Tag Archives: People

It’s Already Tomorrow in Australia

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It seems reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated!

It seems reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated!

As I’m writing this, folks who slept in all around Southeast Asia are just crawling bleary-eyed out of bed and on their side of the International Date Line, it’s already Friday, December 21, 2012 and the BBC, MSNBC, and FoxNews are all reporting nothing of consequence is happening across the Pacific. So, it looks like 12-21-12 is going to join a long and distinguishedly infamous list of other dates under the heading of “Days the Apocalypse Didn’t Come.”

I know some people are seriously disappointed. I don’t mean “fake disappointed,” either. Some folks are probably sitting around scratching their heads in real consternation wondering where all the earthquakes and meteors are or what happened to Nibaru? I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised to hear some disturbed individuals will have committed suicide by the time 12-21-12 makes it all the way around the globe. Echo and the Bunnymen said it best, “People are strange.”

I never seriously considered the world ending today. I still owe money and haven’t hit the lottery. If you ever see me on TV holding up one of those funny, oversized PowerBall checks, THEN you should probably make preparations because I’m willing to bet if I ever get rich, the game is going to end. That’s just my luck.

In the interest of some vein of seriousness though, any thinking person should have realized the world wasn’t going to end on this specific day. First, look at the problem scientifically. The Universe couldn’t care less about dates. The idea of dates — as well as most other divisions of time — are human inventions. “Tomorrow” or “next century” don’t have any meaning to planetary forces like earthquakes. Comets don’t punch time clocks. Any scientific end-of-the-world scenario hitting on a particular date is simply the wildest of consequences. The Universe just doesn’t have a calendar.

Secondly, from a theological standpoint, God doesn’t have a calendar. Neither does Allah or any of the other myriad gods man has worshipped over the millenia. Time doesn’t matter to an eternal being. God will end the world if and when He gets good and ready and not before. A being who exists OUTSIDE of time has no need of specific dates so anyone trying to pin a date down is just flirting with disappointment.

We petty human peons are the only creatures on the planet things like the page on a calendar or hands on a clock mean anything to. Animals go by seasons and the sun and natural rhythms. Tides have no time, but only the pull of the Moon and the Sun. We alone fret over our arbitrary conventional invention.

So get over it and go shopping, people. Christmas is only four days away! Go on. Occupy yourselves some other way until the next big prediction comes along. But until then,

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Geez, people, you took our lands, you took our gold, you took our way of life . . . can't you take a freaking joke? Just turn to the next calendar page!!

Freaking A, people, you took our lands, you took our gold, you took our way of life . . . can’t you take a freaking joke? Just turn to the next calendar page!!

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Let Us Join With Rachel As She Weeps

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Rachel weeping I was all prepared to write something funny or something Christmasy as would befit the season, but this morning’s events in Connecticut have jolted me from that path and brought new sadness as well as sadness of memory to what should be the most wonderful time of the year. Earlier this morning, 24-year-old Ryan Lanza went into his mother’s 20-year-old Adam Lanza entered a kindergarten classroom in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, shot and killed his mother, and opened fire on the children. All we know for certain at the moment is 18 children — all under age ten — are dead along with eight of their teachers. Those numbers could rise. Lanza’s mother was found dead later.

This hurts me on more levels than I can adequately express. For one, I was a high school teacher in the black days of Columbine and the spate of copycat killings which followed. My colleagues and I talked about little else during that awful period because we were completely aware it could easily happen to us. We all knew students — TAUGHT students — who were ticking time bombs whom we were powerless to help. I must have run over an attack scenario in my mind hundreds of times. I even set up my classroom to provide maximum cover for students should someone think the unthinkable. The school supposedly had a plan; I know I did and I told my students if they heard gunshots they only had to remember one instruction, “follow Coach Wham.” My children knew how seriously I took the phrase in loco parentis and if anyone was getting shot, it would be me or over my dead body.

As someone who struggles with mental issues of my own, I also hurt because I KNOW this young man had to be mentally disturbed in some way, shape or form. Normal, well-adjusted people do not kill innocent babies in cold blood; they simply don’t; not even in wartime. That’s why the epithet of “baby killer” is one of the most terrible insults anyone can spew at a soldier. I have no idea what will eventually come to light, but I’m willing to bet someone somewhere is thinking right now “I KNEW this was going to happen. I saw all the signs.” I know what it feels like to cry out for help in all the wrong ways and to feel so helplessly out of control and at the mercy of my own mind. I’m just thankful that my anger has always turned inward because I can’t imagine doing something like this on the worst unmedicated day I’ve ever had, but at the same time I ache terribly for someone so consumed he could find no other means towards peace than this massacre which ended with him taking his own life.

This tragedy disturbs me and angers me as well because I am a gun owner and a gun supporter, but I know it won’t be long until some politician tries to make a name for himself by leading a crusade against firearms. First of all, it makes me want to puke whenever I see some little political worm making political hay out of a tragedy like this. It cheapens the deaths of these innocents and it paints even more innocent people with an unfairly broad brush. I will soon be 42 and been around guns all my life, but I have yet to see one that could act of its own free will. Legislators can ban anything they want but until they can ban evil and hatred from the human heart they don’t have a chance of stopping violence because laws do not affect people who have no intention of following the laws in the first place.

Most of all, however, this awful episode deeply saddens me as a Christian. I know, as surely as I know stop signs are red, people are going to start throwing out expressions like “Where’s this ‘God’ of yours now?” They’ll ask, “How could a God who’s supposed to love us let this happen to CHILDREN?” They’ll claim, “I’ll never follow or believe in a God who is powerless to stop this kind of evil.” And it will go on and on. Atheists like Richard Dawkins have a field day whenever a tragedy like this occurs because they point at it as proof God doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, too many people won’t look for answers and will believe this wrong thinking.

Where was God? He was where He’s always been — sitting on the throne of Heaven completely aware of everything that has ever happened, is happening, or ever will happen from eternity past to eternity future. The hard truth is, God knew this was going to happen before the plan ever became a thought in the poor deranged gunman’s mind. What so many people fail to realize is “knowing” something isn’t the same as “causing” something.

