My brain is fried.
That's really the bottom line. I know this because the mind contained within the brain can no longer sort out the incoming information into any logical order. The mental file drawers marked “common sense” is fairly empty while the ones labeled “are you kidding me” is overflowing. How can the human mind possibly absorb and store the constant barrage of garbage?
With one click I was off to the races. The “homepage” popped up an offered its morning does of fodder.
“41 whales stranded off beach, UN status sought for beer law, why bald guys are better dates, slain second grader mourned, LeBron to make acting debut, skulls found under playground, 5 stocks you should sell now, turn your home into a fortress, report concludes that Castro's death a suicide, guess the celebrity baby bump, First Dog knocks down toddler, GOP takes classes on how to run against women for office, Kanye angers Jewish leaders, bear attacks Florida woman, shark kills swimmer in Hawaii...and its winter and there are storms with snow and ice and cold.”
Ground breaking stuff...all presented as if I should know about it, that somehow my life is enhanced with the knowledge of which states are most addicted to smoking.
Every morning when I take to the virtual landfill of the internet, joining millions of other humans that have been conditioned like a Pavlovian dog to fire up the laptop or mobile device to see what is going on in the world, only to find out that what is going on today is basically what was going on yesterday. 99.9% of which I can't do a damn thing about as much as I would like to, yet the steady diet of flotsam and human fodder flows forth, filling up the mind with billions and billions of atoms of information that for the most part don't add up to a cup of spit.
The internet is like a giant brain filled with everything we can imagine and a lot of things we cannot imagine, all constantly being presented over and over again, burrowing mental passages in our central nervous system to the point that we feel the need to make comments on people, places and events that are only part of our conscious because someone at Yahoo! or Google or MSN says they are …“trending.”
Do I really need to know if Paul Walker survived the initial crash only to be consumed by flames? Do I need to hear the 911 calls from Sandy Hook? Do I have to give one brain cell to the wife of an Ohio judge who tried to poison him with anti-freeze?
No I do not.
In “Network” Peter Finch yells “I'm mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore” Eventually we all keep taking it because we have become conditioned to take it and the piles of bovine scottogin is produced every day. Life is hard enough with its own built in BS but MBS (Man-u-factured BS) makes it even more difficult. So when the brain is overflowing and the mental drawers are full and my inner Andy Rooney is beginning to whisper “Does anyone really care why marshmallows are addictive?”
It’s then that I take the most strident steps I can do preserve what free mental disk space I have left.
I turn everything off. I take a walk in the woods or sit by a river and watch the water flow.
I just sit.
The landfill will be there when I am ready to return to the world of pundits and politics, religion and rhetoric, absurdity and absolutes, drama and dogma. Brainstorms used to mean something productive, creative and useful.
Not so sure about that anymore.
I have always been fascinated with words. The English dictionary has about 500,000 words in it that humans can use to describe everything from the first word "A" to the last word "zymurgy" which describes the art and science of the fermentation process. Humans love to cut and paste (which is something that was once confined to third grade) and create new words out of old ones. A few examples that come to mind are "twerk" which combines "twist" and "jerk" (if you look up the word "twerk" in the dictionary Miley Ray Cyrus is pictured." Another fun use of word play is "asshat" which combines the word "ass" which is a burro of sorts and the word "hat" which is a covering of the head. If you look up "asshat" in the dictionary you can see people wearing burros on their heads.
But there is a new word that has been proclaimed "WORD OF THE YEAR" by the Oxford Dictionary. The word is "selfie" which used to mean a solo outing (no further explanation needed) and it combines the word "self" with "i.e." which means (in other words) and if you look up "selfie" in the dictionary you can see a picture of a woman getting her head chomped on by a large camel as she captures it on her camera/GPS/scanner/lighter/smoke detector/movie camera/remote starter/internet/Xbox/radio/compass all brilliantly disguised a "cellphone" (note- the word cellphone combines of course the word "cell which usually refers to "jail" or "confinement" and "phone" which used to mean a device to call other humans.) The debate of course rages as to how confined we are to the prison of technology.
The first photographic camera developed for commercial manufacture built by Alphonse Giroux, a French fella in the 1800’s and the first picture was called “The From The Window” in 1826. Its grainy image showing the overlook from a building with a guy standing in it, probably a French guy who appears to be looking down at the street below or it’s a Rorschach image that is a moth being eaten by an iguana. For 150 years humans captured billions of images of everything you could imagine, photographers became famous for their “eye” and from babies to buffaloes, from JFK to RFK, from WWI to Iraq, from “LIFE” to “TIME” we viewed the world through the lens, capturing the essence of earth and the sanctity of cosmos.
That all changed in June of 2000 when Samsung figured out that combining a phone with a camera was a great idea and it was the people of South Korea that got to be the first “selfies” something I am sure they are very proud of. Maybe if someone sent the dick tater in North Korea a bunch of phones with cameras he would spend more time taking pictures of himself than detaining 85 year old war veterans from America.
Since then humans have turned the camera on the most odd of mammals-ourselves- in some endless quest to attain a greater insight on human behavior (hence the camel gnawing on the woman’s forehead) but that image is tame by most standards. “Funeral Selfies” showing the deceased in the background with a grinning relative flashing a “thumbs up” in the foreground. “Disaster Selfies” on the scene of a bloody car accident with bodies strewn about with a grinning gawker flashing a “thumbs down” while flames are shooting out from under the hood. “No Thank You Selfies” wherein political wannabees, (Weiner Man) faux journalists (Geraldo) and pop tarts (Bieber) capture images of their shortcomings.
As much as we like to look at each other, Samsung figured out that if they put a camera in the phone that is surgically attached to our hands, we’ll take endless pictures of ourselves thus ensuring another century or more of images nobody really cares about except for the person taking the picture.
Apparently it was a Playboy Playmate Shera Béchard who started taking “selfies” and flooding “twitter” (a word derived from bird movements) and the images went “viral” (which used to be something you treated with anitboitics) on her weekly offering “Frisky Friday.” When she got over 50,000 views and grew her twitter account by 300% Oxford decided it should make “selfie” WORD OF THE YEAR.
Well at least it knocked “twerk” off the list.
Its been thought to take 21 days to make or break a habit. When it comes to using a camera built into a phone that time is down to 21 seconds. We are a species that thrives on expressing ourselves and technology has given us all the opportunity to be Ansel Adams or Annie Leibovitz…or to get our heads chomped on by a camel.
Something was wrong, my grandpa Carl was crying.
My grandpa was a tough man, having come over to America at the age of 19 with little money and big dreams. Even though I was just about to have my fifth birthday, I knew that something big was going on and it had affected this man I knew to be larger than life.
He pulled me to his lap and held me tight as we sat in front of the television set, his tears making the hair on the back of my head wet. I clearly remember saying "Grandpa why are you so sad?" He simply whispered in my ear "Because they killed my President..."
The only other image that sticks with me is seeing the riderless horse "Blackjack" being lead down the street with backward boots in the stirrups, signaling a fallen leader.
They had killed my grandfather's image of hope and what he believed America to be, gone in just seconds on a street in Dallas, Texas. This brash young president, full of ideas and energy symbolized a new beginning, a break from the father figures like Eisenhower and Truman. He was bending history in a direction that at once put the threat of nuclear war within reach and at the opposite end of the spectrum created The Peace Corps. His legacy is intact as well as the numerous conspiracy theories about what really happened on that sunny morning half a century ago.
After the past week of footage, authors and others marking the 50th anniversary of his death, I had thoughts go through my head but mostly it was the big "what if" questions. What if JFK had lived and prevented Vietnam from becoming the FUBAR mess that accomplished nothing and cost everything? What if he had been alive to see the first man walk on the moon in 1969? A mission he put in place years earlier. What if he had lived, what other changes from civil rights to education to the environment would have taken place?
Perhaps it was the images that changed the fiber of Americans forever as the Zapruder film captured the assassination frame by frame. The manhunt for Lee Harvey Oswald and his murder by Jack Ruby that millions watched on the news in near real time. The funeral image with John Jr. snapping a salute to the flag draped coffin made of 500 year old African mahogany that held his fathers body. All the violence forever frozen in our memory by the lens, something that no other group of Americans had witness to. The assassination of McKinley a mere 62 years earlier had a few still photographs and the killing of Lincoln 98 years earlier had little if any imagery around it. Now the nation had watched John and Jackie Kennedy get off that plane greeted by thousands, her stunning pink dress and bouquet of red roses held close. The motorcade snaking its way through the streets up to Dealey Plaza where shots rang out scattering the onlookers and ending the life of our 35th President as his wife tried to retrieve parts of brain matter that splayed across the trunk of the limo.
Over and over and over again the images burned into our minds, and our hearts...what was left of them.
It occurred to me that back in 1963 when someone got shot on Bonanza or Gunsmoke-there wasn't any blood. Andy Griffith didn't even carry a gun. The bad guys died neat clean deaths and the good guys won. On November 22nd 1963 at 12:30 pm central standard time the nation was witness to what really happens when a bullet enters the human body, a spray of pink all that was left of the thought center of the leader of the free world. Fifty years later we barely take notice at the sight of war dead on YouTube or a zombie brain exploding from a shotgun blast on "Walking Dead" decades of death "brought to life" have diminished our capacity to discern what reality is. John Fitzgerald Kennedy had his head blown open by a man with a $20 mail order rifle and that one image replayed thousands of times over a half century now pales in comparison to a "Grand Theft Auto V" or "Call of Duty III." For the same $20 bucks you can get a used copy of either video game, take aim and explode all the heads you want, right in your own home.
I sat up late last night watching the JFK funeral footage and found myself tearing up when I saw that horse again, the one without its rider, boots turned backwards. Maybe that sense of loss is passed down from generation to generation without even knowing it.
Perhaps it was the thought that at anytime and anyplace everything you once believed in can be gone in an instant.
Perhaps it was me simply crying tears my grandfather never finished because they killed his President.
The onslaught of advertisements started about a week ago as it does prior to November 11th since retailers decided that Veterans Day-much like Memorial Day- is the perfect connection to sell things-mostly mattresses and tires for some reason. Restaurants have joined in recently with free meals and what red-blooded American male could resist the buxom beauty touting "10 free boneless hot wings" at that bastion of liberty...Hooters?
The flags are flown and tributes given, speeches from politicians and pundits flow forth on this one day a year that recount the courage and commitment of the men and women of the armed forces, those past and present that went to war and never came home, those who went to war and brought it back with them, those who could not shake the atrocities they witnessed and participated in-in the name of freedom. They followed orders, and marched into battle from the first shots in 1776 to the jungles of Vietnam in 1976 and all the wars in-between. World Wars I and II, Korea, from Panama to the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan to Iraq. It’s estimated that upwards of 48 million men and women have put on the uniform and defended America. They walked the Bataan Death March and ate their C-rations out of frozen foxholes in Germany; they carried what was left of their fallen comrades back to an LZ so their remains could be shipped home in a box draped with the flag they fought under. They have been hailed as heroes and scorned as baby killers, emancipators and prisoners enduring the very worst of human behavior, dog tags hanging over their hearts as they were beaten, starved and isolated. The lived in the bowels of steel ships for months at a time or underwater in metal whales armed with nuclear warheads, dug in on the beaches of Normandy and the rubble from a building in Iraq while their comrades fell by their side, wondering if they were they were next to die.
