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Monday, May 25, 2015

Protect One Freedom?

Most mornings, while on my way to work; depending upon the route I take, I pass a sign placed prominently at the end of someone’s driveway.  Signs in yards are not so unusual…especially considering the never-ending election cycles of Federal, State, and Local elections. Toss in the odd “Garage Sale”, “Elvis Lives!”, and “Save the common house wren” sentiments; and they have become a permanent part of the landscape.

However, at first glance, this one is a little bit odd: PROTECT RELIGIOUS FREEDOM it proclaims in bold black print against a white background.

Stark, inexpensive one-color on white stock—if this were a candidate’s sign, it is extremely bush-league.

I have the greatest urge to pull into their drive, knock upon the door, and engage in conversation. My primary question is this:  

What about protecting the other Freedoms contained within the First Amendment?

While Freedom of Religion is contained within the first line of the First Amendment; do they want to chuck aside Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press, and Freedom of Assembly?

If such were the case, their right to post this very sign would be in jeopardy. There would be no guarantee to gather with like minded individuals in order to share in their beliefs.

If we assume the other 9 Amendments are trimmed away from the Bill of Rights; what benefit would there be of keeping just a portion of one Amendment?

Would they advocate forfeiting the right to a speedy trial, and jury of their peers? Would they be willing to put aside protection from unreasonable searches and seizures?  What about the provision against self incrimination?

Would they have the Second Amendment be bartered away?

Should we toss aside the Third Amendment, and permit the quartering of troops in private homes, at the resident’s expense; whether in time of war or peace?

Would they be willing to forego the protection against excessive bail, cruel and unusual punishment? Perhaps a fine in the tens of thousands of dollars, and two days spent in stocks in the city square would be acceptable for a speeding ticket to some; however not to me.

I would ask the poster of the sign to ponder upon the Ninth Amendment, which states that the listing of certain rights within the Constitution shall neither deny nor disparage other rights retained by the People.

Also, what about States’ Rights and powers, which are found in the Tenth Amendment?

Finally, I would ask; whose religious freedom do you advocate protecting? If my beliefs are polar opposite of their beliefs; are they still worthy of protecting?

Saving just a fragment of one Amendment, while casting the remainder of our Rights and Freedoms aside would result in an extremely unstable one-legged stool at best, ending in utter folly.

As we take time this Memorial Day to observe, remember, and give thanks for those who gave their highest for our Nation and our Liberties, let us not dilute their sacrifice.

We must  protect the entire Constitution. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Schoomze

The other evening, my Lovely Bride and I took part in a very unusual event. One could go so far as to say “unique”. Personally, I would have to categorize it as down-right weird.

As regular readers may recall, LB, and by extension; Ike our dog have been enjoying some forays in the local film industry.

Don’t scoff…Cleveland is one of the hottest film centers in the country at present. Consider the recent number of Marvel films shot here, as well as other non-superhero works. Think of Drew Carey. Also, how can Betty White and Valerie Bertinelli be wrong?

So, it was due to her connections, someone’s people sent one of Cindy’s people an invitation to an industry event. Cindy’s people sent it on to her, and before you can recite the Preamble, Constitution, and all 25 Amendments, we found ourselves attending:

The Schmooze
A film industry networking event
I know, I know… pretty heady stuff.

Alas… much like Tinseltown itself; the glitter fell aside rather quickly.

Our first hint should have been the venue where the event was to be held Not wishing to plug the joint, let’s just say the name is extremely similar to a pre-med course which begins with an “A” and ends in a “Y”.

We entered the “ultra-lounge” (as it bills itself), and stood transfixed by the dimness of the lighting. It was as though one had stepped into a coal mine lacking illumination.  After a few moments, we could begin making out forms moving about. A few moments later, we were able to discern the forms as people. We eventually discovered we were standing at the registration table.

How many of you absolutely abhor those little self adhesive “HELLO My Name is:…..” tags as much as I do? Show of hands, please. I KNEW it! The overwhelming majority of thinking people find these things to be clichés, and ridiculous.

