Holiday Euphemisms

Happy Holidays!

What? You think I’m jumping the gun by just a few months? Then, obviously, you’re not looking at a calendar. Rosh Hashanah begins on September 12th at sundown, and both Yom Kippur and Ramadan start on September 21st. And, apparently, Japan celebrates Respect for the Aged Day on September 17th.

Yet “Happy Holidays” is an unnecessary euphemism in September, because if you want to wish someone a Happy Respect for the Aged Day, you don’t have to do it in code words. You can actually mention the holiday in your greeting without fear of reprisal. Same with “Happy Halloween” or “Happy Thanksgiving” or “Happy Valentine’s Day.”

Can you see where I’m going with this?

The reason I really hate the expression “Happy Holidays” is that it turns “Merry Christmas” into a political statement. “Merry Christmas” no longer just means “I hope your Christmas is a merry one.” It now also means “SCREW the P.C. police! I’ll wish you a Merry Christmas if I damn well want to! The A.C.L.U. can’t tell me what to do!!”

Christmas shouldn’t be a time to pick a fight. It should be Christmastime – not “winter break” or “the holiday season.” And “Merry Christmas” should mean just what it says. I’m not sure how we can get back to that.

“Happy Holidays” defenders insist that they’re more tolerant and kind, because their greeting is more inclusive. Except that it isn’t. Polls show that over 95% of Americans celebrate Christmas. You’d be hard-pressed to say the same thing about, say, Halloween or Valentine’s Day, yet no one has to vaguely acknowledge a “holiday” in order to avoid giving offense to the fundamentalists who think October 31 is the day children dress up to unwittingly worship Satan.

Ah, say the H.H. Defenders, but there are more holidays being celebrated than Christmas in December! What about Hanukkah? Or Kwanzaa? Huh? HUH?!!

What about them? If you want to wish me a Happy Hanukkah, do it! I would certainly appreciate the sentiment. And, believe it or not, I’ve been wished Happy Hanukkah a number of times in my life, because I grew up in a Southern California neighborhood that was predominantly Jewish. We used to get Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah off from school. It was great – we usually went to Disneyland on Yom Kippur. And I was always jealous of my friends who got to eat their peanut butter sandwiches on Motzah during Passover. (Not sure why, though. Motzah tastes like cardboard.)

We sang Hanukkah songs in my fifth grade chorus. And not just namby-pamby songs about dreidels and such. I still remember one song with a haunting, strange Hebrew melody:

May your days and nights
Be a feast of lights
The eternal flame, may it glow in you
And the Holy One, may He know in you
Only love

The song started with talk of “mama lighting the Menorah” and “Papa reading from the Torah.” And I, a good little Mormon boy, sang along cheerfully without even considering a lawsuit! I even had a solo during the song “Eight Bright Candles of Hanukkah.” How cool was that? I’m very grateful that I was raised to appreciate a religious culture different from my own.

And, by the way, Hanukkah is a relatively minor Jewish holiday – essentially the celebration of a military victory. The real holidays – the High Holy Days – take place this month, and nobody makes any ballyhoo over them in the culture at large. Hanukkah’s secular importance has exploded in order to compete with Christmas, and many of my Jewish friends celebrated both, so as not to miss out on Santa’s loot.

Once upon a time, when you said “Merry Christmas” to a Jew, they took it as a message saying “I hope your December 25th is a merry day,” not “Convert to Christianity or burn in hell, heathen!” Actually, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a Jew – or anyone of any other religion – who would take offense at being wished a Merry Christmas. Except Jehovah’s Witnesses, but they hate everything holidayish.

And then there’s the Kwanzaa people.

Kwanzaa sucks. I have no patience for Kwanzaa. It has no religious significance or history. It was created forty years ago by someone trying to stick it to Christmas – a Bizarro Christmas for Atheists. Why should I have an ounce of respect for a holiday that was created in anger to stir up the kind of P.C. resentment to even the mere mention of Christmas that we see today?

Yet here’s the rub: if you wish me a Happy Kwanzaa, I’ll take it in stride! It will make me smile! Because at least Happy Kwanzaa doesn’t devalue the very existence of Christmas the way “Happy Holidays” does.

