Thursday, May 31, 2012

Myrtle Beach Vacation.....Part II

Today was the very definition of what a vacation is supposed to be. The weather was glorious, clear and bright, low 80's. I woke up early, made myself some coffee and drank it out on the balcony overlooking the beach that was inhabited only by a few osprey. After getting dressed, I left my sleeping family, drove to one of the 16,000 golf courses in the area, Possum Trot, where I was delighted to discover a nearly empty parking lot. "Absolutely, darlin'," the girl behind the counter answered when I asked if she could fit in a single. Five minutes later I had been introduced to two other men with the same idea, Jim from Kentucky and Steve from California. So, having had no opportunity to hit any balls at the driving range, or gauge the speed of the greens on the practice green, I proceeded to belt my drive right down the middle, crush a 4 iron, then spin a 52 degree wedge within 5 feet of the cup. After sinking the putt for a birdie, I realized that I was in the strange golf universe that exists only when you are away from home and playing with complete strangers. I know what a horrible hack job I'm capable of when swinging golf clubs...but Steve and Jim only know that I just made a birdie on the first hole and made it look easy doing it. To them, I might as well be Tiger Woods. So, I decided to make the most of it. I continued my awesome impersonation of a serious golfer for the entire front nine, shooting a scorching 37, and thoroughly enjoyed being "the man".

After the turn, as sure as night follows day, I returned to form, placing a couple of drives in the woods, snap-hooking an approach shot or two, and generally playing like the 15 handicapper that I am. Still, an 83 in front of two strangers is always a delightful way to start a day. The entire round took 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete, a wonderful bonus. Somewhere on the back nine, after my poorer play made me more approachable, I got into a conversation with Jim, and discovered that his middle daughter, Courtney, 28, has Hodgkin's Lymphoma, and the prognosis isn't good. He described the two bone marrow procedures that she has endured, the heartbreak of learning that after the second time, the cancer returned. He had flown his wife to Myrtle Beach this week just to get her away from the pain and sadness for a while. I promised him that me and my family would be praying for Courtney tonight at dinner.

After a quick lunch back at the condo, I went down to the beach and spent the afternoon talking and laughing with my kids, and throwing the football back and forth like I've done every year for the past twenty. Tonight we will eat dinner out on the balcony, then head out for a severely contested game of team putt-putt. Patrick and I will dominate Kaitlin and Pam, but will show mercy and try to at least keep it close. The losing team will treat the winning team to soft serve. I prefer case either of you are reading this.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Myrtle Beach Vacation....Part I

Day three of the Myrtle Beach vacation '12 finally has brought rain. Listening to all of the breathless weathermen down here for the past several days, we half expected to see an ark floating down the street with downed power lines,cows flying by and martial law having to be declared. But alas, tropical storm/depression/really annoying storm Beryl was mostly a nighttime event that featured brisk winds  and some heavy downpours. Now that the sun is up, the rain has stopped, the wind is dying down and I think I see some blue sky south and west of here. In other words we have lost approximately, hours of beach time. Oh wait, there were horrible RIP-TIDES. How could I forget the "potentially deadly" rip-tides? Meteorologists are geeks who get paid to bloviate hysterically every time an upper level disturbance hints at being formed.

So far we're having a blast. The weather has been great, the condo is perfect, and since it's still the month of May, Myrtle Beach is not yet crowded. We can actually drive down King's highway in the middle lane at 40 mph! Last night we pretended that it was Patrick's birthday since we missed his actual birthday a few days ago. Pam fixed him his favorite meal. The main course consisted of a colorful frying pan full of onions, yellow, orange and red bell peppers, stir-fried to the perfect tenderness, mixed with sliced and fried polska kielbasa and some other kind of smoked sausage. Along with this heavenly concoction, there were baked cinnamon apples, and home-made macaroni and cheese. To wash all of this down, Patrick had taken it upon himself to buy a ridiculously priced bottle of some Italian red wine he had discovered on his trip there last year. We all agreed that red wine tastes  like cough medicine no matter what country it's from, but he insisted that we all try it. He even served it totally by the book...only slightly chilled, waiting 15 full minutes after opening the bottle before it's poured etc..etc..I felt like those sherry-sipping Crane boys, Niles and Frazier! But, I must admit, it was excellent. Once again, I've had my sights raised by one of my supremely refined and educated children.

Today the plan is to head out to the Golden Griddle for breakfast. There will be no wine glasses anywhere to be found at GG. The only thing you'll have to wait 15 minutes for is a table. An ample-bossomed middle-age woman named Gladys will wait on us. She will refer to me as either "Honey" or "Darlin'", and we will be served three pancakes slathered in butter and maple syrup. The bacon will be the thick, smokey kind that one imagines was served on cattle-drives out west in the 1880's. The coffee will be thick and strong. There will be no  granola -yogurt- parfait- fruit cup nonsense going on here. Gladys will see to it that we don't leave hungry, and she will hand out coupons as we leave for "25% off your first by-pass operation".

