Archive for the ‘Humor’ Category

The Majestic Snipe Hunt

As the mercury began to drop, I realized that if we’d had a longer thermometer, all of us would have frozen to death.  Grateful as I was to many layers of clothing, I wished that I could secure their closures with buttons and zippers, but due to a recent gain in stature, that was not possible.

A year or so before, I had joined a gym.  They had a workout room, card tables, pool tables, and an indoor heated salt water swimming pool.  They also had a cafeteria.  In less than four months, I had gained nine pounds.  None of my belts would make the trip all the way around my waist, and I was sure to be needing an entirely new wardrobe.  Lunch, as it turned out, was my favorite feature attraction at the gymnasium, then straightway home to take a snooze.

I had not been hunting in a while, so I’d forgotten about the probable fitting issues likely to occur with the designated hunting attire.  All of the previously purchased items were intended for a slimmer figure of a boy whose habits included exercise somewhat beyond regular naps.

After packing enough gear for a month’s safari, I headed into the Southern zone where deer season remains open into mid-January.  There I met up with my host and hunting guide, J. B.  He and his wife took me into their home, and I was made to feel welcome.  Before we began to suit up for the afternoon hunt, my host and guide felt it proper to advise me of the weather conditions:

“It’s going to get cold this afternoon–very cold.  Water will have to warm up to reach the freezing point.  Are you sure you want to do this?”

I assured him I was ready, and even bragged on the certainty I felt about my protective clothing.  So, we started getting ready.  I soon discovered very little of my stuff would fit me anymore, certainly none of the pants would come close to fastening.  Since it was expected to be well below freezing, I intended to wear multiple layers anyway, but for the sake of modesty, I kept adding garments to cover this ‘n that gaping situation.

Were it not for the multiple layers I attempted, dignity would have been at risk, as nothing seemed to want to button, zip or snap.  This proved to be of no benefit when nature called while fumbling in sub-freezing temperatures hoping to find appropriate appendices with fingers numbed by the cold, and not knowing a piece of elastic or a shirttail from a belly button.

The first afternoon was uneventful, as J. B. and I were the only living things that appeared to be alive anywhere within the thousand acre hunting preserve.  Considering the polar vortex phenomenon, there was little reason anything not native to arctic or antarctic regions should’ve wanted to venture out anyway.

I could inhale air, but whenever I exhaled, it condensed to water vapor which quickly frosted over my entire mustache.  As I sat there thinking I must have lost my mind to be there, I chambered a round.  It was the same bullet I’d been chambering for three years in some wild hope of needing it to be chambered.

After the sun went down, J. B. came to pick me up from my stand with his four-wheeler, and told me the ice sickles hanging below my nose were…interesting.  Neither of us had seen deer, feral hogs, or even a squirrel.  We joked about not luring the elusive snipe, even though we boasted of having burlap sacks and baseball bats handy.

The joke of a snipe hunt is to find a person, usually a child, gullible enough to “hunt” for an imaginary creature in the silly way of trying to call it into a bag or a pillow case.  Descriptions vary, but by “snipe”, I do not mean any of the relatives  of the sandpiper, but the difficult-to-find cousin that is more likely to be an associate of “Big Foot”, or perhaps related to the kinds of space aliens that like to capture earthlings and probe them with water bottle attachments you can buy at WalMart.

In other words, it’s all completely hoogy-moogy.  I’ve heard snipes described as lame as looking a lot like the extinct do-do bird, to a cross of something between a platypus and a goat.  But since it is all make believe, you can have it look like anything you want.

The next morning it was even colder than the evening before.  No sane person would venture out to go hunting, and only the barely sane would even go out to get the mail.  Well, we went hunting just the same, taking a huge risk of being declared at least incompetent, if not psychotic.  J. B. would ask me frequently, perhaps as often as every six or seven minutes as if there might be some stay of execution:

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

He is a most accommodating host, and had I relented, he would’ve gladly gone back into the comfort of his warm house, and stayed there until Boreas and all other gods of winter retreated enough to allow for defrosting.  This time with even more layers of clothing than the night before, we challenged certain death and went out into the cold.  I think I tried to put on more clothing than some department stores have in stock, but it was still not enough.

So as you can imagine, the breakfast group at a local diner recognized me right away as a slave to fashion from the very moment we walked in.  Though we wore camouflage, our voices gave away our location, so the server was able to bring us our coffee, and ask the questions you often hear when you go out into public places wearing camo:

“So, y’all goin’ huntin’?  Whatchy’all gonna hunt?”

J. B. studied her face, and replied:

“I’m taking him snipe hunting.  He’s never been…”

“Snipe hunting?” she interrupted, “Lawd, you gonna take him…”

She looked right at me, and I smiled like a happy and eager child full of anticipation would do on a Christmas morning.  Then, she just shook her head, and trailed off with a muffled giggle.  She came back momentarily to take our order, but held the order pad so it covered her mouth to conceal her grin.

J. B. ordered the “Some of Everything” special, which was served on a large platter with some of everything on it.  I had the “Not Quite Everything” special, telling the server that I didn’t want to over-eat so that it would interfere with being able to move about quickly enough to bag the snipes.  Again, she turned and walked away, but I could see she was laughing, and shaking her head.

After breakfast, we prepared to head down to the hunt club where, according to what we’d told the server, the hunt club manager had gone ahead to release enough snipes to insure a good hunt.  The server ran off to hide, hoping not to allow her laughter to give away the joke she was certain J. B. was playing on me.  At no time did she seem to understand that the leg being pulled was hers.

Once outside, we realized the temperature was continuing to drop.  It became reasonable to question our combined intelligence for making the decision to even be out of bed at that hour, much less heading to the woods to succumb to frostbite.  So once again, J. B. asked:

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

After we got onto the hunt club property, the plan was again to drop me off at a stand to await my chance of seeing any kind of prey that might be stupid enough to venture out in this weather.  Although we knew area schools had been closed, we didn’t know at the time most of the deer had also taken the day off, and possibly the week.

It was c-c-c-c-c-cold.  J. B. cranked the Polaris so he could back it off the trailer.  The engine started up right away, but no matter how much the accelerator pedal was pressed, it did not go: “Arrooom room room room.”  It did not go: “Bood’n  Bood’n Bood’n”, either.  No, it went : “Peddle dump, peddle dump, peddle dump”.  It was frozen in idle.  Putting it in forward or reverse made no difference, though he tried both several times.

We decided to let it sit awhile, which it was going to do anyway.  We scratched our heads, and asked each other wondering what it could be, and both of us declaring we did not know, though we had suspicions that it was due to the air being colder than the heart of a tax auditor.  About then, J. B. looked at me as if pleading:

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

Our gaze returned to the Polaris, as the prospects of having to hike a few miles encouraged a retry.  This time, J. B. pumped the accelerator pedal multiple times before ignition.  This time when it cranked, the throttle was stuck wide open.  The last position of the gearshift had been in reverse, or else J. B. would’ve ridden the thing quickly over the short trailer railing  and onto the back of his pickup truck.

Instead, he flew backwards off the trailer heading towards the woods at full speed.  Looking a lot like a rodeo event, he jumped up and down on the brake pedal causing his bucking four-wheeler to mimic a carnival ride.  He made noises as if he were about to sing a hymn.  Grasping desperately for the key in the ignition switch while at the same time trying to hang on, he was finally able to shut it down just before disappearing into the underbrush at the edge of a thicket of pine trees.

I stood there in the quiet for a moment trying to think of what I would tell his wife, and also wondering if I could remember which one of a dozen or so dirt paths to take to get off the property.  I was halfway wondering if I should try to retrieve his body or just have someone else come back for it, when he walked out of the woods, obviously shaken up, but alive.

J. B. surprised me by telling me there was a second four-wheeler available.  It was in a shed just a short walk from where we stood.  This one was designed for racing, and would go from zero to sixty-five faster than I wanted it to.  At high speeds, the wind chill factor on that thing must have been a thousand degrees below zero.

I finally got to my stand where I would again load my rifle with a bullet that was beginning to show signs of wear on the brass.  Within minutes, I settled into a routine of shivering for the next four or five hours before any hope of being rescued would come by way of another bone chilling ride back to the camp.

