Sunday, December 26, 2004

Quote: Commentary

"To see the earth as it truly is, small and blue in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold - brothers who know now they are truly brothers." - Archibald Mc Leish

This quote reflects a belief I’ve always had. The disputes various groups of humans have always had: white vs. black, male vs. female, Muslim vs. Christian, American vs. Iraqi, and so on, don’t really amount to a hill of beans when one considers Earth’s place in the cosmos.

Our home planet is a small, insignificant fragile world in a backwater of the Milky Way galaxy, which is only one among countless galaxies. Our petty human disputes are less than nothing compared to all of this.

If this planet is to survive and prosper, humans need to get beyond their minuscule differences and unite as one people, as citizens of Earth.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Name That Tune

Name the song and musician, and I'll highlight correct answers.

1. ‘Til so much cavalry came/and tore up the tracks again.

2. Fly the ocean in a silver plane/See the jungle when it’s wet with rain

3. If you see me coming/Better step aside/A lot of men didn’t/A lot of men died

4. Well, our fathers fought the Second World War/Spent their weekends on the Jersey shore

5. Gazing at people/Some hand in hand/Just what I’m going through/they can’t understand

6. Your love gives me such a thrill/But your love don’t pay my bills

7. I was born on the back seat/of a Greyhound bus/Going down highway 41

8. Oh, your Daddy’s rich/And your Ma is good looking

9. I’m a man of means/By no means

10. They go to a lake of fire and fry/Won’t see them again until the Fourth of July

11. The words of the Prophets/Are written in the subway walls

12. She stands five feet four/From the head to the ground

13. And when he died/All he left us was alone

14. Go tell your children/Not to do/what I have done

15. Open up the window, sucker/and let me catch my breath

16. And I wonder if he's ever had a day of fun in his whole life

17. Pop me down /Jack me up /Shoot me out /Headin down the highway

18. And I need you more than want you/And I want you for all time

19. Been away so long I hardly knew the place/Gee it’s good to be back home

20. If I look hard enough into the settin' sun /My love will laugh with me before the mornin' comes

21. You can think about the woman/Or the girl you knew the night before.

22. Ain't no way I'm a bustin my ass and gettin no pay

23. We ain´t got much/But what we got´s ours

24. Startin' soft and slow like a small earthquake/And when he lets go half the valley shakes

25. Engineer boots, leather jackets, and tight blue jeans

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Christmas Bike

Several years ago, I used to see this woman walking her son to school, when I was driving my son there. Her son was a few years younger than mine, probably in the first grade, when my son was in fifth.

When I’d turn at the end of my street, to head to the school, I’d see them walking from a good ways up the street, so I knew they had a pretty long walk each morning and afternoon. One time, I’d stopped, offering to take them the rest of the way to the school, but she refused and I didn’t ask again.

I sometimes saw her walking elsewhere in town, and I knew she didn’t have a car and didn’t have much.

That same year, I’d bought my son a new bicycle for Christmas. There was nothing wrong with his old bike, except that he’d outgrown it, and I hated the idea of it being in the shed gathering dust, when another child could enjoy it. I immediately thought of that little boy, whom I imagined would not get much that Christmas.

The only problem was, I didn’t know where they lived. I was still on the police force then, and when I went to work that day, I went up to the jail to talk with one of the jailers, who lived on the same street as I did. I asked her if she’d ever noticed that woman and her son when she took her kids to school. When said she knew who I meant, I told her what I planned to do with my son’s bike, and asked her if she knew where these people lived.

She said that she did, then offered to go with me to deliver it, as she had an SUV, in which it would fit better than my small car. I agreed, and we decided to deliver it on Christmas Eve.

On Christmas Eve, I polished the bike up and washed the tires, before tying a big ribbon on it with a gift card that said, “From Santa Claus”. After loading it into the jailer’s SUV, I rode over there with her to deliver it.

I was appalled when I saw where these people lived, in a house so rundown that I was surprised it wasn’t condemned. It was fairly late when we drove up, so I quietly carried the bike onto the sagging porch. We left quietly, so they wouldn’t know who’d left it there. I knew the mother’s pride wouldn’t have allowed her to accept the bike, if she'd known who’d given it.

A few days later, I went back, driving slowly down the street. As I passed the house, I saw the little boy happily riding it up and down the sidewalk. I drove on, satisfied that the gift had reached its intended recipient.

Monday, December 20, 2004

A Night At the Opera

I am not an opera fan. I never have been. But when I read about the death yesterday of Italian soprano, Renata Tebaldi, I was reminded of when my mother took me to hear her sing at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City in 1970, when I was 12.

My mother was an avid opera fan, with Renata Tebaldi being her favorite singer. She had a large collection of opera records, and listened to it on the radio in the car. Whenever she cleaned the house, she’d put an opera record on, to have music to work by.

And she went to the opera in person as much as possible. She attended local productions, but because she always lived within a reasonable driving distance of New York, she went to the Met regularly as well.

