Saturday, May 30, 2015

A Pain In The...????

It seems that I have made mention of my neck a lot lately. That's because it's my...neck, and necks get no respect in the best of times, let alone when they are killing you.

Redneck...a pejorative.
"I stick my neck out for nobody..." Rick Blaine, Casablanca bar-owner
Where is the dreaded albatross placed?   Around one's neck
When you are being hounded and harassed by a person or thing, it is said to be what?? Breathing down your NECK!
An extreme irritation is said in polite company to be a pain in the NECK.

So, my neck has been giving me fits for quite a while. This is the same neck that locked up on me at my Dad's funeral and had me sprawled out on the carpet in the balcony for the last thirty minutes of the service...THAT neck. I'm told that there are two bulging disks at various stages of decrepitude, along with the beginnings of arthritis. There is no remedy other than three or four neck excercizes, an occasional muscle relaxer regimen, and Advil. My doctor says not to worry since at some point it will get bad enough for surgery and that might help. I think he views my neck as part of his business inventory, a future accounts receivable. 

Meanwhile, I have these two to three week flair ups where there's quite a bit of pain and sleep becomes difficult. This morning It actually woke me up with a sharp pain at 4:30 am. "good morning, old man" were it's exact words I believe. Later this afternoon, I will apply ice. All day I will pop Advil like M&M's. I will hope nobody sneaks up behind me from the left side, since I can't turn my head that way. But, I will not follow my wife's advice to..." not do anything that might hurt your neck! " To comply with this particular edict would require me laying down on a stretcher all day with my head in one of those stint boxes. Not gonna happen.

Besides, it's a temporary flair up. Eventually, things will calm down up there and I'll be fine. She will roll her eyes at me and mumble, " idiot..." under her breath just like Deborah on Everybody Loves Raymond. Just the other day she says to me, " I don't want you power washing the deck with that neck of yours." Yes...because everyone knows that excessive power washing is one of the leading causes of neck problems in America. In fact, I'm sure that over 50% of all neck related emergency room visits are caused by men power washing their decks. Where do women get these ideas??

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Man is a Marvel.

This past Sunday, having just returned from vacation, Pam and I missed church. Later we discovered that Vander Warner had been the speaker since Mark Becton was away. So, last night I saw where his sermon was posted online. I settled into my recliner and pressed play.

There he was, in a dark suit and red striped tie, looking virtually unchanged from how he looked twenty years ago standing in that very spot every Sunday as pastor of a Grove Avenue Baptist. Now well into his 80's, he has lost nothing off his fastball, still confident and commanding. He's the kind of presence in the pulpit that makes you sit up a little straighter in your pew because he might be about to say something profound. It didn't take long...

" It is too late in human history to waste time on Sunday mornings, too late for feel good sermons, too late not to care..."

At that point he could have dropped the microphone and walked off the stage. 

In that one artful sentence, the man encapsulated every bewildered, confused thought I have ever had about the efficacy of the church over the past ten years. In that one sentence he summed up the reason for the decline of faith in the public square. 

Then it occurred to me that in all the time I have sat under his preaching, although I may not have always agreed with every interpretation, or cared for every emphasis, Vander Warner Jr. has never wasted my time. God has always managed to speak a nugget of divine truth through him, and I have always been able to hear it, because he has always communicated it with such grace and lyrical precision. 

Vander freaking Warner. The man is a marvel.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Keeping Up With the Dunnevants

Yesterday, I wrote a blog about the Duggar controversy. Ever since, I've been wondering what a reality show about the Dunnevant family when I was growing up would look like. You know what I mean, right? Lots of close shots of us kids being asked questions by off-screen interviewers, a narrator describing Mom and Dad's parenting style in a deeply concerned voice, an unseen camera recording the madness for millions of viewers every week. It would be must-see TV.

Narrator: The Dunnevant family is a loud and boisterous clan of opinionated hotheads. Although they seem to hold each other in high esteem, the parenting style of the matriarch, Betty can be summed up best with the term, laissez-faire.

(Scene shifts to a ten year old Doug preparing to walk out of the house after breakfast on the first day of summer vacation)

Doug: Mom, I'm going to ride my bike.

Betty: Well, that's fine, but you better be back here before dark. I'm not holding up dinner for you if you're not!! And if you break your leg, don't come running to me!

Tight shot of Betty's face as interviewer asks...

Many people would be appalled at the lack of supervision and oversight that you and Emmett demonstrate over your children. Does it not concern you that your youngest son has been gone all day on his bike with God knows who?

Betty: Look, Douglas was born at night...but not last night! He's ten years old for crying out loud. He knows how to ride a bike. He can take care of himself.

Narrator: But, he's been gone all day and you have no way to reach him, you have no idea where he is or who he's with. Doesn't this concern you?

Betty: Let me get you something to eat, that's crazy talk! I know where he is...he's somewhere in Elmont on his bike. He's probably either with that Puryear boy or one of the Toombs kids. When he gets hungry, he'll be back.

Narrator: Speaking of eating, some of the Dunnevant children aren't exactly fond of their mother's autocratic menu planning, since she completely ignores their suggestions.

(Tight shot of Linda, the oldest daughter.)

Linda: Mom is on a liver and onions kick at the moment, we have it once a week. No matter how many times we complain about it, she doesn't fix us anything else. We have to either eat it or go hungry.

Narrator: (breathlessly) You actually go to bed hungry??

Linda: Well, no...that would be...stupid. We eat the liver and onions.

Narrator: But, I thought you just said you hated liver and onions.

Linda: Well sure...but on Wednesday nights we either eat it or go to bed hungry and who wants to do that?

(A montage of footage appears showing the children performing various jobs around the house, many of which are physically demanding and excessively rigorous. cut to tight shot of Emmett)

Narrator: Are you at all concerned that by forcing your kids to perform so many arduous chores, you might be doing real physical and emotional damage to them and their development?

Emmett: No.

(Cut to scene of Betty clanging two pans together at the bottom of the stairs at 7 am on a Saturday morning)

Betty: Time for you kids to get out of bed and come down to breakfast! Half of the day is gone, a today is blind cleaning day!!

