Friday, November 28, 2014

Failure is strong, but good medicine


I flunked the 9th grade.

True.  I did.  It was the most humbling experience of my life at that point.  It was also the single best life-changing experience in my mental and personal development.  I could go on and explain what led up to my failure, citing moving all over the country which messed up my math skills, but that wouldn’t explain why I bombed 9th grade basic English, now would it?

Failure is good for the soul now and again and I was like every other kid on the block, past and present when it comes to being sensitive at the ripe age of 15.  It seems like we are scared to death that kids these days will be damaged irreparably if they don’t get patted on the back for every little thing they do and that is as much hogwash as some of the bizarre stuff as is presented on Jerry Springer.

I was, and still am in many respects, a go it alone type of learner.  I inherently distrust experts.  I can’t rightly say why this is so, but it has caused me to be the kind of person who will learn a subject in great depth until I have a very good understanding of it and that is putting it mildly.  My dad was the same way and maybe that is the reason I think and seek to learn the way I do.

Over the years, I’ve studied a subject to the point of figurative nausea and then moved on, dropping interest in it almost entirely.  I do not want to fail and the turning point in young life leading to my success was a retired school teacher in Canton, Georgia who taught summer school and the English class I paid for, so  that (horrors) I wouldn’t be held back.

My Mom, who ran our house, informed me that unless I planned on repeating the 9th grade, I would have to pay the $65.00 for 6 weeks of summer school.  I was working after school at the Tastee Freeze in Woodstock, Georgia for about a buck fifty an hour, so $65 was a lot of money.  My choice was simple.  I would work and pay.

My 9th grade English teacher, a Miss Kerr, was about 5 feet tall and I badgered the poor woman with witting remarks the whole school year, goofed off on my home and class work, and basically made life miserable for her with jokes and wisecracks and come final grade time, she dropped me by one point, effectively serving me notice that my shenanigans were just that and nothing more.  One stinking point.  She could have given me that one point and moved me up, but didn’t and I am thankful to this day that she had the courage to flunk me.

Algebra however had me perplexed from day one.  I hated it so much that a mental block developed that my mathematician father couldn’t penetrate.   My hard-working dad could do scientific notation on paper, but I couldn’t grasp simple algebra.  The truth is our moving around the country had disconnected me from math progression and to this day, I wish I would have understood it properly and became an engineer.  I have the right aptitude for it, no doubt.

The “old woman” whose name escapes me, taught our slacker class of about 50, laid down the rules the first day when she passed out a sheet of the 100 books college students were required to read for college entry and informed us we had to read 6 books in 6 weeks and do a report on each – to pass.

It was so quiet in that class; I could have conducted a funeral if I knew how.  6 whole books?   One a week and do a book report?  I can speak for everyone in the class when I say, why didn’t she ask us to bench press 500 pounds or eat a 12 pound hamburger?  We might be able to actually do one or the other, but a book a week?

I’ve met with failure off and on in my life and through perseverance, beat each and every challenge, but only through struggle have I overcome them.  I have a friend who recently had his leg amputated.  When I learned of it, it hurt my soul.  I can’t imagine a trial of this magnitude.  I can only imagine the hardship I would go through if it were me.  However, his life like our own is full of obstacles and his faith and experiences appear to be pulling him through.  He’s my generation of “get over it and move on” and I am proud of him.

We were taught to suck it up and move on and in 1966, I went to summer school and read books for 8 hours a day and at noon on each Friday, I spent the last 4 hours tuning my book report.  At the end of the 6 weeks, I passed with an A+ and have never stopped reading.  In the remaining years of high school I took 3 more years of English and Literature and turned A’s in my classes – and I passed Algebra.

I owe it all to Miss Kerr and the “old nameless teacher”, who had the wisdom to challenge us to read those 6 books.  Oh how many times I have dreamed of letting her know what she did for me.  The bottom line to all of this is simply that failure can be a stepping stone to success.
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Saturday, November 22, 2014

I support President Obama on immigration reform

After watching and listening to President Obama and ruminating on what he says, I agree with him.  This is the McCain/Kennedy package that was ripped apart by partisan politics.  I apologize for criticizing it without really listening.  Keep the good immigrants and boot the bad ones.  The good ones will have to come clean, apply for a green card, pay taxes, and this only applies to illegals who have been in the country more than 5 years. 