None of us in the family shared her musical tastes. My father was more of a Ray Charles fan, but he took my mother to the opera just to make her happy. But he’d always fall asleep in the middle of it, so my mother went more often with women in the neighborhood, whose husbands were also indifferent to opera.

I became interested in music at a fairly young age, beginning piano lessons at age ten, and joining the band at age eleven. My mother decided that I should attend a professional opera production as part of my musical education, so I was her “date” to the opera at age twelve.

We both dressed formally for this occasion, one of the few times in my life I’ve done so. At twelve, I was 5-5, so I was not ridiculously shorter than my mother’s 5-8.

I can’t say that I really enjoyed it. The music itself wasn’t so bad, but the singing didn’t do a thing for me, though I appreciated the skill that went into it. I quickly grew bored, as the opera was in Italian, and I couldn’t really follow the story.

At the end, there was a standing ovation and my mother had us move closer to the stage to see the singers better. Renata Tebaldi noticed me with my mother. Obviously pleased to see such a young man at the opera, she smiled and waved at us. My mother was thrilled at the recognition and it made me happy to see her happy.

I didn’t really appreciate the experience at the time, but a year later, when she died, I was glad I’d gone with her.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Say What?

Has anyone ever made up their own words and expressions? Your own version of “thingamajig”? Usually such coinages happen spontaneously, without plan, but somehow, they catch on and you find yourself using these “words” and expressions often.

Here are a few of my own.


Slitchy is how the road gets after it has been raining long enough so that the road is completely wet. This word was inspired by the sound cars make when driving on such a wet surface….a “slitching” sound.


This one was suggested by the sound of groceries dumping themselves out of the bag and all over the floorboard of your car as you make a sharp turn. Frap started out as “frapita-dap”, as that most closely resembles the sound of the groceries hurling themselves to the floorboard. Frap is meant to refer to things falling, usually multiple items that go all over the place and make a big mess, or that roll to spots hard to access. Frap does not refer to dropping things, but only to things that fall by themselves with no human intervention.


Froodie-Do is the ultimate bad hair day. It can refer to windblown hair, unmanageable hair, or a deliberately messy, big hair hairstyle.

As well as my own made-up words, I have a few of my own expressions, though I don’t use these all that often:

Morning Warning

That is my term for an alarm clock. I hate getting up early, and I hate alarm clocks. Being startled awake isn’t my idea of a good way to start the day.

Chicken Abortions

Otherwise known as eggs. I don’t particularly like eggs, so this is my unappetizing expression for them.

Pizza bone

The crust on a pizza. Sometimes I eat the pizza bone, sometimes not.

Feel free to list any made up words and expressions of your own in your comments.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Recurring Dreams

For most of my life, I’ve had recurring dreams. These aren’t dreams where every detail is exact, but the key points are present in the theme.

One dream I used to have fairly often as a kid involved me walking out onto a deserted beach. I’d come upon a huge glass bubble/dome. I’d go to the door and there would be a big slot where I’d have to insert a penny the size of a manhole cover in order to get inside the bubble. Once inside, there were doctors everywhere performing operations. But they weren’t operating on people. The “operations” were amorphous blobs of various sizes; the larger the blob, the more serious the operation. After seeing everything, I’d wander out and start walking away from the ocean. As I’d come upon a big round pit in the sand, I’d hear the sound of motorcycles approaching. The doctors were riding the motorcycles and they’d circle round and round the pit several times. Odd dream that I’ve not had again in adulthood.

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In another dream, I was at the very top of the Chrysler Building in New York City late at night by myself. The entire inside of the building had been totally gutted, except for the railings from the stairways. I’d look down 77 stories of what amounted to a gaping hole, wondering how I was going to get down. I’d carefully jump from railing to railing, slowly making my way down, always afraid I’d make a misstep and fall into the hole. Again, I haven’t had this particular dream in a long time.

One dream that I still have from time to time involves tornadoes. The details always differ, but the theme of the dream is a tornado coming and I’m trying to find shelter. I always find somewhere to hunker down, but just before the tornado strikes, I find something about the shelter that is vulnerable and inadequate. Nevertheless, the tornado never gets me and I always survive.

Feel free to share your recurring dreams in your comment.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Tower of Drunken Babel

During my time on the police force, I rarely had to deal with people who could not speak English.

Two exceptions come to mind, however, both being DUI cases. One time, I got a call on the radio to go to the jail to assist with a breathalyzer test. I was puzzled, as I’d already heard both the arresting officer and BA operator call out at the jail.

When I got there, they had a guy who didn’t speak English. He was German, over here on a business trip to one of the German-owned companies in the area. When I arrived, he was playing the “no speaka da English” card to the hilt, hoping maybe that would help him get out of it.

His hopes were dashed and I saw his face visibly fall when I approached him and began speaking to him in his own language. I’d always known that those six years of German would come in handy one day! After he realized the jig was up, he cooperated from that point on and didn’t give us any more trouble.