(Cut to scene of Linda and Paula placing dusty aluminum blinds into the soapy water of the bath tub)

Linda: Where is Douglas? How come he gets to go ride his bike all day while we slave over these stupid blinds??

Betty: Now, y'all leave Douglas alone!

Narrator: The work is relentless and seemingly never ending. The Dunnevant family hierarchy seems determined to break every child labor law ever written.

(Cut to scene of Betty and oldest daughter Linda in a steamy kitchen canning tomatoes)

Linda: Seriously Mom, why is it that you pick literally the hottest day of the summer to do this??

(Cut to tight shot of Donnie, the oldest child)

Donnie: Mom and Dad are children of the Depression, so they both think that we'll starve every winter unless we can vegetables from the garden. Generally speaking, they are both cheapskates when it comes to food. Vegetable dinners every Tuesday is a perfect example!

Narrator: You mean to tell me that you have a meal once a week of all vegetables?? No meat at all?

Donnie: Afraid so. But that's not the worst of it, breakfast is the worst.

(Cut to scene of the entire family around the table at breakfast. There's a plate of homemade biscuits, a dish piled high with bacon, scrambled eggs and some grapefruit)

Paula: Mom, why do we always have to eat homemade stuff. All my friends get to eat Captain Crunch. Why can't we have Captain Crunch?

Betty: (excitedly) Well, it just so happens that your father and I went to the grocery store yesterday and bought you kids some boxed cereal!!

Kids: WOO HOO!!!!

( Betty disappears into the kitchen and emerges with a huge box of Quaker Oats Puffed Wheat)

Linda: What the heck is this?? It tastes like styrofoam!! 

Paula: This is disgusting!!

Emmett: See Betty? There's just no pleasing these kids!

Donnie: (Grabs the box)...Give me that! Yeah, says here,"Guaranteed to induce vomiting or your money back." (throws the box to Linda)

Linda: "Made from only the finest North American styrofoam."

Paula: I wanna see, I wanna see!

(Linda throws the box to Paula, it glances off her outstretched hands and flies over her head, crashing into the china cabinet sending a fine china cup crashing to the floor)

Doug: Great hands Paula...E-6!!

Emmett: And THIS is why we can't have nice things.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Josh Duggar Scandal

Anyone who knows me well knows of my distaste for reality television. Survivor, Big Brother, Keeping Up With the Khardashians...never watched a single episode. Although my sister never misses a chance to pester me about how great Duck Dynasty and TopGear are, I've still refused to watch. And don't even get me started on The Bachelor or Celebrity Apprentice! Part of it is my stubbornness and contrarian streak. Honey Boo Boo may be the funniest thing ever, but I'm just not going to watch, partly just to irritate it's fans. But mostly, as a writer, I refuse to believe that in 2015 we've suddenly run out of stories to tell and must resort to watching the very worst of human behavior paraded, unscripted, in front of us every night. To call what happens on the shows I have listed above, reality, is one of the most disingenuous descriptions ever conceived by the mind of man. Does anyone seriously believe that the 24/7 presence of television cameras has no ability to alter...reality? Please.

So, having confessed to my reality television ignorance, the reader must keep this in mind when considering the opinion I am about to give on the scandal du jour in America at the moment...the Josh Duggar child molestation brouhaha. Although I have never watched a full episode of the 19 and Counting show, I must confess that I have seen bits and pieces of it while walking through my living room. Pam sometimes watches it, mostly in bewildered fascination at the incredulous fact that there exists a woman who willingly gave birth to 19 babies and survived. The fact that, generally speaking, the kids all seemed to get along and love each other was a bonus. The values on display in the show were also in sharp contrast to the normal narscicistic dysfunction celebrated elsewhere in the genre. For those of us who try to live a life of faith, the family's commitment to theirs was refreshing and seemed genuine. So, when the magazine InTouch leaked a police report that revealed the molestation history of Josh Duggar last week, all hell broke loose in the culture wars. Many on the left have had a field day with the story, thrilled to finally have proof of the too-good-to-be-true Duggar's hypocrisy. Conservatives, on the other hand, have largely rallied to their defense, suggesting some sort of journalistic conspiracy and pointing out that he was a minor at the time etc...and has since reformed.


I'm not about to judge an entire family by the actions of one of its members. How many of us would hate being judged to be just like our crazy lunatic Uncle Pete? Every family is a mixed bag of saints and  sinners. Actually if I had brought 19 kids into this world and wound up with just one child molestor, I would consider that fine parenting indeed. However, what I will judge the Duggar's for is allowing their family story to be exploited by Hollywood in the first place. What kind of father would agree to allow cameras to become a permanent fixture in his home? What kind of parents would trade the sanctity and privacy of their family's life for the fame and fortune of a television contract? If you allow the barbarians into your house, don't be shocked when fame starts exacting its pound of flesh. You set yourself up as paragons of biblical virtue, then you better be prepared to deal with the heat when it's discovered that one of your kids is a pervert.

I wish the Duggar family no ill will. I would hate to see the amount of dirt that could be dug up about the Dunnevant family if I made myself a target by becoming a reality television star. But, I'm sure that by now they have made enough money to provide for even their expensive futures. Maybe now is the time  to get off the fame treadmill and go back to just being the Duggar family, those crazy people stuck on the letter J.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Vacation Withdrawal

I walked into my office today at 7:20 am. It looked the same, smelled the same. It was exactly as I had left it eleven days ago. Thirteen hundred miles to the south, someone else was taking a morning run on my beach, someone else was swimming out to the float, someone else was saving a couple of chairs steps from the water.

I rummaged through the 84 e-mails, deleting all but 7 of them. I checked the real, old fashioned stack of mail, throwing away all but two pieces...both bills. There were a lot of voice mail messages, but none of them were urgent. I took a few notes, then wiped them clean from the log.

I made some coffee. It was the only thing better in Short Pump than the Cayman's. The water there isn't the best, making the coffee quite pedestrian. Plus, all the coffee down there came via a Keurig machine, that monument to capitalism and marketing whereby millions of otherwise bright discerning people become convinced that tiny cups of coffee produced individually by a machine so poorly calibrated that it cannot properly fill a mug, is somehow better than coffee brewed by the pot-full using freshly ground beans. But, I digress.