After this late breakfast, despite meteorological guarantees that the entire day would be a washout, the sun will probably be shining. We will head down to what seems like our private beach to work off this 1,000 calorie meal by sitting in beach chairs for several hours. Then it will be back to the condo for showers and then out to dinner then we have front row balcony seats for the variety show at the Alabama Theatre. There are worse ways to spend a day.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

My Animal House Office and the Nature of Friendship

For some reason I've been thinking a lot about the nature of friendship lately. I'm not even sure why.  Maybe it's because the older I get the more important it is to me. Maybe it's because I'm becoming aware of how rare it is. I am 54 years old and I know a lot of people, I have a boatload of acquaintances, but fewer friends, and even fewer close friends. Why is that?

Part of it is time, or more precisely, the lack of time. It takes time to build solid friendships. My best friend is a guy I grew up with. We were inseparable from roughly age 15 until 25. Then we got busy with our lives which started to travel on different paths so we don't spend a lot of time with each other now. But he's still my best friend. So, time isn't the only thing.

When I think about it, my wife is clearly my real best friend. But she doesn't count because she sorta HAS to like me. It's all a part of the "love and cherish" thing. The biggest reason that Pam and I are such good friends is because of the wealth of shared experiences. You have children with someone, raise them together, spend literally days in a car with someone for 28 years, then you either end up violent enemies or the best of friends. Luckily for me, after all of that, we're still pals.

Three of my best friends are the guys I work with. We're business partners. We see each other every day and have for the better part of 25 years. Our office is like a laboratory for human dysfunction. It's the Cooperstown of verbal invective, the place where mutual respect and decorum go to die. When strangers come and experience the glee with which we constantly toss around insults and put downs, they try their best not to look shocked. From snarky remarks about each others' personal appearance, to open ridicule of each others' intelligence, no subject is off limits. Make an honest mistake 17 years ago at a company meeting in Vancouver B.C., and you can be certain that it will be thrown in your face at any time at the slightest provocation. Miss a short putt on the 18th green to cost your team the match, well you might as well turn in your man card for six months. The trash-talking, non-stop smack down zone that is our office is the middle-aged version of being smacked on the ass by a wet towel in the locker room in high school. If you make a huge sale, you're the luckiest, most over-paid hack in the history of commerce. If you fall into a slump it's because you're a lazy, whining, soft democrat welfare queen looking for a handout. There exists nowhere on this planet a work environment with less concern for positive affirmation and self-esteem than my office. To many of you reading this I'm sure it sounds positively brutish. Some of you might even be tempted to notify OSHA to report this horrifying behavior. And, what does this have to do with friendship anyway?

Here's the thing. It's the not the job of friends to be rubber stamps for every stupid idea that comes into your head. Friendship is about having the freedom and standing to tell each other the truth. For all of the abuse we heap on each other, I know in my heart that everyone of the guys at my office have my back. Who do I want in my fox hole, who do I want in my corner in a fight? The smiley-faced back slapper who is constantly telling me how great I am...or the guy who knows every mistake I've ever made and can and will recite them back to me at a moments' notice and despite that, would run through a wall for me? No, if there's a crisis at 2 o'clock in the morning, I'm not calling Mr. happy face..I'm calling Doug Greenwood, Bland Weaver, or Lynwood Atkinson.

Oh, and by the way...on the off chance that either of you guys actually read this're still a bunch of pathetic morons.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Vacation Dilemma

Ever notice how worthless you become at work the last few days before vacation? Even though there's lots to do to prepare for being gone for 11 days, I'm finding it difficult to summon the necessary enthusiasm needed. Every item on my "to-do" list becomes an occasion for a raging debate inside my head that goes something like this..."Is it really critical that I take care of this now? I mean, will the world cease spinning on it's axis if I wait until I get back to do this?"

I could either be setting up annual review appointments with clients for the week I return, OR, I could be on the interwebs checking out where I'm going to be playing golf next Wednesday. Talk about your tough decisions, devising a strategy for dealing with a Greek exit from the Euro, or deciding which shows to see..Le Grand Cirque, the Legends Concert, or The Blue Man Group? I could either finish up this life insurance paperwork on my desk, or work out the details of which type of meat I'll grill for dinner the first night. Everyone knows how absolutely crucial it is to set the proper tone for a fun and frolicking vacation by nailing the first night's dinner. Seriously, is it even possible to over think dinner number one? I think not!

