Graceful as a Gazelle? Yeah, Right!

The envelope was placed in my hand by the special messenger.  Well, really it was my wife who delivered it, but she’s pretty special.  The blood was taken from me by force a couple of weeks ago (they did tie up my arm before forcing that needle into the vein) and I’ve been waiting with unbated breath all this time.  The fact is, I didn’t want to know the results, because I already was confident of the outcome.  Sure enough…Sodium level is right down the median range, just as expected.

What’s that?  The other numbers?  Well, the glucose is right there where it should be.  Potassium, too.  I’ve got lots of other numbers I could throw at you, all just where they should be.  But, to be perfectly honest, there are a couple of numbers which are slightly, er well, significantly higher than they should be.  As expected, the esteemed Doc will not be happy.  Too many months of good food (well, good tasting anyway) and not enough exercise have taken their toll and I’ve got the numbers to prove it.

So now comes the hard part.  Medicine or nature?  One little pill a day or hours of muscle-stretching agony every week?  Eat whatever I want or…No, I’m guessing that the diet change is going to happen one way or another.  As to the pill or exercise question,  I’m not good at remembering to take pills and I hate them anyway, so it looks like the exercise regime is in my immediate future.  Being pretty sure ahead of time of the results of the test, I started a few days ago by acquiring a Gazelle.  You’ve seen them on TV…those weird scissor-action contraptions you stand on, holding your hands on the ski-pole-like appendages.  Tony Little looks great on his.  The young Barbie-doll ladies he’s hired from the gymnasium down the street look great on theirs. And no, I didn’t pay that exorbitant price for it (although the Tony Little bobble-head doll was hard to pass up).  Instead I got one on the cheap from a family member.

Unlike the Master and his Barbie-dolls, I don’t look so great on it.  Legs go one way, the arms go the other in a cross-body motion meant to make me feel like I’m getting a great aerobic workout, but I’m pretty sure all I’m doing is looking goofy.  Come to think of it, that about sums it up!  You’ve seen the Disney cartoon of Goofy getting fit.  Sport Goofy is the quintessential nerd, trying to morph into the buff, built, and brawny superjock that he’s always dreamed of  being.  But some of us are just goofy and always will be.  We lope sideways when we run, trip over our shoestrings (even when they’re tied), and just generally  look laughable in shorts and sneakers.

But, in a week or two, I’ll feel like I’m ready to go out in public and will start walking very late at night (no critics around then) and soon, in another month or so, it’ll get too cold to be outdoors.  That’s when I’ll have to move up to the inside track at the health complex, being careful as I work out to avoid eye contact with any of the pros there, lest they assume that this means that I want some friendly advice (“Don’t slam your heels down on the track,” “move your arms naturally,” “don’t slouch,” “blah, blah, blah”), which I do not, thank you!  I’ll walk around the track, turning my head to the wall to avoid the dreaded eye contact, but I’ll walk around the track!

This is my plan.  Not an ambitious plan, but it’s something to tell the doctor when he asks, “Are you ready to take the pills yet?”  As one who’s fought the numbers game previously and won (temporarily), I know it can be done.  I’m going to fight valiantly (and under the cover of darkness) and I hope to report in a few months that I’m seeing success.  No promises, except for one thing…It won’t be pretty!  So, stay off the streets late at night, unless you want to have a UFO to report (Uncoordinated Flabby Organism) upon your return home and a picture burned into your mind that will make you break into uncontrollable laughter every time you hear my name.

My new slogan:  Veni, Vidi, Vege!
(I came, I saw, I ate my vegetables!)

Dancing to the Oldies

Sometimes we let the pizza get cold, but there is never a dull moment.  The four little ones come, more for the time spent playing outside and the suckers from the music store next door than for the pizza, but Tuesday evening without them is not nearly as much fun.  Uncle “Steben” is usually here, much to the delight of the young ones (and his dad too, truth be known), but he doesn’t know how to provide entertainment like these guys.  The after-dinner matinee is spectacular!

