The Secret

Many of you already know this, but the secret to a strong relationship with your significant other or children or grandchildren or even some friends is to love them more than you love yourself…well, I guess I just finished my blog post, but for the sake of being normal, I’ll expand a bit.

The Bible actually puts this in a real good way, “Greater love hath no man than to give his life for another.” There are many versions of this same scripture, but they all come down to the same thing…love and sacrifice. You don’t have to give your life to prove this kind of love…you just have to be willing to do so. It’s like the old military story (based on true happenings) about the soldier who throws him or herself onto a hand grenade to save his or her buddies. The love for your fellow soldiers is an amazing thing. It’s something the survivors never forget. It is life-altering.

Another way of putting this, especially for Christians, is that you pray for the other more than you pray for yourself. Not as dramatic as giving your life, but still a selfless act that shows your love for that other person.

Sometimes this feeling is automatic. You can feel it when you look at your infant child sleeping. The love can almost overwhelm you when you realize that little bundle you helped produce has become your entire life…willingly. Every cell within you is willing to throw itself in front of a train to save this child. When the child gets older, your selfless feelings don’t change much. They can grow up to be a criminal and you still have those feelings. You can’t help it.

Now it’s obvious that not everybody seems capable of this. You read and see news reports all the time that show parents who abuse their children. They, for one reason or another, have missed out on the secret to love. Those children have less of a chance to learn the secret as well. Children might not be able to express that they feel your love, but they do feel it. Deep down they know you would fling yourself in front of that train…just like they know that you would fling them in front of the train when you don’t love them. This makes me sad.

I grew up knowing my dad would do anything for me. I’m not saying he would do bad or immoral things, just that he would do everything within his power to give me what I needed to make it through life. His sacrifices as I grew up are clear to me now as an adult. His life was guided by making sure I was loved…and I still feel it to this day.

This morning, as I gazed out the back window at the beautiful woods behind my new beautiful home, I turned to my wife and thanked her. She wondered why? I told her that if I didn’t love her so much, I would’ve never bought the home. I did it for her and now I get to also reap the benefits of a lovely place to call home. Now, in turn, her selfless love for me is turning it into a real home where I can come home and feel the love as I walk through the door. When the selfless love is on both sides of a relationship, everybody wins.

So, in conclusion, this really isn’t a secret. It’s really common sense. Loving one another is the message Jesus gave us. It’s the secret to happiness for everybody involved. I pray that we all learn this, then the world can be a better place for everybody.

Advertisements

Writing Environment

I have trained myself to write almost anywhere and in almost any conditions. I know some people need a quiet place to sit and write or they need beautiful surroundings to inspire them. I can sit next to a dumpster at an airport child care center while they test the backup generators and still manage to write something. It’s not that I can tune everything out, I can’t, but I’ve just learned to adapt.

When I was a kid and had to write something for school, I would blast my stereo with bands like Led Zeppelin or AC/DC and manage to get a twelve page paper written and get an “A.” As I became a young adult, I could attend a party and if the mood hit me, I could sit on the couch, pull out a pad of paper, and write a story or poem while the party raged around me.

When I was deployed to Desert Storm, I took my word processor with me…for those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s a fancy electric typewriter with a digital readout screen, one of the stupider purchases I ever made. Well, the sand made short order of that device and I had to write the old fashioned way, on paper. Somewhere in the desert of Saudi Arabia is a word processor buried in the sand…along with assorted military throwaways. I can see the future with this one…

ARCHEOLOGIST: What the heck is that?

ASSISTANT: Is it a computer of some sort?

ARCHEOLOGIST: I’m not sure…let’s carbon date it. Now look for the body.

ASSISTANT: The body?

ARCHEOLOGIST: Yes, anybody who would buy one of these had to have been very stupid. There’s no way he could’ve survived very long in this hostile environment. He must be buried nearby.

After the war, I had to write with the constant interruptions from my kids.

SON: Hey Dad. Whatcha doing?

ME: Writing.

SON: Whatcha writing about?

ME: You.

SON: What’s it say?

ME: It’s a fictionalized story about what I would do to a kid that constantly interrupts me while I’m writing.

A couple quiet minutes go by.

SON: I’m bored.

ME: Do your homework.

SON: I’m done.

ME: Clean your room.

SON: Done.

ME: Go bug your sister.

SON: Okay!

A few more minutes go by. Screaming and yelling can be heard from a distant bedroom.

DAUGHTER: DAD!