Luckily, the tree stand had shade, so at least I was not exposed to the broiling sun all morning, though I prayed for it.  Just when I was certain it couldn’t get any colder, a nice breeze came up causing several of the trees including the one I was sitting in to blaspheme.  Until then, I’d always considered such behavior to be in the domaine of animals, particularly the human kind.

I saw no animals that morning other than three or four crows.  They did not seem happy.  One of them called out:

“C-c-c-c-caw!  C-c-c-c-caw!”

I think one tried to answer, but its vowels were frozen, so all it could say was:

“C-c-c-c-c!”

After a few attempts to crow, they flew off probably in search of any place that might be warmer.  I wanted to go with them.  About then, the insulation in my boots announced they had reached the limit of thermal protection.  Once your toes get cold, you cannot be expected to find a comfortable position, or a single thought that deserves to be said out loud in mixed company.

We did this for three days, and each trip to the woods was preceded with the sincere inquiry:

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

When we got to the club on the morning of the last day, a buck was leaving as we were going in.  He was no doubt off duty, and headed home to go to bed.  We should have done the same thing, but we didn’t.  Instead, we mounted the rocket powered four-wheeler and went back out onto the frozen tundra.  Once again, I loaded my rifle thinking the bullet was going to be worn out before I would ever get a chance to spend it.

It was still very cold as the morning hunt came to a close, so we headed back to town with thoughts of some hot soup, and possibly sitting in a fire somewhere.  Once out on the road, we saw a bald eagle who was already having lunch.  Seems an armadillo had picked a bad day to cross the road, and had possibly spun out on some black ice and flipped over allowing the eagle to have what appeared to be ‘possum on the half-shell.  The bird was majestic, and had it not been for his unappetizing entrée, I would’ve been on the verge of feeling patriotic.

We went to lunch and I had a loaf of soup.  If you’ve not had one before, imagine a loaf of farmer’s bread hollowed out into the shape of a bowl, and soup poured into it so it becomes soggy.  After you scoop out a few mouthfuls of soup, there’s enough soggy bread left over to feed a family of five.

After lunch, we went by a hardware store to take inventory of things they no longer carry, and to comment on the prices of the things they do.  Then, it was back to the hunt club.  This time, we were greeted by an owl who sat patiently by a pile of tree limbs waiting for springtime to come and thaw out some mice and lizards.  J. B. noted this to be a nocturnal bird, and I felt the sign of nocturnal animals might be a good indication the deer might come back to work, but I was wrong.

Back at the stand, I once again took the bullet out of my pocket and let the bolt of the rifle seat it in its periodic and temporary resting place.  I remember thinking that if no deer or feral hogs came by to interrupt the calmness, I would get to take that bullet back home with me.  Well, call me Nostradamus, because that is exactly what happened.

The bullet is resting quietly in the gun safe where it can be at leisure ’til next season.  The deer, the boars, and the snipes can all go about their routines with no concern whatsoever of me interrupting their fun until quite some months from now.  Perhaps late next fall during some dark early morning hour, silence will be broken with the words:

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

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Happy New Year?

It appears the calendar has turned over again.  Some folks have complex ones divided into fifteen minute compartments where they can pigeonhole all kinds of stressful things.  A few years back, I found one set up by the hour worked fine.  More and more, just naming the day is sufficient, and occasionally I’m satisfied to just know which month we are currently spending.  I’ve also found no habit or practice that will slow it down except a strong desire to be finished with something.  For example, a sermon cannot be hurried enough to make it pleasurable.  But a few things can cause the time to move quickly.  It has been said that having fun will do it.  And it will, but also pay attention to circumstances surrounding some dismal or unpleasant tasks:  If the deadline for its completion is unreasonable, the dismalness may linger, but the amount of time assigned to it will have become a contraction.

Before cellular telephones became available to the general public, there was a brief time of the “beeper”, which some called a “pager.”  But whenever those confounded things went off, I noticed the person saddled with its safe-keeping often seemed unable to turn the page fast enough.  In the early days, the only persons in polite society to have them were doctors.  In time, prostitutes and members of the legislature carried them, and for the same reason.  But in the beginning, only the doctor was allowed to be excused, and could get up quickly to leave the opera or a revival meeting with complete immunity from prosecution.  And whenever such an event occurred, the doctor would be the envy of all others present.  It was during this brief period in history that medical school enrollments rose sharply, though graduations didn’t keep pace.

One of the advantages we can have as 2014 begins, is having seen what happened during 2013 take place.  Without that information available, though we were to know everything up to and including the year before it, we would be left short, and certain to have our decision making suffer.  But only a few will take advantage of knowing what all has happened in the recent past unless there is a splinter in a finger because of it.  And since that is so, some will still be likely to grab the rough and unfinished lumber without gloves, and will not see any need of gloves until some new splinter presents itself.  Splinters have to be personal.  If another person has a splinter that is not inconveniencing us, we probably won’t notice it unless they complain.

I suppose some will be made aware of splinters in the hands of others, and conclude it is none of their concern.  Some may take note and feel sorry for the person who suffers.  A few might stop what they are doing otherwise, and help remove the splinter.  Some might be thinking of the splinter metaphorically.  If you would otherwise become the splinter, there might be justification for such reflection.  But not me.  I have resolved to not be a splinter this year, because they seldom show up unless some work is being done.  No, by habit and education, I will continue to be either a thorn in the side, or the burr under a saddle.  I am versatile that way.

At other times, I’ll make no effort to generate painfulness at all, and will look around to see if some pain can be avoided, especially if I am the person to benefit from such an avoidance.  But for others I see coming, if I notice a bridge is out, I’ll take pleasure in letting them know.  But looking back on the history of 2013 and many of its predecessors, offering such notification is often likely to be received the same as is the thorn, the burr, and even the splinter.  Happy New Year.

Grammar (Not the Same as “Grandma”) and Punk-tuation

“Yesterday Mr. Hall wrote that the printer’s proof-reader was improving my punctuation for me, & I telegraphed orders to have him shot without giving him time to pray.”                                                 ~ Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1889

(The following is mostly from a previous conversation thread with some intelligent writers who show concern for this sort of thing.)

The subsequent material and comments use sentences, clauses, phrases, and words, and perhaps with some divergence from standards and rules.  I don’t care about that, as long as you are able to get the gist of it.  That’s all I’ll have to say about grammar here, and would not have even said that much if it weren’t for the title.  If you are expecting some narrative about grandmothers, you can stop reading now.  The rest of this is devoted to the little marks on written and printed pages that do not consist of the letters of the alphabet.

Some think the colon is overused.  The reference here is with the punctuation mark rather than the final section of your digestive system.  How much, and for what reasons you may choose to use your digestive system is of no concern to me, so we will not discuss it further here.  But as for the punctuating colon, I use it without concern that it will cause any harm, and have never known one to have a spasm.  A colon tends to slow the traffic momentarily, as do commas and other cute little fun things that can be drawn with a pencil.  They behave as speed bumps do, and are placed there intentionally.  I’ve checked with four major insurance carriers on this, and there is no record of a misplaced colon ever causing so much as a flat tire, much less a serious accident.

I carry a bagful of punctuators (including a generous supply of colons) with me wherever I go.   They come in handy eavesdropping, especially when others are on their phones talking in such a hurry.  I leave them all around the house even when the grandchildren are over without any anxiety whatsoever.  I even allow the dogs to chew on them, as they’re inexpensive, non toxic, and so easy to replace, that it would be a shame to spoil their fun.

Not only is it okay to use them, it’s fun.  Colons, semicolons, commas, parentheses, exclamation points, and quotation marks are marvelous toys, and all have a place if the use of them communicates what a writer is intending.  I suppose there would be room for concern if the opposite were true.  If using punctuation were to make something unclear, or confuse the reader, it’s probably best to leave it out unless the intent is to be unclear or mislead the reader.  Leave that sort of thing to the bobble-heads that write political commentary.