I’ll never figure it out.  They are surrounded by technological marvels, CD player, DVD player, computer, and digital television, but they want me to open up the 90 year-old Victrola, lay a thick old 78 RPM record on the turntable, and let them “dance”.  We’re not talking about good music either.  These are old hillbilly harmonies, sung in the most nasally voice imaginable, nothing nearly as sophisticated as “Little Einsteins” or “Yo Gabba Gabba”, but these kids love it.  Almost every time they come, we have to go through the rigamarole again…Select a record (Who cares what record, just a different one than last time), everyone gets a turn at winding the crank, open the doors to the voice cone (how else can you control the volume?), the selected kid gets to move the lever to release the turntable (a cherished job they vie mightily for), and the steel needle is set down on the record.  After that, pandemonium ensues!  They jump and fall, wriggle and writhe, run around in circles, and just generally make a noisy commotion.  This is called “dancing”, not to be confused with wrestling or tag, although the process for these seems to be the same, minus the Victrola.  If we’re lucky enough to get an operatic tune, perhaps Grandpa will add to the commotion with his Bugs Bunny imitation from “What’s Opera, Doc?”, probably a scene we don’t want to dwell on for long…

The music is bad, the dancing is not a thing of beauty, but you’d be rolling on the floor laughing if you could see it.  These are times when I could chuck technology and live a much simpler life.  But events move on, the children go home, and (after a short rest) the wife and I head back to work, with all it’s chiming emails, whirring disc drives, and really frustrating issues.  “Oh no!  I saved my changes the last time I used this form and now I’ve lost my entire master list,” comes the lament from the beautiful lady.  I have problems of my own.  I know my website designer told me how to do this, but it’s beyond me.  Download those files to this new one on the desktop, upload those newly downloaded files using the FTC or FTP (or something like that) to the S3 (3S?) site.  No, you download them with the FDIC to My Documents…no FDIC is what the bank uses.  Oh, just push that key and upload it.  What do you mean two hours and 53 minutes until the upload is finished?  How am I supposed to get my work done now?

How did we ever work before we had all this labor-saving technological equipment?    It used to be pencil and paper, adding machines, mechanical cash registers with the pull handles on the side…all relics of a distant past.  But they, at their inception, also promised the same thing all innovations promise;  the inveiglement of higher productivity and lower labor output.  Once the trap is sprung, the reality is revealed.  More productivity leads to more labor every time, regardless of the original promise of more leisure.  We don’t care, we love our machines, and again and again, buy the latest, the greatest, only to want more.

So, I sit at my computer, having once more worked into the early hours of the morning, and think, not primarily of the job at hand, but I reminisce of earlier in the evening (now yesterday).  For a few moments that I’ll hold dear forever, we were free of the encumbrances, not tied to any device, but just enjoying the abandon of childhood, and wishing (just a little bit) that we grownups were that carefree once more.

Second childhood is coming…maybe I’ll get that chance soon!

Progress might have been all right once, but it has gone on too long. ~Ogden Nash

With Friends Like These…?

“We’re raising grandparents at our house now,” came the almost-humorous statement from my good friend’s almost-smiling mouth.  The attempt at humor was not lost on the group, but we really didn’t laugh much.  It’s not a funny prospect when you’re all staring it in the face.  We’ve all got aging parents, some have adult-aged children who won’t grow up, and many of our peers are raising grandchildren when their time for parenting is long-past. 

“God knew what He was doing when He gave children to young people,”  was my Dad’s confusing (to me) statement when he was just over 50 years of age.  He was sitting on the back porch, reading “Bye Baby Bunting” for the fortieth time to his determined 2 year old granddaughter.  She was wearing him down and he wasn’t getting any help from the girl’s young dad, who recognized a much-needed respite from his responsibilities when he saw it.  I understand my father better now that I have four grandchildren of my own. 

My conversation today with another young father certainly gave me pause.  I talked about my enjoyment of the new social media for “reconnecting” with friends from my childhood and early adult years.  He argued adamantly that his interest was only in “real” friends, the ones who kept contact with him and gave him support each step of the way.  As we discussed our differences, I realized that I had been in his position 25 years ago too.  I remember how proud I was then of our close friendships, but I had no interest at all in childhood friendships which had gone by the wayside and certainly none in going to class reunions or other social events.