So all of this brings us to today. I’m sitting on a stool and typing away. I’m surrounded by unpacked boxes and piles of stuff that should have been buried in a desert somewhere. My printer won’t work, my books are scattered, and my back is killing me from the darned stool. Still, here I am, writing away happily because this is my safe place…sitting in front of my words.

Will Flash for Cash

We’ve all seen them…they’re on the sides of the road or at intersections or at parking lot exits with signs, some creative, that let you know they need money or work or food. Sometimes you help them and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you feel for them and know in your heart that the problem is genuine and other times you know in your heart that any money you give them will go where you didn’t intend it to go. This blog post is not about judgement either way.

I used to have a soft spot for my fellow veterans on the side of the road but became a little skeptical after finding out some of them weren’t veterans at all. This doesn’t mean they still don’t need some help, but when you start out with a lie, it gets harder to believe anything else. Then again, people will do whatever they have to so they can survive. I wonder, however, whether lying, stealing, and cheating is acceptable if you’re trying to survive?

The other night, my wife and I watched “Cinderella Man,” a story about the boxer Jimmy Braddock and his experience through the Great Depression. In one scene, he’s returning a salami that his son had stolen from the butcher and he emphasized to his son that no matter how bad things get, you never take what isn’t yours. Back then, your word was your word and your honor and integrity mattered. It still does in some circles today, but definitely not as much. Lying and cheating and stealing are nearly an acceptable way of life in many circles now, to include our government. Sad, but still not the subject of my blog post.

The actual subject of my blog post was a woman I recently saw on the side of a parking lot exit. Like some of the others, she was holding a cardboard sign. The sign read, “Hungry, please help.” Normal sign, normal person asking for help…except she was dressed in a loose fitting t-shirt and a skirt. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a person on the side of the road asking for help while wearing a skirt…no law against it, but it was different. I soon found out why she was wearing a skirt.

I was the third vehicle back waiting my turn to enter the road when I noticed her smiling and waving at the car in front. Then she looked around before flipping her sign over. This side of the sign read, “Top $10 bottom $20.” Now I was curious. I wasn’t curious because I’m a dirty old man, I was just curious. I had never seen anything like this before.

Apparently, she got the sign she wanted from the car in front of me. She walked up to the passenger window and the driver leaned over and gave her some money. She smiled, looked around again, then lifted her shirt for the driver. I guess they gave her $10. Then she lowered her shirt and waved at him before we all had the chance to drive by.

At first, I thought like some of you, what an awful thing to have to do to get money. Then I started thinking about the people who would give her money just to see some flesh. I thought, well, that’s pretty awful too. Then I suddenly realized that I had more of a problem with the paying customers than I did with her. She actually came up with something that parted those awful people from their money. It was actually quite genius.

Now, I don’t know if that woman was really homeless or not, but I’ll bet she made a lot of money that day. Good for her…I guess.

Not on my Watch

Sometimes I get a kick out of civilian use of military terms. Phrases like “Not on my watch” or “In the trenches,” get used a lot. I know there are plenty more like “I got your six” or “On the frontlines,” but we’ll just make fun of the first two…unless I get on a roll, then we’ll add some more.

Now please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying these terms can’t be used by civilians, freedom of speech means just that, freedom to say what you want. I’m just saying that sometimes it’s just plain silly how these terms are used. As usual, I’ll give some examples.

UTILITY MAN: I’m here to shut off your power.

HOMEOWNER: Not on my watch!

UTILITY MAN: You didn’t pay your bill.

HOMEOWNER: Yes I did.

UTILITY MAN: Not my call. You’ll have to talk to someone up my chain of command. I’m just the guy in the trenches.

HOMEOWNER: You can’t do anything? That’s FUBAR!

UTILITY MAN: Hey, I’m just the guy on the frontlines. Um, is that an old lady with a shotgun behind you?

HOMEOWNER: Grandma?

GRANDMA: I got your six!

UTILITY MAN (on his radio): Charlie Mike, I have a situation…I might need some air support on the double! (pause) Roger that!

HOMEOWNER: Grandma! Stand down!

GRANDMA: Like hell! (cocks the shotgun).

UTILITY MAN (on his radio again): Mayday! Mayday! Use the nuclear option! On my coordinates…

Sounds silly, right? I might’ve exaggerated the situation a little, just a little, but I’m sure you get my point. Like I said, I get a kick out of it.

What I don’t get a kick out of is when politicians use the terms to describe what they do. I have to admit, it irritates me a little.

POLITICIAN: I’m in Washington for you every day, fighting for you! I’m kicking and clawing my way through the trenches, boots on the ground, on the frontlines, fighting for you! When I get back there, I’m going to roll my sleeves up and work tirelessly, fighting for you!

