Thursday, December 29, 2011

All I want for Christmas is an.....

Friday, December 23 was a crazy day. I picked Eldest up from school and brought her home. She complained of a stomachache while we rode home. I assumed it was from anxiety due to wondering whether she was going to get coal in her stocking this year. After we arrived home, we sat on the couch together to chat. The pain must have gotten worse because, all of a sudden, she gripped my arm in a death grip, dug her nails into my flesh, and let out a low moan.

My wife and I decided a trip to the doctor was in order. So, Eldest and I went off to see the doctor. After explaining the situation to him, he looked at my arm, applied a little antibiotic cream, and said I would be fine. Then he said I probably should take Eldest to her pediatrician. I called my wife and told her what my doctor said and that we were on our way to the pediatrician’s office. There was dead silence on the other end, then she said, “Wait, what?”

When we finally made it to see the pediatrician, he sent us off to Strong Memorial Hospital Pediatric Emergency room. There she was asked a hundred questions; although it was actually the same five questions asked twenty times. “Where does it hurt? What is your pain level on a scale from 1 to 10?  What is your birthday? Do you have any allergies?” and “What is the meaning of life?”

After a while, when someone new would enter the room, Eldest would blurt out, “I am allergic between 7 and 8, it hurts July 2, I was born on the lower right quadrant and it hurts due to seafood and peanuts. Oh, and I am allergic to cats too.”

The doctors explained there would be a couple of imaging tests to determine what was going on, although they were ‘fairly certain’ it was appendicitis. The first test was an ultra sound, which apparently was not ultra sound, since it did not show anything definitive. The next test, and the most concerning, was a cat scan. As I already mentioned Eldest is allergic to cats. When I mentioned this to the wonderful technician, she just laughed knowingly and said she was sure my daughter would be fine.

The rest of the evening was long on waiting and short on activity. Doctors came and went, nurses took blood, and Eldest finally was moved up to the 4-3600 unit of the hospital, the “Pediatriac Surgical” unit. I had previously thought I had three daughters, when I actually have three pediats. This revelation, which came at 3 a.m. with no sleep, was quite disturbing, but not as disturbing as realizing my eldest pediat was going to have her appendix removed.

After a short nap, Eldest was wheeled down to pre-op, and by 8 a.m. was in surgery. The surgeon informed me that everything had come out fine.

“Everything?!” I asked.

Not everything, he assured me, just her appendix.

Eldest returned to her room, and we joined her. There we waited some more. What a way to spend Christmas Eve. Middlest, in her best radio announcer voice began to intone as a TV announcer advertising the latest Christmas album, “For your enjoyment this year we have some of your favorite holiday songs; ‘I am dreaming of an appendix less Christmas’, ‘I’ll be home for Christmas, just without an appendix’, and of course, everyone’s favorite, ‘All I want for Christmas is an appendectomy’.”

Eldest laughed, clutched her stomach and moaned, “Stop; it hurts to laugh.”

It was a pain sitting in the ER, waiting for surgery and waiting for her discharge to come home late Christmas eve night. My family and I are thankful for the doctors, nurses, and patient care techs in the ER, surgery, and especially on the 4th floor of Strong, for their wonderful care for our precious Eldest.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Olive oil, politicians and vegetable oil-- the uncommon thread.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of this holiday season, I found myself having to prepare an hors d’ouevre for a party. I rummaged through the recipe book and found a likely candidate. The list of ingredients included Virginian Olive oil.

The word Virginian is an interesting word. It comes from the words virgin and Ian. Ian is the Scottish equivalent of the name John. Therefore, Virginian or virgin Ian, is a variant of virgin John, or John Virgin, who is most notably mentioned in the first stanza, third line, of "Silent Night" where it is sung, "round John Virgin, mother and child.”
While it is interesting to note the hysterical roots of the word Virginian, I was more interested to find out that Virginia was a major producer of olive oil. I knew olive trees were prolific in the Mediterranean, but had no idea they were prevalent in Virginia. Consulting a map, I discovered that Athens, Greece and Richmond, Virginia are at very similar latitudes, thereby explaining why olive trees grow so well in both places.

Before this, I only knew that Virginia produced tobacco and presidents (William Harrison, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Tyler, Woodrow Wilson, Robert E. Lee—who was not a president but wanted to be, and George Washington). There is the famous story of George Washington chopping down his father’s cherry tree. Which causes me to wonder, was it really a cherry tree that he chopped down, or was it actually an olive tree? This is also the first record of a politician “stumping”. In this case, Washington could not tell a lie, but confessed to his escapade, in turning his father’s olive tree into a stump. Now, while stumping, politicians take just the opposite tack and cannot seem to tell the truth.

Getting back to olive oil, I rummaged through the cupboards and pantry, searching for the Virginian olive oil that the recipe called for. That is when it caught my eye-- a bottle of olive oil; not just any olive oil, but Virginian olive oil, and not just Virginian olive oil, but “Extra” Virginian olive oil. Apparently, my beautiful, intelligent, thrifty wife had not just found olive oil, but found surplus Virginian olive oil, being marketed as “Extra”, since that fine state produces so much.

A final note about cooking with olive oil; Confine its usage to light applications-- such as dressings and the like. If you want to fry something, use vegetable oil. The amazing thing about vegetable oil is a vegetable and it passes that vegetarianism onto whatever it fries: Fried chicken—now a vegetable, doughnuts (which my grandfather always referred to as fry cakes)—a vegetable, fried twinkies—a vegetable. Great stuff...right?

Friday, December 16, 2011

What if Christmas were today?

 If Jesus birth were today, what would it look like? Imagine with me, as we stroll through the events recorded in Luke chapter 2. It may go something like this…

...and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in clean shop cloths and placed him in a new oil pan, since there was no room for them in any of the motels.

There were truckers staying out at the local truck stop. Keeping an eye on the scales, they weighed their loads. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were scared stiff, saying to themselves, “It must be the Highway patrol's eye in the the sky.” But, the angel said to them, “Do not be alarmed. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find the baby wrapped in shop cloths and lying in an oil pan.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to god in the highest,
and on earth peace to men
on whom his favor rests”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the tinny speakers of the CB radios crackled to life, “Let's roll on into town and see this thing that the Lord has told us about.”

The diesel engines growled to life, and air hissed as brakes released. The drivers formed a convoy as they rolled down the hill. The roar of jake brakes ripped through the stillness, and startled people asked what the commotion was all about, and were amazed at what the truckers reported.

They arrived at the small service station and found the babe, wrapped in shop cloths, lying in an oil pan. They rejoiced and glorified God. Mary, amazed, and slightly taken aback at the commotion and sudden appearance of these men, treasured these things in her heart. The truckers, however, not known for their timidity, loudly spread the word of all they had seen and heard.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Congratulations to my little sister on her black belt.

Just recently, my little sister tested for her Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do, which is not to be confused with Karate. Karate is Japanese and means ‘open hand’; Tae Kwon Do is Korean and means (make sure you ask sis what it means before you post this). Other than the subtle difference of a few hundred miles and an entirely different language, they are very similar: spectacular kicks, ruthless punches, and loud ear splitting yells.

The test, which was being held in the middle of nowhere, started almost promptly at 5:30 pm, but apparently, the Medical Doctor was lost on her way and showed up a few minutes late. I was conflicted about this Doctor coming. Conflicted is a good psychological term meaning: having mutually inconsistent feelings. Microsoft Word suggests that I use the phrase ‘had mixed feelings’ instead of conflicted, but I like to be concise and not rattle on and on, therefore, I will stick with conflicted.

 I was glad there was going to be a doctor present in the event of any unfortunate mishap, because it was my little sister and I do not like to see unfortunate mishaps happen to her. She is my little sister and I am a bit protective. When I asked my sister about the doctor, she answered that the doctor was a friend of hers from work. This was plausible, since she works in a hospital.

