Sunday, September 24, 2006

A Free System

A Free System

It’s important to have a system. It’s even better to have a secret system. John Beck, a man on some television infomercial I saw this morning, has a secret system. I’m not quite sure what it is, because it’s secret. But apparently, I can send John some money in installation payments, and he will share his secret system with me. The only thing I know about Beck’s system is that anyone can do it and it involves buying really dumpy looking houses. I’m really not interested in dumpy looking houses, and I really would feel a bit creepy using someone else’s secret system.

I do have my own system, however. I normally keep it a secret from even myself. I’m willing to share my six-pointed system with you, absolutely free right here. I’ve been using my system for over 45 years, and it is somewhat proven and possibly effective. I can honestly say that without my system, I wouldn’t be where I am today. This system is dynamic and fluid, grounded and experienced. While my system isn’t right for everyone, it may be right for some people who aren’t me.

The first important element in the system is to be raised in a family. According to my system, having brothers and sisters as well as two parents living in the home is vital to future success. These family members offer many opportunities for personal growth. For example, the fact that I grew up sharing a bedroom with my two brothers taught me how to carve out a space and defend myself by kicking and screaming. To this day, I can really kick like a son-of-a gun, while I’ve transferred my screaming into my professional teaching career.

A second important part of my system is solitude, finding time to be alone and without distraction. From the time I became a thinking person, I’ve managed to find ways to be alone. Walking in the woods or in streams when I was a kid, toiling in the anonymity of the light room for drama productions in high school, writing through the solitude of late night, or tending garden plants that don’t particularly care for my company have all offered me opportunities for solitude. With this peaceful time, I think about things. My mind naturally wanders from aimless point to aimless point. I’ll dip in for a few seconds pondering issues that are troubling me but then just as quickly dart over to consider a bug on a leaf.

Passion is a key element in my amazing system. I’ve learned to be passionate about what I love. I enjoy lettuce, so I grow massive quantities of lettuce every spring and fall. I search for unique varieties in many catalogs. The same is true for growing tomatoes. I love to grow them, raise them from pups, and tend hundreds of baby plants. I enjoy transplanting and labeling each and every plant and then giving almost all of them away. I am passionate about my sports. I love to play basketball and am willing to risk the health of my 46 year old body to play intense pick-up games against people more than half my age.

A deep Faith in God is a most important part of my system. My exploration in this area has taken me through foundation years in the Catholic Church. I learned tradition there, and the Passion of Christ was unveiled to me. I found the rock of my life, my wife, and married her in her Presbyterian church. A few years later, I joined a small town Methodist church and it was there that my firstborn was baptized. A few years later, I became a member of a small town independent Baptist church. Again a few years later in a new town, I attended a Southern Baptist church and then another Southern Baptist church.

Each church experience for me was very rewarding on many levels during which time I encountered many people who demonstrated their Faith and beliefs, but ultimately each church experience since my Catholic youth has been spoiled by the evil side of race and politics. I never could truly get past the fact that the dark side of race and politics entered into the pulpit and the church body. Special worshippers being granted front row pews in my Catholic church (oddly in all of my Protestant churches worshippers fight for back row seats) and a class/race designation that seemed to move certain people to the back of the church and others to other churches with people of their own color are two good examples of how class and race distinctions spoil the Word of God.. That whole race/distinction has been a part of every church I’ve attended. Very simply put in every church I’ve ever attended, African Americans are not welcome.

In each of the Protestant churches I’ve attended, internal politics weighed heavily. I’ll never forget one church where my wife and I, along with another couple, ran a very successful youth ministry. Then a new family joined the church. The patriarch of this new family wormed his way onto the church leadership board after he purchased new hymnals for the church (which he pasted bookplates to trumpet his donation). Before we knew it, the youth program had been changed, and the four of us were retired from the position. At another church, time after time in Sunday school classes, the teachers and students spoke of war, hate, and money instead of love, compassion, and charity. Faith and an abiding belief in God is something that I’ve always held close to me. I take it very seriously. That being said, this is one area where my system leads to more mystery.

Find joy in everything. If you learn to laugh at the wonderfully entertaining aspects of life, you will become a far richer person. Using my system of finding joy, I tend to see something comical in just about everything. I think sometimes, people who are having far less fun than me don’t understand what could possibly be so funny. I tend to annoy people like that.

Become a leader and a part of the solution in whatever you do. If you sit back and wait for the world to serve you, all you’ll get is a heaping plate full of runny eggs. Provide a sense of direction after careful study of all that is important. Say yes more than you say no.

Find a story to tell. Share your experiences and weave them into the stories of your life. Your life is an incredible journey filled with countless chapters that have never been written or told. Find your stories in your story. Then tell your story.

I don’t know John Beck, but I’m confident that if he’d just stop selling his secret methods on buying dumpy houses to people who can’t afford even one house and started following my free six-point life system, he’d be a whole lot less wealthy.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

An Apology

In recent months, many of the famous and known in this world have been forced in to sharing apologies with the public. George Allen and even Pope Benedict are just the latest examples. Yet, as much as these people all apologize for their acts, it seems to me that an apology isn’t really an apology any more.

I’ve always thought that an apology is something you give to another person to illustrate your intense intolerance for the actions you are responsible for creating. Apologies are heart-felt and introspective. Most are packaged with admonitions that such actions will never happen again and that amends will be made.

Today, however, there is a new kind of apology being used. It’s an apology on the surface, but an attack in the whisper. "I'm sorry if you feel somehow threatened or upset by what I said." That's the model of the modern apology.

