221. The wall of excrement

In the movie Slumdog Millionaire there is a scene early on where the main character’s abusive and jealous brother locks the Slumdog boy into a public outhouse to prevent him from experiencing the arrival of a Bollywood movie star in the slums.  Hundreds of poor kids run to meet the movie star as he arrives by helicopter like a divinity descending. All the slum children clamor for his attention and autograph.  Slumdog is desperate to meet this celebrity, so desperate that he takes his only available option to freedom…he plunges about 8 feet into the poop tank below the outhouse. He comes up covered in human waste and runs headlong toward the crowd around the star. Because of his repulsive appearance and stench, everyone moves out of his way, allowing him to meet the star and gain his autograph. His brother is incensed by this stroke of fortune and sells the autographed picture in the next scene, thus stealing his little brother’s joy. This theme of jealous power and resentment versus innocent love and forgiveness continues throughout the film.

However, the excrement covering the Slumdog is not his own. It really just reflects his older brother’s sin. His brother knew exactly what he was doing to the innocent Slumdog. He did not want Slumdog to have this extra-special experience. Instead he greedily sought the whole thing for himself only.  Good old human nature does not vary by culture. Whether it’s Jerusalem in A.D. 29 or Calcutta in 2009, people behave badly. We may recoil at the caste state of India and the hierarchy of Jewish culture in Jesus’ time, but we have our own pecking order in modern America. The great melting pot ideal still excludes the poor, the tired, the huddled masses, and the wretched refuse of teeming (foreign) shores that are welcomed symbolically by Lady Liberty. They can come in the back door, thanks very much, just to do the dirty jobs and then leave quietly.

As I’ve thought about human sin, I’ve thought about excrement. Our sin is like that—repulsive to God and boiling in its own stench. It creates a barrier between us and God, who would love to embrace us. Unfortunately, in our stench and mess we simply add to the barrier with anger, jealousy, resentment, envy, hopelessness, etc. We smear sin all over our spirits, then layer sin over sin like icing on a decadent, poisoned cake. God wants us to abandon the barrier, to disengage from sin. By turning toward God we are cleansed. He wants to autograph our hearts but sin gets in the way. We don’t need to be perfect to approach God, but we cannot continue to sin and gain access to His holy Presence. We must repent.

Salvation is free never earned. Like the movie star’s autograph, salvation is a gift, a sign that the Slumdog met his movie idol.  How great it is to have Jesus Christ’s autograph on your heart!  Others may try to steal or destroy your salvation. Demons may attack you, but they cannot destroy or steal your salvation. Ever. It’s tattooed onto every cell of your existence.

Later in the movie the Slumdog appears on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?  He moves through each round’s question by recalling memories from his life, during which he finds the answers to these obtuse questions tattooed on the folds of his cerebral cortex.  He does not have to provide the movie star, just his name. He does not have to produce a U.S. hundred dollar bill, just the name of Benjamin Franklin. He does not have to produce the gun that was aimed at his face, just the name Smith & Wesson. Likewise, just calling out the name of Jesus Christ is enough. His name protects you, completes you, and advances you. It’s tattooed on every cell of your existence.

 

Slumdog advances round by round and becomes a national phenomenon while the girl he loves seeks him, and his prodigal brother finally repents of his sins. Simply naming someone or something by faith keeps Slumdog alive while his brother sacrifices his own life as a sort of guilt offering to free the Slumdog.  The movie’s plot is told in this fashion, through random questions whose answers create a linear narrative. The driving force throughout the movie is love. Love triumphs over seemingly insurmountable evil, including the rigged t.v. show and its greasy host.

Salvation is free not earned.  Though a greasy Prince of Darkness would cheat you out of your reward, he cannot. Why? Naming Jesus Christ is the key to each moment, each round, the entire contest of life. Jesus has called us to an exuberant, abundant life with Him not to millions or celebrity. He wants us to run boldly in our faith and not to cower in fear. Understanding that sin is our own hardening excrement is the beginning of wisdom. Repenting and washing it away is the critical first step for us to embrace God’s Holiness and to reflect His Glory.

Satan attempts to condemn us as Slumdogs who are hopelessly covered in excrement, while Jesus redeems us as His precious children, pure and simple. And we each have a choice as to which voice we will believe: the excrement of sin or the sacrament of love.

 

 

 

220. Speeding tickets

We’ve all had them, right?  Some of us more than others. Now I’ve driven over a half million miles in my 42 years of legal driving. I believe I have a total of four in my collection. The first two were twenty years apart, but the last two were only five years apart. That’s not a good omen. I deserved every one of them, no argument from me. It’s just an odd experience to have a cop light you up, pull you over, and do the whole official rigamarole while your daughter sits next to you. Which is what happened last night two streets over from my house. I mean really, how fast could I have been going on Route 3o while listening to Jerry Lee Lewis sing, “Oooh baby, that’s what I like. A wiggle in your walk, a giggle in your talk, makes the world go round, there ain’t nothing in the world like a big eyed girl, make me act so funny…”?  Well, fast enough I guess. I got a long necked goose stoppo  and no big eyed girl glaring at me while the lights popped and flashed all around. I felt like Justin Bieber in a stolen car without his lawyer.

“I’m a criminal”, I whispered after providing license, registration, and proof of insurance. “Here, call your mom. Tell her I’m going to jail; then after she calms down, tell her we’ll be a few minutes late.”  Fortunately for me I had just cleaned out my glove box a couple of days prior; otherwise I never would have been able to produce the latter two items. It would have been tedious for me and Officer Hockenberry of the Pennsylvania State Police.

