Thursday, December 31, 2009

Yorkshire Pudding has honored me with an award.

And not just any award either. Lord Yorkshire Pudding of Pudding Towers, Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, has chosen me as the Top American Blogger of 2009, which recognition is accompanied by this tasteful portrait:

Am I lucky or what?

My absolute delight in having been chosen is tempered somewhat by the deep suspicion that I am quite possibly the only American blogger with whom Mr. Yorkshire Pudding is acquainted, except for Mr. Sam Gerhardstein of Columbus, Ohio, who won the Top Granddad Blogger award. I was also eligible for this award but somehow, inexplicably, was not chosen. Of course, I am much too modest to mention my six magnificent grandchildren over and over and over or show you their photographs repeatedly because, as Belle Watling once said to Melanie Wilkes in Gone With the Wind in an entirely different context, “It wouldn’t be fitten.”

Mr. Pudding was on a roll.

My friend Katherine of The Last Visible Dog shared Top New Zealand Blogger honors with someone I don’t know. Very well done, Katherine!

My friend Ian, a.k.a. Silverback, of Retirement Rocks!, who divides his time between England and Sebring, Florida, received YP’s soon-to-be-coveted Susan Boyle Award and was named the Top Transatlantic Jet Set Blogger. I believe this is somewhat akin to receiving the Gene Hersholt award from the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences (Oscar to you) chiefly for being very old and decrepit and never having received an award in earlier years when you might actually have deserved one.

And my friend Daphne of Leeds, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom, whose blog is called My Dad's a Communist because, well, er, her dad (who unfortunately passed away about a year ago) was a communist, was named “Blogger of the Year 2009”. Huzzahs all around! Very well deserved! One difference between Americans and Brits is in the number of “hips” used to precede a “hurrah!” and so I do not know whether the cheer that should be used to congratulate dear Daphne properly is “hip, hip, hurrah:” or “hip, hip, hip, hurrah!” Until this international dispute is settled once and for all, please discuss amongst yourselves.

Since I am as gracious in victory as in defeat, I herewith include this link to Yorkshire Pudding’s blog so that not only can you read Lord Pudding's remarks at the awards ceremony and see a picture of grand-prize-winner Daphne, resplendent in her matching turquoise T-shirt and eyeglasses, but also you can learn who received the rest of the awards.

Happy surfing! Or as we Americans say, knock yourselves out!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

It’s that time of year again

Yes, the old clock on the wall tells us it is once again time to torture ourselves with listen to an annual musical recital by the one and only Anna Russell. Miss Russell died in 2006 just a couple of months shy of her 95th birthday, and one can only wonder whether these recordings were made before or after her demise.

Anna Russell sings “Canto dolciamente pippo” from the opera "La Cantatrice Squelante" by the Italian composer Michelangelo Occupinti (8:16)

Anna Russell sings “O How I Love the Spring” and “Da, Nyet” (6:37)

Anna Russell sings “ “Ah, Lover” from the operetta The Prince of Philadelphia (3:45)

Anna Russell sings “Schlumph” and “Je N’ai Pas la Plume de Ma Tante” (5:50)

Anna Russell sings “Schreechenrauf” (6:52)

Those of you previously unacquainted with Miss Russell cannot say that any more. And those of you who overindulge in alcoholic beverages on New Year’s Eve will discover that listening to Miss Russell sing has the added benefit of making you forget all about your hangover as you rush out to buy a good set of earplugs.

Finally, Anna Russell tells you How to Become a Singer (5:24)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

You win some, you lose some

The course of true love never did run smooth.*

CLICK HERE for a timely example of what I’m talking about.

If you couldn't understand what the singers were saying, here are the lyrics. The author is a man named Frederick Silver:

The first day after Christmas my true love and I had a fight
And so I chopped the pear tree down and burned it just for spite.
Then with a single cartridge, I shot that blasted partridge
My true love, my true love, my true love gave to me.

The second day after Christmas, I pulled on the old rubber gloves
And very gently wrung the necks of both the turtle doves
My true love, my true love, my true love gave to me.

The third day after Christmas, my mother caught the croup;
I had to use the three French hens to make some chicken soup.

The four calling birds were a big mistake, for their language was obscene;
The five gold rings were completely fake and they turned my fingers green.

The sixth day after Christmas, the six laying geese wouldn't lay;
I gave the whole darn gaggle to the A.S.P.C.A.

On the seventh day what a mess I found,
All seven of the swimming swans had drowned
My true love, my true love, my true love gave to me.

The eighth day after Christmas, before they could suspect,
I bundled up the
Eight maids a milking,
Nine pipers piping,
Ten ladies dancing,
Eleven lords a leaping,
Twelve drummers drumming
(Well, actually, I kept one of the drummers)
and sent them back collect.

I wrote my true love, “We are through, love,”
and I said in so many words,
“Furthermore your Christmas gifts were for the birds!”

* A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 1, scene 1
** American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The sounds of Christmas

Here are two of my favorite choral groups, the King's College Choir of Cambridge University in England led by Stephen Cleobury and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus led by the late Robert Shaw, singing some of the great music of Christmas in an excellent fashion:

Sussex Carol (1:32)

Ding Dong! Merrily On High! (2:03)

Coventry Carol (2:56)

O Tannenbaum (2:04)

Carol of the Bells (1:21)

Angels We Have Heard On High (2:06)

In the Bleak Midwinter (3:42)

O Come All Ye Faithful (4:09)

Infant Holy, Infant Lowly (2:06)

Jesus Christ The Apple Tree (2:47)

Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming (1:06)

Gloria in Excelsis Deo! (2:33)

And from my house to yours, a very merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Everything you ever wanted to know about “O Holy Night!” but were afraid to ask.

News flash: I’m beginning to come out of my “Bah, Humbug!” phase. It happens every year about this time. Just when I think I can’t stand one more minute of Madison Avenue’s infuriating commercials and the incessant attempts by Macy’s and Walmart and Target and Best Buy and Sears and Penney’s and Kohl’s to relieve me of all the money in my bank account, wonder of wonders, just in time for Christmas, I begin to get the Christmas spirit.

Christmas Eve is still four days away, but already “O Holy Night” is running through my head.

According to our old friend Wikipedia, this well-known Christmas carol was composed in 1847 by Adolphe Adam (pronounced uh-DAWLF uh-DAHNHHH in French) as “Cantique de Noël” (Song of Christmas) using the words of the French poem “Minuit, chrétiens” (Midnight, Christians) by the poet Placide Cappeau.

See, you already know more about this subject than the average bear. Wait, here’s more:

It was translated into English by Unitarian minister John Sullivan Dwight in Dwight’s Journal of Music in 1855. Also, when Canadian inventor Reginald Fessenden broadcast the first AM radio program on December 24, 1906, the program included him playing “O Holy Night” on the violin, so the carol appears to have been the first piece of music to be broadcast on radio.

There’s still more.

Popular versions on records or CDs include Enrico Caruso (1912), Julius LaRosa (1953), Michael Crawford (1993), Céline Dion (1998), and Josh Groban (2002). There are dozens, if not hundreds of recordings of this song, including ones by Charlotte Church, Bing Crosby, Mariah Carey, Kelly Clarkson, and Harry Connick Jr., just to name a few people whose last names begin with the third letter of the alphabet. But my favorite version, even though it is perhaps a tad theatrical, is this one recorded in 2001 by David Phelps.

To make your excursion complete around this traditional favorite, you should know that there are at least two English versions of the lyrics, and that neither one is a direct translation from the French.

Here is version 1:

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
’Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees! O, hear the angels’ voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night Divine.

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.

He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Before Him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us Praise His holy name.

Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.

Here is version 2:

O! Holy night! The stars, their gleams prolonging,
Watch o’er the eve of our dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error, longing
For His appearance, then the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees! O, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was Born;
O night, O holy night, O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts we stand by the Babe adored.
O’er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,
And come now, Shepherds, from your flocks unboard.
The Son of God lay thus w’thin lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our Lord.

He knows our need, our weakness never lasting,
Behold your King! By Him, let Earth accord!
Behold your King! By Him, let Earth accord!

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Long live His truth, and may it last forever,
For in His name all discordant noise shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.

Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

Here are the original French words:

Minuit, chrétiens, c’est l’heure solennelle,
Où l’Homme-Dieu descendit jusqu’à nous
Pour effacer la tache originelle
Et de Son Père arrêter le courroux.
Le monde entier tressaille d’espérance
En cette nuit qui lui donne un Sauveur.

Peuple à genoux, attends ta délivrance.
Noël, Noël, voici le Rédempteur,
Noël, Noël, voici le Rédempteur!

De notre foi que la lumière ardente
Nous guide tous au berceau de l’Enfant,
Comme autrefois une étoile brillante
Y conduisit les chefs de l’Orient.
Le Roi des rois naît dans une humble crèche:
Puissants du jour, fiers de votre grandeur,

A votre orgueil, c’est de là que Dieu prêche.
Courbez vos fronts devant le Rédempteur.
Courbez vos fronts devant le Rédempteur.

Le Rédempteur a brisé toute entrave:
La terre est libre, et le ciel est ouvert.
Il voit un frère où n’était qu’un esclave,
L'amour unit ceux qu’enchaînait le fer.
Qui Lui dira notre reconnaissance,
C'est pour nous tous qu’Il naît, qu’Il souffre et meurt.

