Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Voices In My Head Are Getting Louder

Unfortunately, no Rick James tonight. I did accuse a 67-year-old retired math teacher of being a meth addict with Tourette's, however.

Hilarity ensued.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

If Life Gives You Lemons, Order A Drink

Ten years ago, I would not have guessed that I'd spend Wednesday evening in a small town bar with a 60-year-old farmer and his wife listening to Rick James sing "Superfreak."

No, I would not have guessed that.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Parent Of The Year, Part 4

I was at lunch the other day with someone I only see occasionally. He glanced up from his meal and smiled, "Do you still tell your kids that their arms are going to fall off?"

I get that kind of question a lot. A few years ago, when my youngest was four or so, I asked him what he wanted from the Limb Fairy.

"What's the Limb Fairy?"

"You know how your brothers got money from the Tooth Fairy?"


"Well," I said, "when you get older you lose your limbs just like you do your teeth."

He looked a little nervous but asked, "What's a limb?"

"Those are your arms and legs. As you get bigger, your baby limbs fall off and your big boy limbs grow out instead."

"They do not," he said, with a mixture of disbelief and disgust.

"Sure they do," I replied. "Look at your arms. How could those ever get big enough on their own?"

"You're lying."

"I wouldn't lie to you sweetheart. It's a special time. It's when the Limb Fairy comes. If you put your baby arm under the pillow, the Limb Fairy will take it and leave you a present."

"Mom!" he shrieked, in more than a little panic. "Is there a Limb Fairy?"

My wife glared at me. "What have I told you about your father?"

"Ignore him?"

"That's right. Just ignore him."

It was fun while it lasted.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Sing In Me, Meat

Meat is an important part of in our social fabric, but it has an equally significant role in the creative world. Muse to many of history's greatest artists, meat has long been the inspiration for cultural icons around the globe. Consider a few examples.

A common misconception is that Da Vinci's "The Last Supper" was inspired by the last days of Jesus. Closer examination shows that the central focus of the painting is the succulent lamb chop to the right of Bartholomew. A moving depiction of the influence meat has both artistically and spiritually.

A famous printer's error led to the mistitling of this seminal concept album. Meat the Beatles!, as it's properly known, contains a number of the Fab Four's greatest hits, including "I Want to Hold Your Meat" and "All My Veal." Not to be missed.

More than one swain has wooed a lass with these meditations on the romance of meat. Whitman's most famous poem begins:

I sing the body electric,
The meats of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
Turkey, bacon, a pound of jerky, I respond to them,
And digest them, and charge them full with the charge of the pancreas.

Who could not fall in love upon hearing these words?

The list goes on. Merce Cunningham's "Lamb Septet." Miles Davis's "Kind of Pork." James Joyce's "A Portrait of the Butcher as a Young Man." Claude Monet's "Hamstacks." The famous meat masks of Africa and the delicate Kobe beef designs of late 19th-century Japan. It is as hard to imagine a world without meat as it is a world without art. Indeed, perhaps they are the same.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

What The World Needs Now Is Meat, Sweet Meat

Thanks to Quizno's national awareness campaign, we know that prime rib is the King of Meats. That's important information and I for one am glad that someone finally had the courage to tell it like it is. Unfortunately, the advertising campaign, for all its public spiritedness, leaves unanswered broader questions about meat royalty. Without that understanding, meat will continue to be seen as an outdated relic of the past, trotted out only on ceremonial occasions. It's time to correct that.

The Queen

Steak has long been the queen of meats, known for her grace under pressure, elegant beauty, and childbearing hips. She has undergone difficult times in the recent past, but has managed to handle family and public disappointment with aplomb. Truly a meat worthy of the hand of the king.

The Crown Prince

The crown prince has made his own mark in the world. Fond of baubles and parades, he nevertheless made it through the Army's toughest commando training. Most observers credit him with reviving a moribund national appreciation for the role of royal meats.

The Pretender to the Throne

As a relative newcomer to the line of succession, pork has raised eyebrows with his extravagant lifestyle. Although some enjoy his "connection to the people" others feel equally strongly that he lacks the dignity to represent animal byproducts at an international level. Claims of being "the other white meat" have also resulted in charges of racism, an argument he strongly denies. Suspicions of hemophilia continue to circulate.

