Friday, December 15, 2006

Amazing Grace

We’re not so overtly religious at my house. We do have some things that we do religiously; one of them is having dinner together. This includes saying “grace”. Lately, Emma has been getting agitated when we do this, so one day I said, “OK, Emma do you want to pray for dinner?” She did. And she did. And she does now - not every night, but some.
Now, Emma isn’t really capable of speech, yet. Most of what we understand from her is either paired with signs or the context of what she wants. We can’t really say that she can’t talk; she talks a lot, conversations with her dolls and such. “Apple” is more like “oople.” It is a particular frustration for me when she gets my attention, and delivers a couple of sentences to me that consist of no comprehensible words whatsoever, at least not by me. How frustrating it must be for her.
So she prays for dinner. And signs, “Amen.” Sure, it’s cute, but, like most things, it gets me to thinking. Perhaps you will, too.
What we know.
How we listen.
What we understand.
What we teach.
What God hears that we can’t know or understand?
What difference does it make?
Now, I know that this story could apply to any toddler. Your answers and ruminations on the above statements reflect who you are. Emma is a 7 year old, with Trisomy21. Does she know - can she know that there is a God that made her, or at the very least created the context that made her? That this God loves her and wants a relationship with her? Does He? I’m not sure if she’s really gotten much of a grasp on “right” and “wrong”, yet. Is she responsible for “sin” (should that be a capital “S”)? Is she “covered” - under some sort of divine insurance policy – a ‘gimme’, a “mulligan’? Are we all being graded on points, or on a curve?
Now, I’ve been exaggerating to pique your thinking. I know the theology. I have written about, and continue to think that there are aspects of my daughter’s consciousness and spirituality that transcend my own. She may very well have a concept of God already. She may talk to Him more than I do. What does she know of love? She’s demonstrated giving and compassion. Her kisses are sloppy, wet and golden. She loves me, 'cause I cuddle her and change her and try to teach her right from wrong. She is willful, stubborn, and often seeks her own way. She is more like me than she is not. Does God see her any differently than He sees me, at all?
What’s my point? I don’t know if I have one. I’m trying to communicate what it’s like to live at my house, with someone who exists on a different plane. I’m sure that there are similar experiences available to all of you, whether it’s dealing with an aging parent, or living with serious illness . . . there is no shortage of opportunity, and I claim no exclusive rights to the truth. It is in these situations, and moments, however, that bring focus to our thoughts about what’s really important. What love is.
So, if you find yourself at our house for dinner, Emma may say the blessing. I have to have faith that God hears her, understands exactly what she’s saying, and honoring her for recognizing His place at our table. It is the grace that He’s promised all of us.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Sometimes, opportunities arise, and one seizes them, and achieves the intended result. This is about one such time.Sam and I were invited to join what is a recurring trip to the desert to shoot guns. I have discharged one rifle, on one occasion, when I was 12 or so, probably without my parents’ prior permission. I was , I think, naturally concerned about taking a nearly 10 year-old boy to do this. Assured (with photos) that this was not the equivalent of giving him heroin and sending him into a life of crime, we agreed to go. It was only going to be one night, and it was a chance to see some friends that I hadn’t seen in a while. It was a chance to use our camping gear. To see the stars. All that stuff. And something else that I’ll get to in a bit.

We arrived just before dusk, in a perfect desert setting for discharging firearms – spot to camp, and a nice bluff about a quarter-mile away to catch the bullets. Greetings all around, and a glimpse of the hardware awaiting us. I got the tent up, beds out, mattresses inflated, etc. We both got to pop off some rounds with a .22 rifle and an M-1. Sam was already somewhat familiar with the M-1 from some PC video games – it was a particular thrill to make the association. A clear evening, chili dogs, a campfire, it was a nice, relaxing time. Chad proved that, just as the instructions predict, Jiffy-Pop cannot be popped on a campfire. Brad burned some strips of Magnesium – white hot. You know, stupid stuff guys do in the middle of nowhere when there’s no Moms around. Mmkay? The photographers set up, and took pictures of us firing the big scary Semi-Automatic German rifle that went ”GerBoomen.” Soon, it was time to tuck in. Took a while to get to sleep with no electronics to lull us, but I’m told that I was snoring loud enough, soon enough.

One of the realities of middle-aged ‘male-dom’ is the requirement, shall we say (in this venue), to answer the call of nature sometime between bedtime and the dawn. It is not customary for us city folk to be outside, out in the open, moonlight the only source of illumination. It was magical and monochromatic, the desert under a clear sky and half-moon. I turned my flashlight on and off, mostly for a momentary sense of security and control, but it seemed a sort of insult to the fact that I could see just fine without it. I stood under the stars for a little while, pondering things like those who spent months under these stars heading across this desert, a long time ago. I wanted to wake Sam up, but I realized that, by the time I got him fully awake enough to try and explain the concept, and gain some appreciation from him, he’d probably be more annoyed than inspired. Some serendipities are not so easily shared.

Saturday was donuts and coffee (no one else drank coffee?), and then taking turns shooting one of the oh, 15 or so guns that were offered – pistols, Deer rifles; Sam even shot the 12-gauge shotgun once. Your humble author managed to shoot a couple of clay pigeons, himself. I learned that there is a purpose for those AOL and Earthlink CD’s, after all. Our host is a police officer, a training officer, and a rangemaster. Most of the ammunition had been collected for disposal; we were actually performing a public service, too.

I think we ran out of ammo at about the right time – I know that, although I’d had fun, had had enough of this kind of fun, by then. We picked up, said our thanks and goodbyes, and headed back over the mountains for home. I do so enjoy indoor plumbing. We’d unpacked, showered, and were pooped out in the Family Room watching TV, when Sam turned to me and said, “Well, I’ll never look at guns the same way, again.” That was the payoff I’d been hoping for, and I didn’t even have to ask for it. “How so?”, I asked. “They’re loud and they, they’re . . .” his voice trailed off. “Really destructive?” “Yeah.” There’d been a short discussion during the magnesium burning the night before, amidst the guy talk about how hot it had to be to burn, and how it’d burn through other metal and stuff - you know, the usual – including some remarks about how some military shells had magnesium in them so that, after they penetrated (no need to elaborate, is there?), they’d keep burning. Sam and I talked, just for a little while, about both the cruelty and necessity for these weapons – this time particularly in the context of why a policeman carries and would ever discharge a weapon.

This was my hidden agenda, and I was really pleased by the whole weekend – the way the guns were presented, the proper respect taught for these weapons and those who were responsible for them, and the subsequent damage and power they have demonstrated to my impressionable boy. I am grateful for the opportunity to have enabled these first impressions to be the right ones. I’m pretty confident that he won’t be someone who shoots up a school – of course, for reasons beyond just this – but it’s all part of it. He lives in a world that includes a lot of virtual, unreal representations of history, today, and the future. I really want him to be fully aware and engaged in the one he needs to be engaged in. I think this worked just the way I wanted it to.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

I are a Service Tech

Things have changed. I am no longer spending 7 hours a day in a windowless room answering telephones, silencing alarms, and haunting online forums. I have been re-assigned into a division of my department called "Building Systems", as a "low-voltage" specialist. What this means is that I am doing many of the things that I was hired to do, and did, from 1986 to about 1991. In the last two weeks, I have installed content for a character generator (a PC that puts information into our Television distribution system, repaired some Nurse Call equipment, replaced a PA amplifier for overhead paging, and watched 2 contractors work. I am also learning (or re-learning, if you will) about the stuff in Building Systems that, while probably necessary, bore the living snot out of me. Things like taking meter readings (a rotating task that takes the average tech about 2-3 hours to accomplish, there are many meters spread all over the facility), testing the water for the boilers and adding the appropriate chemicals, and learning the intricacies of piping and valving and zzzzzzzz. I have an appreciation for these skills - every large building is a living, breathing, pulsing entity with it's own personality, and every good company has people like Mr. Scott or Geordy LaForge of Star Trek to love/hate/cajole it into peak performance. Scotty I kinna be. I do like troubleshooting, and have enjoyed getting my mind and hands into some simple repairs. The new tools are nice, too.
I refuse to accept, however, that this is where I'm supposed to be. Sorry.
I'm having to re-arrange my online existence, though, which is probably a good thing, but a bit consternating. It is nice not to have to get to work, and within 15 minutes feel the pressure when the Operator wants to take a break and leave me with the hospital phones first thing in the morning. Now it's the morning meeting, the meeting after the meeting, stroll down to the shop, open the toolbox, check the email, and start working on the next thing. The old workdays I remember.
I'm going to have to start carrying a notepad though, because I can't just pop up the blogger and riff off a rant. I've had some good (at least I think ) ideas come up only to fade when I try to recall them, later, lately.
I can now go to the bathroom without finding someone to relieve me whilst I relieve myself. The Building Operations Center was all about pressure, to me, and not just on my bladder. Not the kind that excites one into pro-active action or problem resolution. The one where procedures are written, and then interpreted and re-interpreted like The Book Of Revelation to a point where, when something serious occurs, functionaries like myself could have done better. No matter how well we did it. Having to know who's asking, as well as what they want. I don't miss it, but I do miss the time to write.

