Premature Mockulation

So, we all got a good yuk out of the local schools closing today (many of them announcing it yesterday afternoon). Being known for my good-natured jokes about Nashville snow-panic, I had a ball this morning when it turned out there was no snow.

The weather made one final charge in mid-day, spitting out a dusting of snow. To me, it just made the joke funnier.

After about an hour of this, my employer, trying to live up to its reputation as a big, evil, ruthless company, announced that they were closing the office, to keep emplyoees safe if conditions worsened.

As much as I enjoyed the time off, it became even more of a joke to me as I drove home on West End. Nothing – just wet streets.

It was all very amusing…

Until I turned onto my street. You see, I live on Mt Crumpet, sometimes known around these parts as Nine Mile Hill. Suddenly, as I drove around curve after curve, the snow was actually sticking to the streets.

But I made it to my driveway. Most of my driveway is straight up, I’d say pretty much a 60-75 degree angle all the way. And it was covered in snow.

What the?

Regardless, I figured my xB could take it. The key words here being “xB’, “steep hill”, and “snow”.

I made it a quarter of the way, then my wheels started spinning. I stopped. I started sliding back down. The car came to a stop after about 10 feet of this, which is a good thing, because I would have ended up in the football field across the street had intertia had its way.

Well, now, this is embarassing. Luckily, I was able to shovel a path in the drive, just to the left of where my tires had already been (already packed down to ice — what an idiot).

I was able (barely) to get my car up the draveway and into the garage.

By the time Lintilla gets home, it will have all refrozen (along with much of the streets of Nashville). She probably will be a little wiser about it than I.

The lesson? Don’t mock the locals till you’ve checked your own driveway.

Why I Spent Last Night In The Emergency Room

Yesterday, as I rushed to leave work to pick up my kids from school,  a wave of numbness shot down my left side.  Now, for the last month or two I’ve been having these weird bouts of numbness in my left arm, but this was different.  It was if I had stuck a pin into a light socket.  It was a wave, and for the first time in years and years, it was worrisome.

This went on for about 30-45 minutes.  Every time I turned my head, the wave would shoot down my left side.  Now, I’m the type to ignore illnesses, aches & pains – the men in  my family have some kind of allergy to seeing a doctor.  But this was alarming enough that I called Lintilla, who was sufficiently alarmed to call the doctor, who was sufficiently alarmed to tell me to go to the emergency room.

Wonderful.

On Dancing With The Stars finale night, no less.

I can tell you, the staff at Centennial Medical Center was first rate.  I was triaged right away, and before I knew it, I was in a room in the ER.  They hooked me up to all the beepy stuff, and before long a very personable doctor came in and checked me out.

Folks – from that point on, it was like I was a teenager again.  Even though I told them about the effects I’ve always lived with from being a DES baby, apparently seeing my spine is believing.  They did the CT scan (which was COOL!), and later, the doctor came to talk to me in a tone I had heard 30 years earlier, the first time someone had looked at my spine.

Radiologists and doctors just get excited about my spine.  I’ve come to accept that.  I’ve heard the words “interesting”, “unusual”, “funny”, and now “weird” describing my neck and spine.  The doctor last night said that the radiologist wrote a book in his report.

Apparently, I have a bunch of “C” and “T” vertebrae fused together.  We don’t know about the “L” because they didn’t scan that far down.   But apparently, this problem I’ve lived with my entire life has manifested itself in something called “stenosis” (sp?), basically a crowding out of the spinal cord.  Yipee. 

The doc did remind me what I already knew – because there is no wiggle room in my spine, a good neck whip will probably do me in.  SO no skydiving, skiing, or horseback riding.  There goes my career in NASCAR.  I wonder if this means I can get out of roadie work for the band?  😉  I should probably take advantage.

I’ve always known that a good auto accident will probably kill me where it would only injure others, but the Lord has seen to it that I have been in not a single accident since I started driving (before many of you were born).  I guess He wanted me to hang around to annoy all you good people.  Having jinxed myself now, expect to be reading my obituary soon from a fender-bender on the way home.  🙂

Funny – this past Sunday, I got excited at rehearsal and started banging my head (I’ve also let my hair grow out).  That PROBABLY contributed to my stenosis, so I need to quit doing that 😦 

Of course, they referered me to a neurologist.  Just like when I was a teenager.  Been there, done that.  They’ll tell me there’s nothing they can do, and I’ll just have to live with it.  But not until after they’ve had a big medical staff party, popped popcorn, and gathered everyone around to look at my highly amusing CT scans. 

It’s tough being a celebrity.