CROWD: Yay!

Then when I look up their history, or bio, I find this: Graduated from Ivy League College, Captain of the Rowing Team, Interned for Congressman so-and-so, Served on State Assembly, Elected to U.S. Congress, Inherited stock from family fortune, Really doesn’t have to work a day in their life, but works tirelessly for you, Sacrifices daily to make sure your voice is heard in Congress, then votes to erode your benefits and raise your taxes at the same time for our greater good.

Sorry, I didn’t mean to rant and I certainly don’t mean to put down all politicians. There are some good ones out there that actually have been one of us in their previous lives. Some are veterans, some come from blue-collar backgrounds, some had to earn their way through college, and some really do work tirelessly…although I’ll bet they take a nap on occasion, like on the flight to Washington every week, but I won’t begrudge them that. I also sleep on flights, but I don’t claim to be tireless. I feel tired all the time.

It’s the politicians that have never had dirt under their nails or had a sore back from actual labor that bug me when they use those terms. If they want to relate with us, they need to come and spend an actual day with us. All of us. Workers, laborers, office people, manufacturers, assembly line workers, law enforcement, firefighters, military, farmers, fishermen, nurses, clerks, stay-at-home moms and dads, and so on and so on. You know, people who actually work hard just to make ends meet.

Frustrating Times…

I know I’m not the only one to notice it, but we sure live in frustrating times! Whether you lean right or you lean left, everybody’s frustrated. It almost feels like we’re all back on the playground throwing unintelligent insults at each other and trying to get our friends to back us up. And the memes…half of them are fake on both sides and people are reposting them as if they’re the truth. Nobody checks facts anymore and just accepts that if it’s on the internet, it must be true. Our news organizations drift further and further away from just reporting the news and it seems as if they feel obligated to take sides, both right and left. Basically, everybody is at fault. We let things come to this and it didn’t happen overnight. You can blame the current president or you can blame the president before him, but the fact remains, politicians follow a different set of rules and have a different agenda than the rest of us…whether we know it or not. All this talk about health care? They have their own program and it seems to work just fine…except, we don’t have it.

I have watched as friends have turned on each other and stated they are no longer friends because of politics. The worst part is, I have watched these same friends take on the role of political expert and quote “facts” they got from the news or internet while the other friend quotes opposite “facts” they got from the news or internet. They can’t both have “facts” that are true yet oppose each other. Basically, the definition of a fact used to be, “a thing that is known or proved to be true.” Seeing it on tv or on the internet does not fit this definition. We are disowning our friends over opinions, not facts.

Now granted, some friends need to be disowned. I just wonder why after over 200 years as a country, with the exception of the Civil War, we are no longer tolerant of each other and can no longer state we are “One Nation.” We used to be a country of laws, but now I see lawlessness at the highest levels of power…with no repercussion. To be clear, this is happening on the right and the left. Politicians were originally elected to represent us. Now they represent the money. This is my opinion, not a fact that I can prove or have firsthand knowledge about, so please don’t disown me!

It’s not just politics…we’ll pretty much argue and disagree about anything we can. We don’t need facts. We don’t need to try and see another’s point-of-view. Heck, we don’t even need to let each other speak or have a turn anymore. We just need to be right.

NEW YORK PERSON: Wow, what a beautiful red sky!

CALIFORNIA PERSON: What are you talking about? The sky is blue!

NEW YORK PERSON: You’re wrong, it’s red! I’m looking at it right now!

CALIFORNIA PERSON: So am I and it’s blue and it’s a beautiful blue with not a cloud in the sky!

NEW YORK PERSON (laughing sarcastically): Right! Those aren’t clouds in the West producing the red sky?

MOSCOW PERSON: Nyet, you idiots…it’s night time. The sky is black.

Silly argument? Obvious to you that they’re looking at a different sky in a different time zone in different parts of the world? They seem pretty stupid, huh? Obvious that they’re making arguments without considering the facts for each one of them? That’s what we’ve come to. Besides, I just looked out my window and the sky is definitely grey. Lots of clouds.

So, you ask, what can we do to become civil again? Well, it’s obvious. We just need to all agree that I’m right about everything and everybody else is wrong. You see, this way we would all have the same opinion and nobody would need to argue. When I say the sky is grey, those lucky people on a sunny beach somewhere need to swallow their own opinions and agree. Of course, we’ll always have dissenters…

DAZEODREW FOLLOWER: What a beautiful grey sky!

