching for a college football home, and since I already had a bunch of Volunteer gear, I returned to Tennessee during the early part of the Butch Jones era.  Though I was pretty sure that now the handwriting wasn't on the wall but thickly sprayed in deep orange on the massive walls of Neyland Stadium in font as looming as the hills of Knoxville.

This year, I wanted to venture out.  I wanted to spread my wings.  And since my wife had for so many  years suffered right along with my SEC football exploits, I decided to go north, back to her homeland, and adopt the Michigan Wolverines.  A chance meeting with a fan and alumnus at our favorite hangout in Huntsville introduced us to the "North Alabama University of Michigan Fans" group and, in August and in earnest, our journey began.

It's been a good year.  Even with an opening game loss to Notre Dame.  And I believe it important to post this blog before what is likely the biggest game of the season:  at Ohio State. The dreaded Buckeyes, where the ghost of Woody Hayes menacingly roams the sidelines, anxious to trip a breakaway running back or a fleet wide receiver.   If I waited until after the game, either giddiness or sorrow would most certainly influence my writing.    So it's best to post now or forever hold my peace.

Of course, I hope that Michigan and Ohio State fight like a pack of starving wolverines on a colony of heinous honey badgers.  (Allow me my poetic license, but I had to assign an animal to Ohio State.  I don't think "a pack of wolverines on a bushel basket of buckeyes" has nearly the visual effect.) This is always a historic game and I would hope that everyone, on both sides, would want to see both teams fight like there's no tomorrow (and, in the CFB playoff world, there isn't).  Of course, I want to see the U of M take the "W" and go on and dispose of Northwestern and then plow through two more teams for the National Championship.

(Okay.  Come on doubters.  Why would I not want that?  It might be my first year as a Michigan fan but what law says I have to work my way up to a National Championship?)

So, to the couple of hundred of folks who will eventually find their way to my obscure little blog:  I know that many of you have been my friends for years and are chuckling away at my newest "new team."  Hey?  Have I ever led you, in the many years past, to expect any fan loyalty from me?  Have many of you not called me, on more than one occasion, a "fair-weather fan?"  Some of you have known me for only a few years and have noted often that I may have the most diverse college football fan wardrobe you have  encountered.  And then there are those of you who have known me only a short period of time but believe it's perfectly okay for a grown man to change college football allegiances as often as underwear.

I will say this.  Win or lose from this point forward, it has been a great experience being a Michigan fan this year.  And I intend to keep my maize and blue gear in a very accessible place in my closet.  I find my fellow Michigan fans to be loyal without being insane, to be vocal and verbal without being vile or vulgar, to be optimistic with a healthy dose of realism, and to welcome newcomers and outsiders with just the slightest of scrutiny, wariness, and doubt.   (Come on, I've seen a few looks askance from time to time.)

As we enter the crunch time of this great college football season, I wish the best for all of you, whomever your teams may be.  May your teams play tough, stay safe and strong, and, if they must lose, may it be in the 15th period of overtime.  To my Crimson Tide friends, yes, I do understand that Nick Saban is still "no Bear Bryant," but I have to say I sure would like to see a 'Bama/UofM game on the schedule in a few weeks.  To my good, ole Rocky Top friends, I know it's definitely been rocky and you're nowhere near the top, but, yes, I do acknowledge that "there's always next year."  And, yes, "it does take time to rebuild."  P.S.  If any of you would like some slightly used, extra-large, UT gear, hit me up.

So, that being said, Happy Thanksgiving to all and "Hail to the conqu'ring heroes!  Hail, hail to Michigan!"


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Concert

A few weeks ago, it seemed a splendid idea.  A big name concert only a half hour from our home.  Jumping on-line for tickets, I toyed with the idea of the VIP package: seats somewhere in the first four rows on the floor, an officious looking badge to hang around our necks, and a backstage meet-and-greet with the celebrities.  Then, naw.  Just get the best floor seats you can find and eagerly await the evening.

Which we did.  And, in due time, the eagerly awaited evening arrived.

It would serve no purpose to name the performers.  They are of the "country" genre, to the extent that modern "country" can claim a genre.  Plus, I now believe that the concert experience is pretty much interchangeable, regardless of the genre on the stage.  The mind-blowing noise and chaos is, I now believe, a common concert experience.

Mind-blowing?   It truly is.  Though a recent nightmare, I struggle to express it.

 I'll do my best.

The entire evening wasn't a total loss.  The drinks and appetizers at a restaurant near the arena were excellent.  Staying planted right there on our barstools for the next four hours would have been an grand decision.

