Down’s Syndrome Awareness Day 2018


Today is, once again, Down’s Syndrome Awareness Day. In honor of the day and the special people it recognizes, I’m reissuing this post from 3-21-2012 about one of my favorite people ever. Drew is out of high school now and I’ve lost touch completely with him but I hope wherever he is, someone is cleaning his glasses and he is happy because he was a great person and I still miss him.

Downs BannnerI’m not at all a politically correct person . . . just ask Budge or spend ten minutes around me, but I am so glad that the term “retard” is now a sure-fire ticket to a PC beat down by anyone around with an iota of sense. One of the things I miss most about being in education is the chance to interact daily with the “special students.”I’m no fool or naive and I know these children can be difficult to deal with at times, but more often than not, they are the sweetest and kindest group of children in any school. At my last position as librarian here in the Upstate, I was blessed to have met Drew. Drew was born with Down’s Syndrome, which is medically called Trisomy 21, which further means he has THREE copies of his 21st chromosome instead of the required TWO. As a result of his genetic condition, Drew has easily recognizable features including a slightly webbed neck and a mildly enlarged, slightly protruding tongue.

Without fail, Drew would come in to the library with the rest of his class after lunch. More often than not, he was sporting a smurfy tongue and blue Kool-aid smile from nose to chin thanks to his predilection for blue raspberry slurpees from the cafeteria. The dark blue of the slurpee stains were a complement to Drew’s sparkling blue eyes behind the glasses that were forever slipping down and teetering on the end of his button nose. Instead of sliding them up his face with a knuckle to the bridge, he would grasp one of the lens and place them back on a more useful part of his face. As a result, his glasses stayed a greasy, smeary mess and I often wondered how he could see out of them at all.

Having me clean his glasses after lunch became a favorite routine of his and if anyone else tried to help him out by clearing away a layer or two of grime, Drew would stop them and say, “Mr. Wham. He clean them in a minute.” Of course, “a minute” was anywhere from immediately to the end of the day, but it didn’t matter. I cleaned his eyewear once at the beginning of the year and that was it . . . I was the windex man.

Meet my buddy, Drew. If this precious expression can’t put a smile on your face, you might not be breathing.

Now somewhere along the line, Drew had come to equate affection with sitting in one’s lap. While I’m sure this was cute and easily accomplished when he was a young fry, by the time I met him, he was about 4’6″ tall and about . . . well, 4’6″ around. He was pudgy, almost always happy, and determined to sit on my lap. Aside from being inappropriate, my poor knees wouldn’t hold him. So, after a lot of wrangling and “no Drews” and even a tear or two, we came to a compromise. He would sit cheek by jowl with me on the couch by the reading center and lean his head on my shoulder while I cleaned his glasses. It was inevitably the highlight of my day.

I miss Drew and the rest of his class. They are all in high school now. Laura works in the library there and she keeps me posted on how he and the rest are doing. So far, he’s not had many bumps in the road, but people tend to forget that he’s a boy in his late teens, Down’s Syndrome or no, and that means hormones are raging. He loves the ladies, and that’s been a matter of work this year, but he seems to be adjusting. I’m glad he’s happy because he always managed to put a smile on my face.

So today is Down’s Syndrome Awareness Day. It’s 3 – 21 – 12, which mirrors the fact that Downs causes 3 copies of chromosome 21. If you know one of these precious children, give him or her a hug for me and help them keep their feet clean.

Love y’all.


Great War Wednesday: Goodbye, Russia


Traktat_brzeski_1918On 3 March 1918 in the small city of Brest-Litovsk near the border of modern Poland and modern Belarus, Russia the Soviet Union took their ball and went home from World War I. The new Soviet Union was in a bitter civil war and really couldn’t afford to keep fighting a war that essentially went against their Communist principles anyway. The treaty itself is interesting, but first, a tiny backstory.

Vladimir Lenin was in exile in Switzerland because the Tsar of Russia wanted to kill him. Lenin had been sent out of Russia for all sorts of speaking and writing against the oppressive tsarist regime. Now he was in Switzerland on the sidelines. Then, German General Erich von Ludendorff had a brilliant idea to destabilize Russia even further than the shaky government already was. He packed Lenin and 32 other staunch Communist agents into a sealed train and sent them into Russia. It was like injecting an already sick person with Ebola. The end of Russia came swiftly.

Lenin hated the war and all it stood for so he promptly started working to get the Soviets out. Essentially, they immediately stopped fighting any offensive action and most defensive action. Talks began with Germany and the rest of the Central Powers on how to bring peace to the Eastern Front. After two months of back and forth, the two sides signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

The treaty looked like a disaster for the Soviets. Under it, they agreed to give up massive amounts of land. They relinquished all claim to Poland, Finland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and a vast region of land in the southern Caucasus Mountains. The rest of the treaty wasn’t any better for the Soviets. They lost nearly a third of their best producing farmland and literally almost all of their coal mines in one stroke of the pen. Lenin, now titular head of the Soviet Union, recognized the detrimental effects of the treaty but famously ordered his representative to sign the document saying, “you must sign this shameful peace in order to save the world revolution.” Lenin still had hopes Communism would sweep over the world. How’d that ultimately go for you, Vlad?

The other Triple Entente members were devastated by the treaty. They lost their only bulwark on the Eastern Front. Essentially, the Eastern Front no longer existed. What’s more, Lenin and the Soviets had their hands on all the secret behind the scenes deals Russia had made with France and Great Britain. Most of those documents detailed exactly who was screwing whom out of what once the Allies won the war. The middle east especially found out how they had been lied to with predictable results among an infuriated populace.

In an even more practical sense, the treaty imperiled the entire war for the remaining Allies. With Russia gone they lost huge quantities of badly needed grain for bread and coal for ships at sea maintaining the blockade of Germany. Even worse, with the Eastern Front gone, German troops by the long trainloads began arriving near the Western Front. It had taken four years longer than von Moltke’s original plan for the War, but Russia was now knocked out and Germany could throw everything it had at the Western Front. The result would be immediate and became known as the Kaiserschlacht or the Spring Offensive. The war in the trenches of the West was about to get a lot more mobile very quickly.