The head instructor announced they were going to start with forms. One of the black belts began to say things I could not understand and then count in Korean. Counting in Korean is apparently just like counting in English, except completely different since the languages are different. While she counted, the two women who were testing for black belt moved up and down the floor, punching and blocking and kicking into the air. These kicks and punches had some crazy names, like the spinning back roundhouse kick of doom, the flying straight punch of disaster, and the whirling double whammy crescent stomping kick of death.  While doing these maneuvers they hissed and yelled a lot. I, however, did not see them filling out any forms. Then I saw the table of black belts, sitting at the front of the room, around a table, conferring and flipping through papers. It was then I understood, they were filling out the forms and the testee’s were demonstrating how frustrating and angering filling out forms can be, by punching and kicking the air, while hissing and yelling.

After filling out forms, the black belts decided to ask the testee’s questions. Many of these questions had many Korean words in them, so I have no idea what they were asking. The only phrases I caught were “yucky socky upchucky”. I can only surmise that this is why Tae Kwon Do students are barefooted. It must be that socks are so stinky that they can cause violent vomiting.

The testing session began to break up at 8 pm. Literally, break up. This was the section of the testing where the testee’s broke boards. First, they broke two separate boards at the same time, one with a punch and the other with an elbow. Next, they moved to breaking four boards in sequence and then they broke four boards, taped together, all at once. This skill, as near as I can ascertain, is important due to the high number of random attacks on people by lumberyards.

I am sure that you are all wondering if, now that my little sister has a black belt, I will continue to uphold the big brother code of ethics. The answer is—of course, I will continue to pick on my little sister, because that is what big brothers do. However, when she comes to visit, I will make sure all our socks are clean and lock up all my lumber to ensure no breakage.

Friday, December 2, 2011

I survived Black Friday, by not shopping.

Ah, the joy of the season, not the Advent season, but the shopping season. These are two very different seasons, although they span roughly the same time on the calendar. Stores and advertisers use Black Friday savings to bring out the primal, caveman, hunter, survival instincts in people. Thousands of years ago, people could track wild game over vast frozen desert tundras.  Today people smell the savings that can be had, and they pursue with cunning viciousness.

Shopping is rough, even in the best of circumstances. A few years ago, on a lovely warm spring day, the kind of day that begs you to get outside and enjoy it. Shortly after lunch, I walked to the nearby Big Box Stuff Mart. This was a mistake. No, not going for a walk, but going to the store. I only needed three or four items, but it seemed that I would have to tour the entire store to find them. It would be an amazing thing if a store could figure out how to put all the items I need to purchase in one easy-to-access aisle. Then I would not have to see the store’s inventory of periwinkle penny whistles, or their latest snack craze of Queso con Fromage, or walk through 15 rows of Chia pets.

After I found the items I needed, I stood patiently in line waiting my turn to be cashed out. While I was waiting, the very important head cashier huffed and puffed up to the lines of people waiting with me and announced, “I cannot have this, there are too many of you in line. Please come down here and use the self-checkout lanes. They are fast and efficient.”

I blinked--I blinked a few times. All the while trying to process why I needed to check myself out. Was the store going to ask me to stock their shelves next? Or unload their trucks? Or shovel the walk? Where would this madness end? I contemplated these things as I tried to get the beepy thingy to beep when I swiped each item over it. Eventually, everything was beeped and bagged, and I swiped my credit card and signed the screen. Then it happened. The checkout lane spoke. In that gentle authoritative, slightly stilted mechanical woman voice, “Please wait for attendant to check your signature.”

The attendant came over to check my signature and I asked her, “Why do you need to do this?”

“To verify that you are the cardholder.” She answered.

This seemed odd to me, since I was obviously holding the card. It was right there in my hand, and since I had wanted to wait in a line for one of those human cashiers, but I was told to use self-checkout instead. Thus far, I failed to see how this was faster or more efficient. Especially, since I was watching the steady stream of people walking out the door that had been cashed out by a real live human being.

Finally, I was ready to leave the store. I began to walk through the door when lights began to flash and claxon alarms sounded like there was a prison break. I froze. A woman from the service desk said she had to look at my bag. Dumbfounded, and my patience starting to wear thin, I handed her the bag. She pulled out an item, exclaiming, “This is it!” and proceeded to show me how I hadn’t swiped it properly across some nondescript pad to deactivate the security device. “This is how you should have done it, you need to do it properly to deactivate the security tag.”

I grumbled in response, “This was never covered during my training; I hope you don’t expect to dock my pay over this.” 

She gave me an odd look as she handed my bag back. I left the store, hurrying home in the dusk of early evening. As I walked, I realized she had never looked at my receipt to verify I had actually paid for the item I hadn’t swiped across the pad properly. I could have stolen the item and she would have been aiding and abetting me in my malfeasance! I found this maddeningly funny.

 When I got home, I was still fuming, so I went to the Big Box Stuff Mart website to find an email address to send my complaints regarding my experience at their store. I found no address, only an online form to fill out. I filled it out, and hit the submit button.

My browser crashed, giving me some error about bad code in the webpage.

Epic fail.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The things I am thankful for.

I have noticed recently a number of people being thankful. Some are posting what they are thankful for to Facebook. Some are making lists. I on the other hand, am feeling guilty for doing neither. Therefore, bear with me dear reader, for I am about to unleash thankfulness all over this blog.

I am thankful for indoor plumbing, furnaces and air-conditioning. I am thankful for winter, so I do not have to mow the lawn, and summer so I do not have to shovel the driveway. I am thankful for bread, since I like sandwiches. (Have you ever tried to eat a sandwich without the bread? It is messy and unfulfilling.) In fact, eating a breadless sandwich makes me thankful for silverware.

Most of all, I am thankful for my family and their sense of humor. Some people say that humor is a result of environment; I believe it is genetic. Both my grandfather and my father enjoyed waiting until someone had a drink poised at their lips before they said something utterly unexpected. This caused the intended victim to spew the contents of their mouth all over, causing even more riotous laughter. I, for one, have stayed far away from this gag, since I hate the end result of clean up.

This bent towards practical pranks was passed on to my brother. He would get up in the middle of the night and rubber band the cupboard door handles together. My poor mother would wake up early in the morning, stumble to the kitchen, without turning the lights on, for coffee, and open a cupboard door, just to have it inexplicably slam closed. Another favorite prank of my brother’s was to adjust the clips that hold cups on the drain rack. He would push them just far enough back so that when placing a cup upon them, the cup would catch, but not slide onto the clip. My mother would growl from the kitchen as she readjusted all the clips so she could set cups on them.

Mom has been waiting for her chance at revenge for years. Now she is getting it. My brother has his own child, a daughter. Let the revenge begin.

Back to thankfulness. One Thanksgiving, we were at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Grandma announced that since it was a special occasion, she was going to use her fine china plates. Of course the girls in the family were all a twitter (no, not that twitter, the other one). The guys were less excited, they were more concerned about important stuff like, turkey, mashed potatoes and football. While the tables were set, one of my girls kept inquiring about the china plates and then about the fine glasses Grandma was putting out. She then asked, “Grandma, are we going to use the china silverware too?”

Grandma answered that we were going to use the regular silverware since she did not have any china silverware.  At this point Middlest, who was about five at the time, chimed in, “Humph, it is a good thing Grandma doesn’t have china silverware since none of us know how to use chopsticks.”

Friday, November 18, 2011

The third miracle from the gospel of John.

I promised a few months ago to look at the miracles in the Gospel of John and to retell them. This story can be found in the fifth chapter of that gospel. First, I will explore the background; then I will tell the story.

