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And In the End…

and in the end

The Beatles were one of the great rock bands of all time, and they are a band I listened to throughout my life. Most of those who are familiar with me personally know that John Lennon is one of my all-time heroes, but it is surprising that the single lyric that I believe is the most beautiful and most important written in the 20th century was penned by Paul McCartney. It’s from the Abbey Road album and is simply put “And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.” What a beautiful sentiment. Even now, nearly forty years after I first heard it, just listening to McCartney warble it is enough to bring tears to my eyes. Of course, I’m an old softie in that regard.

And it is wrong. It is as hopeful a line as ever written but for most of us, there is an imbalance. Some of us take far more love than we make. Now, I don’t view this as referring to the act of making love; I believe it refers to love given and love received. Now, there are plenty of people who are close enough to balanced to make the line true for most, but when you think of Donald Trump, do you think he has given as much love as he has received? Or Mother Teresa? Or Ellen de Generes? Or even John Lennon?

Lennon was far from perfect. He wrote a song as hopeful as “Imagine” but on the same album  he excoriates McCartney with “How Do You Sleep.” The preaching of love and tolerance on one hand doesn’t mix well with the savaging he gives his old writing partner. I guess it’s easier to love people in general than people in particular.

Still, the sentiment is one to be admired. When I go out, I would like to have given more love than I receive. It’s not a desire to be a martyr or anything like that – trust me, I get plenty of love – but the world needs love, as Burt Bacharach – and John Lennon – have written. These days especially. Love seems to be in short supply. We may mock the hippies for their “peace and love” attitude, but I have to tell you they weren’t wrong on that score. Not that I’m ever going to embrace patchouli oil – that stuff stinks!

And I know, it’s so much easier said than done. I’m guilty of growling that people suck when I see them behave selfishly on the road, or elect another Republican to office. It’s easy to get caught up in the frustration, particular in an era when it feels like selfishness is encouraged and selflessness ridiculed. When being generous and kind is made fun of as a sucker’s game, we’re in trouble as a species.

That’s why we all need to take a step back. I don’t know if you believe in karma, but I do believe that the attitudes we send out are reflected back to us by the world. If you believe the world is out to get you then it likely is. If you believe that the world is a beautiful place then so it is. Sure, that’s not going to insulate you from getting burned – no matter how much love you send into the ether there will always be those who return harm. That’s the nature of the game folks. None of us are exempt from emotional hurt.

And yet what defines us is how we react. Do we lash out and say “Screw everybody, I’m hurt and now I’m going to hurt others instead of getting hurt” or do we get back on the horse and send out our love? Which one do you think makes the world a better place?

And that’s what it boils down to. Do we want to make the world a better place or do we just want to bitch about what a horrible hard place it is? It begins with us. We can’t force others to open the hearts and send good feelings into the world; we can only do it ourselves. We can’t legislate compassion but we can experience it. Rather than blaming the poor for their troubles, we can find ways to make their lives better, either through education or finding them work. Instead of getting angry at climate change deniers, we can take steps to reduce our own carbon footprints. Instead of complaining about politicians, we can actually go out there and find a candidate who is worthy of our support and go out there and vote for them. Talking the talk isn’t enough in this day and age; we have to walk the walk.

And in the end, we can show our love in all sorts of ways, using the skills and talents we are given. Singing a song out loud can brighten the day of someone who needs a pick-me-up; taking out some ice cold sodas to a bunch of guys working out in the summer heat is one way of spreading good karma even if you don’t believe in it; trust me, the act of doing someone a solid is enough to make you feel good for hours.

Lennon did write “All you need is love” and like McCartney he was wrong in that assessment; we need more than love. But we do need love, all of us. We crave it; we wither without it. A kind word or gesture can be as healing as medicine. Hugs can be the stuff of wonderful memories and can color our perception of life and the world around us. Some people write off serial huggers as kooks, but I think that I’d rather be kooky than rational in that regard.

The ills of the world are many and I don’t have any illusions that giving out more hugs and being kinder in general is going to cure many of them, if any. Maybe it’s just a karmic version of shouting into the abyss but by God I’d rather shout into the darkness than cower at it. There is far too much fear and anger and not enough love and compassion. I have to believe the world would be a much better place if we all just made the attempt to be sure that the love we make is at least a little more than the love we take. Isn’t it worth a try? The other way doesn’t seem to be working.

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The Guardian Heart

There are all sorts of hearts in this world. Some are cold and hard, impenetrable and insulated from any emotion, good or bad. Others are soft and tender, feeling every little thing that comes their way. However, a precious few seem destined to help those who need it, giving what love, peace and protection that is to be had to all that heart encounters. They exist to give, often without any expectation of recompense. I call these guardian hearts.

