Friday, December 30, 2011

Has Another Year Gone By Already?

 New Year's is right around the corner and 2011 is coming to a close. The earth (and it's inhabitants) are another year older and what do we have to show for it? I reflected on the past year and tried to decide what was significant. Some of it was only important to me, but here is what I can remember.

January
12 - The year kicked off with the passing of one of our beloved pets. Kirsten's tarantula died (read about it here). She had lovingly named him Hitler when we got him and just as lovingly tossed him in the dumpster when he stopped breathing. This made me consider two things: First, what would she do with me if I died and second, do spiders breathe? I mean, they don't have noses and  I don't feel like looking it up right now. Someone explain it to me.

That same day, the youth minister at our new church asked me if I wanted to help with the jr. high kids. We had been in town for three months at that point, I hadn't assaulted anyone yet and my background check came back clean, so they figured I was safe around their kids. The journey to influence young minds in a new town begins.

14 - I started a new job at a factory in the neighboring town with three letters for its name. I never asked what the letters stood for, so I can only guess. I was hired on to work in Quality Assurance. I was one of the most hated people in the plant. Apparently, they hadn't really had much of a quality control program in place and suddenly I come on the scene with the job of catching peoples' mistakes. Some department supervisors would actually refuse to let me on their floor. Since I was only there to tell them what they were doing wrong, I can't say I blame them for not liking me, but since the management couldn't be bothered to make sure people cooperated so I could do my job, most of my time was spent arguing with people and trying to force my way into areas I was not welcome. To make matters worse, my paper work often got other people fired, demoted or sent off for training and they gave me an office high above the factory floor so I could observe the line workers. Guess how many friends I made there.

15 - Kirsten sensing my stress or trying to butter me up for something, does the dishes for the first time since we had moved. I believe that was also the last time. She is not very domestic.

February
1 - The first day of February we get hit with a snow and ice storm that was predicted to be the biggest since weather started being recorded (read about the Snowpocolypse here). Stores were cleared out of merchandise and we hunkered down expecting the worst. It was a bad storm, but not nearly the size they warned us about. Our power was out for a little over 4 hours, school and work were cancelled for a few days, but we survived.

These things never end well.
25-26 - At the end of the month, I took my first trip with the Moweaqua youth. We traveled to St. Charles, MO for a CIY/Believe conference. In my efforts to be a good leader, I managed to secure front row seats for my group. Unfortunately, this got us so close to the stage that one of my kids was pulled up and put into a guillotine by a magician. As the responsible (sic!) adult, I quickly had to decide if I would allow this to happen. He really had his head secured in a device made for cutting it off. Do I play it safe, make his parents happy, rush the stage and save this kid OR trust that despite how scary this looks, the people on stage are professionals who know what they are doing, but risk a decapitation of a pre-teen on my watch. After a quick but heated deliberation amongst some of the saner voices in my head, I decided to pull out my camera to document the event. Whether we took him home with or without his head, either way I could show his parents how it went down.

March
12 - After two months as a hated Quality Assurance specialist, I decided to quit my job before someone made good on the various death threats I had been receiving. This gave me a lot of extra time at home, which led to the discovery that I could link my XBOX to my computer through my wireless router. Suddenly, my TV in the living room had access to all the movies and music on my hard drive from the computer in my bedroom. Since we didn't have cable, it gave us another much appreciated option for TV viewing.

BAZINGA, loser!!!
While bragging to my neighbor across the hall about my technological prowess, she advised me that the cable jack in my apartment was active. I scoffed but tried it as soon as I got back into my apartment. She was right. I had never hooked the cable up because I had not ordered it, but the entire complex was wired with basic cable. After 5 months of watching the same DVDs again and again, we now had live television. Kirsten and I cried while we watched Big Bang Theory. It was a happy reunion.

19 - This month was also the occurrence of the Supermoon. While I expected to see a big cape on the moon for that evening, I was disappointed to learn that it only means the moon will be about 15% bigger than usual. I was even more disappointed when it was so cloudy that night we couldn't even see the moon, the stars or anything else that might be worth looking at. We live in a cruel galaxy.

11 - An event occurs outside of my own life that gets my attention. A massive earthquake hits Japan causing tsunamis and widespread destruction. We soon learned that a Navy friend of ours was on a ship just off the coast. He spent the next few months on site at the nuclear power plant that was in danger of meltdown. He assisted with containment and cleanup.

April
8 - This month brought to an end the several months long wait to see if Congress would be able to come up with a financial plan to keep the government from shutting down. Everyone was waiting to see if income tax checks would come, social security pay out and government offices stay open. With less than an hour to spare, they came up with a new plan. Now our trusted elected officials have a little more time in office to vote for higher congressional salaries.

14 - A few days later ABC announces the cancellation of the long-running soap operas All My Children and One Life to Live. Housewives everywhere cried out to Oprah to save the shows. Oprah made a tearful statement of her own. She loved these shows, but being in show biz, understands that networks have to make these decisions and she would not intervene with ABC. Her and Eckhart Tolle then prayed to themselves and began mentally broadcasting the soaps directly into the minds of the Oprah Book Club subscribers.

17 - Quickly approaching completion of my bachelor's degree, I turn in my proposal for my final research paper. It  was 10 (TEN) PAGES long. Notice this was not the paper, but the proposal introducing the paper that was to come later. This forced me to consider how much I really wanted this degree. The actual paper was long enough, I should get it published so people everywhere could use it as a paperweight.

May
1 - President Obama holds press conference announcing that Osama bin Laden has been killed by U.S. special forces. Osama, shot in the face while holding one of his wives in front of him as a shield and surrounded by dozens of cases of Pepsi, still went out with a little more dignity than Saddam when he was dragged, un-bathed, out of a hole in the ground.

7 - My daughter leaves me that evening to attend her first Prom (click here). I spent most of the evening looking around town for good places to hide a body if her boyfriend did not heed my warnings for the evening.

11 - Turn in the last assignment for my degree (click here). I suddenly have a lot of free time.

18 - I receive my degree in the mail. I took my first college class in August of 1989 and received my degree in May 2011. At just a few months short of 22 years to complete my degree, I decide it must be time to figure out what I want to do with my life.

Dogs don't have souls
21 - This marked the day of Jesus' Second Coming according to preacher Harold Camping. Many of his immediate followers gave away all their belongings while others used their life savings to take incredible vacations to spend time with their families before rising into the sky for the Rapture. As for the rest of the world, the Armageddon hoopla prompted hundreds of clever Facebook updates. My daughter and I spend the day inflating 38 blow-up dolls with helium and released them in a mall parking lot that evening. The subsequent crowds and traffic accidents were not amusing to local law enforcement.

25 - Bigger than news of the potential end of the world was the actual end of the Oprah Winfrey Show. After 25 years, Oprah brings her show to an end.  Whether a fan of Oprah or not, this event could not be missed since it was reported on every station. Oprah celebrated her departure by giving a new car to every person who has ever watched the show.

June
3 - The famed euthanasia enthusiast Jack "Dr. Death" Kevorkian dies from thrombosis of the liver caused by his Hepatitis C infection. The elderly now have to return to dying the old fashioned way...watching Matlock and Murder, She Wrote reruns.

