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Monday, November 9, 2015

Sunday Morning Laundromat

Johnny Cash had a hit single, enumerating his discoveries while walking down a Sunday morning sidewalk after a Saturday night of revelry. The juxtaposition between the wholesomeness of small town Sundays and the physical, emotional, and spiritual pangs of small town Saturday night bars are palpable.

This is not that sort of story…

Sitting in a Laundromat at a time on Sunday morning when I should have been sitting in church. I pay dis-interested attention to the parade of other patrons lugging their plastic baskets or over-sized trash bags crammed nearly to bursting through the single door.

The décor is a very accurate representation of 1960’s vintage government office building. Neutral colored walls devoid of any type of decoration to stimulate any visual or mental activity are complemented by 7 cold gray plastic chairs which have been endorsed  by the American Chiropractic Association;  they are guaranteed to throw out anyone’s back thus generating  business for the local bone-cracker.

Oh, being in a Laundromat isn’t so odd…it was a weekly ritual my first 3 years of college.  Even after marrying my Lovely Bride, we still schlepped clothes, soap, and babies off to the village’s one of 2 do-it-yourself facilities.

And, over the course of Life from time to time, when a machine would take a dive and then give up the ghost, off we would go; over loaded baskets in the trunk of the car and inevitably realizing after arriving at the Laundromat the detergent was right where we left it by the front door.

So, it is not the fact our Whirlpool has opted to not spin, nor the fact the fix-it-guy has a somewhat casual approach toward customer service which is most disconcerting- it is being a sixty-something married bachelor. Doing laundry on a Sunday morning when I should be in my regular spot in the congregation.

I can’t take credit for the phrase “married bachelor”- in fact it was uttered by the fix-it-guy during his “yup-it’s-the-clutch-I-don’t-have-the-part-have-to-wait-till-Monday”s visit yesterday. I reluctantly accepted the truth of his words.

Oh, not the Dan Akroyd/Steve Martin “Wild and Crazy Guys” type of bachelor. Nor the Lake Wobegon Norwegian bachelor farmer social misfit immortalized by Garrison Keillor either.

I ticked through the list of notable bachelors in my mind.

I am neither the Felix Unger overly OCD neat-freak, nor the Oscar Madison quintessential slob.

Definitely not the Jim Rockford, sports-car driving type. Most people are put off by Bess, my 18 year old Jeep. She is the antithesis of a four wheeled chick-magnet. She is more of a vehicular chick repellent, actually.

I am most definitely not the sophisticated man-about-town, lady on each arm type of bachelor.

No, I am nothing like any of the above.

I am…well… me. Married to LB, patiently and prayerfully awaiting her recovery and return to our home.

Tomorrow, the 10th   it will be four months to the day that LB’s, my and our entire family’s lives were inexorably altered.  As of yet-with dramatic physical and neurological progress on LB’s part aside-our lives are still altered; with no end-date forecast.

All of which explains why I am sitting in this particular place at this particular time. With work, caring for dogs and visiting LB, Saturday and Sunday are the only times I can cram five days of household duties into two.

So, I am up very early, cleaning, sweeping, watering plants, feeding the backyard birds, grocery shopping, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera…

Usually, while I am performing the above, the washer and dryer happily chug along, performing their tasks. Alas, for the past 10 or so days now they have sat idle. Oh sure, the washer fills, agitates, drains and repeats- it simply does not spin the water out.

Opening the lid reveals a sodden intermingled mass, not the nicely damp centrifugal force arrayed items; eagerly awaiting a spin in the dryer. I am thereby faced with some options:
11)  Wringing the wet items out by hand, hoping the majority of water actually makes it to the sump,
22)   Loosely drape the dripping things over step ladders and odds and ends of stuff, allowing the water to run willy-nilly on the laundry room floor, in the hopes the majority actually makes it to the sump,
33)     Say “forget it”, toss the drenched, dripping pile en mass  inside the dryer, set that sucker on Turbo Dry, and hope for the best.

None of the above is a truly satisfactory solution. I have tried them all.  All more than once.  The only real solution, aside from popping for a new machine, was to call the fix-it guy.

We have used him for close to 20 years now. He used to be more responsive, willing to stop at night on his way home from his last appointment. Now… he has slowed down more than just a bit. His primary concern after his last appointment now seems to be getting home to dinner.

When once all it took was one phone message and he would be at the door, it now takes a couple messages, one or two conversations, re-hashing the ills of the World and all who are in it, and then hoping he doesn’t forget we even talked. 

It is really sad to see how far down the hill the poor guy has slid. Sure glad none of that has happened to me.

So, here I am….in the Laundromat, shaking my head in amazement that it now takes as much money to start one machine as would have washed and dried 2 full loads when I was in college all the while trying to ignore the gentle guidance of a mother to her child;”What the *&^% are you doing?!  You can’t fit in the washing machine!”

With a wistful smile on my face, I think:

I sure hope the fix-it guy can find the part. And he remembers to show up.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

So long, Old Sharp

I knew it was a question of “when”; the inevitable “if” being a foregone conclusion. Still, one is never fully prepared when the news is received.