Some see my attitude as unnecessarily belligerent. As columnist Anna Quindlen wrote last year:

It is surprising to discover that some believe the enduring power of the story of the child born in Bethlehem to be so shaky that it must be shored up by plastic creches in town squares and middle-school concerts. Apparently, conservative critics are also exercised by the fact that various discount stores have failed to pay homage to the baby in the manger, in their advertisements, their labeling and even their in-store greetings.

She gets it exactly wrong. It’s not that my faith depends on seeing the baby Jesus in Wal-Mart ads. It’s that she’s so skittish about Christian intolerance that she won’t even allow us to mention Christmas by name. Is it too much to ask for some direct reference to the holiday I’m supposed to be happy about? I’m tired of having to pretend that Christmas doesn’t matter as much as it so clearly does. I am disgusted with Christmas TV ads filled with Santa Claus and Christmas trees that end with “Happy Holidays” because mentioning the word “Christmas” might offend Anna Quindlen.

When people say “Happy Holidays,” they’re not being inclusive. They’re running scared. They mean “Merry Christmas,” but they’re afraid of looking intolerant by actually saying it.

So where does that leave me?

Grumpy? Intolerant? Embittered? Not really. I still love Christmas and everything about it. when someone wishes me Happy Holidays, I smile, wish them a Merry Christmas, and hope the politics don’t get in the way.

In the meantime, Happy Respect for the Aged Day.

Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity

So, according to Ain’t It Cool News, the new G.I. Joe movie is going to feature an international fighting force rather than a “real American hero.” In addition, G.I. Joe will now be an acronym for “Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity” to make all the multilateralists giddy with excitement.

Why?

Well, according to a Fox News report, “The word is that in the current political climate, they’re afraid that a heroic U.S. soldier won’t fly.”

Now this is deeply stupid on a number of levels, and, ordinarily, I’d like to take the time to rant about this. But his time I won’t. OK, perhaps I will, but just for a moment.

Who’s going to watch a movie like this? People who want to see G.I. Joe wouldn’t be remotely interested in the Global Integrated Johnkerry whatever. And the John Kerrys of the world wouldn’t be interested in G.I. Joe, so why cater to them? Are you really that embarrassed by your country, Hollywood, that you can’t bring yourself to put a patriotic hero on the screen?

End rant.

Because this news report exposed something even more terrifying: a bunch of people who commented on this article are total liberal weenies who loathe America. And if there really are millions of people who think like them, this nation is doomed.

Think I exaggerate?

I quote from the article’s “talkback” section:

This Liberal is really sick of the s— you conservative a– monkeys have done to this great country. Just because you’re all closeted self haters who have to think of the President to make love to your wives doesn’t mean you can continue to blame us for your f—ing up the country. You’re hyper nationalism belongs somewhere else comrade.

I’m not sure what’s more appalling here – the ideology, the vocabulary, or the grammar.

The idea that America represents all that is good, righteous, and freedomtastic is OVER. Its been over for awhile (actually, if it ever was true), but now? After Bush and his Oil Baron cronies effectively turned the US into a Theocratic Imperial Power? After the human rights disaster of the Iraquagmire? Please. In the eyes of the world, and in at least 50% of the US itself, we are no longer even remotely aligned with anything good, righteous, or freedomtastic. We are the bad guys. Period.

Yikes. We’re a theocratic, imperial power? I wonder how this guy would do under Sharia law.

…to the neocon mind, “fair and balanced” = you agree with whatever Bush says regardless of the fact that everything he has said has proven to have been either:

1) a bald-faced lie resulting in the deaths of untold thousands of innocent women and children both at home and abroad or

2) So far off from the real world as to represent a kind of Bizarroworld Drydrunk Narnia like affair for retardo theocratic redneck f—tards who just want to kill as many non-white, non-christians as possible regardless of the utter lack of justifable pretext.

And that doesn’t even take into account the Bush regime’s monsterous incompetance. Worst ‘president’ EVAR. Seriously, how many people still support the man? Like 10% of the country? Please. Just stop it.

Take note. Hatred is not a coherent argument. And learn to spell. Dumbest post EVAR.

Does this frighten anyone but me?

These are probably the most egregious whiners over there, but many more bellyache about how rotten America is because the whole world hates us.

