Easter Morning, My Stupid Jacket

I arose this morning ready to get started.  Easter is the day I finally get to pull the linen jacket out of the back of the closet and I was excited.  I tied my purple tartan tie, donned my pale green v-neck, and wondered why I didn’t have more Eastery cuff-links.  I’m not sure I’d go for actual Easter egg links, but maybe some pastel disks or knots.  I made a mental note of that for next year as I got in the car.

Few people are on the road that early on a Sunday.  This morning was the usual.  I expected to see a few more cars at the other churches I passed but sadly not so.  I guessed the big hats and white gloves would show up later.  No bother, today was spring, people would be happy at church, and I was wearing my linen jacket.

I turned north on Broad Street. 

A couple people were dragging their feet into Dunkin Donuts, the man was on the island setting up his stack of Sunday papers, and a completely naked woman was walking down the sidewalk.  When it registered what I had just seen, which was interestingly not instantly, I did a half-double-take; just long enough to confirm it really was a naked person on Philadelphia’s main thoroughfare, but not long enough to actually look at her.  Slightly embarrassed, this was Sunday and I was on my way to church, I drove on with a strange notion that I knew that lady.  The notion nagged me but I never really looked at her, just glanced, yet I had this picture in my mind of her face.  A face I recognized and I was ashamed to not remember her name.  I made a mental note, right next to the cuff links, to learn her name, not really believing I had just seen her walk past.

When I pulled up to the church gates there was a pair of jeans hanging from the rails. As I pulled into the empty parking lot I was greeted by a pair of white tennis shoes.  I parked and got out, leaving my things on the passenger seat.  There, off to the side, was a T-shirt and brassier.  It had been her.

I gathered her things, which I now saw included two sets of keys, I dialed 911, and put her affects in my office.  Looking down the block I saw a squad car, lights flashing, stopped at the corner.  I hung up and started walking.  She was sitting in the back of the car cradling her face on the back of the seat in front of her.  The officer was standing outside at the car window trying to talk to her, blank note pad in hand.  When she looked over and saw me she began to sob.  I apologized for not knowing and asked her name.  She leaned over sideways and whispered it to me.

I told the officer I had her clothes over at the church and I would be able to find her address and information from our records.  A second officer gave me a ride back to the building and I helped the best I could.  He took her things and left me about my business.

I unlocked the rest of the building, began setting up chairs, and prepared for my planning meeting a changed person from when I got dressed.  Today was the day we celebrate our Savior rising triumphantly from the tomb.  Today was the day we are supposed to recall the sacrifice made by one better than us, in order to save us from the very things that make us lesser.  On this, an actual sacred day, I was thinking about my clothes.  It took seeing a naked person to get me to forget them.

This woman was clearly not well.  She was walking out in public with all her flaws in plain view. Her suffering and her struggles were obvious to everyone who saw, just as my flaws are obvious and naked before God.  I felt a fool in my linen jacket and purple tie; such trivial things in a world with real trouble.  Today I was thankful that there was one worthy and willing to suffer for someone like me, who could take such a serious sacrifice so lightly.

PSA, a Note on Political Discourse

I am going to spell this out for everyone.  I will be as simple and direct as possible.  Print it out, paste it next to your computer, and refer to it often.  Some of us need this.

1)Making fun of, or disliking, a black president is NOT racist.

Making fun of, or disliking, a black president because of his skin color IS racist.

Examples:  The president has big ears, and Cheshire grin; those are fair game.  Disliking the President’s policy is not racist; go for it.  A composite photo of all the portraits of presidents from Washington to “W”, followed by a black square and two eye balls ala Scooby Doo, is not fair game.  That is a joke not possible without his skin color, hence a joke about his skin.

2)White America has a long and well documented history of calling black people monkeys or gorillas, insinuating, or outright declaring, that black people are sub human, animalistic, and less intelligent.  Because of this historical fact, calling George W Bush a monkey is not the same thing as calling Obama a monkey.

If you are unaware of this historical fact due to youth or cultural isolation, you are not automatically a racist.  You may be ignorant of historical facts and unaware of others in a way that leads to inherent insensitivity, but those things are not automatically racist.  Should you make a mistake in this regard, or witness someone else doing so, the correct response is apology, not defense.

Example via metaphor:  If I mistakenly punch you in the nose, my primary concern should be for your medical welfare, not defending my motivation.

