Friday, December 19, 2014

This December, let's remember the real meaning of Christians

What is the first thing you think about when you imagine a "Christian"?

For some, it is picturing someone like Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King Jr.

I like to think of people like Charles Spurgeon. I have his complete works of every single sermon he ever preached, over 60 years. That's a lot of Sundays.

And I don't just like him because he had a killer beard, enjoyed wine and loved a daily cigar. Yes, that would be enough. But Spurgeon truly loved and so clearly knew about Christ's central message of grace.

But for many others outside the church, they immediately think of Christians to be like the funeral protesting Westboro Baptist Church, who proudly proclaim their official website of Sadly, it is easier to focus on the loudest idiots.

Last December, I wrote "This season, let's remember to keep Christ in Christians!", partially as a response to the then current controversy of Phil Robertson equating homosexuality and bestiality in GQ magazine. At the time, almost all of America divided neatly into two camps of either declaring him a bigot or a defender of wholesome family values. Even his son Willie recently came out to say the family does not agree with his statements.

Look, in general, I think Phil is probably a fairly nice guy. I know he loves the Lord and he obviously has an awesome beard. He stumbled over his words a little and probably wishes he had taken a little more time to make his point, instead of blurting out those sound bites. But when we have a vicseral disgust and dislike of "certain people", it will eventually come out in our words and actions.  Always.

Phil's picture, superimposed with a quote that "you do not have to compromise convictions to be compassionate" is reposted in my Facebook feed at least once a week, despite the fact Phil literally never said that. Rick Warren did.

That has been pointed out repeatedly, but people will keep posting it because pictures with text pasted over them that reinforce what we already believe must be true, right? So, why even bother to fact check?

Now it is December and right on cue, many of my fellow Christians have become much more vocal. My blog certainly qualifies for that, but in truth it is because I invariably become more introspective and prone to examining myself and our motives.

Every year about this time, we Christians scramble and protest that there is a great war against us because we cannot put up nativity scenes in the town square. The fact that we are free to put them up in our front yards and would have a violently different reaction in say, China or Pakistan, is never quite enough for us. We want everyone else to publicly admit that December 25th was Jesus' birthday.

We are not completely positive on the day of course, but we do know the bible says his birth was announced to nearby shepherds tending their sheep in their field at night. But historically, shepherds have never kept their flock outside at night in Bethlehem any further than the fall.


Don't get me wrong (some of you have already decided to get me wrong), I do love the Lord. And I love celebrating His birth. And I love celebrating his sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection. I am not convinced the decorated pine tree in my living room is what He had in mind, but it is sparkly and pretty and putting presents under the refrigerator would just be silly.

Weirdos, following the crowd

We talk every December about the "real meaning of Christmas", but I want to spend a moment to ask aloud about the "real meaning of Christians". 

I am not stupid. I am confident very few would pick me as a prime example over Mother Teresa or even Phil Robertson, but let's look instead at the words of the man Himself who was born in a manger, probably no later than August:

"By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." (John 13:35)

The fact that we self proclaimed disciples profess to show that love with everything from feeding the homeless in the streets of Calcutta to protesting soldiers' funerals with "God Hates Fags" signs is understandably confusing for unbelievers.

Jesus also said the greatest commandment is to love God with all of our heart and the second command is to love our neighbors as ourselves, and that upon these two things hang all the law and prophets.

So... if we keep these two things, then we keep the whole shebang. Sweet! But how do we love God with all our heart and love our neighbors as we love ourselves?

I, for one, vote that we do not picket funerals, but for some, showing the "love of God" is the slightly more subtle (as a brick) gesture of vowing to no longer speak to their own child who has come out as gay on the holidays.

I mean for pity sake, right in between the servings of stuffing and turkey! Boom. Disowned. It is what the Lord would want us to do. Tough love. Tough noogies. Hate the sin, love the sinner. (Where is that verse again?)

Here is a modest suggestion (that Jesus made): love your neighbor AS YOURSELF.