Still the treaty did have one positive effect on the Allied powers. Peace rumblings had spread in France and Great Britain as the war slogged on and the public grew tired of lists of casualties, scarce resources, and the incessant drain on the treasuries. Brest-Litovsk shut all that up pretty nicely. The treaty showed the Allies what kind of treatment they could expect if they abandoned the fight and tried to hammer out a peace with Germany on mostly German terms. The idea was terrifying.

Even though the Brest-Litovsk Treaty was abrogated by the Treaty of Versailles, it still had a lasting effect on relationships and foreign policy in Europe that eventually led to the Cold War. Germany and the Soviet Union never trusted each other following the treaty and that situation would lead to the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Treaty in 1939 which Nazi Germany used to buy two years to prepare for Operation Barbarossa, the massive invasion of the Soviet Union.

As for all the annexed and ceded land, the end of the war settled that quickly. Once Versailles replaced Brest-Litovsk, the Soviet Union was no longer bound by the terms of the land cessions so the Baltic States, most of Finland, Ukraine, and pretty much everything but Poland were invaded by Soviet troops and the area of the USSR which ruled for 70 years until the collapse of Communism in 1989 was set. Russia was gone and in her place was a much more intractable nation, as time would show.

Not many more Great War Wednesdays left as the war enters its final act 100 Years ago in 1918, but until then, love y’all and keep your feet clean.

Why I Haven’t Written A Book


indexFor years, people have gotten to know me, listened to my stories, and inevitably one or two of them come to the same conclusion and say the same thing: “Man, you should write a book!” So far, I haven’t written the book so many people seem to want, but I’ve got my reasons.

First, I don’t know what book to write. An old saw among writer types is you should always write what you know. Write what you’ve lived. I can’t say I don’t have a wealth of interesting enough source material. My problem would be organizing it all and cutting out enough of the parts to make a cohesive narrative. I could do several narratives. Hell, I could write at least a novella on the somewhat complicated relationship I’ve had with Daddy over the years. Another book length tale could be told about the adventures Mama and I had when I was growing up. That one would have chapters like “McDonalds,” “Church,” and “The Wilderness Wanderings,” Speaking of church, if I were so inclined, my journey to and subsequently in faith would appeal to a Christian book publisher. So coming up with something to write isn’t the problem. The problem is what to put in and what to leave out, and so much of the strands all run together and weave with one another. Of course, I could just “write my life” but only the people who’ve been closest to me over the years would believe it was memoir and not a straight out fantasy novel. That brings me to another reason I haven’t written anything yet.

I enjoy people liking me. More than anything in this world I have an unreasonable desire to be loved. It’s not exactly natural and at times it borders on completely strange, but the wish for a whole lotta love lies at the root of who I am and a book might damage that. See, the reason Thomas Wolfe wrote his final novel You Can’t Go Home Again was in large part because of his first novel Look Homeward Angel. People realized he was writing about them and often not in the most flattering of terms. He was writing what he lived and some people took exception to it.

I’m afraid I’d end up in the same boat.

I’ve got memories of some great people and some characters I’ve known along the way, but what if I don’t remember something the same way they do? Wolfe ended up being functionally disowned by his family because some of them didn’t like the way they came out in the novel. I have precious little family left and even though I can’t think of anything I might deliberately write to offend any of them, I might. I swore years ago when people first started suggesting I write my life that I wouldn’t write anything until my precious grandparents had passed on. I know nothing I would say would offend them, but I didn’t want them . . . especially Granny Wham and Granny Ima to read about some of my “adventures.”

So it’s a risk I’m leery of taking. I don’t want to disturb any feelings, I don’t want to unnecessarily wake any sleeping dogs, and to be absolutely honest, I don’t want to lose anyone from my life because of something I might say in writing.

Finally, I just don’t feel up to the monumental task of “getting it done.” I’ve tried my hand at writing short stories and I’ve got a chapter or four of some fantasy novels stuffed in my filing cabinet, but a book — now that would be an undertaking. I don’t know if I’ve got the emotional strength to press through and finish. First I’d have to conquer the blinking cursor and anyone who’s ever tried writing knows what I’m talking about. That white page with the little blinking cursor is possibly the most intimidating thing in the world. It just sits in the top left corner and blinks — daring the would-be author to make words spill out of it. I don’t know if I can defeat the blinker.

I don’t know if I can keep the tears back long enough to get the thoughts on paper. I’ve had some good times in my life. I’ve actually had some wonderful times in my life and I’ve had a few absolutely transcendent times in my life, but those aren’t the most interesting ones. People seem to enjoy tragedy over comedy and anyone who doesn’t believe me should compare the number of times Macbeth or Othello is performed by troupes to the instances of The Taming of the Shrew or A Midsummernight’s Dream.

I’ve got tragedy. I’ve got tragedy in spades. Between mistakes I’ve made that ended up harming other people to the times I’ve been on the losing end of something, I can do tragedy. I can do tragedy people will read and want to tell other people about, but to do it, I have to relive it long enough to wring it out of the little blinking cursor, and I don’t know if I can type through tears well enough.

In the end, the question remains — will I write a book? My honest answer is I don’t know for sure. I actually want to, but the reasons above have thus far kept me from my writing desk. Maybe I’ll break out and pour out the words on the page and end up with something worth reading. Of course, I could finally write the book so many people have wanted me to write only to have them read it and say, “Geez, this is awful!” Then I could reply, “Well, I told you so.”

In the meantime, know I love y’all and keep those feet clean!