Peuple debout! Chante ta délivrance,
Noël, Noël, chantons le Rédempteur,
Noël, Noël, chantons le Rédempteur!

And here is a translation of the French:

Midnight, Christians, it’s the solemn hour,
When God-man descended to us
To erase the stain of original sin
And to end the wrath of His Father.
The entire world thrills with hope
On this night that gives it a Savior.

People kneel down, wait for your deliverance.
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer!

The ardent light of our Faith,
Guides us all to the cradle of the infant,
As in ancient times a brilliant star
Conducted the Magi there from the orient.
The King of kings was born in a humble manger;
O mighty ones of today, proud of your grandeur,

It is to your pride that God preaches.
Bow your heads before the Redeemer!
Bow your heads before the Redeemer!

The Redeemer has overcome every obstacle:
The Earth is free, and Heaven is open.
He sees a brother where there was only a slave,
Love unites those that iron had chained.
Who will tell Him of our gratitude,
It’s for all of us that He is born,
That He suffers and dies.

People stand up! Sing of your deliverance,
Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer!

I think I like that version best of all.

P.S. -- “uh-DAWLF uh-DAHNHHH” is my own attempt at reproducing the French pronunciation of Adolphe Adam; Wikipedia had nothing to do with it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I vote for...(hold that thought)

It’s that time of year again. You know, the time of year when people make lists about the year because it is drawing to a close.

Last week, Barbara Walters made a list of “The Ten Most Fascinating People of 2009” according to her and then -- how convenient -- produced and hosted an hour-long ABC-TV special about them, interviewing each one in turn. Here are her choices:

1. Lady Gaga
2. Glenn Beck
3. Tyler Perry
4. Kate Gosselin
5. Adam Lambert
6. Sarah Palin
7. Brett Favre
8. Jenny Sanford
9. Michael Jackson’s three children

and the most fascinating person of 2009 according to Barbara Walters:

10. Michelle Obama

Actually, that’s 12. She said she didn”t choose Michael Jackson himself because he is dead and only living people can qualify for her list, which only goes to prove her version of the Golden Rule. You know, them what has the gold makes the rules. I have not linked to any of these people. If you want to know more about them, you can go look them up all by yourself.

I disagree with her choices, by the way. Barbara can’t help it, really. Being both bi-coastal and a member of the main-stream-media elite in this country, she is somewhat limited and provincial in her outlook by the circles in which she, er, circulates.

The person I think is the most fascinating person of 2009 didn’t even make it into Barbara’s top ten. Boy, is she out of touch.

Yesterday, Time magazine named its “Person of the Year” for 2009 and once again my choice was passed over. Time in its wisdom picked Ben Bernanke, the man who succeeded Alan Greenspan as Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

How unimaginative.

Today, People magazine did include my choice as one of their “25 most intriguing people of 2009.” It’s about time.

Here’s my choice. I think she’s far more fascinating and intriguing than Ben Bernanke or Lady Gaga or Michelle Obama.

If you don't recognize her, you must have just arrived from another planet.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag, Ludwig!*

(Charles Schulz, Peanuts, March 20, 1969)

(First page of music of the Pathetique Sonata in C Minor, reprint of the first edition of 1799, The Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies, San Jose State University, San Jose, California, USA)

*Happy birthday, Ludwig!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ze car, she is vorking vunce again

Turned out to be mainly a matter of replacing the spark plugs and wires, although they also cleaned the throttle body and fuel injectors. Says so right on the receipt. I returned the loaner to Camille and Bob G. with a full tank of gas. And I found a new mechanic, a good one, in the bargain.

As Robert Browning once said, “God’s in His heaven; all’s right with the world.”

All’s well that ends well.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

God bless Camille and Bob G.

The nice young man who made the initial diagnosis of cylinders misfiring on my trusty steed with his computer equipment never returned with spark plugs or anything else. After a few fruitless rounds of phone tag, I decided to pursue another path to remedy our Toyota Camry’s problems. Either my dilemma didn’t register on his radar or his own life happens to be extremely busy and we are way down his list of priorities.

With very little wherewithal in my checking account for a few more days, however, we were reduced to doing nothing. Mrs. RWP, who usually hears more clearly that I do in matters spiritual, related that she was hearing “Be still and know that I am God.” So we decided to embrace the stillness (as if we had a choice). Our round of appointments with doctors was over and our pantry was fairly well stocked. We said, “Thank you, Lord, that our car isn’t working. Thank you that it is sitting in our garage. Thank you that we are staying at home for a while. You know what we need, Lord, and You are in charge.” We waited.

Some of you may be saying, “God helps those who help themselves.” Really? I hasten to remind you that that is a quotation from Benjamin Franklin ( in Poor Richard's Almanac), not from the Bible. But God also is still on the throne, never late, and always right on time.

On Friday I mentioned on Facebook that we were temporarily without wheels. Camille and Bob G., some friends who live about a mile away, sent an e-mail on Saturday offering us the use of an extra car they have. So now, after six days of wondering and waiting, waiting and wondering, we have alternate transportation available. We were able to go to the grocery store and to church. Thanks be to God.

Tomorrow my son is driving over from a town some distance away to follow me in his vehicle as I nurse mine into a local independent mechanic’s shop that Bob G. highly recommended. My car hasn’t moved at all since last Monday afternoon when its Check Engine light flashed on and off as I was driving home from 17 miles away. A telephone call to another friend, Gary P. at the local Toyota dealer’s service department, has set my mind somewhat more at ease; he told me that since the indicator was flashing it might mean the problem is with the fuel and that it is probably safe to drive my car the three miles to the mechanic.

Tomorrow I shall learn more about the source of the problem from the mechanic. On Wednesday the monthly Social Security check will find its way into our account.

In the meantime, as I said, God bless Camille and Bob G.

Update, Mon., Dec. 14th: The new mechanic recommended by Bob G. told me just the opposite of Gary P., that a flashing indicator can mean the problem is more severe. While he examines the patient, the only thing we can do, still, is wait.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A car! A car! My kingdom for a car!

I know how Richard III felt. It’s a real bummer not to have transportation.

We used to have two cars, but after Mrs. RWP retired from her nursing career in 1997 we decided to save some money and cut back to one vehicle. Way back in the mid-1980s our second son worked for a few months at a local Toyota dealership, and ever since then we have owned nothing but Toyotas. After experiencing the Corolla and the Tercel and the Celica and drooling over an Avalon, we settled on driving Camrys. We leased for a few years, first a blue one, then a champagne one, then a burgundy one. We decided to buy the burgundy one at the end of the lease. Two months later, we were sitting at a traffic signal one Wednesday evening in the year 2000, waiting for the light to change from red to green, when BAM!!, we were hit from behind at full speed by a drunk driver who never saw the traffic signal, never saw our car, and never put his foot on the brake. Our burgundy Camry was totaled (totalled?) and that is how we acquired our current vehicle, a silver-colored 2000 Camry.

For nearly ten years it has run like a top except for a few minor glitches here and there. I have always had its tires rotated and its oil and filters changed according to the recommended maintenance schedule. With over 240,000 miles under its belt, this week it suddenly decided to sputter and spurt and jerk along and flash its “check engine light” at us. With precious little spare money for car repairs at the moment, it is sitting in our garage. My son’s friend who has always done a good job on his car (he had his own repair shop for a while) came by yesterday and took a look with his diagnostic equipment. It seems one of the cylinders is misfiring badly. It may be just spark plugs and wires. It may be the coil pack. It may be the catalytic converter. We don’t know yet. When we do know, I may not be able to afford to have the car repaired. We are hoping he has time to pick up some parts today and do some work, but he is fitting us into his schedule as he can (he now has his own insulation business), so we are currently without wheels. Fortunately, our cupboards are not bare and we have not yet had to send up flares.

But, as I said at the top, it’s a real bummer not to have transportation.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Winding down?

I began this blog on September 28, 2007, and by the end of that year I had written 43 posts. During all of 2008 I posted 228 times. I see by the old clock on the wall that 2009 will be drawing to a close soon. This post, if it sees the light of day, will be number 197 for this year. The possibility that I will create 32 more posts before New Year’s Day and exceed last year’s total is at this point, like the emperor of Ethiopia, Highly Unlikely. So maybe the great winding down has begun.

I wonder if the universe will end in a similar fashion, winding down a little at a time. One year the Earth will take 368 days to orbit the sun, then 375, then 392, and before you can say “Jack Robinson!” Life As We Know It will just grind to a complete halt and nothing short of another Big Bang (not that I believe in the Big Bang) will get it going again. I’m amazed at the whole orbiting phenomenon, how we keep circling the sun year after year without falling out of the sky into the trackless void. I mean, tiny atoms are whirling at some ungodly fast speed all the time, but the Macro-atom that is our solar system -- with the planets as its electrons -- manages to stay in place even though it is moving, by our perception, veeerrry sloooowwwwly. Compared to how long eternity is, however, the whole shebang may appear to the heavenly host to be whirling rapidly, just like its tiny counterparts.

Or maybe Earth’s whole axis tilt thing will return ever so slowly to its upright position of zero degrees off vertical. Then we’d have real climate change, let me tell you. Or the speed of light could slow down bit by bit until it moves at such a sluggish pace that light leaving the sun today wouldn’t reach us until a week from next Tuesday. Where would we be then?

