Saturday, November 30, 2013

Questioning God

Contrary to my upbringing I have become highly skeptical of both organized religion and even the basic idea about the existence of God. In my opinion I came to these positions honestly and not through some form of bitterness at having a religion force fed to me since I was a child. Nor out of an idea of revenge where I would do everything I could to dissuade others from their faith because of some past abuse at the hands of a minister or important leader in some church.

To be honest, in hindsight when compared to the fanatical Christians that have become the most visible examples of that faith here in America my religious upbringing was unbelievably mild, bordering on politically progressive. In my view such was the case in the late 1960’s to the early 1980’s before religion became hopelessly entwined with right-wing politics. Few seem to remember that one of the most attractive points of Jimmy Carter’s personality as he ran for the presidency in 1976 was his Christian faith.

I seem to remember Sunday sermons before the rise of Reagan and his alliance with the “Moral Majority” that dealt with the actual teachings of Christ. Not the fearful and mystical lectures performed by an increasingly paranoid bunch of Caucasian men out to build comfortable little empires of wealth and power for themselves. Yes, there were the occasional sermons on both the “End Times” and the Rapture but the various preachers involved always ended them saying a good Christians just had to live the principles taught by Jesus and those Apocalyptic issues would take care of themselves.  It was a clever way for intelligent reverends to tell the more excitable members of their flocks to live in the real world and not be constantly wishing for it to come to a nightmarish end.

Of course, the religious right has systematically undermined this pragmatic attitude as it has drifted further away from the center of American politics. Politicians, always looking for an advantage, have responded by catering their message to win the votes of those that fervently hope to live long enough to ascend to the clouds with Christ where they will relax and watch this world be drenched in the blood of evil sinners. This is where my break with mainstream organized religion began as the lowbrow, apocalyptic types who believe everything in the Bible is the literal word of God came to the forefront.

I truly wish time travel were possible because every Bible literalist I have had the misfortune to encounter would be far better served living in the worst part of the European Dark Ages. To them science is a form of witchcraft created by the Devil to lead people astray. These folks make it clear that they truly believe the universe is somewhere around six-thousand years old, that the human race originated from Adam and Eve, and that there was a global flood where  one family was charged with the duty of building an ark and taking care two of every life form that lived on land.

Just to show how wild these magical beliefs could run I offer two examples.  I once served with a guy in the South Carolina National Guard who could drone on for hours about some sort of water canopy that God, or some now canceled law of physics, had once suspended in the Earth’s atmosphere. According to this person this water canopy blocked radiation allowing for the long life spans of Old Testament figures and, when God decided to destroy the world, provided the water for Noah’s global flood. Another fellow who I attended community college with ran out of a classroom once convinced God was going to strike dead the person sitting in the desk beside him because that person was tearing pages out of the Bible to be used as rolling papers for his marijuana.

Such nonsensical beliefs make it impossible to carry on a conversation about the important issues the country faces. Combine that with their idea that the Christian Rapture is imminent and every discussion ends with the most religious person in the room proclaiming that nothing matters anyway because Jesus will arrive soon and take his people away. These people become so strident at times, it is easy to get the idea that only modern laws and traditions prevent them from burning those they see as heretics at the stake.

It was this drift from the relatively reasonable aspects of Christianity into a surreal retro-Dark Age mentality that has soured me on the benefits of attending church and in many cases having any real relationship with those professing to be Christian. Yes, exceptions exist but they are increasingly rare. Our mutual problem, with each other is that I question everything and that is something your average Bible thumpers cannot stand.

Given this developing mindset, it was not long before I began to wonder about the basic concept of the Christian god, or the other deities claimed by the monotheistic faiths. In ancient times, God had a nasty habit of being a vengeful psychopath to anyone not a member of the tribe of desert dwelling nomads he preferred above all the other people in the world. Even as a kid I never could wrap my head around the basic assumption held by some Jews and many fundamentalists Christians that God plays favorites.

More to the point there eventually came a time I could no longer ignore the question as to why God let Satan run rampant through the world causing so much evil. If God controls the universe, it seems sadistic to the extreme to let an evil entity run around destroying the lives of innocent people. Yes, I know humans are fully capable at creating their own brand of evil but I was taught that Christian theology believes that all wickedness can be traced back to the Devil.