The venue was easy to navigate.  Small, compact - maybe even cozy - seats simple to find and claim.  And being one to embrace protocol, we arrived an hour before the first act. ( Hey, that's what it said on the internet!)  Though we wondered if we were in the right place because, at six o'clock, it was basically us and the ushers.  But we moseyed our way to our floor seats (more on floor seats later)  and sipped our bottled water in the library quietness of the auditorium.

A l-o-n-g hour later, the lights flickered and dimmed, a red spotlight hit the drummer of the opening act, and...

all hell broke loose.

Imagine, if you will, being a medieval knight preparing for the most daunting battle of your career...encased in armor as thick as Wally Cox's glasses, head to toe, not a single hair or pore exposed.  Pretty much a solid steel mannequin.  And then imagine four guys the size of The Mountain in Game of Thrones showing up and whaling on your armor with sixteen pound sledge hammers.  Again, and again, and again. Infinitum.  Rhythmically, I'll concede.  But endless.

 That, my friends, is how a concert starts.

I never knew that clothing could vibrate.  But, I assure you, it can.  And it did.  I watched hypnotically as the front of my shirt pulsed to the drumbeat.  My pant cuffs slapped my socks like high tide.  No one in the building needed a pacemaker.  All the pace you could ever want or  need was being launched out of suspended speakers the size of New Hampshire.

My hearing aids left home without leaving a note.  We're out of here!  they said.  I didn't blame them.  I looked at Geri and her eyes were squeezed shut and her hands were clapped over her ears.  And here's the kicker, between the first and second songs, she removed her hands and showed me the wads of Kleenex jammed in each ear.  She said, "I don't think I can stand this."  I'm serious, folks.  It was that loud.

After a cacophonous twenty minutes with a gal whom I'm pretty sure painted her pants on with a black magic marker (not complaining, just reporting),  relative quiet settled around us.   We noticed that this was when all the smarty, non-compliant concertgoers finally began to show up and claim their seats.

More time limped by and eventually the second act's drummer starts jackhammering away, with the obvious goal of making the opening act's drumming sound like rain falling gently on a tin roof.  Another band I never heard of with a front man who could have been the offspring of Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly.  If Elvis and Buddy could have engineered an offspring.  As with the first act, the deafening drums and cavernous guitars ruled the show.  I'm pretty sure that there was some singing happening, but singing wasn't the focus.  Drumming was.

I could go on and on.  Like those drummers.  I even hesitate to mention the spotlights obviously salvaged from Alcatraz that swept over the room and into our eyes with the sole purpose of inflicting migraines and temporary blindness.

I barely remember the headliners.  By the time they appeared, with the auditorium truly beginning to fill up with the most recalcitrant of the attendees, who had failed to read the clearly stated attendance etiquette from the internet, we were SO over it.  SO, SO, SO...over it. By then we had been there for three hours and we would have been on our last nerve if we had any nerves left.  Or eardrums, or retinae.  So, I won't tell you what we did after about six songs into the main act.  But you can probably guess.

One last thing before I bring this piece to a close.  Let's revisit those floor seats that I was so proud to have nabbed.  Listen, they are only "seats" until the concert starts.  After that, they are the blunt objects protruding into the back of your knees as every single fan in "floor seats"  rises from their chairs to stand, sway, dance and shimmy, while hoisting sloshing cups of beer toward the ceiling, shouting and screaming every single freaking word of every single freaking song.  So loud and off-key that you have no idea if the performers paid to sing are actually doing more than simply moving their lips and planning a quick exit should things get any nuttier.

Hey, listen.   I'm not one to look down my nose at a party.  I just didn't know that buying a floor ticket was an invitation to said party.  As I didn't know that a floor ticket meant you were in an area where it's a stigma to use your chair as a seat.  They really should print that on the tickets:  "Please refrain from sitting in your seats."

Let me say this.  I'm happy that thousands of people had a grand, old time that evening.  And they sure didn't ask for a couple of senior citizens to crash their party.  A "older couple" who seemed clueless that it's more fun to stand for hours than sit at a concert, that act like they've never had a little bit of Bud Light accidentally dribble on them, a couple of near-septuagenarians with wads of facial tissue protruding from their ears and horror-stricken eyes searching desperately for the red exit signs.

It wasn't their fault that we believed we had received way, way, way more than our money's worth about five songs into the main act.