This place ain't doing me any good
I'm in the wrong town, I should be in Hollywood
Just for a second there I thought I saw something move
Gonna take dancing lessons do the jitterbug rag
Ain't no shortcuts, gonna dress in drag
Only a fool in here would think he's got anything to prove
Lot of water under the bridge, Lot of other stuff too
Don't get up gentlemen, I'm only passing through
People are crazy and times are strange
I'm locked in tight, I'm out of range
I used to care, but things have changed
- Bob Dylan, "Things Have Changed"

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Last weekend was our mostly annual houseboat trip. We've done this now, somewhere between 13 - 19 times, depending on which memory you ask. It's been, with a few early exceptions, Lake Mead, 3 couples, no kids, four days, three nights, good food, no phones, watches off, stay up as late as you want and sleep until after the sun comes up, if you so desire.There have been mishaps. The first year, we rented a small boat. When I say small boat, I mean it was probably only 3-5 tons. These boats are essentially Winnebagos on metal pontoons, usually with 2 60hp motors on the back of them. They are not built for speed or maneuverability, although the grizzled old-timers at the marina make it look otherwise. One of those desert rats, evidently, had a grudge against somebody else, and gave us exactly the opposite sort of information that he should have regarding what sort of cove to anchor into. This resulted in our becoming firmly stuck on a bank. Memories of this event include a nearly-ready-to-deliver member of our crew jumping up and down on the deck, in hopes of dislodging us from the mud. It took another boat, tied to the back of ours, pulling with both of our engines in full reverse, about 45 minutes to foul both props and get us offshore. Lessons learned included the value of the prop insurance (we had it!), as well as what we had and had not signed off on. The "orientation" and sign-off sheet have both grown dramatically over the years, as have the red warning stickers that one sees all over the boat. Each one, we know, represents some sort of disaster or ignorant behavior. Microwave ovens are for food only - yes they are. We have come unstuck, in the dark, and managed to get tied back up with only some scrapes to show for it. We have sloshed, rather scarily, through whitecaps to find shelter from storms. We left Vicky behind, in '99, on an ice run. We went back for her, though, just as soon as we realized it. We've had troubles with the boat, getting on, getting off, getting home. They have all paled in comparison to the fun we've had, though, which is, of course, why we keep going back.This year was, as far as I know, the year where nothing went wrong. The weather was great - hot, but not too hot. The water was 76 degrees off the back of the boat - it actually felt cold, getting in. Nights were cool enough for good sleep. We've all trimmed down what we bring on board, so loading in and out has become half the chore that it used to be. We really don't do much, and have done more in years past. The older we get, the sooner we fall asleep, and - for some of us, it's the rest that makes the major part of it - get up later. Not having to be somewhere, or know exactly where the kid is defines the meaning of "respite". You can even get tired of reading that book and just close your eyes and take a nap, nearly any time of the day. Or fall off the back of the boat and cool off. The stars and the moon are incredible to ponder, in your relaxed state, although statements of a galactic nature may elicit snickers from the rest of us, although it may be hard to pick up due to the snoring. It's been a week now, and the post-trip rocking of the solid earth has finally stopped, and there's caffeinenated coffee again. There's too much to do. The countdown timer to next year's trip has already been reset, and we'll bask in the glow from this trip until it turns into anticipation of the next one. This year, however, will be hard to beat.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Sam and The Cello

I got a surprise last week. I came home from work to find one of those band folders, the
kind I hadn't seen since Jr. High School(before it became 'middle school'). I halted, turned, and saw sheets of paper introducing the conductor and signup sheets for music training. Seems Sam wants to learn to play. . . the cello. The Cello .I do not know what brought him to this decision. It was made without my advice. You see, I played the cello for three years, beginning in fourth grade. I had already had 3-4 years of piano lessons by then. The cello was my introduction to many things - stringed instruments, playing with a group, taking instruction and training from a leader in front of others, teamwork, performance, stage fright, the list goes on and on. I moved to bass in the 7th grade because - let's face it, it's much cooler - and I couldn't play the cello. To play a cello well (that is, among other things, to not sound like a seal being eviscerated without
anesthesia) is a difficult thing to do. It is more physically and sonically demanding than a bass, as I'm sure the viola and violin are. I actually asked to look at Sam's fingers, yesterday afternoon; fortunately he has not inherited my father's spatulate fingers and square palms, as did I. I hope this is in his favor.
Do not misunderstand, I think my strong hands are suited to a larger fingerboard, that's all. Unfortunately, musicianship is an alchemy of physical gifts, experience, and discipline. It is most un-democratic and often cruel. It is this cruelty that I fear the most for Samuel.
It is most interesting, this mix of emotions that I feel. We went to the music store - the school music store, where the guitars are in a small room, the drums are up high on the wall, and bins full of sheet music hold the prime real estate. The older gentleman that rented us the cello was very kind; and the instrument is so much better than the school-issued ones - it made me proud that I could provide such a thing for my son. We took it home, and carefully removed it from the case, and fiddled with it a bit. He didn't seem so interested as I tuned it and played a few notes, then handed it to him. He's still pretty apprehensive about the physics, so far, although he demonstrated an early technique for holding the bow that he's already been taught. I'll leave that stuff to his teacher.
I see so many obstacles for him. He has a lovely singing voice that I've only heard here and there - but I don't know how good his 'ear' is. He's never read music. He has a lot to learn about being part of a team. He's going to have to practice. He is a perfectionist. He may not be strong enough or coordinated enough, initially, to physically wrestle an instrument like this. I desperately want him to rise to these challenges, and find a joy in music as I have. It's brought up a lot of memories of my own frustrations and failures with this instrument, and I just fear that this may kill his desire if it doesn't work.
I realize that 85% of this is "normal" parental worrying, and I can't gauge if my nausea is just compounded by my own experience. I'm going to do my level best to not project any of this toward him - it will be a struggle, as it always is, to try and maintain the appropriate pressure for him to do his best, so that he can find the pleasure in it.
I hope he finds the magic that occurs when an orchestra plays beautiful music, to be in the midst of it, to contribute to something greater than oneself. To translate points on a page into music. The physical sensation of resonating wood, rosin, and string at your core.
It's just something I didn't expect, that's all. At least not The Cello.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Always Broke on Thursdays

I’m always broke on Thursdays. It doesn’t matter when I get money out, or how much it is. When I say broke, I mean that there’s no folding money in my wallet. What it means is that, lunchtime on Thursdays, I have to go to the ATM in the lobby and pay $1.50 for the privilege of taking money out of my account. What is interesting is that I know this, yet I do not take appropriate action to remedy it. Sometimes, when I kiss my wife goodbye in the morning, I’ll beg for what she might have in her purse, but I don’t like to do that – it makes her have to actually have to process information beyond her twilight routine of kissing me goodbye, and it usually means a trip for her to the ATM. I have thought to myself, on Wednesdays, “you should go by the bank on your way home,” only to find myself pulling into the driveway without doing so.
I’m sure that you are wondering why I’m telling you this. There are three reasons that I can think of. First, there are no new episodes of Seinfeld, and some of you may be missing it. Second, this event is prompting me to realize how very habitual I am. I get up, get ready, go to work, work is the same, every day (at least since 2001), eat lunch at the same place, get in my car, and drive straight home 92 days out of 100. I have actually had days off where I get the feeling that I am doing something wrong; truant, as it were. I have become institutionalized. I am like the bear at the zoo, pacing back and forth in a self-stimulating rut that also assures me that I’m not going to be bothered, beyond, of course, those things that invade my routine. I used to think that this was faithfulness; lately, I’m seeing it as fearful. I’ve pulled the lid over the top of the box I’m in.
So, what should I do? Should I just head for Tijuana some afternoon? Nah, it’s like a whole different country down there. I have plenty of things to do. I really need to just get busy and start doing them. I’m hoping that by writing it down, confessional-style, it’ll help prompt me to action. I’ll let you know. And, by the way, this is a rhetorical question. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like the answers most of you would give me, thanks just the same.
Perhaps you don’t have this problem. Perhaps you do, to some extent. Maybe this little exercise might prod you out of a little mire, which would make it worth publishing, which brings us to reason number three.
I felt like I needed to write something. It’s been a few weeks. I suspect I’ll have some more to write about in another week or so.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Beetljz Beetljz Beetljz!

