Some Damned Foolish Thing in the Balkans

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Gavrilo Princip, the man who lit the fuse.

Gavrilo Princip, the man who lit the fuse.

“Europe today is a powder keg and the leaders are like men smoking in an arsenal … A single spark will set off an explosion that will consume us all … I cannot tell you when that explosion will occur, but I can tell you where … Some damned foolish thing in the Balkans will set it off.”
German Chancellor Otto von Bismark, Congress of Berlin, 1878

One hundred years ago this week, the explosion the Iron Chancellor predicted occurred, right where he said it would, in the Balkans. The young anarchist Gavrilo Princip had assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand a month earlier in Sarajevo and thirty days of frantic diplomatic activity had come to nothing. On July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on its tiny neighbor Serbia. From there, the decades old web of interlocking treaties of “mutual defense” and “promises to defend” ensured matters could only progress one way — war — the bloodiest, costliest, most destructive war mankind had yet known. World War II gets most of the press nowadays, but its safe to say World War I changed civilization in a much more fundamental way. It destroyed the old orders and old traditions in a storm of blood and fire; what emerged would be barely recognizable to men of just a generation before.

The last time all the major European powers gathered to make war, the young Corsican corporal cum Emperor of France was the opponent and ever since Bonaparte’s defeat at Waterloo a century before, only minor skirmishes, fights for territory, and border conflicts flared up. The Great War was altogether different. It would be unlike any previous conflict both in its scope and its misery. After a brief period of lightning fast battles, the war turned into a stalemate and a new word entered the popular lexicon — trench warfare.

“The trenches” are the iconic image of World War I, but the grainy black and white photos of the battlefields cannot truly portray the hideousness of the conditions. For one thing, one cannot smell a photo. Accounts of the men who fought and died in the trenches make constant mention of the stench pervading the battlefields. Bodies lay strewn across No-Man’s Land for months or even years. Often those who died in the trenches would be entombed in the trench walls. Pictures that get much less exposure in the centennial celebrations show trench walls studded with hands, arms, and legs all poking out from the walls of mud. Men dug holes in the trench walls, shoved their comrades into the open earth and walled them up again. It was gruesome and ghoulish and eminently pragmatic. The corpses rotting under the Flanders sky point to the primary point which made World War I so revolutionary — dealing death had become industrialized. trenches

Over the course of  military history from the earliest battles with sticks all the way up to the Great War, weaponry had changed slowly, but tactics were basically the same. In Alexander the Great’s time, a bunch of men with long spears lined up shoulder to shoulder and charged another bunch of men with similar spears. Under Roman rule, the gladius and the pilum carved out an empire, but the basic military mindset remained the same — two armies lined up with similar weapons and tried to kill each other. At Agincourt, the English longbow replaced the javelin but the two lines of combatants still converged to the final slaughter. Even gunpowder hadn’t really changed things so much. Instead of lining up with spears, men lined up by rank and column with horribly accurate muskets and closed with the enemy amidst fire and smoke. Massed infantry charged massed infantry and whoever broke ranks first would be wiped out by the cavalry waiting in the rear.

Hiram Maxim changed all that around 1885 when he took the advice of a dinner companion who told him, “If you want to make a pile of money, invent something that will enable these Europeans to cut each others’ throats with greater facility.” Maxim did indeed make a pile of money and the invention which was the cornerstone of his fortune made an even bigger pile of bodies. Hiram Maxim invented and perfected the first portable and fully automatic machine gun. Along about the same time, Alfred Nobel perfected dynamite and TNT which enabled artillery to destroy larger targets at longer ranges than black powder cannoneers could have dreamed.

"Whatever happens we have got / the Maxim gun and they have not"  But, alas, they did.

“Whatever happens we have got / the Maxim gun and they have not”
But, alas, by now, they did.

Unfortunately, no one bother to explain to the generals in charge of this new warfare that times had changed. As a result, they used the same tactics on the Western Front that had defeated Napoleon. Massed groups of men with bayonets fixed to their rifles sprinted across fields towards the enemy, but this time, the enemy wasn’t running towards them in response. Instead of spears or muskets, the masses of infantry met the Maxim gun. A famous simile from the time said “men were scythed down like corn and wheat” by the hail of bullets which were deadly — not at the 100 yard range of the musket — at 1000 yards. Before long, sensible men began to dig trenches to avoid the machine gun fire. Still, the generals were an unimaginative group and slow to learn so every so often great clouds of men — Allied or German — would be rousted from the relative safety of their rat infested and waterlogged trenches to run screaming across No Man’s Land at the machine guns of the other side. Most of them would add their bodies to the great masses of corpses rotting on Flander’s Field. This madness went on and on with generals on both sides sacrificing the lives of an entire generation of their nations’ young men for gains which were measured — literally — in feet or sometimes yards.

As time went on, however, men began to devise ways to break this awful stalemate situation and those who thought the machine gun and the Bertha gun were the worst weapons man could dream up realized they were only glimpsing the tip of what was to come. As bad as it was, things were going to get exponentially worse.

I’m going to write more on World War I events over the next few months so if you like history, watch out for those posts. It won’t be all I talk about, but I believe World War I really was the most pivotal moment in history since the birth and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It created wounds on our collective souls that have not healed to this day and likely never will.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

 

Life According to Statistical Probability

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flippingCoinChanging therapists resembles remarrying after a divorce or a spouse’s death. You lose someone who knows the most intimate details of the inside of your head, where all your buttons are to push, and the roots of all your issues lie and must start over from “Hi, I’m . . . .” with a complete stranger. It’s difficult at best and psychosis inducing at worst, which — come to think of it — really does make the marriage analogy apropos.

