Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My 54 New Year's Eve Celebrations

New Year’s Eve, 2013. What to do? As someone who has endured 54 of these babies, I feel I speak for many when I say…enough already. I am so over this most contrived, ridiculous holiday ever. First, a little history.


I remember nothing. Since I was the youngest child in a household of six which had very little discretionary income, I imagine that Mom and Dad drugged us all with Benadryl hoping to knock us out by 7 so they could get a decent night’s sleep.


The New Orleans/Nicholsville years were equally blurry. With Dad in school and Mom working in the campus print shop, we never saw much of them. However, we did have our first television. I have a vague half-formed memory of watching some sort of ball drop in glorious black and white.


In these years I was introduced to the “watch night service”, a Baptist staple for people who wanted to be in the world but not OF the world. A bunch of families with young children along with stout-hearted blue hairs would all gather at the church around 8 in the evening. A ginormous spread of Baptist cuisine would be laid upon long rows of wooden tables with paper table cloths. There would be hot rolls, fried chicken, potato salad, chicken salad, macaroni salad, macaroni and cheese, green bean casseroles galore, pies and cakes of every description, enough cheese balls to feed an army and enough sweet tea to float a battleship, with nary a drop of alcohol in sight. Board games would be played, lots of family friendly group activities would be planned. There would be a hotly contested bible trivia contest, which my mother would always win. Then, around 15 minutes before midnight everyone would gather in the sanctuary for a big prayer service. By the time the prayers were all said it would be past midnight and the deal was done.


Then I entered my young, single college years when my New Year’s Eve celebrations involved prodigious quantities of adult beverages. This too remains a blur of half-formed memories, most of which I would prefer stayed that way.


Once married, New Year’s Eve began to cost serious money. Before the kids arrived it would involve dressing up nice and going to some pretentiously expensive restaurant with limited menu choices and horrible service.


This magical year found us with a 5 year old and a 3 year old and not coincidently, very little discretionary income. Pam and I plotted a scheme full of deception and trickery whereby we convinced the kids that they would be allowed to stay up to welcome in the New Year. Lies, all lies. We cleverly turned all the house clocks up to eleven o’clock, then allowed them to parade around the house banging pots and pans with wooden spoons. Party favors were handed out to add to the cascade of sounds. The kids had that wide-eyed look that kids get when they think that they are getting away with something. Then we had the fake count down, threw confetti, hugged and kissed each other, then whisked them off to bed where they collapsed into a deep exhausted sleep…all by 8:15.  Bruhahahahahaha!!!


Thus began the era of the Dunnevant New Year’s Eve extravaganza. We would invite 6 or 7 couples who also had young children to our house for a night of games, crafts, food, movies, noise parades and watching the ball actually drop with no clock fixing chicanery. Pam was at her teacher/organizer best. I remember these years clearly as they were easily the most fun I’ve ever had on New Years Eve. The guest list would include people like the Baldwins, the Keslers, the Mcmaths, the Thomason’s and the Stroups. Great times.


These were the youth group years, the years consumed by the locust. Our house would be filled with 30-40 teenagers complete with gangly arms and legs, huge appetites, lots of zits and plenty of drama. Very fun times, but costly both in terms of money and wear and tear on the furniture. At the dropping of the ball, all 40 would be stuffed into our family room armed with handfuls of handmade confetti. The out of control boys,(Tyler Pegues and Matt Watson, I’m talking to YOU), would begin jumping up and down in rhythm to the point where the entire house would shake. Then the confetti would fly. Exhausting though it was, I always remember the fond memories that would fill out house the first hot day of the summer when we would turn on the ceiling fan for the first time, showering us with left over confetti. I still miss those kids, every one.


No little ones, no teenagers, no watch night services, but plenty of discretionary income. Now the goal is always avoiding the crowds, dodging drunk drivers and finding a decent meal. Maybe we should return to the days of clock manipulation, pretend that we’ve had a spectacular evening of crazed celebration, then collapse into bed by 11 o’clock!

I’m open to suggestions.

Monday, December 30, 2013

My Patient First Doctor

2013 is going out like with a pathetic whimper, as I have managed to develop pink eye in both eyes. A couple of days ago I woke up to discover that my eyes had crusted over during the night. This lovely condition was joined by an intolerable itch and uncontrollable tearing. Two days later I look like an emotionally unstable single woman who just spent a weekend binge watching the Hallmark Channel.

Sunday morning I drove the family through a driving rainstorm over to a YMCA in south side to hear Gordon Fort preach, despite the itching watery eyes. This should tell you something about the lengths I will go nowadays to hear a decent sermon. Anyway, I sat there the entire time, tissues in hand, dobbing my eyes every few minutes. Although Gordon’s message was terrific, I feel it necessary to point out for his sake as well as mine that it wasn’t that terrific. It wasn’t his soaring rhetoric that drove me to tears, in other words. More infection than inflection.

When I got back home, Pam insisted that I go to Patient First. I obeyed and sat in the packed lobby for two hours before finally seeing the no nonsense Indian doctor, who instantly upbraided me for wearing my contacts. Didn’t I know that wearing contacts while suffering from conjunctivitis was the worst possible thing to do?

Me: Well, er..I suppose I…

Doctor: Now you’ve gone and made it much worse! I feel certain that you have most likely scratched your retinas!!

She then began spitting out orders to an assistant and me.

Doctor: Nurse!! Get me the eye bucket. You, lay down!

She then proceeded to take charge of my case with militaristic glee, ordering people around, peering into my eyes with bright lights, poking my eyeballs with all sorts of swabs and probes, explaining nothing as she went.

Doctor: Just as I suspected!! You have a scratch on your right cornea. You are not to wear contacts again for 7 days, do you understand?!

Me: (timidly) Yes Ma’am.  

She then began feverishly writing out notes and typing up the paperwork, all the while mumbling to herself, clearly still quite upset with me for my contact wearing ignorance. Then suddenly, she took in a big cleansing breath and turned to stare directly into my bloodshot eyes. For the first time, she managed a faint, Mona Lisa smile.

Doctor: Now, you listen to me, Mr. Dunnevant. You are to go home and begin putting two drops into each eye every 4 hours for the next two days. Then you will come back here to see me again. You understand what I am saying?