We often forget the import of those last two words, but they are so pivotal. When you give (or refuse) a dollar to that homeless person, do you actually love them as yourself? Do you imagine it possible for you to have made the decisions they have that led them to that place of destitution and addiction? Do you view them as a person of great value and still worthy of dignity and respect?

For me, few words exemplify the true meaning of loving others as myself more than the word RESPECT.

How is it that we've so long fooled ourselves into thinking we can love people we do not even like or respect?

If I were to give something to a homeless person, I immediately wonder if I do it with genuine compassion or merely patronizingly, as if with a pat on the head to someone beneath me and certainly not my equal.

We make excuses that our love of righteousness and holiness is what moves us to shun and treat others with disgust. Aside from being hypocritical, it is self defeating. It doesn't just make us look like bigots, it is mind numbingly stupid.

Jesus said of Himself that "The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children." (Matthew 11:19)

People flocked around Jesus and not because he preached "god hates you". Like no other, He spoke of repentance, but also of grace and forgiveness.

It might be relevant to ask ourselves as believers when was the last time we ate and drank with a publican or a sinner... or a homeless person... or a gay person... or an atheist... or a Muslim... or anyone for that matter who did not neatly fit into our accepted paradigm of "good people".

But it is probably far more relevant to ask not how many gay or atheist or fill-in-the-blank "friends" we think that we have, but how many of them consider us to be THEIR friend.

Not surprisingly, the harshest criticism and preaching Jesus ever had was toward the religious hypocrites of the day, those lacking all grace or forgiveness and quickest to pick up a rock to stone someone, not unlike this jackass in Arizona

Paul told us that we ought to "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 2:3-5)

It is difficult to imagine the full extent of what it truly means to esteem others better than myself, but I imagine it is better served in the trenches of Calcutta than in a picket line.

The truth is that every moment of every day, we believers are tempted to create God in OUR own image. If we stupidly walk away from the bible believing He is a God who is perpetually condescending, angry and hateful, then that is exactly the kind of face we will show to the world.

Jesus told a parable in which He said that the kingdom of heaven was like an ungrateful slave forgiven of a huge debt by his master, only to go out and throw into prison a fellow slave who owed him a tiny amount in comparison. Jesus said the master heard of it and threw that first slave back into prison for being so unforgiving and hypocritical.

He then said, "Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?" (Matthew 18:33)

I try my best to show genuine compassion, respect and friendship to everyone, not because I am better than them. It is the very opposite. I too am a sinner, forgiven of an immeasurable debt.

Do you get creeped out and your skin crawl when you get near gays? Well, that is exactly how I feel when I get around fellow Christians who hate only "certain people".

One infinitely higher than me lowered Himself to forgive me, show me grace and call me family and a friend. So then, who am I to pretend I am better than anyone else and more deserving of genuine compassion and respect? The very thought of cloaking such arrogance and disgust for others within the folds of "faith" is nothing short of repulsive.

Sure, this kind of Christianity is a little less satisfying for some and admittedly a whole lot more boring.

"Quick, let's turn on CNN and see what those wacky Christians are up to now! Uh-oh, they're protesting the nativity scene ban again! Ooh! Now they're refusing to sell wedding cakes and protesting people's constitutional right to get married!"

But what if instead, the majority of unbelievers imagining "what is a Christian" were to simply picture real, everyday people who treated them with dignity, basic respect and whenever possible, sincere compassion and friendship?

I am not pretending to be a shining example of this, either. If already you don't think my beard, wine and cigars are Spurgeonesque, I promise you my bad mouth and angry temper will wipe away that comparison quick as hell.

Even when someone cuts me off in traffic, "love your neighbor as yourself" can quickly turn into me yelling "hey, go love yourself!"  But it is still a standard I haltingly aspire toward. The first and second commandments to love God and love others are what I try to make my truest foundation and greatest focus.

Fellow Christians... let us quit just talking about grace and start showing it. Let us quit talking about "tough love" and about our supposed love for righteousness and holiness, while using it as an excuse to push people away from us.