I’ve haven’t had the fortune to find many of these in my 50 plus years of travels on this Earth. Part of the reason for that is that not only are they unbelievably rare but also that those who possess these tend to have a limited shelf life. These are sensitive souls who feel things so much more keenly than others do, and often they come with their own special demons. I can’t say that all of them burn brightly and flicker out, but that is often the case. That’s why when one is encountered, it is incumbent upon us to do everything we can to nurture and preserve those who possess one.

Sometimes, I’ve run into them not so much directly but by proxy; they can be recognized not just by what they do but by those who are touched by them. One such guardian heart belongs to a gentleman by the name of Scott Stapp.

Some of you may recognize the name. Yes, I’m talking about that Scott Stapp. Lead singer of Creed. Yes, yes, the “Arms Wide Open” guys. No, I’m not crazy. Not about this anyway.

Creed was never the most fashionable of bands and they took a whole lot of critical lumps. Stapp’s vocal style is a bit over the top, I’ll admit. The band has a hard rock edge but a very strong patina of Christian faith. They may not necessarily always be overt about that faith, like a Stryper for example, but nonetheless they weren’t shy about it either and bands with a message of faith tend to make mainstream critics uncomfortable. Their upbeat lyrics tended to make the bloggers snarky. Nothing brings out the snark than a message of hope, after all. That kind of thing never made sense to me; not everybody has to be the Smiths. Of course, it became fashionable to bash the Smiths too. I think it basically becomes fashionable to bash everyone. That’s just the culture of destroy everything we touch that we live in these days. It’s so much easier to bring down than to build up which is one of the things that makes the guardian heart all the more special.

Stapp grew up here in Orlando (went to Lake Highland Prep if I’m not mistaken) and formed his band among friends at Florida State. The market at the time wasn’t receptive to straight ahead rock bands and they had trouble finding gigs, often having to create them themselves in restaurants and in other venues. Their powerful live shows and Stapp’s soaring vocals and immense presence got them noticed and after they recorded an album for $6,000, they found a label as well – Wind-Up Records who remixed the album and sent it back out into the world. That album would be My Own Prison and would generate four number one singles on the Billboard rock charts, the first debut album to accomplish that feat.

A second album, Human Clay brought even further success and a Grammy for “With Arms Wide Open.”  While preparations were underway for touring for their third album, Stapp was involved in an auto accident which would eventually help get him hooked on prescription pain medicine, in addition to his already growing dependence on alcohol. The tour eventually went on but was something of a disaster, leading to a show in Rosemont, Illinois at which Stapp was admittedly intoxicated and was accused (and later sued for) being so incoherent he couldn’t remember the lyrics to a single song. That lawsuit was eventually dismissed, incidentally.

With tensions between Stapp and the band intolerably high, the group broke up. Stapp started a successful solo career while the rest of the band reformed as Alter Bridge. However in 2009 they reunited and released their fourth album, Full Circle which brought back the band’s fan base, and which spawned another triumphant tour. However, plans for a fifth album were abandoned after once again Stapp and the rest of the band had another falling out. While Stapp has kept the door open for a further Creed project, guitarist Mark Tremonti has been less hopeful about any more touring or recording by the band.

Since then, Stapp’s drug use and alcohol abuse have spiraled out of control. In November 2014, his wife Jaclyn filed for divorce after receiving bizarre messages from her husband, taking custody of their two children as well as his son from a previous marriage. Later that month, Stapp posted a video to his Facebook page stating that he was homeless and living in a Holiday Inn with severe financial issues. He has also made several 911 calls that alluded to him being chased by people who wanted to kill him.

It seems likely that Stapp is suffering from mental illness; there are some who believe he may be Bipolar. There is no doubt that his life has unraveled and he is facing some of the most darkest days that anyone could ever face and he seems to be doing it alone.

You might be asking yourself here what makes this man worthy of attention. After all, he’s just another drug-addled rock star that had it all and blew it, right? Well, that would only be part of the story.

Stapp has a history of giving to those in need. He began his With Arms Wide Open Foundation in 2000, giving aid mainly to needy children not just here in the states but around the world. In 15 years the foundation has donated more than a million dollars to various causes mostly related to children in crisis. Eventually he renamed his charity the Scott Stapp foundation; there is currently another organization using the Arms Wide Open name to battle childhood cancer which so far as I know is not affiliated with Stapp’s charity. Stapp has donated a portion of ticket sales to his foundation for years; all of the proceeds from the “With Arms Wide Open” single went to his charitable foundation. While it is largely inactive now due to Stapp’s difficulties, it has made a difference in a good many lives and largely under the radar.