Early last year, my beloved therapist survived a hideous drawn out divorce from a man so thoroughly odious, so far beyond fecal-esque that monkeys wouldn’t fling him in a poo fight; as the dust settled, she got a butterfly tattoo over her heart, bought a little red Mazda Miata, sold “the scene of the crimes against humanity,” and relocated to a cute beachfront bungalow and a home office in the lower latitudes to start her life over. I completely understood, but was still devastated emotionally and not a little terrified because I was without her for the first time in seven years.

I have been most fortunate, however, to end up with an equally sage and compassionate — if not quite so flamboyant — new counselor. He helped me through the early days after my life’s greatest tragedy to date — Mama’s death — with coping techniques, good advice, and empathy. For the last fourteen months, I’ve managed to forge a bond with him similar to and maybe even more helpful than the one my last therapist and I enjoyed. In today’s session, he put a finger on the root of my core issue and the ramifications have kept me ruminating on his illustration ever since I left his office .

It started with our discussion of patterns.

We were talking about how our minds — in striving for maximum efficiency — seem hardwired to look for patterns in everything around us. It’s why we can read passages containing strings of words with jumbled or missing letters without much trouble. Whenever our minds encounter new data, we immediately see if we can fit it into something we have experienced before so we can make an informed and efficient decision on a course of action. Unfortunately, this automatic pattern-seeking has a dark side and, sadly, the same mechanisms our brains use to maximize efficiency in most things can also derail us emotionally.

For example, you know if you have a fair coin like the ones referees use before the Super Bowl or World Cup matches, the odds of it landing on heads is 50/50. That is a mathematical, statistical fact. Now, if you flip that same coin nine times and it lands on tails every single time, what are the odds of it landing on heads the tenth time you flip it? Well, it’s still 50/50. Flip the coin 999 times; even if it comes up tails every time, the odds on that 1000th flip? STILL 50/50. Take the example as far as you like. Go off into the millions of flips, but no matter how many times in a row that coin inexplicably lands on tails , the odds of the next flip will always be 50/50.

The implications for how we view situations in life are profound in some ways because the entire time we’re flipping that coin, the rational “us” knows the chances are 50/50 every time, BUT if we hit a string of tails or heads the pattern-seeking function in our brains starts to falsify documentation with some sort of interior monologue:

Pattern Brain says, “It’s been tails seventeen times in a row!”

Rational Brain says, “Right, but it’s a fair coin. The odds have to be 50/50″

“You’re an idiot!”

“Why am I an idiot? It’s MATHEMATICAL and even though you hate math, it still doesn’t lie.”

“You’re still an idiot! Can’t you see the freaking OBVIOUS pattern? It’s stuck on tails! OBVIOUSLY this coin is different from every other coin. It’s going to land on tails next time as well.”

“What logical reason can you give me for a fair coin defying the mathematical axioms of the universe and NOT having 50/50 odds? I know it looks like a pattern, but it’s not!”

“Piss on your logic, piss on your axioms, piss on you, AND piss on the freaking HORSE Y’ALL RODE IN ON! IT’S A PATTERN!!!”

“Look, Patty –“

“DON’T! Don’t you get that smarmy, condescending tone with ME! I KNOW WHAT I SEE!”

“Okay, take it easy. Listen, I know how it looks, I really do. We are seeing through the same eyes, you know? Big Dude’s only got the one set. I realize it LOOKS like a pattern has developed, but you HAVE to let go of the past flips. Each flip is a brand new event and no matter how the past flips turned out, there’s STILL the same 50/50 shot this time it’ll land on heads . . . let’s watch, Big Dude’s about to do the 18th flip.”

The coin leaves his hand. It flips over and over in the air, lands on the table, and rattles around. He smacks his hand down to stop it, slowly moves his hand away, and reveals the coin has landed on . . . tails . . . again.

“I TOLD YOU, YOU FREAKING MORON! IT’S RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF YOU.”

“But . . .”

“SHUT UP! Stop telling me to ‘ignore the pattern’ or ‘ignore the past events.’ It happened that way. It’s a pattern. IT’S ALWAYS GOING TO BE LIKE THIS.”

That’s life in a nutshell. We do something and fail miserably. Our pattern seeking brains log that data. The next time a similar situation comes up, even though the setting and players may be totally different, we stand predisposed — some more so than others — to believe we’re going to fail because “we ALWAYS fail when we do ____!” The most serious consequence is if we do enough things and have enough experiences to log a LOT of pain, blues, and failures, our brain starts to remove the “_____” and we run the danger of telling ourselves simply “we ALWAYS fail.”

THAT is the point I’ve lived at for over seven years. I’ve always struggled with “living in the past,” but somewhere around the time Papa John died, the pattern-seeking part of my brain went into overdrive and discerned an obvious pattern of failure, pain, and rejection. Even though the circumstances were unique almost every time, I’ve processed a lot of accurate data but drawn false conclusions from it. As a result, I’ve become deeply emotionally crippled. I just can’t seem to get my life into gear because my mind is screaming at me to not do anything else that’s going to HURT.

So, that’s where my journey’s brought me . . . now the question is “Where do I go from here?” At the moment, my honest answer is, “Damned if I know.” Love y’all and keep those feet clean!

