Thursday, May 25, 2017

We don't know our left from our right.

I got my first real lesson on what being out of step means when I in was in Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base, in San Antonio Texas. It was so obvious, a cave catfish could see it. I had many lessons prior to this, but marching drove home the point and further on, I'll explain.

When I am warming up a spin class I like to say. "Right arm out!' and then demonstrate it. I hold out my left arm and pull it across my chest and take my right hand and place it behind my elbow and stretch my arm. After ten seconds, I say, "Now your other right arm!" and perform the opposite exercise. The reason I do the opposite is I am facing them and I am a mirror image of what I want. The reason I say "the other right arm" is because no matter which arm you tell people, some of them will do the wrong arm.

One of my brothers would always take a turn to the opposite direction when we were driving someplace as a group. Because of this, we learned to point where he should turn, rather than speak "take a right at the next street." The reason for this is he is ambidextrous and right and left made less sense to him than most other people. When we played sandlot baseball, he was always the one that got the right-hand mitt if there was a spare glove and he throws and catches just as well with either hand.

Have you ever stopped and asked for directions and this well-intentioned person is the last individual on earth you should have queried?  "Yea, go down yonder and take three rights, a left after the curve, then two lefts, and blah, blah blah?"  Marco Polo would have become lost after listening to that fellow.

In BMT - Basic Military Training, we marched and marched and then we marched. When everyone was in step, magic took place. We moved as a unit and with each sharp step you heard the heel of one giant combat boot strike the ground with a precision you learned to love. It is music and the view is harmonious, as each head in front of you sways to the left and right until... What in tha?

Your head is going the opposite way of everyone else's? Is this a good thing under these circumstances? I would think not and I understand the various arguments about being your own person and sticking to what you believe is right, but sometimes, walking in agreement is the simple and best answer.

As a country, we have lost sight of this philosophy. Remember the old adage, united we stand, divided we fall? How about a biblical reference of, "... if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand"? We have went so far to the right or left that people are sticking their fingers in their ears and yelling, "La la la la!" rather than trying to find common ground. Geeze, folks, isn't common ground life, liberty, and the right to choose which App you load to your smartphone?
Is there anything we can agree on anymore without fighting, shooting the finger, and yelling the F word? People have become so passionate that they've forgotten that true happiness and peace comes from the simple things like a soft conversation with the one you love, or a sunset, or sitting around a campfire and adding a new log.

As a nation representing freedom, we have become a concern to our neighboring countries who fear we are ripping ourselves apart and I am with them on this. When a person is afraid to publicly admit who they voted for because they think someone will become violent, we have lost something as a nation. Sure, fisticuffs have went on for decades, but then again, you didn't get ran over by a car after they followed you for four miles either.

Lee College's professor Susan Cummings and I have debated social issues and politics for about 15 years and rarely have we agreed on anything, but you know what?  I like the lady and on many other issues we have chatted like old buddies.  Years ago, she made the statement that we have agreed to disagree and it is the truth. I would rush across the street to help her out of a bind if she needed me and this is how things are supposed to work in this country. We as a nation have lost more than we have gained by bickering and trash-talking each other and it is reaching a very destructive point where we will have to decide if we can actually walk in step or divide.

Debating has turned an ugly course where a brick in hand is needed as punctuation. In my mind, Ted Kaczynski was right in so many ways, but his methods were criminal.  Raise the red flag if you feel like something is wrong and pray for change, but don't become violent and destructive as a means to accomplish your goals. "Then join in hand, brave Americans all— By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall!" John Dickinson's "Liberty Song" published 18 July 1768, in the Boston Gazette.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

You ain't seen nothing yet!

I remember when people failed a grade in school they had two options. Go to summer school, or repeat the grade. If they tried out for the cheer-leading squad and didn't make it, they had two options. Try again next year or try something else. If they applied for a job and were denied employment, they either went and took a couple courses to sharpen their skills or they applied for a different job doing something else.

If they attempted to join the Air Force and for some reason were denied entry, they went to the Navy and then the Army and as a last resort, they became Marines (no insult intended or implied). Not everyone will make a good Marine and my hat is off to them for their mission. My point is, they applied around until they got satisfaction.

How many times in a working career do we experience failure to get a position we believe we not only desire, but deserve? When we don't get it, what is our response? Do we become antagonistic and combative or (egads) subversive? Would we rather see the whole business collapse than move forward without us being in the position we felt we should have filled? Do we whine and cry and rally everyone we can persuade to overturn the decision or wreck havoc to show the travesty?

Are we so self assured and righteous to believe that only we can do the job to the point that we would physically strike the other person or wish them and their family harm? Should we hire a attorney to go after them, or a blogger to put into motion a constant barrage of slander against the person who did the interview or better yet, the person who was chosen over us? Would we refuse to accept defeat even though we clearly were not selected, elected, but rejected?