Or maybe I’ll get busy and blog like crazy over the next three weeks and break last year’s record.

There are eight million posts in the naked blogosphere. This has been one of them.

Monday, December 7, 2009

In which the author, trying to write fiction, runs into a brick wall

I need your help. But first, read this:

Chapter 1

The regular scoutmaster had to go out of town on a business trip unexpectedly, so the assistant scout-master, Vernon Tutwiler, ended up having to take the troop of twelve Boy Scouts on the all-day hike and overnight camping trip by himself. He had packed his gear carefully the night before, reviewed various first aid procedures in case somebody got hurt, made sure his cell phone recharger was plugged into the wall, and set his alarm for four-thirty. Crawling into bed next to his waiting wife, Darla Sue, he dreaded the prospect of spending two days with teenaged boys. Darla Sue quickly made him forget all about teenaged boys.

The next afternon, after hiking for hours, Vernon had to admit that he was enjoying the outing even though his feet were aching and he was beginning to get a blister on his left heel. Just before sundown, the boys stopped hiking and erected their tents and dug their latrine and built their campfire and cooked their supper and settled in for the night in a small clearing above Bridal Veil Falls. They had pitched camp near a place where Vernon’s map showed three small waterways, Lowdown Creek and Nogood Creek and Fourflusher Creek, converged. The names of the creeks reminded Vernon of how cowboys talked in the old black-and-white Western movies he used to see every Saturday afternoon in the balcony of the Farr-Best Theater in Gastonia when he was a kid. He smiled remembering the insults cowboys hurled at one another when they had ridden into town hoping to hook up with dance-hall girls for an evening of pleasure but instead got rip-roaring drunk in the saloon and accused someone of cheating at poker and started a fistfight and shot up the place with their trusty six-shooters and got tossed in the hoosegow for the night by the sheriff to cool off and sober up before returning the next day to their thankless jobs of herding three thousand head of Hereford cattle north to the railroad hub in Abilene and loading them into boxcars destined for slaughter-houses in Omaha and Kansas City so that businessmen in cities back east could take their wives out to eat steak in fancy restaurants. Vernon was always thinking things like that; he considered himself to be a deep thinker.

Darla Sue, on the other hand, thought Vernon wasted far too much time thinking instead of what he ought to be doing, such as mowing the lawn or taking out the garbage or getting the oil changed in their Pontiac sedan. It was her only real complaint about him. Her mother, Virgie Perkins Hobgood Dickerson, who lived with Darla Sue and Vernon, thought her son-in-law was a lollygagger and a daydreamer and told her daughter so on more than one occasion. “Darla Sue,” Virgie would say, “I know you love him and all but I think Vernon is a lollygagger and a daydreamer.”

Virgie had moved in with Darla and Vernon two years ago after her third husband, Claude Dickerson, the best of the lot, God rest his soul, died of emphysema because he couldn’t or wouldn’t give up his two-packs-a-day cigarette habit even though she was a good wife and had begged him for five solid years to stop. She had also told her daughter many times that Vernon was nothing but a lazy bum. Virgie was convinced that in the husband department Darla Sue could have done a whole lot better than Vernon Algernon Tutwiler. Darla Sue would just smile at her mother and say nothing because Vernon Algernon Tutwiler did just fine where it counted in the husband department, thank you very much. Behind closed bedroom doors he and Darla Sue did many things that would have shocked both of their mothers but daydreaming and lollygagging were not among them, no, indeed.

The main reason Vernon had agreed to become an assistant scoutmaster was to spend one evening a week away from the grating voice of Virgie Perkins Hobgood Dickerson. The occasional hikes and overnight camping trips that came with the job had turned out to be a mixed blessing: more time away from his mother-in-law also meant more time away from his sweet Darla Sue. According to Vernon’s map, the larger waterway formed by the convergence of the creeks was called Dead Man’s Creek but no one in town knew why. Nobody had ever died there that anyone was aware of. After splashing over the waterfall, Dead Man’s Creek widened into a respectable river that meandered through a few miles of shaded woods and open fields, then snaked between a few scattered farms before finally emptying into Princess Lake just above the town of Mount Pisgah, sixteen miles from the clearing where the twelve boys of Troop 378 and their assistant scoutmaster spent a quiet night.

Vernon awoke with a start just as the sun was coming over the horizon, and he reached for Darla Sue before he realized where he was. He opened his eyes, sat up, stretched his arms, and yawned. He felt a bit stiff from having to sleep on the ground with only a blanket around him; somehow he had neglected to bring a sleeping bag or an inflatable air mattress. The day before had been a good day of hiking and the new day promised to be even better: the sun was shining and the dogwood trees were in blossom. In the big oaks at the edge of the clearing, some mockingbirds were singing their hearts out. It was a gorgeous day and Vernon was certain that, in spite of no sleeping bag and no Darla Sue, God was in His heaven and all was right with the world.

Vernon looked at the calendar watch on his wrist. It was seven-fifteen a.m., Sunday, the twenty-fourth of April. The boys were all still sleeping. He had to pee but he knew better than to use the boys’ latrine. He wasn’t the smartest cookie in the jar but he was smart enough to know that the world had slowly changed since he was a kid and he didn’t want some hysterical mother accusing him of exposing himself to her little darling. Vernon folded up his olive-drab army blanket, pulled his khaki pants on over his gray boxer briefs, slipped his feet into his hiking shoes, and walked a short way into the woods to relieve himself. He was just zipping his pants up when a rustling in the grass a few yards to his left caught his attention. He glanced to the side thinking it might be a deer or a raccoon or maybe even a snake.

What he saw shocked him, and he said, “Holy Christ!” out loud. A gray squirrel was scurrying away from a scene he was not expecting to see: two people, a man and a woman, were lying next to one another a few yards away. The man was lying face down and the woman was lying face up and the man’s right arm was stretched across the woman’s belly. They were both naked. Vernon almost felt like a Peeping Tom peeking into someone’s bedroom window at a couple sleeping in their bed, except there was no window and no bed and it was very clear they were not sleeping because their heads and hands and feet were missing. He moved a little closer to get a better look. On the upper part of the man’s right arm between his elbow and his shoulder was a tattoo of a rose with leaves and thorns, and over the rose the name “Shirley” was written in fancy script. On the man’s lower back just above his round, bare behind was another tattoo, a blue anchor with the words SEMPER FI under it in blue block letters. The woman didn’t have any tattoos that Vernon could see. The bodies couldn’t have been there very long because there was no odor and they had not yet begun to decay.

Vernon pulled his cell phone out of his pants pocket and called the sheriff’s office in Mount Pisgah. The sheriff was his brother-in-law, Royce Perkins. After a brief conversation with Royce, Vernon left the woods and walked back to the clearing. He began waking the boys by calling out, “Rise and shine, it’s daylight in the swamps,” the same way his father used to. “Oh, and fellas,” he said as he roused them, “as soon as breakfast is over, start breaking camp and packing your gear. We need to start heading home.” It was less than a mile from the campsite to the paved road where he had arranged for Darla Sue to meet them around nine o’clock. She would be picking them up in the fifteen-passenger van he had borrowed from the New Hope Baptist Church to take them all back to town. Except for forgetting his sleeping bag, Vernon had planned well. He called Darla Sue and asked her if she could try to be at the meeting place by eight-thirty. When she arrived, Darla was surprised to see her brother Royce’s car. When the boys were all safely in the van and on the road back to Mt. Pisgah, Vernon told her what he had discovered. The only thing Darla Sue managed to say was, “Oh, my God!” She said it several times as they drove the boys back home.

In town there was panic at the news; several mothers vowed they would never let their sons go on another overnight camping trip. By Sunday afternoon the editor of the Morgan County Weekly Bugle, Marlene McLeroy, was toying with the idea of running a headline that said “DEAD MAN’S CREEK LIVES UP TO ITS NAME” in the next issue, but she was overcome by a rare wave of good taste and decided against it. Under the circumstances, she told herself, any attempt to be humorous was clearly inappropriate. She settled instead on the plain facts, “2 BODIES FOUND IN WOODS” in large type, and in a smaller font, centered below the main headline, a sub-headline that said “Decapitated Victims Not Yet Identified.” The article itself contained all the grisly details she could pry out of Vernon Tutwiler and Sheriff Royce Perkins and his deputy, Eddie Harper. Royce and Eddie had arrived at the murder scene as soon as they could get there after Vernon’s call. They had put yellow tape that said “Crime Scene – Do Not Enter” around a circle of trees, and they had taken the two corpses back to the county morgue in a hearse that Eddie had been quick-thinking enough to borrow from his uncle, Talmadge Fairchild, who owned the Morgan-Fairchild Funeral Home in Mt. Pisgah.