“Uh, here’s a receipt for the muffler fix… one for inspection. That’s valid, Officer.”

“Sir, I’ve already noted that your vehicle is in good standing. I pulled you over for going 61 in a 45 zone.”

“Oh yes, um, let’s see, that’s expired… and this isn’t even my deposit slip. I don’t use that bank. That’s some stale gum.”

“Sir, Pennsylvania law requires you to have your vehicle registration in the vehicle at all times of operation.”

“I’m sure it’s here, Officer, it’s just in the clutter. Here’s a nice little tool my sister-in-law gave me, sort of a cheap Swiss Army knife. Nice, huh?”

“Registration, sir. That’s all I need tonight and then we can both be on our way. What’s that?”

“Uh, uh, it’s a  maxipad, you know. Better safe than sorry.”

“Sure.  Whatever.”

“Okay, here’s a duplicate, no it’s an outdated proof of insurance. Dang! Oh, oh, here it is. Whew.”

“Sir, you need to sign your registration card. It’s not signed.”

“Oh, may I use your pen, Officer?”

“Humph! Here… and put your seatbelt on while I write you up. That’s another fine that I don’t want to ticket you for tonight.”

“Thanks, Officer.”  Click.

“Have you been drinking tonight, sir?”

“No, sir. I am naturally this stupid.”

“Okay, I’m gonna take your word for that one. We’ll skip the field sobriety tests.”

“Thanks. A friend of mine can recite the alphabet backwards precisely, but I could not get the hang of it.”

“That’s great, but it won’t be necessary, sir. I’m taking your word for the stupidity thing.”

“Oh, thanks”, I would reply, not getting the reverse compliment humor.

Yeah, that could have been embarrassing. I had also tightened up the lock mechanism on the glove box while I was at it in pre- ticket experience. Before that the door would fall open; I’d slam it; it would shut without locking, then fall down in another second. It was like a cartoon skit. I’m thinking that sort of action might have popped someone’s cork during the pull over event. But something had possessed me to clean up the paper land fill that had been in my front seat and glove box. Sadly, I did not receive a similar intuitive heads up about slowing down while driving home.

A few minutes later Officer Hockenberry returned to my window. He returned my license, registration and proof of insurance. Then he handed me the fax copy of my citation. The bottom line was $147.50. Not bad. I was expecting $200 and a free lecture. He let me go with a “Good night and drive safely”.  All in all it was a good traffic stop.

Way back in my Virginia driving experience I have a vague traffic stop/ticket experience that was not a speeding violation but was  a moving violation. I was headed down Rte. 95 and turned off at Quantico Marine Base south of D.C.  It was the middle of a spring day, as I recall. Apparently I did not come to a complete stop at the stop sign on the exit ramp.  Maybe I just did a promise brake. In any event an MP pulled me over and wrote me a ticket. However, since this was federal land, my  ticket did not go to Richmond. Instead this MP directed me to pay it to an address in Washington, D.C. and he assured me that I would never hear anything more about it. Sure enough, I complied and heard not a word more about my traffic violation. But all these years later I wonder if that MP was part of a scam with a buddy on the receiving end of those ghost tickets. Who knows? It’s a hunch. I was just a dumb teenager before I became a dumb adult.

My favorite traffic stop, though, was on my way home from work, maybe 8:30 or 9:00 p.m. I was passing in the right lane, which was about to end.  I guess I juiced it enough to attract a policeman’s attention. The cop walked up to my window and asked what I was doing. I told him I was on my way home from work. He looked at my tie and my briefcase on the passenger’s seat. “Okay”, he said. And then he startled me as I prepared for my ticket. “We’re looking for speeding teenagers. Have a good night, sir.” And he let me go. No license, no registration. Nothing. I suppose that was my mulligan/do over/ moment of grace. I wanted to ask him if he’d ever been an MP at Quantico… but I bit my tongue.

 

 

 

 

219. He’s not me; I’m not him; are you you?

So a month or so back I received a voicemail on a Friday afternoon from a national radio station person. Not NPR but close. The message giver said, “This is so and so from blank of blank radio network. My boss is interested in talking to you about doing a weekly radio show. If you are interested, call him at ….”  Well, of course I wondered what was up with such a message. I tried to figure out what sort of scam it might be. Maybe if you call the number mentioned, they would sign you up for a Master Card or some charity or other. Maybe it was a sting operation by the IRS to snag tax deadbeats who were grandiosely narcissistic.  I deleted it.

Then a week ago the same guy called with the same message. I decided to investigate a bit, so I Googled the entity and sure enough the two names I was given were both represented in the website. It seemed legitimate, but who in his right mind would want me on a radio show? Did someone stumble across my blog and find it exotically interesting? Or ridiculously stupid? If so, why not just comment on-line?  I  mentioned it to my daughters who assumed that someone somewhere somehow found me interesting, and that I should at least call back. So I did. I left a generally vague response that I’d be glad to talk to him, the network director.

The next day I missed his return phone call from Phoenix. “Well, this is getting interesting”, I thought. Again I tried to piece together some reason why anyone would want to listen to me? Could one of my former clients have recommended me? Perhaps a former student? In this world wide web generation anything is possible.

