Tuesday, December 12, 2017

An Election in Alabama

I’m told that there’s a special election in Alabama today with the fate of the free world hanging in the balance. It’s an election to replace former US Senator Jeff Sessions, who took a job as Attorney General in the Trump administration. It features the infamous Roy Moore running against some democrat, who ordinarily wouldn’t stand a ghost of a chance in this reddest of states. But, this is 2017, and Judge Moore has some rather unpleasant baggage. So, there’s a chance he could lose to the random democrat guy who’s running against him. A lot of political heavyweights and entertainment stars have turned up in Alabama over the past few days. Whoever had...There will be a Uma Thurman sighting in Alabama...in the office celebrity-sighting pool just made a fortune. Robocalls have been recorded and deseminated across the state’s phone lines, which I’m sure has delighted Alabamians about as much as a visit from an LSU recruiter. Last night there were dueling rallies, where the Judge’s wife assured the crowd that her husband was not anti Semitic by announcing that One of our lawyers is a Jew! Meanwhile, over at what’s his name’s rally, the keynote speakers where Charles Barkley and an actress from Orange Is The New Black. I have no idea what the significance of these two are to the election prospects of a democrat in Alabama, but I wouldn’t think it would be a good sign.

I have made my views known on Judge Moore in this space before so there’s no need to go through it again. But, here’s what I know for sure...there will be one loser tonight, and that’s the Republican Party. If the democrat dude wins, the party will have lost a reliably Republican seat in the Deep South. If Moore wins, the democrat party will hang the Judge around the neck of every Republican Candidate who runs for everything from dog catcher to Senator for the next ten years. The next time a high profile democrat running for office is found to be involved in some horrendous moral failing the democrat answer will be, Roy Moore. The next time a Republican politician feels compelled to lament the moral decay of our increasingly pagan culture they won’t bother because...Roy Moore. But hey..at least they will have saved the seat, oh...and, abortion!!!!!

So, tomorrow morning this time, the continued destruction of the Republican Party will have been advanced, whether by the election of Roy Moore or the election of the other guy. As I have watched the evisceration of the Grand Old Party since Trump was vomited onto the scene, the only worry I’ve had is what would become of a country dominated by an unrestrained democrat party? Without a viable opposition force, would that party give in to its most extreme voices on the left? Or would they be sobered by their new ascendancy and try to govern by practical consensus? In other words, would they be Clement Attlee of post war Britain, or Joseph Stalin in 1932 Ukraine? The answer seems to be neither. When I look at the democrat party today, I mostly see a collection of relics and fossils who couldn’t sell hacksaws in a prison. Maybe a new generation will rise up. Maybe the Republican Party will one day rise from the ashes of what will be an epic repudiation in 2018. Who knows? It’s politics, after all.

Monday, December 11, 2017

A Weekend of Concerts

There are two weeks left before Christmas. Fourteen shopping days. The last fun thing Pam and I had planned before crunch time is over with. We drove up to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to hear my brother and the National Christian Choir put on one of their four Christmas concerts this past weekend. It was great fun, even though the drive up was through a snowstorm and involved interstate 95N, never a happy thing. The day was saved by a fantastic choir performance which featured my brother in one particularly show-stopping solo, proving that his newly 70 year old pipes are in fine working order. Once the concert was over, it was still snowing, so exiting the parking lot was a 50 minute adventure, which featured an assortment of hapless idiots all trying to out-nice the next guy. ( Do you need to get in front of me even though I’ve been setting still for half an hour and only two cars can exit this parking lot for every click of the light? Why, by all means!!)

As luck would have it, our Hampton Inn was only 900 feet from a truly delightful place called the Greenfield Restaurant. We walked from our hotel to the restaurant in the still falling snow for a truly remarkable meal...the best pork chop I’ve had in years. Yesterday, the drive home was clear and bright and we got to see a couple of charming Pennsylvania towns in the sunlight instead of a blizzard...York, New Oxford and of course, Gettysburg.