 

 

My July 4th Memory – “The Rick Camp” Game

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My Rick Camp 1978 Topps baseball card.

My Rick Camp 1978 Topps baseball card.

Independence Day isn’t grilling burgers or franks, shooting off loads of fireworks, or fun in the Sun on the water; it’s baseball. One game in particular recalls everything which makes baseball the greatest of games — a game where anything can happen on any given pitch and any player from any position can change the history of the game. I watched my game of all Independence Day games with my beloved Papa Wham on Thursday to Friday, July 4 – 5, 1985.

That night, the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets sent their aces — Dwight Gooden for the Mets, Rick Mahler for the Braves — to the mound. Instead of the advertised pitcher’s duel, they were both chased by the fourth inning. Fifteen MORE innings, THREE long rain delays, and a BUNCH of pitchers later, the game would become known in baseball lore as “The Rick Camp” Game.

By the time the final rain delay was over, the game was in the bottom of the 8th with the Braves losing 7-4, which was pretty typical for the 1980s Braves. Finally, however, the Braves’ bats came alive; they scored four times to take an 8-7 lead.

Then things started to get weird.

The Mets tied the game up in the top of the ninth by rocking famous Braves closer Gene Garber for a run. The home team failed to push anyone across in the bottom half of the frame and the free baseball began. It looked like things would be decided in “typical” extra innings when the Mets scored twice in the top of the 13th, but the Braves managed to knot the game up again when Terry Harper jacked a two run homer. Harper came to the plate TEN times in the game and managed five hits. That’s something not many baseball players can boast about.

The game went back to deadlock for the next five innings and then the Braves ran out of position players as pinch hitters. With nobody left on the bench to hit for him, and behind by a run, the Braves sent right-handed PITCHER Rick Camp, a lifetime .060 hitter, to the plate. With Camp behind in the count 0-2 — just as pitchers are supposed to be — Mets reliever Tom Gorman grooved a fastball “right down Peachtree Street” and Rick Camp sent it over the left field fence and into baseball history, tying the game.

What most people, including me, tend to forget after such a huge event is the Braves ended up LOSING the game in the next inning when the Mets got five runs in the top of the 19th. The Braves would get two back in the bottom of the inning, but Rick Camp couldn’t make the lightning strike twice and struck out to — finally, mercifully — end the game. It was 3:55 AM, July 5, six hours and ten minutes after it began.

The box score from the game took almost an entire column in the paper. Both teams used seven pitchers and combined for 46 hits. In a terrible bit of irony, Rick Camp proved a worse pitcher than hitter that fateful night, working three innings giving up 5 earned runs and going down as the losing pitcher.

The handful of remaining fans got to see the July 4th Fireworks Show start at 4:01am. Papa and I watched the entire thing; we both slept late the next morning.

Hope y’all had a great July 4th!

Love y’all; Keep those feet clean.

 

 

 

I’m Not Sick, But I’m Not Healthy Either

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Dr. Lopez after my visits.

Dr. Lopez after my visits.

I recently had my summer checkup with my GP, Dr. Lopez. Even though I think the world of Doc, I don’t hate many things on Earth quite as much as I do going to see him. It’s definitely a top ten pet peeve of mine — nowhere near as loathed as Weed-Eating the yard but quite a ways above a slight paper cut. It’s not that Doc is a bad guy, because he’s not; I simply despise repetitive activity for the most part and my physicals are always extremely repetitive.

First, regardless of when my appointment time happens to be, I’m going to sit in the exam room for at least an hour. I wouldn’t mind if I was confined to the main waiting room. It’s much larger and cooler and the reading material is of a better selection. No, I have to cool my heels in the tiny, windowless exam room with the paper covered table and box of tongue depressors. I’m claustrophobic and after about ten minutes alone in there, I start hyperventilating and the walls begin moving towards me. Then, just as I am about to go bat-poop crazier that I already am, Doc comes in and wonders how my blood pressure can always be elevated no matter what hypertension meds he has me take.skeleton

I could endure the waitings, though, if the consultation wasn’t so negative. Doc always starts with the lab results from the blood I had drawn the week before. (Just as an aside, if you want to see your doctor flip completely out, instead of going in for labs fasting, eat three Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnuts and chug a pair of Mountain Dews about thirty minutes before they draw blood — they’ll send an ambulance to get you as soon as the results come back.) Now all I care about from my lab results is my A1C level and my PSA level. The A1C tells if I’m diabetic or not and the PSA lets me know all is well with Mini-Me down below. He could give me those numbers and the visit would last five minutes — tops. Instead, he starts off with my CHOLESTEROL and TRIGLYCERIDES. I take meds to reduce both and he still isn’t satisfied. Unfortunately, no matter how much I try to convince him I don’t give a tinker’s cuss what my LDL and HDL levels are, I still get The Speech.

The Speech is a variation on “you need to exercise; you need to lose weight, you need to eat healthier.” Depending on the time of year or his particular mood, one of the three will get more emphasis than the other two. The latest iteration focused on diet. Every time he starts the “getting healthier” spiel, I ask him why I need to be so concerned with cholesterol. He always says it’s so I won’t have a massive heart attack and die. That’s when I ask him the same question every time: “What is the single biggest indicator of longevity in humans?” Usually he mumbles a bit then comes out with “Family history,” at which point I say, “Okay, forget cholesterol and tell me my A1C.”