DAZEODREW DISSENTER: Huh? What’re you talking about? It’s a clear blue sunny sky and I’m getting sunburned!

DAZEODREW FOLLOWER: How long have you been colorblind? (Quick personal accusations, whether true or false, are the way of the world now).

DAZEODREW DISSENTER: For real? What color you call this? (Said while slapping a sunburned back).

DAZEODREW FOLLOWER: Hey! That’s it! We’re no longer friends!

We need to rid ourselves of those dissenters! You see how they immediately resorted to sunburned back-slapping violence? We need to get rid of all of them! That’s how we’ll achieve world peace! Make everybody agree with what we say…

If you viewed that last statement and felt something was wrong, you’re right. We need a difference of opinion in this world. We need varying points of view. We need to be able to open up our minds to other opinions. Bottom line…we need to learn to listen again. It’s only then that we’ll learn to get along again. We all come from different places, different circumstances, and have different opinions. That’s what used to make America great. We used to be a giant melting pot where most of us learned to get along. Granted, we’ve made mistakes along the way, some BIG mistakes, but we learned from them…or so I used to think…

Rodney King put it best in 1992, “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all JUST get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it, making it horrible for the older people and the kids? … It’s just not right. It’s not right. It’s not, it’s not going to change anything. We’ll, we’ll get our justice … Please, we can get along here. We all can get along. I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s try to work it out. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to work it out.”

In the immortal words of Forrest Gump, “That’s all I’ve got to say about that.”

War & Peas (Reblog)

There are times in one’s life where one has to stop being humorous and take a serious view about certain things…don’t worry, however, this isn’t one of those times. Today I will write about the war. Which war, you ask? The WAR! You know, the war at home. The war most of us have to wage weekly. The war at the supermarket. You know, the STORE WAR! Of course, if you no longer have kids, it’s more like a skirmish. This story took place over 25 years ago when I took my 4 kids to the grocery store.

There’s nothing like the heat of battle to get your blood pumping. I feel it every time I maneuver into the parking lot and search for the ultimate launching point for our assault. You know…a good parking space. Not too close, yet not too far. It needs to be accessible for a hasty retreat if needed. Before exiting the vehicle, I turn to the kids to give them their pre-assault briefing.

“Men…” I begin.

“I’m a girl,” my daughter, the oldest, my second-in-command, aptly pointed out. A stern look usually corrects this kind of insubordination. “Sorry, dad.” I forgive her because she usually is dependable in crucial situations. I look back at the other kids.

“We’re about to enter the brunt of the battle,” I continue. “I expect you all to perform with honor and valor!” I paused for effect, but all I saw was bewildered faces.

“Huh?” my four-year-old asked. As usual, my second-in-command daughter translated.

“He means not to touch anything, not to beg for anything, and not to goof off.” Nods of understanding followed her explanation, except for the one-year-old. He seemed to be more fascinated with something on his finger. His inattentiveness was ignored because he was pretty good at his role of just sitting in the shopping cart and looking cute. His military skills as a decoy were unparallel.

We left the security of the vehicle and began the generally fruitless search for an Urban Assault…um, shopping cart (for you non-military folks) that worked as intended. Settling for one with only one wobbly wheel, a functional seat belt, and only a trace of grime, we assaulted the building.

We were hit immediately by the smell of the battlefield. The moist heavy smell of the produce sector, the deceptively soft billowy aroma of the bakery sector, the cold frigid feeling in the freezer sector, and the putrid smell of raw flesh in the meat sector. Ah, the memories of past battles, both won and lost, wafted through our, well, at least my mind. It was as if I trained my whole life for this moment! But first, we had to traverse the dreaded sale sector. This is where the enemy hits you with their heaviest artillery barrage…you know, stuff for kids.

“Look, Daddy!” my four-year-old says as he starts to succumb to their trickery. “Kool-Aid Bursts! Can we…”

“Don’t give in to their commercial warfare tactics!” I cried, a little panicked.

“Huh?”

“Medic!” I yelled. My kids just looked at me strangely…even the one-year-old tore his eyes from whatever was on that finger of his to look at me strangely. We rolled on as I noticed the kids weren’t the only ones looking at me strangely. Just a bunch of civilians caught in the crossfire, I thought.

Anyway, as in most military operations, there was always something ugly that had to be done. Many men out there know exactly what I’m talking about and no doubt still suffer lingering nightmares over it. Yes, I’m talking about the dreaded feminine hygiene product sector, a place usually avoided by most males. Some of us, namely me, think we have a good plan for the extraction of this product without detection. I simply hover about near the aisle until it’s empty, quickly roll through and grab the package, then hide it under the other groceries until the moment of truth…checkout. It’s a dirty business, this war stuff.