And when, exactly, did the world love us? When Clinton was president? When Carter was president? Golly, the world sure despised us when Reagan was the guy at the top, and then a funny thing happened.

The Soviet Union went away.

That wouldn’t have been the case if we’d all taken Jimmy Carter’s advice and gotten over our “inordinate fear of communism.” Hey, Jimmah! We didn’t get over our inordinate fear of communism. We got over communism instead! And guess what? The world – or at least the world Carter cares about – loathed us for it.

The Eastern Bloc countries didn’t, though. It’s been said that, even today, Poland is the most pro-American country in the world – including America. They recognize that America isn’t an “imperial” nation or a “theocracy.” If it were, Iraq would be a whole lot more stable, because we wouldn’t be wasting time trying to avoid slaughtering civilians or trying to get the Iraqi government on its own two feet. We’d have our warlords in power demanding tribute and killing those who didn’t comply.

And, no, that’s not what we’re doing now. If you think that’s what we’re doing, you’re probably a regular at Ain’t It Cool News.

Which do you prefer – adoration or freedom/security? Because you can’t have both. Bush is making the hard choices that require something liberals don’t have – the strength to endure hatred in order to be right.

Fact is, I don’t give a crap if the world hates us. The world respects us. The world fears us. We’re in charge. And the guy in charge doesn’t usually get to be loved. Deal with it.

And if you can’t make a good G.I. Joe movie, don’t make one at all.

Missing Langy

A fellow Languatron opponent reminded me of this video recently, and it made me laugh anew. I made this sometime last year, and it’s not nearly as a waste of time as it seems at first glance. That’s not to say it wasn’t a waste of time at all, but it was my first foray into film editing and Flash animation, and both skills have served me well in the interim, so making this stupid little thing has proven to be helpful to my career. How’s that for rationalization?

Anyway…

If you’re just discovering the lunacy that is Langy, then some background is necessary. It is axiomatic that Languatron is shunned by decent people everywhere. When he shows up at an Internet bulletin board, he is summarily booted off of said board as soon as the moderators are accused of being corporate shills of Universal Studios and/or gay.

So, sometime in either 2005 or 2006, Lang hit upon a solution: he would start his own board. And he would be the only member. He was the only one allowed to post or comment. He would post a topic, respond to his own messages and then carry on lengthy conversations with himself.

To make this scenario even more ludicrous, Languatron would comb through his visitor logs and block the board from being seen by anyone who had previously visited it. Why? Because if you wanted to read Langy’s board, you were obviously a Universal Studios executive trying to spy on him! Eventually, to cut to the chase, he made it so only registered users could view his board. Since he was the board’s only registered user, only he could see his posts.

Languatron effectively disappeared.

The board is no longer online as of 2013, when I came back to re-edit this page. But originally, at the time of this writing, it had “1004 Posts in 765 Topics by 1 Members – Latest Member: languatron.” He may still be writing there, for all I know.

Once Langy was gone, I was surprised by how much I missed him. So I prepared this movie as a tribute to his legacy – and also to bug the hell out of him. The movie touches on much of his celebrated history, including his tortured grasp of the English language, his battles with five posters he termed the “Flatulent Five,” and his infamous bet with RGrant that got him booted from the Cylon.org board.

Summing up: it’s pretty stupid.

Enjoy!

Hooey

I hate Cascading Style Sheets.

Someone who wants to make a fortune will invent a reliable, easy-to-use CSS WYSIWIG editor. If you’ve got one, would you please get it to me by noon today?

Thank you.

I also hate doing dishes and/or laundry, especially at the same time. I’ve never done them at the same time, but I’m sure that would be bad.

Folding clothes is a pain in the rear. I used to just shove them all, unfolded, in a drawer. But nooooooo! That “wrinkles” them. Oh, for the days when wrinkled clothing was a sign of artistic rebellion and not just pure sloth…

Who likes cats, raise your hand. You’ll notice my hand isn’t up.

Why, at 10:00 PM, when I’m watching the only television I watch all day, do all three shows I flip through have commercials on at the same time?

I want to commit crabgrass genocide.

I’m enjoying my rediscovery of the Travelling Wilburys. I think George Harrison is the most underrated Beatle, and John Lennon is the most overrated. Ringo is still the luckiest man on earth.