On the outskirts of hustling bustling Jerusalem, there was a pool called Bethesda. It was a crowded place, filled with broken people, whose only hope was in the water. The story went that an angel from God would come down occasionally to stir up the water and the first person into the water would be healed.

I do not know if this was true or not. To me it seems somewhat cruel for God to send an angel down to stir up the water, and then sit back and watch these people, with their broken bodies, stumble and fumble their way down into the water, on the hope that the first one that stepped into the water would be healed. Cruel, yet there was hope.

One of the people waiting beside the pool was a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. This brings up two things. First, had he been sitting there for thirty-eight years? I do not know, but I think he had been waiting to get better for that long time. John does not say he had been lame since birth, just for thirty-eight years. This leads to the suspicion that he once was not lame.

Next, why do we refer to people who have some physical limitation as invalids? Does their limitation make them less than valid? Do doctors validate people when they assist them into good health? Are people 'parking passes' that get validated?  It seems to me, whoever invented the English language ought to be invalidated.

I digress, so let me do the opposite and regress back to my story. This man is lying by the pool, when Jesus walks by and speaks to him. “Do you want to get well?”

After thirty-eight years of disability, countless years of waiting by the pool, innumerable numbers of insults and insensitive remarks that were meant to be kind, but which actually hurt, the man thinks to himself, “Is this guy for real? Is he joking? What does he think I am doing sitting by the pool?”  Many angry and bitter things raced to explode from his mouth, but with just a snippet of sarcasm he responded, “I try to get into the pool first when the water is stirred, but someone else always gets there first.”  He looked at the man that spoke to him, gauging him and his reaction. A strong man, hands rough from working as a carpenter, muscles toned from carrying lumber and walking across the countryside. Perhaps, just maybe, this man would stay and help him into the water. This was the simple wish of the man waiting by the pool, as he looked expectantly.

Then he heard the words, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” The man did not hesitate. He knew the feeling; he knew he could walk. He stood up, picked up his mat, and walked. He walked straight into a gaggle of members from the Jewish Rule Clique.

“Hey! You cannot carry your mat! It is the Sabbath! That is work!”

He replied, “All I know is, the man who healed me said, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’”

When the Ruler Clique found out it was Jesus who had healed the man, they threw him a party. They festooned with streamers and broke out the party hats. They ordered cake and ice cream. They were thrilled that someone was going around healing the lame people. NOT! They persecuted him. They were angry. “How could you heal on the Sabbath? That is work! There are rules and rules MUST be followed. ”

Their response, an epic fail, rendered them invalid. Invalid to the rules that hobbled the spirit of joy in the man’s healing, blind to the miracle before them, and deaf to the joy in the man’s voice.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

It is the most wonderful time of the year.

I, for the most part, love this time of year. The weeks between Halloween and the New Year are filled with family and celebrations. Thanksgiving, New Years, and of course, the biggest celebration, Christmas, give time to gather with family, friends and fiends. By the way, fiends are simply friends without our presence.

In me, these celebrations give rise to some anxiety, and that anxiety revolves primarily around one activity – shopping. I dislike shopping. It makes my knees knock when I think I might be purchasing the wrong gift, in the wrong color, or the wrong size, or that the intended recipient already has a gazillion. When the recipient opens the gift, I always hold my breath, hoping they like it. So far, everyone has been gracious when receiving a gift. No one has complained; not even the fiends.  For that, I am thankful.

Another reason I dislike shopping so much…I believe there is a conspiracy against me, and others like me, by United Group for Leveraging Items Expected Sales (UGLIES). It works this way; let us say I want to purchase a widget for my great Aunt Gertrude. Gertie loves widgets and has an extensive collection. As I move from store to store, perusing the aisles of widgets, those cameras hanging from the ceiling record my movements and identify that I am seeking to purchase a widget. Immediately a hold is placed on the price of widgets in all stores within a 20-mile radius of my location.

When I find the perfect widget at a reasonable price, I purchase it. This is where the fun begins. The price I paid for that widget is shared amongst UGLIES network, and when the cameras have followed me out of the store, into my vehicle, and driving down the road, at least one store within that 20-mile radius immediately marks down the price of the widget I just purchased. The markdown is just enough to cause me to wish I had purchased it at that lower price, but not enough to make it worthwhile for me to return the original widget, drive to the other store, and purchase the cheaper one.

My next, and greatest, reason for disliking shopping is the crowds. Thankfully, Beloved and I are usually able to do our Christmas shopping during weekdays and avoid most crowds. It never ceases to amaze me how people manage to pilot 3000 pounds of metal, propelled by small explosions occurring inside a metal case, down roads, amidst many other vehicles heading in completely different directions in a safe manner. Yet, when they arrive at the mall, they completely forget how to navigate.  “Stay to the right. When walking in a group, do not obstruct the flow of traffic. Do not stop in the middle of the walk way, and if it is an emergency and you must stop, put on your 4-way flashers.”

The larger the crowd, the more discomfort I feel. I like to get to where I need to go, buy what I need to buy and exit the store quickly and efficiently. However, I am large, and when there are many people milling about, I need to exercise caution to keep from knocking people over. Beloved, who is not only drop dead gorgeous, but petite as well, does not have this problem. She can slip through the tiniest gaps in the crowd, and take off like a whippet at the races. As a result, she is often looking back at me in exasperation, wondering why I do not move faster.

I tend to lumber around behind people, as I move from one store to another. It reminds me of those bucolic scenes from old western movies. You know, the ones, where the cowboys are slowly riding along, playing harmonicas, as they herd the droves of cattle towards Abilene, or some other stop on the railroad.

Then I remember why those cows are being moved down the dusty trail to Abilene. They have been sold—sold to be shipped down the railroad, slaughtered and turned into prime rib, steak, and hamburger, to be eaten by people back east.

Did I mention I do not like shopping?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Eight-thousand, one-hundred and eight days.

Beloved and I tied the knot on August 19th. Some woman named Kim married some guy named Kris on August 20th. Their marriage has lasted 72 days. On the day Kim filed for divorce, Beloved and I celebrated 8108 days of marriage. I do not write this to poke fun at Kim and Kris; a failed relationship is painful, no matter how short. A failed marriage must be even more so. Just imagining life without Beloved makes me cringe. That would be, to quote one of my favorite pieces of literature, “A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.” (Thank you, Judith Viorst.)

Therefore, I do not intend to make light of this short marriage. I do, however, intend to make light of society for paying for it. Apparently, the couple was paid in the neighborhood of $18 million for their wedding to be broadcast on TV. This means that over the course of the 72-day marriage, as a couple, they made over $10,000 per hour.

Every viewer of that special should be shouting in protest, “That is my money, I want it back.” In fact, they should be calling for an occupation of most reality TV shows, until they redistribute their wealth and engage in common sense.  If you think that freedom from that kind of exploitation for everyone is an innate right, you might be one of us.

That is the problem. ‘You might be one of us.’ People are waiting for someone to tell them what they should buy, how they should dress, how they should style their hair, what they should drive, in order to be ‘one of us.’ We watch reality TV shows to tell us how to ‘live the good life.’ We hope they will tell us the secret of how to ‘be one of us.’

In reality, the ‘they’ are just like ‘us’. With two exceptions, we pay to watch their lives, rather than living our own and they pay more for their mundane lives than we do for ours. I drive a mundane car, live in a mundane house, and have a mundane job (two actually).  Since I cannot afford to buy new tools every week, I, on regular occasions, go on adventures to find the ones I already own. I shopped for a used mini-van and was bitten by a poisonous spider. I have answered the age-old question, “Is a recorder a classical instrument?” I have been called a leprechaun and passed out from joy. I have driven halfway across the country and schemed with my friend about hiding the body of someone we hit, rather someone we had not hit yet, but might theoretically hit at some possible future time, and what we would do to escape the severe penalty of said theoretical hit. All of this has been done in my mundane life, with my mundane mini-van, mundane house and in a mundane neighborhood.

