Tag Archives: dalyn

Monkey Suit: because its summer

My niece is getting married this summer. I’ve never met the guy. She’s a smart girl so I’m sure he’s great but I’m not so sure about all of this. I am however sure that he has nothing to do with the point of this post so right at the beginning, I’ve already digressed. Typical.

The point is that the reception is outside. Summer wedding outside; what to wear?montgomerymeninsuits

My family is not a formal bunch by anyone’s measure. We may be a little better put together than those with whom we associated coming up, but that bar can’t get any lower. So really, the only one who will care at all what I wear- is me. But I do care. I think we have gone over this before. I may be digressing again.

It must be a suit. I know it’s summer and outside, but it’s a wedding for heaven’s sake. And yes, wear the jacket. The fact that I even felt I had to justify that statement shows just how low that bar is set.

My closet is always just a tad deficient, and I may not be in a position to fix that right now, but in the spirit of weddings and love, allow me to dream just a little.SUIT_Cotton_Linen_Whipcord_Grey_003

I said a “little” so I’m not going to go all bespoke here, but there is still room for reaching without reaching all the way to the stars. I’d be happy to reach for the laptop and order a suit from Bonobos.

Yup, the pants guys make suits.

I don’t just want a suit. I want a cotton/linen blend, lightweight, light colored, summer suit.SUIT_CottonLinen_Almond_Slim_Group_050_(2) (2)

I also want a light colored, slightly playful, but not too much, pocket square to add a little flair. Bonobos makes those too.PKTSQ_HudsonDot_Linen_Carnation_382

I actually made some myself out of a pair of Bonobos pants I owned that met an untimely demise due to rambunctious behavior and a can of paint.destroinside

I suggest you order them as pocket squares rather than pants. Cheaper that way. Less work too.

The rational side of me knows that as a Californian, such a suit could be worn year round. That adds value right?

Just remember, especially when wearing light colored suits; your tie should always be darker than your shirt, and it’s probably best to stick to light colored shirts the pocket square should not exactly match your tie. It can match your shirt, but not your tie.PKTSQ_AnchorWave_Linen_NavyBlazer_377

Come to think of it… 50 bucks says half of the guys won’t be wearing suits but will wear ties. So I think I’ll wear a suit but not a tie. Unless I wear it in my pocket as a pocket square.

New rule: your pocket square can match your tie if it is in fact, your tie.IMG_3463

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I Remembered Rose a Little too Late

I remember Rose. I wish I could do more than remember but I don’t have a choice.
Rose was the perfect name for her.cfiles6499
I have no idea how old she was but she looked about ninety. She was just like any elderly black woman you might see in a movie; toothless, sappy sweet, with just a little touch of sass. She was once a nurse; had been for forty years. She was never married and had no children. She lived with her nephew and an assortment of other characters that I could never keep straight. Cousins, nieces, grand cousins, play cousins, but they all looked older than fifty and none of them spoke to me unless I addressed them directly.

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I met Rose when some missionaries asked me to come along for a discussion. She lived in a row house in North Philadelphia. It was the grand kind of place I would have loved to have seen when it was new, but that would have been about 1850 and it had long since been subdivided into apartments and I doubt many had loved to see it for at least fifty years. There were two short sets of stairs leading up to her front porch which was a large cement slab surrounded by a crooked railing.
She spent her days sitting in the living room, sharing the space with an old TV, a ratty couch, and an upturned coffee can filled with cigarette butts. She never went anywhere. She never left the room. She didn’t wander because she only had one foot. She lost it to diabetes some years before and so now she sat in her wheelchair on the ground floor of a three-story apartment. The others in the house seemed to go up and down, in and out, passing Rose the same way they passed the ratty couch and the old TV. The coffee can wasn’t hers. She didn’t smoke.”Naw honey. Gave that up years ago. T’aint good for ya and I gots enough problems as it is. That can’s for everybody else in this house. I wished they’d smoke ‘em out on the porch but I guess its cold out there. Anyways, at least when they’s smokin’ in here I can talk to ‘em a little.”
Rose found the missionaries when they knocked on her door and she hollered for them to come inside. Maybe she just wanted someone to talk to. Maybe she had been sitting there waiting for them. Whatever it was, they found each other and they called me to come along. “Miss Rose has lots of questions and has been reading quite a bit,” the Elder’s informed me. “Today we will be talking about church and baptism.” Now I knew why they really asked me to come along; my minivan.

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I was happy to offer my services to help Rose attend church that upcoming Sunday. She was the only one in the house who had any interest in the gospel but it didn’t matter because none of them owned a car. “You sure that aint a problem? You sure you don’t mind coming all out your way to get me?” she asked. I did not mind at all. 8:30 that next Sunday Rose was waiting for me right on the other side of the screen door. She would have been on the porch but couldn’t get herself up over the door jamb. I wheeled her around backwards and we bump, bump, bumped our way down those two small sets of stairs and then I gallantly lifted her out of her chair and set her in the passenger seat of the van. “Hi Rose,” my daughter and wife called out to her. “Hello everybody,” she replied and we drove off to the chapel.