In a day and age where “call of duty” means a video game and the word “war” has become attached to “reality” shows as over produced wannabee stars fight over storage bins and cupcakes, it bears mentioning that simply saying “thank you” to a veteran really is all they ask. Perhaps reaching out the next time we pass one of the estimated 300,000 homeless vets on the street instead of averting our eyes and saying “thank you” might just be the words needed at that moment. Maybe if we didn’t wait for the government to take care of them and we did it ourselves it would mean more. That homeless veteran sitting in on the corner with a sign in one hand and gnarled fist once walked upright and stout, learned how to snap a salute and clear their weapon. They knew their general orders and shined the brass, stood watch and passed inspection. They are someone’s son or daughter, husband or mother, brother or sister.
They are the human fodder left over from another time when their name was on the breast of their fatigues or dress blues. They are the reminder that the cost of a war is a debt that can never be repaid in full.
The movies glorify war, heroes get to come back in repeat roles depending on which enemy they are fighting. In real life, the heroes that took the oath often do not return, and if they do they are not the same as when they left, both physically and mentally. Their residuals are not in the form of money but rather a lifetime coping with the unthinkable, unimaginable moments they have endured.
A fellow I know named George, was at Pearl Harbor when the bombs fell, obliterating his shipmates in an instant. He swam through burning oil and watched in absolute horror has the tranquil morning of December 7th became an iron graveyard filled with broken bodies of young men the same age he was…19. He speaks at schools now, trying to give students whose parents were not even born when he fought some sense of the senseless, bringing history alive as he remembers the dead.
My cousin “The Sarge” waded through the rice paddies and jungles of Vietnam, loaded down by his flak jacket and rounds of ammo. Watching as “Charlie” annihilated a bus full of children in an attempt to mow down the Americans. He would come home on leave and pull shrapnel out of his leg with long-nose pliers and after two tours and a Purple Heart, after giving up his youth for a war that could not be won; all these years later he continues to fight his greatest enemy-the effects of “Agent Orange.”
I am proud to be a veteran, I am proud to know George and “The Sarge” and I am proud to have worn the uniform of my country. We can do better for our veterans than mattresses and tire sales, Hooters and 10% off dinners.
We can welcome them home...and find them a home...and simply say "thank you."
The last African western black rhino has been killed by poachers and is now officially extinct.
These magnificent thundering beasts that have roamed the earth in various forms ranging from the Sumatran Rhino to the Woolly Rhino to the Great White Rhino for 15 million years are being systematically killed off based on one thing.
Their "horns" (which in fact isn't a horn at all but hardened keratin or hair that has evolved over millions of years as a protection device) has put this massive animal at risk of total extinction because of one man-made myth-that the "horn" has magical healing qualities that can alleviate everything from depression to impotency. Recently an uptick in killing rhinos comes from demand in Vietnam. Accounts vary as to how and why this is, but the story goes that sometime in the latter half of the past decade a senior politician or other public figure in Vietnam was dying from cancer and given weeks to live – but after ingesting powdered rhino horn, the condition miraculously went into remission and the patient fully recovered. As with any urban myth, attempts to track the story to its source have been unsuccessful. It would have to be a miraculous cure for sure, since the rhino “horn” is basically made up of the same stuff as your fingernails. I never heard of anyone who “bites” their nails being healed of anything.
But the slaughter continues…such is the power of a belief.
Vietnam has one of the highest cancer mortality rates due in large part to the serious lack of environmental regulations on industry that use the waterways as a toxic dump and the leftover defoliant “Agent Orange” from the Vietnam War. Seeking relief from these mad-made disasters humans will do anything to find a cure for the incurable- and all it takes is a sweeping rumor and the poachers go into high gear selling snake oil or in this case rhino hair to the highest bidders-up to $300,000.00 (US) for one single horn.
Some countries where rhinos still roam on game preserves have hired 24/7 security teams to keep the beasts safe but often out-manned and out-gunned these ancient animals still fall prey to poachers. In 2012 668 “protected” rhinos were shot and had their horns hacked off by chainsaws, left to bleed to death on the grasslands. That figure was up by 50% over 2011 statistics and at the rate it’s going that is what the rhino will someday be- nothing more than a statistic.
When I see the images of rhinos with their faces chopped up so someone can “cure” a hangover or cancer, “feel” less depressed or some guy that is impotent can get a woody- I am reminded of a biblical verse…
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” Gen 1:26-28
Somewhere along the line man confused the word “dominion” with “extinction”- maybe it was the word “subdue” that caused all this chaos.
Humans have subdued the earth for our own purpose, pushing other species to the brink of extinction and beyond in the name of progress or an erection. An entire species-the Carolina Parrot was wiped out because their feathers looked good on ladies hats. The plains buffalo was nearly eradicated for their hides, thousands and thousands of carcasses left to rot in the sun. The passenger pigeon wiped out because its meat was sold to feed slaves, the last group of 250,000 birds wiped out by hunters that knew it was the final flock and could get a higher price. The list goes on and on and on…millions of sharks killed by the practice of “finning” for soup, manta rays slaughter past the bounds of reproduction for their gills that are dried and offered as an elixir.
Efforts to educate have fallen short-you cannot undue a rumor once it’s been started so perhaps the only way to save some of the remaining animals that are on the brink is to start a new rumor- that cures for cancer, impotency and hangover comes from the consumption of dog shit. If we can just find some politician that has a life threatening illness and...Voila the need for pooper scoopers is a thing of the past…but then again dog is on the menu in Vietnam…man’s best friend in more ways than one.
I no longer hold out hope for the rhino, in time the numbers will drop even more and efforts to protect them while valiant will fall short. Some will be saved from the chainsaw in zoos but even then as the demand increases and supply decreases I will not be surprised to read a headline that reads:
“White Rhino Slaughtered Behind Bars For Horn.”
When the rhinos are gone what beast will bear our burden next?
“Fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God.
“Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it-what he does to the web he does to himself…all things are connected.” Chief Seattle.
Farewell great rhino…in 150 years we did what 15 million years could not do.
I thought the coast was clear. It had been three days since the Chicago Bears defeated the Green Bay Packers on the historical turf of Lambeau Field, 72 hours since underachieving Bears defensive end Shea McClellin drove iconic Packer QB Aaron Rodgers shoulder into the ground forcing him out of the game and eventually after evaluation, out for an indefinite period of time.
The Bears won in a battle of backups but while there was a bit of satisfaction, I am not ignorant of the fact that if Mr. Rodgers would have not been injured, the outcome most likely would have been different. As a Bears fan I have learned not to gloat in victory nor shudder in defeat because both of those outcomes are too close to call- for the most part.
But I made the mistake of thinking I was safe, this far north just two hours from Titletown and three days since the “Aaron Incident.” Silly me…
I hit the gym as usual around 10am and always wear my bright orange ball cap with the Chicago Bears logo and any other week no one says a word. They all know I am from Chicago and have staked my territory out-giving the respectable distance to the throngs of Packer and Lion faithful that display their own colors. It started in the locker room when a distended voice said “You guys were lucky that Rodgers went down or you would have lost.” The wall of metal lockers kept me from seeing who was yakking but on the way out there was a couple of guys sitting in the last row and I guessed it was one of them even though neither of them fessed up. Heading into the gym one of the trainers I have known for years sez… “I can’t believe you are wearing that hat.” He was smiling when he said it but that smile could have meant a lot of things. .. “I am smiling because while you are working out I am gonna slash your tires...” or other such mayhem. I grinned back and said “Yeah…it was a great game on both sides and the battle of the backups was fun to watch” being as politically correct as I could, knowing I was outnumbered, as the senior citizens glared at me from their hip adductor machines…clenching and unclenching their fists.
It was a short workout followed by a long whirlpool.
Next stop was the bank and I strode in to take care of some business, only to be confronted by three female tellers lined up like a firing squad. “Well sure nice of you to wear that hat in here” chirped one. “CAN WE HELP YOU?” Squawked another…Before I could respond the words were flying across the counter that was so nicely decorated for autumn. “We lost our quarterback! Aaron Rodgers would have made the difference! IF HE DIDN’T GET HURT YOU WOULDN’T BE WEARING THAT HAT!
Can I make a payment?
After allowing Packer Trio to voice their concerns, comments and retribution (WE HAVE ANOTHER GAME WITH THE BEARS YOU KNOW) I left the bank intact and sat for a moment in my car (after checking the tires again) and thought to myself…
Is this how it was in Rome when the hometown gladiator lost to the rival gladiator? Did this all start with Commodus (brilliantly portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix in the 2000 film Gladiator) who was an Emperor that enjoyed battling gladiators as often as possible. A narcissistic egomaniac, Commodus saw himself as the greatest and most important man in the world. He believed himself to be Hercules—even going so far as to don a leopard skin like that famously worn by the mythological hero. But in the arena, Commodus usually fought against gladiators who were armed with wooden swords, and slaughtered wild animals that were tethered or injured. Or was it the most famous of all gladiators- Spartacus-(either Kirk Douglas or Gerard Butler take your pick.) Whole legions were sent to kill Spartacus, but these were easily defeated by the fighting spirit and experience of the gladiators. In 71 BC, Marcus Licinius Crassus amassed 50,000 well-trained Roman soldiers to pursue and defeat Spartacus. Crassus trapped Spartacus in Southern Italy, routing his forces, and killing Spartacus in the process. Six thousand of his followers were captured and crucified, their bodies made to line the road from Capua to Rome.
Kinda like what happened when Rodgers went down and the Bears won I guess.
For the record let me state that one of my most revered friendships is with two time Super Bowl champion and the greatest guard in the history of the NFL- Green Bay Packer legend Jerry Kramer- and for the record I have been seen in public with Jerry many times and listed “Instant Replay” his book as the most influential read when it comes to not just football but life lessons.
But none of that matters apparently at this point in time- the wound too fresh and the loss too great.
My hope is that just as we watch today’s modern gladiators do battle while thousands cheer and jeer, Taser their wives because “they” lost and “she” won, as domestic violence in the Fox Valley rises and falls with each victory or loss, let us both Packer and Bear fans alike take a lesson from eons ago.
The battle between Priscus and Verus in the First Century AD was the first gladiator fight in the famous Flavian Amphitheatre. After a spirited battle which dragged on for hours, the two gladiators conceded to each other at the same time, putting down their swords out of respect for one another. The crowd roared in approval, and the Emperor Titus awarded both combatants with the rudis, a small wooden sword given to gladiators upon their retirement. Both left the theater side by side as free men.
Kinda like Butkus and Nitchske….
It’s been a couple months since Ray Smith passed away, the steel jawed hardnosed football and wrestling coach at my alma mater Schurz High School in Chicago. Ray was a block of granite, carved out of stuff that comes from hard work and discipline and dedication, words that used to really mean something not just a cliché' bantered about. At his memorial I ran into a few of my former Bulldog teammates and we reminisced about the man and swapped war stories about our time at the 2nd largest high school in the city. After a time a "Reunion for Ray" was planned with the word going out that former players, managers and family would gather to watch a Bears game, drink some suds and reconnect. The date was set and then moved so that our head coach Frank Preo could make it to the reunion and since while it turned out the Bears had a bye week the timing was perfect.