But now, play time is over. It’s time to get serious about conspicuous consumption, so Pam and I had a strategy session last night to draw up a game plan. Then we finally decorated the family tree while Patrick’s Portara Ensemble performed their Christmas concert live via Facebook beamed in through our Apple TV...just like Grandma and Grandpa used to do it!

A side note...there’s something about the Christmas season that stirs the emotions for good and for ill. The strangest thing happened to me when I walked into the auditorium Saturday night. The place was standing room only, packed to the gills, probably a thousand or more people paying good money in a snowstorm to hear this Choir. And yet when I made my way through the double doors into the place, I was greeted by a vaguely familiar aroma. It startled me. It was a smell from a few years ago, one I will never be able to forget. It was the distinct smell of the lobby of a nursing home. I looked around and saw a sea of older people, gray hair, tweed jackets, old men with canes, older ladies wearing hats. It occurred to me that the audience for traditional robed choir music was largely octogenarian. For about fifteen minutes a deep sadness came over me, one that is difficult to describe but more and more familiar to me.

Of course, last night when Portara performed their Christmas concert, I saw a couple dozen talented millennials singing under the direction of a young director, which gave me hope that there is still a future for inspired vocal performance that doesn’t require auto tuning. But this is always the way it is for me at Christmas, swirling emotions from all over the map. One minute it’s a joyful, heartwarming memory, the next, something triggers an odd melancholy. One minute it’s fun, silly anticipation, the next, mournful regret. 

It’s always more good than bad though, so...we carry on. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Sick To My Stomach

2017 has been nothing if not consistent, as it has provided one cringe-worthy moment after another across the fruited plain. Each new day requires steady nerves and a brave heart before turning on the computer. Just about the time you’re convinced that it’s impossible to be embarassed any further, some wretched excuse for a human being rears his or her malignant head and plants themselves right there in front of you and your morning coffee. Try this one on for size...

Police in Moore, Oklahoma yesterday released bodycam footage of the March arrest of then State Senator, Ralph Shortey, who was found in a Super 8 motel with an underage teenaged boy, the pungent smell of marijuana wafting from the room. Shortey, 35, married father of four homeschooled girls, can be seen explaining to the officers that he and his young cohort were just hanging out talking about life...and he was very close to convincing the boy to get his GED!! Upon further review however, it was discovered that the Senator was hip-deep in a child sex trafficking ring and rabid consumer of child pornography, a hobby that one would think might conflict with his Senatorial duties. (Of course, this is 2017, so I suppose I shouldn’t assume too much here.)

But, this isn’t even the worst of it. After all, in this day and age, the discovery of a politician involved in sexual perversion isn’t exactly breaking news. No, what caught my attention was the t-shirt the Senator was wearing when he was arrested. You know, they say that clothes make the man and all. I was thinking about using a picture of it here, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’ll try to describe it for you...

It is one of those tight fitting ones worn by men who shouldn’t wear tight fitting anything. In the middle of the shirt was a scripture reference...Ephesians 5:22. Just below this was a cartoon sandwich. Below the sandwich were the words...Now, fix me a sammich. Just in case you’re wondering what Ephesians 5:22 says?

...Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands as you do to the Lord.

So, while getting high and having sex with a teenaged boy in a Super 8, this guy decides to wear a t-shirt with a Bible Verse. Meanwhile, his wife, the submitting one, is busy back home educating his four children. I’d be willing to bet my house that in his last campaign for the State Senate, Ralph Shortey was the family values candidate.

I look at the picture. I read the story, then glance through the comments beneath it...once again, the Christian faith taking a vicious beating in the public square, brought on by yet another wicked man claiming religious faith. I think to myself...No wonder Jesus couldn’t stand religious people!