This became our regular Sunday pattern up through her baptism and a month or so after as well. But then my responsibilities changed and I was no longer available Sunday mornings. I couldn’t call to tell Rose because she had no phone. I stopped by on a Wednesday to tell her I couldn’t be there on Sunday and she apologized to me. She was sorry to be any trouble. I promised I would try to find someone else.

The only person I could find was Brother Berry.

I hadn’t really thought this through very well. Brother Berry was perhaps the only person I knew who was older than Rose. Despite his age Brother Berry would volunteer for anything and they were the only other people we knew with a van. That Sunday morning the Berry’s showed up without Rose. Sister Berry marched up to me and launched into some high decibel diatribe about Brother Berry’s back and stairs and wheelchairs, heart attacks, and another thing coming. I pled forgiveness. Looking back I guess it was my fault. I had assumed that Brother Berry had a plan or was simply more capable than I thought. He was not capable, just willing. After church I drove over to visit Rose and she apologized to me again.

After five months of asking for volunteers and organizing Rose had still never made it back to church. I refused to accept that I was the only solution. Besides, I had other things to worry about than just Rose. So I continued to try to find her rides and would swing by to visit her on weekdays as often as I could. I felt guilty I wasn’t able to be her taxi and was inspired by the addition of a blue book with gold print as the newest piece of living room furniture. It didn’t take long for that blue book to look as used and ratty as the sofa it sat next too.

Before too long our ward welcomed a set of senior missionaries. They weren’t all that old, they were full time, and best of all they had a car. I asked them to please go get Rose. And they did.
I was so happy when this good Elder wheeled Rose into the chapel. She reached out to give me a big hug repeatedly asking, “Where’s the baby?” till my two year old was eventually produced to be hugged as well. It was a great day till about four o’clock.

At four I got a phone call from this Elder’s wife telling me all about her husband’s back problems, his age, and the challenges of getting Rose back up those stinking stairs. I apologized. I often find myself in situations where this is appropriate. This senior Elder spent a day and a half resting hs back but had the bright idea of a deal moving forward. If I couldn’t be there to pick her up, and he couldn’t get her home, maybe we should work together. He would go get her if I would take her home.

Deal.

That next Sunday the senior missionaries showed up without Rose. When they arrived at her home one of the others in the house told us she was in the hospital. Something about her diabetes and surgery. No one there seemed willing or able to tell us anything more than that. After church the senior couple began calling hospitals eventually tracking her down. That Tuesday I paid her a visit.
There she was, smiling her toothless grin. She had lost her other foot but not her smile. She chuckled and waved me into the room past an extra bed that looked to hold a large pile of pillows and sheets. “That’s Clara”, she said pointing to the other bed. “She upset because they won’t let her smoke and I keeps reading the Book of Mormon out loud.” With that she winked at me and pulled open a side drawer to show me her dog eared scriptures. I love that she had her scriptures and loved even more that she winked at me. How could anyone not like Rose?IMG_9088

The senior couple continued to visit Rose till she was moved to a convalescent home nearby. We all talked about how it would soon be time to start arranging for her to get rides to church again, there was some discussion about maybe perhaps bringing her the sacrament, but no one felt any urgency. Things were just moving along. It all began to feel quite normal. That is the right word for it; normal.

It was now normal for me to drive right past the home where Rose was staying as I went to and from wherever doing this and that. I would drive by on my way to pick up one of the youth for an activity, look over, and think to myself, “I should go visit Rose.” But I was on my way somewhere else, somewhere worthwhile, so I would vow to visit Rose later. I would pass by Rose’s center on my way to meet the missionaries somewhere, look over and be reminded I hadn’t yet been by to see Rose. “I should make a note to go see Rose”, I would tell myself, and then hurry off to meet the Elders. I recall one day driving past having finished my work for the day and thinking, “now is the time to go see Rose.” It was dark, it was late, and I was tired. I figured it wasn’t that big of a deal, I would get by to see her. She wasn’t going anywhere, besides, no one but me seems to be able to move her. I went home.

Sometime later the senior missionaries told me a story. It had been just a little too long since they had seen Rose so they scheduled some time to drop in and visit.
Rose wasn’t there.
Rose had passed away.
The people at the home had done their best to contact someone but Rose had listed no relatives and left no point of contact. With no one to contact Rose had been buried by the state. The employees at the home were only disclosing this information to the senior couple because they recognized the logo on the name tags as the same logo on Rose’s copy of the Book of Mormon.
Riddled with guilt I asked where she was buried.
“They don’t know. They said people buried by the state are put in unmarked graves. They have no idea where she is. Sorry.”

