#TBT: The Fallacy in the Furor over “Fifty Shades”

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50 Shades Criminal MindsI wrote this a couple of years ago when the FIRST Fifty Shades movie came out and since its equally vapid sequel has just hit the screens, I thought it would be a good time to rerun it.

Hopefully surprising no one, Fifty Shades of Grey tanked in its second week at the box office, but before the lines of voyeuristic housewives and notebook carrying college students dried up, the movie version of the best selling novel series since Harry Potter grew up unleashed a bee in the collective bonnets of moral conservatives throughout this great nation. I’ve read blog post after blog post and listened to sermon podcast after sermon podcast denouncing E.L. James’ books and the movie based upon the first novel as the latest sign the Apocalypse is upon us, Christianity has lost the culture war, and America has officially gone the decadent way of ancient Rome. While I agree with all three of those assessments, my reasons have nothing to do with this hideously written fan fiction masquerading as some sort of modern Anais Nin novel. I think we’re doomed, but that’s the subject of other posts for other times.

The segment of the blogosphere and Facebook most incensed by Fifty Shades of Grey is the group made up of parents of daughters — especially Christian parents of, ostensibly, Christian daughters. Fathers and mothers are posting and reposting their fears of some Christian Grey-esque person insinuating himself into their little girls’ lives and using his wiles to turn them into latex gimp suit clad BDSM sex slaves imprisoned in a Red Room of Pain somewhere far from their chaste upbringing. I’m here to tell you that fear is wrong on every level that matters.

First of all, the majority of people terrified of BDSM have no idea what the BDSM lifestyle is all about. It’s a lifestyle. It’s weird to us who don’t live that way, but lots of lifestyles are weird to people not living them. I for one am completely mystified at the vegan lifestyle. I have great respect and love for all animals except mosquitoes and roaches, but God did not put Adam at the top of the food chain so his descendents could eat rabbit food. Still, I don’t knock vegans because I believe what a grown, educated person puts on his or her plate is not my business and doesn’t affect his or her salvation in any way. By the same token, what a husband and wife choose to do for pleasure in the privacy of their own bedroom . . . or red room . . . is none of my business either. It’s not something I would choose, but I don’t see it affecting salvation either; unless, of course, it becomes an idol, but that’s a whole ‘nother can o’ worms.

My church did not one but two entire series on The Theology of Sex and I’d put our two teaching pastors’ exegetical ability up against anyone past or present. Make no mistake about it, the Bible has a lot to say about sex. Rape? Explicitly Forbidden. Bestiality? Explicitly Forbidden. Incest? Explicitly Forbidden. Polygamy? Explicitly Forbidden. Adultery? Explicitly Forbidden. Homosexual Sex? Explicitly Forbidden. Sex before and outside of marriage? Explicitly Forbidden, and that means “swinging” or “wife swapping” is forbidden too.

What a HUSBAND AND WIFE, aka. “Happy and Healthfully Married Couple” do to give each other pleasure is none of my business. If they are Christians, and that’s who I’m primarily talking to, their sexual appetites are bound only by the dictates of Scripture and some may disagree with me, but I’ve never read anything in the Holy Bible — and I’ve read it cover to cover many times — about BDSM being forbidden to a married couple.

This guy is not your problem . . . .

Now, THERE’S the rub! Every post I read and every sermon I listen to speaks with abject horror about the evils of BDSM but no one yet has said anything about the fact Christian and Anastasia are NOT MARRIED! It doesn’t matter WHAT kind of sex they have; it is wrong according to the Bible and it’s THAT kind of thinking that has so many of our teens and young adults screwed up today. They try to use the slipperiness of words to justify having a sip of forbidden waters without the commitment of marriage. If BDSM is wrong, we just won’t do that and we’ll be okay. Sex means vaginal intercourse, right? Well then, oral isn’t really sex, right; anal isn’t really sex, right; *blank not involving her vagina and my penis” isn’t really sex, right? So, we just won’t do “that” and we’ll be okay AND have a good time as well . . . right?

Not according to the Scriptures.

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. . . . this is the guy you need to look out for.

My second point is this — if parents are worried about a theoretical Christian Grey introducing their daughter to the wide world of kink, they are worried about the wrong guy. A saying I am fond of from the world of medicine goes, “When you see hoof prints, look for horses before you look for zebras.” It’s highly unlikely your little girl is going to catch the eye of some philandering, kinky billionaire. If she does, worry about it then. On the other hand, it is extremely likely she has already caught the eye of the cute boy next door or the sweet guy who sits near her in biology class or maybe even Dreamy McDreamerson sitting across the room in her youth group. THOSE are the guys you have to worry about, teach about, and plan against. Horses, not zebras.

The worst enemy of a girl’s chastity is neither some mythical billionaire dom nor some leather jacket wearing motorcycle riding bad boy. The worst enemy to a girl’s chastity is the good guy, the nice guy, the guy YOU like and trust. I know what I’m talking about because I WAS THAT GUY. {If you’re a family member of mine or an ex-girlfriend, now would be a good time to quit reading unless you want to learn some things about me you’d probably live just fine until death without knowing. You’ve been warned.}

Bad choices are made here way more often than . . .

My beloved wife of almost 20 years is not the first woman I ever had sex with. She knows this. Actually, she wanted it that way, but that’s another story ENTIRELY. I had sex with five other girls / women before her. Four of the five were while I was in high school and college. Believe me when I say I was not a billionaire playboy. I wasn’t even especially good looking. I was NICE, KIND, THOUGHTFUL, and TRUSTWORTHY. At least that’s what two sets of parents and two single moms thought anyway.