When we finally scuttled out of the auditorium and into the parking lot, we were mesmerized by the quiet of the evening.  Quiet had never been so...well...quiet.  The moon was bright and full and when we looked back at the building, it appeared to be alternately rising from and settling back on its foundation.  A pulsing mushroom.  Above the heavenly sawing of the crickets and the sleepy, steady hum of tires on the four-lane, we heard what sounded like a strong heartbeat emanating from the roof.  We knew it was a drummer, inside that brightly lit, quivering building, whaling away with abandon.  We supposed by now the floor inside was gluey with margarita and whiskey sour residue and that all the various colognes and perfumes were battling a growing gale of beer breath.

Outside and apart from all of that, two extremely grateful concert-goers make an escape to their car, two moon-drawn shadows, hand in hand, breathing the breath of freedom and agreeing that the next concert they attend would likely not be a concert at all.  Nope.  Not by a long shot.   They were, indeed, quite certain it would be a concerto.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

On jellyfish and waxing moons

I found that I cannot stroll the beach without a thousand random thoughts buzzing around my head like heat seeking missiles.  Today was no exception.  The afternoon was extra bright, as if the sun had turned up its intensity a few billion lumens.  Or maybe because the days leading up to this one had been uncharacteristically cloudy and rainy.  But today?  Bright, hot... perfect ocean, perfect sky, perfect everything.  Even a waxing quarter moon plugged into the brilliant afternoon sky like a shard of bleached shell peeking out from the sand.

Folks on the beach were busy, or not busy, doing, or not doing, the things folks on the beach do.  Or don't do.  Umbrellas of dark primary colors sprang from the sand every several yards, providing shade for drowsy parents, one eye closed, the other eye trying to keep up with adolescents charging the ocean or packing pail-shaped columns of sand into castles.  More than a few people were engrossed in books, made-for-the-beach thrillers and romances - books with actual covers and pages- while a few squinted away at Kindles, tilted at odd angles, attempting to outwit the glaring sun.  A few offered themselves up as human sacrifices to thirsty Ra, willfully ignoring decades of dermatological education in hopes of achieving a skin shade and texture somewhere between burnt toast and freshly laid asphalt.  The breeze smelled of salt and simmering sunscreen.  But still, it was that rare and sought-after perfect day.


About halfway into my walk, I happened upon a jellyfish which had suffered the misfortune of being washed up by the surge of high tide only to be left beached, high and dry, by the lowering tide.  It glistened a bright shade of purple, reminding me of the dollop of grape jelly I had allowed myself at breakfast that morning.  Perhaps, I thought, it's a grape jellyfish.  Actually, I knew it was a Portuguese  Man o' War, with a reputation for being pretty darn unforgiving once it got its barbed tentacles attached.  Actually, it's not a true jellyfish but close enough.  And with venom strong enough to paralyze or kill small fish and make humans wish they were dead.  And I already know what you're thinking.  You're thinking that idiot saved that horrible creature.  He returned it to the sea, putting it in a position down the road to sting some poor unsuspecting swimmer.  Even a helpless, innocent child, perhaps.

I stared at it a moment, watching its clear bladder slowly puff up and deflate, puff up and deflate.  Then I backed away and continued my walk.

A half hour later, on my return trip, I was surprised to see the Man o' War still trapped in the sand by the slowly ebbing tide.  What an interesting turn of fate, I thought.  Certainly that much-maligned creature didn't wake up this morning and imagine that by the middle of the afternoon, it would be stuck on the beach like Tom Hanks in "Castaway."  With its Man o' War wife (a Woman o' War?) nervously awaiting his return while all their little Babies o' War whined and flagellated, wondering when Daddy was coming home.  It just didn't seem fair.  And I couldn't help but wonder if this was another of those Surprise Pop Quizzes of Life staring up at me with its breath continuing to get increasingly shallow.

It was a dilemma in more ways than one.  But after I had disposed of the dilemma of whether or not to save the creature,  I began working on the dilemma of how I was going to manage to get it back into the ocean and safely on its way, without wreaking pain and havoc on myself.

Here's what I did.

There wasn't a stick or rigid piece of seagrass in sight.  No kid's discarded shovel.  No suitable piece of indestructible styrofoam or plastic.  Nothing natural or man-made to protect my hands from what I imagined was pain that was light-years beyond my level of tolerance.  Then it came to me.  I knelt before that horrible little creature with my vulnerable knees inches away from its weedy tentacles,  and, with both hands cupped together, I scooped deeply into the sand beneath his violet, gelatinous body.  I slowly rose to my feet with him firmly in my hands, encrusted in plenty of thick, wet sand, I walked him into the ocean waist-deep.  When the next large wave broke, I flung him.  Like Ernest T. Bass, I pitched that little sucker as far as I could.  Ha!  You knew it, didn't you?  You knew I was going to do that from the very beginning, didn't you?   I saved that horrific one-eyed,  purple people-eating monster.  Then I turned and high stepped my way back to shore with the incoming waves breaking against the back of my legs and my ankles.