Then I think about a girl I know, the daughter of some dear friends. She’s just out of college, extremely smart, blond and beautiful. She could do anything she wanted, her entire life laid out in front of her, the possibilities are endless. What does she do? She volunteers to teach math and English to refugees in one of the most dangerous places on the planet for the next two years. Why? Because of her love for Christ, and her desire to serve the least of these. Then I think of how the world will never see a news story about her or her work. But every knuckle-dragging degenerate cloaking their wickedness behind the banner of Christ gets plastered all over my newsfeed. It makes me sick to my stomach.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Traditions

           


Why do you guys have so many Christmas trees in your house...is a common question I get this time of year. It’s usually followed up with these reasonable observations:

That’s a lot of work.

It’s not like your house if huge or anything.

It must be a hassle taking all those trees down afterwards.

Yes. Yes. And...yes.

By way of explanation, I have posted pictures of three of the the six indoor trees. I have not included the trees in the kids rooms, nor have I taken a picture of the big family tree in the living room since it has not been decorated yet,( more on that in a minute). These three trees, from top to bottom, adorn my library, the foyer, and the upstairs hallway. Each has a theme which differentiates it from the others. In the library, the tree is silver and gold and features a variety of Christmas ornaments we received as gifts every year at Joe Schott’s Christmas parties back in my Life of Virginia days. The foyer tree is also silver and gold, but its ornaments are all of the nativity or angels or something directly related to the birth of Christ. The upstairs tree in the big picture window is a Winter tree, it’s ornaments all depicting some sort of nasty weather common during winter, snowflakes, ice, etc. The cardinals that flitter on this tree are representative of the State of Virginia. In the old days, There used to be a seventh tree, in a corner of the kitchen that featured only ornaments which the children had made, which seemed like overkill at some point after both of them had graduated from college, and was eliminated from the rotation.

Which brings me back to our family tree in the living room. There it sits, adorned with 800 colored lights, in its customary corner. In a couple of weeks time there will be presents stuffed underneath it bulging out in all directions. On top will sit a Christmas angel that my wife bought 26 years ago. It has gone out of style with its frumpy Victorianism. It matches nothing. But Pam wouldn’t dream of parting with her. See, our kids have taken turns placing this angel at the top of the tree since 1991. They were so competitive back in the day, we had to keep a tally to prove who’s turn it was every year. This year is supposed to be Kaitlin’s year, but she missed it. We missed it. They were only home for what seemed like hours over Thanksgiving and we didn’t have time. This will be the first time we have decorated the tree without them since they’ve been alive. It probably explains why it sits there unattended. 


Neither one of us are anxious to discover what it’s like to decorate the tree without them. Silly, I know. But parents can be silly and sentimental when it comes to family traditions, and we make no apologies for our sentimentality. We’ve earned it. For it is precisely these traditions that make each family unique. It’s these traditions which make your kids want to come home in the first place.



Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Intelligence Leaving The Body

Big day yesterday. Crossed two huge items off of my December to-do list. Booked our 2018 Maine lake house vacation, and wrenched my back out while running on a treadmill at AmFam. 

Booking the lake house in Maine wasn’t as easy as I make it sound. My search began in September while I was in Maine enjoying our 2017 vacation. I had narrowed it down to a couple of different places by the time we made it back to Short Pump and were greeted by the great exploding dishwasher caper. Needless to say, that set me back several weeks. By the time I recovered from that and restarted the search, my two previous favorites had already been scooped up by somebody else fortunate enough to have fully functional kitchen appliances. Long story short, my hopes for a four week, month of July Maine vacation has morphed into a three week jaunt from July 22 through August 12, and instead of Quantabacook or Megunticook, we will be frolicking on beautiful Pemaquid Lake. I have made a plaintiff plea to the owner of Chill Lake House, that if she should have a cancellation on either side of our three week reservation, I would be more than happy to book that week too. Briefly I considered offering some sort of soft bribe with the plaintiff plea, but decided that I didn’t want to appear too pathetic. The closer we get to July, I won’t care so much about looking pathetic and will probably end up shamelessly offering envelopes of unmarked bills!

Meanwhile, at AmFam....