How Can We Stop School Shootings?


question-mark3aThis latest school shooting in Florida has hit me hard. I was once a high school English teacher and later on, a middle school librarian. The first five years I taught, we never heard of a student going into a school and gunning down classmates. Then came April 20, 1999. Columbine High School erupted in gunfire as two students brought guns to school and killed 13 people before killing themselves. “School Shooting” entered common American lexicon. Nothing has been the same since.

I don’t teach anymore and while I miss that career mightily, one aspect I don’t miss is the existential dread of wondering when was it going to be my school’s turn. When were my students going to look to me as gunshots rang out? When was one of my students going to snap and bring a reckoning down on our school? I don’t miss that helpless feeling that crouches at the bottom of every teacher’s heart: “What happens when it’s us?”

That feeling lies there because the sad, simple answer to my titular question is a terse “We can’t. We cannot stop school shootings.” I fear that ship has sailed for a few tragic reasons.

First, we can’t stop school shootings because we can’t pass any meaningful gun control laws in this country. This depressing fact doesn’t matter, however, because even if our politicians miraculously put aside their differences and ignored the tidal waves of money some of them receive from the gun lobby, it simply wouldn’t matter. Passing a law, any law, has zero effect on behavior. Legislate that people cannot chew bubble gum and honest people will give up their Bubble Yum.

Unfortunately, another segment of society will cram every stick of gum possible into their mouths. Laws only affect lawful people. Pass a law forbidding anyone under age 21 from owning a firearm and we will prevent exactly zero school shootings because the people who deign to follow such a law aren’t going to shoot up a school anyway. As long as we worship the Almighty Dollar in this country, an underage person who wants a gun can get one . . . someone angry enough to kill his fellow students will find a way to get money and turn that money into a gun.

More gun control laws will not stop school shootings because they will only affect those willing to abide by the laws and by definition, this excludes school shooters.

Some people feel banning “assault weapons” like the AR-15 and its clones and derivatives will end the problem. It won’t help. Just for clarification and to appease any gun nuts who read this, the term should actually be “assault ‘style’ weapons” or guns modeled on military arms. A true assault rifle would be something like the US Army’s M-4 carbine, itself a descendant of the Vietnam Era M-16. Both are fully automatic weapons. Pull the trigger and they will fire til the magazine is empty.

The truth of the matter is banning AR-15 style rifles will only send shooters looking for other weapons. Several semi-automatic handguns have magazines which hold twenty or more rounds of ammunition and these handguns are much easier to conceal and so easier to get into a school, especially a crowded school area, than a rifle. The Ruger 10/22 is a .22 caliber rifle which can be outfitted with magazines up to 100 rounds and at schoolyard ranges, a .22 Long Rifle round is every bit as lethal as the 5.56mm round the AR-15 uses.

So let’s ban all guns! As long as the Second Amendment remains enshrined in the Constitution, that’s not going to happen. Even if it were repealed by some miracle, the bloodshed and division of the country attempting to collect the now illegal guns would entail makes such a possibility deadlier and less palatable than risking school shootings.

Some people have even gone so far as to advocate arming our school teachers. This is a preposterously, unthinkably terrible idea. It is not difficult at all to get a concealed carry permit in most US states. Theoretically, any teacher could get such a permit and, if the laws were changed, be allowed to carry a weapon into the classroom ostensibly to confront and repel a school shooter.

Again, this is a horrible idea. To get a CCP, a person has to sit through a class and then shoot a paper target at a range. To repel a school shooter, a teacher would have to kill someone — possibly someone they know and have tried to help before. Let’s set aside for the sake of argument the problems like victims getting caught in the crossfire or teachers simply missing their targets and hitting innocents. Just focus on one thing; any teacher carrying a weapon MUST be ready to KILL another human being.

Understand, the school shooter has made up is mind. He is here to kill as many people as he can or maybe just mark some specific names off a list. He’s made his choice and confronting him will only put a teacher in the direct line of fire. This is not a pistols at ten paces duel or a gunfight on Main Street out of a Clint Eastwood movie. To take out a school shooter who has already started killing, you don’t confront him or tell him to put down his weapon. You get behind him or outflank him and shoot him in center mass or the head until he falls down dead. If he never sees who shot him, so much the better.

Teachers are not wired up to do that. Teachers, not all, but most, are nurturers. They got into teaching to HELP people, not KILL them. Taking someone’s life will trying not to lose one’s own life is an incredibly difficult choice to make and execute. Hesitate an instant and you die and maybe all the students you are trying to protect. When it comes to actually killing a student, I honestly believe 99 out of 100 teachers are going to hesitate or freeze up and become a casualty. It doesn’t mean teachers are weak or cowardly . . . not everyone is a killer. Soldiers must be trained to kill. Overcoming the aversion to taking another’s life is one of the first things trainers in the military have to overcome. Teachers aren’t meant to kill and putting them into a situation where they have to deal with that choice will not go well.

So does this mean we abandon hope of stopping school shootings altogether and just live in fear? To a certain extent, yes. Practically speaking, absolutely. The only way to effectively stop school shooters is to get them before they start. Schools as they are now are what military and law enforcement people call “soft” targets. They need to be hardened. Schools need metal detectors at every entrance. During the day, schools should be under lock-down conditions. No one in the hall means no one gets shot. No unlocked doors means no one sneaks in. Ban bookbags. Amend dress codes to ban baggy clothes and jackets that make it easy to conceal weapons. If the students raise hell, if the parents raise hell . . . show footage of Columbine, Sandy Hook, Aurora’s movie theater, Las Vegas’ concert, this latest shooting in Florida, etc. Make them answer one question: “Would you rather be fashionable or would you rather bleed out on the floor of the cafeteria with a bullet in your spleen?”

I fully realize none of that is going to happen though. In fact, give it two weeks or so and everyone is going to go back to business as usual . . . until the next preventable school shooting takes place.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

How to be Sick


thermometer-in-mouthThe flu fairy paid a visit to our house last week and she only had eyes for me. Now, because I don’t go out much, I’m not exposed to a lot of bugs. Budge, however, is a teacher of fourth graders and they are walking germ soaked little biological weapons, so I imagine my virus hitched a ride home from one of them. I don’t get sick often; in fact, it’s been many a long year since I was as sick as I was last week.