The very same waves that decided to speed my little buddy back toward the beach, directly at me, allowing him to wrap himself around my left ankle, his little balloon of a head grasping my ankle clockwise while a dozen or so sticky tentacles tightly wrapped my ankle counter-clockwise.  I did not budge.  I.  Did.  Not.  Breathe.

I just closed my eyes, gritted my teeth,  and waited for the pain.

That never came.

When the next wave broke at my feet, the Man o' War unwrapped himself, freed my grateful ankle, and nonchalantly floated away beneath the waves and back out to sea.

Not even a good-bye kiss.

You know what?  That creature didn't ask to be a Man o' War.  He was born one, and having burst upon this world as what he was, he had no choice but to do what Men o' War do.  To get by.  And, on this bright sunny day, with the perfect sky and the perfect ocean and the perfect clouds, you'll never convince me that he was anything but the victim of an indifferent, waxing moon upon the conspiring tides.  Just a random pull without a random push.  And I figured that if I was ever the victim of a poorly timed marriage of moon and tide, and needed a little boost to straighten things out, there would be someone or something that would come along and be my advocate.  An unexpected, unassuming hero or heroine, if you would.  And I'd like to think that maybe, just maybe,  I'll be rewarded for having even that most minuscule drop of influence in the vast, stormy ocean of nature.

Either that or I'll get stung so badly tomorrow I'll have to go on a week of bedrest.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

What's that sound?

In 1966, Stephen Stills, while jamming with Buffalo Springfield, wrote "For What It's Worth."  And now, a half century later, I stumble upon an article in the Wall Street Journal informing me that, according to Pew Research Center, almost half of Americans get their news from Facebook.  And when they finish getting their news from Facebook and other social media sources, they share and comment on it in increasingly prodigious quantities.  What do these pieces of information have to do with each other?  I don't know for sure.  Maybe nothing.  Maybe something.

First things first.

 It's been 50 plus years, a half century, since "For What It's Worth" peaked at number 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart.  Five decades since Dick Clark's American Bandstand previewed this very undanceable song.  Yet another half century before, World War I, the war to end all wars, was being waged.  But in 1967, an additional war to end all wars behind us,  to an eighteen year old like me with a fresh, unfettered draft card, 1917 was ancient history.  Really ancient.  So I have to suppose that an eighteen year old today spending any time at all thinking about a song from 1967, a wobbly vinyl disc revolving on a dinner plate of a turntable at forty-five rounds per minute, would seem just as ancient.  Real old-people stuff.

But stay with me because there is something there.  Something there in that song.  Something there in our current state of affairs.

"There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind."

I recall the battle lines in 1967.  When you think of what happened within a year of this song, you can't help but see it as eerily prophetic.  Within two months of each other in early 1968, we would lose Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy to the bullets of assassins.  Disenchantment with the Vietnam War would accelerate and all of it would take on a apocalyptic tenor weeks later in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention.  And all of my young, long-haired, hippie contemporaries were right smack dab in the middle of it.  Getting clubbed and kicked and generally pummeled by every law enforcement adult in reach.

Thank goodness we had no social media to fan the flames in those days.  We might have seen the Second Civil War or the third war to end all wars.

"What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side."

We don't need to carry signs now.  We can post our signs on our timelines daily.  We can tweet and Instagram support for our side at the speed of a Jefferson Starship.  Hey...forget the appropriate emoticon will do just fine.

"Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away."

"We better stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down."

I believe there is much to be optimistic about today.  I really do.  But I also believe we are living in an era of unprecedented paranoia, from our national leadership all the way to the man and woman on the street.  Or rather, the man and woman on-line.

You know, I started this particular blog a few months ago and had pretty much dispatched it to the "Saved" column.  The place where many well-intentioned blogs go to spend their last days, and, ultimately, to be transferred to that electronic trash bin in the sky.  But things happen.

Minor and major.  (And really, who's to define what's minor or major?)

This morning I was cruising Facebook (shame on me) and witnessed the sudden and apparent end of a long-term friendship.  All because of - yep, you guessed it -  a difference of opinion around something political in nature.  And I really have to question the "political" part.  Forgive my assumption, but most of the division and derision and frustration today stems from whether one chooses to strongly support, or wishes to quickly deport, our current head of state.  We can throw around all the cliche-ish tags like conservative or liberal or gun-toting or snowflake or blah, blah, blah...till our strained eyes glaze over.  We can claim our rightful and righteous place as a Democrat or a Republican.  We can be blue or red or whatever other color we choose to represent our biases.  But if there is a battle line drawn (and there is), the President of the United States is soft-shoeing and thumbs-upping right in the middle of it.  Self-inflicted or not.  Deserving or not.  Believe it or not.  And as I witnessed this increasingly tense exchange between these two ladies, both of whom appear to be very nice and intelligent people, I realized, at best, a huge crack erupted in their friendship, and, at worst, a knife pierced it through the heart.


