Fake Cigarette

s-l300I believe it’s accurate to say that I had a reputation for being straight-laced in high school.  If I showed up at your party (rare), and you were thinking of bringing out booze or some illicit substance, you might ask your friend,

“Do you know that guy?”

“Who? Oh, that Burns twin? David?”

“Will he be cool if I bring this out?”

“David? Uhhhhh…better wait until he’s gone.”

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Tea and Halibut

allergyI don’t know if this is even a story, but it somehow represents my life in a small way. I’ve struggled with a stuffy nose since college. Medicines help a little. Nose sprays, over-the-counter pills, saline snorting–yeah, I could do all that. The stuffiness would be no big deal except that it does affect my singing voice which is important to me.  Depending on the style of music, I sometimes have to go on Sudafed for a few days before singing to get everything in tip-top condition. If I need a lot of resonance, a stuffy nose can hold me back. It can also drip down on my vocal cords and give me a little laryngitis.  It’s a whole big thing.

A few summers ago, I took the Wilson-Burns family to Orlando for a week of Universal and Disney fun. Read all about at Wally World or Bust. As the week progressed in balmy Florida, my nose cleared up. I noticed while singing in the shower one morning. Everything was just easier. I had the kind of control and ease I had lost over the last few years.  Ah HA!  There must be something in Oklahoma that is causing this!

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10mm_280x@2xIn the mid-nineties, my wife and I decided to go see a couple of our favorite bands at the Zoo Amphitheater in Oklahoma City:  The Doobie Brothers and the Steve Miller Band; staples of the 70s and early 80s. Naturally, The Zoo Amphitheater derives its name from the Oklahoma City Zoo where it is located. It is Oklahoma City’s premier outdoor music venue, and mostly features older rock bands touring the country with the hits that made them the superstar giants of my youth.

I was newly married, and although we had our spats including one where a tub of Turtle Wax was hurled against our apartment wall with a great splat (by which of us I cannot remember), this was a wonderful time in our lives together; before kids and mortgages–just the two of us developing our style with each other which consisted of humble apartment living, healthy eating, card games, church family, singing in the choir, Franzia box wine, Roseanne and Nick and Night, and classic rock.

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The Shoulder-Shaking-Emphatic-Nodding-Know-it-all-at-Every-Lecture-You’ve-Ever-Attended Guy

know-it-allI recently went with my dad to see the Dallas Symphony’s production of Act 1 of Wagner’s Die Walkure.  We showed up early enough to catch the tail end of a lecture on the opera.  It was a very good lecture, and it has enticed me to want to see more.  Something caught my eye during the lecture.  Something that you will see in every single lecture you attend:  the person who wants everyone to know that they already know a lot about the topic.

This man or woman generally sits where everyone can see them, and perhaps sits up painfully erect possibly on the edge of their seat.  Every little gesture and sound he makes seems to demonstrate himself as exceedingly erudite.   This particular guy was with a female companion who was an accomplice.  It was clear that they had studied and watched and listened to the opera enough to have inside jokes with each other, for they shook their shoulders as they tittered and whispered to each other at the same points in the lecture.  You might see this person nod emphatically throughout a lecture and say mm-hmm aloud a lot.  They will definitely have impressive questions queued up for the end; questions they already think they know the answer to which they ask for the purpose of appearing to teach the lecturer something.

This person really does know a lot about the topic, and wants some sort of recognition for it.  This person wants to be seen as a colleague of sorts with the lecturer; an expert on the level of the true expert.  This it the same person who name drops.  The same kind of person who would go to L.A. to be an actor, take a bunch of acting classes, get one local commercial, come back home, and start referring to Robert De Nero as “Bobby.”

I understand this person because I’ve been this person. And I hate that.  My judgement of that person begins with judgment of myself.  Throughout my college years, I showed off in every way imaginable in class.  I exasperated my professors and my fellow students.  Since, I’ve done it with professional opera singers, professors of voice,  grad students, my daughter’s high school choir directors.  These are all professions I was interested in, which I either didn’t have what it took or I chose not to pursue for practical reasons.  I want those people to know that I might have been them…if only.  It’s a very unattractive behavior, I confess, and I’ve come a long way in overcoming it.  I’m happy with my life now.