But that’s not what qualifies Stapp in my book for the truly high praise. A good friend of mine, whose husband at the time worked as a monitor engineer for Creed’s road crew, told me a story about how her daughter had gotten very sick, to the point where doctors felt she wasn’t going to make it. She called her husband and pleaded with him to come home to say goodbye to their child. When her husband told Stapp what was happening, not only did he give his crew member leave to be with his family, he also found out about the little girl’s condition and discovered that there was some cutting edge research being done at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He arranged for the girl to be flown to Baltimore where she was treated and eventually recovered and is alive to this day because of Stapp’s intervention, which he paid for out of his own pocket.

That’s not a story many people know about, and I only heard about it because I know the girl’s mom. When Stapp’s troubles became public, she asked me to write something about him, something that maybe he might read one day and hopefully get from her a return on the gift that he gave her – the gift of love that led to life. I don’t claim to be close to Scott Stapp, nor do I claim to really be able to even have any sort of understanding of what he’s going through. Normally, I’d just wish him well and hope for the best.

And yet there’s that story, a little girl alive today because of his direct involvement and hundreds and thousands maybe millions of people whose lives today are better not just because of his charity but because his music inspired them to hope for better things and maybe even find them. Lives like his that touch so many lives that way are to be treasured and preserved. I do hope that he can find his way off the precipice that he is on to a safe place to land and gets the help that he needs. His kids deserve to have their dad around. His friends deserve to have him back. HE deserves the happiness of a life well-lived. I hope his guardian heart remains strong and beats hard for many years to come.

Bits and Pieces 4

Bits and Pieces 4

Just a few things that have been rattling around in my mind’s attic…

Oh thank you Supreme Court and Fox News for informing us that racism is dead in this country. I’m sure that all those unarmed African Americans who have been shot by white police officers can take comfort in that their deaths weren’t racially motivated at all. And I’m sure Native Americans were thrilled to discover that “Redskin” is actually a name of honor, meant to convey respect to their people and their culture. We sure don’t need those pesky protections from the Voter Rights Act.

So why is it that African American males are involved in police shootings at an inordinate rate? Me, I think they should exercise their Second Amendment rights and start open carrying. Might as well if they’re going to get shot anyway; at least they have a fighting chance to defend themselves. I’m sure though we won’t hear the NRA supporting their Second Amendment rights because, after all, they’re the criminals right?

And while we’re on the subject of open carry, what are these morons trying to prove? And yes, they ARE morons. There is no intelligence being displayed here; only some sort of primal male ego thing of showing what a badass we are. I found the one open carry guy who was robbed of his gun at gunpoint to be one of the most hysterical things I’ve heard recently. Talk about karma.

But I digress. Why do you need to have a weapon on display when you’re walking around? Are you that afraid to go to your local Wal-Mart? Maybe some homeless guy is going to drag you into an alley and rape you right in the tush? Puh-lease. You might as well drive to work in a tank and carry around a bazooka wherever you go. If you can’t make it from point A to point B without a loaded weapon in your belt you probably shouldn’t leave the house. Maybe you should just kill yourself before the criminal hordes come to get you.

Can we take a deep breath for a moment and try not to panic about Ebola? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very serious disease and it shouldn’t be taken lightly, but for one thing, it’s not coming into this country from Mexico, it’s not a plot from the President and you can’t catch it from breathing the same air as a victim of the disease. It can only be transmitted through things like blood, vomit or feces. If you don’t come into contact with any bodily excretions, secretions or waste, you’re not going to get it. It doesn’t work that way. If you’re still a little shook up, wash your hands regularly. Like more than once a day – I’m talking about after every meal or before and after you go out. Use soap and water or a good sanitizer. You’ll be okay. And don’t travel to West Africa if you’re really concerned. Plenty of people there don’t have the disease and Liberia is claiming it will be eradicated there by Christmas.

Many who know me will tell you that I am not a believer in organized religion. I find there to be too much hypocrisy in the leaderships of various churches. However, listening to Bill Maher’s diatribe against Muslims and then his debate with Ben Affleck made me a little bit uncomfortable. Certainly there are a lot of Muslims who believe in things like honor killings, execution for apostasy and female genital mutilation and those things are indeed barbaric. However, if you look closely at the numbers from the Pew poll where much of this information comes from, you’ll see that the people who believe this are mainly in the Middle East, in places like Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen to name a few; Muslims from Europe and the Americas tend to be against these things. Honor killings predate Islam by the way; Arabs were engaging in that behavior even before Muhammad was even a twinkle in his daddy’s eye. It’s a cultural thing that should not be tolerated but an entire belief system shouldn’t be torn apart because of some regions where the religion is very strong subscribe to it.