16 - New York's 9th District  representative Anthony Weiner resigns. Insert your own joke here.

July
5 - After months of capturing the attention of every media outlet, Casey Anthony is found not guilty of the murder of her daughter. The country is outraged and the jurors start clamoring for book deals. Due to the country's brain-dead interest in the crazy lives of dysfunctional families, the Anthony family will probably be the stars of their own reality show before the end of 2012.

August
6 - In retaliation to the police shooting of Mark Duggan, local youth started massive looting, burning down local businesses and inciting violence. This crime spree lasted four days. Sixteen people who had nothing to do with the shooting died in the violence. While this incident did create chaos for local law enforcement, the worst was suffered by local people and families that were unlucky enough to get caught by the thug mob.

17 - I receive my substitute teaching certificate (click here) so my circle of influence on the youth of my community grows a little bigger.

22 - I start my first class for my Master's degree. I quickly learn that Master's level work is not more difficult than work at the Bachelor's level, but there is much more of it.

22 - My daughter comes home from school with her driver's permit. This is followed by months of white-knuckled car rides. I soon bit through my lip while pretending to calmly observe and instruct. I decide I will never be a drivers' education instructor.

23 - A 5.9 magnitude earthquake centered 40 miles north of Richmond, VA rocked residents from South Carolina to Maine. Office workers in New York flooded the streets to get out of their trembling buildings and parts of the Pentagon and White House were evacuated. Residents of Los Angeles laughed at all the commotion over a little shudder.

September
Look, Ma!  That's my name.
23 - I receive a Certificate of Commendation from the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department proving that I don't screw up everything.

24 - The UARS satellite falls out of the sky (click here) after years of wandering aimlessly around the cosmos. NASA had no idea where it would come down and warned that some of the pieces would be the size of a small bus, but reassured the public that they were in no danger. What more could we expect, they're only rocket scientists?

29 - I host a guest spot on THE VINE radio station (click here). I am invited back despite calling Christian radio "spiritual junk food" on the air.

October
5 - Steve Jobs, one of the greatest contributors to the technological age, dies. The world mourned because we had grown accustomed to looking at pictures of ourselves on devices he invented. iPads and iPhones all simultaneously powered down that day to observe a moment of silence.

22 - The St. Louis suburb of University City is overtaken by zombies (click here). About 500 of the undead terrorized the area's citizens and created untold chaos from six to nine.

31 - The population of the earth reaches 7 billion people, prompting renewed discussions about overcrowding. After driving through South Dakota and Wyoming last year, I think I have a solution. There is no one out there.

November
Nothing happened in November. It's not my fault, but nothing happened.

December
15 - Obama officially declares an end to the war in Iraq. American families are looking forward to having their family members home to share the burden of unemployment, climbing taxes, wide-spread foreclosures and rampant crime rates.

I love movies...and me!
17 - Crazed South Korean dictator and star of Team America, Kim Jong-Il dies. A few years ago, when he was warned by several countries and the United Nations to cease the development of his country's nuclear program, Kim Jong-Il responded by sending them invitations to watch his first nuclear missile test. Long the fodder of late night jokes and SNL skits, comedians everywhere pray that his son will be just as crazy just without the pursuit of nuclear weaponry.



2012 - While we do not know what to expect from the new year, hopefully you are looking forward to it and are willing to take control and make it your best year ever. Just keep in mind that the Mayan calendar stops and the world is supposed to end on December 21, so you have a little less than a year left to do everything you have ever wanted to do. Don't blame me if you drag you feet.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Friday, December 23, 2011

MC Hammer is Black

Due to my recent YouTube addiction (click here), last night my daughter and I were discussing music and pulling up videos on the XBOX. I do not remember exactly how we got to this part in the conversation, but my daughter made some comment about the white rapper MC Hammer. I laughed and she gave me a funny look. I thought she was making a joke that I was just not cool enough to get.

ME: Kirsten, MC Hammer is black.

KIRSTEN: No, he's not.

ME: Yes, yes, he is. You must have him confused with Vanilla Ice. (I figured since we were discussing music from before she was born, she must have switched some people.)

KIRSTEN: No, I don't. Vanilla Ice did ICE ICE BABY and the stupid song for that Turtles movie.

ME: (very impressed by the movie reference) I know who he is. So who are you talking about?

KIRSTEN: MC Hammer!!! You know! U CAN'T TOUCH THIS (she demonstrated the trade mark dance) He wore those ridiculous parachute pants.

ME: (impressed again) Well, that's the right guy, but he's black.

KIRSTEN: No, Dad, he's white. Why do you always lie to me? 

ME: Are you messing with me?

KIRSTEN: Never mind.

There were always questions
about Michael Jackson, but this guy
is definitely black.
Since most of our conversations end that way, I stopped trying. However, I did turn to the XBOX to find the video. As soon as his face hit the screen, she excitedly exclaimed, "Since when is MC Hammer black?" She even posted the question on Facebook. She sat and watched the entire video to confirm I was telling the truth. When it was over, I asked her, "So, who were you thinking of?" She replied, "It was him. I just thought he was white."

This conversation was the first thing on my mind when I woke up this morning. How did this happen? Have I failed as a parent? I have put forth great effort into exposing my kids to music and film that go beyond what the masses tell them to like. My daughter is a great lover of foreign cinema and independent films. My son once impressed the adults on a long bus trip when he knew all the words to the songs they were singing, despite the fact that most of them were popular twenty to forty years before he was born.

Kirsten's musical tastes include Frank Sinatra, David Bowie, Blondie and the Beatles. She does listen to today's music as well, but it is groups like Hush Sound, Dresden Dolls, Clocktower Showdown and Bobby Birdman. You don't hear these groups on the radio. She has a very broad and eclectic musical taste. So, what happened here? If I have somehow missed this, what else might she be misinformed about?

Does she know that Garth Brooks and Chris Gaines are the same person? Did she miss the clues that 99 Red Balloons was an anti-nuclear arms song? Does she know the secret identity of Hannah Montana? Does she understand the connection between Taylor Swift, Kanye West and Beyoncé Knowles?

 Maybe, I am looking at this the wrong way. It could be that I have done a superb job of helping her to see past color and just recognize people. That would be a good thing. For most people, if they don't know who a rapper is, they would start with the assumption that he is black, but not my daughter. She doesn't stereotype people. However, I can see issues with this as well.

Would George Lopez still be funny if you didn't recognize he was Mexican? Chris Rock's career is based on his color. If he told those same jokes and my daughter thought he was white, would she find them racist? Where does she stand on the color of Martin Luther King? Would it make a difference? Can she tell the difference between Jamie Foxx and Jamie Farr? Or Will Smith and Wil Wheaton?

I believe I am making too much of this. I have a tendency to over think things. Plus, this one simplified itself for me later. When my daughter rolled out of bed at two in the afternoon and groggily slurred out "Good morning," I figured it out. I'm getting her tested. Maybe she's just not very bright.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Another Way to Waste My Time

I finished my final class for the semester last week. I now have one semester of Master's level work behind me and I have discovered that work at this level is not really harder than Bachelor's degree work, . . . but there is a lot more of it. My professor, apparently, does not believe in grades. I have this class a week behind me and have still not seen a grade from the first week of class. I have no idea where I stand. I believe I did well, but have no way to prove it or really have any confidence at all.

