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.

" 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."

" 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.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Toothbrush Marketing

Tonight we went to Target (pronounced, someone told me, "tar-jhay", as opposed to the "tar-git" pronunciation that we uncivilized country folk are accustomed to). We were shopping around for various household items--toiletries (that's what they call toilet paper, right?), laundry detergent, hairspray, etc...

We were standing in the dental care aisle, looking for mouthwash. Do you know that they have mouthwash for kids that dies their left-over mouth gunk some bright color so that they know how terrible a job they're doing brushing? I DIDN'T know that.

Until the other day.

I used some of Lex and Gentrys "Plaque Detecting" mouthwash after brushing, and then headed off to work. I ran (a few moments late) into a fairly important meeting, and rushed to the head of the conference table, distributing my packets of handouts on the way. As I walked past, colleagues broke off conversations mid-sentence, looking up, heads bent, puzzled looks on their faces. I assumed that they were just admiring the positive affect of the OXY Acne Wash that I've been using the past weeks.

Self-confidence soaring, I stepped to the head of the conference table, pulled my handy-dandy laser-light from my pocket protector, and launched into my presentation. Almost immediately a colleague cleared his throat and raised his hand.

"Yes?" I pointed at him.

"Are those braces?" he asked querulously.


"On your teeth; you have hot pink between each of your teeth. What is that?"

I don't use the mouthwash anymore.

But I digress. I was standing there in the dental care aisle, staring aimlessly at the broad selection of Scooby Doo toothbrushes when Lex walked up next to me. She stood quietly beside me for a moment, hands behind her back, and gazed in awe at the cartoon-themed toothbrush selection. Then she cleared her throat.


"Huh? Oh! Hey Lex, what's up?"

"Well," she began, "do you know Hannah Montana?"

I don't actually know her. I know who she IS of course: a tweener female pop-star, whose real name is Miley Cyrus (daughter of that hunky, and oh-so-famous country star--the one who sang the timeless classic, Achy-Breaky Heart; what does that mean anyways?). Her TV show, produced by Disney catapulted her to almost cultish stardom before she was old enough to drive.

"Yes, Lex; I know who she is," I answered.

"Have you ever seen her teeth?" she asked.

"Um...well, I don't know, now that you mention it. Why?"

"They are SO white," she responded, just as I imagine Hannah might have--with that teen aged "OH-MY-GOSH" lilting, valley-girl half screech in her voice. "And you know what?" she continued. "This is the TOOTHBRUSH she uses!"

She held up a toothbrush festooned with Hannah dancing about the handle, and across the plastic packaging. Then she pressed a button on the handle, and Hannah opened (metaphorically) those stark white incisors (and bicuspids, and molars--you get the point), and began belting out, in a tinny, screechy voice, a song telling me (I think) to "place a bet on both horses"...or something.

She didn't get the toothbrush, but only because her mother came around the corner just before I'd fallen completely under the spell. Lex HATES brushing her teeth, but somehow, through the genius of marketing, the folks at the Hannah Montana toothbrush factory convinced her that, if she is to have pearly whites like Hannah, she's going to have to buy the $9.99 Hannah festooned toothbrush, and listen to Hannah sing out her gambling recommendations until the battery dies on the dumb thing.

I didn't have the heart to tell Lex that those are $40,000 veneers.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Career Fakers

I came across a snippet on the web the other evening that made a pretty strong--and shocking--statement about famed Television psychologist, Dr. Phil. The headline called Dr. Phil, who skyrocketed to stardom after landing a recurring gig on TV host Oprah Winfrey's show, a "Career Faker."

Naturally, any self-respecting wannabe journalist HAS to explore a bit when someone famous is called a "faker" of any sort. So I clicked on the link and found that our esteemed Doctor is not even a licenced clinical psychologist! I don't know, for sure, that he TOUTS himself as one, but he certainly allows the misconception to fester.

I mentioned it today, during what turned out to be a relatively heated extended family discussion, and my brother-in-law made a comment that, I think, explains it: Dr. Phil isn't paid to be a doctor; he's paid to be an entertainer. His job is to build ratings; period. His status as a licenced psychologist is far less important than his ability to grab an audience.

So he peddles his unique brand of unlicensed advice, and viewers tune in; all without the benefit of any sort of certification.

I guess that's OK. I can't really think of anything wrong with it, but it just feels wrong. The writers of the story seemed to feel a little betrayed too, in that they included Dr. Phil in with the infamous '80's rock music duo, Milli Vanilli, whom, you might remember, were embarrassed (to say the least) when they found themselves lip syncing to a skipping record while singing at an awards show in 1989. Their producer later admitted that the pair didn't actually sing on their album; it was recorded by someone else. They were renounced and, as I recall, forced to give up their various awards.

