Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Economic Woes

The Federal Reserve Bank today cut it's target interest rate to near zero, a record low for this key indicator. Strategists indicate that it's likely that within the month the Fed will further lower the rates--likely all the way to zero--in order to spur lending in the various frozen credit markets, and might even start buying up long-term treasury securities (a bizarre method of pushing money into a frozen market when the interest rate can't be forced any lower; it's like saying, "we'll loan you money for free; no, wait! We'll PAY you to borrow our money").

In other related news, the stock market, today, showed signs of life again (after eons of bad news--and a net loss of about 1/3 its total value), and actually gained a few percent. Don't hold your breath though.

Home construction starts dropped even lower last quarter--to record lows--and showed no sign of stopping. Unemployment continues to rise; over 2 million jobs have been cut since the beginning of 2008, and there's no sign of a slowdown.

The government continues to pour money into the economy, hoping to inspire lenders to get back into the game (so to speak) after losing their shorts over the past few years.

The federal deficit is at an all time high.

30 year mortgage rates are back into reasonable levels--which is great for all 37 of us Americans who still have a home mortgage; does nothing for the vast numbers of folks who had hopes of buying a home or lost a home in the recent crisis.

In the city I live in, approximately 1 out of 30 homes is in foreclosure.

The State of California is within weeks of insolvency, and borrowing is out of the question; their credit rating has junk status.

And Mervyn's is going out of business.

Which begs the question: how is the government going to survive? Based on the facts above, tax revenues should be down by approximately 387% this year (those are my rough calculations, and are based solely on the quantity of bad economic news being spouted in the media).

Blogojevich has the right idea: boot all the politicians out, and sell their seats to the highest bidder. Pour that cash into the government coffers, and we could probably get rid of the budget deficit and eliminate the national debt in about 2.7 years.

And the folks who buy the seats can't be any less principled than the folks that are there now.

It's a win-win situation, if you ask me.

But nobody ever does.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Change is Gonna Come

The political news sources (predominantly liberal) are abuzz with stories of President-elect Obama's apparent departure from the left. His cabinet picks are the latest point of ire; he's stacking his cabinet with moderate Democrats and throwbacks to the Bush administration (like Defense Secretary, Robert Gates).

And then there is his change of heart with respect to a number of crucial issues. He pledged during his campaign to increase taxes on American's making over $250,000; now he's decided that he'll merely let the current tax break expire in 2010. He pledged during his campaign to take on the oil companies, to tax their profits heavily; now he's indicated he won't implement that tax. He indicated during his campaign that he would begin, on his first day in office, to end the war in Iraq; he has now indicated that he will begin to work on a plan for a responsible withdrawal. And he's stacking his cabinet with folks who were openly supportive of the war--Democrats and Republicans alike.

It's a little interesting as a conservative libertarian; is Obama really having a change of heart? Is he tempering his extreme ideas under the realization that his actions have far reaching impact; a major change has the potential to cause our often delicate equilibrium to swing wildly out of control. Perhaps he's second guessing his commitments on the campaign trail. If that's the case, then I have to applaud him; he has more character than I'd given him credit for.

It takes some guts to step back and check yourself in the face of such vocal and vehement opposition (the left-wing bloggers are going crazy, chomping at the bit--I'm waiting to hear the calls for impeachment from his own supporters). But my biggest fear is that this pressure will cause Obama to cave (pressure from voices like John Aravosis over at Americablog.com--you'll remember him; he's the guy who was vociferously calling for a boycott of the State of Utah as well as all contributors to the Yes on 8 campaign here in California. He's a true American, as open-minded as they come, that John).

That can't happen. I don't guess that my reach is nearly as far as Mr. Aravosis' reach, but I have to do my part. Speak out, do your part to show your support for Obama's newfound caution, his new willingness to step back from the dogma we were all subject to during the campaign, and to think through the impact of his actions. His seeming determination to step cautiously, and seemingly, more moderately, than any of us could have hoped. Go to his website and voice your support for this new direction. He's got links there to a variety of methods to contact him; use them. Add a voice in the growing chorus of folks who are crying out in opposition to the bloggers like AmericaBlog and OpenLeft.

And send a link to this post to everyone in your address book. Edmund Burke said it best:

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Don't be one of the folks who looks back sometime later in life knowing that you were one who did nothing. Speak out; do your part.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

More Christmas Pics

So, I've had, like, a dozen people tell me how much they love the pics that Laura over at B. Artistic posted of us (from our Christmas pics), so when we got the CD in the mail yesterday, and I saw how great the rest of the pics were, I knew that I was going to have to post the rest of them here.

But first I had to post my favorite pics! These ones will go on my desk!

The most beautiful woman in the world! (OMW! Those eyes!)

The chicks dig him already (a problem I never had)

Destined to be a supermodel!


Reuters reported tonight that President elect Barack Obama says he won't be smoking in the White House.

Smoking? How come nobody told me that the guy was a smoker?

Or did they? Maybe I just wasn't listening. At any rate, that's kinda cheap feeling--that our President is a smoker. I don't really know how to explain how it makes me feel, but it's one of those embarrassing little details that you really, really hope that your friends overseas don't find out about.

I don't know. It amazes me that a bigger deal wasn't made of his smoking habit prior to the election. For some weird reason, I feel like if it had been more widely publicized, people would have thought twice about voting for him.

If for no other reason than the guy who is going to be the leader of the free World should be doing everything in his power to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Imagine our President, four or five years down the road, showing up to a United Nations convention to speak about World Health, in a wheelchair, missing one lung (due to the lung cancer), and toting about an oxygen tank.

It'd make it kinda hard to take the guy serious, you know?

It's even MORE heinous that he was seen numerous time on the campaign trail CHEWING NICOTINE GUM!! (Read the gum story here).

Why'd we vote for this guy again?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Feel-Good Diplomacy

The Associated Press reported this morning that the US and Russia are the only two nations that have refused to sign a 92 nation ban on the use of cluster bombs. They follow-up by pointing out that even Afghanistan has signed.

The between-the-lines story is that it's morally repugnant that the US won't sign, that even Afghanistan will sign. It's a bit of a despicible story, really. I mean, how often have you read about the US using cluster bombs? I don't know that we ever have. So what useful purpose will our signing such a treaty serve?

Frankly, I find such treaties to be a waste of time, and nothing more than "feel-good" diplomacy. If, in fact, cluster bombs are inhumane, then it stands to reason that a reasonable nation, interested only in protecting their country, will refrain from using them regardless whether they've signed this treaty.

On the other hand, a country (or terrorist group) who couldn't care less about humanitarianism is not likely likely to honor such a ban--whether they've signed or not.

So even if the US signs, has this agreement done anything to make the world a better or safer place? Probably not.

Why don't we forget about the feel-good diplomacy and focus on doing things that really matter?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Family Pics

We had family photos taken last Saturday. They turned out excellent! We haven't seen them all, but we got a sneak peak on our photographer's blog, B. Artistic Photography, and we're VERY happy with what we've seen so far!

I snuck one of the pictures over here (I hope she doesn't get mad!).

Hop over and take a look. And if you live in California, I HIGHLY recommend B. Artistic!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thank You, God...

Thank You, God, for my wife, Shawna. I'm more thankful for her today than I've ever been. She has taught me the meaning of true love. Trust me; we've been married nearly ten years, which is approximately 9 3/4 years longer than I would have stayed married to me.

Thank You, God, for Alexis & Gentry. They are the most precious gifts imaginable. Their unconditional love humbles me. As their father, I've finally begun to understand the depths of Your love for me.

Thank You, God, for my family--parents, sister, brother's in law, nieces and nephews, grandparents, aunts and uncles. I've come to realize that You placed them in my life to help shape me into a better man. Some have taught me by being a stellar example; others have shaped me by forcing me to learn patience (remember the hole in the bathroom wall, Nan?) ;-), but anything I am, anything I become, will be shaded by their continued influences.

Thank You, God, for an incredible network of friends, people who care about me--not about the things I can do, or the good that I can bring to their life, but about me. That's the deepest sort of friendship, a friendship that I've not known much of. But You suddenly dropped a handful of true friends into my life; thank You for that.

And thank You, God, for You. I continue to be amazed that You haven't simply said, "Enough" about me, and sent down a bolt of lightning to rid the world of me.

Other stuff, too, God. Houses and cars; jobs and clothes; abilities and talents; money and reputation; thank you for all of them. They all mean so much. But when I sit down to begin to list out the things I'm thankful for, those things all pale in comparison to the really important things You've blessed me with.

The stuff can be replaced; I know--I've had and lost quite a bit of stuff. But I could never replace the family and friends that You've blessed me with, and I could never replace You. So thank You again.