So, why does God “let” these things happen? That’s a have your cake question. Sure, God can “make” His creations (that’s us) do whatever He wants us to do, but that’s a one way street. Make us do something once, we’ll be made to do everything forever. It’s free will. We all praise and love the idea of “freedom” and “free will” but most of us don’t want to acknowledge the fact that “freedom” means just that — and if we’re free to do good; we’re also free to do otherwise. Without free will, we would never have anything like school shootings, but we’d never have anything like the Mona Lisa or the Empire State building either. Free will is all about choices and in order to free us to make good choices, God had to acknowledge some of us would make bad choices. We can’t have our cake and eat it too.

Finally, let me say one thing to those who can’t believe God could allow / do something like this AND to all the parents who lost their precious children in this horrible tragedy, God understands EXACTLY how you feel. He is a parent. He had an only child too — a son actually — who was also killed by hate filled, unfeeling men, with one important difference — God DID allow His Son to be killed. God knew from eternity past that His only beloved son would die, and He knew He would STAND ASIDE and allow it to happen even as that Son begged His Father for rescue. God the Eternal, Perfect Father watched His son die so that we could live. I do not pretend to understand it, but I know it is so. So for all the parents and loved ones who lost children today, understand that you are understood by the One who catches your tears in a bottle. If you will reach out to Him, even in this darkest hour, you will find Him waiting to comfort you.

Why I Still Believe: Reason 1

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You have to draw your own conclusions, but let me know when you do.

In my previous post, I mentioned my spiritual crisis the last six years and how it brought me to the brink of atheism. I also promised to give reasons why, plagued by questions and doubts, I still believe in God. The first reason is I witnessed a bona fide, verifiable miracle.

In early 1998, a new couple — Brother and Sister Baldwin — came to Abundant Life Church of God where Budge and I attended.  Brother Baldwin had been a pastor for years, serving eight churches across the southeast. He and Sister Baldwin had retired to a house Brother Baldwin built himself in Greer. They had not planned on retiring because Brother Baldwin was only 65 and Sister Baldwin two years younger, not especially old in a denomination where pastors and evangelists routinely minister well into their 80s and the occasional nonagenarian will deliver a message of a Sunday. Unfortunately, the Baldwins had no choice. Sister Baldwin had a virulent strain of lymphoma. Doctors had tried chemotherapy and radiation both but neither had proven effective. Surgery was out because the cancer had spread throughout her body before it was discovered. Sister Baldwin had come home to die.

I dearly loved the Baldwins. Brother Baldwin was “intellectual” which isn’t a common trait in Pentecostal or Charismatic circles. To this day, he is the only person who would sit with me and answer my theological questions until I got tired of talking and that is truly saying a great deal. Sister Baldwin was precious. She had obviously been a great beauty in her day and her eyes still sparkled out of a face gone drawn and pale under the ravages of chemotherapy. She wore a beautiful headscarf to church  to cover the few wisps of snow white hair her fight  had left her.

I watched Sister Baldwin grow weaker and weaker, but her spirit never faltered. Brother Baldwin had the resigned look of a man who was watching the light of his life go out before his eyes, but neither ever complained or railed against the God they had so faithfully served for 40 years. Sister Baldwin was getting worse, however, and the oncologist at Greenville Memorial Hospital told her she likely had less than a year to live. He took several x-rays showing the ravaging path the disease was taking through her body. Keep those x-rays in mind. They are extremely important in a minute.

An ancient tradition of the Churches of God during the week of July 4th is the annual Campmeeting at the state campground in Mauldin. People from all over South Carolina converged on Mauldin for six days of preaching, teaching, and wonderful Southern Gospel Music. Sister Baldwin wanted more than anything to attend the 1998 Campmeeting as she knew it would be her last. Even though she was weak, Brother Baldwin brought her, and the ushering team — of which I was a member in those days — would find her a seat where she could see the stage from her wheelchair.

Friday night, a quartet from down in the lower part of the state was singing “Jesus on the Mainline” as the band was playing about 90 miles per hour. The State Tabernacle was electric and in the middle of all the excitement I saw Sister Jeannette Vance making her way towards Sister Baldwin. I know it was Sister Vance because it’s impossible to miss Sister Vance in any crowd as she’s the very definition of “statuesque” at 6’3″ tall.

She knelt by Sister Baldwin (and still towered over her) and laid her hands on Sister Baldwin’s shoulders and began to pray earnestly. Several other pastors’ wives from around the tabernacle came and formed a circle around Sister Vance and Sister Baldwin. When Budge and I left around 11:00 Pm that night, Sister Vance was still praying and the circle of ladies was still around them holding hands and praying as well. I will say right here I didn’t see anything “supernatural” occur. No sparks. No one “falling out” like some Benny Hinn nonsense. Just one precious Christian lady asking God to spare the life of another precious Christian lady.

Sunday morning, Sister Baldwin came to church, stood up and told us all gathered there she no longer had cancer. God had healed her. I said this was verifiable and provable. It is. The next week, Brother and Sister Baldwin went to the oncologist and told HIM God healed her and they wanted x-rays. He obliged with a very cynical smile according to Brother Baldwin. The man wasn’t cynical when he came back though. In one hand was the x-ray from January all covered with cancerous shadows; in the other was the x-ray he had just processed. Behind him was a radiologist and the two of them were steadily talking and shaking heads. The oncologist stuck the x-rays on the light box and it was obvious one was full of cancer. The other, however, was crystal clear. Not a single spot of cancer anywhere to be found and not one but TWO board certified specialists, both of whom admitted they were agnostic and did not believe in miracles, verified the fact. Sister Baldwin brought the x-rays with her to church the next Sunday and I put them on the projector in front of 300 people.

Sister Baldwin, sadly, has left us, but not in 1998 of cancer. It wasn’t 1999 for that matter. Sister Baldwin passed away April 23,2012. She wasn’t 63; she was 77. For those keeping up, that’s 14 years after she was supposed to die. Now you might convince me nothing happened but explain to me how you’re going to convince those two x-rays?