Since I'm in the trusted Financial Advisor business, every year at vacation time the most difficult decision is this...what kind of message to leave on my answering machine. For one thing, there are very specific rules for phone messages in my line of work. You can't just say any old thing. For example, you must always remind clients that they cannot leave trade instructions on the machine since they cannot be honored in that fashion etc, etc.. You also can't do any advertising in your message. You can't say something like..."Thanks for calling, and remember to ask me about the hot new Detroit Municipal Bonds paying a very high octane 18%"...or ..."Thanks for calling, and remember, only uncivilized people buy gold." But what about the all important message that informs clients that you will not be in the office until Wednesday the 6th of June? What happens if news breaks that Mitt Romney is dropping out of the Presidential race to pursue a relationship with Ralph Nadar, the love of his life? The stock market is down 500 points on the blockbuster news and my panicked clients call and hear....what, exactly?? " Hello, today is Saturday, May the 26th and I will be in Myrtle Beach with the wife and kids until Wednesday morning the 6th of June. In addition, I will NOT be checking this phone for any messages since the primary purpose of being on vacation is to get as far away from my office as possible. Matter of fact, as we speak, I'm most likely doing some body surfing or hitting the golf ball, and you guys are the furthest thing from my mind, so leave me a message and I will call you back when I get back in town, and not one minute sooner."

No, that message won't work. But, the thing is, I really want to be away when I'm away. My life is forever tethered to the global stock markets in all of their insane volatility. My vacation weeks are not immune from some catastrophic event that might cause them to gyrate in frightening ways. I remember one week when I was in Maine and couldn't have made a call to Richmond even if I had wanted to. The markets were down big every single day of my vacation, or so I was informed by the intrepid newspaper of record in those parts, the Rumford Falls Times. When I got back in town, I dreaded the deluge of phone messages I was sure were waiting for me.  There was only one, a client had called to inform me that I had left my pen on her kitchen table. Sweetheart was going to put it in the mail. It was laying there with my other mail. It was then that I decided that I wasn't going to spend any more vacation time worrying about stuff I had no control over anyway. I will leave a tidy message, optimistic and energetic, but reminding the world that I will not be checking the machine every 5 minutes. I'll be on vacation. It's about can look it up.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Blazing Saddles..cutting edge social commentary

The other night I was channel surfing and ran across arguably one of the most intense and penetrating examinations of the human condition ever filmed. I am referring, of course, to the 1974 Mel Brooks classic...Blazing Saddles. It had it all, a veritable Sociological and Psychological feast, leaving no stone of our existence unturned. The films plot illustrates the breathtaking sweep of 20th century pathologies...a corrupt political boss and an incompetent and degenerate governor, seeking to destroy the town of Rock Ridge to make way for a railroad, conspire together to send the town a black sheriff, counting on the natural racism of the town's citizens and hoping that the resulting race riots will do the destroying for them. Sherrif Bart, befriended by Jim, a washed-up gun-slinger, confounds the devious strategy by winning the town's respect and uniting them with the exploited railroad workers and against the evil Hedley LaMarr. Along the way we are treated to countless memorable scenes, from farting cowboys to a German barroom singer, Lili Von Shtupp, who with a hilarious lisp says, "Oh, a wose...a wed wose. How womantic!"

The trouble with Blazing Saddles is that it could never in a million years be made today. It offends...practically everyone. It lampoons every demographic imaginable from rednecks, to gays. It uses the "n" word prodigiously with stunning effect.

Let's see, in that one scene Brooks manages to desecrate the Holy Bible, play up the classic fear of black sexuality, and illustrate the ignorance of country people, all in 3 and a half minutes! For my generation, the line, "Excuse me while I whip this out" became a staple of locker room humor for at least ten years. Other tag lines from this film that lived long and productive lives were, "Where the white women at?" and " Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges!"

Even Mel Brooks seemed to know he was over-doing it with the slurs. Once Hedley Lamars' plan to poison Rock Ridge with a black sheriff begins to fail he turns to plan B which is to recruit a notorious band of outlaws and turn them loose on the poor town to pillage it into submission. Lamar's speech is a thing of beauty, and the last group of bad guys is simply perfect:

"I want rustlers, cut-throats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperadoes, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits,dimwits, vipers, snipers, Indian agents, Mexican bandits,muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswogglers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass-kickers, shit-kickers....and Methodists."

Later in that speech, Brooks even manages to rip himself when he has Hedley say, "Men, you are about to embark on a great crusade to stamp out runaway decency in the world. Now, you men will only be risking your lives, whilst I will be risking an almost certain Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor."

Great stuff.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

To Run Or Not To Run

It's Saturday morning, and the wind is calm, the sky is clear, with not even a suggestion of humidity. In short, I can find no reliable excuse not to go for a run. In addition, the fact that I have failed to go for a run all week despite similarly perfect conditions, makes it all the more imperative that I get this done. Yet I sit here drinking coffee, in my pajamas, staring at the beautiful morning struggling vainly to summon sufficient resolve. I do battle with my conscience thusly...