They were right about that too . . . except for the trustworthy part. I’ve never been physically, mentally, or emotionally abusive to any woman, much less a girlfriend. I loved to send cards and flowers and other little gifts to make them feel special because first and foremost I DID want them to feel special because of what I’d seen my mother go through but I’d be lying if I said the possibility of sex wasn’t lit up like a bright neon sign in the hormone soaked nether regions of my adolescent brain. So, after holding hands, then kissing, then heavy petting, the next order of business in the fulness of time was sex. More than once, it was the girl’s idea, not mine.

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. . . here. Keep that in mind.

Keep this in mind, too. My papa was a Pentecostal preacher. I was raised in church and when I say raised in church, I mean I was born on a Friday and Mama took me to our little white church the following Sunday. I had been taught by many adults I respected and loved that sex before marriage was wrong. I wouldn’t have called myself a Christian back then, but I knew right from wrong; however, when the time was right, I JUST DIDN’T CARE and neither did the “she” of the moment.

I’m not saying this to brag or air my dirty laundry unnecessarily. I suffer the consequences of my youthful wrong decisions on a daily basis. What I’m saying is all you parents need to quit worrying about the Christian Greys of the world and start worrying about the guys in your daughter’s life whom you really like because those guys, like it or not, are the ones most likely to end up in a situation with your daughter that’s going to end in one hell of an emotional train wreck, and if you’re lucky that train wreck will be ALL. Much worse things can happen.

So go out and rail against Fifty Shades of Grey, not because of the BDSM, but because it makes sex outside of marriage seem okay and without consequence and both those assumptions are dead wrong.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Great War Wednesday: Tanks

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https://i0.wp.com/weaponsinworldwarone.weebly.com/uploads/1/8/4/0/18400871/7203821_orig.jpgIt didn’t take long looking at the killing fields of the Western Front in 1914-1916 for some commanders at all levels to think, “We have to find a better way.” The whole idea of flesh and blood men jumping out of the scant protection of the trenches to run across the shell cratered and machine gun swept No-Man’s Land was obviously insane and yet, what to do about it?

The idea of men advancing within some propelled or motorized type of vehicle was not a new one. No less a mind than Leonardo da Vinci drew up plans for his Armored Turtle which was basically a wheeled dome with arrow slits cut in the side. While never produced, this machine gave the basic idea for what eventually became the tank.

Any vehicle used in combat in World War I had a few criteria. First, it had to contend with the sucking morass of mud the artillery turned the battlefield into. Second, it had to withstand sustained machine gun fire (no one seriously considered any idea of a vehicle impervious to artillery). Third, it had to be able to cross obstacles such as shell craters and trenches to be of any real effect.

The sticking point, no pun intended, was the mud. Cars and trucks (lorries for my friends in the UK) were a relatively new invention but it didn’t take long to realize their narrow tires would be of little use in the mud and muck of the Western Front. Wheeled vehicles of the era notoriously bogged down on what passed for roads in those early 20th century days; putting something on wheels with armor increasing its weight out on the battlefield would do little more than create a sitting duck.

The breakthrough came with the invention of the caterpillar track. Basically the “tractor” or vehicle had four driven wheels and several rollers over which lay a wide linked, jointed flat piece of metal. The track made a big circle around the four wheels while sprockets in the drive wheels engaged holes in the “track” and pushed it forward so the rollers could roll on it. The wideness of the track, the four driving wheels, and the circular motion combined to produce a machine that essentially laid down its own road as it went forward or backwards. The width of the two tracks enabled the weight of the vehicle to spread out over a much larger surface area than was possible with wheels and tires so the tractor could cover almost any ground.

Tractors were gaining widespread usage in agriculture to replace horse power and some enterprising army officers looked at the agricultural machines with an eye towards armoring them and using them as a weapon. After all, any machine capable of navigating a plowed field successfully should be capable of getting across a shell plowed battlefield.

The British were first to develop a viable machine. Originally called “land battleships” because of their great size and armor, their name during development changed to “tanks” to maintain secrecy. The legend has it that workers thought the new metal behemoths looked like municipal water tanks, thus “tank” stuck.

The first successful tank was the British Mark I. It was a diamond shape which allowed it to cross trenches and shell craters effectively because a good surface of track would be in contact with the ground at all times even if the tank tilted forward. It moved along at a scorching four miles per hour so it was in no danger of outrunning the infantry hiding hopefully behind it.

As for armament, the Mark I as well as later British models were known as “male tanks” or “female tanks” depending on what weapons they carried. Male tanks mounted two six pounder guns in sponsons to the left and right of the tank body. Female tanks carried up to six Hotchkiss machine guns.

The first tanks were used during September 1917 in one of the sections of the Battle of the Somme. They did not give an good initial showing as many broke down. The developers back in Britain, including their champion Winston Churchill, complained the tanks had been rushed into battle too soon before having time to learn how to best use them. Later battles would see greater numbers of tanks massed in lines and moving forward as great steel waves. These tanks were much more effectively used in these later battles.

In all, the tank did what it was designed to do. It crossed No-Man’s land with general impunity and gave the following infantry something to hide behind. Though they didn’t know it, mainly because this was supposed to be the war to end all wars, these early tankers and the infantry that followed them were setting the stage for the “combined arms” tactics of the Second World War which made the blitzkrieg so effective.

