Putting our Heads Together

Putting our Heads Together
I don't think he sees me

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Evil That Men Do

suffer the little children

Long ago in the mists of mythology, Zeus commanded Hephaestus the god of craftsman to fashion the world's first woman out of earth and water. Athena clothed her modesty, Hermes gifted her tongue with speech, and Aphrodite graced her with beauty. Zeus bequeathed to Pandora a beautiful jar along with the task of keeping it safe. Zeus also warned Pandora to never open the jar. Try as she might, Pandora could not deny that other bequest of the gods, curiosity. She opened the jar the merest crack and all the evils of the world were released. Pandora closed the jar as fast as she could but only succeeded in keeping Elpis the Spirit of Hope locked up as all else escaped. Zeus, unlike God with Eve, bore no malice towards Pandora for he expected this.

The evils of the world whether spread by Pandora or brought about by the sins of Adam and Eve, manifest themselves most forcefully in man's penchant to bring about death and destruction casually, and bring about peace only as a compromise to satisfy self-interest. As the year ends, national headlines reported the wounding of three New Jersey police officers in their own precinct house, the five hundredth taking of a life in Chicago this year, and the death of a New Delhi gang rape victim.

2012 has been a year marred by violence around the globe and for Americans dominated by the home grown massacres of innocents. The seven mass shootings in the United States this year account for a quarter of the attacks, wounded, and dead by mass gun slayings in the past twenty-two years. More than the lingering conflicts in the Middle East, the assaults in 2012 have left the nation mourning and vulnerable and asking what can be done.

The senseless slaying of twenty children five and six years of age, and six adults at a school in the now sorrow draped Connecticut town of Newtown seemed the horrifically nameless punctuation of the harm that people can so quickly and seemingly easily be capable of. The authorities continue to probe, and everyone seeks answers to why twenty small coffins now lay beneath the earth, sealed boxes on lives barely begun. We ask if the killer was deranged, we ask if the availability of assault weapons is to blame. The outcry reaches to the top of our nation, and no reasonable reply from any corner is heard.

Elements of the government are responding to calls for tighter gun control, while the NRA raises its craggy visage and calls for better armed schools. The NRA seems to have forgotten the fact that Columbine had armed guards yet Klebold and Harris were not impeded or repelled from their path of destruction. The government focuses on assault rifle access when statistics since 1990 do not support them as the primary merchant of death in these random slaughters.

The NRA pointed out after the Aurora movie theatre shootings that a better armed populace could have stemmed or prevented what transpired, but at no time since 1990 or before have any of the gun owning citizenry jumped into these situations as saviors. Neither gun control advocates nor gun supporters seem to spend much time noting that it is not the career criminal that bring us to our knees, but well armed private gun owners that are making us fear for our children in schools, and malls, and movie theatres.

Career criminals are far more cautious with guns. Guns are part of their stock and trade and are a link back to them every time they use those guns in commission of a crime. Guns also up the ante on any law induced end to their careers. These criminals are interested more in prospering than going on a rampage ending in suicide. Their guns are a tool and not a means to an end.

The ones we least suspect, the quiet ones are the ones that create the greatest grief and fear of the unknown. The wolves that creep among us in their sheep-like skins keep us glancing about furtively. How do we defend against ourselves?

The answer doesn't lie in knee jerk governmental control of a single type of weapon that bears little relation to the problem at hand save to appeal to some element of the voters. The answer doesn't lie with the NRA that makes the ludicrous defense of its position that killers will always find something to kill with. The NRA is mainly concerned with preventing losses to a thirty billion dollar a year industry and appeasing the dwindling majority represented by white male gun owners. I don't know where the answer lies, I just know that time honed myopic entrenchment of dueling false ideals is not the way to go about solving the problem or even stemming the tide.

The causation of these attacks are multiple and complex. The picture is composed of social triggers, and psychological predispositions, as-well-as the ready availability of guns. We live in a society not only grown used to, but one that expects immediate gratification through constant contact with the world through the internet, cell phones, and cable/satellite services. The entertainment industry and news agencies constantly try to outdo one another to such an extent that we have become desensitized to the point that only the most violent stimulation can break through our veneer. These things together with the proper personality type and readily available guns has proven to be a lethal combination.

Instead of pandering, the government should take a multi-pronged attacked such as:

  • Finding sociological commonalities among the perpetrators of mass shootings
  • Determining psychological commonalities among the perpetrators of mass shootings
  • Develop laws that will limit access to guns through third party individuals such as someone buying guns for someone else
  • Track guns better, perhaps through annual ownership taxes similar to automobiles, the taxes can be used to fund gun violence programs
  • Better education of people of what may be tell tale signs of contributing factors such as overly morbid behavior and suicidal tendencies

As a native of the South, I and many people I grew up with were raised around guns. We were taught to respect them, how to use them properly. Not to say that we didn’t sometimes have fun with them as well. I can still remember using a shotgun on my first derelict toilet in a ramshackle barn. I realize that guns themselves don’t kill people, there has to be a person holding the gun with a willing finger on the trigger. Finding what makes a person decide to take as many innocents as possible with them when they decide to end their lives, is at least as important as reasonably implemented controls on firearms.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Ghosts of Christmas Past

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I am not looking to hear reindeer pawing at my rooftop tomorrow; I am not going to have visions of sugar plums dancing about my cluttered jagged thoughts when I go to bed Christmas Eve. I will be listening to the sound of my wife’s breathing and trying to dream of the tiny miracles of Christmases passed to settle my spirit from a year that has been difficult and at times painful.

I wish my childhood memories were more clear, that I could pick out defining Christmas moments from each year that passed beneath my young feet, but they no longer are, they are blended together. One of the memories unattached to time or age is of a nocturnal exploration of presents beneath the tree. I do not recall if I was joined by any of my siblings (and would not implicate them even if I did) only that on this secret venture I peeked at every present I was receiving that year and it ruined the surprise on Christmas. When I told my mom of this just today on the phone, she told me two things: 1) She didn’t know that I had done that, and 2) She had done the same thing when she was a child. I was surprised and pleased by her admission as it established a new link to have with my mother. I love Mom.

Childhood memories also bless me with mental snapshots of what made Christmases in my youth wonderful. Closing my eyes I can see images of my father in varying degrees of Santa garb, of trees overflowing with gifts for five children who were just lucky to have the parents we did, of fires in the hearth, and of incredible food prepared by my mom for her small army.

Memories are better defined thinking back to my college years. When I was a sophomore, I moved off campus to an apartment that would become known as the “Sex Palace”,the same way a large man is given the nickname “Tiny”. It was there that I erected the first Christmas tree that I would call my own. It was a scrawny pine tree sapling adorned with handmade ornaments, topped with a picture of Cap’n Crunch’s Crunchberry Beast. It was that same Christmas that I returned to Orangeburg for the holidays and got the idea to do a photo series on the season. I made a corrugated cardboard sign bearing a large arrow and the word tree. I then drove to all my friend’s houses and asked them if I could take a picture of them with their families holding my sign pointing it in the direction of the Handal family tree. I wish I had kept those pictures, but somewhere back the line I wrongly decided that the mature thing was to toss those memories in favor of an image of who I should be and what I should carry with me. But nothing can take away from me the memory of the smiling faces on photo stock of the Wilsons, Lovejoys, Barkers, Campbells, Whitakers, Fogles, and others.

Many Christmases have come and gone since then. Not all of them happy, but they produced far more smiles than tears. This upcoming one will be significantly lessened by the recent loss of Dennis (more family than friend) and the sorrow that the love of his life, Marc, will be going through as part of himself is forever gone. This creates a void in the soul of our Christmas that cannot be filled and that we will always carry around.

This is where out of self-preservation I selfishly invoke Christmas magic, and yes I believe in it. I believe in the myriad small miracles that happen at Christmas that bring smiles to our faces and ingrain memories to keep those smiles in reserve for whenever they are most needed.

This has been a year for which only the biggest smile can help, so I look within to my favorite Christmas. It was the Christmas of 1998, and our daughter Haley was pregnant and living at home with us. She was round and seven+ months along. She had been miserable with a winter cold that she could not shake because of the limited medicine that her pregnancy would allow. The house was filled with relatives in for the holidays, and things were buzzing with activity by all of us on the day of our annual Christmas open house.

There was something else going on as well. Since fall, we had been working on turning our sagging detached two car garage into a cottage for Haley and the bundle of joy that would be our grandson in fewer than two months. We did this to provide her with her own life, privacy, and a safety net. By the day of our party, it was structurally complete but as yet undecorated.

My amazing wife who is a force of nature, had her heart set on the house being finished for Haley by the night of the party. This added to the work and stress to the day, but if Jean-Marie thought it could be done, I knew it could be. As Jean-Marie dedicated herself body and soul to the cottage, I was tasked with supporting her and directing the party preparations. At one point, my brother-in-law Matt (one of Jean-Marie’s brothers) took me aside and asked me with an air of frustration if Jean-Marie was aware that in a few hours eighty people would be descending on the house and there was a lot left to do. I simply told him that Jean-Marie would not be doing this and leaving the final party prep to us if she didn’t think it was doable.