That was that. Rose was gone.CIMG4332

I know enough of the gospel to know that Rose is in a better place. It wouldn’t be hard to be better than an empty living room in a wheel chair. Yet when I think of Rose I mostly remember that I drove past her house, thought I should stop, and didn’t.
My little family was in the airport getting ready to board a plane when my little three year old yanked on my sleeve, “Look Dad, it’s Rose!” she said pointing to an old stranger in a wheel chair. “O yeah, that does look kinda like Rose.” I say in my best fatherly voice; encouraging and matter of fact. But it wasn’t Rose. Rose was gone.

Where Rose is now, she can smile with teeth. She can stand. When I knew her she couldn’t do either of those things. I should be happier about that. But I haven’t changed all that much, I’m thinking about my own guilt and failure to act. I’m trying hard to get better and I think I am making some progress. Slow progress. Rose didn’t have time to wait for me to get better. I couldn’t fix all Rose’s problems, but I could have helped more than I did.

How many Roses do we drive past every day without stopping? Let’s do a little better.

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Back in the studio

Painting once again. 18×26 acrylic on canvas

blue and yellow lady

 

oldfashionedhog

 

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I Abandoned A Homeless Man: what a horrible thing to say, uhhhh… do.

Calvin James *not his real name.
Today I got great news. I was informed that I am no longer responsible for a homeless man. Yup, he’s off the books.
This doesn’t mean he is all the way off the streets; he’s just off my plate.slumpedcorner
Off my plate.
How cold. Like left overs.
Has-been, second rate, and inconsequential leftovers. It feels heartless to talk about him this way because it is. I feel heartless that I was even able to walk away from his life, but I have. It is good that I’m no longer responsible for him, I was never very good at it, but I was all he had. I wish I could say I left him in a better spot than when I found him, but that isn’t true.
That isn’t true mostly because he wasn’t homeless when I found him.payphone
When I met Calvin James he was a competent, cocky, guy. He wore shined shoes and suit jackets along with gold hoop earrings. He was a little flashy for my taste but always well put together. He was funny and friendly and above all else, he was sure of himself. But he had reason to be.
Calvin can cook.
When we met he was the head chef of a fancy prep school. He had a kitchen and a staff. He loved what he did and took great pride in it. The man could, and really still can, cook.
We met in church.pushforhelp
This cocky guy came in contact with some missionaries and couldn’t shake them. He began to realize that his life lacked depth and this new church had it. Now I have met some others in church who came there to escape their past. Calvin wasn’t doing that. I have met some who lived hard lives, or maybe lived life hard, and once on the bottom looked to God as a way back up. That wasn’t really Calvin either.
Calvin had it together. He had done some college, business school, had a career he loved, and he wasn’t all that old, just a little over 40. He was single, no kids, owned a house. He came to church, not necessarily came from somewhere else.
That was Calvin.
Then came cancer.
I don’t know all the details, I’m not a doctor. I know he lost a lot of weight, he was never very big, went through radiation of some sort but kept his hair, and I know it was very hard on him. He had to take time off work to get healthy; Dr.’s orders. He took so much time off that his job let him go.
It wasn’t right for them to let him go and after a lot of haggling the courts agreed and he got a settlement. He got a settlement, but not his job. He was also awarded disability benefits but not a clean bill of health. So now he had a little bit of money but still had cancer.drugtires
Losing the job hurt him a lot. Chemo is painful and so is unemployment. Calvin tried to kill the pain. But Calvin found this pain was hard to kill and then the doctors told him it wasn’t just ordinary pain, it was depression. For those keeping score we are up to cancer, unemployed, and depressed.

 

Then came the fire.
While Calvin was in the hospital there was a fire in his house. He didn’t know about it till he got home. Calvin was, and still is, a nice guy; the kind that lets people live in his house. Some of the sorts of people who just live in a friend’s house are also the sort that just runs away when a fire starts. Sometimes when you live in an old house in North Philly and you get cancer you don’t really think about things like insurance. Calvin didn’t have homeowner’s insurance.
For almost a year Calvin lived in a fire damaged house with no windows and a door that wouldn’t close all the way. He spent most of that time trying to kill the pain. Now a bunch of us tried to tell him things, warn him about stuff, and he tried coming to church, but none of the words, or sitting in a pew, made the pain go away.