Happy Thanksgiving, family and friends! You too, mean people who periodically send me nasty emails!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Moron Squared

They really are morons, the guys (or gals) who keep breaking into my car.

They did it again last Thursday night. It's laughable, really. The last time they got my briefcase (which had a bunch of relatively worthless paper [mostly stuff I'd written], and a few books; nothing fencible), and half the face of my stereo.

Which, incidentally, has forced me to sing to myself during my interminable commute (apparently that half stereo face that the morons ended up with was a pretty vital part; the thing hasn't worked since). I'm kinda getting tired of hearing myself.

I've even started writing creepy songs (pointless songs, really; about slug bugs and big rigs and rubber tires strewn about the interstate). Other drivers have started to steer clear.

But the morons broke into my car again, and guess what they took? The rest of the stereo (which incidentally is destined never to function again; it's pretty much a given). That's it. Nothing else. It's almost like it's a source of twisted professional pride. They were so angry that they could only get 1/2 the stereo last time that they had to come back and prove that they could get the rest.

Which makes for two pieces of stereo that, even together, will never work again.

Bravo to them.

At least they didn't break my window again.

They did, on the other hand, twist off these two little metal pronia's (as my father would call them; the implied definition is: pronia -noun: a little thing for which there is no other acknowledged name, or the name of which has been momentarily forgotten. Example: "Hey PJ; hurry up and bring me that little pronia wouldja?"). I have no idea what they are, and until this morning, I didn't know that they served any practical purpose. They're on the leading edge of the front door windows (both driver and passenger door windows). They just kinda sit there, riding the border between that thin rubber piece and the glass of the window.

But, goodness, are they ever missed.

Apparently, they are used to maintain the driver's sanity. Because without them it sounds as though all the lost souls from a thousand generations are shrieking at the top of their collective inhuman lungs, directly in my ear.

Or maybe like Hurricane Rita has landed in my passenger seat. It's enough to drive you crazy.


I'm nearly crazy now (having just entertained the crying souls and the Category 4 tropical storm for the last hour). I feel like one of those rats that you see in those PETA movies; the ones that the researchers have hopped up on crank (or some other psychotropic drug), and then stuck in an industrial strength fish tank. The rats sit there, glassy-eyed, for a while, then commence to flopping about, smacking their bodies against the glass, eyes wide, teeth bared.

Driving in my car at 80 mph down the interstate makes me feel like that. I can't think straight. I jitter, and twitch. I mutter and slobber. I tear at my hair.

Stinkin' morons.

Plus I can't hear myself sing.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Nazi School of "Enforced Tolerance"

Blacklisting in the new tolerance.

That's right. I got an email the other day (sometime after my Prop 8 post) telling me that I should be ashamed of myself, that I should be "tolerant".

Apparently what they meant was, "be tolerant OR ELSE." 'Cuz I found this news video online tonight. Then I went to this site and found this lengthy blacklist of folks who donated to the Prop 8 campaign. It's kinda enforced tolerance, if you ask me.

It's a quite effective model, really. You might recognize it; Hitler popularized it a few years back (although HIS blacklist involved Jews, not supporters of Prop 8).

Get my point?

You scared yet? Welcome to the new holocaust.

This is NOT happening in our country.


How 'bout you? You gonna take it sitting down?

Remember Hitler? Remember what finally stopped him? It wasn't the "let's give 'em what they want and maybe they'll go away" tactic that Chamberlain tried. Nope. Go study the history. Neville Chamberlain, sat before Hitler and "compromised" (rather, gave in to his demands). Hitler shook his hand, took over Czechoslavakia, and while Chamberlain was proudly proclaiming "peace in our time", Hitler moved on. Moved on to kill over 6 million Jews, 2-3 million Poles, and various other ethnic and religous minorities.

Tell you what, though: it was effective there for quite a while, wasn't it? Wasn't a person in Germany willing to acknowledge association with a Jew.

Fight back, folks. Go over to the blacklist site, and if ANY of those businesses are in your area, if you know ANY of those folks, go frequent their businesses. Visit day after day. And tell everyone you know to do the same. Email this post to everyone in your address book and don't stop until Hitler backs down.

Enough is enough.

Link to the video:

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Can't Quit This Job

I hopped online this evening to spend some time studying for the GMAT (haven't told you about that, have I? More later...), and came across a startling news story. Nebraska recently passed a "safe haven" law designed to limit "dumpster babies".

Many states have the laws and they save babies' lives, I guess, so they're probably a good thing. Basically, they grant automatic immunity to any parent who drops off an unwanted baby at a hospital, police station or fire station (as opposed to the dumpster). We've all heard the stories: "Infant Found Dead In Dumpster: Teenaged Mother Didn't Want To Quit Cheerleading." And while it's despicable that an individual would shirk their parental responsibility and "get rid" of their baby, it's better than tossing them into the garbage can and allowing them to die.

But the Nebraska legislature (in typical lawmaker style) messed up royally. Apparently their deliberations bogged down when they were discussing the wording of the bill: they couldn't decide what the age limit should be (for the record, virtually every state in the Union has a Safe Haven law; all of them limit the immunity to parents who drop off an infant). Nebraska's legislature wanted to be a little more precise, apparently, but they couldn't figure out exactly HOW precise.

So by the time it was all said and done, they settled on "child." Which sounds safe, at least one would think.

It's not.

In the four months that the law has been in effect, 31 children have been dropped off. Of those 31, 18 were teenagers (five 17-year-olds, two 16-year-olds, six 15-year-olds, two 14-year-olds, three 13-year-olds and eight 11 and 12-year-olds).

And one 18-year-old (she was rejected; the mom had to take her home).

A statewide search is on for two teens, a brother and sister, age 14 and 17. They ran away from their mother while she was forcibly trying to remove them fromt her car at the hospital. Can't blame them.

It's unconscionable, if you ask me. Is it possible to simply "get rid of" a child? As horrible as this sounds, I can see a teen mother coming up pregnant with an unwanted child, and rather than aborting it, dropping it off (although, I don't know why they wouldn't simply choose adoption). But what's wrong with a person who has a child, takes a stab at raising them, and then when they realize they've messed up, or decide they're tired of the job, simply quitting?

Talk about some messed-up kids. Teenagers, folks; these are teenagers who are essentially being discarded.

You can't just quit this job! At least a normal person can't. As a parent, I can't even stomach the thought. And one would think that any rational human being would feel the same about their child (yeah, some of the kids were adopted, but I don't see how that matters).

I personally think it's indicative of our society. It reminds me of the story of Lot (from The Bible). If you've never read it, you should. The guy tried to use his two daughters as bargaining chips (and was willing to give them to a group of hormonally charged men to do with as they wished).

It's a pretty terrible place when your children mean so little to you that they take the status of refuse.

God help us.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

This Should Galvanize You

Logged on to the Internet when we got home this evening, and two of the top 7 news stories related to protests associated with the passage of Proposition 8 (the constitutional amendment specifying that marriage is classified as a union between one man and one woman).

One of the stories linked to a blog called americablog.com, so I hopped over and, I have to tell you, it woke me up. These folks aren't going to back down.

Go spend a few minutes there. It'll creep you out. These folks aren't going to stop until they've permeated every element of our lives with their lifestyle. I'm more convinced than ever that it's not about "equal rights"; it's about crushing anyone who doesn't accept their lifestyle choices as legitimate.

They're boycotting Utah. That's right; boycotting Utah. Because Mormons contributed some $19 million to the 'Yes on 8' campaign. They're crying out for the Mormons tax exempt status to be pulled (I wonder; I'm a churchgoer. Should my church's tax exempt status be pulled because I contributed and spoke out in favor of 8?). Talk about persecution. This is it.

And the blogger is calling for his readers to search out the largest donors to the 'Yes on 8' campaign, the companies they work for, the businesses they own, and for his readers to boycott those businesses.

And it's not some small time blogger either: he has around 170,000 hits per day.

Go read the hate there. And tell me if it doesn't convince you that they won't stop until your children are indoctrinated with homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle; that they won't stop until any moral opposition--vocal or subvert--is crushed. Completely.

They aren't resting folks. We can't either.

I don't know how to do this; I've never incited an uprising. But I'm telling you, somebody has to. It may as well be here.

I'm not sure where to go from here, but I'll not stop. And I'm asking you to do the same. Hop on the email and link out to everyone you know. And stay tuned: over the coming days I'll post more, along with a place to begin to donate money for the fight that is coming. They're organizing. They've found their cause, and they're coming together to fight. We must do the same.

And pray. More than anything, pray.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Happy Birthday Bubs!