The Princess

Even in today's liberated society, the princess struggles to gain the recognition more easily accorded her brothers. A formerly awkward young woman, she is slowly gaining confidence and poise, as can be seen by the stunningly low-cut dress she is wearing in this recent candid photo. Her dreams of one day teaching in a low-income school may be unrealistic, but the fact that she has them speaks volumes about the changing role of women in the world of meat.

Royal meats dazzle people the world over. Paparazzi and celebrity magazines chronicle their every move from birth to death. Love it or loathe it, meat is the one constant in an ever-changing world.


Jennifer questions the lack of ground and processed meats. Although some have occasionally been knighted for valor or artistic accomplishments (see, e.g., Sir Head Cheese), the caste system remains sufficiently in place to forestall any significant influx into the ranks of nobility.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Soup's On

Broasted chicken and cheesy beef soup.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I've Gone To Look For America

I've stayed in some interesting places as I've made my way across rural America. Interesting as in deeply disturbing.

One motel had little signs on the nightstands asking guests not to clean wild game in the room and warning of a $100 fine for blood in the bathtub. That explained the stains.

Another had a manager who was bizarrely proud of the lobby coffeepot. "You've got to have some," he insisted when we checked in. "I make some great coffee." When we arrived in the afternoon, when we left for dinner, when we returned from dinner, when we left in the morning, he was polishing the glass on the front door. At check-out, a colleague complained that the shower in his room, one of the four occupied rooms in an otherwise empty motel, only had hot water. "Oh yeah," the manager giggled, "I've been meaning to fix that. I haven't had any help here in a long time. I don't sleep much now." I came through the area the following year but had to stay somewhere else while authorities cleaned the residue from the drug lab he'd been running in the office.

Tonight there's not even an interesting story to kill the time, just the whir of the cheap, in-room heating unit, loud enough to make watching television impossible. There's a mark on the carpet that looks as though someone once tried to iron the floor. The view is of the parking lot and the state highway beyond. Someone's been smoking in this "nonsmoking room" and I'd be willing to bet it's one of the meth head maids. There's high speed internet, of course, but nowadays you get that when you rent a yurt. It gives me something to do, at least.

Tomorrow's a better room, nicer meals, more to do. It's also one night closer to home, where even my kids wouldn't gut an animal indoors.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Alone In A Hotel Bar

I'm out of town so I called home to see how things are going.

"Our youngest has a homework assignment," my Lovely Bride said.

"Yeah, what's that?"

"He's supposed to write an essay on what his father means to him."

"Oh. How's it going?"

"I told him it's not polite to talk about how much you make, so he's struggling. He wrote that you coach his team, he doesn't like your music, and you hate dogs."

Looks like another visit to the counselor's office.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Still Life With Basketball

The middle boy had a basketball tournament yesterday, which meant spending nine hours in a school gym on the other end of town. The team went .500 for the weekend, which is consistent with their record for the year. Mine had one not-so-good game and one very good game, scoring a career-high 17 points. Nine of those came on three-point shots that he refuses to stop taking no matter how often I give him the death stare.

"Nice shot," his coach said after one three-pointer early in the season. "Don't do it again." But, he's in sixth grade, the other point guard insists on taking them too (peer pressure's a bitch), and the coach finally decided if they're in the groove, what the hell.

My youngest came to watch. So did a friend of mine, P, and P's son, who's buddies with my youngest. Another neighbor, E, met us there, along with his 14-year-old. It's nice living in a place where people care enough that they'll do something like that.

Besides, when P and I saw E's car on the other side of the parking lot, it gave us the chance to slip an unsigned note under his wipers that said, "Next time don't park so close to my car, fuck face." His son told us later that he spent an hour bitching about the asshole that would do something like that. When E found out we'd done it, he swore at us loudly enough to get some sidelong glances from other spectators. Our wives find us juvenile.