If I want to feel old, I ask people if they can name all four Beatles. Very few people under 30 can do that. I have yet to meet anyone besides me who can name all of the Rolling Stones. Except that’s a trick question, anyway, because Brian Jones, Mick Taylor, and Bill Wyman were all Rolling Stones but aren’t anymore. Only Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Charlie Watts have always been Rolling Stones. Ron Wood is a Rolling Stone now, but he didn’t used to be.

I heard “Roundabout” by Yes on the radio yesterday. Is there a more pretentious, boring band on the planet? I’ll save you time. No, there isn’t. Their “90125” album was good, though, but that was Trevor Rabin, not Yes.

Martin Short was funny on the 1984-1985 season of “Saturday Night Live” and in the movie “Three Amigos.” That’s about it.

Glenn Beck is the least tedious talk radio host.

Global warming is dishonest – not because it isn’t happening, but because the alarmists are using it to further an unrelated political agenda that they can’t pursue openly. And if global warming is happening, it’s not our fault.

I hate parking.

That is all. For now…

Fred, Rudy, and a Block of Cheese

My Esteemed Crank-Calling Colleague once called Senator Barbara Boxer’s office and complained that she was denying his basic constitutional right to life, liberty, and a block of cheese. I thought about this while trying to decide whether or not Fred Thompson’s entry into the presidential race is a good thing.

Right now, I’m leaning toward “not.”

I watched him on Jay Leno last night, and he certainly looked the part of a president. My concern is with how his campaign will affect the dynamics of the race. Right now, the one with the most to lose is Mitt Romney, who is the only candidate who currently stands a chance of beating Rudy Giuliani.

And Rudy Giuliani would be an absolute disaster.

When it comes to presidential politics, I’m almost a single-issue voter. I say “almost” because success in the War on Terror is so overwhelmingly crucial to the future of this nation that it trumps everything else, and certainly Rudy would prosecute that war with as much or more zeal than anyone else in the Republican field.

But the issue that keeps me awake at night is the president’s judicial philosophy.

George W. Bush’s legacy will be shaped almost as much by what John Roberts and Samuel Alito do as it will by what happens in Iraq. The Supreme Court and the Federal Judiciary have more power to shape social policy than both of the other branches of government combined. Once the Supreme Court issues a decision, there’s nothing Congress can do about it, short of passing a constitutional amendment. (They could ignore the decision, but no one seems willing to go that route.) Consequently, huge issues like abortion, gay marriage, and even global warming are lifted out of the legislative arena by judicial fiat.

Let’s focus on abortion for a minute. Republicans who refuse to vote for a pro-choice congressman or senator are wasting their time and energy. Congress is no longer allowed to do or say anything about abortion, because the Supreme Court has determined that abortion is enthroned as a right in the United States Constitution. Now, how does that work, considering that the word “abortion” and/or anything like unto it appears nowhere in that sacred document?

Well, according to Harry Blackmun, it works like this. The Constitution guarantees a right to privacy – except that it doesn’t, as the word “privacy” doesn’t appear anywhere, either. But Justice Blackmun determined, through some wildly convoluted reasoning, that the right to privacy “emanates” from some of the other amendments, and that the right to abortion can be found in the “penumbra” of that “emanation.” In other words, the actual constitutional language is like a lightbulb, the right to privacy is like a beam of light shooting out of that lightbulb, and the right to an abortion is in the fuzzy glow surrounding that beam of light. So abortion is a right, and everyone should shut up about it. The end.

In other words, the Constitution is meaningless, because Supreme Court Justices can make up whatever crap they want as they go along. So everyone’s getting into the game. The Massachusetts Supreme Court “discovered” a right to gay marriage in a constitution written by John Adams, who could hardly have imagined such a thing. The Supreme Court recently determined that the executive branch needs to regulate carbon dioxide as a “pollutant,” thereby screwing up the whole global warming debate for decades to come. They also decided the First Amendment protects virtual child pornography but not political speech, which is now heavily regulated despite the fact that it was the kind of speech the First Amendment was drafted to protect. And private property can now be stolen by the government and handed to other private property owners. And on and on and on it goes.

Suddenly, the whole idea of a Constitutional right to a block of cheese looks more and more plausible.

The only thing that can be done about this is to put people on the courts who think the Constitution means what it says. And the only person who can appoint people to the courts is the President of the United States.

