Friday, July 22, 2016

Cargo shorts and visit to D.C.

Wash. DC: We came; We walked; We saw;
We walked some more. Me, with cargo shorts

    If you’re planning a trip anytime soon, I’ve got two words for you that may well keep you from ruining your life. Make a note. Ready? -- “Cargo shorts.”

    Cargo shorts have about a gazillion pockets. I have pockets in my shorts that I don’t even know how to get to. While visiting the Nation’s Capital last week, I had so much stuff in my pockets that I looked like a traveling marble salesman.

    There is one big drawback to multi-pocketed shorts during a visit to D.C., and that comes from the fact that you’ve got to go through dozens of security checkpoints. And each time I had to empty my pockets. What a pain. I had to grab my floss, Chapstick, fingernail clippers, tube of hand sanitizer, bottle of water, snacks… the usual.

    At airports, they just check the metal you’re carrying around. All I had to do was take out my keys and coins and phone. However, at the first inspection at Bush, I had to empty out everything. Turns out my wallet has a thin metallic security shield in it, so people can’t walk by me with a device that can scan my credit cards in my wallet. Some people!

    At the museums, they wanted me to empty everything out of my pockets. Not just metal objects. I discovered that the minute we stood in line to enter the American History Museum. The only problem was that we had just eaten lunch at a sandwich shop, and Kay bought a big cookie to take with her. One of those macadamia nut, white chocolate jobs. Did I mention it was big?

    She wrapped the thing in a few napkins and stuck in her purse. Well, while we’re waiting in line to get into the museum we spy a sign that reads --“No food or drinks beyond this point.” Immediately, Kay takes the big cookie out of her purse and hands it to me. Tells me to hide it in my shorts.

    Truth be told, I don’t want a big cookie in my shorts. I told her so. She assured me that security only wanted to see the metal objects in my pockets. But, her purse would be carefully inspected.  Reluctantly I stuffed the cookie into one of my side-pockets. The bigger one, ‘cause the cookie was really big.

    It was at that moment I realized museum security wanted to see everything in your pockets. Metal objects and everything else. I suppose they don’t want anyone bringing a magic marker in and drawing a moustache on Millard Fillmore’s portrait. He was one of our Presidents, you know? Hey, I saw his picture.

    Anyway, the lady inspected Kay’s purse and waved her through. Then I took out my keys and wallet and change. The lady just stared at me. She was staring at the big cookie bulge in my shorts. She said, “Sir, do you have anything else in your pockets?”

    Caught me. I fished out the giant cookie and told her it was one of those macadamia things with the white chocolate. I was going to tell her that Kay made me carry it for her, but at the last minute decided to be the fall guy.

The lady looked at the cookie, laughed and then told me to move along. She didn’t even confiscate the cookie. I decided to share MY big cookie with Kay when we stopped by the food court in the museum. We drank a $3 bottle of water and split a $5 cookie.

But, forget that. I’ve got to cut right to the fireworks. That’s the real reason I wanted to make the trip. I had never seen a large-scale fireworks display. Now was my chance. Unfortunately, it rained most of the day on The Fourth. By nine in the p.m., a cloud had pretty well settled in on the entire City. Matters not. The fireworks’ display must go on.

And, it did. We went early and found a place on a steep slope near the Washington Monument. We spread a couple of hotel towels on the wet ground and plopped ourselves down. The crowds gathered. People everywhere. All had braved the weather just to experience the fireworks in D.C. When the first rockets went off, we could hear the boom, and we could see the clouds light up in red and blue and white. However, the only clear view of the bombs bursting in air came from the rockets that exploded lower to the ground. Everything else was a haze.

We learned that PBS aired the display, but spliced in some footage of past firework exhibitions in order not to disappoint. What a bust… but not completely.  While sitting on that wedgy-inducing hill waiting for the fireworks, we met some really nice people. It’s the camaraderie that made the experience so worthwhile. We made friends with Ben and Sandy from Rochester, New York. I’m supposed to forward this article to them. I’m sure I got their names wrong.

I don’t have the space to tell you about all the kindness we were shown by so many. We didn’t run into a rude person the whole trip. The mood was infectious. I even became kinder than usual… and I’m usually fairly kind.