Another time, a young Hispanic man was brought in for a BA test. Before the test was run, he was given a sheet explaining the test and his rights. The BA operator also questioned him orally, and he responded in several complete sentences, making it clear that he understood. He also cooperated with the test with no trouble.

The trouble came later, when the man he’d called to bail him out arrived. This man was the pastor of a church for Spanish speaking people in the area. As soon as he came into the building, he began ranting and raving about how the arrestee’s rights had been violated because we’d not provided a translator for him. I was “lucky” enough to have been working the desk that day, and I said to the guy, “Well, that’s funny. He was speaking English perfectly well to several people before you arrived. I can’t imagine he forgot how in just the space of a few minutes.”

But there it was. Obviously on the advice of his pastor, the young man began pretending that he couldn’t speak English, despite having previously shown us that he could. Needless to say, the young man was convicted, and the pastor’s meddling had made it worse for him than if he’d kept his mouth shut and just bailed him out.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Bless This Mess

I am not a good housekeeper. I was a messy kid, and now I’m a messy adult. I keep house like Oscar Madison from "The Odd Couple".

I’ve got clothes lying around, books stacked up everywhere, dust on the furniture. I don’t have dust bunnies under the bed; I’ve got dust kangaroos, along with socks, books, and pizza bones, among other things.

Both my mother and aunt had relaxed attitudes toward housekeeping, so I didn’t grow up in an excessively orderly home. The essentials got done, but my mother wasn’t drill sergeant anal about it, and our homes, though clean, were on the cluttered side.

And because I’ve not been married nor had live ins for much of my adult life, I’ve continued on in my slovenly ways unhindered.

I’ve found that I tolerate squalor quite well. When I come home from working a long day, the last thing I want to do is housework. I’ve spent eight or more hours doing stuff I don’t want to do, so when I get home, I’ll be damned if I’ll spend the rest of my waking hours doing more stuff I don’t want to do, and not even get paid for it.

I’ve got a few tricks to avoid making unnecessary messes. First of all, I do not cook anything from scratch. I never was interested in cooking to begin with, so cutting out cooking hasn’t been much of a hardship. In reality, I could live happily in a house without a kitchen, having only a microwave and a refrigerator.

Secondly, I avoid dirtying dishes that have to be washed. I’m a big believer in paper plates and plastic utensils. When I use real dishes, I sometimes cover the plate entirely with tinfoil before putting food on it. That way, when I’m done eating, I take the dirty tinfoil off and throw it away, with the plate underneath still being clean. When I eat a frozen pizza, I use the box it came in as a plate, throwing it all away when I’m done. I drink soda straight from the can, and if I have bottled drinks, I get one for my son and another for myself and we each drink from the original container.

In the bedroom, I never make the bed, as it’s one of the most useless activities I can think of. If I bring someone into the bedroom, we’d be tearing it up anyway. And when I go in there to sleep, I don’t like the sheets and blankets all tucked in; it’s like getting into an envelope to sleep. Plus, I never go to bed dirty, which helps sheets stay fresher longer.

One thing I’m careful to do, however, is to hang towels up directly after use, as it’s easier to pick them up now than to have a sodden towel that must be washed after only one use.

Laundry. I have to use a Laundromat, so washing clothes is a major pain. Most of my clothes are black or a dark color, and I don’t own a single article of white clothing, not even socks or underwear. So, I don’t have to worry about separating it before washing. I also don’t own any clothing that needs ironing -- I don’t own an iron, nor do I know how to iron, nor do I want to learn. I take my clothes to the Laundromat in a big garbage bag and when they’ve finished washing and drying, I just dump them back in there, the hell with folding them. I generally leave them in the bag and pull clothes out as I need them.

In most of the cars I’ve had, except for this latest one, I’ve driven what amounts to a rolling dumpster. I will not throw trash out the window, and when I get to my destination, I usually don’t think of getting the trash out or I’m in a hurry, so in fairly short order, the detritus on the floorboards accumulates. I’ve been better with the car I have now, though, as it’s the nicest one I’ve ever had.

My aunt had a plaque in her kitchen that said, “Bless This Mess”. My own motto toward housekeeping is quite similar:

“If it doesn’t stink, and it doesn’t crawl, don’t worry about it!”

Works for me.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

3: The Dale Earnhardt Story

3 - The Dale Earnhardt Story

Date: 14 December, 2004 — $24.49 — DVD / VHS

product page


Interesting movie about Dale Earnhardt's life, focusing on his personal background and the rise of his career. Particular attention is paid to his relationship with his father and those with his sons. There are a few minor factual inaccuracies that do not detract from the story. Barry Pepper, an actor I'd not previously heard of, did an outstanding job in the title role, completely believable as Earnhardt. Also included, on a second disc, are exclusive interviews with Dale Earnhardt from the EPSN archives, "3 Nation: The Life of Legacy of Dale Earnhardt" documentary, race footage from ESPN, "An Inside Look at the Legend", and a "Making-of featurette". A must-own for Earnhardt fans.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

More Pet Peeves

Grocery Store Peeves

People in a cash only line who write a check.