Me: Yes Ma’am.

Doctor: Under no circumstances are you to put contacts in your eyes. When eyes start to puff up, place hot compresses on them. Do not scratch them or rub them. You have already done too much damage with this foolish wearing of the contact lenses.

She then smiled brightly and patted me on the shoulder. “I see you back here in two days, ok?”

I must say, as bad as having pink eye is, it was quite refreshing to encounter a decisive, straight talking doctor for a change. If all doctors were like this woman, maybe I’d go more often. She didn’t care one bit for my feelings. All she cared about was making me well again, and keeping me, the idiot, from doing any more harm to myself. Or maybe I liked her because she reminded me of what I would be like if I were a doctor. Direct, confrontational and borderline rude people tend to appreciate direct, confrontational rudeness in others, I suppose.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Pajama Boy



 I can pretty much guarantee you that the Dunnevant family won’t be doing this over Christmas. I mean, we will definitely be sporting pajamas at some point, but none of us will be caught dead wearing onesies. Chances are also rather high that hot chocolate will be consumed. However, at no point in the proceedings will we lapse into a full throated discussion about purchasing health insurance, despite this latest encouragement from the good people over at Organizing for America.

 Sometimes I think the Obamacare people are deliberately trying to sabotage their own plan. How else can one explain this nerdy millennial? Who could possibly have thought that this look would have encouraged anything other than howls of mocking laughter and derision? There he sits, wearing footy pajamas in his twenties, that “I’m soooo much smarter than any of you”, self-satisfied ironic grin on his face. When first seeing this ad, Chris Christie tweeted a picture of himself at a soup kitchen with the hilarious line, “get out of your pj’s, put on an apron and #GetVolunteering.”

Poor kid. Overnight he has become the symbol of what happens when you kick all the grownups out of the room and let the kids handle marketing. Here’s the thing, when you grow up being taught to hate capitalism, when your dream job is either with a non-profit think tank or working for government, you wind up being part of a generation who has forgotten how to…sell. Note to the hipsters over at Organizing For America, Pajama-Boy ain’t it.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Tales of Christmas Past

The Dunnevant family will be breaking new ground for Christmas this year. For the first time in our 30 year marriage, we have nowhere to be. We will be spending the entire day at home. Well, not the actual day, since we will be celebrating Christmas on the 26th instead of the 25th and…wait. Let me start at the beginning.

When Pam and I got married Christmas celebrating became a three-fold event. We would wake up in our quiet, empty little apartment and have our little present exchange. Then we would get dressed and head over to my parents house to have Christmas lunch and open presents with the Dunnevant clan. Six hours later, we would hop in the car and head over to Pam’s parents house for Christmas dinner and another bout of presents with her family. If this sounds rather hectic and tiring, imagine how it was four years later when we did it with a two year old and a newborn. Christmas with two children that require car seats gives new meaning to the term “chaos.” Back then Christmas day started at 6 am and ended around 11 pm when we dropped the kids in their cribs still wearing their winter coats, and crawled into our bedroom on our hands and knees too weak to walk.

Eventually some semblance of sanity was restored when we went to the alternating families plan of the early 90’s. This was a scheme by which each side of the family was assigned one of the two “end of year holidays”. For example, in 1992 it was determined that we would be celebrating Thanksgiving at the Whites and Christmas at the Dunnevants, so the following year it got reversed, and so on down through the years. This proved to be only marginally more efficient since on the off years, we still ended up going to the other family’s house for dessert or some such thing anyway. Since we are lucky enough to live within 20 minutes of each of our families, there’s just no avoiding the fact that Thanksgiving and Christmas are the two longest and most hectic days of the year. Making merry, at the end of the day, is hard work.

Fast forward to 2013. This year we must accommodate a fiancée and my Son’s annoying job as a paid singer in an Episcopal church choir in Newark, New Jersey. What kind of church hauls it’s parishioners out at 10 am on Christmas morning for church? I’ll tell you what kind of church…a church full of old farts with no kids, THAT”S who. Nevertheless, Patrick is contractually obligated to perform at this ridiculous gathering so will be spending the 25th driving down 95. 2013 is the latest year of the White’s, so he will arrive at their house somewhere around 5 or 6 Christmas afternoon/evening just in time for dinner and the first bout of gift giving. We will celebrate Christmas with my family on Saturday the 28th, leaving the day after Christmas, the 26th as our family Christmas. How Santa is to be expected to keep this all straight is another story all together.

It will be so weird not to have anyplace to run off to on Christmas. We can sleep late. We can take our sweet time opening our presents. We can eat the famous Christmas breakfast feast slowly, savoring each bite. Then we can lie around in our pajamas all day playing with our toys and drinking hot cocoa just like Pajama Boy in that new Obamcare ad!

Reading back over this, I have made the holidays sound like the Bataan Death March, which was not my intent. As terribly hectic as it has all been these thirty years, it has gone by in a flash. If I had it to do all over again, I would. Part of me would give anything to be able to look in the rear view mirror of my old Dodge Caravan and see the beautiful faces of my sleeping toddlers. But then the other part of me that contains my BRAIN takes over, slaps me around a little and shouts, “What, are you nuts??!!”

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Decision Time

Difficult decision to make this morning. It’s the Sunday before Christmas. Storm clouds hang ominously low in the sky. Despite the calendar’s insistence that today is the second day of winter, it’s an absurd 72 degrees at 6:55 in the morning. We got a robo-call from the Pastor of our church last night reminding us that Steve Green will be in concert today, and consequently, the doors to the sanctuary will be closed until 10:15 sharp to better handle the crowds. Essentially this means that the place will be packed with Steve Green groupies from churches far and wide, so prepare to be gracious when that group of hat wearing ladies from the First Baptist Church of Paducah, Kentucky are crammed into your favorite pew.

This is one of those rare days when attending a church with a television ministry offers tantalizing possibilities. A very viable option presents itself to me on this balmy December morning. I could enjoy a lovely brunch with my family, then get a head start on my Christmas present wrapping while enjoying the Gospel stylings of Mr. Green in beautiful HD from the comfort of my den. Of course, by making this choice, some would accuse me of forsaking the assembly, the gathering together of believers. I might counter with the observation that in less than 60 hours my family and I will be in church for the Christmas Eve service.