I got there early was greeted by three amigos- Izzy, Keith and Bear. These guys were a couple years younger than me in school, but we share the common bond of purple and gold so age matters not. I played semi-pro with two of them- Keith was our quarterback and holds the distinction of the only human to end up in the ER to have a barb removed from his toe after trying to kick a dead catfish through the uprights on the practice field. Bear Kowalski was an all-state lineman for the vaunted Schurz Bulldogs (not an easy thing to accomplish for a Public League player) and we also put on the tools of ignorance and played semi-pro together for a few years.
It was good to see them.
The room began to fill up with familiar faces and less than familiar names, but one handshake or hug brought it all back. We were scattered playing cards from different years at school-but the common denominator were the two Kings- Preo and Smith, the guys that beat us into the ground, lifted us up and pushed us further than we thought we could go. Then coaches showed up, guys that worked at Schurz over the years, a few I taught with, a few I had as a teacher but all of us now on equal footing brought together to remember Ray. The word “coach” is a universal term-bestowed on anyone that has made the attempt to instruct fledgling players on whatever form a sport takes from badminton to baseball and from fencing to football. Once a coach- always a coach…so after 35 years it’s still hard for me to call Frank Preo by his first name…I supposed it would be like Green Bay Packer legend Jerry Kramer trying to call Lombardi “Vince”…It’s “Coach.”
Pictures of days gone by, gridiron glory when we were young, athletic, healthy and whole. Before careers, and deadlines, before demands and worry lines, there we all were with our battle gear on and shoulder to shoulder in victory and defeat. The din of the room rose as it filled up with more and more gladiators and the stories got bigger and the laughter got louder. Ray’s wife and two sons were there bathing in the energy and as the room got smaller, we all got bigger, stood a little taller as we reconnected with the part ourselves that formed on the football field and the wrestling mat, hundreds of hours of practice and repetition of hand to hand combat and a million other moments so many seasons ago.
The snapshots are fresh in my mind from the reunion, Coach Preo’s daughter snuck up behind me and whispered “Want a piece of gum?” something I had not heard since 1977 when part of my pre-game ritual was to have her give me sticks of gum until I had a mouthful. Bear’s battered and broken purple helmet with the bent gold facemask with stickers all over the back of it- gold stars for offensive awards and the skull and crossbones for the defensive awards sitting on a table. Watching guys reconnect after decades, a few still able to somehow fit into their high school jersey’s, Coach Preo floating through the room with a huge grin on his face. Ray’s wife Joan kissing his picture with tears rolling down her cheeks…
At one point I just stood off to the side to take it all in and looked at the gathering put in place by one man who pushed us all together in a room , reminding us that it never really was just about football. It’s been said that hindsight is 20/20- that one of the gifts of the passage of time is that events become clearer the further away we get from them and what we are left with is often the essentials of the moments we experience, the gold nuggets dug out of the dirt that often clouds our minds. For a few hours life was once again very clear, it felt good to be 18 again if only for a little while.
Football is in week seven and basketball is revving up in preseason and the boys of summer have given way to the legends of the fall as the World Series in baseball will feature the St. Louis Cardinals vs. the Boston Red Socks, two stalwarts of “America's Pastime.” It promises to be a knockdown, drag out battle between the clubs with both teams capable of delivering a knockout punch at any time, something that my hometown Chicago Cubs can only dream about in the off season as they watch the Big Show on their big screens.
So why this rant so late in the season as baseball is winding down?
There are three reasons- 1) The Chicago Trib article that laid out the next round of coaching requirements that torqued my bolts- 2) The Cubs have as much chance of a post season appearance as Miley Ray Cyrus singing the national anthem in game 7 and 3) I am convinced that I could get the same results as Mike Quade did before he was replaced by Dale Sveum as coach. In summation I am not a fan of Theo "The Wonder Boy" Epstein and the concept of playing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" without having players show up to actually play.
As most of the focus from another hapless Cubs season has been diverted to rebuilding Wrigley Field and the mobs of local residents who obviously forgot that what goes on inside the park is more important than what goes on outside the park and continually threaten lawsuits if their "rights" are trampled...psst...if you don't like so many night games...move four miles to the east...oops that's Lake Michigan. All that diversion and investment and lawsuits and "W" flags don't add up to a cup of spit if the guys on the field wearing pinstripes can't beat the kids from "Sandlot."
My first games as a kid was during that scorching summer of 69’ as I a rode the Irving Park bus down to Clark Street, waited outside the bleachers for my ticket and sat amongst the yellow hard hat wearing “Bleacher Bums” who taught me words I couldn’t say in front of my parents. I have been watching, analyzing, cheering, cursing and crowing about north side baseball for 44 years and my conclusion is well thought out based on serious science and a heart that bleeds Cubbie blue…and the survey said…
The line between the “baseball experts” and guys like me that know and love the game has evaporated perhaps due in part to the non-stop coverage of sports and the “open-mouth insert-foot” comments from office types that never played the game but talk like they did. In 2006 the Cubs could of had Joe Girardi the tough as nails smart as a whip catcher that was a field marshal for the Cubs during his playing days…they decided to go with Lou Pinella- and that went south...and seven years later after tucking a World Series in his portfolio Girardi said “no thanks” to Epstein. They could of brought in Ryne Sandberg, Hall of Famer and not only a great Cub player but a guy that was willing to pay his dues in the Cubs farm system as manager but Wonder Boy said “We need a manager with big league coaching experience” and hired Dale Sveum instead. Great move…now Sandberg is the skipper of the Phillies who thought enough of him to give him the reins to a club that knows what is like to win big. Good call…takes a lot of nads to turn away a guy like Sandberg that if nothing else would draw crowds to Wrigley and suck up $6 Budweiser’s…and give them a fair chance on the field.
Now that the answer to all the Cubs problems has been let go and the search begins for the next sacrificial goat I find it incredulous that in a recent press conference Epstein “thoroughly explained” his criteria for a new manager to take the boys in blue and throngs of fans to the promised land. “Developing players, major league experience, managing games, knowledge of personnel, and ‘intangibles” are the key factors to assure victory.
Really? Geez that really sounds like revolutionary blah blah blah...
Shouldn’t “developing players” be handled by the farm system so by the time they get to 1060 W. Addison they know where to park and how to hit a curve ball? Major league experience? Every guy on Theo’s short list has some major league experience…so did Sveum, Quade, Pinella, Baker, Kimm, and the 35 guys before them. Managing games? If you sit long enough at Wrigley the average fan with a scorecard could tell you that putting Carlos Marmol in to “build his confidence” was gonna end up bad and do nothing for his shell shocked psyche (Marmol now pitches for the Dodgers who made the playoffs.) Knowledge of personnel? That’s a good one. It’s a 162 game season and if you cannot figure out after three years that Starlin Castro (who is apparently incapable of maintaining his focus longer than three innings) needs more attention than just demoting him in the lineup…I could make that move…then the nonsense of “baseball experience” goes out the window and finally…the best word of the bunch…
“Intangibles” defined as “incapable of being defined by the senses.”
That word…makes the most sense of all…I find myself incapable of understanding how when all is said and done, winning baseball…a game of fundamentals can be left up to men who have never played even one inning and talk like they have. Hell, if that’s all it takes, then I could manage the Cubs. I hit a grand-slam at Randy Hundley’s Fantasy Camp-so I’m qualified.
Smack dab in the middle of the battle over "Obama Care" or the "Affordable Care Act" with all the name calling, button pushing, finger pointing and ass wiping going on in our nation’s capital I kept wondering to myself "how the hell did all this happen?" Was it the lapse of memory on the GOP side that forgot like it or not the ACA was signed into law two years ago, not the first law that only part of the country agreed or disagreed with...heck there is a federal law that makes it a felony to issue a fake weather broadcast-some politician earned their 174K per year on that one. Was it Ted "Green Eggs and Ham" Cruz and his filibuster that launched this epic struggle that to derail the national health initiative that would then ensure all the private insurance companies that operate without flaw would remain solvent? Was it the backroom jabber between John Boehner and Harry Reid the “Heckle and Jeckle” of politics that pushed us to this point? After ten minutes of “Morning Joe” I really wanted to know whose fault it is that we are once again on the brink of total collapse as a nation…and faster than I could say “Super Bowl Shuffle" the answer surfaced.
This is all Mike Ditka’s fault.
That’s right the vaunted former head coach of the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints, the feared tight end that earned the nick-name “Iron Mike” for his sledgehammer like forearm shots to hapless defensive backs, the cigar chomping, Eddie Munster haired, gum throwing man that has become legend on and off the field, is responsible for this mess.
Ditka a staunch Republican says that if he had run for the U.S. Senate from Illinois in 2004, he would have beaten Obama and ended his political career then and there. "Biggest mistake I've ever made," Ditka said in a public appearance recently and with typical coach talk quipped “LISTEN PUNK Not dat I woulda won dat senatorial race but I prabbly woulda have and dat bum Obama he wouldn’t be in dat White House” The translated version is…"Not that I would have won, but I probably would have and he wouldn't be in the White House." Uh..ok Coach.
Imagine however if Ditka would have run and followed the same route at Obama and become POTUS #44? Would the Saturday Night Live “Super Fans” still be doing commercials with Aaron Rodgers? “Welcome to grill class yer tongz are in da seat back” Would the bigger than life coach still be the focus of such questions as “Who wuld win dis one? Gadzilla vs Ditka? DITKA!” As Prez would the man Papa Bear Halas hand-picked to lead Da Bears to glory still have partnered with Vienna Sauuusage to create “Ditka Sauusages” that are a robust 8 inches long and a full 1/3 lb. that comes wit dat slogan dere “ Mike’s Meat Is Big-Eat It OR... He’ll slap ya around like da weasel u are dere…”
For sure there would be some real advantages to having Iron Mike in dat White House. First Harry Reid would have been dropped to the floor like a bad habit the first time he opened his cake hole because President Ditka would have brought that sledgehammer to bear. There’s a good chance that Prez Dyzcko (the name was changed to Ditka because Dyzcko was too hard to pronounce) would have the same relationship with Johnny Boehner as he did with his defensive coach on the Bears Buddy Ryan. “Hey dere Boner dere aint no cryin in politics, if you wanna cry put on a pair of dem Depends.” Meetings with Democrats would be short and to the point “ See dat ya bum (holding his fingers in a way to create a zero sign) dats yer eye que buddy boy and dan’t get any ideaz dat duh bill yer holding dere is gonna get pazt my line of scrimmage ya geek.” That punk Putin would would think twice before taking pictures with his shirt off showing his manboobs, full well knowing if Iron Mike unbuttoned his tailored made Arrow Shirt his forged in steel chest plate would put Putin to shame. Same goes for “dat punk in Narth Karea who needz an ass whippin.” One glance in the direction of Kim Jong-Un from the stout jawed Ditka would be enough avert nuclear war. “Whaat bum names der kid wit testes after a girl anyway?” Cigar chomp…..