Since I have finished the class, I find myself with much more free time. My schedule at the Sheriff's office is set for the next month so I can't get any more hours there to take up time and being the end of the semester I am not getting many calls to substitute teach. Therefore, I am home all day.

My Christmas shopping is done, the house is clean, I don't like people enough to want to go out and see anyone and it is getting too cold to leave the house anyway. Shaving only uses up about 10 minutes and can only be done once a day. Trimming your toenails can take up more time, but once they're done, they require no more maintenance for a few weeks. I have reached a point where I do not know what to do with myself.

I am currently working my way through
season four of Prison Break
A few days ago, I pulled out an old video game I hadn't played in a while and spent the day with my XBOX. I had fun. Especially since I have gotten XBOX LIVE since the last time I really played any games. I use it mostly for access to Netflix instant streaming. I don't watch a lot of movies on it, but there are so many old TV shows that I missed when they were on, it can easily burn some hours. However, you can only watch so much television. I decided that I could spend some of my time over the break playing video games, so I went to my brother's house to try to con some video games from his sons.

I asked if I could borrow every game they are not currently playing and they happily handed them over. To my surprise, there was no need to make a deal or try to trick them. That must mean I have some endearing qualities. Or maybe I was the recipient of their Christmas charity. I haven't decided yet, but I've been playing those games for the last week. They have been an entertaining way to pass the time, until Saturday.

That afternoon, after enduring an office Christmas party, I came home and fired up the XBOX. As the screens were loading, I noticed a new symbol on the right panel. It was the YouTube logo. I downloaded the free app and fired it up. YouTube videos are now accessible from the XBOX. How cool is that? I spent the next several hours pulling up some of my favorite videos and searching for a few new ones. This has since become a problem. I can't seem to get enough. This is one of the videos I have been wasting my time with.

I have spent literally days watching old skits from the Muppet Show, SCTV, Saturday Night Live and Whitest Kids You Know. I have pulled up old cartoons to show Kirsten. Some of the ones from last night include: Grape Ape, Speed Buggy, Ricochet Rabbit, Captain Caveman and Superchicken. We have watched music videos, videos our friends have made, sang along with Biz Markie and observed an alien autopsy. I have watched 'how-to' videos on how to escape a bear attack, how to throw your voice and how to safely build a self-detonating door knob bomb. ANYTHING you want is at your fingertips.

Many of you may be thinking, "YouTube has been around for years. What's the big deal?" Let me try to explain.

It's now on my TV!!!

These useless videos are no longer hidden in the recesses of the Internet on my computer in the back room. They are in my living room. I cannot get away from them. How many different electric guitar renditions of Beethoven's 5th Symphony do I need to see? Practical jokes, nut shots, cute animals, BMX wipeouts, UFO sightings, impossible basketball shots, llamas with hats, magic tricks, vaudeville, karaoke and any other event that has ever been captured on camera is there. Every time I turn on my television from this point on, I will be faced with the reality that I can watch literally anything I can think of. I will no longer have to scan through the channels to see what is on, because everything is on. Ten years ago, I would have thought this was awesome. Now that it's a reality, it's a sensory overload. Yet, I can't look away, I can't go to bed and I can only answer the door to show someone a video of the latest bum fight.

It's a little depressing, but I have come to grips with the knowledge that I will one day die surrounded by potato chip bags in front of my TV. When the paramedics arrive, they will take their time removing me so they can finish the episode of Fraggle Rock playing on the television.

Friday, December 16, 2011

BACON: The Main Reason I am Not a Vegetarian

 Thank you, Ian Cates for this blog topic. Suggestion given when I wrote What Am I Supposed to Write?

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

There are many things that bring me pleasure in life. It is healthy to occasionally reflect on the blessings you have. Here is a small list of things that make me happy.

Days I don't have to go to work

Getting a new Netflix movie in the mail

No longer having to use a dial-up Internet connection

Being seen by someone I know in Wal-Mart who then does NOT feel the need to come talk to me

Playing with Bubble Wrap

 Getting a good parking space

The sound of no one knocking on my door

Anything involving BACON!!!

I think the hardest part about being a vegetarian
would be hiding my bacon from my vegetarian girlfriend.
Bacon is one of God's greatest gifts to mankind. It was so special, He made his followers wait thousands of years before they were allowed to eat it. According to Old Testament law, pigs were one of the many animals that were considered unclean. When God lifted the ban on unclean animals to Peter in the Book of Acts, Peter had no idea the treat he was now in for. For the first time, we could eat BACON!!!

Life just wouldn't be the same without it. Frying bacon is one of those smells that will pull a person out of a deep sleep and wandering into the kitchen. The sound of it popping as it fries in the skillet makes your mouth water. Nothing else tastes like bacon. It just may be nature's most perfect food.

Before we go any further, I want to make it clear what I am talking about here. There is no other animal from which you can make bacon but a pig. I know you can buy a pseudo-product in the store called turkey 'bacon.' That is not bacon. It may have a few similarities, but it is not bacon. It doesn't fry right, smell right and definitely does not taste like the REAL bacon. Bacon, by definition, is a pork product. For the remainder of this blog, keep in mind that when I use the term bacon, it is to refer to the only true bacon. It does not involve any product made with turkey, chicken, beef, kittens or soy. Now let's move on.

This man knew the value of bacon
One of my favorite authors, Lewis Grizzard, wrote a book about his heart valve replacement surgery. When the doctor's told him that his heart valve would be replaced with a valve from a pig's heart, his first thought was, "Will I still enjoy bacon?" If part of your body has been replaced with pig parts, is it even right to continue to eat the animal? He never did decide if it was right or wrong, but knew he would never give up bacon. If it happened to me, I would always wonder if I had ever eaten from the same animal that was now also part of my body. What would you call that? Is that cannibalism? Does that only apply to humans? Is it still cannibalism if you eat part of your own body? If so, does chewing your nails make you a cannibal? 

Regardless of the ethics behind potential cannibalism, bacon is not to be taken lightly. In fact, in the last decade bacon has started to appear in all sorts of places that it hadn't been considered before.

Chocolate chip bacon cookies!!!
Is there anything that bacon cannot do?

I have seen bacon brownies, maple bacon lollipops, bacon pizza, bacon coffee and bacon scented candles. Last March, Denny's restaurants (jumping on the bacon bandwagon) started serving a maple bacon sundae. Bacon is everywhere and it is here to stay. Not that I am complaining. I would put bacon on everything if it were not for the serious health repercussions that would go along with it. However, it would almost be worth it.

You know that place in your head you go to when things are really stressful or too much to take in the real world? For some, it is sitting on the beach with some fruity drink in their hand. For others, they go back to a favorite childhood memory. For most, it is some quiet, safe place that makes them feel warm and fuzzy. That special place in my psyche is an image of me eating a plate full of bacon with grease dribbling down my chin. I have all the fixin's on the table in front of me to make bacon cheeseburgers and fat BLTs (light on the tomato, heavy on the bacon). Tia Carrere is also there, but just to help me make sandwiches. She doesn't get any. It is the way I imagine heaven to be, but with no cholesterol.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Today's Secret Word is ... WAR!!!