Two other headliners since the time I first considered this blog:  the horrific school shooting in Florida and the brain-numbing Waffle House murders in Antioch, Tennessee.


"There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware."

"Stop children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down."

Before you jump to conclusions, this piece isn't about guns, the Constitution, or the President of the United States.  It's not about keeping score or winning.  I promise.  This piece is about humanity and its future.  Period.

If you know me and have read my blogs, you know I would much rather write about animals or trees or wax sentimentally about my childhood.  I would rather make you smile than cause you wrinkles.  And my goal is always to entertain.  But there is something happening here.  Social media is changing the fabric of our lives.  And it's not a slow evolution, one patiently rendered cross-stitch at a time.  No, no, no.    It's a seam-busting, cloth-ripping, button-popping change.  It's louder than the Titanic getting filleted  by that iceberg.   Listen.  I'm as endeared to whole connection process as you are.  I like virtual visits as much as you do.  I like knowing what's going on around the world in warp-speed time.  And I can embrace (most of the time) the new voyeuristic spin on friendship.

But we have to heed Buffalo Springfield's fifty year old warning.  There is something going down.  Never before have school children's ears had to be on alert for certain sounds.  The rack of a bullet entering the chamber.  The staccato swarm of a beehive of hot lead.  The muffled thuds of sneakers tearing down the hallway.  Never before have battle lines been so deeply, so distinctly, so seemingly irrevocably drawn.  Not even in my beloved 1960s did I see adults brutally ostracize young people for speaking their minds and acting upon their preferences.  Vilifying children for having the audacity of an opinion.  It's been a long time since I've seen "so much resistance from behind."

Metaphors shouldn't be mixed, we're told.  And I probably shouldn't mix Stephen Stills with T.S. Eliot (cue the sound of dozens of folks hitting their "Escape" button).  But we all should be wondering what "that sound" is, exactly.  Maybe it's many sounds.  Maybe it's gunshots.  Maybe it's voices, being increasingly raised above the others.  Or doors slamming on  long-term friendships.  Maybe it's simply the thundering silence of growing tensions.

In  Eliot's "The Hollow Men," published almost 100 years ago, the ending verses are these:

"This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper."

Take a few minutes and read the poem.  I consider it a prophecy just as I consider "For What It's Worth" a prophecy.  And what is a prophecy, if not a warning?  And what is a warning, if not an opportunity for change?  Or, in this case, an opportunity to stop detrimental change.

As usual, I don't have the answers.  Just the observations.  So now I'll let this little blog simmer for at least 24 hours.  And, when I revisit it, I'll make the decision as to whether I want to share it with the few dozens who don't mind tuning me in for a few minutes.  If you're reading this, you know that I chose to let it see the light of day.  If you're not, well, your none the worse for wear and probably out there cruising Facebook land, discarding unreasonable, old friends and making new, agreeable ones.

Whichever, I'm not ready for the world to end with either a bang or a whimper.  I'm not ready for us to be divided by something that has a finite shelf life, if we can just wait it out.  And I certainly believe that the mental and moral price of continuing down this forked path is much more than we are willing to pay.  I am ready for us to move on to more important things.  Like dogs, and trees, and the glorious days of youth.  And for a future that embodies harmony and rejects discord.

For what it's worth.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

This morning in the living room

"Lose" and "lost" are tough words.  They can be horrid, given half the chance.  Four-letter words that can bring night crashing down in the middle of the most gloriously sunny day.  If there were a contest to choose words to ban from language, those two certainly would be in my top ten.

And I'm not talking about some uses of the word.  Like "they lost the ballgame."  So what.  "I lost my car keys."  Certainly a problem but not irredeemable.  Or Ronnie Milsap's "Lost in the Fifties."  That's actually a nice kind of lost.

What I'm talking about is losing someone close to you.  People and pets.  And, yes, I'm going to include pets right up there with people, acknowledging that there is a significant difference, but also maintaining that when a living thing is lost, it hurts pretty bad.

Plus, if I didn't lump them together, I wouldn't be writing this particular piece.  I wouldn't want to.