I returned to my desk and began preparing for my first appointment, due to arrive in 2 short hours. Somehow, I was going to have to wipe the silly, self-satisfied grin from my face and manage to look both professional and serious before he showed up. I went to the bathroom only to discover that I had forgotten to shave. Sigh....

My neck is killing me. While on vacation it started acting up mid-week, but I was able to manage the ill-effects because I was in the most beautiful place on earth...and the daily consumption of mudslides and pink sand beaches serve as excellent pain management therapy. Now, there's just Advil. There are a couple of bulging disks back there and the beginnings of arthritis so once every six months or so it blows up into a hot mess of discomfort.

I turn on the iPod and dial up some Caribbean music. It's horrible. Listening to steel drums on a beach in the tropics is one thing, but in Short Pump it sounds silly, childish. I quickly switch to Frank Sinatra since there is absolutely nothing silly about Frank.

The appointment goes well. By noon, I have checked off seven items that had warranted immediate attention. I glanced at the market and noticed that the Dow was down 200 points, clearly just to piss me off. The phone rings a few times. Clients with questions. I answer them. I hang up the phone and it occurs to me that exactly four days ago to the minute,  Pam and I were hanging from a parachute 300 feet above the ocean. The neck is getting angrier by the minute, a raging mess.

I pay a few business bills, prepare for a couple of reviews later in the week. By then, I'll be over vacation withdrawal. I will, right?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Magnificent Cayman's

I'm writing this, 30,000' somewhere over the Caribbean Sea, or to borrow from the great Louis CK, sitting in a the SKY! What better time than now to write about my week on Grand Cayman? 

My biggest worry in the weeks leading up to this trip was, "is seven days and nights too long?" Before you laugh consider the fact that Pam and I had never been away for this long before...ever. Our honeymoon was shorter. Would we run out of things to talk about? I mean, we do at home. When you're around each other all the time, it's easy to run out of stuff to talk about. How many times can you tell your wife about your latest pulled muscle without it getting a little boring? How many times can your wife regale you with the latest insane happenings within the education bureaucracy without you just tuning her out? I pictured the very real possibility that by Wednesday night we would be sitting at some five-star bistro, picking at our risotto while checking e-mails on our cell phones. On our last dinner I shared my fear with Pam and she informed me that she had worried about the very same thing. Then we looked at each other and said, "What the heck were we thinking???"

This place has been so glorious, such a delight, it has afforded me the opportunity to think of nothing but her for over a week. Doing so has been like a holiday from life. What happens when your mind suddenly empties itself of every care, every burden, real or imagined? You become a different person, that's what, and this new guy is way cooler than the guy you were at home. Your wife becomes that beguiling creature who spun your head around 30 years ago. You wake up on day two and realize that you're on a second honeymoon, but this time you're not a couple of witless idiots, and this time you have enough money to eat something besides oatmeal cream pies and orange soda. Sweet!!

Our hotel, the Grand Cayman Beach Suites Resort, is very nice but initially disappointed me. I planned everything about this trip, I picked the place, made all of the arrangements and did all the research, so on the taxi ride from the airport, I was nervous. It didn't overwhelm me, and for the first few hours, I felt like I had failed somehow. Our suite was very nice but the hotel itself seemed a little threadbare, a little long in the tooth, especially for the money I had paid. But then we walked down to the beach and suddenly felt much better...or at least we would, as soon as it stopped raining. Yes, after a five and a half hour flight, paradise greated us with a torrential downpour that had us fleeing to the Seven Mile Beach Bar for a drink while we waited out the storm and waited for our room to be cleaned. Our friendly barkeep,(and everyone on the Island was friendly), assured us that rain in the Cayman's was something that blew in and blew out with little notice. Before we could say, "Good Lord, look at the size of that iguana," the rain was gone and the clear blue sky opened up above us like a dream. The ocean lapped up on the perfect, shell-less sand with less force than the waves on a lake in Maine. A turquoise expanse spread out before us as far as the eye could see like a blue mirror. We both looked at each other with mouths ajar like a couple of tourists from Des Moines. The only thing missing would have been black socks, sandals, and a metal detector. We have been to many islands in the Carribean, but neither of us had ever seen such a beach. The vacation had begun!

The cab ride from the airport had disabused me of any notion I might have had of renting a car for the week. Being a British nation, everything was backwards...and terrifying. Just about the time I would finally start feeling comfortable, we would enter one of the ubiquitous roundabouts, which is English for, "what the &&$:@&8,?¡$7!!!!!" No, if we were leaving the resort it would be on foot or in one of the handy island buses, which amounted to private Caymanian citizens out to make a buck by offering to take you anywhere on the island for 5 American dollars. No need for bus stops or posted routes, just start walking in the direction you intend to go and wait for someone to honk their horn politely at you. Wave back at them and you've got yourselves a deal! This arrangement was literally the only affordable thing to be had in the Cayman's. The cost of living here is outrageous thanks to all the American tourists willing to pay 20 dollars for a tuna wrap, bag of chips and a flat soft drink. But, you know that going in, so you have to mentally prepare yourself to overpay for everything. Oh, and then there's the relentless problem of having to constantly perform math. Prices are generally posted in Cayman dollars, which are worth .80, but everyone accepts American dollars as well. So, when you find yourself pleasantly surprised that the green fee for nine holes of golf with rental clubs is only $80, you're only allowed to be shocked once when the nice man behind the counter asks you for $100 American.

But that's the only thing bad I can think to say about this place. In every other way it is truly a paradise. The people are friendly beyond description. The streets are safe and clean. Almost every night Pam and I would leave the hotel grounds and walk somewhere, and never once did we feel threatened. You try leaving your hotel in Jamaica after dark and your experiences wind up being made into a Lifetime movie starring Valerie Bertinelli!