Looking back, it’s ironic to note the Germans only made about twenty tanks total in the Great War. They just didn’t see the point in the design, yet it was a young German corporal who faced tanks in battle who decided they were a great asset on the battlefield so Adolf Hitler made sure his army had plenty of tanks in the next war.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

 

 

A Star Wars Christmas Memory

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https://i2.wp.com/oldhatcreative.com/sites/default/files/styles/blog-full-preview/public/blog-featured-images/A_long_time_ago.pngSome friends and I went to see Rogue One over the weekend and it was an extremely enjoyable movie. I recommend it to Star Wars fans who can appreciate all the plethora of “easter eggs” the movie has buried in it. Still, anytime I go to a Star Wars movie, the experience is always tinged with sadness. Whenever I see those blue words on the starry screen “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . .” I am instantly transported to a time when I was young and innocent . . . and my world was beginning to fall apart.

It was the summer of 1977 and I was sad a lot of the time. Mama and Daddy’s marriage was disintegrating right in front of me and I couldn’t do a thing about it. I was six and I was not processing the events well at all. Mama had already paid a visit to my school to explain why I, who was renowned for never shutting up, suddenly had fallen completely mute. I had no frame of reference for what was happening to my family. These many years later, many of my childhood and school days friends have lived through their parents’ divorce, but at that time I was the first kid on my block with divorcing parents and no one really knew how to help me and I didn’t really know what to do myself.

In the middle of the summer, Mama decided to take me to see this new “space movie” that had just started playing at the Augusta Road Drive-In Theater. She hoped a movie would get my mind off of what was happening to my home. A friend she worked with at Union Carbide named Wanda came over with her son whose name I simply cannot recall anymore and we went to McDonald’s for a hamburger supper then drove up to the movie theater.

Star Wars was already held over in lots of walk-ins but it had just started showing at the drive-ins which typically got movies later since admission was much cheaper. I didn’t know about the movie at all. So my buddy and I climbed out onto the vinyl roof of Mama’s Pontiac Gran Prix and stretched out just in time to see those now-famous blue words, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . . .” Then the screen crawl began with “Episode IV: A New Hope.” Two hours later, the Death Star blew up and I was covered in black vinyl preservative and standing on the roof of the car cheering. I was the newest, and as far as I was concerned, greatest Star Wars fan alive.

I saw Star Wars two more times over the summer, both at walk-in theaters, once with Daddy and once again just Mama and me. To this day, it is the only movie I have seen three times in a theater. I saw all three Lord of the Rings movies twice, but that’s as close as I’ve gotten. I was wild over anything Star Wars. When I started back to school in the fall I carried a Star Wars lunch box to the cafeteria every day and opened my Star Wars Trapper Keeper clone notebook for every class. I was all Star Wars all the time. So naturally when it came time to make out my Christmas list, Star Wars stuff was all I asked for.

I made out like a bandit Christmas morning.

I didn’t know when I got out of the car at Granny and Papa Wham’s house that it would be the last time my parents would spend Christmas together. I don’t know what I’d have done with the knowledge if I had known it. As it was, Daddy left early.

Under the tree though! I started opening presents and it looked like I was going to film a sequel right there in Granny and Papa’s dining room. I’ll be honest and say I don’t know who bought me what. Granny, Papa, Aunt Cathy, Daddy, and Mama all bought bits and pieces. Looking back, I might have been with Cathy when she bought my presents since she took me shopping so much with her in those years. I got everything I’d asked for and more.

Here’s a partial list because my memory isn’t as good as I wish it was. I got the Death Star Playset, a full sized toy Tie Fighter to go with my full sized toy X-Wing Fighter, a remote controlled R2-D2, ten or fifteen of the main action figures, and a cassette and book retelling the movie in its entirety. I couldn’t wait for lunch to be over so I could get off in a corner with a cassette player and listen to the movie all the way through. I was blissfully unaware of anything for two hours except Rebels fighting Imperials. Looking back, the grown-ups were probably discussing my future. I didn’t know and for a brief time period, I was too happy to care.

Something else I know now that the child me didn’t. That was probably the inflation adjusted most expensive Christmas I ever had. NONE of those toys were cheap. Each action figure I remember cost $3.00 but you have to remember what $3.00 was in 1977. I know the fighters were over $20 a piece, again in 1977 money and I’d hate to even think what the Death Star cost. I know as much as I loved those toys and as much as I played with them, I was no where near thankful enough to the people who bought them for me. Of course, those were the Christmases when I was the ONLY grandchild so I got ALL the presents. Shame that had to end, but I guess Nick, Zack, and Blake are worth it.

I wish I knew what became of all those toys. They probably wouldn’t be worth much today because I PLAYED WITH THEM! After all, they were TOYS! You weren’t supposed to leave them in sealed boxes to appreciate and be worth a college education twenty years later. I took them out and I played with them. I loved them.

The one item I remember most was the cassette with the full movie on it. That tape got me through some rough times. The last time I KNOW for a fact I listened to it was about six or so YEARS later when I was in seventh grade. I was sad so I pulled it out and put it in my stereo to go back to the galaxy far, far away. I remember the noise on the tape from so many playings had rendered it almost unlistenable, but I listened anyway. Now it’s gone like the rest of my childhood, but I have to say it was wonderful while it lasted.

Love y’all, keep your feet clean, and may the Force be with you, always.