Gentry's six today. It's hard to believe, isn't it? It's the same thing that every dad blogger writes about on his son's birthday, but it doesn't seem possible that it was six years ago that I was changing his first diaper (yes, I did change diapers); that I was getting up at 2:30 AM to heat a bottle; that I did that bouncy-on-the-shoulder-while-patting-his-back-and-humming thing to calm his upset stomach and stop him from crying.

It doesn't seem possible that that same little guy is the guy who likes to fish (he cast's better than me); who loves school (he's an incredibly diligent and focused student); and who grasps, at six years old, the impact of even complex political issues.

I was taking him to school on election day, and observant kid that he is, he called out as we turned a corner, "Dad! Those two guhls awe holding "Yes on 8" signs!".

"Yep, they are, Bubs," I replied.

"I know what that means, Dad," he said after a moment.

"What's it mean Bubs?" I asked, curious.

"It's whewe we say that a mawwiage is only with one man and one woman."

I almost cried. "Yep, Bubs. That's exactly what it means."

"And I know what 'No on 8' means too," he went on.

I felt the lump starting to form in my chest. I could barely squeeze out the words: "What's that mean, Bubs?"

"It means that mawwiage could be a man and a man ow a lady and a lady. But God doesn't like that, so weow voting fow 'Yes on 8', wight Dad?"

I almost cried. I can barely stand to be away from them for more than a few hours any more. It seems like they're both developing so fast that I'll likely miss something monumental while gone to work. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't have at least one moment where I sit, heart full, just amazed at some new territory that they've discovered.

I love being a parent.

Thanks for allowing me to wax sappy and nostalgic; I'll try not to do it too often!

In the meantime, join me in wishing the most incredible son in the world a very happy sixth birthday!

Love you Gentry!

For Nate...

...who only frequents my blog when there are pictures to look at (and only reads the funny section of the newspaper, I think). Love you man! ;-)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Protect Marriage

I wanted to take a moment to encourage my California readers to vote Yes on Proposition 8 as they head to the polls on Tuesday. I try not to yap about political issues too often (for the most part, politics exhausts and kills valuable brain cells), but Proposition 8 is far too important to ignore.

For those who're not familiar with the proposition, it's entire text is:

"Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in California."

That's it; nothing more. For the record, the overwhelming majority of Californians (61%) have already said in a vote on Proposition 22 in 2000 that marriage between a man and a woman should be the only marriage recognized by the state. Unfortunately, four CA Supreme Court judges took it upon themselves to overturn the votes of millions of Californians.

So, I urge you again, get out on Tuesday, and vote Yes on 8. Send emails to all of your friends and acquaintances urging them to do the same.

What's at risk here, you ask? How does this affect me? Consider this: if the State officially recognizes gay marriages, they have already demonstrated a strong proclivity to include education relating to same sex marriage in public school curriculum. Will it affect your children, do you think, to be taught that there's no difference between the "man and wife" relationship, and a "husband and husband" or "wife and wife" relationship? Further, isolated legal skirmishes across the state have already shown that numerous special interest groups are waiting to take on churches who decline to marry homosexuals. The danger is great that our ministers and churches will be legally obligated to provide marriage services to same-sex couples at risk of losing our tax-exempt status or, worse, arrest and prosecution for discrimination.

I'm not one to use fear tactics, but I think that in this case it's inarguable that there are very determined special interest groups out there who are intent on removing any individual or group who expresses any moral opposition, vocal or otherwise, to their personal lifestyles. That scares me. It should scare you too.

And lest you fall into the "equal rights" trap, consider this: California already has some of the most generous same-sex couple benefit laws on the books. That is, same-sex couples--married or otherwise--already have access to most of the health, legal and social benefits that are awarded to married couples. They're not discriminated against in any fashion. This proposition won't limit or eliminate any of that.

So go; do your part. And tell everyone you know to do the same.

Visit http://www.protectmarriage.com/ to learn more.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Time to Live

"There are people who put their dreams in a little box and say, Yes, I've got dreams, of course I've got dreams. Then they put the box away and bring it out once in awhile to look in it, and yep, they're still there."
-Erma Bombeck

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Book You Say?

Someone left me a comment or sent me an email (I forget which) last week about writing a book.

I think I still want to do that (although you probably can't tell it by virtue of the fact that you guys are likely starving to death). I don't know why I haven't been writing. Well I HAVE been writing, just not here, and not anything you'd be interested in. But that's not really fair, is it?

Or do you care?

No matter; from the beginning, it hasn't really been about you. Although I'm glad you came. And it's interesting to see that many of you haven't gone away. This probably sounds like another one of those empty promises, and it may well be (you can never tell they're empty when you make them, can you?), but I certainly am going to try to spend a little more time here.

And I'm not going to roll out all the excuses why I've not been here; come to think of it, there really aren't any good ones, so it'd be pointless to try.

Enough rambling. Just rest assured that I'm not yet dead; I haven't forgotten how to write; my Internet hasn't been cut off; I'm not in prison. I just haven't been writing.

But I'll try not to not write.

Or something.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Another World Record Holder!

This guy is my hero. Not sure why I find this so awesome; perhaps it's because we're kindred spirits: we both have a bizarre--and utterly useless--yet amazing talent (record breaking, to boot).

At any rate, anyone who can eat a burger that big is amazing in my book!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What If?

This morning I woke up excited. It's my 13th birthday, and a month ago my Dad promised to take me to a football game when I turned 13. I've wanted to go for as long as I can remember. Most of my friends at school have been before--it makes me feel kind of childish that I haven't, but Mom has always said that it's a horrible sport, and "no place for civilized humans, much less a child." I, of course, respond that I'm not a child; I'm a young man. She glares at me.

But today was my day. Dad had promised, and yesterday when he got home from work, I was sitting at the kitchen table doing homework while Mom cooked dinner.

"I got tickets to tomorrow's game for you and me, Trent," he said. "I'm taking the day off work."

"Jack!" my Mom exclaimed, dropping a wooden spoon into the Spanish rice. "You CANNOT take him there!" There was fire in her gaze.

"Hon, he's going to see it sooner or later. The longer we wait, the more dangerous it is," Dad said, that soothing, calm tone in his voice.

Mom just looked at him for a minute, glaring with that look that would, if directed at me, cause my backside to start reddening spontaneously. Then her shoulders slumped, her head dropped to her chest, and she started crying quietly, shoulders heaving as big alligator tears dripped onto the stove top. Dad went over to her and wrapped her in his arms, stroked her hair, and whispered to her. It made me horribly sad, but strangely euphoric. I'm growing up, and Mom's starting to realize it. I hate hurting her, but it feels good to know that they're seeing that I need to start making my way into adulthood.

When Dad woke this morning, I was dressed and waiting in the living room.

"Happy Birthday, bud!"

"Thanks. You gonna get ready for the game?" I asked.

"Why don't you eat some cereal while I drink my coffee and shower," he said.

"Already ate," I replied. "How long 'til you'll be ready? We don't want to be late!"

He came over and sat down next to me. "Trent, I know you're excited, but trust me: the game won't start without us, OK?"

I nodded. He smiled at me for a moment. The smile made my chest swell with pride, and my eyes threaten to spill for some odd reason. He shook his head, swallowed, got up and moved back to their bedroom without another word.

We took his truck into the city. Mom wouldn't let us leave until he showed her that our tickets were in the family section of the Coliseum. "If he has to go, he has to go. But he DOESN'T have to sit with those uncivilized cretins." She packed us a light lunch, we loaded up and took off.

The Coliseum was packed out. The feeling was electrifying, hearing the crowd roar, and feeling that electric energy crackle across the stands, fans leaning forward to catch a glimpse of their team as they readied to come out onto the field. My heart was pounding before I sat down; by kickoff, I could barely breathe.

Dad sat quietly next to me, watching me, smiling lightly when I looked over to him.

It was an amazing game; both teams fought hard. The score was tied 13-13 until the last 20 seconds of the game when the opposing team fumbled the ball on the 37 yard line, and our linebacker grabbed it and ran it in for a touchdown.

The crowd exploded! Fans were jumping and screaming. The player who fumbled the ball slumped to the ground, shaking. It looked like he was crying. His teammates stood on the field, stunned and dejected. One guy started screaming, and ran toward the locker room. A guard blocked his way and he fell to the ground, head in hands.

There was a lot of celebrating on the field as the final buzzer sounded; all I could hear was a dull roar in my ears as the stands rumbled with the shouts and pounding feet of overexcited fans.

Then a sudden hush came over the crowd.

"They say the commissioner has no mercy," I heard a guy beside me mutter to a friend.

"What's happening, Dad?" I asked, uncertain.

"Shh. Just watch," he whispered.