So that’s the first reason I’m still hanging on to my faith.

Love y’all, keep those feet clean, and check back for more reasons why.

 

Potter Penner is Pretentious Prig

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I should begin with some disclosure. I resisted the force of nature that is the Harry Potter franchise for a very long time. Then one Thanksgiving weekend, a bout of bronchitis laid me low and scouring the bookshelf for something to while away the sick hours produced nothing of interest for me. Finally, with gentle cajoling by Budge and great trepidation on my Tolkien adoring part, I began to peruse Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Two hours after reading, “Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much,” I went straightway into Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and two hours from thence barreled headlong from, “And together they walked back through the gateway to the muggle world,” directly to “Harry Potter was a very unusual boy in many ways.”  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by virtue of being somewhat longer, took three hours and when I saw what a tome Harry Potter and the Goblet of Firewas, I decided to stop for the night. Of course, at that point it was 2:00 AM and I was a bit sleepy. Once I tackled Year Four at Hogwarts the next day, I had caught up with the rest of the literate world.

Not a bad body of work. It’s not The Lord of the Rings, but then, what is?

I will admit to being impressed enough by the epic saga of Harry’s struggle against Tom Riddle that I agreed to accompany Budge to the June 21, 2003 midnight release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix at the Barnes and Noble on Haywood Road. We got in line at 7:00 PM and to my extreme dismay found ourselves directly behind the Superintendent of Greenville County Schools and the district’s school board chairperson. Normally that wouldn’t have been such a bad way to spend nearly six hours, but being as I had a nice long letter printed on impeccably tasteful cream-colored cotton paper stationery with a beautiful four-color rendition of the school district’s seal on the masthead, these two people’s signatures on the bottom, and the whys and wherefores of my termination from teaching sandwiched between, it was a skosh awkward. Good breeding and 300 mg of Effexor CR kept me out of jail and off the news that night, but once the three of us made eye contact, it is safe to say the store’s overworked A/C units became rather redundant.

Whether or not said unhappy confluence of proximity figured subconsciously in my decision to read no further in such a delectable series, I cannot say, but read no further I did. I skimmed and scanned OotP, ignored Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince entirely, and skipped directly to the culminating battle scene of Book Seven during a Scholastic Book Fair my second year as a librarian. Still, I was and remain thoroughly impressed with the series and the world Harry, Ron, and Hermione inhabit.

J.K. Rowling and the Snarky Half-Smile
“Why yes, I am filthy rich, yes you can adore me.”

However, I loathe and despise J.K. Rowling with every fiber of my being. To offer a family friendly paraphrase of one of my dear friend’s favorite expressions of contempt, I wouldn’t spit water in her mouth if her teeth were on fire.

My great acrimony towards Dame Rowling has nothing to do with her work. I think she’s a rather fine author, at least insofar as Harry’s adventures go. As a person, I think she is on par with Madame DeFarge, Annie Wilkes, and Imelda Marcos. See, Rowling is a huge success story any way you want to measure success . . . with money. She is currently holding down position #1140 on Forbes Magazine’s list of BILLIONAIRES.  Screw the whole “1% crap” the Occupy Wall Street crowd is crowing about; this chick is a member of the 0.000001%. She is currently the only billionaire author IN HISTORY. You read that right, JK Rowling has made more money off her books than Willie Shakespeare. She has more money than the entire GDP of twenty countries COMBINED. Put another way, the woman could straight up BUY Djibouti and get change.

Okay, so it’s small, but still, the woman could buy a COUNTRY.

Now I don’t abhor the woman just because she’s rich; I abhor the woman because she has totally forgotten where she came from and here in the South a person can commit no greater transgression than this. She was dirt poor, living on the UK’s welfare system, busted-flat-in-Baton-Rouge-waitin’-on-a-train-Janice-Joplin style when she got a great idea for a series of books while — literally — waiting on a train, types out the first one on a secondhand manual TYPEWRITER in a cheap coffee shop in a rundown section of  Edinburgh, a publishing house president’s eight-year-old little girl loves the first chapter, so daddy orders the book printed and the rest, as the man said, is history. That’s GRAND!

So, does she become a philanthropist doling out large scoops of this nuveau riche cabbage to folks in the same shape as she was? No. Instead, she becomes a raging witch slapping everyone in sight with a plethora of lawsuits aimed at “protecting her brand.” She has sued everyone from bookstores that “leaked” parts or all of her novels before their official release dates to one of her biggest fans because the guy wanted to publish an exhaustive encyclopedia of all things Harry Potter. She’s worked tirelessly to shut down any “unofficial” fan websites that might draw traffic from her proprietary Mugglenet.com. I imagine if she, by some miracle, stumbles onto this little blog she’ll want to sue me. Good luck with that, sister. Two words: Blood, Turnip. In short, she became wildly successful and now seems terrified someone is going to get some milk from her cash cow! So freaking what?! Is $1.2 BILLION not enough money for you, Jo? I don’t particularly like rich people just on principle, but I reserve my greatest execration for rich people who are jerks.

Now Her Royal Knickers-In-A-Knot has decided to publish a book for ADULTS. Oh, shouldn’t we all just fall down at her feet in thankfulness? So you apparently LOVE money, you have created a universe and characters people will nearly kill to get more of, you could sell rocks if you wrote alohamora on them, but you want to abandon Harry and Company to scratch some creative itch? Let’s see how that works out for you, toots. Before you start on the second non-Harry-centric work of your career though, you might want to Google up a cat named Chris Gaines and see where “creative risks” got him.

In a roundabout way, we have J.K. Rowling to thank for this.