 

The High Cost of Dying

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https://i2.wp.com/profuneralflowers.com/image/cache/data/profuneralflowers/category%20images%20/Red&White-940x408.jpgTwenty years ago when my Papa Wham died, I had my first encounter with the funerary business. Daddy took Granny and Aunt Cathy to Cannon’s Funeral Home to make the arrangements and pick out the things for Papa’s funeral. My little brother and I went along. I remember when we were picking out caskets, Nick and I both took a liking to a solid oak casket with satin lining. We thought Papa would have looked wonderful in it. We were both hurt when Daddy nixed our choice for a plain, gunmetal grey metal casket. Honestly, I thought it looked cheap. That’s when I learned my first lesson about funerals.

See, Daddy explained Papa only left $10,000 total in life insurance. Now to me, that sounded (and actually still sounds) like a lot of money, but inside a funeral home, even twenty years ago, $10,000 doesn’t go very far. That casket Nick and I loved so much? It was $4000 in 1995 money. If Daddy had bought it, he’d have had to leave many other necessities unbought or paid for them with money none of us had available. I learned a lot that day.

The main two things I learned were, first, funeral arrangements are not cheap and, two, a lot more is involved with a funeral than just a casket and a hole in the ground. Since Papa Wham’s funeral, I’ve had to plan three other funerals more or less on my own: Papa John, Mama, and, most recently, Granny’s, and I’ve helped plan three or four others, including Granny Wham’s. I’ve learned the hard way a funeral home planning room is no place for sentimentality as ironic as that sounds.

For one thing, EVERYTHING has a cost. The funeral director sits down with you and the rest of the family and he or she has a planning sheet. ANYTHING that gets written down on that sheet of paper costs something and sometimes the prices can take your breath away. What’s more, you need things you had no idea you actually needed.

Most basically, you have to buy a vault and casket. I didn’t even know what a vault was as pertaining to burial. The vault is a watertight sealed box the casket goes in. It keeps the casket from deteriorating and collapsing in which in turn keeps the ground of the grave nice and level so the cemetery groundskeeper can run the zero turn mower up and down the rows of graves without scalping the grass. Vaults are priced from expensive to astronomical. The vault I bought for Papa John, Mama, and Granny is called the Titan. It’s concrete and has a 250 warranty. I figure I won’t be here to renew the warranty.

The Titan is near the bottom of the price scale. It and the plain white metal casket I buried Granny in cost $6000 right out the gate. From there, the sky is quite literally the limit for price. They have vaults which are solid copper and hermetically seal which can run upwards of $50,000 just by themselves. You can have the vault engraved with the decedent’s name and dates and such just like a tombstone, but keep in mind when you get to the cemetery, that vault is going to be under four feet of dirt already and when the ceremony ends, they’ll put another two feet of dirt on top of it. You can pay all the money you want and you’ll never see any sign of that $50,000 copper box than you will the $5,000 concrete box. People pay it though.

I asked the funeral director who helped me plan the three funerals I had to plan why people would pay so much for something that doesn’t do the job any better and that you never see. He said two main factors drive what people spend on a funeral — age and guilt. Children and teenagers often have MUCH more expensive trapping like solid wood coffins and the like as opposed to elderly. I can understand that. A life has been cut short and a nice, expensive funeral seems like one way to give to that young person what’s never going to be given to them in life.

Guilt is worse. People who didn’t go see mother in the funeral home or who may have had issues with a person that went to the grave unresolved seem to think spending a mint on the funeral will somehow square things. I’ll admit my three funerals might be considered cheap to people on the outside. Hell, I got nasty calls after Mama’s funeral from one family member who said I’d buried Mama in a casket he wouldn’t have put a dog in. Luckily for me, I never had to use a funeral to tie up loose ends. I could look Papa John, Mama, and Granny all three in their cold dead faces and even though I was sad, I didn’t have any guilt. I did what I could for them while they were living. I’m glad I can say that and I’m sorry for anyone who can’t.

After the casket and vault get taken care of, you have to have a hole. You might not think much about holes but when a body is going in one, it’s not a hole, it’s a grave and that’s a whole (no pun intended) different story. The cemetery charged me $1500 for what they called “opening and closing costs.” Basically, I paid them $1500 to dig a square hole with a backhoe six feet deep, eight feet long, and three feet wide and then, a few hours later, to fill said hole in with dirt.

I forgot about embalming! If you’re going to have a viewing or a wake involving an open casket, you have to have the body embalmed. That’s another $1500 – $2000. I had Granny embalmed so Aunt Pearl and Rachel could see her one more time, but I didn’t have Mama embalmed because her express wish was she didn’t “want anyone walking by gawking at me and blabbering about how good I look!” Yes, ma’am. Closed casket it is.

Once the funeral is over, one big purchase remains — the marker. This is the bronze or granite headstone with the name and dates and maybe something like “beloved mother” carved on it. It’s basically a slab of rock or metal. Don’t let that fool you though. It’s one of the most expensive slabs of metal you’ll ever buy. One branch of my family owns a marble and monument company that makes headstones — they start in four figures and head straight up from there. I just made the second and final payment on Granny’s marker today. The worst part is the cemetery charges a $400 fee to set the marker in the ground at the head of the grave. $400.

So, the bottom line is if you don’t have a bare bones minimum of $10,000 life insurance, you are going to leave your family in a bad situation when you die whether it’s now or when you’re an oldster. $25,000 is a whole lot better because you just never know what comes up when someone goes down.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

A Change in Routine

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https://i2.wp.com/images6.fanpop.com/image/photos/32900000/Dove-doves-32938347-1600-1200.jpgToday is Tuesday. For the last three years Tuesday has meant one thing to me above all else — a ride down to Clinton to check on Granny in the nursing home. My routine changed earlier this month. November 1st, when I would normally be on my way home from NHC, I was sitting in the family room of Fletcher’s Funeral Home planning Granny’s funeral.