These gyms get noisy during tournaments. It doesn't help that my youngest likes to talk. A lot. And he was angry because his older brother had gotten his birthday present that morning (a TV for his room), leading to a litany of complaints about the unfairness of life. While I don't disagree with the principle, it has no specific application to my children. I sat away from him so he'd stop yapping at me.

About halfway through the second game, the 14-year-old neighbor boy looked at me and asked, "What's wrong with your kid?"

I looked down the sidelines. He was holding a basketball and talking to it, saying, "Dad doesn't like me. Dad hates me. I don't like Dad. He likes my brothers more. I never get anything." The basketball didn't seem to be responding, but I guess you can never be sure.

After the game, I asked him if his brain lesion was acting up again. He looked at me for a second and then asked for money for concessions. I gave it to him, he said, "Thanks," and he walked away, unaware, but for the moment, quiet.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?

Have you ever worked with someone who gets distracted from the job at hand when a squirrel runs by the window? Someone who spends down time vacantly staring at a wall, slack jawed, brain making the kind of ticking noises you hear when an engine's cooling down? A person with the best intentions in the world and absolutely, positively no way of making any of them come true?

That is my life.

I am a nice person.

Actually, I'm not. I am, however, very passive aggressive. That means when someone behaves like this I grind my teeth until they hurt, but I'd rather suffer than confront them. Instead, I cut them out of things and try to maneuver them out of the organization, or at least my part of it. In this part of the world, that's how most people deal with conflict.

I can't take it anymore, though. One person, who has been told not to do something at least fifty times in the last three years, something that has the potential to seriously harm our organization, did it again today.

"Please don't do this," I've said.

"You really need to stop doing this," I've said.

"Stop it," I've said.

"Please, I'm begging you," I've said.

To no avail. Today, it was done again. Not from maliciousness, just from pure and total incompetence. I weep.

Soon, I am going on an extended business trip. I will miss my family, my friends, my dog. While I'm gone, this thing will be done again and again and again. I won't be there to see it. I can't wait to leave.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Killing Me Softly

Karl Rove was involved in a purge of United States Attorneys? And the administration lied about it? Shocking.

I was at the National Archives with some colleagues not too long ago and we were joking that people better appreciate the Constitution before Bush took his red pencil to it. Unfortunately, it's not much of a joke.

One of the things drilled into a law student's head is the importance of prosecutorial independence. If a district attorney doesn't think charges are warranted, it doesn't matter what the police, the public, or other elected officials think. There is a professional and moral obligation to represent not just the government or the public, but justice. I'm sure that's one of the infinite number of things that have changed in a post-9/11 world, but it seemed to work pretty well for the preceding 200+ years.

Karl Rove and Alberto Gonzales and their minions don't think so, though. They believe that George W. Bush is America and that United States Attorneys are either with him or against us.

These people are killing our democracy.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Parent Of The Year, Part 3

A couple of years ago, my two youngest asked, "Where did we come from?" Responsible father that I am, I sat them down for the Talk.

"Sometimes, when a mommy and a daddy love each other very much, they decide to have a baby," I said, looking at my middle child. "That's how you were born. Your mother got pregnant and deposited an egg sac, like we read about in "Charlotte's Web." When the eggs hatched, you crawled out and came to live with us."

"I did not. I was born in a hospital. Mom said."

"Of course you were. Nowadays, mothers always lay their egg sacs in a hospital. It's much more sanitary than a barn."

"How about me?" asked the youngest. "Did I come from an egg sac too?"

"No, sweetheart. We found you and your friend on the front step. When we drew straws, your friend's parents won and they picked him. We're still looking for your real parents, though, and they'll love you very much, just like we do."

There's nothing that compares with the wonder in a child's eyes.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Batter Up

My greatest regret of the last month is that I didn't see "The Departed" before this season's first Little League practice. Oh, the fun that P (my co-coach) and I could have had quoting lines from it to a bunch of 9-year-olds and their parents. I particularly treasure the idea of staring down a third-grader and saying, "Whoa, let's say you have no idea and leave it there. No idea. Zip, none. If you had an idea about what we do we would not be good at what we do. We would be cunts. Are you calling us cunts?"