And perhaps that is what it comes down to.  Why aren’t we happy with who we are?  Why do we show off?  Why do we misrepresent ourselves?  Regret?  Envy? Dissatisfaction? Insecurity? Validation?  We all struggle with these in our own ways.  We all wonder “what if”.  We all wonder if we’re smart enough or important enough or respected enough.  The truth may be, that over coffee, I would enjoy the guy .  We have a lot in common, after all.  And maybe I’m simply reading it wrong.  Some people are just so enthusiastic that they can’t help themselves.  But I suspect you know the guy I’m talking about.  And if you’ve known me long enough, you definitely know the guy I’m talking about.

I respect people who are devoted to something that they care about, but it’s important to recognize that the guy who did his doctorate dissertation on Wagner deserves a great deal more respect in their field than I do or the shoulder-shaking guy.  The rest of us are just amateur students who love opera,  who either come to a lecture to learn or come to show off.  Honestly?  It’s far more satisfying to learn.  Learning begins with curiosity.  Curiosity begins with admitting when we  don’t know.  And admitting we don’t know begins with humility, which is a hard-earned lesson for most of us.



Try the Salsa!

Y10041565000682_z3ceears ago, during a family event, we stayed at a Drury Inn which had a free breakfast. It’s been a long time since this happened, so there might be a few embellishments. I would add that salsa was not a standard condiment for eggs, yet.

I first noticed her hovering around the breakfast bar as I struggled with the pump on the coffee dispenser. I was not a fan of chatty food service professionals in the morning before my coffee, and I was already struggling to form a game plan to avoid the chit-chat assault that was fast approaching my vicinity. As I reached the juice dispenser I began to glean bits of what I was up against. She wasn’t just chatting, she had an agenda, and it all seemed to center around a bowl of some diminutive form of salsa. It was just a grade above the hot sauce that comes in packets at fast food Mexican restaurants.

I could see a very disturbing pattern forming. She would step out with an empty tray or cruise the hotel dining area for empty plates, then she’d return to the eggs where the salsa was being very prominently displayed. She was watching for something. But for what, I was not quite sure. Then, to my horror, the full agenda of Chatty Cathy the Drury Inn breakfast bar professional, was fully revealed when a woman cautiously reached for salsa. Cathy pounced.

“Ooo, I see you’re trying the salsa with your eggs,” she said with perverse enthusiasm, blocking the buffet line.

“Oh, yes, I saw it there and thought That sounds interesting. I’m going to give it a try.”

“I’d never heard of it myself before just a few weeks ago. It just doesn’t seemed like it would be good. I don’t usually like real spicy stuff. But I really got hooked on it. I suggested it to the manager myself.”


This word really rang out. It hung in the air like a foul odor. I had heard similar words uttered by grocery store baggers, receptionists at doctors’ offices, and interns of any profession. People with no say inappropriately trying out their ideas on customers. This was far worse to me than general chattiness. She meant for me to try this salsa. She likely had a son or a nephew who had visited San Antonio or Santa Fe or El Paso or somewhere in the Southwest and who had spooned Pace Picante sauce on her eggs one visit on Christmas or Thanksgiving or something and she was not going to rest until she had spread the gospel of bad salsa on eggs.

How would I get passed this to get to the sausage and biscuits? How would I reach my fruity yogurt and Corn Pops cereal. Corn Pops for Christ sake! This was not the crappy organic cereal that my wife always bought. This was FREAKING CORN POPS!!

In the distance I heard the cry of a young child, “Mommy! It burns my mouth!”

No, I would not make it passed her without salsa somewhere on my plate.

But just as she began to sidle up to me the voice of a savior rang out. It was the voice of authority and reason.

“Carol. Can I see you for a moment?”

Apparently her name was not Chatty Cathy the Salsa Nazi. It was Carol. Carol attempted one parting shot before she stepped away from the egg station.

“Hey. You oughta try the salsa on your eggs. Just a little, you know. It’s preeeeeetty spicy. But it gives it just a little kick, you know?”