I received a thank you note from a student in my Sunday school class. This young man of the seventh grade variety wrote, “Thanks for sacrificing your useful time…” not valuable time, but useful time. He understood something amazing. Doctors have valuable time; lawyers have valuable time (at least they charge enough to make it valuable); Kim and Kris had a valuable marriage. But, value isn’t always useful. I fixed a leaky toilet and Beloved said I was “useful to have around.” A plumber would have been much more valuable, but I was useful. That is the way I want to be—useful. For that reason, I plead with you all, sacrifice your useful time; fix a leaky toilet, play with a child, take a good afternoon nap, laugh at a joke (preferably one of mine). Do not occupy Wall Street. Do not emulate those people on TV. Instead, be useful my friends, be useful.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The dirty dish dilemma

Ancient cooking pots reveal diet of 6000 year old Europeans. Well, not really 6000 year old Europeans, rather Europeans who lived 6000 years ago. Using complex chemical analysis of scraps of food left in cooking pots, scientist determined these people ate fish and other seafood. If there were any 6000 year olds around, scientists concede it would have been much easier to ask them what they ate for supper. They also postulate that the presence of fish and other seafood indicates these ancient Europeans did not start farming until more recently than 6000 years ago and up until then were primarily hunter-gatherers. Since hunter-gatherers is both a long word to type and hyphenated, I will refer to them as fishermen in the following paragraphs.

This information is extremely important to those who like to argue the corollary to “which came first the chicken or the egg?” question. That question being, which came first, the farmer or the fisherman? While people who argue the chicken/egg dilemma are better known than their counterparts in the farmer/fisherman camp, they often are accused of being scrambled eggheads.

The farmer/fisherman argument has a long history of violent rivalry. This is evidenced by the Biblical story of Cain and Able. God was displeased with Cain’s, the farmer, sacrifice but accepted Able’s, the keeper of animals, sacrifice. Cain, as you probably remember, was angry, took his brother out to a field and killed him; thus ended the first discussion of the merits of farming vs. fishing.

Although the animosity between farmers/fisherman has quieted down over the past few thousand years, there is still a sense of distrust between the two camps. From those who are vegetarian comes the cry, “How can you eat that sweet innocent creature?” This outburst is even greater at this time of year when hunters roam into the wooded areas to cull the herds of white-tailed deer here in the northeast. Now the cry is, “How can you hunt, kill, and eat Bambi?” Seriously folks, Bambi is a cartoon character. Just like the cucumber and tomato duo of Bob and Larry in the animated video series, “Veggie Tales.”

On the other side of the debate are the carnivores, or perhaps more correctly, omnivores, since most of us eat both meat and vegetables. This, however, is not a true omnivore. A true omnivore is a toddler, who will eat anything, meat, potatoes, vegetables, crayons, glue, shoelaces, and smaller children. It is, in fact, the toddler who, with tears in his eyes, would say to the vegetarian as they are munching on salad, “How can you eat Bob and Larry?”

In conclusion, it is obvious that this study has a fundamental flaw. The scientists failed to understand that they were studying the bowl of a bachelor. It is a well-established fact that bachelors do not properly load the dishwasher when they are finished using their bowls. My wife, like all other wives, is an expert on the loading of dishwashers and she consistently reinforces this lesson with our daughters and me. Do not leave your plates lying around, rinse them immediately; do not put dishes in the washer with food still on them because they will not come out clean.

It follows therefore, since the bowl had scraps of food left in it, that it was a bachelor’s bowl. Someone who was not blessed with the consistent reminders from a loving wife regarding the appropriate way to load a dishwasher. Let this be a warning to present day bachelors, clean your bowls thoroughly, or in 6000 years scientists will be poking around in your dirty dishes.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Eldest wants to be an engineer.

Recently, I confronted sexism, gender bias, or whatever you want to call it, at least in some small way.  I was at open house at Gates Chili High School, where Eldest and Middlest are students.  The plan for the evening was to follow the girls’ schedules, spending ten minutes in each class. Beloved followed Middlest’s schedule and I followed Eldest’s. Eldest is a senior and is taking seven Advanced Placement classes this semester. I do not mean to brag. Actually, I do mean to brag. She, like her mother, is beautiful, intelligent, and driven. She does not even have time in her schedule for lunch. Which I do not understand at all, since lunch was my best subject in school.

Perhaps, those of you who are parents have experienced the babbling of an infant that in a moment sounds like intelligent speech. I am not referring to the approximations of saying words that sound like mom or dad. I am talking that surprising moment in which it sounds as if an infant has spoken a complete sentence. For Eldest that first sentence came as she was laying next to her car seat, pushing it back and forth, looking under it as if it were an automobile on a lift. At that moment she said, “How’s it work?”

The intervening years have been filled with pens torn apart, unused 35mm cameras dismantled, even rewiring a bathroom. The most wonderful thing for me?  Sometimes she even lets me help.

At this open house, I followed Eldest’s schedule diligently. Going to all of her Advanced Placement (AP) classes, until I arrived at the one class she is taking that is not AP, “Principles of Engineering.” The teacher began to talk and I eagerly listened, until he said, “This is an excellent class, if your sons want to become engineers.”

I was dumbfounded, stupefied, flabbergasted, and so angry I had to consult a thesaurus to find words to describe my emotional state.  My daughter is many things, but a son is not one of them. She is taking seven AP classes, not even taking lunch. She has her college application process started and wants to do three years at Roberts Wesleyan College and two more at Rochester Institute of Technology. She wants to be an engineer. And she is not male; she is a beautiful young woman.

If the high school teacher not acknowledging that my daughter, who is most definitely not a male, could want to, and actually become, an engineer was not bad enough, a few days later she received a letter in the mail from the BSA. I tried to think where I had seen those initial before. Was it “Beautiful and Stunning Americans”? No, BSA is the Boy Scouts of America, and apparently, the local Boy Scouts of America are holding a series of meetings to explore what it means to be an engineer. The only connection with BSA that my daughter has is her scouting for a boy. I do not wish her to find one too soon however, so she will not be attending these meetings.

I did not realize becoming an engineer was so complicated and had such gender bias. I hope that when Eldest finally becomes an engineer she will give me a ride. I really like trains.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

If it's broke, fix it.

My dad firmly believed that nobody drinks enough water. Headaches were the result of not drinking enough water. Stomach ache? The surest cure was a frosty glass of water. Scraped knee? Drink more water. Arm gnawed off by a great white shark while surfing? Surely you must be dehydrated and need to drink more water.

Just as Dad believed water could cure any biological ill, he was firmly convinced he could fix any household item. Dad grew up fixing cars and for a while, owned his own car repair station. Decades after he had gotten out of fixing cars, mine was in the shop. The owner of the shop called to tell me he couldn't find anything wrong with it. I asked if he had checked the starter. He replied he hadn't and in order to check it there would be a fee if it tested 'ok'.  I told him, “Dad said it was probably the starter.” “Oh” he replied, “In that case, we will pull the starter; your dad is usually right about those things.” Although he wasn't afraid of trying to fix anything, sometimes his usual choice of repair materials was a little off. I still remember him trying to fix a vacuum cleaner with Elmer’s glue and toothpicks. I believe my father thought that Rome wasn't built in a day, but could have been with the proper toothpicks.

Now I find myself imitating my father. I tell my daughters they need to drink more; I try and fix household appliances (although I tend to use super-glue, duct tape and it's cousin, electrical tape, and some fancy epoxy I picked up at Home Despot.) My family is quite aware of my penchant for these items. Every year at Christmas, I receive new tubes of super-glue. If I am fixing something, I often hear a daughter chime in, “Daddy, I am looking for your electrical tape.” Physicists are eagerly searching for how the nucleus of an atom is held together. I already know what holds it together – super-glue and duct tape.