Then, there is the price of ink.  I’m sure with inflation, colons could eventually cost up to a dollar a piece.  But in such an economy as that, a cup of coffee might cost about sixty-five million bucks.  So those with the means to enjoy such extravagance might continue to drink coffee, anyway.

I wish to add a brief note about exclamation points: the pointy ones are dangerous if you fall on them, and you could poke your eye out.  They can be used as darts, especially during heated dialogue, and can be used to cut other people short.  So, as a weapon, I would agree some care should be taken with them, especially when they are points.

I carry exclamation “markers”, instead (referred to as “exclamation marks” in the vernacular).  The beauty of the exclamation marker is it comes in handy if your pen goes dry; they’re wonderful for graffiti, and tend to be less dangerous if you fall on them.

But don’t be deceived into believing they’re entirely harmless.  They can give the appearance of a formidable billy club, and can be used as such. But you’ll probably tire yourself out trying to knock anyone out with one, as exclamation marks are much softer than exclamation points.  The other thing to keep in mind, should you hit someone with one, is they tend to make a cartoonish “Boink-Boink” sound followed by obnoxious giggles when coming in contact with noggins.

Currently there is some research going on here in my laboratory that could lead to the development of an alternate to the exclamation point.  Instead of just adding emphasis, it actually makes the statement that precedes it clear, precise, and understandable.  My colleagues and I are toying with the idea of labeling it (branding, if you will): “The Explanation Point”.

I expect to become quite wealthy selling these, as one alone following a topic sentence will clarify the intent entirely.  That could replace any need for a six-thousand word essay, and shorten some rather boring textbooks to a single page.

But the real benefit to society, for which I will expect you to nominate me for several significant world prizes, will be the elimination of so much excessive organic mulch being spread where it isn’t wanted during times of general elections.  The use of “Explanation Points” (patent pending) will serve to convert all political campaign advertisements to the simple statement: “I am an idiot”, and have it immediately understood and believed.  This will allow the politician to go home, and not appear in public anymore where they tend to block traffic, stir up hatred and confusion, and generate mob terror by convincing folks of the potential threats of a series of outrageous but entirely imaginary hobgoblins.

No colon was harmed while typing this comment.  However, the game warden has advised me I did reach the bag limit on commas, including the two used in this sentence.

The Six Minute Speech and The Science Project

Distractions equal interruptions.  The weight of anything that interrupts you is measured by the time you allow it.  The impact of it is not dependent on you even noticing that it has occurred at all.

Now and then, I’ll get intensely focused for a relatively short period of time–sometimes mere seconds; sometimes minutes, sometimes hours (all being the same to me), on something I might be curious about.  If I’m with a group of other people when this happens, I’ve gotten used to the idea that the group in general will not show the least bit of interest in whatever has caught my attention.  It will have been shrugged off by the rest of them as some unworthy distraction, and that I would want to spend any time at all looking at it, is seen as a delay and a nuisance at best, and at worst, exemplary of one of my many debilitating character flaws.

My life cannot be defined honestly to have been short-changed due to any lack of time, as I’ve had the same clock everyone else has; my days are defined by twenty-four hours just as are yours.  Though knowledgeable that methods exist, I’ve never in the slightest way that others would notice, mastered any part of the process people call “time management”.  My approach would be similar to trying to manage a hornet’s nest by throwing rocks at it.

I am aware of how others seem to divide the hours of a day into precise and recognizable subsets.  Some folks have the whole day divided into efficient fifteen minute units with specific and exact elements called “action steps”.  At no time do they go sit on the porch to smoke their pipe and stare off into the horizon.  It would be difficult for them, and since I’m one of the few blessed with a talent for such acrobatics, I try not to make fun of them over their perplexities about being clumsy in that department.  After all, my mother raised me to be a gentleman with some manners about the feelings of other people.

At a young age, in spite of all the distractions you can imagine would be going on, I learned the alphabet.  Though I was not the first to do it, nor was I singularly the only one successful with that endeavor, not only did I learn to say it out loud, but could sing it, and stay on key to the very end of the thing, repeating for as long and as often as the applause would allow.  I also picked up and devoured a few things being served on the multiplication table.

But I never did learn everything, particularly avoiding things expected of me, and even required of me.  A few things that were easy for me seemed harder for others.  And some things others picked up effortlessly seemed out of my reach altogether.  That bothered me.  I used to scratch my head and wonder why some things were so easy for me to memorize while others around me struggled with it, and how other things that should be easy to learn would drift away in a fog.  More than once I was perplexed when certain I understood exactly what a teacher was talking about, but couldn’t for the life of me, prove it on a test.

The Six Minute Speech:

Once as a college freshman, I was assigned to prepare, and give a six minute speech in class.  When it was my turn, I talked easily non-stop–for eighteen minutes.  What some might not understand would be how I seemed completely unaware of the overrun. I’m sure other students were curious as how I could not notice the professor in the back of the room who was waving his arms, jumping up and down, pointing at his watch, and at one point almost stood on his head.  I just thought he was demonstrating some highly animated enthusiasm for my oratory.

Other than that notion, which would soon prove to be unfounded, none of his obvious efforts to get my attention to the time seemed to affect me at all.  He held me back at the end of the class to show me his grade book.  I was reminded that I was to be graded that day on a six minute speech.  He said I gave three separate six minute speeches crammed together nonstop, all of which were terrible.  And that since I delivered three speeches instead of just one, thus taking up irreplaceable classroom time, I should in all fairness have three grades accordingly.

Then as he looked down and pointed at the book, I could see by my name very clearly, the images of three capital F’s glaring back at me.  An old ghost came into my head once more.  That spirit always shows up at such moments to numb me, because it knows I’m about to feel overwhelmed a bit, and in need of numbing.  This numbness, when it overtakes me, never seems to extract any recognizable appreciation from anyone else who might be trying to communicate with me at the time.

The professor kept talking.  He said I could do better than that, and would do better if I had “any hope of passing” his class.  He said other things, too, but they blended in with the chronicles in my mind already playing.  His words would mingle with other words already recorded on that same loop that began back as far as I can remember.  Bits and pieces of the voices of every teacher or instructor I’ve ever had for more than a single day was on it, and some more frantic than others.

Over the years, variations on the same tune were repeated, and always played back with reverb and echo effects with each new track.  It played in my head in stereo, or even quadraphonics, I don’t know.  But when it plays, it’s very loud, and almost everything else real and present becomes obscured and fuzzy.  Interestingly enough, the same thing that causes it in the first place is also the very thing that gives me temporary relief from it.

Once in a while, which for me is almost constantly, I can become happily distracted by some passing butterfly, or a group of ants devouring a grasshopper.  But even so, the haunting loop in my head won’t go away, not entirely.  Do you ever dream?  Do you ever hear a song in your dreams?  Imagine it playing over and over and over, with lyrics such as:

“Still not finished…haven’t even started…where’s your list…you know better than that…not living up to your potential…certainly capable of…I know you hear me…why you aren’t listening…same old pattern…inexcusable…I thought we agreed…we expected…I expected…how can you ever expect…what in the world was…who do you now expect…when are you ever…can do…must do…now, now, now…how could you not…you were supposed…you were supposed…you were supposed…”  

I do start things; lots of them.  Some are quite extraordinarily formidable, and flattering to my abilities and intellect.  Some, but by no means all, have the highest of noble intentions.  But whether or not I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, I’m seldom organized enough to come back to them at any later time to finish what I’d started.  Decades roll by, and none of the unfinished projects go away, nor do they come to the forefront to be executed.  I’ve begged many of them to be hanged, or step in front of a firing squad.

The peripheral arena from almost every point of view I take, is filled with them, and all of them are rambunctious and often noisy.  It’s not just that I get distracted away from projects, I get distracted BY those same projects, as they stand there glaring at me just inches, which might as well be miles, out of my reach.

The escape is to block them all momentarily by intensely taking interest in a new thing.  And even as I do, I’m aware that whatever it was that was just a few moments earlier was so important to me will slip by, and possibly disappear altogether for a bit, only to crop up at some other inconvenient moment to embarrass me.