Then there’s the parking issue. Every time Steve Green shows up, my favorite parking spot,(on the lower level right across from the wooden steps), gets absconded by some church van from the Northern Neck. I have to fight against resentment, not a proper battle to be waging just before worship. So, one could argue that by staying home today, I will be avoiding potential resentful thoughts.

It is now 8:18. A decision must be made in the next 42 minutes. There’s no way the girls hair will be dry in time if we go any longer than that. If we do go, we will have to get there by 10 at the latest, or we’ll be sitting in the nosebleed section, and my car will be in a lot at Regency Square.

Whose bright idea was it to have Green come the Sunday before Christmas anyway? Probably Ken Van Cura. Great kid…baaaaaaad sense of timing. Now that I think about it, this thing has Sherri Matthews’ fingerprints all over it! I’m surprised she hasn’t called me to ask me to man a clipboard in the aisles when they throw open the doors!

I suppose I’ll have to make this a matter of prayer. But honestly, I’m feeling the  strong draw and tug of hearth and home. We’ll see.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Was Jesus White?

Lately there seems to have been an outbreak of truly sand pounding ignorance on the internet. You might say, “Dunnevant, I’m afraid you’re going to have to be a little bit more specific.” Fair point. Ok, over the past week or so, we have become embroiled in raging debates over the 1st Amendment rights of a millionaire Louisiana reality television star. Petitions of support and threats of boycotts are flying around Facebook faster than a Kim Kardashian sex tape. The victim in this case, meanwhile, will sell more duck calls, camouflage pants, “happy happy happy” t-shirts and coffee mugs than anyone in the 2000 year history of  Christmas retail. Such is the grave state of Christian oppression in 2013 America.

But the Duck Dynasty kerfuffle pales in comparison to the most embarrassing, infantile internet debate ever unleashed. I am speaking of course about the burning question upon which the future of civilization hangs …Was Jesus Christ a white man?

Fox news info-babe, Megyn Kelly opened Pandora’s Box when in a particularly hard hitting interview with two people who agreed with her, she flatly denied the fledgling theory that Santa Claus might have been black. Of course, any discussion of Santa’s race inevitably leads to speculation about the racial makeup of our Lord and Savior. This is where it gets tricky. Initially, Ms. Kelly seemed quite sure that Jesus was white and said so in no uncertain terms. But later, after time for reflection, offered the view that she might have jumped the gun since Jesus’ race is “far from settled.” Well…thanks for clearing THAT up.

I’m no anthropologist. I can’t even spell anthropologist. However, when I look at news footage of Palestinian kids throwing rocks at Jewish policemen on the West Bank, I see dark black hair, heavy eyes and very brown skin, exactly the sort of person who one would never see at the Commonwealth Club unless they were serving drinks. My gut tells me that if in 2013 we are debating Jesus' race, we are missing something profoundly more important about him. But, we have no pictures of the Lamb of God, so I guess Megyn is right, it’s far from settled.

So, as we enter the final Christmas shopping rush, I offer the following answer to this burning question, provided by Alfred Burt from 1951 in his beautiful Carol, Some Children See Him.

Some children see Him lily white,
The baby Jesus born this night.
Some children see Him lily white,
With tresses soft and fair.
Some children see Him bronzed and brown,
The Lord of heav'n to earth come down.
Some children see Him bronzed and brown,
With dark and heavy hair.

Some children see Him almond-eyed,
This Savior whom we kneel beside.
Some children see Him almond-eyed,
With skin of yellow hue.
Some children see Him dark as they,
Sweet Mary's Son to whom we pray.
Some children see him dark as they,
And, ah! they love Him, too!

The children in each different place
Will see the baby Jesus' face
Like theirs, but bright with heavenly grace,
And filled with holy light.
O lay aside each earthly thing
And with thy heart as offering,
Come worship now the infant King.
'Tis love that's born tonight!

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Word About My Kids

Yesterday, while eating my lunch, I brought up Facebook on my cell phone to discover that my kids had become embroiled in two of the most contentious debates in all of Christendom, Phil Robertson’s comments on homosexuality, and homeschooling. In both instances the wounds were self inflicted. Kaitlin had offered a dissenting opinion to a pro-homeschooling screed posted by a friend, while Patrick had voluntarily weighed in on the Duck Dynasty controversy by offering his own take on the subject. Neither of their opinions are the kind that will get them invited to the Focus on the Family Christmas party.

First, a disclaimer. I didn’t agree with everything either of them wrote. I registered my disagreements with my son behind the private message screen where only he, I and the NSA could see. Having said that, seldom have I felt more proud as a parent than yesterday, reading the words of my children. Pam and I have somehow managed to raise and unleash upon the world two critical thinkers, unafraid to voice a deeply held opinion, even if that opinion might not be universally admired. Their arguments were intelligent, well reasoned, and free of accusation or venom, and most gratifying to me, well written!

As a parent, it’s asking way too much to have your children agree with you about everything. The best we can do is give them the tools that help them come to their own conclusions. We hope that when the dust of their education settles, they will embrace their faith, and become fully functioning, caring human beings who will become a blessing to others and make a difference in this world.

It is true that we not only taught them how to think, but on many occasions, what to think. I make no apologies for such indoctrination. There comes a time in life, for example, when kids must know without doubt or nuance that placing their hand on a hot stove is for all of eternity a terrible idea. For me, an equally important truth is the reality of God, the fact of his Son, and the existence of transcendent truth. These lessons are more difficult to teach, and there are no guarantees that they will learn. Each one of us has to come to these beliefs ourselves through personal discovery. As a parent, you can lead them to water, but you can’t make them drink. So, you expose them to spiritual things, you try to live out an example of a Godly life the best you can, then you turn them loose into the world and hope for the best.

If you’re lucky, you even learn a few things about transcendent truth from your kids. After all, learning and personal growth didn’t stop when I graduated from college. I have learned a few things from them about tolerance, forbearance, and letting go of a few knuckleheaded ideas. They have learned on their own that some of the eternally true things I warned them about back in middle school are in fact eternally true.