I stared at her, speechless and terrified. I looked at the eggs. I looked at the salsa. Then I looked at the Corn Pops. She was relentless. Merciless. Exuberant. Undeniable.

But the hotel manager was too quick. She touched Carol on the arm and spoke her name once more. She led her out into the hall. The manager spoke in hushed tones. The only piece I could make out was, “Carol. We’ve talked about this. The answer was no. Corporate was very specific.”

The conversation was over. The manager stepped briskly into the dining area grabbed the bowl of salsa off of its decorative stand, and disappeared through the service door.

Carol stood in the hall, deflated. I could just make out the words on her lips as she spoke them to the floor. “I thought it was a good idea. I liked the salsa.”

My heart sank. It was just salsa after all. Did it really hurt to set some salsa out by the eggs? Some people like salsa on there eggs. Even bad salsa.

“Ma’am?” I said to the manager as she reappeared through the service door. “Do you have any salsa? I’d like some with my eggs.”

The manager returned with the salsa. Her face and ears were flush and her smile was forced. She’d been duped, and she knew it. She glared at Carol who was sauntering up to the egg station, revived and triumphant.

“Mmmmm. Ain’t them salsa and eggs good?”

It may not have happened exactly like that, but that’s the way I tell it.  There was definitely a Carol and she definitely wanted me to try the salsa.

The Candy Man’s Last Day

I wrote this piece seven years ago.  I witnessed something profound and I felt the need to record it.  Although, I learned later that the Candy Man made a recovery, I don’t believe it was expected.  I wrote this without the knowledge of his future recovery, and this moment is no less poignant to me.  Maurice and Gyan are both alive, well, and retired.

Once every couple of months, my daughter would accumulate enough cash to contribute to the latest cuddly collectibles craze:  Webkins.   On that Saturday, she combined her allowance from the previous two weeks and the five dollars I paid her to help me clean up the mess on the side of the house.  I’m generally pretty cheap on paying for extra help from my children, but this was a particularly disgusting mess of rotting cardboard boxes, old garbage, and junk.   She sifted through snails, bugs, and general rottenness with me, and I did not hesitate to fork up five one dollar bills from my wallet.   On top of that, I promised to treat her to some homemade onion burgers, french fries, and a fresh blueberry smoothy.  My son pitched in for the last thirty minutes, hoping to score the yummy treat as well.  He was pleased to receive a dollar and to get the chance to flip his own burger.

After getting cleaned up a bit, my daughter began her campaign for me to take her to the Candy Basket (local proprietor of candies and collectibles).   I did not make her beg.  I was happy to reward her with a trip to the candy shop.   My son joined us, as usual, with far less cash at his disposal, but content to buy just a little bit of candy.   I was pleased to go as well.  The Candy Basket was a special place.  It was hard to pin down exactly what made it special, but it was plain to see that it was special.  I suspect it had something to do with the people who worked the counter.

We’d been visiting the Candy Basket for less than a year.   We’d taken only three or four trips, but the people I’d met there had made a strong impression on me.   There were always three:  two teenage girls and an older woman.   The two teenagers were very cute and engaging.  They chatted and giggled with each other as they went about the business of restocking this and ringing up that.  They were both also very personable with me.  I was never quite sure if it was the same two girls every time, but their pleasing personalities were consistent.

On this trip, I recalled that one had an open smile with blond hair and the other was demure with freckles.  The older woman…I say older, but her age was difficult to guess, was pleasantly plump with sparkly eyes, well-composed demeanor, died red hair with a streak of white, and a charming smile.  I learned later that her name is Gyan.  She addressed my children directly and warmly; rather than through me, as many adults do.  She moved through the store with care and a sharp eye.  She handled her wares gently as if each were a family heirloom.   She complimented the girls on their work on a new arrangement or display.  She discussed a new product with them.  She tended to her customers as if they were family.  Her enthusiasm for the shop was contagious.  The whole place sparkled with her care and pride.

Today’s visit began just as all of our visits began.  We were greeted warmly by the older woman.  She immediately intuited my daughter’s desire to browse the Webkins and pointed her toward the display while my son began browsing the candy.   But this time, she stepped out of the shop for a few minutes leaving the two teenagers at the counter.  When she returned, there was a change in her.  It was subtle and it’s meaning was not yet known to me.  She gathered the girls in a huddle and spoke with a kind of forced calm.