So, I’m about thirty minutes in to a three and a half mile run on the treadmill, watching some felonious Trump administration official lying to some reporter on CNN, when suddenly I felt discomfort in my lower back, in the area of my belt line, to the left of my spine. That’s weird, I thought. Of course, I continued running despite this discomfort, which was growing more so by the minute. After a while, I thought to slow down to a fast walk, a stubborn concession to the reality of my situation. First, I set the speed of my treadmill to 4.5 mph, and lowered the elevation back to 6 from 12, thinking surely this would solve the problem. By the time I conceded to the fact that I probably needed to end my run, ten minutes had passed and most likely I had made matters worse. I have no explanation for this behavior, but it has always been so with me whenever I hurt myself doing something at the gym. My mantra has always been that sharp pains are merely sloth and weakness leaving the body and should be ignored. If you stopped working out every time you feel a sharp pain, you’ll end up looking like that 5’ 8” 300 pound asthmatic who thinks he’s working out when he sits in a chair and works a couple of arm handles round and round, all while wearing a headband!! So, you push through any sudden pains. This strategy is a constant source of frustration to my wife who basically thinks I’m an idiot.

By the time I made it home, I was in quite a lot of pain. I consult my nightstand for the batch of medications I was prescribed the last time something like this happened. The pill bottles say, 06/09/2017. I take one of the yellow pills and one of the white pills. Then, I think to call my administrative assistant and steal some free medical advice from her Doctor husband, who happens to be wearing Christmas tree glasses. She texts me a picture of him in these awesome glasses and asks, You sure you want medical advice from this guy? He explains that, no, I should NOT have taken the white pill and the yellow pill simultaneously, and applying heat was in fact the exact opposite of what I should be doing. It occurs to me that I should know this, considering how many times similar pains have befallen me. I must acknowledge the truth of Pam’s accessment that I am an idiot.

This morning, the pain is still with me and I now have a new fear to deal with, something that my Christmas tree glasses wearing Doctor  let slip in his telephone diagnosis...kidney stones??? No way. Not a chance. It’s just weakness leaving the body, or as my wife would say, More like intelligence leaving the body!

I’ll keep you posted.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

A Special Season

Pam and I spent nearly 12 hours on Saturday beginning the process of decorating our house for Christmas. A couple hundred dollars of new and replacement finery was purchased. Lights were strung on two natural trees and three fake ones, with more to come. Stockings were hung along the fireplace mantle. Candles were attached to the sills of twenty four windows, this year’s versions equipped with a timing device that switch them on simultaneously at dusk. Three holly trees in the front of my house, along with a lighted wreath hanging on our front door are also hooked up to a dusk-sensing timing apparatus which cuts them on at sunset and then shuts them off at midnight without assistance from any living thing. As I watched my home flicker to life a few minutes ago it occurred to me that the amount of electricity that these lights will burn over the next four weeks would probably power a water filtration system in some third world hellhole for an entire year. But this type of thinking assumes that happiness is a finite commodity and that joy is a zero sum game. If I allow myself to experience joy then that means that somebody else somewhere must die from cholera, a pointless and juvenile notion. So...I will feel no guilt for the warm glow that permeates my home. But, I will wonder why. Why do we do this? Why do we insist on decorating our homes with relics so shot through with nostalgia? Why do we go to such great lengths to conjure up this Christmas feeling?

My pastor today attempted an answer, suggesting that the reason we all long for the Christmas spirit, is because something in us has a sense that the the reconciliation, goodwill and renewed brotherly love that so often accompanies this season offers a glimpse of what the world would look like if it actually was the Kingdom of God, and if Jesus really was the king of our hearts. He might be right. 