I can’t believe it. Beetlejz is shutting down. To me, it’s like In-n-Out burger closing. I’ll still eat, but it just won’t be the same.
Beetlejz (his online name) has run a bunch of gaming servers, some public, some private, long before I got involved in online gaming, circa 2003. He and Slippyfist have, over the years, been continuously updating and modifying their servers to attract and keep good players. I stumbled onto their Return to Castle Wolfenstein Tram server; I liked it because it played the same map over and over; I could concentrate on learning its layout while I was being shot down, over and over again. In this type of game, teams compete on a timed map to either achieve or defend objectives. There are innumerable ways to modify the game settings to influence how this is done. When a player is killed, he goes into “limbo”, and then “respawns” – returns to the map at predetermined spots. One of the things that set Beetlejz servers apart from most others was that this number of respawns was limited. What this meant was that, if you just ran around killing and be killed, chances are that you’d run out of lives before the round, and your team would not achieve their objective. To play on Beetle, you needed to be part of the team, make a contribution. It’s more fun and satisfying, that way, particularly after you gain some skill.
The virtual world of FPS (first person shooter) gaming has been, although it is now “maturing”, a realm dominated by young men. A lot of servers are available to shoot, kill, hack, and otherwise act like 15 year-olds. Beetlejz welcomed them, and old farts like me, and provided a place for us all to play a better game. They also ran a website. Between voice chat, game chat, and the website, we got to know each other. In short, a community.
This stuff is still new to most of us, and beetle was one of those opportunities to be a member of a different sort of group. I’m part of a few of these now, for different reasons, and it’s changed the nature of my life. There have been arguments, misunderstandings, and they have required different skills to resolve, but it’s all been pretty good.
Online games have life-cycles, there’s a new Wolfenstein game on the horizon. It’s why the servers have been less busy, and why they’re shutting down. I don’t know if I’ll move to the next version or not, we’ll see. I might just do so to keep up with my buds on Beetle, should they decide to fire a server up again. I’m grateful to them for keeping the website going, and I’m sure that some of us will see each other out there on the net. After all, they’re my friends.
So, to Beetle, Slippy, Gramps, PantsofGod (yes, I still really don’t know why she has that name), Talbot, Vortex, sabotage (who lives about 3 miles from me, but we’ve never met), TheScud, BBQDog, Shodan, Baz(I still miss ya, man), leafie, and even Spec7ral and GorgeousGeorge, along with a host of others, thanks for letting old Marvin interrupt your fine games with chat spam, bad puns, and silly haiku while I planted some dyno here and there and harassed you with sniper fire. You helped me through some rough times, and most of you didn’t even know it. I hope I’ve gained some friendships that’ll last, and I’d really like to meet most of you (lol) if I get the chance. From the beaches of Europe to the ice-covered slopes of Norway, V586 (Good Game), and V43 (Thank You). Hope ta see ya on Old Farts (another server), or on the forums. Vaya con Dios.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Anniversary Correction

Evidently my marriage is older than the PC. By two months.
It's a nice article. 16K of RAM. If my memory serves, it was a blazing 4.77 MHz.
Yellow or green screen. Dot-matrix printer. spreadsheet goodness.
Happy 25, PC!

And I just found out that the Internet is 15!
Happy Birthday to you!

Monday, July 31, 2006

Do Not Speak Ill of the Ed

My Mother-in-law, Marian, has certainly seen her share of tragedy. It would be imprudent to detail it all here, and I suspect that there has been more than I’m aware of in her lifetime. Recent events, however, have made this student of irony shake his head in disbelief.
When she married Ed, somewhere around 20 years or so ago, he was a friendly enough guy, but well, standoffish in an indefinable sort of way. Efforts to get to know each other better were awkward, by all parties involved, to the point where we all just sort of gave up after a time. I never disliked Ed. Ed was what would now be called an old-school mainframe computer guy – and when he retired, he wanted nothing to do with computers. About 3 years ago, in a rare moment of generosity, he handed me 2 boxes of blank 5 ¼ floppies. I thanked him for the gift, and actually kept them in a drawer for a few months before disposing of them. I think he was sincere in his own way; I did not tell him that these disks were obsolete and unusable. I think his view of technology stopped with his retirement. His involvement with my family eroded to the point where he was merely present when we were at their house – he came and went as if we weren’t there.
I really can’t say, then what happened to him in the last year or so. I have learned recently that Ed was weirder with his money than I’d previously known. I do not nor really want to know about how two older adults, marrying later in life, deal with such things. He evidently tried to pull some shenanigans with Marian’s estate, effectively taking all of it from her heirs, were she to go before he did. It was the reason for their pending divorce. When she confronted him with it, he continued to try and “make deals” with her. The irony in all of this, from my perspective, was that he 1) had more money than he could have spent in what was left of his frugal lifetime, and 2) he had no family to leave this inheritance to, just his church. I can only surmise that he felt that leaving additional funds to God would somehow add jewelry to his crown in paradise – maybe even a gated community up there.
The resulting rift left Ed to find accommodation in a trailer park in Palm Desert. Marian spoke with him about a week before they found him. He specifically mentioned that he was not going to have a $300 a month air conditioning bill, like his neighbors. Marian says she really didn’t recognize him when asked to identify his body. That he should die, alone, a victim of both his self-imposed loneliness and unwillingness to turn down the thermostat is a pitiful end for anyone.
There were forces driving Ed that I think I can recognize, but can’t fully understand. He served us all in Korea, and I don’t think the experience was a positive one. I think his religious behavior was more compulsion than devotion. I think Ed was compelled to do many things, and therein lies the tragedy for him. Whether or not Marian was able to see and share with the person behind those compulsions, I don’t know. I do know that, by the time I entered his life, he was not able to bridge many of the relational gaps that we all deal with to make life work. Yes, I’m sorry I couldn’t make up for it, but it takes two to tango, you know, and Ed didn’t want to dance. When told that we’d had a daughter with Down Syndrome, his message was, “Get over it and move on.” He was right, if not a little too abrupt for my generation. He was always kind, if aloof, with my children, although it’s hard to be aloof with Emma.
Marian had signed the divorce papers, Ed had not, so they were married when he died. Marian chose to take care of his final arrangements, including a ceremony for their square-dance friends. I think that that was mighty nice of her. The ultimate irony is that she, evidently, now gets to determine how his estate is disbursed. I hope it brings her some comfort for the nonsense she had to deal with.
It’s been rumored that some of that legacy may even trickle down to pay for air conditioning at my house. If it’s true, I know that I’ll think of Ed whenever I hear it kick on. Ironies abound.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The World's Fastest Indian

We just saw this movie, last weekend. Typically, I only see the first half of most movies, as we don't settle the house down (i.e. Emma goes to bed) until about 9 p.m.; the combination of inertia and recliner usually do me in. The fact that a movie engages me to the point of missing sleep, then, should suffice as endorsement enough. With this picture, the craftsmanship projects a love for the subject matter in a way that is palpable, and it tells a story that is as interesting as it is worth telling. The accompanying special features really only tell you what you already knew, - that the making of this movie drew everyone concerned into a magical realm of creativity that produces a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
I don't know anyone who does not like Anthony Hopkins. When he says that this is the best work he's ever done, it does not sound like the typical hyperbole that seeps out of press kits. Evidently, one day on the set, Burt Munro (the main character of the movie)'s children were brought to tears by his performance, he had become their father. His performance is that good.
The story is of a man of singular purpose, a dream to run his 1920 home-modified "motorsicle" halfway around the world at the Bonneville Speed Trials in the early 1960's. His naivete' about the rest of the world creates quite a journey for all of us as he pursues that dream through obstacles that would have turned most around, the least of which is his lack of pre-registration for the event and complete lack of any safety gear. That he was allowed to run at all is a miracle that probably could not happen in today's world.
This is not a Disney Movie by anyone's definition. Burt meets a cross-dressing angel in Hollywood, as well as a friendly Widow or two along the way, and he's no Boy Scout. Kids not old enough to get it won't, and those old enough won't suffer any psychic damage from it. Burt's charm is a wonder to witness, and he forges friendships as surely as he casts his own cylinder heads.
We enjoyed this movie immensly. I found it to be entertaining and inspiring. I hope you enjoy it, too.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Go Padres!