I wrote all of the preceding to tell you reader a story. Saturday night at around 10 pm, I was at work going down a set of stairs. If stair descending were an Olympic sport, I would have scored a perfect ten on my form. But, when I reached the bottom landing, my ankle began to hurt rather horribly. I had not twisted it, I had not skipped any stairs, I scored a perfect ten and was expecting an Olympic Gold Medal. Anyway, I iced it for almost an hour and at 11 pm I went to ED/Urgent Care at Park Ridge Hospital.

The wait wasn't long as apparently it wasn't a big night for medical emergencies. In fact, I barely had time to send a quick tweet announcing, “I am in ED. Falling apart. Send super-glue and duct-tape.” when an X-ray technician, Kelly, came in and said, “Mr. Distaffen, I am here to take you for your chest X-ray.”

I replied, “That is nice, but it really is my ankle that hurts.”

Apparently, she had taken so many chest X-rays already she just blurted that out. After my X-ray the Assistant Physician came in and announced there were no broken bones and it was just a sprain. Within a few moments I had my ankle wrapped in an ace bandage and an aircast put on (fancy name for two foam padded plastic splints that are held on either side of the leg by velcro straps).

Things were moving so quickly in the ED/Urgent Care, that soon I found myself face to face with two people with stacks of papers. One stack was my admission paperwork that needed a few signatures. The second person held the stack of discharge paperwork, which also needed signatures. Just to be sure, I signed the discharge paperwork first, making this the world’s shortest ED visit, since I was technically discharged before I was admitted.

Now, I am sitting here, foot elevated, drinking ice water, since I am probably dehydrated and gazing at my fancy aircast. It is occurring to me that I could build a better one with toothpicks, duct-tape, and super-glue.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Good things, bad things, and flaky things.

I have concluded: change is neither good nor bad, it is simply change.
Example, my part time employer has decided to lay off all of its truck drivers. This is a bad thing for the drivers. Many of them have been working at the paper for more than two decades. In fact, one gentleman, I am convinced, has been working there hauling papers for Frank Gannett since the time of horse and wagon. It is a bad thing to be laid off; most definitely.

There is an unexpected positive to this lay-off. It is happening two weeks after the last day of summer, two weeks into autumn, two weeks closer to winter, ice, snowstorms, whiteouts, impassable roads and an insignificant number of plows. Most of the driving for the newspaper happens between 1 am and 3 am. In western New York, the only people on the roads at those hours during the winter are flakes, if you get my drift.

The one exception to insignificant snowplow presence is the New York State Thruway. If the forecast calls for snow starting around 2 am, the plows are out in the turn around by 1 am. The yellow beacons on top signal to motorists that all is well, and serve as a warning to any flakes that their interference to the motoring public will not be tolerated. Having seen those plows, standing guard at 2 am, I have felt such peace and safety that I have set the cruise control on the truck, put my feet on the dash, and leaned back to nap.

Other thoroughfares are not so fortunate. The number of snowplowing sentinels of snowfall is most insignificant. One rather horrid night I was driving towards Batavia, New York, via Bergen and Leroy. The wind and snow combined to make travelling hazardous. That is what the National Weather Service Office from Buffalo said, and they were right. I could only see a few feet past the hood of the truck; I drove half watching the banks of snow on the side of the road to make sure I stayed on the road and not in the snow banks.

Just before I reached my destination, I came to a halt. It was not a screeching halt for two reasons. First, that would be cliché, which I try to avoid at all costs and second, I was stuck in a snowdrift. It was a slow, gentle, fluffy, can’t-go-anywhere halt.  I walked around the truck in a drift that was up to my waist. It was impossible to tell it was that deep when I drove into it. I had no hope of getting out, until a farmer drove by in her bucket loader…at 2 am. She stopped and began to dig me out at 2 am. Did I mention this was two o’clock in the morning?

Finally, I was unstuck. I drove up the road to the drop spot. One plow had made one pass, leaving me one lane to drive in. I did not need more than one lane, but if anyone was driving the other direction and we met, the consequences could have been distasteful.  Upon reaching the drop spot, I realized that the storage units were on my left hand side and the door on the truck to unload the papers was on my right hand side. This was another example of bad urban, I mean rural planning.

I decided to drive down to the next intersection and turn around. I had no idea where that was, but I was going to find out. Before I reached any intersections, I saw the plow that had been plowing the lane I was driving down, in a ditch. This did not bode well. I decided to drive on past the snowplow and into the uncharted and unplowed territory, which lay before me. Dumb, dumb, dumb. The road alternated between bare, wind-swept pavement, and large drifts of snow. I lined up on the drifts and hurtled through them. Snow exploded over the cab of the truck and I could not see a thing. Over and over, I repeated the sequence of lining myself up so that after I barreled through a drift, I would still be on the road when I exited the other side of the drift.

Then two thoughts struck me. I was glad it was just a thought and not a vehicle, because if a vehicle were approaching from the opposite direction while I was in the middle of a drift and I was struck by it, the result would not have been distasteful, rather it would have been catastrophic. Second, if I got stuck, this was in the middle of nowhere, there would be no farmer with a bucket loader to dig me out, and the only snowplow in the county was stuck in a ditch somewhere behind me. I was convinced I would be there until spring. My poor wife, married to an ice-man. Maybe my kids would finally think I was cool.

Change is good and bad, but I know I am not going to miss driving in the winter. It is not the snow that bothers me, it is all the flakes-if you get my drift.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Eldest, a road test, and a trip down memory lane.

Eldest recently took her road test. I was amazed when I was teaching her to parallel park how quickly she learned that skill. She easily seemed to master it. It seemed to take me forever to learn that skill and when I actually took my first road test, I backed up onto the grass next to the road. There was no curb for me to hit, so I just kept blissfully backing until I was entirely off the road and parked on a grassy knoll. Thankfully, it was not the infamous ‘grassy knoll’ in Dallas,Texas, since I was taking my road test in Warsaw New York.

Things were different then. When you finished your test, the stone-faced examiner would simply get out of the vehicle and leave. Leave you to wait and wonder if you passed or not. I was sure I had not, but there was a little bit of hope. Blind hope, which is hope that the examiner was half-blind and did not notice that the van was leaning hard to the left and that the guy mowing the grassy knoll had to mow around the van parked on his lawn.

Being a young person, full of eternal optimism and idealism, I checked the mailbox dutifully for the results of my road test. Opening the box and peering in, I kept hoping that my results had come and that I had passed. Day after day I had that hope smashed when all I found was mail from Ed Mc Mahon announcing that I may have won lots of money. Taking that envelope, I fell to my knees. Looking heavenward, I yelled, “Curse you Ed Mc Mahon. There is a better chance of winning a million dollars with you, than having passed my road test.”

The much-dreaded letter from the Department of Motor Vehicles eventually did come, and I passed. My mother, who witnessed the entire backing onto the grassy knoll incident, was incredulous. “How could they pass you? How could they?”, she kept muttering.

Eventually I had to take my road test again, this time in a bus, and I had to parallel park again. The examiner instructed me to imagine there was a car parked along the curb. “Pull up next to it and parallel park,” she said.

I did, flawlessly this time. Except, I think I may have scraped the imaginary car. If you came out to your imaginary car about 17 years ago and found yellow scrapes along the side, I am sorry, deeply sorry. Now close your eyes and imagine a nice big insurance check in your hand. There? Isn’t that better?

I passed that test too. Now I could drive a bus. I remember talking to my father on the phone and sharing the news with him. In the background, I could hear my mother. “What? He passed? He can drive a bus? How could they?”