Monday night, I started feeling nauseous and my head hurt. At first, I thought I was having a dramatic reaction to some terrible news I’d gotten earlier in the day, but as the evening wore on, it became clear to me that was not the case. Then, it hit. If you’ve ever been violently sick on your stomach, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Your mouth floods with saliva and you feel a cold sheen pop out on your forehead.

I got to the bathroom in good order. I even had time to take the trash bag out of the plastic trashcan and place it between my feet because at the time, I wasn’t exactly sure which way this hurricane was going to blow. Just my luck — Category 5 both ways. I clutched the plastic container to my chest as successive meals pour into it with each heave. I can’t be certain, but I’m fairly sure I got up some wedding cake from our marriage in 1996.

Meanwhile, back in the back, liquid fire was making its way from me to the bowl. It had no slight sign of substance . . . simply magma from the heart of the volcano rushing to meet the porcelain ocean. For forty-five minutes my body followed a pattern of wrenching clench in the abdomen followed by explosions at both ends. Finally, the wave subsided and I was able to clean up and slowly make my way back to the recliner . . . just in time to jump up and sprint it out again.

This time, my reaction wasn’t quite as violent, but it lasted longer so I pulled out the medicine box to see what I could find. Gold on the first expedition! Imodium and Zophran. For those who don’t know, Imodium is a lovely and quite strong anti-diarrheal medicine. It can put the stopper in the bottle quite well. Zophran is an anti-nausea medicine originally developed for chemo patients. This little stash harkened back to an incident early last year when Budge had a bad UTI and was nauseous.

I slipped one of those little beauties under my tongue and dealt with the disgusting taste and texture for two minutes while it dissolved, then started clean up measures again. The meds gave me enough time to ponder the mechanics of being sick. See, up until I got married, I was capable of many things independently. I could drive, I could pick out my clothes for the day, and, most of all, I could throw up. I actually had no idea I was throwing up wrong my entire life.

If I am simply sick to my stomach and so without worry as to the nether end of my alimentary canal, I am a toilet hugger. I get cozy with the porcelain throne. I use the weight of the bowl to add velocity to my heaves and afterwards, I love to lay my head against the cool surface of the tank. I’ve been sick this way my entire life. I have knelt beside many a toilet and sometimes the surrounds weren’t so great such as back in my wilder, hard-drinking days. I just thought that was the way one got sick.

Turns out, I was wrong. My beloved has since informed me that the proper way to address the Great Porcelain God is the “stand and deliver” method. She insists our heads were never meant to inhabit the region where our bottoms are designed to sit. I told her Washington, DC was full of evidence to the contrary, but I digress. According to her, one is supposed to stand up, bend a little at the waist, and deposit the upchuck into the bowl.

She also doesn’t cough before she throws up. For reasons unknown, I’ve always had a preliminary coughing and gagging spectacle before heaving. This is apparently unnecessary. As Budge puts it, “Just open your mouth. If you’re going to be sick, something will come out. You don’t have to do all that coughing!” Strange. I’d never realized it but she was right.

So, I have decided to adopt a “non-coughing” approach to vomiting since it is much easier on my throat and I’m thankful to my beloved wife for introducing me to coughless sickness. However, she has yet to convince me to stand up and get sick. Now when I get sick, it’s generally a two door show so it’s a moot point because I’m sitting on the pot holding a pot, but on those occasions when the situation requires it, I’m still going to do my obeisance to the Great Porcelain God . . . on my knees.

For those interested, I was sick for about 72 total hours. After the first night, Budge insisted I go to the doctor the next day and she gave me a shot of phenergan which did in the nausea once and for all and put me to sleep for many hours straight. I awoke the next day weak as a kitten but I wasn’t sick! I hope that’s the end of my sicknessess for another long period. It’s not something I can get used to.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean!

Chipper’s in the Hall



I always look forward to this time of year when the newest slate of candidates are picked to be enshrined in Cooperstown. The last several years have been especially uplifting because so many members of my beloved Atlanta Braves have made the Hall of Fame. Greg Maddux, Tommy Glavine, John Smoltz, Bobby Cox and one or two more whom I can’t recall right now have all taken their places on the bronze plaques.

Most of the recent inductees I had the pleasure to watch as members of the dominant Braves teams of the 1990s. These were the teams that Papa Wham loved so much in his sunset years. Well this year, one of Papa’s favorite players, and one of mine too, is going into the Hall. Larry “Chipper” Jones will be inducted after an overwhelming election on his first Baseball Writers Association ballot.

I watched Chipper’s entire career — a career spent entirely with Atlanta. As a matter of fact, I was lucky enough to see Chipper play in person several times when the Braves’ AA minor league team was in Greenville. He got a lot of buzz at the beginning of the 90s. Some people were pegging him the second coming of Cal Ripen, Jr. While I’m not going to fight it out with any fans of “The Ironman” close examination does reveal Chipper had better raw numbers than Cal.

So now, after watching Chipper’s career start to finish, I get to see him go into the Hall of Fame. The only thing that would make it much more special would be if Papa was here to share the moment with me, but I’m sure he’s got a good seat to watch the proceedings and I know he’s proud.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean!





“Last Jedi” is My “Last Star Wars Film”

last jedi

Words fail to describe how much I hate that stupid lightsaber!

Let me cut to the chase. The LAST movie I hated anywhere near as much as The Last Jedi featured midichlorians and Jar-Jar Binks. If any means of mind bleach existed I would wipe this excrement masquerading as a movie from my memory immediately. It’s taken me since Thursday night to calm down enough to write calmly about it.

This movie was horrible and a stain on the memory of the first three films. Lucas messed up the prequels himself so he bears the awful burden of those travesties, but I knew when the news broke that he had sold Star Wars to Disney that the crap was literally about to hit the fan . . . or a least the silver screen. I was not disappointed.