Then a somber guy in a black suit who looked vaguely familiar was shown on the huge game screen above the stadium. He stood for a moment, glaring out at us as we craned to watch this strange turn of events. The he slowly extended his right arm, fist closed, thumb straight out to the side, and held it almost directly in front of the camera.

The crowd shifted as one, moving to the edge of their seats. Nobody was breathing. I looked up at my Dad; he was staring intently at the screen mouthing something under his breath. It sounded like, "No; please, no."

And as the Commissioner's thumb began it's slow arc downward, I heard my Dad gasp, "Oh God, No!" And then the crowd exploded again.

"What is this, Dad?" I asked, panicking a little.

He looked at me; his eyes were tearing up. "Bud, we're going to stay here because you need to understand something," he said.

"Dad!" I cried out, alarmed. My Dad never cries.

"They're prisoners, Trent," he said. "All of the players are prisoners. They practice for months for this one game. If they win, they're sent back to live the rest of their lives comfortably, their families with them there at the prison. If they lose, then the Commissioner decides their fate."

"What do you mean," I asked, staring down at the field as a slough of guards ushered the jubilant winning team off the field. The losing players were clamoring at the guards, trying to rush past toward the open gates there on the sunken field. Every time a losing player got too near the gate, a guard with a stun gun would zap him and he'd fall to the field, shaking.

Dad was crying openly now. "They're Christians bud. They were thrown into prison for being Christians. And now they're going to open that gate over there," he pointed across the field, "and release lions. And these...these people are going to cheer while those lions attack and maul losing team. Because they got a 'thumbs down' from that evil man up there."

I gaped up, uncomprehending. "I...I...Dad?" I stammered, as I heard the gate clang, and the roar of the crowd intensified. I glanced down as a huge lion bounded out of the open gate, directly at the last victim of the guards stun gun, as he twitched, trying to get his paralyzed arms underneath him. Just as the lion took his final leap, Dad bundled me up, covered my face with his enormous hand, and pulled me out of my seat, toward the exit.

I cried silently all the way home. Dad cried next to me in the drivers seat.

"Why?" I asked. He just looked over at me and shook his head.

Mom was sitting in the kitchen, head in hands when I walked into the house. She watched as I climbed the stairs and went into my room. I climbed into bed and lay, weeping silently, staring at the ceiling. She came in a while later.

She sat on the edge of my bed, hands in her lap, and looked down at me. After a bit, she spoke.

"Trenton. That's why we don't tell anyone where we go on Sunday's; it's why we park around the block, and walk up the alley to get to church. And it's why you're not allowed to talk about church with your friends at school. What we're doing is illegal, and if we're ever caught, that will be your father playing on that field someday, fighting for his life."

I cried.

She finally leaned down and hugged me.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Few Useful Definitions

mo·ron -noun

the stupid idiots who just broke into my car (sitting quietly in my driveway), stole a worthless briefcase with 300 or so sheets of boring paper (mostly doodles of scarecrows and Neptune from various meetings at work...don't ask), bungled around with my stereo (it's still there, but I don't think it's going to be playing CD's anytime soon), and left my debit card sitting in the center console.

neigh·bor·ly -adjective

the guy from down the street who had a midnight hankering for a cigarette (shame on him; yay for me), stepped out into his front yard, and saw moron (see above), legs sticking through the broken rear window, wrestling with the car stereo. After running in to grab his keys, he drove down the street in an attempt to grab the moron(s). Unfortunately, they were (surprise) sharp enough to realize that this would not be advantageous to their budding criminal careers, so they grabbed my (worthless) briefcase, jumped into their waiting getaway car (a small white SUV; foreign--Honda or Toyota. If you see one, drop me an email), and took off. He (the neighbor; not the moron) rang my doorbell, which scared the living patooey out of me (it was midnight), and told me all about it. Good guy, that neighbor.

sleep·less -adjective

my house, tonight. I have my rifle--replete with sniper scope--out; I'm dressed out in soldier of fortune camo, and am camping out on my garage roof. If those varmints return, I'm gonna be ready.

It doesn't help that I've got an early morning meeting an hour away tomorrow. I've got to make the drive minus one window, and without any music, a book on CD--anything.

They police came out and snooped around a bit. They had a crime scene tech come out and take some fingerprints. I'm a little concerned because the only prints they got were from the inside of the rear passenger window--right where my kids sit. I just know that poor Lex and Gentry are going to go into some criminal database somewhere; I hope they never decide they want a career in national security. They're doomed.

SheGazelle: I guess this counts as a visit from Murphy, huh?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Rat Meat Inflation

I was checking the news online this evening and found a story that really troubled me. The headline, "Price of rat meat in Cambodia quadruples as inflation bites", caused my stomach to clench. The story itself was worse.

The Cambodian per capita annual income, according to 2point6billion.com, a news forum dedicated to Chinese, Indian and Asian trade, is somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000 US. To put this in perspective, the average annual income in the US is around $36,600, which means we in the United States make around 36 1/2 times what a Cambodian makes.

To be fair, things cost less in Cambodia; according to globalpropertyguide.com, on the average, an item costing about $1.00 here in the US would cost about .16 cents in Cambodia. Basically things cost six times more here than they do in Cambodia. Which, for a moment, allows you to breathe a little easier.

But let's break the numbers down a bit further. If the average American makes 36 1/2 times what the average Cambodian makes, but that same American pays 6 times the amount the Cambodian does in order to live, is there a so-called "wealth-gap"?

Imagine that you're one of those average American wage earners. You make $36,600 per year (not a substantial living, to be sure, but an average American one, according to the statistics). You pay today's prices for everything you buy. Now imagine that tomorrow you go into work, and you're called into the office and told that, due to low profitability, your wages got cut to $5,000 per year; you still work the same number of hours doing the same job, but for this new wage.

Your stuff all still costs the same amount. Fuel is still $4 a gallon; the milk prices haven't dropped; it's still $6 for a Big-Mac Extra Value meal at McDonalds. You just make 1/6 the amount of money you're accustomed to.

How does it feel? Can you live? The most recent census places the poverty level for a family of four at about $20,000 of income per year. Your $5,000 doesn't get you much. Tack onto that inflation of 37% per year, and now you're starting to feel what it's like to live in Cambodia.

You kill rats in order to feed your family. And if you're entrepreneurial, you kill many rats, and sell them to other hungry people wanting to feed their families.

I have no intention of turning MyndFood into a social diatribe (although many of you, I'm sure, are wondering what my intentions ARE for MyndFood; more to come on that. I will say, stick close if you're interested in reading installment two of "The Funeral". There's also a contest coming, so check back frequently). But this is, after all, intended to be your favorite online eatery, and occasionally, you should be fed something weighty, and full of protein--something that requires some work to digest, and perhaps a little pain. This is one of those meals.

In recent years we've all read the stories of American companies relocating manufacturing operations to any of a number of Asian countries. Horror stories of 11 year-old girls slaving away making shoes for .19 cents per day get half of us fired up about "wicked, greedy American business"; the other half of us applaud, perhaps crudely AND cruelly, the ingenuity of American business. And both sides have their arguments--all reasonable and well-thought out. The "business is evil" group says that we Americans have a moral obligation to not take advantage of underprivileged citizens of other countries; we have a minimum wage, and laws pertaining to lawful working age and acceptable working conditions; those laws should apply to ANY operation, no matter the country it's located in. The "hooray for big business" folks say things like, "the business makes more money, and I save a little bit on my shoes, so the government gets more in taxes, and can turn around and distribute that to needy folks all over the world." Or, even more radical, the argument that says that our government is bailing out poor countries all over the place; why should we help?

Valid arguments, all, but each a little extreme. I, for one, feel that we DO have an obligation to treat other countries fairly. NOT to make them wealthy, but neither to take advantage of them. There's a problem when countries have masses of their population actively hunting rats to eat. It's not our problem to fix mind you; I don't think we (the US government) needs to jump in and save the day. But if our companies go there to do business, we should compensate the employees there--not at the income levels THEY'RE used to, but at the proportional income levels we see here. They're used to utter poverty; and so we justify paying them wages that do nothing more than perpetuate poverty. What's the Cambodian (cost of living adjusted) equivalent to our current minimum wage? Somewhere around $1.25 per hour. Wouldn't that wage still prove a windfall for an American business? Yet wouldn't it also be like winning the lottery for some Cambodian who has historically made less than .25 cents per hour?

I don't know that there are enough American businesses in disadvantaged Asian countries to make much of a different, but I'd like to think that if those that were there were operating with any sort of social conscience, they'd be operating as I've described, and perhaps there'd be fewer stories about inflation in the price of rat meat.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Customer Support

Our internet service provider, Comcast. has an online tech support system. You log on and some techie (in India, I'll bet) logs on, and chats with you (via some chat room thing on their site). I'm having a problem with our service, so I had to try to use it tonite. Below is my entire conversation, transcribed (with no modifications whatsoever).