Which leads us back to Rudy being a total disaster.

Rudy Giuliani has tried to appease conservatives with promises that he will appoint “strict constructionists” to the bench in the mold of Roberts and Alito. Nifty. Except he won’t, because he doesn’t believe in strict constructionism, or else he has no idea what it is.

Please understand where I’m coming from. I’m pro-life, but if Rudy Giuliani said, “I want abortion to be entirely legal in all fifty states,” I could still support him to the ends of the earth if he added to his statement the following clause: “But Roe vs. Wade must be overturned, because the Supreme Court should not be in the business of making laws.”

Rudy doesn’t understand this. He tosses out phrases like “strict constructionist” as a sop to conservatives, while at the same time dreading the idea of Roe v. Wade being overturned and hoping that a “strict constructionist judge would view it as precedent.”

So when he’s out of the primaries and he doesn’t have to worry about them kooky religious nuts that he hates, who’s going to hold his feet to the fire on the “strict constructionist” issue once he gets into the White House? The media? Don’t make me laugh. Social conservatives? They’ll be powerless. Once he’s elected, the Republicans are stuck with him, just like we’re now stuck with the No Child Left Behind elements of the Bush Administration that we hate. The only thing that will make Rudy appoint solid judges is his own conscience, and his conscience wants Roe v. Wade upheld.

It’s hard enough to get conservative judges on the Court with a pro-life president in office. Souter, anyone? O’Connor? Kennedy? Even Blackmun, the Roe author himself, was appointed by Richard Nixon. Of all the treacherous things Nixon did, Blackmun’s appointment may have been the one thing that damaged this nation the most.

Back to Fred Thompson. He could conceivably be a good president. He could also be a spoiler, the guy who ensures we wind up with Rudy or Hillary in the Oval Office. Of those two, I’d prefer Rudy. But both Rudy and Hillary are going to screw up the courts.

Get ready for life, liberty, and a block of cheese.

The Mormon Dialogue Continues…

With the author’s permission, I quote from his recent response to my earlier blog entry.

I hope I never offended or embarassed you.

You did neither, but I appreciate your concern.

It always seems like you’re reluctant to talk about the coolest aspects of your faith like you’re embarassed about them.

Reluctant? Probably. I’m not sure if “embarrassed” is the right word. The elements you raise are probably the easiest things in Mormon doctrine to yank out of their proper context, and critics of the church delight in discussing them independent of their theological moorings in order to make us look like wackos.

The reality is that the Church is far more pedestrian than the cosmology would lead you to believe, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Doctrinally, we’re pretty far removed from orthodox Protestantism, but in practice, we spend most of our time helping our members live in Christian fellowship and pay their tithing and/or stay away from illicit sex, drugs, and non-Osmond rock and roll. We wear white shirts and ties on Sunday and teach our kids to say their prayers and eat their vegetables. On the whole, we’re far, far more boring than we have any right to be.

In my own experience, those who are attracted to the Church as a result of the more bizarre-sounding doctrines discover that the Church in practice is far less exciting than the Church in theory. I daresay you could attend any Mormon church in the world for months on end without hearing a word about becoming gods or extraterrestrials or poly/henotheism. Again, I don’t say that because I’m embarrassed by these doctrines – I raise the issue because they really aren’t fundamental to the way your garden variety Mormon lives his or her faith.

But you shouldn’t be. You should be really proud of them. I know you complain that this is the crap that makes people notice your faith. But it’s not crap or weird. If that’s what brings people to your faith you should embrace it.

I think in many ways that you’re absolutely right. As a missionary in Scotland two decades ago, I spent a lot of time trying to “prove” the theological tenets of my Church using Bible texts, which means I wasted a lot of energy saying, “Hey, Christians! My church is a lot like yours! So join mine!” It didn’t occur to me for far too long that telling someone “my church is just like yours” isn’t a great incentive to get people to sign up.

Those who join the Church and stay faithful are those who embrace the idea of modern revelation and living prophets, who accept the Book of Mormon as another testament of Jesus Christ, and who embrace the doctrines unique to Mormonism that so enrage the orthodox Christian world. I think we do the church a disservice when we try to soft pedal these ideas so as not to offend anybody, like we do in all the goofy TV ads we run ad nauseum. If you doubt this, try this little exercise: Next time you see a Mormon TV commercial, ask yourself this: if this thing said “Knights of Columbus” or “Catholic Charities” at the end of the message instead of “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” would it change anything?