In the end though, I could forgive Rowling her peckishness with her adoring fans. I could even overlook her vast riches — provided I could find a ladder tall enough. What I cannot, nay WILL not forget nor absolve is the fact that — because of her phenomenal success — J.K. Rowling inspired another woman to think that she too could write engaging, creative fiction and craft beloved characters who will take their places beside Frodo and Sam, the Pevensie children, and Dorothy and Toto in the hallowed halls of masterful fantasy literature and because of that inspiration, we have Stephanie Meyer and her wooden female protagonist and those freaking sparkling vampires. That is a crime no lover of good writing could ever accept apology for.

Thanks for that, Jo. Stupid sparkling vampires. I’m sure Ron would say “Bloody hell!”

And to all of you, take care and keep your feet clean! Love always.

100 Years Since “A Night to Remember”

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The last known picture of the "unsinkable" RMS Titanic as she left harbour for her rendezvous with fate.

At 2:20 AM, 100 years ago this morning, the RMS Titanic‘s keel broke in two just before she dove 2.3 miles down to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean carrying nearly 1,000 people to the Stygian depths with her. Around 500 more unfortunate souls were swept from her swiftly tilting decks into the sub-freezing waters of the North Atlantic to drown or die of hypothermia or shock within minutes of entering the water.

The disastrous sinking of the Titanic is the subject of thousands of articles, hundreds of websites, a multitude of full length books, and at least eight full length feature films . . . and that’s just in English. The individual triumphs and tragedies of surrounding the voyage are the stuff of legends and people like the ebullient buoyant “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, the craven coward J. Bruce Ismay, or tragically shortsighted Captain Edward J. Smith live on in our memories to this day — one century later.

Nothing I could write about the disaster hasn’t already been written and by much better writers than I. Still, this disaster is one which resonates with something deep inside my mind and fills me with dread and foreboding even here in my warm, dry, and safe office. In my mind’s eye, I can see, with little trouble, the chaotic terror washing over the decks of the doomed ship like the water which would carry her to her grave. Imagine what it had to be like in the lower decks where the Second Class and lower passengers were trapped and trampled in the mad rush toward the top of the ship. Think of the brave, doomed men of the boiler rooms who stayed at their posts shoveling coal into the boilers to keep the spark of the wireless dancing as long as possible.

Photo of the iceberg that sank Titanic taken by a crewman of RMS Carpathia as she collected survivors and bodies following the disaster.

Should this world stand long enough and the Almighty tarry in His return, we shall all die. That is a certainty which comforts some and terrorizes others, but it is a certainty nonetheless. Still it is one thing to be felled by a lightening strike, a car accident, or some dreadful disease, but how many of us are fated to watch helplessly — as the people aboard the doomed liner were — Death’s slow, inexorable approach? Could you stand to watch the water slowly, then not so slowly, rise up the deck as you held your child upon your shoulders in a vain effort to keep him from the water a second longer? Would you jump into the frigid, salty blackness and clutch Death to your bosom like a lover just to make an end?

The wreck of the Titanic is something which haunts my nightmares even though it occurred long before even my grandparents were born because nearly every race and social strata participated on the Titanic’s maiden voyage so it is a picture of the death of the world in miniature. The people aboard the liner were happy and looking ahead to a bright future one moment then marking the steady approach of Death the next. What if instead of an iceberg plowing into a ship it is an asteroid plowing into the Earth? Those on the ship had two hours to ponder . . . how long would we have?

It makes me think of the people trapped above the crash levels in the Twin Towers. That was another microcosm of total destruction. People who are going about their everyday lives all morning then without warning they are off to meet the One whom Bertrand Russell and Richard Dawkins bet their lives and souls is not there. Can you feel the bitter cold of the water? Can you feel the rush of the air sweeping by as you plunge from 110 stories up?

The bow of RMS Titanic as she sits at the bottom of the North Atlantic, slowly turning into powder like the dreams of those who perished aboard her.

The water isn’t the most terrifying aspect of that horrible night for me, however. The worst scenario my mind can imagine is to be one of those who likely made it alive 2.3 miles down. Of course people scoff at that idea. No one could have survived that descent could they? I remember when NASA went public with the revelation that the crew of the space shuttle Challenger actually survived the initial explosion and were alive for the seven minute plunge to the ocean where the force of impact killed them. What if someone or several someones were happily sealed inside one of the many watertight rooms aboard the ship? What if they made it to the bottom? How did they die in the inky blackness at the bottom of the ocean? Suffocation or starvation? It’s a horrible thought, but not impossible. The interior of the wreck has never been even halfway fully explored. When you are as claustrophobic and fearful of the dark as I am, such a possibility is too terrible to imagine, but not too awful to be ruled out.

In any event, the loss of 1,514 people in the black icy water of the North Atlantic 100 years ago is a tragedy almost too great to imagine, if for no other reason it was so completely avoidable at so many points, but none of that matters anymore. To this day, it is the 8th greatest loss of life in a non-military maritime disaster in recorded history. So when you think of the Titanic or, God forbid, go see the hideous 3-D adaptation of the already hideous 1997 James Cameron movie, remember the words to an old hymn and say a prayer for those await the day when the sea shall give up her dead.

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

A rare postscript

I feel this particular picture did not fit with the tone of the rest of this post, but I must include it in any discussion where that abominable 1997 movie might come up . . .

This highlighted frame capture shows the piece of flotsam CLEARLY has enough room for Rose AND Jack if only the selfish cow had possessed the common decency to SIT UP or SKOOCH OVER!

Let’s Get the Facts Straight, Shall We?

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I sooooo miss the '80s. I was there and it was awesome.

It’s taken awhile for me to weigh in on this matter, but with the Super Bowl and then the Grammys right after, I’ve kept my silence long enough. It’s time to set the record straight and if no one else is going to do it, then I am. Lady Gaga is NOT as cool as Madonna. Lady Gaga is not the new generation’s Madonna. Lady Gaga is NOT Madonna’s heir.

I like Lady Gaga, but to paraphrase the infamous debate exchange between Lloyd Benson and Dan Quayle, “I watched Madonna come on the scene. I saw her take MTV by storm. Madonna was my teenage lust-crush and, Lady Gaga, you are NO Madonna.”