Having children to raise is a beautiful thing, never more beautiful than when you pull up Facebook on your cell phone and discover that your little ones are now…adults!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Culinary Goddess

After an especially intense workout that involved 30 minutes on something called the Stairmaster 2000, I was starving by the time dinner time rolled around. The kitchen was abuzz with activity, with my wife feverishly preparing her latest triumph… although, I must say that I felt rather deflated when I saw the bag of Brussels sprouts on the counter.


It’s not that I won’t eat them. Pam, like my mother before her, has trained me to eat whatever is placed before me without complaint. It’s just that when you’re really hungry, Brussels sprouts isn’t your meal of choice. I mean, just look at them, tight, green, little balls of vegetation better suited for ammunition in a cafeteria food fight than for eating. I’m sure that they are positively packed with all sorts of life-giving nutrients. A diet of these babies would probably take ten pounds off you in a week. But on this night I was hoping for something more potatoe-y and steak-y and less…green. I smiled at her and said something like, “Looks great Hon.”

Thirty minutes later, she places a plate in front of me that would have given Ina Garten an inferiority complex. First, there was a baked chicken breast covered in a Dijon mustard, sautéed mushroom sauce. Beside that was a helping of seasoned brown rice. Just to the left of that were the barely recognizable Brussels sprouts. She had cut them all into quarters, and drizzled them with some sort of exotic oil and baked them in the oven to a caramelized brown color. There was a crunchy edge to each of them. When I took the first bite I realized that my wife is a culinary goddess. She had somehow made Brussels Sprouts taste like bacon. When I went into the kitchen after dinner to clean up, there were a couple of helpings left on the stove stop. I shoved them into my mouth with both hands…just like those cooking show judges would have done.

My wife, I think I’ll keep her!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Annoying Christmas Letter

This time of year brings to our mailboxes that hardy perennial, the Christmas letter. Accompanying a card or a family photo, this letter more often than not is typed on festive green or red paper, and catalogues the manifold blessings that have rained down on the McNugget household over the past year. We are treated to news of Junior’s acceptance into Harvard, or John’s promotion at work, along with  victories, large and small, won by the happy McNuggets in the game of life throughout the year. Reading through these letters is the literary equivalent of Pinterest, everyone’s lives sound awesome, a series of titanic accomplishments interrupted by heartwarming vignettes that make your own life sound rather empty by comparison. And, make no mistake, these letters are all about comparisons.

Well, this year I’ve decided to fight back. I have written my own Christmas letter, but unlike the garden variety brag-fest, I have taken a different approach…news of the ordinary:

Dear Family and Friends,

         Hope everyone is healthy and happy this Christmas season. I thought I would get you all caught up with news from the Dunnevant family. 2013 has been a pretty average year actually, but what follows are some of the highlights.

January was just about the suckiest month in history for crappy weather. I swear, if there had been one more day of 40 degrees and rain, I would have sold everything and moved to Key West. February wasn’t much better, and by the time March rolled around everyone at 3308 Aprilbud Place was on suicide watch. But, with improved weather came improved spirits. I ended the first quarter in good shape financially so that helped. Kaitlin was withdrawn into her thesis-writing shell, so I hardly heard a peep from her for three months. Patrick was busy accumulating grad school debt, but enjoying every minute of it, despite working two jobs and having to put up with New Jersey 24/7.

April was great. To distract everyone from the fact that I was about to turn 55, I took the family down to Myrtle Beach for a Spring Break week of family togetherness. We stayed at my friend’s condo, and had a blast. The weather was phenomenal and it would prove to be one of the best vacations ever, which was a good thing because the month of May was about as bad as it gets. My dog Molly was diagnosed with cancer and died 3 weeks later in my arms, a soul-crushing experience from which I have still not recovered. May did manage to redeem itself when Kaitlin graduated from Wake Forest with a Master’s Degree in English Literature.

To add insult to the turning 55 injury, I had to undergo rotator cuff surgery the first week of June. It was just as horrible as everyone warned me it would be, and if I had it to do over again, I probably would have put it off. But, what’s done is done. Pam was very patient with me through all the moaning and groaning, as she always is. Actually 2013 was another banner year for her, what with her new found fondness for baking gourmet cup cakes, and the fact that she once again finished the year looking younger than she did the year before. Secretly, I resent her. If this trend continues, before long some old dude at the mall is going to ask me how it feels to have such a beautiful daughter.

We did manage to have a wonderful Dunnevant family beach vacation down in Hatteras. Kaitlin’s boyfriend Jon finally managed to screw up enough courage to ask me for her hand in marriage. I said “yes” and the whole family rejoiced. While I’m on the subject, just recently my son, who is famous for withholding any and all information about his love life from his parents, arrived at our house for Thanksgiving and suddenly wouldn’t shut up about a girl he is currently dating, a positive development. As if on cue, and just in time for Christmas, his car blew up, stranding the two of them on the side of some God forsaken snowy New Jersey road around midnight. Sometimes I think that God is just screwing with me.

So, there you have it. 2013 had some good stuff and some bad. There were weeks of productivity, happiness and good health. There were also weeks of grief, despair, and raging diarrhea. I lost my beautiful, loyal dog. I watched my daughter graduate. I made lots of money and managed to write a novel. I remain married to a wonderful woman, and I put on 8 pounds during my shoulder rehab that I can’t get rid of, so it was a mixed bag.

2014 will soon arrive and I have no idea what it will bring, probably some good and some bad. I look forward to it with great delight since it’s the only life I have. Hope you and yours have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!



Monday, December 16, 2013


We have now officially entered the back stretch of 2013. The last two weeks of December take on a certain surreal character. We aren’t quite on vacation, but not entirely working either. In my case the books are about to be closed, there’s no one else to see, just a string of paperwork to complete. January will come in with a vengeance soon enough, but for now there’s a break in the action.