Here’s my line of thinking and it infuriates him to no end — I’m not scared of a massive heart attack. If your heart explodes, you die. Simple. Pour water on the fire and call in the dogs boys because this night’s hunt is OVER. On the other hand, I am terrified of Type II Diabetes or, as we say in the South, “The Sugar.” Diabetes doesn’t kill you — at least not outright. No, first they cut off your toes; then your feet, followed by your legs to the knee, then to the thigh. Before long, you end up looking like an extra from the 1932 Tod Browing film Freaks. Plus, the entire time leading up to your butchery, you have to stab yourself with needles two or three times a day. Needles are the main reason a Skittlesques pack of pills was my drug of choice rather than heroin or morphine when I was a young and reckless lad.

Getting back to family history, though, Granny Matt (my great-grandmother on Daddy’s side) had six sons: Uncle William, Uncle Bob, Uncle George, Papa Wham, Uncle David, and Uncle Jack. Of the six, FIVE died of massive heart attacks sometime between 72 and 76 years old. Daddy has already had one and a half heart attacks and he’s 63. On the other side of my family tree, however, diabetes and cancer, sometimes both, run roughshod through Mama’s side of my family. I’m trying to get Dr. Lopez to see I’m not fatalistic or reckless with my health, I’m just playing the averages and trying to help skew them in my favor.

Eat RightI could cut out everything I love to eat — red meat, ice cream, starches, sweets, cheese, etc — and I could exercise religiously like I see so many people doing around here, but WHY would I want to? Perfect health is simply the slowest possible rate at which you can die. In most ways, we’re dead already. Luke the Drifter said it best when he sang, “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive.

I go see my precious Granny every Tuesday. She can’t talk to me anymore. She can just barely feed herself and not even that some days. She can’t walk; she’s in diapers. I love her more than words can describe, but I don’t want to end up that way. Many of the inmates in the nursing home where Granny lives are the last members of their family. No one comes to see them. They are just taking their time dying in a warehouse of obsolete humanity, and there’s not a thing wrong with that, I just don’t want it to be me. Anyway, I was raised all my life to believe this live is just a dress rehearsal for what comes next. That’s where Mama is. That’s where I want to be. Right now, the only thing keeping me here is my Budge. I won’t leave her alone if I can help it.

So, see why I drive Dr. Lopez to distraction? Love y’all; keep those feet clean.

Papa’s Day plus 70 years

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Papa wham

Frank B. Wham, Sr. circa 1944

Today more than any day of the year, I think of Papa Wham. More than his birthday (July 7), more than Christmas or Thanksgiving, more than Father’s Day, more than the anniversary of his passing (July 17), the anniversary of the D-Day invasion is my memory of Papa. This year is the 70th anniversary of the Operation Overlord invasion that finally opened up the second front in Europe the Soviet Union had been so adamantly insisting upon for years. Seventy years since the beginning of the end for Hitler and his 1000 year Reich. For Papa Wham and thousands of young men like him, it was another day away from home and the people they loved. I’ve seen the news coverage of the ceremonies in the Normandy cemeteries and I’ve marveled at the large number of veterans of that day who made the trip back to those stormy cliffs to remember. None of them are younger than their late 80s, but every single one of them stands as straight as age and appliances will allow as the colors troop past and the national anthems play. These are not young men and for many of them, this will be their last tour of the battlefields of their youth. It’s nearly a cliché now, but this is the flower of America’s Greatest Generation and those flowers are quickly fading.

If Papa were still with us, he’d be 97. This year will mark twenty years since his passing. It’s been two decades since I’ve seen his gentle smile and heard his sweet voice. To have known my papa when I did and as I did — as my beloved grandfather and one of the two greatest men I’ve ever known — was not to picture a warrior primed for battle. Papa ran a service station then an auto parts store. He vacuumed the house for Granny Wham on Saturday mornings and dozed off sometimes in church on Sunday mornings when Preacher Jeff wasn’t holding his attention. He loved baseball — especially his Atlanta Braves. He loved me and each of his three other grandsons (though I’m pretty sure I was the favorite.) I just never viewed my precious Papa Wham as anything other than my papa.

As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve often wondered what Papa thought about “his” war. I never asked him for any details. I was too young to know how to gently and politely ask an older man about his service and Papa never volunteered his thoughts on anything but the most innocuous incidents, the funniest stories. I wonder about things now though. Papa was in his middle 20s when he went to fight the Nazis. He was a small town South Carolina boy riding to war on the Queen Mary ocean liner. What was he thinking 70 years ago today as his LCI splashed towards the narrow strip of sand? If I’ve heard correctly, Papa was in the third wave of the invasion, which meant the beach was still “hot” in terms of enemy action. Was he scared? I can’t imagine Papa Wham being scared any more than I can imagine Daddy being scared, but having watched the invasion scene of Saving Private Ryan time after time, I can’t see anyone in one of those boats not being terrified.

I know from his service record that D-Day wasn’t Papa’s first rodeo. He’d landed in North Africa during Operation Torch. He had been at Anzio and had taken part in the Sicily campaign. Still, this was attacking Hitler’s Atlantic Wall of Fortress Europe. I wonder how many friends he’d made in the two years of serving with the First Infantry Division, “The Big Red One.” I wonder how many he had seen maimed or killed in terrible ways. Had he ever killed anyone? I simply can’t see Papa as a killer, but it was a war and a terrible, bloody war at that. I know he could shoot because I’d seen him do it, but did he ever shoot a man? If he did, I never knew and I was brought up to well to ask.