Let’s look at the facts. Lady Gaga wears outrageous costumes and has certain risque’ choreography in her videos and acts. Madonna made cone bras and lingerie-as-outerwear fashionable. How many young girls do you see walking down the street wearing a dress made of steak? Right. Now if you had been alive in the ’80s (aka the most awesome decade EVER) you would see girls from 8 to 80 rocking bustiers and fishnets without even standing on the corner. Fashion icon point? Madonna.

Maximum weirdness.

Lady Gaga is the stage name for Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. Madonna’s stage name is . . . well, Madonna. You don’t get cool points for giving yourself a nickname. Nicknames are bestowed; they are earned through hard work and memorableness. Put out an awesome song that cements your place in music history and you get a nickname. Lady Gaga’s well-earned nickname is? Right, she doesn’t have one. Madonna? “The Material Girl,” a name she earned after channeling Marilyn’s turn in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”  in the video for the eponymous song. Nickname coolness? Madonna.

That’s 2-0 if you’re keeping score.

Next up is — for lack of a better word — groundbreakingness. Lady Gaga? What’s she done that’s never been done before? Matter of fact, what has she done that Madonna didn’t do before her? The word you are searching for is nada. What taboo walls did Madonna knock down, or more accurately, explode in a blinding flash of flame, fame, and diamonds? Let’s see. First, she writhed around in a pure white wedding dress for “Like a Virgin.” Then there was the “Borderline” blasphemous video for “Like a Prayer” where the erstwhile Catholic schoolgirl danced in next to nothing before a background of burning crosses.

Can you say "Went over like a fart in church?"

If Skinhead O’Connor hadn’t torn up that picture of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live, Madonna still would be persona non gratia at the Vatican. Oh, and how did she follow that up? She only put out the first video to get an X-rating in its initial release when “Justify My Love” was banned from being shown before midnight on MTV. I still remember being in a cramped and crowded dorm room on E-Hall in the Johnstone Dorms of Clemson University to watch that first showing. Then Madonna went on to release a book and a movie called Sex.

Then, just to show she still had the power to rock an audience with the unexpected, THE Material Girl frenched Christina AND Brittney (back when they were at peak hotness) while wearing a Marlene Deitrich suit just to pass the torch on to the next generation of hot women singers. Taboo destruction points? Madonna.

Still crazy after all these years.

So that’s 3-0 and game, set, and shutout to Madonna. Now with 7 Grammys and 13 MTV awards, Lady Gaga is off to a good start for sure, but she’s still got a ways to go to get 10 Grammys out of 28 nominations and turn 68 MTV nominations into 20 awards INCLUDING “Lifetime Achievement Award.” Lady Gaga is doing well for herself after five years, but can she sustain the flow and keep rocking into a third DECADE like Madonna? Only time will tell.

Of course, as much as I still love Madonna, I respect the fact that she too isn’t completely original.

That honor, of course, would have to go to . . . who else?

Left 2011, right 1992. Not exactly identical, but not bad for a 62-year-old.

CHER!

The Ex-Mrs. Bono is past Social Security age, still rocking, and still pretty hot — thanks to the miracle of modern plastic surgery and despite the stress of having Chas as a daughter/son. Keep it up, girl!

And the rest of you rock on and keep those feet clean.

Love y’all!

Awkward isn’t just for Adolescents

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As I’ve come to understand it, Americans should get out of college and pair off. Preferably the pairs will marry, but this is no longer the rigid step it once was. As a couple, you’re allowed around two to five years to “get to know each other” and “just be the two of you,” unless you happen to announce your intention to “start a ‘family’ right away.”

In that case, babies can start showing up within a year and stop when the couple reaches their desired number, which could range from one or two in most couples’ cases, to four or five if you want to be on staff where I go to church, all the way up to “20 and counting” if you are Amish, a member of a Quiverfull sect, or want your own lucrative reality television show.

Then you raise those children, get them educated, grown and gone, then retire to a life of travel and leisure while your empty nest periodically refills with grandchildren to bounce on knees and spoil rotten. Then you die, preferably surrounded by all those loving children. THEN — if you’re Mormon and had your marriage sealed in one of the Temples — you get to go to your own planet somewhere in the universe and do this whole cycle again on a deified, planetary level.

So, based on this supposed normal cycle, Budge and I have an awkward social problem. Apparently, we’ve skipped the vital “having and raising children” and, as a result, we are the “older childless couple.”

Let me clarify by saying that we didn’t set out to be an “older childless couple.” That’s just how our life has worked out. Budge was young (18) when we married so neither of us felt a great urgency to add to the world population right away. She still had college to finish and I was a relatively new teacher.

Time passed, we got our own place, and we let nature take its course. After the obligatory five years, we were still childless. Then we found out Budge has P.C.O.S. which will make it difficult if not impossible for her to ever have children. Now that is the main roadblock to our fertility that we know of. I could have issues or she could have another issue. We haven’t ever pursued it simply because life has continually gotten in the way.

We dismissed fertility procedures right from the start. We knew we didn’t have the funds to pursue treatment then and we sure don’t have it now. The profits pharmaceutical companies and some doctors are raking in from people desperate to have a child are obscene. I think it’s borderline criminal to make so much money on another person’s misery and anxiety. Also, we’ve seen first hand and up close what an untrammeled and unfulfilled desire to have a baby can do to a couple financially, but more importantly, emotionally. We didn’t want to put each other through that ordeal when we’ve got plenty more ordeals to deal with as it stands.

We studied adoption and got super-interested in adopting a baby girl or two from China. That door closed for us when China completely overhauled its foreign adoption policies. Looking at several websites of agencies specializing in Chinese adoptions, we soon realized we didn’t meet ANY of the financial or medical criteria China now set for foreign adoptions. After our plan of adopting from China aborted before takeoff, we briefly looked at domestic adoption but abandoned that idea for one reason — money.