Imagine my delight when  Eldest told me that her examiner said her parallel parking was the best he had seen in a long time. Now I just have to get her to drive a bus.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The first day of High School loomed large.

Just before the beginning of school, I took my three daughters to their schools to set up lockers and scout out the terrain. After dropping Eldest and Middlest off at the High School, I accompanied Littlest to the Middle School. Littlest, being a returning student to the Middle School, knew where all her classes were and only needed to set up her locker.

Having your locker set up makes the first day of school much more welcoming. On that first day, opening a set up locker is like the school saying, “Welcome back friend; the summer has been empty and lonely without you, thanks for returning.” Of course, as the school year progresses, the locker fills up more and more; until at some point, the door opens and the contents spill out. That is like the school saying, “You people make me sick. All this noise and carrying on. All of these old tests and papers, stuffed inside me is nauseating,” as the contents of the locker vomit onto the feet of the hapless student.

Littlest got her locker set up in less time than it takes a NASCAR pit crew to change four tires and then we drove back over to the High School, which is large enough to span across three counties. It is huge, monstrous, intimidating. The school has all the doors numbered, and we parked in a prime spot and entered the building through door number 7001. I know this because eldest wants to be an engineer and is very good with that mathematical stuff. She is not, however good at other specific things. For example, when I walked into the building I called her cell phone and asked where she was. She replied, “Still in the High School.” I asked where, since we were entering the building. She started rambling on asking me if I knew where such and such a spot was, then she said, “Oh wait, I see you now.”

Looking down the long empty hallway, I made out two small figures, almost tiny dots on the horizon. One of the figures started waving her arms in, what I can only assume was, semaphore for, “Greetings, oh great and awesome father. Proceed straight ahead and in three miles we will meet.” Littlest and I walked and did indeed meet the other two girls.

We met in an amazing hallway, lined with botanical gardens on the outsides, and large spacious aquariums up through the middle. I gazed and gawked at the scenery, while the girls stormed ahead, on their scouting mission. They chatted away incessantly and occasionally paused and waited for me.  “Catch up Dad,” they blurted out, seeing me trailing behind them.

Middlest was busy finding each room where her classes were going to be held. First was Latin, then AP World History. Each room was a small hike and many twists and turns from the last one. First down the lime colored hallway, then the pumpkin, then through the candy-apple red hall. After a while I thought I was in a fruit basket. On her way to art class, we went down a hallway with even more plants and fish in it. I looked at these new aquariums and marveled at the variety of turtles and eels on display. My girls blurted out, “Heinz…HEINZ!” I looked at them, wondering to whom they were talking. “Heinz dad! Heinz!” they repeated.

“Who is Heinz?” I asked.

They laughed and said, “Catch up Dad,” as they turned and began their assault on the halls of academia once again.

After, and I kid you not, two hours, we finished finding all of Middlest’s classrooms. Yet again, we found ourselves in still another hallway with lush vegetation growing along the edges and built-in, vibrant aquariums through the center of the hallway.

In amazement I asked, “Eldest, just how many hallways like this does your school have?”

She looked at me a little confused. “Just one Dad.”

“One?! Just one? You mean we have been walking around in circles for the past two hours?”

“This is High School Dad. What did you expect?”

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The second miracle from John's Gospel.

A few weeks ago, I re-told the first of the miracles recorded in the gospel of John. This week I am retelling the second miracle recorded in John.

Sometime later, in that same city, Cana in Galilee, there was Royal Official Dude (Rod) whose son was dying. He heard that Jesus was just a two-day trip away. He remembered the wine from the wedding, and he had heard rumors of Jesus healing other people throughout the countryside. Without wasting a moment, he left to find Jesus.

His staff, of course, was in an uproar. They scurried after him. Frantically, they emailed on their black berries, and asked him questions about important royal governance stuff. His security team unobtrusively moved ahead of him, scanning the crowd as they swiftly moved down the road. No one noticed the team, except that they kept saying weird things into the sleeves of their robes. Things like, “pile of donkey dung twenty clicks to north”, or “incoming camel at about your seventh hour”, or “herd of swine approaching, deploy Angry Birds”.

Rod was an important man, with important stuff to do. However, his son was dying and that was taking precedence as he and his entourage hurried the two-day journey to find Jesus. As they approached, crowds parted and people stared. The man searched the crowd, wondering where Jesus was, what he would look like, and what Jesus would say when they met.

Finally, he saw Jesus. He was not what he had expected. This man was dusty from travelling, his clothes were shabby, his skin was darkened and weathered from days spent in the sun and wind, his hands were gnarled from manual labor, and a dozen suspicious characters, each of whom looked more unkempt and distrustful than the last, surrounded him. His security team were talking to their robe sleeves apprehensively. His advisors were snapping pictures and uploading them to “Face Scroll” indiscriminately.
Used to all the kowtowing, bowing, and backslapping requests made of royal officials, Rod pleaded. He pleaded for his son’s healing. The crowd stood by, watched, and waited, eager for another miracle. Something exciting, something they could talk about; something they could tweet.
The hush grew over the crowd as Jesus spoke, “Unless y’all see signs and sensations, you won’t believe!”
The royal official blinked, then swallowed. His mind raced.  His son’s life hung in the balance. The silence grew and spread, even the security detail stopped talking to their sleeves. “Sir,” the official pleaded, “come down before my son dies.”

“Go.” Jesus said, “Go. Your son will live. Now go on, git outta here.”

The man did not wait to see if it was so.He believed and started home. The second day of his journey back home, servants came from his house, meeting him along the way. “Rod, your son…He is alive.”

“When? When did he get better?” Rod asked.

“Yesterday, just after lunchtime.”

“Slamming!” Rod exclaimed, and told his family and friends his story. “It was yesterday, right after lunchtime that Jesus said my son would live!”

Friday, August 26, 2011

The search for a new job.

After twenty-two years at the same job, I have decided to look for another job. Twenty-two years ago, this would have been a monumental undertaking, reading through page upon page of small print newspaper ads, filling out reams of applications by hand, and driving all over the country side to drop them off. Today, with the advent of computers and the internet, applying for jobs is a snap--or to be precise a click of the mouse.

I began my search fairly open-ended. I really do not want to move so my only filter was I wanted a job in the area. This immediately ruled out the vacant position at Apple as the CEO. I have an apple tree in my back yard, why would I want to move to the other coast to deal with another apple tree?

The first posting that I found interesting was for a Pediatric Dentist. “Established Pediatric Dentistry practice is looking for a new dentist.” Wow, that sounded impressive, however my grasp of medical terminology is lacking. Thankfully, I have three brilliant daughters, each one is proficient in a different language. Eldest speaks Spanish, in case she ever travels to Spain. Littlest speaks French, because mom did when she was in school. Middlest is an expert in Latin, in case Latvia ever invades the USA. It was to Middlest I went for help.
“What does the latin word “pedis” mean?” I asked.

“Foot, in the genitive case.” was her quick reply.

Excellent! That made it clear. A “Foot” dentist. I considered that for a brief moment, when it dawned on me. The human hand is a wasteland of germs and disease. This creative practice, in trying to reduce the spread of germs from dentists’ hands to the mouths of their patients, was practicing dentistry with their feet. Amazing, incredible, creative and thoughtful idea--reducing the amount of yucky germs a patient is exposed to from the human hand, by using feet instead!

I decided not to apply for that position for a variety of reasons; first, I did not think I could contort my body well enough to get my feet up to someone’s mouth. Second, the thought of someone slobbering on my toes made my stomach queasy. Lastly, although I have feet, I am not a dentist, which means I am only half qualified for the job.