“You just wait.  Your day is coming and you’ll change your tune.”  I couldn’t believe the words were coming out of my mouth.  Why next thing you know, I’ll be saying things like “When I was your age…” and “We’ve never done it like that before.”  But from my vantage point, I can see the progression.  You go from the arrogant young know-it-all who,with a lovely young bride at your side, has everything necessary to make the planet yours (I hear Helen Reddy singing “…Sometimes it feels like you and me against the world…”), to needing a few close friends (not too many!), all the way to wishing you hadn’t lost contact with those people you met once on vacation.   But finally, I’ve come to what should have been an obvious conclusion years ago…I need people!  It only took me fifty-some years to figure this out, but at last I’m catching on. (The music fades into Frank Sinatra crooning, “People, people who need people…Are the luckiest people in the world.” It used to be Barbra Streisand, but she’s gone loony, so Frank will have to do.)

As I age, I realize that our lives seem to be sliced up into very definite seasons, some for which we’re well suited and some for which we’re seemingly not equipped at all.  The big problem is that I’m not sure I can handle being needed as a friend.  That’s the irksome thing about needing people.  You need them, they need you.  Dependency I can handle.  Responsibility, I’m not so very good at.  But I’m working on it.  Some of it is forced on me, some of it, I determine to take on.  It’s a work in progress.  I’ll let you know how I do.   No wait!  You’ll be the ones to know if I’m doing it right.  You tell me!

I’m just hoping that when my turn comes to be the grandparent being raised (if it hasn’t already come to that…), I will have been enough of an example to the next generation that they’re ready for what needs to be done.

From The Preacher in Ecclesiastes…“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!”

Just Don’t Rub ‘Em the Wrong Way

There are parts of that job that I disliked intently.  But it wasn’t all bad.  The real electrician was a jokester, setting me, his helper, up for one practical joke after another (“Do you want to see an Aggie trailer?  Follow me”…and like the dummy I was…), including the ever popular “ZZZZZT!”, uttered loudly as I worked with a live circuit.  Funny how things stick in your memory for years…Today, I’ve been thinking about a time when we were trouble-shooting a problem with the lights at the local convenience store.  Their fluorescent fixtures wouldn’t come on immediately when they were turned on in the morning, leaving them in partial darkness for awhile.  Baffled, we made a call to the manufacturer and they gave us an unexpected procedure to remedy the problem; With a clean rag, wipe off the surface of the bulbs.  Sure enough, we showed up early one morning and started rubbing on the bulbs.  Swish, one bulb on…swish, another on…It was amazing!  We had thought that we’d have to replace bulbs or sockets, perhaps even the ballasts (it controls the current in the bulb), but needed nothing more than a simple swipe down the lamp’s length and the problem was fixed.

The best part of the incident was the interaction between a couple of the patrons sitting in the shop.  As the man and his buddy sipped their coffee and watched our progress across the store, this fellow, obviously a deep thinker, observed to his friend, “Would you look at that?  He just rubs that bulb with his magic rag and it lights up!”  And his pal, thinking he was quite a wit, replied,  “Yeah, I wonder if he’d let me take the rag home and use it on my wife…”  Everybody laughed loudly (including me) and we continued the job until all the lights were glowing brightly as God intended (well, you know what I mean). 

I spent a year and a half on that job over 25 years ago, mostly wishing that I was back in the music business, but that one incident still sticks in my head.  Not only was it funny, and I love a good (or bad) joke, but it has made me remember repeatedly that many of our problems have very simple solutions.  We anguish over multiple scenarios in our heads, sure that we’ll have to spend too much or work too hard, only to find that a simple answer is staring us in the face all along.  This idea is not new with me.  You’ve heard it in the “work smarter, not harder” slogan, the “min-max principle” (minimum effort, maximum performance), and other motivational cliche’s.  But, you know, there’s also a different connotation to the event.

You can also apply the two guys’ conversation to the subject to which it referred, relationships between people.  I’ve finally figured out (pretty late in life) that we all have a magic rag and have always had it.  I just don’t always ply it so well.  Want to see your spouse light up?  Try rubbing them with a compliment.  You don’t have to make it a big thing, just a “Your hair looks nice today” or a “You make the best Kraft Macaroni & Cheese!”.  Okay, maybe not that last one, but it works for me since mac & cheese is my comfort food and she knows that.  Want to see your kids brighten up?  Mention how well they do some small thing.  They may die of shock, since we seem to be a lot better at criticizing, but they’ll love the attention.