A great deal of work in a little bit of time ensued attended by my running interference and supplying manual labor for my spouse. Shortly before the party, things were all in place, and we were showered, dressed, and ready. Before the guests arrived, Jean-Marie and I lit the luminarias leading behind our house to the cottage, and led Haley (with her eyes shut) to her new home. Once inside, we told her to open her eyes. As she did, Christmas for my wife and I collapsed in that one moment to our daughter, her unbelieving look on her face, and the tears of joy streaming from her eyes. Moments like that remind me that almost anything is possible, and the happiness of those I love is the greatest gift I can ever receive.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Tribe of the Cathartic Wasteland

In my short bio on my blog site, in my entreaties to people to read what I post, in my essays, I both allude to and actively skirt the question “Why do I write?” It is easy for me to say that it is something that I have always wanted to do and it is something that I have played around with in various small ways for much of my life, but that is a neat little package wrapped in a truth, but not the truth. Not that you are likely to find the whole truth of it here, though I will try to provide just that. A flitter of nerves in my stomach tells me that on some level just below my conscious thoughts I am afraid of the truth. In my head I hear the condescending rant of Jack Nicholson from A Few Good Men, “You can’t handle the truth!” Perhaps I can’t. Perhaps I am afraid because I feel writing is a religion with any bound writing a bible, and religion requires faith to exist, that finding the truth of it will dispel the act and the gift as surely as the finding irrefutable proof of God will send the Almighty dissipating to the winds in a cloud of logic. I feel I do need to divine it though, and if it has any chance of sticking to me, I must be honest not only to myself but to the reader as well.

There are countless books that describe the process of writing, that help one to write fiction, memoirs, poetry, non-fiction, whatever you wish. I own several of these, but they address the mechanics, the technical, the form and function. The underlying metaphysics of writing are individual and therefore deeply personal, so that no one writer can ever say why all writers write.

My writing life begins with and hinges upon reading. I was born into a family taken by reading. My mother read books that entertained her, probably because her five children were not always as entertaining as she would have liked. My father read primarily for his edification, reading on such diverse topics as history, biology, and philosophy (although science fiction was his guilty pleasure in all that). Between and betwixt the chaos that five active children can raise, all of us were able to find reading that suited us and spoke to us. For most of my formative years, I embraced science fiction which gave me a glimpse of realities just tantalizingly out of reach. My heroes were Asimov, Sturgeon, Niven, and Clark. Family trips to the bookstore or library were mandatory pilgrimages prior to any vacation, the books we were to read as anticipated as the place we would read them.

I found that reading had the affect of allowing me to truly enjoy my classes in spelling, literature, and English. And though I had a perspective spiraling toward the scientific and mathematical (a solitary pursuit when compared to my siblings), I loved learning new words, tasting new phrases, and understanding the structures which comprise good sentences. I was as happy with a writing assignment as I was with a mathematical proof. In retrospect, this is where I wandered far afield from more literate endeavors. Though I loved words, I was attracted by the more stable constructs of science. It was a safer and easier landscape for a boy to explore than the landmine laden frontier of the visceral.

In high school, I blossomed in math, contemplating the concept of infinity with glee, taking in the subtle beauty of Euclidian geometry. Never realizing that amongst the hardened pathways and seemingly solid ground that math and science were built upon, my eye was engaged with their abstracts – a literary-like approach. I also stepped occasionally outside my shell to dip into the warming waters of writing. Two such efforts will always come to mind. The first was a paper we had to write for a DAR contest on the concept of One Nation Under God. I wrote on Satanism and witchcraft in the United States and earned a trip to the office and call to my parents because I was offended that it would not be submitted to the DAR (oh what a rebel I was). The second was a science fiction short story re-telling Genesis for a creative writing class. I still remember cringingly the words I laboriously typed on my father’s old manual Royal typewrite (I am also still proud of it and the grade I received).

Even though I left high school to attend Engineering school at Clemson, and left Clemson to do applied research for the railroads, there were cracks in my self imposed armor that allowed the need and urge to write to slowly seep from me. It predominantly expressed itself through cartooning. In high school, I wrote comic strips for the school telling the ongoing adventures of Super Manager and his able sidekick, Ball Boy. Unknowingly this allowed me a creative release in a life otherwise dominated by athletic endeavors, homework, and fear of girls. In college, I continued to cartoon (and for much of the time to still be scared of girls). I fell in with an incredible cast of friends in a running group we formed calling ourselves the Out-of-Control Track Club or the OCTC. We ran twice a day seven days a week together, and for our weekly beer-based meetings at the bar called “The Study Hall,” I would provide a comic strip of the OCTC in all its eccentric glory. The chinks in my armor only widened once I moved into a professional life as not only would I post the occasional comic outside my office, but would write humorous “articles” (once even an entire “newspaper”) poking fun at myself and co-workers to the delight of all (except those in charge of my professional future, but that is a tale for another time).

All this is to say that eventually amidst the turmoil of adulthood, I found that I wanted to do more than to be funny. I discovered my fingers wanted more than to just draw humorous scenarios in pictures and words. I found that I had been trying to contain that which ultimately I could not contain – the need to express myself in words, black on white. Contrasting shades that miraculously contain meaning, feeling, and texture whose sum went beyond the twenty-six letter alphabet that compose them. I look back and recognize that I have always wanted to write, that there was a hunger that I tried to feed with bare scraps and leavings insufficient to the appetite.

Now as I write more and express myself more, I find myself needing to write more and explore myself more. I find that there is a nature to my desire that is espoused in catharsis and self-definition.

The cathartic aspect of writing for me is self-evident. As I write, I express my opinions, dreams, hopes, and ideas. It is through the written word that I am drawn to put these things forward in an explosive release of scribbling pen and the staccato tapping of fingers on plastic keys. Each time I face the blank page, I yearn to give birth to another feeling or image – not to free myself of it, but to shake it loose of its dusty cage and expose its beauty, horror, or banality, to see if it has the legs to stand on its own.

As I write, I am seeking who I am, what tribe I have been born into. We have all had dreams or fantasies that we are descendants of kings and queens, and few that speculate on their lives before reincarnation claim to have lived as a street sweeper or jester. Writing however is different; lineage is claimed through the authors that most resonate from our reading into our writing. It is not an act of pretension; rather it is a reverent recognition of those that awakened the muse in us. My voice invariably links me to a clan, and this clan is to be found in the pantheon of writers who speak to me the loudest through their works. The ranking gods of my personal Mount Olympus are James Dickey, John Nichols, Cormac McCarthy, Thomas Wolfe, and the lordly and damaged Pat Conroy. I do not in the least consider myself to be on a par with these shaman of my tribe. It is because their prose speaks to me and caresses my soul like no other works that I have immersed myself in. Here at fifty I find myself a toddler learning to talk by listening to their words and the dictates of my spirit, as any child learns to speak. And as a child, I refine my accent, my voice through experimentation and mimicry hoping something unique (yet traceable) will result. I do this in hope of growth and in homage of those that have inspired me to writing.

After letting my fingers move of their own accord across the keys and my spirit wander where it will , I do not know if I have shed any light or answered any questions. I only feel that this exploration has run its course for now. That there are no more fossils I wish to exhume from the eroded and exposed walls of the canyon that runs through my soul. I know only what I knew before I began typing, that I write when I can, that I don’t write near enough, and that I will never stop writing now.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Razor’s Edge

Thirty-seven years ago, I was thirteen and watching the first show of what would become an iconic television series – Saturday Night Live. I have no recollection of that show save for one skit, the mock television commercial for the “Triple Trac Razor.” Schick or someone had just that year come out with the revolutionary Twin Trac Razor, the first major advancement in razors since the disposable was invented. In their relentlessly humorous way, SNL described the advantage of the “Triple Trac” by describing how the first blade pulled the hair away from the skin, the second blade catching the hair before it could snap back painfully against face, and the final blade delivering the coups de grace by shearing the hair unbelievably close to the skin. I had not begun shaving by that time, but I was an avid watcher of my father shaving (he had to twice a day, king of the five o’clock shadow was my dad) and I couldn’t imagine a three bladed razor. The thought was ludicrous and hilarious to me. However, in the nearly four decades that have followed which has seen the boom of personal computers, the coming and going of pagers, the rise of the internet, a cell phone in every pocket, addiction to texting, and advent of tablets; science has far outstripped my admittedly meager imagination and razors can now be purchased with up to SIX blades.


I used to use the twin blade razors but when triple blades actually showed up on the market I retreated. I didn’t feel that I could ever keep up with the blade race. I was daunted by myth become fact, and fell back to embrace a legend. I was in an antique store and saw an old safety razor in perfect condition, and bought it before someone else snatched up the treasure. In twenty years, I have never looked back.  I in fact now own four safety razors, treasuring each.

What is a safety razor? It was the next generation of razor to come after the bare bladed straight razor. I would never own a straight razor, they scare me, and nostalgia will only carry me so far. I first saw the safety razor when I would intrude upon my father in his boxers at the bathroom sink, he staring at his face in the mirror preparing to shave. When I first started watching, dad had a shaving mug with soap, a brush for application, and a safety razor to do the actual deed. I loved to see dad lather his bristled face with that brush.  Mesmerized I watched the stainless steel head of dad’s razor drawing through the thick suds, leaving a trail both clean and smooth in its wake. I would stand in fearful awe while watching dad remove a dull blade and shove it into a mysterious slot in the back wall of his medicine cabinet. Where did it go? Would that space ever fill with blades? How could he do that and not cut his fingers?

