Saturday, November 30, 2013



These are the top headlines from the Drudge Report for the day after Thanksgiving, 2013. It’s actually an improvement over last year, since the body count was lower. The irony of a holiday called “THANKSgiving” being disgraced in this manner is especially galling. On the very day when we are supposed to be thankful for what we already have, millions of Americans have been whipped into a covetous frenzy of consumerism that turns them into animals, fully capable of assault and battery over the prospect of saving a buck on the latest trinket.

What in the hell has happened to us?

Friday, November 29, 2013

Unkalduga Claus. The Legend Continues.

Thanksgiving 2013 is now in the books and by all accounts, was a huge success. My niece Christina did a fabulous job of hosting all 25 of us in her tiny house. The food was outstanding, especially Jenny’s rolls. We were all able to be together with my Dad, so everything worked out perfectly. Well, except for the insidious, corrupting presence of two cats, the aura of which played havoc with the lungs of several guests, including yours truly, cutting short an otherwise wonderful afternoon.

The best part of the day was when I was able to introduce the little ones in the family to the wonderful but little known story of Santa Claus’ younger brother, Unkalduga Claus. While big brother gets all the headlines, Unkalduga just plods along doing his important work on Thanksgiving Day. What important work, you might ask?

You see, UC visits the homes of especially deserving families on Thanksgiving. He doesn’t go in for all of the universal, egalitarian, every kid gets a trophy nonsense. There are no naughty and nice lists with UC. He understands total depravity. So his visits are all about mercy, unmerited favor. He only visits the biggest families who are packed into the tiniest houses. His is much more targeted relief than Santa ever thought about being. So, after the meal is over, and the adults are all about to climb the walls, Unkalduga Claus walks right through the door( chimneys? PUH-LEEZE), with his black bag-o-fun, gathers the kids around and hands out nerf guns to all the good little boys and girls who ate their dinner and kept the whining to a minimum. After stirring them up to a frenzy, he loudly proclaims, “So, let’s go outside and put somebody’s eye out! Who’s with me??!!”

The reason you haven’t heard of UC, is basically the fault of the biased liberal media. They never got on board with Unkalduga because there were no merchandizing opportunities. Plus, the guns thing made them nervous. They couldn’t get behind a guy who was encouraging even pretend violence. They also had trouble with the black bag-o-fun shtick, since it could possibly be interpreted as racist.

So, Unkalduga Clause toils on in obscurity. But the Dunnevant/Roop/Schwartz/Garland/Hawkins kids now all know the truth. His appearance yesterday got everybody out of the house and into the back yard. Screaming nerf bullets were flying through the cold fresh air. A remote controlled Mustang was involved. Several adults were surprised by the suction-cupped fury of a 16 shot rapid fire nerf ambush. When all the dust had cleared, no one’s eye had been put out, however…a couple of the more enthusiastic adult participants were in need of inhaler treatments.

So, another successful Thanksgiving was enjoyed by all. Now, there are only 364 more days until the black bag-o-fun makes another appearance. Can’t wait!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The End of Breaking Bad

Since it had been my son who had goaded us into watching it in the first place, we had saved the last three episodes of Breaking Bad until he came home for Thanksgiving so we could watch them with him. Thus ended the most mesmerizing television experience of my life, and now that it’s over I will attempt a summary.

Breaking Bad is at once violent and delicate. It is both a raw action thriller and a subtle exploration of the human condition. It’s a Greek tragedy with lots of explosions. It is loaded with long scenes of dialogue so quiet and powerful they will plunge you into an hour of melancholic self reflection. Yet, its most compelling character can hardly make it through a scene without using the words “bitch” or “yo.” Perhaps it’s an overused superlative, but everything about Breaking Bad, from the acting to the direction, to the writing is brilliant.

If you want an analysis of the plot, you’ll have to Google it yourself. I won’t here give much away since I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it. There are however, several scenes that have stayed with me for days. Like a good book that haunts you afterwards, I have found myself pondering these scenes at the slightest provocation:

·        The scene where Jesse confronts his encounter group with the foolishness and naiveté of their philosophy of “loving yourself no matter what.” Wracked with guilt, Jesse cries out to them, “No matter how many dogs I kill, nothing ever happens…You know why I’m here? To sell you Meth. You guys are just customers to me. You alright with that?”

·        The scene in the last episode where Walt is reduced to pushing his last 55 gallon barrel of money, Sisyphus-like, through the dessert, a scene so rich in irony, so full of symbolism it summarizes so poignantly what the entire show was about.

·        The scene where Walt reacts to Skyler’s fears for their safety by screaming, “I am the danger! I’M the one who knocks!!”