I have learned something about myself. I am going to do what I want, pretty much when I want to do it. Last August (click here), I committed to posting a blog a week and a couple of weeks later (click here) I up it to two posts per week. If you follow my blog regularly, then you know that I have only posted twice since September. That is one post per month for the last two months.

I could tell you how busy I have been working two jobs, being a graduate student, trying to get a new business off the ground and being a single father of a teenage girl, but I don't like to make excuses. I have actually done a lot of writing lately, but it has been for college papers and is not something most of you would want to read. When I have free time during the day, I usually find myself at my buddy Adam's house watching him play XBOX 360 and helping him find the shortcuts as he plays Need for Speed, or decoding the ancient vaults in Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. Since Adam is handicapped, he doesn't get out much and he starts making weeping phone calls when he gets bored, so I go to his house at least once every day.

I say all this to simply state, it doesn't matter what I promise in this blog, I will probably end up doing what I want. With that stated, here is something I promise to do (but don't take it too seriously). In August, I asked my readers to suggest future blog topics. I received several suggestions and do intend to cover them all. You can read the suggestions by clicking here and scrolling down to the comment section. My brother suggested that I write about who would win in a fight between Mr. Rogers and Pee Wee Herman. I will be tackling this topic today. I was excited to start researching this since they each had illustrious careers as military snipers before going into show business.

 Years ago, a girl told me that the reason Mr. Rogers wore those sweaters all time was to cover the tattoos on his arms he had acquired during his military service. He was ashamed of the things he had done in Vietnam and the people he had killed during his service and kept them covered. A kid from my church that was enlisting in the Marines wanted to be a sniper. He was told by his recruiter that the top sniper ever to come out of the Marines was the famous Mr. Rogers. The sniper with the third highest marks ever was Paul Ruebens, known to his fans as Pee Wee Herman. It turns out that both of these men were to be feared at one point in their lives, so Kyle had chosen two men who actually knew several ways to kill a man. They were chosen because of their innocent demeanor, but using their pasts could make a great blog. In order to make the best comparison, I researched both their lives to get the best idea of who did what. This would help me determine who would win.

As I began my research, I discovered that many children's television stars had a military background. In fact, many of them were highly decorated and had unusually high numbers of enemy kills. Captain Kangaroo was especially vicious. Don Knotts, best known for playing Deputy Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith Show, was someone not to be messed with in his military days. However, as I dug further, I discovered something else they all had in common. IT WAS ALL LIES!!!

None of these stories are true. In reality, Don Knotts was in the military, but he was not a drill instructor at Parris Island, like the rumors say. At 19, he joined the Army, where his duties consisted primarily of entertaining the troops in traveling GI variety shows called "Stars and Gripes". Rumors that Bob "Captain Kangaroo" Keeshan fought beside Lee Marvin in Iwo Jima during World War II are also false. Lee Marvin was there, but Keeshan did not enlist until two weeks after we pulled out of Iwo Jima. He never saw any action. Where do these rumors come from?

Won't you be my neighbor?
Many people may not want to hear that the gentle, soft-spoken Mr. Rogers was exactly what he appeared to be, but he was. Born in 1928, he spent most of his childhood living with his grandparents. He saw television for the first time at his parents' home when he was in college. It left such a negative and lasting impression on him that he became dedicated to changing it. He attended a seminary after college, became an ordained Presbyterian minister and started immediately working in television. Rogers was an advocate for family-friendly programming and even testified before the Senate to try to clean up television. He was also a staunch supporter of the VCR. When most studios were trying to get them outlawed, he testified that many channels showed childrens' programming at times when children were not available to watch it. With the new technology, they could tape it and watch it together as a family at a later time.

The sweaters were intentional, but had nothing to do with covering tattoos. Sweaters and sweater vests were the clothes worn by figures of authority in the seventies. Teachers, ministers and others dressed that way and that was the image he was trying to express. Even though, Mr. Rogers bored me to death even as a child, he was a good man who didn't think like the rest of us and wanted to change the world for the better.

Today's secret word is CREEPY!
Paul Reubens (a.k.a. Pee Wee Herman) left for Hollywood immediately after high school to become a star. Practically living on the streets, he hooked up with a comedy troupe called the 'Groundlings.' In 1977 the group did a skit where they created characters one might see in a comedy club. Reubens character was one that everyone immediately knew would never make it as a comic. He couldn't remember punchlines or get his cues in the right order. Pee Wee Herman was 'born' that night. His distinctive guttural "Ha Ha" followed by a low "Heh Heh Heh" became his catch phrase. As well as, "I know you are, but what am I?" The rest is show biz history. At no point did the military fit in there.

This leaves me with the problem of now having to size these men up and decide who would win in a fight knowing that neither of them has probably ever been in one. Lets start with their physical attributes. I think Rogers has the weight advantage, is taller and has a longer reach. Pee Wee Herman is kind of petite. However, I can picture him being much better at the 'duck and weave.' He may be able to get close, get in a few shots and get back out before the slow-moving Rogers even gets his hands up. However, I think Rogers could take a punch much  better than Pee Wee. If Pee Wee gets tagged it may be over.

Look at all the dead puppet BODIES!!!
Fighting is not just about strength and agility. It also involves attitude and in some cases a little bit of crazy can get you a long way. Mr. Rogers spent half of his time in a Land of Make Believe, a world that didn't exist, but he liked to go to from time to time. For a child, that is having a creative imagination. For a middle aged man, it is disturbing. Rogers' world had a king named Friday, Queen Sara Saturday and a retarded prince named Tuesday. Amidst these puppets whose mouths didn't move was the occasional costumed person named Purple Panda, Bob Dog or Bob Troll. It even had a talking owl, known simply as "X." Was the owl a spy? Why the secret identity? There were lots of creepy little secrets in Rogers' imaginary world. On Purple Panda's planet, the citizens are forbidden to sit in rocking chairs. Prince Tuesday went to school in the Land of Someplace-Else with a neighboring tiger. What kind of kingdom doesn't even have it's own school? Your head is a creepy place, Fred Rogers!

MORPHEUS!!! What are you doing?
Pee Wee Herman lives in a fantasy world as well, but he passes it off as real. In his world, his house is alive, the furniture talks and he can climb into his television to go for an adventure.  Like Rogers, he has many guests to his home, but instead of the mailman or a teacher visiting, he has cowboys, the King of Cartoons and Captain Carl dropping in. The creepy factor of Pee Wee's Playhouse is higher than Mr. Roger's Land of Make Believe. While children might make a wish on a falling star or a four-leafed clover, Pee Wee makes wishes over a head he keeps in a box. Pee Wee has a robot servant named Conky and somehow forced Lawrence Fishburne into a child's cowboy costume. That's the creepiest one yet.

MEKA-LEKA-HI MEKA-HINEY-HO!!!

Mr. Rogers took on a government agency (FCC) almost single-handed and he won. That makes him pretty tough. However, Pee Wee has a criminal record, and based upon the nature of his charges, I would say he is probably better in dark places and at hand-to-hand combat. Rogers' on screen appearances after his show were mostly talk shows, but Pee Wee appeared two years after the cancellation of Playhouse as the vampire Amilyn in Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, he was a super-hero in the movie Mystery Men, and he has appeared on Wrestlemania and WWF Raw.