However, LB dutifully wrote her full name. I on the other hand, resisted the norms of conformity as much as I could. Finally, The Look ( ask any married man about The Look) was cast my way. In a spirit of compromise, and homage to Castle; I asked LB to simply put “Writer” on mine.

Thus began our venture into the exciting world of a film industry networking event.

Perhaps “exciting” is a bit of overstatement.

As more film industry types shuffled in; all coming to a stumbling  halt by the wall of darkness; it soon became apparent that we were in very select classes; MAWG and MAWC.  Middle Age White Guy and Middle Aged White Chick, we stood out a bit.

With the moniker of Writer, I as afforded the unique perspective of being an Observer; not a real threat to all the wanna-be film stars. Oh sure, a few people asked if I was a “real writer”, to which I would briefly tell them about 1850: Death on Erie as well as a thumb-nail overview of the cabin book. Usually, however, by the time I was sharing about Johnny Rhoades cum Miller, they wandered off. Apparently, my genre was not hip enough. Oh well, such is life.

My Lovely Bride was engaging in conversation with a young lady who has political ambitions.  She has dreams of “going as far as I can”. However, having voted only for Presidential candidates; it seems that her hopes are in vain. Typically, in order to be elected, one needs to be engaged politically.

I was once again relegated to my well-worn role of “Eye Candy”. Sigh… it is a tough job, but someone has to undertake it. Besides, behind every elected official is the “political trophy spouse”

Glancing over the increasing crowd, it struck me that with more conservative attire, in a more generic and subdued setting (no nudie art work on the walls), this could be just so many accountants, or insurance agents, or respiratory therapists having a confab.

Endeavoring to meet someone, I had a conversation with Mark; a very affable young man. Turns out, he is a musician, primarily jazz oriented. A great conversation about music, and specifically styles of jazz, ensued. He was quite surprised to learn that a MAWG could intelligently discuss jazz.

Finally, the highlight of the evening was about to commence; viewing trailers from the various projects which have been under-taken.

After the third slice-n-dice slasher film trailer, we opted to paraphrase Julius Caesar; we came, we saw, we left.

So it was we strolled across the street, turned left, and headed toward our favorite Greek place.

Thus endeth the Schmooze, a film industry networking event.

In Honor of Mother's Day; an original verse by J.E. Hopkins

M is for de Many hours you cared for me
U is for Understandin’ me
D is for de Devotion you gave
D is for…uh…… Ditto Dat
E is for Everytin’ else you does
R is for Rememberin’ de good tings I done, and forgettin’ de bad

To all you Mudders out dere:


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Easter sans Church

This past Easter had been quite a departure for my Lovely Bride and me.
No Good Friday service. No Easter Sunday church gathering.

Rather, this year we traveled to the far corner of the state. Our son and daughter-in-law had re-located to Ohio.  Now, after becoming somewhat settled in their new home, Easter was the perfect occasion to welcome visitors. With two of our daughters and their families; the new home was bustling with activity.

Such were the circumstances which resulted in Easter Sunday morning, being delighted by the happy sounds of grandchildren finding hidden baskets, the laughter of children, and in-law-children teasing one another, and the good aroma of breakfast cooking.

There was no rushing about; getting ready to dash out the door. There were no harried moments trying to locate a lost shoe, or getting a reluctant child to eat. Have you ever tried to pry a youngster from the glories of a new-found Easter basket? The absence of stress was quite refreshing.

I can hear some of you thinking; “You write about your faith a lot. How can you be so cavalier of the most Holy of days?”

You are correct. My relationship with Christ is the bed-rock and cornerstone of my life. And, yes, this day of all days, is the singularly most significant day of all Time.

It is because of the resurrection of Jesus that we no longer need fear Death, Hell, or the grave. He is victorious over all! We share in His victory, not our own feeble, bumbling attempts at righteousness.
A new birth waits all who accept His gift of Life.