Why do I have to run? Exercise is actually quite dangerous. How many times have I read stories about some runner collapsing from a heart attack or being hit by a car? And what exactly is to be gained by the sweat and pain of a three mile run? What, will it add 7 days to my lifespan? I'm sure I'll be thrilled with another week of Leave It To Beaver reruns at the nursing home in 2048. Yeah, but it IS good for me in the here and now what with the release of endorphins and what-not. It does relieve stress, I guess. But it's just ....running. When I was two, running was the most awesome thing in the world. In fact I would bolt off in chaotic spasms of glee at the slightest provocation, often resulting in hilarious face-plants, to the delight of all...or so I'm told. When I was a teenager running was great competition. I would challenge anyone, anywhere to a sprint. Who was fastest, THAT was the question. Running was about the race, and back then, who didn't love a race?? Now, running is a dreary business. It is a chore, a tacit admission that one "needs exercise". I run to mitigate the ill-effects of ominous sounding ailments...hyper-tension, heart disease. But the very act of running opens me up to all manner of disastrous possibilities. I could turn an ankle, become distracted and run into a light-pole, be run down from behind by some intoxicated teenager behind the wheel of his Dad's SUV, become disoriented by all those endorphins and get lost, winding up in a bad section of Wyndham. The more I think about it, this running business opens up the Dunnevant brand up to a sizable and disturbing level of risk that I'm not sure is appropriate, given how many people are counting on me. I have to think about THEM, this exercise thing can't be all about me!

But, if I don't run...I will start to put on weight. The middle will get soft, and soon it will start looking like the lower-middle. Before long, I'll have a double-chin, then when people who I haven't seen in a while run in to me they will whisper to their friends after I leave..."Wow, Dunnevant really let himself go. What a shame." Finally. I've finally stumbled upon an emotion strong enough to get my sorry ass motivated...vanity!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Last Concert . . . A Tribute to Sherri Matthews

Tonight I will attend the last chorus concert at Godwin High School directed by Sherri Matthews. After a long and historically successful tenure as Choral Director, Sherri is stepping down at the end of the school year to pursue yet another high stress, cut-throat job... in church music.  So tonight will be her last concert, and I will be there with Pam and my two kids, both of whom were her former students. My nephew Ryan will be singing in a couple of the choirs. There's a picture of the empty auditorium on Facebook that shows over half the seats with saved markers on them. Four of them better be mine.

My exposure to Godwin Chorus and Sherri only goes back to Kaitlin's freshman year, 2001.  Before then, I thought all high school chorus programs consisted of 25 or so kids looking for an easy "A," half of whom were tone deaf.  My image of chorus teachers conjured up a cross between Mr. Whipple and Aunt Bea.  But soon, I began to hear stories about this crazy Diet Dr.Pepper-swilling woman at Godwin who made music fun, demanded excellence from her students, and was a little scary.  All Kaitlin would say was that, "Ms. Matthews is really demanding, Dad . . . but we really sound good!"  The winter concert that year, my first of many, was beyond description.  Instead of 25 kids, there were hundreds . . . and six different choirs. There were barber shop and beauty shop groups, all-girl choirs, mixed choirs, a show choir, and a kind of "all-star" group called "Madrigals."  I sat there in my cramped, uncomfortable seat in a standing room only auditorium, amazed at the talent, poise and passion of the students and the commanding presence of their director.  She WAS a little scary, and she meant business brother.  The kids knew it and so did everyone in the house. The richness of the music that came out of those kids was astonishing. The best part was that they were having fun and brimming with confidence as they sang.  Real confidence, the kind that can only come from real accomplishment.  Sherri wasn't running a feel-good program where everyone gets a trophy for  showing up.  She was educating a large group of young people about the beauty of music that deserved one's best effort, the proper expression of which took hard work.  I was hooked.

Soon it began, the six years of Pam's work with Choral Boosters (the fund-raising juggernaut of Short Pump), my years wielding the clip-board at concerts explaining to angry parents and grandparents why, "No, you can't sit there, because that seat is reserved for our Platinum Club members!"  There were state and regional competitions, most of which we rocked, and spring trips all over the east coast from Orlando to New York. There were a series of unflattering choir dresses, ill-fitting tuxedos and six end of the year awards dinners.  But mostly . . . there was the music.  I would sit there in the darkness, oddly fighting back tears as I listened.