More to the point, I have a problem with what many call “God’s plan.” In countless sermons, I heard preachers blather on about how God has a plan for each of us. Even the esteemed Rick Warren in his book “A Purpose Driven Life” blathers on about how when God made each of us he planned the exact time of our birth and death and the days of our lives in between. In my humble mind, this rather beats the Hell out of the concept of free will. If the entire world is just some pre-planned puppet show what does that say about women who get abortions—something fundamentalists abhor---or horrible events like rape, child abuse, or genocide? Are these events all part of some master plan scripted out the day Adam and Eve first set up shop in the Garden of Eden? If that is the case, I can no longer ignore the idea that God is a psychopath.

What brought this home to me was the recent news that a local girl, who I have never met, has lost her battle with brain cancer. Every few years some moron will garner a few minutes of television news coverage claiming that Jesus has manifested his divine presence on something like a MRI scan, or a grill cheese sandwich, or even a goldfish cracker. Such claims defy the most basic commonsense about reality but the mindless proles love such occurrences, to them it validates everything they have ever been taught about God’s supposed love. I know my late grandmother would absolutely flip out over what I am about write but personally, God would score some serious points with me if he would forego the fried food imagery and start performing some miracle cures on kids who deserve far better.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Have A Truly Grumpy Thanksgiving!

 "Marry an orphan: you'll never have to spend boring holidays with the in-laws."

Someone far smarter than me once said the key to happiness is taking great joy in small things. I'm sure this person meant things like watching a sunrise or sunset, walking on the beach, a warm embrace from a loved one, or breaking the seal on a bottle of Bourbon. Yeah, that last one is a bit of a stretch but I could easily list a couple of hundred different things to be appreciative about---with many of them not fit for a nice family oriented blog like mine.

But today at my household there is a completely new reason to be happy about during this Thanksgiving holiday. With the extended family scattered about all across this fine country today it will just be my wife, daughter, son, and myself sitting down at the table. Instead of our usual habit of trying to prepare a meal with all the stress and chaos involved this time we ordered a complete turkey meal from our local Publix grocery store. Making thing even more joyfully simple is that this meal deal comes with three sides and a gallon of sweet tea. If I ignore the fact my wife still insists on making her secret--and completely rancid-- family cranberry sauce recipe our stove will not be turned on once today.

The fact that the hardest thing I will have to do this afternoon is put away the leftovers almost brings tears to my highly cynical eyes. Just want to wish everyone a safe and happy Thanksgiving and remind you to watch out for all those insane a**holes on the road who will be rushing out this afternoon to buy crap for people they do not really like with credit cards that are nearly maxed out and saddled with loan shark-like interest rates.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

About Those Hunger Games

Any close examination of my personal sins and faults would be far too long to list individually. For the sake of coming right to the point for this post I will focus on one that if not in the top ten for everyone does tend to highly piss off anyone leaning to the right of the political spectrum. The little secret that I usually do not share with my accusers is that such criticism does not bother me, even on the occasions it happens to be true.

More times that I can count I have been accused of being a pretentious twit or deluded snob who has no real idea how the world works. The person or people making such a statement then usually go on to describe how I live in my own rosy fantasy world. To support their claims these individuals site my choices in television and movies that lean heavily towards science fiction, intelligent drama, documentaries, and comedies that use words with more then three syllables. In my own defense, I've watched a few episodes of Duck Dynasty, Storage Wars, along any number of reality shows that are for the moment popular. I'll be nice and just say that if a person enjoys such entertainment good for them, I will gladly suffer the consequences of being a snob and continue to live in my own little world.

Part of the requirements for being pretentious or deluded seems to be the ability or talent at noticing the contradictions of the world around them and how, if this was a “Christian nation” as so many claim it is things could not exist they way they do. Contrary to the saying that in the world of the blind the one-eyed man is king, it seems that in my family, circle of misbegotten acquaintances, or people in general such a capacity is often a strange handicap. Far worse a situation for someone like me is to begin to see similarities between the world of fiction and our so-called reality.

This weekend the second movie in the Hunger Games series opened and being the dutiful parents both my wife and I accompanied our eager daughter, Darth Wiggles, to go see it. For those possibly unfamiliar with the Hunger Games plot it takes place in the indeterminate future centered around a fictional dystopic North American country called Panem. Because the government of Panem is run by a bunch of certified douchebags several of the districts that make up that country at some point rebelled. The rebellion was eventually crushed with the central government, in a bizarre type or retribution, coercing each of the districts to offer up a male and female child every year and forcing them all to fight each other to the death in an arena until there is one survivor.