I’ve spent some time digging around on the Internet and accessed several sites that focus on apologies of people who are in the public eye. (LA Times , ABC News) Specifically, I’ve been looking for incidents of people apologizing yet not really apologizing. Some of the following apologies seem to be heart-felt, yet shallow; while others seem to expand the offense.

In bold, I take the role of advisor/warped conscience.

"Yes, I have behaved badly sometimes and to those people that I have offended, I want to say to them that I'm deeply sorry about that and I apologize."

~ California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger responding to damaging allegations that he had sexually harassed women, threatening his lead in the polls.

Arnold, all you have to do is go out there and say you’re sorry. People love you. They’ll immediately forgive you so you’ll be free to go on with the election with confidence.

"What I want the American people to know, what I want the Congress to know, is that I am profoundly sorry for all I have done wrong in words and deeds…I never should have misled the country, the Congress, my friends and my family. Quite simply, I gave in to my shame."

~Bill Clinton December 11, 1998 concerning his impeachment

Bill, it’s time buddy. I know we tried the bit where you denied inhaling and having sexual relations with that woman. Well, now that you’ve been impeached, perhaps it’s time to just say you’re sorry and have the whole mess go away.

"I think you know in life, pretty much, what the good thing to do is and what a bad thing is. And I did a bad thing. And there you have it."

~Hugh Grant speaking to Jay Leno about his 1995 arrest after he was found in a car with prostitute Divine Brown

We know, it’s nobody’s business but yours; yet, unless you confront this issue head-on, the press will continue crucifying you.

"I wasn't saying whatever they're saying I was saying. I'm sorry I said it really. I never meant it to be a lousy anti-religious thing. I apologise if that will make you happy. I still don't know quite what I've done. I've tried to tell you what I did do but if you want me to apologise, if that will make you happy, then OK, I'm sorry."

~John Lennon for saying "Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. ... I don't know what will go first, rock 'n' roll or Christianity. We're more popular than Jesus now. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me."

Bobbaloop...bobbaloop. This is what’s wrong with the world today, man. If I were to really apologise, it would be just like starting over.

Evander, I am sorry. You are a champion and I respect that. I am only saddened that this fight did not go further so that the boxing fans of the world might see for themselves who would come out on top.”

~Mike Tyson after his boxing match against Evander Holyfield was stopped when Tyson decided he was hungry for human ear.

Here, Mike. Take these pills, then I want you to speak to the snakes.

"I'm sure that I'm supposed to act all sorry or sad or guilty now that I've accepted that I've done something wrong. But you see, I'm just not built that way …. I'm sorry it happened, and I'm sorry for all the people, fans and family that it hurt. Let's move on."

~Pete Rose, after finally admitting that he bet on baseball, in his book Pete Rose: My Prison Without Bars. Jan. 6, 2004

Geez, am I sorry this all happened! I mean I was all set for life and now I’ve got to go around the country signing autographs and talking with dorks with bad breath.

"I'm sorry if she felt she was harmed."

~Sportscaster Marv Albert, in court on sexual assault charges for biting a woman on the back more than a dozen times. Oct. 24, 1997

Marv, unless you apologize, you’re fired…Marv, I just found out that you’re fired.

"If I did the things that they say I did, am I sorry, do I apologize? Yes."

~Bob Packwood, after announcing his resignation from the Senate following years of apologizing for decades of unwanted sexual advances toward various women, or as he once put it, "for the conduct that it was alleged that I did." Sept. 10, 1995

Bob, it’s important in situations like this to give the perception that you are willing to apologize and in fact might be willing to have actually offered an apology if a person would specifically ask you for specific words that are apologetic. So in the meantime, do what you do best and be sure to sound remorseful about it all.

"The comment was not meant to be a regional slur. To the extent that it was misinterpreted to be one, I apologize."

~Lawyer Kenneth Taylor, after referring to people living in the mountains of Kentucky as "illiterate cave dwellers." Oct. 17, 2003

It’s amazing what a person has to do these days…

“Everything that I will attempt to say to you this morning will be from my heart. I will not speak from a prepared script. Knowing the consequences of what I will say and that much of it will be taken around the world, as it should be, I am positive that all that I want to say I will not be able to articulate as I would desire. But I would pray that you will somehow feel the anguish, the pain, and the love of my heart… I do not plan in any way to whitewash my sin. I do not call it a mistake, a mendacity; I call it sin. I would much rather, if possible -- and in my estimation it would not be possible -- to make it worse than less than it actually is. I have no one but myself to blame. I do not lay the fault or the blame of the charge at anyone else's feet. For no one is to blame but Jimmy Swaggart. I take the responsibility. I take the blame. I take the fault.”

~Jimmy Swaggart from his 1988 apology sermon

American Rhetoric

Jimmy, I think you need to pull out the giving it all to God sermon. Be sure to frame it all in tears…shoot you know what to do.

(Editor’s note: in my opinion, what Jimmy acted out that day in 1988 is what a heartfelt apology should feel like. Jimmy, however, was/is a master deceiver and actor.)

"If it's an insult, I certainly didn't think it was, but if they are offended, then I certainly offer an apology."

Jimmy Swaggart, after threatening to kill any homosexual who looked at him with lust. Sept. 22, 2004

It’s all under control…I know how to handle this.

"If my comments brought pain to anyone, I certainly did not intend for this to happen and apologize for any such reaction."