Of course, it could go very badly at checkout. If you ever watched the movie, Mr. Mom, you’ll know what I mean. The scene where the cashier did a price check on the feminine product traumatized me. What if that ever happened to me? What would I do? Would I crack under the pressure? Is there even a military training protocol to handle this situation? I don’t know and I never aim to find out.

Something similar did happen to me on that day, however. We hit the checkout lane with a false optimism that we were going to win this battle today! The kids were good, the aisles were free and clear, and we were making incredible time. I was feeling pretty good about our chances of getting away from the battlefield without casualties until I began to load the conveyor belt with our spoils.

The only child in this story not to be mentioned yet was my eight-year-old son. Until now, he was quiet. In hindsight, he had been a little too quiet. I should have observed this earlier, but ended up paying for my lack of attention with his betrayal.

“I thought we didn’t need diapers?” he asked, his little hand reaching for the feminine hygiene product I had just smoothly placed on the conveyor belt as if it were a bag of noodles or something. I grabbed his hand before he could ruin everything. I had mentioned this fact while we rolled through the battlefield, but I didn’t realize it would turn into such a grave tactical error. I panicked and told the truth.

“They aren’t diapers,” I said quietly, very aware of the civilians both in front of and behind us.

“Then what are they?” he asked loudly. Wouldn’t that kid shut up? I could feel all the civilian eyes turning to us. I looked at my one-year-old decoy with pleading eyes. Do your job, I thought, but he just stared at me with a smile, as if he could sense my discomfort.

“Something for Mom,” I informed him, thinking that answer would pacify him.

“What do they do?” he continued. I clenched. I’m pretty sure the checker clicked the PA button by now and the whole store was listening. I imagined my entire life was put on display and it was time to take my measure as a soldier and as a man. This was to be my heroic moment, I thought, if only I could just shut that kid up!

“Um, you can ask Mom when we get home,” I answered tersely. Why should I have all the pressure?

“Why? Don’t you know?” he asked as I swear thousands of spectator civilians gasped. The checker stopped what she was doing and looked visibly nervous. If I didn’t get ahold of the situation, there was a chance it could blow up and create an international incident. As a parent, I always prided myself in knowing most of the answers to most of the questions my kids would ask, something I learned from my dad. Now, how would he answer?

“Um, sure I do,” I answered with a wink. “Let’s just see if your Mom does.” Sighs of relief surrounded me. The checker went back to work with a smile. Disaster avoided, mission accomplished, battle won…at least until I got home.

Writer for Hire

During one of my poorer periods of my life, I found a couple ways to make some extra money. It’s not something I’m proud of nor have I done it again in years, but when you have hungry kids, you do what you have to. One of the ways was to build picnic tables for people. It’s one of the only woodworking things that can actually make a small profit based on materials and time. The other way I made extra money was a little unethical, at least to me. I used to write papers for people.

Now before I get all kinds of scolding, I will let you know that I knew it was wrong. Unfortunately, when faced with the electric bill or food, you sometimes do what you have to. You find something you can offer with what skills you have and you do it. I found plenty of college students who didn’t want to write their own papers, so I wrote them for a fee. What’s more, is that I guaranteed a “B” or better on every paper I wrote or I would give the money back.

Some of the papers were fun to write. Short fictional stories were my favorite. Some of the other papers weren’t quite as exciting. Papers based on readings were the worst because I had to read some stuff I had absolutely no interest in. Those cost extra.

One time, I actually wrote a Master’s Thesis for an instructor at a college. It was a boring 70 pages long and it was about vocational rehabilitation. After I finished, I needed rehabilitation. It paid well, however, and my kids had lights and food.

Overall, I probably wrote about 50 papers for pay. Every single one produced a “B” or better so I never had to refund any of the money. Once things were financially better, I stopped writing papers for others because of the guilt I felt. A friend tried to convince me that I wasn’t doing anything wrong, it was the people buying my papers that were wrong. I don’t accept that. It would be like saying the person making the meth is not wrong, it’s the people using it that are wrong…sorry, they’re both wrong.

About a year after I wrote the last paper for pay, I was able to return to school. It was my second quarter at the school when my professor for English 102 asked me to stay after class. He was a good instructor and bore a remarkable likeness to Richard Dreyfus, most notably the character he played on “What About Bob?” I had just submitted my third paper for his class so I figured he wanted to talk to me about that. I knew I had strayed a little from the parameters he set for the paper.