We men are usually jerks, thinking that complimenting others shows weakness and devalues us.  It doesn’t!  It’s not a “zero sum game”, where one person wins and the other loses.  Turns out, in any good relationship, when one person benefits, everyone in the relationship reaps the profit.  The saying “When mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” is only a negative way of expressing this truth.  When she’s happy, the rest of the family has something to celebrate.  And, when the kids feel important, life gets a lot smoother for the parents and siblings.

One other thing:  Don’t make stuff up!  If the compliment isn’t real, you’re using sandpaper instead of the magic rag.  How dumb do you think they are?  Flattery isn’t positive, it’s destructive.  Be honest, but be kind! 

And with that, I’ve said enough.  Got to go home and see her light up once more today… 

“I like her because she smiles at me and means it.”  ~Anonymous

The Cat’s In the Cradle, Again…

I watch her, the next to the youngest, walking on her knees and dragging the toes of her shoes over the sidewalk.  At first I think she’s hurt, maybe she’s fallen and she can’t get up (no, that’s a commercial for old people).  But as I watch, she keeps moving forward, smiling, ignoring her mama’s instructions to get up and walk.  Oh, yes…She can walk.  She just doesn’t want to at this exact moment.

Sensing that she may have a “moment” with her mom if she doesn’t comply, I go to her and reach down my hand.  She reaches up and clasps it, grinning.  If I think she’s going to walk, I’d better reconsider that.  The second she’s up, she drops all her weight on my arm, swinging forward to let her feet touch the ground momentarily, only to jump forward again in a wide arc and touch down a couple of feet ahead of where her shoes last made contact with the pavement.  This girl is not going to do things the way anyone expects.  She’s exploring, testing the limits, and figuring out all the angles.  She watches her older brothers like a hawk to be sure that they don’t do anything fun without her.  She imitates and perpetrates and just primarily pushes the envelope.

I watch her and I’m amazed at the change in the short course of two years.  She turns two tomorrow and already, she has much of the personality that she will have when she’s my age.  Not a baby and not yet able to completely express herself verbally, still she lets you know what she wants.  The word “No” figures in predominantly and even “Don’t wanna” frequently, but she’s not only negative.  She loves to play with the “baby”, but won’t be limited to girly stuff, showing her skill in a pretend sword fight with little wooden slats (really the roof pieces from the Lincoln Logs set).  She can’t stand to be away from her brothers, asking where each one of them is, even if she’s just turned away from them for a moment and they’re out of her sight.  But she will not be bullied, shoving her way onto the piano bench between the two of them, even though they deny her pleas for help getting up.  And so, she sits, happily pounding, with a brother on each side of her.  It’s not Mozart, by a long shot, but the music is sweet.  (This, of course, is quickly brought to a close by one brother choking the other to get the pounding stopped, but that’s a different tale.)

And being the old guy I am, I can’t help thinking back twenty-some years (we do that, you know) to when her mom was that age, learning, fussing, smiling (but not yet fighting with her brother).  I’ve changed too.  Back then I was a perfectionist, demanding instant obedience, determined that my child would not be that spoiled little girl who had her dad twisted around her little finger.  I think I failed miserably at that aspiration, but I was a disciplinarian.  Things are different now.  Candy is available and I love to share, much to the dismay of their parents (after all, when they’re adequately hyped up, we send them home).  I figure it’s my place as a grandfather to give them what they want, not to discipline them.  By and large, I’m fairly content to let the tumult swell and generally like to have a “limited government” type of mindset.  (There are exceptions, but the revelation of those, like the choking story, will wait for another day.)

If you ask me today, I’ll tell you that being a grandfather is the best, but as I consider it, when it was happening, being a father was fantastic.  My main lament now, besides the sergeant-major mentality, is that I was in such a big hurry to get to the next stage.  You know, walking, talking, potty-training, running, going to school, graduating, going to college, getting married, and before you know it, it’s past.  Just a blink of the eyes and gone…  Even now, we can’t slow it down, but we can be sure that we cherish the moments we’re allowed.  The little girl swinging from Grandpa’s hands, the three of them pounding on the piano (I know a good piano-tuner), and all the other amazing moments…they’re all gifts from God.

We’ve had bad luck with our kids – they’ve all grown up. –Christopher Morley (American writer/poet)

Children are an endowment from the Lord…–Psalm 123:3

How you gonna keep ’em down on the farm?