 

shopping cart

Then Calvin just kind of went away.
I would go by his house, the one with the open door, but he was never there. Sometimes some very suspicious people would be there, but never him. After a while the people who were there didn’t even know who he was. He was gone.
But he was never all the way gone. He would turn up, usually in a hospital, and usually when it was cold. Sometimes he would just show up on a Sunday to say hello. He would be there looking a little unkempt, never asking anyone for anything, just wanted to say hello and go to Sunday school. He told me the cancer was gone and he was doing OK. I never pressed to hard. People who have hit the bottom don’t normally like to be pressed too hard. When you are on the bottom being pressed feels like being smashed.
One day Calvin called me in tears. His father had died.
He told me his father had been sick for some time, living in a nursing home. The funeral was tomorrow, he had just been told today. He found out via an aunt. All the arrangements had been made by one of Calvin’s two brothers, but none had thought to tell Calvin.
Calvin asked if I would come with him to the service and just be there with him. I took the day off work and went.couchoncurb
I never knew Calvin had a family and when we showed up at the service, I didn’t really learn anything different. They all knew who he was, he looked exactly like his two brothers, but it was equally as obvious he wasn’t really one of them. I sort of stood back and observed as Calvin looked in the casket and touched his father’s face. We sat off to the side as the service went on, speaker after singer after speaker. Everyone in the family got a turn. But not Calvin. In fact Calvin’s name was not in the obituary, not on the program, and not on the lips of anyone who spoke that day. When it was all over I pulled Calvin’s arm over my shoulder and half carried, half drug, this grown man to my car. Then I dropped him off at a shelter.

 

He was a wreck.
About a year after that Calvin called me for a ride. We had been in and out of touch so this was not completely out of the ordinary. This ride was to the social security office. He had to be there at 9am. He asked me to sit in on his appointment. This part was not ordinary.
As the woman began shuffling papers around and talking in official tones I began picking up that there was a problem with Calvin’s money. The money didn’t come right to Calvin, it went to his aunt. Because Calvin had once been hospitalized for depression and dependence, the state would not just hand him some cash, they required a responsible third party to make sure it was spent responsibly. The aunt was now refusing to be this responsible party.
She asked Calvin who the new “payee” would be.
He stared at his hands in his lap, said nothing, and sheepishly looked over at me. I wanted to argue. I wanted to walk away right there. But I knew just enough of his family and situation to know I was there because he had already tried everything else. I signed the paper.
Shortly after signing the paper I got a government ATM card with my name on it in the mail along with an IRS accounting form. I had to report to them how every penny was spent.
From then on I also got a phone call on the first of every month from Calvin. Well, not every month. Sometimes he would disappear and then pop back up in a hospital. There was always a story that went along with it, but after the third one I stopped believing. Not long after that I stopped listening.
Once Calvin started trying to put the pieces back together I began trying to really help. We got him a phone he could afford. The doctor found him a half-way house recovery program. Calvin and I went back to his burned out house and loaded some clothes into trash bags and took them to this half way house. If you have never been to a half-way house for recovering addicts the first thing that you will notice is that they are filled with recovering addicts. Obvious, recovering addicts.boardedup
The man who ran this first house wore fur coats, gold chains, and had his fingernails painted like American flags. Most of the men in the house weren’t really recovering. I learned this because Calvin began buying his stuff from his roommates with the money he was supposed to be spending on food.
The second place we went to had forty men staying in about 1500 square feet.
We tried having Calvin live on his own. We stopped trying to have Calvin live on his own after two more trips to the hospital.
Calvin has a good therapist. This good therapist found Calvin a spot in a home run by the Catholic Church. Calvin has lived in this shelter for a little more than a year.
We have been at this for some years now Calvin and I. Long enough that if I’m honest with myself I must admit I stopped really trying to help a long time ago. A long time ago I met with the director of the shelter and worked out a plan. I pretty much turned it all over to him. At first I would get a call from Calvin on the first of the month, and then I would deliver a money order for his rent and some cash for his food. Then a little later on I would deliver some cash and make him go get the money order.
But really, near the end, what I did was make a withdrawal, make a delivery, and then make an accounting to the IRS. Calvin became an errand.
I feel bad about that.
The good news is that Calvin has been clean and stable long enough that the he is no longer required to have a payee. The money goes right to him. The bad news is that I’m not confident that Calvin will be OK. He isn’t the Calvin I first met. He isn’t the cocky guy who loves his job. In his place is a beaten down guy who is mostly tired of living with addicts.
I watched this guy go from there to here and at the end of it all I am mostly just glad to not be his payee. That is it. The prevailing emotion, the feeling, is the same relief one gets from crossing off the bottom of the honey-do list.
But he isn’t a task he is a person.
A person with a life. A person with problems bigger than anything I face and at the end of it all I walked away. Well, really I drove a moving truck away, but none-the-less I left. I left a man with problems. A man I tried to help but failed, and then I just sort of shrugged my shoulders and moved away. I shrug my shoulders, move away, reflect, and write it up as a story. I write a story mostly about what I feel.
What about Calvin?

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Mancation: It All Ends in Newport

They had never been to Newport. So we went.preston on rocks

We drove down America’s Cup Avenue looking out at the marina and the rows of shops. We went down Bellevue past the Breakers, Elms, and the Marble house. We took the road  till it ended and looked for a place to park. There are no places to park. We parked anyways.