The next posting to catch my attention was one for a branch manager. This brings us back to the apple tree in the back yard. Last week a branch fell off the tree, and I still have not managed to cut it up and get rid of it. I think I would make a poor branch manager. Not only can I not manage the dead branch, I cannot manage the living branches on the tree. Someone once told me I had to prune the tree in order for the branches to be healthy and produce more apples. I bought a bunch of prunes and tied them to all the branches. It did not help.

Then I saw THE job posting. The headline read, “Are you ready for an EXCITING career!”  I was hooked, since the grammar was worse than my grammar. They asked a question without using the proper punctuation. This had to be the job for me. The entire posting used words and phrases like, “Execute a strategic recruitment plan”, “build a talent data base”, “source, recruit, assess, and interview”, “drive profitable growth by maximizing order fill ratio”. Nice big juicy words; phrases that made the mind swirl with possibilities. I was excited. No, I was more than excited; I was euphoric. I have no idea what I would be doing, but I want this job. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

All I wanted to do was renew my driver's license

                I just renewed my driver’s license. I decided to upgrade to the enhanced version, in case I ever wanted to cross the border into Canada. Although, as I understand it, getting into Canada is not a problem, it is the returning to the United States that is troublesome. As Littlest states, “Canadians are such friendly people.” This sentiment shows maturation from our summer camping trip a few years ago where Eldest insisted that Canada was invading the US. 

                I went to the local Department of Motor Vehicles office with a huge stack of papers. The very kind woman at the counter pointed out that my certificate of live birth did not have a raised seal. I was dumbfounded and aghast. “A raised seal? why do I need a seal? What is the porpoise of that?” I inquired. She replied, “Without the seal the document is fishy, you need to go to the Office of Vital Records and get a certified copy, with the raised seal.”

                Off I went to the Office of Vital Records. Where I was greeted at the counter by yet another kind person. I told her I needed a copy of my birth certificate, with a raised seal. She replied, “Do you have your driver’s license?”

                “Yes, I am renewing it and I want the enhanced license, so I need a copy of my Birth Certificate. What do you need to prove I was born?”

                “Just your license.” She replied cheerily.

                Talk about fishy. I could not get the enhanced license without a copy of my birth certificate (with the seal) and to get that copy, all I had to do was produce my license.

                That is a perfect example of Governmental Notion. When the government gets a notion, it can only cause trouble. My father-in-law’s cousin was a victim of Governmental Notion. She served this country in the military as a nurse. When she did not receive her Veteran’s Benefits check, she called to look into the matter and was told she was dead. This came as quite a shock to her, especially with her medical training. She was told it was the Social Security Administration (SSA) that told the Veteran’s Administration that she was dead. A call to the SSA verified her death and that the SSA does not make mistakes.

                It would seem logical that the easiest way to prove she was alive would be to go to her local SSA office and have them take her pulse and temperature. This, however, is not how the Government operates. They needed paperwork. Lots of it. Preferably with raised seals.

                A major political theorist, yours truly, postulates that if everyone on earth instantaneously and mysteriously vanished, government would continue for x number of years due to the amount of paperwork already in queue; where x would be directly proportional to the number of seals raised by that particular government.

                I call this the theory of Governmental Motion, not to be confused with Governmental Notion.

                My father-in-law’s cousin has sent her pile of papers to SSA and I am waiting for my enhanced license to arrive in the mail. By the way, I found out while waiting at the Department of Motor Vehicles, that you can have anything enhanced for $42.50. I am working on collecting a stack of papers with raise seals to submit to the Government as an application for a grant for $42.50, so I can enhance my theory of Governmental Motion.

Friday, August 12, 2011

I have a zit. Or tales of my present youth.

It was a day like any other day, ordinary in every way. After my shower, I glanced in the mirror. I say glanced, because looking in the mirror, for me, is an excellent way to ruin an otherwise wonderful day. What I saw was horrifying. I had a zit, a pimple, acne, a breakout, a blemish; the scourge of teenage skin everywhere. Dead center in the middle of my forehead was an eruption. Well, not dead center; apparently my blemish could not even be perfect. It was off center to the left a little bit.

I tried to adjust the thick locks of hair that cover my head like a lion’s mane in order to obscure the blemish, to no avail. Outbreaks like this are not supposed to happen at my age. In a few days, I will be celebrating my 25th birthday. My children roll their eyes and protest when I tell them how old I am; therefore, to be precise, I will be celebrating it for the 22nd time. I am too old to be plagued with these unsightly blemishes.

To make matters worse, later there was a commercial for some anti-acne creams and potions. The commercial featured a young pop star that I will not identify; I will only say that her name rhymed with Katy Perry. She complained about how her acne would break out, right where she held the microphone. I misquote her describing her acne attack, “All over my chin, boom, boom, boom, brighter than the moon. I would say to myself, Baby, you look like a firework, look at the colors burst, all my friends are gonna fall down.”

I could only groan. Acne is for teenagers. Not for fine, mature men like myself. I am old. Do the math, 25 years multiplied by 22 times is 550. That is old! Maybe even older than classical music.  

Then realization settled in. Acne is the bane of young people. I have an outbreak on my forehead. I am not old. I am a young person. Therefore, with great pride, and enormous swagger I greet the day. Wearing my zit like a badge of youth; sticking my forehead in people’s faces, silently bragging, “I am young and don’t you forget it.”

Thursday, August 4, 2011

There was a wedding...

Hans Christian Andersen wrote in The Puppet-Show Man, “The whole world is a series of miracles, but we're so used to them we call them ordinary things.” Sometimes that is how scripture is read. The miracles have become so commonplace that any sense of wonder, excitement, and joy has disappeared.

I was struck by this thought while talking with a few teens about the seven miracles found in the Gospel according to John. By the way, the resurrection of Christ, although miraculous is not included in those seven miracles. When I investigated why the resurrection was not included, I was told that theologians do not count it as one of the seven. Go figure.

So we have a gospel where we count the miracles, stand when it is read, and have become dull to the wonder of the stories—the miracles. I wanted to try and recapture some of that joyful excitement and wonder for myself, so I retold the first miracle contained in John to myself and would like to share it with you. I have been told that to enjoy fiction a reader needs to suspend reality.  In order to enjoy this retelling I invite you to suspend memory. Pretend you have never heard this story before  and immerse yourself in it anew.

There was in a little town in the back country of Galilee, a wedding. The ceremony went off without a hitch, for which Hazaliel, the wedding coordinator was thankful. Now the reception was in full swing. The happy couple was happy. The guests were happy. And Hazaliel was happy.

The mood in the kitchen was not so happy. There was no more wine. This was not just an inconvenience; it was catastrophic. There were furtive whispers, “I am not gonna tell Haz, you tell him.” “No way, he is gonna pop like an over ripe fig.” Servants scurried, whispered, and cast accusing glances at one another. In the midst of this, a woman walked in. The servants thought to themselves, “This woman is no help. We need a man. Someone who can take charge; someone who can go buy more wine!” She heard the muffled whispers, she saw the looks, she knew they thought she was just in the way. But, she knew something they didn’t.

She slipped quietly from the kitchen and returned a few moments later with her son. Twelve of his friends tagged along. She cleared her throat and in a stage whisper spoke to her son, “They have run out of wine.”

Every eye turned to look at the pair. The servants began to hope that perhaps this strong young man was a vintner, someone who makes wine and could get them out of the pickle they were in.

The man scratched his head and looked at the woman. “Ma, this isn’t our concern, this is their party, they can cry if they want to, but it isn’t time for me to do my thing yet.”

She looked at him, with that look. You know the look. The look only a mother can give her son, the look that says, “I know all about you and you better do something about this because I am your MOTHER!”

The son knew that look too. The servants in the room watched his expression change. They knew that finally someone was going to do something. A man, someone who could do something, someone with authority.  