Yesterday afternoon I was sitting in full lassitude, full of indolent indifference, with my family admiring my granddaughter when my phone vibrated in my left pocket. It was the radio guy. I took the call in the next room, not knowing what to expect. The program director introduced himself and I did the same.  He asked me if I was familiar with his operation. I mentioned that I’d Googled the website. “Good, good”, he replied. I asked him bluntly why he was interested in me?  Scott (his real name) asked if I’d be interested in doing a one hour weekly radio show, as in hosting one.

I was confused and told him so. “How did you get hold of me and why would you want me to host a national/international radio show?” He told me that his research assistants had recommended me to him. “For what?” I inquired. “Public speaking,  interviewing folks in your field, you know, stuff like that.” I pushed for sanity one more time, ” I live in Turtle Town, USA. I do private practice counseling. I’m a retired teacher. What would the market be for that?”   We had reached the tipping point of our brief conversation.

“You are _____________ G. __________________, aren’t you?”

“Uh, no. I am _____________________ F. _______________________.”

“Oh, well, have you ever thought about doing a weekly radio show?”

“No, I’m pretty content with my life as it is. I think the guy you’re looking for lives in Michigan. He writes books with his wife. I’ve been confused with him before. I do write a blog, though.”

“Okay, then, thanks for your time and good luck. Bye.”

“Bye.”

Was I relieved or crushed?

My daughter and wife asked, “So what’s the deal?”

“Misidentification. My celebrity was prematurely birthed and died on delivery. I feel like Joel’s mule…unrequited.”

“Oh, that’s okay. You still have… um, I mean, you can still work in the public when you retire… or something. You could be a crossing guard for your grandkids like Uncle Steve.”

“Yes, there’s that. But my FM dj voice, my Bob Dylan impersonation, my Barry White solos, my puns. All gone forever. My Lou Rawls, “You’re gonna miss, you’re gonna miss, you’re gonna miss my lovin'”.

“Dad, you’re being dramatic.”

“So?  I could have been a contender. A measly initial kept me out of the big time.”

“Why don’t you call him back and audition?”

“Nah, this is like my class ring that I lost in England in 1974. It makes a better story than if I’d ever worn the thing.”

“Seriously, what would you have talked about? No, wait. Talking about things that don’t exist, like the missing letters of the Cyrillic alphabet, has never been a problem for you. It’s better this way, Dad.”

“You’re right. Let us never speak of this again.”

 

 

 

 

 

218. Enter title here

It’s Easter Monday. I am home on a beautiful sunny day with my wife, grand daughter and two of my three daughters. My oldest left yesterday for NYC.  I’ve had a walk, a game of chess, a round of groundhog hunting, some voluntary yard work, coffee and meals, and time for this entry. Now that is a well balanced day. It’s been since Christmas that I had a scheduled day off. Wow, what a difference taking two makes. See, I also took Good Friday off. I can feel my neurotransmitters mating and producing more and more of themselves even as I type. I’d feel like some sort of mental frotteur except they are a part of my own body. So what does that make me? Highly sensitive, I guess. Yes, that’s it.

Yesterday my wife and two older daughters and I sat out on our deck in the sunshine. Grace and I played chess and chattered on as we do very dramatically with each move, jibberish from Seinfeld or song lyrics or who knows what; things like “Who’s your Daddy now? Boom!” “Oh, you wanna be like that? Baboom on yo’ momma!”  Meanwhile my daughter Erin and my wife sat quietly with big hats and sunglasses on reading on the bench seat across from us. That’s when I uttered, “Can you find the introverts in this picture?” My wife is making me read the book Quiet by Susan Cain. It’s all about the unbridled power and genius of bridled  introverts. Whoopee. I am a self-diagnosed ambivert, but I’d rather not talk about it right now. I hate being put in the middle of things.

I walked alone this morning. It was so quiet I swear that I heard the dew drying on the grass. I could hear individual bird wings as they flapped by. A lady at the park had two wiener dogs that would not fill half a five gallon bucket, but we don’t measure dogs by the gallon. [Could I get two gallons of wiener dogs? And a quart of Chihuahuas for my side?] We do measure liquids that way. My wife was getting her hair cut later in the day and bought some boutique special shampoo. I overheard her say it cost $33 per bottle, not gallon or quart. $33 per bottle. I’ve never bought a bottle of wine or liquor for that much money, but I suppose it has secret herbs and spices and precious metals all blended into the fine essence d’oro, which is 98% water. It does not matter. All is good. She’s beautiful and I’m happy. I learned a long time ago not to mention what things cost… not even wiener dogs, paired up in a bucket. Maybe they’re a thousand dollars to the right buyer. As my buddy Vince learned with his Great Dane, the initial purchase price is just the down payment on a dog. Same as an engagement ring in marriage.

The sun is setting. It’s cooling off. Rain is  expected tomorrow or Wednesday so the farmers are spreading manure lavishly on their big stinky fields. Big tanks of the stuff roll down my street drawn by young men in giant tractors, eating pizza bare handed out of the box. What a deal, to haul manure all day long. Like working for the government. I suppose it helps keep a guy single. If you are in deep poop to begin with, who needs to get married?

Gratitude vs. lassitude. Hmmmm. I get gratitude, thankfulness. Now lassitude is one of those dictionary.com tasks. I like definition # 2. “a condition of indolent indifference”. I think I’m feeling a mixture of the two states– grassitude, thankfully painless laziness.  Yeah, that works. Like having a staycation on a cruise ship in dry dock outside of Baltimore. It’s a good day, but I’m not going anywhere.  As the temperature sinks, the indifference stiffens a bit. A chill chases my indolence but not my gratitude. I may be experiencing “assitude”, which is a horse’s ass with an attitude.