“Take me out there, Eddie,” Marlene pleaded the next day, “I want to get a picture of the crime scene for the paper.” He drove her to within a mile of the place in his big Buick and walked her in the rest of the way. He figured she would owe him big-time and he planned to call in the favor when the time was right, like maybe in the back seat of the Buick next Friday night out at Princess Lake. Marlene was thirty-three years old and not bad-looking. Eddie was twenty-six and preferred dating high school cheerleaders when he could get them, but he thought Marlene was worth a shot. “What the heck,” he said to himself, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Marlene took her photo and Eddie smiled all week long until Friday afternoon when he called Marlene and she told him in no uncertain terms, “Not on your life, no way in Hell.” Eddie made a mental note not to be so quick to help people out in the future. He tried to soothe his hurt feelings by telling himself things his mother would have said if she were still alive, like “There are plenty more fish in the sea” and “She’s not the only pebble on the beach,” but looking around town in the cold light of day, Eddie had to admit that there really weren’t that many fish in Mount Pisgah and Marlene was actually one of very few pebbles on this particular beach.

On Saturday morning, the day Marlene’s headline screamed the news that everyone already knew, Sheriff Royce Perkins leaned back in his chair, scratched his head, and reviewed the facts. There were very few clues. No facial characteristics because there were no faces, no fingerprints because there were no hands, and no footprints because there were no feet. The only footprints at the crime scene had belonged to his brother-in-law, Vernon Tutwiler. The county coroner, old Doc Williams, had performed his autopsies and determined that both victims had been about thirty years old before their untimely end, and he had sent off some of their pubic hair to the state lab in Raleigh so that the forensic scientists could get samples of their DNA. All Royce really knew, thanks to a couple of tattoos, was that he had a male victim who was probably a Marine or an ex-Marine, and a female victim who may or may not have been named Shirley. Nobody had been reported missing in the entire state. This one was going to be difficult.


Vernon Tutwiler awoke with a start and sat up in his bed in a cold sweat. Darla Sue was snoring softly into her pillow. The clock said it was five after three, so he let her sleep; his mind was not on middle-of-the-night delight just now. He had had the nightmare again. He had been dreaming that the year was 4735 and he was at his three hundred and ninety-second birthday party. He lived in a thirty-room mansion in the desert with his fourteen wives and nearly two hundred descendants. Someone had handed him a telegram from the president that the returning space shuttle needed to have its landing area illuminated, and he had tried several times to leave the birthday party to go back across the wide Missouri and make sure the lighthouse in York Harbor, Maine, was operating properly, but every time he tried to sneak away from the party, a woman behind him who sounded a lot like Judy Garland would stand up and sing “How can I ignore the boy next door? I love him more than I can say” accompanied by a twenty-piece orchestra. He had turned to get a better look at the singer because even in his dream he knew that Judy Garland was dead, and he realized with a shock that the person singing was none other than his mother-in-law, Virgie Perkins Hobgood Dickerson. What struck Vernon as strange was not that she was dressed in army fatigues, carrying an assault rifle, and walking two Bengal tigers on a diamond-studded leash, but that she sounded so much like Judy Garland. It was at this point in his dream that Vernon found himself awake, sitting up in bed, and sweating profusely.

(To be continued, or not)

So, dear readers, you see my dilemma. Not who killed Shirley and the tattooed marine -- I already know that -- but, more important, how did their dead bodies wind up in those particular woods? I don’t want to impose some implausible deus ex machina solution and I don’t want to introduce aliens or vampires. I prefer an explanation without gimmicks.

Maybe an outline would have been nice, laying it all out in advance as it were, but I don’t tend to write that way. My way is to think for a while (like Vernon Tutwiler), let ’er rip, and see what happens. This method may not satisfy the English teachers but it was good enough on at least one occasion for the great Flannery O’Connor, who revealed that (alert: spoiler ahead) the reason it comes as such a shock to readers of her story,
Good Country People, when the Bible salesman steals Hulga’s wooden leg is that it had also come as a shock to the writer. And the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy had its beginnings in a single sentence that occurred to J.R.R. Tolkien: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

So do you think this story has any possibilities? And do you have any ideas about how those two bodies wound up in the woods?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

In which the author reassesses his place in the blogosphere

My blogger friend Silverback, a.k.a. Ian, of Leeds in the UK and Sebring, Florida, in the US (he divides his time about equally between both places), said a couple of days ago that his blog has had visitors from 84 countries.

So I thought I would check mine (it’s a guy thing). Since the Live Traffic Feed thingy over there in the left margin shows only the last ten visitors when it is not expanded and only the last fifty when it is (by clicking on “Watch in Real Time”), what I do is I right-click on any new flag I see when the thingy is in expanded mode and then save the flag in a file in a folder. If there is a better or easier way to do it, I don’t know what it is. (I know I could put an actual Flag Counter on the blog -- I’m not a complete idiot -- but I don’t particularly like the way it looks or how much space it consumes. Call me an odd duck. On second thought, don’t.)

Anyway, I counted the flag files in my flag folder and there are 104!

This puts me slightly ahead in the Blogs By Aging Male Cardiac Patients Who Have Crossed The Atlantic Ocean category, but it pales into insignificance when compared to someone like Ree Drummond, who is neither aging nor male nor a cardiac patient. Okay, full disclosure here: I have no idea whether she has ever crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Ree writes Confessions of a Pioneer Woman (Mrs. RWP’s favorite blog). Ree lives on a ranch in Oklahoma and gets hundreds and thousands of blog hits every single day and goes on book-signing tours to exotic places like Phoenix and St. Louis and Kansas City and Minneapolis and several other cities and has appeared on Bonnie Hunt’s television show on more than one occasion. Ree also writes about her four children and the herd of wild horses on her ranch and rounding up the cattle and regularly displays on her blog a close-up photo of her husband’s blue-jean-clad bottom. On top of that, Ree does a mean imitation of Ethel Merman singing “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” Let’s face it, Ree is in a league of her own.

So while Ree receives the accolades of the adoring masses along with the royalties on her best-selling cookbook, and Silverback a.k.a Ian rides around his palm-tree-lined lake in Sebring, Florida, on a golf cart in the middle of December, I can only report that a frost two nights ago put an end to the blooming of our encore azaleas for another season and this morning when I took the dog out for his walk, big snowflakes were falling.

I ain’t displaying nobody’s blue-jean-clad bottom on my blog for no amount of money or readers.

Friday, December 4, 2009

What were we thinking?

A couple of months back, during a period of apparent insanity, we scheduled several appointments this week with various doctors.

On Monday Mrs. RWP saw Dr. H., her eye surgeon, because it was time for her second annual checkup after cataract surgery on both eyes. He was to have seen me on Tuesday for a regular ophthalmologic exam, but I canceled.

On Tuesday, Mrs. RWP got me in to see Dr. B., our regular family doctor, because of sinus congestion and a non-productive cough that has been cooking for a couple of weeks now. His diagnosis was “upper respiratory infection” and I was sent away with a prescription for an antibiotic.

On Wednesday, both Mrs. RWP and I were seen by Dr. R., our dentist. We had grown increasingly apprehensive in recent weeks but it turned out well. Instead of a root canal, Mrs. RWP received a filling. Instead of an extraction, I received two fillings. All systems are GO.

On Thursday, I saw Dr. M., my cardiologist, for my twenty-eighth regular semi-annual checkup, which I have been having, semi-annually, of course, ever since my heart attack back in January 1996. Back then, Dr. M. was the newest kid on the block in a rather large local practice. Now he is chief of cardiology at one of the largest hospitals in the area and his picture appears on billboards, in glossy magazines, and even on the side of a bus in Atlanta. It appears I am disgustingly healthy. My EKG was perfect. My blood pressure was 118 over 68. My cholesterol is very good, as my high-density lipoprotein (HDL) was just under 40 and my low-density liproprotein (LDL) was 134. I can never keep these straight. Apparently the goal is to keep the high one low and the low one high, and 134 is considered a low high and 40 is considered a high low. Got that? Me neither. I do know which is considered the “good” cholesterol and which is considered the “bad” cholesterol because way back when I was in cardiac rehab in 1996 (they let me out on good behavior) the therapist told us to think of the H in HDL as “Happy!” (smiley face) and the L in LDL as “lousy” (frowny face). The Happy/high, which is the lower number, should be as high as possible and the lousy/low, which is the higher number, should be as low as possible. Or maybe I have that backwards. But I do know one thing: It helps to eat a lot of peanut butter and it helps even more to cook with olive oil. And I have started taking Niacin once again to make the happy even happier.

Today, Friday, is an appointment-free zone. I suppose we could have tried to get Mrs. RWP in to see Dr. D, the orthopedic surgeon who repaired her torn rotator cuff and replaced both of her knees, just to make the week complete, but her appointment isn't for another three months.

A day without a doctor’s appointment is like a day without, I mean with sunshine.

Another plus: not one of those doctors asked me to turn my head and cough, drop my pants, or bend over.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

There goes my social calendar

Even though my name is Robert, not Roberta, and even though both my physician and my pharmacist seem to be able to recognize that I am male, the pharmacy’s computer system doesn’t have a clue. As they say, garbage in, garbage out. You want proof?

Yesterday I picked up a new prescription for an antibiotic because I am sufferig frob a code id da dose, and the following helpful “counseling message” was printed on the receipt:


Sure, I could just ignore information that obviously doesn’t apply to me. But then this post would never have seen the light of day, would it? And a man has to rant and rave about something, doesn’t he?