Anyway, I know some of you were worried (I made a point of calling my Mom, because the last time I posted something medical about myself on Facebook, she freaked out).  I can say that nothing is wrong with me that wasn’t already wrong with me, except that the condition has now decided to be a real pain in the neck.

In Which I Play The Contrarian

I usually stay out of the business of being a contrarian, there are people I respect  who are far better than I at it.  Nevertheless, there have been examples lately where it seems like the whole world thinks one way, and I just can’t bring myself to feel the same.  I almost never have had a thought I didn’t rush to post on this blog, so here goes.

The first example is pretty innocuous, I suppose.  This past Saturday, the family and I needed to make a grocery run, so we decided to see what all the hubub was about and went to Trader Joe’s.  I don’t need to tell you how much people rave about this place.  I hear it at work, at church, on the blogs.  “The place is incredible!”, I have been told time and again.

Well, let’s just say, I don’t get it.

First of all, the place was so small in comaparison to say, Kroger, that it’s hard to call it a grocery store.  I understand, it’s built for urban hipster wannabees, not big suburban families.  Even the carts are tiny.  I’m feeding two quasi teenagers and a couple of plus-sized adults.  Those carts are big enough to hold, well, lunch.  The largest unit of ground beef was 1 pound.

There were only store brands, which I expected, but that fact left me totally disoriented.  Which “crunchy puffs” or “organic wheat squares” is the equivalent of Life Cereal?  I was faced with performing a translation with every item I wanted to buy.  (Keep in mind, I’m a born-and-raised southerner.  Soft drinks, no matter what flavor, are “Cokes”.  Tissues are “Kleenexes”, no matter the brand).

Regardless, the place just left me frustrated and disoriented.  Give me my big box.  I want to feed my family and save money.  That’s all.

Maybe y’all can fill me in about what’s so great about Trader Joe’s.  I just don’t get it.

OK, now for the one that will cause every person that is reading this to feel an overwhelming urge to have me committed.  There is something that EVERYONE says, Democrat, Republican, left right, political junkie, political neophytes.  It is more than conventional wisdom that our president, Barack Obama, is a great orator.

I do not agree.

I just don’t think that Mr Obama is a great orator.  A great speaker, yes.  But not a great orator.  I’m afraid we’re living in a generation that has no frame of reference for great oratory, so we give the prize to anyone who is a good speech-giver.  Great oratory, in my opinion, is a specific thing.

Now, keep in mind, this is like giving one’s opinion of a particular piece of music.  Much of it is taste.  My criteria may not be yours, and that’s OK.  You can tell my why my criteria is wrong, if you know better.  Keep in mind also that my idea of great oratory is heavily influenced by my upbringing:  I am southern and religious.  So, of course, that will color my idea of just what great oratory is.

Above all, great oratory is very musical.  It must have a certain cadence. Mr Obama has a cadence, but I noticed in his quasi SOTUspeech, he rushes it, and he never variates the tempo.  Great oratory also makes use of the well-timed pause.  It also uses volume to great effect.  Mr Obama knows how to raise his voice during applause lines, but really great oratory requires the voice to soften at particularly poignant times.  The best can even add a touch of frailty to the voice at these moments. 

Mr Obama, like Celine Dion, doesn’t seem to know how to get extra quiet for effect.

To be honest, Obama’s speaking style is that of a professor.  A very good professor, one whose lectures you never want to miss.  But, I think this is one of the places where he falls short of great oratory.

You see, like any good professor, he stands before the room, and speaks toeveryone there.  There is another level,one that only the great orators have mastered.  A great orator will start in the same position, standing in front of the listener and speaking to him.  However, sometime in the first third of the speech, he will figuratively approach the listener, pivot, and stand beside him.  This is usually done through humor (self-deprecating is best), which from Mr Obama always sounds forced.

Once “beside” the listener, the best orator can then place his arm around the listener, and through his speech say,”Come, walk with me on this journey”. This is usually accomplished by personal anectdote leading to the first point in the meat of the speech. 

The great orator always has the listener (each and every one, individually) walking on a journey with him.

Mr Obama never takes us with him.  He stands before us and gives a lecture.  Once again, this is a great style, and he’s wonderful at it, but this is not great oratory.

Key elements are missing: pauses, variable cadence, appropriate and dramatic volumes, ample humor in the first and last thirds of the speech, and a certain warmth which, to be quite honest, Obama does not project at all.