Okay.  A little disclaimer or maybe a bit of an early revelation here.  I don't intend this to be a "down" piece.  Maybe not a pleasant little jaunt along one of life's merry paths, but certainly not a big, ole downer.  It's just that I had, or re-had, an early morning revelation, a wee hour epiphany, and I need to get it down on paper, as they say.

I've lost both parents.  I've lost my brother, my only sibling.  Grandparents, aunts, uncles...along with a fair amount of friends.  I suppose that living isn't only loving.  It's also losing.  You live long enough and the loving and losing pile up.  Thank goodness that the loving is there to keep us afloat during the losing.

Yet, with all those human losses, it is the recent loss of pets, and most particularly our two wonderful pooches, that impacts me most this day.  And, in order to get to the point in as short of a time and in as few keystrokes as possible, I'll cut right to the chase.

Geri and I awoke early this morning as we have in the last many mornings.  Morning, as defined by time, and not by light.  It was still full dark when we went into the living room, which up until a few days ago was just simply an extension of our dog house, by virtue of almost every piece of furniture having been covered with sheets and towels.  By virtue of the fact that we are the type of pet parents who will apologize to guests for there being very little space for them to sit because, after all, our house is just a very large, centrally heated and cooled, dog house.  And it is, as they say, a "living" room.

This morning, as in a handful of mornings past, there are no sheets and towels on the living room furniture.  Each piece is exposed in all its pre-dog glory.  Geri washed all the towels and sheets, folded them, put them into bags, and we donated them to the local animal shelter.  As we did the unopened bags and cans of food and the boxes of treats.  Baylee's outdoor bed was loaded and delivered in hopes that some little temporary orphan would have a dry place off the ground.  Emerald's barely used purple halter (he really looked sharp in purple) may help someone lead their shelter dog to a forever home.  That would be nice.

But, anyway, back to the reformed living room.  Geri got comfortable on Baylee's couch and I settled into Emerald's super-sized chair with my feet up on the ottoman that was his favorite place to sun.  Picture windows, nearly floor to ceiling, face the south.  I read for awhile, periodically watching the southern sky lighten and the stars fade into the blooming light blue expanse.  Except for one.  The morning star, I figured it was, and it seemed to brighten and blaze as the morning continued to dissolve the night.  

I gained surprising solace from that single star.  I would read for a few minutes in the absolute quiet and glance out the window and watch that huge star flare and glimmer like an indefatigable angel.  And, on this morning, it made me think of Emerald.  Of his energy and his spirit.  Of his intelligence and his loyalty.  Of his humility and his hopefulness.  And I was comforted.  Until...

I paused to look for the star and it was gone.  That friendly, comforting morning star had evaporated, right before my eyes.  What? I asked.

And then it came to me as clearly as if someone had stepped up right next to me and spoken.  You know what I'm talking about.  One of those voices you hear in your head rather than in your ears.  And the voice said, "I'm still here.  You just can't see me."  I must have look confused because the voice in my head repeated, "I'm still here.  You just can't see me."


I often wonder how many times we must be taught the same lesson.  I wonder how many times God needs to tap us on the shoulder with the obvious.  I should have known - immediately - that the morning star didn't go anywhere.  Whether it's a planet or a star, it's still out there, as big and blazing and glorious as it always is.  Moving, but not leaving.  Shifting, but not dissolving.  Changed, but not lost.

If I wanted to go all scientific on you and talk about the first law of thermodynamics, I could tell you that it states that energy is neither created nor destroyed; it can only be changed from one form to another.  But I don't want to do that.  

All I really want to do is share my little, wee-hours-of-the-morning shoulder tap from an all-knowing, all-loving, wise-cracking God.  Who loves to be cute and watch our reactions.  

We don't really "lose" those and that which are close to us.  Nothing is really "lost."  There are just shifts or moves or changes.  All is well.

And we don't want to lose sight of that.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Ode to the Mockingbird

It's been a long winter.  Not a frigid winter, maybe a little on the wet side.  And, is it just me, but do the winters seem to get longer the older one gets?  Unfortunately, this was a winter of loss.  Many of my friends left this corporeal plane this winter.  I also lost a truly great four-legged fur friend of thirteen years.  And while I don't suppose any season is a good time to lose someone, winter seems to add extra heft and chill to a loss.  However...

Spring is, as they say, around the corner.  Robins continue their reign as the iconic first signs of spring, and, I suppose there have been several around, but I'm not impressed with the robin, as a whole.  Sort of a plain bird that shows up after a drenching rain to snag the worm on top of the ground.  Lazy, if you ask me.  Sort of a starling with a red breast.  Just not a whole lot there.