>>>Beginning of Conversation

user Paul_ has entered room

Paul(Wed Aug 20 05:07:01 PDT 2008)>cannot connect more than one comp through wireless connection; freezes the modem.analyst

Pearl has entered room

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:07:07 PDT 2008)>Hello Paul_, Thank you for contacting Comcast Live Chat Support. My name is Pearl. Please give me one moment to review your information.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:07:13 PDT 2008)>Hi there! How are you doing?

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:07:17 PDT 2008)>good. how r u?

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:07:40 PDT 2008)>Glad to hear that.I am doing fine, as well. Thank you for asking.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:07:55 PDT 2008)>Paul, may I know if your router comes from Comcast?

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:08:00 PDT 2008)>yes. it did.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:08:10 PDT 2008)>im sry. u mean the cable modem?

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:08:12 PDT 2008)>Thank you.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:08:19 PDT 2008)>No, the router.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:08:25 PDT 2008)>oh. no. it didnt.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:09:17 PDT 2008)>I see. Have you tried to bypass the router by connecting the modem directly to one PC to check if the router is the issue?

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:10:04 PDT 2008)>the router isn't the issue. I'm connected directly through the modem now, but the whole setup works great as long as there's only a single computer trying to access the net.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:10:11 PDT 2008)>i've been using it for two months that way

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:10:22 PDT 2008)>but we just got another computer, and it won't work now.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:10:37 PDT 2008)>i also purchased another router today and tried that

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:10:47 PDT 2008)>same results. either one or the other computer will work

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:11:01 PDT 2008)>Have you configure the router before you connect it to the modem?

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:11:00 PDT 2008)>but as soon as i try to get on with the second comp, it freezes the modem.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:11:15 PDT 2008)>yes. as i said, it works fine, until I add the second computer

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:11:15 PDT 2008)>Have you configured the router?Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:11:20 PDT 2008)>then the modem freezes.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:11:26 PDT 2008)>yes i have configured it.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:12:22 PDT 2008)>Please try to check first if the modem will work without a router. If it will allow the computer to work without a router then compare the results.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:12:50 PDT 2008)>yes. as I said, i'm working directly through the modem now; no router.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:12:53 PDT 2008)>so that works.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:13:11 PDT 2008)>Then it is verified that there is a problem with the router.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:13:15 PDT 2008)>nope.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:13:35 PDT 2008)>because i can plug the router in, and work online just fine with only one computer.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:13:39 PDT 2008)>so the router works great.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:13:54 PDT 2008)>If the router will work fine, Paul, it should allow another PC to connect after you connect the router to your modem.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:13:55 PDT 2008)>as soon as I try the second computer, the MODEM freezes (the router continues working)

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:14:03 PDT 2008)>I agree...it should.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:14:05 PDT 2008)>but it doesnt

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:14:08 PDT 2008)>so...

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:14:11 PDT 2008)>we have a problem.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:14:24 PDT 2008)>with the modem.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:15:10 PDT 2008)>May I know what made you say that there is a problem with the modem if it is allowing it has a connection?

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:15:20 PDT 2008)>ok...

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:15:36 PDT 2008)>I mean if it is allowing the other PC to connect.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:15:38 PDT 2008)>the modem freezes as soon as a second computer tries to get out on the net

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:15:50 PDT 2008)>i can still see both computers through the router...

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:16:02 PDT 2008)>i just can't get out onto the net

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:16:38 PDT 2008)>does that make sense?

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:17:08 PDT 2008)>Allow me to explain.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:17:12 PDT 2008)>ok

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:18:28 PDT 2008)>The modem will provide connection to the PC. If there is a router, the signals will go through the router before it reaches the PCs. If the PC is not able to get a connection when you connect it through a router then the router is not giving enough signals to the PC, right?

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:18:51 PDT 2008)>Make sure that all the cable wires are plug in.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:18:54 PDT 2008)>i DO GET A CONNECTION through the router though...thats my point. I have been for two months

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:19:25 PDT 2008)>But you are not getting a connection but can connect with just the modem?

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:19:38 PDT 2008)>yes. I ALSO have a connection when I connect through just the modem.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:19:47 PDT 2008)>THE PROBLEM is that i now have TWO COMPUTERS

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:19:59 PDT 2008)>and when the SECOND computer tries to connect, the modem crashes

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:20:13 PDT 2008)>NOT the router

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:20:38 PDT 2008)>(i have two routers, and I've tried them both independently tonite, with the SAME exact results, so the problem HAS to be the modem)

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:21:31 PDT 2008)>Okay, if you insist I will send a technician over to fix the modem which comes from Comcast to be able to check this on your end.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:21:47 PDT 2008)>Will that work for you?

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:22:03 PDT 2008)>I'm not "insisting" anything...if you'd rather, we can just cancel the service, and I can go with another provider...

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:22:14 PDT 2008)>I'm simply saying that the modem has an issue...

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:22:27 PDT 2008)>and I've verified that against two routers

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:22:45 PDT 2008)>Paul, please understand here in chat there are certain limitations.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:23:13 PDT 2008)>We do have tools that is currently monitoring the status of the PC.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:23:18 PDT 2008)>I mean the modem.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:23:25 PDT 2008)>okPearl(Wed Aug 20 05:23:50 PDT 2008)>I have seen here that the modem status is fine and it is getting enough signals on our server.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:24:33 PDT 2008)>Let me try to ping the modem to further check it here.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:24:45 PDT 2008)>Here is the result.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:24:47 PDT 2008)>PING 64 data bytes
72 bytes from icmp_seq=0. time=54.6 ms
72 bytes from icmp_seq=1. time=54.9 ms
72 bytes from icmp_seq=2. time=54.6 ms
72 bytes from icmp_seq=3. time=53.4 ms
72 bytes from icmp_seq=4. time=54.7 ms
---- PING Statistics----
5 packets transmitted, 5 packets received, 0% packet loss
round-trip (ms) min/avg/max/stddev = 53.4/54.4/54.9/0.59

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:24:52 PDT 2008)>the modem is fine now because i only have a single computer connected to it

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:25:28 PDT 2008)>in order to demonstrate the problem, I'll have to connect the router and the second computer; unfortunately that'll end our conversation

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:25:30 PDT 2008)>so...

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:26:29 PDT 2008)>Yes, please do that is the only way that we can check and verify the real cause of this. Make sure to Powercycle everything once you have connected the router before turning everything on.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:27:00 PDT 2008)>im going to lose you...how do I get back to you?

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:27:42 PDT 2008)>I may not be able to assist you once you chat back however you can inform the next agent who will handle you regarding the steps that we have done from here.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:27:50 PDT 2008)>we haven't done anything

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:28:17 PDT 2008)>When you powercycle the modem please do not forget to unplug the modem for a minute or two.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:28:35 PDT 2008)>yes; i know. i've had to do it like 30 times tonite...

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:28:33 PDT 2008)>Then re-insert cable modem plug into electrical outlet. Allow cable modem 30 seconds to initialize before starting computer.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:28:42 PDT 2008)>ok...

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:28:55 PDT 2008)>thanks.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:29:15 PDT 2008)>You are welcome.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:29:26 PDT 2008)>So are we now set to go from here?

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:29:30 PDT 2008)>sure.

Paul_(Wed Aug 20 02:29:32 PDT 2008)>thanks.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:29:53 PDT 2008)>You are welcome.

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:29:59 PDT 2008)>We are here for you 24 hours a day 365 days a year! To learn more about your services and find answers to many questions, please visit our FAQ pages: http://help.comcast.net/

Pearl(Wed Aug 20 05:30:07 PDT 2008)>Analyst has closed chat and left the roomanalyst Pearl has left room

>>>End of Conversation.

I give up...

Thursday, August 7, 2008

It's A Crisis!

Our city only has one taco truck. I know this because I've investigated it.

The good news is that this particular taco truck happens to be the best taco truck in the nation (I know this because I've eaten--and been blessed with a wide variety of digestive maladies--at many of them).

It also happens to be permanently parked (why wouldn't they just rent a restaurant?) on the extreme opposite corner of town. It sits in the parking lot of an adult bookstore, which always makes me feel a little awkward when going to get a taco. I'm never quite sure when going to grab a bite whether I should park in an inconspicuous location, or park right out in front where everyone can see me.