With a series of pops, snaps, buzzes, sparks, flashes, flames and smoke; our trusty microwave announced it demise the other day. As disturbing as this was, I was most profoundly impacted with the collateral loss of my roast beef and potatoes innocently expecting a gentle thermal increase.

While scraping the ash and debris speckled dinner into the trash, I tried to recall when we obtained this particular microwave. In all honesty, it was probably during Clinton’s first term. Face it, a microwave has become a purely utilitarian device. No longer a kitchen luxury, and as awe inspiring as a bowl of instant oatmeal they are just---well--- there.

My thoughts wandered over the years, as I retrieved a pan and lid, placed a new batch of roast beef and potatoes in it to warm. A twist of a knob, a “foomp” of gas igniting; and my meal was under way. Old school, yes.

I remembered that back in the 1960’s they were called “Radar Ranges” What a wonderful name! It bespoke of the times; the Cold War was raging, the Space Race was full on. Planes were flying faster, higher, and farther. Technology was emerging, and all was good; or so we thought. It just sounded so with-it, so cool, as if the Great American Marketing Machine were proclaiming “HA! Take that, Godless Commies! We are so advanced we COOK with radar!”

So it was that one evening, my Dad came home more excited than a kid on Christmas Eve.  He had heard a new restaurant was opening the next town over—AND---they cooked everything with RADAR!

The following Friday, we piled into the Pontiac, and headed west. I can’t recall the name of the place, or even the location. I was perhaps 11, and my dinner was going to be cooked by the same stuff seeking out Russian bombers trying to sneak across Canada!

I do recall waiting in line, the atmosphere fairly abuzz, no pun intended. Had we been paying attention to the countenances of the exiting diners, we may have been somewhat less enthusiastic.

Finally, we were seated. A review of the fairly simple menu, orders placed, and we eagerly waited what The Future would hold. Literally and figuratively; after all, we were sampling the New Day of cooking! A culinary revolution would soon be placed beneath our very noses!

After what seemed half an eternity, with all the fanfare usually assigned to the hanging up of a used dish-rag; dinner was served.

As it turned out, the presentation was apropos for the culinary delights. Our individual plates all held variations upon the theme of monochromatic gray. Be it beef, chicken, potato, or beans; all looked blandly, un-appetizingly, similar. On the positive side it was hot, I do remember that.

I also recall the placed folded about six months later.

The Seventies ushered in an era of God only knows what. The upstart Radar Range was now being subtly referred to as a “micro-wave”. 

This was more fitting to the times; because all we were saying is give Peace a chance. Microwave was much more palatable. Rather than huge, Russkie bomber hunting radar waves cooking one’s food; the much more benign “microwave” worked all the wonders.

A little, bitty, nice friendly wave; just like the ones found on a calm, relaxing day at the beach. Only they are in your kitchen, for a mere grand.

But, like all technological wonders, the price began to drop. Do you remember when a basic desktop calculator was about a hundred bucks?

Being the practical family we are (remember, LB and I had 4 children) we didn’t jump on that bandwagon any time soon. We finally broke down and got our first one in the late seventies or early eighties. The thing broke a couple of times, and we had it repaired. The last time it quit, we discovered it was cheaper to replace it. So we did.

That one also died, and was replaced. With six people in family, that bad boy got a real work-out. It also died and was replaced by a Super-Duper sale one. It was too small, too under-powered, and in general not well received.

I don’t know what became of that one only that the lately departed had arrived. And now… it has been ceremoniously committed to the dumpster at the end of the drive.

I rather like not having the thing there. I don’t need a kitchen appliance with more complex controls and computing power than John Glenn’s spacecraft used, lurking over my shoulder.  We didn’t really cook in the thing. We don’t consume micro-wave popcorn. We have a stove, we have pots and pans.


Hmm…maybe we can start a new Foodie Trend---RETRO WARMING!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Voices in the Dark

The other night, I overheard the most remarkable discussion. As utterly ridiculous as it may sound, I could have sworn I heard Ike and Mimi having a conversation. Oh, I know it sounds completely absurd, and folks will speculate I had been nipping at Grandpa’s cough syrup, but I know what I heard.

In the small hours of the morning, while tucked away cozily in bed, Mimi snoring by my side, I heard a wee little voice: “Mimi! Mimi! You awake?” coming from downstairs. “Naww…” I thought while blinking my sleep heavy eyes.

“I am now.” I heard a voice beside me say. “What is it? A burglar?”

“No, nothing that cool. Boy, would I run him off!”

“Sure, Junior. You just keep thinking like that.” She emitted a big yawn, then “Good night, Ike.”

“No wait! I saw something big eating LB’s hostas.”

“Yes. They are known as “White-tailed deer”. The Latin name is Odocoileus Virginianus. They are so named because the early settlers, at least the ones who bothered to record such arcane things, encountered them in the Virginia Colony.”

“Oh.”

“They are a member of the ungulate genus, along with moose, caribou, horses, camels, and other such hoofed mammals.”

“Who’s late?”

“No one is late, you Bil-Jac head! Un-gu-late… a hoofed mammal!”

“Oh, cool.”

By now, I was upright in bed, frantically mashing buttons on my phone. I was amazed! A dog which I had always assumed had the IQ of a banana was absolutely right!

“Hey, Mimi?”

“What Ike?” I detected a slight tone of annoyance in her voice now.