What did he do in England during the build up for the invasion? What about during the days on the road in France when every American soldier was a liberator and a hero? Papa was dashingly handsome; especially in his uniform. Did he turn the head and catch the eye of a pretty English shop girl? Did he spend a quiet hour with some lovely French maid? To me, it’ll always be “Papa and Granny” but Papa wasn’t married to Granny yet and he was a long way from home with the possibility of being killed dogging his every step. I know it would seem scandalous to some — especially my Aunt Cathy — but I would hardly think less of my precious Papa Wham if he’d spent an evening with a European girl. He was kind and sweet and if Granny Wham loved him, why couldn’t a red-headed Scottish lass have been taken with him as well? I think entirely too much of Papa and his steadfast integrity to even entertain the idea I may have some kin on the other side of the Pond I don’t know about. That’s just not the kind of man Papa was . . . but if it did turn out I had a Belgian relative or two, I certainly wouldn’t think any less of Papa. It was a war.

A war he fought 70 years ago thousands of miles from home. Oh the questions I wish I had asked.

Rest in Peace, Papa, and Rest in Peace to all the brave fallen of that terrible war.

Love you all and keep those feet clean!

The Last First Episode Is Coming

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Star-Wars-Episode-7-VII-LogoA long time ago at a drive-in theater long since buried under an I-85 interchange, a great adventure took place. It was the summer of 1977 and I sat on the roof of Mama’s 1973 Pontiac Grand Prix hugging a speaker and watching the huge Imperial Star Destroyer Devastator inexorably close in on the tiny, defenseless Tantive IV. Three years later, Daddy and Teresa took me to the now defunct Astro Twin on Pleasantburg Drive where I watched Luke Skywalker battle the evil Darth Vader right before the greatest plot twist surprise in cinema history. Then, as a high school freshman, Robby and I sat in the — once again, defunct — Oaks Theater in Laurens to see Luke reunited with his friends amidst a sea of dancing teddy bears.

Star Wars played a MONUMENTAL role in my childhood and the childhoods of a big chunk of my generation. To give you an idea of just what a cultural touchstone those films are to Gen-Xers everywhere, when I called one of my college roommates to tell him I was marrying a girl born in 1978, the first thought out of his mouth was not “Congratulations” or anything like it. Instead, Chris Hoppe shouted at me, “1978! Good God, Wham! She’s never seen Star Wars at the movie theater!” He was right, of course, so as soon as Budge and I left the theater in the summer of 1997 after watching the re-release of Star Wars: A New Hope, I called him up to let him know my beloved was now bona fide.

Now, if George Lucas had possessed the sense to get a prenuptial agreement with his wife, the Star Wars universe would probably have remained the exclusive unsullied cultural icon for Generation X. Unfortunately, the erstwhile Mrs. Lucas took ol’ George to the cleaners financially leaving him in relatively bad straits — no small feat to nearly bankrupt a man responsible of Luke Skywalker AND Indiana Jones. So, rumors started flying around the newly-burgeoning internet about something none of us Baby Boomer Babies ever dreamed we’d live to see — George Lucas was going to MAKE THE PREQUELS!!

Whatsa pissa poopsa!

Whatsa pissa poopsa!

So it was I sat in Theater 6 of The Hollywood 20 Theater with Budge on May 19, 1999 and watched the familiar opening crawl wind its way up the screen. I was more excited about a movie than I’d ever been or ever would be . . . at least until 2001 when I waited in line for hours to get tickets to Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. I quickly lost myself in the film’s first fifteen minutes; I was a kid again on the roof of that ’73 Grand Prix. Then, out of the murky green depths of one of the many planets in the Star Wars universe, disaster overtook my beloved franchise. Jar-Jar Binks appeared on the screen. Since Jar-Jar hate is widely documented, I’m not going to waste your time adding my opinions, but let’s just say, when it comes to all the negative things said about the bumbling Gungan, “I concur and then some.” I was delighted and crushed when the movie ended — delighted it was finally over and crushed that I’d waited 22 years for such a turd to plop onto my lovely memories.

After Phantom Menace, I realized Lucas was just going for money so I didn’t bother to see Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith. I figured it would be a waste of time. In all honesty, I do wish I’d seen RotS on the big screen though, just to see the climactic fight on Mustafar between Obi-Wan and Anakin, but since that’s the only part of the movie I care anything about, I’ve just learned to content myself with YouTube. As a side note, if the prequels hadn’t shown Lucas’ money-making bias, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull proved to me he had completely blown up the refrigerator.

The cast . . .

The cast . . .

Well, Lucas sold the beloved space opera franchise to the ONE entity more concerned with money than he is — Disney. Less than a year after the sale, The Mouse has announced Episodes VII, VIII, and IX are in the works with Episode VII to be released next year, probably around Christmas. Today, the official casting announcements came out. The good news is Han, Luke, and Leia are all back aboard although I wonder if Harrison Ford will live long enough to finish all three films. The bad news is JJ Abrams is directing and co-producing Episode VII. So, this movie could be absolutely amazing with incredible visual effects and only slightly less boom and bang than a Michael Bay CGI-fest OR we could end up at the end of Episode IX discovering the entire nine film series actually took place in the imagination of some homeless Earth kid playing with broken action figures someone left lying in the park. To anyone who thinks I’m being silly and overreacting I can only reply with two words: Lost finale.

Hopefully though, the number of original cast members along with the addition of Gollum will pull the final three movies in the Star Wars nonology through. At least John Williams is doing the scores!

