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.

Almost.

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 signs...an 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.

Sad.

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.

Unimaginable.

"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."

Wow.

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 spot...to 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 said...no 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.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Did the new iPhone nail it?

Image result for photo of metal nail





Bob Dylan told us in 1964 that "The Times They Are A-Changing."  Little did he know.

When the iPhone 8 debuted this week, I thought of the time, which seems like yesterday, when my wife and I upgraded to the 6S Plus which was just after  the 7 hit the shelves.  You might ask why we didn't just jump straight to the 7.

Well, we didn't feel like we had a right to skip the 6.  We were 5 users for a couple or three years and it just didn't seem proper to totally leapfrog the 6 because of the glitter and glimmer of the new 7.  Actually we were 5S owners, which made us a little more special than the just-plain-5 owners.  Plus we wanted to give 3D touch a try as well as experience android size in an Apple product.  After all, IOS is IOS by any other name.

Time out.

If you followed the last two paragraphs, if you had no trouble with the lingo, then you're either 1) young or 2) a savvy Apple middle-ager or mature citizen.  And, if you didn't follow the lingo, that doesn't mean you aren't young and/or savvy.  Or age-advanced and hip.  It may simply mean that you are a Samsung or other android afficionado or you like a flip to your phone and don't plan in this lifetime to upgrade beyond your trusty Nokia or your CD player.

Anyway, stuck at the Verizon store, sitting around waiting for the new phone to upload around 45 gigs of information of mysterious value,  I reflected on my first brush with  technology.

It's 1974 and my company has a promotion.   Never one to shun a little healthy competition, I gave it my best effort and managed to win.  A congratulatory letter arrived letting me know to expect my prize in the next few days.  Early the next week, a package appeared on my desk.  Opening it, I found this little plastic thing-a-majig with square numerical keys on the front and the brand name "Casio" emblazoned above a tiny, rectangular translucent screen.  I scanned the instruction booklet and discovered that I had won a "digital calculator."

What a machine that little fellow was!  What a miracle.  You could multiply, divide, add, subtract, figure the square root...there was no end to what this item barely larger than a pack of cigarettes could do.  Truly pocket sized!

Understand that I was a child of a generation that utilized mechanical cash registers the size of dorm refrigerators.  If you plunged downward on three cumbersome keys, three tin rectangles would pop up in a glass enclosure to record a $1.38 sale.  (And if you are one of the handful of people who actually can visualize that, then you are old...really old.)

What had the world come to?  This was surely the invention of the century and certainly the end-all to long-winded mathematical solutions.  No more carrying the two in your multiplication or adding a decimal point and a zero in your long division.  This little know-it-all did it all.  The answers were displayed magically via liquid crystal display, another miracle, allowing you to do little tricks when bored, like entering 7,7,3,4,5 and turning the calculator upside down to spell an oil company.

However...that little miracle worker today would be about as exciting to the tech world and the demanding, technologically advanced consumer as a common nail.  Yep, about as intriguing as post-it note.  Nearly as engaging as  paper clip.

Back at the Verizon store, fanning ourselves when quoted the price of the 6S, the rep reminded us that we weren't buying phones, we were buying computers.  He cocked his head, arched his left eyebrow,  and asked us what our computers at home could do that this iPhone couldn't.  I searched for a witty reply that would smack the supercilious grin from his face but came up blank.

We left the store with heavier pockets and lighter wallets.

But, strangely, when I return to that day in 1974, I'm convinced that I felt a great deal more satisfaction, excitement, and awe over that early edition calculator than I do over the next great smartphone.   I can't help but believe that there was some understated beauty in that simple time of technological naiveté.  That slice of time when you didn't worry over having enough storage-ready gigabytes or exceeding your plan's monthly data quota.  When Macintosh was just a very tasty apple and Microsoft sounded like a new, improved brand of fabric softener sheets.  When "you've got mail" meant that you could see the postman closing your mailbox door before heading for your neighbor's.  When twitter was what your heart did when you fell in love.  Again.  And when the BeeGees sang "I've Gotta Get a Message to You," the last thing you thought about was thumbing away at a qwerty keyboard.

But the common nail?  Anything but common.  That little fellow is pretty diverse all on its own and has gone through many more transformations and variations than the iPhone.  And with a birth date around 3400 B.C., it certainly a much more colorful history.  In  early America, they were so coveted that folks would burn down abandoned houses just to salvage the nails.  Hopefully we won't be doing that for smartphones.