Would we justify our actions by believing everyone got it wrong, but us and those who supported us knowing full well, it would make the company, school, or business less effective because of our well planned public stunts? Would the end justify the means, even if it meant dividing everyone against each other? Would creating a hostile situation satisfy us or be acceptable restitution because we were not selected?

Whatever happened to just accepting the fact that we were not chosen and either go back to the drawing board, or find another occupation?  Why is it, that people who claim to be accepting of almost anything and everything are so outspoken against other things to the point that they turn to violence to get their message across. They claim to be champions of human rights and the first amendment, but they behave in just the opposite manner when arguing their point. They demand to be heard, but scream down anyone who won't agree with them. They proudly crash into assemblies rudely shouting out "My team is better than your team", but pummel anyone wearing a button, hat, or t-shirt with the opposing view stamped on it.

But the greatest weapon they possess is using the misogyny or race card to slander anyone who has the ignorant temerity to disagree with them. This automatically buys them time, as the very implication of this heinous malady makes the person guilty in the eyes of other people like them and for the most part, the Press. Never mind that many people on both sides of the argument do not reach for actual facts; they just follow. What, me read? Why should I read when I can listen to Limbaugh or Pelosi? They will tell me what to think, right?

It's sad, sad, sad days we are living in when people don't have enough moral and ethical history to think for themselves. This is why if you were to pull a random protestor out of any hostile group and have them explain whey there are really protesting, it would be a joke. It would sound like this, "It is history man! I mean, like, look at all the people out here making history!" "What are you specifically protesting against"

"Racism, misogyny, hatred, violence, repealing Obamacare, man!" "Do you have insurance?" "Heck no!  I can't afford it!  Now stand back.  Watch me throw this brick at that racist!"

No, sadly, the day when people backed up, licked their wounds and went quietly into the shadows are gone. They would rather release the dogs of war and rip apart the throat of the nation than let things go a different way than they would have chosen. The liberal and tolerant idealism is a facade that many people sincerely believe is a benevolent philosophy.

The traditional definition was a person open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values. The new definition is one who wants to tear down traditional values and replace it with radical change and do both at any cost.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

There are no sounds of silence

I took a comfortable seat on my patio the other day just about sundown and closed my eyes. It took almost a full minute before I could begin to hear the ambient sounds and shut down my dependence on vision. Most were indistinct because I am used to seeing what makes these sounds. The wind picked up and moved the leaves in the bald cypress, and water oak trees I planted 25 years ago when I moved here. I turned my head and homed in on this sound I usually miss.

I opened my eyes and watched the fresh green foliage caress each and every leaf and wondered if they feel as soft as they look. Off in the distance I recognize the sound of a car revving its powerful motor and I again close my eyes and try and envision the driver, excited about the adrenaline rush they are experiencing. My mind drifts back to 1970 when I came to Texas from St. Louis in a 1968 Shelby Mustang GT350.

At 18, the muscle car had a lot of energy and I pushed the car quite hard a number of times. With eyes closed, I hear this modern car blast down Blue Heron Parkway and wonder if an LEO is running radar at the park. I open my eyes and watch 5 white ibis silently fly over me and they are most likely coming from the pond close by. Lately I've seen a pretty good variety of birds there, including wild ducks.

A distant siren cries out and it sounds like it is on (what I still call) Loop 201. It's most likely going to take the Garth Road exit and closing my eyes, I follow its progress as it goes past North Main. I hope I am never a passenger in one of those and I run a few scenarios through my mind before another sound attracts me.

"Erack erack erak!" The sound is coming from the corner of my house. Its a green tree frog male looking for a mate. I would get up and walk over to find it, but I know its between the gutter and the side of house. Its a beautiful green color and happily undisturbed. Besides, I am comfortable where I am, sitting at the table under the umbrella with my feet up.

A train blows it's mega horn and it drones its deep and lonely announcement of passage.  The German Shepard pup next door imitates its sound and rattles the chain link fence of its enclosure. This sets off my Pomeranian/Papillion mix  and Shi Tzu and they run around the patio screaming in dog language that this is their yard and to stay out. A plane takes off from the Baytown Airport and I open my eyes to watch it. I can't help that I was in the Air Force and want to see every single aircraft that flies over me. I will myself to close my eyes and resume my adventure.

A radio comes on from a few houses down and it's "coun-tree" like they used to play and I wonder if its a CD or maybe better yet, a cassette tape. Shortly after that, I smell meat cooking and there are few smells more welcome than barbecued meat. I sub a class at a gym in Midtown and when I exit that gym usually around 0700, I smell BBQ and donuts and that, my friend, trumps straight BBQ every time. In this case, its almost a sin because the smell is outside a gym. I award myself 10 calories each time I smell it.