Alas, it was not to be. It was, instead, an uneventful day, a chance to see who can pitch (most of them), who can hit (most of them), who might have an attitude (none of them, so far). An improvement from last year, when one player alternated between doing bird calls and asking for cigarettes. Another could crush the ball but refused to run. I asked him before a game, "Hey, you going to hustle today?" He answered, "I don't know. I'm pretty slow. I'm probably the slowest kid in my grade." Then he spit a sunflower seed at my shoe.

There was another kid too, a quiet, shy boy, couldn't get a hit if his life depended on it. He'd joined us after playing on another team. His mom told P (we've coached together for a couple of years) that he hadn't been on base all season.

After our second game, P asked Mom whether the boy could hang around a little after the other players left and work on his hitting a little. I think she was surprised, because the coach of his previous team hadn't done much in the way of holding practices. She was happy to let him stay, though, and even offered to play third base.

So that's what we did. P threw batting practice, I caught, Mom played third, P's son played second, and my son played first. For the first 10 or 15 minutes we just worked on getting him to position himself properly, watch the pitch, stop chopping at the ball. When he was finally getting a nice level swing, P just kept pitching. For 30 minutes, an hour, two hours.

At the beginning, he didn't make much contact. That's okay. It's important to just get the rhythm and it's a lot easier to do that when there's no crowd, no runners on base, and no pressure. If you miss, you're not out, you just try again.

After a while, he started hitting the ball. Not very hard or very straight, but he'd get the bat on it. "Come on," Mom would yell from third base. "I know you can hit it over my head."

Eventually he did. Not a screaming line drive or anything, but he hit it over her head. I don't know who was happier, Mom or the kid. P pitched for a while more, just to make sure that batting had started to work itself into the boy's muscle memory, and then we called it a day.

The kid got on base every game after that. He still wasn't the best player on the team, but he was contributing and it made him proud. He'd stop at first base after getting a hit and he'd be smiling so much that you'd thought he'd won the World Series. I suppose for him, he had.

I'd see them around town after the season ended. The boy's still quiet, but he'd always say, "Hey, coach" and Mom and I would chat. The last time we ran into each other, I asked Mom if he was playing again this year and she said he was.

A friend of P's was at Little League sign-up this year when Mom and the kid came in. I guess Mom was talking about how much her son was looking forward to baseball this year and how much it meant to him that he'd learned to hit.

P and I heard that story later. It's why we coach.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Do Unto Moose As You Would Have Moose Do Unto You

Moose do not receive enough attention from bloggers. Noble and intelligent, they have long been passed over in favor of weasels, yaks, and other members of the glitterati. Fortunately, our good friends at Three Bulls! are attempting to rectify this serious problem.

This anti-moose prejudice can't be overcome by just one blog, however. If we as a society ever want to move beyond the tired old stereotypes handed down by our Canadadian neighbors, we need to examine moose in ways that shatter those stereotypes. That can't happen unless we get to know moose as individuals.

Let's meet a few.


George is a quiet, scholarly fellow, a headmaster at a well-known private school. He enjoys experimental theater and moss. Having been teased as a calf because of his nearsightedness ("Girls won't make passes at moose who wear glasses"), as a bull he is extraordinarily loyal to his friends.


Carlos is a gregarious storyteller who loves cooking, fine wines, and international travel. Now retired, he accumulated his wealth during the peat market boom of the early 1990s. He is also quietly philanthropic, having established a private foundation that sponsors outreach and mentoring programs for adolescent mammals throughout his province.


An attractive, leggy ex-model, Susan hopes to parlay her experience into a full-time career as a designer and manufacturer of stylish accessories. Thrice married, and having successfully completed rehab in 2005, she is hoping to make her breakthrough at next year's Paris fashion show.


Karen is a recent graduate of Yale Law School and is currently weighing her career options. Although tempted by the six-figure salaries and Manhattan lifestyle offered by a white-shoe firm, she inherited a strong social conscience from her artist parents and is considering a stint in the Peace Corps. In her spare time, she plays viola with an amateur chamber music quartet.

I encourage readers to make a moose friend. Have a beer together. Invite a moose to dinner. As we have seen, moose have a wide range of interests, skills, and personalities. In short, they are just like us.