Have you ever done this?  You begin something and then start questioning the wisdom of it.  You wonder if people really understand why (or if they care).  You think that maybe you should have waited until someone asked.  Well, that’s par for the course for me.  (I told you the elevator didn’t go all the way up to the top, the deck was not full, etc.)  Today’s post is just me, explaining myself.  I’m guessing that this will happen frequently, because it’s part of what I need to get out of my head…

I started putting down some random thoughts to form this blog a week or so ago and the concept was a little muddy around the edges, but I was very definite in my intent.  I have found myself spending more and more time recently in mindless pursuits, silly games on the internet, TV watching, and yes, even Facebook.  My objective in writing the blog was to follow through on a longtime goal of communicating what’s important to me, while freeing myself from the prison that all of us are in danger of lingering in; the mundane and pedestrian routine that binds us and keeps us from excellence in living and in expressing ourselves.

Let’s face it, Farmville and Cafe World, even World of Warcraft (never played it myself) don’t inspire us to higher expression.  Quite the opposite, they depress the individuality and uniqueness with which our Creator has endowed us.  You can’t tell me that you become a better person as you mindlessly plant fake plots of land with fake seeds with the click of a button, only to come back a day or two later to reap the fake crop with another click of a button.  Likewise, blasting into oblivion the avatars of unseen online opponents, who are plying a joystick halfway across the continent, has zero benefits, either in reality or even in the fertile ground of one’s mind.  Any accomplishment made today will disappear tomorrow, any emotional high brought on by a great victory will most certainly be followed by depression and the need to eclipse that victory with another, greater one to feel the high again.

And television!  I don’t really want to start down that road…unreal reality shows filled with fake personalities, modern day freak shows that voyeuristic adults (and kids) can’t turn away from, dramas filled with actions and language so vile that none of us would countenance any deed from them in our homes (yet we open the conduit and fill our living rooms with the garbage day after day).  No wonder our kids are leaving our lifestyles and principles in droves as they mature!  We don’t communicate with them except to give them the means to access this garbage, and we even sit and bathe in it ourselves with them night after night.  To say that we don’t communicate with them is a major misstatement.  We just don’t say words.  But, I guarantee you they get the message!  How can they help it?

Tired of the preaching yet?  Okay, I’m done for tonight.  It would be easy for me to take the words written above and think of them in terms of families with young children, or of young married couples, and talk about the need to make drastic changes. But it never made any difference when I was that age, so I’m pointing tonight to myself.  This blog is a small step for me along the path of recovery.  I’m going to learn to communicate again.  I’m guessing the results will be a little spotty, especially if the first week of posts is any indicator.  Some of my stuff you’ll love, some you’ll hate.  Probably most of it will be on neither extreme and you’ll just tolerate it, if you continue to read it at all.

Regardless, I’m going to continue to press on.  Hopefully you’ll be able to see who I am as you read.  I hope you’ll be generous enough to make comments (both encouragement and criticism).  Although I’ll try to spend time writing every day, you probably won’t see a new post that often.  I’m finding that even though I have lots of ideas that have been stuck in my brain that I want to communicate, many of them can’t be said right now without arousing anger or shock and I don’t want to do either.  So some things will stay unsaid until I find a better way to communicate them, half-baked ideas in the oven of knowledge and wisdom, waiting until they are fully cooked.  Give them time…

Finally, friends, whatever things are true, lovely, and well thought of…If there is any benefit, any excellence, these are the things to let your minds dwell on. (my paraphrase of Philippians 4:8)

The Other Side of Puzzles

Her mom has washed windows at my store for years, but it was just a month ago that 3 year-old Addison started coming in to visit while she waits for the task to be done.  She’s too young to help much, so she sits at the little wooden kid’s table in the front of the store.  For the first ten minutes, she bangs on a drum we have there, alternating between that and fussing at her mom about having to wait so long.  The banging drum doesn’t bother me at all.  It’s the first step for most kids into music, so I love the sound.

What I can’t take for long is the whining at Mom, so I ask her if she wants to work a puzzle.  She seems to be excited and dumps the pieces onto the table, but that’s as far as she gets before she’s stymied.  The puzzle is only 20 or so large pieces, so I’m not sure what’s going on, but it’s not long before I realize that this girl doesn’t work puzzles.  To be absolutely honest, neither do I.