My first sign of spring is the return of "my" mockingbirds.  I hear them before I see them, their song kicking the world wide awake.  Loud and brilliant.  This morning, I spotted them.  They have a favorite bush they like to build in.  It's protected by those irritating, sharp-as-needle leaves, and, on top of that, it's inside the cat-proof fence around the pool.  No dummies, my mockingbirds.

They will spend the next few days taking turns grabbing grass and straw, some loose string, maybe a wad of paper...whatever they can prepare their nest.  They're monogamous, you know.  Marriage is a lifetime proposition for them.  So this isn't their first rodeo.  They've built nests together for a few years now so they're pretty comfortable with each other's work habits and engineering abilities.  I can stand at my kitchen window for hours and watch them work together, seeming to know the exact meaning of their partner's tip of the head, shake of shoulders, flap of wing.  Seeming to know instinctively  exactly what their mate is going to do seconds before it's done.  Synchronicity at its best.    They never seem to disagree or argue.  If they do, it's out of sight and in mockingbird talk, so I wouldn't be able to understand it anyway.

(Now, usually, it's just about here when I  start building an analogy.  Trying to tie in this  limited subject with life in general - trying to expand the small into the large, the mundane into the magnificent.  Going for the BIG PICTURE.)

Sometimes it works.  Sometimes not.

Well, not today.  Today is different.  In 1965 - now that was a very good year - Hal David hooked up with Burt Bacharach and composed "What the World Needs Now Is Love."  Thankfully for you, I'm not going to try to draw an analogy to that.  That would be corny, wouldn't it?  And predictable.  You would expect me to quote parts of the song that I think apply to current times, like "What the world needs now is love, sweet love; it's the only thing that there's just too little of."  And then you'd want me to make a big deal of "...not just for some but for everyone."  I know you.  You expect me to be the usual sentimental fool I've always been.  You want me to draw comparisons to cornfields and wheat fields and sunbeams and moonbeams.  Admit it.  You want me to be smarmy.  So you can just sit back and cluck to yourselves and say, "That Doug...he's a smarmy character, isn't he?"

You just aren't going to get your way today.  Now...while I do believe that what the world needs is some love...I'm not going to go there.  What I really believe is that the world needs more mockingbirds.  You can have your robins.  In fact, I'll give you a dozen robins for a single mockingbird.  If we could just saturate our world with mockingbirds, their songs would drown out all the silly noise that surrounds us everyday.  With more mockingbirds, we could raise our heads from our electronic devices and observe how creatures work together for a common good.  With more mockingbirds, we could ponder the many strengths born of natural integrity and simple, similar, but important, goals.

More mockingbirds would bring less stress, less worry, and less infatuation with the mundane of this planet and things we simply can do nothing about.

But, like I analogies for you today.  If you want analogies, cook up your own.   I do have one small request, though.  Sometime today...

...listen to the mockingbird.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The first stone


This whole social media phenomenon sometimes overwhelms.  It has accelerated the pace of hate in the world.  It is a Petri dish for anger and discord.  It gives us the perfect vehicle for our inherent divisiveness.

Some good does emerge.  For example, I will post this blog on Facebook and a couple of hundred of you will read it.  Some will enjoy it, some will not.  Some couldn't care less.  But I can at least share, on occasion,  my meager thoughts.

But this isn't a blog about social media.  This is a blog about that "first stone" that we've always heard about and how it sits there waiting for someone to grab it and cast it.  It's always been there.  Smug, complacent.  Calmly anticipating a blameless hand.  Confident it's not going to get chucked anytime soon.

Because, to cast it, you must be without sin. And just because it's unlikely that anyone stands a snowball's chance of grabbing that sucker and slinging it like Ernest T. Bass doesn't mean that you can't attempt to live and behave in such a way that you can at least contemplate its power.  That you can't imagine it sitting there in a glass case atop a fancy dais in all its rocky ordinariness.  About the size of a baseball, imperfectly round, worn smooth by centuries of time and inertia.  Centuries spent awaiting a sin free hand.

But to even have the privilege of contemplating it, I think you have to at least direct your  life in a positive direction.

I'll give you a couple of examples.

The world reels today from the murder and mayhem in Las Vegas.  Facebook is already speculating that the shooter may have been spotted at a certain political rally, may have just converted to Islam, may have been just one in a group of people plotting this massacre.

Guess what?  I don't care.  Sorry, but as I sit here at this very moment, I can't recall his name and I have no desire to do so.  He is a non-entity to me.  That's how we should regard innate hate.  As a non-entity.