3)If you are aware of the historical precedent of insults against black people, yet your initial response when witnessing, or hearing of such an insult is to defend the possible innocence of the offender, rather than the feelings of the offended, you are allying yourself with racism, If not becoming allied with an actual racist.

Example: Don Imus called the Rutgers basketball players an insult that was directly tied to their race.  He knew this when he did it.  If your initial reaction to the story was to defend his freedom of speech as opposed to your being offended at the racist nature of the event, you have just allied yourself with racism at the expense of those being directly affected by that racism.

4)Being nice to a racist does not make you a racist.  Excusing or saying nice things about the racist things a person does or has done… is probably racist.

Example: Saying nice things about Strom Thurmond is not racist.  Saying you wish Strom Thurmond would have won the presidency when he ran on the platform, and in the party, whose stated purpose was segregation, is a statement saying you wish the racists were in charge.  Why would you say that if not racist?


If you get an email breaking any of these rules the correct responses are:

  1. Delete
  2. Reply with a request to cease and desist.  Maybe even correcting the mistake
  3. “Reply all” refuting the error in the email
  4. Attempt all the earlier and if it is an elected official sending you the email… call the press.

Feel free to email me anything you like.  Just sayin’.

Mission Tales, Bicycles

 I was excited to ride a bike. 

Remind me why I was excited again?

In retrospect I had no appreciation for all this mode of transport entailed, but riding a bike is such a part of the lore of Mormon missionaries that I just had to have the full experience.  Bike riding is such a part of being a missionary that I have often had to explain to others that cycling isn’t actually part of the religion.  Missionaries ride bikes because they are cheaper than cars.  Some lucky missionaries get to drive cars.  For 21 of my 24 months, I was not one of the lucky ones.

The first thing I did not consider, was the same thing others who haven’t cycled in suits haven’t considered; my pant leg.  It is the role of a missionary’s first companion to more or less show one the ropes.  The mark of a compassionate soul or a devious one is whether or not this senior companion tells the junior to tuck his pant leg into his sock before it is torn to shreds by the bike’s chain.  My first bike ride was also my first destroyed pair of pants, followed by my first sewing lesson.

In my romance of cycling adventure I also failed to consider humidity.  Being a native of a desert clime I had no appreciation for humidity.  Humidity had no appreciation for me either, nor the fact that that the dress code called for a tie at all times.  I also had not thought about rain.  I learned to hate rain. Rain led to my first actual crash. 

We were caught some miles from home when the clouds broke open. They poured out buckets rather than drops.  These buckets soon turned the gutters into flash floods and I found myself caught up descending a rather steep hill in one of these flash floods unable to stop.  I pumped the brakes, gripped tight the brakes, and quickly realized I was simply along for the ride.  How fun.  At the base of the hill was a surprisingly wide and steep culvert towards which this torrent was channeled.  When my tire hit the culvert it stopped and I did a most amazing leap frog over the handle bars, landing a perfect ten on my feet in the knee deep water.  My graceful dismount was followed by the reward of carrying a bike with a taco shaped wheel the last mile home.

Flat tires were regular but unremarkable.

In all those months and all those miles I only had one crash where I did not land on my feet.  I landed on another missionary.

I was under the impression that Georgia (where I served) was flat.  Coming from the Rockies, I turned my nose up at those hills others called mountains; then I tried to cycle up those hills and was humbled.  Being humbled is a process and it is amusing to watch others go through it, but not so much to experience it firsthand.  There was one hill on our regular route that was especially laborious.  Each week four of us missionaries would have to work our way up that hill to get to a training meeting.  We were a competitive bunch and had trouble doing anything at a leisurely pace. I soon learned how to take advantage of the competitiveness of others by starting a race on the approach to the hill and then “getting tired” a little less than half way up.  I would drift to the back of the pack, tuck right in behind the last rider, and let the group’s draft pull me easily up the rest of the way.  It was some time before the others figured out why I always had that burst of energy at the top and would shoot well past everyone with a laugh.

This practice of drafting soon led to pranks.  Riding mtn. bikes on roads is best done with the seat set up high forcing the rider into a more road friendly posture.  We found it funny to sneak up behind our companions and flip the quick release on the seat post, dropping the rider’s tail unexpectedly.  My companion, a rather fiery and contentious fellow, had fallen victim to this trick and became wary.  He was wary of the seat trick, but had not yet learned the drafting trick, and soon found himself “winning” the race up the hill.  I was at the back of this swift moving tightly packed train when the leader looked back over his shoulder to taunt those of us behind.