“Girls, Maurice, is on his way.”

There was some talk about how to act when he arrived.  The girls were not to react negatively.  They were to smile.  This caught my attention.   Something was about to happen here.  But what?  Who was this man that would arrive shortly?  My first thought was that he must be some difficult but important customer.   But what could a man do to become a difficult but important customer at a candy shop?

With urgency in her voice, she dispatched each of the girls to run a quick errand.  Then she turned to me.

“I’m very sorry.  I was distracted.”  Her smile was somewhat wooden now and her eyes were slightly glazed.

She turned and looked expectantly out of the window, and then back to me.

“I’m very sorry.  I was distracted, ” she repeated, with the same wooden smile.

She then erected herself behind the counter and continued to gaze out of the window.  He had arrived.  Meanwhile, my son was ready to make his purchase.  He had picked out some kind of long chewy rope of candy and was waiting quietly at the counter.   Her eyes were on a man being helped out of a car and placed in front of a walker.

I prompted her politely, “Ma’am?”

She glanced absently at my son and then returned her gaze to the man slowly approaching the door.  She placed her hand on one of the large roped lolly pops.

“Yes, these roped ones are very popular.”  Her voice was distant, and my son was confused.    She picked one out and said, “Would you like me to do a price check on this one?”

My son spoke timidly, “No.  I wanted one of these.”  He held out his candy for her to see.

“Oh yes.  Will that be all?”

Something was happening.  My son did not ask about the lolly pop at all.  Her mind was somewhere else.

He nodded and she rang him up.  As usual, she took a moment to carefully explain the change she was making for him.  For a moment, her attention to my son came back into focus.  She had always been very careful with my children’s money.  She wanted them to know exactly what she was doing with it.  That day, she added a penny from her penny dish so that she could return an even 20 cents.

During the transaction, the girls must have returned because they had gathered behind the counter with the older woman.   They were all smiling and watching the door.  I turned to watch as well.  The old man and the people that were assisting him were shuffling very slowly through the door.  I didn’t know exactly how many people there were.   Perhaps three?  Maybe four?  My eyes were on the old man.   Suddenly, the store seemed full of people, and all of them were focused on the old man.  The mood was transformed.  This was an auspicious occasion, like a graduation, a wedding, a birthday…a retirement?

“Well look who’s here.  It’s the Candy Man,”  she said in welcome.

Then he began what appeared to be an inspection of sorts.  The woman came from behind the counter and directed his attention to the chocolate counter.

“See?  See how we’ve done it just the way we talked about doing it?”

“Very good, very good,”  he consented.

Apparently satisfied, he shuffled back to the front counter.  He must have communicated something to the young man who was with him, because the young man now spoke to the woman on the old man’s behalf.

“He wants to go now.”

“Okay, ” she said, perhaps a little crest-fallen, perhaps a little relieved.  She chuckled and smiled.  “I guess he really did just want to say hello.  And he has done that.”

She followed the procession out the front door.  The visit had been no more than two or three minutes.

The freckle-faced girl rang up my daughter’s new Webkins:  a Siberian Husky which had already been named Antonio after her new favorite composer,  Antonio Vivaldi.   But what had just happened?  This was not a customer.  This was something else entirely.  I decided to ask about what had just occurred.

“This was kind of a big deal wasn’t it?” I intimated.

The girls looked at each other and nodded their agreement.  One of them (I don’t remember which) said, “This was a very big deal.”

I moved in closer to listen to her.

“This will probably be his last day.   He hasn’t come into work for months.   He’s been in the hospital all summer…the ICU for a month.   We hardly even recognized him.  He looks so different.”

As instructed, they were still holding their smiles, but it seemed as if they were both experiencing a little bit of a shock.

“He’s the owner?” I asked.

“They both are.  Together.”

We all turn to see the older woman standing out on the sidewalk holding the door open.   She was watching her husband walk away from what was believed to be his last day at the Candy Basket.  Even as he was driven away, she stood and watched.