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

A Tale of Two Walkways

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1000px-cthulhu_rising_by_somniturne1I’m hurrying to get this down. I fear it may be the last missive I write for a long time, maybe ever. If this be my last communication to the readers I love, know I did not faint nor flag in the fight. I pressed onward, met my enemy, and conquered him, but every victory has a price and this one is no different. In my zealous prosecution of the conflict, I have angered ancient foul beings of immense power and no mercy. I broke a sacred vow nearly two decades old. Now the cold hand of panic, raw gnawing terror grips me as the focus of their wrath turns towards me in its fullest. Already my fingers stiffen, my lower back is beginning to lock up, I cannot lift my arms above my head, my legs are in such knots I dare not attempt to poop for fear I may not be able to stand up from the toilet. These eldritch abominations possess long memories and when they are trifled with, they will have blood.

I can hear you thinking, “What, dearest Feet, have you done to deserve such a black fate? What vow could be so solemn its foreswearing cost so great a price?” The answer is as simple as it is deadly . . . I have constructed a stone walkway. I swore a blood oath I would never attempt such an undertaking again, but I did and now I have enraged the Dread Gods of DIY.

To fully understand the gravity of this matter, I must take you to the time I made this ill-advised oath. It was early in the summer of 1996. Budge and I had successfully navigated two years of dating and engagement without the principal of the school where I was a teacher and Budge a student discovering our love affair and having me summarily executed . . . or at least fired. I know I have piqued your interest, but alas, tis a story for another telling, and should I survive my current entanglement, I will tell it in due time.

For now, join me in a postage-stamp-sized backyard in a gated community where Budge’s dad decided it would be a capital idea to build a patio and walkway of concrete and flagstones.  I had serious doubts about the endeavor, but I owed quite the existential debt to Dad since I’d dated his daughter for over a year without him knowing. Once he found out — Budge broke down and told HIM without first telling ME she was telling HIM — he took the whole matter in stride, as he does most things. Still, he’s a shrewd man who knows when he’s got a wriggling worm impaled on the hook and ripe for catching a fish or a favor. In this case, my brutal, Herculean labor was the favor in question.

The day before, Dad “dug out” the shape of the patio and walkway. I cast aspersions because “scratched” would have been more accurate. The entire excavation dirt pile fit in a decent sized wheelbarrow with room to spare. Dad allayed my doubts about the ability of this small quarrying to hold enough concrete to anchor the flagstones by pointing to a pile of wood-looking stuff that upon closer examination proved to be slats cut from paneling. According to Dad, we were going to build a concrete form around the dugout area by stapling the slats to strategically anchored 2×4 stakes he had driven into the ground. It seemed a sound enough plan to me . . . this was before I learned Dad had never actually built a form or POURED any concrete slabs in his life . . . and he’d picked up the notion somewhere (I still think it was Budge) that I knew how to work concrete.

Any doubts I had about the disaster potential the day presented dissipated with the very first action Dad performed that fateful morning. We were going to staple the paneling to the aforementioned stakes with ¾” heavy duty staples. For this project, Dad replaced his venerable Bostitch stapler with a Black and Decker PowerShot stapler. The new model advertised much easier stapling and I must say the PowerShot easily sank a monster staple all the way to the bone of the heel of Dad’s hand with his very first shot. Dad winced at the pain, but when he moved the staple gun, no staple was in the stake. Dad thought he’d had a misfeed so he promptly shot another staple . . . right into the same hand. Turns out, the PowerShot is ass-backwards . . . something about leverage . . . and the staple comes out the opposite end from all other stapler. When no staple appeared the second time despite the pain in his hand, Dad looked down at the stapler and saw the blood seeping around two bottomed-out staples. It took a pair of needle nose pliers, two hearty yanks, and generous application of the curse word vocabulary Dad accumulated in a 20 year Navy career to remove those staples. The dew wasn’t dry on the grass; we already had bleeding.

staplers

I’d love to say Dad’s blood sacrifice paved the way for a smooth day, but I’d be lying. After we finally managed to get the “form” secured around noon, we discovered WHY professional cement finishers can make a good living. First, the cement mixer Dad rented wouldn’t fit through the gate into the back yard so we had to mix a batch, dump said batch into a wheelbarrow, and maneuver the wheelbarrow across the driveway — slopping cement every step of the way —  and pour the remainder into the excavation. Our batches of cement followed the “Goldilocks Principle.” The first batch was too thick, the second batch was too runny, the third batch was too stiff again . . . it was about ten batches before we finally achieved “just right” status and woefully few batches duplicated it. The Sun lay low in the sky before we had the form filled with something resembling concrete. I’d have loved to call it a night, but we were committed now the concrete was poured. We had to place the flagstones before it hardened.

What we were aiming for.

What we were aiming for.

Now, the “plan” called for us to CAREFULLY place each stone in its ideal location where it would harmonize with its neighbors. That lasted MAYBE four stones. We unceremoniously plopped the rest wherever our strength gave out with a given rock. Turned out, the lack of excavation depth was a blessing. If we’d dug properly, the stones would’ve been submerged. As it was, we laid a field of icebergs . . . some jutted proudly from the grey sea; others only a hinted at what lay beneath. Past midnight we heaved the final rock into place. It wasn’t very level, it wasn’t very uniform, but Sandy (Budge’s stepmom) declared it beautiful so it WAS done. I made my vow, with Dad as witness; I’d never build another stone walkway again and I kept my it. . . until today.

What we got.

What we got.