And frankly, I don’t know why whole books haven’t been written on the subject. I would buy them.

Books have been written on the subject, although, since there are so few hard facts, the books are wildly speculative, and most of them are written by Christians who are antagonistic to the ideas in question. If you want to read about these ideas from their original source materials, I’d recommend the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, as well as the later sections of the Doctrine & Covenants and the books of Moses and Abraham in The Pearl of Great Price.

For me, coming from the position of Reason, it makes the most sense out of any religions I’ve studied. As a ghost hunter, I have to study them all.

I’d be interested to learn how you reconcile a doctrine of pure reason with the profession of ghost hunting.

If Earth is a school, then it stands to reason that at some point you will have to graduate. And when you graduate, you have to transition into a college or a career. Godhood as a college or a career seems to make the most sense. At least to me.

This makes some sense to me, too, although the concept of “graduating” into godhood doesn’t quite feel right. We’re already created in the image of God, so we don’t get transformed into something else when we become joint-heirs with Christ.

Although I will have to say that it would make more sense to me if reincarnation were involved.

Yeah, well… can’t help you there.

Because just as in college, you have to take many course in science, literature, history, gymnastics, etc. It would seem to me, that each life would serve as a class. In one life you would learn to be poor, in another you would learn to be rich. One you would learn how to live as a conservative, another as a liberal. One as a holy capitolist, one as an ungodly socialist. Etc.

I would counter that mortality is a course tailor-made for each participant. Each of us, with an eternal soul, would arrive here with strengths and weaknesses that would require unique challenges, but not necessarily all challenges.

It would seem to me, that living through these various experiences of mortality, or attending these “classes,” would be necessary for someone to be able to create their own world with their own beings. To me it would seem imperative to have those necessary experiences in order to create a world for your beings that would be some kind of reflection of reality.

Perhaps. Who’s to say that before we came here, we didn’t already have many of those experiences? Or that we’ll have many more after we leave here? Why limit all experiential knowledge to what we acquire in mortality?

In addition, I do think that our physical bodies are merely garments that we clothe our souls with. In my opinion, the chemical make up of human physiology is inconsequential. The true Self is beyond any chemical or biological make up, and therefore transcends any physical form. The physical form itself is meaningless IMO. To me the physical body is like a Pinto or an Edsel because it only lasts a paltry century, before it needs to be traded in the moment it no longer starts. Which given those models is fairly quickly.

Yes, but we’ve only got a starter model. The Book of Mormon refers to the resurrection as a time when “the spirit and the body shall be areunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame.” (Alma 11:43)

Rather than a complete “trade-in,” we Mormons suggest an upgrade.

I do subscribe to the thought that sentience and consiousness is the image of God, not the physical form itself. I think that if we become gods, or demi gods, that we are assigned a specific world to create. Just like students are handed out assignments. Graduating from Earth is like a High School Diploma, but you still have to get your Ph.D through Godhood.

That as gods we have to create a world with whatever chemical compounds are availabe on that world, that we can’t pick and choose. Or that we have to create a world with assigned chemical compunds. But what ever the case, we are assigned. It would be the only way to challenge a being that is a god, to have that god be able to learn and develop itself to whatever stage is next. Therefore IMO, and in the immortal words of Rumsfeld, we have to create with what we have at hand, not with what we wish we had.

I think my problem with this – and with most people who extract the doctrine of deification from its original context – is that it focuses on what we do instead of who we are, or who we should be. God wants us to become like him, and, in turn, he will give us all that he has. Focusing on the stuff he has instead of who he is misses the mark, I think.

How’s that for a revelation?

It’s a good start. I’m sure two nice young men on bicycles would be happy to come over to your house and tell you more.

Sweet Baby James

My two-year-old son and I have the same first name – James – and before too long, he’ll be too old to be rocked to sleep by a lullaby. That’s too bad, because he loves “Sweet Baby James” by James Taylor. He always nods off during the chorus:

Goodnight, you moonlight ladies
Rockabye, Sweet Baby James
Deep greens and blues are the colors I choose
Won’t you let me go down in my dreams
And rockabye Sweet Baby James

We already had four kids by the time James came along. And, as you may have guessed, James wasn’t supposed to come along. Yet here he is. He was a mistake who became a surprise who became a blessing.