I am not a huge sports fan. I found this article today about the Padres, and I think you should read it.
Just warms the cockles of me heart it does, and hope it does the same for you.
Well Done!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Silver Jubilee

Well, we made it. Not that I had my doubts, but things happen. And a lot has happened.
We hit the official 25 year mark for married-dom on Monday. There are any number of things to put this “achievement” in perspective. Celebrating my parents’ 50th anniversary at the same time. Visiting with my 90-year old grandmother, who looked up at a picture of Grandpa Charles and said, “I don’t remember sleeping with that man.” The space program is older than my marriage.
However, this union has been around longer than the Personal Computer, VCR’s, CD’s, MP3’s, IPods, indoor football, and Green Day. It has survived 3 wars, AIDS, several recessions, the War on Inflation, and “Saved by the Bell.” We’ve even stayed together through “Back to the Future III;” what a clunker that was.
We’re not the same people that we were, going into this thing. We’ve changed. What hasn’t changed is our commitment to each other. I’ve learned that every good marriage has a certain air of mystery about it. People say a lot of practical things, but there’s more to this two-candles-into-one-flame thing than meets the eye. Alchemy – turning (in my case) lead into gold. A bit of science, a bit of magic, and some hard work.
We are not proud people, but I am proud of what we do have – a safe, stable home for all four of us. I love to go home. I like to be home. My wife and kids are (more often than not) glad to see me. I am at my best when I am with them. We’re good, together. Increasingly, not a lot of people have this.
I’m glad I got married. I’m glad I’m still married. I can’t imagine life without her. In a world where seemingly everything has changed, it’s one of the few constants in my mind and heart. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Monday, June 05, 2006

MySpace ends where your nose begins

The internet is often described as a dangerous place, and it certainly can be. Just as we hear very little news about all of the good that our soldiers are doing in Iraq, there is little to be said about the benefits of so much information availability to anyone “connected”. From banking to special-interest groups to online gaming, to finding out which blank CD-RW’s will work with my recorder, it’s all there. Part of living in any society is development of the skill of discernment – veracity seems to be hidden, even in fast-food restaurant ads. Which brings me to today’s topic. How do we teach “netiquette”?
Parents, school districts, and individuals are struggling with naughty, derogatory, nasty, and even inciting information from their children online – another battle between the lines of free speech, bad behavior, and personal safety and security. (Mostly) Teens text-message each other with alarming speed these days; there are even sites where one can post ratings and dating experiences for others to judge; adults too. “Kiss and tell” has taken on yet another dimension.
I carry on online “conversations” on a daily basis with people that I’ve never met physically. These sorts of conversations, for me, began on BBS systems, pre-internet “bulletin boards” quite a while ago , initially inhabited by uber-geeks (and I are one), soon expanding to topics like religion and politics. This is where I learned my first lessons about online behavior. In nearly twenty years of participation and observation, I have not seen anyone’s ideas, philosophy, or salvation change as a result of anything posted in a “religion” thread. I have seen a lot of arguing, name-calling, mis-communication, and hurt feelings resulting from them, but no movement of any significance. As a participant in the communities I frequent, I have learned that it is almost too easy to be taken in an emotional direction by someone that was never intended, and it is so very easy to then fire off a reply filled with righteous indignation. These posts inevitably fester and foster those with an opinion on either side of “the issue” – real, unintended, or not – and can bring wave upon wave of heated debate and division to people whose intent was support and mutual interest. What’s lacking is the social infrastructure. People post things on the internet that they would never say in most social settings. When it’s said, there is no restraint inherent in the receiver being there to react, or anyone else, for that matter. There are none of the cues available to the receiver that we take for granted when we are physically together – tone, inflection, body language. Therefore, the context is limited by the rules of the community, the existing (or lack of) relationship between the parties, as well as the context that the receiver is in when the message is read. As a receiver, all of these things have influenced how I’ve read someone’s message, and what is communicated in my direction has not always been clear. I have learned, often requiring apologies, to moderate myself in how as well as what I will react to. As a “Moderator” – one who has the responsibility for maintaining the rules of one such community, I’ve learned to apply some standards to my online behavior, as well as that of others.
So, what’s my beef? It is precisely that we cannot ask our children to do what we do not do, ourselves. I merely have to point you to any recent political campaign advertising you have witnessed. How about “Entertainment Tonight” or “Extra”, or whatever those shows are called? Any negative snippet of information, innuendo, or inappropriate photo of a public personality is rushed to the screen, put out with little regard to context or propriety, and sensationalized to the point of stupidity. My 9 year old realizes the farcical, condescending nature of a political ad that calls a congressional candidate “dangerous”. He will learn, soon enough, that most of the danger in our government comes from the Executive branch, then the Judicial branch, and Congress last, but that’s a lesson for another time.
There has been a lot of attention focused upon MySpace. I signed up at the invitation of an online friend whose husband is in a band. One of the things that has contributed to MySpace’s success is it’s facilitation of local bands; distributing their music and performance dates, etc. I have also seen a great deal of what I would deem inappropriate content in the arena of personal spaces, but that’s because I’m a middle-aged married man uh, “not seeking”, as it were. It’s another aspect of the community. There are some things to note, here. First, I deem myself mature enough to control my own behavior. Second, I do not access MySpace when my children are around. Third, I would not allow my son to have a MySpace account. Fourth, I monitor his activity (and he is young enough and so far smart enough – through talking with him as well as monitoring his activity) to not want to go to places like this. We had a conversation just last night at dinner regarding a Nickelodeon game site that was interactive to a point that he’d never been before, and it was an opportunity to discuss “netiquette” with him some more. I expect this dialogue to continue, of course.
I suspect that this is not the case in these households where teenagers are posting abusive information about their schoolmates. Different school districts and even individual schools have reacted to this sort of behavior in different ways. It is a formidable and new problem to deal with this sort of private behavior that affects a public community. I agree that it is a problem, however I think that suppressing the medium is not the answer. It is a matter of personal accountability; and therefore a parental responsibility. Children, particularly teenagers, have always found the means to group themselves and ostracize others. When it interferes with the educational process, and even causes damage to another person, it should be dealt with, and parents need to be held liable for minors’ actions in this realm, as well. Some new paradigms for internet speech and behavior by minors as it applies to the educational environment need to be developed, without dissembling their First Amendment rights to criticize ideas or even institutions. That is a critical part of our educational process that needs to be held a little dearer, as far as I’m concerned.
What’s the answer to the larger, societal problem, then? I don’t know. I vote with my remote control and with posts like this. Like those religion threads, I don’t necessarily think I’m changing anyone’s mind, I’m interested in keeping the dialogue alive in your head, as we all make decisions about what we view and popularize. Many of these lines regarding freedom and responsibility are being re-drawn, and we need to be talking more about how. For many of us, it’s a matter of what we type, to whom, and about what. I hope I’ve given you pause to think about it.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Sam's da Man

I'm really proud of my Son, Samuel. He puts up with a lot, always has, and his understanding of the world is growing along with a really compassionate personality. I recently moved a better computer into his room, mostly for the selfish reason that it helps to keep him off of mine. Saturday, he tried to install a LEGO PC game. The video card in his computer just won't quite do it. There's another game that only runs certain parts and not others, the vid card is the culprit there, too. We were talking about it, and I remarked that it was just that some of the requirements for the games were outside the card's operating parameters. He nodded, and we continued talking for a couple more minutes. He's 9. He walked away, and I had to take a moment and realize how much he knows, already. It's often hard for me to remember and treat him like the kid he is. As his Dad, I instinctively put pressure on him about the way he does things, because I want him to, of course, do better than I do. I am also keenly aware that he seems to be a more easygoing kid than I was, and I'm glad for that. I really want him to be comfortable with his intellect, yet challenge him enough to enable him to excel where he wants to.
He just got third place in the Spelling Bee at school. I was happy that he had a good time, as well as doing well. His growing appetite for Science is really cool to watch; he's becoming authoritative on a few subjects - I hope he can maintain it through Calculus and Chemistry, he's gonna need those Miller genes to pull through.
Speaking of genes, I am really proud of how he helps out with his sister. He really does, including letting her just jump in and on him and wrestle with him without overwhelming her. She can't say his name yet, but he's attentive, just the same. I can tell, from the other room, by the tone of his voice, when he's trying to help her - there's an honest earnestness that puts a lump in my throat. Yes, I can tell when he's annoyed, too.
He's a pretty good guy. I like him a lot.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Another Oklahoma Tribute