Somehow Dr. Phil's lack of credentials doesn't strike me quite as shady as Milli Vanilli's; it doesn't seem to have affected his viewership. But maybe I'm wrong. Does it matter to you? Whether you watch the show or not, does it strike you as a form of betrayal? Does a guy who touts himself as a doctor on TV, but who is a self-admitted entertainer owe it to his viewership to hold the credentials a REAL doctor would hold?

I've posted a poll over to the right; weigh in and let me know what you think.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy First Birthday

July 4. A momentous day.

It's also Independence Day. Which, I guess, makes it an exceptionally momentous day.

Not to diminish the import of the National Holiday (and, by the way, I wish all of you, my loyal readers, a very happy and patriotic 4th of July), but here, in this world, this day is far more notable in that it's the Birthday of MyndFood. That's right: one year ago today I embarked hesitantly on this quest, with great anticipation and no small amount of trepidation. I can still remember the anxious dread I felt on writing that first post.

Days like these are, for me, opportunities to reflect, to examine the progress that I've made in this quest over the past 12 months. And, as is typical, I find that in looking back, I have been foolish and perhaps somewhat arrogant. The steps I've taken, which at their taking seemed so great, and for which, in their taking, I extended a self-congratulatory hand to pat myself on the back, in retrospect, seem almost inconsequential. The great leaps that I THOUGHT I'd made, looking back, were no more than mere baby steps.

Not that I haven't gained some ground, made some progress. I have written, reasonably consistently, for a year--a feat of which I'm immensely proud. I have grown more confident in my writing ability, and have begun to feel secure in my ability to tell a story. I have developed a consistent, and respectable, readership. And I have created a veritable smorgasbord of mental nourishment for you, dear readers, to feast on.

But, then, I look back and see that I've not progressed as far as I should have in writing ability. And I have written consistently, but I still shy away from telling a story. And my readership is consistent and respectable, but not great; I've languished at this number of consistent readers for months.

So, It's Happy Birthday to MyndFood; it's been a good year--not great. But it's an incredible foundation; something to build on over the coming year.

My goals for MyndFood in Year Two:
  • Increase daily readership twofold. I'd really like to be averaging 100 hits daily by the next birthday. I imagine it'll take some advertising; if there's anyone out there with experience in mass email marketing, or who has any other ideas, drop me an email.
  • Post a series of "chapters" for a fictional story, over a number of weeks. It's something that I've flirted with before, but never delivered on (given my fear of storytelling).
  • Publish something. OK; that's not really a MyndFood goal, but it's a personal writing goal, which is really what MyndFood is all about, so I've included it.
It'll be an interesting year; stick with me though, we're going somewhere. And thank you all who've been here consistently over the past year. It means the world!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Pay To Work Programs

Virgil Taylor, a 34 year-old Down's Syndrome sufferer and Special Olympics gold-medalist, has, for 17 years, worked for free in a restaurant associated with the town hall and used by the city councillors in Somerset England, washing dishes and wiping down tables.

Recently, though, Mr. Taylors mother received a letter from the Somerset council informing her that Mr. Taylor would no longer be able to work for free. Instead, he will now have to pay £2.50 for each of the 10 weekly sessions that he works--for a total sum of £25.00 per week.

It's an arrogant, and downright shameful, action on the part of the council--to impose a FEE on Mr. Taylor and the other handicapped folks who work in the restaurant, perhaps BECAUSE they are handicapped. The council attempted to explain their actions by saying that the fee is to "pay for transport and also lunch if care service users spend whole days at session."

Apparently the work program is part of a government care service program, in which handicapped people who might otherwise struggle to find employment, are given work, albeit without compensation. The lack of compensation has never been a problem according to Mr. Taylor's mother. "Virgil does not get paid for his time at the town hall," says Joan, his mother. "But I would never stop him going as it makes him feel useful and he is so proud when he puts his uniform on. He does this for nothing, but he loves it and that is the most important thing."

Now, though, the town council, in their arrogance, have determined that this "service" they provide--offering self-worth to the handicapped--should come at a cost. And the service that Mr. Taylor and the other handicapped employees render (namely the cleaning of tables and dishes) is not sufficient recompense; they now need to pay.

I wonder what the councillors would do if all those who now render these services at no charge were to quit? If Mr. Taylor and his colleagues were to decline the invitation to pay their £25.00 per week, who would clean the councillors tables? My guess is that they'd have to hire replacements--at a cost far greater than a lunch and a bus ride to and from work.

But, then, I shouldn't be surprised. These are, after all, politicians; and politicians, as a breed, aren't widely known for making logical and informed decisions. This, in all truth though, reaches a whole new level of pathetic arrogance. The councillors should be ashamed of themselves.