I’ve had a good year, and after two mediocre ones, prosperity feels better. But as always, life has cobbled together diabolical schemes to separate me from my wealth. Just last week, my son’s 1998 Volkswagen Jetta finally gave up the ghost. I had bought that car for him during the summer of his junior year in high school, and it had served him relatively well ever since. My hope was that it would make it one more semester, let me get through Kaitlin’s wedding bills before it blew up. That would have been asking too much of fate, I suppose.

So, over the weekend, I did some internet shopping on Carmax.com. I e-mailed Patrick a few possibilities. Then in a frantic five hours on Saturday, took a couple of test drives, texted him a few pictures, made the decision, secured financing, and purchased a 2011 Honda Civic. Now I have to figure out a way to get the car to Princeton, New Jersey, and myself back to RVA before Christmas. Of course, the down payment, cost of the warranty, title, taxes and fees (which one should NEVER finance), amounted to about what I had been planning to spend for Christmas. Surreal. Is it asking too much to be allowed to enjoy a season of plenty, the security of a respectable surplus in my capital accounts? Apparently so.

After the 24 hours of buyer’s remorse fades away, my good fortune becomes clearer. How blessed were we that Patrick’s car didn’t blow up on the New Jersey turnpike at 2 o’clock in the morning on his way home for Christmas? How fortunate that this should happen at a time of prosperity rather than scarcity? How much easier will it be to not have to worry every time Patrick drives his car to Newark or Philadelphia or Richmond? There is comfort in the details.

Maybe God knows me too well. Maybe he will never allow me to accumulate a suitable safety net, because in comfort I would become someone he wouldn’t like. Perhaps if I were rich I would become insufferable. Some might say I am already insufferable, a fair point. Regardless, God’s famously mysterious ways remain mysterious.

Friday, December 13, 2013


Antonio grows up on the mean streets of Newark. His father was incarcerated for selling drugs when Antonio was only six. His mother is a crack addicted welfare queen. Consequently, Antonio is left to his own devices and soon turns into your garden variety thug. At age 16, on a whimsical impulse, Antonio decides to randomly cold-cock the first old woman he encounters on the street. He does so with lethal result. Unfortunately for Antonio, the attack occurs on a street that is covered by security cameras. The tapes reveal beyond doubt that he is the killer. He is arrested and tried for murder in Juvenile Court. Even though he’s a minor, he is convicted and sentenced to a minimum of ten years in prison.

Jonathan grows up in a gated community in Fort Worth. His father earns a seven figure income as a hedge fund manager and his mother is the tennis champion at the most exclusive Country Club in Texas. They don’t particularly get along very well, but the one thing they do agree on is the fact that their son can do no wrong. His every whim is indulged from the very first day that they handed him to his Hispanic nanny until his 16th birthday, when he decides to steal a couple of cases of beer from a convenience store, then go for a drunken joy ride in his $40,000 pickup truck. Unfortunately for Jonathan, he plows into four people on the side of the road fixing a tire and kills all four of them. He is arrested and charged with DUI and vehicular homicide, and tried in Juvenile Court. Only, instead of ten years in prison, Jonathan is released into the protective custody of a swanky California retreat for therapy that will allow him to ride horses, surf, and work on his tan while getting in touch with his inner child. Jonathan’s lawyer successfully argued that he was a victim of affluenza, a heretofore unknown affliction, whose victims are insanely rich white suburban kids who have never been taught right from wrong by their upwardly mobile parents, consequently develop an entitlement complex that makes them resistant to impulse control, and therefore cannot be held responsible for their actions.

So, apparently being a spoiled brat is now a winning defense for murder. Set aside for a moment the fact that when I was a kid, being a spoiled brat served as an explanation for bad behavior, not an excuse for it. The fact that an actual sitting judge bought this argument is the real outrage here. Jean Boyd is her name. Her decision in this case is the sort of thing that historically has sent people pouring into the streets with torches and pitchforks. Her reasoning amounts to stupidity on stilts and she is a disgrace to the bench.

Everyone understands that money buys preferential treatment. It is the way of this fallen world. No legal system ever conceived on this planet has been able to free itself of its influence. But every legal system worth its salt makes the attempt at justice, strives mightily for the impartial application of the law. When this sort of case comes up, when money prevents justice so egregiously, it shakes us, or at least it should. When our legal system becomes the best legal system money can buy, the foundations of society begin to rumble. When Jonathan’s parents are allowed to casually write a $450,000 check for their son’s therapy spa vacation, but not one red cent to the families of the victims lying dead on a north Texas road, something is dreadfully wrong with our civilization.

Sleep well Judge Boyd, sleep well.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Stupid Cats!

They tell me that everyone dreams, every night. It’s just that we wake up with no memory of the dream most mornings. I suppose that’s true, although this particular scientific assertion seems to be on a par with global warming, that is, it’s safely unverifiable, therefore impossible to disprove. But, I digress.

Last night was the exception to this rule. I had a dream that I remembered in all of its terrifying detail the very second I awoke, and honestly am not convinced yet, 4 hours later, that it didn’t actually happen. I dreamed that I was asleep in my bed. OK, yes, I know this is a rather lame setting for a dream, but it is what it is. Anyway, all of a sudden, a tiny yellow kitten hops up on the bed, and props itself on Pam’s hip. The cute little thing then tries to engage me in cat play, which I steadfastly refused…it being a cat and all. For me, cats are only one or two species above squirrels in the evolutionary order. They make me sneeze; they poop and pee inside my house, and are generally disinterested in anything other than themselves. This particular kitten would not take no for an answer. It persisted in taunting me from its perch on my wife’s hip. Only suddenly it began to grow. Before my eyes, this tiny semi-adorable kitten was morphing into something very much like a mountain lion. With each growth spurt, it became angrier; its teeth longer and more menacing, the playful swipes of its paws getting closer and closer to my face. In desperation, I lifted my left leg and gave the brute beast a swift kick full into its fang-filled pie-hole. I immediately woke up to the angry protestations of my wife who I had nearly kicked out of the bed. The time was 4 am. No more sleep for me.

I’m certain that a trained Psychiatrist would have a field day with my dream. All I know is, I laid in bed tossing and turning for nearly two hours trying to convince myself that there wasn’t a mountain lion roaming through my house. Just before 6 I got up and cautiously went downstairs to make coffee, keeping my eyes peeled for strange movements. For a moment I felt that I was about to sneeze, then I thought my eyes were beginning to water. Once the coffee was brewed, reality had me back firmly within its grasp. Crisis averted.