Tonight I will listen again.  Kaitlin will be there.  When she went off to college she eagerly joined  the Cedarville woman's choir that was led by a very talented and wonderful woman.  After one year Kaitlin dropped out.  When I asked why she said, "Dad, the director was very nice and we sounded good, but just about the time we got close to getting a song  right, she would stop and say, "Good enough."  Ms. M NEVER said, "Good enough."  Patrick will also be there. He is on the road as I write this, making the 9 hour drive from Nashville to be here. It was Sherri who provided the leadership and example that encouraged Patrick to pursue a life in music.  Tonight, Madrigals will perform one of his arrangements. The chances of me having a huge knot in my throat are approximately 100%.

So thank you, Sherri, for being the type of educator who nobody forgets.  Thanks for introducing the beauty of music to an entire generation of Henrico county students.  Thanks for being tough, demanding, and yes . . . scary.  Thanks for ruining Kaitlin's college choir experience.  Oh, and see ya at church Sunday!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Does Money Buy Happiness, Mr. Pujols?

I can give you 240 million reasons why I shouldn't feel sorry for Albert Pujols. After ten fabulous seasons in St. Louis where he established himself as the best player in baseball, Albert signed a free-agent contract with the Los Angeles Angels. Ever since he showed up in Hollywood he has been in an epic slump which currently finds him hitting a paltry .197. He has hit one home run in his first 37 games. There are currently several pitchers with higher batting averages than Albert. He is pressing. His butt-cheeks are so tight he could crack walnuts back there. The fans are starting to murmur. He never, ever smiles on the field anymore. He looks like a lost man.

His old team is doing great. The Cardinals offered Albert big money to stay with them, to be a Cardinal for life. He could have replaced Stan Musial in the hearts of the best and most loyal baseball fans on the planet. Albert said "Thanks, but no thanks". Now the Cardinals have some rookie playing first base who they are paying the league minimum, and he's chugging along pretty well, and the team is in first place. Meanwhile Albert looks miserable both at the plate, in the field and in the dugout. But he's cashing ridiculously large checks, so that's something.

And yet, I can't help but feel sorry for the guy. You're the best hitter in baseball in St. Louis for ten years. Then suddenly you're the richest man in baseball, the face of a new team with huge expectations, and you can't get the ball out of the infield. It's got to be the most frustrating experience in sports...justifying your huge new contract in front of a stadium full of working stiffs who just forked over $100 for a seat to watch you play. Great players get off to slow starts all the time in baseball. Some guys hate the cold weather in April, pitchers always have the advantage early, etc.. But it's now the middle of May. It's plenty warm. The 2012 season is nearing the quarter pole, and you're still searching for your second homer and still hitting under .200? This is getting ugly.

I've been in a performance-based business all of my life. If I don't close business, I'm a failure. I've been through my share of sales slumps in my 29 years in business. They are no fun. After a while you begin to have doubts. You begin to wonder if maybe this time it's different. Maybe this time, you're done. Maybe you'll never close another case, ever. The difference for me is I don't have a 240 million dollar contract for the next ten years, guaranteed to pay me no matter what.

Albert's agent negotiated a few perks to go along with all the money. One such perk is that Albert gets a hotel suite to stay in when his team is on the road. So he has lots of room to stretch out and watch his latest 0 for 4 performance get dissected by the talking heads on Sports Center. Does money buy happiness? Just ask Mr. Pujols. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Observations On The Wide World Of Sports

On this Saturday before Mother's Day, a few scattered observations on the wide World of Sports:

Is there anything better than a game seven? It doesn't matter what sport...well except for soccer, having to endure the previous six in that sport would have done me in...but seriously, game seven showdowns are awesome and lately we've had tons of them. Basketball and hockey have given us some great stuff in this regard, and there is more to come. The Lakers v. Nuggets and the Capitals v. Rangers are on tap this weekend. Nice. Everything on the line, all hands on deck, loser goes home, winner takes all. Just like war except, nobody dies. Awesome!

I see where Lebron is going to win his 3rd MVP award, or is it his 4th? Yawn.. It will look great up there on his mantle along with all of his championship trophies..uh, no wait. It will look great up there with his MVP trophies from the playoffs, will blend in nicely with his many MR. CLUTCH awards scratch that. Well, regardless, 4 MVP trophies is pretty impressive, right?