Newport is salty aired luxury. Money with a splash of sea-foam. It is beautiful. Gilded, but beautiful. We climbed over the rocks with waves in front of us and mansions behind us, and we did… nothing.beard on rocks

Kaleo and I sat in this metaphor, adventure before us, wealth, responsibility and stability behind us, and we waver in between with no parking. This is what we do. We flirt with risk, dip our feet in the water, but cannot abandon the safety of the shore. We cannot inhabit the mansion, we not only can’t afford it but we have no idea who owns it. So we scamper about the lawn peaking in windows and talking to the grounds crew. We will likely never gain entry, and I think in some way we are fine with that. Envy is so much easier than ambition and we have convinced ourselves that the salt of the earth tends to lose its savor when placed on the top shelf. kaleo manshion

But not Preston. Preston scampered over rocks like he had a plan. He has always had a plan and in so doing he will soon not need a parking space because he will have a garage. Kaleo and I will one day trespass his property and he will allow it. We will all be fine with this.

We had forgotten breakfast. It was our last day and we had still not finished off our cooler full of bacon. We set up shop by the old fort, cooking bacon while the holiday crowd launched their boats. Kaleo and I sat, eating greasy things, looking stoic. We are good at looking stoic. This fog of thought and sleep was interrupted by a pasty streak that came shooting from behind the car, over the rocks, and into the water with a splash.preston with boats

Preston’s head came back up for air, and quickly the rest of him clamored over to hug a rock. His chest was bright red and he gasped with only marginal success for air. “C… huuuh… O.. huuuu… L…. huuuu… D!

Kaleo and I watched him soggily gasp for air, looked at each other, and we both sighed in disappointment.

I did not feel like swimming. I am a grown man who makes his own decisions. No one was telling me to do anything. No one had spoken a single syllable and here I was, Kaleo too, grumpily digging our trunks out of our bags. We are those special kinds of idiots called men. Preston knew what he was doing when he dove in the water. He threw down the gauntlet without warning and we had no choice.

Why did we have no choice? I have no idea. Like I said, we are idiots. Happy idiots.eating

Cold water challenges are great for the soul. We were all happy as we attempted to dry off and clean up the scraps of our breakfast. Nothing kills happiness like a ten year old.

“So have you guys been swimming?” the pudgy little guy asked as he walked past us, snorkel and mask in hand.

“We jumped in. It’s cold but we are manly.”

“I don’t mind cold. If you want something even mannisher… manner… manliest, there is a hole in the middle of the bay that no one has found the bottom of. My dad dove in it. That’s our boat over there.”

With that our manliness was trumped by a ten year old with a yacht.

How fitting.

Maple Seltzer

Maple Seltzer

Smelling a bit like a salty camp fire we sat in the car and drove south. Back toward the Bronx, the turnpike, and on to home. The conversation was mostly exhausted, we were tired, but mostly we were happy.

Above all else, happy.

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USC: the one in South Carolina

I once lived in South Carolina and was nearly run out of town due to my insistence that the rest of the United States believes USC is in Los Angeles.

I have a working theory that this is the real reason South Carolina led the southern states in secession back in 1861.

Turns out this is not the school’s only point of contention.

There was a day when the “South Carolina College”, founded 1801, was the undisputed intellectual training ground of the American South’s elite sons. Those with means sent their young men to the college to learn to be leaders. It was the feeder system for South Carolina’s government. The state house is only two blocks away.The school put extra emphasis on the power of oratory and debate. The Euphradian Society, founded in 1806, held regular debates on current events and matters of importance, the hottest topic regularly being slavery.

In this upper room of Harper College at USC, students and future leaders honed the argument on why slavery was justified and secession necessary or unavoidable. The debates easily moved from the college over to the capitol.

Home of the Euphradian Society

Under the guise of a harmless tourist I started asking questions of people sitting behind desks. Their uncomfortable looks and lack of answers led me to the basement of the library where lives a very friendly and amiable professor of history. She was happy to talk to me… because she has tenure.

Library reading room.

The question that flummoxed the tour guides was, “Are there any buildings left on campus that were known to have originally been used to house slaves?” Turns out the answer is a remarkable “yes”. Remarkable in that it is one of only two  remaining such buildings in the country (the other one is at UVA).

What is listed as the carriage house next to the President’s mansion, was originally the quarters of the house slaves. There is no marker, no plaque, no mention anywhere on any official publication of this historical fact other than a byline in a pamphlet.

Slave quarters

The good professor went on to tell me of her and her student’s struggles to bring facts like these to light. She believes there are folks on the board who would rather not talk about such unpleasantry. They fail to see any relevance in these details.

She went on to tell more of the school’s history that the board does not like retold. The PR man in me understands why, but what she told me next is so tragically interesting that I cannot see how any student, or institution for that matter, interested in history would skip this tale.

museum

During the civil war the school closed and became a confederate hospital. When the North marched through Columbia it became the home of Union troops that remained through reconstruction.

At the close of the war classes resumed and control was turned back over to the state. When Franklin J. Moses was elected governor (1872), the college integrated. By 1876 the school was predominantly black.