~ Michael Savage, MSNBC talk show host, after telling a caller, "Oh, you're one of the Sodomites. You should only get AIDS and die, you pig." July 8, 2003

You know, I meant to say what I said, but I certainly had no intention of getting in any hot water here at the peacock.

"If anyone has been offended, I'm sorry for that."

~Former Los Angeles Police Chief Darryl F. Gates, after telling The Times that one possible reason that far more blacks than whites died from police chokeholds was that blacks' carotid arteries "do not open as fast as normal people." May 11, 1982

Chief, I’ve got this line that always works.

I suppose after reading those amazing examples of modern apologies, it’s pretty clear that an apology today isn’t really that at all. As a teacher, I’ve heard hundreds of apologies from kids after they’ve done something offensive. Immediately, without any hesitation, they will spew forth an apology, “I’m sorry.” Then they will qualify their actions. “But he….”

After years of such experiences, I feel that I can always spot an insincere apology.

Which brings me to George Allen, Jr.

Senator George Allen Jr, has been on the campaign trail throughout Virginia in recent months. Not really sweating his re-election bid, Allen built a huge financial war chest. To his credit, he has always made a point to keep in touch with the strongest parts of his base. So on August 11, 2006 he traveled to the small town of Breaks, VA. Speaking in front of a predominantly white male crowd, Allen pulled out his cowboy routine. At one point, he looked over to the side of the crowd and chastised a young UVA student of Indian ancestry who was filming Allen for his opponent’s campaign. It later came out that the young man was born and raised in Virginia…as opposed to Allen who was born and raised in Los Angeles. Allen pointedly ridiculed the young man (all of which was caught on tape) and twice called him by a derogative French word (keep in mind that Allen’s mother is French). Allen immediately claimed he meant nothing by the comments. Then a few days later, he offered his first “apology.”

"I would never want to demean him as an individual. I do apologize if he's offended by that. That was no way the point."

~George Allen Jr. apologizing for this comment directed to an American of Indian descent in his audience at an August political rally. "This fellow here, over here with the yellow shirt, macaca, or whatever his name is. He's with my opponent. He's following us around everywhere. And it's just great…Let's give a welcome to macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia."

A couple of days after his apology, George Allen’s campaign manager issued this memo:

Memo from Dick Wadhams

To: GOP leaders/Allen campaign leadership
From: Dick Wadhams, Campaign Manager
Re: Notes on a tough week
August 19, 2006

I think it is obvious that this past week was difficult one for Senator and Mrs. Allen and the campaign. It is very clear that the news media created what they call a "feeding frenzy", with the Washington Post alone doing major stories on the same issue for 5 consecutive days.

Literally putting words into Senator Allen's mouth that he did not say (by speculating, defining and attributing meanings and motives that simply are not true), the Webb campaign and the news media seeming worked hand-in-hand to create national news over something that did not warrant coverage in the first place.

Even after Senator Allen apologized to the Webb campaign staffer in specific, and to anyone who may have been offended in general, the news media continued to print and re-print the same speculations and inaccurate portrayals of Senator Allen's comments. Never in modern times has a statewide officeholder and candidate been so vilified in a desperate attempt to revive a campaign that was fast-sinking - the Webb campaign.

Senator Allen has said that his comments were a mistake. Who among us has not made mistakes? In fact, how many of us could put in the hours of work, travel, meetings, campaigning, etc. that Senator Allen has over the years and make as few mistakes as he has?

Apparently the media's standard for candidates is now that they must be perfect, not human, and that no mistake or verbal gaffe is to be forgiven, no matter how much the candidate apologize. Will the Washington Post hold it's candidate for the U.S. Senate to the same standard? We will see, but I'm not holding my breath.

The bottom line for us, friends, is that same as it has always been. We cannot rely on the news media to get our positive, constructive message out to the voters. In fact, we cannot expect them to be objective, let along fair. As always, we have to do it together, getting our message directly to the voters.

Senator Allen has a long, positive, successful track record as a member of the House of Delegates and House of Representatives, as our Governor and now as our United States Senator.

There is hardly a place you can go in the Commonwealth that Senator Allen has not visited at least once or touched in some way. Senator Allen and Susan Allen have impacted the lives of tens of thousands of Virginians through their public service and volunteer activities. This is evident to anyone who has participated in a Listening Tour stop this year.

He was there long before his opponent discovered there were such places in Virginia. And, he will be there long after his opponent has faded from the scene.

Looking Ahead

There is no question that this is a tough year to run for the Senate as a Republican. The Democrats and their liberal constituency groups, such as, are pouring millions of dollars into television attack ads, seeking to take control of the Senate and House. Rep. Thelma Drake has already been a target of their vicious attacks. We expect to see Senator Allen attacked in the same way.

The reason the Democrats run such negative campaigns and always play the race card, is that they have no positive ideas to run on. That is as true this year as in any other. The fact that they have attempted to make race an issue so early in the campaign is evidence of just how desperate they are.

Senator Allen summarizes his public service as making Virginia a better place to live, learn, work and raise a family. And, that's what this campaign is all about.

Senator Allen will win because he is right on the issues. He will win because he has done a great job as Senator and Governor. He will win because he has stayed in touch with Virginians and been responsive to their needs. He will win because he and Susan will work harded than anyone to get the job done.

And, Senator Allen will win because of your help and support. Now is the time to rally for Senator Allen and our Congressional candidates. Now is the time to get our positive message out door-to- door, by telephone and at fairs, festivals and meetings of all sizes.

You are the secret weapon that Senator Allen has always confounded the pundtis with.