“Fill those jugs with water.” He directed. Everyone looked at him blankly for a moment. They were jars for ceremonial cleansing. They were to hold water for people to clean the dirt from their bodies. They were…bathtubs.

One of the servants started to bring in water. He thought to himself, “This guy is a lunatic, but at least when Haz finds out we are out of wine and hears what is going on he will yell at him and his mother, and not us.”

Another joined carrying water thinking to himself, “Oh this is rich, I wonder what kind of shenanigans this guy is up to.”

When the jars were full, the man told the servants to dip some up and take it to Haz for approval. The servants just stared. Gawked. Until finally, one of them worked up the courage to take a sample of the bathwater to the coordinator.

Everyone crowded in the doorway, watching with great, gleeful anticipation at the wrath that poor servant would incur when Haz tasted the bathwater. They held their breaths and watched him taste it. Then they watched him as he hurried to the groom. They overheard his excited words. “The best wine I ever tasted.”

Wait…What? “Best wine?”
They ran back into the kitchen and dipped some up. It was the best wine they had ever tasted and in the corner stood the woman, a scarf over her face as she suppressed her laughter.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I am not Muqtada al Sadr

I recently attended a family reunion on my wife’s side of the family. While talking to my wife’s cousin, Doug, who was on leave from Afghanistan, he mentioned he saw my picture every day. I told him he was spending too much time on Facebook. He replied that he saw my picture in the newspaper over there.  Apparently, there is a Shiite cleric, Muqtada al Sadr, going around Afghanistan Iraq fomenting trouble, and he looks like me. I need to clarify two things, first, I have never been to Afghanistan Iraq (although I am fond of their blankets during the winter months), and B) I have no idea what foment means.

I asked my daughters for a definition of foment. They are intelligent young ladies, who, when they were younger, actually pretended to be in school. I was sure they could give me a definition. One of them said, “Dad, go look it up.” I think they played school too much when they were younger. As I crossed the room to get a dictionary, the kind printed on paper and bound with a stiff hard cover, another daughter said, “Dad, don’t you have a dictionary app on your ipod?!” Such an intelligent young lady. I stopped and looked for my ipod. At this point the third daughter chimed in, “Dad, you were just at the computer. You could simply go to”

I looked up the word using and discovered foment means to stir up trouble and I aim to stir up trouble for three smart alecky…I mean intelligent young ladies.

After finding the definition of foment, I made a to-do list. It started with a scientific inquiry into whether I really look like Muqtada or not. Not having access to facial recognition software, I uploaded a picture of Muqtada to Facebook and asked my friends there if I looked like him. Astonishingly, 80% of the five people who responded said we looked alike. Thank you Mrs. Redfield for believing in me.

Of the four who said that Mr. al Sadr looked like me, two were my daughters. I foresee even more foment from me in their lives.

I then turned my attention to the next item on the list and started to search through every drawer, shelf, and safe spot in our house for my passport. My wife saw the path of destruction I left everywhere I searched and asked, “What are you fomenting about now?!”

I responded that in light of recent developments I was going to turn in my passport. I could just imagine what atrocities the TSA might do to me when they realized you-know-who looked like me. I read just last week that they frisked some woman’s hair. I could not bear the thought of them pawing through my full mane of hair. So, I told Beloved I was going to return my passport to the State Department. Then Beloved reminded me I did not have a passport.  I took my to-do list and marked that item off and proceeded to the computer to scroll through my email and check my calendar.

“What are you doing now?” Beloved inquired.

“I am checking what international travel plans I have and cancelling them.” I responded.

Beloved rolled her eyes. “No passport, no international travel plans. You don’t travel!”

I took my to-do list and scratched that item off the list. Then I went upstairs and laid down in bed.

“What are you doing now?” Beloved inquired.

I showed her my to-do list. Scientific study-done. Passport-returned. International travel plans-cancelled. I have had a busy morning; I am going to take a nap.

I hear the hushed voices downstairs as Beloved and my daughters foment trouble for me.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What exactly is Bible Quizzing?

Last week I wrote about my road trip to Spring Arbor, MI. The purpose of that trip was to take a group of Bible Quizzers to Spring Arbor University for a National competition, the Final competition of the season.

Bible quizzing, for those who are unfamiliar with the sport, is a cross between Jeopardy and musical chairs. Except that people sit in the chairs and jump out, rather than stand by the chairs and jump in. On the chairs are pads, connected to a magic box, with pretty lights. The ‘quiz master’ pretends to be Alex Trebek and reads a question, and people jump out of their seats as if someone snuck up behind them and stabbed them with a pin. Then that magic box lights up and indicates which person jumped out of the chair first, second, third, and (unbelievably) fourth.

There is some ritual to this process. First, the quizmaster needs to let the quizzers know that he or she is ready to ask a question. This is done by announcing, “Question, question number 1 (or 2 or 3 or get the picture)” followed by the word “question” one last time. Then the question is actually read. The first time the quizmaster says question is a sign for all the quizzers to be quiet and listen. When the quizmaster says ‘question’ the third time, each quizzer must be still and keep the magic lights from turning on. Quizzers take this ritual seriously. So seriously in fact, that when I want my daughters’ attention (all three of them are top-notch quizzers) I simply announce in a rather grand and imposing voice, “Question” and then enjoy the hush that spreads over the hubbub of daily life and the intense gaze that my girls direct my way.

The quizmaster begins to read the question and when he is finished, the quizzers can jump and attempt to answer the question in the order they jumped. Unlike a contestant on Jeopardy, Bible quizzers can jump before the question is finished being read. This is because quizzers, generally, are more intelligent and much better looking than Jeopardy contestants. When the quizzer prejumps, she guesses at the completion of the question and then answers it, if she has guessed correctly.

If that is not confusing enough, it gets even crazier. The quizzer has twenty seconds to give her answer. If during those twenty seconds she makes a mistake, she can correct it by saying, “correction” and giving the correct answer. When she is done answering, she can wait until either her twenty seconds is over or she can say “finished.” At this point, the quizzer gazes expectantly at the quizmaster and waits for a ruling.

Just before our trip to National quiz finals, I went to conference finals with our team. We quizzed at a camp and each of the meets were held in the cabins. For one of the matches there were not enough chairs and I, fortunately, elected to sit on an empty bunk.

The quizmaster announced “Question, question number 4,” then he paused and said, “question.” The quizzers were quiet and the quizmaster read the question. The first person up was Karlos Dancing-Burger, the son of Ted Dancing-Burger mentioned in my previous post.

Karlos began to rattle off what he thought was an answer. He did not like what he said and announced ‘correction.’ Then he rattled off more, and not liking what he said he announced ‘correction.’ He repeated that process five or six times and each time he dropped lower and lower until he was on his knees hands clasped in front of him almost pleading with the quiz master to rule in his favor.

The quizmaster did not, since Karlos hadn’t given the correct answer. Watching this scene unfold before me, I could barely contain myself. This was one of the most comical scenes in quizzing. Since, however, quizzing is serious, I tried to maintain my decorum and stifled my giggling.

That worked until the next question, which was a four-part question. This meant that there must be four parts to the answer. Karlos jumped up first again. Then he stared blankly and said, “Oh I forgot the first three parts. Ooops, there goes the last part.” He then said “finished” and sat down.

I found this scene to be comical and I started to giggle--silently. Except this time, Karlos turned and saw me turning red, fighting to contain my mirth. He shouted out, “Mr. Distaffen, you look like a leprechaun!”

I found out a few things in that moment. First, while trying to contain my laughter, I could not breathe. Next, I discovered that if you cannot breathe, you pass out.

I awoke to the distant voices of quizzers. Not a single person came to my aid. This is, after all, a tough competition, and the quizzers were not about to be distracted by someone passing out.