I was for this very legislation when John McCain and Ted Kennedy tried to push it through.  The Left screamed that the suggested fines the illegals would have to pay was too harsh, so it was decided to drop the fine and then the Right screamed it was amnesty and the whole bill tanked.  We were left with what we presently have and that is a system that does not work!

All I ask before you bash it, is listen carefully to his logic.  If you can still find fault, then so be it.  I have also written my congressman to show support for this bill.
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Friday, November 21, 2014

What is more fun than people?

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I met a guy in high school who left a very good indelible mark on my life.  I wish I had a long list of people who I could say the same thing about, but very few are like this guy.  What makes him so different is he “got it” as a teenager and it took me about 40 years to begin to “get it”.

I met him in Canton, Georgia back in the mid to late 60’s and still communicate with him, even though he lives in Georgia and I of course, live in Texas.  Alan Dempsey is a preacher’s son and like many preachers kids, he went a bit buck wild only to straighten out later.  However, he was the kindest, most friendly person I had met at that time and still ranks right at the top of my kindest people list.  I was a Yankee in redneck North Georgia and needed a friend and he was there for me.

Alan, despite the fact that he had unruly straw-like shaggy blonde hair and possibly the worst case of acne imaginable, was extremely popular with the young ladies.  I on the other hand, had fairly good hair and relatively few pimples and in the ladies category was as awkward acting as boots on a camel when it came to interaction with the fairer sex.

Alan’s secret was he was genuinely friendly and interested in other people – possibly other female people times 10.  Fat, skinny, homely, socially inept – it did not matter to Alan.  On many occasions I would see him in animated conversation with 3 or more chubby girls no one else bothered with and this was all the time.  Even the upwardly mobile girls liked Alan.  He knew the names of every girl and most the guys in school, but there was a dark side effect to his friendliness.

A lot of guys did not like the competition and thus, Alan was a fist fighter and a danged good one.  In fact the last time I saw Alan in Canton before we moved to St. Louis, he was running toward me and his face and fists were bloody. Of course he had a wide smile on his face and as he passed, he informed me that he had been victorious.  You see, back in the day if you were caught fighting, you got “licks” by Vince, the ex-Marine Vice Principle.

Vince Thompson was about 5-4 inches tall and wielded a 4 foot paddle with holes in it, made in wood shop and especially for him by the very boys he would most likely later paddle.  Vince would 2-hand the flat instrument of correction and lift your bum clean off the ground and this is why fist fights lasted about 3 seconds.  Both sides would throw 2-4 punches and then run.  It was understood that you did not want to get caught.

What is more fun than people?  This is Alan’s big question and one that defines him and the attitude I learn more about every day.  Here is an example and try it to see the results.  Carry one dollar bills in your purse or wallet.  The next time you go through a fast food place at odd hours, give the window person a buck and thank them for being there when everyone else is sleeping.  Watch their face light up.  It’s money well spent and an investment in your fellow human.

Give a buck to your grocery checker or sacker when they look tired, or down.  Tell them thanks and I like to say, “You just made an extra dollar an hour.”  Often, they will cheer up and say, “I sure did!”  When the checker thanks me for shopping, I read their name tag and thank them by name.  When you do this, it transforms them from a faceless servant to a fellow human being.  Dale Carnegie taught me the single most important word in a person’s vocabulary is their first name and when you remember a person’s name, you make an instant connection with them.  Try it.

Alan was drafted and sent to Vietnam as an infantryman and survived.  Later in life he was diagnosed with throat cancer and couldn’t talk for a long time and survived.  Is it possible he is still just as excited about people and life in general?  Yup.  He sure is.

Recently I’ve began making house calls to repair peoples computers and aside from the fact that I actually like to repair computers, I have met some absolutely awesome people.  So much so that I’ve been invited to sit and eat with them, drink coffee, and jaw about who knows what for lengthy amounts of time.  Maybe it’s because I am retired and don’t have to meter out every single minute, or maybe it’s because I have learned what Alan has known since he was a kid.

What is more fun than people?
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Friday, November 14, 2014

Womens. Don’t underestimate em!