“How did you learn all this stuff?”

“Well, after 12 years of reading the guy who is married to LB’s  Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, Field and Stream magazines, some things sunk in, I guess.”

“Ahhhh, I see. Thanks, Meem.”

“No problem, Little Buddy. Good night.”

Silence settled over the house for a short period. Then….

“Mimi…you awake?”

“Yes, Ike, I am awake” she replied in an icy tone.

“Why don’t they call those deer “Whatever you said Ohionus”?

“At that period of our nation’s history, Ohio didn’t exist. It was part of the continent which was disputed between France and England. Settlement was highly discouraged, not only for political reasons, but also safety.”

“Safety? Why? Were there monsters?”

“No, no monsters that were known. The indigenous peoples of the area had, for the most part, a decidedly less than receptive view of illegal immigration than their counter-parts to the East and Northeast. “

“Oh. Hey, are there many deer around?”

“Oh my, yes! The white-tail subspecies we have here is the most widely naturally distributed large mammal in North America. It is by far the most common large mammal in the State. In the late 1960’s there were about 17,000 deer in all of Ohio. Today, there are estimated to be 700,000 plus.”

“Wow! I think about half of them visit LB’s garden.”

“So, don’t worry, Little Buddy, they won’t harm you. Unless, of course, you irritate a buck during mating season, then all bets are off.

“Okay, thanks, Mimi. I feel better. Good night.”

“Good night, pal.”

I snuggled under the blankets, my mind trying to decipher what had just transpired. I gave the pillow a couple of adjustment thumps. Sleep was gently overtaking me, when I heard it…

“Mimi! Mimi! What is this thing!?”

“What now, Ike?” she replied rather snappishly.

“This thing is really weird! It has a white head, with a sort of long snout and a kind of a pig nose. The ears look like little pieces of black leather. It has this really kind of scruffy gray fur, and it looks like little tiny hands for feet. And, the tail! It has no hair at all!”

“Ahhhh, yes. You have just met a member of Didelphis virgininana…or the Virginia opossum, most often referred to simply as “’possum”.  Did you know they are marsupials?”

“Really? Wow! No I didn’t. Uh… what is a marsupial?”

“A mammal with an external pouch in which it carries yet unborn babies while they mature to their birth size. A kangaroo is a marsupial.”

“Wow! Pretty strange, huh?”

“Actually, they are fascinating little creatures, Let me explain….”

At that point, I pulled the pillow over my head as Mimi’s Biology lecture droned on.

Before I fell asleep, I made a mental note to lock up my outdoor magazines.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Joy and Tears

Do you believe there can be humor and joy amidst the tears?

I know, I know… it is a dichotomous thought. So totally ludicrous, the height of incongruity;  it is one that is hardly worth even considering.

Yet, we have found humor, and laughter, joy, and peace amidst the tears, the uncertainty, and the emotional vacuum which has drained us all.

At one point, while LB was in a very serious state; barely able to speak, and sleeping nearly around the clock, one of our granddaughters and I were visiting her. She was lying mostly motionless, drifting in and out of sleep as I read the new stack of cards she had received. We noticed her toes wiggling. Just for the sake of asking a totally stupid question, I said “Is there a baby Bulldog down by your feet?” With her eyes still closed, not hesitating a moment, she replied clear as ever; “Believe it or not…there is!” Our beautiful grand-daughter paused from her task of taping the cards to the cabinet and wall; we stared at one another, and burst out laughing. As we were reveling in this bit of humor, LB chuckled, knowing she had made a joke which was well appreciated.

There were those moments when she was transitioning to regular food; traversing the path of pureed and then “mechanically softened” (read; ground to a near mush), and finally to a full regular diet that will remain with me for the remainder of my life. There were times I would make an effort to be with her at meals, not only to keep her company, but to encourage her to eat.  One evening, while she was laboring her way through God only knows what it was, she set her fork down after about 4 bites. We talked for a few moments, then I encouraged her to have some more. She looked at me with those beautiful blue eyes, the most serious of expressions on her face and informed me; “I am finished. This tastes like crap. I refuse to eat any more crap.”  The culinary wonders of ketchup were once again proven. A few squirts and the meal became palatable, to a degree.

As she has become more active, she has perfected getting around the rehabilitation center by scooting her feet while seated in her wheel-chair. This is a temporary form of locomotion; as her legs are becoming stronger. However, she soon discovered that by hanging out by the front door, she could slip out when people were entering or exiting. The concern arose that she really shouldn’t be outdoors alone. The yard/parking area slope gently downward and it would take nothing for her to go rolling off. The possible end results are not terribly good; so, it is best for someone to be with her.

However, given her sweet personality, and ability to befriend people the decision was made to put an alarm on her chair. All of which worked. For awhile.

I knew it was a merely a matter of “when” and not “if”, but LB figured out she could switch from her chair to a non-monitored chair, and VOILA!—the great outdoors are hers to conquer. She was discovered the other evening, trying to convince the driver of a transport ambulance to drop her off at the mall!

After the circumstances of what happened, and all the dust settled we got a good chuckle out of that one. The nursing staff was giggling away as they put the guard on her ankle. It’s okay, though; for now she calls it a lock-box, and thinks one of our daughters made it for her.