The Hunger Games books and movies start up seventy-four years into these “games.” For the capital city of Panem, an extremely prosperous and well-fed place compared to some of the districts where third world-level poverty and starvation is the norm, the start of each year's games is a cause for celebration and outright pageantry far exceeding what we do for the Olympics or Superbowl.

Of course the entire scenario playing out here is monstrous to the extreme but I was bothered by something far closer to home. Before the beginning of the actual games in the second movie all the contestants are invited to a big shindig at the residence of the president of Panem. Because everyone who is anyone in this fictional country is at this affair the buffet tables are loaded. Given the views we have of the capital city during the movie I highly doubt anyone living there goes hungry. In fact during the president's party one of the main characters, Peeta, is offered a dish filled with pastries. Peeta declines, saying he is full, but this caused the person offering the pastries to then offer up a drink specially designed to allow someone to vomit and purge their stomachs so they can continue to eat. I came away from that scene with the idea that such a drink was normal in that society.

Now after the movie what do my family and I go and do? We walk down to a nearby restaurant and have lunch. While this unnamed restaurant lacked the opulence of a Panem presidential party it did have a similar overabundance of food available given the leftovers remaining in the dishes of customers who had paid their checks and left. I have all idea, and no evidence to the contrary, that all the uneaten food I saw was promptly trashed when the tables were cleared. Now there is nothing legally or ethically wrong with a person not eating all the food on their plate. God knows, Americans are massively overweight and restaurants are notorious for over sizing their entrees. For the me the problem involves how casually most of us ignore hunger in America right now.

Right-wingers will go into a rabid-like rage over perceived abuses to the food stamp program. Politicians, always reflecting the lowest common denominator of the voting public, will easily vote to cut funding that alleviates hunger although sixteen million kids here in the land of the free and home of the brave daily struggle with getting enough to eat. Now as a nation we seem easily able to afford tax breaks for corporations and to buy weapons systems the shiny star-wearing boys and girls working in the Pentagon damn near jump up and down while screaming at Congress they have no use for but feeding poor children, that's a huge issue.

Right-wingers fume saying these people on food stamps should get jobs so they can feed themselves and their little rugrats. Okay, I agree, its just that many people on food stamps do have full-time jobs, but they do not make enough to feed their family. A little very inconvenient statistic is that hourly-wages have not kept up with the average cost of living but more on that later.

Hey, to any right-winger reading this a good number of people on food stamps list their full time occupation as active duty military. How about that folks that kind of shoots the "get a job you lazy bum" argument in the ass. Our government buys carefully crafted television commercials and other forms of expensive advertisements extolling the virtues of being a soldier, marine, sailor, or airmen then sends them out to the far corners the world to “spread democracy” but the spouse back home here in the States has to go apply for food stamps. Someone is getting screwed here and my answer would truthfully be that we all are except for the billionaires and other rich folks who profit from wars.

My absolute favorite example of surreal denial of real hunger in America came recently from that place where there is “always low prices.” News was made recently when a couple of Wal Marts began holding food drives for their employees. Take a moment to reread that last sentence then jump over to the link to read the actual news report. Now think, one of the most profitable corporations here in the CSA – Corporate States of America – is having food drives so their underpaid employees can have Thanksgiving Dinner. Remember, these same employees stand a high probability of having to work later that day and well into the Friday because we proles have important Christmas shopping to do. Don't know about anyone else but I have such a warm fuzzy going right now I want to drive down to the nearest Wal Mart and dry hump the ubiquitous flag pole they always put in front of the store.

Lastly, I offer up some friendly advice the McDonald's Corporation recently gave to their employees. The Burger Clown, ever concerned with the health of their workers told them to break up their food into smaller pieces to get full and to sell their belongings on the internet for cash. I really wish I could write a proper snarky response other than God bless America!

We're not quite at the monstrous level of sending kids out to fight to the death as shown in the Hunger Games but give it a few more years.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

School Bus Stop Incident

Being the perpetual oddball I am one of my most consistent traits is that I am always early to arrive at whatever location or event I need to be. The overwhelmingly simple basis for this behavior is that I absolutely hate to rush. I would rather be twenty or even thirty minutes early for some appointment or rendezvous than wait to the last minute and have some unknown factor cause me to be late.