The Texas Rangers played the Anaheim Angles last night. Josh Hamilton hit two home runs, giving him 17 for the year along with 40 RBI's and a .407 batting 33 games. Albert Pujols, on the other hand, went 0 for 4 and watched his batting average drop to exactly 20 points lower than his playing weight (.197). Josh knocked in more runs in one game last week than Al has knocked in all year. Al's old team, the Cardinals? Lets see, without the great Albert, they have managed to rack up a record of 20-12, good enough for first place in the National League central. When will Baseball owners learn that one player cannot fundamentally transform a baseball team into a contender? Baseball, unlike any other team sport that I can think of, does not respond to the infusion of star power. In basketball, any team that added Michael Jordan back in the day would have instantly become a contender. In football, a dominant QB instantly alters a teams' prospects. But in baseball, no one player, even one with the gaudy talents of an Albert Pujols, or earlier an Alex Rodriguez has that kind of transformative power. He's only one of 9. He only comes to the plate 4 times a game. He doesn't pitch. But there were the Angles over the winter signing Albert Pujols up for ten years to the tune of 240 million dollars. Good luck with that, Angels. This winter it's Josh Hamilton's turn. He's a free agent. Will some team, probably the Yankees, sign a 30 year old awesome talent with a history of drug and alcohol addictions to an insanely ridiculous long term contract, then sit back and watch him hit .270 with 20 homers and 80 RBI's for a couple of season before landing either on the DL or in rehab? Yep. Sure hope it ends up being the Yankees.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Having A Gay-Marriage debate With Myself

The issue of gay marriage is all over the news lately what with President Obama's election year "evolution" on the subject as well as the State of North Carolina being the latest state to vote down the idea. I have read all of the arguments on both sides and come away exhausted. Trying to flesh out one's views extemporaneously on a blog sounds like a terrible idea, but here we go.

I suppose I should state at the beginning my views on homosexuality itself. From a biblical perspective, I believe it to be a sin. The verses in the old testament and the new are famous and I won't repeat them here. I have heard the theological revisionism on the subject and believe it to be untenable, as it asks me not to believe the clear words that I read in scripture, and to ignore what I observe in creation. Having said that, as a theological conservative who attends a rather fundamental congregation, I have always been uncomfortable with what I consider to be our unhealthy obsession with this particular sin. In the great cosmos of transgressions, the practice of homosexuality ranks way down the list of offenses that threaten my hearth and home. Would that Baptists were as hyped up about adultery among heterosexuals, for instance, or the rampant use of pornography among the faithful. Scripture teaches me that we are all sinners in need of redemption, homosexual, and heterosexual alike. Salvation offered through Christ extends to all of us, and attempts to marginalize gays by some churches is one of the many transgressions that rank higher on the venal list in my opinion. Although it is true that sin is sin, and our views on which sins are "worse" than others says more about us than it does sin, I feel the need to point out the fact that our Lord uttered not one word on the subject in his time on Earth.

The issue of gay-marriage is a completely different issue for me since it involves questions of government, and law. The first question that I have to answer concerning the thing is this..."What does the government have at stake here?" Traditionally, government has gotten involved in the institution of marriage for several reasons, but primarily because marriage was the institution from which children were produced. There was a connection between erotic sex and the predictable result of children. Government then had a vested interest in the encouragement of lasting contracts between parents largely for the protection of the family unit, the building blocks of society, as it were. It was in the best interest of society that these family units stayed intact so that the children produced were not abandoned to become wards of the state. So Governments got involved, issuing licences and crafting tax law and inheritance laws to insure stability of the family unit multi-generationally. This was not the only reason, of course, since some couples never have kids etc.. but governments have much less interest in protecting or encouraging emotional unions like a father and son who join together to raise a child after the mother dies. The key point about marriage that attracted governments attention was the issue of procreation...period.

Which brings us to the issue of why should the definition of marriage be changed to accommodate same sex unions who by definition cannot procreate? Listening to the back and forth from both sides on this thing is  dizzying. Platitudes and non-sequiturs doing fierce hand to hand combat with straw-men. What it comes down to for many on the pro side is that homosexuals in our society, long marginalized and bullied need the social validation that can only be provided by marriage. All of the other legal and financial benefits derived from marriage can be provided through tweaks in civil union statutes, but only legal recognized marriage can provide the lifestyle validation and equally needed. The anti side counters that if we change the definition of marriage to accommodate "feelings" then what legal basis will there be to deny equal validation for other non-traditional relationships? Polygamy and Polyamory are thrown out as suggestions of where a rewriting of a 4,000 year institution might logically lead. I read the opinions of learned men and women and see their passionate defense of both sides and come away grateful that I am not a federal judge.

So, what to think? Not withstanding my personal views on homosexuality, I fail to see what damage could possibly be done to traditional marriage if gay people are allowed in to the club. I'm not sure that gays know fully what they are getting themselves in to since nearly 50% of traditional marriages end in screaming hysterical accusations of infidelity, and enormous alimony judgements. But, if there's a gay couple out there who want to commit themselves to be bound legally and emotionally to each other, I find no reason to stand in their way. Should my church be required against it's teachings to sanction that union? No. Will this rewriting of the definition of marriage lead to laws mandating that churches be required to perform such ceremonies? I certainly hope not, and if the phrase "separation of church and state" is to have any meaning, it BETTER not.