Look at this guy. Would you want to fight him?
After weighing all the options and looking at the stats, I have to give it to the one who lived on the streets in California, and can make children everywhere scream by only uttering a single word. It's not even the same word each time. He just tells them what will cause them to scream and it does. Pee Wee Herman would mop the floor with Mr. Rogers. It would be no contest.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

For Whom the Bell Tolls...Please, Not Me!

As of right now, my phone has rung a little over 40 times today. This is not counting the text messages I have received, which is over twice as many, just the actual phone calls. I didn't answer many of them, but it was not because of any adverse feelings I had toward the person who was calling, but for a much simpler reason: I HATE TALKING ON THE PHONE!!!

I really, really do and I don't use the word 'hate' loosely. I absolutely do not want to talk on the phone with anyone. About 10 years ago, I worked for a cell phone company and even then only had a phone because they gave me one and told me that was how they would get a hold of me when I was not at work. I gave only my immediate family my number. I didn't even have a house phone at the time. I didn't want one.

The only reason I later got a phone was because the cellular company offered $20/month discounts on one line for employees and my wife was dying to have one. There have been periods since then that I have been without any type of phone service. In fact, if I could have my way, I wouldn't have one now.

Because I am a substitute teacher, most of my job assignments are gained by receiving an early morning phone call. As much as the sound of that phone rakes on my nerves, it also means money, so I tolerate it. Plus, having a teenage daughter, I like to occasionally know her whereabouts. Once I am permanently employed and she is moved out of the house, I will probably cancel my phone service once again.

People have heard me gripe about my disdain for phones for years. When I started at the cellular company, I worked in the tech department and since it was a locally owned business, we could fix phones right there on the spot. I saw all types of people with different phone needs, but had the following conversation a thousand times:

ME:  Ma'am, it looks like your (insert random piece of circuitry) has gone bad.
CUSTOMER:  What does that mean?
ME:  Not to worry. I can fix it!
CUSTOMER:  How much is THAT going to cost me?
ME:  Not a cent. I can do it right here.
CUSTOMER:  Well, aren't you a wonderful, handsome young man.
ME:  My mother thinks so.
CUSTOMER:  Tell her she did a fine job!
ME:  Thank you, ma'am, I will.  Here is your service ticket. I should have your phone ready by noon tomorrow.
CUSTOMER:  (surprised) Tomorrow?
ME:  (proudly) Yes, ma'am! We try to be fast. One day turn around.
CUSTOMER:  (flustering) Well...what am I supposed to do until then?
ME:  Excuse me?
CUSTOMER: What am I supposed to do without a phone for a whole day?
ME:  The same as you normally do, but without a phone.
CUSTOMER: (angrily) Listen, you ugly little cretin, I'm supposed to go to my mother's tonight.
ME: (confidently) Well, if you are going to be at her house, then you won't need a phone. You can talk directly to her.
CUSTOMER:  Are you trying to be smart?
ME:  One of us has to be.
CUSTOMER:  (feigning shock)  How dare you! Do you know who I am?
ME: (proudly) Yes, ma'am, I do. You wrote your name on this invoice.
CUSTOMER: I'm going to call your manager!
ME: (apologetically) You won't be able to reach him until tomorrow afternoon.
CUSTOMER: And why is that?!?
ME:  You won't be getting your phone back until then.

No signal!!! Should we just die now?
That conversation happened over 10 years ago and people were not nearly as dependent on their phones as they are now. The very idea of stepping foot outside the house without a cell phone petrifies many with fear. What if I get a flat tire? Let's try to break this down. What did people do 20 years ago if they blew a tire? They did crazy things like change it, or in extreme cases, walked to the nearest house to make a phone call.

People went on dates without having a phone, they drove across the country, kids went to school and somehow the human race survived. I am not an advocate for getting rid of phones. I don't care for them, but if someone wants to have one that is their right. It is the ridiculous notion that a person will not be able to function without one that I object to.

Regardless of the opinion I have had of phones for many years, this blog was sparked by the fact that my phone has been ringing more and more lately. For several years, my phone (when I had one) rarely rang. My friends and family were very aware that I would rather chew on bloated dung beetles than get tied up in an involved phone conversation. Any time I handed out my number, I carefully explained that if the need ever arose to call me, they were to say what they had to say and then let me go. Do NOT call me 'just to talk.' Do NOT get off topic and NEVER, EVER call me and then say, "Hang on, I have another call." I guarantee I will not still be on the line when you come back and probably won't answer when you call the next time.

Only a very few people abide by the rules I request when I hand out my number, therefore, over the years when I moved or got a new phone, the number of people to get my number greatly decreased. I moved to central Illinois a year ago and got new phone service when we hit town. The new number was given to less than a dozen people. I hate talking on the phone so much, I didn't even give it to my girlfriend, who now lived more than two hours away due to my recent move. My reasoning was fairly simple. I knew if I gave her my number she would abuse it, by doing things like...calling, wanting to talk, etc.  Needless to say, we are no longer dating. Unfortunately, nothing in this paragraph is a joke.

I was never irritated that she called me before the number change. I was irritated as soon as I heard the phone ring that ANYONE was calling me. A ringing phone is an intrusion into my peaceful abode. It grates on my nerves, my hair stands on end and I feel stressed as soon as my phone starts to ring. It doesn't matter who is calling me. I hate it. I don't know why I feel this way, but I am acutely aware that I do feel it.

A few people, knowing how much I hate phone conversations, will text me. This is great as long as they can text and I can respond and then be done. If it goes back and forth more than three times, then it is now more nerve-grinding then just talking. A 10 minute texting storm could have been completed in 60 seconds by voice.

For those of you that have my number, please know that I do not screen my calls. If you call me and I do not answer, it is not because I don't want to talk to YOU. Don't take my not answering personally. Me not answering is usually because I am done with my phone for the day and have turned it off or it is in the other room and do not feel like going to find out who it is. If my daughter is safe at home, that is usually the case. If you leave me a message, and I know that I will be seeing you in the next few days, I will wait until then to conclude the conversation. If you don't leave me a message, then I will assume that it wasn't that important and I am grateful I didn't pick up the phone in the first place.

I am not anti-social. I like people and LOVE good conversation, but I highly prefer it face-to-face. If you have a problem with the blog I have written today, leave a comment, send me a Facebook message, email me, take me to dinner to discuss it or drop by my house, but do not, under any circumstances, CALL ME. Especially if we will run into each other anytime in the next year. We can catch up then.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Freaks Come Out at Night

In November of 1999, while walking the streets of Cincinnati at two in the morning, I saw a strange sight. About three blocks ahead of us were several dozen people wearing flashing headbands, crazy colored clothes and carrying large boxes. Being the curious person that I am, I ran ahead to see what this group was all about. As I got into the center of the group and was about to start asking questions, one of them reached into his box pulled out a handful of condoms and offered them to me. I was a little thrown off by the gift and wasn't sure what to say. Everyone in the group was carrying these boxes and they were all filled to the top. They had thousands of these contraceptives. In fact, the boxes were so full they were spilling out, leaving a trail behind them so they could later find their way home. I soon learned that I was walking with a gay rights group that was on their way to a local bar. They intended to run in, jump up on the stage with the band and start throwing prophylactics at the patrons. I shook a few hands, excused myself and hurried back to the hotel to share this story with my friends. You don't see something like this everyday.