Strangely enough, few members of my family or friends seem to appreciate this trait. Frankly, it drives my lovely spouse crazy, she is the type that times everything precisely in an effort to be as efficient as humanly possible. I’m sure effective time management is a worthy endeavor but such it is just not compatible with my laid back style. Of course, it is understood that since I admit to being an eccentric when it comes to taking my good time going places most of the people I encounter are far more like my wife than me.

Case in point, since my daughter, Darth Wiggles, entered middle school it is far simpler, and dare I say efficient, to go pick her up instead of having her ride the bus home which would take about two hours before she walked through the front door. Wiggles’ has considerable homework every night except Fridays and, being selfish here, I’d like some decent time to enjoy my family during the evening before going to work.

So, being true to myself I leave the house around 2:50pm, drive to the school, and join the line of cars that has already formed. I nearly always bring a book or listen to some show on one of the NPR radio stations to kill time while I wait. The school bell for dismissal rings at 3:25pm and after that, there is a mild form of chaos as parents and children slowly begin the process of linking up. It’s all within reasonable levels with the school staff playing traffic cops, just another duty on top of all the others these underpaid professionals must perform.

The drive home for Wiggles and me is exceedingly short except for the times one of the school buses gets out a little early. If that happens, I have to stop a few times as the kids get off the bus and cross the street. To me it’s no big deal, but that is not the case with some people.

A couple of weeks ago I overslept and was, relatively speaking, a little late picking up my daughter from school. Because of this as she and I were going home I had to stop for a school bus that was in the other lane letting several children off. This bus had already deployed its “STOP” sign on the driver’s side of the vehicle and had its array for red lights flashing signifying that all approaching cars had to stop. This again was no problem for me since I never really feel the need to rush.

However, there was some sort of issue with the suburban soccer mom behind me. No sooner had the last kid in the procession stepped off the road she went ballistic honking the horn of her minivan. From my rearview mirror, I observed some sort of spastic fit. From point of view it looked like she absolutely had somewhere important to be and that I was holding her up. In some microscopically small way I had some sympathy for her, we've all been in that position, but my number one concern was that the school bus in front of me still had its stop sign deployed and its red lights flashing.

I shrugged in an attempt to communicate with the woman but all that got me was her mouthing some words I will have to assume were rather nasty. I hate to admit but this ruffled my calm, laid-back demeanor and going completely against my usual conduct, I stuck my left arm out of the car window and proudly gave her my best middle finger salute.

Even though the kids were out of harm’s way I was simply not going to move until the bus retracted its stop sign and cuts off the flashing lights. I have heard too many stories about some kid suddenly turning around and running back to the bus because he or she left something on it. Frantic suburban soccer mom be damned I ain’t hitting no kid because she’s worried about being late for her yoga class or not having dinner ready for her Mister White Bread America when he gets home from work.

I’d like to say this was some isolated incident but I have a had few other encounters with irate suburbanites with a much too high opinion of themselves. One rather small guy, who drove a huge monster truck worthy of a Walking Dead episode or some other apocalyptic movie looked like he wanted to pick a fight once after a small traffic disagreement, that is until my six-foot, six-inch frame got out of my tiny KIA Rio.

There are two conclusions I always come away from something like this. The first being, I'm not sure what the issue is with these people, part of me hopes none of them ever get tied up in a major traffic incident in some big city. Given the number of National Rifle Association decals I see around here I have all idea gunfire would play a part in settling the affair.

The second is that I am sure all sorts of bouts of anxiety and barely controlled rage would be solved it South Carolina legalized marijuana. Because if there ever was a community that desperately needed to get high its these anal retentive individuals. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013 Flash Fiction---A Death in Hollywood

 (Author's note: The prompt for this story is "She was a child star." I didn't get the mood of my longer version quite right. It's just hard to sit down to write at my house, someone will always interrupt me the minute I get something good going. Even worse, I found a serious typo in the version I posted at 

Just seconds after busting down the door to her apartment I found the once famous Emma Carter dead, laying naked on her bed. Her place was one of those extra small studio apartments where the kitchen, bedroom, and living area occupied one over sized room. For several moments I hesitated before stepping across the threshold worried I might have somehow misjudged the situation.