I know how to work puzzles.  I’ve worked puzzles in the past.  The thing is, I just don’t like them much.  Like all hoarders with OCD (self-diagnosed, you understand), I don’t comprehend the concept of working hard at building something piece by piece, only to tear it up and put the pieces away in a box.  Stuff is made to be seen, to be left out for years and to be admired.  “Well,” you may say.  “Glue the pieces together and mount the puzzle.”  That assumes that I would want something like that on my wall or coffee table.  Part of my problem with OCD is that I can’t put anything on the wall that isn’t an original work of art, so mounted puzzles are out.  Then again, I can’t have them stacked all over the tables, when there are more puzzles waiting to be put together, and I just don’t want to work that hard on something and tear it apart.  So I don’t work puzzles.

But the girl is whining.  I can’t stand whining and something has to be done.  So piece by piece, starting with the edges (a large percentage of the pieces in kids puzzles, you know), we put together the puzzle.  “Does that straight edge match with this one?”  “Do you see Winnie The Pooh’s shirt?”  “Try it under Winnie’s face.”  And as we work, Mom now having finished her job and waiting to get on to the next set of windows down the street somewhere, the picture comes together.  There’s Winnie and Piglet, and of course my favorite, Eeyore.  (My favorite because at times, I know just how he feels, the world going by him, with all the beautiful people entertaining and being entertained.  And, once in awhile, just once in awhile, they include him in their activities.  “Thanks for noticing me,” he says sarcastically.  I never can tell if it’s his choice to stay on the fringes or if they just don’t include him until they want to feel better about themselves, inviting him to join in for purely selfish reasons.  Regardless, it’s nice for everyone to be acknowledged once in awhile.)  But, back to Addison…As the picture comes together, her excitement grows.  She’s making a picture of her friends!  She’s doing it!  No more waiting and whining, no more being just a little girl who has to be tolerated.  She has done something worthwhile! For a few moments, she understands accomplishment and the reward of hard work.

Then Mom, check in one hand, squeegee and bucket in the other, calls out, “Addison, take apart the puzzle and put it away.”  The tot is devastated.  “No, Mom!  I want to leave it together.”  Now I’m no Dr. Spock, but just this once my brain is working.  I suggest that there’s no need to tear it apart.  We can leave it just like that for other people to enjoy.  I know it will be taken apart long before she returns, destroyed by the ravaging hordes of kids, long since hardened to the fate of such endeavors.  But today, this young lady gets to walk out the door with her pride intact, secure in the knowledge that she has left her mark on civilization as she knows it.  And even though she won’t say goodbye to me (“She hates to say goodbye,” her mom apologizes.  And, again I understand perfectly…Goodbyes can lead to never seeing someone again), I realize that finally, I’ve met a child with whom I’m in agreement.  Her, I understand!  I’ll never get these puzzle workers who toil at their task so industriously, not to get to the finished product and enjoy it, but to tear it up and start on another.  It’s as if the purpose is not to have a thing of beauty, but just to be busy.  Well, give me a comfortable chair, a glass of lemonade, and a beautiful painting on the wall and leave me to my leisure.  You do your busy work, I’m going to enjoy the finished product and won’t be disturbed.

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever” from Mary Poppins (Okay, really from a poem by John Keats, but I think he stole it from Mary).

“Suffer the little ones to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Jesus in Mark 10:14)

Jumping to Conclusions Isn’t Exercise?

The sign on the front door says, “Open at Noon on weekdays.”  You would not believe how that inspires the wise cracks.  Folks who would never think about telling the unemployed man who lies abed until noon daily how lazy he is, say the words to me without apology.  “I wish I could sleep until noon.”  “Banker’s Hours?  We have to work for a living!”  “When are you going to get a real job?”

“Banker’s hours? Real job?”  How is this possible?  Can they not see how hard I work?  Do I not complain about overwork loudly enough?  But no…they believe if the door is locked, I’m not working. They think I’m sitting at home with my toe in the air, doing nothing.  What’s that, you say?  Oh, the toe in the air thing.  It’s a family joke, but it fits the situation, so I’ll let you in on it.