So we’ve been married fifteen years and we have no children and, barring a miracle or a tragedy (we are the guardians of several children in friends’ wills), we won’t have any. We’ve come to accept this way of life and found it not so bad. We love children — we wouldn’t have both gone into education if we didn’t. We have a grown niece and four nephews (and counting) that we spend time with. Some of our friends have little ones we adore and spoil as much as possible, but mostly it’s just us. That’s okay with us, but it seems to be a problem for some other people.

You don’t really understand just how much this culture worships children until you’ve been married (or even together these days) with nothing but a small home and several pets to show for it. Churches especially seem to spend a huge section of their budgets on children’s programming and facilities. If you don’t HAVE children, you become — quite without malice, I’m certain — a bit of a second class citizen. We just don’t fit into any demographic.We aren’t singles; we aren’t empty-nesters; we aren’t parents. In such a child-centered world, we are oddballs.

If I had a dime for every time some well-intentioned person asked “so when are y’all gonna have some kids?” I’d be wealthy enough to buy the child of my choice on the black market. It doesn’t make me or Budge mad and we don’t experience the agony some infertile couples do, but it still makes for an “awkward turtle”-esque pause in the conversation.

Being childless also has a few aggravating implications. We are the last people in either of our families to know of any family plans because, “y’all don’t have to worry about schedules and stuff.” The thought being, we don’t have children so we can come and go whenever it suits everyone else. Likewise, people don’t mind “volunteering” us for stuff for much the same reason. We don’t have to worry about baby-sitters. It also means we get excluded from a lot of conversations — even among our friends. I guess they think being childless makes us deaf, too; so they feel free to talk about feedings, clothing, and sicknesses as if we didn’t have anything to contribute to the conversation. We don’t have children of our own but that doesn’t mean we know nothing about children! Go figure.

The only thing that really bothers that people do is when a mother or a father looks at me when I speak up about children and says, “well, you’d think that since you don’t HAVE any children.” Well, goober, no I don’t have any children of my own, but I spent 10 years seeing how idiots like you screwed them up by the time they got to their teen years. I don’t say that much though because Budge usually starts patting me on the leg or back as soon as she hears someone say something that could set me off.

So, y’all, just keep in mind that some of us out here are childless. We didn’t choose to be, but we’re okay with the hands life dealt us — you know, “whatever condition you find yourself in be content?” All we ask is a place at the table. After all, we make great baby-sitters.

Keep those feet clean and know that I love y’all!

Verbal Brutality — A Still Life in Words

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You ever get something on your mind and you cannot move on to something else because you can’t concentrate with THAT thought rolling around in your head? You know, kind of like getting “It’s a Small World After All” stuck in your head on an endless loop? I’ve run into that syndrome this fine Monday morning.

I was balancing out the checkbook from the weekend, pretty much the way I do every Monday, and I uncovered a couple of bills that had slid or slipped or — knowing me — been placed under a stack of other papers. One was the water bill and of course it was overdue so I went online and paid it immediately since Budge doesn’t ask for much, but running water IS one of her requirements.

Anyway, after settling up those couple of bills and scheduling out the taxes (which were ALSO resting comfortably under the aforementioned pile) I realized we had about a third of the money I’d hoped we’d have for Christmas. Now, please understand, that’s nothing unusual. It was just a little disheartening to get socked with this early on a Monday morning AFTER my awesome new-to-me laptop decided to lose it’s mind (and LCD screen) AND after spilling a heaping cup of Domino’s Extra Fine Granulated Sugar all over the counter and floor as I was making tea. I just wasn’t in the mood to be reminded of this particular incident, but . . . what’re you gonna do? There it was rolling around in my head and I’m hoping that telling this story publicly for the first time will help exorcise this foul mental demon. After all, I need the room up there.

 

So without further fanfare, I want to tell about the most brutal, most condescending, most intentionally hurtful thing ANYONE has ever said to me. Names have been changed to show how even with  BPD, Dysthymic Disorder, anger management problems, and all my other issues I’m not on the same level as this cretin, which gives me a certain cold comfort.

My Papa John had a 1965 Pontiac GTO that he was insanely proud of. He loved that car. When I was small, he would put me on his lap and let me steer it down the highway. The GTO died when I was in middle school, but instead of getting rid of it, Papa took it down to our little white church and put it up on jack stands (not blocks) and threw a nice cover over it. Our plan was for me to “fix it up” and drive it once I got to high school and got my own job. Apparently, at some point, Mr. Ash Whole, the antagonist of this story and filthy rich Pontiac aficionado, found out about the GTO and offered to buy it from Papa John for a pittance. Now, folks, Israel will give up the West Bank of Jordan and leave Jerusalem before my Papa John would have sold that car. So he said, “No thank you.” Undeterred, Mr. Ash Whole would make papa the same offer several times over the years.

Then in my senior year of high school, Papa John had his first major debilitating stroke. It wasn’t his first stroke, but it was the first one to take him out of action. Papa John gave me the title to the GTO and said to go ahead with our plans and as soon as he got well, we’d work on the car together.

Unfortunately, I found out that restoring cars is a rich man’s hobby. Even repairing the GTO enough to return it to the road proved to be beyond my means with my high school jobs. Fortunately, the GTO wasn’t eating anything, didn’t cost much in taxes, and was more or less safe from the elements.

Once Mr. Ash Whole found out about Papa’s stroke, he started turning up the heat on ME to sell him the car. Please bear in mind I had all the same issues back then that I do now, BUT I didn’t know anything was wrong with me, I just thought I was a slight jerk with a hair trigger temper. So I said, “No.” When he kept asking, I upped my response to “Hell no.”

Then, one night after I’d had a pretty disastrous day, the phone rang. This was in the pre-caller id days or I’d never have answered it. It was, of course, Mr. Ash Whole. We started going through the usual preliminary small talk that is expected of Southern men even if they DO hate each other but this time, he had a different tack. He went straight for the guts. He said, “Shannon, I’ll tell you, I’ve been trying to buy that piece of $#@! GTO from your grandfather and now you for too long and I’m just going to be straight with you, John’s never going to drive again and you’ll never get that car running on what you make at a grocery store– you need to sell me that car tonight if for no other reason than

(here it comes)

(the ugliest thing anyone’s ever said to me even to this day)

I know you are dirt poor and could desperately use the money.”