Well, Da Coach decided not to run against Obama back in 04’ giving way to that bastion of political perfection Ambassador Alan Keyes as Barak’s opponent and thus catapulting our nation toward this battle of nitwits nine years later. Iron Mike backed down from the senate race and put in motion a chain of dominos (not the pizza) that has strained America to the breaking point…again. In a rare move however in October 2011, Ditka and the 1985 team went to the White House after they didn't attend in 1986 due to the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. He presented President Obama with a Chicago Bears jersey with the number 85 on it with "Obama" on the back of it. Reporters close to the scene reported that the Da Coach whispered to the POTUS…
“Lissen Barak u might want tink about dat dem udder stuff when dat time comz for dat stuff dat you tink is impartant but migh nat be dat impartant as u tink it is cause like I said yer lucky dat I let dat bum Keyes in cause I wulda kicked yer backside from here to dere…you know over dere.”
President Obama was reported to have said “Thanks Coach.”
I was walking in the crisp fall air yesterday morning and the first thought that came to mind was “Man it's a great day to play football.” Sunny, cool and clear with low humidity-the perfect day to man up on the gridiron...while my mind thinks it’s a good idea, my 55 year old body probably wouldn't make it through the first quarter-unless I was playing against a bunch of codgers my age, then all of us would probably be done in fifteen minutes. It’s been twenty four years since I last played in a full contact football game at the semi-pro level-I had it in my mind to stop when I was 30 and I did reach that goal (no pun intended.) While the NFL never called the CFL (Chicago Football League) did and for six years I beat my brains out on guys like me, stand out players in high school and college that just couldn't get the game out of our system. Before that it was four years of college football, four years of high school football, three years of park district football and two years of “midget” football…nineteen years of practice, practice and more practice to get ready for a one hour game once a week. Thousands of hours spent studying plays, defenses and drills designed for two outcomes, delivering physical punishment to the opposing team and winning the game. Did a lot of both and had both of those outcomes sent back my way. Fingers that are permanently bent and a knee devoid of cartilage along with constant cracking in my neck on are my enduring reminders.
I watched an excellent documentary last night about the brain damage that comes from playing football especially in the NFL where humans the size of dinosaurs collide with such force that the crack of the pads can be heard all over the stadium. For years there was a cover up by the NFL about how much damage is done to the brain bucket as highly paid gladiators sacrifice their bodies for two reasons- delivering physical punishment to the opposing team and winning the game- and going for the brass ring of the Super Bowl. The cover up started to unravel as the stars on the field started to suffer off the field and eventually take their own lives to stop the pain-the ripple effect of being a “disposable hero.” Harry Carson, the standout linebacker for the New York Giants who played twenty years said “It’s not just the NFL where these concussions happen that can hurt the players, it starts when we send ten year olds with underdeveloped brains at full speed against each other and it escalates from there.”
That got my attention.
I can clearly remember lining up for the “kiss drill” in high school and college where we stand ten yards apart from a one of our teammates and on the whistle run at top speed, smashing into each other face to face “kissing” the other guy with our facemasks slamming together like cow catchers on the front of a locomotive. “HIT-KISS-WRAP” was repeated until we were out of breath or one of us had enough and dropped to the ground like a wounded rhino. BAM! BAM! BAM! over and over again to get the tackling technique just right and to this day I can remember what it felt like to do it so many times that by the game kick off-all I wanted to do was put my face into someone else and see if I could knock their teeth out. My nose took the brunt of the force and over those nineteen years I broke my nose four times-the evidence is now I can only really sleep on my right side in order to breathe at night. That being said, I loved the contact, the physical energy it took to perform on the field and the battles that were fought every week over imaginary enemy lines.
There were three times that I know of where I was hit so hard by an opposing player that I had a white light flash in front of my eyes and for the next few minutes thought Abe Lincoln was still president- the force generated by a couple of guys weighing 240 pounds colliding was akin to two bull elephants battering their foreheads together. One time a guy named Robert Placek hit me so hard I actually saw stars as he was the lead blocker on a run play and I the linebacker that filled the hole. Robert and I came together for only an instant but both of us got knocked silly, we held each other up and he said “Wow! Great hit” with a glaze in his eyes as the running back scored from the five yard line.
It’s just part of the game.
Now imagine the force with a couple of 300 pound guys banging on each other in the NFL-to the point that no matter how good a helmet you have on, your brain gets damaged and the effects do not show up until you hang up your helmet for good and the screaming throngs of fans have forgotten who you are, and you no longer know who you are and the changes in your behavior related to the blunt force trauma you were paid millions to endure cannot save you from putting a shotgun into your chest and pulling the trigger, or drinking anti-freeze to stop the pain as in the case of Chicago Bear Dave Duerson and Pittsburgh Steeler Terry Long, both of whom are on the list of players that ended their lives and whose brains show evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) from all the collisions during their careers. Over a dozen players have chosen to take their lives and all of them had CTE.
For years the NFL said that the high impact collisions did not lead to brain damage, and it reminded me of when the tobacco companies denied that smoking doesn’t cause cancer. The NFL “expert” for a long time on the issue was a dinky little dude and he maintained there was no connect between the violent game hits and CTE.
I highly doubt the “expert” ever had to run into Robert Placek or Dave Duerson.
So what now? Football is America’s Sport and millions of kids are slamming into each other in their quest for gridiron greatness and with the hope of one day striking it big and getting their name on the back of a pro jersey. There are over 100,000 high school senior football players in the United States only a privileged 218 will make it onto a coveted NFL roster. Those numbers give us chances of about .218%. That's not even a solid three of 1,000 hopefuls. The average career in the NFL lasts 3.5 to 6.5 years and then…that’s it.
Something to be mindful of as a fan when we watch our modern day gladiators do battle while screaming at the television set and spend billions to wear the same garb as the players on a fantasy football team. Perhaps that’s the real allure of “fantasy football" as the human mind often has a hard time discerning reality- so “playing” from a distance gives chills and thrills but far enough away from the real game so the only brain cells that get damaged are the ones that come from consuming alcohol in both in victory and defeat.
It’s not often that I fumble with words, but attempting to put my thoughts of how important today is for me into some semblance of order is proving near impossible for two reasons. 1) I am having trouble connecting the dots that are at least coherent and 2) I have to stop every couple minutes to wipe my eyes that seem to constantly leak making it hard to see the computer screen. The reason for all this wonderful confusion and tears?
It’s my daughter’s birthday, her 25th to be exact.
She arrived at the designated coordinates right on time, of that I am sure-8:10am on September 20th, 1988 coming in at 10lbs 2oz and putting her mom through twenty plus hour of labor. In the first few minutes after she was born a big smile came across her face, and she hasn't stopped smiling since.
We quickly found out that Amanda was born with Vesicoureteral reflux which is an abnormal movement of urine from the bladder into ureters or kidneys. Urine normally travels from the kidneys via the ureters to the bladder. In vesicoureteral reflux the direction of urine flow is reversed and can cause infections that can lead to kidney damage. Once it was diagnosed we tried to get all manner of foul smelling, goopy antibiotics into her, not an easy task to say the least. But through it all...she smiled...even when she was puking in the doctor’s office...she smiled as if to say..."I got this."
When she was around five the decision was made to go in and fix the problem with a minor surgery. The day before the operation was to take place we got a call telling us that Amanda would have to have one of her kidneys removed, that it was toxic and needed to come out. We were of course stunned, and huddled with her the night before surgery with no idea how all this would turn out. The surgery went as planned, her kidney was removed and it was diagnosed that her remaining kidney had about 25% function left, that the coming year would bring dialysis and the need for transplant in the near future, not exactly the news we were looking for.
Amanda rebounded quickly from the surgery as kids do, I can clearly remember watching her do backflips in the living room with a catheter in, much to our horror and her delight. We became diligent about her meds and supplements, seeking out a Chinese herbalist that gave us all manner of natural ingredients to boost her immune system. The tea that came from boiling down bark, twigs, sticks and one time…bugs…was a powerful mixture to say the least and many a time Amanda and I sat at the table as she slugged down the stuff. Later we were able to get the herbs in pill form, they looked like rabbit pellets and it wasn’t until we moved that a trail of pellets was found behind the fridge in the kitchen, shoved in line there by Amanda when she got tired of the dirt like taste.
It wasn’t until she was 14 that the transplant needed to happen, all our efforts prolonged the life span of that remaining kidney long past the year the doctors had predicted. Past all odds with both my father and grandfather having polycystic kidney disease and with nothing short of a miracle encounter that became a healing for me, (you can read about it in my book Every Moment Matters) I was able to give Amanda one of my kidneys, on July 18th 2002 which for me is her second birthday.
The past eleven years have been perfect health-wise for Amanda, a couple speed bumps here and the but that kidney keeps doing its thing and I am convinced beyond all shadow of a doubt its Amanda’s attitude that plays perhaps the biggest role in her health and healing. When people ask me how the transplant affected me I always say the same two things, I lean little more to the right than I used to, and there is nothing greater than giving your child life, twice.
No longer the gangly, grinning blonde hair little girl, these days Amanda is coming up into the home stretch for her college degree in fashion marketing. Her time is tight and days are packed with classes, working and internship. I am always lifted when I happen to catch a picture she posts of herself with that beautiful smile and those shining eyes; perhaps the influence of her dad has moved her to become a wordsmith with her own blog and insights.
I left her a birthday message early this morning, knowing that her day is full and I almost made it through before my voice cracked and my eyes began to leak. Through all her trials I have never heard her say “why did this have to happen to me?” I have never heard her feel sorry for herself or say she was limited in any way shape or form. She was an all-state volleyball player, diving on the floor just months after surgery.
She is my daughter, my teacher and my friend. I am a part of her in more ways than one as she is a part of me way past the obvious.
Happy Birthday Amanda, the world is a far better place with you in it, your smile lights up my life.
I have my shorts in a bundle, my bolts are torqued and my rhubarb is rubbed raw…and it’s only six o’clock in the morning. A fly has been buzzing around my ear all night, like some winged assassin bent on driving me to drink by its incessant flight pattern, triggering a domino effect of thoughts and emotions that are just this side of mayhem.
Nothing like waking up and thinking that the movie “Anger Management” while funny, is accurate.
I feel like the bear in a cage that the trainer keeps poking at, getting angrier with each jab and the prods come in all shapes and forms, from all angles and at different times. Sometimes the poke between the bars hits old wounds that have scabbed over and haven't had time to fully heal, opening up festered sores that are decades old and other times the end of the stick digs into fresh spots on my hide, tearing another hole that is gonna need time to heal and never fully does. Most of what I am angry about comes from decisions that other people made that affected my life in a way they cannot even comprehend and even if they did, probably could care less about. Some of what brings up that molten lava of anger are decisions I made or actions I have taken that caused pain in the lives of people close to me-as it’s been said “you cannot un-ring the bell.” Still further, deeper, is anger for things I could not change in others no matter how hard I tried, as if I would be the first human in history who could pull off such a feat.
The short list includes job loss which is connected to income which is connected to foreclosure (which does not bring closure) the weight of which is a heavy burden-at least for me. Being the son of a banker means when I sign on the dotted line…not paying off a mortgage is akin to unspeakable horrors no matter the circumstances. Add in a few hundred online employment applications that I have submitted with nary a response or the many meetings I have attended that end with “we know your radio work; you’re an amazing talent but….” You can fill in the blank on your own. Add in a divorce, two trips to the ER for chest pain related to stress and I am paying storage on “stuff” that is on one hand priceless but on the other hand carries a price tag of fifty bucks a month.