At any rate, I was thinking about the taco truck the other day. We were readying to go visit Shawna's family for a few days, and Shawna was complaining about having to pack all of our considerable accoutrement's into the trunk of our comfortable (but admittedly cramped when full of all of our stuff) family sedan. She was lamenting the absence of her beloved, oversized SUV (which we sold a few months ago). And I realized that there is a problem.

I can get three tacos at this taco truck of mine for a dollar. If we still owned the gas-guzzling SUV, it would cost me more in fuel to drive to the taco truck than it would cost me to eat. That's wrong. I'm not old, but I have been driving for awhile. When I got my license twelve years ago, gas hovered at around .95 cents a gallon. In twelve years, the price of gas has risen by nearly %500, a fantastic investment by any account, seeing as how, generally my investments appreciate, on average, at about -7.7 % per year.

I should have bought a bunch of gas when I got my license.

I think, though, that necessity is truly the mother of invention. If nothing else, these prices are a good thing in that they're causing entrepreneurial, inventive people to come up with brilliant ideas, alternatives to paying $5 a gallon for fuel.

And it's great for the people that make Smart Cars; Shawna told me that she heard that there's a two year wait list for purchasing the things.

But I'm talking about something bigger than just little cars.

Things like moving sidewalks (like they have at the airport); you can jump on to go grab some lunch. It's faster than walking, and costs almost nothing. Or maybe new cities can be planned with canals instead of roads (like Venice). Instead of driving to the supermarket or the taco truck, you can jump in a gondola and take a ride down the canal.

My favorite is virtual entertainment. For example, I envision Disney creating a virtual Disneyland that you can buy and load up on your Wii (assuming you have a widescreen and surround sound, and the rumble pack that goes under your couch leg), and ride "It's A Small World" right there in your living room.

What do you think? What are your ideas for mitigating the "Gas Is Atrocious!" crisis?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Seven Amazing Years!

Alexis is 7!

It seems like just yesterday that my little girl was born, yet so long ago. The little girl who I used to warm bottles for at 2 AM, who peed through her diaper all over the church pew when I was watching her (that one got me in a little trouble), who wore those huge colored bows--that same little girl is now begging for a cell phone, reads like a champ, wants her own email address, and is up on all the latest fashions (and, of course, has to have them all).

And she has a heart of gold. Truly unconditional love, and I'm eternally grateful to have a daughter who understands and epitomizes that.

Happy Birthday Alexis! I'm so proud to be your daddy--prouder than I am of ANY other accomplishment. You and your brother are the best things that I've ever been a part of!

I love you!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Wal-Mart: Retail Hell

Saturday afternoon we went to a birthday party for a friend of Gentry and Lex. It was at a park across town, and the kids were excited because there was going to be a bounce house and a pinata.

We got there right on time, but the party was running a little behind schedule. Our friend, the birthday boy's mother, was running around frantically trying to get things organized, and still had to run across town to pick up her husband (temporarily incapacitated due to a foot surgery), and then run back to Wal-Mart across town to pick up the birthday cake.

I, being the nice guy that I am, offered to pick up the cake. Our friend looked up at me, disbelief and hope alternating across her face. "Would you really?" she asked, incredulous.

"Sure. I'll run over and get it. Don't worry about it, OK?"

She almost cried with relief.

I hate Wal-Mart. I'd forgotten how bad I hate Wal-Mart. I'll never forget again.

To be fair, I was already in a bit of a mood by the time I arrived. Wal-Mart is at the opposite corner of town, accessible only via surface streets. Streets jam-packed full of other motorists (all, I would soon learn, ALSO going to Wal-Mart), and littered with traffic signals, all of which were programmed to turn red anytime my car was within 50 feet. It took me a good 20 minutes to make the 5 mile trip, and by the time I parked and got out of the car, I was looking for something to break up into tiny little pieces and then stomp under my feet.

I'm proud to say that I showed some restraint (actually, it was less restraint than it was fear, in that the last time I gave in to that urge, I grabbed an envelope out of the center console of the car and enthusiastically demolished it while Shawna and the kids watched curiously. When I had finally tired and stopped, Shawna asked: "Why didn't you take your paycheck out before you did that?").

I walked into the store, and stopped abruptly. I was surprised to find that, apparently, they had chosen that day to perform American Idol tryouts in our local Wal-Mart (nowhere else have I ever seen such an enormous mass of uniquely strange, and fearsomely intense, people all in one place, all generally acting like giddy fools). Oh, but if it had only been American Idol tryouts; then I would only have had to face the harsh verbal abuse of Simon Cowell. Instead I was forced to face the horrible wrath of Bertha and her Brutal Band of Bakers.

You see, I'd forgotten to grab the receipt for the birthday cake; apparently that's one of the ten commandments of cake buying: thou shalt ALWAYS bring your receipt when you come to pick up the cake.

"Um...I don't have the receipt," I told Bertha when she came out to help me. I told her the name it was under.

Her eyes grew wide, clenched fists went to her hips, and she rose to her full 7'2", glaring spitefully at me. "YOU....DON'T....HAVE....YOUR....BAKERY....SLIP?!?!?!" she bellowed.

"Uh...no ma'am, but I can tell you--"

"SILENCE!" she roared. "YOU WILL TELL ME ONLY WHAT YOU'RE ASKED TO TELL ME! Now, what is your name?"

"Well, MY name is PJ Green," I replied, "But it's not under my name."

"Well how do I know you aren't here to steal this poor kid's transformer cake?" she questioned.

"Uh, because it hasn't been paid for? And whether it's mine or not, I'm still going to have to pay for it. Besides, I know the name it's under; how probable is that if I'm just some random cake thief?"

She glared at me for a moment, then, grumbling, waddled back to the refrigerator, and disappeared into it for about five minutes. Finally (after consenting to a check of my ID, and allowing one of Bertha's minions to take a photocopy of it--in the event the true owner of the cake decided to press charges were I to steal the cake), I was on my way to the front of the store to check out.

Every single checkout stand was open. And every single one of them looked like the Wal-Mart return line on the day after Christmas. I picked the shortest line I could find--which happened to be an "Express-Less Than 20 Items" line (for what it's worth, technically it should have said "Fewer Than 20 Items", but I don't know that Mr. Walton's faithful patrons care all that much whether or not his sign designers are grammatically correct).

Twenty minutes later, the end was in sight. I was the third in line, and the lady at the register was almost finished; soon I'd be second. The guy in front of me had only one small container from the deli (his lunch, I presume), so I was already practicing the slow, calming breaths that I would need to bring myself back to a sane state of consciousness.

Just as the lady checking out was almost finished, I saw the guy in front of me (the one holding his lunch) look over his shoulder and beckon to someone behind me. Calling them up to join him at the register--presumably to add to his one item checkout collection. I was frustrated, but too tired--and much too close to the check stand--to fight it at that point. I leaned back against the candy stand, packages of Reese's Pieces and Ring-Pop's falling to the floor, closed my eyes, and just breathed, calming myself.

Then a collective groan went up all around me. My eyes popped open, I looked around, and fell to the floor in utter, hopeless defeat.

The lunch guy in front of me hadn't beckoned back to his wife, holding a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk; it wasn't to his kid, wanting to add a package of Airheads to the purchase; it wasn't some friend wanting to get back to his party with his 12-pack of Bud Lite.

It was a Wal-Mart employee; two employees as a matter of fact, each pulling a laden pallet-jack, a pallet full of Gatorade on each.

1,440 individual bottles of Gatorade, to be exact. I know. Because they counted each one. Twice.

I'll admit, I don't understand society: we're so forgiving. A man pulls up to the "20 Items or Less" express lane with 1,441 items, and we sit patiently (or impatiently, yet quietly submissive), waiting for him to finish. We don't cause an uproar; we don't toss down our respective birthday cakes and fishing poles and fresh-baked bread and jars of peanut butter, and stalk out of the store, forever decrying the mismanagement, and pledging never to return to a Wal-Mart.

No; we grumble and complain amongst ourselves (quietly, though, because we don't want the offender to hear us), and wait our turn. And, next week when we need pretzels or Diet Pepsi or Cheez Whiz, we haul ourselves back down to retail hell, and brave the insane crowds, and brazen, Express-line-rule-defying jerks. And why? Because they have "Always the low prices...Always!"

When you think about it, we're doing old Mr. Walton's grand kids a huge disservice by NOT revolting. It's the free-market folks; Wally-world, along with every other retail establishment in the nation, depends on us to send them messages regarding their performance. Decreased business tells the business decision makers that customers are dissatisfied, and change must come. But, no: we sell our souls, or principles, for a few measly cents off a dozen eggs; for a car battery that's $3 cheaper than anywhere else; for a t-shirt that's $4 cheaper than anywhere else.