The Science Project:

Nearing the end of the sixth grade, I had started on a science project.  By starting, that means I’d thought about it, though perhaps little else.  The teacher’s name was Mrs. Scott.  And in fairness to her, she had given us plenty of time, and had reminded us often, to do it.  The due date came.  By the ripe old age of eleven, I was well practiced in the art of renegotiating deadlines.  It would become the cornerstone of a most interesting curiosity I was constructing called the rest of my life.  The last day of school came, and I still had no project to turn in.

I went to Mrs. Scott, who stared at me for a moment without smiling.  During that moment, the recording in my head began to play, but the volume turned down quickly as she finally spoke, and smiled at me.  Though I was not aware of it at the time, that precious moment was some very significant reinforcement to the concept forming inside my very soul about the power of a smile.  Smiles became a most valuable commodity, and a currency I could use often to get almost everything I really wanted.  Additionally, it could serve as bail money, too, and got me out of a few things I didn’t want.

She said she wouldn’t hold me back, and that I’d be allowed to go on to the next grade level.  But that I still owed her the project.  I was to complete it over the summer and bring it by her house.  I went there almost every Saturday that summer, and mowed her lawn.  Each time, she asked about the project, and each time, I told her I was not finished with it yet.  That was the truth.  In fact I’d still not even started it other than think about it.

She said mowing the lawn didn’t get me out of anything, and to allow for that would be a dishonesty on both our parts.  She wouldn’t be bribed in that way, and refused to be guilty of tempting me to sell my soul by allowing me to offer it as a bribe.  So, she paid me two dollars for the yard work, and by doing so, launched the career of an enterprising entrepreneur.  I mowed a lot of lawns that summer, and never missed an appointment with Mrs. Scott.  It was also a time when my father found it a good idea to teach me about the care and feeding of a lawnmower.  But in the back of his mind, he knew quite well that without his own due diligence, the machine would likely starve to death, or be crippled.

I continued in that employment throughout junior high school even after taking on a paper route.  I mowed many lawns, and had many customers come and go for various reasons.  But Mrs. Scott stayed with my service, And I took care of her yard each summer for the next four years.

Each time right before handing me two dollars, we discussed the science project, and that I was still in debt until it was completed.  She also reminded me often, that with all the extra time I’d been allowed, the project would be expected to be quite wonderful, possibly even getting nominated for The Nobel Prize, or something.  And it better be an eye popper if I were to expect a passing grade at this late date.

Of course, anything less than passing would require that I resign from high school, not really having been worthy to be there in the first place, and return to the sixth grade where I would no doubt spend the rest of my tardy and delinquent life.  People often say the most stressful job in the world would be that of The President of the United States.  But none of them ever had Mrs. Scott for a science teacher, nor did any of them have to mow her lawn faced with the reminder of an overdue assignment.  Maybe the world would be a better place if one of them had, I don’t know.

Even after I stopped mowing lawns, I’d still run into her on occasion, and she would always smile.  She would also always remind me the debt was still real, and still not forgiven.  What happens to the time?  Decades passed.  I went to college, a tour of duty in service, got married, started a family, spent a short time in graduate school with my head in a cloud, and raised three sons.  Somehow the science project was pushed to the back burner, then off the stove, then into some deep dark corner where it probably froze to death.

Recently I learned that Mrs. Scott had passed away.  I was saddened by that news.  Few people have ever been nicer to me than she was.  Now I have a debt I can never repay.  By all standards of most religions, Mrs. Scott would be in Heaven now, and I’ll not be allowed in due to my real grade point average being so low.  A minister tried to tell me forgiveness for almost any wrong I could imagine was a gift available to me from the very Deity himself.  I told the minister I was not concerned about the Deity so much as I don’t think I could face Mrs. Scott.  The minister said if Mrs. Scott was there, she would certainly forgive me.  I told the minister he didn’t know Mrs. Scott.

Even if she did forgive me, there would have to be some penalty.  That would be only fair.  I remember one teacher who would accept work turned in after the deadline, but took off ten points for each calendar day it was late.  If Mrs. Scott took off only one point, and that for only each week it was late, by now I’d still have to give up every credential I’ve ever had, including my Social Security number and my birth certificate.

I asked the minister to describe Heaven a little bit.  I’d heard the term “Green Pastures”,  and asked him to tell me if grass really grew there.  His eyes lit up.  With some enthusiasm, he told of lusciously green and perfect lawns that would go on and on and on all through beautiful meadows and valleys for as far as the eye could see.  That was it.  I told him under the circumstances that I would surely be expected to spend eternity mowing it, so I might as well go to Hell.  It is often discouraging to see a man of the cloth give up so quickly and cry like that.

Trying to find humor in some situations is easier than others, and the converse is also true.  What makes us want to verbalize it can be a distraction sometimes, not just to ourselves, but to others.  When some curiosity to me seems to need sharing, I might hold it up to the light at more than one angle attempting to show it to others that may have found no fascination in it in the first place.  Not that I mind all that much, but some of you might not care to have such a thing pointed out about your behavior.  It might make you nervous, and therefore not at your best.

It’s perhaps difficult to fathom why a man who’s brain is restricted to an environment that can be surrounded loosely with just a size small hat would want to spend so much time in a world of his thinking.  But consider for a moment some things you might care to do that not everyone around you will wish to join in.  Quite often what challenges and excites us might seem to be a lot more fun than it would to those who would just take it for granted. When Forrest Gump decided to not be held back by his leg braces anymore, he discovered he could run.

During some interesting conversations with people well studied in behavior and psychology, some of the things described here might be attributed to Attention Deficit Disorder.  But that, as it is generally defined, is a rather subjective description and highly so.  It is not, at least at the point of this writing, a specific disease that can be clinically isolated and diagnosed with any scientific accuracy.

And other labels also lack the certainty of any final authority.  While some observations may lead to conclusions with some validity within the framework of how they are to be used, some of what is described symptomatically to be associated with ADD are also traits seen in other profiles that observe behavior.  The Myers Briggs Temperament Indicator that closely mirrors some of it is ENTP (extravert, intuitive, thinking, perceiving).  Using social style profiles, the Analytical Expressive matches well.  I’ve had these labels used to describe me on more than one occasion.

It was pointed out also, that I probably grew up as a right brain dominant in a left brain dominant world.  But how much value should we place on these handles and labels?  They are, after all, just tools to use for understanding, unless we reduce them to just a function used in judging.

And maybe we overemphasize how we use them in reference to ourselves.  When we do, they can become more of an excuse than a reason for things done in ways that differ from the expectations of others.  I am Reminded of Abraham Maslow’s caution that if the only tool we have is a hammer, we will tend to view all our problems as nails.

Maybe that’s it.  If I pick up three or four different kinds of hammers, the point would still be to identify only things that resemble nails, wouldn’t it?  Maybe Mrs. Scott did forgive me, after all.  Come to think of it, that happened the last day of the sixth grade when she smiled at me.  Maybe for a little while, she actually thought I might finish the project, but she was already on to other lessons.

Perhaps one lesson was to learn when and how to let go of things when they are no longer important, and to never allow something you know is not important to cause a hurt to somebody else, especially a child.  It’s a part of learning how to forgive others.  She obviously did, if we think about it, let me off the hook.

Perhaps another lesson was to cause me to be aware of and conscious of promises made and debts owed.  And, to think about consequences.  If that was the case, Mrs Scott was relentless, but very patient.  Integrity in that manner was important to my father and both of my grandfathers, not by just things said to me, but by the way they treated others.  So in a way, Mrs. Scott was reinforcing those principles, but in no punitive way.  She was still teaching.

The hard part sometimes, is learning how to forgive ourselves, especially when “forgiveness” isn’t really necessary.  I think some of my teachers saw me as a creative child.  I’ve since learned, that with the proper medication, we might’ve put a stop to that.

So you can say, “Van you never earned your graduation from grammar school; it was a gift.”  But isn’t education by the efforts of someone else always a gift?  Isn’t that what good teachers do, even if you’ve paid them?  I’m not saying the gift has to be allowing people to not do their work.  And I’m certainly not suggesting that higher degrees be conferred out of mere kindness to those who do not complete their thesis.  No, that isn’t the point I wish to make at all.