A few years ago, my brother-in-law was adding on to his house.  Family members helped him some, but he did the lion’s share of the work.  Until one painful day, that is…the day he shot a nail from the nail-gun into the joint of his big toe.  The pain was excruciating and he couldn’t walk for a few days.  Work would have ground to a halt, but his father-in-law offered to help if he would tell him what to do.  So the brother-in-law sat with his foot elevated to ease the pain and gave instructions to the willing worker.  Unfortunately, one of his father-in-law’s cronies happened past about this time and, seeing the home-owner sitting while his father-in-law worked, went home with the story.  “That lazy so-and-so…He’s just sitting there with his toe in the air while his father-in-law builds his house for him.”

“Don’t jump to conclusions.”  
“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”  
“Still waters run deep.”   

We all do it…Think that we understand a situation simply because we take a glance as we drive by…Believe that because we can’t see activity, nothing is being accomplished.  How do we get to the point where we assume that the person we’re talking to is not as hard-working, not as intelligent, not as knowledgeable about their area of expertise as they should be?  What drives us to accuse someone of laziness simply because we don’t see what they accomplish when we’re not there?

So, learn the facts and cut those you find yourself critical of some slack.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t require excellence, nor even that we should lower the bar for performance.  Just do your homework before showing your ignorance.  And cut me some slack about opening at noon.  I’ll be sitting here with my toe in the air waiting for you…

What do you call it if you jump out of an airplane without a parachute?  
Jumping to a concussion!

Sometimes a conclusion is simply the point at which we stop thinking…

Perfect attendance!

“Twenty Dollars.”

These two words, spoken listlessly by the scruffy, not-quite-clean, but once-proud man were exactly what I had expected to hear, as I looked at what he had to sell.  The now-commonplace scene was repeated again one day recently and I’ve got to tell you, I long for the days when the musical instruments coming in my door are being brought by folks who want to sell them.  I love a good bargaining session where the give and take, the reciprocity, are mutual and spirited.  I make an offer, they counter-offer.  I balk, they come down a bit, and we come to an agreement (you know, like Pawn Stars on The History Channel).  I now own an instrument which can be resold for a reasonable profit and they leave with money in their hands, usually more than they came in expecting (and sometimes less).  But they wanted to make the deal and leave satisfied.

Today’s specimen is not such an example.  The instrument is a no-name, beat-up, barely-playable electric guitar in a non-matching and groaty case.  And yes, I realize the term “groaty” is an obsolete fad-word, used by my generation in our prime (a long, long time ago) to describe a gross, disturbing mess, but that describes this case precisely.  It is almost slimy with mold and putrid with the stench of stale cigarettes and cat.  If I were anyone else (you know, like Pawn Stars), I would probably order them out of the shop with it, but I cannot.  This is not about an instrument, a case, nor even about money.  This is about the person holding the monstrosity.  I don’t need that guitar.  I already have a back room filled to over-flowing with such unmarketable eyesores.  But, I do need to buy the instrument.  He doesn’t want a hand-out, but he needs one, so he’s brought the only thing of “value” that he can let go of.  This man needs to walk out of here with dignity (but with money in his hands) and I rise to the occasion.  Why?  Because I have to.  It’s my reason for being here.  Well, one of them anyway, but an important one.

When I wrote my first post, I said I needed a “pulpit from which to preach.”  So here’s a little of the preaching part.  When Jesus said, “The poor you have with you always,”  as He gave permission for an extravagant gift to be given for Him, what He did not mean is, “Don’t help the poor.”  He meant exactly the opposite.  Give to the poor and give extravagantly to God.  We are not excused from helping them, simply because we can quote Paul’s instructions to the Thessalonians,  “If a man will not work, neither shall he eat.”  That phrase is so overused and incorrectly applied that it has lost all of its original meaning. When uttered today, it means, “I really don’t want to share with you and it’s your own fault that I have an excuse.”  In its original context, it was never to be applied to unbelievers, and certainly not as an excuse for selfishness!  If love is not the purpose of our actions, they are wrong. Period!

Wow!  I’m almost done preaching now…But I do laugh at how people (notice; one finger pointing outward, but three pointing back at me) just don’t “get it.”  The other day, one of my “always with me” guys (let’s call him Joe) was in as I was bartering with a different “always with me” guy (call him Jack) for an amplifier.  When I gave Jack too much for the amplifier (because he needed a break), Joe waited until he was gone and asked, “Is he somebody special?  You gave him way too much for that.”  Picture this being said as Joe was pocketing the proceeds from the sale of his guitar, for which I paid him well more than Blue-book price, simply because he needed money to make a payment to his creditors. But that’s all of us to a tee isn’t it?