Let's show the liberal interest groups that by coming to Virginia, they have gotten more than they bargained for and that they need not bother us ever again!

Dick Wadhams, Campaign Manager

Poor George. He can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.” (In honor of the recently late Ann Richards)

Another prominent apology was made just this very day in Rome.

Pope Benedict XVI was speaking before his colleagues at university in Germany last week when he made a statement that was immediately taken from context and broadcast to the Islamic world.

According to Bloomberg News,

Benedict began his address in Regensburg by quoting from a 14th-century dialogue between the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an ``educated Persian.'' The two debate the merits of reason in Christianity and the Muslim concept of holy war. Manuel, who champions faith embedded in reason, is quoted as criticizing Islam with what Benedict called ``a startling brusqueness.''

`Evil and Inhuman'

``Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached,'' Benedict quoted the emperor as saying.

Benedict, who didn't weigh in on the specific value of Manuel's view of Islam, used the quote to open a discussion on the primacy of reason over violence. The speech is on the Vatican Web site.

Pope Benedict offered this first explanation of his comments after violence and anti-papal protests erupted in the Islamic world. He spoke to open a “…frank and sincere dialogue with great reciprocal respect...I hope that this will placate spirits and clear up the true meaning of my speech.” Of course, that was an explanation, not the apology that the protesters demanded.

Yesterday, The Holy See offered this “apology.”

"The Holy Father extremely sorry that certain passages of his speech appeared offensive to Muslim believers and were interpreted in a way that does not correspond in any way to his intentions."

~The Vatican in response on September 16 to Pope Benedict’s statements regarding Islam in September 2006

Well, needless to say, the Islamic world was not pacified by this apologetic statement. They demanded more. So today, the Pope, himself, offered this more personal apology.

``I am truly sorry for the reactions caused by a brief passage of my speech,'' the pope said from his Castel Gandolfo summer retreat in Italy. ``These were quotations from a medieval text that do not express in any way my personal opinion.''

~Pope Benedict’s more detailed apology on September 17, 2006

To which, the Muslim Brotherhood replied,

“The pope's statements today constitute a good step but they do not amount to a clear apology...''

~ Mohamed Habibing, Deputy leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, in response to Pope benedict’s apology.

A clear apology. We live in a time when clear, heart-felt apologies are foreign. Even apologies that are most definitely sincere are looked upon skeptically.

Perhaps Jimmy Swaggart was really onto something. Perhaps a true apology is modeled in our religious traditions. Instead of saying, "I'm sorry if you feel threatened or upset by what I said, " perhaps a true apology should be more...

Saturday, September 16, 2006

A Love You Can't Survive

A Love You Can’t Survive

Promises Promises. I promised here on this site a few days ago that I would bring you a steely remembrance of the Tower Tragedy. Times have changed. Inspiration has left me. New inspiration is consuming me. That story didn’t want to be told as much as I wanted to tell it. Now a new story is prying its way into my keyboard. It’s flowing out and there seems to be no stopping it. Back in my days in the teaching profession, we referred to this as a teachable moment. Those times are harder to come by these days in that honored profession; perhaps that’s why I abandoned the classroom. These days, inspiration only flows through the pen and the word.


In the summer of 2003, with my family’s van fully loaded with gear, my wife, son, daughter, and I struck out across our country to find out how today’s America looks. Our first stop on that expedition was the town of Lexington, Kentucky. It was there that my passion for the music of Richard Thompson, the bard from 60’s/70’s music group, Fairport Convention, was kindled. There my sister and her husband took me on a Richard Thompson journey, playing CD after CD of his over the course of a wine-framed candlelight evening. Richard’s words worked into my soul that night and have inspired me ever since.

Prior to the trip, a friend had given me what has become my most cherished personal possession, a cassette tape. I didn’t properly value the tape at that time. Now I plot a devise ways to transfer the sound images from that prehistoric recording medium to a more modern and durable form. The tape was an illegal bootleg soundboard recording of a small concert Richard Thompson played at the Iroquois Club in Roanoke, Virginia back in 1988. Richard came to Roanoke that year with only an electric guitar. He said to the smoke-filled room that he really hadn’t tried any of the songs without his band before playing just his electric guitar. Well, that was some guitar he played that night. Thompson is regarded as the 19th best rock guitarist in the world on the Rolling Stone top 100 rock guitarists list. I suspect he couldn’t care less about that.

That evening, he and his electric guitar mesmerized the audience. Thompson connected with them in a unique and personal way, and as he left the stage, they wouldn’t leave. Shouts came for encore after encore. Richard obliged them all. I’ve heard screams for encores before, but nothing like this. Soon, it became obvious that the crowd wouldn’t leave after the first few encores, Richard came back out on stage and shouted one of my favorite lines of all time: (delivered in his must guttural London/inherited Scot brogue) “…all right ye bastards…” Then he proceeded to play yet one more song for them.

I go through phases of taste when it comes to listening to musical artists. Yet, since 2003, the needle of my musical taste always lands on Richard Thompson. I enjoy his clever arrangements and spot on artistic guitar work; however, I enjoy even more the stories he weaves through the lyrics of his songs. Each one of his songs is something uniquely personal that he has allowed the listener to experience with him, a shared experience if you will. For a musician, poet, or writer, having the audience experience personal feeling is always the goal and the base inspiration for creating anything. It’s what drives the creative mind, a desire to toss a life-line of emotion to anyone in the hopes that someone will latch on and hold on to you. I suspect that’s why so many artists are tortured souls. They cast about the emotional net through image, technical skill, or word yet they can’t see where they’ve thrown the line through the fog. Richard Thompson throws darts in the light with his pen.