Today, I broke my word to the DIY Dread Lords and finished MY stone walkway. My design was much simpler. I didn’t use concrete, just dug a trench 5″ deep, 3′ wide, and about 20′ long from the driveway to the front steps, lined it with landscaping fabric, poured and leveled sand on top of that, installed some plastic edging, then filled the trench with 40 bags of pea gravel and raked everything smooth as a Zen monk’s rock garden. Each bag of sand and gravel weighed 50 pounds. The last time I moved 50 pound bags of ANYTHING, I was sixteen years old working at Community Cash in Fountain Inn. The electric pallet jack ran out of juice so three of us had to unload a semi trailer truck load of dog food by hand. So, my walkway is done; my vow broken. Budge has proclaimed it “beautiful.” Now I must pay the Gods of DIY. If you never hear from me again, you’ll know I was unable to appease those black hearted monsters and have gone to my doom (or at least to bed early) broken and in pain, but with all flags flying and pea gravel in my Crocs.

Love y’all, and keep those feet clean!

On This Rock

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la-jument-3I grew up in a Christian home and for the first 35 years of my life, give or take a year, I didn’t question my beliefs, what I’d been taught, or the basis of Christianity in general. I probably didn’t spend the total of a single day reflecting on whether or not this was true and that false or what the true purpose of life was. The weightiest discussions I had were on the relative merits of different “flavors” of Christianity like Mama’s Fundamentalist Pentecostalism versus Granny’s Southern Baptist Sunday School lessons. Even when I was a rank heathen and behaved as such, I still had a good handle on how the world worked, Who was in charge, and what the end of all things was going to be. In due time, I made a profession of faith in Christ, and figured I’d punched my ticket to Heaven when I died. Budge and I went to the church where we’d been married and worked diligently and tirelessly to further the kingdom of God on Earth.

That all changed when my Papa John died in 2007.

When Papa died, I went into a night of the soul which left me an agnostic a breath away from hard atheism. I turned on my faith. Like a company in a hostile takeover, I fired everything and everyone I ever believed in. All my ideas had to “reapply.” It was hideous having the most basic of life’s foundations essentially blown up. EVERYTHING I had been taught, everything I held as truth, and everything  I had taken for granted evaporated immediately. It’s not over, either. Ideas I held as dogma I’ve discarded and have no intention of ever picking up again. I walked away from Fundamentalism and Pentecostalism and frost will form on the hinges of Hell before I turn back.

But, I believe in Easter.

Was the Earth created in six literal days? Don’t know; don’t care. Moses part the Red Sea? Noah’s Flood was world wide? Not the faintest idea. Were Adam and Eve real people or is the Garden story an allegory? Not a clue and it makes no difference to me either way. Is there going to be a Rapture? How about a Millennial Kingdom? Pre-Trib? Mid-Trib? Post-Trib? No Trib? I. Don’t. Care. Richard Dawkins, I don’t think you’re right, but knock yourself out.

I believe in Easter.

What I KNOW and what no one in 2000+ years has been able to disprove is the Easter story. I believe in Easter because I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe no matter how messed up I am, no matter what encyclopaedic compendium of stupid things I’ve done, no matter the “good” life I miserably failed to live . . . Jesus Christ died for me . . . THE HARD WAY. I refuse to turn my back on anyone who loves me enough to endure hematodrosis, scourging, being crowned with thorns, and finally get NAILED TO A BOARD ON A POST. My Mama loved me. My Budge still loves me. I was the apple of all my grandparents’ eyes, but I know none of them loved me that much. I don’t have a friend that close. Sure, you might have someone who SAYS he or she would take a bullet for you . . . but see where they are when the shooting starts.

For three years, Jesus Christ went around tending the sick and poor and they KILLED HIM FOR IT. He actually WAS a good man and they stuck a spear in His side. NO. I won’t turn my back on that. I don’t know about all the details and doctrines anymore, if I ever did. All I know is my life is ROYALLY screwed up thanks to choices I made and choices others made for me, but Jesus didn’t care. He let them kill Him anyway just to cover all my screw ups. There was just one catch . . . He didn’t STAY dead.

If you want to make me an atheist, just show me Jesus’ body. That’s all Pilate and the Sanhedrin needed to do. When people started screaming about “He is risen!!” They could have just trundled the body out into the streets of Jerusalem and said, “Nope. Here he is and he’s still DEAD.” But they didn’t, because they couldn’t because after he died, HE GOT BACK UP.

Mohammed didn’t do that. He said if you do enough good and avoid enough evil, you get to go to Paradise. Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha didn’t do that. He said if you get your mind right, you’ll become one with the Universe and go to Nirvana. No atheist did that. They just say we’re here by chance — dumb luck — in which case I’ve got a list of people who need their luck to run out.

But Jesus said, “I’ll fix YOUR mess. I’ll take care of what YOU screwed up. I’ll let you KILL ME so YOU can live.”

I’m not turning my back on that. I may suck at being a Christian, but it’s what I am and not because Papa and Mama said so anymore. Not because I live in the South and supposedly “all y’all” are Christians. Not because “the preacher said so” or even because “the Bible said so.” I’m a Christian because He didn’t turn His back on me and I’m not going to turn my back on Him. I still believe in Easter and some days, it’s ALL I believe in, but it’s enough to get me out of bed and keep me from putting a bullet in my brain.

Love y’all, keep those feet clean, and Happy Easter.