Later that night, as I laid my head down on my pillow and looked at my pretty, young wife lying next to me, I  quietly grieved at the thought that I could see her last days and she could see mine.

The Million Dollar Bet, Baby Steps, and Living in the Moment

I’ll admit it.  At some point in the last few years I’ve lost some confidence in myself and my ability to accomplish complicated tasks, especially mechanical.  Before that, I’d been moderately successful with plumbing, flooring, dry walling, bathroom renovation, installing ceiling fans, and host of other DIY.  I’ve also accomplished some fine work in the software engineering arena at work.

But lately, I’ve found myself unmotivated, rigid, whiny, and frustrated.  I want to come to work listening to a book, do a fair enough amount of work, come home listening to a book, spend time with my family, have food magically appear on  plates in front of the huge tv in our den, watch Friends and Scandal in bed with my wife until she is snoring, plug into to my Kindle Fire and watch Supernatural until my brain settles down enough to sleep.   Any deviation from this in most unwelcome.

But when you’re a husband, father, homeowner, cook, and play a critical role at work, this just doesn’t cut it!  So I’m working on a little bit of self improvement.  Here are the three things that are working.

The Million Dollar Bet

The Million Dollar Bet stems from all the little useless probabilities I run throughout the day.   I bet there’s no one around the corner.  I bet that I’ll stop for Sonic today.  Who would take that bet?  I’ll bet that I can open this door so quietly that no one will hear it.  Just absolutely useless, compulsive pretend betting.

But the Million Dollar Bet is not useless. Here’s how it works.  Let’s say the upper tray of the dishwasher is off it’s rails and the little doohickeys that hold it there have popped out.  Let’s say that I’ve already tried once, but it was too late and too dark and my wife was there sucking the creativity out of me.  This is not a criticism of her, but when someone takes the lead on a project with me I just get really dumb.  So, enters logic.  1.) I have to wash the dishes. 2.)  I cannot wash the dishes unless this is fixed 3.) There is no benefit to putting this off.   I grumble to myself a little bit until I accept the fact that I am a grown-ass man who should be able to do this tiny little task,  so I bet myself one million dollars that I can do this.

It’s amazing how well this works on me.  I mean, I have to fix the dishwasher;  otherwise, I will owe one million clams to some veeeeeery shady characters!  I couldn’t figure it out the night before because of my frame of mind.  It took me all of 7 minutes once I made the million dollar bet.  I think that my mind doesn’t work as well when I don’t want to do something.  It get’s all whiny and angry, and then I become like the frustrated lady in a $19.99 commercial who can’t open a milk carton without a disaster of some sort.

Baby Steps

Baby steps.  I’ve already written about this.  The film “What About Bob?” involves a fake pop psychology book called “Baby Steps”.  It’s what ultimately rehabilitates Bob from his intense neuroses.  I began applying it to myself to help with anxiety.  It works  exceptionally well.  I was coming out of Aldi, a bargain grocery store, and I suddenly became overwhelmed.  It was hot.  I would need to take the groceries to the car, unload them, bring the cart back to get my quarter, go back to the car ,and get it cooled down enough to preserve the food.  This simple sequence of tasks caused me great anxiety! I stood there, frozen, for a good thirty seconds until I remembered the movie.  Baby steps to the car.  Baby steps unload the groceries, baby steps…etc.

The idea that, when I’m pushing the cart to the car, I can’t be unloading, returning it, or anything else.  The only thing actually happening is that I’m pushing a cart.  The anxiety immediately went away.  When I started applying it to other things, I began to realize that anxiety had been interfering heavily with my life.  I had often become overwhelmed by relatively simple things.  So, I would often put them off.  This made me really unpleasant to live with with!

Living in the Moment

Enter mindfulness.  This isn’t a new concept for me, but I’ve never really given it a serious try. If you do an image search on mindfulness, you’ll find a never ending stream of meditating ladies in yoga pants, drops of water in pools, smooth stones, and sand gardens.  Well, I don’t have time for all of that.  I do find meditation helpful, but I’ve always thought of it as something separate I have to schedule in my day.  I wasn’t even thinking about Baby Steps being mindfulness, but it is.  This cures all of my problems that are due to rigidity of schedule, lack of motivation, and anxiety (toeing the line with the Oxford comma back there!) .  This notion that all there really is is this moment.  How many times does a person have to hear these words before they mean something?!