PROF: Mr. Dazeodrew, I wanted to talk to you about this paper.

ME: Yes sir.

PROF: Who wrote it?

ME (a little caught off-guard): Um, what?

PROF: Did you write this paper?

ME: Yes I did.

PROF: Ok, we’re going to prove it.

After this, he had me sit down with a pad of paper and write about a lost little boy who was found after a long search by hundreds of volunteers. I took about fifteen minutes and produced a paper of about a thousand words. He read it and smiled while doing so. Then he put it down and looked at me with that same smile.

PROF: So, how long have you been writing papers for other students?

This man, this professor of English, this Richard Dreyfus lookalike, had figured out by my writing style that I had been writing papers for others. I mentioned that I felt guilty about doing that and chose, for some odd reason, to come clean. I realized that lying to a man that could figure something like this out would be a waste of time.

ME: I only did it for a little while and haven’t done it in a year or so.

PROF: Well, your papers are still circulating.

ME: Really? (I felt a mixture of pride, guilt, and just a bit of anger that I didn’t get paid for the extra use of my papers…but mostly guilt).

PROF: I thought I would never figure this out and then here you are.

ME: What now? (I thought my school days were over).

PROF: Nothing. You said you stopped and I believe you. Besides, you didn’t plagiarize, they did.

ME: But I did it willingly for money. (I just didn’t know when to shut up).

PROF: How many kids do you have?

ME: Four.

PROF: You did it for your family?

ME: Yes.

PROF: Then we’re good.

I ended up with a solid “A” in that class. I’m also fully aware that it could’ve turned out much different. Despite what the Professor said, I knew I was just as guilty as the people who bought my papers. Like I said at the beginning of this post, I’m not proud. I did what I thought I had to at the time. Would I do it again? With hindsight, probably not.

When I’m Sixty-Four (Fiction Friday)

I can feel the sweat pour down my body from the mid-day desert heat.  It’s a strange feeling to be sweating so much when the sky is black.  The Iraqi’s had lit the oil wells on fire and we hadn’t seen daylight for at least forty-eight hours.  The bombing could still be heard in the not so far distance as the road from Kuwait was being pummeled, preventing any escape.  The Iraqi soldiers, not much different from us, were certainly praying for life during what could be their last moments.  The smell … the smell of … coffee?  The smell of coffee?  Ah!  Coffee!

I rolled over onto my side as my sleepy mind raced back to the present.  The dream had been my trapping of the past while the smell of coffee was the gateway to freedom.  To open my eyes would be the total submission for participating in another day.  A deep breath brought the coffee back into my system and I gave in without a fight.  I opened my eyes…so far, so good.  My eyes are generally cooperative; it’s my body that puts up a fight.  Modern medicine could only do so much.  The rest was will power.

I really wasn’t in very much of a hurry, so I opted to daydream for a bit.  For some reason, I thought back to my Olympia, Washington days some twenty-five years earlier.  The aroma of the Batdorf and Bronson roasted coffee probably induced this.  There was nothing quite like it and it stood out as one of the finest products ever to come out of Olympia.  Every morning I was graced by the memory of those days.

My thoughts turned to a class I was taking at night at The Evergreen State College back then.  I couldn’t quite remember the name of the class, but in it, I was asked to write a paper about what I thought I would be doing in the future.  It was called a dream paper.  As far as I could recall, I wrote my paper about what I would be doing at age sixty-four.  I had some pretty lofty goals for myself and I had hoped to have them all achieved by that age.

I remember writing that I would be a successful author of fiction novels.  I wasn’t so popular as to have lost my ability to be private, but I did have a loyal following and the bills were paid.  I would have occasional interviews to do and the publisher required me to attend a few book signings at some of the major venues.  Overall, I had become a real writer in the aspect that it was listed as my occupation on my tax forms.  I had even watched a few of my novels become movies.  Of course, they weren’t always true to my intent, some were better, but I was still proud.

My wife and I would be living in a rehabilitated gothic style gingerbread home in the heart of Old Town Key West.   We bought it years ago when a hurricane devastated the Florida Keys, leaving ruin and plenty of good bargains.  Most of our windows were left open year-round and we had a steady population of cats, some ours, and others as boarders whenever it was excessively hot or unbearably, at least for a cat, rainy.  The steady breeze kept the home cool even on the steamiest days.  A writer could write here.

Besides the cats, we never had an end to visitors.  Even though my wife had retired as a therapist, neighbors still sought out advice as often as they could.  At least they thought it was advice.  My wife had a knack for getting these people to answer their own questions.  Sometimes they didn’t like what they told themselves, but they’d get over it.