Stupid cats!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Tis the Season

Today is audit day. Every year someone impeccably dressed from the headquarters of my Broker-Dealer shows up at my office door looking very official. He or she demands to see a few randomly selected client files. Then they want to see all of my compliance files. There’s the correspondence file, the checks received blotter, and the thankfully empty customer complaint file. Then he or she disappears into the conference room where they pour over it all looking for a mistake. Eventually they leave without saying anything except, “If there’s a problem, you will hear from us.”

Somewhere in the witches brew of my DNA is a molecular strain that predisposes me to rebel against authority. I have always struggled with the concept of having a boss, which is most likely why I ended up working for myself. Still, there is no such thing as total independence. Everyone has some form of a boss. In addition to my wife, and the IRS, I must ultimately answer to the suits at my Broker-Dealer. I do so reluctantly. I have never been able to buy into the fiction that they are “on my side, and that we are all in this together.” My view has always been that they perform their intense oversight of my business to protect themselves, not me. If I became a liability they would run away from me faster than a southern democrat running away from Obamacare in November.

Nevertheless, I never fear these annual audits for one very simple reason. In thirty years, I have never done anything intentionally deceitful to a client. I have never taken advantage of a client’s ignorance. I have always tried to do what was in his or her best interest, not my own. I say this not as a boast, but rather because merely as a practical matter, honesty is so much easier than deceit. Imagine how Bernie Madoff had to feel every time his office was audited. His mind must have been filled with tortuous worry. Would all of his schemes escape scrutiny? Would an indiscreet moment or an ill-filed report turn up? I cannot imagine having to endure that every minute of every day. Honesty allows for peaceful sleep. Honesty doesn’t require a good memory. It turns out that your Mom was right all those years ago when she warned you that if you became a liar, your lies would eventually catch up with you.

Now, this is not to say that I have nothing to fear from these audits. I am not the most organized person on the planet. My record keeping skills often leave something to be desired. But, administrative mistakes seldom get you carted off in hand cuffs. Better to be unorganized than a liar. I guess Bernie was the worst of both worlds…an unorganized liar.

When this audit is over with, I’ll have to get prepared for next week’s OSJ audit. Tis the season!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The REAL Zombie Apocalypse

Yesterday afternoon, I got home from the gym, like I do almost every day of the week. I proceeded to my routine of grabbing a bottle of water and heading upstairs to my black leather recliner where I grab my Google Nexus to check my email, track the stock markets, peruse Facebook, and check the news. Only, something was wrong. Something was very wrong. A troubling message flashed across the screen, “unable to open page, check your internet connection.”

Thus began a frantic thirty minutes of that most rare and hopeless exercise, me as an IT troubleshooter. The only thing I was able to discover was that none of the internet connection-reliant devices in my house were functioning. My computers were worthless, the television was out, and even my cell phones could not make an internet connection. To make this untenable situation even worse, my wife wasn’t home. See, in the Dunnevant house, there is only one person with the patience and technological savvy to get to the bottom of something like this, and she was at the grocery store or some such worthless place instead of here fixing the internet. Soon, Kaitlin got home. I asked her what to do. Aren’t the millennials supposed to be tech-savvy? She walked into my study and peered at the router thing with the blinking lights for a minute then confessed, “Who am I kidding? Where’s Mom?”

Thirty hellish minutes later Pam got home and began barking instructions. Nothing she tried worked. Apparently this outage was “ice storm related” and would require a visit from a Verizon Fios Professional who would be glad to service us Thursday between the hours of one and five. WHAT???!!! We can put a man on the moon, but let one eighth of an inch of freezing rain fall from the sky and our internet goes out? What are we to do for the next 48 hours for Pete’s sake? Don’t these people know that Christmas is coming? How are we supposed to do our online shopping, HMMM???

The rest of the night I walked through the house like one of those Zombie Apocalypse people, trying to find something to do with myself. I couldn’t watch the game. I couldn’t play Words With Friends, I couldn’t stalk my Son on Facebook. All of a sudden a bitter realization blazed across my consciousness.  I am a slave to the machine. Despite all of my efforts at independence, all of my vain conceits about being contrarian, I have been co-opted by big brother’s grid. My life has become dependent on connectivity. They’ve got me.

So I sit and wait for the nice man driving the Verizon van to arrive.   

Sunday, December 8, 2013

College Football, Nelson Mandela, and a great joke

It’s Sunday morning, and it’s sleeting outside. My refrigerator is full of food, church has been cancelled, and Pam is downstairs making a breakfast casserole. Clearly, it’s time for me to pontificate on current events.

For all of the hand wringing about how college football needs a playoff system, once again the right two teams will be playing for the national title. Although my gut and my eyes tell me that the two best teams are Auburn and Alabama, I do get why Florida State is number one in the polls. Although they play in a much weaker conference, they have destroyed everyone on their schedule, and they have a terrific defense. Auburn played a much tougher schedule week in and week out and their only loss came in Baton Rouge on a Saturday night where the visitors practically never win. Regular readers of this space know of my devotion to SEC football, of my convictions, (born out by the record of the last ten years), that the SEC is vastly superior to any other conference in college football. But this year, I’m thinking that their streak of dominance may be about to end. Auburn has a virtually unstoppable running game, despite the fact that although it’s a triple option offense, most of the running plays end up being right up the gut, power football. Still, no one seems to have figured out how to slow it down, let alone stop it. However, Auburn’s defense is horrendous, especially against the pass. Florida State has a great passing game and the one thing that all of the past SEC champs used to have, and even greater defense. Count me among the old geezers who still believe that to win championships, eventually you have to be able to stop somebody. My money is on Florida State.

Nelson Mandela passed away. His death has dominated the news for the past 48 hours and deservedly so. He was a great man precisely because he was not a modern man. Mandela chose to reject Machiavellian schemes of revenge and score settling when he was released from over twenty years of political imprisonment. Instead of getting even, that most 20th century virtue, he chose to pursue healing and reconciliation. This fact alone is reason enough to celebrate his life.