In January of 2001, I was driving with my family in San Patricio, a suburb of San Juan, Puerto Rico. As I rounded a corner I noticed a few dogs standing on the side of the road growling at something across from them. As more of the street became visible, I was able to see that there was a line of dogs, about a dozen, standing side by side. Every dog was up on all fours, hair raised, baring teeth and glaring across the road. My son, Christian, asked what they were growling at, but our view of that side was blocked by a building. I made the decision to continue on my path and drive in front of them, but had everyone roll up the windows. As we crept forward, we were craning our necks to see what had these dogs so upset. Once we cleared the building, it was like a mirror image of the other side of the road. There was a similar number of dogs on the other side, staring back and doing the same thing. Was this some sort of canine street gang that was getting ready to rumble? We drove between the opposing sides and not a single dog broke his gaze from his counterpart across the street. I still don't know if that was a turf war, a fight over some road kill, or if they were going to serve up some doggy dance moves to settle their differences, but I did know that you don't see something like this everyday.

When you see something that unusual, it tends to stick in your memory. This past Saturday night was one of those nights. I was in the historical St. Louis suburb of University City with my daughter, Kirsten, nephews Gage and Isaac, and our neighbor's kids, Manny and Bryan. Delmar Avenue has several blocks of outdoor cafes, the landmark Trivoli theater, unique stores, restaurants and pubs. The sidewalks are filled with students from the nearby university almost every night. However, the locals were caught off guard by the people out that night.

 There were zombies everywhere. Between 400-500 undead were wandering the streets, chasing civilians down to munch on their brains, and wreaking havoc over approximately a four block area. People sitting in outdoor cafes were stunned when a horde of zombies came lumbering down the sidewalk toward them. People driving on the street were rolling up their windows while others were snapping pictures. There were many mixed emotions observed on the faces of the people and children who were witnesses to this event, but one thing I knew. I loved it. This was one of the coolest things I had ever seen. I am a huge fan of horror movies and I like zombies more than vampires, mummies, or werewolves. Despite the screams of their victims, seeing them in real life like this was incredible. You don't see something like this everyday.

Zombie Crossing Guards
Despite the brain-dead appearance of the zombies, they seemed to be very well organized. They did not disrupt traffic, they used crosswalks, and even posed for pictures. One zombie even had a megaphone, yelling "What do we want?" The horde would chant, "BRAINS!" There were zombie families, zombies in wheelchairs, zombie dogs and zombie babies. They were everywhere.

This event, called a Zombie Walk, was actually organized by a few local college students. They set up a Facebook page and asked people to show up in zombie costumes. They gave a time and place and then just sat back to see who showed up. With close to 500 participants, I think they had a good turnout. This kind of event is also called a 'flash mob.' A flash mob is when a bunch of people unexpectedly show up in a common place to perform some unusual event to surprise or entertain bystanders. In this instance, it was dress like a zombie and walk down the street. It definitely served its purpose. People were very confused. Lots of bewildered looks. Just as many smiles and a lot of people pulling out their cameras to document the story that their friends will not believe when they get back home.

High Society Zombie
Back in August, I created a list of things I wanted to do before I die. You can see that list here. One of the things on that list was to participate in a flash mob. I have now done that, so I can mark it off the list.

The kids and myself had a great time and have decided that we will look for more similar events to participate in. The hard part is learning about them. The organizers of flash mobs want to keep them as quiet as possible for the surprise of the people who will witness it, however, they need to publicize it enough to get participants. It is a fine line to walk, but the results are well worth it. Flash mobs have received a lot of criticism, but when put together well, they are of little disruption and people seem to enjoy them.

I learned of this event a few weeks ago and decided to come check it out. There was no charge to participate. We just had to pay for the gas to get there, a meal to eat while on the road, and a little bit of money for costumes. The entire night cost me less than $30 dollars and we had a great time. Next year, we will plan ahead a little more to create better costumes, but do not expect the expense to be any higher.

This guy never broke character
I have included several pictures. You can click on any image to see it in full size and if you would like to see all the pictures that were taken, feel free to visit my Facebook page. The link will take you right to the pictures.
Love the contacts. Really added to the look.

Family of Zombies
Zombies were busting out everywhere
The horde that I brought
Gage had a zombie related accident

Friday, September 30, 2011

DT or not DT

This has been one of the busiest weeks I have experienced in a long time, but it has also been incredibly enjoyable. I have written many papers for college, attended a wedding, assisted in DJing another wedding with my buddy Adam (aka DJ TRAIN), cooked and fed breakfast to the Mt Vernon Rams football team, and spent some much needed and appreciated time with friends and family. It has been a great week, but yesterday was the high point of it all.

My next door neighbor is the program director for WVYN 90.9FM. This is a fairly young Christian radio station known as THE VINE. The station is named after the verses in John which state, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:1-5)

Despite how young this station is, it has grown very quickly and has been used by God in wonderful ways. The staff has prayerfully done their best to step back and let God take control and they have definitely seen the fruits of their obedience and reliance on Him. The station has gotten heavily involved in the surrounding communities and been successful in communicating with and promoting many contemporary christian artists.

Wednesday evening I was out in my front yard talking with Kevin (known as DT to his radio listeners), and he asked me if I was free the next day. Once I told him I had no plans, he invited me to come be on the morning show at the station. Anyone who knows me personally knows how much I love to hear myself talk, so the opportunity to bless hundreds of other people with the pleasure of my voice could not be refused.

Can you tell I was enjoying this?
As we were discussing details of the morning show, Adam Elliott drove up and Kevin (DT) invited him to come join us. So, Adam and I were on the road at 6 a.m. the next morning to join the show at 7 o'clock. We were thrown behind the microphones as soon as we walked in. We participated in the morning trivia games with the listeners, bantered back and forth with each other and took several calls. It was great, although a few times I had to be reminded by Kevin that his name is DT on the air. That was hard to remember since I have called him Kevin for several years. It took a little getting used to and I tried to do better, but I know I called him Kevin a few more times.


In the middle of the show it was time for me to do what I had been invited there for. Kevin had asked me to share a message on the show. I shared a topic that is often on my heart and I am always teaching to new Christians. It is a very simple concept. We need to be in the Word. 

READ YOUR BIBLE!!!

In Yellowstone National Park there are signs all over the place reminding tourists not to feed the bears. There are a variety of reasons for these signs. One of the hopefully obvious reasons is the fact that bears are very large animals and can be extremely dangerous when they want to be. Feeding bears is not a safe activity for tourists. This also causes bears to start associating people with food and may endanger future tourists to the area. However, there is another reason that many do not consider. Feeding food to bears that was intended for people is not good for the bears. Bears are designed to eat berries, fish and various other bear-type food. It is very important that they eat the right foods as they are building up fat for the winter months. As bears hibernate, their bodies burn off the excess fat that they have accumulated over the course of the year. However, a bear that has gorged itself on Twinkies, Big Macs and cupcakes has built up a layer of sugar-based fat that will burn off too quickly during the harsh winter months. Because they ate junk food and not the solid food they were designed to eat, there is a highly increased chance that the bear will not survive the winter.