Granny had been in decline for several weeks, but the call on Halloween night at 9:00 was still a surprise. See, I had just called at 8:00 and she was doing well — meaning about the same as she had been for a couple of weeks — resting comfortably in her bed. Then only an hour later, I got the call and she was gone. Just like that. The nurse said Granny went peacefully, just stopped breathing and lost pulse. Just like that.

We buried her next to Papa John. Now he’s got Mama on one side and Granny on the other. I picked her out a white casket with a pink lining. Granny always loved pink. She was wearing her newest gown and I had them wrap her in her favorite blanket. She got cold easily.

The funeral was tiny. The only people attending were Aunt Pearl and Rachel, Granny’s oldest sister and oldest niece, and about five others. I didn’t put Granny’s death in the paper until after the service so no one really knew about the arrangements. I know I didn’t make any friends with that branch of the family, but I had my reasons.

Chief among them was how she lay in the nursing home over five years and no one went to visit her except Mama and me . . . until Mama died . . . and Aunt Pearl and Rachel. Everyone else seemed to have their reasons for not making the half-hour drive to Clinton to see her. I figured if they couldn’t be bothered to see her when she was living and needed company, there wasn’t much point in coming to see her once she was gone and didn’t need anyone anymore.

So, my littlest Granny is gone now. When I was born I had all four grandparents AND four of my eight great-grandparents alive to visit. Granny was the last one. I know how fortunate I am to live to 45 before losing my last grandparent, but it’s still bittersweet knowledge all the same. To have so much love surround you then for it to be all gone is a hard thing to take.

That’s why it’s taken so long into the month for me to write about Granny’s passing. I didn’t want to be maudlin — her memory doesn’t deserve that. All her life, Granny lived for one thing — love. She only wanted to love and be loved in return. Now she’s finally in a place where she’s surrounded by love and I know she’s happy even as I miss her.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

Great War Wednesday: Lafayette Escadrille

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The insignia of the Lafayette Escadrille and no, that’s NOT a Nazi symbol. Way before Hitler and his evil bastards appropriated it, the swastika was a symbol in many cultures around the world, including Native Americans.

Ever since the first man took ship to go explore somewhere in the New World, young Americans, mostly men as women tend to have better sense, seem to enjoy going abroad in search of dragons to slay for some reason or another. Americans have been fighting other countries’ wars for as long as there’s been an America. Some go out of a sense of bravado and adventure, others for that most elusive of game “a cause”, and still others, especially in the days before fingerprint databases and DNA tests rendered it nearly impossible, to simply start over as another person — perhaps to forget a broken heart and perhaps to stay one jump ahead of the penitentiary.

One of the most famous groups of American young men who went to the service of another country was the Escadrille Number 124 of the nascent French Air Force. History knows them better as Le Lafayette Escadrille. These 38 men flew under the command of their five French officers from March 1916 until America officially joined the Great War in 1917 at which point they were incorporated into the even MORE nascent Army Air Corps.

When the group first formed, it was called the Escadrille Américaine. For some reason, however, — maybe it was having “American” right in the name — the German embassy in the United States filed a formal protest because America was “neutral” at the time and having a group of people under the name Escadrille Américaine apparently seemed to suggest America was allied with France rather than being strictly “neutral.” So the French changed the name to honor the biggest French hero in American history.

The unit received its baptism of fire over the Battle of Verdun soon after its constitution. On 18 May 1916, a Tennessee boy named Kiffin Rockwell became the first Lafayette Escadrille pilot (and by extension the first American period) to down an enemy aircraft when he shot down a German observation plane near the Verdun battlefield. Sadly, Rockwell would not survive the war but became the second casualty of the unit. The first casualty was one Victor Chapman who was shot down over Verdun 23 June 1916. In all, nine of the original 38 volunteers died in the skies over France while two more died later on when the unit became part of the American Army Air Corps.

The main weapon of the Escadrille was the Nieuport 11, affectionately called La Bebe’ by the pilots. It easily outclassed the monowing Fokker fighters which had driven all the earlier Allied aircraft from the sky during the latter half of 1915. It was nimble and powerful, but not without issues. Unlike German planes, the French had yet to develop a working synchronizing gear to enable the machine gun to fire through the propeller of the plane. The Nieuport’s single Vickers gun fired above the top wing which made aiming slightly more difficult than its German counterparts like the Albatross DIII.

If you like being an insufferable know-it-all at movies, and who doesn’t, if you’re ever watching the WWI movie about the Lafayette Escadrille called Flyboys you can tell everyone the Americans are flying the wrong planes because the movie uses replicas of the later Nieuport 16 which fired through the propeller AND had the full nose ring seen in several of the movie shots. Also, the Nieuport 11 wouldn’t have been flying against the Fokker Triplanes like in the movie since the 11’s had been replaced before the Triplane’s appearance in 1917.

Another historical inaccuracy of the movie is the inclusion of an African American pilot. The character is obviously based on the legendary Eugene Bullard who was the son of American slaves and who DID serve in France, first in the trenches in the infantry of Great Britain and later flying in the French Air Force. An amazing and deadly pilot who went to Europe to escape the rabid racism at home, Bullard nonetheless did not fly for the Lafayette Escadrille because they stopped taking volunteers once 38 had been reached. I could find no reason why because other men, white and black, were turned away once the 38 mark had been reached.