Our day would begin with coffee and the sharing of a newspaper, the real kind made of paper.  After this, I would go off to write for the morning while my wife would enjoy one of her many hobbies.  We would meet again for a lazy lunch and spend the afternoon together doing woodwork, shopping, kayaking, or just laying around.  At least this would be our goal.  Inevitably, we would have a guest or two or more to entertain instead.  That was fine with us.  We had plenty of time.

Our children and even a grandchild or two would be completely grown and many of our days would be spent with whomever was visiting at the time.  We always had a few spare beds and an honest welcome mat to greet them.  Some of them would complain about the distance they had to travel to visit us, but it never stopped the visits.  The complaining would usually dry up by the first sunset.

We especially cherished the visits by the littlest ones.  There were few things more pleasurable than to walk Duval Street or stroll one of the beaches with our grandchildren at our proud sides or in our arms.  There was little doubt that these were the cutest children present.  The many comments we’d receive were solid proof of this fact.  Life was good and we made sure everybody knew it.

Evening meal was the only serious event in our house where all present in the house was expected to attend and be seated.  We always thanked the Lord for our blessings and ate like we meant it.  Every night was a variety, but Sunday’s dessert was always a different variation of Key Lime Pie.  A good pie was always brought back for an encore performance and sometimes even found its way into one of my novels.

After evening meal, coffee or cocoa would be poured and I would sneak off for an occasional cigar during an evening walk.  I usually reserved this for one special day a week where my writing went exceptionally well.  Cigar or not, however, we seldom missed a sunset on clear nights.  These were the nights the Lord showed us his artwork and after all these years, it still left us awestruck and feeling very small in the universe.

Then as a finish to a perfect day, my wife and I would read until we both would silently feel the time for sleep had come.  Our years together had perfected this shared feeling and we would then fall asleep in each other’s arms, knowing the world had bestowed its best upon us and thankful for it all.

This was what I wrote those many years before and I smiled at how naïve I had been when I wrote it.  I was forty then and I guess I still had illusions that I could get a classic home for cheap.  Imagine me thinking a hurricane would lower prices in the Florida Keys.  The truth was, I had paid a high price for my home.

“Dazeodrew!” my wife called from outside the bedroom.  “The kids will be here soon and if you plan on writing this morning, you’d better get up!”

I reopened my eyes and smelt the coffee again.  This time the smell was intermixed with the fresh smell of the ocean breeze from the ever-open window.  One of our many cats crawled across my chest and seemed to smile at me as if it knew what I was thinking.  I had to agree with the cat.  Life was good, especially here in Key West.

The Evergreen State College

I attempted to go to college more than once. The first time I was too young and immature to make sound choices…read “The Gasthaus.” The second time I ran out of money and joined the army. The third time I had to quit to support my family. The fourth time was the charm because the VA supported me while I got my B.A. in Computer Science, Social Science, and Writing. For this, I attended The Evergreen State College in Olympia.

Some of you may have heard of Evergreen. A few famous people graduated from the school like Matt Groening (creator of The Simpsons), Michael Richards (from Seinfeld), and Macklemore (the Rapper) to name just a few. Evergreen is constantly appearing on top lists for Liberal Arts Colleges in our country and seems to be well-respected everywhere…except in Olympia.

In Olympia, a lot of jokes are made about Evergreen, even though a good number of residents have attended the school. It’s said that you can attend Evergreen, make baskets, and graduate. Not entirely true (the graduation part) but they do have a couple Native American classes where you learn to make baskets…it’s part of learning their culture. I have to admit, however, that I saw some real slackers graduate and wondered how they did it. I also met some of the most productive people I know who graduated from Evergreen.

One of the things that makes Evergreen unique is that there are no grades. You cannot have a grade point average and that confuses people, especially prospective employers who are not familiar with Evergreen. Instead of grades, you have evaluations. Each class finishes with a self-evaluation, a class evaluation, and a faculty evaluation. By the time you graduate, your transcript can be well over 20 pages long. Instead of reading that you got an “A” in Discrete Mathematics, you read an entire page of what you did, what you learned, and what you can actually do. I think this is a much better document for a prospective employer to read.

Another thing about Evergreen is its quirkiness. Some of the commonality of some of the younger students is that they wished they had lived through the 60s. They are wannabe hippies that actually try to live the hippy lifestyle…but with electronics. There are more colored hairstyles at that school than anywhere else I’ve ever seen. Also, a lot of armpit and leg hair. Like I said, a hippy college.