My wife is already finding me part time jobs in my retirement, which is at least five years away. “You’ll be bored with the monotony,” she tells me. “You can’t wait to get rid of me,” I offer back. “True, but you can offset our health insurance costs while seeing the country.” She thinks I’m going to be a professional presenter.

“You can teach and tell stories. People like you.”

“One problem, dear.”

“What’s that?”

“I have no topic.”

“Think of one. You have five years.”

“But I am crippled by my ambivertism.”

“Shut up. Don’t give me your assitude.”

“Maybe that could be my topic: Ambiverted Assitudes in the Mental Health Setting.”

She’s a mind reader, I swear. She brought home the local newspaper for me. “Read the bank article.”

I began reading about the bank that holds most of my money. Seems they were just released from the state’s equivalent of the SEC’s watch list for shaky financial institutions, and I don’t mean that their tellers are part time belly dancers. No. If my bank were a person, it would not be allowed to fly. Sooooo, I just opened  a new business account with them because they did not charge me for that service, which the previous bank did, $20 per month for them to watch my money. I’m faced with this dilemma: pay money each month to my bank for no apparent reason, or stay with a bank that is being watched where I could lose all my money. Sheesh!  Neither offers interest or any special services, not even a gallon of free wiener dogs to start with.

This is why you shouldn’t take time off work. You find out all this stuff that you don’t really want to know. Frotteurs, ambiverts, overpriced shampoo, manure hauling, lassitude, and raw bank greed, which is redundant to manure hauling. If I’d just kept working I would not be all worried and worked up now. But the good news is that I can keep on working in my retirement, and if I’m lucky, right up to death.

 

217. Confusion: Rains or Reigns or Reins

English is a funny language, don’t you think so?  We have all these sound alike words, homonyms, that mean vastly different things even before you allow for Australian accents, and British, and South African, and U.S. regions, and English as a second language yuk ups. Why just today I heard the joke about the guy whose plane crashed in Australia. In the hospital during surgery he cried out in pain to the Aussie nurse, “Did I just come here to die?”  Coolly, she replied, “No, you came here yesterday, mate.”  This word play is the source of endless puns and bad jokes, double entendres, innuendos and so forth. It’s just so funny if you are on the same page at the same speed… and so stupid if you are not.

Earlier this afternoon my wife and I met with our financial planner, Rich. He threw in a joke without fluctuating his voice or face–
“If you work till you’re 62, then you’ll draw this much pension from the state. If you work till you are 72, they’ll name a building after you.” I caught it before my wife, about an hour before as it turns out, and said, “Yeah, I’d like a brick  building to remember her by”, when Rich chimed in “Like a Brick….HOUSE” from the Commodores with Lionel Richie and full on upper body dance funk. We laughed and tried to get back on track as my wife wondered how the train of thought had become so derailed and deranged. It’s fun until it’s not. Caution: do not attempt word play with foreigners who are struggling to learn English or folks who have language impairments or people in crisis. Bad things could happen.

My youngest daughter had some language delays when she was 5 years old. She managed to cope by talking endlessly, thereby eliminating the need to listen. Each morning as I drove her and her older sister to school, Jess would prattle on and on about anything and nothing. Grace would shift in her seat, unable to get a word in edgewise. One day, attempting to insert a pause, I said, “Thanks for that update, Jess. Now let’s give Grace a turn.” That’s when Jess screamed out, “It’s not a cupcake, Dad!” That was the beginning of speech pherapy and auditory processing appointments. What a difference!! Now when she yells at me, her content matches the context and I deserve it. These days it’s my turn for pherapy.  Repeat after me, “Take the ambulance to the funeral.” “Take the ambliance to the fewhnyerral.”

“Just ’cause I said it don’t mean I meant it, just ’cause you heard it,” sings Adele. This reminds me of another favorite of mine– the double or triple negative. My wife uttered two good ones that I can recall. Once she called me from work to remind me to put dinner together for that night.

“Don’t forget to unthaw the beef”, she told me.

I paused. “You want me to freeze the meat?”

“What?”

“Well, if you thaw something, it melts…so if you un-thaw something, you freeze it, right?”

“Don’t be difficult.”

“Or what?”

“Or I’ll beat you with frozen meat.”

“Thufferin’ thuckatash, I  didn’t thee that comin’ !”

 

The other utterance was the directive to unloosen my belt, which I believe appeared to be too tight. Again, let’s review:  if you loosen something, you let out length. If you unloosen something, you draw in length or tighten the thing in question. I inquired, “So you want me to tighten my belt?”

“You know what I mean”, she responded, which was true but I was being difficult, which she already knew from previous experience.

“Get a new belt or go on a diet. Okay, Fatboy?”

“Okay!  I didn’t theee that comin’ either.”

I am not a language Nazi, far from it. I am someone who loves words and language and fun. I recall a long, long set up to a really bad homonym pun. We were at the beach and I was trying to explain to some poor unfortunate soul how the fish were jumping beyond the waves.

“They are silver sea trout”, I asserted falsely.

“Oh, really. Why are they jumping like that?”

“To escape being eaten by the porpoises.”

“No kidding?”