The Lafayette Escadrille officially came to an end 8 February 1918 when its surviving pilots were absorbed into the newly formed American 103rd Aero Squadron. Try as I might, I couldn’t locate the fate of the wonderful mascots of the Lafayette Escadrille who just happened to be two full grown African lions named, appropriately American enough “Whiskey” and “Soda”and who pretty much had the run of the aerodrome and the barracks where the men slept.

Love y’all and keep your feel clean!

YOLO

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https://i1.wp.com/img.deusm.com/networkcomputing/2014/08/1298101/fog-316479_640.jpgI never parted from Mama if we were mad at each other. From the time I could drive I would threaten to follow her to work if we didn’t fix whatever lay between us. As a result, when the day came going on four years ago now and I had to stand over her casket, I felt grief — crushing grief –; I felt profound loss; but what I did not feel was regret. I’m not saying this makes me a great son or a great person because it doesn’t. I’m saying it because I haven’t followed the “no regrets” program with everyone in my life.

I met Tracey over the phone when she was a sales rep for a book seller and I was a middle school librarian. After our first conversation I wouldn’t deal with anyone at the company but her. We were kindred spirits. Our friendship was ten years of phone calls, emails, and texts. I never once laid eyes on her in the flesh. I knew she was up in New York living a life that would terrify me and loving every minute of it.

We’d go long stretches and not hear from each other but once Facebook caught on, it became much easier to keep in touch. She introduced me to the music of The Cramps and offered me the “real” tour of New York if I ever got the courage up to fly to the Big Apple. I didn’t make it for a thousand reasons: money, time, commitments . . . the usual. Then, last spring, through Facebook I found out she was sick — extremely sick, like at death’s door sick. She had a condition called “lipid pneumonia” which made her lungs fill up with a fatty fluid the consistency of oil.

Something strange happened then. We had a fight. Of all things, she was sick as a dog and we had a fight. Part of it was over someone in her life I hated — well, as much as you can hate someone you’ve never met; part of it was because I kept badgering her to leave her beloved New York City and move back to her family in Florida with warmer weather and family to look out for her. It was ALL stupid and the majority of the entire fiasco was my fault. Then she started to get better and better and got out of the hospital and it looked like everything was coming up Milhouse.

But she was still angry with me and I was too proud and stubborn to admit any wrongdoing or back down from anything I said. So, we stopped communicating. Last I talked to her was July of last year and she was, “fine thank you very much!” Then nothing. Well, Monday was her 40th birthday and I thought fourteen months was plenty to act like an ass so I sent her an emoji laden post telling her happy birthday on Facebook.

About an hour later I got a reply to my post, not from Tracey, but from her mother. It simply said, “I’m sorry to have to tell you but Tracey died Thanksgiving Day of last year.” I sat and stared at my phone so hard Budge asked me what was wrong. She knew who Tracey was so she was sorry for my feeling too.

It’s so weird in a way. I never laid physical eyes on her, but she’s left this empty space. She’s been dead nearly a year and I didn’t even know! Now it’s too late. I’ll never know what she thought of me those last months. Did she still consider me a friend? Did she feel betrayed? Did she feel anything at all? What I feel is much simpler.

I feel regret.

I feel regret that when she needed me most I wasn’t there in person or electronically. I feel regret that this amazing person who was part of my life will never know just exactly how much she made me smile or how much she taught me . . . all because I waited too late to stretch out an olive branch. Our last words to each other were harsh . . . because of my pride.

Now she’s gone.

Which got me to thinking how she’s not the only one. I’ve got friends and family I haven’t seen in years and some of us parted on bad terms. I’ve got people I need to apologize to but I don’t know where they are and it’s taken losing a real friend to open my eyes to just how fragile and fleeting life is and how enduring and everlasting our words are.

If you happen across this post and you are a friend, former friend, or family member; if you are someone I’ve wronged, comment below, email me, reach out and give me a chance to mend and take back some of the things I’ve said and if you can’t or don’t want to please know that for my part, I’m sorry. I’ve said and done stupid things and hurt people unknowingly and quite willfully at times, but I’m going on fifty and the man is sorry for many things the boy has done . . . and many things the man has done. I’m so sorry.

The Quakers have a proverb: “I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.”

You only live once is not just a Millenial throwaway line by some rapper. It’s not just something to say. No, it is a truth . . . an immutable truth. No matter what we may believe about what comes after we’re only going through THIS life one time and this life is just a mist, a fog, a momentary vapor.

So please, take my advice. Never part with harsh words. Always be the first to say “I’m sorry” whether you feel it was your fault or not. Reach out to your friends and loved ones because you never know if what seemed so important to say, the argument that was so vital to win, the point so desperate to make just might be the last words the two of you ever share and then, when you finally decide to try to mend things you find out you’ve come to late.

Love y’all, and keep those feet clean.

Ten “Five Year Missions” Complete

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Image result for star trekStardate 8 September 1966 a little known and lesser heralded science fiction show debuted on CBS. This little one hour space drama would only last three seasons — less than 100 episodes — but it would change the lives of countless people then yet to be born. Of course the show was Star Trek, known in Trekkie parlance as The Original Series or TOS to distinguish it from Star Trek: The Animated Series (TAS); Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG); Deep Space Nine (DS9); Star Trek: Voyager (VOY); and, most recently, Star Trek: Enterprise (ENT). Anyone on the set back then would have been dumbfounded to know they were kicking off a bona fide cultural phenomenon and fifty years, six (soon to be SEVEN) TV series, and thirteen feature length movies later, Star Trek would be an actual way of life for some people. All you have to know is the Holy Bible is available in Klingon. Image result for star trek

Most Trekkies these days don’t realize how rocky their beloved franchise’s start truly was. Critics blasted the plots, the premise, the acting, and anything else they thought of. It was an ensemble cast of relative unknowns who would all end up being household names revered around the world today. Though time has taken several of them — Bones, Scotty, Yeoman Rand, and just this year Spock — those left are still the darlings of any convention they choose to attend.