Having spent some time outdoors talking with our son while exercising the grand-dog, over-hearing the happy conversations of my family; I can rejoice that He is risen! He is risen indeed!
He is risen in the hearts of our children.
He is risen in the hearts of our in-law children.
He is risen in the hearts of our grand-children.

That, dear reader, is priceless. 
Far more valuable than all the pastel Easter dresses, all the white lilies adorning sanctuary altars, and all the Easter messages combined.

He is Risen!

Another One Hundred

April 11, 1915 was not a particularly momentous day in Cleveland, Ohio. A quiet early spring Sunday, stores and offices were closed; a peaceful calm settled over the area. In historical terms, it was hardly a remarkable day. 
However, for me, it was quite significant.

My Father was born on this day.

I cannot speak from first hand observation of the first 40 or so years of his life. He was 38 when I came upon the scene. Despite being the prodigy that I am, there are scant memories of Dad prior to the age of 4.
Was he a Super-Dad, always with the right advice and support at just the right time? No. Ward Cleaver he wasn't.

Was he a boorish lout, completely self-absorbed, and oblivious to his family?  No, he was far from it.

He was a Dad; heroic, wise, and protective. But still being clumsy, ridiculous, and….well…human. An Everyman, yet to his family, friends, and community; he was so much more. He truly was one in a million.

He would joke that he was a “double April Fool”. I hate to admit there were times in my young know-it-all years when I agreed whole-heartedly with him.

However, the quote attributed to Mark Twain; “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant, I couldn't stand to have the old boy around. However, when I turned 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in 7 years.”, was confirmed in my life. Upon returning  from my freshman year of college, the old boy had really upped his game!

While filled with the foibles of human-kind (aren't we all?), Dad had one consistent trait: he was always there for us.

See, my earliest memory of Dad is him carrying me from my bed down to the basement of our home. My Mother, brother and sister were there, huddled in the old dug-out pantry. I remember being told a tornado, very rare for our part of Northern Ohio, had been spotted nearby, and we had to stay safe for a while. I closed my eyes, and drifted off to sleep as the roaring wind provided a lullaby.

The next morning, after arising from my bed,  Dad and I toured the Village. I was awestruck by uprooted trees, barn roofs scattered over acres of woods and fields, outbuildings and sheds reduced to so much firewood. What I had thought was only a dream was indeed frightening reality.

This memory is emblematic of Dad.

He was there for all of us. Be it the metaphorical or literal storms of our lives, our victories, our sorrows; he was there for us.

November 21, 2005 was not a particularly momentous day in Ft. Myers, Florida.  A warm Autumn Monday, stores and offices were open; traffic bustled along Colonial Boulevard.  
However, for me, it was quite significant. 

My Father passed away on that day.

Happy 100th,  Dad. You did well.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Instant Vacation!

The other day, the company for which I slave… I mean happily work… had another “Lunch and Learn”

These are fairly regular casual times, over lunch, during which a very nice lady named Roni comes by and patiently tries to teach a bunch of old dogs some new health, dietary, and wellness tricks. A bonus is, that as the name implies, there is food.  Our Human Resources department adheres to that time-honored adage of PTA’s, church rummage sales, and political fund-raisers: “If you cook it, they will come.”

There have been a variety of topics; how to make sense out of nutrition labels on food packaging, controlling hypertension (in the old days, it was called “high blood pressure”) without a truckload of prescriptions, to healthy snacking. An oxymoron if ever I heard one.

The most recent was quite intriguing: How to Reduce Stress. Although determining alcohol was not part of the regimen, I signed up anyhow. 

How apropos that the day in question was one rife with stress.

Our senior dog, Mimi, gently awakened me conveying her need to go outdoors.  I sleepily groped for my glasses, shoved my feet in the ugly dog-walking Crocs, and hoisted Mimi up. Making our way down the stairs, I absently hoped my pj pants would stay in place. While Mimi waking me is hardly noteworthy, at quarter past five in the morning I did notice the paper carrier stopping at our neighbor’s, a car running the flashing stop light at a nearby intersection, and a roving raccoon snuffling around the dumpster.