·        The scene in the basement of Jesse’s house between Walt and his very first victim, where Walt is struggling mightily with his own conscience, trying to gin up a murderous impulse. Their calming, almost endearing conversation, the eerie calm before the terrible storm created in me such tension, I literally jumped when Walt finally leapt into clumsy action.

There are so many other scenes like this that I could go on for days. Suffice it to say that Breaking Bad is populated with characters of Shakespearian complexity; the tragedy of their lives woven into a story with more twists and turns than a West Virginia mountain road. For me, the theme of the show was simple. Breaking Bad is the story of the ruinous descent of sin, of how normal, decent people can be transformed from good to evil by a series of bad decisions.  When one bad deed so easily leads to another, and the lure of power and money arrive, life can make an ugly hash of one’s moral convictions. What started out as a desperate but understandable attempt to earn some money to pay for cancer treatments and provide for a dying man’s family, morphs into a criminal enterprise drenched in blood. Towards the end, Jesse asks Walt, “Are we in the meth business or the money business,” to which Walt replies, “Neither. We’re in the empire business.” Such is the dark, degenerative power of sin.

I awoke this morning at 6 am and the first thought that popped into my head was this. If it hadn’t been for Walt Whitman…he would have gotten away with it. It's always the poets that end up getting people killed.

Monday, November 25, 2013

2013 Christmas List

It’s the week of Thanksgiving and you know what that means in the Dunnevant house…Christmas lists. So for the third consecutive year, I publish mine here on the Tempest. I must confess that I have been quite disappointed that not one of my readers has felt inclined to actually buy me any presents. But as with all of life’s disappointments, I soldier on.


·        For the third consecutive year I place an online subscription to the Wall Street Journal on my list near the top, although nobody ever gets it for me. No kidding folks, I really want this.

·        A cool hat

·        Running shoes, size ten

·        A year’s membership in the Doughnut of the Month Club

·        A health insurance policy that I can really keep if I like

·        Barnes & Noble gift cards

·        A getaway weekend at one of those serenity spas to help Pam and I recover from the final season of Breaking Bad

·        A serendipitous encounter with some big shot from the publishing world who will read, fall in love with, then publish my novel

·        Beef jerky

·        Men’s Warehouse gift cards

·        New fingernail clippers

·        Underwear

·        Loew’s gift cards

·        Any kind of gourmet coffee beans, as long as they aren’t too darkly roasted and don’t end up tasting like Starbucks

·        I-Tunes gift cards or whatever gift cards you need to download books onto my Google pad thing

·        Dean Koontz’ new book: Innocence…the hardcover, dead tree version

·        Membership to Hand & Stone message in Short Pump

·        Couple of new work out outfits for the gym

·        World peace that I can visualize. Wait, or is it whirled peas?

·        Any type of remote controlled toys with which I can terrorize the Greenwood girls at the office. Maybe one of those helicopters!

·        A new gas powered weed whacker

·        A new, more powerful gas powered leaf blower

*     A Golden Retriever Puppy

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Spot

Yesterday was cleaning day, that day just before Thanksgiving when Pam gets it in her head that before the holidays can begin, we must first scrub and disinfect every square inch of our house. The benefits of all of this cleaning are emotional only, since as soon as the Christmas decorations come pouring forth from the attic, new festive dirt will replace the dirt we just labored so mightily to remove. Nevertheless, there I was yesterday around 8:30 AM, assigned the upstairs quadrant, with instructions to make it shine.

The day was happily reminiscent of our first year of marriage when every Saturday morning the two of us would clean our tiny apartment from head to toe. Then we would have breakfast. Oh for the days of 900 square feet and a lease that included utilities! Still, we actually enjoyed cleaning the place back then. It was all a part of the playing–house syndrome that newlyweds briefly enjoy before children arrive and cleaning the house falls to number 46 on the to-do list right after “climb Mt. Everest.” Yesterday started out with something very close to that old feeling. Then I started to actually look around at the place.

When you live somewhere, it’s easy not to pay attention to the details. Our house isn’t unruly and chaotic. In fact, most of the time visitors would say that it is always quite tidy. But, when it’s time to clean and you notice that the door casings are coated with dust, and a strange brownish-yellow film has settled on the top edge of your baseboards, well…eeewwww!

So, there I was vacuuming, dusting, scrubbing toilets, sorting through the small clusters of stuff that have grown up like mushrooms after a week of rain. You know what I mean. It’s those “life piles” that you make with things that your inner voice tells you that you shouldn’t throw away just yet. After several months these piles grow to prodigious heights, yet you still can’t bring yourself to do anything about it, except to throw the ticket stubs from the movie you just went to onto the top. Well, yesterday that all ended. Sure glad I thought to save that empty tube of Blistex and the church bulletin from August 12, 2012!