While turning back his head he also turned the handlebars hard left.  I would not recommend doing this while pedaling at full speed and especially not while others are only inches behind.  Bike number one was T-boned by bike number two. Number two was rammed by number three, and I, number four, was sent sailing over the top of them all, landing in perfect push-up position over the top of cyclist number one.Black top is not fun to do pushups upon.  That is the day I started wearing gloves.

Around Town, a Civil Saturday

Just a regular Philadelphia Saturday.  It rained.

There were two other guys and a tree in the photo, I didnt like them.

After Sumter was shelled, Lincoln sent out a call for troops to defend the nation’s capitol.  A capitol that moved to the Virginia border some years before to appease the same states who were now in rebellion.  Philadelphia answered the call then, and this morning we ventured out to watch the troops muster 150 years later in commemoration.

If you knew your history, then you would know where I’m coming from, and you wouldn’t have to ask me, who the ___ do I think I am. I’m a buffalo soldier.

Some years after that initial call, black men were allowed to enlist.  The first and largest training ground for these troops was just outside Philadelphia.  In honor of those who trained there, this was the battalion who led this mornings parade.

It was cold and wet.  So much so that Mrs. Hammas wouldn’t get out of the car, Littlehammas 2.0 slept in the car seat, and Littlehammas1.0 wouldn’t even wave back to the guy on the horse as it would have somehow interfered with her whining about the cold.

I once saw General Meads stuffed horse in a row house not far from here.

Having failed at my attempt at sewing the seeds of history nerdiness, we moved on to plan B, which was just plain nerdiness.

Childrens Science Festival

There was a man throwing a bucket of liquid nitrogen onto the wet street, allowing kids to stomp around in the clouds it created, a woman making tornadoes in 2 litre bottles, and jugglers.  I think the jugglers wandered over from the library’s children’s book fair that was going on 20 yards away.

2.0 learning about the solar car.

For some reason this sort of nerdiness is more fun than the guys playing dress up, carrying guns, and riding horses.  I will add this to my list of things beyond me, and do my best to get on board.

It won’t be that hard as I think the long term pay off of science geekdom is far above that of history buff.  Sure Ken Burns is great but he’s no Bill Gates.

Then again, maybe Princess trumps them all.

1.0 at the Rock School

A Look at What “They” Said it Was About

National Cival War Museum, Harrisburg PA

One hundred fifty years ago, yesterday, South Carolina declared War on the United States of America.  Other states soon followed and since that time we have argued about why.

No.  Rather I should say that since Lee surrendered, and after reconstruction was bartered away, we have done our best to forget or change what was.  I have had many a discussion, to put it politely, on this subject and I thought today I would take a moment to do what I have striven to do in my personal readings, but rarely do when blowing hot air myself; I’m going right to the originals.

National flag of the C.S.A.

South Carolina did not just shoot, they explained:

“And now the State of South Carolina having resumed her separate and equal place among nations, deems it due to herself, to the remaining United States of America, and to the nations of the world, that she should declare the immediate causes which have led to this act…

A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.

This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety… The guaranties of the Constitution will then no longer exist; the equal rights of the States will be lost. The slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy.” printed 1860

For the protection of "property"

This speaks for itself.  Lets look at Georgia.

“The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery…policy of anti-slavery and the political organization into whose hands the administration of the Federal Government has been committed will fully justify the pronounced verdict of the people of Georgia. The party of Lincoln, called the Republican party, under its present name and organization, is of recent origin. It is admitted to be an anti-slavery party…The Presidential election of 1852 resulted in the total overthrow of the advocates of restriction and their party friends. Immediately after this result the anti-slavery portion of the defeated party resolved to unite all the elements in the North opposed to slavery an to stake their future political fortunes upon their hostility to slavery everywhere. This is the party two whom the people of the North have committed the Government. They raised their standard in 1856 and were barely defeated. They entered the Presidential contest again in 1860 and succeeded.

The prohibition of slavery in the Territories, hostility to it everywhere, the equality of the black and white races, disregard of all constitutional guarantees in its favor, were boldly proclaimed by its leaders and applauded by its followers.

With these principles on their banners and these utterances on their lips the majority of the people of the North demand that we shall receive them as our rulers.

The prohibition of slavery in the Territories is the cardinal principle of this organization.” printed 1861

States Rights

Mississipi got right to the point:

A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union.