I didn’t say anything about The Force Awakens. I figured I’d wait and see. Maybe things weren’t as bad as my pessimistic mind figured them to be. I was wrong; it was worse. Far, far worse.

The Last Jedi is a two hour train wreck of plot holes big enough to drive a Star Destroyer through interlaced with incident after incident of deus ex machina.

In no particular order, here are some of the more egregious faults of the film. If, for some reason you still want to watch it, from here on out are spoilers.

  • Leia gets blasted off a ship into space (you know, vacuum, cold, etc?) instead of dying and relieving the next movie of a need to write the late Carrie Fisher out of the story, she wakes up, stretches out her hand and FLYS back onto the destroyed bridge of the ship looking just like Peter freaking Pan. No joke, I wanted to start singing “You Can Fly!”
  • Snope appears and is killed. No backstory, no idea who he is, no clue as to how he formed the First Order or even if he DID form the First Order. Two movies with him as a villain and we get nada.
  • Rey, despite only living on a completely desert planet somehow can swim.
  • Rey becomes a Jedi faster than anyone in recorded history . . . or at least since Luke Skywalker.
  • How does she get off Snope’s ship and on to the Millennium Falcon?
  • How did BB-8, despite being a rolling little bowling ball of a droid manage to climb into an AT-ST Walker and “rescue” Finn and Rose just in the nick of time?
  • Rey’s only lightsaber is destroyed. How is she going to make a replacement since she has no idea how to put one together OR where to get the proper crystals?
  • How does Finn, a lowly former basic Stormtrooper, know where EVERYTHING is located on a ship of a type he has NEVER BEEN ON?
  • How do Rose and Finn manage to get thrown in a cell with someone who JUST HAPPENS to know how to hack a ship he’s never seen?
  • If a ship hitting another ship at light speed causes as much damage as the last cruiser did, why didn’t they ram the previous two ships into the First Order fleet while they had fuel instead of just abandoning them and letting them be destroyed?
  • How does an incorporeal, Force-projecting Luke manage to duel Kylo Ren with a lightsaber that SHOULD be as insubstantial as he is?
  • What the crap is a KYLO? I know what a Darth is but KYLO??
  • And why does he have such a STUPID CROSSGUARDED LIGHTSABER?
  • How does Rey, with NO Jedi training at all manage to resist the Dark Side so easily when Ben Solo, trained by one of the greatest Jedi masters ever turn fairly quickly?

I could go on, but I won’t because I’ll just get pissed off again. I already feel my blood pressure starting to rise. It’s just things like those listed that made the movie a farce. The film ended creating more questions than answers as well. Like how is The Resistance going to reform since the entire remainder can fit comfortably onto the Falcon?

I also want to mention one last thing. I see online that lots of people are saying the “last” movie will leap ahead several years to explain how The Resistance rebuilds. Well, you can forget that. There is NO WAY Episode IX is going to be the last Star Wars movie and I’m not talking about standalones like Rogue One or the upcoming Han Solo film. The Mouse is all about making money and releasing a new Star Wars episode every two years is just like printing billions of dollars.

I predict for the foreseeable future Disney releasing a Star Wars universe movie every year at Christmas. Odd numbered years we’ll get a new “episode” and even numbered years we’ll get a stand alone like Rogue One, Han Solo, or the discussed Boba Fett stand alone. Disney is NOT going to stop milking a multi-billion dollar cash cow franchise like this anytime soon. The actors who play Rey, Finn, Rose, Poe, and most of the other main characters are quite young and can easily do several more films.

I imagine the next episode will be Rey gathering a group of Force sensitives to train as the next generation of Jedi, probably with some help from a Force ghost Luke and maybe even Yoda — since puppets don’t age. They’ll try to sell us stand alones starring Boba Fett, Yoda, Mace Windu, Darth Maul . . . anyone they want.

Disney owns Star Wars now so it’s no longer about the fans. They proved that when they unilaterally declared the entire Star Wars Expanded Universe to be null and void. With just a snap of the fingers they erased three decades of comics, cartoons, novels, tech books, role playing games, video games, web sites, and fan fiction. Does that seem like a company that is “fan friendly”?

No, I hate The Last Jedi. I only thought the prequels were as bad as it could get. Boy was I wrong. So my childhood died just a little more Thursday. I can only imagine how much worse the next installment will be.

So, with a heavy heart I declare that I love y’all, keep those feet clean, and if you decide to go watch this piece of crap movie, all I can say is, may the Force be with you.

#TBT: Rest In Peace, Mr. Dupree . . . and Thank You.


I originally published this six years ago on Pearl Harbor Day 2011. Please help me remember a terrible attack and a great, unsung man.

Seventy years ago today, the Empire of Japan launched a successful sneak attack on the US Naval Station at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Most of us know the bare facts of the attack. Most of us have heard of the USS Arizona and how she blew up at anchor from a well-placed bomb. Slightly over 2,400 servicemen and civilians were killed that day and the moment FDR had waited for — and some say helped orchestrate through intentional inaction — had arrived, America was entering World War II. We were over two years late to the party, but once we got the blood out of our eyes from Pearl Harbor, we made a big entrance.

As a young boy, I sat on a Coca-Cola crate in the back room of the Napa Auto Parts store where Papa Wham was the sole employee and listened as a group of older men lounging around on similar crates played checkers, told fish tales, and exchanged updates about their lives. These were members of America’s “Greatest Generation” who had grown up during the REAL Great Depression and who had marched off to battle in World War II. If I were quiet enough — difficult for me even then — so that the men forgot I was listening, I could get quite an education on some topics.