Looking back on it all now, I’m sure Mrs. Scott was well aware that I had grasped what she was trying to teach in the class that year, and additionally well beyond the lesson that would be learned by doing that final project.  She was on to teaching something else.  She was on to still helping me grow, even though I was outside the authority of her classroom.  She was loving me in a way that so many good teachers love their students every day, and in places all over the world.  But she just kept on doing it after the formalities of regimentation had ended.  It kind of reminds me of something I read in a book”

“Loving is an action.  It is the act of participating in the growth and development of someone other than yourself, spiritual or otherwise.” ~ M. Scott Peck, MD

That I was allowed to finish high school and college, and attend a little bit of graduate school was because of many wonderful gifts from a number of teachers.  I’ll not try to name them all here, as some are still living, and I’d not wish to embarrass them in that way.  Besides, the fact that I ever got any kind of a degree at all probably still weighs heavily upon their consciences enough as it is.

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What?

Perpetrator Repellent

Some people keep containers of mace or pepper spray handy to use as a non-lethal option for self defense.  But, there are other options.  Various household cleaners such as a highly caustic oven cleaner works, too.  Some find certain brands of wasp and hornet spray to give an advantage over pepper spray, because it can have an effective range of up to twenty feet away.

If you read the labels, you’ll realize some of these aerosols contain poisons, some more poisonous than others.  If it says “poison”, you might not wish to presume it to be non-lethal.  Leave misconceptions such as that up to the Food and Drug Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency, as they have both legal, and historic precedents.

If you don’t believe me, turn your television to almost any channel and wait for a pharmaceutical advertisement.  After they rave about the wonderful benefits of some product, along with the list of things you need to discuss with your physician before taking any of it, listen carefully to the long inventory of optional ways the drug has to kill you:

“Have trouble sleeping? Take this! But it might cause migraines, constipation, heart attack, diarrhea, kidney failure, blindness, crippling arthritis, 37 kinds of cancer, hemorrhoids, loss of memory, blindness, deafness, tooth decay, pimples, warts, the inability to focus, insanity, severe depression and thoughts of suicide, spasms, uncontrollable urges, spontaneous laughing fits, hiccoughs, gastrointestinal disturbances mimicking thunderstorms, ingrown toenails, sociopathic behavior, misplacing the car keys, stopped up sinks and toilets, tendency to put your underwear on backwards, voting for idiots, thinking the phone ringing is the doorbell, hearing elephants on the stairway, PMS 365 days a year even if you’re a man, premature baldness, various and sundry untimely and embarrassing malfunctions, bellybutton lint, crabgrass, poison ivy, power steering failures, and death.”

Some folks keep a baseball bat handy as a perpetrator repellent.  And while I understand some of the merits of the application, don’t get fooled into thinking a bat in the hands of a terrified human being is completely non-lethal.  My wife could beat a tree stump to sawdust if she thinks there’s a spider or snake on it.  And it wouldn’t do the snake or spider any good, either.  Personally, if I thought someone was trying to kill me, a deterrent that must be non-lethal will not necessarily be my highest priority.

As can happen with all kinds of pacifiers and security blankets, some folks might adopt a false sense of security once they’ve obtained a spray can of anything.  And that could cause them to feel they have no further need of their baseball bat unless they intend to play baseball.  Either way, I think that might be overconfident, thus not recommended.  You can get hurt playing baseball if you’re not in good shape.

Should the perpetrator be within twenty feet of you, a good dose of a hornet killer right in the face will probably slow them down, but it will not make them like you, or want to be your friend.  So, if they get back up, you may have to take additional measures.  Also, if small children are present, use parental discretion as to whether they should remain, considering the kind of foul language most likely to occur.

If your first option is to squirt them in the eye with something they won’t care for, know your range limitations.  Lets say they’re oh, twenty-five or thirty feet or more away, and pointing a gun at you.  You should address them by name if you know what it is, in order to get their attention.  If you don’t know, generic terms like ‘Hey Dude’ usually work.  Then in a calm voice, say to them:

“C’mon over here.  I got something in the cabinet under the kitchen sink I wanna show to you up close.”

Option #2:
Throw the can of spray at them.  With practice, you might be able to break that 20 foot range barrier, and perhaps their nose.  Accuracy matters, or you’ll just look like the bad guy throwing his empty pistol at Superman.

Option #3:
Do NOT get rid of the baseball bat.  It’s an excellent follow through device to use with either option#1 or option #2 while they run around screaming and running into walls and furniture.  Besides, I know I can sling a bat more’n 20 feet, because one time I almost took out the first base umpire, and three innocent bystanders!

Option #4:
Replace the wasp and hornet spray with a 12-gauge shotgun. Even with upland game field loads, your range advantage will be improved tremendously over bug spray.  And, if it’s a slow day for bad guys and they don’t show up for some reason, you might get lucky and knock down a few squirrels to have for supper if it’s during squirrel season.  Also, the shotgun is loud, thus capable of alerting the neighbors that mischief is afoot.

There are other options for how you, the perpetratee, can deal with the perpetrator.  In fact the list is virtually limitless to the creative mind.  And if I had one of those, I would provide you with a much longer catalogue.  But if you live in a phobic state of constant terror and maintain a regular feeling of vulnerability, you might also consider some of the following variations:

A.  Install a surround sound system that constantly plays a loop of predatory animal noises;

B.  Better still, arrange to have a variety of real predators such as Komodo dragons, Bengal tigers, Kodiak bears, and Hedge-fund managers strategically lurking about, 

C.  Practice vocal reproductions of things said by “The Three Stooges”,

D.  Costume yourself in a way that will surprise them and make them feel uncomfortable about coming into the room where you are.  The Mummy, Wolfman, and Dracula personages do nicely.  But even just wearing a red rubber clown nose is something they might find unexpected, and could serve as an effective distraction.  Though it may vary, some distractions are only temporary at best, so it would be advisable to have a “plan B” handy, such as a baseball bat, or a bazooka.

E.  Keep well maintained live hornets’ nests and beehives next to all windows and doors, and keep a stick handy to poke ’em with (baseball bat will do nicely).

F.  Post a sign that says ‘Please Use Other Door’ on all doors,

G.  Become invisible, and yell: “BOO!” ,

H.  Have strategically placed remote control operated trap doors all over the house, 

I.  Practice saying the following phrases with a straight face:

    1.  “We’re not absolutely sure it’s rabies, but whatever you do, don’t make ’em nervous”;

2.  “Be very still.  All the rattlesnakes have gotten out of their cages again.”

 3.  “Didn’t they tell you?  The robbery was yesterday.  They’ve already taken everything.”

Some don’t believe in guns; some do.  But if you do believe in guns, remember that it will take a bit more than just believing in them.  They are useless if not within quick and easy reach should you decide circumstances convince you to want to use one.  You can also carry a pocketknife, but a good friend of mine said, and I think there is some wisdom in it:

“Never be caught just carrying a knife to a gunfight.”

Remember such tense situations can cause us to forget our manners.  Be polite.  After “repelling” them by whatever measure you choose, apologize, even if you’ve killed them.  It’s good to not build up a lot of regrets to carry around, as it could bring you down.  If you feel you must be brought down, drink.

I Finally Got To Meet Sam!

“The most interesting information comes from children, for they tell all they know and then stop.” – Mark Twain

Two of the grandchilluns have been spending  a few days here.  This is a happy house with chilluns in it.  Tonight after baths and stories read, and a few silly laughs, it was time for bed.  Having been instructed properly by their parents who are their legal guardians, the chilluns were invited to say their prayers.  Upon conclusion, their grandmother offered to add that they also ask God to bless mommy and daddy.  Thomas told us he had already done that, and God would remember.

The uncluttered brilliance that comes out of little children can be quite refreshing.  Sometimes, all that need be said is what they say, because it isn’t tainted.  Those of you over the age of five may not know what I’m talking about, but hooray for those that do.

Recently, My wife and I stopped to get a bite to eat at a “fast food” place, as did other travelers. A three year old boy named Sam with a family we’d never met, was asked where he wanted to sit. He came over to our table and with a smile, said:

“I’ll sit here.”