Another great oratorical method (that I’ve used quite a bit), is leaving a stealth grenade.  In the first third of the speech, one leaves an idea, almost in passing, usually through anecdote.  It is then forgotten until the very end of the speech where it in reintroduced in new, profound ways, causing the listener to feel a sweet joy at discovering a Truth from the other side.  It’s hard to explain, you have to see it in practice.

For the record, very few political speakers in the modern era have all of these skills.  Bill Clinton had them, but he didn’t know when to shut up, and usually lost the listener by the time he got to the 6th point of his ten-point plan.  Reagan had bits and pieces, but I never heard a speech from him with all of the needed elements (let’s face it, Reagan didn’t do cadence).  JFK , in the speeches I’ve seen, was a great orator.  He had all the elements.

I know you’re curious, so I’ll tell you:  the best orators I ever heard were Martin Luther King, Jr, and Billy Graham. Yeah, I know…southern preachers. 

Like I said, you might have different criteria for what great oratory is.  I’ve told you mine, and president Obama does not quite measure up.  This is not to say he isn’t a great speaker.  But great oratory, like I said, is a specific thing.

Dear Lord, I’ve Gone Insane

After 3 years straight of having the TV show on in my house for multiple hours a day, thanks to having a tween girl in the house combined with Disney Channel’s excellent demographic targeting skills, I can’t believe I’m going to say this…

I actually am looking forward to seeing this movie.

Not with my daughter.  She’s pretty much outgrown Hannah Montana.  No, I want to see this for me.

After all those years of having the show on as background noise in the house, somehow I learned to care about these characters.  Weird.

I can tell myself it’s because they filmed it in Tennessee, or because an Ugly Betty star (Vanessa Williams) is in the movie.

But no, it’s weirder than that.  I, 44 year old man, truly want to know if Miley is going to drop her Hannah persona.  (Probably so.  This movie is probably a good way for Cyrus to part with Disney amicably).  I don’t know why I care, but I do. 

Darn you, Disney!

Lots Of Random Thoughts

Here are some random thoughts for your Thursday.

Things around my house are slowly getting around to normal.  For those of you who know me personally, sorry I went off the deep end lately.  I need to remember the number one rule of swimming: if you are drowning, stop flailing.

In my house, Jesus Christ is savior.  He does however, have a new assistant: Effexor.  Hopefully, my insurance will pay for it (right now, they are balking).

Lintilla is officially back to her job today.  This is her first day doing actual patient care, after 3 months of being away from it.  She promised me she’d take it easy.

Jesus’ other assistant is snow.  My kids were so excited to be out of school yesterday, they got along the entire day.

Lost in my own drama is the incredible story of my friend Mark Mills.  If you haven’t yet, go to Ginger’s site and read it.  When it comes to prayer, God may not be an ATM, maybe we can’t name it and claim it, but sometimes, I think, He uses prayer (and answers them) to remind us of His awesome power, if we will only bend our knees to Him.

You may not like Michael Medved, but this post is very wise.

Note to Tennessee liberals: YOU are supposed to be the “intelligent” ones.  Why do you allow your “lessors” to play you like a cheap violinevery presidential election cycle?  Lots and lots of people who didn’t know Obama’s middle name do now, because of your very vocal outrage.  It doesn’t matter if you are “right”, and that this is a dirty trick.  You guys better get out in front of the “Obama is in league with or will be soft on Islamists” meme, or you will lose.  I don’t care how outraged you are.

Update – Read this article  for context.

My ambition overcame my phobia last week.  I actually picked up the phone, dialed a number, and after a few days of phone tag, talked with a producer at NPR about an Ugly Betty story they are doing.  (No, they aren’t featuring ME, although they should – my task is to find fans in the LA area for them to interview).  It was during this conversation that I realised I have an “NPR” voice.  I don’t use it very often, but it’s funny how I have many different “voices” I can pull out like tools from a toolbox.

Can’t the Preds play defense anymore?

Finally…

I find it weird that our sexual attractions age with us.  Yesterday, while watching some commercial for this or that wonder-drug, one of the smiling faces was a partially white haired, fifty-something woman.  And it shocked me when the thought popped into my head:  “She’s pretty hot!”  Later, the news did a story on the MTSU poll, and it showed the students conducting the poll. 

Now, in my world, “college girls” and “girls who are pleasing to look at” were synonymous.  But yesterday, I looked at the young ladies and saw little girls.  To be attracted to them would make me feel like a dirty old man.  What the heck is happening to my brain?

That’s all I’ve got right now.