Likewise, there are many of us out there who go to church, listen to christian music, hang out with other christians, wear christian t-shirts and read great christian books, but are still (often unknowingly) starving spiritually. We do not recognize that we are only consuming Christian "junk food." Unless we are regularly taking in the solid food of the Bible, then when the struggles of life inevitably come along we are "like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind." (James 1:6) The best way to know Jesus and be grounded in what he teaches is to be familiar with the love letter God gave to us. 

"For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope."
Romans 15:4

"Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads." 
Deuteronomy 11:18

Listening to sermons is a good thing, but should not be our only tie to Scripture. In Acts 17:11 the Bereans were commended for checking the Scriptures to see if what they had been taught was true. Surrounding ourselves with praise music is a wonderful practice and often helps to keeps us focused, however, it should never take the place of the depth of maturity and learning gleaned from personal devotion time in the Word. It is these kinds of practices that caused Paul to chastise the church in Hebrews 5:12 about still feeding on milk like babies, rather than on solid food as they should be. God wants us to know him and that is one of the reasons he gave us the Bible. We need to spend time in it.

I have absolutely no idea how many people got to hear that message Thursday morning or if it really touched anyone, but I had a great time sharing it. Kevin (or DT) even invited us to come back despite the fact that I said that christian radio was 'junk food' on the air.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Sky Is Falling!!!

All day Friday the TV screen was plastered with news about the NASA satellite that had fallen out of orbit and was going to re-enter the earth's atmosphere, plunging to earth, sometime in the next 12 hours. This satellite (Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite) known as UARS fell out of orbit in 2005 and has been wandering aimlessly around the cosmos for the last six years. Scientific speculation proposed that most of the 6.5 ton piece of metal the size of your average bus would disintegrate in the atmosphere before reaching the earth. It would be possible that 26 pieces may be large or dense enough to survive the journey. With newfound respect for the story of Chicken Little, many earthlings are wanting to tell NASA, "UP UARS!!!"

NASA officials estimated that the debris could fall anywhere between the latitudes of northern Canada and southern South America. Since basically no one lives north of Canada (who would want to) and there are only a handful of populated places south of South America, this prediction was of little comfort to 85% of the world's population. When asked why they could not narrow the path down more specifically so that portion of the globe could better prepare, the NASA spokesperson shrugged his shoulders and said, "What more do you expect? We're not rocket scientists!"

Then to add insult to possible, catastrophic injury, NASA puts out a press release reminding the planet's citizens that if you happen to find a piece of the satellite in your backyard or even lodged in your skull, you may not keep it. It is the property of NASA. Despite this warning, I have already decided what I would do with a piece of UARS if I do happen to find one. Depending in the size I find, I will either make it into a keychain, hang it off a necklace, or mount it in the front of my minivan. I overheard one person excited about how much technology could be pulled out of one of the downed chunks. I reminded him not to get too worked up about it for two reasons:
  1. Any circuitry would be burned to a crisp upon re-entry
  2. Your average run-of-the-mill smartphone has more processing power than even top-of-the-line government computers of 1991 when this space junk was launched.
Today, we are told that the satellite has fallen to earth, but the location of the debris field is unknown. These scientists either do not know as much as they would like us to think or the government has already set up classified forced quarantine areas and is currently in the process of sterilizing the scene and neutralizing any witnesses. Either way, we will probably never know the fate of this hunk of melted metal.

Those masks won't save you from falling space junk
I, for one, am proud to have survived another week of impending doom. Despite the odds, I am still alive and kicking after having lived on the New Madrid fault line most of my life, despite the earthquake that we keep hearing is one day going to kill us all. I live in Tornado Alley, which has the highest concentration of tornadoes on the entire planet. I have survived the SARS epidemic, the AIDS Armageddon, the asian bird flu, the West Nile virus, monkey pox and countless other diseases that were supposed to wipe our species off the earth. I am still here despite Y2K, the end of the world prediction last April, the Snowpocolypse of last February, the aligning of the planets in the 80's and the unexplained fame of Paris Hilton.

For years we cowered in fear, waiting for the terrorists to poison our water supply, blow up school buses, infiltrate our nuclear power plants, or blow up the Super Bowl. Now after successfully fighting for survival all these years, the government warned we could get hit by metal falling out of the sky. Our world has reached the point that no perceived terror is ridiculous. Putting all fear of what freaky sci-fi event will cause our eventual doom aside, there is something we all need to come to terms with. Anything can kill us and, in fact, one day will. Chuck Palahniuk wrote in his book Fight Club, "On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero."

Since we are all going to die anyway, how about we start to live?

Monday, September 19, 2011

2,087 Weeks Ago...

I turned 40 years old today.

40       Forty

Does it look more ominous as the number or spelled out? I haven't decided yet. What does this number mean? Does it mean anything? Forty is one of those ages that just seems old. At least, it used to. I don't feel forty, but then I guess I really don't know what forty is supposed to feel like. Logically, the way I feel right now is what forty feels like. It feels pretty much the same as it did yesterday. So, if you want to know, forty feels the same as thirty-nine.

To be honest, it really doesn't bother me that I am now forty. It is just a number. Technically, I am one day older today than I was yesterday. Yesterday, I was one day older than the day before. Every day, I get one day older. It is a much easier frame of time to consider. It is rather difficult to make plans for a year at a time, but I can usually tell you what I will be doing tomorrow. So, using this frame of reference, I am 14,610 days old. Plus, since I actually quit counting after about 7,500, I just don't get that excited about it anymore. Once I hit 30,000 days, I will probably be excited to see a new day start. I may even be surprised, but for now, it is just another day.

Friday, September 16, 2011

To Tea or Not To Tea

My blog is a little later this morning than usual. I like to have it up early by either having it written at least the day before and scheduled to post at seven the following morning or write it immediately after dropping Kirsten off at school. Today's delay was caused by a temporary beverage crisis in my house and it had to be remedied before I sat down to write.

Better than cocaine
About three months ago, I swore that I would not drink another soda until my birthday. My birthday had no special significance, it just gave me a tangible goal to shoot for. Due to a few health concerns, specifically, the pain in my throat and chest every time I had another Mt. Dew, I decided to give up soda for a while and see what happened. Starting the next day, I did not buy a soda on my way to work. Giving it up wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. I drank a lot of water and bought the flavor packets sometimes to drink other things. Technically, it was still water, but I felt adventurous.

My birthday is Monday, and I look forward to meeting up with my old friend once again, but do not think I will go back to my previous amounts of soda consumption. I have less frequent chest pain and I have lost some weight, which was unintended, but much appreciated. Besides, I have found a new liquid love.

To brew properly is an artful science
My iced tea consumption has increased dramatically. I have always liked iced tea. SWEET iced tea. I don't care for the unsweetened. I am one of those people that cannot drink sweet tea in a restaurant if I have to sweeten it myself. It must be sweetened right after brewing while it is still hot. Then, it may be cooled. In my house it is made the correct way. I know exactly how long I like it to be boiled, the incredibly long time required to slowly get to the boiling point, what brand I like, the amount of sugar to add, the proper time to add the sugar in the preparation process and how long it must be cooled before ready for consumption.