So I have tucked that piece of information away for future reference. Just in case I should ever need it, you understand. I can’t imagine when that might be, but these days a person can’t be too careful.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The healthcare game, how she is played

I was fortunate enough to have worked long enough for two large corporations to retire from both of them with full-service pensions, and in retirement, to be covered (at a price) by private healthcare insurance. That is, X dollars would be deducted from my pensions each month to cover the cost of health insurance premiums. Each company’s literature said it would pay 80% of my family’s healthcare costs, and I would be responsible for the remaining 20%. I also was fortunate enough to be able to retire several years before either one of us was eligible for Medicare. Had I retired prior to 1990, I would have received healthcare coverage in retirement from my employers without any monetary contribution whatsoever from me. To receive this wonderful perk all I needed was to have been born ten years earlier. Mrs. RWP, who was a registered nurse employed at a hospital before she retired, receives no healthcare coverage at all from her former employer, not because she is covered under my insurance as my spouse (she is) but because her former employer (did I mention it was a hospital?) offers no healthcare coverage whatever to its retired employees.

The company I worked for longest (let’s call it company A) was designated as my “primary” insurance, and the other company (let’s call it company B) was designated as my “secondary” insurance. So I thought (naively, as it turns out) that company A would pay 80% of our medical expenses and company B would pay the other 20% -- after all, 20% was far less than then 80% they said they would pay -- and any “out of pocket” payments from me (other than the monthly premiums, of course) would simply vanish.

Wrong, kemosabe.

We were informed by company B that since it covered the same 80% as company A it would pay nothing at all. I was still responsible for paying the remaining 20% of our medical costs.

When I/we became Medicare-eligible by virtue of turning 65, another layer of confusion came along. My “secondary” insurer (company B) became my “tertiary” insurer, my “primary” insurer (company A) became my “secondary” insurer, and Medicare (the U.S. government) became my new “primary” insurer through mandatory (translation: involuntary) deductions from my monthly Social Security payments. Medicare also became Mrs. RWP’s “primary” insurer through the same sort of mandatory (involuntary) deductions from her Social Security payments. The word “tertiary,” as far as I have been able to determine, is a word meaning “so far down the list in terms of payment responsibility that it has no value whatsoever and can be completely ignored from this day forward.”

I supposed that the portion of our medical expenses not covered by Medicare would be covered by my new-secondary, old-primary insurer. I am evidently a slow learner. Alas, it was not to be. It was “same song, second verse.” We were informed by company A that since it covered the same 80% as Medicare it would pay nothing at all. We were also informed by company B that since it covered the same 80% as Medicare it would pay nothing at all. I was still responsible for paying the remaining 20% of our medical costs.

In one eighteen-month period the two of us underwent one shoulder surgery for a torn rotator cuff, two knee surgeries to insert artificial knee joints, and two eye surgeries for removal of cataracts. Actually, all of that happened to just one of us.

In addition to being slow on the uptake in general, I was also slow to realize that the deductions for healthcare insurance from both of my corporate pensions were buying me exactly nothing. The bills from the hospitals, surgeons, ambulance companies, anesthesiologists, radiologists, laboratory work, and physical therapists for my 20% opened my eyes. A year ago I stopped authorizing insurance premium deductions completely from my two pensions and the money began going into my bank account instead.

At the beginning of 2009 we joined a Medicare Value Advantage HMO Zero-Premium something-or-other that became our “primary insurer” (it administers Medicare funds for the U.S. government) and things improved somewhat. The only healthcare insurance deductions we currently have are the Medicare premiums the government takes out of our Social Security payments, currently $96.00 per month apiece. That’s $1,152 per year from each of us, or $2,304 in all for two people.

Before this year, our five monthly prescriptions also took a chunk out of our income. Things have improved a bit under the new plan. This year, four prescriptions have been paid for in full, and a fifth one costs us $29.00 per month at the pharmacy. Beginning in January 2010, however, the four fully-paid ones will cost $3.00 each per month and the other one will increase to $39.00 per month. In addition, this year I was able to submit receipts for certain over-the-counter (OTC) non-prescription drugs like aspirin, acetaminophen, and a few other items and receive reimbursements of $12.00 each month. That stops in January 2010 as well. Everything considered, our personal outlay per month in 2009 was $17.00 ($29.00 for one prescription and a $12.00 reimbursement for OTC); in 2010 it will be $63.00 per month (four x $3.00 plus $39.00 plus $12.00 OTC non-reimbursed). My calculations say that is a net increase of $46.00 per month, or $552.00 per year. And this is before any of the increased taxes to pay for the proposed new healthcare legislation even enter the picture. Fortunately, Congress decided to cancel a planned annual increase in Medicare deductions for 2010. Unfortunately, Congress also decided to cancel an increase in Social Security payments. You win some, you lose some. We will have to come up with an extra $46.00 every month, beginning in January 2010, to pay for the very same prescription and non-prescription medicines we took in 2009.

The hurrier I go, the behinder I get. Still, we have it better than a lot of people.

We were also notified by the Medicare Value Advantage HMO Zero-Premium folks that as of January 2010 the dental portion of the insurance will cover only “routine” items such as periodic X-rays and cleaning. Coverage for fillings, root canals, and extractions will cease. So the pendulum, it seems, has begun a long swing in the other direction.

Only God knows where it will stop. I’m sure things will get a lot worse before it does.

This has been intended to enlighten any of you who suppose that everything will be hunky-dory, healthcare-wise, once you become eligible for Medicare.

I hate to burst your bubble, but somebody had to do it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

From the archives: Thanksgiving Day

Norman Rockwell said it much better with with paint than I can with words, but the familiar words of an old song are my prayer for America today:


Bless this house, O Lord, we pray,
Make it safe by night and day.
Bless these walls so firm and stout,
Keeping want and trouble out.

Bless the roof and chimneys tall,
Let Thy peace lie over all.
Bless this door that it may prove
Ever open to joy and love.

Bless these windows shining bright,
Letting in God’s heavenly light.
Bless the hearth ablazing there,
With smoke ascending like a prayer.

Bless the folk who dwell within,
Keep us pure and free from sin.
Bless us all that we may be
Fit, O Lord, to dwell with Thee,
Bless us all that one day we
May dwell, O Lord, with Thee.

(copyright 1927 by May H. Brahe & Helen Taylor)

[This post was first published in November 2008. --RWP]

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On starting Christmas advertising before Thanksgiving, er, Halloween, er, the autumnal equinox

It seems to get earlier and earlier every year, doesn’t it?

I always usually go through a pretty severe “Bah, humbug!” phase before getting into the Christmas spirit. I don’t like what “they” (the merchandisers) have done to Christmas, especially the part where we are supposed to feel pressured into buying ever more expensive gifts in order to keep up with those darned Joneses. Then I remember that God gave us the gift of Himself through the voluntary sacrifice His son made, and that Christmas is all about the Incarnation (God with us, Emanuel). So I usually get my head on straight by about December 23rd.

Before then, I don’t even want to think about Christmas shopping.

Update, 11/25/2009: P.S. - Silly songs about red-nosed reindeer and dashing through the snow and you better watch out, you better not cry, and winter wonderlands and such ought to be outlawed. (I'm really getting into my “Bah, humbug!” phase now.)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Guest blogger Billy Ray Barnwell shares financial secret

[Because I am very tired today from the long drive back to Georgia from Alabama (even though in certain places -- along the border, for instance -- the trip takes but a single step), I have relinquished control of the blog for one day only to my good friend, Billy Ray Barnwell, who promises me that all he plans to do is set you on the path to financial security by sharing some much-needed financial advice (and perhaps a few other thoughts as well) that will help you live prosperously in President Obama’s America, or as it used to be known, the land of the free and the home of the brave. --RWP]