In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.” printed 1861

Skeletons from our national closet

That is what they officially said it was about then.  Why is there question about it now?

The answer to that question tells us much about why things are the way they are now.

John Barclay, the Interview

I first met John when we were both sitting in the chairs behind the pulpit at church.  During the opening hymn he looked over, furrowed his brow, and while pointing to his ankles mouthed the words, “where are your socks?” 

John Barclay

They were of course in my sock drawer. 

 He has been mocking me for this, or any other thing he can come up with ever since.  I like to think I always come out the victor in these verbal sparring sessions, these exercises in maturity, but I respect that he keeps picking the fight.

Later that day I overheard him telling someone of this location he knew of that was great for photography.  It had graffiti, crumbling concrete, and a view of the Ben Franklin Bridge.  He professed a love for photographing urban decay. 

This is John's work... urban decay?

Upon hearing this I offered that I knew of the place he was speaking of, it was by my house, and that I had access to a place even better.  I furthered that if he was game I could grant him entrance, but only at an unreasonably early morning hour.  I didn’t know who I was dealing with.

This is a bit more urban decayish

 This was the beginning of John and I working together on a project that shall for the time being go unnamed.  I wasn’t just bragging, I really do have access to a great place, but what I didn’t realize is that John is not just words; he actually planned to follow through on our idle chatter.  Since that day in church I have spent early mornings with John in the bad part of town, on an abandoned pier, in a graveyard, and then shooting the breeze at various cafes over breakfast.

One must respect a grown man with bunny rabbits on his hat.
He takes great photos.  Not just good, but the kind of good where he gets published in magazines that specialize in publishing good photos.  He takes the kind of pictures where marketers of photo editing software use him in their advertising.  Not as in the use his pictures in advertisements, but advertise that he uses their product.  In the Hanes add, he is Michael Jordan.  He takes groups of people on trips to various exotic locales to teach them to be like him, or at least to take pictures like him.  People pay him for this.  But this isn’t why you would want to know John.

John's work at Cape May

I didn’t really realize why he was worth knowing till he invited me to be his guest at one of his presentations.  The presentation is called Dream Believe Create, and it is only partially about taking pictures.  He shows pictures, he talks about taking pictures, but the pictures aren’t the point.  Sitting intentionally inconspicuously in the back row of his performance I began to appreciate why I tolerate his presence.

He makes people like themselves.

Let me demonstrate: one day while shooting the grime and grunge in this place...

What a talent.  He has a way of making people feel liked and then points out why they are likeable to the point where one begins to believe he is right.  He is one part photographer, one part instructor, and ten parts cheerleader.  He is genuine.  He actually likes these people that he is convincing to like themselves and that is just plain pleasant to be around.  I could be the biggest buffoon around but after ten minutes with him I will be convinced I’ll one day work for National Geographic.

... John turns around a snaps this picture. My daughter is sitting in a truck tire, bored and impatient with these old people, and this is what he sees.

Perhaps this is why he is good at pictures.  He can see the good in people and in things and places.  Better yet, he not only sees the good, but he captures it and then shows it to you.

every now and then he needs to be taught a lesson.

Fighting in Good Company

I introduced Pete as my wife.

A Gentleman's pursuit

Andy just smiled and shook Pete’s hand. Truth is my wife had phoned me at the office some hours earlier to tell me a good friend had been at the hospital all week with his micro-preemie daughter.  His wife called my wife to say her husband needed to get out for a few hours.  Follow that?

I pulled up to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Pete hopped in, and as I pulled off I looked over and asked, “have you ever watched boxing live?”

The original Jack Johnson

He had not.  Turns out he had never even seen it on TV.  I guess I hang out with all sorts.

“So who are we meeting again?”  Pete asked as we made our way to the Asylum in South Philly.  “His name is Andy and I have never met him,” was my answer.

Andy, the Mainline Sportsman

Andy is a Philadelphia lawyer with a jones for duck hunting, horse races, and coaching kids lacrosse.  He also manages a boxer.  The two of us found a common interest in defending our oft slandered city from unwarranted digital attacks by a betweeded curmudgeon.  Tonight was Andy’s birthday and he extended an invite for my wife and I to be a guest in his box for the evening’s fights.

Having explained my change in companions for the night Andy just smiled and ushered us upstairs to sit with his other twenty guests.  Good group of guys this bunch.  They did not know me, nor Pete, nor did they care.  Conversation was free and easy and cheering was plentiful.   Andy’s fighter handled his opponent with ease.  Andy handled his guests with ease.  I handled the free pizza and hoagies with great care.