We began every day by parking ourselves in our nifty resort beach chairs, featuring a retractable roof which could be raised and lowered as needed. With the temperature each day topping out at exactly 86 degrees, this little convenience was worth it's weight in gold. About every twenty minutes or so one of us would say, " Time to get wet." Then we would walk ten steps towards the beach, take another five steps and suddenly we were up to our chests in clear water, so clear you could see your toes against the white sand bottom. Heaven.

At least once before lunch the drink-boy (me) would walk up to the Beach bar and order up either a Pink Sand Beach or a Mudslide and bring it down as a surprise. Pam was quite impressed. Then we would apply for a line of credit on our house so we could have lunch beachside. I'm mostly just kidding...Each evening we would do something different. One night we took a catamaran ride across the Cayman Bay to Rum Point for a romantic dinner. Incedently, on the Cayman's there are no other kinds of dinners. We never ate at the same restaurant twice, and each was a wonder. 

Along the way there was snorkeling. But this was exclusively a Pam thing. She was amazing at it, gliding out there fearlessly. Twice before I had tried, without success, to snorkel. Each time I had the same result, a lung full of salt water. Apparently, the combination of my facial hair and my "face shape" does not lend itself to a pleasant snorkel experience. I went back to the Red Sail Sports desk to inquire if perhaps they had a larger mask to accommodate, aristocratic nose. I was told that they used to have a special size HH mask, (huge honker) but had gotten rid of it ever since Barbara Steisand stopped visiting the island back in the 80's.

One day we made our way into Georgetown, the capital city. We bought two tickets for a submarine excursion out to the coral reef, and got to view it up close from a depth of 107 feet. Then we had lunch at a famous local place called Guy Harvey's. Food was excellent, but the house music was about the most horrible, but hilarious soundtrack...EVER. First, there was a local Caymanian artist doing a synthicizer and steel drum version of a Captain and Teneal number called "Love will keep us together." Not to be outdone, another local artist provided his soulful reggae-elevator fusion take on Steely Dan's "Do it again." This was music to die a slow death to, the kind of music you would expect to hear through the loudspeaker at the Montego Bay Wallmart. We couldn't get back to the beach fast enough!

Our last full day was perhaps the best. I took Pam up in a parasail from which we could see the entire island. It was magnificent. We even saw a turtle on the surface, lime green in color, lumbering 300 feet below us. For a minute I thought Pam would cry, she was so happy.

This morning, we both got up extra early so we could spend some time on our beach, wrenching the last few drops out of our time here. I went for a run on the beach. Pam snorkeled some more and saw another turtle. After she went in to shower and pack, I swam out to the fifteen foot float that was secured out a ways in front of the hotel beach. I laid on my back and closed my eyes, rocking gently in the soft current. What a week this has been, I thought. Best money I have ever spent.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The World at 5 AM

For the second consecutive day I have awakened at an absurd hour. Yesterday it was 5:30, today 4:30. Man was not created to be awake this early. It is unnerving, and deathly quiet. Both nights I have slept well, and both nights I retired later than usual. Still, once my eyes pop open, there's no going back. So, I brew some coffee, start reading the news and an hour and a half later it's still too early to be banging about the house since my wife is up there enjoying the deep, peaceful sleep of the just.

Lucy is not impressed with me at the moment. She's been sleeping on her downstairs bed of late after her life-altering encounter with our bedroom ceiling fan. Pam accidentally turned it on a few weeks ago when Lucy was laying on the bed and the poor girl nearly killed herself fleeing the room in terror. Before that Lucy had decided that sleeping in the bed with us was just about the greatest thing ever. No more.  She enters our bedroom with extreme caution these days, keeping a wary eye on the five-fanned menace overhead. Anyway, the last two mornings I have stopped to pet her after coming downstairs. She seems puzzled at my presence as if to say, "Dude...what's it, like 4 in the freaking morning??" Still, obeying some centuries old instinct, she begrudgingly follows me about while I putz around in the kitchen, then sits at my feet at the sofa. When I ask her to jump up and lay down beside me, this is apparently a bridge too far. " What? You expect me to leap? At this hour?" She's had enough of this foolishness, and disappears.

There are advantages to being an early riser, I'm told. Lots of time for reflection, reading, and prayer, not to mention all of those worms that we early birds have the monopoly on. Speaking of birds, there are a couple outside having a raging debate about something. So much for the deathly quiet. Back and forth, back and forth, it's quite intense. I wonder what they are saying to each other? Is it a conversation or an argument? Sounds like one of them is pissed. "How many times have I told you look before you poop??!!"

Today is my last day of reality for awhile. Tomorrow morning Pam and I will be flying out to the Grand Cayman Islands for seven days, celebrating the first anniversary of our 30th wedding anniversary. I haven't looked forward to anything quite so much as this trip in a long time. Maybe that explains my early wake ups. But today will be long and stressful with all the last minute stuff that you have to do before leaving town. I've got an important appointment to start my day, then it's twelve items to check off my list including things like:

1. Make sure you call Capitol One to let them know that you're leaving the country for a week.
2. Go by the bank and draw out some cash.
3. Get all of your traveling papers ready.

The greatest thing about this trip, besides the fact that I will be spending it with the most beautiful and amazing woman in the world, is the fact that I won't have to pack one single solitary pair of long pants. Let me tell you something, if you're going somewhere for a week that doesn't require long pants, you are going someplace...niiiiiice!

Ok. Great. It's finally 6 o'clock.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Is America 70% Christian?

There has been much talk about a recent nationwide poll that reveals that the number of Americans who self-identify as "Christian" has dropped to 70%, the lowest such percentage since these types of polls have been asking the question. It should be noted that the methodology employed by the pollsters might raise questions about its accuracy. The subjects were contacted using land line telephone numbers. The last time I picked up an actual ringing land line in my home was when George W. Bush was still in the White House! But if anything, this methodology would have the result of yielding more traditional Christians than fewer since it would favor older respondents. So, I find the results of the poll to be believable. So, what's the big deal?