The ultimate quirkiness is the mascot. Other schools use tough sounding mascots like Trojans, Wolverines, Bears, Lions, etc. Evergreen’s mascot is something most of you have never heard of…the Geoduck (pronounced Gooey-duck). It’s a mollusk…um, Google it.

I, personally, got a lot out of the college. One of the things they are known for is using groups to learn. I know a lot of people don’t like groups because you can end up with stragglers or lazy people in your group. You end up putting in most of the work and everybody gets credit. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t care, as long as my work isn’t eroded by their lack of effort. Fortunately, every group I was ever a part of was good, everybody worked.

The other part that makes Evergreen unique is that the classes are clustered. While it’s possible to take an individual class, most are grouped together where you get multiple credits in multiple subjects. It’s kind of cool to see how science, writing, philosophy, psychology, indigenous studies, and communication can all be a part of a single class and how the instructors are able to have them intertwine with each other to make sense.

I’ll tell you right now, however, that Evergreen isn’t for everybody. Some people need the familiar structure of grades and separate classes. I get that. Also, some people can’t handle the sometimes extreme liberalism that exists on campus. If there’s something to protest, there will be a group protesting it. If you’re an ultra-right conservative, Evergreen can be your worst nightmare come to life. If you’re a believer in freedom of speech, Evergreen might just be up your alley. Just remember, however, that there are just as many hard-headed liberals as there are hard-headed conservatives. You’ll have plenty of disagreements…but if they’re in a controlled environment and there’s respect, you’ll be fine. I know my Christian values were sometimes out of place, but I hung on to them and tried to live right rather than just talk about everybody else and how they should live like me. I was respected and had no problems.

Of course, sometimes a conversation with a fellow student in your group went like this:

ME: Ok, so how do we code this using Java?

SLACKER: I have my own cup, thanks.

ME: Huh?

SLACKER: Well, it’s obvious you don’t need me to help. I’m gonna go, dude.

ME: Huh?

SLACKER: I can stick around, but I have to finish weaving this basket. I need it to graduate this Summer or my parents will kill me. Do you mind?

ME: Huh?

SLACKER: Grab the end of that reed, will ya?

It could be like that sometimes, but it rarely happened to me. I thrived in that school and never made a basket my entire time. My wife did, however…several, I think.

Send in the Clowns

One of the time-honored gimmicks used by businesses is a mascot, especially mascots geared towards kids. They have spent years of research and a lot of money to figure out the best ways to get kids involved in the consumer business.  Obviously, most kids don’t have a lot of money of their own, so the businesses come up with things the kids want so bad that they drive their parents nuts until they buy it for them.  In the case of a mascot, they had to appeal to kids.  In the Sixties, clowns did the trick.

There were clowns on television, clowns on cereal boxes, clown toys, and a clown at a restaurant chain.  It was the restaurant clown that caught my attention.  This one came with food, a favorite hobby of mine.  All the kids knew when this clown would be at the local restaurant.  When it happened, there were often free burgers or fries involved.  What more could a kid want?

Back in the Sixties, free was still something that meant free.  Today, free usually has a catch.  It might be magazines, or a four-year lease, or even a way for law enforcement to catch you.  They send you a card that says you won something, you show up to collect it, and then you’re in handcuffs.  We just can’t resist the word, “free.”

Anyway, my parents understood that free burgers or fries meant free food for us kids and a savings for them.  It wasn’t too hard to beg for this.  The clown was just a bonus.  He just walked around and handed out coloring books while we ate the free food.  Those were the days.

Clowns are a little different today.  Thanks to a host of horror movies, a serial killer named John Wayne Gacy, and a great loss of innocence in youth, clowns are scary.  My youngest son once told me they just creep him out.  I told him about the free burgers, but that didn’t seem to help.  I’m sure he envisioned poison in the burgers or something like that.

It’s a shame that what amused me as a child simply doesn’t exist today.  We live in such an information-rich and violent society that innocence is often lost before a child enters Kindergarten.  Of course, this isn’t true for everybody, but when an innocent four-year-old girl gets shot while jumping rope in front of her house, this steals the innocence of all the other children who knew her.  When kids are watching a dance on television and the dancers are bumping and grinding, there’s little left for imagination later.  This becomes life for these children and they often will imitate what they see or know.

Clown’s used to be one of the ways we could escape the realities of life and see through a different set of eyes for just a moment.  Red Skelton was an awesome clown that not only amused us but also often taught us how to smile at what life would bring us.  It’s not that bad.  Look at the clown.  It could be worse.

I say we need to get back to the days of free burgers and clowns.  That was just good stuff.