And, he did.  His family sat at the table next to us.  When his mother asked him what he wanted to eat, he said:

“Oh, I’ll just eat some of their stuff.”

Of course he could’ve had it all if he’d wanted it, but as it turned out, we just shared a few curly fries.  In a moment, his grandfather brought him some food of his own so he would have something to play with while the rest of us ate.

The boy was pleasant enough, and was quite into conversation for a three year old.  Most of his sentences were short, and he only asked a few questions.  He noticed we didn’t have children with us, and asked where they were.  It never occurred to him that we didn’t have any, and he was correct.  But our boys aren’t little anymore, and they’ve all been three years old at least ten times by now.  I can still remember when each of them were coming around to three for the first time, and that they were small in size like Sam, but also like him, big in personality.

If we asked Sam anything, his answers were short, and often just one word, like “yes” or “no”.  He told us he lived in Kentucky, and with coaching from his mother, he pin-pointed Lexington as his town.  He showed no surprise that we knew exactly where that was, because I’m sure at his age, it is the center of his entire universe.  He wasted no words unnecessarily  but was generous with smiles.  It is no surprise that we felt comfortable in his company.

Sam was polite, and refreshingly so for such a young man.  Come to think of it, for a man of any age, I reckon.  Politeness does break out now and then, but I’ve noticed no epidemic of it.

When we got ready to leave, I told his mother that it was a pleasure meeting Sam, and that he seemed like a fine boy.  Further I added that I liked the name, as my favorite author was also named “Sam”.  The mother looked up, and said:

 “Me, too!”

Then, pointing at her son, she said:

  “We named him after my favorite author, Sam Clemens.  I’m a huge fan of Mark Twain, and I just love his stories!”  

 Looking down at young Sam, there was no doubt that he really had no idea what all was behind the legacy in his name, and I knew it would take a long time for him to get the full impact of it.   For a brief moment, I wondered if he would grow up to be happy about it, or just be bothered, and think it silly.  So much can happen in the life of a child.  I just hope he grows up to appreciate it.

I told Sam’s mother that I could understand why a person favors Mr. Clemens, and that I personally shared her enthusiasm.  Her face lit up with a huge smile, and I felt it appropriate to join in on that kind of behavior.  Folks often find meaner things to do than smile at each other.  Besides, her face was pretty enough to look at, so I didn’t mind.

We both agreed that our interest in those wonderful books began in childhood.  Silently, I wondered if today a lot of children were being deprived of that wealth, as reading literature may seem to be luxury only found in schools that can afford it in the curriculum.

Sam’s mother and grandparents seemed to appreciate that I thought naming a child after Samuel Langhorne Clemens was a wonderful idea.  I told them that I’d probably spent more time with Twain’s writing than any other published author, and had been privileged to perform on occasion as a tribute to that man of letters.  She thought that bit of information was quite a coincidence, but I assured her lots of other folks liked Mark Twain, too.  Running into people that do is not all that unusual.

But for me, it was more than a coincidence.  I figure it was about the best thing that had happened to me that day.  The truth is, he was drawn to my wife, Brenda, and that I was an acceptable piece of baggage, that’s all.  Brenda is drawn to little children and they to her.  Maybe they see an aura – I certainly do.

Even if he was attracted to my wife, which I took as a complement, he didn’t seem at all annoyed by me being there, which I appreciated.  Somehow, I felt grateful that after all this time,  I finally got to meet Sam.  And not just meet him, but have him walk right up out of the blue, and say he wanted to join us at our table.

A Generic Deity-Free Prayer?

“If we don’t succeed, we run the risk of failure.” – Dan Quayle

(I dare you to read this entire thing without falling asleep.  I double dare you to read it aloud in a public place.  If pressed for time, best to leave it alone, as it might get you arrested in some places.)

Sometimes I think folks ain’t got a lick of sense.  You’d think modern people should’ve moved a bit beyond the superstitions of the Dark Ages, or at least a step or two past the invention of the stone ax.  There is a rare group of human beings that are good people of faith.  Their faith leads them to want to be helpful to others, to be kind,  understanding, and set worthy examples of behavior for the rest of us.  I’d like to think you are one of those.

Imagine the way it must have been sitting around some ancient campfire long before even the most rudimentary scientific methods were contrived.  One man looks into the sky and sees something he has not noticed before.  So he points and asks, just as you or I might do:

“What is that?”

A clever one in the group, feeling the call, answered saying:

“That is the god of flea infestations.  I know a magic chant that will make him leave you alone.   It only costs a dollar.”

Well, with the exception of your religion which I’m sure is the correct one, that’s pretty much how the rest of them got started.  More and more, people were easily tricked this way, and after a while, most of the visible stars and planets had been franchised.  Then the simple fee of a dollar was translated into a percentage of gross, so most of the franchise owners began to do quite well.

Over the last six thousand or so years of written history, man has catalogued and believed in perhaps a little less than four thousand supernatural beings, most of which were considered to be gods at one time or another.  From time to time, heated and often violent arguments would break out between franchisees.  Venus and Aphrodite were both the same planet, and the Greeks and Romans fought about it for centuries.  Both claimed she was the goddess of love, and they brutally killed each other to prove it.

We know various sects, religions, and denominations have been disagreeing with each other about their ideas of God throughout recorded history.  And, it is likely to have gone on way before that since different cultures developed a variety of methods for dealing with their own dead for thousands of years before anybody found it necessary to write anything down.

Archeologists have found evidence of pre-historic burials including flowers and personal items.  Besides a sense of loss and a show of respect, it strongly indicated belief systems of some kind were in place even though there were no words written at the time to verify it.  It’s hard to get around the idea of a strong indication that there must have been a belief in the continuance of the personality or spirit that might be eased into an afterlife.  Later on, the earliest forms of writing would give evidence it had likely been commonly believed for a long time.

With the advent of writing, which lead to taxation and the need of prison systems, we now have evidence that man has not always been as sophisticated as he is today with his concepts of the supernatural.  According to textbooks, and statues made in honor of deities throughout antiquity, it may shock you to know that many of them ran around completely nude all the time.  Some never had as much as a stitch on at any time, or thought about it.  The expression: “keep your shirt on” is a mortal one, and at no time has anyone hearing it thought it was being directed at the Deity.  No sane person would intentionally wish to aggravate a higher power that they believed could cause them to burst into flame or be turned into a toad, now would they?  Of course not!

Even when people were expected to wear at least a wide belt or a hat, these gods could run around naked as jaybirds without any condemnation whatsoever.  But for some reason, several of these blatantly unadorned guardians of irreproachable righteousness would go completely psychotic at the very sight of various and sundry mortal human body parts, including faces, hands, and ankles, not to mention belly buttons and other stuff, and particularly if they are parts belonging to females not still nursing their mothers.

As odd as this may seem, throughout ancient times and even today, this prejudicial practice has been particularly good news in the garment trade in some regions perhaps more than others.  Furthermore, even if the god might be naked, to come into a worship service often required mere humans to put on even more clothes than they might otherwise.  Go figure that!   Now there is the widely held assumption that dispensations for relaxing the rules are allowed at the beach or swimming pool, as long as there are no glass containers, horseplay, or running.

Everything imaginable including rot and decay has had some kind of supremacy monitoring activities as if by department and precinct.  Some were thought to be powerful beyond limit as long as you’d stand where they could see you.  Yet some of the others were noted to have less substantial dominions.  A spirit of mirth might be able to conjure a laugh, but had no rightful place to help with harvesting grain.

A few had control over the kinds of fruits that make wine, but were useless in a barroom fight resulting from excessive use of the wine, much less a war.  Still others had title to specific activities such as hunting or fishing, but couldn’t help you if you cut your hand on a sharp rock or stumped your toe.  Some were particularly burdened with fertility and rationed it with agonizing intensity until the inventions of automobiles and drive-in movies.