Religious fanaticism is a bad thing regardless of what religion it is. Fanaticism is all about intolerance, a desire to feel superior to others. My religion is better than your religion and if you’re not a part of my religion then you deserve to die. It’s one of the reasons I prefer to have faith in a greater power rather than subscribing to any specific religion. That doesn’t mean religious organizations don’t do a lot of good around the world as they have done throughout history, or provide comfort to those who subscribe to them. That’s all well and good and I would never want to see a world without religion. However, they are also responsible for a lot of bad things, like jihads and crusades and inquisitions and wars. I have always believed that true faith is a subscription to peace and tolerance, allowing all to believe as they wish without penalty.

When you say that Islam is about death, intolerance and ignorance you then have to figure out a way to explain the golden years of Islam when the Middle East was a center for learning, architecture and peace. During the Middle Ages caliphs and imams were far more tolerant than their Christian counterparts and welcomed Jewish and Christian scholars to their universities. I can’t explain how things changed and grew so extreme over the centuries but you can’t say how barbaric the religion is without explaining what it has been.

Social media has become a kind of community in and of itself. It is a means of informing the world of who we are, and yet I think we’ve erected walls around ourselves that are even taller and more impenetrable than ever. We share everything about our lives – what we’re eating, what movie we’re seeing, which parties we’re attending – and yet we know less about each other than we ever have. How often do you really open up and post something about how you feel, and I’m not talking about politics here. I’m talking about YOU, who you ARE, what you’re all ABOUT. What makes you tick? What keeps you getting out of bed every morning? What do you dream about, wish for, hope for?

We’re a world of enigmas, everything on the surface is on display but nothing about what’s inside. We can scream and shout about Obama or abortion or whatever the topic of the day is, or get catty about what Beyonce is wearing or who’s playing Batman or what that bitch just said to you. We communicate in memes and soundbites. All style, no substance.

It takes courage to show the world who you are and what you stand for. Not many can. Most of us are too worried about what others think about us to be real. I’ve learned in my years that it’s okay to offend. It’s okay to take offense. Real maturity comes in understanding that we’re not going to agree on everything. Some things about you might rub me the wrong way. Some things about me might drive you nuts. That doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. There folks in my life who think very differently than I do. They are at the opposite end of the political spectrum, have different personal philosophies of life and/or a different way of doing things. That’s all good. It doesn’t make them bad people, nor does it make me a bad person.

We’re all unique and we should be proud of who we are. There’s no shame in supporting Israel, or in voting Democrat, or in wearing Crocs, or subscribing to Maxim, or following Big Brother. I can be friends with just about anyone as long as they respect who I am and what I stand for and allow me to be who I am. I’d much rather be friends though with someone who stands up and says “I believe differently than you” rather than someone who agrees with me just to avoid conflict. My friends Louis and John, both die-hard conservatives, disagree with just about everything that I believe in politically. We often have heated conversations about it, and while I occasionally will see their point and sometimes change my mind on certain matters, most of the time it’s just stating opposing positions. We don’t always talk politics; I appreciate Louis’ humor and his ongoing friendship and John’s faith and service to his students – he teaches and coaches at a Southern California high school. I’m proud to call them friends. They are who they are and I wouldn’t want them any other way and I respect that they have the courage to say who they are. That’s what friendship is about, isn’t it?

So while they’re tickled pink about the mid-term results, I’m obviously less happy about it. I see a country that has become a shadow of itself. It allows a small minority to dictate terms to the rest of us, while we sit back and play Call of Duty. Yet when that duty calls in our real lives, how do we answer? By not voting. About a third of this country’s eligible voters cast their ballots in the recent mid-terms. Many young voters and minority voters stayed away from the polls. I know some have an aversion to voting, feeling like they don’t understand the issues or know the candidates well enough to make intelligent choices. Others feel that no matter who they vote for, it isn’t going to make a difference. Still others just don’t want to take the time and effort to either fill out a ballot and mail it or go to a polling place. The other 364 days of the year they tend to be the loudest bitchers and moaners too.

I don’t agree that this Republican sweep was necessarily the will of the people, as the Republicans seem to think it is. It is the will of a bit more than half of 37% of the people. That’s about 20% of the eligible voters decided that we’re going to be bearing right for the next two years and that they’re perfectly happy with the worst Congress in the history of this country. However, since 63% of the country didn’t vote, the will of the people turns out to not give a crap. Which is essentially the message we send to those who are running the country.

We are responsible for caring. We owe it to ourselves, our family and our posterity. We take advantage of the freedoms that this country provides and yet we choose not to answer that call of duty when it comes in November. WE THE PEOPLE have to get out of the mindset that our vote doesn’t count for anything, that it doesn’t matter whether we vote or not. It matters. Because the government that makes our lives better, worse or indifferent is elected by those who do care. And if you feel “Well, I’m in a Gerrymandered district so there’s no point,” then make it a point to make your voice heard in other ways. Not just as anonymous posts on the Internet but in concrete, positive ways. If you’re satisfied with things the way they are then by all means, do what you’re doing. If you’re not though, take action. Fight for your country – if not in the military but here at home. It deserves your defense.