On his 2003 masterwork, Old Kit Bag, Richard performed some words that haunt me this morning. So I’ve been digging around to find out the details of the story.

A Love You Can’t Survive

Now I remember the promise I gave you
The night I shipped out as a peace volunteer
As we sat holding hands in the Lamb and Flag tavern
I swore I’d be back for you same time next year

But I killed a man in a Brazzaville street fight
I tried to hold back, but he taunted me so
5 years till they freed me from that Brazzaville prison
Out of boredom or pity, I never will know

Now I bear the stain
The scar on my name
I never can go back again

There’s a love you can’t survive
And it burns (tears) you up inside

I sailed my boat into New Orleans harbour
Tied up at the jetty, as bold as you please
With a half-ton of charlie built in to the bulkhead
Right under the noses of all them police

Now here I sit in my house on the mountain
King of the clouds and all I survey
There’s women who are willing, and the law can’t touch me
Yours is the one face that won’t go awa

Richard Thompson

In the story, the man, full of ideals and love for his girl and the world leaves home from the 57th nicest thing in London, the Lamb & Flag Pub. He makes his way to the mess that was called Congo then, specifically a messed up river city named Brazzaville. According to Wikipedia,

The city was founded in 1880 on the site of a village named Nkuna by an Italian explorer, Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza, after whom the city was named.

In 1944, Brazzaville hosted a meeting of the Free French forces and representatives of France's African colonies. The resulting Brazzaville Declaration was intended to redefine the relationship between France and its African colonies after World War II.

Until the 1960s, the city was divided into European (the center of the city) and African sections (Poto-Poto, Bacongo, and Makélékélé). In 1980 it became a "commune" separated from the Pool Region and divided into seven "arrondissements": Makélékélé (1), Bacongo (2), Poto-Poto (3), Moungali (4), Ouenzé (5), Talangaï (6) and Mfilou (7).

The city has frequently been a staging ground for regional conflicts, including conflicts between rebel and government forces and between forces of the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Angola.

Then as the story goes, he kills a man and gets imprisoned. I can only imagine what five years in that city’s prison might do to a person’s soul. Thompson doesn’t share the sordid details of the time locked away, I’m left to imagine how horrid it must have been. His peaceful ideals are perverted and conned by a lust that kept his mind occupied. Cocaine (Charlie), his new lover, waits for his release and sends him across the ocean where he becomes a dark lord of his domain. Yet despite his wealth and his safety, he’s being eaten alive by the one thing his tainted money can’t buy. Like what the drug that he peddles on the poor streets does to its minions, it’s a love that you can’t survive. It tears and burns you up inside.

Richard Thompson is coming to Roanoke again on October 29. He will be playing on a much less smoke-filled stage this time, Shaftman Hall at the Jefferson Center I’ll be there in row E screaming for an encore or two after an evening spent being wrapped into his webbed painting.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


I'm here. I have been blitzed this week and had to let my blog go a bit. I'm sitting on several stories. One story involves the whole September 11, 2001 scenario at my school. I'll never forget what happened then, and I plan to share it with you

Friday, September 08, 2006

A Blast in Kabul

Attack in Kabul Sept 8 2006

These messages were posted by a person serving the USA in Kabul. Yesterday, he was witness to horror. These messages were lifted from the Notice the progression of the posts and how the writing construction deteriorates. I find his comments, oddly, ...well...sobering.


20 yards or so from the entrance gate. less than 100m from me.

can't believe i just saw what i saw.

happened about 20-25 minutes ago.

no injuries known. it is a busy street though.

appeared to be a vbied.

i will never forget this.

3 rocket attacks and now this.


2 dead us soldiers, 1 wounded, 3 locals killed

unsure if any of our local guard force.

thanks for the prayers.


first one i have witnessed in person that close to me.

there have been rocket attacks around us (one landing 10 meters from
the embassy wall) but nothing like this.

it made me want to talk to my wife immediately but it is 1130 here and
they are 8.5 hours behind. i'll let her sleep since i am safe.


don't worry.....i can't even get my fingers todo what i want them to.

iam just waiting for the frooom to stop spiijning before attemptoing to go gto bed.

it is 0111 here and i am so tired but can't close my eyes or sit/lie still.

i will neer forget today but i already want to.....

i can't keep talking tomy wife. this is theonly place i can think of to vent. i'vebeen
here since before mike bakas hosted themessagte board.

i am an infrewquent poster but i've been here3 forever. i just don't havemuch more to

the 7 th or 8th beer after the massive urm aned cokes are killing me. i wish they
made a brain bleach. i need it.


i think i have had enough.

it hit me when my local steaff (read afghans) started calling me tomake sure i was
alright. i always call them when i hear or of somethingin their neighborhoods.

i'm a non military computre type anjd seing the bodies didn't help;

i don't knwo their names but my heart goes to their family.

i know wha tmy viewpo9int of the blast was since i saw it happen live with mhy own
eyes. i keep thinking of their viewpoint in the vehicle.

hopefullythe room will stop spinning soon and i can try and sleep.

i wretched for 2 hours after bvecause of the adrenaline. myh wife said tghat was
normal. i hope that is never a normal situation for me agian.

Monday, September 04, 2006

My Way

My Way

As a teacher with more years behind him than ahead of him, I’m beginning to pull together some remembrances from the classroom; tales of the unusual and stories of the bizarre.