On our flight home, Kay and I started rehashing the trip. At one point I shared a stolen thought. Not sure from whom I stole it. I said,  “Sweetpea, what makes America truly great is not the land. It’s the people.” – Kay thinks I got it from from Ma Joad in “Grapes of Wrath.” Well, thanks Ma. – Got to run, but I’ll sprinkle around a few more D.C. stories in the near future. -- Next time.


D.C. planning

Pre-trip -- Kay's making me go

    Can’t we all just slow down? Count the roses and silly stuff like that? Well, maybe you can, but I’m in a rush here. In fact, I’m in such a rush that it’s actually a week later from when I am right now. Rushes can get so confusing.

Seems an opportunity presented itself a few days ago allowing Kay and me to take a trip to Washington D.C.  I could’ve passed on the opportunity. Wait for a more prudent time. Unfortunately, the more prudent time would’ve cost a lot more. Kay is much more impulsive than I. She latched onto this opportunity and dragged me along with her.

So, here I am, talking with you, while Kay finishes up with my packing. I won’t have a chance to write you while in D.C., because we’re not taking a laptop. Not sure why. Our flight is supposed to leave in five hours and I don’t have time to dawdle. Isn’t “dawdle” a cute word?

I never wanted to visit the nation’s capital because it seemed too scary a venture. I’ll probably have to take a cab. Tip a lot of people. Get mugged on the subway. Get lost on the subway and have to spend the night. Get arrested at the Smithsonian for trying on Benjamin Franklin’s bifocals. Stuff like that.

At the moment my biggest fear is missing our flight. I don’t do airports well. I’ve taken at least four trips that required encounters with airports. The last one was horrible. Seems security is a bit more stringent than the other visits. Following the bombings in Istanbul, I imagine they’re going to be worse today.

You know what I need to do? Here’s what I need to do. I need to look on the bright side. I get to go see the Lincoln Memorial, spend a lot of time in the megaplex called The Smithsonian. I’ll get to see the Spirit of St. Louis at the airplane museum and see the actual U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Did the Preamble to the Constitution really contain the words “provide for the general welfare”? Was the part about “all men are created equal” actually scratched through on the Declaration of Independence?

I’ll also get to see a bunch of stuff that our founding fathers used to wear and smoke and carry in their pockets. I’ll also get to try on Franklin’s bifocals.

The one thing I’m most excited about is the Fireworks Display on the Fourth. Kay and I will need to take a couple of towels from the hotel and spread them somewhere around the Lincoln Memorial and watch it all. Kay checked the weather forecast and found that there is a 70 percent chance of rain in D.C. on the Fourth. Hey, I may have already made the national news as the guy who cried like a baby when he found out the firework display was cancelled. I’ll do it. You bet I will.   

Speaking of our flight, we have a two-hour layover in Atlanta. It could be longer than that, depending on the lines and the canine unit sniffing around. My bag of cashews will never make it past the carryon search. – “I’d better take this ziplock here, Sir. Can’t be too sure, you know? Whoa! Quit crying. You can have ‘em back, you big baby.”

By the way, in the movies and on TV, you’ll see people jump out of the cab the minute it stops. I never see ‘em pay the cabby. Aren’t you supposed to pay them something? And, if you do, can you use a credit card? The guy who opens the door for you at the hotel, do you have to hand him a buck or two? How much do you tip the lady who drove the bus during the tour of Harpers Ferry? Does Harpers have an apostrophe? So many things to know.

One thing that’s especially been troubling me, is the—Ouch! “Yes, Darling, I’m putting this baby to rest” – I’m sorry, Kay thinks we should’ve left an hour ago. I’ll just cut this short… well, shorter than usual. And, uh, look, unless I get incarcerated or badly hurt, I’ll let you know how all of this comes out – next time. Mommy?


Tuesday, July 12, 2016


VBS never came close to being a vacation.

    When I was a youngster, there was a word that sprang up early every summer that put me in blue funk. The word was “VBS.” Yes, it’s actually an acronym, but it was a three-syllable scary word to me. Keep in mind this was “back in the day before America took up child worship.” (Courtesy of Garrison Keilor.)

    Many of you are aware that VBS stands for Vacation Bible School. It’s a church event in early to mid summer where kids go to Sunday school for two hours or more, every morning for five days. Did I mention it was during the summer? Yet, they put the name “Vacation” in front of Bible School. It was a flagrant misuse of the word.