Other divinities got to play with lightning, fire, wind and rain, and hold court over the changing of seasons.  Some were beyond reproach, while others were capable of outright stupidity resulting in being chained and placed in time out.  All of them were thought capable of messing with mankind, and were often given credit for it in ways you would not believe if I had two months to explain it to you.

As time went on, and with the cost of building temples escalating like everything else, it seemed preferable to latch on to the ones that kept an open playbook.  More and more, societies wanted their deities to be able to run decathlon type events, and control the outcome of elections as well as other duties.  So the herd was thinned by ceremonial consolidations, but usually not without bloodshed among outspoken mortals resistant to change.

Mankind has always enjoyed killing each other as long as some supreme being was responsible for authorizing it.  Whenever things got dull, a holy man would always be available to receive some new rule authorizing homicide, especially if one of the chiefs or high priests didn’t like the intended recipient of this new honor.

For some reason, many cultures around the globe had gods that had it in for two kinds of women: those who were particularly credited with innocence, and those who might not be.  The political ramifications of such beliefs have throughout most of human history maintained women as mere property similar to cattle.  Chieftains, kings and high priests could own as many as they wanted, and could kill them or have them put to death for so much as a hangnail or any reason that might cause a chief to feel inconvenienced.

In time, most of the earlier fearful spirits that instructed virgins to be cast into active volcanoes have had their licenses revoked.  Today, most of those kinds of gods have been sentenced to a lifetime in the chronicles of mythology, and to linger there without bail.  The severity of this is intensified by the mere fact that immortality is problematic to a life sentence, especially when there is no hope of parole.

Some are of the opinion that since a few of these ancient deities were a bit weird, it’s likely that superstitious people may have made them up to explain phenomena like thunder, snow melting, flying squirrels, identical twins, albinos, hiccoughs, and various other diseases.  Over time, stories of them merged with the stories of others, and those who couldn’t get a good seat in proper mythology were relegated to the department of redundancy department.

Now, none of this is intended to throw disparity on the one true religion, that being the one that you believe in.  The aforehand is to simply point out that not all human beings are as smart as you, and their beliefs might come up short when compared to yours, that is all.  But this does not take away from the fact that many folks to this very day still believe all kinds of things.  Statistics suggest there is no consensus or majority.  No matter what a person believes, most of the rest of the human population thinks they are wrong.  While I often question statistics, I see evidence that this observation may be true.

In many places, such diversity would be illegal, but not in The United States.  The freedom to believe whatever you want to is protected by a contract called The Constitution as long as you don’t believe you’re entitled to speed in school and hospital zones, or park in front of a fire hydrant.

This freedom was not extended to the native Americans.  Since it was assumed all of their gods were underdeveloped, the natives had to be converted to a more civilized religion which required killing about ninety-five percent of them to ensure their salvation.  I’m sure some soldiers felt frustrated when ordered to murder small children and pregnant women, but since it was done to promote charity and forgiveness, and had been prayed about ceremoniously before going into battle, it was okay.  After all, they had to uphold their duty, and uphold the values of the God of mercy.  Besides, real-estate was involved.

Today in this country, membership in a religion is not required by law which seems to upset some who would want freedom of religion annulled, and all citizens made to come under their rule.  I know you find that hard to believe, but it’s true.  In the meantime, religion and government are expected to keep separate checking accounts, though neither seems to be any good about balancing them.  Governments and religious groups all seem to be constantly clamoring to solve revenue shortage issues, and no matter how much they pray about it, any hope of a solution always seems to evade them, as if it were some immutable law.

There is often a noticeable difference between what folks say they believe, and how they act.  Though it might be noticeable to me and you, most folks don’t seem to notice it at all.  It may come as a surprise to you, but all over the world and even in our own country, people have committed all kinds of atrocities against each other in the name of brotherly love, charity, honor, fairness, peace, forgiveness, unselfishness, respect, kindness, and dignity.  They’ve killed each other’s children over differences of how their mothers taught them to pray, and do not seem to be ashamed of it.  As a reward for such behavior, they expect to go to Heaven, but of course I will not ask you to pass judgement or render an opinion on that at this time.

This squabbling does go on, even today.  In some places, in the attempt to be civil and keep knives sheathed and guns holstered, compromises have taken place so that public ceremony will be open to all, and not offend anyone.  This is always expected to result from standing still while a member of the group steps forward to say something.  Whether what is said be intelligent or not doesn’t matter.  The presumption that a speech of some kind will anesthetize everyone’s brain has some precedent for those of you who might remember taking advanced algebra.

The squabblers have attempted to come up with a speech that will be acceptable to everyone regardless of what they believe.  Further, they believe this speech will also be acceptable to all deities without exception.  That it has never happened at any time in human history doesn’t seem to make the project seem the least bit problematic, and so they march on as if they do this sort of thing every day.

They will call this speech a prayer but it will not be a prayer; it will be a speech.  If it were a silent prayer, it might be sincere, but since it is to be given in public, it will be more like hair tonic: it won’t grow anything, but it tends to allow folks to feel better about themselves momentarily.  And towards this worthy end, the speech writers begin their noble task.

There are three kinds of speeches: a speech to persuade; a speech to inform, and a speech to entertain.

Deities who are without error in their willfulness cannot be persuaded to change their thinking about anything, nor would they need persuading.  To be able to change one’s mind under those circumstances implies it possible to improve upon perfection.  That would be like dropping a frog into a barrel of fine whiskey expecting to make the whiskey taste better, though it would surely improve the taste of the frog.

Those who are believed to be omnipotent and all knowing would have no need of being informed.  To think you could come up with a single thing they have not already thought of would be foolish and conceited.  If anything new needs adding, the all knowing should be able to come up with it without our help, I’m fairly sure of that.

That leaves the speech to entertain.  I challenge you to tell a joke to your neighbor who has heard it before, and expect him to laugh.  If he does, it is a kind deception intended not to humiliate you.  That you will have entertained your neighbor is not likely to be true.  So with that, you cannot pull a fast one over on the all knowing.  One believed to be all knowing should by definition be able to predict everything you are going to say even before you say it.  Have you ever heard a high priest or rabbi face the alter and say:

“Pick a card.”

No, I dare say you have not.  There would be no point in it.

Having used up all of the real categories for legitimate speeches, it only leaves the false speech–the speech to impress.  There is no such thing, because it doesn’t work.  Well, I say that, but it does work during election years, but only for those who’ve already made up their minds to be impressed in spite of anything that might make sense to you or me.

Since rhetoric usually fails to impress mere mortals of any high intelligence, I suspect it would be practically impossible to expect the trick to work on any of the world’s current deities, and certainly not on the one true God that you happen to believe in.  Besides, for anyone who says they believe in God to actually think they could produce a single piece of work that would be the least bit impressive to their concept of the cause of all creation, would be a kind of admission of being a mental pauper–in fact, bankrupt without so much as enough rational thought left over to step inside during a thunderstorm.

So that leaves us to come up with a new variety.  A speech not to persuade, inform, entertain, or impress, but one to simply…satisfy.  That you can satisfy everybody for very long is a bit of a stretch.  It would be a monumental task, and rare.  But evidently it should be easy enough, since humble public servants will look about expecting to find such a thing laying around with no price tag on it.  It would be similar to expecting to find a new no smoking policy that smokers will be happy about.

That coming up with a speech that is compliant without complying to anything in particular except that it be a speech of no substance whatsoever be a worthy project, is close to the kind of idiocy the general public has come to expect from those they elect to hold the sacred trust of public office.  It is consistant that coming up with such a speech that will have a benefit to it of any lasting value, will rank with the kind of brilliant thinking that gave us the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and the use of Thalidomide to ease morning sickness.

Why is a public speech necessary at all?  If folks demand it have a part on the program, and their motives be sincere, why not allow a moment for “personal business” during which time each individual has the freedom and privacy of thought to sincerely pray whatever they wish to pray, to whomever they wish to pray it?  For that matter, some might wish to do some Yoga, Taekwondo, or just stretching exercises, and some might want to practice their multiplication tables or foot positions for their upcoming ballet recital.