She has a group of lady friends. They have meals together, they play cards together, the go to the music programs and such, they cruise the halls together. I call them “Cindy and her posse”. Some staff members think she is forming a coalition of constituents and will run to be elected President of the Resident’s Committee. Or the Big Cheese of the place.

During the seeming never-ending sameness of our days for the moment, these little flashes of humor burst upon the scene with an unexpected brilliance and wonder not unlike a fireworks display against the inky backdrop of a summer night sky.

But, the one thing which never fails to bring the biggest smile to my face, and lightens my burden the most is simply holding her hand; me walking, her rolling along. Just being together, hearing the musical sound of her voice, seeing the wonder of the Inner LB through her eyes.

Then recalling just how close we came to having to relinquish her to the One who created this wonderful person.


That is the greatest Joy of all. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Lessons I Have Learned During LB's Illness


I have always endeavored to learn what I can from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes. Also, I have tried to learn from the other stuff Life throws my way.

Sometimes, the lessons have been profound, learned at an early age; "Don't chew gum found on the underside of theater seats."

Sometimes, the lessons are less profound, yet equally impactful; "Darn! I should have paid attention to the weather forecast! It is pouring, and I don't have a jacket!."

Regardless, I do try to find a nugget, however small, in each occurrence in my life. With that in mind, allow me to proceed....

-I hate coming home to an empty house. Even with two dogs to greet me, it is an empty house.

-I hate leaving her at the rehabilitation facility at night.

-Had LB and I taken an hour with an attorney to have prepared Powers of Attorney documents, it would have been a lot simpler, cheaper, and significantly less stressful than dealing with courts.

-Buying groceries for one is a pain. A gallon of milk becomes yogurt before it is used up. A loaf of bread becomes bird food, and a dozen eggs wind up being cooked in the micro-wave for dog-food add-ins.

-After more than 42 years of marriage, you don't ever get used to going to bed alone, and waking up alone.

-Our children and in-law children are indispensable. They have been absolutely fantastic during this time.

-Our grandchildren truly are deserving of the term “great". They have been supportive and caring toward their Grandma from the beginning.

-It is true. Don't sweat the small stuff. And, the vast majority of things are small stuff.

-While man can live on frozen waffles alone, it isn't the best dietary choice. Even with justifying butter as getting one's dairy requirements.

-I will no longer get irritated when I can once again receive a text message from LB. Not even when I am in an “important meeting”. No meeting is that important.

-I miss hearing the silly, goofy things of her day. Now, it is therapy, therapy, and more therapy.

-We have all had those day-dreams about how wonderful it would be on our own. We can do what we want, when we want; and no one to tell us the difference.
Well, it isn't wonderful
It completely stinks.

-True friends have been, and will be, there through it all.

-Some friends have vanished like the morning mist after the sun rises.

-When some people say “We'll pray for you”; they don't

-When some people say “We'll pray for you”; they don't stop praying.

-Don't put too much stock in the dire predictions of the medical experts. LB has been proving them utterly wrong. Daily.

-Don't sell yourself short. There is a vast reserve of strength deep within.

-Remember to water the flowers and plants. Unless you enjoy replacing the ones which have died.

-Each day holds a promise of hope. Don't allow it to be obscured by temporary clouds.

-LB is an incredibly strong, determined, tough woman---much more so than I have ever thought.

-The Lord was right. He won't leave you, or forsake you.

-Regardless of the outcome, LB and I have made this journey together.

-1 Corinthians 13:15 is right. “And now these three remain; Faith, Hope and Love, but the greatest of these is Love.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Summit to Valley

A bit more than two weeks ago, or a fortnight; for my readers in the U.K., I was enjoying an extended time of Life Being Good while relaxing on the summit of some now forgotten mountain.

Within a matter of moments, I found myself plunging wildly into a valley the depths, darkness, and endlessness of such I have never encountered. This reckless ride was triggered by a phone call, from our very responsible 17 year old grandson, telling me my Lovely Bride had become suddenly, and extremely seriously ill while working out with her trainer.

It was not an overly rigorous workout, in fact, they were just warming up.  It was not an overly hot or humid day; rather it was somewhat pleasant. It just happened. By the Grace of God, the local fire station was literally next to the park they were at; the local hospital within a half mile. Still, LB was very, very ill.

I cannot say we are out of the woods; but I can feel confident in saying we are coming to the end of the stinking swamp which had threatened to consume us.  When just a few days ago, darkness was all around, with no hint of sunlight (or moonlight, for that matter) to be found. Now, the glint of brightness peeks through the leaves with  more frequency.

Our journey along this trail is far from ending. In fact, it seems as if we are just now finally preparing to leave the trail head. I try not to get my hopes too high, as several times plans had changed, or been delayed due to never-ending paperwork, forms, verification and what not.

LB would not have recovered to the state she is currently in were it not for the countless prayers of literally thousands of people around the globe. I shall be eternally grateful to every person, for every prayer offered on her behalf. It boggles my mind when I stop to consider there is a continual, 24-hour-a-day barrage of prayer upon Heaven  for her. Believers in Europe, Australia, South America, Africa, the Pacific Islands, Alaska... on and on... I don't know whom all of you are, however, I am very deeply indebted to each person.