Everything was going well. Pam was downstairs buffing a high gloss shine on the appliances, mopping the hard wood floors and occasionally mumbling “disgusting!” when changing the Swiffer pad. I was wiping off the ceiling fan blades, removing entire eco-systems that had settled there, scrubbing the doors in our bedroom, removing whatever that weird film was that had attached itself to every slanted surface. Then, it happened.

My maniacal door scrubbing brought me to that spot on the outside of our bedroom door about 12 inches from the floor. It was brown and worn. I stopped and fought back a wave of sadness. This was the place where Molly would shove the door open with her big nose when it was time for bed. I pictured her lowering her head and pushing through and then smiling at us as she made her way into the bathroom and its cool tile floor. I hesitated, touched the spot with my hand and thought of how much I will miss her this Christmas. Then I scrubbed it clean and immediately regretted my decision.

I have been fighting a Facebook war with Pam for the past couple of weeks, trying to change her mind about getting another dog. I have posted the cutest, most adorably irresistible puppy pictures I can find. Her response is always the same. With powerful succinctness she types, “no.” She rightfully points out that most of the day to day work associated with a new puppy falls to her. She is also correct to point out that our freedom to come and go will be curtailed mightily with a new dog, and with all of the wedding planning work to come over the next six months, house training a new puppy might be problematic. All true.

But, encountering that spot on the door reminded me that there is a spot in my heart that requires a dog. Nothing else will fill it, nothing else could.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Mourning the Loss of a Great Man

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

                                                                                  C.S. Lewis

 The news has been filled with remembrances of John F. Kennedy for weeks now, today being the 50th anniversary of his tragic death. A young, handsome President cut down by an assassin’s bullet is a searing memory for a nation, and one that is rightly commemorated. But on this day, November 22, 1963, the world lost someone of far greater accomplishment and influence. Just one week shy of his 65th birthday, C.S. Lewis passed away in his bedroom of renal failure.

I will not attempt here to eulogize the great man, or to catalogue his great contributions to literature and apologetics. I will just say that The Abolition of Man and Mere Christianity are the reasons why I am a Christian today. The brilliance of his arguments, combined with his lively, witty prose, and powerful intellect appealed to me when I needed much more than blithe and airy exhortations to “take it on faith.” For me, C.S. Lewis stands in powerful rebuke to all of the lazy, simple minded guides from my youth who tortured me with, “the bible says it, I believe it; that settles it.” When I happily discovered that he was also a world class beer aficionado, my admiration morphed into something awfully close to devotion.

So, on this day, November 22, 2013, I will note with sorrow the passing of our 35th President. But I will mourn the loss of Clive Staples Lewis.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Letting Off Some Steam

Dear Congressperson _________________,


As a law-abiding, tax-paying citizen of your district here in _____________, I have watched events unfolding in Washington with a mixture of disgust and resignation, disgust because of your gross incompetence, resignation because ultimately, there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it because your district has been gerrymandered beyond my reach. So your position and privilege has become your own personal fiefdom complete with posh offices, large staff and a generous retirement package, all courtesy of the tax-payer…but that’s a subject for another day.

The purpose of this letter is merely therapeutic. You see, we law-abiding, tax-paying citizens can only take so much. After a while, we have to let off some steam, and right now, I’m plenty steamed. Today’s New York Times informs me that although the 3000 page Affordable Care Act that you passed without reading is putting people like me through the ringer trying to navigate its ridiculously useless website, you and your 535 colleagues are sailing right through the enrolment process. That’s because you guys have a special “dedicated congressional insurance plan assistance line” to call. Not only that, when deciding which plan to choose, you and your loyal staff get the benefit of “in-person support sessions” conducted at your offices by the local exchanges and four separate insurance companies. If you’re still confused after all this one on one attention, you can always log on to a “special Blue Cross-Blue Shield website for members of congress only along with a handy exclusive toll-free number dedicated to your needs.” But this isn’t even the best part. While we, the great unwashed, have to make do with four plans, you and your buddies get to pick from a dizzying array of over 112 gold options.

Back a couple of years ago when you were trying to rally support for this law, you made a speech at the mall over in ____________ville, where you said that you would be the first in line when it came to signing up for ObamaCare, so thrilled were you to have access to such great insurance. You made a point of assuring us that if this law was good enough for the American people it should be good enough for members of Congress. But that wasn’t exactly true, was it Congressperson _____________? We might all be created equal, but the truth is that members of Congress are always just a bit more equal than the rest of us, isn’t that true Congressperson__________________?