You ought to be ashamed of yourselves. If only YOU people had listened to your conscience the last time you had a miserable experience at Wal-Mart, if only YOU had stopped going, maybe they would have heard us by now.

Then I wouldn't have had to deal with them.

Can somebody start a protest?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

My Only Hope

We were in Target tonight looking around for gifts for Lex (it's her birthday on Thursday; she's going to be seven). Gentry had his eye on a toy, and, as usual, was building his case.

"Dad," he said as we walked down an aisle, "have we been good today?"

"Well, Bubs, you did whine quite a bit today."

"OK; but," Lex chimed in, "for example: were we kind today? Did we share with others? THAT'S what he's talking about."

I chuckled. She's having a tough time learning to ride a bike. Bubs has it down pat; he's extremely coordinated and athletic, like his mother. Lex is like me. I think I was six before I learned to ride a bike; I was picked last on every sporting team in elementary school; I still can't catch.

But she's sharp. I think she might be destined to be a politician. I choose, now, not to engage her, because she's developed multiple lines of circular reasoning that even I have a hard time arguing against. So I head her off at the pass. I imagine, if I'd chosen to respond affirmatively to her "for example" tonight in Target, she would have went on to point out how, as well-behaved children, they ought to be rewarded in some small way (a candy bar, perhaps).

They amaze me in so many little ways. Gentry, for example, grabbed a greeting card off the shelf in Target tonight, hid it behind his back, and said, "Dad. Do you know what's on this cawd?"

"No. What is it Bubs?" I responded.

"You have to guess."

"Um...is it a...chicken?"

"Daaaddeeee!" he laughed, throwing his head back like he does, as if I've just said the most humorous thing he's ever heard.

He pulled the card out from behind his back.

"It's a CUCUMBOW," he said, holding out a card shaped like a pickle.

A cucumber. I can never remember whether a pickle is made from a cucumber or a zucchini. But he knows. I know it's not a huge deal, but it's those little jolts of surprise that make parenting the joy that it is.

It's the little indicators that, despite all your failings and insecurities; despite your feelings of hopeless inadequecy, they still are developing. And they're developing well.

I took most of those pictures in the slideshow at the bottom of the prior post. I sat there in that audience, and I felt that feeling, that indescribable feeling.

It's hope. It's you looking at what you've made of you, at all the dreams that haven't yet become a reality, at the poor choices you've made, at the stupid misakes you've made. And then looking up, to see Lex singing:

"You're my brother, you're my sister;
So take me by the hand..."

in the microphone, looking out, squinting at the spotlights, trying to make sure I'm watching.

Or Gentry, singing by himself in the microphone for the first time ever:

"When we all pull togethow, togethow, togethow;
When we all pull togethow, how happy we'll be.
Fow youw wook is my wook; and ouw wook is God's wook.
When we all pull togethow, how happy we'll be!"

at the top of his lungs.

And realizing, as you look up and see them there, that maybe--just maybe--you might have got THIS just a little bit right because it seems to be working. And maybe it's OK that I didn't quite get it all exactly right; if I can just make sure I get THIS right, then I'll be happy. Because I can help them become everything that lies dormant inside them.

I sat there, and something inside my chest swelled up into my throat, and I couldn't breathe, and tears came to my eyes. Not because it was "so cute", although it was. But because I'm getting it; I'm teaching them right, showing them the right paths. And they're going down them.

It's one of my few consistent prayers: God, help me continue to get it right. They're my only hope.


This week was Vacation Bible School here at the new church. It's a massive church, far larger than we're used to. They asked for help, and somehow I got volunteered. They told us to show up at 5:30 on Monday evening. We did. And they put me in charge of a group of 35 4th and 5th graders.

Yeah; 4th and 5th graders. Me. Thirty-five of them. I'm not really a kid guy. So when I showed up, and thy told me that was my assignment, I had to sit down and put my head between my knees.

As it turned out, I'm pretty good at corralling a gaggle of nine and ten year-olds. They can be extremely tiring, but I have to say, it's been rewarding.

Shawna had five and six year olds. The age span for the VBS was Kindergarten through sixth grade, so all together there were probably about 250-300 students. It was a daunting site, walking into the gym to such a massive crowd of children. In fact it scared me.

I've never really worked with kids before, but my expectation was that VBS was just overrated day care, and that my job would be nothing more than glorified babysitting.

It's a humbling experience to underestimate someone. And I was humbled this week. To realize that these kids have far more depth than we ascribe to them, than we give them credit for. The program was called "God's Big Backyard", and the theme for the week was "Serving". We talked about serving family and friends, about serving neighbors and the community, and about serving God BY serving others. We had prayer each night as part of our service to others. And my heart broke to hear a young boy ask for prayer for his parents who weren't doing well. And another girl asked for prayer for a friend at school who had a bad sickness. And, when we talked about the "rocky road" of life, one girl talked about her mom who was in the middle of a rocky patch because she's almost broke.

And a boy who, when the entire VBS group had their eyes closed telling God that they wanted to serve Him, walked over to his Dad and stood next to him, head down, praying with him and weeping silently.

They made food baskets for needy families. Washed the cars of elders in the church. Performed good deeds for family members. Became true servants--willing servants--and in doing so, served God.

Amazing kids.

Kids who really get it, who know what's it all about. I'm glad I had the opportunity to spend the week with a group of kids who are far deeper than you'd guess at first blush, who taught me as much about being a Christian in that week as I've learned in entire years.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New Phone

I'm starting to get the itch. The new phone itch.

It happens to me every so often. It's typically when some new cellphone hits the news that I get the hankering for a new one.

This time all the talk about the new third generation iPhone, now starting at the new low price of $199. When the iPhone first hit the market, I was enchanted. I desperately wanted one. The idea of a touch screen and a web browser that actually pulled up real looking web pages (as opposed to those mobile web ones).

But then, the iPhone has kinda run it's course for me; the novelty has worn off, and it doesn't really grab my attention anymore.

But then I heard that RIM is releasing a new Blackberry this month (I carry a Blackberry), and I hopped over to their website, and I have to say, the phone is a cool phone. It's certainly a step up from mine. But then, it's not ENORMOUSLY different from mine; it doesn't make my heart flutter.

Oh, but THEN I just happened to run into this news story online about the HTC Touch Diamond. THAT, my friends, is a phone. How can you not fall in love with a touchscreen phone that has a VGA quality display, and is nearly an ounce lighter than the iPhone? And there has to be something wrong with you if the idea of a weather widget that actually has moving clouds and raindrops that "drip" onto the screen (as well as windshield wipers to sweep the water away).

It's just downright cool.

But I won't get any of them, at least for now. Because SheGazelle has convicted me. I don't know how she does it, but her blog, no matter HOW frugal I've been, makes me feel like a wasteful, careless spender. And I just can't bring myself to, after reading her blog, go spend $300-$500 on a new cellphone, just because it's cool.

Unless, that is, there's a coupon for it in the penny saver...

Saturday, July 12, 2008

PJ "Kitty Cat Woods" Green

  • 6 1/2 holes of twilight golf: $10.00
  • 13 Nike golf balls, sliced into the lake on the fifth hole: $16.99
  • Callaway Big Bertha 3 wood, left wrapped around a palm tree at the edge of a lake on the fifth hole: $169.00
  • The look on the course pro's face when I dove into the lake on hole five to rescue "wet" ball number 14: Priceless

I went golfing this weekend. The first time in three years.

Golf is a singularly frustrating sport--having the unique ability to both gratify the player immensely, and to cause the player to contemplate inflicting severe damage to himself, to others, or to the course in play, all within a single hole.

I got the itch a few weeks ago during all the hoopla surrounding Tiger's win of the US Open, in overtime and on a messed up knee. I do have a few macho bones in my body (despite the fact that I occasionally wax my eyebrows), and the whole Tiger story got my manly, competitive juices flowing.

So I went down to a local course, walked in, and paid for a round, and for a $16.99 box of Nike balls. The guy handed me the balls and a key to a cart. I, with as much manliness as I could muster, turned down the cart. "I'm going to walk it," I said. Real golfers, after all, walk; even just weeks after knee surgery.

I could see the admiration in his eyes. I could almost hear him thinking, "this guy is the real deal." (In hindsight, I think the look might have been more bemused than admiring, and that he might have been thinking, "I give him four holes before he's done").

The first hole is always the one that really boosts your confidence. First drive out was a beauty; I was looking around hoping that someone was around to see it. Next shot put me on the green; I couldn't believe it. I putted through, and was only one over par.

The next two holes were slightly worse, but not so bad that I couldn't hold my head up. It really started going downhill on the fourth hole (it was actually the eighth hole; I played the wrong one on accident). In two strokes I was just below the green. I figured one chip shot with the pitching wedge, and two puts in, and I'd be at one over par.