Billy Ray Barnwell here, I would be the last person in the world to tell you how to run your finances, there are plenty of financial planners in the world willing to do just that for a fee if you are dumb enough to let them, but I do want to pass along the best piece of financial advice I ever heard or rather ever saw, we had stopped to eat at a Stuckey’s just off the interstate years ago on the way to somewhere, I forget where, we were prolly in south Georgia or deep in L.A. which in my part of the world means Lower Alabama and I was checking out the souvenirs on the way back from the restroom, you know the ones, the baseball caps with the Confederate flags that say “Forget, hell” and the sets of shot glasses with somebody else’s favorite college football team logo on them and the beach towels that say Harley-Davidson and the salt and pepper sets that look like little outhouses, stuff you cannot possibly live without, and suddenly I saw this plaque that you could buy to hang on your wall that said If your outgo exceeds your income your upkeep will be your downfall, the plaque said it I mean, not your wall, and I was dumbfounded, I had this epiphany just like O. E. Parker did when he was in the tattoo parlor in Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Parker’s Back” and saw this Byzantine Christ tattoo whose eyes said to him GO BACK, boy I wish I could write like Flannery O’Connor, either her or Pat Conroy, his prose flows and hers shocks, I guess if I had to pick just one it would be Flannery, but unfortunately the only way I know how to write is like me, anyways I knew I had to have that plaque, I wanted to buy it so bad I could taste it but I also knew we couldn’t afford it even though it was only $9.95 because we had saved for months just to make that trip to wherever it was we were going and we needed every penny we had for food and for gasoline to get back home on, so I did the next best thing, I committed that saying to memory instead, who needs a plaque on the wall when it is emblazoned in your heart is what I say, so for years that saying has been my watchword, well more of a goal I would have to say, as there have been many times when my outgo did in fact exceed my income and I was very much afraid that my upkeep was indeed going to be my downfall but somehow we always managed to make it through to the next paycheck, thank you Jesus, it’s always darkest just before the dawn is what my stepmother used to say, not the thank you Jesus part, that was me, and she would still be saying it too only she passed away last November in Texas at the age of eighty-nine years, seven months, and twenty-eight days, not that anybody was counting, and she was right, about the darkness and the dawn I mean, because dawn always came and that black cloud would somehow have a silver lining and life would go on, except of course for her it didn’t as of last November, but you get what I’m saying. It’s funny how at the most unexpected times I get a flashback to a story I’ve read or a movie I’ve seen, the movie Field of Dreams has that effect on me because my Dad moved from LaCrosse Wisconsin to Cedar Rapids Iowa when he was in junior high school, he joined the Navy from Iowa, he and I were such different people, we never threw a baseball to each other on more than a couple of occasions, he was always working at the factory and I was always reading a book or practicing the piano, I was never very good at sports but I did love baseball and except for the minor detail that I couldn’t hit, couldn’t catch, couldn’t pitch, couldn’t throw, and couldn’t run, I could have played baseball, I always rooted for the Brooklyn Dodgers whenever they ended up playing the New York Yankees in the World Series, so I was drawn to a movie like Field of Dreams, I become a blubbering idiot every time I see it, Udella Mabry’s cousin Darlene Abernathy says well why do you watch it then and I really have no answer except that something grabs me in the pit of my stomach every time Kevin Costner which is pronounced Kevin Costner finally has that encounter with his father, the person he could never communicate with, and his father, who has been dead for many years but looks as young as or maybe even younger than Kevin, thanks Kevin for building the baseball field and says “It’s like a dream come true” and then asks “Is this Heaven?” and Kevin looks around at the baseball diamond and the cornfield and says “It’s Iowa” and his father says “I could have sworn it was Heaven” and Kevin says “Is there a Heaven?” and his father says “Oh yeah,” and after a short pause in which you can tell Kevin is thinking “What’s it like?” his father says “It’s the place where dreams come true” and Kevin looks around at his house and his wife and his daughter and says “Maybe this is Heaven” and he and his father finally have that game of catch and up on the front porch of the house Kevin’s wife throws the switch and the baseball diamond is lit up in the growing darkness and the camera pans back and up and you see all these hundreds of cars with their headlights on making their way in the twilight to the baseball field all because Kevin heard the voice saying “If you build it he will come” and “Ease his pain” and “Go the distance” and went to see James Earl Jones as Terence Mann and then the both of them went to see Burt Lancaster as Archie “Moonlight” Graham who gave up his heavenly baseball career to save Kevin’s daughter from choking to death on a hot dog and by this point I have been reduced to a puddle on the floor thinking about what never was and what might have been and what part of the fault was mine, Virgil Abernathy says he can tell from all the time he spent in rehab that I am way too involved with that movie, I’ve never been in rehab but he is prolly right, some other movies I especially like include Dances With Wolves which also has Kevin Costner in it, some parts are almost like looking at a painting in a museum, parts of the movie I mean, not parts of Kevin Costner, oh and there’s To Kill A Mockingbird and Some Like It Hot and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and Prince Of Tides and Out Of Africa and of course the incomparable Casablanca, and if you ask me, which I know you didn’t but I’m just saying, the motion picture industry is in a great decline nowadays with the notable exception of the three Lord Of The Rings movies, and I guess I got a little off-topic, but if you have any questions for me, I will try to answer them, and this is Billy Ray Barnwell signing off.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Almost as ubiquitous as the phrase "Oh, My God"...

(which we discussed at length in this post) is a single word that continues to emanate from the mouths of Generation X, Y, and Z'ers everywhere, even though most of them should have long since left behind the ranks of the terminally impressionable and entered adulthood, taking their rightful places in the world of consumerism, materialism, and participation on such television programs as Color Splash and My First Place and Extreme Home Makeover: Home Edition and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and Are You Smarter Than A Fifth-Grader? that distribute goodies, monetary and otherwise, to which they feel entitled.

What was I saying before I so rudely interrupted myself?

Oh, yes. A word. That word is: "Awesome!"

Absolutely everything nowadays, it seems, is awesome.

An iPhone is awesome.
The dollar menu at McDonald's is awesome.
Your new recliner is awesome.
The color of your neighbor's new car is awesome.
Twitter is awesome.
Your parents being old enough to qualify for Medicare is awesome.
Those new shoes you bought today are awesome.
Being able to get away to the beach this weekend is awesome.
The fact that hot dogs were on sale at the supermarket is awesome.
Your favorite carbonated beverage is awesome.

Are you kidding me?

Let's start a campaign to reserve the word "awesome" for things that truly deserve it. Here are a few candidates for your consideration:

A sunset.
A brand new baby.
The ________ Mountains. (fill in range of your choice)
The Grand Canyon.
The night sky filled with stars.
Thunder and lightning.
Niagara Falls.
The Great Barrier Reef.
The Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica.
A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou beside me sitting in the wilderness.

Someone is saying, "Well, maybe not that last one."

Hold on there. Not so fast. The author of the Biblical book called Proverbs had some definite thoughts on the subject:

"There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four things which I know not: the way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid." (Proverbs 4:18-19)

Now, those are awesome.

My English blogger friend, Mr. Yorkshire Pudding, recently traveled from his home in Sheffield, Leeds, halfway 'round the world to visit Chile, Argentina, and Rapa Nui (Easter Island to you) and fulfilled a lifelong dream of his. Undoubtedly he has added a few new items to his list of things that are truly awesome, like moai and Aconcagua. And, unlike most of those Generation X, Y, and Z'ers I mentioned earlier, he is right. [A correction: I should have said "Sheffield, Yorkshire" and not "Sheffield, Leeds" -- thanks to YP himself for pointing this out in a comment. --Yours for accuracy in media, RWP, 17 Nov 2009]

But I want to suggest to you, my faithful readers, that the most awesome thing of all is the love of God. I know some of you don't believe this, but I must say it anyway; it is part of the contract. Probably the most well-known verse in the Bible is John 3:16; the evangelist Billy Graham used to quote it all the time: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

Trust me, that is awesome. Why should God love us? Some of us are real stinkers. Some of us do far more harm than good. Some of us kill one other and boast about it. But God loves us enough that His Son died to save us, voluntarily. The best human analogies I can come up with are organ and tissue donors, who give part of their own bodies to save others, and firemen, who go into burning buildings to rescue the human beings inside. They are awesome, and ought to inspire eternal gratitude in the rescued. But Jesus Christ gave Himself to be crucified to save us, and Father God brought about his Resurrection as a stamp of approval.

It isn't even Sunday, and here I am preaching. Some would say I've quit preaching and gone to meddling. Please forgive me. Here's a group singing a song that says what I'm trying to convey better than I possibly could.

The Gaither Vocal Band

What do you know! Here they are again!

And some of you may be asking, "Why should I love God? What has He ever done for me?"

Keep thinking. It will come to you.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

I am in shock

Thanks to the Los Angeles Times, which does not, the last time I looked, have a conservative editorial policy, I am in shock as a result of reading the following story and seeing the photographs that accompany it:

Brace yourself before clicking here.

Maybe that doesn't bother you, but it bothers the heck out of me.

I'm all for showing respect, but that goes just a bit too far.

Oh, and thank God for a free press.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Banjo Search Continues

Once again Mrs. RWP and I are in Alabama (one state closer to Utah) visiting our daughter and son-in-law and two of our grandchildren. We will be here for about a week before returning to the land of peaches, pecans, and poultry, and very heavy rain of late (6.7 inches of the wet stuff at our house on Tuesday).

Last night I discovered that darkest Alabamistan is full of light. We attended Wednesday Worship at our daughter and son-in-law's church (Gardendale's First Baptist Church) for an absolutely stunning Veterans Day observance. I have seen many a patriotic program in my sixty-mmmphh years, and I know stunning when I encounter it. I can't even begin to capture it for you.

Afterward, the orchestra and choir had to stay for a final rehearsal for a special program this weekend (my daughter plays flute and piccolo; my son-in-law plays French horn), so we stayed too. The choir was smaller than usual, though; only about 125 this time. I have attended Christmas and Easter programs at GFBC when double that number were singing.

But, oh, the music! Here are some of the pieces we heard, not necesarily in the order we heard them:

"My God Is Real" (Jim Clark, tenor, soloist)
"Oh, What A Savior!" (Jody Dial, tenor, soloist)
"For Every Mountain" (Charlotte Guffin, soprano, soloist)
"Lord, You're Holy" (Faith Harper, alto, soloist)
"I Bowed On My Knees And Cried 'Holy'" (George Weeks, tenor, soloist)
"I Then Shall Live" (double male quartet)
"I Will Lift Up My Eyes To The Hills"
"Thou, O Lord (Are A Shield For Me)"

and several more besides. Every single number inspired worship. It was not entertainment. It was not dry and stuffy either, but warm and heartfelt and genuine. The choir director at GFBC is Mrs. Leslie Everhart, and the orchestra director is Mr. Howard Everhart. Whatever they pay those people, it isn't enough.