Learning To Love Annie

Being insane, I may be the only parent in the world who does this, but I doubt it.  Since my children have been little, say,  preschool age, I have watched them with their opposite-sex classmates, and play matchmaking games in my head.  I look at little Bobby, and try to picture him as Trillian’s husband one day.  Or little Susie, imagining a sweet courtship with Zaphod.

I have my favorites, always have.  There is one girl at church, we’ll call her Alexis, who is the most well-behaved, intelligent little girl I’ve ever seen.  And, when I’m in one of my insane moods, I’ll picture the grown-up version of Alexis joining our family.  It gives me the warm fuzzies.

But I know love, and I know young men and women.  My compulsive, must-be-organized, order-needing son will one day find the love of his life in a free spirit.  It’s just how things are. 

My matrimonial dreams for my progeny are shattered, because in order to play this mind game with myself, I have to think of the kids at hand.  And there’s only one female free spirit I can think of within my kids’ circle of friends.

And, I don’t like her very much.

Even though she annoys me greatly, Zaphod hates her with the kind of passion that’s usually reserved for the Yankees.  Let me explain how much Zaphod and Annie hate one another.  Annie is Trillian’s best friend from school, and whenever she calls the house, she’ll ask to speak to Zaphod, just so she can yell “I hate you!” and hang up the phone.  My son is always plotting a scheme to “get” her on the playground or in the hallway.  One of his passwords is “IHateAnnie” .  He spares no opportunity to tell me how horrible she is, and how much he hates her.

And most discerning adults know this is 10 year old flirting.

So, I have this picture in my head that one day, when the hormones are right, Zaphod will fall for her.  This scares me to death.  I’d much rather him go for the well-behaved church girl Alexis, who would help him keep a Martha Stewart, picture-perfect home.  But I know that when the time comes, he will fall for a girl more like Annie. 

And she is quite a handful, without any hormones interjected into the situation.  I’ve been playing this mental exercise in my head, just so I’ll be ready when Zaphod brings home – if not Annie – some other tattoed and pierced, conventions-breaking girl.  I’ve been trying to learn to love Annie.

She gets on my nerves to no end, so it is taking a lot of practice.  We are good friends with her parents, so we see a lot of each other.  I try to slow her down long enough to talk to her, to see what makes her tick.  I’m the free-spirit in our family, so I’m not starting from scratch.  And, with all the talk about love being a choice and an active verb, I am trying my best to learn to love Annie.  All I can say is, thank God I’ve got 10 or more years to work on this.

Now, I know that Zaphod will not one day marry Annie, specifically, but I have no doubt it will be a girl of her type.  So, if I could learn to love a crazy, never-stop, damn the rules girl now, maybe I could be more welcoming when the real time comes.

This end the ride through my very strange thought processes.  Please stay inside the cars until they come to a complete stop.

Told you I’m  insane.

Technology And Getting Older

The way things are configured into my house right now, my laptop is right next to Trillian’s AeroGarden she got for Christmas.  I gotta tell ya, I was skeptical at first – I figured this might be a ripoff on a level just short of sea monkeys.  Aeroroponics?  It just didn’t sound right.

I should have known better, having been to The Land at Disney World – this is the exact same technology, on a smaller scale.  It’s not a cheap little device.  Looking at the sprouts already coming up, it’s quite a decent machine.  The lights are bright, brighter than the normal lights in the room!  They stay on for 16 hours, then let the plants rest for 8.  We are growing herbs in it right now – once they are ready for harvesting, we can harvest for 4 to 6 months!  Trillian’s already told me she’s going to charge me 5 cents for every sprig.

Which reminds me: many folks, even the most surprising people, keep saying we could make a lot of money growing and harvesting something else.  Shame, shame.  🙂

Considering the trouble it takes to grow herbs in TN, I would highly suggest one for Aunt B.  Here’s a photo of the thing.
DSC_0147

Where was I?   Oh, yeah, my laptop is next to it.

The Aerogarden makes me want to go pee.  Talk about drip,drip,drip… It constantly cycles water through (this IS areo/hydroponics).  Here it sits next to me, mocking me, saying, “How long can you hold it, boy?  You think you could type one more line?  You know you have to go…”

OK, I’m back.  Whew.

Anyway, I know I’m getting older, because I’ve decided that next year I want one of those weather stations the old men have.  I have an overwhelming desire to know what the temperature and humidity is right outside my house.  What I REALLY want, I don’t think they make yet, at least for consumers.  I’d like a set of instruments that wirelessly connects to your home network, so you can just view all the readings on your computer.

Before you have to go pee, that is.

 Anyway, there was a beautiful fog rising in the valley this morning.

Sunrise Fog

Would Jesus Be An Enabler?