The Bikini Dilemma

The Bikini Dilemma

It is a bit of a dilemma that women face. On the one hand, there is a push for them to be attractive physically. On the other, there’s a demand that they remain modest and chaste. If you’re going to save yourself for marriage, probably best not to show too much skin, right?

The beach becomes the great equalizer. Where else but at the beach are we urged to shed as much clothing as possible? Where else is it acceptable for a woman to be out in public in essentially a skimpy bra and panties and not be thought of as some kind of randy slut?

We are a nation of double standards particularly when it comes to women. We use the sexuality of women as an advertising tool; sexy women are used to hawk beer, guns and cars. We show the ideal of beauty to be thin  and the height of fashion to be the skimpiest of clothes. We tacitly urge women to be sexual, then brand them degenerate when they are sexual. We decry abortions yet we have been whittling away at the assistance that we give to single mothers when it comes to raising a child by themselves.

So what are young women to think? Well, let’s be frank – young women really aren’t encouraged to think at all. We give them a set of parameters to live their lives within and when they express some sort of opinion, we either ignore it outright or call them bitches for having the gall to say something. That is, when we acknowledge that they said anything to begin with.

We admire their nurturing side, their forgiving natures and their compassion and play those aspects of the female psyche up thus implicitly declaring that they should be submissive and obedient. We expect women to be the ones to give in over and over again even though they may know that giving in is the wrong thing to do. Say nothing and live a longer, happier life. Let your husband or boyfriend make all the decisions and keep your mouth shut.

So we dress them up in bikinis and take pictures of them on the beach. We give them skimpy dresses to wear in the clubs so that guys will notice them and dance with them. Everything targeted at women seems to be all about keeping them in a certain position in life.

Of course, the feminist movement tried to put an end to all that. Empowering women was a goal that in almost 40 years has been an ideal that has been achieved with qualified and somewhat uneven success. In some ways the radical feminists have established a different role for women – but a role nonetheless. It is the antithesis of the happy housewife, a role that establishes women as strong, ferocious and smart. Women who can stand tall and speak their mind. Women who can be leaders rather than followers. Leaders who are dominant rather than submissive.

The trouble with these roles is that I haven’t met a woman yet who wants to follow a pre-ordained set of parameters to live their lives within. No men either, truth be told, but in the second decade of the 21st century, women seem less inclined than ever to want to fit into a box of rules. Most of the women I know tend to blend qualities of both roles I just mentioned while adding qualities of their own. The women I know are sexual and chaste, submissive and strong, loud and quiet, self-confident and unsure, nurturing and self-involved, joyful and joyless, hard-working and lazy, driven and content. In short, the average woman fits no mold. In fact, I put it to you that there is no such thing as an average woman. Every woman is an individual with her own way of doing things. Even in societies where women are literally second-class citizens you will find women who chafe at their roles and women who are content to live the way they have for thousands of years. You can’t fit everybody in the same cookie cutter. The communists discovered that a long time ago.

So no wonder men have such a hard time figuring women out. Women do their own thing and they don’t necessarily follow the most logical paths, although some women of my acquaintance are the most sensible people I know. The one thing I do know about women is that they are each and every one beautiful in their own way. And they look absolutely divine in bikinis. If you want to call that a dilemma, I suppose that’s as good a word as any.

Just Be Yourself

Just Be Yourself

Travel broadens us. It can’t be helped. Even if, like most of us, you just hit the tourist attractions – you know, the Empire State Building, the Field Museum, the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China, Alcatraz, Yosemite and the like – you still will find yourself inevitably changed by the experience.

Most of us don’t think of going to a grocery store when we travel, but to me that is one of the most fascinating places to people watch. For one thing, even if you go to the huge chains you get an idea of what’s locally available although it’s far better to go to a smaller market along the lines of a Trader Joe’s or a Fresh Choice. However, the big attraction for me is seeing people living their lives without having them put on their “I’m in a tourist area” face.

I do think we tend to feel more comfortable in a grocery store. We let down our guard a little bit. After all, we’re getting our sustenance. Generally, it’s a pleasant thing to do – although if you are on a limited budget it can be excruciating, particularly when you see someone waltzing out with two fully loaded carts. Still, you get a sense of people in their homes.

It is places like grocery stores, pubs and local burger joints that you catch people in the act of being themselves. Think about it – how much likely are you to be yourself when you are in a place that’s as familiar and as comfortable as your own home, and what fits that description better than the places that you hang out in regularly? Are you more likely to make friends with an out of town visitor at some tourist attraction or sitting next to them at your neighborhood tavern?