I’m now into 5 straight months at the gym named after the clock and yes, I know the word womens is not grammatically correct, but in a sense, it is.  All women are not the same and my reference is in this vein.  Like fishes, women can be quite diverse and well, different, but in the end, they are still very female in nature, with a certain amount of tenacity that confounds men in general.

The older I get, the more I appreciate their persistence and individuality and I can say that and still basically retain my caveman man-card.  A man-card is a delicate thing at best I reluctantly admit.  Women instinctively know this and we buffoons who carry them, blindly believe we have womens buffaloed… well we don’t and they tolerate us with a generous amount of levity and leeway.

I got my man-card nearly revoked this past Tuesday when I sat my ample rear man parts on the skinny seat of a “spinner” exercise bike at the gym.  It was my second encounter with this heinous and ingeniously designed torture device and I foolishly thought “this time” would be easier.  It wasn’t and the reason is the Spinning instructor - a slim woman in every respect (except for her muscular thighs) is a danged-burned sadist.  Yea, I said it.

Now, this last statement is open for interpretation and probably not the consensus of the “weaker sex” in the class, but I’m telling the truth when I say that she yells out commands pretty much like R. Lee Ermey in the movie “Full Metal Jacket” and she does it with a sweet countenance and smile – which doesn’t fool me one durned bit.

“UP!” she screams and in the mirrors, I see all the womens rise up on their pedals and begin to pump with reckless agonizing abandon.  Hey!  I’m good for the first session of “10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-3-2-2-1!” and I plop down on the seat only to realize with emasculating  horror that the “1” is being held for 10 seconds and all the womens are still up and pumping with mindless zombie giggly enjoyment!

The instructor remains sweat-less and in what can only be described as super human estrogen exertion, pumping her muscular thighs like she is on effortless vacation.  I stare at the floor and I see a growing puddle of…water?  Why didn’t they clean this up before I came?  Who left all this salty water here?  It’s a total tapestry of injustice!

“UPPPP!  MORE!  YOU CAN DO IT! (and then the kicker)  I LOVE YOU!”  I love you?  What?  She doesn’t love me.  I don’t feel any love.  Nope; none at all.  Wait.  My fellow peddlers are all grinning.  Yeah, they feel the love.  I don’t.  I don’t get it.  “Why am I here?  Why did I come here today?  Did my Bride do this to me?   Yes, she’s also grinning.  Did she coerce me?  Am I still sane?  What is the meaning of life?  Am I a Democrat?”  So many confusing questions and all I see is the fog of estrogen rolling over me.

My mind is cloudy. I have “gym-brain”.  Gym-brain, that elusive narcotic state of induced endorphins, where a person truly believes they are rational and walk around in the gym like an extra on the Walking Dead TV show… and I keep peddling.  I cannot fail here.  After all, I am in the company of the weaker sex, right?  I need to man-up and I do, but my masculine backside doesn’t leave the seat, even though all the spandex in the room rises to the commands of the instructor.  Certain portions of my anatomy are now so numb I wonder if I am being skewered.

I close my eyes and pedal furiously.  I’ll catch up.  Yea, I am still in the race.  I have an ace in my pocket these womens don’t have.  I have bulging man-muscles and lots of them.  I’ll power past them and they know it and I know it.  Meanwhile the puddle of water is growing below my bike and I suddenly have an ugly epiphany and it’s not a happy one.

It’s not my fault that I am sweating more than everyone else.  It’s hotter over here.  For some stupid reason, the two fans are pointed more towards the womens than me.  If I had the cool wind they have, I could ride in the same easy comfort.  What, my 20 ounces of water is gone from my water bottle?  The danged weak bottle must have sprung a leak and that is why the floor is so wet.  Yes, that’s it and such a simple explanation!  Whew, that’s a relief and I gather comfort from this discovery!

“UPPPPP”!  What tha?  Again?  Doesn’t she realize we live on the Gulf Coast and there are no hills here?  Is she from Idaho or something?  There is a distinct smell of moldy potatoes in the gym.  What about coasting?  How come there is no coasting in this spin class?  I don’t get it.  My gym-brain is swinging all over the pace as I try to convince myself that I am still in the race.  I am, right?