The suggestion that America is becoming less and less Christian in nominal terms should surprise absolutely no one. Over the past twenty five years, the Catholic Church has been decimated by a priest sex scandal, no doubt disillusioning many. Mainline Protestant churches haven't faired much better, with practically every denomination experiencing declines in membership and attendance. And yet, in my part of the country, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting one of those strip-mall churches that have sprouted up like mushrooms after three days of rain. They are everywhere, in schools, old Seven-Elevens, abandoned warehouses, with names like "Velocity" and "Movement"...sounds exhausting! These non-demonization, mini-congregations offer church for people who wouldn't normally attend one, I'm told. Either that or they serve as a place for people to go after they got tired of their old church. Either way, it seems that less than gaining new converts, modern Christianity has become a mile wide and an inch deep. So, 70%? I'm thinking that might be a little high.

I have no answer to the problem of the declining popularity of Christianity. Partly because I'm not even sure it's a problem to begin with. Whoever said that being hugely popular and mainstream was so great? I can make a case that the Christian "church" was much more effective at changing people's hearts and minds and transforming lives back when we were a persecuted band of outcasts. ( See the Book of Acts ). The beginning of the end for transformational Christianity began the night that Constantine saw the comet and Christianity began its long ascendancy to power and wealth. Seems to me that even Christ himself warned us that, "broad is the way that leads to destruction and many will find it, but narrow is the way to the Kingdom of God and FEW will find it," ...or words to that effect.

Maybe Christianity has tried to get too cute with all the jazzy entertainment driven services, or maybe not. Maybe prosperity gospel heretics like Joel Osteen have muddied the theological waters so as to make sacrificial Christianity unrecogizable. Or maybe, in this new era of relativism, any dogmatic orthodoxy will naturally fall out of favor. What do I know? I'm no expert.

But, there is a sense in my heart that something is wrong. It's as if the Titantic is sinking and the
Christian Church is busy rearranging the deck chairs. I live in a world that is morally unrecogizable from the one in which a I grew up. I watch my cities on fire with discontent, read stories of truly epic corruption and self-serving in the halls of power. But when I go to church I hear sermons with little relevance to what I see happening around me. There is no connection to the real world, only my more secure, less violent slice of it. That's not comforting, it's boring.

70%? Yeah, definitely on the high side.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

My Favorite Part of Life After 50

And favorite part of life after 50, the annual physical exam. In my case it's more like the bi-annual physical exam but you get the picture. This is that prudent, responsible, adult thing we are shamed into doing by our wives once we reach a certain age, whereby we haul ourselves to the doctors office so he can measure the degree of our decline and check us over for any new visitations of decrepitude. "Wait, what's this new weird looking mole on your back Dunnevant? That doesn't look good!"

I'll get weighed. Then they actually check my height, I suppose to discover if I have begun to shrink since I haven't grown an inch since tenth grade. My blood pressure will get checked. It will most likely be slightly elevated. Bi-annual physical exams will do that to a person. Then they will take a blood sample to check for a variety of things. They will discover that I am not a drug addict. Then I will pee in a cup and they will discover that I don't smoke and that I had asparagus for dinner last night. All of this stuff happens before I actually see my doctor. The nurses are all angels, smiling all over the place, bouncing around with the enthusiasm of teenagers. Some of them look like they could be teenagers. I've got wrinkles older than some of these women.

Then the Doc comes in. He's the same guy I've been going to since I got married 31 years ago, and man has he aged! Good guy, decent bedside manner, goofy smile and a slightly annoying whiny voice, but good egg. He smiles at me and tells me I look great. " Good  to see you're keeping the weight off. You should see some of the tubs that waddle in here asking why their blood pressure is through the roof as they munch on a snickers bar!" The good part about having the same doctor for 31 years is that they know everything about you. The bad part is...they know everything about you and never fail to remind you about the time that they had to prescribe you that "mystery medicine" before your 13 hour flight to Hawaii at the request of the wife. The generic name was unrecogizable, and at first I thought it was a placebo, until my wife informed me that I had been given Valium to keep me in my seat for the duration of the trip. After all these years he still thinks that's an hilarious story. I fail to see the humor.

So, hopefully after this $275 exam I will be given a relatively clean bill of health...along with an admonition to schedule another colonoscopy since its been seven years since my last, and that I should probably head back to my cardiologists for another one of those ultrasound thingys of my heart. I will promise him that I will and then immediately banish the thought from my head until a few months from now when Pam will pester me into following through.

But here's the good news. I will tip the scales this morning within five pounds of my wedding weight. I still have plenty of hair. I can still see and my hearing is fine regardless of Pam's complaints to the contrary. Not exactly Hercules, but I'm no Homer Simpson either. 

I'll take it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Our Wedding Anniversary Trip

Last year this time Pam and I realized that our 30th wedding anniversary was about to happen, but neither of us were at a place where an elaborate celebration seemed either appropriate or possible. We were hip-deep in planning Kaitlin's wedding and my father was in the final stages of his life at the Westport nursing home. We made the mutual decision to postpone the celebration until this year.
That has given me an entire year to plan a trip. The two of us haven't been out of the country, just the two of us, in quite a long time. Can't wait. 

It's not hard to believe that we have been married 31 years. Actually, it seems about right. What's hard to believe is what we've managed to do in those 31 years. We brought two babies into the world, knowing virtually nothing about parenting except how to become one. Despite our manifest ignorance, both children survived. Towards that end we were assisted by two wonderful, wise and generous families who were there every step of the way to offer aid and comfort. Looking back on those early years, I can't imagine how we would have managed it all if we lived in Kansas somewhere, a thousand miles from both of our Moms. People do it all the time, I'm told. Just glad we didn't have to.

Raising Patrick and Kaitlin was the hardest but most noble thing we have ever done. We made lots of mistakes along the way. Parenting is a giant trial and error experiment. Stuff that works like a charm on one of them flops on the other. But you keep plowing ahead, mistakes and all. You learn to rely on others. A church comes in handy in that regard. Our kids were nurtured every Sunday by able and loving teachers like Mark and Joann Terlep and Larry and Diane Collawn. They were fortunate to be a part of a youth group led by a youth pastor, Jeremy Welborn who loved them both and helped them find a place. Still, it was no guarantee that they wouldn't turn out to be hooligans. You spend half of your life as a parent second guessing yourself, and the other half praying that God won't punish them for your failures. 31 years later we look at what has become of them and we can't help but feel proud and grateful.