Two nagging thoughts. First, with 9% unemployment, 2% economic growth, a 15 trillion dollar national debt and the most powerful nation on the planet now in it's 1108th day without a budget, gay marriage is what the two presidential candidates are talking about. Really?? Second, how would my views on this issue change if my son or daughter or best friend were to inform me that they were gay? I ask this because it has been my experience in life that is easy to marginalize and demonize a group of people who you have no connection to, but much harder to do so when someone whom you love is involved. I feel certain that my theological position would not change. Maybe none of my views would change. But I do know this..they would still be my son, my daughter, my friend, and I would still love them. The bitterness and rage that I have observed on the various discussion boards on this topic have staggered me...from both sides. Nothing is quite as venomous and hateful as anonymity. Some from the conservative side seem to believe that those who disagree with them are evil sexual predators destined for hell, sent there by the same God that created the AIDS virus as his judgement. Some on the other side try to portray me as a diabolical cross between Adolph Hitler and Bull Connor, intent on nothing less than the extermination of every gay and lesbian on the planet.

I guess what it comes down to for me is this. Although I believe that homosexuality is not God's plan for the human race, I see no compelling reason why two committed gay people should not be allowed to get married. For this I feel certain that I will be vilified by both sides. Do I see a contradiction in the two views? Not really. Am I sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am right about this? Not really. But this is what I think right now.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

My wife...silent assassin

Several weeks ago my wife introduced me to a game called "Words With Friends." I play it on my cell phone. It amounts to cyber-scrabble, and it's quite addicting.Generally speaking I beat most people I play...except my wife, over whom I prevail only half the time..if that. I believe that my relatively poor performance against Pam is attributable to the fact that she plays on the large roomy surface of her i-Pad while I labor on the cramped confines of an i-Phone. She clearly has the advantage since her large play space allows more freedom of thought and a greater ability to visualise her words. Of course she thinks that I'm making excuses, being a whiner, and developing a "loser's limp". She is correct on all counts!

It's a bit infuriating the way she beats me at this stupid game. The other day for instance, I was ahead practically the entire game, playing such inspired words as, "xysts" and "zit" on the TW space...I was sailing along. Then, out of nowhere she plays some lame word with her last letters and I'm caught with three letters left whose total points were deducted from my score giving her a 4 point win! Wha..what? How did she do that?

I'll tell you how she does it..she's a diabolical competitor. She goes out there and plays her friend Dodie, beats her like a drum since she is the worst WWF player in history, gets her confidence up, then challenges me to a game. Then, she plots and schemes there on her ginormous i-Pad screen and comes up with ridiculous words even though she spends the entire game complaining about the fact that she has "all vowels!!" Just when I start to actually have sympathy for her vowel-less condition, she throws down.."quiz" using the triple letter AND triple word tiles, scores 128 points, then falls silent downstairs on the sofa drinking her chai tea, a silent assassin. I married the Attila the Hun of word games.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Odd Week

What a strange week. There are times in life when, like the pretty nurse in Penny Lane, you feel as if you're in a play. It's as if you're the central character in a production of some importance, but you don't know your lines. That was me this week. It wasn't all bad. I wrote a very nice piece of profitable business, on which I will no doubt pay my fair share of taxes, confirming my reputation as a prodigious provider for my family. But the rest of the week was odd.

For reasons not entirely clear to me I have been in charge of telephones and Internet service at my business. When we built the place I drew the short straw and was assigned the job of finding a phone system, and then arranging for Internet and phone service. It isn't possible for anyone to be more ill-suited for such a task. I'm a creative thinker, a writer. My intelligence has always been limited to literature, music and history. Mathematics and the hard sciences leave me cold. I can't fix anything mechanical, never have cared a whit about what's under the hood of my car, that sort of thing. Anyway, in my roll as "the phone guy", I have been looking to consolidate all three services ( phone, Internet, and cable) with one provider, which, I was assured, would save us nearly $400 per month. Yesterday was "installation day". I knew I was in trouble withing 5 minutes of their arrival when the technician took one look into the phone closet, then asked me.."Who's your IT guy?"

ME:  Um..we don't have an IT guy. But if we did he would probably be me.

TECH GUY: Well, who do you get your data feeds from?

ME: Data feeds?..Wha..?

TECH GUY: You've got some sort of hybrid analog/ electrical system here and I need to have someone who can wire your router, and coordinate the transfer of your IP address into this new interface, so your network will work properly.

ME:.....but I just wanted a new phone service so I could save $400 a month. what?

It went on like this for ten minutes or so, me speaking halting English, he speaking very confident and rapid-fire Klingon. Ultimately I had to call the whole thing off because the girl who gave me the money saving quote failed to pick up on the fact that we needed 12 lines, not 5. So, all was for naught.Four hours of my life that I will never get back were spent feeling like a complete moron.