I was enraptured. In shaving there was mystery (blade disposal), danger (blood beading on throat or cheek, a styptic pencil to stem the flow), and machismo (if I had known the term at that young age). I loved to watch my father shave, a play in three acts – lather, shave, aftershave. I close my eyes see it, and the smell of Old Spice will flow back to me. I cannot help but think of my father each time I look into the mirror and lather my face from my mug filled with bay rum scented soap.

I think there is something almost primal in the act of a man shaving. It is as if we are saying that (opposable thumbs not withstanding) that the willing removal of facial hair is what civilizes us and keeps us several rungs above our more hirsute cave-dwelling ancestors. The deep interior nature of shaving can also be seen by the fascination a young boy first drawn to the act of watching father, or grandfather, or brother shave, yearning for the day when he might have his own razor to shave his own face – a rite of passage.

A father myself, I will never forget the day sixteen years ago when I bought my son Michael his first razor. I was so filled with pride, I went to the mall and bought him an expensive set with mug, brush and razor, bringing it home and demonstrating its use.  I am in part helping to pass on shaving to my grandson as well. I think he was three or four when shaving came across his radar. He would watch me shave, and once even asked if he could shave me. I said yes. On his first stroke he nicked my throat and wanted to stop because he believed he had hurt me. I just smiled and calmed him and let him finish the job. It wouldn’t do for him to fear something so basic to manhood that in not too many years it will be a daily part of his life.

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Even with the beard I have worn since I turned twenty, I shave almost every day, cleaning up my throat and my cheeks.  Making myself less scruffy, more civilized.  One might think that it would become drudgery, but it has not and it never will.  I am a romantic when it comes to shaving.  I am a believer that it keeps me grounded to my manhood, linked back in time to my father, and tied to the future through my son and grandson.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

To Dennis with Love

The horrible part of needing to write is in the ache to express in words those pivotal moments that changes one’s life when at such a time words cannot hope to suffice. Our friend (and this term falls infinitely short of what he truly is) Dennis lies in a bed tended by hospice, our son Michael, their neighbor Trish, friends on demand, and his heart and soul for the past twenty-eight years; Marc. Dennis is in and out of awareness of what is going on. He eats little or nothing now, and is being made as comfortable as possible. How I hate that last phrase, because it never leads anyplace good for those of us who watch and wait and pray.

I cannot talk about Dennis without talking about Marc. They have been a couple and inseparable for twenty-eight years and married for twenty-five. They are Marc and Den, inseparable, one. If couples can be said to have soul mates, they are ours, and we are the richer and better for it. Over the twenty years we have known each other they have become part of our family, and we part of theirs. Our hearts are breaking, and I wonder if they will ever heal because I am not sure they will ever stop breaking from this.

Since the devastating diagnoses of cancer for Dennis, Marc has been brave, doting, caring, and protective. He has been all we hope we can be when placed in such a situation. Even in tragedy, Marc sets a high bar. I think if the dictionary had a picture by the word “stoic,” you would find his handsome, bearded, and smiling face.

Dennis in health was a lanky handsome man of the earth, loving to tend the gardens both at his work (the College of Charleston) and at his home. Sometimes I think his goal was to make things as fertile and lovely as his soul. To see Dennis at labor was to know a truly intimate part of him.

Dennis in decline is a pallid, frail saint. Shuffling when he could still walk, but the movements of his hands though impeded by his health are oddly somehow beautiful and graceful punctuations to his raspy, ruined speech. He clings to his dignity, and tries to ask as little of the people around him as he can. Even when he needs nurturing, Dennis attempts to be the nurturer.

Our favorite nickname for Dennis is Mother Theresa, because he embraced all things so readily. Wanting to help or improve or simply lighten a load. I still laugh at the look Marc gave Dennis, when Dennis brought home a baby fox nestled in a box with a towel. Dennis had found the fox at work (then the El Pomar Foundation in Colorado Springs) abandoned outside its den. I believe the pup went to the zoo for rescue, but Dennis’s first idea was to raise him as one of his own (only Marc in his wisdom stayed Dennis’s hand in this). In the battle between nature taking its course and Dennis having his way, odds were always in Dennis’s favor.

It is not easy to say goodbye to such a heart and spirit. Selfishly I do not want to. Selfishly I want him bound to this earth and in our lives for much longer than we have had. My faith assures me that he is going to a place better than this, a place without prejudice, a place of pure love, a place that will only be enriched by Dennis’s soul. I take comfort in this. I know that ultimately death is harder on the survivors, and that the pain is now squarely moving to our shoulders.

Dennis, Jean-Marie and I love you truly and with all our hearts. We will miss you more than we can say. Thank you for all you have meant to us and done for us. Thank you for your comfort, friendship, and love through the too short years that seem like no time at all. Thank you for leaving your mark on this earth as the Godfather of our grandson. Thank you for being Uncle Den to our Children. The world is better with you in it, but now you are needed to tend other gardens and set another place to bloom. We will take care of Marc. Goodbye.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

When Dinosaurs Walked the Earth

Mitt Romney is being criticized for his comment about obtaining binders full of women’s names to choose from for political appointments when he was governor of Massachusetts. Even though I am not a Romney fan I do not see the harm in what he said or did. There is a male culture in politics, and where it may not be “politically correct” to say the consideration of women for staff roles is thinking outside the box, it doesn’t mean that thinking outside the box isn’t exactly what needs to be done to alter the paradigm.

When I was born, we were a nation on the cusp. We were on the cusp of women’s liberation, and women as a force in the workplace. With this rise of women and all the effort given to prepare them and position them for equality, why were men left out of the transition plan? Perhaps it is because in a male dominated society, men are the oppressors and women are the oppressed. Therefore it is better to conquer us than be responsible for transforming us.

I am not and have never been a male chauvinist, but reconciling how to be a man and gentleman as my mother and father reared me, with how women expect to be treated today is a challenge that at times makes me feel lost at sea. My parents’ generation had much better defined gender roles that they adjusted with partial success to accommodate the coming era. Women’s liberation was a revolution and not a revelation, and so women were the first and only priority within the movement. To this end, my parents had to teach their daughters to be independent and self-sufficient in the hopes that they would prosper amid this revolution, meanwhile rearing their sons in a more traditional since.

For the most part, women of today seem focused on and comfortable in the role of bread winners, workers, and leaders. Meanwhile men have become a jumbled mass comprised of those that are part of gender equality, those that are chauvinists, and those that are social dinosaurs. I am not sure that the relatively small portion represented by the chauvinist will ever be eliminated, but they and their effect will be minimized. We social dinosaurs will take care of ourselves as we are committed to self-extinction, begging for a metaphorical meteor to collide with our world and release us from our evolutionary dead end. We dinosaurs are the men helping to rear and encourage a unified gender view for a better world, while balance how things are with the siren call of ancient genetic memories that whisper into the primitive regions of our brains, “Provide, protect, procreate…”

We dinosaurs find it both fair and necessary for the world’s survival for it to change in this way, but it is difficult for us to deny the ancient concepts of hunter-gatherers and nesters. We still open doors for women even though those who recognize the gesture often think of it as patronizing, and those who are unfamiliar with the act sprint for the open door as if it were simply a limited time offer. We still stand when a lady leaves the table or enters the room, an action met with confusion for all but a few. We still use ma’am as a term of respect, usually to be rebuffed, and accused of making the woman on the receiving end feel “old.”

Democrats (who I have primarily voted for) have been conditioned to their platform of equality of the sexes (derived from the need for a political advantage), while Republicans have been slower to come around. They want to embrace women into their ranks, but many just do not know how. Older established Republicans, I consider to be among my ranks of dinosaurs moving things along ploddingly and inevitably even though there is no place for us in the resulting landscape. So it is a mystery to me with all the other issues of substance out there, why Mitt Romney should be mocked because he made an honest effort to be inclusive. It was an old fashioned approach, not as contemporary in thought as many would want, but I believe he was doing the best he could under the context of how he was reared and the world he grew up in. For Romney, it was probably even a “liberal” thing to do.

Today women occupy high levels of government and business not out of the need to meet quotas, but because they deserve it and are the ones most worthy of those positions. The pace has been too slow on equal pay, and women need to be more readily lumped into the general hiring population rather than looked at as a special segment. These things are being addressed, sometimes with reluctance, sometimes with passion, but they are being addressed. Mitt in his plodding dinosaur way was trying to demonstrate this, and deserves credit for it. Since my birth, a great deal of progress has been made and I feel the greatest strides taken. What remains are loose ends and detail work that will only be accomplished in the passage of time. We will recognize the completion of this societal metamorphosis, the spreading of the butterfly’s wings when we stop counting heads, when our candidate binders are filled with the resumes of people and not men and women, when the red necks have been subdued, and when we dinosaurs die off leaving a better planet in our well worn tracks.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


I worry about the amount fear mongering in this election season. Rhetoric has been less about platform and strategy and more about how much the other candidate will impact your life and ruin the United States and the now ill-defined American dream. It is not so much for the voters that I worry but for the children who are inadvertently exposed to negative campaigning through television, news, and the internet. If voters cave to the pressures of fear mongering, then to an extent we get what we deserve, but children do not have the filters that come with age and experience to keep away the effects of potentially harmful words.
I have not investigated nor interviewed anyone to know if this worry is real or imagined. It is simply a feeling that has arisen from my own innocent youth and the irrational (but real enough to me) fears I had as a boy.
In the late sixties, I was on the downhill side of my formative single digit years. This country’s feelings toward the Vietnam War were just beginning to simmer and boil. For this conflict, the draft was still in force in the nation. The draft that mandatory instrument by which the armed services replenished itself. At the time, the draft was held by lottery. Birthdates were drawn at random, the sooner your birthday was picked, then the greater the chance of your receiving a draft notice.