I like to think that I’m a student of human nature, but my guess is that I’m just as blind as the next guy when it comes to recognizing the gifts I’m given.  Instead of simply being grateful, I point to what others are given and talk about how little they deserve it.  Look around you, you may also see what I mean.  We’re surrounded by examples.  You can probably find one if you try…

“Twenty dollars.”  I paid the man and later threw away the case and added the guitar to my ever-growing collection.

I’m hoping someday to find plans for an art project that calls for electric guitars without pickups, trumpets with missing valves or slides, and moldy saxophones with broken keys.  Any suggestions?

The Genuine Article!

He was back again today.  When he said, “I hope you’re doing well”, I think he meant, “I hope your doctor got the meds straightened out.”  Stradivarius violin discussion, Part 2.  This time with new evidence.  Really irrefutable evidence.  Three knockout punches!

1) “My Dad says it’s real, because he’s read the label.”  Even the following quote from the Smithsonian didn’t make much of a dent  “Therefore, the presence of a Stradivarius label in a violin has no bearing on whether the instrument is a genuine work of Stradivari himself.”  Dad said it!  Who is this Smithsonian organization anyway? 
2) “My Grandpa found it in an attic around 1900.”  Me:  “Stradivari built his violins in the late 1600’s and the early 1700’s.  Thousands upon thousands of fakes had already been made in the intervening 200 years.” Still no help…
3) “It has a real wood case and only the genuine Stradivarius violins had that case.”  Now, the fact that I could show him that eBay has these things available at $20 was helpful here...But still he was not convinced.

As he left, muttering that Grandpa and Dad both couldn’t be mistaken, and promising to get the violin to an appraiser to prove me wrong, it struck me…We all do that!  In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we believe what we want to believe.  Hey!  As I write this in the wee hours of the morning, not two miles away from me there are Don Quixotes throwing chips at the roulette wheels at the casino, knowing that it’s a fool’s game, but believing that this time, it will be different for them. (“To dream, the impossible dream…” Sung in the key of B-flat busted…)

“Statistics!  Phtooey!  Who needs ’em?  I’ve got a feeling that tonight’s the night!  Besides that, Jack’s cousin’s girlfriend’s brother won $10,000 out here a week ago (or was it a year?).  I’ll win for sure!”

We laugh, both at the Stradivarius guy and the Casino guy, but I’m convinced that we all need a little of that.  No, I’m not saying that we should live our lives based on the ridiculous falsehoods of easy money and hidden treasure.  What I am saying is that hopes and dreams are amazing motivators and, kept in perspective, goad us on to do things we might never attempt otherwise.  “Hope springs eternal in the human breast…” is not just the first line of an old, dead piece of prose, but it’s true.  We always hope for better, always believe that we can do more, and always reach for the future.  (And yes, I know there are times when the flame of hope dies down, but that’s a discussion for another time.)

Twenty-five years ago this month, I sat in the living room at the late Dr. Marc Gilbert’s house, having gone to him for advice about leaving the steady job I had (and really wasn’t fond of) and buying a faltering music store in the small town in which I live.  Dr. Gilbert advised strongly against it.  “The numbers just aren’t there.  You’ll be much better off staying where you are.”  But he, wise man that he was, also inquired, “You really want to do this, don’t you?”  Boy, did I ever!  The early years I had spent in music and the few years previous when I had worked in this very store were all I needed to know that this was it!  This was what I was made for!  Not a huge aspiration, as aspirations go, but it was mine!  And he, listening to me talk, knew a dream when he heard it and simply said, “Well you already know it won’t make you rich.  But it looks like it will make you happy.”  Yep!  Right on both counts, Dr. Gilbert!  But still loving it and thankful to the Lord for making it possible.

“There’s a time I can recall
Four years old and three feet tall
Trying to touch the stars and the cookie jar
And both were out of reach…”  (from “Reaching” by Carolyn Arends)

“A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a Heaven for?” (Robert Browning)

Aim higher!  Whether it’s cookies or stars you’re reaching for, you can’t get to them standing flat-footed in one place.  Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just stand there.

Keep hoping!  It’s even okay to look for the Stradivarius violin, but honestly, unless it’s just for entertainment,  the casino’s not gonna work out.