Here’s an example.  Last Saturday was a perfect day to do absolutely nothing productive for the household.  Practice piano, practice tuba, watch tv, do crossword puzzles, just things that I enjoy doing.  It’s good to have breaks like that, but I am recognizing that I can have plenty of time to myself and still give to the household.  Instead of trying to get out of everything that my wife needs me to do, I’m really trying to embrace it and even go above and beyond.  She’s not trying to ruin my day, I tell myself, she just knows what needs to happen for our household to work well!

So, the reason I can do this now whereas I couldn’t before, is that I kick these tasks up to a higher level in my mind.  Maybe I’m cleaning out the garage.  It’s not exactly what I want to do, but I’m still living.  Is there really such a big difference between living on a couch in front of a tv and living on my feet picking up garbage and sweeping the floor?  My heart is still beating.  I’m still breathing.  And it’s certainly more rewarding.  And so I just do it.  I don’t need to think about  doing anything else but moving items in the garage to the right place, and occasionally blowing my nose (farmer style) because I’m allergic to dust.  You might even say I enjoy cleaning out the garage, but I’m not even sure it matters whether I enjoy it or not.  The only thing that really matters is that I live it.

My wife is reading this and rolling her pretty blue eyes and saying,  “Here goes David with one of his epiphanies.”  It’s true, I have a lot of epiphanies that radically change my life for 2 weeks.  And I know these are “no duh’s” for most people, but obvious is not my strong suit.  Complicated is, though.  Baby steps: hit Publish button.


PYE – Premature Yuletide Excitement.  Diagnosed with levels 1-5.  One being, smiling when you see the Christmas decorations at Walmart in October, but walking away.  Five being guzzling Halloween egg nog (yes it exists), bringing out all of the decorations, and ringing a bell dressed as Santa for the trick-or-treaters approaching your house.

This is a serious affliction, folks.  I love the Christmas Season, perhaps beyond what is healthy.  And when something is unhealthy, there have to be rules and restrictions.

There is an abhorrent movement known as Christmas in July.  Rankin and Bass even made a Rudolph special for it.  It’s awful.  It involves Ethel Merman as Annie Oakley.  I have avoided Christmas in July like the plague for years, but a few years ago, I gave in.  The illness manifested itself by me wasting a work day watching a stream of vintage Christmas-themed commercials on YouTube.

I’ve mentioned this in Holiday Nostalgia:  A Cautionary Tale.  It sucked me into a destructive cycle of powerful nostalgia.  At some point, I had to step away.  I went out into the parking lot.  I could smell the approach of summer rain.  The asphalt was hot, but the temperature had dropped a little.  Fat summer raindrops spread over the parking lot.  Just enough to make splotchy patterns on dusty cars and on the ground.  It wasn’t winter at all.  It wasn’t even fall!  I realized that if I continued to carry on this way, my Christmas would be ruined!  I snapped out of my PYE state and made vows never to allow this to happen again.

PYE can destroy a Christmas for me.  Do you remember ever peaking at your presents under the tree or in closets that parents thought were safe hiding places?  Do you remember what Christmas morning was like?  You had to pretend to be surprised and happy. The terrible. harmful effects of PYE.  You know you’ve got it when Christmas finally comes and your like “Meh”.  That’s a horrible feeling.

I joke about it with my choir.  Choir directors have to learn how to handle PYE because we start planning Christmas music in August.  We start rehearsing Christmas Cantatas and Lessons and Carols services as soon as the kids go back to school.  It’s something that I have become accustomed to.  I’ve learned to detach emotionally from the music until after Thanksgiving.

In our cantata, there is one number that weaves in Silent Night.  I tried to skip over it, but they caught me.  I had to explain myself.