A state school in 1876 predominantly black!? Wow!

famed rebel flag at the SC capitol

In 1876 South Carolina began burning again. Sherman had nothing to do with this fire, it was politics, but the flames were just as real. Republican and Democrats both claimed victory and the incumbent was kept in power by Federal forces. Then the President, Rutherford B. Hayes, ended reconstruction and ordered the troops to stand down. This led to the incumbent not just leaving office but leaving town.

Wade Hampton III, a former confederate general took office and in 1877 the University closed its doors, reopening three years later as an all-white school.

It would not admit another black student till federal law forced the school leaders to do so in 1963.

Door to the President’s home.

I suppose we have all moved past those days. It is all just history so why should we bring it up today? Lets all just move on. That is fair. The students giving tours seemed to not know any of this story. They did not tell it and when asked looked confused. Why should a chemistry major know about this stuff anyhow?

My father would have been 20 years old in 1963. How “historical” is that?

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Bang! and Reason Joins Civility Six Feet Under

I do not recall the first time I shot a gun. It was that long ago. I was that young. Shooting was always just part of my life. We were mostly, but not exclusively, a black powder family.20130110-111405.jpg

I recall two muzzle loaders kept in sleeves in the back of Dad’s closet, I’m guessing the 30.06 was back there too. There was also a child’s sized rifle kept under their bed. This was the one I remember best. Not because it fit my shoulder better but because its dark cherry stalk was beautiful. It also had a tendency to just go to half-cock rather than firing when you pulled the trigger. It exposed me as a horrible flincher. For a while there was a flint-lock pistol that lived in the gun chest, the chest filled with led balls, canisters of powder, and ripped up cotton patches. I hated the sulfur smell when we sat in the kitchen swabbing out barrels and wiping them down with oil. I fancied myself a good shot.20130110-111415.jpg

I can still hear Dad’s humorless voice ordering me to keep my finger away from the trigger unless I plan to fire, never under any circumstances point the barrel towards another person, and don’t dry-fire, even if you have already inspected the chamber. Always set up the range toward the side of a hill, inspect it for metal or other rick-o-shay hazards, and wear ear protection. These were all non-negotiable. Guns are tools not toys.

Venison was our winter staple. The family got three “tags” every season. Dad got a buck permit for the regular hunt, then grandma and mom each got a doe permit for the black powder hunt. Dad used all three, the doe permits were to make sure we would have something to eat, the buck permit was in hopes of getting the “big one.” Sitting still in the snow with my father is where and when I learned you don’t always have to talk. It is okay to just sit there. It is also the first time I threw a rock at a bull moose in hopes it would go away.marksman

The guys and I used to drive out to the west desert on Saturdays. Most all of them carried semi-auto .22s, except Trevor and I. I used a .22/.20 over under shotgun, Trevor brought a Mak10. That thing never hit a rabbit but it was very fun to fire. I’m pretty sure that out of the ten of us who went out regularly, I was the only one to ever hit anything. A rabbit would pop out and make a break for it, and despite all the noise, it would just zig zag off into the distance. I remember walking next to Mitch. As he was emptying his magazine I calmly lifted the shotgun to my shoulder and and squoze. “I think it was me who got that one,” he would say time after time. I would just nod and pump the empty out of the chamber.

The first time I heard a bullet in flight. Jimmy Cowley was about thirty yards to my left, my dad about thirty yards to my right, and the rabbit popped out of the sage about thirty yards to my front. Jimmy had a semi-automatic .22 with a forty round clip and he opened fire on the mangy jack rabbit. Rather than running away, it ran right for me. Jimmy was not looking at me, he was looking down the barrel toward the rabbit. He kept pulling the trigger as the rabbit ran between us and by the time he and I realized what had just happened, my father’s barrel was pointing at Jimmy. We were both about 12.

The second time I heard a bullet in flight was while riding a bike in Atlanta. My missionary companion and I were pedaling down the street when I heard a whiz then a slap against the wall behind me. The two of us froze in place while people scattered in all directions. A teenage girl ran by with her coat pulled up over her head.  I saw a man crouched behind a half wall with a silver revolver in hand. From somewhere else I heard the “pop—-pop–pop.pop.pop” of return fire. We turned the corner and just kept going.

Most all of us “inner-city” missionaries had tape recordings of machine gun fire made on the fourth of July. I never knew people fired guns on the fourth till my downstairs neighbors made it obvious. His was obviously a shotgun.

We were already married before my wife ever fired a gun. Under close supervision she shot a beautiful Smith & Wesson chrome revolver at a dirt clod. She pulled the trigger, handed me the pistol, and walked away shaking. She says she was unprepared for how violent it was. She has no desire to ever fire one again.