I didn’t have anything to say. He was pretty much right. I told him I’d come by his store with the title and the key after school the next day. What he gave for Papa’s beloved GTO wouldn’t buy a cart of groceries today.

Just as a little side note, I went to high school with Mr. Ash Whole’s son. Later on, I would be roommates in college with Mr. Ash Whole’s son and that dude was one of the most solid friends I’ve ever had. I can only figure he took after his mother. I never mentioned that conversation with his father to my buddy. He wasn’t real crazy about the man either. Still, that did open up some more painful wounds because he knew where the car came from even though he didn’t know the circumstances. With total innocence, he’d update me on his dad’s restoration project. Mr. Ash Whole poured thousands upon thousands of dollars into that car. Today, it is a national show winner.

I don’t think St. Peter allows driving where Papa’s gone to now. It’s most likely hard to get tire marks off golden pavement, so I doubt Papa could care less.

As for me, whenever I see a 1965 GTO, to this very day, I taste bile and — more than that — dirt in my mouth for hours afterwards.

Love y’all, keep those feet clean, and be careful what you say to each other.

Well Merry *bleep*ing Christmas to You Too, Jerk!

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For 22 years, starting in 1659, our lovely Puritan forefathers banned Christmas. Now I don’t hold too much with Puritan beliefs. I’ve had enough commerce with modern day Fundamentalists (who are only a pale shadow of the Puritans!) to know most of their beliefs rest in the authority of men rather than Scripture. However, on this whole idea of banning Christmas — well, they may have been on to something. I just spent parts of three days at the mall with about 350,000 of my closest friends and I can testify to one irrefutable fact — a whole truckload of people would be better off mentally, emotionally, and financially if we just skipped Christmas.

Now, before anyone wants to skewer me as being a Jehovah’s Witness or irreverent towards Jesus’ birthday, let me get one thing straight. For those of you who don’t know, Jesus Christ was not born on December 25, 8 BC. The Gospels state that the shepherds were in the fields with their flocks. If you ever have the time, check out the Weather Channel for Bethlehem in December. Not all the Middle East is hot all the time. Suffice it to say neither the shepherds nor their sheep would have been out in the fields in December in Judea.

No, Christmas as we know and love (or loathe) it today is a pastiche of pagan traditions adapted by some early Christians to make their new religion more appealing to their pagan neighbors. They basically co-opted the traditional Feast of Saturnalia from Roman pagans and later on, when Christianity reached the British Isles, the Druids added a healthy dose of their traditional Winter Solstice or Yuletine celebration to the Roman underpinnings. Honestly though, I don’t care about the origins of the Christ Mass. Christ can be honored at Christmas just as much as people want to honor Him. Or not. Paganism has nothing to do with my musings on canceling Christmas.

I’d consider canceling Christmas because it has morphed from “Tis the Season to be Jolly” into “Tis the Season to be a Raging Douchebag!”

Face it, NOTHING brings the collective inner a-holes of society to the surface like the Christmas season. Starting somewhere around August these days we start seeing the first glimmerings of the tinsel to come. Then stores get fully decorated as soon as the black cats and witches hats come down for Halloween. Thanksgiving gets brushed off and then OMG!

It’s Black Friday and the world loses its freaking mind!

From the Friday after Thanksgiving until sometime around the first week of January, you take your life into your hands if you venture to within a mile of a retail establishment. People will SHOOT YOU over a parking spot at the mall. I have personally been given the middle finger by several little old blue haired ladies driving their stretched out Cadillacs around the parking lot of Haywood Mall like the Malachy Brothers and Pinky Tuscadero in a demolition derby.

The Bird — from GRANDMA! That’s what Christmas DOES to people these days.

If you want to visit a breeding ground for strokes and heart attacks, head out to the nearest US Post Office starting around the second week in December. I was in my local station last Thursday to pick up some stamps and this guy a few people back in line from me gets on his cell phone (I will refrain from my “cell phone in public places” rant) and starts pitching a fit with whoever was on the other end. He actually SAID, “I’ll be here for AT LEAST an hour because for some reason EVERY IDIOT in this town brought TEN BOXES to mail!”

Really?

And people accuse ME of going off at the drop of a hat! Dude, word of advice — buy a calendar and some Xanax! Better make it the PURPLE ones too, because you are BEYOND the orange ones.

What I don’t understand is WHY ALL THE FUSS?!

For nearly six solid weeks, the great mass of quietly desperate sheeple run around like AD-HD lemmings on meth buying gifts they can’t afford with money they don’t have to give to people they probably don’t like. Why? Men are forced at bayonet point to put up trees and string lights on those trees and many of those men resort to alcohol in an effort to deal with the madness of trying to make out the color of the one remaining microscopic fleck of paint on the tip of a boxful of artificial tree branches! Is it orange or brown! Makes a difference you know.

We won’t even TALK about the lights. I don’t have the raw numbers, but I’m nearly certain the three leading causes of divorce in America are fights over money, lack of communication, and STRINGING CHRISTMAS LIGHTS ON A TREE!

“YES, DEAR, I see the big gaping hole where we need more lights!!”

People don’t enjoy Christmas anymore. They can’t. The “retail therapy” pushers won’t let them. What should be a nice, calm time for friends and family has turned into a materialistic feeding frenzy! My two oldest nephews get more toys and gadgets and stuff at ONE family get-together than Wilson’s Five and Ten’s whole inventory when I was growing up. The push to keep up with the Joneses who don’t even know you exist has driven people to madness.

People will STEAL PRESENTS out of a car. That is almost, but not quite as low as stealing money out of the offering plate as it comes by (not making change in the offering plate, that’s different). I’ve just recently seen women get into hair-pulling, shirt-ripping cat fights over the last Elmo doll — WHILE THEIR KIDS WERE WATCHING!

It’s unbelievable! Folks get trampled to DEATH every year at Wal-marts and Target stores over a sale on DVDs or some such nonsense. A person’s life has become cheaper to society than a round piece of laser etched plastic.