    I doubt there are many of you who come close to having the same religious background as I do. My church experiences would’ve really messed me up, had it not been for Elsie. That woman led her seven kids through the valley of religious purgatory. She never forsook us either. In fact, she taught VBS every year.

    Every one of Faris and Elsie’s kids were in church the Sunday or Wednesday after each of us got birthed. Sunday mornings, Sunday nights and Wednesday nights. Usually during the spring we would have to go to a “meeting.” Most churches called it a revival.  We were the early Church of Christ, so we didn’t call things the way most churches did. During “meetings” we listened to a preacher from out of town preach for a whole week. I don’t even think the grownups liked it.

Then of course, the kids got to go to VBS for a week during the early summer. Some churches had really fun Vacation Bible School experiences. They got candy and chips and sno-cones and cokes, and they played games and built chariots and stuff like that. Occasionally, Moses or Elijah would show up. Not sure where they dug ‘em up.

Our church leaders had a different concept of worship. Church was never meant to be fun, so we didn’t try to coax people with a gym or games or T-shirts or snacks. Back then, people didn’t attend church for enjoyment or even encouragement. People attended church out of guilt. If you don’t feel pretty bad about yourself when you left service, you must’ve gotten nothing out of it. – Again -- Back in the day!

About the second year of VBS things turned around a bit. We actually got Kool Aid and cookies. I imagined the apostles rolling over in their graves. At home, we had Kool Aid all the time. In fact, I got tired of Kool Aid. We didn’t have cookies all that often, but it was not too uncommon. Stuff like that wasn’t allowed into church, though. That’s made it so spectacular when we were served them in church. While it did little to improve my opinion of VBS, it was somewhat of a plus.

As we each got old enough to stay at home alone, Mom quit making us go to VBS. But, you know something? For years, we went anyway, because we hated to disappoint that woman. We did love Elsie. The last year I went to VBS I was in the ninth grade. Mom gave no indication in the least that she was disappointed in me.

As you can see, I went through some serious church going when I was young. I learned the upside to a lot of  bible stories, too. You know there was a Rahab the Harlot who helped the Israelites overthrow Jericho? The woman even turned out to be one of the great grandmas of Jesus. Yet, each time her name appeared in the bible, she was referred to as “Rahab THE HARLOT.” The woman couldn’t buy a break. That’s always bothered me. 

The church I first attended eventually closed down. Members probably got upset with one another over the degree of conservatism that should be applied to worship. That particular issue is called “religion.” Religion has messed up many a church. It causes people to question their “faith.” Muslims are messed up, because they have disagreements over how best to serve Mohammed and Allah. Christianity suffers because of disagreements over how best to worship God.

I’ve noticed a turn around the past decade or two. Kay and I attend a church that goes by the same label as the first one I went to, yet, it is so different. I no longer leave the building feeling bad about myself. The understanding is that each person in church is a mess. That’s why we go to church. We sees ourselves as among those not perfect. It’s really difficult to judge others when you realize you don’t have all the answers. Not even most of the answers. 

Our congregation recently finished its VBS. I heard that it was a blast. The kids had fun, even! Of course, I wasn’t there to witness any of it. I’ve only attended VBS one time since the ninth grade. And, that was years ago when my good friend Cliff Miller (Husband of The Couriers Peggy Miller) and I played two old cowboys. Most of you don’t remember Gabby Hayes, but that’s pretty much who we looked and sounded like. We clowned around telling bible stories.

I agreed to play a cowboy at VBS as a favor to Clifford, not for the children. However, if Cliff were still alive, I wouldn’t do it for him again. Maybe if they took “Vacation” out of the name. So misleading.

Truth is, the church experiences of my youth helped me find greater security in my faith. I believe God used Mom to lead me on a journey for a better understanding of people and a greater sense of faith. I see myself as a survivor of the church days of old. And, I’m sure that years from now, there will be a big crop of those who will  be survivors of the age of child worship. Somewhere between the two extremes is a proper place for parents to behave toward their children. But, again, who has all the answers?  -- Next time.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Diet resutls

50 Pounds less of Mark

ROOFTOP – This evening I decided to drag your buns to the rooftop so
 we could celebrate the fact that, today, I had the first cashew nut I’ve eaten in 147 days. It wasn’t all I hoped it would be, but, then, I had over four months to ponder how good it was going to be. If you give me 147 days to fantasize about something, I’m going to come up with some serious good thoughts. It’s like when Dennis and I would start getting excited about Christmas in August. Come December, we were seldom completely satisfied with the actuality of the gift-getting part.
But, let’s put Christmas behind us. I don’t even know why you brought it up. I’m talking about Kay and I dieting away some serious poundage. At one point the diet made me question the very sense of being… which sounds like” bean” and I couldn’t eat any of ‘em. Unless they were green beans.