I had received her text message while in the middle of an afternoon meeting. At first I thought it was some joke, except for a very brief and ill conceived reunion event of the cast from our old sitcom a few months before I hadn't spoken to her in almost twenty years. Emma had stormed into the rented and nearly empty banquet hall acting like the energetic and mischievous ten-year old child star I met at the beginning of our sickly sweet television show. I was eight-years old at the time and I fell in love with her from the beginning despite the fact we were playing brother and sister orphans being raised by our wise old grandfather. Even though the event was advertised as a happy reunion of cast members who thought of each other as family it was obviously designed just to resuscitate Emma's comatose career

Of course, she and I eventually posed for pictures together in front of the small collection of disinterested paparazzi that attended but the second they drifted away she literally ran after them leaving me behind. Unlike the rest of the cast, I stayed to the end with Emma crying on my shoulder for several minutes as a reward for my patience. When we finally parted something deep inside told me I never see her again. So, it was quite the shock when I received her message pleading for me to come save her.

After the end of my meeting I sat in my car for thirty minutes staring at the screen of my cell phone wondering if I should head over to the address she gave. Eventually figuring I had nothing to lose I drove across Los Angeles just to satisfy my curiosity. The address turned out to be an old warehouse whose interior had been converted into small apartments. I imagined the developers of the building had wanted it to be an upscale location for young professionals but shifting neighborhood lines had claimed the area making it more than slightly dangerous.

With the door now swinging loose, I looked in from the threshold, her place seemed clean and well kept with mementos of her television and music career adoring the shelves of a couple of bookcases and walls. Everything looked so orderly that I again became concerned for a moment that maybe this had been some huge mistake. When the overwhelming stench of liquor and death finally hit me that was when I stepped inside.

Looking to my right I immediately spotted Emma's body and her nightstand where a decorative box containing a multicolored collection of pills and a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels sat giving a clear indication of how she took her life. I also couldn't help but notice that Emma's body was contorted into something akin to a seductive, “come hither” pose. It was a sick thought but given Emma's behavior the last couple of years it did not take much for me to believe it was one final act of defiance to tell the world that while it might have used her up and tossed her to the side of the road it in turn could go straight to Hell.

The sitcom she and I starred in made us nationally famous for about six years. When the series ended my fame evaporated overnight thrusting me back into the real world. The effects of puberty and a severe case of teenage acne had robbed me of my charming boyish innocence and the network producers simply dropped me like the proverbial bad apple. In terms of simple numbers there was probably a couple of thousand better looking teenage boys coming to LA each year wanting their chance in show business. So I was less than nothing to those who made the big decisions about who to promote or send home.

However, a whole spectrum of producers and agents fell all over themselves to make sure Emma stayed in the national spotlight. She immediately became a leading cast member of television drama series and a mere two years later they again moved her into the music business. Her career soared with the entertainment journalists constantly floating rumors that with her ethereal beauty and devastating acting ability she could be the next Elizabeth Taylor.

It was always clear from the beginning that the big players in Hollywood had every intention of making her a major movie star. Sitting home nursing a bruised ego and a growing envy over her success I remember the massive promotional campaign on the eve of her first movie. I also remember how it was a massive box office disaster with special criticism aimed at Emma's awful performance.

Five major flops later her once golden career is destroyed with her eventually reduced to singing in the food courts of shopping malls and struggling to win a spot on some reality show. That was when her outrageous acts and stupid stunts exploded increasingly making her a laughing stock all across the country. All she got for her desperate efforts was an existence living off residual checks in a second-rate apartment all alone.

Looking at her dead body I had no real idea why she called me, even in the best of times we were never close. The only assumption that comes to my mind is that during our series my character was the nice and always responsible brother who dearly loved his sister despite her mischievous ways. The day she cried on my shoulder after the disaster that was our reunion event only seemed to back that idea up.

With nothing left to do I call the police and tell them what has happened. Naturally they tell me to wait and I move back towards the entrance of the apartment. Not before I pull out my cell phone and start taking pictures of Emma's body, her apartment, and the pills on the nightstand. The tabloids will pay a bundle for such pictures and I have child support I have to pay.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Why They Pass Us By...

Being a hopeless science fiction geek since my the early years of my childhood I am still fascinated to the extreme with the possibility of intelligent alien life somewhere out among the stars. For me, even though some serious scientists will debate the idea, the universe in general and our galaxy specifically is just too damn vast for intelligent life just to be a “possibility.” New research pushes the chance of alien life further into the realm of a near certainty.