Then I stumble upon the "Life Of Julia" web slide show put out by the Obama campaign which illustrates in cartoon form the wondrous benevolence of Barack Obama's policies on the life of a composite woman named Julia from age 3 all the way to age 67...or as Clement Atllee would say, from "cradle to grave". It was an astonishing thing to watch. Julia enters Kindergarten fully prepared only because of the existence of "Head Start". She then does well in school and doesn't get fat only because of new nutritional requirements on school lunches mandated by government. When Julia becomes of a sexually active age she gets free birth control from her government health care plan so she can "concentrate on her life without worry". When Julia graduates from college her minimal student loans have a low affordable interest rate only because of the moderating hand of government price controls. When Julia decides to "have a child" ( no husband appears in this narrative ) she has prenatal tests performed and receives quality medical care only because of the wonders of Obamacare. etc.. etc.. No mention is made of how much any of this costs or who is paying for it. The striking thing about Julia is the fact that she doesn't resemble any of the women I have known in my life. This child seems totally bereft of Independence. Every accomplishment in her life is presented as a consequence of the existence of a paternalistic, caring government. The one thing Julia does that shows even the slightest bit of initiative..starting a web-based business, was only possible because she got a loan from the Small Business Administration. As I watched the slide show this disturbing thought came to me. The very fact that someone at team Obama thought that this was a good and persuasive  thing, that this would attract voters rather than repulse them gave me a chill. Fifty years ago, no self respecting Democrat would portray women in this way, as helpless, fragile flowers who without the lifelong intervention of a compassionate and all-knowing government, would wither on the vine of life. But, today, I live in a country where this kind of government is celebrated and promoted in slick graphics on the website of the President of the United States for all the world to see.

To top off my week I went to the doctor for a check-up. The news wasn't the greatest I've ever had at a doctor's office. On the way home I turn on the radio to hear that Elizabeth Warren, democratic candidate for the senate from Massachusetts, had listed her race as American Indian on her application to Harvard to improve her chances of acceptance and promotion at that fine institution. Evidence of her racial heritage consisted of the fact that her great grandfather had "high cheek-bones", and that her great, great, great, great grandfather married a woman who put Cherokee on a marriage license application in the 1800's making Ms. Warren 1/32nd American Indian. Ms. Warren,  meet Julia.

I believe that cloud that descended over my mood this week is what the Psychiatrists call.."alienation".

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Freedom of the Press...Overrated

As is my custom at 6:30 in the morning, I scanned my computer screen for news headlines. Here are just a few that greeted me on Thursday, the 3rd of May, 2012:

"Blind Man Exposes Association For The Blind"

"Homeowners Association Sues Returning Vet Over Backyard Swing Set"

" Computer Glich Summons 1,200 For Jury Duty, Causing Massive Traffic Jam"

"Man Attempts Robbery With Underwear On Head"

It's time to admit it..Freedom of the Press is overrated. In fact, I believe that this country would benefit greatly from a total news blackout for say, a month. I nominate August. It's hot, and most people are at the beach anyway. Seriously, what has a "free" press gotten us? The Today show. Matt Lauer, with his 20 million dollar salary asking George Clooney why more people don't love Obama. The New York Times, the alleged newspaper of record, hasn't endorsed a Republican candidate since, I don't know..Teddy Roosevelt, and yet still insists that it is politically unbiased. Fox News, where amazingly, every journalists they have ever hired to read the news just happens to have blond hair and a great rack.

What do we as citizens gain from all this news anyway? Thanks to the 24/7 news cycle, we have virtually unlimited access to information on everything from the price of cotton in India to what Lindsey Lohan threw up for dinner last what end? Are we better informed than say, a typical housewife in 1963 who's hometown  had one newspaper, and although her TV could only pick up two channels, she never missed Walter Cronkite reading the news every night? How on earth did she survive without instantaneous access to the daily tracking polls measuring President Kennedy's reelection chances? For heavens' sake, how could she possibly have made an "informed" decision without knowing that he was swimming naked with Marilyn Monroe in the White House pool?

Freedom of the about freedom FROM the press? Every year when I go on vacation, I have a rule. My only source of news can be the local paper from where ever I happen to be. In Maine, I'm treated to the Lewiston Sun Journal. In Key West it's the Key West Citizen. Myrtle Beach offers up the North Myrtle Beach Times. Each of these fine papers offers everything I need to be properly informed...local weather, and a quality sports page with easy to find box scores. I turn off CNN,  FOX,  ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC, CNBC...and after a couple of weeks, my IQ has risen 10 points. My attitude about my country, the world, and my place in it improves exponentially with each day that I am not treated to every gory detail of it's sorry state. So, it turns out that Ignorance is not only bliss, it's also healthy.