Image result for star trekI discovered Star Trek during the summer between fifth and sixth grade, a period I like to call the Babylonian Exile, when I was a lonely, bereft kid living in Columbia, SC for what seemed like the longest three months of my life. I was flipping channels . . . by hand, no less . . . and I saw a green girl dancing. I stopped and by the end of the episode, I was a devoted fan. I fell in love with Star Trek before I discovered Tolkien and Middle Earth, which is still hard for me to believe since I favor fantasy over science fiction these days. I spent every 3:00 hour that summer parked in front of the TV watching my new heroes Kirk, Bones, and Spock battle Klingons and Romulons . . . and each other more than once. When we moved back to the upstate, I was delighted to find the show came on up here, too, and at 7:00 so I could watch it during the school year as well. For those of you tender youths who wonder why I didn’t just “DVR” it, at the time VCRs were a bit in the future and anyone proposing something like commercial free television on a “hard drive” would have been burned at the stake as a witch.Image result for star trek

Star Trek: The Next Generation came out my junior year of high school. It ran on the brand new Fox Network on Sunday nights. Mama and I watched every episode and even once I went off to college, I wouldn’t leave to return to Clemson until 9:00 when that week’s episode ended. I’m not going to wade into the murky shark filled waters over which series is the best. A person can get flame broiled quickly for choosing the “wrong” series. I’ll say I’ve seen all of TOS, TNG, and VOY. Budge and I watched Voyager together one year when we caught the pilot episode in syndication just by chance one day after school. For the rest of the year, a “new” episode aired each day Monday through Friday at 4:00 and we watched Captain Janeway and the crew try to get home from the Delta Quadrant every night before supper. Of the three series I’ve watched in totality, I’m satisfied with each in its own way. Ideally, I’d like to catch a channel that aired a TOS episode followed by a TNG episode and finished off with a VOY Image result for star trekepisode. I’d be a happy little camper then.

I watched a few episodes here and there of Deep Space Nine, but I never really got into it like I did the other series. For one thing, and this is a really petty point, the episode titles were way too long. I also despise Ferengi and having a station littered with the grasping little buggers aggravated me to no end. As for Enterprise, well, I’ve never seen an episode so I wouldn’t be qualified to judge its quality. I’m holding out high hopes for next year’s launch of Star Trek: Discovery because, success of the recent movies non-withstanding, I’m one of those who thinks Star Trek does best on the small screen.

I’ve seen several of the movies including all three of the most recent incarnation and I for Image result for star trekone thought the way the writers rebooted the series while still maintaining continuity with the old timeline was genius. I know a lot of people wanted to scream deus ex machina, but hey, it worked . . . even if we did get a new Spock slightly more disposed to emotion. I’m not bucking any trends, however, when I claim The Wrath of Khan as being my favorite of the movie series. Spock dying to save the ship gets me every time AND it sets up the next few movies where Kirk steals a ship along with the rest of the gang, who even at this juncture are NOT as young as they used to be, in order to go find their friend.

At its core, that’s what Star Trek is all about — friendship. A loyal bunch of people in a tin can zooming through outer space with aliens and natural disasters constantly trying to kill them get multiple opportunities to save each other, depend on each other, and grow together. It’s the entertainment industry’s longest running buddy movie / road movie and even fifty years after a rough and rocky start, it’s still gaining new converts all the time.

Keep those feet clean and of course, live long and prosper, y’all!Image result for star trek

#TBT: Elegy for a Utility Ballplayer

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This was originally posted seven years ago. Recent events have brought it to mind. Some things never change.

Lonely GloveHe always knew this day was coming, but he tried so very hard to fool himself into denying the inevitable. Once he’d been cut at the end of last season, he told himself it was just a temporary setback and he’d have a new gig with a new team in no time at all. It’d be like the last time he got traded . . . what a row that was! Been with a team for nearly ten years and along comes a new manager and next thing a guy knows, well, he’s looking for a new job. Of course, he’d had an agent back then. He could afford one. Unfortunately, a couple of years bouncing around the minors pretty well did that in. The last two teams, he’d handled his own contracts. It wasn’t like he need a whole lot of legal advice anyway. Guys like him never did. In all his career, he’d never merited more than a little bit above league minimum salary anyway.

After all, it wasn’t like he was a star. He’d never been to the All-Star Game; no World Series or playoff rings adorned his fingers. His baseball card would never be encased in a plastic shell to guard against bent corners or dinged edges. His hitting stats weren’t gaudy . . . he was just barely north of the infamous Mario Mendoza Line . . . but he’d punched seventeen homers over various walls in his career. He was a good, solid defensive player, though, and that’s what kept him in the game. He’d shown up for work every day, taken batting practice every day, shagged his share of fly balls . . . every day. He kept track of the “kids” on away games and he’d helped more than one superstar to a hotel room to “sleep it off.” In all, he’d had fourteen years in the Show. It was nothing to sneeze at, but it was cold comfort where he was now.