If, in between customers, Papa came back to the gathering ; however, to hear Mr. John regaling the crowd with a memory of a certain “ladies’ home” he once visited in France right after “The War,” Papa would clear his throat and the men would remember my presence and Mr. John, red-faced, would probably ask me if I would go across the street and get him a Coke and some crackers, which I was always glad to do. I was rather older and Mr. John had already answered the final muster before it occurred to me that I was being kindly “gotten rid of.”  One of the men who frequented those back room gatherings, though he seldom stayed very long, was Mr. Andrew Dupree — universally known, for reasons unknown to me — as “Gump.” To me, he was Mr. Gump, unless Granny Wham were around, in which case, Papa had instructed me to say, “Mr. Dupree.”

The men who gathered in Papa’s back room often reminisced about their service during the war. If the story was deemed mostly harmless, I would be allowed to stay and listen. Most often, however, I would be asked to go on a Coke and crackers run. One time, however, Papa was asked to let me stay for the story and that is why I heard Mr. Dupree’s eyewitness recollection of December 7, 1941.

Gump was a young sailor in the navy stationed at Pearl Harbor the day the Japanese attacked.

Papa Wham had placed his hand on my shoulder as soon as Gump said, “Today’s ‘boom-boom’ day, boys” in his usual low, sad voice, “been a long time now.” The hand on my shoulder was my cue to go to the cash drawer, get a fiver and go to Alverson’s Drug Store for Cokes. This time though, Gump caught me by the arm as I turned. Then he looked at Papa and I remember him saying, “Frank, let Shannon stay if you would. We’re getting old and someone needs to remember this.” I remember Papa nodded solemnly and slowly then sat down on the crate next to me. He put his arm around me and whispered in my ear, “Don’t tell Granny Wham, okay?” I nodded and turned to hear Gump tell this story.

Please remember I was 8 years old at most and my memory, while good, especially for stories, is far from perfect and in the end, I didn’t get to hear it all.

It was Sunday, as you all know, and I was on my way to chapel walking along the shore next to Battleship Row. Mother had worried that I would take up a bad lifestyle in the navy and made me promise her to always go to church whenever I could. We had all heard rumors about a possible attack, but that’s all we figured they were. I was just glad to be in Hawaii. None of us figured we’d stay out of the war forever, but we all thought when it got started for us, it’d be over in Europe.

So I had left the barracks about ten minutes before when I heard the first planes. I didn’t even look up because planes were always coming and going from the airfields around the islands. The first explosion knocked me over and that’s when the screaming and yelling started. I rolled over and looked up and saw the meatballs on the planes. The klaxon was sounding general quarters for the entire island. I wasn’t assigned to a ship yet because I hadn’t been there long enough. An older looking marine sergeant grabbed my arm and pointed towards an AA machine gun. He and I jumped in with a couple other guys and started shooting at anything we could.

I was scared shitless and was looking around everywhere. That’s when I saw some torpedo planes making runs at the battleships. You could see the fish in the water headed towards the ships. Everywhere up and down the harbor crews were trying to get the ships moving and trying to fight back at the same time. Didn’t do much good though. One of the torpedo planes strafed us after he made his run. We all ducked down but one guy took one of those bullets square in the chest. He exploded all over the rest of us. I had blood and pieces on me. Two of the other guys had some cuts from shrapnel. I just froze, but that old sergeant started slapping all of us around — we were a bunch of kids and God only knows how long he’d been in service — and yelling at us to get with it. He pushed the dead guy over to the side and got us all back up manning the gun.

That’s when the entire world seemed to blow up and go silent at the same time. We all flew against the sides of the dugout and it kind of stunned us all, even the sergeant. When I stood up, I saw a big ball of fire where one of the ships had been. I found out later it was the Arizona. I couldn’t hear. I put my hand to my ear and came away with blood. Corpsman told me later my eardrums had blown out from the shockwave.

The attack seemed to last forever. Planes were everywhere, bullets were everywhere. I saw several guys get shot down by strafers when they tried to run across the parade grounds. We couldn’t breathe from all the smoke and oil in the air. You couldn’t believe the smell. The smell was ungodly. Burning diesel oil, hot metal, burning skin. The burning skin was the worst. If you’ve ever singed your arm hair, multiply that about a million times.

We stayed hunkered down in that dugout and shot back until we ran out of ammo. Once it was all over, the sergeant told us — we could hear just a little by then — to get back to our units. I got back to the barracks and it was still in one piece. We had muster to see who was still with us and who wasn’t accounted for. We were kinda lucky and kinda not.

Once things started getting better organized, I was sent out with about six other guys in a small motor boat to search the harbor waters for survivors. We found a few, but mostly, we found parts. The whole time we still had that smell hanging over the water. I think I didn’t sleep or eat for two days. Just went around trying to put out fires, help find people — guys were trapped in some of the sunk ships — stuff like that . . . it was bad, fellas. It was real bad. I remember this one guy . . .

Gump’s voice caught in his throat and Papa laid a gentle hand on his back then told me to “go get Gump a Coke and some crackers.” I could hear the story of blood and gore, but these were the men of the Greatest Generation, stoic and strong; Papa would spare Gump the indignity of a child seeing him shed tears. It was okay for the other men to watch, I guess. They had stories too. They understood.

Mr. Dupree served with distinction in the Pacific Theater. I wish I could say his horror at Pearl Harbor was the worst thing to happen in his life, but that would be a lie. Gump’s life was filled with horror and tragedy even after he came home. When Papa and Granny built their home on Weathers Circle, Mr. and Mrs. Dupree lived across the street from them in a small, tidy white house. They had a son, Jack, who was about my daddy’s age, and had just had a baby. One of the neighborhood whispers was that Mrs. Dupree was “nervous” which was code back then for any mental illness from mild depression to schizophrenia.

One night, (this was way before I was born) Papa answered a frantic knock on the door to find Gump standing in his nightclothes covered in blood. He said Gump told him — rather calmly — to please call an ambulance, that his wife had “hurt herself.” As it turned out, his wife had taken a pistol and killed the baby in the crib, shot Jack where he lay in his bed, then shot Gump before putting the gun to her own head. I think she left a note saying she “wanted them all to be together forever” or something like that.