But raising two great kids isn't the only thing we have to show for our time together. I'm still in love with her, for one thing. I think I'm a better person now than when I first got married, and most of that is because of her. I'm not the easiest person in the world to live with, what with my antsy, can't stay on task for more than ten minutes, neurotic behavior most often associated with adolescents. My risk-taking personality has given her logical, organized, planner personality fits for 31 long years now, and yet...somehow it has all worked.

So, we will go away to a tropical paradise for a week. We will do whatever the heck we feel like doing. And you know what? We deserve it!

Oh, and just in case anyone is reading this and thinking since we will be out of the country for a week, it might be a good time to rob our house? I should probably point out that we have employed a full time dog-sitter for the week named, "Max the mule-skinner Monroe" , or " Spike" to his friends...and if you try something while he's here, you will not be his friend.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Evil Words of the Internet

There are two words in the English language that I have grown to hate, a third that I fairly despise. These are the words that strike terror in my soul. When they appear, very bad things happen. I see them and my heart sinks, my disposition sours and great lamentation is sure to follow. These words have the power to transform me from an efficient, productive businessman into an incompetent, bumbling idiot in a matter of seconds. At the mere appearance of these words on my computer screen, I feel isolation, frustration, then anger. Which words am I referring to, you ask?

                      USERNAME,    PASSWORD,   and their evil cousin...PIN

To get anything done on a computer, one has to identify oneself. I'm not an idiot, I understand the way the world works. There are bad people out there who would love to steal my identity and go on a shopping spree at my expense. So, every website that I frequent for either work purposes or for pleasure requires me to prove that I am, in fact, who I claim to be. To accomplish this, I am asked to provide my USERNAME and PASSWORD.( ok, for the rest of this blog, I'm gonna use U & P...just typing these words is giving me the creeps ). 

So, I cast about trying to come up with a U & P that is at once familiar to me but difficult for some would be identity thief to decipher. To aid me in this effort, I am given special instructions that look something like this:

" U & P must be no fewer than 8 characters and must include both lower and upper case letters, no fewer than two numbers, plus at least one symbol."

So, I fool around with several permutations of dog names, birth dates and street addresses and finally 
enter something that I have at least half a chance of remembering, then get a flashing message that says words to the effect of, " Your U & P really suck! I mean a third grader could figure them out!!" So, it's back to the drawing board. Finally, fifteen minutes later, I manage to enter something marginally acceptable at which I am greeted with a drop down box filled with, "personal identification questions." Wait, what? I thought the whole purpose of the U & P nonsense was to prevent unwanted access from someone other than me. Now, I have to run the gauntlet of personal questions? I must pick three out of a long list of trigger questions:

1. Mother's maiden name
2. Name of first dog
3. Favorite sport
4. First name of closest gay relative

Finally, I'm approved! Then the computer asks me the blessed question..."Would you like to save this U & P?"  My God, YES!!!! You have no freaking idea how much I want this computer to save this U & P!!!! But...there's a problem. Because my computer has done me the great favor of saving this information for me, I never again have to enter it myself, which means it immediately enters the ether, along with the million other things that I have permanently forgotten. Even this isn't a problem, until I try to access this site from, another computer! When I do this, I am always at a different location. So when I try to access say, Expedia, from my iPad, I am restricted from doing so, because all my U & P information is stored on my work laptop! 

See, I know what all of you computer geeks are thinking out there. I can practically feel your judgement and ridicule. " Why don't you write all of your U's & P's down on one piece of paper or
even on some handy storage device so you will always have them available?" Already did that, and
it's three pages! I actually counted them last night. I have 67 different sets of U's & P's to keep track of. Most of them are work related and since I work in the investment business, we are legally obsessed with the privacy of data. You can imagine how complicated and bizarre the U's & P's have to be to enter some of the websites I have to use. My three page cheat sheet is about as dog-eared as the Dugger's family bible.

But the worst thing that happens to me is when I successfully enter a U & P, think I'm home free, only to be greeted by that ghastly formulation: "Please enter your four digit PIN."


Or, even better..."For security purposes, we require that you change your U & P every six weeks. Please enter a new U & P. And this time, try not to suck."

So, I enter, " YourCOMPAny BLOWS&$@#2 "

" Sorry. Someone has already used this Password. Try again."

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Whiplash.....a review.

I saw an incredible movie last night. It starred one of my favorite actors, J.K. Simmons, which was reason enough to watch since he has never been in a bad movie or given a bad performance. It also had a music theme, jazz, to be specific. So there was a lot to recommend...Whiplash. But as the credits rolled after an hour and forty five minutes I simply did not know what to think.

It was a mesmerizing thing to watch. Simmons was brilliant. His performance was taut and crackling with intensity. Every time he entered a room dressed tightly in black I feared him. He plays a jazz band conductor at an elite music conservatory in New York City who begins all of his classes at the stroke of the hour. The players all look utterly terrified, not just of playing a sour note, but even being noticed by this profane, raging volcano of a man. Early in the film he happens upon a 19 year old freshman drummer practicing alone in an empty room. He takes an interest in his evident talent and the rest of the film tells the story of how this man goes about trying to draw the very best out of the kid. Simmon's tactics are...shall we say, a bit light on affirmation.

Terence Fletcher is a bully. His preferred teaching technique seems to be humiliation. He is violent, abusive and a world class devotee of imaginative profanity. As you watch him do his thing you begin to hate him. No one, no matter how talented should have the authority to be such an asshole. No amount of giftedness can possibly excuse such cruelty. And yet...