People in a 10 items or less line with a fully loaded grocery cart.

Getting behind someone in line who needs a "price check".

How you always pick the slow line.

If you move to another line, then it becomes the slow line.


Getting a fifty cent coin in change

The grocery clerk who puts the receipt in your hand, along with your change. I don't want to fumble separating it from my money, nor do I want to put it in my wallet, and I certainly don’t need to hold it.

Paper grocery bags that rip, sending your groceries rolling down the the rain.

Getting a grocery cart from a stack of carts and you choose one that is mated to the one behind it and can’t be separated.

The next one you choose will have a wobbly wheel.

“Buy One, Get One Free” sales where they make you take both items to get the sale price, rather than allowing you to take only one at half price.

Grocery stores that make you sign up for a stupid “Bonus Card” in order to take advantage of their sale prices.


Cop Peeves

You stop a drunk driver and they insist, "I only had two beers, occifer!" Yes, but were they in two 55 gallon drums?

Every suspect, even if you found them standing over a corpse holding a smoking gun, will insist, "I din' do nothin'!"

Stopping a speeder who indignantly informs you, "My taxes pay your salary."

You arrest a man for beating his wife. She beats you down to the jail to bail him out.

People who think cops are clairvoyant.

Rich parents of snot nosed teens who think they should be above the law.

Parents that tell their small children to be good so that the big, bad policeman won’t lock them up.


Obnoxious bail bondsmen

Paid informants


Phone Peeves

Calling a number and getting consistent busy signals. Finallly, it rings...and rings....and rings...and rings. No answer, ever.

Being put on hold and left in phone limbo indefinitely.

Being disconnected after being on hold for what seems like hours.

Calling right back and the number is busy.

People who promise to return your calls and never do.

Getting stuck in an endless labyrinth of phone menus when calling a business. "If you are calling from a touch tone phone, press 1"......

Hearing the phone ringing when you've got an armload of packages and fumbling to unlock the front door. You reach the phone just in time to hear the caller hanging up.

People who call you and demand, “Who’s speaking”. I usually say, “You were, just then” or “Who did you want to talk to ?” If I’m not the person you want to talk to, then it doesn’t matter who I am. I was taught that it’s up to the caller to identify themselves and get to the point of the call right away.

The fact that they can put a man on the moon, but they can’t make a phone with a pleasant sounding ring.

Answering machines with cute messages

"Wrong numbers" who argue with you after being informed they've dialed the wrong number.

The same "wrong numbers" who call right back. Several times.

Phone calls at inappropriate times: you're in the shower, on the toilet, having sex, etc. Getting out of the shower, toilet, bed, etc to answer the phone and you get to the phone just in time to hear CLICK!

Bill collectors

"Junk" phone calls

People who drive while talking on a cell phone.

People who use cell phones at the movies.

Cordless phones that don't work during a power outage.

Tales From the Breathalyzer Room

During my years on the police force, some of the funniest stories came out of the breathalyzer room. Many times, I thought it was too bad we couldn’t have videotaped some of the BA tests we ran on suspected drunk drivers. Not only would we have gotten a higher conviction rate, we also could have submitted the tapes to America’s Funniest Home Videos with a good chance of winning first prize!

It seemed as if most people who took the test parked their dignity outside the jail door before submitting to it. It never failed to amaze me how some people acted, having totally lost their inhibitions while under the influence.

One time we’d brought in a woman in her early sixties, who was an obvious sloppy drunk. Before starting the test, she’d been advised of her rights and asked if she needed to use the rest room, because once the test had begun, she would not get another opportunity until the approximately twenty minute test was completed. She said she didn’t have to go, so the breathalyzer operator began the test. About halfway through, she loudly announced that she had to use the bathroom…RIGHT NOW!

The BA operator explained to her that she’d have to wait until the test was through before she could go. For a breathalyzer test to be considered valid in court, it could not be interrupted once it had begun. The woman didn’t care about any of this, she just kept saying, “I gotta go!” over and over again.

Finally, realizing that we weren’t going to let her use the ladies’ room, she stood up, dropped her pants, lowered her ass to the trash can, and took a crap! It didn’t bother her in the slightest that there were three male cops young enough to be her sons standing there.

Another time, the county BA machine was down, so they brought one of their arrestees in to use our machine. This was a young woman, also obviously wasted. She asked questions at every step of the test, looking at the machine distastefully. Finally, she said that she didn’t want to blow into the machine because she was afraid she’d get AIDS off the tube, as she had no idea what kind of people had blown into it previously. This was even after we’d explained that a new plastic mouthpiece was used for each person, then discarded after the test.