We are blessed with a extraordinary support group. Our children, later-in-life-through-marriage children, our grandchildren, friends beyond number; the care, assistance, support has all be overwhelming and very humbling. I can never repay you all for your help, your warmth, your concern for the two of us. Even if it was listening to me vent, and overlooking my lack of charm at times.

I have noticed one thing interesting from the valley perspective.

Only from the valley floor can one truly appreciate the splendor and majesty of the mountains. That view is lost to us from the summit. I know LB and I will be back on the summit once again.

Until then, please keep her in your prayers and good thoughts.
I thank you from the very bottom of my heart.
JEH




Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father's Day Verse

A poignant, touching original verse in honor of Father's Day 
by  J.E. Hopkins 



P is for the Patience youse had when I did dumb stuff
O is for the Offerin’ of time youse made in my life
P (again) is for Passin’ the Skills of being an adal..adol… a Grown-up to me
S is for the Smarts needed to raise a bunch of kids

Pops,
you are Tops!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A New Clean, Well-lighted Place

Hemingway had his clean, well-lighted place; a small cozy bistro tucked away in post-WWI Paris. He wrote at length extolling the coziness, the quaintness, and the inspirational merits of the café.

(If the reader is not familiar with “A Clean, Well-lighted Place” of Hemingway’s I would suggest borrowing it from the library or purchasing from a bookstore (you know, those buildings with all the books inside), and acquainting one’s self with Ernest and his times.)

However, my Lovely Bride and I have discovered a far cleaner, well-lighted and affable place in post Great Recession Cleveland. Tucked away in the former warehouse district, on a bluff above the gritty Cuyahoga River is one of our favorite places.

A warm spring evening finds the restaurant/café bustling with activity, nearly every table filled with diners although it was close to 9 o’clock.

It was quite by accident we stumbled upon this jewel one Saturday. We had spent the better part of the afternoon traveling back in time at the Western Reserve Historical Society museum, another bright spot of Northeast Ohio.

Upon leaving, we were desirous of having dinner. While there is certainly no end to excellent local dining places in and around the University Circle area, LB had a yearning for some Greek food.

We set off on a tour of the newly revamped Euclid Avenue, past some not-so-great areas, through the CSU campus, and toward Public Square. As for myself, my stomach was not quite as discriminating as LB’s, and was ready to take a stab at the BB-Q joints, burger places, and soul food emporiums we cruised past.

Undeterred in her quest, she was following the Apostle Paul’s advice, pressing onward toward the mark. Albeit, he was illustrating a far more lofty quest than a dinner of moussaka. 

We wended our way around a Public Square under renovation, past the Society for Savings bank building, tipped our figurative hats to the Old Stone Church, and found the corner which once was home to John Q’s Public House was now vacant.

With that uniquely American bent, we continued onward; Westward, ever Westward. I was beginning to become anxious, as the Great Divide of the Cuyahoga River was fast approaching. Neither of us had passports or visas with us. The Point of No Return loomed.

For those not familiar with the Greater Cleveland area, it is unique in many, many ways. Unique in its founding, not as a trading post done good, not as a strategic military location which kept on growing, nor a spot where a broken down prospector, withdrawing his pick from the soil, spots a glitter, shouts “Eureka!” and overnight, a flood of treasure seekers has arrived.

No, Cleveland was begun as a profit making real-estate venture. Moses Cleaveland, the founder and namesake of the city, had been hired by the Connecticut Land Company to map and plat the lands of the Western Reserve.

The Western Reserve was land set-aside for the survivors of England’s scorched earth policy in Connecticut during our Revolutionary War; giving those families who had lost their farms, businesses, homes, etc  the opportunity for a fresh start in the newly opened Ohio Territory.

The Connecticut Land Company was established for the purpose of selling tracts of land to those people who were not entitled to a land-grant.

A natural barrier between the two sides of Cleveland (in fact, the west bank was called Ohio City, a name which lives in describing the area which had long ago been annexed) is the Cuyahoga. Although bridges now span its width, the river (or The River, as it is referred to) is a cultural and psychological barrier as well.  The old stigma of being “a Westsider” or an “Eastsider” has begun to fade, although vestiges still remain.

Hence, one can now appreciate my anxiety. In desperation, we turned down a narrow little street, popping out on West Ninth Street. We spot an eatery on a corner, and resignedly opt to go there. I was at the point of considering boiling the seat-belt for nourishment.  Then, with a shaft of light streaming from the heavens, the haunting tones of an angelic chorus, we saw IT.

A sign,  high above: “Santorini  Greek Taverna”.

We entered into one of the best kept secrets in town. Greeted by a cheerful young lady, we were shown to our table.  A plate of olives and pita was placed before us. We were treated like family who had not been seen for some time. Explaining to Alexis, our server that I am Irish, so I need some help with anything beyond potatoes, she gladly described the many wonderful selections.

The fragrances from the open kitchen area filled the place. With a shout of “Oompa!” a near-by table was enthralled with the presentation of Saganaki, a flaming Greek cheese appetizer.  Trays of youvetsi,  pork souvlaki, and so much more were carried past; invoking an “Ooo, what is that?” reaction.