UPDATE: More proof that Three Bulls! is the one-stop shop for all your moose-related needs.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

This Ain't Your Father's Atticus Finch

To borrow an idiotic phrase from The Corner, there's been quite a kerfuffle over the behavior of a number of law school students who have been acting like on-line jackasses. I'm not particularly interested in dissecting their behavior. That's been done well elsewhere.

What I do want to discuss is a comment by Res Publica, someone for whom I have great respect. Res says:

I mean…I know that as soon as I say this, a million people are going to jump my ass about how I’m overgeneralizing, but…if you live in America, don’t you really know, down in your heart of hearts, that most lawyers are assholes? And most doctors, too? It’s the nature of their training. It’s attractive to type-A men (aka “assholes”). Then you have the money, which attracts the greedy (aka “assholes”). Then, too, there’s the prestige that attracts climbers (aka “assholes”). Of course there are exceptions, and plenty of ‘em, but I’d stand by my assertion that jerks are over-represented in the professions. And don’t even get me started about MBA programs.
I don't know that many doctors, but the ones I do know are primarily family practitioners who nowadays feel more like HMO wage-slaves instead of professionals. I do know a lot of lawyers, though, and I don't find their asshole quotient any higher than most other segments of society. In fact, many of my lawyer acquaintances play large roles in local government, nonprofit organizations, mentoring programs, and all kinds of other things. They also spend surprising amounts of time doing their job for free for people who can't afford it; sometimes on high-profile death sentence kinds of things, much more often just helping out people who are trying to cut through a corporate or governmental bureaucracy or buy a house or fight a traffic ticket or start a business. While some of this is attributable to marketing, it's also because community service and pro bono work are expectations of the profession.

There are plenty of asshole lawyers. There are plenty of asshole truckers and secretaries and professors too. The difference is that lawyers are typically being paid to be adversarial. That's nice if you happen to be the client (although being overly aggressive doesn't do a client any favors), but it's not so nice if you're on the other side.

When a layperson is involved in something that involves lawyers, there's usually at least one attorney involved who is representing someone else. In litigation there are depositions and counterclaims and what seems like endless reams of paper being exchanged. In transactional work there are threats and bickering and what seems like endless reams of paper being exchanged. By the time the whole nightmare is over, and paid for, most sane people are totally repelled by the legal system and everyone connected with it. Hence, the idea that lawyers are assholes at a higher rate than say, ice cream shop proprietors.

What sometimes gets lost is how soul-crushing this can be. A lawyer's job is to tell people, "Give me your problems and I'll make them mine." If things go badly, it's the lawyer's fault. If they go well, the client is still mad about having to pay the bill. A friend told me when he retired from practice, "I didn't even know how much I hated it until I quit. It's like yard work; until the lawnmower gets turned off, you forget how loud it is."

I'm not trying to gin up sympathy for my attorney friends. People choose the profession willingly, many of them make a good living at it, and plenty of them quit when it gets to be too much. I'm certainly not trying to excuse the behavior of the pinheads whose behavior started this whole line of discussion. My worry is that linking their behavior to their career plans overlooks what I believe are more likely reasons for their actions; poor upbringings, herd mentality, the power of anonymity.

We regularly see online stupidity and meanness of the kind exhibited by these lawyer wannabees by people with no connection to any profession. Flame-wars go bizarrely out of control and people threaten to reveal the names of anonymous bloggers and half of those involved are clearly incapable of finding or holding regular employment. Even the virulent racism and sexism aren't that unusual. Spend some time in the comment sections of right-wing blogs and you can find plenty of that.

What makes this instance especially appalling is the undertone of threat and sexual predation aimed at specific individuals by young men who are supposed to be learning the importance of serving others. It's creepy and wrong and bullying. If they act like this as lawyers, they're at risk of losing clients, jobs, and even their licenses. They'd deserve it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Fields Of Dreams

Coaching isn't what it used to be, where you showed up on Opening Day with a hangover and a cigar. Now, in addition to applications and background checks, coaches are expected to submit to clinics, where their sorry asses get run into the ground by recent college grads. A soccer clinic I was at a couple of years ago still gives me nightmares.