“My father was a pastor, and I went to many of his wedding rehearsals.  A wedding can be a complicated thing, especially a church wedding.  It requires rehearsal.  But there’s one part that my father cannot rehearse.  He’ll walk them through the liturgy and the vows, but he always stops short.  He will never say the words Father, Son, and Holy spirit because it invokes God’s marital blessing too early.  Well that’s what Silent Night is for me.  It is the last song we sing before midnight on Christmas Eve.  I just can’t bear to sing it!”

I will not celebrate a single element of Christmas until Thanksgiving evening, which is when we watch one big funny Christmas movie like Christmas Vacation or Elf…but never a movie like It’s a Wonderful Life or White Christmas.  After Thanksgiving, I can watch cheesy Hallmark and Lifetime movies, but the biggies must wait until the final days.  I don’t want to ruin the enchilada platter by getting full on chips!  You know what I mean.  No filling up on popcorn before the previews begin.  This requires discipline! RIGID, UNSWERVING, DISCIPLINE.  Please offer your sympathies to my wife for having to living with this #mywifesaysimcomplicated mess every year!

The fact that I’m writing should concern you.  It’s a kind of mania that, although may never lead to hospitalization, could end in some sort of holiday crisis down the road.  So far, though, I am on track.  I am fully immersed in my other favorite holiday:  Halloween.   Why just last night,  with mamma in her kerchief, and I in my cap, we had just settled down to watch John Carpenter’s 1978 slasher classic “Halloween”.

Artsty Fartsy in a Sea of Sportsmen and the 80/20 Rule

I was a child athlete;  a first string catcher until high school when I got too tall for the position.  I watched a lot of baseball and collected baseball cards.  I used to lay out two teams of cards on the floor and watch a game, creating a baseball diamond with the cards.  But as I moved away from sports into music, I lost interest.

Although there was baseball, I didn’t grow up in a basketball/football house so I knew very little about it.  I attended OU, but I only went to one game and it was primarily to watch the band.  I just didn’t get it, and didn’t really want to get it.  But as I became an adult and made friends who were not musicians, I learned that the primary topic of discussion for most men was sports.  I really wanted to fit in. And I did try for awhile

When I wore my OU hat or shirts, people often mistook me for being a football fan, but I didn’t wear it to show my school spirit for athletics, I was simply proud of my alma mater.  I was proud to have a degree from OU.  I was proud of the School of Music.  So many times I would stand around with guys and try to conceal the fact that I knew very little about what they were talking about nor did I care.  To be honest, I resented it a little.  How about let’s talk about faith, parenting,  current events, music, books, film, or cooking?

I found myself having much more in common with the wives.  It’s not that women don’t like sports, but very few of them, in my experience, are obsessed with them.  They talk about more of the things that interest me.  I’ve always found it easier to talk with women than men because I don’t have to pretend.

But then one day, I was at Louie’s with friends, standing with the husbands,  listening to them talk about their upcoming Fantasy League Football draft, and I realized that I didn’t want to pretend anymore.  Someone asked me a football related question and I answered, “Are we talking about European or American football?”  I wanted to communicate that I was done pretending.  They laughed and we’re all still my friends.

From then on, I decided I was no longer going to be embarrassed by this.  I accepted that I was no less of a man because of it.  But what does a man like me do?

I learned a trick from a preacher friend of mind, something he learned in seminary, and it’s made my life so much easier in social situations.    He taught me the 80/20 rule.

The 80/20 rule is a conversational technique that solves almost all conversational issues for me.  When I’m  at a social event, I ask a person about themselves and I allow them to talk 80% of the time while I talk only 20% of the time.  Then it doesn’t really matter what they talk about.  I don’t feel that I have to assert my interests at all.  Perhaps I can’t talk about sports, but I can listen to someone who really wants to talk about it.  I can say things like, “Wow.  That sounds like a very exciting game.  What was the highlight for you?”  or “Man, he must be an amazing athlete.”

I learned something about people when I started this.  I learned that 9 out of 10 people don’t care about what you have to say.  They think they’re having a great conversation, but really, most people really just want to talk about themselves and the things they’re interested in.