Field trips are always grand opportunities for unscripted action and excitement. Over my career, I’ve experienced sick kids, lost kids, and lost parents; but one child, Jay, holds title as having the most unusual field trip experiences with me. His trips with me are inexplicably bound with me.

Normally when I write stories about times in the classroom, I change the names of the children so as not to exploit their true identity in public; however, in this case, I am going to use Jay’s real name. I feel I can do that because, due to a string of unusual circumstances, I forged a bond with Jay and his parents.

I had the “honor” of teaching Jay two separate years. In third grade, Jay had my trailer neighbor, Mr. Donald Barbour as his main teacher. Each day, Mr. Barbour and I would regroup our kids for Math and Social Studies/Science. So day by day, I got to know Jay. Basically, Jay gave an excellent first impression to strangers. He was well-spoken, fine looking, well dressed, sported a winning smile, and had a clever sense of humor. Jay, however, had one very real impediment to a successful classroom career. He would not and absolutely could not submit to any authority in his life other than himself; for Jay lived by one creed, “My Way.”

Mr. Barbour, in a gentle voice would always ask Jay each morning, “Jay I see that you don’t have your homework today. Why not?”

“I didn’t want to.”

Sometimes Jay’s reply was simply a smile and a shrug of his shoulders. As the third grade year went on, Mr. Barbour and I tried all kinds of behavior contracts, punishments, rewards, and bribes. On top of that, Jay began to fail all of his classes, act out in the classroom, and concoct silly and mean little things to pick on his fellow classmates. Soon, Jay’s smile and shrug wore very thin. His classmates despised him, loathed him. He became a complete outcast and no amount of parent conferences with his mother, Deborah, seemed to be able to get him back on track. Jay lived by a very simple mantra, “I’ll do it My Way! Screw You.” Hence, Mr. Barbour and I began calling him “My Way Jay” during those private moments of teacher desperation. Soon, we were calling him simply by the name “My Way.”

Despite his stubbornness and rude behaviors, Jay was a likeable guy. When no work was on the line, both Donald and I established a pretty good relation with the guy. Jay had a marvelous sense of humor and a very broad understanding of the world for a third grader. He liked to be the butt of practical jokes from us (not his fellow classmates) and he enjoyed dishing the stuff back at us. Donald and I figured that our best approach with My Way was to get him to really want to please us. Donald, a natural clown and hack magician, especially struck a positive relationship with Jay. So on a professional side, My Way was a huge pain in the neck, but on a personal side, Jay was a really cool kid that was fun to be around.

During the spring of that year, we decided to try out a new place for a culminating field trip. Just up the road from Roanoke was the relatively new Virginia Safari Park near Natural Bridge (Link on the side). This place was basically a huge farm that sheltered all kinds of immigrant animals from all over the world. From Camels to giraffes to Watusi Elk, these animals roamed free and wild over the 300 acres of the park.

To explore the park, visitors had two options. You could either drive your car through the meandering dirt road or you could ride in the flatbed of a trailer pulled by a farm tractor. That spring, Donald and I, along with the two other third grade teachers took our kids to the safari park and gave them the unique experience of cruising through the park on that trailer.

One of the big draws to this place is that part of the experience involves feeding the critters from one gallon buckets. Before the ride starts, each kid is given a white one gallon bucket of feed. They are instructed to feed the animals as they drive through and cautioned to beware of the llamas, camels, and bison. Those guys can get a bit greedy and rip a bucket out of a kid’s hand. As we pulled away from the station and proceeded toward the main gate, the tractor driver looked ahead and saw that we had a welcoming committee of all kinds of foreign animals on the other side. Donald and I were sitting at the front of the wagon right behind the driver. My Way was strategically placed right next to Donald while I placed my most challenging kid, “Sam-O!” next to “My Way.” I sat just opposite Donald and the boys, relatively buffered from their shenanigans. The rest of the 40 kids were spread through-out the huge trailer interspersed with some parent chaperones. As we were about to blast through the gate, the driver leaned back and instructed Donald and me to make sure that the kids were careful around the camels. They were waiting for us at the gate and the largest one, Omar, was extremely aggressive with buckets, the driver alerted.

As soon as were crossed the cattle guard (for those of you who have never lived on a farm, a cattle guard is a clever negative bridge built into a road. Basically, it’s a series of solid narrow iron bars stretched over pit dug across a road. The edge of either side of the road is then fenced normally. Animals may try to cross the bridge of steel bars, but they quickly realize that their hooves may fall through and shy away while a treaded vehicle can roll right across), we were in the land of the wild, roaming, and hungry beasts. The kids were delighted. They were screaming, laughing, and pointing. Some kids began holding their buckets out for the camels and llamas to mooch some feed. Our trailer was covered in wild, frenzied beasts pushing and shoving to get kid buckets of feed. The children were climatic in their ecstasy.

The scene was broken by a massive shift in the animal’s behavior. From the My Way side, beasts suddenly began pulling aside as a massive camel, the famous Omar, with foul-smelling sagging humps, pushed his way into the picture. First he moved to Donald…sniffed…then slid to Sam-O! sniffed several times…then shifted back to My Way. Jay offered his bucket to the beast…laughing as if he was going to play a game of “Get It Now or You Lose It.” Omar lingered for a if considering. Then without a moment’s warning the evil camel seemed to grin, opened his stale breathed camel mouth wide, and swallowed My Way’s head. Yes, that’s correct. The camel opened his mouth very wide and tried to swallow Jay’s head. All the kids in the trailer began screaming in horror and fear scrambling away from Jay’s headless torso. Omar managed to ingest Jay’s entire head for a few moments, but he didn’t crunch, much in the same way that President Clinton didn’t inhale.