Green beans are okay to eat… as long as you don’t cook ‘em using bacon grease or ham or salt. Let me share something with you. Standing on its own, a green bean doesn’t have a lot going for it. Corn, on the other hand, can stand on it’s own. I prefer mine with butter, but in a pinch… But, as fortune would have it, corn has too much sugar in it, our diet would not allow it.

Sugar is a carbohydrate, and when you combine it with fat (butter) it’ll go straight to your gut or butt, and stay there. I’m sorry. To your buns. It goes to your buns… which I can’t eat, either. I can’t eat buns, cakes, peanut M&Ms, or pie. No pie!

    You wanna know what the deal is? Well, here’s the deal. Over a period of five months Kay has lost almost 40 pounds, while I’ve lost 50 plus. I lost more than Kay, because the diet doesn’t take into consideration the weight or gender of the dieter. We’re all lumped together. Kay’s smaller than I am, so one would think I should be able to consume more cr--, uh, flapdoodle so as to make our suffering more proportional. I’m apparently the only one who thought of that.

 But, we’re now in Phase Four… where we shall remain until the time the defibrillator can’t bring us back. However, at that moment I shall care just a little bit less than I would have before the diet. It’s all tied to that “sense of being” question.

By the way, Phase Four is almost doable. Remember? I can now eat a cashew. In fact, I can have a snack of one ounce of cashews. It takes 12 cashews to make an ounce. Twenty-four almonds. That’s 160 calories each. And, we can now eat toast. If I require butter on my toast, it would better if I just ate the butter without the toast. Again, try to stay away from mixing fats with carbohydrates.

Oh, and we can now have pizza. Pizza that has no cheese or meat on it. Or anything oily. The marinara sauce is okay. Say, a saltless cracker with marinara?  That’d be fine.

There is only one thing that will aid me in maintaining my weight, and that is the Day of Splurge. Not purge. That’s different. One day a week, we can go whole hog and eat whatever we want. Cake donuts with glaze and the looped edges? One day a week, I’m there. BBQ ribs and a baked spud? Oh, yeah. Real pancakes with real syrup? It’s happening.

The only downside occurs the day after The Splurge. On that day, we must reenact Phase One of the diet. That means more grass and powdered food, but only for one day. It’s one whale of a tradeoff you ask me. I was on Phase One for four months, so one day is going to be like… well, it’ll be unpleasant as all get out, but doable.

One big downside of the diet is what it makes you become. Have you been hearing what’s coming out of my mouth? (Or out of my keyboard, for those who couldn’t join us on the rooftop.) I have become the person I hate to be around. When someone starts talking about a particular diet, I just want to slap ‘em. I’ve never cared to hear about people telling me how many calories in a grape or a green pea.

Now I’m telling you about counting cashews. I haven’t mentioned green peas because I couldn’t eat ‘em. Now I can, but I don’t know how many. Calories, saturated fat, hydrogenated fat, water weight… I am the person I used to run from. But only in print. I don’t bring the subject up unless someone asks about my weight dropage. My family doctor didn’t even bring the subject up. I informed him before I left, and he said, “Oh, good, keep it up.”  I will miss Dr. Strickland forever. That guy would’ve taken one look at me and given me a hug. Then he would’ve tried to get me to start biking.

By the way, one last thing on the subject: Kay did the math, and found that each pound lost on our dietary program cost us $45. The cost included the vitamins and meals-in-an-envelope and weekly visits. Five months worth.

Let’s face it, five months would’ve still gone by had Kay and I not gone on the diet. But we did, and I can now say that it was worth it. The question before us is, will it still be worth it a year from now? Will I be able to maintain my weight?  Tell you what let’s do. This time next year, assuming we’re alive and relatively sound of mind, we’ll climb up here and get a clear view of things. If I never mention the diet, you’ll know I did not maintain. – Twelve cashew nuts? Who has the gall to even tell somebody that?
Mark in February
In June