With all of that brewing under my collar just five minutes with the media adds to my angst. Another shooting, this time not in the “mass” category but a young boy gunned down on the street in Chicago, hardly a new thing but nonetheless it stokes the flame. Elected officials that make six figures threatening to “shut down” the government in an attempt to de-fund Obamacare-while they would continue to be paid and get the best healthcare that is provided by and paid for by taxpayers, stocks are higher than they have been in years so Wall Street dances while Main Street struggles and there was only one winner in the Powerball, and it wasn’t me.
My reptilian brain stem and rudimentary nervous system has been on overload so long I am getting accustomed to being in a constant state of “angry” or “jacked” or “pissed” about something. It might be as small as the fly that buzzed my ear at night and that eludes my daily attempts to extinguish its meager life form or my inability to comprehend the elevator of gas prices that rise and fall on the speculation of investors brought about by the announcement that some Middle Eastern OPEC prince got a hemorrhoid. From another dismal season by the Cubs to stubbing my toe on the bed frame to computer driven phone calls about an overdue bill, my last nerve is twitching like a downed power line in a thunderstorm.
Not the blog one might expect from a guy that is featured on a list of “visionaries” that includes Nelson Mandela and Oprah Winfrey, it is perhaps not the life-affirming prose from the author of books that espouse “living an uncommon life” and that “every moment matters.” It is however the truth of my life this morning and I am ok with that. It is the other side of the coin so to speak and puts me in a category with at least 2.2 million other people who followed the rules, and through no fault of their own lost a job and home and millions more that are sick and tired of the speed bumps of life and the supposed shortcuts that easily even out the journey.
Writing like this puts me at risk-that I might not appear to be “perfect” in the eyes of those that purchase my books, listen to me on the air or bring me in to speak to their groups. I don’t have the spit and polish of those that hawk their wares touting secret ways to live a great life or the nine steps to wealth or how to meditate your way to miracles. Some days I am just flat ticked off, and responding with the most oft repeated lie of humans “I’m fine” is not gonna happen, at least not this morning.
The bottom line that sometimes life is just plain hard…period… and the only way to get through it is to go through it.
In short conversation with a friend it was suggested that I “let it go.” The key word in that quip might be “it” which is a plethora of things as I have alluded to. It’s totally possible that I am blocking my own good from showing up because of the attachments I have to people and events in the past, that now only exist in my mind, which is really nothing more than a mirror of thoughts, thousands of which roll by behind my eyes showing me “woulda, coulda and shoulda”moments.
“Letting it go” is one of those bantered about quotes on Pinterest and is of course easier said than done. I am not sure that we can ever truly “let it go” but perhaps we just learn to accept what is and what is not, on a different level as it comes up…or down.
Wow, now that was the “visionary” in me shining through.
Things are looking up however, in the forty minutes or so it has taken to vent out this stuff, the fly that was buzzing my sleep like a kamikaze pilot has met it’s a maker and for now I can cross it off my list.
It’s another morning, as I slog my way through a vast array of email, the inbox on the virtual desk aka my laptop is filled with every manner of flotsam that humans can create. I am glad that the “junk” drawer catches most of the garbage before it hits my eyes-once glance in that black hole of humanity shows me that the computer tech that invented the sorting system of email has spared me from 31 spam ads ranging from “THE 3 SECRET WORDS EVERY WOMAN WANTS TO HEAR” to “CLICK ON THE MYSTERY LINK TO WIN YOUR PRIZE” to “CASINO ONLINE $100 FREE!”
The talking heads on the tube are once again dissecting another “mass” shooting at the Naval Yard in Washington DC and I am always amazed-even though I shouldn't be- how many people have the answers to the problem of gun control-but mostly after shootings have taken place. By all accounts the “shooter” had a background check and enough security clearance to gain access as civilian contractor and the investigation isn't clear at this point as to the type of weapon used. It’s possible that the “shooter” actually rented an AR-15 rifle but had returned it before the shooting took place.
Didn't know you could rent one...huh.
Back to the email inbox there is correspondence from people who watched my interview with George Noory on his “Beyond Belief” show but while reading them I keep thinking of the biblical type floods washing away parts of Boulder, Colorado and how much I enjoyed being in that beautiful city just three weeks ago.
Behind me I hear the ongoing feud of two bloviating sports guys arguing over how “Johnny Football” will fare in his first NFL season, the red-shirt sophomore will be eligible for the draft at the end of the 2013 season and speculation on his college performance and Heisman Trophy win has the fanatics in overdrive. The next grist for the mill is the protest picketing the Jacksonville Jaguars to sign unemployed QB Tim Tebow, unfortunately for TT only four people showed up. But if scripture holds true... “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20) then “Tebowing” might just become part of the Jacksonville landscape.
A quick scan of channels reveals that one of the “stars” of “Teen Mom 2” is pregnant again thus ensuring at least another nine months or so of employment, a video of kittens who have been taught how to play “Jenga” and a two year old audio tape of from a coach at a major university “F-Bombing” the fans for not supporting the team enough and the breaking news that the most watched show on television is about a bunch of bearded guys who make duck calls for a living and have not only managed to get 11.8 million people to watch their antics but have also grabbed the brass ring when it comes to marketing, earning their own aisle in that bastion of capitalism known as Wal-Mart.
Good for them.
Evolution is defined as the change in the inherited characteristics of biological populations over successive generations. Evolutionary processes give rise to diversity at every level of biological organization, including species, individual organisms and molecules such as DNA and proteins. The influencing factors that engage the process have to do with external factors that force the species to adapt internally thus inflicting change. Darwin stated that it’s not the strongest that survive but the ones most able to adapt to change. What holds my interest is that who or what is creating the landscape that we must learn to adapt to?
Guess what? Turns out that we are landscapers that shape and frame the world we live in and have to adapt to.
Critical mass is when a certain percentage of a population adopts a belief that turns into a new behavior. Some of the best examples of this concept of course connect to television and our brains inability to differentiate reality from manufactured reality. Back in the 70’s “Welcome Back Kotter” brought us the “Sweathogs” and millions walked around saying “Up your nose with a rubber hose” and other such witty verbal comments. Here we are three decades later and millions of people are quoting a bearded guy “You Can’t Fix Stupid.” While that snappy quote is making the rounds I believe it was John Wayne who actually said it first…but oddly enough The Duke never got his own aisle in Wally World nor did he sprout a beard.
Yesterday I went in to pay my cell phone bill and was accosted by a bearded young fella on the sales floor. He approached me as I paid my bill “virtually” at a kiosk and offered up the latest “tablet” that was currently $100 dollars off if I signed up today. “Why would I buy that?” I challenged him. “Well sir you can get a ton of information at your fingertips!” He responded. “Like what?” I asked. “Well you can surf the web, get the latest news and it’s faster than ever!” “Let me think about it” I said as I wrestled with the touch screen demanding information from my brain pan and the thought of adding another portable electronic landfill machine that dispensed information at the touch of a finger was way too much for me to consider.
On the way out the door he tried one more time, “Watch this!” The young bearded one pulled up a page on the internet and bent over to talk to the “tablet” “What are the latest NFL scores?” and in an instant a sexy female voice barked back… “The Bears beat the Vikings 31 to 30….” Before another score could roll off her virtual tongue I said “Can you get Duck Dynasty on that thing???” A big grin broke on his young bearded face “Oh yes sir! We are actually running a special DD app right now…”
The more things seem to change the more I understand the concept of evolution…or not.
I had just hung up the phone after talking with a friend in Chicago when my former wife called me into the living room..."Something is going on in New York." Matt Lauer was reporting that plane had gone into one of the towers of the World Trade Center but it was not confirmed what kind of plane it was. As we sat there watching a live shot came up and within a few minutes another jet came in from the left side of the frame and exploded into the second tower, sending fireballs out of the back side of the building.
We looked at each other in disbelief. Life would never be the same again.
I went off to do radio early that day as chaos reigned over the airwaves. Rush Limbaugh was on vacation and the guy sitting in for him wasn't helping the situation with wild claims and reports that were not substantiated. The decision was made to pull that show and I got on the air to hold ground locally in Michigan and Wisconsin while putting in national reports as needed from the network. For six hours I sat listening to reports float in from New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania and did the best I could to bring a sense of calm to a constantly changing situation.
When I finished my time I drove slowly, taking a back road that went past several churches, their parking lots filled to overflowing. Just past the railroad tracks a small business with a flagpole in the front yard beckoned me and I was compelled to stop and drop Old Glory to half-mast. When I got home all I wanted to do was spend time with my family and do something that felt normal so my then ten year old son Andy and I tossed a football around. I can clearly remember that it was the only time in my life that I had a visceral fear in my gut about what else might be lurking in the coming hours. The next few days would reveal nineteen hijackers, used box cutters to take over those jets and inflict wounds on the psyche of Americans, we learned the term “Al-Qaeda” (which means The Base) and we came to know the name of Osama bin Laden.
The carnage brought us images of humans leaping to their death, the air filled with a billion bits of paper floating down like snowflakes, the towers crumbling to the ground like sandcastles washing away to the sea and twisted steel forming a permanent mausoleum for thousands of bodies that would never be recovered, their souls forever entombed in mix of concrete, steel and fire. Another image that was brief, showed our elected officials on the steps of the Capitol joined in song, politics and parties put aside for the time being in a show of unity as the reminder came that an attack on our soil is one of the few things that turns political adversaries into one unified body-as it was designed to be.
As I sit here thinking back on life 144 months ago, the world of course as we knew it no longer exists, turned upside down and inside out in a few brief moments shortly before 9am eastern time. Osama bin Laden and scores of his militant followers have been killed, so have over 6,000 US soldiers and over 100,000 civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thousands of soldiers will forever carry the scars both mentally and physically for the rest of their lives and the loss to family and friends all over the world in incalculable.
It was perhaps in some ways “the end of the innocence” at least defined by a generation that had things pretty easy for a very long time. Soon enough we would be plunged into a full scale decade long war, the cost of which cannot be fully calculated on a spread sheet. The cost of a way of life forever changed doesn't have enough zeros to be accurate.
I was talking with my son last night who is now 22 and in college and it got me thinking about how fast the past 12 years has gone. It also got me thinking about the time I have had that so many others lost.
It got me thinking about the youngest victim of 9/11.
Christine Lee Hanson was on-board Flight 175 with her parents going to California for vacation; it was her first plane ride. Her father Peter was on the phone with her grandparents when the plane went into the South Tower.
Today she would be 14.
I appreciate all the comments, questions and thoughts regarding my appearance on "Beyond Belief" with George Noory. If you would like a copy of my latest book "Notes From The North" you can order it on my home page. If you would like to stay in touch please fill out the subscriber box on this page- and again...many thanks!
It’s just around a six hour drive (including pit stops for essentials like coffee and urinals) from Upper Michigan to Chicago. Over the past 17 years I have driven that route hundreds of times, most of the miles accompanied by music, talk radio and a myriad of thoughts about all things great and small. If I had used Rosetta Stone I could speak six languages by now with all the time I have sat in the driver seat.