You’re danged right I am and as the instructor tells us we are finished, I look around and smile.  I can do this and the ladies are gracious enough to not point out that I am as wet as a whale, as I mop the “spill” on the floor with my towel.  “I’ll show them next week what a real man can do.”
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Friday, November 07, 2014

The Fickle Finger of Fate


Fate; the predisposition or predetermination of our life, or what some say is inevitability in or on our path.  “It is what it is and you can’t change it Becky.” 

I don’t buy it.  Not completely anyway.  I’m sorry if you do, but I just can’t; just like I don’t believe no matter what I do, I am going to step in that hot blob of grape bubble gum in the Ug-Lee’s Boudin parking lot.  For reasons I won’t bore you with, I simply believe a whole lot of my life is in my own hands.  If I put myself in harm’s way, why would I be surprised it that limb smacks me in the mouth? 

Sure, that fellow in the bright yellow lifted Ford F-250 running a red light is a very real threat, but does that mean I can’t avoid it, or that no matter where I am, I will get t-boned by one of many distracted guys because fate would make me drive to a particular intersection? 

Uh, no.  No. Nope.  However, when I am stopped by a train, or miss my turn-off, I have often thought it might just be the work of the Lord to keep me from harm’s way, so maybe I believe in fate more than I am willing to admit.

There is not a single day goes by that my macabre 6th sense of mortality doesn’t question me if this is THE day.  I blame it on my years of “Do” training - the way of the warrior.  You see, way back when, when I began learning how to defend myself, I began practicing a method to keep myself from harm’s way.  “What?  You didn’t train to stomp the innards out of people?”  That is partially correct, but the truth is the path I chose was one of self-defense and in martial arts, this, to me, is the most honorable.

I won’t please many MMA followers when I say that I view mixed martial arts contests the same way I view cock and pit-bull fights and with the same lack of admiration.  Mixed martial arts have turned martial arts training into a vulgar form of entertainment reminiscent of throwing Christians to the lions or gladiators hacking each other to death.

There is no “Do”; no way of the warrior.  The Do of martial arts is a balance, a Yin-Yang of good and bad.  Fighting and healing.  If you know how to hurt someone, you MUST know how to heal them.  Bruce Lee was and still is the consummate example of martial arts fighting, but there is so much more to the man, than the guy who does a flying side kick in the current commercial.

Bruce Lee was a calligrapher, had a keen knowledge of healing herbs, an expansive library of books…and was a champion ChaCha dancer.  He had balance in his physical and spiritual training and skills everyone envied, but suddenly died by misadventure when he took medicine for a headache.  Was it fate or an accident?  I don’t know and I don’t care.  He lived life to the fullest until something happened to end it.

I want to live like that and I’ll be danged if it is something stupid that I could have avoided ends it all and thus my method of self-preservation.  It’s why I actually stop at a red light before turning right, or look both ways 3 times before entering an intersection.  It may also be the reason I’ve never caused a car wreck.  I don’t rubber neck because I don’t want to wreck.

I was actually the back seat passenger in a car one time where the driver was so caught up in his own story-telling and looking over the back of seat that he hit a kid on a bicycle.  Of the 4 people in the car, I was the only one who saw the kid, who incidentally was bumped off the side of the road along with his bike and rolled to safety.  We stopped of course, after the driver loudly questioned, “What was that?”

“It was a kid on a bike and you just hit him,” I loudly exclaimed and his wife, who was also in the front seat, but not watching the road, began to scream.  “What should I do?” he cried out.  “Turn around and lets go help him,” I commanded.  In the driver’s defense, the kid had suddenly rode out into the lane, but he never saw the kid one way or the other.  Was it fate or just distracted driving?

In today’s relaxed take on everything a whole lot of people blame fate for their own miserable consequences.  Like one guy I know who got his 4th DWI and failed in his effort to buy off the judge (the first 3 times he was successful with $10,000).  His response in front of us was this:  “I don’t have a drinking problem, I am just unlucky.  Everyone else is doing it and I get caught.”  On any given day, his car looked like it had ran the Baja race.

Fate or bad luck or both?  Yea, sure.  I guess I do believe a little bit in fate, but in the meantime, I am going to continue on the path of my Do training to keep my body safe.  Note, this column does not include my spiritual training and that is a whole ‘nother level deserving it’s own 900 words.



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