Josh Tinley wrote a great post.  So great, I tried to write a comment, and ended up with something so long I felt it would best be its own post.  You see, we’ve been talking a lot at MCB and other places about extending Christian mercy to those who are suffering, even those who are in the situations they are in due to unwise decisions.  I think the conversation is specifically about certain elements of the homeless population.

We have actually discussed this in Sunday School before, without coming to any kind of consensus:

As followers of Christ, what do we do when we suspect someone receiving our aid is gaming the system, or at the very least, taking advantage?  I know what common sense says, but what does Christ say?  Are we supposed to care if we strongly suspect we are, basically, giving a drunk a drink?  Do we even give any consideration to the thought that we’re possibly doing more harm than good, that we’re enabling a person in a way that will keep them in misery, instead of getting them out of it?

I ask, because I struggle with this.

I have no problem extending mercy to even to criminals who have committed what could be awful crimes; I’ve prayed with such men many times before, and made many friends behind prison walls.  Same goes for just about any situation a person gets himself into.  There but for the grace of God go I.

Yet, I have this blind spot about people who I know, or very strongly suspect, COULD work, but do not. 

The backdrop to this is that I come from pretty humble beginnings.  Everything I say has the backdrop behind it of where I come from, where I am now, and the concepts that got me from there to here.

My father never really preached religion to his three sons; he just sent us to church and let us get our religion by osmosis.  But, he preached nonetheless.

The only thing my blue collar father ever preached about, what he did drill into me was sermon after sermon on the value of work.  He would preach, “If you don’t have a job, and aren’t spending every waking moment looking for a job, you have shamed your name.”  Well, he didn’t say it like THAT, but I got the meaning loud and clear.

He believed that if you have a condition that keeps you from working, do everything possible to alleviate that condition – make it your number one priority – so you can WORK.  The work is the most important thing a man can do. Not the getting paid part – working itself.   Always work, and if you can’t, make a job of looking for work.

He taught me not to turn turn my nose up at ANY job, whether I found it beneath me or not, whether it could support me or not – the act of working was more important than the pay.  He taught me that taking a menial job, and outworking everyone, is the way to having a job that DOES support you and your family.  Other rules include never being late, that sick time is NOT “Not Feeling Well” time, that volunteering for the hardest tasks will get you ahead.  No matter what you do, be the best there is at that job, outwork EVERYONE, and prosperity will follow.  Approach the world of work with the attitude that you have something to prove, because you do. 

And my life has taught me that he was right.

I always have this voice in the back of my head telling me that a well spoken person in an area with 4% unemployment should be working.  He just should, period.   I can see my dad, shaking his head. And I just can’t shake that voice.

So, I have to square this teaching with my Christian beliefs. 

And, let me tell you, it’s hard.  Paul had some things to say about the slothful, and Jesus used them as a “bad example”, but we are not told if Jesus was ever taken advantage of, and if so, what he did about it.  Something tells me that he would have helped.  His prodigal son parable makes me think that; although I wonder: the son had given up “riotous living” – Jesus never makes it clear that the father did not go to the faraway country and help the son financially while he was still living in a way that would just mean his help was wasted.  So, I don’t know.

I am torn.  You can’t just throw away 20 years of paternal teaching – it kind of gets under your skin.  And it has served me well.  So, sometimes, I guess, this Christian has what appears to be an unmerciful attitude.  I’m not proud of it – but now you know why.

I guess all I can do is pray about it.

Me=Idiot

This post will self-destruct in 1 day.  I can’t chance Lintilla seeing it, but I need your help.  I finally put my expensive SLR camera to good use and took some really neat portraits of the kids, made them black and white to give them that “arsty” feel, and had them blown up.

Of course, I blew them up to a size nobody has a frame for.  Michael’s can make them, but obviously not before Christmas.

Anybody know a place that sells matted frames for 12×18 photos? Anybody that has a lot of stuff in stock?

Or, did I blow it?

It’s As Real As It Is Bizarre

Here’s how you know your conflict-averse personality has drifted into unhealthy territory:

If I am listening to the radio, say, sports talk, and the conversation turns even the slightest bit argumentative, I have an overwhelming impulse to turn the radio off.  Not just change the channel, turn the radio totally off.  As if my soul would be sullied by hearing sound waves from the same speakers that were emitting even the most modest strife moments before. 

The more I think about it, the more I have to admit that this probably isn’t normal.

The sad thing is, there are people who sense this aversion to conflict in me and take advantage.  The peacemakers may be blessed, but they also have to pay more at the auto repair shop.