I can imagine Jesus looking over this chaos that — once upon a time — used to be set aside to celebrate His birth and thinking, “Really, guys?”

So watch out for the bird-flipping grannies out there and if you MUST go out to a mall sometime in the next four days, PLEASE be careful! It’s a tinsel wrapped, tiny light strung jungle out there!

Love y’all! Keep those feet clean!

Of Tragedy and Old Friends

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I stopped by Kentucky Grilled Chicken (?!?!?) today for a three honey BBQ snacker snack at lunchtime. I was done with the tater wedges and halfway through my second snacker when an old friend showed up in the KFC (KGC . . . KGB . . . ???). Now when I say “old friend”, this chicka is quite possibly my second oldest friend in the world. She and I literally have known each other from right near the cradle. We went through twelve years of grade school and K5 together. I distinctly remember talking her out of playing with the toy kitchen set in Miss Coggins’ room so she would come play in the sandbox with me. Birthday parties, McDonald’s parties, swimming dates. We go way back.

For the purpose of this story, her name will be Nadia. First, I don’t want her real name plastered all over the Internet because she’s a private person and second, I didn’t go to school with anyone named Nadia at any time that I can remember, so people won’t be running to the old yearbooks (as if they cared) to see who I’m talking about.

Nadia was one of my first kindergarten crushes. I thought she was beautiful with china blue eyes and long snowy blond hair, but even more, she was cute and funny. She was a lot like me. Her parents were the first couple in my dinky little home town to get divorced after mine broke the ice. It wasn’t much of a loss for the family since her dad was, as Papa used to put it, “not worth the powder it would take to blow his brains out.” Still, not much ever seemed to get her down. She was the middle child of three, then the second oldest of four when her mother got a bit of a surprise when Nadia and I were beginning sixth grade. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the only surprise Nadia’s family would get that year.

Nadia was the most graceful gymnast I knew in my short life. She was athletic all around — great runner, champion swimmer, etc. — but her true gift lay on the floor exercise platform. I still recall our sixth grade talent show when she did her floor routine and absolutely floored everyone else. Her dream was the Olympics. She had her sights set on Los Angeles and 1984 and none of us, young or old, doubted her ability or commitment. We joked in math class about how much tickets to LA would cost. Our closest airport wasn’t even equipped for that kind of trip then. Nadia had big dreams and we all dreamed with her. Somewhere boxed up I’ve got a wallet sized picture of her in her leotard with her rhythm hoop. She’s smiling that spotlight smile and looks for all the world like she was posing on the podium getting the gold medal.

If iPods had been around in 1982, I don’t doubt for a minute she’d have made LA. Nadia, her mother, her mother’s best friend, and Nadia’s three sisters, including the baby, were on their way home in a car driven by Nadia’s oldest sister, who had just gotten her permit. The cassette they were listening to reached the end and automatically ejected. It came out of the player and fell to the floor beneath the sister’s feet. When her sister glanced down to mark where it fell, the car was in the beginning of a curve and drifted into the path of a fully loaded gravel truck  from the local quarry.

The Highway Patrol statement said there were no skid marks visible from either vehicle. Neither driver had touched a brake pedal. The truck was stopped by climbing atop the car and sliding several hundred feet until both vehicles went into the ditch. The truck driver was physically unscathed and everyone, including Nadia, have always maintained there was nothing humanly possible he could have done to avoid the collision. In any event, I heard the accident drove him to the bottle. Whether that is true or not, I can’t say. You’ll hear anything in a small town.

What is a fact is Nadia’s Olympic dream ended in a tangle of sheet metal and diesel fuel. Her spine was severed right below her belly button. She would never walk again. Her mother, the friend, oldest sister, and the baby, who wasn’t in a car seat because she didn’t have to be in those days, all died at the scene. Nadia’s next sister, seated at impact between the friend and Nadia, walked away with a cut over her left eye that required five stitches.

I don’t know many well adjusted grown men and women who could have withstood a tragedy of that magnitude with all mental flags flying, but Nadia seemed to. I don’t pretend to know what nightmares have ridden roughshod through her dreams these last thirty years, but I know she took to her wheelchair like the proverbial duck to water. After some therapy, she was riding rings around her grandmother and grandfather’s home. She even came back to school and finished the year.

In those pre-Americans with Disabilities Act days, our beloved principal and several of the more “handy” fathers came to the school several days over the winter break and built ramps to every place they could imagine Nadia wanting to go. She was given a key to the faculty bathroom because it was the only restroom in the school large enough to accommodate her and her wheelchair. One of her trusted friends would always accompany her in case she fell making the transition from chair to commode and back. That’s how we did it back then. We took care of each other.

Nadia was the first handicapped person I knew up close and personal. She could have been the poster child for how to deal with the biggest poop sandwich I’ve ever seen handed to one person in one lifetime. She was, and still is, a survivor. She and I graduated the same night and I lost track of her for some time. Then I started running into her at local stores and such. She was still pretty as ever. In time’s due course, she married a very kind and decent man. He was with her today. They have four children and the oldest was graduating tonight, just as his mother and I did these twenty years gone.

So I told y’all Nadia’s story to tell you, and myself, this little tidbit — it could ALWAYS be worse. What’s more, when it GETS worse, it’s up to you how to handle it. If anyone in this world has ever had a right to end up hooked on drugs or completely depressed or suicidal, Nadia was that person. That wasn’t how she rolled, pun intended, though. One dream and most of her family had died, but the woman I saw today still had a head held high and her china blue eyes still sparkled. The snow blond hair had some grey streaks, but mine does as well and my life has been a cakewalk compared to Nadia’s. So don’t take anything for granted folks. Life moves at the speed of love and it moves by very fast. Nadia is moving right along with it. She’s been an inspiration to me for going on thirty years now. I hope her story inspires some of y’all as well.

So, love y’all bunches and now that summer’s here, when y’all come in from chasing fireflies, don’t forget to wash your feet! 🙂