“Yeah, there’s a best selling book about this fish.”

“I’ve never heard of it. What’s the title?”

“The Porpoise Driven Life by Rick Warren. It’s a big seller.”

“I’m going to beat you!!”

“You know, I get that a lot.”

“That’s because you weren’t beaten enough as a child.”

“I get that a lot too. It seems to be a universal assessment of my character.  Now, nah, ppput the frozen meat down… and the belt. We can talk this out without resorting to violence, can’t we Darlin? God help me. Did I just come here to die?”

I never learned to quit while I was behind. Not even when I was a little behind, maybe four or five years old. Now I’m a big behind and I need to unloosen my belt while thawing frozen beef.

Anyway, did you hear about the Arabic woman who got pregnant with twins before she was married? Shocking, so it was. Her family insisted on adopting out the identical twin boys. One to a family in Spain, who named him Juan; and the other to a family in Algeria, who named him Amal. Years went by. This woman eventually married a good man and started a family. Twenty years later a letter arrived from Spain with a photo of Juan. The letter said, “Mother, I  have tracked you down and want you to know that I am fine. Thank you for loving me enough to do what was best for me.”  The woman sobbed uncontrollably. When her husband came home she was still crying. She told him about the letter from Juan. He said, “My dear, this is a joyous thing. Be happy.” To which the woman replied, “But I will never see my Amal. Booooohhoooooo!” But her clever husband pointed out, “Dearest,  don’t you remember? They are identical boys:  once you’ve seen Juan, you’ve seen Amal.”

Put the frying pan down, Honey. This does not have to end in violence.

 

216. unduly noted

Tim, my silverback friend, was on his way to jury duty selection this morning and wanted to catch up on the injustices of the modern world over coffee before sitting in legal judgment of his fellow man.  He works for the government now. That’s like a plumber w0rking next to a dripping faucet…drip, drip, drip. Eventually it wears a man down, when he does his job but those who won’t do theirs complain that he is showing them up by working too much. It would not surprise me if he gets transferred or fired to save the resident sloth population at his federal office. Accepting this reality is like drinking battery acid instead of coffee. I don’t like our bloated bureaucracy any more than the next guy. Still, I don’t believe I can change the course of a river; so, without liking it I tolerate it and put my energies where they may have a slight impact. I add the sugar of humor to balance out the battery acid aftertaste of modern life.

Control is rarer than virgins in Vegas, and yet everyone seems to think it is possible in this crazy world to maintain control of larger groups of people or institutions. In a large church, school  or organization, let’s say larger than 200 persons, forget it. “But we should be able to do this” cry the frustrated. Sure, we should but we don’t, and that’s life. Heck, try controlling someone in your own family for starters. Just start with your dog. I’m not sure it’s even our place to control others once they are over twelve. Influence? Sure, but the idea of control, I believe, is an outgrowth of fear. If you slap a man with a frozen fish, you’ll stop him from fishing for an hour. But if you break his fishing pole, you’ll stop him for most of a day. That’s control; all the work/coerci0n is on your side of the equation. You jack up the consequences to make the other person conform to your will… life as it should be. And the best controllers we call totalitarian dictators. We never seem to run out of these characters– Kim Young Fool in Korea or the Taliban at their latest post office box, Putin, China, Iran…. the ink smudges on the pages of history.

Courts try to exercise control also. It’s the end game of behavior modification. I sat on a jury once. It was a drunk driving, eluding the police case. Seems two local brothers left the West End bar at 2:00 a.m. and drove dangerously toward the west, where they lived in a little rental cottage. Well, Officer Doright noticed their erratic driving and pursued. That’s when Dumb and Dumber went into speed up and evade mode. With a bit of a lead on the cop, they whipped into their trailer park/cottage enclave, slammed it into park and ran. The officer collared them and arrested the driver for DUI and evading police, maybe resisting arrest as well.

Dumb’s defense was that he was not the driver; his brother was. The cop testified that Dumb, not Dumber, was the driver and pointed out the physiological differences between the two. Dumb was heavier and had little hair, whereas Dumber was thin and had a dirty mullet haircut. He had watched as they ran out of the car and noted who was behind the wheel of their uninspected vehicle with outdated registration. The officer showed the judge and jury photos of the chase path and the place of arrest. Dumb tried to say that the cop lost visual contact as they drove behind the dumpster across from their cottage, and therefore could not accurately identify the correct brother/driver. It was very lame courtroom drama. Dumb was not a very good criminal or a liar.

His lawyer introduced Dumber as his client’s only witness. Skinny and hairy, Dumber shuffled in shackled and wearing  an orange prison jumpsuit, looking a lot like Justin Bieber. He was sworn in and promptly and boldly lied, “I was driving.” No one believed him for a second. The district attorney asked him if he had a license. He replied, “No, lost it a few years ago.” Next question, “How did you lose your license?”  ” A DUI”, he whispered. In fact, neither brother had a valid license due to previous DUI’s and both failed their sobriety tests. So, it really didn’t matter much to me– whoever was driving was drunk and guilty. There was no innocent man before the court. Slam dunk! Justice or Justin, as you will, is blind and deaf and dumb.

In fact, there was no innocent man anywhere that day or any day. All of us are guilty of some crime or sin. Yep, I said that.