Needless to say when you are being eaten by an aggressive camel, you’d probably scream and squirm. My Way was no different. He jerked around trying everything his reflexive body knew to pull away from this most unusual predator. Donald and I immediately leaped to Jay’s defense. I remember the bristly sting from his stick whiskers as I punched smelly beast with all my might. Donald and I began to pull Jay’s body from the camel. After some moments of tugging and punching, Omar withdrew his snoot from My Way’s head and retreated a bit, then quickly went in search of easier meals.

Jay was screaming uncontrollably, as you might imagine. He had come within a camel’s hair of being devoured by a nightmarishly huge foul-smelling beast. As Omar withdrew his lip lock on Jay’s head, he left behind foul traces of his conquest. My Way was covered from the top of his head to the bottom of his jaw with oozing camel slime. Although physically unscarred, Jay smelled like rotten, fermented white bucket feed in a smooth case of rancid Vaseline-like skin. He immediately began clawing at his face to wipe away the physical, slimy memory of the attack. Sam-O! began laughing uncontrollably…as he would predictably do. Jay looked up with the oozing slime running down his head, and he smiled. It was at that instant that Donald and I realized that he was Ok and it would be ok to laugh our heads off, too.

The rest of that year, Jay was great in the classroom. All we had to do was mention Omar and bring up the embarrassing camel attack, and Jay would respond appropriately. He ended up passing his classes and moving on to the next grade. Really to reach tough kids, all you have to do is have them swallowed by a camel. Works every time.

The third grade to this day continues to visit the safari park, and the teachers are all very quick to warn the excited children about the dangers in feeding the beasts, especially Omar the camel. I moved on to teach fifth grade after that year, and not surprisingly My Way came back into my life in a more serious way a year later.

Jay ended up in my homeroom during his fifth grade year. It really was a good situation for me because Jay had grown up some, and he was beginning to use his clever intelligence for more academic pursuits. He was still a bit awkward around his peers, but we continued to develop a solid relationship. I began to see that Jay most likely would turn out to be a fine adult, perhaps even an outstanding adult. He’d begun to grow past his “My Way-ness.”

During this period, I was mainly a writing teacher to the entire fifth grade, and I relied heavily on parent volunteers to help me develop a cohesive program. One of my volunteers was Jay’s mother, Deborah. I found her to be delightful and completely reliable. Deborah had Jay’s same great sense of humor, and I looked forward to having her visit my class.

When spring rolled around, the fifth grade decided to visit Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville with a side trip to James Monroe’s Ash Lawn nearby. We weren’t allowed to take any parents, but we did subtly encourage several to follow our charter buses in their cars. One of the eager parent volunteers was Deborah, My Way’s mom.

Within minutes of getting to the Monticello parking lot, Jay had found trouble. He was getting off the charter bus and somehow managed to slice his hand on the step rail of the bus. Obviously, he would need stitches and have to visit the hospital. Luckily, Deborah was right there, and she told us that she would simply take him to the nearest emergency room and have him stitched up, but she didn’t really know the area. Since I had lived in the Charlottesville for about 15 years prior to moving to Roanoke County, I was able to give Deborah clear directions to get to Martha Jefferson, a nearby hospital-the place where both of my kids were born. So she took off with Jay after exchanging cell phone numbers with, strangely, Sam-O!’s mother. Yes, I had Sam-O! in the same class as My Way that year. It was quite a year for me! I figured we’d see Jay and Deborah before we left for home. I was right…

About two hours later, while I was relaxing on a porch at Ash Lawn watching the nearby mountains as a gentle Virginia breeze blew through my soul, Sam-O!’s mother came to me and told me that there was a problem at the hospital. The hospital had called and alerted us that Deborah had collapsed in the emergency room and Jay was there all alone with his her. Immediately, Sam-O!’s mother and I hopped into her car and rushed to Martha Jefferson. There we found My Way roaming the halls with his stitched up hand, obviously nervous but in charge of his world. We were ushered in to see Deborah. Her heart rate was racing to very high levels, and she was slipping in and out of consciousness. Jay, despite his act, was very concerned, as was I. So I stayed there after Sam-O!’s mom went back to Ash Lawn and kept Deborah and Jay company until her husband could get to Charlottesville. The doctors, Jay, and I were all very scared for her. The doctors said she had an irregular heart-beat, and they were having a very difficult time getting it back in synch. Her heart rate would at one moment be normal and she would reassuringly talk to Jay beside her bed then the rate would escalate to very high levels and her eyes would roll back in her head. Eventually, after a few hours, Deborah began to stabilize. Her husband finally arrived there long after the charter buses had long returned to Roanoke, so I drove their car back to the school in Roanoke. Deborah stayed there for a few more days before being released. A year later, when I had a similar heart scare, Deborah gave me some sound advice and comfort.

I’ll never forget “My Way” Jay. I suspect one day he will become some important doctor, naturalist, or animal trainer. Most assuredly whatever he decides to do with his life, Jay will do it his way.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

VT vs Northeastern

Hybridized Comments

I’ve been following Virginia Tech football for a long time, and while my knowledge of football knowledge is, at most, annoying; I still like to share my thoughts in this very public way every now and then. I also like to sprinkle in a few more socially oriented observations.