After four years on this team, he was cut. The coach said the team didn’t need him anymore. It was nothing personal. Just business, you know? Budgets were being slashed all over, you know? People want the flashy hitters these days and the young pretty boys, you know?. He’d nodded throughout the conversation, shook hands with Coach, and then he’d cleaned out his locker — thankful he was alone with no one to see the pain on his fact.

He’d waited all through the off season for the phone to ring, sure that someone out there needed his steady presence and boundless enthusiasm. Maybe he’d have to start off in the minors again, but that was okay, he’d done that before. It was kind of fun actually. He’d gotten a couple or three calls and went for interviews and workouts, but the story was always the same — thanks for coming, we’ll call if we need you.losing

The phone never rang a second time, though, and now he was parked in front of the TV in his modest living room  staring at the first game of the season playing out in front of him. His old team was winning 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh. Some new kid straight out of college (or maybe high school) was in his old spot on the bench. Waiting to get in the game. He knew about that wait and now —  too old to start over and too young to retire — waiting was all that he had left.

Enjoy the school year, y’all.

Love y’all and don’t forget to wash those feet.

#TBT: A Breakdown in Communication

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You just have to wonder what’s coming when this is the opening picture!

I first published this five years ago when Budge began her 9th year teaching. She has just started year 14 which marks the halfway point til retirement. This is a story from EARLY in her career and it’s one of my FAVORITES! Enjoy.

In honor of the first Friday of the new school year around these parts, I want to share with y’all my FAVORITE story ever from my beloved Budge’s teaching career. She just started year NINE, which is hard for me to believe and she gets better and better each year. I’m not saying it just because she’s my wife and I love her, but as a former teacher, I know awesome when I see it.

So this particular story took place early in Budge’s second year. Her first year had been a typical first year. It was stressful, but not terrible. This second year group, however, was proving to be a little more of a handful than her first class. Still, they were a neat bunch and one of the most memorable was a young lad named . . . well, let’s call him “Sydney” since Budge has his baby sister this year.

Young master Sydney was performing the role of “bathroom reporter” during the morning potty break. The most important part of his job was to enter the boy’s bathroom first and return with a report on anything out-of-place or order so none of my lovely’s children would be unfairly blamed. The fun started when Sydney returned from his reconnaissance foray into the toilet. Upon his return, Budge asked for a report. The report went a little something like this:

Budge: “Okay, what’s the deal, Sydney?”

Sydney: “Mrs. Wham, there’s piss on the seat in one stall.” Now it’s important to note that the boy gave his report in an even, conversational, matter-of-fact tone. He was not cracking up or goofing off. Budge, however, wasn’t sure she’d heard him correctly.

Budge: “What did you say?”

Sydney: “I said, ‘Mrs. Wham, there’s piss on one of the seats.'”

Budge, now a little distressed and a little louder: “WHAT did you say?”

Sydney, by this time wondering why this strange woman was teaching replied, again: “I said, “Mrs. Wham. There. Is. Piss. On. The. Seat.” He never raised his voice. He was never disrespectful at all. Truth be told, the poor little guy was at a complete loss as to what he had done wrong and why his teacher seemingly didn’t understand English.

Budge was fairly well discombobulated by this time so she hustled the class into the room, shut the door a little harder than she meant to, and — once everyone was seated — began one of the first, and to date, strangest dressing downs of her career.

Budge: “Class! We do not use the word PISS in this class?! Does everyone understand me?!”

Budge is MUCH prettier, but I have seen a similar look.

She told me the class stared back at her with a reptilian haze dulling their eyes. Sydney was in the back looking absolutely bumfuzzled. Apparently, at his house, the yellow liquid one’s kidneys produced, which then exited the body via the bladder and urethra, was called, appropriately enough PISS.

Now as an aside, I like to think of “piss” as one of those good old Anglo-Saxon words that cut straight to the core of the apple so to speak. When someone uses one of those ancient words, no one has much of a chance to doubt his intentions. Unfortunately, those words have fallen out of favor in polite company. My Budge was about to offer a substitute in its place.

Budge: “Instead of PISS, we will call it “TINKLE”! It is not pee or pee-pee or anything else, and it IS NOT PISS! IT. IS. CALLED. TINKLE!! Got it?”

According to her, twenty-seven of twenty-eight heads, including Sydney’s, bobbed up and down in affirmation probably thinking, if we go along with the crazy woman, maybe we can get away during recess.. The lone dissenter was another lad named Johnathan. Instead of nodding his acquiescence to the new status quo, Johnny had his head buried in his arms on his desk and Budge said his shoulders were shaking violently. When she called his name and asked if he understood, he looked up with a terrible grin on his face and tears squeezing out of his eyes as his whole body shook in a spasm of suppressed laughter.

Budge: “Something funny, Johnathan?” To his everlasting credit, the boy didn’t crack. He regained control of himself and managed to squeak out, “No, ma’am.”

Budge then gave the class a withering look and one more expulsion of “TINKLE, okay?” Before she went on with the lesson.

And the moral of this story is . . .

Sydney and Johnathan are seniors in high school this year, but Sydney came with his mom and sister to “Meet the Teacher Night” on Monday and as soon as he walked in the room — all six foot plus handsome young man of him — he smiled and said, “Mrs. Wham, I’ve already told Sissy here that we use the word TINKLE in your class.”

Budge said she couldn’t help but laugh at what she wouldn’t let herself laugh at eight years ago. Since then, she’s learned to pick her battles and “Piss on the seat” probably wouldn’t garner a second glance. However, to a still-green teacher, she had to stand firm against the onrushing tide of PISS and other monstrosities.

I still love her though!

Love you all too! Keep those feet clean and good luck in school.