 Fletcher is a character that is well known throughout the history of mankind. It's the lunatics of this world who produce the most astounding works of art. The men and women who have demonstrated the willingness to go beyond good to relentlessly pursue great, are the ones who end up as legends. It's just not much fun to watch. Fletcher seems obsessed with the story of young Charlie Parker who allegedly had a cymbal thrown at him by the drummer Jo Jones after making a mistake on his sax solo. According to Fletcher's telling, it was this humiliation that fired Parker to become a more committed, determined musician and was ultimately responsible for his genius. Maybe. Something tells me that true musical genius has less to do with 20,000 hours of practice than it does with genetics, but that's just me. But, as you watch the ferocious, abusive techniques employed by Terence Fletcher and the disastrous consequences it has on young Andrew Teller, you find yourself thinking, "Would it kill this guy to give the kid a compliment?"

The most memorable line in the film comes when Fletcher tells Teller, " There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job." Not exactly an epitaph most people want on their tombstone, but for the pursuit of artistic greatness perhaps there's a grain of truth. 

As I watched this movie I couldn't help thinking about Sherri Matthews. No, she was not an abusive, profane maniac. But she didn't exactly have much patience for mediocrity either. She did give compliments, but never false ones. She instilled a healthy fear in her students, not fear of failing, but a fear of laziness, a fear of the consequences of not giving their best effort. Her high standards and exacting demands created an environment that produced beautiful, award winning music and inspired more than a few musicians on to bigger and better things, my son being one of them.

Maybe Jazz is different. Maybe Fletcher's style is required to root out the good from the great. If so, no wonder so many jazzmen kill themselves!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

What Free People Do

A few days ago I wrote a blog about the shooting in Garland, Texas. In it I questioned why anyone would want to stage a "draw Muhammad" contest with a cash prize of $10,000. It seemed gratuitously insulting to people of the Muslim faith. I stand by that opinion. But what I have been reading since about the reactions of many on the left to this incident is disturbing to me, so I feel the need to clarify a bit.

Whenever I see the Westboro Baptist Church in the news, I feel the need to take a long hot shower. These people show up at the sight of extreme pain for some family who has just lost a child, or a young woman, or a soldier. They stand on a corner somewhere within earshot of a private funeral and begin chanting the most vile, hateful filth, the intent of which is to provoke a reaction. They carry signs  claiming that God is delighted with the death of yet another pervert. It makes me want to hop on a plane, fly out there and wipe the street up with them. 

But, do I want them silenced? Do I want my government to be vested with the power to lock them up for their ignorant rantings? No. A million times, no. Why? Because I do not live in Castro's Cuba or Stalin's Soviet Union, Mao's China or the Germany of Adolph Hitler. The most precious thing in the founding documents of my country is the Bill of Rights, and the first of those rights is Freedom of Speech. If this guarantee has any meaning at all, it must protect all speech, especially the ignorant and vile. We do not need a Bill of Rights to protect the public reading of a Shakesperian sonnet or the soaring speeches of Martin Luther King. We need a Bill of Rights to protect us against a government who arbitrarily decides what kinds of speech it wants to silence. The price of this freedom, this dearest of human rights, the right of self-expression, is the tolerance of opinions that we loathe.

That's why I am against any high-minded attempts to carve out exclusions, to cordone off certain groups, to mark as off-limits any group, no matter how marginalized or dangerous they may be. Sorry, that's just the way it has to be in a free society.

So, let the Westboro folks carry their signs. Let the full light of day illuminate their wickedness for all of us to see. We can all make our own judgements on what we think of them. We are free people and that's what free people do.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Strange Bedfellows

Color me cynical, but when Barack Obama and Mitch McConnell both desperately want the same thing, you better grab your wallet, because we're about to get royally screwed.

That "thing" is fast-track trade authority. The President wants it and McConnell wants him to have it. It will give him the right to negotiate trade pacts, particularly the Trans-Pacific Partnership, without congress being able to gum up the approval process with endless amendments. On this one weird issue, a bizarrely suspicious coalition has grown up in Congress which places the President in the awkward position of being in cahoots with the Republican establishment on one side against a handful of Republicans and almost the entire Democrat party on the other. It also places me temporarily in the nauseating position of being in agreement with the single biggest dirtbag in the history of politics...Harry Reid.( I may have to wash my fingers for an hour after typing that last sentence.)

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is basically NAFTA for the Asian world. I don't want to leave the impression that I am well versed enough in the field of economics and global trade policy to site chapter and verse on something as large and complicated as T-PP, but after seeing the benefits of NAFTA, I want nothing to do with "son of NAFTA." What were the benefits of NAFTA, you ask? Basically it was a windfall for manufacturing Mexico. 

So, while the political establishment will hail the passage of T-PP as a triumph of bi-partisanship, I'll take gridlock any day of the week.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Father Knows Best

This past Saturday, I was visited by the mother of all allergy attacks. After a morning of cutting the grass and taking Lucy for a three mile walk, I apparently inhaled just the right amount of airborne allergens to trigger an entire afternoon and evening of world class sneezing. When I was in my twenties, this sort of thing would happen several times a week during April and May. Then I visited a specialist who administered a round of shots that essentially delivered me from my misery. Still, every once in a while I have an isolated relapse.

My poor wife had to suffer through along with me because of something I learned from my Dad. He was of the belief that if you tried to stifle a sneeze, dire consequences would follow. He would warn us that if we held back a sneeze, we ran the risk that we might blow our brains out of our ears. As a kid, I kind of knew he was kidding, but to hear my Dad sneeze made a believer out of me. It would shake the house! He held nothing back. Mom would fuss at him because it would scare her to death!

All these years later, I'm still a heavy sneezer. Saturday I put on an epic display. By the time dinner rolled around, Pam very calmly turned to me after a particularly forceful effort asking, "Is that really necessary?" Bless her heart.

Around midnight, my fitful sleep was interrupted by...well, there's no need to go into the gory details. Suffice it to say that more Benadryl was needed...STAT. So, I went downstairs, not wanting to wake her up. I threw a couple of the tiny pink pills down, then laid on the couch waiting for relief, a box of tissues in hand. Then it happened. I could feel the pressure building, the slight tickle somewhere deep inside my beleaguered nasal passages. This was going to be huge. I scrambled for a clean tissue, a couple of tissues. Despite being downstairs, I sensed that this particular sneeze might have sleep interrupting characteristics not only for Pam but for the neighbors. I remembered her plaintive plea, "Is this really necessary?" So, against my every instinct, I slammed the tissues over my mouth and nose stifling the mighty force rising within me. Just like the recoil from a shotgun blast, the sneeze lifted me six inches off of the sofa...whereupon I felt a pop. I had pulled a muscle between my shoulder blades. The pain was immediate and excruciating. I might not have blown my brains out through my ears, but pulling a muscle in my back is the next worse thing.