Let us just try actual love.

Please, let us just show sincere love for people. Let us try plain, basic compassion and grace for our fellow human beings. Let's all practice that for a little while before we think we've graduated to doing anything else of import.

It is incredible how we believers claim to be the ones who can see the light and are no longer blind, all the while we're not fooling God or the world, just ourselves.  Whenever we indulge in hypocrisy, condescension, self-righteousness or patronizing, it is so clearly evident to the rest of the world. They see it. They know it. They are not fooled.

And our hypocrisy is always so clear to God, but it becomes our own biggest and perfect blind spot.

It is time to set aside our slim and slick veneer of fake courtesy, kindness and sickly sweet niceness for people we do not even like, respect or care about. Guess what? They're onto us about that.

Even little children have an instinct about anyone who is phony. But we continue to plod on, preaching the gospel with stiff backs and strained smiles, thinking we get points for the number of ears we fill.

Paul warned us to make sure we let our love be without hypocrisy.

Let us just be real.

Let us stop pretending we can keep the first commandment to love God with all our hearts while artfully evading the keeping of the second commandment to simply and sincerely love our neighbor as ourselves.

How can our proudest achievement be that we stood on the corner of life and screamed "turn or burn" to every passing sinner, louder than anyone else? Aside from yelling the gospel, how much time did we spend actually showing it and living it? Did others only hear our angry and hollow words or did they get a true glimpse of the message of the cross and grace in the way that we treated them?

For the love of God, let us stop kidding ourselves that our hating and being disgusted by people is in any way the message of Christ.

Imagine if the average unbeliever who was asked "what is a christian" were to respond that they may not always agree with us, but they cannot deny we are always among the most sincere, compassionate and grace filled people in the world?

I would rather fight each and every year for this to become a reality than something as menial as trying to force unbelievers to accept my nativity scene in the town square.

In the very next verses that followed, Paul clarified to the Philippians what exactly it means to truly esteem others better than ourselves:

"Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross." (Philippians 2:5-8)

If we can do this, maybe we can do a slightly better job each and every year at remembering to keep Christ in Christians.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thankful the other 364 days too!

As we stumble headlong into the holidays, I've decided any tolerance that my body had as a kid for the freezing cold is quickly vanishing and almost gone. "Old people moving to Florida" is no longer a punchline to me. Those lucky farts have reached the promised land. I see that now.

Sure, it is the time of year that the cold is getting more and more intolerable, but on the other hand, at least I am getting fatter than ever.

*cue elephant music from Dumbo cartoon*

I am starting to think all the fall and winter holidays were mostly invented by our barely post-caveman ancestors to allow us to unashamedly eat as much as possible and pack on the pounds and insulation needed to survive the cold.

My theory stands out more to me as I am getting older, since time starts to pass more and more quickly every year (no really, that is a thing). It is a losing battle every year:

  • How am I going to get rid of all this leftover Halloween candy?!
  • 12 side dishes isn't too much for Thanksgiving, right?
  • Eggnog!
  • Almost done with all this leftover turkey oh my god Christmas is already here?!
  • More eggnog! YAAburpAAY!
  • How many snacks should we buy for the New Year's Eve party? BUY AAAALL THE SNACKS!

We should just change "New Year's Resolutions" to "Spring Resolutions". We can make them on April 1st, when the sun starts to come out and we don't need this extra blubber to keep warm anymore.  Plus when we stop keeping the resolutions (like we always do), we can yell "April Fools!".

But think about how lucky we Americans are that one of our biggest winter problems (aside from this ass biting cold) is worrying about losing pounds from too MUCH food. Many in the world don't have that luxury.

I am grateful every day of the year, but I think this holiday, a set day every year to take inventory of how blessed we are is one of our best ideas.

Despite the pains and problems that piled up in 2014, I know I am so lucky and blessed. I know full well how safe and comfortable I am, compared to millions across the globe.  And despite having lost friends and family this last year, I am so thankful for those I still have with me.