You and your friends disgust me. It’s not your political views, not your party affiliation, not even your ideology. It’s your clueless, tone-deaf sense of entitlement, your infuriating man/woman-of-the-people shtick, your arrogant condescension, that makes me want to throw up every time I see your pie-hole flapping on my television.

Admittedly, that last paragraph was a little over the top with the vitriol but that’s the letting off steam part I referred to earlier. I don’t expect or desire a response from you or your well-staffed office, and I certainly don’t expect this letter to do any good whatsoever in improving the performance of your duties, but I’ve got to tell you…I feel much better already.




Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Terrible Photograph

This is Melissa Bachman. She is a professional big game hunter. She recently went to South Africa to hunt at the Maroi Conservatory. She posted this picture on her Twitter account with the caption, “An incredible day of hunting in South Africa. Stalked inside 60 yards on this beautiful male lion…what a hunt!” The photograph has gone viral, the indignation of the animal rights people has been intense, and she has since shut down her Twitter account.

For the most part, the arguments of animal rights groups always have creeped me out a little. Like all ideologues, their rhetoric seems overheated to the point of farce. The “cockroach has feelings and deserves due process” sort of claptrap makes them sound fundamentally insane, so they are easy to dismiss. I also have no use for anti-hunting zealots. If it weren’t for deer hunters in Virginia, no one could drive in the country at night without plowing into one. I understand the historic and cultural significance of hunting in rural America, especially here in the south and I have no problem with it. But, for me, there is something overwhelmingly terrible about this photograph.

The first time I ever went hunting with my Dad, I was probably 8 years old. We lived in Alabama and a bunch of men from our church had invited him to go deer hunting. I came along as an observer only, since wisely, nobody in Nicholsville, Alabama trusted me with firearms. I remember nearly freezing to death, and I also remember what I felt like when I heard the shots echoing through the trees. It startled me out of my boredom. When we all gathered around the dead buck, I remember vividly how beautiful he was, how powerful his frame. And then I saw his eyes, large, glistening and wide open. This eight year old felt like bursting into tears. It was then that I knew that I could never be a hunter.

Which brings me to this picture. Listen, I have no problem with mowing down any and all of the squirrels that plague my tomato plants all summer, and if I was being attacked by a lion with deadly intent I would not hesitate to kill. But, how on earth could this woman have peered through her scope at this magnificent beast and pulled that trigger? The male lion is perhaps the noblest creature on this planet, an awesome combination of strength, speed and beauty unmatched in the universe. He is called the King of the jungle for good reason. To kill one just for sport and a photo-op seems like an expensive and perverse kind of pleasure. My reaction to the picture was immediate and unanimous. I felt an overwhelming sadness and a sense of great loss. I suppose that makes me a pathetic softie.

Guilty as charged.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Thanksgiving With Dad

Like many families, ours has a policy of alternating holidays. Some years we celebrate Thanksgiving with Pam’s side of the family and Christmas with mine. Then, the next year it flips. This year Thanksgiving will be a Dunnevant affair. Patrick will be home; Jon will be here, all five of us together, which in and of itself, makes for a special day. But in addition to my five, there will be twenty others, and this year we will all be gathering at the smallest house in the clan.

Dad doesn’t travel well anymore. His safety and comfort dictate that Thanksgiving will have to be at his place. To accommodate twenty five people for a sit down dinner will require a herculean effort and a space utilization plan which will be the envy of NASA. There are only three usable rooms, and all three are filled with bulky furniture, ill-designed for hosting twenty five of anything, much less people. There is a porch, and a large yard, and if the weather is nice, I plan on spending a lot of time outside. If it’s pouring down rain, well…we will discover what Noah must have felt like. But, you have to understand, my Dad is worth it.

Lately, it’s been a struggle for him. Next month he will turn 89. He is increasingly unsteady, falls a lot, and has difficulty with almost every activity of daily living you can think of. On Thursday nights and some Sundays, I’ve been helping him with his shower. Each week he struggles along without complaint, ever gracious, ever thankful for every single thing we do for him.

Sometimes it’s hard to watch. Sometimes anger stirs inside of me when I see how hard his life has become. The anger always surprises me. My Dad has lived an amazing life full of great accomplishment. In the twilight of his life he is surrounded by a loving family, and a world full of friends and admirers. His great faith and gentle spirit are the stuff of legend to those who know him. And yet, when I watch him struggle with his failing body, when I watch the tedious effort it requires for him to do even the most simple task, I fight against the anger.