Finally, we settled upon our meal; which I cannot recall the exact constituents. It was excellent, however.  
We also were treated to their version of baklava, the classic Greek dessert. Typically, I am not a huge fan of this sticky, gooey, flaky pastry. However, the spin (not going to tell you, you have to check it out for yourself) put on by Santorini’s is outstanding!

We departed, feeling quite pleased.

So it was, we found ourselves on a warm spring evening (see The Schmooze, May, 2013) entering the door of our new favorite place. Being a busy Friday, we thought we would simply meld into the background; just another couple at a two-top table.

We were wrong as the greeter remembered us, Alexis greeted us with a smile (actually LB got a hug); we were astounded. As we were enjoying our light repast, Gus Karakostas, the owner spotted us. Making a bee-line for our table, we were warmly greeted. Again, LB received a hug (what is up with that?) and I received a hardy hand-shake, which was fine with me… that whole guys-hugging-thing… a generational thing…you know.

Finally, we made our departure, Gus joining us at the door.  Stepping onto the sidewalk, the alfresco café tables filled, the happy sounds of conversation and laughter filling our ears; we knew we would be back.
So, Ernest, you can have your clean, well-lighted place. I am sure it is quite nice. But, give me Santorini’s in tough, won’t-stay-down Cleveland any day.


*NOTE: the writer of this column has received NO remuneration or consideration in any form. I do believe in sharing some of the positive experiences LB and I have.*

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Theological Debate Overheard

In our home, the radio is on from early morning until late at night. Ninety-nine and seven-tenths  out of 100, it is tuned to Cleveland’s Moody Broadcasting affiliate. 

This has been the case now for well over two decades. Once in a while (usually during absences by my Lovely Bride) the tuner finds itself on the local jazz station. Sometimes, once in a very blue moon, the local country station fills the room.

But, by and large, it is Moody Broadcasting.

As a result, I overheard the most amazing conversation the other night.

It was storming, with lightning reflecting off the bedroom walls, peals of thunder rattling the window-frame, and torrents of wind propelled rain peppering the siding. I lay there awake, wrestling with the blankets when I heard it.

From the kitchen, Ike’s youthful canine voice raised the question:

 “Mimi, what do you think of Grace? Is it provisional, or un-conditional?”

Shaking my head to clear the cobwebs, I heard Mimi reply, even as she lay between LB and me;

 “Ike, Ike, Ike… how many times are we going to go over this? Grace is unmerited. No one can earn it. Look at what Paul wrote in Ephesians 6; “For by Grace are you saved, not of works.”

“I know salvation is not works based… but what are the limits of Grace?”

“Ike, how can Someone as limitless as God place a limit upon one of His most fundamental virtues?”

“Why do you have to answer a question with a question?”

“Do I do that?”

“Yes, and it drives me nuts!  Now back to Grace. So, you are saying God’s Grace is limitless. Now, what if we extrapolate that to followers of Christ, can they, do they, have unlimited Grace?”

It began to dawn on me, that after nearly a dozen years of listening to the radio, Mimi has a very solid grasp of theology and doctrine! In fact, she could give most ministers a run for their money; with the possible exceptions of Erwin Lutzer, C.S. Lewis or the Rev. Dr. David Welle. The more I listened, I began to see she holds to a “Calvinian” belief; Calvinist, with overtones of Arminianism.

She cleared her throat, took a deep breath, sighed and replied.

 “You are asking a question with several prongs. As I see it, the first is ‘Can followers have unlimited Grace’, the second is ‘Do followers have unlimited Grace.’ As you are aware, there is a gulf of difference between ‘can’ and ‘have’.”

“Yeah, yeah…I get all that. What do you think?”

“Let’s take a look at some Biblical examples, shall we? Perhaps one of the earliest, and most poignant, examples of Grace being extended by one of Christ followers is the stoning of Stephen. While the hatred of the mob washed over him like a wave, the stones breaking his bones, splitting his skin; yet Stephen implored the Lord to not hold his murder to the account of the ones stoning him. That, my little friend is unlimited Grace exemplified.”

“Yes, I recall hearing about Stephen the other day.” Ike proclaimed.

I sat up, eyes wide, staring at the little brindle dog lying there. “How is she doing that?” I wondered. Tentatively, I reached toward LB’s shoulder; she has to hear this.

“Another example of unlimited Grace is that of Ananias, in Acts chapter 9. Here we see not only Grace being exercised, but also Obedience to God; despite the possibility of great physical harm. Here, God called him, a believer, to seek out the feared Saul of Tarsus; the Persecutor of the Church. Yet, he believed God. Through Grace, with Obedience, he extended his hands, touched Saul’s blinded eyes, and prayed for healing, and an in-filling of the Holy Spirit, upon Saul.”

“Okay, I see. Do you think believers of today have the same capabilities?”

“Again, the ultimate answer lies within Scripture. The writer of Hebrews…”

“Wasn’t it Paul?”

My hand stopped mere inches from LB’s shoulder! I wanted to awaken her, yet I feared the disturbance would slam the door shut on what I was experiencing. I thought back upon anything I may have eaten or drank before bed-time. Nothing, not a thing I could recall. A crash of thunder shook the very walls of our home. The trees beyond the window thrashed as if crazed, caught in an unfettered dance with the wind.