Two Billions Reasons Why We're About to Find Earth 2

The new study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that Earth-like planets capable of supporting life are far more common than previously thought.
To reach these figures, a research team led by Erik Petigura from the University of California, Berkely, used the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Kepler telescope to scan 42,000 Sun-like stars with the transit method of detection. Of the 603 planets found, 10 were the size of Earth, had rocky surfaces, and were situated within the habitable zone. And by habitable zone, astronomers refer to that narrow band within a solar system in which rocky planets can sustain liquid water and a complex atmosphere — precursors to the onset of microbial life.

Where once we had no certain proof of planets orbiting other stars we now know they are so common that new research suggests twenty-two percent of the sun-like stars in our galaxy have Earth-sized planets orbiting in that nice and comfortably warm habitable zone where water can exist as a liquid. Although the only life we humans know about, is of course, here on Earth it is tenacious in its ability to adapt and evolve under the most extreme conditions. So it's not a stretch of the imagination to believe that in our galaxy billions of world exist that not only have as rich and diverse biosphere as our planet but at some point hosted intelligent life.

Now I admit this is where science ends, numerous scientists covering an array of different fields can come up with reasons why intelligent life elsewhere in the universe might be extremely rare. And I know of one scientists in particular that explains the Great Silence with the idea that maybe intelligent life is common but these alien species have evolved into forms or environments that make a human-like technical civilization highly improbable. Still it defies my stunted imagination that in all the billions or years since the birth of our galaxy that we puny humans are the first and only sentient species.

Stressing the point even further lets assume intelligent life is common and that these species overcome their suicidal phases and develop a practical means of exploring the galaxy. Just one or two of these hypothetical mature and curious species could explore the entire galaxy in a couple of million years. Not to seem flippant but to me those of our own species who discount the idea of galactic exploration seem shortsighted. What is a mature, curious, and peaceful species suppose to do until their sun runs out of fuel or a nearby star goes super nova and sterilizes the home planet?

What is my point? While I admit I could be wrong but in my mind there should be a few intelligent species zipping around the galaxy exploring, colonizing, and even hanging out with, or at least observing, the galactic locals. Now Stephen Hawking and a few other scientists have raised the possibility that more advanced species do not necessarily have to be wise, friendly, or peaceful. If that is the case in simple term we are screwed if they find Earth because the power and technology it takes to cross the distance between stars means they could wipe us out on a casual whim.

However, barring the idea of galactic Nazis I personally have to believe most perpetually destructive races would go extinct before developing star flight. That leaves one other reason why we humans have not been contacted, just maybe they are avoiding us.

From Mother Jones:

George W. Bush to Raise Money for group That Converts Jews to Bring About Second Coming of Christ. 

Messianic Jews have long been controversial for Jews of all major denominations, who object to their proselytizing efforts and their message that salvation by Jesus is consistent with Jewish theology. Last year, Abraham Foxman, president of the Anti-Defamation League, told Politico that former Sen. Rick Santorum's appearance at an event hosted by another Messianic Jewish organization, the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America, was "insensitive and offensive." And Commentary magazine, which bills itself as a "conservative American journal of politics, Judaism, social and cultural issues," noted, "it must be understood that the visceral distaste that the overwhelming majority of Jews have for the Messianics is not to be taken lightly." Many Messianic Jews are Christians who have adopted aspects of Jewish ritual observance; others are Jews who share the Christian belief that Jesus is the Messiah.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Leaf Blower and Marriage Maintenance

Several years ago during a hot and humid Saturday in the middle of August I stepped back inside my house after finishing up some routine lawn care when I noticed my lovely spouse smiling at me from her comfortable position on the couch. Had we been newlyweds I would have instantly assumed her beaming smile would have been the first sign that the rest of that afternoon would be spent behind the locked door of our bedroom. Instead, being a relatively old married couple, I looked directly into her overly happy eyes and braced myself for whatever new weekend destroying chore her mind had developed while I was outside mowing the lawn and using the weed eater to make our curb look presentable.

The former is a given but as for the latter the pod people we live among are obsessively fixated on creating a surgically precise cut between the edge of their lawns and the beginning of the curb. I actually give less than a rat's rear end but indirect and unspoken peer pressure along with the occasional neatly worded letter from the president of the home owner's association force me to try and match their compulsion at least three times a summer. With the curb trimming chore out of the way I had every intention of plopping my nonconformist butt in a chair and watching some television but my wife's mysterious smile had me nervous.