Gump survived; so did Jack. I can’t imagine the psychological scars they both carried. By the time I knew him, Gump lived in a small mobile home in a grove of trees off McCarter Road between Fountain Inn and Greenpond. Jack had moved away by then. I don’t know if Gump had any grandchildren. I just know he loved fishing. He fished every day except Sunday. Rain or cold didn’t stop him. Looking back, I imagine that’s the way he coped with all he had been through.

Mr. Dupree died May 7, 1983. I am certain of the date because it’s also my little brother Nick’s birthdate. Papa and Granny went to the funeral before they came to the hospital.  He dearly loved my mama; it upset him as much as it did Papa and Granny Wham when Mama and Daddy divorced. I know Gump never really got over the war or his wife’s suicide because the last December 7th before he died, he gave Mama a new purse with a letter in it. I’ve never read it, but it begins “Dear Lawana, Today is ‘boom-boom’ day.”

Mama said Gump was explaining some more things. That’s all she said.

Love y’all. Remember those who have fallen.

The Agony and Ecstasy of Christmas Lights


tangled-christmas-lightsI love Christmas lights. I remember when I was little, Papa and Granny Wham would take me out riding every Christmas season to look at lights in Fountain Inn. We’d always ride out to a place called Stewart’s Lake. Now today, places like Stewart’s Lake are everywhere, but back then it was the only game in town. The entire yard was lit up like, well . . . a Christmas tree! They had elves and Santas and three or four Nativity scenes, just lights everywhere. It was breathtaking to my single digit eyes. I remember even then asking Papa Wham who put all those lights up every year. He said he didn’t know and I was amazed because Papa Wham knew everything.

I used to “help” Papa put the lights on their Christmas tree every chance I got. I would always be put out when he would put the lights on without me while I wasn’t there. I realize now I was as much help to him then as my big fuzzy Keaudie dog is to me as I try to accomplish the same task!

Papa and Granny had those big lights on their tree. If you didn’t clip them on right and they lay against the artificial tree, they’d melt the plastic “needles” to the bulb. Granny always worried it would start a fire. As for me, I blistered my finger more than once touching one of the bulbs while it was lit. You can’t buy those kinds of bulbs anymore; I don’t think the safety gurus would let them get by.

Now, I am responsible for stringing lights on my own tree and I appreciate Papa’s toil more and more as the years go by. For the last two years, Budge and I have been so proud of getting the lights on the tree that we dispensed with putting ornaments on afterwards. Actually, what happened was we were so tired and frustrated at finally wrestling the lights onto the tree, we stopped to take a break and go eat dinner and just never made it back. So we had a 500 light green lamp in one corner of the room for the past two Christmas seasons. This year we swore would be different.

This year, Budge and I had a plan. Now as anyone knows, a plan – no matter how well thought out and put together – never survives the first contact with the enemy. In this case, the enemy happened to be three 600 bulb strands of lights. These lights were troopers. We’ve had them for five years, which honestly is about a hundred years in Christmas light years, and, with a little tweaking each year, they answered the bell and looked great on the tree. Still, they were part of the plan.

Now our grand decorating plan called for me to get the lights out the Monday before Thanksgiving to inspect them and make sure they were ready to roll onto the tree the day following Turkey Day. For some reason, I put it off until Tuesday. Then I gently removed all three strings of lights from their cozy year long slumber lying perfectly flat and undisturbed on top of the Christmas tree box. I’m serious, I’ve treated these lights better than some people treat their children.

When the lights last made their appearance, every bulb shone brightly. All three strands worked beautifully. They should have because I spent three hours last year cannibalizing a fourth strand of its bulbs in order to make sure three strands would work. Given all the effort I had put into tuning the lights and carefully storing them, I felt confident I would have no problems this year. I’d simply plug in the lights, replace a wayward bulb or two and all would be well. Budge and I would put the tree up on Black Friday and the lights would just spiral right onto the branches.

Nope. My optimism was sorely unrewarded.

I took all three strands into the hall so I could lay them out straight one by one. I rolled out the first strand and plugged it in. Half the strand lit up. Now I don’t know why I did this, but I unplugged the strand, waited a few seconds and plugged it back in. I can only assume it was an instinct from my time working on computers and I was hoping to reboot them or something. Instead, the other half of the strand lit up and the first half went dark. So it was going to be that kind of a year, eh?

I have this tool. It’s called a Light Saver or something like that and it’s designed to “fix” strands of burnt out lights. I read about how it supposedly sends a “pulse” down the strand and “rewelds” the contacts or something. I used it to get all the lights going last year and I’m convinced the thing uses some sort of dark magic, but it works. So I get out the Light Saver and plug it into the strand of half lit lights. I give it a few clicks and — like a miracle — the strand lights up . . . for ten seconds, then it all goes dark. I tried the tool again and this time the strand lay there dark, unlit, and mocking me.

I had similar results with the other two strands of lights. What was leading me to question my sanity and the laws of physics is WHY!? I took these lights off the tree last year. I laid them out and carefully made sure each bulb was lighting up as designed. All three strands were perfect! Six hundred little bulbs all winked their beautiful soft yellowish white light at me. Then I ever so gently rolled each strand up on a reel specifically designed for the job, put them away atop the tree box, and they lay there undisturbed for a year.

Now, nothing. One strand which had been the brightest last year didn’t light a single bulb this year. The Light Saver’s magic would not avail me this season. I was looking at another marathon session of robbing from one strand to try making three strands into two. I teared up a little at the thought of sore thumbs and frustration from swapping bulb after bulb. Christmas wasn’t looking so bright anymore.

On a hunch, Budge and I went to Walmart after supper that fateful night. I was shocked to see 600 lights going for $20 dollars! Now I’m not one to throw stuff away, but I snatched up two 300 light boxes as fast as I could, paid, and hit the door to show Budge my find. Forget this whole cannibalization crap.