Why not just declare a brief time of no eye contact for anyone who doesn’t want to look at anybody else?  You could pass out large paper bags the people could use to put over their heads to hide their faces.  Ask everyone to put cell phones and other audible distractions on mute, and no texting.  You could also ask folks to keep bodily contact at a minimum unless a few friendly folks standing close to each other would wish to hold hands.  That wouldn’t be so awful, would it?

You can’t call it a moment of silence for some orders require a little humming, chanting, clanging and rattling objects, and outright yelling intended to either wake their deity up from a nap, or otherwise at least get some attention.  Now I’m not all that big on making up rules, but it would seem sensible for anyone who’s deity is that hard of hearing be asked to take care of business outside before coming into the meeting.

Such racket as may be required to keep congregations awake will not be necessary at municipal meetings like you might expect during regular religious ceremonies.  Folks attending civic events are likely to be hopped up on adrenalin and wide-awake mad as a wet hen about something, or they wouldn’t be there in the first place.  The exception here would be elected officials.  They can sleep all they want since whatever might concern the individual citizen will be of no interest or importance to them.

So what might be the proper and civilized behavior of taking a moment of silence or pause for personal thought and reflection just won’t do for everybody.  I don’t doubt that you and I could do it, but the vast majority of folks will have issues with it.

If you really want a sincere honesty in keeping with how a lot of people really feel deep inside, it would be better for you to call for a moment of noise.  Folks would whip out kazoos, harmonicas, tambourines, small drums, party horns, and ipods.  Those without forethought to bring an instrument might hit the panic button on their keyring; snap their fingers, bark and meow like dogs and cats, imitate bird calls, blow their noses, stomp their feet, or yodel.  Such a thing as that might be followed by a moment of laughter, which wouldn’t hurt most people to try once in a while.

Why have I said all this?  Are people really having problems about how to deal with their belief systems in mixed company?  Well, yes they are.

As a matter of fact, they are having this very problem right now in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina which as you know is an absolute haven for righteous people.  I am not making this up.  It has been brought to my attention that Myrtle Beach has approved a deity-free prayer to be offered at all their public meetings.

If you wish, you may read the newspaper article for yourself:

goo.gl/37bPSx

The prayer  is supposed to include people of all faiths.  They’ve previously used local clergy, but as a government, they cannot ceremoniously give preference, or call on any one specific deity, while ignoring the other deities that may be represented among the belief systems of the citizenry.  Some did not like the idea of adopting a standard invocation, especially some of the preachers who resent anybody telling them how to pray, including Jesus.  But folks also agreed they did not want unnecessary litigation with various sects and denominations suing each other.  That could run into money.

After reading the prayer, I found it falls short of perfection if it is to cover the entire spectrum of beliefs and faiths.  It may be fine for me and you since we are willing to go along with some concessions out of the spirit of cooperation, but some others are certain to take issue.

After checking with several other highly refined theologians, scholars, and taxi drivers (who have in fact heard everything), I think it might be especially unacceptable to the Universal Paranormal Universalists, The Cosmic People of the Light Poles, The Himalayan Missionary Chorus of Zen, The Unreformed Reformationists of the Babylonian Captivity, The Revived Newburg Pastafarians, The Blessed Women of Contrived Destiny, The Free-For-All Apocalyptic Deacons of Charitable Wrath, The Primitive Church of the Subterranean Genius, The Divine Apostles of the Shirley Temple, The Iambic Pentametered Sanctimonialists, The Rejuvenated Nectarine Revivalists, The Janitorial Holiness Saints of the Rectified Sanitary Communion, and of course The Evangelical Black Robe Dudeists.  So I decided to write one myself, and submit it now for your consideration.

Under considerable pressure and emotional strain, I have struggled day and night to come up with a one size fits all prayer that isn’t protected by trademark.  It had to be generalized, and work with all operating systems.  It must have no recognizable face.  The wheels cannot be designed to fit the tracks of any specifically unique railroad, but the “clickety clack” should resonate well with all who hear it, and assume some simple common track is sufficient for all destinations, which of course is not now, nor has it ever been true.  Additionally, it is to be served without salt, pepper, or gravy of any kind.

In other words, it won’t be a prayer at all.  It will be reduced to a kind of circus event.  So I’ve come up with just that–a prayer that is in no way a prayer.   Since it is not really a prayer, there is really no point in saying it except to know that the intended audience is not the Deity at all.  No, it is for the benefit of people gathered in need of hearing what they believe will be “the best we could do under the circumstances”.  So here we go:

“Lettuce Spray,

Our Heavenly to whom it may concern, we rattle our keys in our pockets, yea those who have keys, for which we are truly grateful, or reasonably so in case you had anything to do with it.  

Given our inability to know all things, it is our wish that if you do know all things, or even have a good overview of most things, please tell us why many of us were expected to wear a tie to this gathering.  Forgive those who did not wear a tie, unless you need to forgive those of us who did–either way, we’ll make no fuss about it.

Oh apparently high, and reasonably presumed to be powerful one, otherwise, why would we come to you begging and pandering, since I’m not allowed to be specific enough to know if I’m even facing in the right direction, much less anything else that you might otherwise expect from ceremony which this is not, under penalty of law. 

Thou great consensus, and moderated provider of this and that which we dare not point out specifically as others might disagree, we humbly admit that some of us are probably thinking thoughts about going to the beach later, and even about sex.  We ask that no note be taken of those who are now at this time looking around at their neighbors. 

But we realize there is a chance that, depending on your mood,  this information about our distractions will extremely upset you as history has made so plainly clear, so forgive us, fully assuming you have such authority in this jurisdiction.  You may disregard this request if your regular worshippers expect you to be playing a flute.

Even so,  if you cannot find it in your heart–some say loving –some say angry–some say jealous, personally I do not wish to pin you down as to whether it matters one way or the other how we might feel about it, spare us of plagues if you want to.  But if you don’t want to, we’ll understand, or at least act like we do.  

In as much as we raise or redirect our voices in the direction of your habitat, etherial or otherwise, forgive us our non-committal gaze into space as if we knoweth not from whence thou cometh.  Although I do have my own suspicions,  as do all of us gathered here, protocol restricts our verbal declarations for fear of conflicting geometry.  But I’m sure you know what we mean individually though we can’t say it out loud.  

Please allow us to seem as one mind in one group even though you know it isn’t quite the way things are.  After all, fair is fair, and you know all of us are required to do the very same thing during the choral readings and vespers we feel obligated to join in our own camp.   

We grovel and beg that thou help us to appear to overlook the things we would normally hate about our neighbors, for which we’ve all paid good money to be taught.  At least allow it to appear so during this time of invocation, we beseech thee. 

We humbly ask, inasmuch as many of us present today have no idea what humble means outside of our own individual smug opinions of it, that you make all fines, penalties and other purgatorial conditions fair and equal as some in our midst are on short rations and otherwise limited incomes.  

This is not to say we wish that those among us of means are to take the blunt of thunder, either.  We just ask you consider our deductibles in as fair a way as you’d see fit. 

On now, yet so it is not for brevity’s sake, but that several of our seniors might need to go to the bathroom, we ask that you give note to our contrition as we wrap this up.  

Dear, if that isn’t being too personal and forgive us if it is, Oh Ye who art the deep and most high awareness or maybe not, it is our sincere and fervent cry to know if thou doest speak English?  

If so, and to allow for the continuing and endless stream of more private supplications, please press one; if Spanish, press two, (additionally insert all languages represented by the group present, and with corresponding digits as may be required).  Amen.”

In a 1941 animated film produced by Walt Disney, Dumbo the Elephant could fly.  But he would never try until he believed.  For a long time, he believed in the magic feather which was just a trick played on his mind by a group of crows and a hapless mouse.  The feather never did have a bit of magic in it.  The magic was in the believing.

Eventually, Dumbo lost his grip on the feather, which was very frightening at first.  Up ’til now, he’d believed solely in the feather, even though there was no real power in it.  Now he had to believe in something else; something real that was a part of himself.  He did, and that’s what saved him.

By the way, for those of you who will remember, what Dumbo believed became obvious by the course of actions he took, and not by anything he said.  As a matter of fact, at no time in the story did he ever say a single word…out loud.