I met a pioneer, a couple of weeks ago. She’s retiring from a 30+ year career in public education, currently an elementary school principal. We got to talking, and she mentioned special ed. I asked her if she’d been a special ed teacher. She had not, but she began to talk about her involvement in setting up some pretty innovative programs several years ago. She set up Early Intervention programs, parent’s groups, mainstream classes, and other things for our kids just as they were beginning to come home, rather than being sent into institutions. She is one of those people who “got it” early on and ran with it, rather than resisting change. What blew me away was her description of setting up the first group home in her area. She and some others saw a need, and filled it. They found financing, got someone to donate land, designed a facility (one building for men, another for women, common areas, etc.) , and had the thing up and running in about 3 years. It’s still there, today. I can’t express how great it felt to hear her go on in detail about how she made things work, mentioning kids and parents along the way that had obviously changed her life, too, in the process. Because it was a casual conversation, I didn’t feel comfortable saying “Thank You” to her for all of it, for all of us. I am grateful, for her and those like her who moved beyond prejudice and saw children, who set aside their own fears, perhaps, to make a better life for all of us. So I’m thanking her, here, and there, and I know she’ll get the message, eventually. Thanks, Aunt Janice!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Oklahoma City

I have been to a few places where people have died simply because they are American – Pearl Harbor, Vicksburg, Breed’s Hill, and now Oklahoma City. My feelings are much the same when I am at any of them. Today is no different – sadness at the cataclysmic and needless loss of life, and anger at the forces and implementers of such hatred. It seems a simple enough message to you and I, yet so far out of reach of those who perpetuate it, still.

The site of the Murrah Building brings a different sort of sadness and rage. I have family near Oklahoma City. I learn that one of my cousins’ best friends’ wives is represented by a chair on the lawn where the building once stood. The chairs - smaller chairs representing the children – are arranged roughly in the places in the building where they died. The street where the deluded patriot set off his Ryder truck bomb is now a reflecting pool, with 2 large structures at either end of the street; 9:00 set on one, 9:03 on the other.
The other side of the street is landscaped, grass and block giant stair-steps, up to the preserved, scarred wall of the building that now houses the museum dedicated to the event. There’s a place dedicated to the children, and a section of chain-link fence left for people to leave toys, messages, and other personal remembrances. The church across the street has erected a statue of a weeping Jesus. It is America.
I remember the first hours after the bombing, and the gradual realization that this attack on the heartland was not by foreign terrorists, but by native sons. That they found it somehow necessary to deliver their dysfunctional act of upside-down heroism upon the unsuspecting, unarmed innocents inside should and does turn the stomach of anyone who might hear of it. To convince oneself to commit an act of cowardice, to feel oppressed and powerless to the point of violence – let this memorial stand for many things, let it also stand as a warning against those who have lost sight of the responsibilities that freedom brings.
I am not writing this as an authority on any subject; this is not my intent. I am an American. I was hurt on that day; today I pay my honor and remembrance to those whose lives were taken in full measure for my freedom. My continuing charge is to remember, learn, and then teach. I did not visit the museum this time. I am resolved to bring my son here, someday. He needs to know, as best that I and others can teach him, what right and wrong truly mean, the costs of intolerance and dogmatism, and the resolve of a nation to struggle for freedom, both without and within. I can teach him no less. I am an American.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A Tech Funny

I had a real belly laugh last night. My friend calls me up, says his TV has a flat line running horizontally across the middle of the screen. "You're lacking vertical deflection", I said, in my best technical know-it-all voice. It's a not-so-common symptom anymore, my old TV shop used to pay the rent on such repairs. It has one of two causes. One is electronic, the other a physical "open" in a circuit - like a bad solder connection. So I says, "Smack it."
"Hit it!"
"How hard?"
"Well, not hard enough to knock it off the table, but hard enough." Count 1, 2,
"Hey! It worked!"
"See, you can be a technician, too."
I told him that it would probably happen again, till we could get it fixed.
It's probably a paper-thin solder connection on his printed circuit board that has broken with the repeated heating and cooling of the TV. We should be able to find it, and all will be well with the world, for a while.
It made my day to help a friend, especially in such a simple and fun way. I hung up and just guffawed.
"Technical Support, this is Popeye, can I help you?" "Augh-ag-ag-ag-ag-awwww."

I love the Internet, hate customer service

I've had two experiences, this week, that I think bear repeating. The first one involves a Kodak camera given to me on Sunday. It wasn't working - camera powers up, all of the functions work, with the small exception that it takes no pictures - no preview from the lens, either. I started at Kodak's site, and it's troubleshooting guide led me toward a fill-in form that I wasn't ready to complete, just yet. I then started Google-ing the model number, and found a wealth of information. I found literally hundreds of comments from owners, detailing two obvious flaws in the camera (my symptom is one of them). Nearly all of these cameras quit after about 2.5 years of use (I'm pretty sure that that's how old this camera is), and, if I were to fill out that form on Kodak's site, they would offer me a lesser model camera in exchange for returning this one, oh, and send them $125. Pretty sure that's not going to happen. I'd be livid, as many of these posters are, if I'd paid between $300-400 for this camera. Kodak has lost a lot of business and reputation from this one.
Yesterday, I downloaded an album, using software I'd used before. Eventually. What happened was this. I found the album, clicked on "buy", and charged my account. Then the download wouldn't happen - kept getting an error message. When I clicked on the link to explain the error message, a screenful of information appeared, with a link to technical support and a specific error message. Problem was, this screen would appear, then refresh back to the store. Quitting, restarting, and repeating this event 2-3 times, I eventually had to use Ctl-Print Screen to capture the info and paste it into Word in order for me to read it. It's now been about an hour. Unable to access the tech service link on the page, I found an email address and posted a detailed message with account info, album and artist, answered their system questions, and included the error message provided. Then, just for kicks, I Googled the error message directly, just put it straight in. I found several forums that detailed the same problem, and a solution (the problem was a corrupted file in Windows XP, renaming it fixed the problem). Five minutes later, the album was on my drive, and CD's burning. This morning, I received a response from their tech support (I'd been warned on the forums that this could take 2-5 days, so I was pleasantly surprised). The email politely asked me for more information. What's noteworthy is that each bit of information asked for was provided in the copy of my email attached to the bottom of his response! I had to look, twice, I believe the operative word is incredulous.
I thanked him for his prompt response, detailed my solution, and where and how quickly I had found it, and went on my merry way.
The first example is of corporate incompetence, from design to their response to what is obviously a defective product. The second one is merely bureaucratic failure - failure to list a set of fixes to error messages for common errors. Yes, it's probably more complex than that and, yes, I'm more willing than the average nancy to rename files and such, but still. The fact remains that I was able to find more timely, accurate information from forums than I did from the companies, themselves. It is unfortunately one of the bittersweet realities of the information age.