The choir I have been a part of for the past 30 years sings those same songs, and very well, too, but not with so many voices or a live orchestra. If you aren't familiar with the titles, you might find performances of some of these songs by searching on YouTube for "Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir" (of New York City) or "Prestonwood Baptist Choir" (of Dallas, Texas) or "Christ Church Choir" (of Nashville, Tennessee).

It was a double-whammy evening, and it almost made me forget about banjos.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Poem On Veterans Day (but not necessarily a Veterans Day poem)

Good morning, afternoon, or evening, readers of this blog. I suppose I could lie and say I don’t like to foist my poems on you, but the truth is I do like certain things very much, and among these are writing poems, having my own blog where I can foist them on show them to you, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Part of what brings the happiness is having you as my all-volunteer but temporarily captive audience.

In the United States we honor the dead of all wars on Memorial Day in May. On Veterans Day in November we honor the living who have served in our country’s armed forces. Sometimes people get these two observances confused, but that’s okay, they can. It’s a free country.

And that is precisely the point. To keep our country free, some have made the ultimate sacrifice with their own blood, and some who willingly would have made the ultimate sacrifice emerged from the experience alive and still breathing, but often profoundly changed. It is fitting that we honor both.

It has been several years since I wrote the poem in today’s post. It was not inspired by Veterans Day or written specifically for it. However, I think Veterans Day is a good time to show it to you.

If the title of the poem (“Thy Brother’s Blood”) sounds familiar, it may be because it is taken from the story of Cain and Abel in the book of Genesis:

And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.

And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?

And [the LORD] said, What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.

Here’s the poem:

Thy Brother’s Blood
by Robert Henry Brague

A poet (I forget his name) spoke
at the second inauguration
of little Billy Blythe of Hope, Arkansas,
whom the world knows as William Jefferson Clinton,
and let me just state here for the record
in this year of our Lord two thousand four
that many people would like to forget
the name William Jefferson Clinton,
many people wish his smiling face
would disappear from our national consciousness
or, to be more accurate,
that it had never appeared there in the first place,
but thanks to the wonders of modern technology
and the incessant, arrogant media,
the relentless, pontificating media,
who know with perfect knowledge
what products we should buy
and what entertainments we should enjoy
and whom we should admire
and what thoughts we should think
and do not hesitate to tell us at every opportunity,
we cannot, we are stuck with him
and his power-hungry wife,
but I digress.

I remember the poet’s name: Miller Williams.
He mentioned “the anonymous dead”
and I did not get a warm fuzzy feeling,
I did not get all cheery and hopeful,
I did not feel the way I felt when Maya Angelou,
the unforgettable Maya Angelou, urged us all
four years earlier to say, with hope,
“Good morning,”
I did not feel that way at all.

I have seen the skulls and skeletons
beneath the subways of Paris,
there in the catacombs, piles and piles
of anonymous dead
(though they are not anonymous),
photographed in living color
and published in Smithsonian magazine;

I have read of the mass graves
in Iraq and in the former Yugoslavia;
I have read of Sudan and Rwanda,
where they didn’t even bother to dig graves;
I have read of the Mekong Delta and the Hanoi Hilton;
I have read of Chosin Reservoir and Pork Chop Hill;
I have seen old newsreel footage,
black and white and grainy,
of soldiers standing before the opened oven doors
at Auschwitz, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, and Treblinka;
I have seen the charred and broken remains
of what once were human bodies
(and they are not anonymous);
I have read of the Bulge and the beaches of Normandy,
Utah and Omaha and Pointe-du-Hoc,
I have read of Okinawa and Guadalcanal;
I have read of Iwo Jima and the death march on Bataan;
I have read of the Marne and the Argonne Forest;
I have read of Gettysburg and Antietam,
of Shiloh and Chickamauga;
I have read of Valley Forge;
I have walked through rows and rows of graves
at Arlington National Cemetery;
and one sunny September morning
in the year of our Lord two thousand one
I watched with my own eyes
on live television
as the second plane
hit the second tower;
I watched both buildings fall.

Make no mistake,
these common, ordinary people,
these so-called anonymous dead
(though they are not anonymous)
who have come to include
office workers in lower Manhattan
and commuters on trains in Madrid
and schoolchildren in Chechnya,
and millions upon millions
of aborted American babies,
they are not anonymous,
and they are not silent.

(End of poem)

If you prefer poems that rhyme, you may not have liked my poem. If you prefer happy, bright poems that make you skip down the sidewalk and sing in the sunlight, you may not have liked my poem either. But if you don’t mind something a little darker, a little more serious, even a little jarring, something that might cause you to think for a while after you read it, maybe you like my poem. I hope you did, but I can’t force you to. It is still, after all, a free country.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Aunt Faye

In March 1967, Mrs. RWP and I were living in Poughkeepsie, New York, with our two young sons. I had been out of the Air Force for about eighteen months. I was 25 years old, about to turn 26. My mother had died of cancer almost ten years earlier. My dad, who had remarried, lived in Texas and was slowly dying of pancreatic cancer. Mrs. RWP and I had obtained an Eastern Air Lines credit card in November 1966, and we had flown to Texas with our little boys to be with the family at the time of my Dad’s operation. I had not been able to speak with my Dad since January because he had grown gradually weaker and was confined to his bed and no longer able to get to the telephone. Cell phones had not yet been invented; everything was land line in those days. I called every week and spoke with my stepmother, though, and I could hear the weariness in her voice.

At work on a Friday morning I received a call around 8:30 a.m. from my stepbrother Eddie in Texas.

“Bob,” he said, “your Dad is going downhill rapidly. You should probably think about planning to come to Texas soon.”

I thanked him for calling and alerted my supervisor that I might be taking some time off in the near future. At the supper table that night I said to Mrs. RWP, “I wonder how Dad is doing?” and she said, “Why don’t you give them a call?” It was a big deal in 1967 to call long distance, not nearly as common as today, and definitely not inexpensive. I dialed the number and heard my other stepbrother’s voice at the other end of the line. After making small talk for a couple of minutes, I said, “Bobby Gerald, how is Dad doing?”

“Well, Bob,” he said, sounding a little surprised, “he died at nine o’clock this morning. I thought you knew. We thought you were on your way here.”

To say I was in shock is putting it mildly. It really had not registered with me from talking to Eddie earlier that things were that bad. I could say I was busy with my new career and my family, but in reality I was young and stupid. I told Bobby Gerald I would be there the next day. Because our funds were low and the children were small, Mrs. RWP decided not to make the trip.

It was early Friday evening and the banks were closed until Monday. There were no automatic teller machines in 1967, so I drove to four different supermarkets in Poughkeepsie and wrote a check at each one for $25.00, the maximum. I called Eastern Air Lines and made a reservation for a flight out of Newark, New Jersey, ninety miles away, on Saturday morning.

After a two-hour drive to the airport, I handed the Eastern agent my credit card to pay for the round-trip ticket I had reserved. The charge was denied. A mixup in credit card processing had occurred, which eventually was straightened out a couple of weeks later, but at that moment, standing at the ticket desk at Newark airport, the only thing I could do was pay $88.00 cash for a one-way ticket to Dallas, Texas. I got on the plane with $12.00 in my pocket, not knowing how I was going to get back to New York after my Dad’s funeral.

My stepbrother met me at the Dallas airport in mid-afternoon and took me to my stepmother’s house. There seemed to be a party in progress. Everyone was laughing and talking, eating and drinking. It seemed out of place to me at the time, inappropriate, but in retrospect it was understandable; the tension of the previous couple of months had been broken and people were just relieved that the ordeal was over. It was a natural response to what had been a very stressful situation. I just couldn’t see it at the time.

After supper I asked when we were going to the funeral home. The laughter and talking stopped and everyone looked at me. “We went last night,” someone finally said. “We weren’t planning to go back tonight.” My oldest stepbrother said “I’ll take you” and he did.

Since I was the only one coming from a distance, the funeral had been planned for 3:00 p.m. on Sunday afternoon at Coppell Methodist Church. I was very glad I had made that phone call on Friday night; otherwise, I would not have been there for my Dad’s funeral.

No one went to church on Sunday morning, and family members began to arrive at the house before noon. My stepmother had five brothers and four sisters and most of them lived in Dallas County. She was putting food on the table when she turned to me and said, “Bob, I think your Dad would like it if you sang ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ at the service.”

I was receiving shocks on a daily basis, it seemed. I had played the organ at funerals before and I had sung at funerals before, but never for someone in my immediate family. I walked out into the back yard to get some fresh air and to clear my head. Aunt Faye, who was thirteen years younger than my stepmother, was there. She took one look at me and asked me what was wrong.

“She wants me to sing at Dad’s funeral,” I said.

“Oh, my. Can you do it?” asked Aunt Faye.

“I don’t know,” I said, "but if I’m going to sing I need to go over to the church and familiarize myself with the organ and rehearse.”

Faye said, “I’ll take you.” We arrived at the church a few minutes after the morning service had ended. A Hammond organ sat at the right front corner of the sanctuary, facing the pulpit and perpendicular to the pews. I broke down twice while rehearsing.

On the drive back to the house, Faye said, “When will you be going back to New York?”

“Well, that’s an interesting question,” I said. “I have no idea.” I told her what had happened at the Newark Airport and said I was taking one thing at a time and right now I was just trying to get through the day of the funeral.

As we got out of the car Faye said, “I want to lend you the money,” and handed me one hundred dollars.