When she’d first announced why she didn’t want to take the test, we all fell all over ourselves laughing. Why, you might ask…

The county officer had picked her up leaving a truck stop parking lot, out by the interstate. In the police car on the way to the jail, she’d told him that she’d been trying to sell her body for gas money at the truck stop, but no one wanted any of what she had to offer. She’d been leaving the truck stop in disgust when the deputy stopped her.

She was worried about getting AIDS from a BA machine, but wasn’t the least bit concerned about getting it from a trucker by the interstate!

One time, I brought in a woman who kept pointing to me, saying, “He don’t give a fuck, he don’t give a fuck!” The jailer raised one eyebrow at her and said, “That’s right! He charges for them!” That was the one and only time I ever saw anyone shut a drunk up.

We had a cop who was 6-10 who’d brought in a guy who stood up in the middle of the test, jumped up and down several times, waving his hands, saying, “I gotta piss! I gotta piss! I gotta piss!” The tall cop looked down, then imitated him, jumping up and down, saying, “You gotta wait! You gotta wait! You gotta wait!”

Another time, an elderly man was brought in who kept telling the arresting officer, “You’re a first class, 14 karat, shit-ass”, over and over. Finally, the officer looked at him and said, with a deadpan expression. “That’s right. I always aim to be the best at whatever I do!”

Never a dull moment….

Sunday, December 12, 2004

It Takes All Kinds To Make a World

While reading John Sherck's blog this morning, I was yet again inspired by his post, so here’s a bit of my own take on it.

I spent the first ten years of my life in New England, where there were many people of various white ethnicities, but fewer blacks and asians than in other parts of the country. I am mainly of British ancestry with a bit of Irish thrown in and was raised as a nominal Episcopalian. In other words, I am a WASP.

Like John, I grew up in a family where racial and ethnic tolerance was taught mainly by positive example rather than my parents specifically bringing my attention to it.

Except for one time.

I can remember when I was about six years old that my mother took me downtown to go shopping with her one day. While in the store, I saw a black boy about my own age shopping with his mother. I have no idea what possessed me to do this, but I walked up to him, held my hand up close to his and calmly announced, “My hand is better than your hand.”

I’ll never forget the expressions on the faces of both our mothers. As soon as the words had left my mouth, I knew I’d done something wrong. My mother apologized profusely to the boy’s mother, but I don’t think the woman accepted it, figuring I’d learned such attitudes at home.

But, of course, I hadn’t. The only thing I can think of to explain it was that there was quite a bit of coverage about the Civil Rights movement on the news at that time. And I’d also heard my aunt’s husband regularly make racist comments.

After apologizing, my mother quickly hustled me out of the store. On the ride home, she gave me an extended lecture about why such attitudes and behavior were wrong. I don’t remember all the details of what she said, but what it boiled down to were two things she said often, “There’s good and bad in all kinds”, and “It takes all kinds of people to make a world”.

I’ve never forgotten what happened and what she told me that day, as it was a major turning point in the development of my character.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

A Bittersweet Memory

While at the mall today, I passed the Santa Claus village in the center court. I hurried by, averting my head, as I crossed behind the line waiting to see Santa. I can’t bear the sight of a store Santa during the holidays, as it brings back too many memories.

During the last year of his life, my father mentioned several times that he was going to get a job as a store Santa that Christmas. He was the right age, he had the right build, and even better, he had his own white beard. Though he normally kept his beard closely trimmed, he’d let it grow that year, in anticipation of being Santa later in the year.

Not only was he a good physical match for Santa, he had the right personality. In April of 1995, I’d gone to the grocery store with him one day. While shopping we passed two small, crying children, with their grandmother. They had seen a display of diecast trucks for twenty dollars apiece and had asked their grandmother for one each. As we passed nearby, she was quietly trying to explain to them why she couldn’t buy the toys.

My father looked at them and saw that the children, though clean and apparently well cared for, wore shabby clothing and were obviously from a poor family. Not saying a word, he quietly picked up two trucks and paid for them. Walking back to the family, he wordlessly handed each child a truck. He didn’t make a big fuss about it, as he had no wish to embarrass the grandmother.

The children looked up at him with wide eyes. With his white beard, they thought he was Santa Claus. He let them think so, telling them that while he was here, he wanted to make sure they had their Christmas, and that they should be good and mind their grandmother.

As we walked out of the store a little while later, he told me that those kids reminded him of himself as a child. As the oldest of eight children growing up in a poor family during the Depression, he never had many toys, and he knew just how those kids felt. He said he couldn’t bear to see them cry, and that life would no doubt continue to give them hard knocks, and that he wanted them to know something different, even if just for once.

Three months later, he had his fatal heart attack. Christmas never came for him again. And that year when I saw the Santas in the stores, I remembered his wish to be a Santa, and choked up.

I’ve remembered every year since when the Christmas season rolls around. And I still choke up.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Seven Deadly Sins Quiz

The results of this quiz were a big surprise to me...not! It was one of those
"Well, duh!" moments. I'd be curious to see how my regular readers stack up
with this quiz.