I am so incredibly thankful for my wife and kids and my family and friends.

They say we are not truly grateful for what we have until we have lost it. I do not think that must always be true.  We can choose to take stock and be thankful.  And nothing breaks down our ingratitude and taking our blessings for granted more than speaking and acting out for them.

Unless we're convinced our warm homes and full bellies are complete chance or merely from all our own hard work, it would serve our hearts well to remember those so much less fortunate than us.

Let us be thankful for what we have, but more importantly for who we have.

Lest we become forced to realize what we had only after we've lost it... let us remember to take a minute to put down the forks so we can hug our loved ones, tell them we love them and are so thankful they are in our lives.

Tell them to squeeze a little harder than usual, so you can feel it through the extra layers.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

I got into an argument with Facebook today

Me: Hey Facebook! What's up, friends!

Facebook: Obama!

Me: Wait... Obama... what? Obama is "up"? I don't understand what you're saying. I meant "what is up"... you know, "wassuuuuup!" As in, how are you? What are you doing?

Facebook: Jesus!

Me: You're... what the... you're doing Jesus? That doesn't make sense!! Can you even see me or hear my voice?!  I meant, what is going on with you and in your life right now?

Facebook: Democrats suck! Republicans suck! Congress sucks!

Me: ARGHHH!!! We already... stop it! Just stop! Everybody already knows that Congress sucks! Congress has literally always sucked and always will! You are not saying anything original or enlightening there.

Listen, I just want to know what is up with YOU. What have YOU been doing lately?  Where did you go this weekend? Are you happy? Are you sad? I'll even settle for a picture of your new haircut. What made you laugh today or be inspired?

Facebook: Can I post a picture that made me laugh or another one that kinda inspired me?

Me: Well... ok, now we're getting somewhere. Sure, I guess. I would rather hear you write something funny or inspirational from your own heart and head, but that is still cool.

Facebook: Can I repost 100 a day?

Me: NO!

Facebook: What about 50?

Me: NO! You were not inspired 50 times by 50 different things in one day! Stop it! That is just distraction and you having the attention span of a goldfish! Listen, just focus on one thing that really inspired you today and post that. And remember, an original, funny or inspirational thought that actually came out of your own head is even more funny or inspirational for the rest of us.

Facebook: But I really love Obama and Jesus.

Me: Good! But try to fit that into the conversation a little better. How many people have emailed you to thank you and tell you they converted to your faith or politics because of the 100 pictures a day you reposted? How many?

Facebook: ......

Me: Facebooooook... I asked you a question. How many?

Facebook: I dunno.

Me: Facebook, I can't hear you.

Facebook: I said... I said, I don't know. Maybe... none, I guess.

Me: Maybe? You think? So, nobody who believed differently than you has been converted and let you know that you changed their religious or political beliefs by you reposting 100 unoriginal pictures a day? What does that tell you?

Facebook: Post 200?

Me: NOOOOO!!!!

Facebook: But... but the same 12 friends who already believe exactly like me click Like on all 100 of my picture reposts every day! I am really getting through to the ones who believe exactly like me!

Me: *sigh* Look, Facebook... I like you. I really do. And talking about your faith and about politics is totally natural and fine and even welcome, just as long as you are talking WITH someone and not just pointing it loudly at their ear holes or eyeballs.

But if people walk up to you in real life and in person, ask you what is up and how are you doing and the first thing you scream is "Obama is awesome!" or "Obama sucks!", everybody will learn to avoid you at parties.

You see that guy in the corner, fidgeting and smirking to himself by the snack table while everyone avoids contact? That's you. Is that what you want? Try to work your faith and politics into the conversation once in a while AFTER you ask people what they are up to and how they are doing! Just don't be a one note pony.

Are you an atheist? Great. Are you a born again christian? Great. Are you going to fill every sentence with hints that I am an idiot if I am not one or the other? Not so great, Facebook. Not cool, man. Again... if you do that in real life, you're going to be hanging out by the hors d'oeuvres by yourself a lot.