Mimi must have been reading Pavlov’s laboratory notes as of late, as she has determined that following going outdoors, she must have breakfast; regardless of the time. She expresses her desire with a series of short, high-pitched little yaps until I finally relent, plopping her food bowl before her. Hmm… wait… she gets me up, gets me to take her outdoors, barks at me, resulting in me getting her food. I am beginning to pick up on a pattern here.

This commotion results in Ike being roused from his slumber. He is demanding equal time, so back out-doors we go. The raccoon has satisfied himself at the dumpster, and is now waddling into the tree line. Another paper carrier stops by the neighbor’s, and I discover something on the ground I would rather have not discovered. It confirms the Canada geese have returned. Coming back indoors, Ike gets his breakfast, a couple pats on the head, and Mimi is packed off to bed again.

I gratefully lay down for a restful 30 minutes power nap. An hour later, I leap out of bed. In a breakfast less whirlwind, I prepare to leave for the office.

Naturally, I was totally unaware this morning was “National Drive Like You’re Going to A Root Canal Day.” Every vehicle I got behind was cruising along at a leisurely 10 miles per hour BELOW the posted speed limit! Toss in an unexpected school bus for additional giggles.

This on one of the few times I had a first thing, must-be-on-it conference call!

I slipped in under the radar about 5 minutes after the call started. Things just sort of continued to unwind from there. It was non-stop phone calls, e-mails, “Oh! Can you help with this? Can you work on that?” Three large bids I had been working on lurked at the side of my desk, silently imploring  “Don’t forget about us!”

Naturally, due to a last minute phone call from one of our sales people, I slipped into the conference room about 10 minutes late. Roni had soft music playing, lavender scented candles aglow, and the lights lowered. Seated around the table were several of my co-workers munching away on wraps, salads, soup and other goodies.

Following a presentation regarding several different ways (no, alcohol was not one of them) to spur on relaxation and kick stress in the chops, Roni offered to lead us in a visualization exercise we can use any place, any time we are feeling stressed.

While we closed our eyes, she led us to a beautiful tropical beach, white sand stretching for miles along a picture perfect blue ocean. White combers rolled ashore, retreating with that mysterious hissing  sound only a returning wave can make. Gulls wheeled over head in graceful flight, their cries adding harmony to the melody of the waves. The fronds of palm trees rustle in a soft, warm breeze; replete with the salty, primeval fragrance of the sea. I sit upon a small hummock of warm white sand, watching the endless advance and retreat of the ocean. I can feel the grains of sand between my toes; I revel in the wild symphony of color the setting sun provides. I feel dampness about my derriere. I notice the dampness becoming a warm surging wetness. It is then I realize I had neglected to visualize checking the tide table in the local tropical paper!

Yet, as the afternoon rolled on, I found myself taking several visual vacations.

Along about 2:30, I was somewhat surprised to be walking through a mountain meadow. The sun was warm upon my back, a blue sky dappled with white fluffy clouds stretched far and wide. The chuckle and gurgle of the wild stream played in my ears. My fishing rod felt good in my hands. I knew a cut-throat trout was just waiting for me. Carefully, I affixed a 5 inch Pinkie to the hook. With a flick of the wrist, the line arched gracefully over the clear as crystal water; landing within 4 inches of that singularly perfect trout’s lair. I feel the slightest vibration in the line as the wild fish tests the offering. Easy, easy… wait, just a bit.. NOW! I set the hook, and the fight is on. The desk phone in my creel on the stream bank begins to warble…

POOF… like that, a perfect Wyoming fishing trip gone!

I persevere with the matters at hand upon my desk, my in-box, and lurking behind that nagging, diabolical,  flashing “msg” light on my phone.