Seven deadly sins
created with

Tuesday, December 7, 2004

A Lesson in Tolerance

My father grew up in the rural Deep South during the Depression. His family was desperately poor, with his father supporting his wife and eight children as a tenant farmer. A tenant farmer was a step up from being a sharecropper, but it wasn’t that much of an improvement. During his childhood, the family moved frequently, to many different tumble down shacks in various parts of the county, following the available work.

Given such a background, considering the time, place, and circumstances of his childhood, one would have expected him to learn and internalize racist attitudes, as is commonly seen as being typical of Southerners. But that would have been a completely mistaken assumption.

My father was a highly intelligent man, something my grandparents recognized in him at an early age. At this time and place, it was customary for an oldest son to quit school at the earliest opportunity in order to help support the family. But at great sacrifice to themselves, my grandparents made sure he graduated from high school. They knew he was destined for better things.

After a stint in the Navy during World War II, my father was hired by a major oil corporation, got his bachelor’s degree going to college at night on the GI Bill. He eventually rose to several different managerial positions within various divisions in the company.

During his career, he did all in his power to make sure that black and female employees under his supervision were treated equitably, many times acting as mentor. Because I’d been born and raised up North, I had the usual perception of all Southerners being redneck racists. I was curious why my father was so different from the stereotype, and so I eventually asked him.

He told me that when he was growing up, there was only one tenant farmer family in the area who had a car, a black family. Every Saturday, the man would take all the white women into town to do their weekly shopping. In return for this, the women’s husbands would work helping the black man in his fields, as they could not afford to give him gas money.

This friendly, neighborly cooperation made quite an impression on my father, something he never forgot. It may have been a small thing, but it made all the difference in the world to him.

Monday, December 6, 2004

A Bit of Language Trivia

A pocketbook is not a book, a pocket, or a book you put in your pocket. Wonder how such a strange word came to mean “purse” or “handbag”?


“Belated”, a word invented just for birthdays


“Tardy”, a word invented just for schools


Children and brethren: probably the only two words in English that take the plural -ren.


Don’t is “do not”. Why isn’t won’t “woo not”?


If a duckling is a baby duck, then why isn’t a dumpling a baby dump?


German has different words for “no” meaning the opposite of yes, and “no” meaning “not any”: “nein” and “kein”. Makes better sense than English. After all, we say, “I have no bananas”, but we can’t say, “I have yes bananas”.


Why do people refer to musicians as “artists” when there are several perfectly usable and more specific words, such as singer, musician, and band?


We talk about “eyesight”. Why don’t we talk about “earhear”, "tonguetaste", "nosesmell", or "fingertouch"?

Saturday, December 4, 2004

Some Thoughts on Religion

After reading posts on religion during the last couple of days at Infamous J’s and Crzydjm’s blogs, I was inspired to share a few of my own thoughts on religion. One thing that Crzydjm said in particular got me to thinking:

THAT'S my big problem with organized religion, the "sheep-like" mentality of it. I can't take what one man says to me as biblical fact, maybe I've grown bitter I don't know. It seems to me that if God will speak to me, then HE will be the one speaking to me. A mortal man claiming to know God's will and attempting to convey that message to me leaves me very skeptical. How much of a personal slant does he give to it?

Exactly. That’s how I’ve always felt as well. I’ve never thought that religion or spirituality is, or should be, a “one size fits all” matter. Whatever Higher Power exists can certainly relate to each one of us on an individualized basis and this is reflected in the numerous religions and personal philosophies that exist on this planet. As there are different people, there are different ways of relating to the infinite.

And this brings me to the Christian Bible. Fundamentalist Christians believe that the Bible is “inerrant”, that is, they believe that the Bible is God’s own final word to humanity, that it was literally dictated to those people who wrote it, that it is without error or fault, and that every word in it is literally true.

There are several problems with this view. First of all, to say God speaks only through the Bible is to limit an infinite being to a tangible object; it puts the Bible before God. There’s a word for it -- “bibliolatry”, which means worshipping the Bible itself.

Secondly, what we now consider “the Bible”, was written over the space of several hundred years. Many parts of it were passed down orally for years before ever being written down. There’s also no doubt that the biblical authors injected their own opinions and interpretations into what they wrote, Paul, who never met Jesus personally, being a case in point.

Many sacred texts were produced in the early years of Christianity, in addition to the ones contained in the present Christian Bible. The compilation of texts into what now comprises the Bible was not accomplished until many years after Christ’s death. A group of clerics decided which sacred texts would be included and they naturally excluded and suppressed such sacred writings that contradicted their own opinions.

After it was decided which texts would comprise the Bible, it was translated numerous times over the centuries from early Greek and Hebrew versions which themselves were likely not original. Even within a single language, the Bible exists in several different versions.