Today, Virginia Tech opened up the 2006 season with a game against Division 1AA Northeastern. Without a doubt, Northeastern was completely over-matched on paper and VT won the game easily 38-0. However, the Northeastern team definitely earned much respect for not quitting and playing a relentless brand of football that will most likely take them far in their conference this year.

Here are some selected comments from my experience at the game. These impressions were formed without the aid of alcohol.

  1. OL: Coach D. Brown (in-game coach of both TE’s and OG’s) found himself hung out to dry a couple of times today as the impressive NE front out-gunned our massive offensive line. I’m not in panic mode, however; I know that this unit will only grow stronger, smarter, and quicker with more repetitions.
  1. To all of those who mocked Sean Glennon, shame on you. The guy is cool class. He admits mistakes and promises not to make the same one twice. I look forward to that healthy attitude and much success from him.
  1. 2006 Large Hokie Cup update: Mixed Review. This year’s large cup is rather flimsy, but from a distance appears to actually be made of plastic instead of last year’s cup - which from a distance looked to be made from disposable bio-degradable material. (Last year #5 recyclable; this year back to #2 recyclable) In the end, last year’s cup was superior in strength and rigidity (surprisingly); however, it did tend to lose its painted exterior very easily and it was too wide at the bottom to fit comfortably in my Honda Accord cup holder. This year’s large cup is fairly solid, and has a solid print design that will not disintegrate. It is also designed to fit my car cup holder by being nicely tapered. In short, I look forward to using this one large cup this year. I say that because I plan to only get one cup this year. Last year, my large cup of Diet Coke cost exactly $3.00. This year, the price had shot up to $4.00. Last year a bottle of water cost $2.50. This year the same sized bottle cost $3.00. Last year, buying a Coke from a “Pepsi Guy” (Man, I miss his game reports) cost $2.50. I especially feel sorry for the kids who are vending those small drinks in the stands. Last year, they had the potential to make excellent $0.50 tips on every sale. Now with the inflated price, they have lost much of their extra earning potential.
  1. Our kickers are very good. All four may have an opportunity to try out for a job at the next level. I like it that Phrank tried Develi for a field goal. This cat can blast a kick-off, but he needs to learn the finer art of the field goal to make it at the next level. Nic booms punts. His first punt went a beautiful 48 yards on a perfect spiral very high in the air. Fair catch, no return. Pace has really grown-up as a kicker. He walks with the same air of authority now that Opie used to own.
  1. Kam is going to be amazing. While some here suggest that he may end up at safety, I disagree. Having a 6’4” corner with lightning closing speed and leaping ability is something that most NFL teams do not yet possess. His non-interception was one of the best interceptions I’ve seen in a long time. Frankly, I’m not sure how the officials could have possibly had any authoritative evidence that would have allowed the interception to be nullified.
  1. I’m in a unique seating position. My sister has three seats in Section 48 Row JJ (seat sections changed to protect me from angry neighbors). I sat with her for much of the game because most of her neighbors are extremely friendly. Only one neighbor behind her is annoying. That guy rudely verbally assaults the young couple next to my sister any time they stand, even if they only stand for an instant. Yet, he seems to think it’s ok for him to stand when he deems the moment is worthy. Jerk! Toss Him Out! The neighbors who sit in front of my sister are saints, a sweet couple. They tolerate my sister and me. You see, I tend to comment loudly on every play with wise quips and annoying trivia. I’m afraid my long association with HC/TSL is partially to blame. “Who was that?” “Oh yeah, that guy is…” If I was sitting in front of me, I’d tell me to shut up.

  1. Now I also have two season tickets myself in Section 60 row PPP. I went up very high to check my new, expensive seats and discovered that despite being situated on the West side somewhere near the airport runway, I could still see the field by having my video i-Pod tapp in to and direct the Hubble Space Telescope. Unfortunately, when I went to sit in my seats, I discovered that my new neighbors did not welcome me with smiles and friendliness. Hokie Respect seemed lost in this layer of the atmosphere. All around me, people were sitting on their hands lost in their own thoughts, scrutinizing the teams silently with sour looks on their faces. There was no joy in this Mudville. After about ten minutes of this silent treatment, I left and retreated back to my sister’s seats. Perhaps at the next game, I’ll break the ice.
  1. I loved the way the players went to midfield to greet the opposing team after the game. That’s the kind of sportsmanship I love to see. I’m firmly convinced that when players respect their opponent, they are better able to raise their own level of play.
  1. Boone, Wang and Wheeler will be monsters before all is said and done. I’d love to see a gadget play where Boone peels back off the line and accepts a backwards pass then fires it sixty yards downfield for a strike to MorganClowneyHymanLuckettHarperRoyal.
  1. Hey, let’s play “Predict the Play!” I just want the world to know that along with the rest of the world, I correctly predicted the first play of the season for VT, a wide receiver screen. Plus, I also predicted the second play, a misdirection run to Ore off the right side.
  1. Hokie Pokie variation: You may not have caught it, but the MV drum major really changed things up on the Hokie Pokie twice today. It was quite comical. During the half-time rendition, the drum major played games with the band by dropping his arms after the second sustained note, as if he was done and it was time to go home. Then he raised his arms a few moments later to quickly call back the final sustained note…a nice variation. When the same drum major came out at the end of the quarter, he put the band and the poor sousaphones through the quickest Hokie Pokie I’ve ever heard. Those Tubas were gassed by the end, practically collapsing into the turf on their final curtain call. As an ex-sousaphone player, I loved it!
  1. Nothing beats a crisp, crystal day at Lane Stadium with a Hooish wind blowing Autumn gently off the mountainside.