The conversation begins with me asking “So what’s new with you?”  And then they talk and I listen.  Fortunately, I love listening to what people have to say.  I say 9 out of 10 people because there is that rare person that turns the conversation around to me and asks, “So what’s new with you?”  You’d be surprised how rare a person that is; the 50/50 conversationalist.  It sounds like a sad fact, but it’s really not.  It’s totally natural.  Just as it seems to be totally natural for men to be into sports.  But it’s ok.  Don’t sweat it.  It takes the pressure off me.  I never go to a party anxious about having anything to talk about with people.

When I do find myself talking to another artsy person, well that’s just gravy.   It’s a pleasure to talk with someone about something I understand.  But what I’ve learned is that more than anything, I just love being connected to people.  I’m glad to have a way of doing that.

One of these days I’m going to run into one of you face-to-face, and you’re going to wonder if I’m pulling some sort of conversational trick on you, but it’s not a form of trickery or manipulation.  Nor is a method to find out if you’re a narcissist.  It’s just a way for us to connect.  And who knows, maybe it will open up the possibility for us to have a more balanced and substantive experience.

So, go ahead and tell me about the sports game, and your favorite sports players.  And if you’re interested, I’d be happy to tell you what’s on my mind.


Look Both Ways: An Epidemic?

This may be the crankiest old man rant I’ll ever write.  I searched the web for evidence of a trend I’m seeing, and very little comes up.  Maybe it’s just in Norman.  As school begins and kids are getting up out of their summertime video game comas, I’m thinking about a serious problem I’m seeing on our streets.  What I’m seeing is both disturbing and irritating.  People, usually teens, are jaywalking without even looking.  And so slowly that it’s like they’re playing a game in which the person who crosses the slowest and looks up the least wins.  A chicken game of sorts.

This article indicates that pedestrian deaths are on the rise and that 24% of the deaths were jaywalkers.

Yeah, I admit it.  I jaywalk once in awhile, but I always look both ways and I never stop traffic.  Isn’t this what we all learned as little children?  You ALWAYS look both ways and WAIT for the cars to drive by?  But that’s not what I’m seeing these days.


In the wiki page entitled Jaywalking, the origins include the following:

The word jaywalk is a compound word derived from the word jay, an inexperienced person, and walk.

In towns in the American Midwest in the early 20th century, “jay” was a synonym for “rube”, a pejorative term for a rural resident, assumed by many urbanites to be stupid, slightly unintelligent, or perhaps simply naïve. Such a person did not know to keep out of the way of other pedestrians and speeding automobiles

So are these people rubes?  Are they too stupid to know what they are doing is wrong?  No, I think the truth is far more disturbing.

I’ll be driving down the road, any road, in my neighborhood let’s say, and two kids will walk right in front of my car just sauntering along and never looking up once.  They trust that I will come to a complete stop in the middle of the road so that I won’t hit them.  Sometimes  I honk, but then they either still don’t look up or they look up at me as if I were a total tool.

So what’s happening here?   I can only speculate.  I’ve never interviewed anyone on the subject.  In The Jaywalking Epidemic and Why it Needs to Stop, the author Montel writes the following:

There has been a growing trend among college kids who have decided that jaywalking is totally the way to go. Why wait at a crosswalk for some half-broken automated system to grant you access to walk across the street, a mere fifty feet from one side to the next?

She also cites drunkenness and a growing trend of deaths related to jaywalking and college kids.  These kids are really pushing their luck  considering the other epidemic:  texting while driving.

What I detest most of all is the attitude that it’s their right to walk in front of my car.  I don’t think they’re “rubes” at all.  They are entitled, inconsiderate brats.  They take no notice at all that I’ll have to stop for them even if there are five cars behind me trying to make the light.  When I think of two guys casually talking without a single glance or giddyup, perhaps looking at their phone, it triggers something very ugly in my brain.   You know what I mean by giddyup?  That’s when you jaywalk and at least have the courtesy to take one step of a run and make a gesture that indicates that you are sorry for causing an inconvenience.  I can forgive that.

I fantasize about teaching them a lesson.  I don’t want to kill anyone, I just want to see them run.  Maybe I’ll slam the breaks on just close enough not to hit someone then I’ll edge them off the road with my horn full on.  But, yeah, then I’d be THAT guy:  the cranky old many writing a blog about it.