“No, there is no certainty Paul wrote Hebrews. For one, he was not ashamed to announce he was the writer of his known epistles, unlike the anonymity of this letter. Secondly, the sentence structure and syntax do not conform to other Pauline examples. As I was about to say, though, Hebrews 13:8 states “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”, which underscores that He is unchanging. Therefore, if He is unchanging, his Grace is the same today as it was to Ananias two thousand years ago.”

“Whew… that is good to know.”

“Why do you ask such deep questions so late at night, little buddy?”, Mimi asked.

“Well, you know that blue-green carnival glass fruit bowl on the kitchen table?”

“Of course I do. That has been in the family’s household since the 1970s. Every dog that has been privileged to be part of this family knows that bowl.”

“Uh-huh…”

“ ‘Un-huh’ what, Ike?”

“Well, do you remember that one really, really, really loud clap of thunder?”

“Vaguely, I sleep pretty soundly at my age, you know.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t. I jumped up, bumped the table and, well….”

“Oh no, Ike! You didn’t.”

“I think I did. Nothing went crash, but I have a smorgasbord of apples and bananas down here.”

“Oh my… oh my, I will be praying for you, little man. I hope that Puppy-cuteness still works for you.”

The next thing I recalled was the sound of a contemporary Christian song coming from the clock radio. 

Groggily, I pulled on my jeans, scooped up Mimi, headed down the stairs and outdoors. After her morning oblations were complete, I came into the kitchen to prepare their breakfasts.

There, safely on the table, the apples and bananas intact, was the bowl.

As I turned to get the dog-food from the refrigerator (LB cooks her own food for them), I could have sworn I heard Ike humming “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”


Naahhhh…..

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:

HAPPY MUDDER’S DAY

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!

TRANSLATIONS:
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.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

COUPONS

The other evening I braved the frozen wasteland, the wolves and polar bears in my quest to retrieve the mail. It was amongst the most harrowing 80 feet I have ever traversed!

Upon opening the mailbox, dimly illuminated by the streetlight,  I saw it! The envelope! No, not THE Envelope; rather it was the regular monthly blue envelope packed with value coupons.  Yippee.

The envelope languished on our table for a few days until  in a moment of reckless abandon, I tore it open. I have to admit the reckless abandon was borne of abject boredom. Flipping through the roofing companies, the heating and air conditioning guys, and pizza joints; it struck me.

Why do virtually all of these super deals say “New Customer Special!” or words to that effect?

Let’s say, for example, I am a regular customer of “Cheezee Louisie’s Pizza” There it is! A coupon…three dollars off a large super-deluxe pizza! Oh happy day! My favorite one! While visions of pepperoni are kicking up their heels, I see the fine print: “New Customers Only”

“What the heck?” I ask. For all these many years I have been a loyal customer! My money helped keep the lights on! I have helped pay for Louisie’s BMW! Not once have I ever gotten an extra topping for free! Never have I had a “large” upgraded to an “extra-large” at no charge!

Now, some new-comer, an interloper… a… a usurper!... gets to save three bucks off a ‘za I helped to create?!? Putting bacon on it was my idea!

“Louisie”, I says, “You need to put some bacon on this bad boy!” Next thing you know, Bam!... bacon on the pie!

Where is the honor? Where is the fidelity? Where is the appreciation?

I’ll tell you where….in the big, brown dumpster behind the shop! That’s where!

All my life I remember my Mom, my Aunts, my friends’ Moms… all saving and using coupons while shopping. Some people even saved coupons from various cigarette brands. These could be redeemed for nifty stuff like picnic baskets, hand tools, a new putter… and the Grand-Daddy of them all: Your Very Own Iron Lung!

All of which got me to thinking.

What if coupons had been used throughout history???

Is the Sphinx a result of “Irsu’s Patios and Pyramids Company” offering a “free decorative statue of your choice with each pyramid purchased”?

 Did it end up in its present form due to a compromise between Pharaoh and Mrs. Pharaoh about the design? He wanted it to be a manly representation of himself; she was the Original Crazy Cat Lady and wanted a gigantic feline. And---taah daah!---we have the Sphinx!

Did Hannibal (the real-life one, not the fictional one of movie fame) end up with elephants on his military campaigns solely because he had a “Try ‘em! You’ll like ‘em!” coupon from Petrarch’s Pachyderms?

Did Herod send Three Wise Men to Bethlehem because he couldn't pass up the “Three can travel for the cost of two!” coupon from Belshazzar's Travel Agency?

All through the pages of History, the evidence of coupon usage is apparent.

I offer as evidence the choice of Columbus’s ships; the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.  Come on, we all know the guy was on a tight budget. He could have had ships with names like Round Earth Voyager, Plunderer, and Lollipop.  

But no.

Obviously, he got a coupon from “Smilin’ Al, the Seafarer’s Pal” in the mail.

A deal that was too good to pass up. “Buy two ships ending with the same vowel; get a third same vowel ship FOR FREE!”

Did the Dutch really cheat the Natives when they traded for Manhattan Island?

Incidentally, the name means either “hilly island” or “place of intoxication” in Algonquin, according to documents written at the time. Or it could  also mean, “let’s go to the hilly island and get good and drunk”.
But I digress.