We don’t keep a gun in our house. I would love too. I miss that part of my life but not enough to make my wife uncomfortable in her own home. I suppose she could learn to get comfortable but that isn’t on her to-do list. I guess there is some irony in that I lived in a house full of guns in one of the safest neighborhoods in America, but lack firearms now that I live in one of the most dangerous. Maybe it is ironic, but it is exactly this situation that has taught me a few things.

Safety and rights are relative.

One of the major hurdles Martin Luther King Jr., SNCC, and other non-violent civil rights organizers faced was convincing the general Black population to put away their guns. For Black people in the rural south the danger of a lynch party showing up on your doorstep, often led by local authorities, was very real. Most every home had a shotgun behind the door as a Black family’s only possible defense. The courts and local laws would not help them. Non-violence was not only a public relations victory, but a daily life miracle of self restraint on the part of an oppressed people.

The net result of these people’s 2nd amendment restraint was the passing of civil rights legislation and the assassination of MLK.NRA

On the other side of the country, and the tactical spectrum, other Black people took the opposite tact and began carrying guns out in the open. The White establishment would have none of this. The self destruction and implosion of the Black Panther Party has made most of us forget that these were not just a bunch of leather clad fools. The Panthers not only organized a militia and bore arms but crafted a constitutional argument defending their right to do so. The idea that the only thing that would stop a bad guy with a gun was a good guy with a gun, was preached by the Panthers. They also happened to believe that a large majority of the bad guys were wearing badges and the good guys were wearing black berets. And really, if one looks at things through the historical lens of a Black American… they had a lot of evidence to prove their point. The Panther’s guns were confiscated. The NRA did not defend them.1streetmemorial

Skipping forward to today, most of the Black people I know want guns gone. Gone from the streets, gone from their homes, just gone. I sit in church and listen as month after month someone from the congregation will stand up and tell of someone they love who has been shot, or about when they themselves were hit by flying bullets. I have yet to hear one of these people stand up and pray for more firepower.girlmemorial

My Facebook feed is alive with memes and sound bites taking this position or that on gun control. The newspaper and radio give arguments for restricting guns or arming more citizens. I have seen dozens of stories praising gun owners who have shot intruders in the act of invading their homes. I have also followed a story of man licensed to carry a concealed gun who shot and killed an unarmed kid who was walking home from the convenience store. Where I grew up Elementary school teachers are being taught how to use guns to defend their classroom. Where I live now, a police task force is going to trial for running its own citywide drug ring. A couple of years ago a cop in my neighborhood got drunk, got angry at some noisy kids, went inside to get his gun and killed someone.irishflagmemorial

I hear and read a lot of arguments, not normally about what to do, but about how the other side is stupid. I talk to people on both sides but I get the feeling they don’t really talk to each other. How does this help? Every kid I know in the city can get their hands on a gun if they want one. Many see guns even when they are trying not too. Would more guns really make these kids safer?

Do I think I have a right to own a gun? Yes I do.

Do I want everyone to own a gun? No I do not. I know plenty of people that would terrify me if they were armed. I know other perfectly law abiding people that I would not trust with a gun in a million years.streetmemorial

I’ll tell every bad guy out there right now, odds are, if you break into my home I will not shoot you.

I do not care how bad you are, I do not think my TV is worth your life.

If my wife were to ever relent and let me keep a gun in the house, it would be unloaded and locked away some place making it impossible to be of any use in the event some burglar comes a prowling. This is because I know I can only control certain things in my life and will do everything in my power to make sure no one accidentally, or intentionally, kills someone with a gun I own. But I can only control so much.

I can’t control others who may wish me harm, just like I can’t control an out of control car coming my way.

But I can do my best. I register my car. I get my car inspected for safety every year and get my picture taken at the DMV. I can keep my home gun free to keep my wife happy but mostly because there are no deer or rabbits anywhere near my door.shootingdalyn

Lets go ahead and disagree. If you can show me where I am wrong, please help me out. If I think you are wrong maybe I should try to find a way to effectively communicate why. But please, lets do so in hopes of making things better, not in the name of proving a point. Comparing your apples to another person’s oranges does not make things better. Claiming to know what the other side “really” means or what their ulterior motives are is equally unproductive. Realize that for many people, mostly for the victims of violence, this is not a philosophical discussion. It is real life. It is too often real death.

One of my favorite memories from youth, one I fall back too when I’m feeling old and nostalgic, was the day Jake and I spent at the gun club. It was just the two of us, a .12 gauge, and about ten dozen clay pigeons. I don’t remember any real conversation, and I may have separated my shoulder, but I know I was happy that day. It was a good day, but not the only way to have one.

How do we ensure more good days for everyone?

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the Betrayal of Youth

(repost)

We spent most of the night filling up water balloons. Image

Trent was the quarterback of the sophomore football team, lived about a block away, and was having a backyard party. Normally we would spend Friday night looking for girls-

but they were all at Trent’s party.