I do not bottle my tea to take with me out of the house. It does something to the taste. I also do not put ice in my tea since the melting ice waters it down. I keep it refrigerated and pour into small glasses that will be consumed before the temperature rises to unacceptable levels. As you can tell, I only drink my wonderful creation at home, and when I am home, it is really the only thing I want to drink, especially now that I am not drinking soda. As I stated earlier, I have always enjoyed tea, but now it is a major staple in my diet.

I don't touch the Wilma ones. She never stopped nagging!
Besides, there are many health benefits to drinking tea. Tea is high in antioxidants which can play a role in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease by decreasing lipid oxidation, reducing the instances of heart attack and stroke and beneficially impacts blood vessel function. Tea flavonoids lower the risk of certain cancers by inhibiting the oxidative changes in DNA from free radicals and some carcinogens. Tea also inhibits the rate of cell division thereby decreasing the growth of abnormal cells. Tea drinking has been associated with good oral and bone health and other compounds in teas have been shown to support the human immune system. I didn't just know all this stuff. I had to look it up. I found the information from this paragraph at the Tea Association of the United States of America website. Whether I knew it or not, it cannot be denied that tea can be very healthy. However, I believe that the amount of sugar I put in my tea absolutely eliminates any possible health benefits that could be gained from the original substance. That's why I take vitamins for my health; tea is for pleasure.

Since I am not drinking soda, and I save my water consumption for when I am out of the house, I went to  get myself a glass of tea before I sat down to write this morning. The pitcher only contained enough for one glass. While that would be enough for getting me through my blog, I would be out after that and did not even have any tea bags in the house to make more. The idea of not having properly chilled tea in my fridge this afternoon was too much of a distraction to allow me to write, so I had no choice but to run to Wal-Mart and purchase my favorite brand.

I had no crazy adventures while I was there, but I didn't have time for any. I was on a mission. I got my tea, got home, started it brewing, and sat down to write. I am now enjoying my last glass from the pitcher and reveling in the knowledge that there will be more this afternoon. Finally, I can concentrate on my blog. That brings us back to where we started. I like to post my blogs earlier in the day.

Now, what was I going to write about today? I think I forgot to take my meds.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

My Remembrance of 9/11

On Friday, I had the privilege of substitute teaching at the Mt. Vernon High School. After working with preschoolers all week, I couldn't wait to get in a classroom with older kids. However, I had not considered that the day would have special significance. Since the 10 year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks falls over the weekend, many of the classes were showing a video and discussing this event and what it means.

I only showed the video during the 7th and 8th hour classes and several of the students exclaimed they had already seen it many times over the course of the day. It was a well made video produced either by the school or one of the students. It mixed various 9/11 footage with different students and teachers telling the story of where they were when they heard the news of the planes hitting the towers.

Afterwards, we discussed our memories and the importance of the event. Since the students were between the ages of five and seven when this history was made, they really did not understand the significance of the event at the time. It is just old history to many of them. The best I can compare to is my memory of Ronald Reagan getting shot. I remember it, but it wasn't that big of a deal to me since I was only nine years old. I did not understand the significance. Despite the fact that I was alive when it happened, it is just another part of history to me. However, I was an adult in 2001 and was quickly aware of what was happening as I watched the second plane hit the tower.

In July of 2001 I accepted a job with a private school in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Therefore, my family had only been on the island for a few months when September came around. I was working in my office when my secretary burst in very excited. She did not speak English and I really did not have a grasp on my Spanish yet.  She was jumping up and down yelling, "Pastor, Pastor, Pastor....Ah....plane, plane grande....Nuevo York....plane...BOOM!" She was saying a bunch of other things, but she was very aware of the fact that I was not understanding her. I knew something was wrong, so I followed her to the radio in her office. I knew enough Spanish at that point that I could gather the general idea of what someone was saying. Since the first plane had just hit a few minutes before, the newscasters were talking very quickly and did not really seem to know anything yet.

I caught that a commercial plane had hit the World Trade Center, so I ran home to turn on CNN. At that point, this was just an interesting news story. Planes crash sometimes, but for a commercial jet to hit the World Trade Center was awful. Once I thought I understood what had happened I stood up to go back to work. As I took a step forward to turn off the television, the second plane came onto the screen and crashed into the second tower. I felt my heart sink. As the announcers were still in stunned silence trying to figure out what to say, I realized that this was intentional. I didn't know what that meant, but someone had planned this. The news anchor then started to say the same thing I was thinking. This was a planned catastrophe.

I then started to record 'CNN en Español' for the teachers to watch in the break room so they could know what was going on. I kept watching CNN and saw the live footage of the first tower coming down. I had taken the tape back to the school before the second one came down, but got to see the footage hundreds of times over the next couple of weeks. The rest of the day I spent in my office glued to the Internet news feeds to hear the latest information, but don't really remember the events for the rest of the day.

Not knowing what this meant for the country was the worst part. Would there be more attacks? Once we realized this had been done to us by a foreign enemy I wondered if we may even see enemy soldiers on our soil. How bad is this going to get? I never wanted to be back home in the States as much as I did during this time. If the fight actually makes it to our soil and we are fighting for our lives, I would much rather be in familiar territory than in this new land we were in. Since Puerto Rico is part of the U.S. and we lived within a few miles of a large naval base, there was concern of an attack on the island, especially since it is a strategic defense position for the East Coast. There was no feeling of safety just because we were so far away.

Over the next few weeks we were pulled over several times and had our car searched at various road blocks. The heightened security was very visible. I don't think we would have experienced that in the Midwest. As much as I was mesmerized by knowing and talking about the latest developments, soon the news services were issuing warnings about the possible damage we could be doing to our children by the constant bombardment of fear, death, images of crashing planes, people leaping out of burning buildings and other bad news. I realized I did need to protect my children's' minds, but I probably needed to do the same for mine as well. That constant state of stress is not good for anyone.

As time rolled on, different people began to have different reactions. Some expressed anger, others felt a deep pride, many signed up to fight in the military and a renewed patriot spirit grew strong. Since then, many things have happened and many things have been said. Some good, some bad.

Now, 10 years later, I don't know how to finish this blog. I want to wrap it up with some deep, insightful statement to leave the reader thinking or give a renewed sense of pride, but I have nothing. I wrote this to project my memory of that day and I know it is something I will never forget, but it is something that no one who lived through it will forget, regardless of what personal conclusions they came to over the course of the next 10 years. Some people applaud the president's handling of the situation, while others condemn him. Some people believe we have captured the people responsible, while others believe we have been chasing the wrong people. I have read about hundreds of theories people have for why we were attacked to begin with.

What have I learned? I am left with the impression of the high school English classroom I was teaching on Friday. These teenagers do not have the same level of interest in this anniversary as their parents. Despite the fact that they were alive when this happened, they were so young, it did not leave the impression on them that it left on me, much like my limited recollection of the Reagan shooting. Listening to the generation before me talk about the Kennedy shooting is entirely different than me reading about it in a history book. Listening to war veteran's recall the adventures and horrors of Vietnam or World War II reminds me that real people lived through these things. These are events that actually happened. Families were deeply affected and lives were changed by these events. Whether we are discussing the events of the Revolutionary War, the attack on the World Trade Center or anything history in between, these are not just facts, names and places to learn for school. They are a part of who we are and shape our identity as Americans.

We must never forget.