A political joke:

Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid got together and decided that something had to be done to improve their image with “regular, middle class types.” So Nancy says, “I’ve got an idea, let’s go buy some regular people clothes, you know…jeans and t-shirts and go into a working class bar somewhere in Montana and buy everybody a round of drinks!” Harry loved the idea, but added that as a conversation starter and to better blend in with the local folks, they should bring along a dog. So, Nancy and Harry walk into a bar in Bozeman, Montana with a Labrador Retriever and start buying everyone drinks. Everything is going great for a while, then an old gnarly looking rancher walks in, goes up to the dog, lifts its tail and stares for a minute, then shakes his head and walks out. Not long after, another old rancher comes in and does the same thing. Over the next 30 minutes, another ten ranchers walk in, lift the dog’s tail, then shake their heads back and forth and leave without saying a word. Finally, Nancy looks at the bartender and says, “Excuse me. I’ve noticed these men lifting our dog’s tail. Is this some sort of quaint local custom?” The bartender says, “Lord no. Someone’s out there running around town, claiming there’s a Labrador Retriever in here with two assholes.”

Friday, December 6, 2013

My DMV Adventure

Over the past several weeks I have made quite a few snide remarks about my frustrating experience with the Division of Motor Vehicles. I have alluded to rude and incompetent employees, bureaucratic paper shuffling, and even used my experience to illustrate what we might expect once Obamacare is fully implemented. First a bit of background.

My Mom died in June of 2012. By the time Dad’s county tags for his van had to renew in October of this year, Hanover County refused to issue new tags since my Mother had passed away in the interim and her name was on the title. So, in order to get new tags issued, I had to remove Mom’s name from said title. This would involve contacting the DMV for instructions as to how to proceed. Thus began my three week odyssey within the bowels of the dehumanizing, soul-crushing world of government bureaucracy.

Anyone who has visited the DMV knows the drill. You walk in and are greeted with a sign that says that before you can join the throngs of people sitting in plastic chairs waiting for service, you must first stand in the information line. This is a line that snakes across the back of the sterile, strange smelling room where you wait to tell a bored Asian woman why you are at the DMV in the first place, to which she says, “I not sure this will work,” then gives you a piece of paper with a number…C123. Discouraging, but at least I’m now in a plastic chair.

The man next to me has mud-caked boots and smells of bourbon at 9:30 in the morning, all the while mumbling “mo***r fu**ng government.” I decide to stand. After 15 minutes, a woman’s voice announces over the cracking PA system, “now serving number C123 at station 11,” in that halting, robotic, creepy simulated human voice sort of way. I find station 11 and am greeted by an extremely pale woman, who without once looking up from her computer screen says, “What do you need?”

I proceed to share my tale of woe. I explain my two previous visits, I detail the difficulty I’ve had with all of the incorrect instructions I have been given by her colleagues that has caused me considerable angst. I lay out all of the completed paperwork in front of her, hoping to impress her with my due diligence. There’s Mom’s death certificate, a copy of my Power of Attorney, a Title transfer and change authorization form and all of the pertinent vehicle data. The pale one looks at the forms, then without explanation disappears behind the opaque glass wall behind her. This has happened on both of my previous visits. This is the place where DMV apparatchiks go to get away from me and plot their strategy for my destruction. Whenever they return from this cone of silence, it is never good news. Bad, even sinister things always seem to happen behind the opaque glass wall. She spends a full seven minutes back there before emerging, her face a mass of complete nonchalance. She says nothing to me. Instead she begins frantically typing away on her keyboard. Finally, after another four wordless minutes she grunts, “you be paying for one year or two?” Forty minutes after entering the DMV for the third time in as many weeks, I leave clutching my Dad’s county tags proudly in my hand. I immediately went home and took a shower.

The day before my triumph, my Dad got the following letter from the DMV.


The professional government employee who typed this letter has the most coveted possession in all of America. She has a guaranteed government job from which she can never be fired. She has very generous benefits, plenty of perks and never has to compete for anything. And this poor woman can’t even spell the street name of her employer’s address correctly. …To have you wifes name refomved has become an instant classic in my house.

Yeah, I’m sure the fears about government run health care are all overblown. What could possibly go wrong?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

My Dad's Birthday

December 7th, in Franklin Roosevelt's immortal words, is indeed a day which will live in infamy. But for me and my family, it will always be a wonderful day because 92 years ago, my Dad was born. Although he's been gone for over two years now, I still think about him nearly every day. Something will happen at work, I'll hear something on the news, I'll read something about some fresh new idiot doing something moronic at a church somewhere and I will think of him and imagine what he would say. I will remember his wisdom and try to channel it. I wonder what he would think of what has become of us since he went home? What would he think of Trump?

My father was a conservative sort but he was no ideologue. He carried with him a sincere affection for FDR and a life long tender hearted love for the poor and disadvantaged. But he also had no patience for people or governments who didn't live within their means. That's it. That's all I really know about my Dad's politics. Isn't that amazing? The man lived 89 years and for much of that time had an actual pulpit rather than a bully one, and I still know so little about his views on politics. The reason for this was simply the fact that Dad considered himself a minister of the gospel first and as such a citizen of the Kingdom of God, not any Kingdom of Man. Although he was very proud to be an American, it never preempted his loyalties to the cross of Christ. May we all go out and do likewise.

The last birthday we celebrated with Dad was nothing special. We brought dinner over to the house and gave him some gifts. Luckily I thought to write what follows. It was a nice memory, the sort that warms the heart and takes away some of the longing and loss that I feel on his birthday. But I have nothing to complain about where Dad is concerned. We had him for 89 years, almost nine decades of setting the personal integrity bar a mile high for his descendants.

Tonight we will celebrate my Dad’s 89th birthday. His actual birthday is Saturday, but since we will be having dinner with him, we will have gifts tonight. Dad was born in 1924 into a world that none of us can imagine. In rural Buckingham Country, Virginia, electricity was a luxury item. The leading cause of death in 1924 was the flu, followed closely by diarrhea. The most valuable fuel was kerosene and it would be over 60 years until he lived in a house with central air conditioning.