I thanked her and said, “I will have to pay it back to you a little each month.”

“That will be fine,” she said.

After the funeral, one more shock remained. One of my stepmother’s brothers came up to me and said, “That was great! It was just like in a Hollywood movie!”

He meant it as a compliment, I suppose, but it wasn’t really what I needed to hear at that moment.

I flew back to New York on Tuesday and began mailing a check to Aunt Faye each month for ten dollars. I mentioned that we were expecting another child. After the third month, I received a letter from her. In it were my three checks, uncashed, and a note saying she wanted me to consider the entire one hundred dollars as a gift from her for the new baby.

Aunt Faye died this week in California, where she lived with her son Danny. Her children Libby, Danny, and Larry, and her niece Janice accompanied her body back to Texas for burial there. She was in her eighties.

Shakespeare said, “The evil men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.” It may have been so with Caesar, but I have written this post to honor Aunt Faye and to make sure the good in her is not going to be interred with her bones. The good in her became a part of my story and helped me when I needed it most. I will never forget her kindness.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

We are all just prisoners here of our own device

Having way too much free time, I have devised a new game with which to while away the hours and stump my friends. I am absolutely certain, in my egotistical but completely endearing way, that no one has ever thought of this game before. Please do not disabuse me of my conceit.

Here’s the object of the game: We (by which I mean you) are going to identify well-known songs by using only the initial letters of the words in the first couple of lines. (Exception: If the song has a verse and a chorus, we’ll (you’ll) use the chorus.) The only question that remains might be what, exactly, constitutes “a well-known song”? I have decided, unilaterally and arbitrarily, that songs written after 1950 are ineligible. Therefore, no matter how much I would like to include the wonderful “Hotel California” by the Eagles (or WTTHC, SALP, SALF) -- it has such great lines as, “We are all just prisoners here of our own device” and “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave” -- the rules of my own game, unfortunately, prevent me from doing so.

Ready? Let us begin. And if, after a decent interval, you absolutely cannot figure it out, a click on the song’s composer and year of composition will reveal the answer.

1. JBJBJATW, OWFIITRIAOHOS! (James Pierpont, 1857)

2. MDADDALLD, AKDT,WY? (Milton Drake, Al Hoffman, and Jerry Livingston, 1943)

3. YDWTTROAP, SAFIHHACIM! (Anonymous, circa 1755)

4, WDUTSRFFA, TWMHIYE, TWTOFS (Stephen Foster, 1851)


6. SIWWISTLNDOAS, TMHMR AIAOAWY (Hoagy Carmichael composed the music in 1927, Mitchell Parish wrote the lyrics in 1929, and here’s Nat “King” Cole singing it around 1957)

See how this can go on and on and on? See how addictive it is?

You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Perhaps Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is sharing with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi some ways to convince recalcitrant members of the U.S. House of Representatives to cast their votes in favor of the healthcare bill.

Or perhaps he is telling her the names of people who might be willing to donate money to her re-election campaign.

But in my heart of hearts what I really think he is saying is:

“Jesus is coming. Look busy.”

Monday, November 2, 2009

Padre nuestro, que estás en los cielos, santificado sea tu nombre

If I don’t die before then, Lord willing, and the creeks (or Creeks) don’t rise, this afternoon will make the third Monday in a row I will have volunteered with a local children’s ministry organization called Square Pegs to help some children (most of them Hispanic) at a local apartment complex after school with their homework assignments. The first week was exciting, as I was able to help Rosa, José, and, to a lesser extent, Daniela (because she spoke no English at all). Last week, Rosa was there again and I worked with Carlos as well. I was assigned to work with first-graders. Other volunteers helped other groups of children who sat together by grade level at tables in various rooms.

Unfortunately, I know very little Spanish. Mrs. Sue Nichols, my fifth-grade teacher back in the Dark Ages, taught us to say “Este es el gato” (“This is the cat”), but so far I have not had occasion to use that phrase at Square Pegs. Even though most of the children do speak English, I think that if I am to be of very much use there when more Danielas come along, I need to try to learn some Spanish on my own. (Life lesson: You can teach an old dog new tricks, even if -- or maybe especially when -- you are the old dog and you have to do it yourself.) I know a smattering of words, but a smattering is definitely not enough. Here’s a part of what my trusty computer has helped me learn so far:

¡Buenos días!
bway-nohs dee-ahs
Good morning!

¡Buenas tardes!
bway-nahs tard-ays
Good afternoon!

¡Buenas noches!
bway-nahs noh-chays
Good evening! / Good night!

Hi! Hello!


Por favor.
por fah-bor

Hasta la vista / Hasta luego.
ah-stah lah vees-tah / ah-stah loo-ay-go
See you / See you later.

Hasta pronto.
ah-stah prohn-toh
See you soon.

Hasta mañana.
ah-stah mahn-yahn-ah
See you tomorrow.

(Muchas) Gracias.
(moo-chahs) grah-see-ahs
Thank you (very much).

De nada.
day nah-dah
You’re welcome.

Lo siento.
loh see-ehn-toh
I’m sorry.

Con permiso / Perdón
kohn pehr-mee-soh / pehr-dohn
Excuse me.

¿Cómo está usted?
koh-moh ay-stah oo-sted
How are you? (formal)

¿Cómo estás?
koh-moh ay-stahs
How are you? (informal)

¿Qué tal?
kay tahl
How’s it going?

Bien / Muy bien
bee-ehn / moy bee-ehn [I think it’s supposed to be “moo-ey.” --RWP]
Well / Very well.

Mal / Muy mal / Más o menos
mahl / moy mahl / mahs oh may-nohs
Bad / Very bad / OK [Really? It looks like “more or less” to me. --RWP]

Sí / No
see / noh
Yes / No

¿Cómo se llama usted?
koh-moh say yah-mah oo-sted
What is your name? (formal)

¿Cómo te llamas?
koh-moh tay yah-mahs
What is your name? (informal)

Me llamo _____
may yah-moh
My name is _____

Mucho gusto. / Encantado.
moo-choh goo-stoh / en-cahn-tah-doh
Nice to meet you.

Same here.

¿Hablas ingles?
ah-blahs een-glehs
Do you speak English? (informal)

(No) Hablo _____
noh ah-bloh
I (don’t) speak _____

¿Entiende usted? / ¿Entiendes?
ehn-tyen-deh oo-sted / ehn-tyen-dehs
Do you understand? (formal / informal)

(No) Entiendo.
noh ehn-tyen-doh
I (don’t) understand.

Yo (no lo) se.
yoh noh loh seh
I (don’t) know.

¿Necesita ayuda?
neh-seh-see-tah ah-yoo-dah
Do you need some help?

¿Cómo se dice _____ en español?
koh-moh seh dee-ceh _____ on eh-spahn-yol
How do you say _____ in Spanish?

¿Qué es esto?
keh ehs ehs-toh
What is that?

Estoy cansado / enfermo.
eh-stoy kahn-sah-doh / ehn-fehr-moh
I’m tired / sick.

Tengo hambre / sed.
tehn-goh ahm-breh / sed
I’m hungry / thirsty.

Tengo calor / frío.
tehn-goh kah-lohr / free-oh
I’m hot / cold.

Bless you!


Oh, and I can also say “What time is it?” (¿Que hora es?) and I know all of my numbers (you don’t really want me to start) and I can sing an entire little song in Spanish:

“Hoy más que nunca, Señor, yo te amo;
Hoy más que nunca, Señor, te necesito;
Hoy más que nunca, Señor, quiero dicerte:
Te amo hoy, más que nunca, Señor.”

Loosely translated into English, with minor word changes to fit the tune, that becomes:

“More than ever before, Lord, I love you.
More than ever before, Lord, I need you.
More than ever before, I want to tell you,
I love you now more than ever before.”

And you want to know something? It’s true.

Friday, October 30, 2009

the sound of one hand clapping

If you know anything about Zen Buddhism (I know very little), you are familiar with the term satori (enlightenment, see Japanese symbol above) and possibly its cousin, kensho, both of which can be achieved, Buddhists say, through the use of koans, little questions designed to help you along the path to the aforementioned enlightenment. One famous koan goes: You know the sound of two hands clapping, but what is the sound of one hand clapping?

I think the writings of the American poet E.E. Cummings (also known as e.e. cummings and e e cummings) are in many ways the literary equivalent of the sound of one hand clapping. What I mean by that is “beyond the reach of my feeble understanding” (I would never be a good Buddhist). Here’s one of E.E.’s e e’s e.e.’s his most famous (and hence, to me, indecipherable) poems:

anyone lived in a pretty how town
by E. E. Cummings

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn't he danced his did

Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn't they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone's any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men(both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain

Do you hear the sound of one hand clapping yet?

Maybe this one will help. It was published in the January 1920 issue of The Dial and is in the public domain:

I must be making progress. I know the pigeons are clay pigeons.

Maybe there’s hope for me yet.

But since the dictionary I looked in defines clapping as “to strike the palms of one’s hands against one another resoundingly, and usually repeatedly, esp. to express approval,” is it even possible for one hand to clap?

I will be laboring (<i>British,</i> labouring) under a handicap for the next couple of weeks (<i>British,</i> fortnight)

More about that below. First, though, I want to add an addendum (what else would you do with an addendum?) to my previous post about phone...