I have to constantly remind my arrogant self that I am not a whit better than the rough edged folks who wander the streets of Turtle Town impaired. Because of my birthplace I am not an immigrant. Because of my education I am not ignorant. Because of a variety of factors I am not unemployed or living at the edge of poverty. Certainly there is personal responsibility involved, but how much free will does a lost hungry child have? We have all been hungry lost children at some point in our lives. .

 

 We are left with that  annoying drip, drip, drip of humanity. And we are mightily limited by our human nature. We can’t fix each other any more than my dog can do surgery on another dog. It is not in his nature. This is why perfect attempts at fixes are collectively called utopias, naïve attempts by golden retrievers to give pit bull terriers heart transplants. Caring about the hungry, thirsty, naked and imprisoned was a big deal for Jesus. He cautioned his followers to do just that, for among the poor and disadvantaged lives God the Father. Through his example, we can have our own spiritual hearts transformed– not by men or dogs or jails, but by God himself.

215. garbage and glory

Looks like spring is actually going to stay true this time. Okay a dip here and there for a day is acceptable as long as the wood stove does not need to be relit. Bulky item drop off at the township dumpsters is a holy rite of rural spring. Though it pains me to dump a perfectly good sink and a usable ceiling fan into a landfill, I’m less guilty about the 50 year old fake Christmas tree and the carpet remnants from my office floor. When is the earth going to explode in a methane gas belch as its landfills and dumps digest all this waste? You know there has to be something valuable in the buried mix, don’t you? Today’s archeologists dig through history’s landfills for priceless treasure. I hope this trend continues, and one day Dr. Reckyclousson of the University of Stockholm finds my petrified ceiling fan.

“Professor, come qvickly. Bjorn have unearthed somesing you vill like.”

“Look! It’s a nearly  complete Harbor Breeze ceiling fan from the 1980’s. Even the viring harnesses are intact. Be very careful with it. We’ll take it back to the lab and clean it wiss pneumatic tools. Oh, yes! I can’t wait to tell my colleagues and publish my findings. This is purrrfect.”

landfill photo: Landfill w/ Truck landfill.jpg

Doubtful, I know, but it distracts me from the Tic Tac of guilt upon the back of my tongue. I want to be a good steward. Even before I  had kids and a grandchild I wanted to work with nature, always believing in her restorative ability. Growing up before all the environmental protections went into law, there was a lot of stupid litter, dumping, pollution, and general disrespect of the environment. It was not unusual to find a mattress thrown off the side of the road or an old television, a freezer, the ubiquitous tires, or even an old car abandoned in the woods. That’s better now.

I remember an old John Prine song from my teen years… “Paradise”

Well, sometimes we’d travel right down the Green River

to the abandoned old prison down by Adrie Hill

Where the air smelled like snakes

and we’d shoot with our pistols

but empty pop bottles was all we would kill

And Daddy won’t you take me back to Muhlenburg County

Down by the Green River where Paradise lay

“I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking,

Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away.”

Old Mr. Peabody, a robber baron land rapist. What an ugly legacy to leave behind you in Kentucky. You can’t unrape the landscape. You can just start over again with the spring, trying to teach the next generation the lessons forgotten by your own. But I do recall wandering the woods around my childhood home, and the air did occasionally smell like snakes around damp dumps mostly. We would dig through the mess looking for bottles to recycle for 2 cents each as we walked to the store down the hill on Kings Highway.

But there is less unscarred ground and pure water left. I have faith in nature to redeem itself; I have no faith in mankind to do the same. Men are essentially short sighted, selfish, sucky creatures. That’s our nature, folks. Which is why we need a redeemer beyond nature, or a supernatural redeemer. We can’t do it on our own. When will we get that through our cave man minds? When human beings clean things up, it’s not long before other humans make it a mess again. We do not learn from history, therefore we repeat it it over and over and over.

It’s Palm Sunday in the Christian calendar. Passion Week has begun. What a strange upheaval in one short week that shook history. On this Sunday Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey like a hero on a budget. His ministry had been up and down for three years, but now “Hosanna” filled the air. The next thing you know he’s saying goodbye to his closest followers at his last earthly supper, washing their feet. We have the advantage of knowing how the story ends. His disciples did not. They seem rather slow to pick up his messages and realize what’s going on. They had not seen the movie yet, where he is arrested and tried and sentenced to a horrible death.

Free Bible images of Jesus riding triumphantly into Jerusalem on a donkey while the crowds wave palm branches and shout, ‘Hosanna’. An event remembered on Palm Sunday. (Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, John 12:12-17): Slide 19

So why didn’t Jesus just throw down the miracle to end all miracles and clean up the mess that men had made? He could have crucified his crucifiers as easily as cutting his toenails. Where is his force and power?  Our human nature cries out for it. Knock some heads around like Rambo. Round them up for justice like John Wayne. So we miss it again, because we don’t think spiritually. The horrible surrender of God’s son to the ants of the Roman Empire overcame a spiritual not a material kingdom. It was not Caesar’s defeat for a century but Satan’s defeat forever that resulted from his humble acceptance of our sentence. Each one of us will die. Some in awful agony and others in our sleep, and our material lives will end. No matter; he has washed our filth off.

 photo 040219_crucifixion_hmed_2phmedium.jpg

Think of this: you have choices, millions of choices in your life. Imagine a key ring with a thousand keys on it. You can use most of them or nearly all of them. But if you leave unused the supernatural key of Jesus, it won’t matter how many really good natural choices you have made. You will be spending eternity outside the presence of God, whatever that looks like. Even if it’s not fire and brimstone, why would anyone not want to know the God who loved mankind so much that he sacrificed His own son to redeem all of them? All of them, even the sex offenders, addicts, and murderers. Even those folks you can’t forgive… he has.