That’s one of the reasons I prefer to eat at local hangouts rather than at national chains. Sure, I love eating in fine restaurants with signature dishes and sometimes. an eatery becomes so associated with a location that it becomes something of a tourist attraction in itself (see The Lady and Me in Savannah, or the Carnegie Deli in New York). Still, I like eating where people know each other. Maybe the food isn’t five star but the experience is. It is what it means to be a tourist, to learn something about what people do in other places. It generally isn’t that far off from what we do ourselves but there are some subtle differences.

Catching people living their lives helps you attain a level of comfort you don’t generally reach when you’re doing the tourist thing. It helps you, in fact, to be yourself. Recently while visiting Phoenix we stopped in a grocery store and while I waited for other members of my party to finish their shopping, I got to observe people doing what they do on a regular basis – pick out the goodies they were going to nibble on in front of the TV, the meal they were going to cook that night, the sale items that were too irresistible to pass up. Isn’t that what life is, the little things?

I’m not saying don’t go and see the Grand Canyon, or avoid going to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art, or the Coliseum in Rome. These are things that should be seen; I can’t tell you how my life was changed by experiencing the Great Wall of China or how my perspective was changed by the magnificent Redwoods in Northern California. These things should be part of your trip.

But why go to a place if all you’re going to do is follow a guidebook somebody else wrote? Why not blaze your own trail? Talk to a local and ask them where you should eat, what places you should go, which beach is less crowded or more affable towards children. Guidebooks are helpful but they shouldn’t be your sole source of information. Research shouldn’t just consist of getting on the internet and doing a Google search for  whatever destination you have in mind, be it Atlanta, Alberta or Albania.

The best travel memories I have are mainly of going off the beaten path and interacting with a place that I’m in – not the glittering casinos and fine restaurants of the Las Vegas strip but the hole in the wall that a bartender recommended off in Henderson – and again that’s not to say that my time in those casinos, resorts and fine dining establishments haven’t been memorable but it’s always the real unexpected joys that you always remember.

Our time on this Earth is limited and as it is we spend far more time working than we probably should. We need to see the world. We need to explore new places. We need to try new things. Otherwise, we grow stagnant and stale, like a cake doughnut sitting too long in the shelf. Who wants that when they can have a fresh doughnut with yummy chocolate filling and a pomegranate-citrus frosting?

Travel helps us expand our horizons. It helps us define our worldview and adjust it upon occasion. More importantly, it helps us by discovering the world around us do something unexpected – discovering who we ourselves are. The best thing about travel is that it teaches us how to just be ourselves and what better lesson is there to learn than that?

Bits and Pieces 3

BBits and Pieces 3

Here are a few things on my mind that I really didn’t feel the need to devote a full blog to…

I don’t understand the whole twerking thing. I mean, what’s the attraction? Simulating sex on the dance floor? I mean, haven’t we been doing that for a long while? So what if Miley Cyrus is out there twerking at the VMAs. What’s the big deal? I swear, I think there are more people fretting over her dance moves than they are over the prospect of sending troops to Syria. And you wonder why this country is in such big trouble? Okay, I think I’ve used up my quota for question marks in a single paragraph…

This country continues to wallow in obesity and yet when the First Lady suggests that it might be a better idea if our children exercised more and ate better, she gets outraged Fox News types excoriating her for telling people how to raise their kids. First of all you jerkwads, it’s a suggestion and as it so happens, a good one. Too many of our kids spend far more time playing videogames, texting their friends and surfing the net than they do getting out there playing. Play stimulates the imagination which is good for the brain but it also allows for physical exertion which is good for the body. And since obesity is at record levels among our kids, may I suggest that people who have an issue with anyone telling them how to raise their precious demonic spawn take the Big Mac out of their pieholes, get off their fat asses and have some fun with their kids. And shut the hell up while you’re at it.

For all of you Internet fanboys who had a coronary when it was announced that Ben Affleck would be the next Batman you can shut the hell up too. And isn’t your mom calling you to take out the trash? Jesus, the guy hasn’t even seen a script yet and you’re already demanding that he be fired. Everyone who’s ever done the role has gotten ripped a new one by pimply-faced keyboard jockeys who labor under the mistaken impression that anybody gives a crap what they think. Me, I’m looking forward to it. I may just buy fifty tickets to see it and pay people to come with me and give Affleck a standing ovation every time he comes onscreen. If you’re so knowledgeable about proper casting for a Batman movie, why don’t you see if you can get Warners to give you $200 million to make your version. Since that’s not going to happen, be quiet and let the adults enjoy the movie. Twerps.