This trip was more important than most of them, because I was going to not only say “goodbye” to a man who was very important to me, but also “hello” to other men that fall in the same category to a greater or lesser degree. When I got the news that the seemingly invincible iron man of Schurz High School football-Ray Smith- had passed away it shook me to the core. Now as I am nearly 55, I have been to my share of funerals and have no illusion that somehow just because my name isn't in the obits today- that it might not be tomorrow. No one gets out of life alive-that's a fact. It's also a fact that the reason it shook me up is that as I grow older pieces of my past break off and when that happens I go back and see those times not just for what they were then, but also what they are now.
The church was filled up with family and friends and former players all lined up to pay our respects and acknowledge that part of ourselves that Ray had put his brand on. Each of us in our own way had a thought or memory that needed to be honored and as I sat with my 1977 Bulldog co-captain Tim, I scanned the gathered, some faces familiar, others harder to place. It was a full mass with a lot of standing and kneeling, and ever since they put AstroTurf in at Hanson Stadium that took its toll, taking a knee (even in church) is one of my least favorite things to do. Standing next to Tim had me thinking about all the times we stood up in front of the team leading them in calisthenics while coaches Preo and Smith inspected the troops. Three decades or more of players and coaches were gathered under one roof, with the air conditioning broke down in the chapel. I guess Ray wanted us to break a sweat one more time.
The mass ended and we filed out of church into the bright sunshine. We milled around not exactly knowing what to do, giving a hug here or a slap on the back there-doing the guy thing. Some of the faces I had not seen in more than twenty years and it took a moment to remember the names that went along with the mug shot. At one point we lined up for pictures, players from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s all in a row, our jerseys and helmets replaced by suit coats and grey hair.
We all agreed that we didn't realize how lucky we were back in the day to have these mentors, coaches and leaders in our lives. What looked like an ass chewing , wind sprints or up-downs turned out to be discipline in disguise. To be part of a team, something bigger than you, to contribute to an outcome be it winning or losing was setting us up to deal with the highs and lows of life. To know thunderous applause at a pep rally was balanced out by sitting alone in the locker room wracked with pain from an injury displayed both ends of the emotional spectrum. Putting on that purple and gold jersey for the first time filled me with pride, taking it off for the last time was bittersweet. I came across it recently, the number 81 in gold gleaming at me from the bottom drawer. Upon closer inspection the thought came to try it on and after getting started I couldn't believe I ever got the material over my shoulder pads. It was a pretty snug fit...must have shrunk over the years.
After the reception promises were made to stay in touch more so that we don’t just show up at memorials to see each other. We wandered back to our lives, from near and far, no longer boys but men now with a jillion responsibilities and commitments that life has thrown our way. As I sit to write now two days later it’s the voice of Bob Seger that come to mind when I think of Tim, James, Big Mac and JK along with Bear and Big O and of course Frank Preo and Ray Smith.
Stood there boldly, sweatin' in the sun
Felt like a million, felt like number one
The height of summer, I'd never felt that strong
Like a rock
My hands were steady
My eyes were clear and bright
My walk had purpose
My steps were quick and light
And I held firmly
To what I felt was right
Like a rock
Like a rock, I was strong as I could be
Like a rock, nothin' ever got to me
Like a rock, I was something to see
Like a rock
And I stood arrow straight
Unencumbered by the weight
Of all these hustlers and their schemes
I stood proud, I stood tall
High above it all
I still believed in my dreams
Forty years now
Where'd they go?
I don't know
Sit and I wonder sometimes
Where they've gone
And sometimes late at night
When I'm bathed in the firelight
The moon comes callin' a ghostly white
And I recall
Like a rock. standin' arrow straight
Like a rock, chargin' from the gate
Like a rock, carryin' the weight
Like a rock...
Like a rock, the sun upon my skin
Like a rock, hard against the wind
Like a rock, I see myself again
Like a rock…
I am not 17 anymore-that’s a fact. However there is a part of me, deep inside that still sees the world the way I did back then. Before the erosion of life with its diversions, doubts, divorces and disappointments. It’s a sacred space that is brought back to life when I am around guys that are connected to that time that seems so far away but in reality is just a thought away. While Smitty’s passing is sad, I am glad that even in his death he brought us all back together-just like he did in life...and seemed to say to each of us...
“Halftime is over boys. Its’ the 3rd quarter and the clock is ticking… Time to strap on your hats put your ears back-and go get it done.”
I don’t know where to start.
How do I even begin to put in to words the death of someone that touched hundreds of lives, not only lead by barking out orders but also by example and lived in such a way that if you looked up "discipline" or "toughness" or "passion" in the dictionary you would find his craggy, steeled face? How do I find the right combination of thoughts and memories to do justice to a man that was a throwback to a different time, when pride still mattered? How in the world do I can I use this small space to describe a man that lived in such a big way?
How do I say “thank you” and “goodbye” to Ray Smith at the same time?
Growing up in Chicago football was my religion and Dick Butkus was my God, and while the Bears were fairly terrible at times, the opportunity to watch #51 attempt to dismember some opposing quarterback was worth enduring losing seasons. Back in 1974 I was a skinny kid bent on making the football team in my second year of high school-but of course it wasn’t just any team-it was the lure of becoming a “Bulldog” at Schurz High School. After a summer of preparation that included running full speed into trees with full equipment (my dad got what I was doing but my mom thought it best to just hit trees in the backyard so the neighbors wouldn’t think I was totally nuts) I went to tryouts at the school and got in line with fifty other young men that wanted to wear the purple and gold.
That’s when I got my first taste of Coach Ray Smith.
After running sprints, doing jumping jacks, side stepping in agility drills and hitting tackling dummies until the sweat poured off us, we stood in a long tunnel that leads into the school like cattle lined up at auction. Head Coach Frank Preo, a legend in Chicago Public League High School football surveyed the troops with a keen eye. Walking next to him was a barrel chested man, with a baseball cap turned backwards (I would come to learn that when Ray Smith turned that cap backwards, things were gonna get serious) a face that looked like it was carved from granite and an intensity that was palpable and profound. Preo was the lightening and Ray Smith was the thunder…the enforcer. As Preo preached about dedication, perseverance and pride to the team, Smith stood by his side, flipping his whistle around his fingers, over and over again, the embodiment of the very concepts that the Coach was barking our way. Ray didn't have to say anything; his stance did the talking for him.
I didn't make the varsity team that year, but by 1975 I had grown and filled out and moved up in ranks from the frosh-soph team to eventually wear the jersey I had coveted for so long. But before I could be part of the legacy, I had to endure with the other guys on the team two-a-day practices on the raggedy ass field across the street from the school that really didn't have much grass but did have a goal post at one end. From early in the morning until late in the afternoon with a break in between we busted our guts learning plays, doing “monkey rolls” and one of the most dreaded drills “the nutcracker” where a blocker and runner try to get past a tackler inside a “chute” made up of tackling dummies on the ground. Ray Smith would hover over this full frontal assault, cap backwards, whistle stuck in his formidable jaw and eyes glaring-urging us on. "FOOTBALL ISN’T CHECKERS! IF YOU WANT TO PLAY CHECKERS GET THE HELL OUTTA THERE!!” “THIS ISNT A CONTACT SPORT IT’S A COLLISION SPORT AND YOU GUYS BETTER LEARN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO!!” He referred to the more specialty positions like wide receiver or running backs as “birdlegs” and the guys that did the real work as “grunts.”
“HEY- LOOK AT THOSE DAMN BIRDLEGS OVER THERE TAKING IT EASY, GETTING ALL THE LOOKS FROM THE GIRLS! DON’T THEY LOOK GOOD GOING OVER PLAYS IN THE SHADE” he would bark as we put our shoulder’s into the two-man sled while he rode it like an iron horse until we dropped from exhaustion.
I barely fit it the “grunt’s” category on offense because I played tight end which means I had to block more than catch a ball. Eventually I would become co-captain of Bulldogs as a senior, along with my buddy Tim Anderson, an honor that bonded us together and remains to this day. We had good seasons and great times.
After I graduated I had the opportunity to go back and teach at Schurz for a few years and also coach alongside these two legends. It gave me a whole different view of Ray Smith, this man who also played at Schurz years ago and would say “Augie when I cut myself shaving I bleed purple and gold.” Those two seasons coaching was once again more about life off the field than on it. It wasn’t until a few years ago when I went to a lunch gathering that I really got to see what Ray Smith was all about.
He had lost a leg to diabetes.
There were twenty or more coaches, teachers and former players at the lunch and I arrived just a few minutes late. Seated at the head of the table was the Lombardi-like Preo and to his left was Charlie Bliss one of the best quarterbacks in the history of Chicago football and next to him-was Ray. Before I could find a seat he was up and moving toward me with that craggy face and perfect hair, embracing me in a bear hug. Charlie vacated his seat for me, a grand gesture and for the next couple hours I sat between these two men that not only changed my life but hundreds and hundreds of young men just like me. We laughed until our sides ached and at one point Ray got up to use the john. When he left the table Preo leaned over and said “Augie when Ray found out that the leg needed to go, he couldn't wait to get it over with. Within a week he was on that prosthetic and putting in his backyard. Through all of it he has never complained once.” When I left that lunch I sat in my car for a few minute processing all that went on. Just before I left, the door opened and out came Preo and Smith, walking side by side as they had for over 30 years…and that’s when it really hit me.
It was never just about football…it was about a much bigger game. It took me years to figure out that not only was Ray Smith teaching me to not give up on a block…but to not give up in life.
Ray passed away yesterday. Those of us that were touched by his fire and passion are part of his legacy. His presence was the example.
I have been trying to take a nap before I catch a plane later this afternoon but to no avail. I have been up since before dawn which isn't unusual for me, and the sight of the mountains just outside of Boulder, Colorado where I have been staying for the past three days was exceptional as the sunrise painted them a crimson red. The perfect way to start the day…or so I thought.
Until...dun dun dun dun dun daaa...Miley Ray Cyrus sent millions hurtling to an uncertain future of moral ruin because of her performance at the MTV Video Music Awards. I watched a clip that showed her in a skimpy outfit, tongue wagging like a Pomeranian in heat, using a giant foam finger on her crotch and finally backing up doggy style to Robin "Beetlejuice" Thicke while he sang some song I've never heard of.
The outrage of her on-stage antics has reached a fever pitch and prompted MSNBC "Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski to proclaim "she is deeply disturbed, troubled, has confidence issues and possibly an eating disorder." I know she was talking about Miley Ray but my psych 101 jumped up and Carl Jung was in my ear “Remember THE SHADOW John." CJ was of course referring to his famous "projection theory" in which the darker part of us "projects" our own unresolved issues onto someone else-to soothe our rampant ego. According to Jung, the shadow, in being instinctive and irrational, is prone to projection: turning a personal inferiority into a perceived moral deficiency in someone else. Projecting our own faults, our fears and flaws onto someone else has become a national pastime. Basically what pisses us off in someone else is just a mirror that is often very hard to look at.