The draft was a fearful thing, not just because there was a war, but because it was the first war to be covered on television. This was the first war the press could report what was happening to US troops as it occurred. This was the first war where the public could make up its mind based on information that was not purely government spun.
The fear generated by the horror of the Vietnam War for a child my age was more nebulous, more a sense in the gut. Adults can more easily attach concrete ideas to their worries, and therefore know better what they are afraid of. Still the idea of the war and what potentially fighting in it could mean scared me, particularly when adults or talking heads discussed it within earshot.
One night the family was watching television (on one of the only three networks which were available in that fog enshrouded era) the draft lottery was being broadcast. I new nothing about draft eligible age, I knew only that the sooner your birth date was picked, the sooner you would go off to war. I was also aware that war as seen on the news was not heroic and bloodless as war as on shown a television show like "The Rat Patrol."
The feeling in the den was somber, there was nothing jovial in watching the call to the service of one's nation. Silently we watched as the lottery drawing was made. The first date picked, then the second, then mine, then the fourth, and on down the line. I am sure my birthday being drawn third elicited some smart-aleck comment from one of my siblings followed by laughter, but I was struck ice cold.
At the time no one knew it, but I was afraid, and because my parents never made mention of what I felt to be my upcoming draft notice, I didn't feel I could talk to them. I had to appear as brave as I thought they obviously thought I was. For months (far beyond my normal child's attention span should have been good for), I was afraid that the mail was carrying a letter for me from a grateful president. I was afraid I would be going far from everything I knew to a violent world pictured in black and white on the other side of the television screen.
Of course I was never drafted, and the knot in my belly eventually left me, but the memory endures. It lives on in me as an example of how something that is uttered can scar the formative mind. Children are not always self-aware enough to question what adults say. We don't keep this in mind enough and this doubly true for politicians. They are far more interested in obtaining or maintaining power by scaring the electorate and degrading their rival, than making a case based solely on their strengths and positions.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Kick in the Can

It is often the small things that give me pause, make me think, that lead me down pathways that I did not really want to travel, but whose journey I am helpless to prevent. This morning as I walked our dog, I saw a bag of garbage in the middle of our street. Given the wildlife and the sometimes prodigious winds that we get, I did not find it too unusual. On the way back from our constitutional (which means the thirteen pounds of fluffy fury at the end of the leash was attempting to drag me with all due haste back to the house for his breakfast) I swerved into the street to pick up the trash (what a good neighbor I am). It was garbage day, and I was just going to put the bundle with my bins.

As I approached it, the bag looked odd. It was a heavy black yard bag torn and scraped with reuse and tied with a ragged piece of orange of nylon rope. When I picked it up, it was surprisingly light and rattled with the unmistakable sounds of aluminum cans. Odd. How did a bag of recycle get here in the middle of the street? If it had been an animal, it would have been ripped open in the primal quest for food. If it had been the wind, I would have seen small branches and other garbage around, which I didn’t.

I shrugged and set the bag down by my trash and went inside with Sailor to feed him, but my mind would not let go of the mystery. The morning activities of dishes, feed the dog, make breakfast distracted my thoughts, but left my relentless subconscious to plow ahead uninhibited by false perceptions and self-delusion often provided by my conscious mind. Suddenly as I moved on to gather my items (wallet, keys, etc.) for work, the light bulb moment struck, and my day got immediately sadder.

I stood still for a moment staring and unseeing, an image forming behind my eyes. I saw a man going through a garbage can or recycle bin placed curbside on the night before trash pickup. One can is found, two, three and separated from the other refuse to be placed carefully into a personal garbage bag. In the hours after midnight the street sleeps and there are no eyes to see as the man bends to tie rough orange line about the neck of bag to secure the treasure he has mined. He takes this bag, setting it with others in a bungeed nest on the back of his bike and shakily pedals off to find other bins, other foraged plunders. One of his bags shifts and drops from bike to street, lessening the burden, and lessening the pittance he hopes to reap from this evening’s covert labors.

The silent wraiths whose ranks have become bloated with the tumbled economy have crept from beneath their bridges, out of their cardboard boxes, from whatever tarp or tent that they bed in to hunt beyond the confines of downtown into the neighborhoods to seek out means of sustaining their lives. They are unorganized yet not unintelligent.

I have seen for myself and heard from others how the number of pan handlers has increased in downtown Colorado Springs. I know that they have become more aggressive as their swelling numbers stretch the resources and patience of the people they plead to for spare change and food. When food sources become scarce for bears and mountain lions they leave their habitat to enter the neighborhoods for fruit trees, garbage, and pets. It is not inconceivable that when the food chain is stretched thin for the disenfranchised that they would adopt a similar behavior.

The homeless have always made me uncomfortable, and I have kept them at arms length only giving money or bags of grocery when they are impossible to ignore, when the gnawing at my conscience strikes a calloused nerve of decency. I fear them because I believe I cannot help them, and because there for the grace of God go I. It is not easy to look into the mirror that reflects possibility of our lives; it is often not a pretty picture.

The homeless are ghosts in the truest sense. They wander unnoticed through the ranks of the living, when seen they are often gray, colorless phantoms at the edge of our perceptions that we hope to exorcise through the invocation of the Lord’s name and what loose change we have in our pockets. They are the other one percent. Not the one’s we envy, but the ones we forget about, the ones we deny. They are below the middle class, below the poor; they inhabit the grimy bottom rungs of the ladder of success.

They do not pay taxes, and many do not receive any kind of welfare. To borrow a phrase from the late Hunter S. Thompson, they are the “doomed”. We see them with leathery skin and empty eyes screaming at no one as they walk the streets. We see them with their hungry children on exit ramps holding homeless-made torn cardboard signs begging for food, for help. We see them lined up outside the Catholic soup kitchen in the rain with backpacks, bags, and strollers waiting for the doors to open and a meal to warm their hollow bellies. The old homeless clash with the new homeless in a country that already does not support the former much less address the latter.

As the presidential election looms ever closer, I do not hear either campaign decrying the plight of the homeless, or saying that a concerted effort be made to help them. They talk of job creation, restoring the middle class, and tax cuts, but do not say how these jobs or that class or tax rate cuts can touch those that have sunken below the radar. We the people are deaf to this problem, and they the politicians are both blind and mute to it. Maybe what we should do is concentrate on our independence from the rest of the world, stop trying to influence people who do not want our influence, end sending our fortunes abroad to help the helpless in other countries, and spend time keeping our own house in better order.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Taking the Fall

As I drove down to work today, I glanced east into the sunrise.  Silhouetted by pink light and morning haze, inverted tear drops were suspended, frozen in the sky.  Four hot air balloons defying gravity in the calm air, prosaically reminding me that today is the last day of summer, and fall takes her place tomorrow.

I much prefer Autumn over the other seasons.  Spring is lovely in a vivacious energetic way.  Life burgeoning, carelessly thrusting forth in colors that make rainbows blush.  Winter is a solemn time of renewal and death.  Beneath the cold winter glare all ponder their future, taking stock of its past, planning its awakening, or giving into the great circle, releasing itself to nourish the new and gaining immortality in that instant.  Summer is a hot and invigorating time during which borders are defined and maintained, new life protected by old life.  Summer is a dramatic time of thunder storms, fire, and hail, the world beating its breast.  It is the heart of the seasons, the grind of the annual cycle.  In Fall things begin to give into the upcoming sloth, preparing for rest, winding down.  Fall too, presents vivid colors to the world, but these are marks of maturity and not the fireworks of reckless youth.

This past year has been particularly trying and exhausting for my family and I.  So many changes we have all been through, with even more likely to come - sooner rather than later.  But for now, I feel the calm of the new season wash over in the welcome embrace of an old friend.  I feel the change in the very air around me, the mornings getting crisper, the evenings turning chill.

I will begin the rituals of fall soon.  The sprinkler system will be turned off, no water needed for sleeping lawns.  I will do the final edgings and mowings for the year, primping the grass so in its rest it will not be embarrassed by errant sprigs here and there, a yard’s version of bed head.  Some raking will be done, but not much, it is a small yard with few trees.  The final weeds will be pulled in a fruitless attempt to limit their ravenous foothold in spring.  Eventually, the pilot on the fireplace will be relit for in anticipation of curling up with my wife and a book in the warmth and flickering glow granted us through the flip of a switch.

I am odd that way about the Fall, I long for the creeping chill that will enter my bones over the next few months.  I patiently watch the softening of the light, and the shorting of the days.  Fall to me is rest and restoration, a time to heal my aches and any wounding of my soul.  It is a time to gently breath in the quieting world, and to reach out my hand and have my wife slip hers easily into it as we instinctively move closer.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Give me a Sternburger with Fries

I am an inquisitive person by nature, especially of the minutiae to be found in our daily lives.  I find it fun and sometimes even informative to learn something new and then see where my mind takes it.  Today (September 18th 2012) for instance, is not only our son’s thirty-third birthday, but it is also National Cheeseburger Day.