Baseball clinic was yesterday. It was led by a former major leaguer. Granted, he wasn't in the big leagues for long, but he was, and that's a lot more than anybody else in the room could say. Now he coaches, gives some private lessons, and leads clinics.

It was an interesting night. To begin with, there were a fair number of women in the room, as both assistant and head coaches. It wasn't anything like 50/50, but still. I never had a female coach, although I had a couple of male coaches I would have been happy to get rid of.

The clinic was done well. He gave us some good tips on teaching hitting and fielding and I didn't have to get out of my chair. More interesting, he talked about reconciling the need to encourage young kids with the reality that many of them will quit or wash out over the next several years.

The kids on my baseball team this year are 9 and 10 years old. They seem so young, although maybe that's because it's my own youngest on the team. It's hard to think of telling one of them, "Sorry, you're not good enough. You can't play." Still, I know that's coming, perhaps not this year or the next, but soon.

I haven't confronted this directly, not yet. All of my kids are reasonably good athletes and they're not yet playing at the hyper-competitive levels. They've either gravitated toward sports they're good at or teams that don't cut much. There have been some disappointments along the way, as there always are, but so far they, and we, have been lucky.

I'm not quite sure why we ever tell kids they can't play, though. We constantly hear how sports build character, keep kids out of trouble, and generally protect the American Way. I don't buy all of it, but I buy more than I did before I was a parent. A sport, with good coaches and good parents, can be a tremendously positive influence.

If that's the case, why get rid of the opportunity? The room last night was filled with adults who were thrilled at spending time working with a team. Granted, most of us are never going to be able to coach the 15-year old All Stars, but plenty would happily coach a recreational league full of the All Stars' classmates.

I know that field time is scarce. I know that volunteers burn out. I know that money's tight, that boys and girls grow up and get busy with jobs and other things. I know that not all kids have equal skills and I know that they should compete at different levels. What I don't know is why we have to tell our children that they're not good enough to play.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Grapefruit, Sunshine, and Intolerance

The fact that some guy wants to be a woman is apparently too much for the delicate sensibilities of certain Floridians.

After a lifetime of agonizing over his gender identity, Steven Stanton decided to become a woman about two years ago. "It wasn't something I wanted to do," says Stanton, 48, the city manager of Largo, Fla. "It was something I had to do." He started hormonal therapy, gradually shedding body hair and losing muscle mass. He began to feel breast pain when he went jogging—a problem he remedied by following a doctor's recommendation to wear a sports bra. On trips away from home, he began venturing out dressed as a woman. Although he confided all this to his wife and a small circle of friends, he knew that one day he'd have to tell the townspeople he served. So he prepared meticulously for that moment—aiming for May, when his 13-year-old son would be away—and created a detailed eight-page plan. "When you tell somebody this, it's devastating," he says. "It is like an element of betrayal."

Stanton's plan foundered two weeks ago when the St. Petersburg Times published an article about his plans for a sex change. In the ensuing upheaval, church leaders condemned him and angry residents demanded his ouster. At a tumultuous meeting last Tuesday, city commissioners voted 5-2 to begin the process of firing Stanton, who has received mostly solid reviews in 14 years as city manager. "I do not feel he has the integrity, nor the trust, nor the respect, nor the confidence to continue," said Commissioner Mary Gray Black. Now on paid administrative leave, Stanton has until Tuesday to decide whether to appeal. Civil rights and transgender groups have rushed to his defense. "It's been a long time since I've seen that degree of just flagrant discrimination," says Karen Doering, senior counsel for the National Center for Lesbian Rights and now Stanton's lawyer.
What I don't understand is why Stanton's decision should be a concern of mine or anyone else who doesn't fall into the friend or family category. If he can do his job as a man, then she can do it as a woman. What's the big deal?

Oh, of course, silly me. I'm ignoring the key phrase: "In the ensuing upheaval, church leaders condemned him and angry residents demanded his ouster." Armies of God, Jesus hates gays, time for a good old-fashioned smiting.