Not to be. It took me THREE chips to get on the green. and THREE puts (which put me at FOUR over par).

And then came hole five, the one with the water. My drive was in the water. So I hit another one. Which ALSO went in the water. I had a bad feeling, so I walked up to where it went in, and dropped a ball out in the middle of the fairway. I hit it. Into the water. I dropped another and hit it. Into the water. And another. Into the water. And six more after that. All into the water.

I finally hit my last ball into the water, but by this time that manly bravado had turned into white hot anger. I took the offending club, walked over to a palm tree, and slowly and methodically, wrapped the evil thing around the trunk. I then removed my Callaway XST golf shoes, and my yellow polo shirt, and waded into the water, searching for at least one of my lost golf balls.

It took me a few minutes, but I found one. I climbed out, and dropped it, determined to make the shot before I moved on. Unfortunately, I'd ruined the club I needed to hit with, so I grabbed the first club I could get my hands on, dropped the ball, and took a wild angry swing at the ball.

And hit it beautifully. Straight and true, high and long. Too long. Over the hole.

I dropped to my knees there in the middle of the fairway, and let out a long, bloodcurdling scream.

Interestingly enough, hole five is the only hole that I shot par on (I didn't count the 13 that I hit into the water; I figure the course made $16.99 off of me for those 13 balls, the least they can do is not force me to count all 13 of the shots).

I played another hole and a half, but an underwater fishing expedition combined with a score of 17 on a par 4 hole have a way of taking the wind out of your sails (that, and the fact that I mistakenly played hole 3 again, thinking it was hole 7).

I walked slowly back to the clubhouse, head down, shoulders slumped. The enthusiastic golfer, full of machismo who'd turned down the key to the cart before the round, was nowhere to be seen. In his place was a sopping wet hacker, 13 balls and one 3 wood lighter, trudging back toward the clubhouse in shame (vowing under his breath to NEVER step foot on another golf course as long as he lived. Expletives deleted).

But then I know me; I hate to be defeated by something. I'll be back. It may take me awhile to get up the nerve (and I doubt I'll have the level of stupid self-confidence next time), but I'll be back.

Someday, I hope to make it through an entire 18 holes on one box of balls.

Friday, July 11, 2008

A Record Travesty

I'm incensed.

I put my life into training to be a Guinness World Record holder (as demonstrated in my video), and Guinness turns me down.

And then, this...this...this GUY, he goes and sits in stadium seats for two days, and Guinness grants him a spot! For sitting in the most football stadium seats!!

Rodney Dangerfield said it best: No respect; no respect.

I'm only half kidding here, folks. We all aspire to some sort of greatness in our pathetic lives. And, at this point in my life, I've resorted to stuffing coinage up my nose in a last-ditch attempt to be truly great at SOMETHING before my life is over.

But, no; the folks over at Guinness rob me of even THAT. So that they can give my page space to THIS GUY who sits in seats.

How pathetic.


(that's me tearing my hair out and screaming unintelligibly in pain and frustration)

(I probably shouldn't be alone right now)


Thursday, July 10, 2008

There's not much that I can say to this but, wow! It honestly sends goose bumps up and down my spine.

Here's a video of Yoo E Un's win on the South Korean show, Star King.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Funeral-Part I

Toyota Prius backseats are not made for sitting. At least for tall guys like me. After four hours back there, legs wrapped around my ears, I could barely move, not to mention the fact that my tailbone felt like I'd been sitting on the business side of a claw hammer for half a day. So when we pulled into the parking lot of the funeral home, I was the first out of the car.

I leaned against the car, not caring if my already-rumpled black suit jacket got a little dirty, arched my back, closed my eyes, and stretched. The morning sun shone warmly on my face as I breathed deeply, filling my lungs with the clean, crisp Los Angeles air.

Suddenly I felt arms wrap around my waist. My eyes shot open. I looked down.

A short guy, hair cropped close, wearing a Redskins sweatshirt and a black fanny pack, had his arms around me, head resting against my chest, crying softly.

Dad was out of the car by this time, but he didn't rush over to save me; in fact, I thought I saw him chuckling quietly behind his hand.

"I was at your wedding," the short guy cried.

I looked around bewildered, hoping for some help. Mom, still in the car, pressed the automatic door luck button.

"Um...well, thank you for being there, Mr...?" I asked, patting him tentatively on the back.

"Mark Jr.! I'm your UNCLE ROY," he cried. "And I was at your wedding!"

"Well, Uncle...thank you."

He held on for another minute or two, sniveling a bit, then dried his eyes on my suit jacket, pulled away, and stood, too-close, face-to-face, smiling demurely down at his feet, hands clasped in front of him.

Just as I started to get a little creeped out, I saw the funeral home door open, and out barreled a monster of a man--my height, but a good fifty pounds heavier, with biceps the size of cantaloupes, and no real neck to speak of. I breathed a sigh of relief; the big man was coming to rescue me.

"MARK JR! YOU'RE MY NEPHEW!" he bellowed as he got within arms-reach. "I WAS AT YOUR WEDDING!"

Funny; I don't remember my wedding to have been quite this overpopulated with strange, dysfunctional relatives.

"Well...Uncle; thank you for being there. You should have got a thank you card, but if we missed you, it was inadvertent, and I'm sure we can get that cleared up without any bodily injury."

Too late; he nearly yanked my arm out of socket with his two-handed, sledgehammer-swing, handshake. He grabbed me as the momentum started me toppling over, and lifted me off my feet in a too-tight bearhug.

"I HAVEN'T SEEN YOU IN EIGHT YEARS!" he yelled into my ear. "YOU'RE GETTIN' SO BIG!"

"Thank you," I wheezed back at him, but I don't think he heard me.

He let loose suddenly and, as I crumpled to the pavement, gasping for air, he rushed over to my Dad. "MARK! MY BROTHER! HOW YA DOIN' BROTHER?" Dad saw it coming, and performed a smooth parry-thrust maneuver, tossing his long-lost brother headlong into the side of a mustard-yellow Hummer H2. The H2's passenger door wouldn't open after that, but the impact didn't seem to affect Uncle Matthew's head any.

"DID YA' ALREADY MEET YOUR UNCLE ROY?" Matthew bellowed, as he dusted off his hula-girl-on-a-surfboard print Hawaiian shirt, bent over and pulled up his blue and red striped tube sock, and fastened the Hi-Tec sandal that had come off his left foot. He pointed at the short, closely-cropped guy, still crying over against the side of the Prius. "HE WAS AT YA WEDDIN' TOO!"

"Yep. Met him already," I opined. "Unforgettable experience; trust me."

"My wife didn't come," Matthew interrupted, quieting down to a moderate shout. "She's been pukin' all night. We 'et leftover enchilada's from the taco truck fer supper last night, but I think we shouldn't 'a left 'em out on the counter for more than 'bout three days, 'cuz--dear LORD, they made us sick!"

As we made our way to the funeral home chapel, he continued describing, in great detail, how the enchiladas had affected his bodily functions. "But, there's NO way," he proudly stated, "that I'm gonna miss my own Mother's funeral just 'cuz of some diarrhea. In fact, I ain't gonna lie to ya', it hit me somethin' fierce on the way over here, and I didn't get stopped quick enough, but it's OK, dontcha think? You can't see anything on these dark pants, can ya? And I stopped and threw the undies away in the dumpster at the church right down the way."

We had to wait while Dad ran after Mom, who'd, sometime during his description, made an abrupt U-turn, and made a beeline for the Prius.

I expected there to be soft organ music playing, once we stepped inside, with family and friends sitting in the pews, talking softly to each other, remembering times with Grandma--good and bad. Laughing softly from time to time, weeping quietly and comforting one another. Instead, when we walked in, all eyes were glued to the front of the room where, just to the right of the casket, a scrawny looking man with a scraggly looking beard and disheveled hair was attempting to yank a potted plant from the arms of a teen aged blonde girl.

"My work sent it," the girl sobbed as she tried desperately to hold on the the plant.

"Ya, but she was MY mom," he retorted, "and so I'm gonna put the plant in my apartment. Now give it to--" suddenly his voice broke off. A collective gasp went up across the little chapel. He stood staring toward the floor for a moment, then, as he looked up, his gaze seemed to visibly cloud over, his mouth set, and he hissed at the girl, advancing on her suddenly, "You MADE ME DROP my cigarette; you're gonna pay."

Uncle Matthew leaned over and whispered into my ear: "That's your OTHER uncle, Hicker. He was at your wedding!"

-To Be Continued...

-Disclaimer: This is a work of art, a mere fictional story. Any similarities to individuals, dead or alive, is purely coincidental.