"Do you know who you look just like right now?" She said clearly about to laugh at her own brand of cleverness.

"No," I said wondering where her train of thought was heading while desperately hoping it would eventually involve both of us getting naked. "Brad Pitt," I said silently thanking some exceedingly small portion of my brain that is smarter and quickly than the rest of the grey matter residing between my ears.

"God no," my wife responded finally breaking into a laugh, "you look like Bill Murray's character from the movie Caddy Shack."

"How nice," I responded sarcastically walking towards the bathroom to go take a shower. While I was obviously disappointed that sex was not on the agenda I had no real problem with being compared to Bill Murray. For me the former SNL alum has always been culturally sophisticated, extremely intelligent in an unconventional manner, besides being outrageously funny in a off-kilter way. To show how slow on the draw about what my wife actually meant about the comparison it was several minutes later and I was out of the shower and getting dressed when the truth finally dawned on me. Truth be told, I couldn't really disagree with the idea she was trying to convey.

See one of the reasons I hate doing yard work is that I am terrible at it. While the pod people I live around actually enjoy the serf-like existence required to meticulously imitate the idea of an 18th century English Lord's estate I can easily count off a couple of thousand other activities I would rather be forced to perform. But hey, if they get their jollies obsessing over the tint of their lawns, falling autumn leaves, or stemming a crab grass invasion good for them, its still a semi-free country. I, on the other hand,  would rather go to the beach, play with my kids, or have a root canal done by a dentist who once worked for the East German secret police.

The source of all my problems can usually be traced back to my lawn equipment. If you were to observe the pod people around me you would discover that everything they use is top of the line. Their riding lawn mowers have huge vacuum attachments along with GPS tracking and nifty cup holders. The weed trimmers they use have telescopic view screens allowing them to cut single blades of grass. As for the leaf blowers they use, the damn things can put out category five hurricane winds.

  On the other hand, my lawn equipment is not up to their standards. Besides that I somehow have an ingrained talent at breaking the stupid things along with having no real ability at fixing them. Because of that there were a few years I went through push lawnmowers like penny candy. That had to deal with the fuel, or my lack of adding an ethanol stabilizer. As for weed trimmers I actually had one catch fire while I was using it. I'll just say it was an electric model and leave out the rest of the details despite the fact witnesses to the event say it was extremely funny.

Leaf blowers have been a special pain for me from the moment they first arrived at the local home improvement store. As with the rest of my lawn care trials I admit I have been my own worst enemy but leaf blowers have always seemed an abomination. To me it just seems insane how people freak out over autumn leaves falling on their precious lawns. However since I am forced to comply with home owner association rules I buy the cheapest model that will allow me to get by with the barest minimum of effort.That has finally come back to bite me in my ass.

With the trees in my front yard shedding their leaves a huge section of the neighborhood curb is now in danger of being covered over. To calm the inhabitants, and keep my wife happy, a couple of days ago I dug out the two-cycle leaf blower I own, fueled it up, and prepared once again to do battle with nature. But as I pulled the cord that starts up the damn contraption it broke leaving me no way to get it going.

Like a good suburbanite I pulled out my tool bag with the idea that the leaf blower would be simple to fix, no such luck. Believe it or not the pull cord on my base line Poulan leaf blower is an utter nightmare to replace. Thirty minutes into my initial repair attempt I found that the pull cord assembly is in the very middle of the unit requiring every nut, bolt, and part to be removed to gain access.

Needless to say for me this goes way above and beyond the call of suburban duty. After several days of quiet contemplation on the subject and reviewing a You Tube video showing how to successfully replace the cord without losing your mind the issue with the leaves has not been solved. They continue to pile up and I am sure the pod people are probably worried the world will end because of it.  My wife is also getting nervous because she wants to keep good relations with at least a few of the neighbors which requires me to keep the house and yard looking at least semi-decent.

As for me, I do have a rake but that seems awful excessive at this time. I told my wife I am hoping for a very windy day, which would blow the leaves down the street, or for her to give me wild monkey sex which would supply the proper motivation. We'll certainly see which one happens first.            