Whoa!  The motorcycles these days are incredible machines. I sure hope that fellow can control that missile. Blue Heron's straightaway sure is a tempting quarter mile. I listen and thankfully I do not hear the sound of the bike t-boning a car pulling out of the parking area at the park. I figure it is only a matter of time. The chimney swallows make a hurried pass overhead and I know they are gulping down mosquitoes. Why do the danged blood-sucking insects only attack me and not my bride?

Hank Williams turn into Aerosmith and the pungent odor of cooked meat causes me to open my eyes just as a blue jay lands ten feet away from me and loudly squawks. "I have nothing to give you old friend," I say and it looks at me and launches off like it was shot from a gun.

I wonder what it would be like to have my bride lead me out on the patio early in the morning, say about 0600 and I stay out there with a cover over my eyes until sunset. I bet it would be the experience of a lifetime. I'm reminded that there is a lot more to life than I am currently experiencing and that this simple experiment in vision deprivation, really opened my eyes. I challenge my readers to give it a go.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

What is it that makes you jump?

Phobias, the scary, very real feeling we experience that can be terrifying, right? One definition takes it further: "an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something." We all have one or more whether we will admit it or not.  I know I have one to be sure, maybe two. Seeing a person wildly react to something that doesn't bother us, can be hilarious, I admit.

However, whenever I meet someone who has what many believe to be an irrational fear, I treat it as real, because no matter how bizarre it may appear to me - it is real to them and I try to empathize.

Now before you decide where I'm going with this and you are scared to death of clowns, snakes, and spiders that I plan to dangle in front of you because I'm mean, hang on and let me elaborate. Look at the title of this week's column. What makes you jump? What gets you going? What does it for you when nothing else will? What is your thrill fix?

Scary movies? Death defying stunts? Maximum horsepower with fat under-aired tires smoking rubber on asphalt and you without ear plugs so you can really feel the moment? How about a steaming plate of fajitas and onions that causes your jaws to ache as saliva is released? Maybe it's that beautiful woman you've been married to for (x-amount) of years that really makes your Webley tremble.

You are in control until that 14 point Boone & Crockett whitetail buck steps out into the open and provides you with that once in a lifetime side view shot and you raise your rifle or bow and let one fly! It is quite possible that none of these wonders are what make you jump.  Maybe it's a timely scriptural verse or one of the inspiration parables published each week in the Sun that really gets your shouting shoes tapping.

Jumping is good.  Jumping is what defines us. Every morning I hop out of bed and run to the coffee pot for my first jump. I want that blast of energy from caffeine. It is an amazing drug that enhances my day. My next jump is when I open the Drudge website followed by Google News, and then the Baytown Sun. I want to see what has happened in the world and in my city since I went to bed. It's like a cathartic drug to me.

Sure, irrational fears make us jump and exposing ourselves to them can be both detrimental and beneficial, but why indulge in them when there are so many other good jumps out there? Personally I think people mistake bucket list items as the only viable jump. Experiencing places and things have their place, but if we use them as the standard for a jump, we are setting the mark a bit too high for daily living.  I mean after all, daily living is what we do, right?

Why hobble ourselves with achievements that only come occasionally when we can get all jiggy over life's simple pleasures?  Speaking of simple pleasures, the other day I made a big pot of potato soup with bacon, butter, cheese, onions, and canned milk and then I made a big fat pan of sweet cornbread to go with it.  Holy cow! Boom! I jumped!

Every day of every week we are given the opportunity to make leaps forward. The trick is to seize the moment and not miss it. The other day I was near the VA off Holcombe Avenue exiting 288 and I needed to get in the far left number 1 lane.  I was in lane 3 and came to a halt in the heavy traffic, or I would miss my turn a hundred yards up the road. The fellow behind me didn't understand that I needed to wait and began blowing his horn in what was a very annoying manner. I sat and waited and when the rushing cars finally passed, I moved over and drove unrestricted at least a hundred yards to make my turn. He moved up three whole cars. I jumped and he didn't and I was so proud of myself for being a cool head. It was a victory for me and I loved the feeling I got for not responding.

So, jumping can be everything from responding to irrational fear to keeping a cool head when life throws you a curve and to be honest, all of them are learning experiences. Some are fun and some are not. One last jump I need to cover is the one I get by fulfilling my responsibilities. It is the most satisfying of all of them.

For the past month, I've adopted a new strategy that is possibly driving my bride crazy. Cradle to grave. Anything I can do to completion, I do. I do not procrastinate. A simple example is carrying a coffee cup to the kitchen and placing it on the counter. An hour later, I walk by and put it in the sink. That evening, I put it in the dish washer. Now I walk in and put it in the dish washer. Once again, I made a satisfactory jump and this time, in efficiency. Now, start jumping.

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