I was not offended at all by Miley Ray's performance because to expect the MTV Awards to be a bastion of morality is like going to Wrigley Field expecting the Cubs to win the World Series. After watching Madonna break all the rules in the 80’s and into the 90’s which created “Madonnabees” (knock off performers who push the envelope to get attention nothing surprises me)-except how people respond to all this. The moral compass got pushed when rock& roll played on radio in the 50’s, Elvis Presley wasn’t shown from the waist down on the tube for fear young girls would…not sure what. “The Pelvis” eventually became “The King” and the only life he succeeded in destroying-was his own. The Beatles brought long hair and an “I give a shit what you think of me” attitude pushing barbers out of business and moving the moral needle again.
Eventually The Fab Four were known more for “peace” which is really a bigger moral dilemma than smoking bongs or long hair.
Miley Ray Cyrus is a twenty something millionaire who gained fame and fortune because her dad Billy Ray Cyrus came up with the idea of “Hannah Montana” and a character was born and Disney cashed in. Miley hasn’t been Hannah for some time but residuals will ensure that she will not go hungry any time soon. Miley has at last count 19 tattoos, ranging from a quote from Theodore Roosevelt to a Native American dream catcher to the “evil eye” and a peace sign. She has been in the media for years, which is at best a factory that churns out the latest clones with dollar signs attached. Headlines keep you out of breadlines and while some recoil in horror at Ms. Cyrus and her bump and grind- which might have been a valid example of moral decline if it was say the opening performance at The Kennedy Center Honors but still the din of the day is that that six minute display somehow tipped the scale toward a moral abyss.
I have never watched the MTV Awards because I have shoes older than most of the performers so I am not in their demographic. Last night while the awards were being broadcast I decided a walk on the Pearl Street Mall to watch the sunset on the mountains was perhaps a better choice. As I strolled along in the cool night air there came wafting to my ears the sound of a banjo in the hands of someone who knew what they were doing. Fifty yards down the mall I found the source of the strumming.
There was a kid about the same age as Miley Ray, most likely a student at The University of Colorado at Boulder. He was standing alone under a tree with his banjo case opened on the cobblestone in front of him. The crowd on the mall was sparse at best and there was probably six bucks in singles in his case, dropped by people who appreciated his efforts.
I stood nearby listening to this kid that probably won’t show up on American Idol or MTV or even some local access channel, plucking that banjo like it was an extension of his arm. His eyes were closed and he was playing that banjo for all it was worth. I listened for about 20 minutes as he serenaded the sunset and as darkness closed in; I took out five bucks and said “You really know how to play that banjo-perfect music for the end of the day.” When I put the Lincoln in his case he said “Thank you sir, thank you very much.”
I walked back to my hotel with the banjo music fading in my ear, a spring in my step and a smile on my face.
In light of Mika B. and her concerns over the moral decay of society because Miley Ray Cyrus decided to do what a long line of entertainers before her have done, I offer that it’s possible that the moral balance we are so worried about is being maintained in fine form by the Banjo Boy on the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, Colorado and a special shout out to Carl “I told you so” Jung for the reminder that what we see in others we have in ourselves-for better or for worse.
I waited in line like a good human-the number on my boarding pass stamped in dark black ink, assuring that I would have seat on the 737 bound for Denver. As always prior to boarding I scan my fellow passengers looking for any twitchy types, perhaps someone sweating too much or looking like they are up to some sinister behavior. I have basically decided that whenever I fly I am the air marshal on the plane and that by sitting in a row seat I can do my best to thwart any and all advances that might have criminal intent or the oddball passenger, but today's crowd looked fairly placid.
By the time I got on the plane all the row seats were basically gone-I figured there were a lot of other self-deputized air marshal’s besides me sitting on the aisle so with great regret I had to wedge myself in between to steel salesmen making their rounds. Nice fellas, prototypical guys with collared shirts and thin watches, perfect hair and a tennis induced 175 pounds each. My 235 pounds was like a water displacement device as I was now connected to the flesh on their arms for the next two hours. Always amazed how humans can tolerate rubbing elbows and other parts on a plane, falling asleep and drooling on a stranger next to them. There are no boundaries from the middle seat.
As I sat in my Zen-like state with the rush of the engines just outside the window I thought about that first flight at Kitty Hawk 110 years ago that lasted just seconds and a few feet above the ground. Now here we were 93 passengers and crew hurtling at 540 miles per hour, 38,000 feet above terra firma in a metal tube. I don’t know if the Wright Brothers ever imagined that in the space of a lifetime (there is a 110 year old guy living in Wisconsin, saw him on the Smuckers Birthday promo that Willard Scott did just last week) that air travel would ever really get off the ground to the extent that it has.
Air travel that we take for granted is nothing short of miraculous to me. I know the laws of lift and thrust apply but when you really think about it-it’s awesome.
Twenty minutes into the flight I was feeling pretty good about flying to Denver, it’s been a couple years since I was in the mountains and it always restores me. As I sat back, arms folded on my chest, eyes hid behind my aviator sunglasses between the two men of steel who were bent over crunching numbers while texting each other like giddy school girls, the kid behind me starts to sing.
"If you're happy and you know it clap your hands. If you're happy and you know it clap your hands. If you're happy and you know then your life will truly show it, if you're happy and you know it clap your hands..."
At first she was singing to herself quietly but as time when on her little voice got louder and louder until finally her mom told her to put a sock in it. After some protesting from the kid she finally busied herself with other things. As I jumped back and forth over the line of consciousness, I thought about many of the challenges I have been through in the past few years, how much of the time I have been devoid of the feeling of "happy" and how this trip to Denver, spur of the moment, outta the blue made me...happy.
So I clapped my hands and went back to the land of nod for the duration of the flight. Thanks Orville and Wilbur, thanks kid behind me in row 11.
The headlines give me a headache most of the time with A-Rod appealing, the Kardashians revealing, Weiner-Man deceiving and Egypt exploding…again. As a side note when I clicked on the “spell check” it grabbed onto “Kardashian” and gave me the option of “ignore once” or “ignore all”…if it only was that easy.
This is a sprawling world we live in, a world that we create every single day by our thoughts, words and deeds. Right this moment the leader of North Korea is about the business of making sure the world doesn't dismiss him-like his father did. It's been pretty quiet over there and my guess is it’s just about time for another tantrum. Right this moment some kid is being abused...again. The story could show up in the headlines from Anywhere, USA as it recently did where I live in the normally placid Upper Peninsula of Michigan. A boy duct taped to a chair, locked in a room for years, sexually abused by his mother and her boyfriend. In court it was revealed but not proven that the mother was sexually abused as a child but never got the help needed to overcome her fractured life-so her son suffered as she did. Yesterday news came that a man who was on a supervised visit with his nine year old son at YWCA took out a pistol, shot the boy in the head killing him instantly and then took his own life. He was depressed over his divorce and death of his brother. The headlines have been and always will be filled with these stories and more.
That's the reality of the world we live in-to expecting it to be different than it is causes compound interest suffering. Humans do terrible, bizarre things to each other and with seven billion of us crawling around the planet there will always been those who project the suffering they feel and cannot deal with onto someone else- many times those who are closest to them. For humans who live in the "normal" range of things, we shake our heads in wonder...how could a mother beat her child senseless and then hang his six year old body by the neck with an electrical cord from the back porch like laundry? How could a father put a gun to the head of his son and pull the trigger in public? How could a grandmother starve her own grandchild to the point that case workers had to lift the little girl out with towels as not to break her skin because it was thin as tissue paper.
When we refuse or are unable to deal with our own pain we transfer it to someone else.
I have a sense that the world we have created with technology pushing us all closer together is also squeezing us in ways that just a decade ago didn't exist. The crime rates go up and down but just like the weather the storms might not be increasing but they are getting worse when they do show up.
As with all things in the universe balance is the key-and my thought is that for every horrible, disgusting, gut wrenching, vomit inducing act that a human being does to another there is a random act of kindness, a giving away of the higher self, an unspeakable act of caring and a devotion to a higher way of being that acts as a dam, holding back the river of shit that flows every day.
Expecting that we are all going to hold hands, sing Kumbaya and get along in some Utopia is a set up for suffering-that does not mean that we don’t strive for a better world-accepting the reality of what we are dealing with is the only way to change it. We have to understand that there has always been and always will be a percentage of humans whose wiring got crossed and will inflict pain outwardly after being unable to carry it anymore on the inside. Just because there are some rotten apples in the basket does not mean that the whole bushel is tainted-quite the opposite, the headlines filled with the darker side of life -while ongoing- is in stark contrast to the light that most of the world lives in. I find it fascinating that we abhor violence for the most part as a society and yet some of the most popular shows on television are all about crime and death-big advertising budgets spent on “CSI Marathon.” Last night the late news aired a segment about the “Summer of Shootings” in Chicago and then went to commercial break that was a promo for a crime show where all the good looking actors playing cops walked in slow motion with really cool music in the background looking very ominous.
If it bleeds, it leads both in real life and on the tube.
Perhaps we cannot change the world, but we can be on the lookout that the world doesn’t change us-for the worse.
I get a lot invites on Facebook to attend the next "LIFE CHANGING SEMINAR" or the "BREAKTHROUGH SEMINAR" or even the "BREAKTHROUGH LIFE CHANGING SEMINAR." All of them promising me that they offer a secret or code or mantra or technique or steps to a greater life in some way shape or form.
My disclaimer before I travel any further down the blog highway is that there is no doubt that value is where you find it-be it walking across burning coals, bungee jumping, or swimming with great whites (my homage to Shark Week.)
What always comes up for me is the authenticity thing. There really isn't anything "new" or "secret" that has been discovered, but rather repackaged for a new audience. So much of what lines the shelves of book stores and the pockets of "guru's" is little more than original material that someone came up with a century or more ago, and then claim as their own.
That really rubs my rhubarb.
Now I get that perhaps the role of teaching old stuff to new people has its place-however not acknowledging the original source of the information gives the appearance that the guru is the source when in fact often times they are just the distributor not the manufacturer.
A few years ago I was getting ready to interview a guy about his "MILLIONAIRE MINDSET SECRET" and in the pre-interview conversation- about five minutes before we went live on the air- I asked him how old was he when he made his first million bucks. There was a short pause and he said "Well, I haven't actually made a million...YET."
He went on to tell me about some wealth building information he came across from like 1903, read it, adopted it and made it his own. The author long dead couldn't claim it and with some revamping and updating voila'...He figured that it was an easy way to make his millions-by standing on the shoulders of the guy who actually came up with the formula.
It was a very short interview.
I have always wondered what the great men and women in our history did to improve their lot in life, and the lives of others before seminars and retreats. I never heard of Abe Lincoln walking across burning coals to get his courage up or Amelia Earhart hiring a life coach or Will Rogers signing up for the next break-through teleseminar.
The people who came before us, who's quotes on life, success and a myriad of other challenges we so often turn to figured the life thing out by simply living their lives. They endured, persevered and overcame incredibly difficult circumstances, did their own internal excavation and left a legacy that gives each of us permission to do the same-without the aid of some cell phone app.