When I heard this on the radio, I had to do some research into the most significant addition to the humble burger since the bun (which in and of itself was the greatest invention since its close relative sliced bread).  The cheeseburger's origin dates from somewhere occurred between the late 20's to mid 30's depending on what source you give more credence to.  Many adhere to Lionel Sternberger’s claim of inventing the cheeseburger by accident in the late 1920’s when he was a 16 year old fry cook at his father’s “Rite Spot” Drive In.  Lionel did not say if it was divine intervention or simply idiot savant-like intelligence that guided his hand in dropping the first piece of American cheese on a sizzling burger, but I do not find this to be more than a yarn by a teenage boy whose only sizzling thoughts lay in girls and not beef.  After all, if Lionel Sternberger had indeed invented the cheeseburger, wouldn’t it be called the “Sternburger” ?  Then there is the claim of Louisville’s KY’s Kaelin restaurant that has a menu purported to be from 1934 with the cheeseburger on it.  Given the level of sophistication of PhotoShop and todays computers, faking a 1934 menu would be easy to do and hard to detect.  The only claim I have seen that carries demonstrable legal weight, is that of Louis E. Ballast of the now non-extant Humpty Dumpty Drive In, Denver.  In 1935, Mr. Ballast actually trade marked the cheeseburger.  Game, set, match to Louis Ballast!

Unfortunately for those reading this, my exploration lead me to discover more holidays than National Cheeseburger Day.  I found that every day of the year has at least one unique holiday associated with it.  Think of it, three hundred and sixty-five (three hundred and sixty-six on Leap Year) days with at least one thing to celebrate.

Fittingly my birthday falls on Sugar Cookie Day, and I find it hard to believe that there is an International Skeptics Day (January 13th) each year, but there is.  Thanks to my daughters, I already knew that March 14th is PI Day (3.14), and I find that Pecan Day and Waffle Day both sharing March 25th proof enough that God does exist.  Without the Cold War we can now freely share in and appreciate April 12th as Russian Cosmonaut Day, and let us not forget that on May 9th the world comes together with heads bowed and hearts heavy for Lost Sock Memorial Day (one day after No Sock Day – how ironic is that!).  Finally, did you know that January 4th was Trivia Day?

There are a host of holidays out there for almost ever taste.   You can find one that suits your spirit at:  http://holidayinsights.com/moreholidays .

(Author’s note:  An official date for National Procrastination Day has not been set yet, apparently they have not gotten around to voting on it.)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Mob Rules

Life is sometimes violent and incomprehensible.  Such has been the case since September 11, 2001 stripped Americans of their innocence, opening eyes to global realities, and opening hearts to fear and paranoia.  Now eleven years to the day in the midst of our mourning and remembrance, the US Consulate in Libya has been attacked leaving three embassy staff dead including our Ambassador.

The inevitable result of such an action by Islamic extremist has been a measured reaction by the government and second guessing and knee jerk reaction from without the executive branch.  It is the second guessing and gut reactions that worry me more than the attack.  Of course I am outraged and angered by the murder of our representatives abroad.  I also believe that such actions by enemies are taken not to make a point, but to derive specific responses that broaden their base and weaken the already shaky perceptions of the United States.

The immediate criticisms of the Executive Branch’s handling of this current act of terror is more politically than practically motivated.  The degree to which Governor Romney has attacked the Obama administration already shows a lack of geo-political vision for the larger picture by putting crass nationalism ahead of any substantive thought on the issue.  Today one of Governor Romney’s sons was interviewed in regards to this on 850 KOA radio out of Denver.  He said that his Father was just expressing his outrage over what he believed to be a demonstration of an incoherent international policy.  Outrage can be understood, but instant criticism before all the facts are out and understood is not how a global leader should respond, and at its worst seems an action of opportunism rather than a demonstration of capabilities.

Meanwhile, the gut response of some of some of the populace has been a call for a more dogged effort to hunt down and kill all Islamic extremists (a very good friend of mine made such a comment recently).  Even on its face and in the simplest terms this does not seem possible or practical.  Throughout the history of the world, oppression has only resulted in revolt and violence, and a more sustainable peace has been best achieved by inclusion rather than destruction of enemies.

Simply setting the special forces at our command loose for wholesale slaughter of a gorilla foe may result in a momentary weakening of that foe, but more critically would draw even more people to their cause by the martyrdom it would create.  By reacting with unrestrained vengeance, we play into the hands of the extremist instead of effectively combatting and negating them.

Both sides of our predominantly bipartisan political system share blame in current affairs.  Too often we react with short term goals in mind and insufficient thought given to long term consequences.  Policies of both Democrats and Republicans have resulted in failed nation building, and worse the deaths of American soldiers and citizens spanning more than a decade since we first adopted those policies to make us safer.

Show anger and indignation, but also take time to think.  I don’t have answers, but I am also not running out to kill Islamic extremist with an AR-15 and thousands of rounds of ammunition so easily obtained from gun shows and the internet.  That such atrocities are still being dealt to us only shows us that our policies over the past decade or longer are seriously flawed in some fashion.  If we do not search out and address these flaws, anger and violence will still be our true masters, and the cycle of terror and fear will continue.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Elephants on Parade


I am sitting in my kitchen on Sunday morning, sipping my coffee and nibbling on a piece of toast. I was wondering what I could write as the blank screen stared back at me. Then I bit into some butter seared into the bread by my toaster oven. I don’t get butter with every bite; I toast my bread with three small pads of butter on each slice – two at the top and one near the bottom. It is the same pattern every time. In this way each bite of the bread can be a little bit different, some with less butter, some with no butter, and some with a lot of butter, a small tasty adventure for breakfast.

There is even a name for making toast this way, it is called elephant toast. I would love to claim this whimsical name for my own, but it was invented by my father and perfected in mass production by my mother. Dad said the three spots of butter were in the pattern of an elephant’s foot print. There being no elephants wild or in captivity in my native Orangeburg, South Carolina, and since the family had never been on safari beyond the confines of our imaginations, there was no way to verify the veracity of my father’s words. Now at fifty, I prefer to let the mystery remain, keeping my eyes raised when greeting pachyderms at the zoo, and leaving Google un-queried.

As you may immediately see, elephant toast cannot be made in a traditional vertical toaster. The butter would melt, run, cause a fire, burn down the house, and likely get me grounded. It must be made horizontally. This was how my mother always made toast, flat on a cookie sheet under the broiler. Does this sound like a waste of energy? She had no choice, there were five children in the family (we blamed our dad for such a large grouping, with some careful planning and selection, I’m sure my parents would have been satisfied with just me and perhaps one or two of the others). Particularly on school mornings we would take our places at the breakfast table and sit there squawking with heads upturned, mouths opened, eyes bulging like a large nest full of chicks clambering for the early bird out hunting the worm.

To my mind, we must have gone through most of a loaf of bread every morning. Each slice was laid out carefully, toasted on one side, flipped, and then the elephant’s foot print added to the other before being popped back in the oven. Everyone got to have elephant toast, but in the spirit of waste-not-want-not, my mother also made toast from the heels of the bread. I was only aware much later in life that many people think of heels as disposable or suitable only for bread crumbs. We were made to believe that heels were special, and they were! Because it was curved, it didn’t look like a normal piece of bread, because it was the remainder of the loaf some sections of the heel were thinner and cooked a little unevenly and a bit faster than its fuller cross-sectioned neighbor. We begged for the heels. It was commotion each morning for five thundering pairs of feet to rush down the stairs, their owners hoping to lay claim to one of the coveted slices of heels. We never called them heels though, they were “bended toast”. There were almost always two pieces of bended toast and the first person downstairs would scream loudly, “I call for the first best burnt piece of bended toast!” The second would exclaim (and you guessed it), “I call for the second best burnt piece of bended toast!” These were treasures more than on a par with calling shotgun for the drive to school, or claiming control of the TV (it wasn’t until I left for college that we got a color TV with a remote, so if you had control of the TV, you were the one responsible for getting up and down and changing the channel . manually – but this is a tale for another time).

The point being is that my mom and dad were not only the raiser of children, they were the makers of magic, they were the progenitors of imagination for five growing and ravenous minds. We went to school to learn the facts, mom and dad openly participated in our memorization and understanding of these facts, but they also pushed us out the door to play in woods covered in vines and filled with blackberries. They sent us to run and make believe with our friends in the neighborhood, exercising both body and mind.  They would take en masse to the library, and shared with us the marvel of books.  They would seat us at a long table littered with blank paper, crayons, and water color paint leaving the rest to us.  They did all this for us, and along the way they nourished us with plenty of love and elephant toast.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The "Bee"

Jugs are impressions
On story and history
In tales told through
Fiction, religion, rebellion

East Indian girl-child
On path from well
Jug perched on head
Smile perched on lips

Humble jug of water
Summoned by Mary
Transfigured by Christ
Becoming celebratory wine

Earthen jugs in chambers
Beneath sand and sandstone
Hard shell for soft organs
Held safe to meet gods

Jugs rustic and corked
In trunks of fast cars
Down dirt back roads
Unstoppable untaxable lightening

Jugs hold things precious
And items odd
Hold meaning for some
Sometimes no meaning at all

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Year of the Dan: An Open Letter to the Colorado Rockies

I love baseball. When my mind wanders down happy paths (sometimes narrow, sometimes wide) the most expansive areas have a field, a ball, a bat, and nine gloves. I recall as a boy in bed at night, my brother Chris just three feet away in his, the tubes glowing in the small green AM radio on the nightstand between us, as baseball poured from its small tinny speaker. The voices of Milo Hamilton and Ernie Johnson doing analysis and play-by-play for the Atlanta Braves.