Friday, November 1, 2013

News from the Home Front

Last Saturday afternoon the kids and I accompanied, Dragonwife, my lovely spouse, to Columbia International Airport so she could begin what would be a week-long business trip to Geneva, Switzerland. Unlike many airports Columbia's is actually a pleasant place to visit. Skylights in the roof provide a fantastic amount of natural sunlight, there are scores of places to sit including old fashioned wood rocking chairs along with plenty of plants scattered about to add some green to the surroundings. While I was okay with staying longer the kids wanted to go home to their respective activities while Dragonwife was eager to get the TSA security checks done and cross over to the section of the airport only passengers can go.

“You really need to get the kids home,” Dragonwife said absentmindedly while digging through her shoulder bag, “plus, I don't want you paying the short term parking fee.”

“Whatever,” I responded feeling slightly ticked that I was the only one of the four of us feeling any warm fuzzys at her getting ready to travel across a significant portion of the planet. So, with nothing left to say I turned and started heading for the exit hoping my kids, my eighteen-year old son and eleven-year old daughter, who were already way ahead, remembered to look both ways before crossing the street going towards the parking garage.

So with one last glance as my wife was scanned down to her bone marrow and felt up by some unisex TSA official I headed out the door feeling the last four of five months of her scrambling to get ready for this trip had ended rather anticlimactically. All things considered it didn't matter much to me since both simple duty and common sense required that I take a week off from work to watch over my kids. Even though Spoilboy is a semi-responsible kid, I just could not fathom leaving them at the alone house while I go do my usual night shift routine.

During the buildup she and I had debated on which one of us would be pulling the toughest duty. She made her case saying it was a business trip and I responded saying yes, in Geneva, Switzerland. I would then mention my National Guard summer camps that were always business along with being in either an alligator infested swamp or some hot and dry desert. Contrary to the nifty and sleek television commercials depicting awesome adventure training my summer camps in the peacetime National Guard were usually less exciting than watching grass grow or paint drying. Now there were the few exceptions when some anal retentive officer, desperate to gain favor with the active duty types, volunteered us for every crap detail under the sun.

Even if I understood the complicated details of my wife's tax attorney profession I could not reveal anything since in all respects it would certainly mean the forfeiture of vital and sensitive parts of my male anatomy. However, I can write that her previous business trips were always in far nicer locations than I could have dreamed compared to places where I regularly removed engorged ticks or cleaned out coarse desert sand from those same sensitive male areas.

During these last several days I have stopped my son from trying to sneak a girl into his room. Made sure my daughter brought a real lunch to school instead of attempting to stuff a bag of frosted flakes cereal into her backpack. Insured that the dogs and cat had fresh food and clean water everyday despite the fact those duties belong to the kids. This list could go on but lets just say they kept me busy and leave it at that.

Along with keeping the two Sith Lords honest I had the normal duties of making sure the house stayed reasonably clean, the refrigerator doors were kept closed, the front door was locked at night, and that a mountain of laundry did not grow so high as to touch the ceiling. In short, while I did not delve deeply into the “honey-do” list left by Dragonwife I stayed consistently busy during her absence, not that I will get any credit for it. Several times during this past week while in the middle of some mundane chore I had a chance to reflect on the irony of the current situation. While I love to leave the house and the curiously inbred little town I find myself marooned by wife is very much the homebody. That she travels quite a lot lately doesn't bother me at all, I'm proud of her intelligence and abilities. But what does bugs the living shit out of me is that every time I plan a short escape something always comes up. It's a small recompense but at least she is suppose to bring me a t-shirt from the famous CERN Large Hadron Collider located in Geneva. What can I say, it appeals to the SheldonCooper/science nerd/total geek side of me. However I am getting a little nervous since what happened yesterday.

While I was getting a jump on the weekend bedsheets and blanket washing Thursday afternoon I heard the obnoxious squealing brakes of the FedEx truck that goes through the neighborhood. At first I figured the delivery dude was just dropping off stuff to the angry troll across the street, he works at home and rarely leaves. But instead delivery dude came to my door carrying two medium-sized packages. Both were sent from Switzerland by my wife with each of the boxes addressed to one of the kids.

When the kids got home from school we opened them and discovered a beautiful coo coo clock for my daughter, Darth Wiggles. My son, Darth Spoilboy, had several things in his box namely a fancy Swiss army knife, a nice leather toiletry bag, and a sweatshirt with some sort of emblem on the front. But no, nothing from CERN for the hardworking dad who did his duty and made sure the house was still standing and the kids stayed out of jail.

An oversight? I surely hope so, or papa is going to be pissed.