Each one is a choice every day. How will I live? Why?
Yes, time rolls around again. My body is weaker each year and closer to death. So what? I have chosen that Jesus key which opens the door of eternity. Maybe I’ll see Mr. Peabody there. I’ll be sure to give him my two cents.

 

 

214. Coffee Nation Noodles

I like the serendipity of my life. This  morning I could not remember where my scheduled  counselor meeting was supposed to be, so I wound up unscheduled at the coffee shop on Dustin’s birthday, a provisional nonvoting member of coffee nation. I did not know this little piece of info since I was not current with Facebook at that moment. I just ordered my medium coffee and was walking toward the door when Big Bald Vinnie came walking in. We greeted one another and I started to explain that we weren’t meeting since it was the second Thursday of the month.

“Well, Steve and Gene said they were coming.”

“Oh, an unofficial meeting of the nation.” I suspected a coup brewing in insulated coffee cups. “I’ll stick around.”

Vinnie and I chatted about his family and the end of his Great Dane puppy experiment.  “My wife didn’t see that coming. And we don’t even have papers on the dog.”

“I’m not following you. Would it be better to have a defective Great Dane puppy with papers?”

“No, I guess not.”

“There’s the fence and the toys and the food and the vet bills and the…I could have sent a kid to a semester of college with what we spent on the dog.”

“Well, your marriage is better than ever. So you have that.”

“True… could take another cruise with the wife for what I have in that dog.”

Ronnie from Jersey strutted in. Greetings. He joined us at the impromptu gathering. Vince was on his way to work in Hershey, PA but had time to burn with us. Ronnie is recovering from surgery and a life of construction work.

“Yeah, I’m from Jersey. Ya know, it seems like there’s a lot more murders around here lately,” said Ronnie.

“I’ve noticed that since you moved here, Ronnie. Are the landfills full of bodies in Jersey?” I added in.

“No, well, the Mafia has reserved lots for future appointments, ya know, like pre paid burial vaults.”

“Good to know.”

We got on to the usual nothing talk that marks a group of guys who are comfortable with one another. Historic storms, the Jersey Shore, shootings, and noisy Harleys. Before we even paused to look up, Big Steve rolled in sporting his new 5–0 look. He was without Gene but confirmed that it was Dustin’s birthday and that the young man of 38 would soon be joining us.

Steve has a unique mind. Somehow we got on to field sobriety tests and Steve amazed us by reciting the alphabet backwards while also turning around to face the wall. It was a double reverse verbal gainer. The Judges gave him 9.4, 9.6 and an 8.1 from the Jersey judge who was envious, I think, of this uncanny skill. Steve also drinks frozen mochas which will freeze mammal brains; however, since I believe he has a reptile’s brain, he drank deeply without even a hint of a brain freeze. Over this mysterious brain is an ear muff hair style with a wide landing strip down the middle. But sitting across from Razor Bald Vinnie, Steve looked like Bon Jovi. (This is a bone for the Jersey Judge in case there is a round 2 of amazing stupid human tricks later.)

As Ronnie doctored his hot coffee, the legendary Lance entered and nearly sat in Ronnie’s just vacated seat. However, being the king of pilates, he moved as if on a hinge and did not touch butt to chair. Instead he dragged over an ownerless chair to our shrinking round table. Introductions were made all around for Sir Ronnie’s sake, who is not usually at the Round Table. The skillet of wit was now hot and sizzling since Lance is both a barbershop raconteur and a template of fashionable haberdashery, according to him.

Critical mass was achieved and the jokes, tricks, references and silly words came often and easily. In a group of five guys it is possible to have three or four concurrent inconsequential conversations, which we did.

The topics were interwoven…

“And what’s with you?”

“Which U? Miami? The U?”

“No.”

“Oh, you mean U-Conn? Yeah amazing, men and women’s national champs…”

“Like Wooden”

“You mean the coach, Gino…”

“Nine titles.”

“Well Bill had a reference from him…”

“Who?”

“Wooden?”

“NO, Gino, the women’s coach.”

“Not good enough for our local high school, though.”

“No men’s retreat this year. Too much shaking up at church.”

“I’m appointing you, Vinnie, to investigate this.”

“What?”

“The retreat.”

“What’s my budget?”

“Just save all your receipts.”

“Did you say receipts or retreats?”

“Yes, save them. Like the whales.”

Dustin walked in and saluted us as is his habit as a former military member. Now it got dangerously goofy like an overheated nuclear reactor with too many loose electrons smashing into one another. The caffeine effect was sending verbal pulses across an eighteen inch round table at warp 9 speeds. An unidentified guy in a ball cap said hello to Steve.

“Who’s that?”

“Oh, you asked me too fast. Bob… uh.”

“You know, from church. His wife is that lady…”

“Oh yeah, they sit behind me.”

“Wasn’t their son, the guy who…”

“Uh huh, but he got fired for…”

“No, that’s not the same guy, you’re thinking of what’s his name.”

“With the big nose?”

“Yeah, Brian. His wife was the one who told me about setting up shop downtown.”

“Alright, I still have no idea. But it’s all good.”