My brother and I listened to the Braves religiously through the seventies. We welcomed the advent of WTBS with its broadcasts of the games as manna from heaven. Those were lean years for Atlanta, when losing seemed more realizable than winning, and each newly acquired big named pitcher would seemingly buckle to his knees grasping his pitching arm with some injury as soon as they disembarked the plane at Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport.

Such a baptism in following the sport should have hardened me to whatever franchise I would migrate to in adult life. But it is a truism that no matter what you have experienced, no matter what you have seen, you haven't seen it all - yet.

I am in Colorado now, and after living here seven years, Colorado was chosen to get an MLB Franchise, the Colorado Rockies. Now the Rockies are celebrating their twentieth year which they are calling "The Year of the Fan." A great idea, but the follow-through has left something to be desired. So far, the only things the fans have to smile about are the inventive and humorous Colorado Rockies television commercials which star some of their season ticket holders.

Going into spring training (the annual rebirth of the religion that is baseball) the Rockies were believed to be in contention for a spot in the post season. Now with the season in full swing (pun intended), the Rockies will be lucky if they do not lose one hundred games, and what was the “Year of the Fan” has become the “Year of the Dan.”

Dan would be Dan O'Dowd, General Manager of the Colorado Rockies, and harbinger of the Rockies’ doom. He has wheeled and dealed this team solidly out of contention in a year dedicated to the people that have supported the team through its highs and lows for twenty years.

Last year the season was crippled by an under performance from its ace Ubaldo Jimenez, the loss of its number two pitcher Jorge Del la Rosa to Tommy John surgery, the mediocrity of the three man in the rotation Jason Hamel, the inconsistency of forth starter Jhoulis Chacin, and a broken neck incurred by fifth man in the rotation Juan Nicasio. "Wisely" the Rockies dumped their ace to the Cleveland Indians for having a poor season, for which they received two good minor league pitchers and an unknown position prospect.

The season ended with many question marks hanging over the Rockies pitching as-well-as having serious needs for the revolving doors at right field, and second and third base. It was time for the Rockies GM to step up to the plate and show more than his lackluster job of previous seasons. Would it be too much foreshadowing if I were to say that Dan O'Dowd struck out looking?

To his credit, O'Dowd made good moves in right field and second base signing veterans Michael Cuddyer and Marco Scutaro. No off season moves were made about third base and so Manager Jim Tracy divided the duty among Gordon Pacheco, Chris Nelson, Jonathon Herera, and DJ LeMahieu.

I really do not want to address the pitching situation, but I have to. In the off season, O'Dowd dealt mediocre Jason Hamel to Baltimore (where he has become the rock of their rotation) for Jeremy Guthrie (he of the 17 losses for 2 of the last 3 seasons). O'Dowd retained the inconsistent Chacin, strong good-natured Juan Nicasio (he of the broken neck), and added to that Jeremy Guthrie, young untested Drew Pomerance, and spring training acquisition forty-nine year old Jamie Moyer (fresh off Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery). You could almost feel the division quaking in their collective spikes of facing that fearsome five!

Just into the season’s infancy, the first round of disasters struck. Chacin and Nicasio both went on the disabled list and have not seen action since. Guthrie has performed as-well-as a seventeen game loser can be expected to perform. Drew Pomerance was sent to triple A Colrado Springs to work on mechanics, and Jamie Moyer was handed both his cane and his release papers.

In the field, the Rockies lost all star/all world shortstop Troy Tulowiski to what may be a season ending groin injury. This left the infield in chaos and opened the way to expanded micromanaging on the part of Jim Tracy. Tracy decided to share shortstop duties among Scutaro, Chris Nelson, Gordon Pacheco, Jonathon Herrera. Since Scutaro was partially reassigned to short stop, Tracy got to play musical chair at second with Scutaro, Nelson, and LeMaheu.

In case you were thinking that first base is the lone island of sanity in the sea of the infield, Todd Helton (who has done his usual superlative defensive job) is aging and not hitting as-well-as past years, so he is given frequent days off and right fielders Cuddyer and Tyler Colvin (with a dash of let-me-see-which-hat-I-wear-today Pacheco and Yoda-of-the-clubhouse Jason Giambi) alternate on the corner. All this switching around of players is more difficult to follow than Abbot and Costello explaining “Who’s on First.” It is no wonder that our normally high team fielding percentage is suffering. Without stability to the infield, chemistry does not have a chance to form, to gel into the familiar bonds necessary for a 6-3-2 double play, or even sometimes to know where to throw the damn ball.

This juggling act has its effect offensively as well. There is for all practical purposes no fixed batting order save that when the game starts the pitcher bats ninth. Batters are not getting the chance to settle-in to the leadoff spot, or four-hole, or lower half of the order, or wherever. Each place in the batting order requires a different strategy. Shifting personnel around so much weakens the offense that the Rockies can produce (as an example, the Rockies have been outscored this year in the second and third innings by approximately sixty runs).

Back in the land of the pitcher, the Rockies moved Guthrie to the bullpen, brought up Alex White along with rookie Christian Friedrick to start, Josh Outman was moved to the starting rotation from the bullpen, and resigned Jeff Francis to the club. Around this core, Jim Tracy implemented a league perplexing four man rotation. Based on the theory that the less opposing teams see of the Rockies’ starters, the better the chance the Rockies’ starters can put the team in a position to win a game. Because of the short time between starts, starters are limited to just seventy-five pitches with the hope they can make it through the fifth inning, then the long reliever can take over, and the holder and the closer can then play their parts – I call it “pitching by committee.”

What actually happened when this system was implemented was that both Alex White and Josh Outman were shelled out of their first starts within the first few innings, ultimately resulting in both being sent down to the minors. Drew Pomerance was brought back up, and Jeremy Guthrie was given another shot at the rotation. Pomerance has performed well, though due to arm soreness took a drubbing last time out. Jeremy Guthrie had not changed his shaky ways and was shuttled off to the Kansas City Royals for Jonathon Sanchez (1-6 when acquired, 1-7 after his first outing in a Rockies jersey). The primary bright spot for the Rockies pitching has been the surprising play of Jeff Francis who has pitched consistently and has been a solid veteran presence on the field. Francis however is no longer an ace, and is better suited as an anchor of a rotation and not its best performer.

If it is confusing finding your way through this maze of names, positions, and moves, it has been doubly so to the fans who root against the tide of crumbling hope for the Rockies. As I mentioned, I am a veteran of witnessing promising melt down, but the dreams-turned-to-dust of the Rockies’ season is like nothing I have seen in my more than four decades of being a baseball fan.

This year I have watched both the moves by the GM and the juggling by the Manager and have found both wanting. I join the multitude of Rockies’ fans, lantern in hand, searching in the dark not for an honest man, but an honest assessment of the team. I am looking for ownership to say more than, “Man, we really aren’t that good, are we?” The fans need and deserve decisive movement, decisive change. I am not talking a sacrificial response such as changing the hitting coach, or sending the pitching coach to be special assistant to the GM. I am talking about replacing Dan O’Dowd and Jim Tracy immediately.

The position players we have are fine, and look to grow into the high ceilings that scouts have predicted for them. The starting rotation is a disaster and needs complete reconstruction, but I am unsure who is available that would make a significant difference at this point. Much of the damage is done this season, but ownership can at least make the infield more stable, ownership can at least give the batters fixed spots in the order, and ownership can show the fans that it cares about putting out a quality product by firing O’Dowd and Tracy. Any argument revolving around direction or stability to this move would be spurious and hollow as ownership had no difficulty in removing Clint Hurdle as Manager at mid-season when that change was required.

The fans are still coming to the park, the fans are still following the broadcasts, and the fans are still loyal. Show them that they are justified in this love and trust, pay more than lip service to the “Year of the Fan,” move out O’Dowd and Tracy, and move on to what this team can be.

Friday, July 20, 2012


There is a special thrill for people who go to a mid-night premiere of a new movie, they expect something special, they expect to be thrilled, they are recalled by the innocence any new fun experience brings, they do not expect chaos and death. Early this morning in the city of Aurora, Colorado at a movie theatre in a nice area of this town nestled within the metro Denver area a man in a gas mask and bullet proof vest, armed with a rifle and handgun tossed a smoke bomb or tear gas canister into a crowded theatre and began shooting. What was it like? Twenty-two year old Jennifer Seeger was the first person the shooter (James Holmes) saw, she survived; this is some of her account:

“He came in and he threw in the gas can and then I knew it was real," Seeger told NBC News. "Then he shot the ceiling. Right after he shot the ceiling he pointed the gun right at me. At that point I drove into the aisle and I got lucky because he didn't shoot me.

Then he started to shoot people behind me and the bullets were falling on my head. It was burning my head it was so fresh. I could smell gunpowder. At that point he went up the stairs.”