What it's like, too

One of my online friends posted this on her blog. I think it's great. And much "shinier" than most of my posts.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Pinewood Derby Soapbox

I hate Cub Scouts
I hate Cub Scouts
I hate Cub Scouts
I hate Cub Scouts
I want to be clear.
Today’s subject is Pinewood Derby – or “what would a car made by a 6-10 year old really look like?”
The conversation at my house, for three years, has gone something like this (condensed):
“You know, the race is two weeks away, you need to start thinking about a design for your car.”
“I know.”
“Would you like some help?”
“I don’t know.”
“Sam, we have a week until the race, have you picked out a design yet?”
“We’re running out of time.”
“What about this one?”
“I don’t know.”
“Or this one?”
“I don’t know - I guess so.”
Of course the shapes and designs are spawned and made for BOY SCOUTS with (assumedly) some dexterity and ability to use tools that no sane parent would put in the hands of someone under 10 years of age. I negotiate a design, cut it out, and promptly break off one corner while working with it. Glued back together, the next day:
“OK, here’s the shape, how do you want to paint it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Have you thought about it”
“I guess so. Not really.”
“What about red, maybe with a stripe?”
He does pick out a blue stripe and decides to put it down the middle of the car. Painting proceeds, this year he’s actually capable of squeezing the spray paint nozzle, and does a fine job of painting the car. Dad kinda messes up the finish, late in the night before the weigh-in (more on that, later) in the toaster oven trying to hurry it along. One of the wheels in the kit provided is goofed up, so Dad pulls the wheels and axles off last year’s car, sparing the time needed to de-burr and polish them (actually nails, but they are the only sanctioned axles allowed). There are pre-cut grooves in the bottom of the car provided, and three of these break while Sam carefully nails them into place. Hot Glue Gun time. Sam picks his Lego driver, and weights are screwed and glued into place. We make our way to the weigh-in with a couple of hours to spare. The car gets weighed, we modify to reach total weight ( a cup holder for the driver), passes inspection with a small dispute over length, and is quarantined until race time (preventing last-minute, unauthorized modifications by eager kids – right). I’m feelin’ all warm and fuzzy about the whole thing, oh, yeah.

Two weeks of rain delay. I get a call on a Tuesday, where I’m asked (and agree) to meet up and assist with the track set-up at 0730 Saturday morning. Turns out, we go to Disneyland on Friday, bedtime is approximately 0230, Saturday morning. Oh joy, unspeakable and full of glory (for all of you Nazarenes out there). One of my tasks is to take a tube of graphite, and lubricate all of the axles and wheels for the 26 cars in the impound tubs – one axle at a time. I’m working my way through them, when I spot a car with genuine AXLES, not the nails that are sanctioned to hold the wheels in place. I show this to the other fathers there, and move on. In my later absence, the car is allowed to run anyway. What a great message to teach the leaders of tomorrow.
I go back to the house to retrieve Sam at 0850, thinking the races start at 0930. We arrive at 0920 to find them well underway, having begun at 0900. Sam’s car has been run once for him, and he misses his only chance to see it win a race. The races proceed, and a few of the cars actually bear witness that a kid might have worked on one or two of them. Most do not. Sam loses his next two races, actually to two cars that finished in the top 5. He’s not happy about it, but the good news is that he’s not really that unhappy about it. I’m fortunately not one of the Dads whose kid got beaten by the illegal car, and I’m too tired to really make a stink about it (here, this issue’s not dead with me yet). Not unexpectedly, it’s me and the Den leader left to take the track apart and put it in his truck at the end. We head home to lunch and a nap, at least for me.
Oh, and the car that won? It came in second, last year. Ran the same car this year, same paint, same decals. At least that poor sucker has to spend another whole day this month at the Council races, it should make up for the time he didn’t spend putting one together. Ironies abound. Congratulations.
Call me a whiner. Go ahead. Finished?
This is an ill-conceived activity for these young boys. I am fully behind something that Sam can make/do/participate in with my help, but this is a ridiculous example of transposing something from a successful program to an unsuccessful one. The rules and restrictions are obviously there to promote fairness, but are also recognition that this organization committed to character-building has some real characters in it. To then allow what is clearly cheating to occur just boggles my mind. I clearly don’t see the point. It’s been 3 years of frustration for me; this year’s event left me tired, disillusioned, and pretty much unwilling to do it again. Of course, if Sam stays with Scouting, I only have 9 more cars to make.Make that 3, perhaps none. I’m growing fonder of this one, every day.

Monday, April 03, 2006

A Day At Disneyland

Vicky and I used to spend a fair amount of our time in comedy clubs, back when they were more popular, and we had no children. One night, the headliner was Mike Binder, who has (mercifully for both him and the public at large) moved on to become a writer, producer, and director. Mr. Binder, never hilarious, was having a rough night, and I remember being almost relieved when he ended his act. As the "headliner", he returned for an encore. What came next has, of course, solidified the title of this post in my mind forever.
Mike returned to do a bit of schtick that had always generated a fair amount of laughter, even from me the first 3-4 times I'd seen it. The gag is simple: He announces "I would now like to do for you - "A Day At Disneyland". He would then pantomime standing in line - you know, walk a little, wait a little, make a U turn, walk a little. . .
What Mr. B failed to realize was that the majority of people at the Comedy Store that night had already seen it 3-4 times. He does the first little shuffle - and then someone in the audience heckles him (with perfect timing, I might add) with "ALL HE'S GONNA DO IS WAIT IN LINE!". The crowd erupted into the loudest laughter of the night, Mike waved, and left the stage. Game Over.

We went to Disneyland last week. The most noteworthy element of this day was that nothing happened. Just about everything went as it should have, which is a rarity in this world of overpopulation and inflated expectations. I think the worst thing was that Pirates of the Caribbean was closed; in the grand scheme of things, this was minor, indeed.
The weather was perfect. We have had rain, off and on, before and since. Waiting in line at The Magic Kingdom can be a hot and boring experience. It was sunny, but with a lovely breeze, a perfect Anaheim day.
Everyone was healthy and in a good mood, even Dad. Emma was well-behaved all day; she fell asleep at about 7:30 pm, even though it meant that she was up and ready to roll at 5:30 the next morning, she wasn't a tired whiner at the park.
No major clothing or equipment malfunctions. No car trouble, no diarreah explosions, and we rode Splash Mountain last, and old Grumpy hardly got wet at all.
We got to see everything we came to see. Not always easy.
We had a good experience with something new. The last time we were at Disneyland, it was a hot day, and Emma, barely 5, was neither accustomed to waiting in line or cooperating. By mid-afternoon, we were all exhausted and unhappy with wrestling each other onto and off of rides. The ride operator at Peter Pan suggested that we get a "special needs" pass. By then, it was really too late. This time, with a little apprehension, I took Emma and we went to the Customer Service desk (at City Hall) and I explained the situation. What they did was give me a pass that stated that Emma's stroller was essentially a wheelchair. What this meant, mainly, was that we could keep her in the stroller, in line, until such time as we'd need to bypass the tighter spaces that a wheelchair couldn't get through. On the older rides, this meant skipping some of the line. Sometimes, these lines were just as long with folks in wheelchairs lined up to be fit in - it reminded me of when "we" were pregnant - suddenly there's pregnant people all over the place where you never noticed them before (hmm). On the newer rides, it meant being able to keep her in the stroller until the last minute, then a little help on and off of the ride. The difference between this experience and the last was wonderful. We didn't take advantage of it on every ride, and it was nice to feel free to do so. I expected some condescending or even snotty treatment from some operators or others (you know, always looking on the bright side), there was none - I felt like most of them were glad to see us, nearly all of them treated us exceptionally well.
Space Mountain is cool. Just ask Sam. If you haven't been on it lately, it's 3X faster, and darker, and funner.
It was a good day. We stayed until 11 pm or so, and got home about 2. The Pinewood Derby, the next morning at 7:30, was a different story, but was overshadowed by the afterglow of a fine "Day at Disneyland".

Monday, March 20, 2006

Bittersweetness on a Stick

I learned today of the death of a little girl. She was a friend of a friend, unknown to me other than by description. That she was the same age as my daughter heightens my sadness. That she was a "special needs" child who apparently died resulting from something going wrong during or after an orthopedic operation is only part of the mystery and horror of it all.
I'm so proud of my friend for her ability to share her story with me, to make her real enough so that I can both celebrate her life as well as mourn it. I've thought about her, all day, and am reminded of another little girl I know who left the hospital worse than when she went in. I've thought about several aspects of the human condition, how we make things worse sometimes when we mean to do better. How we make mistakes, awful mistakes, more often than we'd like to admit. I see Challenger explode, and get angry every time at the stupidity that allowed it to happen. And it was right to try it again, and again, and we should not stop.
The truth is that we cannot stop trying. We cannot stop caring, and that's what's moved me all day long. I care about someone that I've never met today, their family, their friends, just because someone else led me to. We are all connected, whether or not we choose to be, and we do make it better by trying.
That second little girl I mentioned spoke volumes to me, one day, when I got to hold her in my arms. She could not speak, she could not even look me in the eye, or even hold me back, back then, but I sensed who she is, felt her heart beat, I can't fully explain it. She exists in a world of love and care, and she's slowly gained - she's trying and prevailing - some means to return that love and care. I delight in her accomplishments, because I've met her; I know what she's living with.
We live with death. We live with hope. We have each other. We have Love. These things I know. Today's been a practical application of them all. I mourn for a little girl I've never seen. I smile a bittersweet smile when I think of Mya. I'm hugging my Emma tighter, today. I just hope my connections bring more hope and Love than my mistakes don't. It's been quite a day.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Tick Tock