We had already planned our lives around the idea of four kids in school. My wife was going to go back to work part-time; I was going to get rich, and everything was set. Then James came along and screwed everything up. We weren’t sure if we were going to forgive him for doing that.

The day he was born changed all that instantly. He came out with a full head of dark, scraggly hair – unlike all four of our other kids who were bald as ping pong balls upon their arrival. James also, unlike our other kids, had a hard time breathing for the first few days. We were told his prognosis was good, but he he had to be put in intensive care on a respirator, and we couldn’t hold him. The irony was thick on the ground – here was the child who’s arrival we had been dreading, and now we were terrified at the prospect of losing him. The day we were able to take James, healthy and happy, back home with us was one of the greatest days of our lives.

I think the hair was still helping matters. The dark hair was replace by blonde curls, again, unlike the four straight-headed kids who preceded him. Near his second birthday, my wife asked me to go get his hair trimmed, and, being an idiot, I gave very vague instructions to the SuperCuts girl, who proceeded to practically shave his head. My wife burst into tears when she saw the curls were gone, and they haven’t come back. It’s still a sore subject around the house, but, fortunately, we’ve found other reasons to love him.

He’s smart and funny, and he wants to grow up in the worst way. Last night, at a cousin’s house, he decided to imitate his older cousin by crossing his legs, but he couldn’t quit lift his right leg over his left. It was fun to watch him struggle with it. He’s obsessed with cars, or “bye-byes,” as he calls them, and given the opportunity, he’d watch Pixars “Cars” movie all day long. Sometimes, when my natural sloth takes over, I almost let him.

That’s a mistake.

This is precious time that we’re never going to get again. He’s the last one. I’m trying to remember that. I’m trying to enjoy the fact that he carries his little blue blankie everywhere; that his face lights up every time he sees a doggie or a kitty, that he calls all his brothers and sisters by name but still calls himself “baby.” He’s growing. He can crawl out of his crib now. He wants to grow up more than I want him to stay little, and nature says he’s going to win out in the end.

I’ve only got so many “Sweet Baby James” nights left.

The True Story of Richard the Bricklayer

Once upon a time – about a hundred and fifty years ago, to be precise – in a faraway land called Birmingham, England, there lived a humble bricklayer named Richard.

Yes, Richard laid bricks. It was a good and useful skill to have, since Birmingham was a big ol’ city that needed a bunch of bricks for its buildings and such. Of course, the job had its drawbacks. In nineteenth century Britain, the bricklaying trade didn’t offer a whole lot in the way of social mobility. Whether he liked it or not, Richard had resigned himself to the fact that he would likely be laying bricks for the rest of what probably be a short and difficult life.

And that would have been exactly what would have happened if Richard hadn’t married Maria Foster.

Maria (her name was spelled like the West Side Story Maria, but it was pronounced Mariah, as in Mariah Carey) stayed close to the rest of the Fosters after her marriage, so she was unduly influenced by the company they kept. This proved to be something of a problem in her marriage, since all of her family had fallen in with some unsavory characters from the United States, most of their unsavoriness due to the fact that they were Mormons.

Nowadays, when the Mormons get their claws into you and begin their brainwashing process, you pretty much just have to quit drinking beer and chasing broads. It’s really not that bad, all things considered. But back in the Birmingham of the 1850s, once you joined those loony Mormons, you had to pack your bags, sail across the ocean, and then get a covered wagon and march across the Great Plains, where you finally settled down with all the other Mormon crackpots in a worthless desert next to a big, salty lake with lots and lots of brine flies. That’s where these loons planned to build their Zion.

Maria was ready, willing, and eager to go.

Richard wanted no part of it. And, really, can you blame him?

Still, he loved his wife enough to strike a deal. Maria could join the church along with the rest of her family. Richard refused to be baptized, but he agreed to emigrate to the US on the condition that they had enough money to return back to England once Maria came to her senses.

Good plan. Alas, it was not to be.

As soon as they got to the East Coast, all of their money was burned up in a fire – a fire which they blamed on their young son John, who was given the name Foster as his middle name.