Lance, “This reminds me of an episode of Cops where they’re busting a dude and he don’t know nothing. The cop says, ‘What are you doing?’ and the dude says, ‘Well, I was over there with them dudes but then what’s his name came along and they started into it and I got outta there when I seen you guys show up. And I don’t know nothing.'”

Dustin, “That’s just like a conversation at your barbershop, Lance.”

“That’s the truth.”

“Who?”

“What was that guy’s name, you know ‘the Truth’?”

“You know, the wrestler who was a governor?”

“Oh, Schwarzenegger…”

“No, he’s the one with his nanny and the wife on t.v. A Kennedy lady.”

“Ventura. Jesse, right?”

And those are the Real Lives of The Husbands of Franklin County.

 

 

 

 

213. nothingness

How can you hang a noun ending on something that does not exist in the material world? Okay, abstract nouns, I get it. But the -ness of nothing? The state of being nothing. What’s that? I imagine it’s like pulling into your designated parking space at 6:43 a.m. as usual and then the defining lines fade away. Your space boundaries vaporize. And then your car follows suit. It leaves you there on your butt on the asphalt. Whoa!! Did you take a hit of acid with your Cheerios? Did someone put a psychedelic sugar cube in your coffee? You reach into your pocket for your cell phone, wondering if you should call 911 or your insurance agent. But your hand disappears into the feel of your pocket like a phantom sensation from an amputated limb. A rabbit down its hole…You yank your now stumpy wrist out of the void only to see your vacant sleeve hang limp. You can’t stand up because your legs are just breezes in fast disappearing slacks hung on a laundry line blowing out to the horizon like a great blue heron. Your sensory system is rapidly failing, overwhelming your ability to intellectually deal with this unreality. Cognitive concern turns to fear which turns to panic. Gravity becomes irrelevant. You float like a wisp of smoke or a line from an old song on a distant radio…”breathless, you leave me breathless.”

Derealization, you think. Okay, I can name this phenomenon and therefore claim and control it. “Al Haig, I’m in control here,” you say to nobody, not realizing that these are the last audible words that will come out of the face hole that used to be your mouth. Is it possible, you wonder, that listening to Jimi Hendrix and the Dead can destroy the listener’s neural pathways and put him in an LSD coma by proxy? No, no, no. But you’re not sure. The Loch Ness Monster of Nothing is rising wildly the way flames fly up from a bonfire, which after all is the fire of bones. This is nothingness, you guess, cremation in a downtown parking lot. Disembodied consciousness is all that remains, or is it cremains? Ghastly paranoia, well, no. It’s just noia at the extreme end of the leash. This is really happening, dammit. Why do I not cast a shadow? My tattoo devolves into a small ink puddle.  “Sic semper tyrannis” updrains into a hypodermic needle of black fog. What’s happening? My wholeness has turned into a void. I am a hole outside the real.

No one can hear what I cannot speak out. I can still see and hear and smell, but I can’t be seen, heard or smelled. It will pass, this dissociation, won’t it? I have moved across the time/space c0ntinuum. That’s all. I must have gotten the other Kevin’s coffee order, the four shots of espresso and I am just racing out ahead of reality, waiting for it to catch me. Right? Right. I’ve  broken the sound barrier, that’s all. Sure. But my heart rate is not all that accelerated except for the panic. Plus there is no bladder irritation that would come with mega doses of caffeine. Where does that leave me? Not so much lost as stolen.

I know I am not dead. At least I am pretty sure. I read a book on after life experiences and this is not what was described. No angels attend me inside a beam of brilliant light. No demons either. I could not write a book about this lost body experience. No hands, see.  And I don’t want to. I want my body back. I want my voice to make sounds that my ears hear. I want skin over muscles that can feel the wind and humidity… like it was before I became a gas. I feel as if I checked my body in the coat check and now that the concert is over, I’ve lost the ticket…my body has been hijacked by deaf theater ushers. I scream silently, “Give me my body back!”  Nothing. She looks away as if… well, I guess I don’t exist…materially.

Dream? Even cruel ones end with this much activity. Once the brain begins problem solving, it wakes up the body… which I still am lacking. Think harder! I shouldn’t have gone out on that existential limb, wondering what the spiritual world was like, the after life, the great Beyond. Cuz here I am with an experience but not an answer. What is emptiness, the gap, the blank space? Perhaps if I had Asian philosophical roots, I could enjoy this swirling balloon release. The whoosh I don’t hear is my life emptying out itself. This is great news if your name is Lao Tzu and the end of desire and seeking The Way is the beginning of true consciousness. But my last name is Irish. I used to be sure of that.

What to do? Wait, it’s always about waiting, the art of waiting. For what, though?  Oh, yes, nothing. If I had hands I’d slap you off your bull, Lao! I desire my bodily desires back. I want to be hungry and thirsty and tired… or do I? This whole time I have been fighting nothingness instead of embracing it. I’ve been trying to conjure up exits based on my own strength. But I have none, and that is humiliating. Eviscerating… which is maybe a good thing. If I just surrender my will, my guts and desires, I can sit on that bull with Lao and find the Way.
Hmmmm, the spirit thing is not so bad. No sooner do I think something than I am there. It’s like Googling an entry and BOOM! I’m there– Singapore, Mongolia, Newark. No, forget Newark. In fact, since I have transcended my desires, let’s skip Vegas and Miami, Bangkok and Amsterdam.  Rather, I am simply a grain of sand on a deserted beach, a particle of a speck of dust on the ocean. Even that is too much thingness but will have to do for now.