I just know it's coming. Any moment now, the queasy feeling, the over-salivation, the urge to purge. It's inevitable, like April 15 or another root canal.
I got home from work yesterday, and it was eerily quiet. Emma was nearly asleep in the Family Room, and when I poked my head into the office, I saw no one. Vicky was assisting Sam into bed. He'd come home from school at 10, and had more than emptied his stomach several times since then. A quick hug from us, and he went to sleep. Emma soon nodded off in the big chair, and Vicky headed out for more supplies, leaving me to computer nerddom for an hour or so.
About the time she got home, I was standing in the middle of the house, thinking to myself, "So this is what it'd be like to not have kids in the house. Sure, I could focus on what I was doing and, sure, the usual pounding in my head from layer upon layer of TV noise, shouting, feet pounding up and down the hallway, balls bouncing off walls wasn't there - but the vacuum-like silence was unnerving, too. I have these moments, from time to time, like the guy in "The Seven-Year Itch'' or probably more like Don Knotts in "The Reluctant Astronaut" - short fantasies about how life could've, would've been different. It didn't take more than a couple of instants to be glad that Sam wasn't usually in bed at this time of day.
Emma woke up just as I was bringing the plate of BBQ ribs in from the patio. She uncurled, then hurled on the chair, floor, and herself, mostly. Ahh, the smell of pork n' puke. We got her down the hall, cleaned up the mess(es), and put her to bed, so we could enjoy the sounds of her dry-heaving through dinner. Seriously, one of the hardest things about being Emma's Dad is watching her throw up and not be able to explain to her that it's going to be alright. She looks so worried and upset, I hate that look on her face. All you can do is talk to her and hold her, and hope she understands that it's going to get better.
Dinner's over, cleaned up, put away, and I settle into my chair for the purpose of napping before bedtime. What do I hear? Yes, that's it. The sound of a cat, just outside the patio door, heaving up whatever it was that it was heaving up. I took it as a sign. I know it's coming. I'm just not sure when.

Friday, March 03, 2006

What It's Like

It was just another moment.
Thursday evening, we went to school to see Sam and Emma both recieve their "Good Citizen" awards; Emma for January, Sam for February. No one has ever defined the criteria for this award for us - it seems to me that every student there without any outstanding warrants or restraining orders gets this award annually. In any event, this event is held in the auditorium, which seats 150 comfortably, but usually holds about 225. The awardees sit onstage in rows, and come down the steps to the stage when called to receive their certificate, bumper sticker, and ice cream coupoon, stand briefly while the parental papparazzi fiddle with their cameras, and then go outside, only to return to the stage to wait for the group photo at the end - assuring, of course, that the good citizen parents stay for the entire proceeding, so that the last kid called still has an audience. We live in such an ill-mannered society.
We had three, well, four options (and the nice part is that there was no one telling us what to do):
1) Put Emma up on stage and hope for the best - not really an option, just yet.
2) Put Emma up on stage next to Sam - not really fair to him.
3) Sit up on stage with Emma and 100 kids - not our idea of a good time.
4) Find a place near the front. That's what we did.
We sat through the obligatory PTA meeting, so that they could pad their attendance numbers and claim that we are all now well-informed, active participants in the process. We were actually sitting along the wall on a table, helping Emma fidget, which means that we were already in full view of all, with the requisite sidelong glances and smiles conveying all of the different messages that people display in Emma's direction. Emma got hard to handle, so I moved her to the doorway, and then back again. Then it was her turn. I slid us off the table, and we made our way up front. Emma froze. So I kinda pushed-carried her to the front, got her paperwork, and managed to get her back to our seat, not too long after the applause quit. Okay.
The event ended, and I started to move Emma toward the front, to join the group picture. A very nice woman, a teacher, I think, who had greeted Emma earlier brushed past us and said to me, "I bet you guys just can't wait to get out of here." Then she was gone. I cocked my head to one side, and kept moving. Sam (have I mentioned that I love my Son very much?) came down and sat next to his sister on the steps for the photo. When it was all over, we got a snack, and headed for the ice cream store.
Now, I'm not angry. As a human being and a preacher's kid, I've been subject to misplaced, well-intentioned commentary for some time now. She may have just been witness to the at-times wrestling match between myself and my angel. That's probably it. For me, at the time, I'm pretty sure that I didn't want "to get out of there" any more than anyone else over the age of 13 present. Handling Emma is what we do. But the whole comment just gnawed at me for the rest of the evening. I'm sure I took it the wrong way; already feeling self-conscious, on display, and guilty for feeling that way. I'm sure that the same comment would have been appropriate, for example, had Sam gotten nervous and upchucked on his shoes, or done his 'Elaine from Seinfeld' dance (don't tell him I said that) on stage. The point is that she pointed out to me that we were different. Guess what? I felt that way before Emma existed. I feel that way all of the time. The visceral effect of her message was "GET OUT!"
I'm old enough - some might call it maturity, but I'll never know for sure - to know that she's not responsible for that message. It was just a moment, and it's passed, but I think I have a better understanding of how subtly we can damage each other, sometimes, even when we're trying to do the opposite. I used to not understand things that were labeled 'racism', offers of social programs and things that turned out to be, in truth, segregation or worse - when explained from the discriminated races' perspective. It does depend on your perspective; "seeing" requires more than merely sight.
One of my favorite U2 lines, all by itself, is "to touch is to heal, to hurt is to steal" . . . it often reminds me that I don't want to be a thief. The majority of moments pass without notice. Some change our lives completely. Others shape who, where, and how we are. I'm hoping, more often, lately, to recognize and perhaps anticipate them a little better. I know I've stolen a lot of moments. Trouble is, you can't give them back.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

My Valentine

Today we honor Valentine, one sainted long ago,
Just who he was, or what he did, we really do not know.
What he accomplished was for love, of that we can be sure,
Today’s the day we try to say, “I Love You,” plain and pure.

Apparently, he put himself between an Emperor’s rule
For fighting men, unmarried, it was callous, mean, and cruel.
Our hero went behind his back and married on the sly
Young lovers who were adamant, and willing to defy.

Another version says that he was doing Heaven’s work,
Helping Christians to escape the wrath of Roman jerks.
At any rate, he was a guy who loved his fellow man,
Until such time as he was caught, and thrown into the can.

It seems that from a prison dark, as one old version goes,
Our soon to be Saint inductee, was ankle-deep in woes.
The jailer’s daughter fell for him, their love affair was fine.
He wrote his last long letter to her, from “Your Valentine.”

An oft-told legend, Sainthood then, example to us all.
For one who toiled and suffered at the beck of pure Love’s call.
Sometimes obscure, but always sure, and held in high regard
And then the phenomenon that is the modern Greeting Card.

Oh what a gift our Saint hath wrought, the opportunities
For queing up at Flower shops, for lining up at See’s.
I’m not begrudging anything, on this fine holiday,
But I know well that he would tell us, “do this every day!”

Not chocolate, roses, valentines, but hugs and heartfelt giving
To those we cherish and adore, and make our lives worth living.
For as he knew and then pursued, Love is the only way
That life is meant here, to be spent here, each and every day.

Today is but a symbol, and a chance to share some joy
From one who gave his all for love, to every girl and boy.
And so, to those who love me, and to those who may yet not,
Accept my valentine to you, in purpose and in thought.

Happy Valentines’ Day!

Monday, February 13, 2006

The Religion of Peace

The Religion of Peace

I have been mulling over my online friend’s post.

He is right. The NY Times is wrong. But is there more to it?
As an American, it is hard to understand how this can be such an explosive issue. It is not hard for me to understand Fundamentalism, at all. However, I exist in a society that has both rejected Fundamentalism, while it accepts it and allows it to exist. When Pat Robertson says that Ariel Sharon’s stroke was caused by God, due to his “giving up” land to Palestinians - quoting Scripture to prove it - he’s dismissed by all but the faithful (to him, that is). I watched yesterday, while channel-surfing, Louis Farrakhan calmly talking with an interviewer, about his organization’s goals. I stopped surfing to hear a rant. What I heard was eloquence and thoughtfulness, and a lot of “right” reasoning for the reactionary racism that he espouses. I wish him incomplete success – I want him to feel as “equal” in this country as I do, which of course is not equality by many measures. I have the luxury of both being white and a member of an even smaller minority than he is. My society allows me to hear him, disagree with him, and form my own opinions, even appreciate his point of view. Eventually, our common hope is that improvement will result, by whatever measure. I know that I’m smarter for simply listening to him.