Three cheers, it's my birthday!

Pete said he enjoyed himself.  I believe him, but toward the end of the night it was obvious his mind was elsewhere.  He wanted to head back to his girl.

I didn’t mind at all.  I could not have asked for a  better host, the night was all it promised to be, but I did have to get up early…  I had an “engagement” early the next day.

I'm the one on the car.

Thinking Back and Airing Dirty Laundry

JHS senior football players, '94

I was happy growing up.  We all knew each other.  It wasn’t some sleepy Mayberry, but the kids I went to kindergarten with are the same ones I graduated high school with.  They were my playmates, classmates, and teammates.  Race was definitely not an issue.

Me and Jake

Jake and I had been best friends for a few years.  I think it started as freshmen in the weight room, then weekends harassing the same girls, then pretty much living in each other’s houses.  One day, in the locker room, with all the social grace of a sledge hammer, I finally asked, “So dude, what exactly are you?”

“@!$# I don’t know,” was his reply.  “Are you like a Mexican or something?” someone else chimed in.

“@#!$ you, I’m Spanish,” Jake finished.  We never talked about it again.

In the nine years since I left, I’ve been back twice.  I still read the hometown paper, especially during football season.  Something I read recently got me thinking back; reflecting.


It isn’t my alma mater, but it’s the school right next door.  It’s the same home town.  Some kids got stupid, a kid who probably looks a lot like my kids would if I had a son, was offended, and now it’s a big deal.  I’ve read the kids blog, I’ve read the comments, and I’ve read the local coverage.

“We aren’t racist,” is the cry from kids and parents.  “He’s racist for trying to make this about race,” declare others.  Both the principal and vice principal are on leave pending an investigation.  It all got me thinking about a picture in my yearbook.

JHS Varsity basketball, '94

Of course we weren’t racist!  Bill was cool.  Kuki was one of my favorite people.  We were taught that to be racist meant hating a person because of their skin.  That wasn’t us.

My wife and I talk about our high school experiences, hers down south and mine in Utah.  We laugh and tell stories.  She talks about the lunchroom and how everyone had their own tables, black kids at one table, white kids at another.  “Was it like that for you guys too?” she once asked. 

A bunch of "us"

 “No way”, was my quick response… that would have been a very lonely table.

Part II

Five hours of sleep, 200 views, and 2 emails later and I’m writing an addendum.  I oft fall victim of my own attempts to be subtle, or get cute when writing.  Doing so on matters of race often leaves those less informed missing the point and feeling even more slighted when corrected post event.  I suppose if you attempt to be subtle in your writing and no one gets your point, your writing is really just shallow.

In retrospect we were all wrong.

Bill, I remember when your parents came to watch you play basketball.  I was confused.  I never said anything.  I hope they did.  I fear many children like you, or like mine, growing up where we did, with people like me… will grow up unprepared.

Anson, I remember back when we threw javelin together on the track team.  We had no coach and we had fun.  I had no idea “Spear Chucker” was a racial slurr but I suspect you did, and may have even been called one.  Thanks to your good personality and my ignorance I probably retold stories of us being the JHS Spear Chuckers a million times.  It makes perfect sense to me why David Chapelle walked away from his TV show.

Zac, I didn’t know till this morning that they pasted a “Fresh Mex” add to your locker back then.  I would have known it was wrong then, but I ‘m sure I never would have said anything.  That was wrong.  I did know they called you Spic ‘n Span when you got a job washing dishes.  It felt wrong but girls laughed…. so I did too.

Kuki, I wish I could ask you if it made you feel odd when we called you “chocolate chip Kuki”.  You werent the type to speak out, maybe your brother will tell me.  Your family helped us learn to appreciate cultures not my own, but in retrospect it has helped me realize how hypocritical our culture is in applauding some cultures while ignoring the very existence of others.

We were taught by good teachers and parents to be colorblind.  We thought we were looking past our differences but at some level, we did not.  When one is blind, one cannot see.  Another word for not seeing something is ignorant.

To ignore someone’s color you in a very real way have to ignore that person.  We didn’t get that and most of us still don’t.  It’s part of the reason my wife had a tough time living there.  She liked everybody, it was hard to put a finger on just one thing.

Lets just say it was a very lonely table; even more so because most of us refused to even know it was there.