And, finally, there's the existential side of the nail.  I read once that nails are secured in objects by the laws of friction.  And they can endure the secured object's force due to their sturdiness.  These are times when we humans could certainly benefit from the nail's simple lesson.  With everything that comes at us daily, with all the friction that we create upon ourselves and allow others to create within us, we could all use a little more nail-liness.  We could all learn to sturdy up a little bit more, huh?  Can't manage that with an iPhone, can we?  Look at those things the wrong way or apply too much friction and the screen cracks or the battery explodes.

So ignore the title of this blog.  It's silly.  But here's to the pocket calculator and the good, old nail.  Raise a glass to their simplicity, honesty, and ingenuity.  May they ever have a secure and calculated place in our history and our hearts.  And in these times that are a-changing, may we never, ever allow modern technology to slowly invade and dominate every phase of our lives.

Now excuse me while I search for a strong wi-fi signal to publish this post and attach it to my Facebook page.

OMG!!! Tell me I just didn't say that....😕





Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Finder of All Things Lost

Close Up of Keys



I lost my keys last week.  Or maybe I should say I misplaced them.  They have a designated drawer in the kitchen and they weren't there.  I believe it's an "age thing" though I have to admit that I have a life history of losing things.  I guess you might say that I've always been a little forgetful and sometimes not all that keenly focused.

When I was a kid, most everything I lost was critical to my immediate happiness.  When you're a kid, your beloved possessions are few and to lose one is usually a big deal.  I remember misplacing my favorite marble when I was in the second grade.  Admittedly, I can't remember yesterday's lunch but I have a crystal clear memory of losing my light blue cat's eye shooter.  My number one prized marble that rode in the right-hand pocket of my bluejeans wherever I went.  I was pretty sure that it was hiding somewhere in our front yard.  After dividing the yard into grids and walking those grids a dozen times, I finally did what I always did in stressful situations such as this.  I asked God to help me.  It wasn't a prayer per se...more like a mental request:  Dear God, I know you have much more important issues to deal with, but if you have an extra minute or two, would you please help me find my marble.  And I promise I'll do a better job keeping up with it.

It always worked.  I say "always."  And to my recollection, it always did.

I found my prized shooter that day and, as far as I can recall, I did take extra steps to safeguard it until the time that playing marbles became secondary to learning to "walk the dog" on my brand-new, shiny Duncan Imperial.

Back to last week and my vagrant keys.  I don't know about you, but trying to find something lost, or misplaced,  pretty much dominates my thoughts until it is found.  And I don't care to recall the number of times I've donned latex gloves and reallocated bag after bag of kitchen trash.  Some fresh and some not so fresh.  I'm not sure why that's one of the first places I always look.  It just is.  But, anyway, guess what?  After exhaustive searches throughout the house and along the path from the car to the house and back a few times, it was time to turn to the Finder of All Things Lost once again.  So, in the way that has changed very little from the time I was seven, I asked God to help me find my keys.  I had no sooner dispersed that little request to the stratosphere when it occurred to me that there might be a good chance that the keys ended up in a kitchen drawer but not the correct kitchen drawer.  I hustled into the house and opened a drawer next to the sink (the tape and scissors drawer to be exact) and voila!  There sat the keys.

The biggest difference between God directing the finding of lost things when I was a kid and now as an adult is that God insists on sending a little life lesson along with His assistance in recovering the misplaced item.  Sort of a celestial fortune cookie.  And this one revealed that God actually enjoys finding lost things, especially when that which needs finding is a whole person.  Or a broken person who needs to be whole.  I can't even come close to counting the number of times He's found me over the years.  Whether I was hiding or had simply lost my way, eventually God showed up with His big flashlight to direct me home.  Thank goodness the single stray is just as important as the properly placed ninety-nine.

There's a touch of irony in all of this.  I think I've been much more comfortable asking God to find marbles and keys than I have been asking to be found myself.  I wonder if that's just me or if that holds true for many.  I wonder if many of us are hesitant to ask for help on a large scale.  But it doesn't matter.  He's there when you need Him and nothing is to small or too large when it comes to finding what is lost.  Marbles, keys, or your way.  The Finder of All Things Lost is always on duty.

And, you know, when I really get to thinking about it, maybe things and people aren't really lost in the first place.   Maybe they've just managed to end up in the wrong drawer.