There seems to me to be no better word to use than to say that there is a ‘Fundamental’ difference between “our” way of conducting ourselves and the way “they” do. As obvious a statement as this is, it is important for me to remind myself of it. One of my first reactions to this cartoon controversy was that, if “they” want to be members of the world community, then they need to learn to play by international rules. This thought is ignorant of the first statement of this paragraph. They are not able to; their fundamentalism does not allow it. There is only conformity or blasphemy. They do not desire freedom, the one fundamental tenet that diversity demands, tolerance is heresy. Their freedom is found in obedience, which is, by the way, the way of Christianity, too, although it is obedience of a different sort, extending grace, a different sort of servitude.
And no, not the Pat Robertson kind.
Where does that leave us?
I recently became aware of a group of persons in this country, under the banner of Christ, who are setting up anti-war protests at the funerals of American soldiers, taunting the family members in their grief, graveside. This makes me physically ill. Do they have the right to do this? Of course they do. It also raises the question, in this context, does the right of free speech mean that it should always be exercised? Is there really anything to be gained by doing this, here?
And so, I apply all of these thoughts to The New York Times. I completely understand the comparison to the “art” referred to in Tom’s post; however, it is not the same. Those “artworks” (and that is a topic left for another time) would never have been made in an Islamic society, the “artist” would have been tortured and stoned to death. Those offended in this culture were allowed to speak out against it, and did so. That this would happen was known before the works were created, let alone published in the newspaper. It is part and parcel of what makes us American. To apply this standard to the Islamic world is something else. In this case, it is inflammatory. The cartoons are readily available already; freedom of the press has been satisfied. That the NYT, a powerful member of the “Western Media”, chose not to exercise that power is a matter of editorial choice, to ascribe cowardice or courage to the decision is a matter for each reader to decide. I’m not trying to be argumentative, I’m just trying to figure this stuff out. I’m inclined to think that it was the right decision.
And yes, it’s still bothering me.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Not Exactly Seeing Red

The San Diego Zoo is a wonderful place. It was the site of some of my first school field trips, the first place that I ever got to see and smell exotic animals, and learned about far away places. It is the zoo of zoos, and I do consider myself fortunate to have taken advantage of it for my entire life. Like the weather here, it is easy to take for granted, as well. It’s been 7 or so years, now, since I’ve visited. I think I’m about ready to go back. Things will be different this time, though, to be sure.
I should probably remember the date, but for many years it was a day that I really didn’t want to recall in any way, shape, or form. A beautiful, sunny day, filled with the promise of family fun. Sam was happily strapped into his stroller, in a blue outfit, equipped with snacks and juice bottles and eager to take on whatever he was rolled up to. We flashed our passes at the gate, and headed North, toward the elephant exhibit. Passing the restaurant and bus depot, we stopped to admire the small exotic bird cages, trying to interest Sammy in the bright feathers and beaks beyond the mesh before us. We shuffled over to the Koalas, trundling over the accessible wooden tree house ramps, pulling the prince from his perambulator for a better view. On to the elephants; Sammy was going to love the elephants!
The elephant exhibit, although it has been re-worked over the years, is essentially the one I remember from my first glimpse of these amazing creatures. It is a large island, ringed with a sidewalk and road, across which are exhibits of other large mammals. We wheeled over to the far side, and I saw a couple of animals I hadn’t remembered ever seeing before, red rhinoceros, rhinoceri, rhinoceroses. They were big and red and I was drawn over to look at them.
It happened in an instant, an instant that now takes up several moments’ worth of my long–term memory cells, pushing out more important things like, well, I don’t remember. The large creature that I had been regarding at fairly close range, obviously sharing no sort of Dr. Doolittle-esque understanding of my admiration, calmly turned, lifted up its tail, and sprayed me from head to foot. Upon reflection, a country boy would have recognized this brief signal, but this city dweller had received no such training via any of my behavioral psychology texts, and my previous animal research had only involved rats and primates.
Short of having this done to one on a regular basis, armed with the proper Personal Protective Equipment, most of us have no inkling of what to do upon realization that they are soaking in rhinoceros urine. I was not pissed off, I was pissed on. The fact that she had done this to me from about 15 feet away somehow did not impress me; at the time it instantly effected a sudden lack of respect for the creature and entire species, for that matter. I never wanted to see another animal, again. I invite you to now take a moment, pause, and laugh as hard as you want. It’s o.k., I really want you to - get it out of your system. Thanks. When you’re ready, proceed.
Fortunately, the aim was precise, and no one else had been voided upon. It was also fortunate that there was a restroom nearby, and I could at least wash off my face and hands, and kind of rinse my hair out, some. It became obvious that I had neither the facility to undo this, this, thing that had happened to me with powdered soap and paper towels, and I looked at myself in the mirror and contemplated my options. I had absolutely no desire to parade through the rest of the zoo, smelling what I was smelling like, if only to myself. I really didn’t want to find the nearest keeper and announce, “Hey, your rhinoceros just peed all over me! – just to have them double over in hails of derisive laughter, take me back to the keepers’ lounge, do it all over again for the group, followed maybe by a cold hosing-off, afterward. Perhaps if there had been a large pin at the gift shop “It’s not me – A Rhino peed on me” or “Pee on me if you’re Horny” (yes, I realize that this is in bad taste, but, you have to agree, completely appropriate in this particular case) I might have pressed on.
As calmly as I think I could have been, I emerged from the bathroom and mumbled something like, “I’m sorry, I think I’m done for the day”, and headed for the exit. I have never really thanked her, but I remain grateful that my sweetie did not challenge my decision, and dutifully followed, wheeling Sammo back out to the car, without snickering once (that I heard). I was fuming, internally as well as externally, all the way home. Silently, I walked to the washing machine, deposited my clothing, and found the apex of that day’s adventure under the shower head. I don’t remember speaking of much the rest of the afternoon, and I was happy to close my eyes and put it all behind me - oh, a day or so later.
I’ve been thinking, lately, that it’s time to visit the zoo again. But this time, things will be different.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Cast Away

Sorry I've been gone a month. It's been more of the same, but different. I've started several drafts, only to backspace them away. They're not ready yet.
Vicky brought home Cast Away last night - the movie where Tom Hanks' character gets stranded on a Pacific Island for years, eventually rescued and plopped into a world that had, by all reason and necessity, given him up for dead.
I excused myself and went to bed last night at about the part where he loses "Wilson", his island companion sculpted from a volleyball that was on the plane, washed ashore with him. I just wasn't ready for the end of the movie yesterday.
Up at 4:50 with Emma this morning, started her Elmo tape and went to the computer. Popped in the DVD, and just started weeping. This movie got to me when it came out, it nails my heart this morning. I think most of us identify with certain actors, Tom Hanks is that guy for me. It's not that I want to be him, but his mannerisms, style, and demeanor resonate with me more than say, George Clooney. I even like Joe and the Volcano, and it stinks.
I'm not sure why, but watching both Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt playing these scenes out, as they should be, almost zombie-like, the shock for him of dropping from the sky into a world jarred along 6 years from where he left it, the shock for her and his friend of reliving his funeral, "letting go" of him only to see him now, here, before them. They go through the motions externally, not really knowing what to feel. Which just projects it all onto me in a way that I don't normally experience. I can hardly bear it when he apologizes to his friend for not being there when his wife died. Standing in the house with the pictures on the refrigerator of the little girl that should have been his. Realizing that the love of his life, his inspiration, had been lost irretrievably. To bend Jackie Gleason, how bittersweet it is.
Fortunately, it's Hollywood, and the character wraps it up nicely for us to all move on. "Surely, tomorrow, the Sun will rise", he says, and the end of the movie fades with him literally looking across Texas to the future.
I guess I needed a good cry - I can count on this one if I need to, again, say in a year or two.
I give it three hankies up. Oooh, hankie, like Tom Hankie. Wow. Stream of consciousness, right here. I could use a cup of coffee.
Happy Saturday!