With all this in mind, it’s more than a little presumptuous to call the Bible “inerrant”. Most of us have played the game “Whisper Down the Line” when we were children. That is, a story was told to one person, who whispered it to the next person, who in turn did the same to the next person, until the story had reached the last person. Invariably, the story was quite different by the time the last person told everyone what they'd heard. No doubt the same is true, even more so, for the Bible, considering how many more filters it has passed through until the present day.

Thirdly, to take every word in the Bible literally is ludicrous. “The Bible means exactly what it says”, fundamentalists assert. The problem is that Christians have never been able to agree on just what that is, and many interpretations exist, all insisting that theirs is the only correct meaning. Beyond that, the Bible is full of allegory and parable, not meant to be taken literally, but to illustrate principles. And we must remember it was written in a cultural and historical milieu vastly different from our own. It also has contradictions and records things offensive to modern people.

For example, we are told that if our eyes cause us to sin, we are to pluck them out. Those who dash out the brains of the enemies’ children against a wall are called blessed in the Bible. People are commanded not to wear two different types of cloth together. Women are told they may not teach or speak in church and that they must obey their husbands because God only speaks to them through their husbands, slaves are told to obey their masters, that kings have a divine right to rule, and so on.

Christians no longer believe in slavery and the divine right of kings, and progressive Christians now believe in the full independent humanity of women. The misuse of certain Bible texts to oppress various groups of people over the centuries is now rightly believed not to reflect the original intention and spirit of Christ’s teachings.

Of course, I could write much more about this, but it would be a lengthy, further digression of the inspiration I got from Crzydjm’s and J’s posts. The above is merely the background of why I share his skepticism of organized religion.

For me, the Bible can be boiled down to “Treat others as you would wish to be treated”. I think if that’s all a person takes away from the Bible, then they’re doing well.

Friday, December 3, 2004

A Few "Regular Customers"

Police officers everywhere have a number of people they deal with regularly among their clientele. Most are mentally ill, and quite a few are essentially homeless, having “no fixed address”. Some have alcohol and/or substance abuse problems. Many had normal lives at one time until some traumatic event or the normal progression of an addiction caused them to lose their way. Not all those I dealt with ended up in jail; some were merely public nuisances.

Today, I’ll write about several “regulars” I dealt with in the “public nuisance” category, as the wino category is a story all its own.

There was one middle aged woman of uncertain hygiene who used to come and hang around the police station on a regular basis. She’d always have a wide gap-toothed grin on her face, and would stop everyone who passed, asking them to buy her a soda. For years I didn’t know her real name. Most of us called her “Buddy Buddy” because that’s how she addressed everyone: “Hi Buddy, can you buy me a Pepsi?” I usually would buy her a drink, so she’d go sit somewhere downwind. After tolerating her for awhile, we’d make her leave because she didn’t respect anyone’s privacy or anyone being busy. She never minded; she’d leave good naturedly and come back again a few days later.

Another regular was a Vietnamese woman whom some soldier had married and brought home after the war. For about a year, she came to the station every day and sat for hours. She was convinced that her brother had sent her a bus ticket and a suitcase that she had to pick up from the police station. It didn’t matter how many times different officers told her this wasn’t so; she’d spend hours waiting each day, anyway.

I hated pulling desk duty when she was at the station. She’d not sit quietly minding her own business, but would stare at the desk officer to the point of moving her head back and forth to mimic the officer’s movements. Sometimes, she’d even come to the window and press her face against the glass to get a better view. During that year, I had a new understanding of how animals in the zoo must feel.

One woman, who came in several times a week, was a paranoid schizophrenic. She was neat, well dressed, drove a nice car, and looked perfectly normal. But as soon as she opened her mouth, the mystery was over. She had an obsession about people taking pictures of her in public places trying to frame her for child molestation. One complaint I remember vividly was her claiming that a neighbor’s child had a camera in her tricycle to take pictures of her with so that her parents could frame her.

Unlike most of these people, she wasn’t satisfied with a few reassuring words. She’d go on and on in detail about her paranoid fantasies for several hours if you’d let her. It got to the point where she was so disruptive that just the sight of her crossing the parking lot to the building caused officers to scatter and hide. I can remember one officer working desk duty who would grab the portable phone and answer calls from the men’s room until she went away.

Others were less disruptive, but no less peculiar. There was a mother and son duo who wandered the streets all hours of the night, though they had a government apartment. The woman had been taken advantage of by someone when in her 20s and had borne a son that her family had taken away from her. When he became a teenager and they realized that he was just like his mother and would never be any different, they dumped him off at her apartment. It turned out as well as could be expected under the circumstances, as they had each other, if no one else wanted them.

I remember one time driving down the main drag coming upon them around 3 am hauling an old, battered couch down the middle of the street. I stopped and asked them what the deal was and she said someone had given them the couch and they were taking it home. It hadn’t occurred to them that the middle of the street wasn’t the place to be carrying it, nor was 3 am the ideal time to be doing it. Not to mention that their apartment was at least a mile away.