I remember when Da Queen and I first got married. It seemed that every unexpected bill we got was for $60. We used to joke about it that we were being skinned alive, $60 worth of skin at a time. Then, when we bought our home, all those little expenses were $200.. That was just 12 years ago. Of late that number has increased to $900. By the time I hit retirement, I fully expect that number to hit $10,000. When it gets to that point, I advocate eating the rich. Not a new suggestion, I know but a timeless one nonetheless.

The execution of a convicted multiple murderer was postponed – so the Attorney General could attend a re-election fundraiser. And the governor approved it – after the execution had been stayed twice previously. I’m not a big believer in capital punishment but if you’re going to do it, get it done. And get this – the Attorney General ran on a platform pledging fewer delays in carrying out capital punishment. Apparently only when it’s convenient to her. Welcome to Flori-duh.

I see that John Alleman, the unofficial mascot of the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas, has passed away – of a heart attack. For those unfamiliar with the place, it’s a chain of hamburger joints that prides itself on its unhealthy cuisine – the quadruple bypass burger, which includes four 1/2 pound patties, eight slices of American cheese, bacon and a lard-coated bun, is close to 10,000 calories – five times what normal adults are supposed to consume in an entire day. It also allows customers over 350 pounds to eat free. There are those who are snickering that this is poetic justice although there is evidence that Alleman was genetically predisposed to cardiac issues – his parents both passed away of heart attacks in their 50s. Now, I don’t think anybody put a gun to Alleman’s head and said you MUST eat these hamburgers. That was his own choice. Personally, I think the hamburgers are a bit extreme – but if someone wants to sell them and someone want to buy them, that’s perfectly all right by me. On this subject I’m an utter capitalist – if nobody buys the burgers, they’ll stop selling them. As the Checkers hamburger chain says in their ads, You Gotta Eat.

In the last year or so I’ve kind of gotten fed up with the tenor of disagreements on the Internet. People are getting more shrill and nasty when responding to an opinion they disagree with. I’ve always tried to be as polite as possible when responding and tried to use logic and restraint when explaining my contrasting view. I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the people who are responding like they’re having some sort of seizure at the very thought of a conflicting opinion do not deserve my civility. So you’ll see me using terms like “dumbass” and “imbecile” more often. In other words, get the hell off my lawn.

Da Queen and I went to see a movie at our local multiplex on a Sunday morning not long ago and as is our wont, arrived half an hour early in order to get the seats we wanted – the kind with rails in front of them so we could stretch our legs. In the particular theater we were in, there are three sets of seats so arranged – one in the center and one on each side. The theater was empty when we arrived so we sat down with our enormous soft drinks and watched the pre-show (Da Queen playing games on her smart phone) when an older couple came in and sat down in the same row next to the seat where Da Queen had put her purse. We exchanged looks but said nothing  – until the guy stood up and asked if we were saving that seat. When we said no, he picked up her purse and put it in her lap, sitting down in the seat next to her. We of course, objected in the strongest terms possible. He said that he needed to put his feet up because of his bad knees. We pointed out that there were other seats where he could do that but of course none of them were in the center. I’m sure that the rude dumbass imbecile (see, I got ’em all in) in question isn’t reading this but I let him have it after Da Queen left the theater. People like that don’t fool me for a second and their age doesn’t excuse inexcusable behavior. It wasn’t like he didn’t have other options and you never EVER touch a woman’s purse without permission, nor do you just assume that if the theater is empty that you have permission to sit directly next to somebody. What I SHOULD have done was shove his bucket of popcorn up his sphincter one kernel at a time, and then use the entire gigantic bucket as a cardboard butt plug and if anyone ever does that to my wife ever again, that’s exactly what will happen. Either that or I’ll just call the cops and press charges of assault against the mother effers. Either one – take your pick.

Fortunately, there are a lot of good, decent people in the world and just when I’m losing my faith in the human race and figure a chance meteorite strike that wipes all life out on this miserable rock would do the universe a favor I run into one – or two- or many. I think it’s this shrinking pool of goodness that is keeping the meteors away because the bad juju is building up something fierce. Still, those who put themselves out there and send out love into the world, who sacrifice for their kids and put the needs of their families and friends ahead of their own and treat their friends like family – well, they’re the reason that the apocalypse has been staved off for now. So if you should see Mike Trippett, Amy Murray, Tara-Marie Buckley, Eric Lison, Jennifer Gorsuch Akers or Ruthanne Drew, shake their hands and thank them. Without their efforts, no doubt there would be rocks falling out of the sky. These are people who have been through some pretty tough times and have managed to do those things I mentioned despite things that would have turned me into an even worse curmudgeon than I already am. They are people I admire and respect and they are owed some good karma, the lot of them. Be kind and generous to them.  They deserve it.