He was a year older than us, and no matter how cool you are, you can’t compete with that.Image

As we left my house and rounded the corner a Jeep came screeching to a halt, spilling out its human contents. “Where do you guys think you’re going?” the voice asked from behind the headlights.

It was the Seville brothers;

seniors.

Image

We could not hide our intentions, our cargo was conspicuous. What I saw next was so inspiring that all these years later I can still picture it, in slow motion of course. One of the Sevilles took a balloon from Johnny’s hand, hopped back up into the back of the Jeep, and proceeded to send said balloon 100 yards down the street from a launcher mounted on the roll bar. I’m sure the brass at the pentagon felt the same way on the stealth’s maiden flight, a mix of awe and giddiness.

We resumed our advance with new confidence. Our numbers were increased and our allies were obviously superior.

The sound of late summer fun could be heard on the other side of the fence as we all took up position. The signal was given and latex grenades took flight up over the roof, over the fence, and out of the best assault vehicle a suburban kid had ever seen. The advantage of balloons over artillery is that there is no loud boom, nor in-flight whistle to warn the targeted of impending doom; just sweet silence.

We could actually hear the first splash, followed by high pitched screams, and low voiced curses.

Image

The plan was to run back to my house; fast.

It started out well but as we turned to bolt, the Sevilles turned on us. They were behind us, still had extra balloons, and shouted, “there they are,” pointing at us. We were trapped. Sophomores from the party in front of us, seniors behind us, time for plan B, the suburban scatter.

It is standard that when being pursued in a residential neighborhood you hop a fence and make your escape through back yards, trusting that you will regroup later. Every man for himself.

Proverbial wisdom says that when being chased by a bear you don’t have to be fast, you just have to be faster than the next guy.

I have never been fast nor have I ever been faster than the next guy.

Brian got to the wall right before the pack of angry football players caught up to us. He didn’t have time to hop over, but he did have time to dive into the bushes, I only had time to put my hands up in surrender.

There they were, a sophomore and senior coalition, holding me hostage with ammunition I had filled myself. They had me, but they wanted more. “Where’s the rest of ‘em?” they demanded, arms cocked, ready to throw.

I may not have been fleet of foot but that night I was quick. They did not know where Brian was, I did. They did not know Brian used to beat me up in elementary school, I did. Brian didn’t know what I was going to do, I did.

From his hiding place in the bushes Brian could not see me. I plead loudly, “I don’t know where they are, I swear!” all the while pointing to the shrubbery.

I was one of the proud few to finish that night with dry clothes. It was strange how all those upperclassmen had seemingly given up the chase and simply discarded their balloons in the bushes. How odd.

The party goers were drenched, my comrades were wet; covered in twigs, and I think the girls all went home in the Jeep. We walked slowly, and sloppily, down the street.

“Ball tomorrow?” Kirk asked. I nodded yes and went home.Image

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There is No Escaping Consequence

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. It is a natural law. Not a suggestion but a law. A ball dropped from a tower will fall, and an object at rest will tend to stay at rest till acted upon by an outside force; laws.newyearsfoodtableHolidays with family and friends are wonderful, but as is the case with most things wonderful, they do not happen without work and some sort of inevitable aftermath. The bigger the party, the more work there will be before, and surely, the more work there will be after. Many will eagerly give advice on how to deal with the work, I will not. It is enough for me to say it exists and is inevitable. No matter what you do, it will exist.afterpartyYou could pay to have someone else clean up, ignore the carnage and let it sit for a day, or maybe ask everyone to stick around and lend a hand. Fine solutions but they are all just methods of dealing with an existing fact. For every good party or meal, there is an equal and opposite mess.pink chairsNow in all such things a person can choose to set  plan in motion but they cannot choose what will actually happen. You can send out invitations but you cannot force someone to show up. You can bring your kids to the party but you cannot guarantee that they won’t drop a plate on the carpet. messBut you should always take the chance.

You control the controllables the best you can then throw the dice. You enjoy yourself then deal with the aftermath come what may. Otherwise a holiday is just another day. Otherwise there are no great times spent with good company.

Just make sure you are prepared to scrub the carpet.

Forrest Gump says life is a box of chocolates. I say it is a party.

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Penn State

They call the place happy valley, though it has not been so much that this year. As I drove over the hills my mind drifted to my Alma Mater’s book store which sells T-Shirts that read “Not Penn State”; then I saw this.

Then right after that I saw this.

That explains everything. Maybe the football program is divinely inspired (the sport itself is in fact divinely inspired. There is no room for argument on this) and should be protected at all costs? yeah, no.

The sadness in the whole series of events is that Penn State is first rate in so many other things. Granted the campus did not awe me, I have no deep love for gargantuan straight lined building that scream 1972.

But if you are a scientist or educator, or aspire to be one.. or aspire to being so many other things, it is by all accounts a top shelf school.

But sadly, over the past decade or so, if you happened to be an underprivileged young boy, the school was willing to sacrifice your youth and peace of mind to protect a revenue stream.

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