Oddly, about 3:45, I took a couple deep breaths, closed my eyes for a moment… and… my Lovely Bride and I are strolling along the Champs Elysees on a gorgeous Parisian spring day. The flowers are beyond description; the colors so vibrant. We stop by a small café for a demitasse of freshly roasted and ground coffee. With delight, we look over the shoulder of an artist painting the Arc de Triomphe. Stopping by a brazier tended by an elderly man who looks like he came from Central Casting; we are intrigued by the skill with which he grills breasts of squab. In the distance, I hear the gendarme who resembles Claude Rains*, with a voice similar to that of the boss, but with the most charming French accent; “Hopkins, what in the world are you doing?” I am astonished at the officer’s excellent grasp of English and being on a personal name basis with him.

Roni had failed to mention that Visualized Vacations can seem to be real; embarrassedly so at time.
I enjoyed little mini-trips throughout the evening. Skiing in the Swiss Alps, strolling the streets of Old Jerusalem, watching lobster boats return to port along the Maine coast; the list was impressive.

As I climbed the stairs for bed, I eagerly anticipated tomorrow’s travel itinerary.

*Played Captain Louis Renault, Casablanca, 1942

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Super? Foods

The other Sunday, I was listening to the radio in my Jeep on the way to church. It was early, as we hold Worship Team practice (or in my case, Worship Team Comic Relief) 90 minutes before the service begins.  Being early on a Sunday morning, the variety of programming on the radio is somewhat limited.

A press of the button and one station brought forth the obligatory “Elderly Screeching Soprano” conspiring with a wheezy pipe organ to commit auditory homicide to a here-to-fore much loved hymn.

With a push of the button, my ears were treated to “Classic Polka Hits from 1948” being played on four accordions; none of which were in tune with the others.

My frustration rising a tad, I took a swig… I mean a sip… of my coffee and punched another button.  The nasal hog-calling voice of a country preacher filled my Jeep, nearly causing me to dump my coffee. I have not the faintest idea what he was carrying on about; I just knew I wasn't up for it.

Mashing another button and the hyper-excited tones of the discoverer of Hooka-Pooka rattled about my brain. Hooka-Pooka! The NEW Super Food! The intrepid discoverer disclosed how he and he alone, found this extremely rare, yet extremely powerful food while lost on an exotic island in the South of Lake Erie.

There, hours from the nearest winery, burger and beer joint, or t-shirt shop; the prospect of ever having frozen custard again fading fast, he stumbled upon it.

Tucked away in a crevice of a South-southeast facing ravine he spotted something unusual. It was not an empty carry-out container, it was not a token from an arcade…. It was the dim outline of the mythical Hooka-Pooka plant!

This plant was practically revered by the Original Inhabitants of this remote island. Old French fur-trapper’s journals tell of “la puka-d’ huka” being eaten and being “tres bon” in flavor. The accounts would go on to claim an increased “joie de la vie” and having “un coer de lion”. The first recorded use of the exclamation “Laissez la bon temps rouler!” in the New World was discovered in the midst of a lengthy, enthusiastic recounting of Hooka-Pooka.  Oh sure a few malcontents also recorded the next day they were “malade conne une chien”. Some even claimed to have heads “gros comme une maison”.

Somehow, the Hooka-Pooka had been lost. It had been assumed the Year Without a Summer of 1816 had caused the delicate, fragile plant to become extinct.

NOT SO, exclaimed the discoverer. Quickly he sold his house, car, liquidated his stocks and bonds, and borrowed himself up to his eye-balls in order to purchase the pristine half acre of real-estate which housed the ancient herb. Paying off some zoning board members, and a couple of building inspectors, he soon had a modern state of the art processing and packaging facility erected. Now, his mission (besides paying off loan-sharks) is to spread the Good News of Hooka-Pooka to the entire world!

For only $19.95, you can have 3/5s of an ounce of pure, high-grade Hooka-Pooka extract. Use it in beverages, drizzle it on your granola, enjoy its robust earthy flavor by itself. All it takes is less than one milli-liter of this wonder concentrate to potentially see immediate results such as long life, increased vitality, and never-ending Joy. Toss in great hair, no BO, and a Mensa qualifying IQ; well, who can possibly say “no thanks” to a deal like that?