Perhaps, the Algonquin’s; noticing first Henry Hudson sailing around, naming rivers, bays, and automobiles after himself; then the Italian Verrazano poking around naming the skinny part of the river after himself. Then the Portuguese explore Gomez was cruising up and down the rivers giving places impossible to pronounce Portuguese names.

Then, they hear the word on the street was the Dutch were antsy to establish their turf in the New World. They decided to write out some coupons:

” Crazy Land Deal! $24 in trinkets, beads, and what-not takes all! No Closing Costs! No Points! No Inspection! First $24 takes it!”
 Peter Minuit cut that puppy out of his weekly buckskin news, and cashed it in!

On and on it goes.

 Jefferson didn’t negotiate a super bargain with the French for the Louisiana Purchase. He had a coupon “Buy one city below sea-level, get half a continent FREE!”

Lewis and Clark didn’t just stumble upon Sacajawea. No, they saw the smoke signals: “Hire a guide for one mountain range, get discovery of ocean No Extra Charge!”

And so it continues. These little slips of paper spur commerce along yet to this day.

I continue riffling through the pile on the table top; window replacement companies, drive-way seal-coating, dry-cleaners…
Wait… what’s this?
Ten Dollar Haircut?

Gotta go! See ya later!!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Look Ma! No Bacteria!!

It has been a little chilly in Ohio lately.

A good old-fashioned cold snap has moved in.  It was not unusual for early morning temperatures to be 12, 15, even 22 degrees below zero.

Taking the dogs out in the pre-dawn darkness has been somewhat invigorating, attired only in flannel pj pants, sweatshirt and crocs. Why the dogs insist upon wearing that, I will never understand. Neither they nor I dilly-dallied a great deal. Get the job done, gang-way… open the door!

So it was, while overhearing one of the never-ending weather related discourses at work, someone mentioned “At least this cold kills the bacteria outside. That is a real good thing.” Which started the wheels to turning…

Bear in mind, my degree is in History, with an English minor. I am neither a macro nor micro biologist. However, I do know the proper use of the semi-colon and the colon in a sentence.

At first blush, the concept of a bacteria free world sounds pretty good. No colds, no pneumonia, not even a case of upset stomach. We would not have to sniff the milk jug before pouring it on our shredded wheat; it would be perpetually fresh. No more “plastic container roulette” at lunch; is it green or is it edible?  It would always be good! In the words of Nat King Cole: What A Wonderful World! Oh yeah!

(If the reader has been paying attention, they would have noted in the above paragraph two examples of proper colon and semi-colon usage. But I digress.)

For several minutes, my mind ran unfettered in a bacteria free world! No hand sanitizers! No antibiotics! No worries about eating 4 day old left over pizza! Oh happy day!

Then, a little nagging thought began to worm its way to the forefront. “There are good bacteria, and there are bad bacteria” Little Nagging Thought was saying. Here now lay a conundrum.

Let’s suppose there were no bacteria at all. Think about it for a moment. The simplest biological task of digesting a meal would not be possible. Without going into disgusting details, take it from me; good bacteria are “good” for a reason.  If you doubt this assertion, just take too many antibiotics next go-around. You will come to greatly, may I dare say; dearly, appreciate good bacteria.

If there were no bacteria, the oceans, lakes and rivers would be clogged with the remains of un-decomposed fish and marine mammals. Our fields, woodlands, and lawns would be piled with formerly animate birds, deer, saber-tooth tigers, woolly mammoths, maybe even the stray Sasquatch or two along with every other critter which had traversed the earth.

It would be very easy to research one’s ancestors. All that would be needed is a trip back to the Olde Country, rummage around for a while, and voila: Great-great-great-great-great-great you get the idea Granddad Padric, twice removed.  You know, for a guy who died a few centuries ago, he looks pretty good. In fact, cousin Thaddeus has his nose!

Admittedly, this would be an anthropologist’s dream come true. No more speculation; this is what Cro-Magnon Man looked like, and Cro-Magnon Woman, and Cro-Magnon boy, and Cro-Magnon’s neighbors, his dog, his cat, the guy who did the stunning artwork on the cave.  There they would all be, just as pristine as the day they cashed in their chips.

Can you imagine a world in which every blade of grass, leaf, shrub and tree never decomposed? We would have piles of dead vegetation as high as Mount Denali! Worse, there would be no nutrients in soil from decomposing matter. The Great Plains were so fertile due to eons of tall grasses living, dying, and decomposing to provide nutrients for new grasses. This would make it extremely tough to grow crops or any type.

When someone says they are in…ahem… “deep stuff”, they would be speaking of fact, not a euphemism.

If there were no bacteria, you can forget about hopping into your set of wheels and firing that bad boy up. Forget using your gas range, or turning on a light bulb for much of the world.  There would be no oil or natural gas reserves. Coal would be something inconceivable. And, those little sparkly things most women desire, forget it. No coal means no shiny diamonds.

Soon, I was in a morass of chaos brought on by a bacteria free-world. The implications were mind-boggling. Just as I was about to cascade down a slippery slope into the gaping jaws of a long dead coelacanth, my desk phone warbled.


It was my boss, telling me if I didn’t get back to work, my career with the company would be extinct. And that , despite living in a bacteria ridden world, would land me in some really deep stuff!