Hot shells, ejected, burning, pelting her head. The smell of cordite so strong she could easily distinguish it from the thick smoke filling the theatre from the thrown canister. How was she able to act so quickly to save her life? Thank God she did.
Another witness to this horror said:

"I'm with coworkers and we're on the floor praying to God we don't get shot, and the gunshots continue on and on, and when the sound finally stopped, we started to get up and people were just bleeding."

No matter how much cartoon violence we see on screens large and small, no matter how gory a movie gets, the sight of true blood whether yours or someone else’s is startling, unique to be in the presence of this intimate fluid that should remain internal, unseen, sustaining life. So many reports on the radio of people shot, of friends helping wounded and bleeding friends from the theatre. One of the wounded was a 3 month old child (who takes a baby to a midnight showing of a PG13-rated movie?), fortunately this child was treated and released, unclaimed by the reaper in its midst.

James Holmes, the “suspect” in custody, is reported to be Caucasian and educated – he was a former grad student of Neuroscience. His mother lives in San Diego, and when police there went to her, she was apparently unsurprised by her son’s actions.

She had awoken unaware of the news of the shooting and had not been contacted by authorities. She immediately expressed concern that her son may have been involved.

"You have the right person," she said.

"I need to call the police," she added. "I need to fly out to Colorado."

Upon arrest, Holmes told police something about explosives or bomb making supplies at his apartment. Police, Fire Department, bomb squads, FBI, and ATF converged on the building and evacuated it. From a perch atop a Fire Department ladder truck, an agent sited through the third floor window explosive substances and booby traps set to prevent entry. Who is this man? What motivates him? What internal time bomb makes him a mass murderer, killer of men, women, and children? What makes him a monster?
They are questions with no answers. In the coming days, weeks, months, and years these questions and others will be posed, probed in an attempt to fit the jagged, irregular pieces of this puzzle together. It is a puzzle without a box to provide clues as to the order of pieces, it is a puzzle without smooth borders to define edges, it is a puzzle that may form a picture that sane minds will be unable to process. No one knows.

Ultimately in the wake of senseless death and terror is unreasoning fear. As I drove to work, glued to my radio listening to 850 KOA out of Denver, I worried for my friend Ben and his family who went to a midnight showing of the movie, praying that they were alright, even though Ben lives more than half a continent away from the massacre. No sane reason for me to fear, but that was one of my first thoughts. Shaking this thought, I recalled that less than three months ago, our eldest daughter and our grandson were living in Denver, what if they had been involved? Thoughts and worries cascaded, our son is only a week away from moving back from South Carolina to his house in Denver, what if he had been there? We have many friends in the Denver area, are they safe? My heart races, my head pounds, my eyes moisten and my fingers strain to work on this as these thoughts renew, replay.

I do not know what is going on with the world. I have always known it to be violent and polarized, but this kind of horror is a gut punch that leaves me breathless and gasping on my knees. The killing did not come from a known enemy who might have been caught through webs of intelligence, murmured hints at some evil to strike. This was an act of mass random violence, unpredictable, one that could approach us out of the corner of our eye at any time in any place and for no reason. It is the kind of act that leaves us feeling insecure and unprotected.

We will follow the investigation intently, as we did with Columbine. We will hang on each word and speculation. We will incorporate what they learn from this crime into our shields, and we will lie to ourselves that we are now safer for the experience so that we may sleep easier believing the world is a sane place. I know that prayers will flood to the victims and the dead as naturally as the rising of the moon, and all I can do for those I know and love is hope they are safe.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Take Me to the River

Life is a river that you are baptized in, anointed in its holy waters from the cradle to the grave. It teaches you first to learn, and then to teach before you simply melt away and become part of its flow, part of its fertile silt. It is a lonely river if you never have any one to pass your knowledge of shoals, rapids, falls, calms, pools, and life on to. With each step into it, with each inch towards its relentlessly speeding current, you find out more about yourself and the river, even if that next step is on your tip toes. When you are younger, time moves slowly because you are at the rivers edge, as you get older it moves more quickly because you are further out into its currents. At fifty, I can still see the shore but I can also feel the rivers strong pull as I round this bend and look towards the next.

At birth, I was dipped in playfully at the bank by my parents, as I grew older they held my hand as I tottered into water muddied by my awkward foot falls to investigate eddies, and pools with crayfish in them. They watched as I took my first solo steps and wound up plopping down butt first in the water, sometimes crying sometimes laughing. These were my early years, where my parents were with, by me, looking over me, allowing me to drink at the rivers edge, but were careful not to let me slip in, not to let time run away with me too quickly.

Growing older, I waded further into the river but always with my parents’ knowledge of where I was going, where I would be. The river flowed a little faster for me, the pull of it a little stronger. I saw fish swimming about my feet in the shallows. I felt invincible as I flew over the sun splashed water on a rope swing, laughing and howling with friends, both scared and exhilarated. Life passed about, or we passed through it, sometimes it is impossible to tell. In the hubris of my youth, I believed the river was my own and that I would know it from headwaters to sea.

Knowledge of mind grew, comfort with body gained, insecurities of whom I was and what I would do with my life churned and swirled not unlike the river itself. The river had broadened and its current strengthened. I went off to college, feeling only a tenuous life line to home as I waded out further still with toes blindly groping for safe foot falls. I made friends, I established identity, the river for the moment did not seem so frightening, and my life line slowly rotted in the stream as all such lines must.

The river took me from my home, and gave me to the mountains and to the west. My parents and family were still strong within me, but I was chest deep and heading for rapids, my life was my own and I had to learn to swim or sink on my own. As my first brief marriage tumbled through white water and rocks ending in divorce, my hand grasped reflexively for my mommy’s and daddy’s grip at he waters edge. They were there in spirit and gave me all the love and encouragement I could want, but ultimately I had to keep myself afloat.

The rapids changed into a long meandering stretch where I could rest myself, cool in the waters, and bask in the sun. Far from family, bounded by far reaching prairie to the east and ragged mountains to the west, I was the better off for what I had been through, I found more of myself. I found likes and dislikes; I found life in friends, and life in people I could help (which in turn helped me).

The river only began to speed again when I met Jean-Marie, and her three incredible children. No longer was I alone in the river, Jean-Marie floated beside me. We watched over the children as they took their own tentative steps from the banks, their own daring dives from tire swings. The river seemed easier to manage with love and companionship, held less fear of self when there are children to watch over and guide on their own river’s journey.

It has not been a lazy river since then, friends and family have passed, children have gone through rough patches, the marriage itself has gone through rapids, but with each other to cling to there was less of a chance of drowning and with each mishap and heartache and insult to our lives, having each other has kept us from sinking. I don’t mean to say that there were no slow spots, because there have been many, there will be many more. I will enjoy the ease of floating down them, hugging my wife to me as we smile and laugh.

When I look to the bank now, I see our children wading into the deeper faster water, I see our grandchildren look for fish and play on the tire swing. I am both joyous and afraid. I know some of what the river can do, some of what it can bring. I cannot change its course, I can only go with it and watch out for the one’s I love as best I can ultimately knowing how they handle the rapids and the white water is up to them.

Turning fifty has not been the plunge over the falls that some have warned me of, but it is humbling to go back and look at the winding river, to see its length and breadth and know that I am only looking at a tiny part of a bigger picture, a world river, a flow of time and souls that began longer ago than my memory can process, and will not reach its end at the sea until a time my imagination cannot conceive of.

Cross-Dressing Cuttlefish

I once was blind but now I see – thanks to the cuttlefish. A battle has long been raging between evolution and creationism, a battle to be forever personified by the Scopes Monkey Trial, a battle in which I have sided with Darwin. Darwin built a cogent logical argument for how animals developed on earth from the simplest of foundations to the most complex of creatures, man. Creationism has its scientists too, but so often creationism comes across with the weaker “Then a miracle happened!” argument. Now, because of the cuttlefish, I am leaning away from Darwin and closer to God.

The cuttlefish is small and squid-like in appearance and is known for being able to change skin color and pattern in the blink of an eye. This ability is well documented, but there is a very special aspect of this camouflage talent which has just come to light. In observing the mating rituals of cuttlefish, scientist noted that when more than one male was in the presence of a single female, the male in closer proximity showed male skin patterns to the female, but the side facing the other males was patterned after the female! This makes the cuttlefish, the first non-human species on the planet to have adopted the social behavior of cross-dressing.

Scientist currently interpret this behavior (which occurred thirty-nine percent of the time during observed courtships) as an attempt on the part of the cross-dressing male to avoid conflict with other male cuttlefish, thus raising his procreation chances with the female of interest. Since cross-dressing in the human population is often conceived as a deviation by fundamentalists, there can be no reasonable explanation for the cuttlefish evolving a supposed socially unacceptable behavior. Therefore, cross-dressing in cuttlefish can only have been achieved by God’s plan, and if something can be considered a gift from God in a lower species, how can it not be celebrated as such in humans.

The ramifications of this are enormous, earth-shattering, of universal importance. Think of it, God created cross-dressing, therefore cross-dressing is acceptable. Since cross-dressing has been for quite some time associated (though not exclusively) with the gay community, there now exists both scientific and religious proof that homosexuality is both a knowing creation of God and socially acceptable.

Think of the relief that will sweep across the fundamentalist and extremist communities. Finally there is a hate to cross off their list. These people so strongly opposed to so many things will wake up tomorrow or the next day with a considerably lighter heart, and perhaps the things remaining for them to hate will seem just a little bit less important.