Everyone Wears a Badge

Everyone Wears a Badge

Everyone wears a badge these days. There are some who’d like to make it literal – give everybody a gun and let them sort out their own problems without help from the cops. Also, I’ve been seeing more than a few Libertarians referring to our current state of affairs in America as a “police state.”

The ignorance of that proclamation aside, the people who make it have no clue what an actual police state looks like. In an actual police state, you could be taken away from your home and your family in the middle of the night just for saying something like that on the Internet. In an actual police state, you live in constant fear of what you say and do and who you say and do things in front of. Anyone can turn you in – including your own family. Including your own children. So if you think we’re living in a police state, you’re as dumb as a rock. Go live a few months in North Korea and come back and tell me what a police state we live in.

But that’s not really the point I want to be making, although it is important. People who complain about the police need a reality check. Like any occupation, there are people who are better at it than others and once in awhile there are clearly incompetent people who become police officers. Yes, there can also be corruption – but there can be corruption in any human endeavor. There is corruption at fast food companies and television networks and oil companies and convenience stores and software programmers. It may take different forms, but it’s there but it simply doesn’t get the same sort of media attention as it does when it is found in a police force.

For every corrupt cop however there are hundreds who are not. There are plenty of police officers who go to work every day with the understanding that they might not come home and still manage to be courteous and polite even to people who don’t deserve it. I’ve been fortunate to be friends with law enforcement officers and let me let you in on a little secret – they’re pretty much just like the rest of us. They have a sense of humor that can be pretty warped, while some of them have no sense of humor whatsoever. Some of them love sports while others prefer movies. Some of them listen to country music while others prefer rap. Pretty much the only thing most cops have in common is that they’re woefully underpaid for what they do.

Sure it can be annoying when you get pulled over but generally speaking if a cop pulls you over to the side of the road, you’ve likely done something to deserve it. Yeah, sometimes they make mistakes but by and large when I’ve been given a ticket I’ve pretty much earned it. I’m sure that’s true of most of us.

Cops get to see people at their very worst; the criminal element, the entitlement element, the angry and bitter element – all of that is part of their working day. Nobody likes getting a ticket, but it is a necessary part of our society. If there wasn’t a speed limit, there’d be absolute carnage on the roads. As a rule, Americans are piss-poor drivers. We’re horribly distracted, we don’t pay attention and we don’t put our primary focus on what we’re doing. It’s just another lovely side effect of our ADHD society. Autobahns wouldn’t work here for that reason.

So when you get pulled over, try not to give the officer attitude. They’re just doing what they’re supposed to be doing and let’s face it, you messed up. Own it. Be respectful and courteous to the person writing the ticket. Yeah, it’s a bitch but if you mess up, there are consequences. That’s what being an adult is all about. Giving a police officer your sullen rude behavior is the very worst thing you can do; they’re more likely to give you a hard time back if you’re a jerk. So don’t be a jerk.

The same goes for TSA agents at the airports. Like you, I can get frustrated at the long lines at airport security. Like you, I get pissed off that we have to leave our water bottles at the security line, or not bring any liquid into the boarding area larger than what you can pack in a shot glass. Don’t blame the TSA agents however – blame the dumbasses who go on planes with the express intention of blowing them up. Blame the guys who don’t have a problem killing innocent people to make a political point.

Sure, TSA agents can get testy – they are human beings as well. They have to listen to passengers gripe and bitch and moan all day long. They have to deal with dumbasses who try to go through the metal detectors with their shoes on after being told three times that everyone needs to get their shoes off. They deal with idiots who forget to take their keys out of their pockets, or pack their guns and knives in their carry-on bags. They have to deal with families with six screaming kids who can’t get their act together, and with older people who have difficulty getting through the metal detector unaided, or with would-be comedians making inappropriate jokes.

For my part, I don’t know how necessary these precautions are – something tells me that they’re not as important as they were in 2002. I think we should take a good, long look at whether we need to relax these security measures although I’m reasonably sure that they never will be. If that’s the case, we’ll just have to learn to live with them and at least give the TSA agents the respect that they’re just trying to make our travel a little bit safer than it might be otherwise.

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need TSA agents or police officers. This world is far from perfect however. It is full of people who don’t give a damn about your rights and how hard you worked to earn what you have; they’re all about taking it from you. They’re all about taking shortcuts. Sure, our police and TSA aren’t perfect. Like any job, people perform to varying degrees of competence in law enforcement. You may not like what they do or like that we need to have them but when the chips are down you may one day be glad that they are there. I sincerely wish you never need them, but you know what? It wouldn’t kill you to thank them for their service even if you never do need them. Let them know they’re appreciated. Go ahead. Make their day.