My Dad’s father was a share cropper. No one from his family had ever attended college. By the time my father was 45 years old, he had served his country in the South Pacific during World War II, fathered four children, graduated from college, and then obtained a Master’s Degree in Theology from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, all while working graveyard shifts as a Teamster, loading trucks in 100% humidity five nights a week.

He was married to my mother for 65 years, until her death in June of last year. His health has been failing him for some time now. It has been our privilege to care for him over the past 18 months. He has made it so much easier with his easy smile, gratefulness and incredible attitude. I look at him now and can hardly imagine what it must have been like to live such a life, to start out in such humble circumstances and end up with such a long list of achievements, not the least of which was becoming the patriarch of such a large and loud tribe. But, he has managed it all without the accompanying ego that usually inhabits high achievers. He remains eternally humble and thankful for every blessing that has come his way.

Happy birthday Dad!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Why Are Farts Funny?

Since there are no earth-shattering news stories demanding my attention this morning, I am finally free to discuss a subject that has always fascinated me, that is, why are farts funny? Perhaps the question should be restated as, why are farts funny…to men?

Flatulence, even the word itself makes me want to giggle. From my earliest memories, hearing someone fart has elicited laughter from me. My best friend growing up was Al Thomason, and the two of us never laughed quite so much as when we were engaged in some raucous flatulence competition. I would like to say that those immature, adolescent days of tomfoolery are over, but although I am now 55 years old, I still laugh at the memories.

You could get ten world leaders in a room discussing an eminent threat to civilization, like some asteroid hurdling towards the planet, yet if one of them inadvertently let a loud one slip, I guarantee you they would all be laughing, except for Hillary Clinton. Woman don’t get it. All of my life woman have looked down on men who think farting is funny. It’s like it’s beneath them or something. They always screw up their faces and say, “that’s disgusting!” Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. If scientists are to be believed, everybody does it multiple times a day, making it an entirely natural, reoccurring bodily function, sort of like breathing. Only, there aren’t companies out there manufacturing remote control devices designed to project breathing sounds across the room. That’s because breathing isn’t, er, well, it isn’t hilarious! You can’t buy a breathing cushion, but whoopee cushions are the number one selling novelty gift of all times.

Here’s a thought experiment for all men over the age of 40. What is the most famous and memorable scene from Blazing Saddles? It’s my guess that 95% of you just said, “that scene around the campfire when all the bean eating cowboys started farting.” The other 5% of you never saw Blazing Saddles and therefore must relinquish your man cards immediately.

My point is that no matter how cultured and respectable we become as men, the fundamental hilarity of a well timed fart remains eternally funny. It is my considered opinion that this is an act of God. Our creator, in his great wisdom has placed within the heart of man a childish funny bone. The uncontrollable impulse to laugh at flatulence is a kind of divine comic relief, meant to remind us that no matter how terribly serious our lives become, we are still capable of laughter.

Or, maybe we men are just disgusting.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Weird Stuff My Mom Used to Say

I was with one of my dear 82 year old clients yesterday when I heard her use a word I hadn’t heard anyone use since my Mom passed away. As she was fumbling through her files looking for something she said, “fiddlesticks!” It made me smile to hear that word again, and it also got me to thinking about several odd words and phrases that Mom used that I seldom hear from anyone else. Here are just a few:

John Brown. This all-purpose word appeared often in Mom’s vocabulary. She used it as an adjective as in, “I’ll be John Brown!” I took this to mean that she was either surprised or agitated. She would also use it as a substitute curse word as in, “If you kids think you’re gonna sleep until noon on a Saturday, you’ve got another John Brown think coming!” When I was little, I had no idea who or what a John Brown was. When I learned in school about the wild abolitionist and slave rebelling instigator John Brown, Mom’s use of the term gained her considerable street cred with me. Who was this white, southern woman using John Brown’s name as a slang term??

Draw back a nub. “If you try to steal a roll from this basket, you’re gonna draw back a nub!” Although I knew she wasn’t violent enough to make good on such a claim, still there was something about the way she said it that made you think twice.

I swannee. Clearly, this word served as some sort of milder, more Christian alternative to the conventional I swear.

Phooey. At times of great or even minor frustration, Mom would let loose with Phooey! Lately, Pam has taken this word up to my great delight.

I declare. Sometimes this came out as “I do declare,” or even better, “I declare honestly.” Whenever I heard the phrase, I knew that something truly profound was about to come flying out of my mother’s mouth, and I better pay attention.

Whether these expressions were used in isolation or on those rare occasions when several of them would appear in the same excited sentence, they communicated very specific moods. And although none of us kids knew exactly what they meant, they always made us perk up. Whenever you heard something like this:

I declare honestly, if you kids don’t get out of my hair, all of you are gonna draw back some John Brown nubs!”…you knew it was time to back off.

I would give anything to be able to get her all riled up so I could hear them again.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Christmas Spirit

Christmas came to my house yesterday. Pam’s iPod was plugged into her sound dock, blasting out the Holy Trinity of Christmas music, Nat King Cole, The Carpenters, and Harry Connick Jr. Several trips into the attic filled our living room with 29 years of Christmas nicknackery. By the end of the day, garland had been hung, candles and swags had been placed on every window sill, five trees had been decorated, and the entire house had taken on the smell of Yankee Candle pine cones. The only epic fail of the day came at my expense. We have a ten foot tall holly tree in the front yard that I like to load up with those old 1950’s style lights, the big ones that get hot to the touch after being on for 15 seconds. I carefully laid out all four strands and made sure they all worked, then climbed the ladder and went to work. 125 lights later, I was done. When it was time for the grand illumination last night, the entire house burst into magnificent, festive color, except for the three feet of darkness at the very top of my holly tree. I checked the box, made in China, Hecho en China. Once again, foiled by free trade globalists and their cheap foreign labor.

So now I enter the 30 days of the year when my house looks its best. At night, a warm, inviting light bathes every room. From the street the place looks like a Thomas Kinkade painting. It’s the kind of house that a man wants to come home to, and never leave. Yes, my house will be a fire hazard for the entire month of December, one crushed bulb away from burning to the ground. But Christmas spirit is worth the risk.