So, Saturday evening, we put the tree up. It’s our venerable but still serviceable 18 year old artificial we bought when we first moved out from Mama’s. It takes a little longer to put up now because I have to peer at the end of the branch for a few seconds to determine what color the single fleck of paint left on the wire is. Anyway, the tree went up without a hitch. Then came the lights. Oh the joy! I plugged the new strands in and they all lit up gloriously!

The lights went on the tree super easily too, because they were packaged in a zig-zag pattern that just perfectly matched the way Budge likes to see lights on the tree. It was amazing. Instead of schlepping a huge light reel around the tree and handing it off to each other, we just passed around a little handful of lights. What usually took the better part of an hour took us barely fifteen minutes this year. Budge was pleased, which was all I needed.

Now the tree is up and lit. All we have left to do is put the ornaments on her, but we ran out of steam Saturday night before getting the totes with the ornaments in them out to the living room from storage so it remains to be seen if we will have ornaments this year, but regardless, we have a well lit tree and I’ve already decided at the end of the season I’m taking these lights off, bundling them into a ball and taking them to Goodwill. I can swing $20 a year if it keeps my sanity intact!

Love y’all, keep those feet clean, and Merry Christmas!

500 Halloweens Gone


luther95thesesOctober 31, 1517. The day wasn’t known as “Halloween” then but by the more formal “All Hallow’s Eve,” and it wasn’t a day for carved pumpkins and gathering candy door to door. On that day, 500 Halloweens ago, in a little known university town called Wittenburg in what was then Saxony, a mostly unknown monk with some reservations about Holy Mother Church’s way of doing business wanted to start a debate on some issues within the Church. In that pre-Twitter time, debates and discussions took place in the open air or in a lecture hall and if one wanted to debate something or other, he (and back then it was ALWAYS “he”) would post an announcement on the cathedral door with the proposed topic for debate and a time for the debate to take place. Following the custom of the day, that little known monk tacked a list of 95 topics or theses onto the door and waited to see what would come of it.

He couldn’t have known at the time, but the little known monk, Martin Luther, just tossed a pebble down a rocky slope and began a landslide we know today as the Protestant Reformation.

It’s important to note the name we’ve come to call this movement — The Reformation. Luther was a monk and quite an accomplished one. He loved the Church and the last thing he wanted to do was tear her down. Still, some aspects of the status quo were too egregious in his mind to ignore. He didn’t want to destroy the church; he wanted to “reform” it. His biggest complaint and the subject of much of his 95 Theses was the way the Catholic Church treated something called indulgences. Basically, indulgences worked like this: at that time, the Church held pretty much everyone who died went not to Heaven but to a middle state called Purgatory. A soul would stay in Purgatory until it had worn away the sins carried into death. Left to progress naturally, this process could take many centuries. It might be thousands of years before dear mother entered the Pearly Gates.

Enter the indulgence. The Church taught that for a price, one could purchase “merit” which could be applied to the soul of one’s choice in Purgatory. This merit would then be applied to said soul’s account and the application of merit would speed the soul’s journey on to Heaven. Instead of thousands of years, the purchase of indulgences could decrease mother’s heavenly journey to weeks or, for enough money, even days.

What this basically means is the Church taught and people believed one could basically “buy” one’s way into Heaven. This was a racket that would make today’s TV hucksters like Joel Osteen turn green with envy. It wasn’t even subtle. Poor people would spend their life’s savings to buy a piece of paper that assured they wouldn’t have to spend long in Purgatory but could count on a smooth, quick trip to Heaven. In the mystical game of Catholic Monopoly, the indulgence was a “Get out of Purgatory Free” card.

Martin Luther called schwachsinn on the whole racket. He claimed he’d read the Bible cover to cover and he couldn’t find ANY mention of the ability of the Church to even GRANT indulgences, much less SELL them. His radical idea was that the only possible way to Heaven was through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Sola Fide.

The Church authorities were less than pleased with Luther.

Turns out Luther had a whole plethora of ideas about how to change Holy Mother Church. The whole idea of clergymen being celibate? Forget that! Nothing in the Bible said a priest couldn’t marry and Martin Luther based everything he proposed or taught in the earliest days of the Reformation on Scripture alone. Sola Scriptura.

In a moment of sublime serendipity, Luther was having all these newfangled ideas at the same time as a brand new contraption called the “printing press” was beginning to catch on. That meant Luther didn’t have to write individual letters to get his message out. The printing press at Whittenberg turned out pamphlets Luther wrote by the thousands. Soon, Luther’s ideas about reforming the Church spread all across Europe and other towns began seizing the banner of the Reformation.

Now the Church authorities were REALLY pissed.

At this time, Luther was still a monk. Remember, he never set out to tear down the Church. He just wanted changes to bring her more in line with the Bible. Since he was a monk, he was ordered to attend a religious council called the Diet of Worms and defend his ideas before the authorities. He went to Worms even though he knew it could mean his arrest and if he was arrested he would probably be burned at the stake as a heretic.

For two days, Martin Luther defended his positions before hundreds of churchmen. He always appealed to the Bible. Finally, the head of the council had heard enough. He pointed towards the stack of pamphlets and books Luther had written before him on the table and told him he had one last chance — recant these heretical views or face the dire consequences.

Turning to the head of the council, Martin Luther gave the reply which has rang down the centuries and which ushered in the era of the Reformation to which almost any denomination of Christian not Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox owes its existence. He replied, “I cannot and will not recant anything. My conscience is captive to the Word of God and to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here. I. Stand. I can do no other. So help me God, Amen.”

He escaped Worms with the help of some powerful friends, but he would be excommunicated from the church and branded an outlaw for the rest of his life. It mattered little, though. The pebble tossed by the 95 Theses quickly became a full on landslide sweeping 1500 years of Catholic tradition before it. The Reformation had begun in earnest.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.