So, this year for Thanksgiving, twenty-five of us with cram ourselves into his tiny house because we are thankful for him. He will eat everything on his plate. His grandchildren and great grandchildren will hug him, and he will smile and laugh at the little ones. We will miss Mom, but none of us will miss her as much as Dad will. Still, there will be no complaining, no whining from my father, and it will be this amazing strength, this resignation, this acceptance of life as it is rather than how he wishes it to be, that will force me to let go of my anger.

I hope one day to become half the man that my father is.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Horrible. Just horrible.

Before you watch this video, I should warn you that it is quite disturbing on quite a few levels, not the least of which is its brutality. But I urge you to watch it through to the end.

For me, this video stirs a certain rage. Perhaps it’s my since of justice, my sympathies for the defenseless victims. When I was growing up, this behavior wasn’t called a “game”, but rather a “sucker punch”, and anyone guilty of delivering one was called a coward. Today, apparently, this is a thing, roving bands of teenagers randomly picking an unsuspecting, unprepared stranger and targeting him for a blindsided attack. The kids interviewed in this video are in many ways more disturbing than the scenes of brutality. When asked what the point of it all was, they say, “for the fun of it…”

My discovery of this video comes on the heels of news that the Virginia State football team has been banned from postseason play because of a fight that broke out in a bathroom during a celebration luncheon prior to the championship matchup between Virginia State and Winston-Salem. The two teams had both had tremendous seasons, both 9-1 and playing for a spot in the NCAA Division II playoffs. Winston-Salem QB Rudy Johnson made the mistake of going to the bathroom alone. A group of six Virginia State players followed him inside and viciously beat him. The championship game was cancelled, and one of the attackers is in custody.

We are constantly lectured by our political leaders that we need to have a conversation about race in America. But, these two stories are perfect examples of why that conversation will never happen. How do you ask difficult questions about this sort of behavior without being accused of racism? How is it possible to watch this video and then listen to people excuse it with airy nonchalance and academic gibberish about root causes or institutional racism?

My mind and my heart tell me that all African-Americans don’t approve of this behavior. As a thinking, informed person, I also know that there are perhaps millions of white teenagers both capable and guilty of similar behavior. As a Christian, I know that all we like sheep have gone astray, and there is none righteous. No community of people has a monopoly on either vice or virtue. But, honestly, I watch this video and I read story after story after story of unhinged, pointless and sadistic violence that seemingly runs rampant in African American communities, and part of me thinks having a conversation about race is both pointless and hopeless. The chasm is too wide and too deep.

I watch the smiling teenagers flippantly describing their new game and I shudder. Where is the humanity? What of empathy? Is there not even the slightest scintilla of compassion for that poor teacher carrying his briefcase after a long days work, walking along minding his own business? The reaction of this band of cowards to his fall is to laugh and swagger on their way. Man’s inhumanity to man is an awful thing to watch.

At this point, I have to fight against bitterness. I must guard against creeping hatred, fight off easy and thoughtless judgment, and remember that all of us possess an inhumane impulse. But God Almighty, some days it’s hard to do.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Ron Ford. The Saga Continues.

Toronto, this is your mayor.

Ford 1111.jpg

THIS is your mayor on crack.

It was another bad week for hissonor. As if a video of him smoking crack wasn’t bad enough, this week came revelations of excessive drinking on the job, cavorting with prostitutes, smoking pot in his office, and driving while intoxicated. When confronted with an accusation by a former female employee that he had asked her to perform oral sex on him, the mayor let fly a string of obscenities which roughly translated amounted to a declaration that he was getting plenty of oral sex at home as a happily married man. It has become clear that Ron Ford is breaking new ground in the field of high profile public breakdowns.

The problem for the good people of Toronto is that the government of that great city has no remedy for someone like Mr. Ford. Because they lack anything approximating our impeachment clause, the city government is powerless to remove him from office unless he is convicted of a crime. So, this week they began stripping him of his powers piecemeal. Ford is vowing not only to stay in office, but declared his intention to run for reelection in 2014, championing himself as the “people’s mayor.”

Back in 1998 during the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinski debacle, the President’s defenders constantly repeated the mantra that what someone does in their “private life” doesn’t have anything to do with their job. Those attacking Clinton for his dalliance with an intern were just a bunch of judgmental prudes who needed to get over their 1950’s morality. Fifteen years later, Ron Ford is seeing Clinton’s intern, and raising him a prostitute, a fifth of Canadian Mist, and two crack pipes. I guess it’s safe to say that 1950’s morality is officially dead and buried.

On a related note, a Canadian television station, the Sun News Network has announced plans to give Mayor Ford and his brother Doug a new television show called Ford Nation. My prediction is that it will get monster ratings. Must see TV.