All I know is that whenever Christmas comes around, I feel compelled to be a better man. Sure, I shouldn’t need seasonal inspiration for this project, but too often I do. I get sidetracked by the business end of life and drift away from goodness. I don’t mean to suggest that by drifting away from goodness, I suddenly become bad, rather I become distracted by my own needs, and in the process become blind to the needs of others...and left unattended this blindness gets awfully close to bad. But at Christmas, I start to once again see the people who are struggling. I start to notice the people desperate for a Christmas miracle, instead of the ones looking for a sale on David Yurmin bracelets. Once I begin seeing them again, I’m reminded of my great good fortune. In them, I see the exhausted carpenter and his teenage wife, and I suddenly long to be the owner of an inn with vacancies. It’s at Christmas when I start looking around for ways to be a blessing with greater urgency and intention. In the process, my mood lifts, my spirits improve, my aspirations elevate to something more noble than self interest. 

Many things are responsible for my heightened mood. It can be something as simple as a carol, or the sound of the Salvation Army Bell. It might be the sight of a young couple wrestling with a toddler, trying to get that first picture with Santa. Or...it just might be the glow of the 1950’s style lights on the hollies out front, or the soft yellow glow of candles in my windows. 

But, anything that turns me outward towards the world and away from my own narrow pursuits is a good thing. And if it’s the decorations we haul down from the attic every year, then....deck the halls.






Friday, December 1, 2017

Christmas Lights and Me

   

Today is the day I’ve been putting off. It has been lurking around my consciousness for weeks now like a suppressed middle school memory. But now Thanksgiving is over and my annoying neighbors are out there, shaming me into submission. Yes...it’s time to festoon the outside of my house with Christmas lights. The purpose of this ritual, as far as I can tell, is twofold. First, it contributes to the gaiety of the season, creating an appropriately festive milieu, spreading joy throughout not only the neighborhood, but in our individual hearts. Second, it offers proof to any roving bands of nationalists out there that we are not Jewish.

I will start this project with vigorous optimism. I clearly recall the extra care I took putting all of these lights away last year. I carefully wound each strand with delicate precision, as someone defusing a bomb, determined to avoid tangles. I placed each strand into the metal filing cabinets in my garage with the kind of precise care usually reserved for placing sleeping infants into cribs or taking souffl├ęs out of the oven. I inventoried each extension chord and every wreath, even made mental notes about improvements that would enhance next year’s display. So, I have every reason for optimism that this year will be different.

But, hovering over each of my shoulders is a spirit. On my right is an adorable Christmas cherub humming White Christmas. On my left is the Grinch, before his heart grew three sizes. He is whispering in my ear, and he knows a thing or two about my historically faulty memory. His understanding of the procedures I followed in last year’s putting away of the lights is very different than mine and he’s letting me know about it no uncertain terms. He recalls a haphazard, frustration-filled frenzy of stuffing and forcing recalcitrant and already tangled strands every which way into those metal filing cabinets, with quite a bit of uncharacteristic profanity, especially so soon after a celebration of our savior’s birth. He reminds me of my incompetence in that annoying rhyme-y way of his.

Of course, he’s right. I will open the filing cabinet drawers with great trepidation, holding on to the faint hope that I really did take care last year. But, like every year that has preceded this one...it will be a hot mess. I will pull out one Gordian Knot after another and think to myself..What the hell? 

Eventually I will untangle the mess. Then I will plug in each strand to determine how many new strands I will need to buy. Some will spring to life merrily. Others will turn on, then flicker menacingly. Others will be thrown in the trash. I will then make the drive to Lowe’s to buy new lights only to discover that this year’s models are slightly different than last year’s. This is due to some knitwittery cooked up at some government agency charged with saving the planet from global warming or some such thing. This year LED lights are all the rage, which is great if you want the outside of your house to look like the Elvis wedding chapel in Vegas. Since I prefer the vintage 1950’s style lights, which I’m sure are real ozone hole killers, I find myself in a quandary. Do I bend with the times and make the transition to LED or do I stubbornly insist on bespoiling the planet and search all over town for my old school lights? 

            Or.....



I feel rather certain that regular readers of this blog know the answer to this question. Of course, it would help matters if I had a dog who would help me with this project like this good boy...


Instead, I’m stuck with this girl...