What I do care about are all those lives cut short in the blink of an eye.  Ripped from this earth and their families and loved ones as suddenly as a muzzle flash.  I care about those fellow human beings who this day are suffocating in a bottomless pit of grief,  reeling from what they can only describe as a hellish nightmare.  I care about the mothers, the fathers, the sons and daughters, the husbands and wives of all of these people who have lost a huge piece of their heart and move about their days as if they are underwater.

I hurt for those who had bullets or shrapnel rip through them but still hang onto life.  I know that there is for them now a brief flash of time that will forever haunt the days, months, and years to come.  I regret the pain - mental, physical, and emotional - that they suffer.  I pray for their full recovery and that sometime, somehow, they will be able to delegate this nightmare to an unreachable corner of their brain and never allow it to see the light of day.

I don't care how Mr. Evil obtained his weapons, whether they were automatic or semi-automatic, who he voted for, what church or mosque he prayed at, or what his family or next door neighbors think of him.  I have no room in my existence to give the slightest of a damn about him.  So don't bother sharing with me any of the plethora of social media facts, fictions, or opinions around him and his life.  Don't yell at me from atop your gun- issue soapbox, regardless of your leanings.  Do not make me a party to your decision to politicize this tragedy.  At times like these, I choose to empathize, not socialize.

Getting mired up in speculation gets me no closer to being able to run my fingers across that unique stone.  None of that allows me to imagine the heft of that stone in my hands, maybe even tossing it back and forth just to feel its weight and texture.  In fact, it inspires to spin me in the opposite direction.

Which leads me to my other issue.  Listen, I love football.  I manage to tolerate the other sports while waiting for spring training or early drills or pre-season.  Baseball may still be America's pastime, but football is my pastime.  And guess what?

I don't care whether the patriotism of the professional players matches my patriotism or not.  Many of you think that there is no such thing as degrees of patriotism.  You're either a patriot or you aren't.  Well, thank God we're free to think that way.  And, so far, we don't need a constitutional amendment to think.  Do I respect your personal views around patriotism?  Absolutely.  In fact, we may be pretty much aligned there.

But that doesn't mean that I have to care how a football player or anyone else chooses to show his patriotism.  Whether it's a wide-open, standing at attention, helmet in one hand and the other over his heart, lip-syncing the words to the National Anthem with tears in his eyes.  Or standing with his arms linked with his team, or kneeling on the artificial turf, or sitting out The Star Spangled Banner in the sweaty, littered confines of the locker room.  His job, in my world, is to run, throw, kick, catch, and block like a professional.  It's to go out onto that field and give 110% for the game.  To earn his keep.  And like Mr. Evil, I don't care where he goes to church, who he voted for, whether he believes in concealed carry, or how he chooses to demonstrate his national pride.  And if he is breaching a clause in his work contract, then that's between him and his employer.

I do care about whether he is a good person, whether he is charitable, whether he sets a strong positive example as a husband, father, brother or son, and if he believes in obeying the law.  I would like to think that he has a solid personal relationship with his Creator.  I care about whether he conducts himself in such a way as to move closer to being able to cast that first stone.

So spare me the pundits.

Social media is rampant with modern day scribes and Pharisees.  Always just dying to discredit you, to tempt you into saying something that they can capitalize on, to lure you to their political and social webs, to insult or outrage you into a senseless, endless argument, and to stick their feet out so you trip and fall square on your butt.  The scribes and Pharisees of social media are sometimes your friends.  That's usually when their shenanigans hurt the worst. Sometimes they are total strangers who you believe you just have to confront and counter. You know them.  You "chat" with them everyday.  They're usually sitting with their fingers hovering over their keyboards or their thumbs at ready on their smartphones.

You know, I've vowed to temper my social media behavior before.  But I've always underestimated the power of the scribes and Pharisees.  I don't have the DNA of The Man.  I don't have the ability to squat, draw my finger through the dust, and quietly contemplate my next move.   I haven't had the power to just let the rotten bait dangle there and move on to calmer waters.  Sometimes I just don't have the power to shut the hell up.

And until I do, me and Ernest T. Bass can only dream of that granite beauty, that perfect rock, that elusive "first stone." That chucker to end all chuckers.  We can only dream of a day when the scribes and Pharisees all link arms around the common causes of goodness and beauty and spin golden threads across the social media highway.   We can only dream of a time when Evil loses its grip and careens back into the black pit from which it first slithered.  In the meantime, I'm hoping me and Ernest T. Bass can both work to overcome our own little self-indulgent urges.  Him breaking windows like a backwoods banshee and me conquering the deliciously recurring temptations of living with a endless pile of plain old common rocks in a glass house.