 

 

One Year Down and Life to Go

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20130825_111222I don’t know how I can hurt this much and not die. I’ve asked psychiatrists, psychologists, and internalists, but none of them can give me an answer. So I go on.

A year ago this evening, Mama died. Death did what no psychotic girlfriend, no commitment-shy boyfriend, no divorce or distance could do — split up Mama and me. Despite my protestations, my howlings to the deaf heavens, and my insistence that surely some fundamental law of the universe has been violated, the world still turns; the Sun comes up and it goes down. Life goes on whether I want it to or not because, as a midwestern singer so eloquently put it thirty years and three name changes ago, “Oh yeah, life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone.”

The grief is mine to shoulder alone now. My beloved psychiatrist warned me people — even closest friends — generally give a person three weeks to a month of good, quality support before life intervenes. After that, it’s just you, four walls, and memories. Oh, and “firsts” lots and lots of firsts — first white carnation Mother’s Day, first Thanksgiving without her, first Christmas without her, and probably the worst for me . . . my first birthday without getting a call at 6:19 AM telling me she loved me and wishing me Happy Birthday.

I swear to Buddha I will projectile vomit upon the next person — well-meaning or no — who tells me “time heals all wounds.” I’m here to say it doesn’t or if it does, a year is nowhere near enough time. While I’m on the subject, I’d also like to go back in time and cold-cock one idiotic Prussian philosopher by the name of Friedrich Nietzsche right square in his gloriously mustachioed mouth. If you don’t know, he’s the moron who penned the sadistic little phrase “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Bullpucky. Mama’s dying may not have killed me, but it damn sure hasn’t made me stronger.

I wish I could say more, but even though people have told me I am good with words, I just don’t have the vocabulary to explain the abject loneliness I feel every morning I wake up and remember Mama’s not with me (and please, if you are my friend or just want me to think of you as a decent human being, spare me the “she’s always with you in spirit” drivel. “Spirit hugs” if they even exist, are about as useless as a milk bucket under a bull.) I can’t describe the emotional crash I get every time something tremendously noteworthy – to me at least – happens and I immediately pull out my phone to call Mama and tell her . . . only to realize I’ve deleted her contact information just so I won’t do such a stupid thing.

My reality is, Mama’s dead and that’s thrown all my puzzle pieces into the air in disarray and one year later, I’m afraid I don’t have the emotional strength to even start looking for the edge pieces.

And so it goes.

Love you all, love you Mama; I still miss you.

 

Tommy John Is Not a Doctor!

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Dr. Frank Jobe  1925-2014 The Surgeon

Dr. Frank Jobe
1925-2014
The Surgeon

I was reading through the sports pages on MSN today and amidst all the bracketology talk and bubble predictions about the upcoming NCAA tournament, I saw an article stating Frank Wilson Jobe had passed away March 6th at the age of 88. I figure only the most diehard baseball fans would know that name, but Frank Jobe, in my opinion, should go into the Baseball Hall of Fame on a special ballot even though he never played baseball at any level, never threw a pitch, or fielded a grounder. Instead, DOCTOR Frank Jobe developed a procedure which altered the way injured pitchers looked at their futures and to date has saved the careers of some of baseball’s most noted pitchers including players like Chris Carpenter, John Smoltz, Ben Sheets, and quite recently Stephen Strasbourg. The procedure is properly termed “ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction” but baseball fans everywhere refer to it by the name of its first recipient — then Los Angeles Dodgers left-handed pitcher Tommy John.

Tommy John was a pitching star in the Dodger organization when he blew his elbow out in 1974. At that time, John’s injury was considered career ending. In fact, the fantastic career of another Dodger – legendary Sandy Koufax – had been truncated in 1966 by the same injury John was facing. Tommy John, however, refused to accept such a bleak diagnosis and approached the team’s orthopedist, Dr. Jobe, about ANY possible fixes. Dr. Jobe had a colleague who had used ligament harvesting to treat polio patients’ paralysis and the two doctors mulled over the idea of using a similar technique to replace the ruined ligaments in John’s throwing elbow. From the start, Dr. Jobe was bluntly honest with Tommy John. In an interview I heard on ESPN radio Tommy John recalled, “I asked Dr. Jobe what would happen if I didn’t have the surgery and he said, ‘You’ll never pitch major league baseball again.’ So I asked him what would happen if I did have the surgery and he said, ‘You’ll PROBABLY never pitch major league baseball again.'”

The Guinea Pig Tommy John in 1975,  his rehab year.

The Guinea Pig
Tommy John in 1975,
his rehab year.

But the surgery was a success beyond anything Dr. Jobe could have hoped for. After a complete year of rehabilitation – a practice still followed today — Tommy John returned for the 1976 season and went 10 – 10, which was considered completely miraculous at the time. He also showcased the durability of the reconstruction by pitching fourteen more seasons before he finally retired in 1989. Today, estimates vary, but most hover at around one-third of all major league pitchers have (or will have) some degree of Tommy John Surgery. Thanks to a pitcher who wasn’t ready to throw in the towel and a doctor who was willing to try something entirely untested to put him back on the mound, a blown out pitching elbow no longer means an end to a career, but for many pitchers – the original recipient among them – it signals the beginning of even better performance.

Hopefully, Cooperstown will think the same way I do and eventually, Dr. Frank Jobe will have a bronze bust in the special wing of the Hall of Fame to honor the man whose procedure saved the careers of nearly 100 major league pitching stars even if the non-baseball public continues to think Tommy John was the surgeon and not the patient!

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.