There was another schizophrenic who wandered the streets at night. He’d come in the department and sit in the public phone alcove on the floor smoking cigarettes while muttering to himself. Sometimes he’d have enough money to rent a room in a seedy rooming house. One time he’d dropped his ring down the toilet. In a fit of rage, he uprooted it and threw it out the fourth floor window where it landed on the hood of a passing patrol car, shattering into a million pieces…

Another was a tall skinny middle aged fellow who used to walk up and down the several blocks of the shopping district. He didn’t bother anyone or do anything all that odd, except for the way he looked. One day, you’d see him with a huge clock hanging around his neck, another day, he’d have a three foot high plastic baby bottle strapped to his back, and the next, he’d be lugging a teddy bear almost as big as he was.

I have quite a few more stories like these I could tell, but I’ll leave them for another day.

Thursday, December 2, 2004

Pet Peeves: Cars and Driving

Everyone has pet peeves, and, for many of us, these daily aggravations are related to cars and driving. Here are some of mine. Enjoy!

People who honk their horns the second the light changes.

People who remain stopped several seconds after the light changes. What's the problem, don't they like that shade of green? Are they waiting for one they like better?

People in a left turn lane who make their turn after the light has turned red.

People who drive with their wrist draped over the steering wheel instead of gripping it.

No matter how late at night it is, no matter how far out you are in the country, there's always a car coming to make you wait when you want to make a left turn.

When waiting to turn left, there are always cars coming from the right side when the left side is clear. When the right side is clear, there will be cars coming from the left.

Car alarms

When getting groceries out of your car, the car door swings back and hits you on the ass.

The harder it is raining, the further you'll have to park from the building.

People who park diagonally across two parking spaces, especially when those two spaces are the only ones available.

People who drive for miles with their turn signal blinking who never turn.

People who constantly hit the brakes for no reason.

People who speed up to cut you off when they see you signaling to change lanes People who give a left turn signal and turn right.

People who are quick to pull out in front of you, but slow to a crawl once in front.

The slow car is always in front.

People who take forever to make a turn.

People who must come to a complete stop before turning.

People whose cars straddle the lane markers.

People who pass you, only to turn right at the very next corner.

People who meet coming from opposite directions who stop to carry on a conversation without pulling off the road, oblivious to traffic backing up behind them.

People who ride your bumper even though you're already driving 20 mph over the limit.

Having diarrhea on a long car ride.

Long waits in fast food drive-thru lines, then getting the wrong order after waiting all that time.

Having to park or drive between two oversized vehicles: SUVs, vans, large pickups.

Getting stuck behind slow cars and oncoming traffic prevents you from passing them.

Getting stuck at a railroad crossing, especially when the train STOPS!

People who drive for miles in your blind spot.

Bicycle sized spare tires

Getting stuck behind a slow moving school bus that makes frequent stops.

Getting stuck behind a bus belching toxic fumes.

Tailgaters who follow so closely that they could be charged with "vehicular sodomy".

Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Having Long Hair

For much of my adult life, I’ve had longer than average hair. As a kid, I had a typically short haircut, indistinguishable from that of most boys who grew up in the 1960s.

Once I hit my teens, a lot of the guys were growing what we considered “long” hair back then; that is, our hair covered our ears. This was a relief to a lot of my friends who had big ears that stuck out, to finally get to cover them up. I didn’t have big ears, but I’ve got a big nose and I’ve always thought that short hair called more attention to it.

Long sideburns were also in until around the late 70s, so as soon as I was able, I grew these, too. My brother had them as well, all the way down to his jaw line, and I can remember my mother joking with him that his sideburns were the “straps that held his brain in”.

As I got a bit older, I discovered that a lot of women liked guys with long hair. That was it; I was sold for life. When I went off to college, I let it grow past my shoulders to the middle of my shoulder blades, which is about the length I have it today.

Women then and now love to play with it; to run their fingers through it, as well as to comb and braid it. I usually wear it bound, in a ponytail or braid when I’m out, especially when working. Only occasionally will I wear it loose in public.

Needless to say, it was quite a sacrifice that I never quite got used to when I joined the police force and had to cut my hair. However, the short hair rule was one of safety as much as one of image, as long hair would have given a suspect something to grab on to during a scuffle. (Ouch). For this reason, female officers were likewise encouraged, though not required, to have shorter hair.

That being said, I had my hair as long as the regulations would permit, never affecting the buzz cut, Marine-recruit look that seems to be so popular among male cops these days. Our department also had an unofficial custom that a rookie could not grow a mustache until he’d completed the academy and was released from his training officer at the department. Like most of the guys on the department, I grew one as soon as my training period was up, figuring if I couldn’t have my braid, I could at least have a mustache.

As soon as I left the department, I let my hair grow, and it hasn’t been short again since. Once it had reached a certain length, I shaved the mustache off and I’ve not grown another in the ten years since I left the force.

I feel lucky to have all my hair, even though I’m seeing more gray strands in it these days. No biggie. I imagine I’ll one day be an old man with a gray ponytail, and that’s just fine with me.