With this revelation, I cannot shake the image of the lion now lying with the lamb or in this case Pat Robertson lying with the drag queen. I can almost hear the pen scampering to the paper to re-write next Sunday’s sermons. With creationism now behind the gay community, trumpets will blow and walls will crumble. To hell with gay unions, gay marriage will easily become the order of the day.

As farcical as this argument seems, it is far more farcical that we treat same-sex couples as anything less than complete people by denying them the same rights and privileges as heterosexual couples. Laws pass and are struck down out of religious zeal much more so than any substantive legal argument. To me this denial seems to violate the constitutional rights of religious freedom and free speech as-well-as the constitutional separation of church and state.

On the religious side of the coin I have always been drawn to the Matthew 22:36-40 :

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

The second greatest commandment and the one that guides us in how we treat all those around us, demands of us to treat our fellow man as we ourselves wish to be treated. Christ does not say love only those that think like you do. In fact, God and the Declaration of Independence seem to me of one mind on this matter as one of this country’s founding principles is that all men are created equal.

I admit that I am often angered at the fight over gay marriage which seems to me to have such a self-evident answer. It seems if you believe in God’s love and the word of Christ then you must come to the conclusion that an adult couple is an adult couple and should be granted the sacrament of marriage. It also seems if you prefer to think like an American, then you believe all men are created equal and you must come to the conclusion that an adult couple is an adult couple and should be given the legal right of marriage. My life and the lives of my family have been too deeply touched by gay couples who define love and commitment for us. I must contain my temper on this issue, because I am called to “love my neighbor as I love myself” even if that neighbor may be closed minded and more homophobic than God-fearing.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Wrestling with the Past

I was raised to love reading, enjoy classical music and the arts, open doors for women, and to use a cloth napkin. One would never guess that beneath the refined shell of this Renaissance man beats the heart of an old school professional wrestling fan. I am not talking about the hyper-thyroidal muscle bound monsters that perform in mega-stadiums with jumbotrons and fireworks. I am talking about wrestling as it was when I was growing up. Before the WWE, wrestling was much less global and each region of the country had its own regional promoter-owned wrestling alliances. It had a local feel that made wrestling not only fun to watch, but for me it became a bonding experience with my two brothers and my father.

I couldn’t wait for the weekends when we would sit down and watch Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling (a Jim Crocket Production) and Georgia Championship Wrestling (hosted by legendary announcer Gordon Solely – renowned for inventing the names of muscle groups being tortured in the squared circle). To me, this was the hay day of the “sport.” Physique was not as important as mic skills and the ability to “sell” both moves and personas. The other thing was that not everyone was a superstar. Many of the wrestlers were “jobbers.” Jobbers were there to lose on the TV shows, get crushed by the main eventers. The fans loved watching these hapless men beat pillar to post, but even some of the jobbers had their own following. What aficionado of the sport could ever forget the Mulkey Brothers? They were malnourished looking twin toe heads who were so bad that the fans became consumed by “Mulkey Mania” (a term coined by wrestling manager Jim Cornet). Unlike today, the stars mainly battled at the halls and auditoriums where the customers paid to see the action.

While my father was never glued to the TV shows like Chris and I were, he was a fan and would tell us tales of watching wrestling when he was a boy, of seeing legends like Lou Thez. More importantly he actually took us to a few live events. Event is a term that I use loosely, because when wrestling came to my area they weren’t even staged in a large gymnasium. We would drive the fifty miles to the big city of Columbia to watch the matches at the Township Auditorium (advanced tickets could be purchased at the Taylor Street Pharmacy). I remember one show we attended, there was an elderly black man with white hair and few teeth sitting near us and he kept predicting the winners, cackling, and providing a lively commentary that kept me in smiles and stitches. The main event that night was Rick Flair (still wrestling now in his sixties!) against Rufus R. “Freight Train” Jones. You would have had to have seen Rufus to really appreciate him. He was a fan favorite and a son of South Carolina. He was large, overweight and as with so many black wrestlers of the time his main weapon was the head butt. Not politically correct; I know, but it was after all the seventies. The match had an hour time limit, and as I recall most of that time Rufus kept Rick Flair in a headlock (a classic “rest” hold). Still it was great match, with Flair retaining his title and the fans happily booing the outcome.

Chris and I enjoyed wrestling so much we started the Handal Wrestling Alliance (HWA). When our little brother Greg (seven years my junior) was old enough he joined in the fray as well. We made belts from poster board for the HWA Champion, and the TV Champion, but we also had the Sofa Champion and the Hall Champion for when matches were held in those portions of the house. Chris and I knew that wrestling was staged and therefore we never applied full strength to our fights, however we faked with amazing gusto! We became masters of the figure four leg lock, the spinning toe hold, the sleeper, and the highly illegal pile driver (a cause for instant disqualification). This bit showmanship escaped our little brother who thought our matches were real, so Chris and I endured some bit of pummeling from Greg because we didn’t want to ruin it for him.

My enthusiasm for this pastime amongst the three of us (which continued through our early twenties) led me at times to assume a wrestling alter ego. I gathered scraps of cloth from my mother’s sewing room and fashioned a mask for myself with the uneven bits of cloth crudely stitched together in a Frankenstein’s monster jigsaw fashion. I would leave a room as Teever and return as the Crusher! The Crusher while never really involved in matches was primarily a purveyor of the sneak attack, to leave my brother Chris in a confused heap. After each attack, the Crusher would disappear as mysteriously as he had arrived.

I could go on for pages reliving favorite matches (those between my brothers and those we watched on TV and read about in magazines), but I realize my passions are not everyone’s. Watching wrestling, reading the fan magazines, and fighting in the living room, on sofas, in hallways and any other place the mood struck were some of the happiest times I spent as a young man. Forever in my memory, I will recall the names of the greats: Jack Brisco, Mr. Wrestling I & II, Dusty Rhodes, Ernie “the Cat” Ladd, Ox Baker, Ricky Steamboat (brother of the legendary Sam Steamboat), Paul Jones, Wahoo McDaniels, Andre the Giant, Gene and Ole Anderson (the Minnesota Wrecking Crew), and so many others.

The only bitter memory I hold is the night in 1986 when I was the reigning Handal champion and lost the title to my brother Chris. It was the night before his wedding, in a hotel room, alcohol was involved, and the title changed hands in an impromptu bed match. I appealed the board of directors but justice was not to be mine, they upheld the decision. It was a travesty as anyone present would tell. My shoulder clearly lifted from the mattress before the count of three.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hundreds Lost

A wildfire prowls just three miles from our home, hungry and searching. For the past five days the smell of smoke has been as constant as the fear in the collective belly of Colorado Springs. Channel 11 has been on the fire 24/7 since it began, providing much needed news and information, and telling me some things I never wanted to hear.

This morning we were listening on the car radio to the morning press conference from the base of operations just over the hill from our home. The worst news was spoken first and tears welled in my already burning eyes. The number of homes lost to Tuesday night’s blitzkrieg from a wind maddened blaze was in the hundreds. We have been shown some aerial views of evacuated neighborhoods with some houses standing, some nothing more than a mound of ashes, but we had no idea the loss was so great.

At a distance, deep in the mountains, threatening some other community, I worry over fires but can stay detached, can live my life, can do my work. Now it is at my doorstep, I taste the acrid air, see the grey ash of former trees in my yard, and I have seen the flames leap and taunt. Like some voracious wolf pack stalking unsuspecting sheep, the fire suddenly raced to the outer limits of homes and culled what it needed, what it longed for before being driven back into the hills by firefighters.

All day since hearing the damage estimate, I can’t help the images that creep about in my head. I see a home alone in the dark, not only without power, but powerless against a monstrous predator. So much is the beast’s advantage that it needs no stealth to takes its victim. Brutally gaining entry by primal raw power. In moves about the house, consuming all in its path melting what it can’t burn, feeding its endless hunger on belongings and memories.

I can’t keep these thoughts from my head. Even though we ourselves have not been touched, friends of ours have been evacuated, some may even have had their homes destroyed. We feel the violation of our town by wanton fire. Most of us can only weep out of fear and out of our own impotence at being unable to do anything.

Helpless I watch as the Air Force strafes the frontiers of the flames with slurry to impede its spread. Helpless I pace as in the dark of night, brave firemen in command of their fear make a stand along Highway 24, in our neighborhoods, in the wilds of the national forest. They only give ground grudgingly, and attack when able. Helpless I listen to the litany spewing from talking heads, fire officials, and politicians of the preparations, plans, victories, and defeats.

A close friend, Susan, and her dog Smokey were forced to evacuate and she came to stay with us. After two nights with us, she has moved to her sister’s place up in south Denver for the long wait until she can return to her home which is still standing for now. Another friend, a different Susan, opened her home to mutual friends who live among the foothills close to the mountains. To our knowledge they are still with Susan, and to their best guess they have lost their house.
We can be thankful to God that no lives have yet been lost. We can see silver linings in how the community has come forward in active support of the firefighters and the displaced. We talk to our children, friends, and family daily about what is happening, giving and receiving love in the contact, but until the fire is contained, until the only smoke left are the snaking tendrils of its dying breath rising from the scorched earth, we are still threatened and are still afraid. When this fire is gone, the ground will not be the only thing scarred, and as with many insults the wounds will take much longer to heal than the time they took to inflict.