I won't pretend to be the hippest, most open-minded person in the universe. To be honest, I don't really "get" transgender orientation. I've never had that type of yearning. If I had a friend or family member confide something like this to me, it would probably make me a little uncomfortable at first. But hell, I was raised a Midwesterner and we don't much like personal information of any kind. It would make me uncomfortable if a colleague told me she's buying new dining room furniture.

The neat thing about being human, though, is that we can be better than our prejudices. We can be uncomfortable, think about it, realize there's no rational basis for feeling that way, and decide to judge people on important things like character and competence. When a person turns his or her back on rationality, however, he or she can also lose the ability to change. If I believe that "God hates fags," as the lunatics at Westboro Baptist Church would have it, I have no motivation to ever reevaluate my position. It's a closed system. It's right because I believe it and I believe it because it's right.

These "church leaders" can believe whatever they want. So can their congregants. They can believe that Stanton's going to hell, that he's going to be eaten by the dragons who live at the edge of the Earth, or any other stupid thing that strikes their fancy. It's time for this country to stop operating on belief, however. Our democracy is based on reason. When we give up one, we give up both.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Happy Birthday, Buddy

It was a birthday at our household. The oldest gained another year on his brothers.

We're lousy at birthdays. We're lousy at most holidays, in fact. Presents, cards, even thank you notes, it's kind of a long shot whether they'll get bought, acknowledged, or sent. We do our best, and there isn't a good excuse, but it is what it is.

Today was typical. He wants a television in his room for a birthday present. We haven't decided yet. I'm not crazy about the idea. We'll probably give in. He's a good kid; responsible, hardworking. He's earned some privileges.

School was closed so he and I went out for lunch, to a nice Italian restaurant. He had the Chicken Marsala, I had the squash ravioli, we split a dessert. Then we came home and played Scrabble before he made dinner for the family and some neighbors. Pork chops in onion gravy, along with broccoli, bread, and potatoes. He likes to cook.

It doesn't seem that long ago that he was born. My best friend came to the hospital that night, slightly drunk. He held my crying child and said, "You know what he's saying? 'Dad, you're wrong. Dad, you're stupid. Dad, give me the car keys.'"

A few years later, I came home from work one night. He was at the top of the stairs and when he saw me, he jumped up and down, yelling, "Daddy's home," until he fell over. On bad days I like to remember that.

In third grade, my shy, quiet kid was the lead in the school play. I look at pictures of that sometimes and wonder how it happened.

Last year, the middle school had an honor roll ceremony. He got a medal that he hid away, because he doesn't like attention. I catch glimpses of it once in a while, when his bedroom door is open.

In a few more years, he'll leave here. We'll see him at holidays, more often if he lives in town. I watch him sleep sometimes, now, my boy, strong, handsome, and halfway gone already.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Good Dog

My friend and I were talking about dogs tonight. His last was a golden; a fine dog and it hurt him to put her to sleep.

The first dog I had was a cocker spaniel/Irish setter. I was in the military when I got Annie. She was two years old, she'd been beaten and was scared to death. It took weeks to get her out from under the furniture. She was a good dog.

Many years later, when I met my Lovely Bride, Annie was jealous; tried to nudge her off the couch, in fact. My wife-to-be laughed and hugged her. I knew then that this was the woman I wanted to marry.

I'm looking now at a picture of Annie lying on a different couch. I didn't think I'd cry when she died, but I did. So did my wife.

I wasn't sure I wanted another dog. But, we have Katie now. The boys love her, a lot. She's a lab, sort of, a big doofus that never should have left the pound. I call her Cujo, and Satan's Hound, and Evil Dog, and none of it bothers her. She wags her tail.

About 10 minutes before the boys get home from school, she lies down in front of the door and starts whining. When they get home, she gets a treat. As much as they love her, she loves them, twice as much.

She would die for them.

My son was coming home from basketball, and none of us were going to be here. Not his brothers, not Mom, not Dad.

"Are you sure it's okay?" I asked. "Coming home to an empty house is a little creepy."

"It won't be empty. Katie's there."

I miss Annie. Katie, though, she's a good dog too.