Once again, Dad was right. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Don't Mess With Texas?

Texas is different. Although it's a southern state, it's different than the South. It's part of the American West, but it's different than the West. Everything seems bigger there. You order a steak there and they bring you a 20 oz. by God steak. Texas is big on confidence, attitude and pride. If any state could conceive of holding a "Draw Muhammad" contest and offer the winning cartoonist $10,000, it would be Texas. If any state could come up with the idea of inviting famed Dutch politician Geert Wilders to be the keynote speaker of the Draw Muhammad contest, it would be Texas. This is how they roll in the Lone Star State.

So, overnight in the Dallas suburb of Garland, the latest front in the War on Terror was opened. Two heavily armed men attempted to storm the community center where the cartoon contest was being held. One security guard was shot in the leg, and very soon afterwards the two men were sent to their 72 virgins. The Curtis Culwell Center was placed on lockdown. Inside, the 100 or so attendees lifted a prayer for the injured security guard and sang patriotic songs. 

I found most of these details not from the Associated Press version of events which was remarkably light on crucial details, but from the huge spread, complete with at least a dozen pictures, in the British newspaper, the Daily Mail. I have found this to be consistently true when it comes to reporting on terrorist attacks. American news outlets have a hard time forming words into coherent sentences when reporting on anything having to do with Islam, so tortured are they by ambivalence. On the one hand, they want to report the facts, but on the other hand, they walk carefully through a mine field of their own construction, strewn with potential trigger words and micro-aggression phrases that might land them in the progressive doghouse.

I am left with two conflicting emotions towards the news from Garland. On the one hand, I fear that this sort of thing is now here to stay, bands of radicalized ISIS sympathizers roaming my country avenging the Prophet's honor. With our porous southern border, I suppose it's inevitable. Although at this hour it isn't known whether the two gunmen in question were new arrivals or home grown, it doesn't much matter. America the beautiful may have become the new battleground.

The second, competing emotion I feel is embarrassment. Something called the American Freedom Defense Initaitive(AFDI) sponsored this event. It's leader, a Pamela Geller claimed that the event was necessary as a response to the "jihad against free speech." I feel relatively certain that the 100 people who attended would all consider themselves to be born again Christians and patriotic Americans. So, why does this whole thing feel so tacky to me? I mean, I'm as patriotic as it gets, and certainly no fan of radical Islam, but offering 10 grand to the person who can best humiliate the followers of someone else's faith in the name of freedom of speech seems less about free speech and more about rudeness to me. Listen, just because we have free speech in this country doesn't give us license to wield it like a club. Do I have the constitutionally protected right to draw a cartoon of Muhammad? Certainly, I do. Should I make a big bragging show of that right by going out of my way to intentionally humiliate Muslims? Not if I have...manners.

The primary difference between the liberal, civilized western world and that of the 7th century ISIS types is one of confidence. ISIS cannot deal with the freedom and enlightenment that has evolved in the West over the past 200 years. They feel threatened by the free world. We should have the confidence that comes with the technological advancements and human rights victories won in our part of the world. A confident people don't need garish events like the "Draw Muhammad" contest in Garland, Texas. A confident people need not humiliate others to feel better about ourselves. 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream

Last night I had the strangest dream...

I found myself at what appeared to be a high school, where I was late arriving for a speech being given by a man who used to work for Life of Virginia 25 years ago. By the time I finally found the auditorium, the place was packed with people I haven't seen in at least that long, all from my days with that deceased company. The weird thing was that all of them looked like they did back then. No one had aged, except me. Not only that, but the speaker was talking about some new product they were introducing, and his pitch was so chocked full of lies and distortions that I found myself challenging him from my seat in the back..."What a crock of crap!!" I heard myself yell accompanied by a collective gasp from the crowd. I proceeded to inform the crowd of what total bulls**t they were being fed since the product the guy was introducing would turn out to be a colossal failure resulting in endless litigation and the eventual sale of the company to General Electric. 

Unfortunatley, my sage warnings were not well received by the speaker or the crowd. I was roundly booed. Epitaphs began flying around..."it's just Dunnevant, he's always such a contrarian douchebag!"

After the speech, I began walking around and realized that I was at a convention of sorts. But instead of some tropical locale, the big shots at the company had chosen to have the big event at a high school full of students. I saw small groups of people at tables drinking milk out of little cartons, and they were all having the best time ever. Every now and then I would see someone who recognized me and they would call me over to their table, give me a hug and then rip me for interrupting the speech.

Then, some woman came up to me to inform me that I hadn't properly registered for the event. The registration table was in the girls locker room. The towel-clad teenagers looked none too pleased with our presence, but after receiving my ID badge, I left and saw an elegant tent out on the football field under which, was a group of a hundred or so people in black tie and festive gowns. The sign on the tent said, Top of the Table. I was part of this group since there was a place setting with my name on it, but it was back in the corner and I was the only one at the table. To make things even more awkward, I was dressed in sweat pants and a wife-beater. Pam was nowhere to be found. Even in my dreams, she has the good sense not to be seen in public with me.

After a while, I excused myself to go find a bathroom. The search seemed endless, the type of exhausting, tedious trek that one often has in dreams. When I finally found a workable men's room, it was jammed packed with a film crew shooting a commercial for a medicine that fights toenail fungus starring none other than...Rush Limbaugh. The sight of him made up in yellowish green tights was too much to bear, even in my dreams. I woke up and hurried downstairs to get all the details down before I forgot anything.

Might it have been something I ate? Cajun pasta at Rock Bottom perhaps? Or was it some suppressed message from my sub-conscious telling me the unvarnished truth...that I really am a contrarian douchebag?