This is the 21st century and we have all this amazing technology at our finger tips-which actually gives us access to the original sources of information and inspiration from the giants who's shadow we stand in. You can go online and learn all you need to know about how to "master your mind" from James Allen who wrote "As A Man Thinketh" in 1902 for free, or you can pay now ex-convict and con man James Ray ten grand to lead you through a "warrior spirit sweatlodge" so you learn how to "overcome the fear that holds you back." Buyer beware-last time James Ray held his life changing event, three people lost their lives, and he went to prison.
Life is set up in a way to grind us down, sharpen us up and present opportunity for growth and change due to the difficulties we encounter along the way. Its a good thing to know that others have overcome what we are dealing with, but I am pretty well certain that they took no shortcuts, found an exclusive secret or had a mantra that brought them success when others who used it had failed.
We quote Lincoln because his path was overloaded with failures for many years before he became president. We quote Martin Luther King Jr. because he found a cause he would give his life for. We look to Amelia Earhart because she forged ahead in a time when women were supposed to be in the kitchen, we quote Will Rogers because he helped the nation through difficult times. The challenges in life gave them the opportunity to bring forth the greatness they had within through simple perseverance, faith, humor, humility and courage.
All the traits you need to succeed you already have and by the fact that you are alive keeps you enrolled in the best seminar there is...Life.
As Henry David Thoreau said in 1858 "How vain it is to sit down and write if you haven't stood up to live." But who knows, perhaps he wrote that gem on a lunch break from a "Master Your Destiny" seminar.
"Help! Help! I've fallen and I can't get up..." The commercial for "Life Alert" has become part of the American verbiage like "Where's The Beef?" or maybe more recently "Can you hear me now?" TV commercial scripts that have millions repeating what some ad executive drummed up sitting in a meeting for a client. In the "Life Alert" commercial an elderly woman is shown lying on the floor, legs askew, up on one elbow pressing the button on the tag hanging around her neck that instantly summons the guy in the call center who looks like Wilbur from "Mr. Ed" wearing a uniform vaguely resembling the Orkin Bug guy who then dispatches help to aid the fallen woman.
If asking for help was only that easy.
There have been more times than I can count that I have needed help with something from fixing my car to paying a bill. Asking for help-especially for the male of the species- is like asking for directions. We cannot give the appearance that there is something we are lacking or cannot fix by ourselves. We have been bred for the most part to stand on our own two feet-brave, fearless and forging ahead come what may. Downloaded reminders of relatives who came to America with six cents in their pocket and a steel spine making their way in the world with their own two hands and the sweat of their brow crop up-a distorted image for sure-but an image nonetheless.
Over the years I have helped more people than I could easily count-in more ways than I can remember. I have given people cars that didn't have one, given small and large sums of money, helped people across the street, jump start their car, feed their kids, start their careers, raise money for their cause, connect with other people who could help them even more and the list goes on and on. I see the value in helping someone who is up against the wall, stuck in a corner or digging out of a hole-because I know what all three of those feel like. I also know something else...I hate asking for help.
"Tis better to give than to receive" my parents and grandparents said. So I took it to be the gospel truth until one day I realized that if I wasn't ready to receive help when I needed it then the equation wasn't fully true. I wasn't allowing others to do for me what I had done willingly for someone else and that isn't balanced, and if as Dr. Walter Russell said "There is one word for the law of the Universe and that word is balance” then I was not allowing others to do for me what I had done for them-maybe not directly but for sure other members of the human family.
When I help someone no matter what form- I expect no repayment of any kind-be it a ride to work or some bucks in their pocket. However, when I have put my pride aside and asked for help, my first thought is "how do I repay you?" I still haven't found the exact answer especially when money was involved. When I had it to give back I did, when I didn't have it and couldn't it eats me up. My guess it goes back to my dad who was a banker most of his adult life-he moved in a world where money was always exchanging hands-bank gives it out-you pay it back-and when you couldn't the chain starts to rust and eventually breaks. I have handed back property, a home and vehicles because life circumstances had me against a wall, in a corner or in a hole I could not get out of. The Zen Master at some point whispers "Let it go-it’s just stuff" quickly followed by my dad's voice reminding me "that stuff costs money."
The seesaw of beliefs that I ride on every day.
Sometimes there isn't anything you can do when the river of life gets really muddy but stand in the filthy water-some of which I created myself-until the stirred up circumstances begin to settle down and things clear up. Perhaps part of standing in that river is the lesson of humility, the letting go of pride that keeps me from pushing the "Life Alert" button and sinking deeper into the abyss. Maybe the other lesson is that asking for help isn't about being weak, it’s about remaining strong when strength is needed most.
Perhaps those bards of musical brilliance, Lennon & McCartney said it best…
“When I was younger, so much younger than today,
I never needed anybody's help in any way.
But now these days are gone, I’m not so self-assured,Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors.
Help me if you can, I’m feeling down
and I do appreciate you being round.
Help me, get my feet back on the ground,
Won't you please, please help me.”
I remember the first time I had to file for unemployment. After working at something since the age of sixteen it was a foreign concept to me, asking for assistance from some unseen government agency after months of looking for work. It was a humbling, numbing and challenging experience that had me tethered to a system I was not familiar with…I had to let go of my pride so many times I lost count. Every single time I had to “certify” that I wasn’t working went to the very core of my existence—my value as a person was in question every other Tuesday at 9AM eastern time.
These are tough times for a lot of people I know, talented, highly skilled friends out of work for not just months but years, others dealing with medical challenges and family issues and none of them looking for a handout but rather a helping hand to stand up again. The erosion of inner strength under the weight of life’s ups and downs can diminish even the most powerful among us.
Maybe the new saying should be “Tis only when you learn to receive can you fully appreciate the power of giving.”
We are soaked with information, more mountains of data that we cannot possibly assimilate, file, bend fold spindle or mutilate-keeping us in a daze of confusion, a constant dance of decisions between paper or plastic, what network really does have the fastest service on earth, how best to dress to impress (I have never been impressive in a dress no matter how much they flattered my shoulders) and a bazillion other bits of useless, bloated bits of information that is in one way or another is supposed to make our lives better or make us more aware of “what’s going on in the world.”
This morning a friend of mine used the incredible technology of the personal computer- one of the greatest achievements (and marketing schemes of all time) "YES KIDS YOU TOO CAN HAVE YOUR OWN VERY PERSONAL COMPUTER AND LAPTOP!!!" to direct me to his Facebook page where he had posted a video of "Hillbilly Dances with Raccoon to Aretha Franklin." Of course the part of me that loves a good dance between two different species of mammal watched for a minute and then somehow the part of me that was reading Emerson an hour earlier felt violated. The guy in the video could be a relative on the wildly popular "Duck Dynasty" show that puts the spotlight on some seriously bearded backwoods types that have made a fortune selling duck calls. My guess is if the video goes viral (which used to mean illness) it won't be long before some producer gets one of the Duck guys to dance with a porcupine. Of course on another channel “The Turtle Man” makes his living by extricating rabid ferocious beasts from under porches just like the one a guy who looks like one of the Smith Brothers with a coonskin cap attached to his leg is cutting the rug on while the Queen of Soul urges them forth.
The river of information flows 24/7 and it doesn't take long to figure out that 99.99999999 percent of it a) I can't do anything about- like Anthony Weiner aka “Carlos Danger” unless I live in NYC or b) I can’t do anything about it- like the murder rate in Chicago or another Kardashian in martial mayhem.
Constantly flooding our minds with news we can’t use takes up valuable space in our mental hard drive-that could be better spent on our own lives-not to mention endless information that leads to discussion and debate on everything from court cases displayed in public that gives us all a chance to sit in some virtual jury box as we go out of our way to avoid real jury summons when they show up in the mailbox to how the new Royal Babe has spawned a multi-million dollar surge in infant car seats simply because the Royal Parents used “Britax Baby Safe Plus” (price wise not exactly the Bentley of baby seats but perhaps more like the Infinity for infants.) Was it a choice made cloaked in conspiracy? Did the Royal Parents deliberately use THAT seat because they KNEW that it was priced to sell but did they KNOW that Britax while headquartered in Britain but made in Germany is owned by an investment fund in Sweden? Will we find out later that someone in the Royal lineage is getting a kick-back off this seemingly innocent choice of baby bucket seat? OH THE INTRIGUE!
I no care.
Of course the most effective antidote to the erosion of brain cells over piles of dung data is to simply turn it off… As Buckminster Fuller once said- “We are creating all the right technology for all the wrong reasons.” but for all his genius Bucky never had to resist the temptation to watch the antics of a Snuffy Smith look-a-like dancing with a critter that the Turtle Man is used to having bite him on the ass. In the interest of full disclosure I once posted a video on Facebook of goats yelling and spitting on humans…if you haven’t seen it you are really missing something special.
I have this image in my mind of a time capsule being opened 500 years from now and our future relatives coming across images of Carlos Danger tweets, Britax Baby Seats and a man dancing with a raccoon and thinking to themselves…“that explains everything”…almost.
For most of us we think of Labor Day as the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. It's the final kick out of the previous 90 days when baseball games, back yard grilling and swimming pools were the order of things.
Labor Day has taken on a whole new meaning because "Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge" is having a baby...but not just any baby of course...THE BABY. As I type these words the world (well most of the world, er...some of the world) is waiting with baby's breath for the big announcement. According to various news sources "The Duchess was admitted to the Royal Hospital with The Duke by her side around 6AM." Nice of John Wayne to make the trip. The British Parliament is changing a 300-year-old law so that the baby will be the heir to the throne, whether it's a boy or girl. Under plans to change the rules of succession, if the baby is a girl, she will make history as the first girl to keep her place in line even if she later has a brother.
Huh. Those who make the rules can change the rules…that’s why their rulers.
There is big money rolling around in Vegas about the sex of the child, the name of the Royal babe and just about every other thing you can think to bet on from time of actual birth to the color of his or her hair. When the announcement is made millions will applaud the Royal birth, pints of ale will be swilled and this little human who will only know a life of privilege and prestige will be swaddled in the finest of linens, watched and cared for 24 hours a day and will grow up in the spotlight of wealth and finery, adored by millions, on magazine covers and tabloids before it every reaches its fifth birthday.
When I saw the bloated, overblown gawking and coverage of this Labor Day my thoughts turned to another mother is also in the throes of the birth process, somewhere in a different part of the world away from the prying eyes of the media. Somewhere in Africa lying in a makeshift tent with sparse accommodations, little in the way of medical treatment or support waiting for her baby to come into the world, perhaps to be born at the very same moment as The Royal Baby. That baby’s life will of course be very different with a hardscrabble existence, its chances of surviving past its fifth birthday a fifty-fifty roll of the dice depending on the availability of clean water. No one in Vegas makes bets on those births because the odds are not in favor of the house.
Today approximately 370,000 babies will be born in the world, but only one of them will get The Royal Treatment. The other 369,999 will have to deal with it the best they can, without the aid of all the bells and whistles, the pomp and circumstance, the maids, butlers and golden spoon. The baby I am thinking of born in Africa today will have no title bestowed on them with proclamation from a Queen or King, won’t be showered with expensive gifts or coddled by nannies.
Their arrival on the planet is just as important however as The Royal Babe.
Labor Day…is every day. As the world celebrates the arrival of a very special baby...in Africa...or Chicago...or Egypt...or Australia...and England.