No matter who did it, the reality was what it was. Richard was stuck.

Westward ho!

Richard, bitter and angry, nevertheless made the arduous journey west with the Mormons, and when he finally showed up in Utah, he made a beeline to Brigham Young’s doorstep to give the Mormon leader a piece of his mind. He demanded that Brigham and his fellow Mormons provide him with financial help to make up for the money that had been burned up back east. Perhaps he thought this was his ticket back to bricklaying. Brigham responded by saying he would be happy to provide assistance to a fellow church member. Richard, however was still an unbaptized heathen, so the church refused to help.

That was the straw that broke the camel’s back, both for Richard and his wife. She left the church, too, but they didn’t have the resources to head back to England. She, too, was stuck.

Not long after this experience, Brigham Young called on the entire Foster family to head up north and colonize the Bear Lake area, which was right along the Utah/Idaho border. They said yes, pulled up stakes, and headed north, all except Richard and Maria, who stayed in Salt Lake and told Brigham Young to stick it.

One summer, their son John Foster, the accused pyromaniac responsible for the whole predicament, was sent to live with his cousins in Bear Lake. He was past the age of 8, around which time respectable children were baptized, but he was still quite unaffiliated, which caused much consternation among his devout Foster relatives. So he joined the Church, much to the surprise of his family upon his return home.

Perhaps out of latent respect, or maybe out of sheer spite, Richard didn’t try to undo what the Fosters had done. On the contrary, Richard told John F. that now that he was a member, he was going to have to live like one.

He never got baptized himself, but Richard was scrupulous in making sure that his son paid tithing, attended his meetings, and stayed active, which he did throughout his life. He was the only child of Richard and Maria who had any connection to the Church, and he went on to become a prominent and prosperous businessman. Maria Foster became an alcoholic and died estranged from the Church, and the rest of her children lived relatively ignominious lives. John F.’s wife Rose later remarked that her husband was “the only member of that family that was worth the price of a bullet.”

John Foster was my father’s grandfather. I owe my legacy of faith largely to him.

Richard, therefore, was my great-great grandfather. I owe my geographical location to the fact that he cheerlessly followed his wife around the world, burned up his money, and then told Brigham Young to stick it.

On Being Hated

Thinking about my previous hatred essay, I came to realize that I’m usually on the receiving end of the whole hate thing. I’m somewhat impressive in the sense that over the course of my life, more than a few folks have hated me with a burning passion. Something about me inspires pure loathing that can last for years, even decades.

Case in point: For most of my childhood, I was in a performing arts group in LA called the Kids of the Century that sang at state fairs and such. We traveled to most of our gigs in rented buses, and Hank and Sheila – not their real names – used to share a seat near the front and proceed to make out in front of everybody. They were one of those gross, cutesy couples with the pet names and the Eskimo kisses and the slobbering. Always the slobbering. Being an insecure adolescent, and probably being somewhat jealous because I wasn’t making out with anybody either in public or in private, I mocked them every chance I got. I don’t remember what methods I used, but knowing me, I was probably pretty annoying.

Fade out, fade in. Several years after high school, I went to a Kids of the Century concert, only to see Hank and Sheila, now a happily slobbering married couple, sitting two rows behind me. It made me smile to see them again. I went up to them at intermission. Hank was very friendly, and we chatted amiably, but Sheila wouldn’t speak to me. When she saw me coming, she made a point of standing up and dramatically stalking off in a huff. I was unable to take a hint, so I caught up with her, but she still wouldn’t speak to me. She wouldn’t look at me. And all I was trying to do was say hello. I went back to Hank, who sheepishly told me that Sheila still hadn’t forgiven me for the way I’d made fun of her all those years ago, and she still talked about me with venom in her voice.

Keep in mind – I hadn’t seen Sheila for probably close to a decade. I hadn’t been talking about her. I hadn’t thought about her. Yet after all this time, she was, in the words of the Scottish poet, “Gathering her brows like gathering storm/Nursing her wrath to keep it warm.”

It was a bad scene.

I’m not justifying my adolescent behavior. I’m saying that, by keeping that hate alive for so long, she did herself a whole lot more damage than she did me.

To sum up: Languatron comes by it honestly.