Great.., another new Super Food, be still my beating heart.

For seemingly eons, the news of some hitherto unknown food source screams from radio, TV, e-mails, inter-net side bars… you name it.

Seeds which one provided a verdant green coiffure to comic sculptures are now the key to vitality. Dried seaweed now may extend longevity, plus lowering your LDL cholesterol. This particular fruit will give you the complexion of an 18 year old! Drink this, you will shed years! Take this pill regularly, and you will live to be 108, and only look 35 when you cash in your chips.

Then, it struck me…why are no super-foods ever found in your pantry? Why aren't there headlines shouting “Generic mac-n-cheese clears arteries!”? Why are all the super foods found in exclusive markets clear on the other side of the next county? Places like Joseph the Trader and Global Marketplace? Why is it I can’t just drop by the local convenient store and snag a pound of chia seeds?

Which set me to thinking; the entire purpose of these wonder workers is to minimize, if not reverse, the effects of aging. We all want the wisdom of a 50 year old, but housed in the body of a 20 year old. This is not a whit different than Ponce de Leon’s quest for the Fountain of Youth.

Which then begs the question; if one does not want to age; why consume things which left to their own devices, will mold and decay? What type of sense does that make?

That makes as much sense as travelling East in order to go West. As logical turning right because you really wanted to turn left. This is akin to putting on a CD of bagpipe and drum corps music to help lull you to sleep.

Again; what type of sense does that make? Let me tell you what kind: Nonsense!

If you desire preservation, with not the least sign of ever being affected by Time; there is only one choice, my youth coveting friend.

And that esteemed choice is (drum roll, please)…
The humble TWINKIE!

Wait a minute. Don’t scoff. Don’t shut me out as a crack-pot.

When, I ask you, was the last time (or the first, for that matter), you've seen a spoiled Twinkie?
I rest my case.

Ages from now, archaeologists will pick through the ruins of our lost civilization. There amongst umpteen bazillion batteries of all sizes and types, various remote controls, discarded “electronic devices” and in-numerable articles about Oprah Winfrey will be perfectly preserved, golden colored, rather oddly shaped items of yet to be determined matter.

A museum display (virtual, of course) will state: “Supported upon a semi-rigid platform, the matching objects are lovingly protected by a clear plastic like film. This, in turn, is adorned with examples of a long extinct written language. Scholars have concluded these objects were highly venerated, as they are found in all cultures in all parts of the Earth. Earliest examples of these objects have been dated to c. 1930. Debate continues as to whether “Twinkies” is a singular term, or plural.  Most interesting, no one has yet to determine a purpose for “Twinkies” ( or “Twinki”). There is consensus, however, they would not have been intended as a food source.”

There, next to the Twinkies, would be a bag of potato chips. The plaque would read, in part; “Interestingly, these arbitrarily shaped flakes of matter share one thing with “Twinkies”: BHA”

Ethicists in the far distant future will debate “What was BHA and its impact upon ancient Earthlings?”
The central questions would be

--BHA; was it a form of religion?
--If BHA preserved things “for freshness”, Who or What was “Freshness”? What was the purpose for such preservation?
--Was BHA a substance so potent that it was used for specific, unique substances?
And The Biggie:
--IF BHA halted all signs of degradation, why didn’t the people use it themselves?

My puny mind wrestled with these problems, finding no resolve.

Getting off the freeway, I pulled into Rocco’s Snax, Gas, and Gas. Strolling to the welcoming bullet proof window to pay for my fuel; I saw it. There it was, a box of Twinkies.
Determining it is better to be safe than sorry, I snatched up two packages of those suckers.
If Father Time is going to catch up to me, that ol’ boy better put on his runnin’ shoes!

la puka-d’ huka – made up French gibberish for a made up plant

tres bon”- very good     joie de la vie- joy of life     un coer de lion-heart of a lion  Laissez la bon temps rouler  Let the good times roll    malade conne une chien—sick as a dog  gros comme une maison-the size of a house.