The old saying "never talk about politics or religion" is not completely true. But maybe start up a conversation directly with someone about it. Maybe even in a private email or just on their page to see if they are engaged and interested, instead of jumping up on the snack table and screaming at the room.

At the very least, write something original yourself. Don't repost 100 religious or political pictures a day. That genuinely is not making you look original or thoughtful or helping your cause. It is just white noise that people tune out more and more and scroll as fast as possible to get to the next real updates. You know, the ones with just words.

We know that those updates with just words in them are something that someone actually thought up in their brain and typed with their fingers. That is literally THEM talking and it is so much more engaging and entertaining than a screen shot of FOX News.

Sure, when they type their own thoughts, they look and sound stupid sometimes, but that is fine! At least it showed more creativity and initiative than someone just clicking the Share link on a page that only they love and follow and everyone else does not give a shit about.

We know where those religious and political pages and pictures are on the Internet and we can go looking for them if we want them, thank you. Am I getting through to you at all, Facebook?

Facebook: .......

Me: Look! If you're really most passionate about your faith or politics, then start a blog! They are literally free and there is no character limit! That way, you can really take the time to write out in depth essays about your passion for those things and it will be YOUR thoughts.

I promise you, it will be so much more effective than yelling "Obama!" or "Jesus!" at me or showing me 100 pictures someone else made of them.

Even if it is a politics or religion blog, we will listen. But write something that is what YOU think about them and what you care about, from your heart, and not just some picture someone else pasted text over. Long winded is something we can endure, as long as it is YOU talking from your heart and not just someone else you are quoting, over and over and over.

We are more interested in YOU.  Heck, we'd rather even just see an endless stream of random pictures of YOU and your family and your friends or even your interests.  All pictures we take of ourselves are a little narcissistic, not just the selfie pics.  But that is fine! You are in my friend list because I want to keep in touch with YOU... see updates in words and pictures about YOU and what is really on your mind and important to YOU.

Facebook: Can I post 50 pictures in a row of cookies and brownies?

Me: Dammit... that's it, I'm logging off.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sorry I Smell So Bad

I don't usually get political on my blog, but with all the turmoil lately surrounding yet another person getting Ebola in Texas, I feel like I have no choice but to finally get serious and write about my cigars again.

Today marked a first in that I bought my first whole box of cigars to save 15%. It is also the first time I got Amy flowers and a card saying "sorry I smell so bad". Don't get me wrong, it also says "I love you" or something on the outside.

Thousands of years ago, maybe even hundreds, the Scots and Cubans declared a ceasefire and worked together to create some of the nastiest tasting and smelling things possible to women. Scientists are still not sure what womenary homromone makes them so enjoyable to only men. Like the rings forged by the Dwarves in the LoTR, scotch and cigars contain a magic that mostly can only be unlocked and wielded by wise old men, usually good looking ones with beards.

The very first Scots, examining the wrappers from their imported Cubans

I have met a couple women in my travels through middle earth who actually like one or both of these ancient potions, but while these XX chromosome weirdos are cool, they are few and far between and sadly do not live in my house.

But all of my research of ancient scrolls show that mostly they were created for men to enjoy and relax in solitude, usually outside, with just their manly thoughts to themselves or maybe a few other stinky friends or corgis.

A secret I feel safe in revealing, since almost no women or non-women read my blog, is that it gives us bearded men time to ponder and solve the deeper issues in life. I've only been stinking up the backyard for 30 minutes and already thought of several ways to solve the Ebola crisis and several rambling paragraphs of nonsense for my blog.

I predict by the time I finish my Perdomo Lot 23 Maduro and glass of Craggenmore (real word) that I may have even deciphered what the heck Oliver is chewing on in the corner of the yard and the mystery of why it is so crucial that we have to pick up our socks.

I may even solve the answer to how to get out of mowing the grass or stinking less without taking a shower, but I doubt it. Hopefully the card and flowers will help.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Complete system meltdown

PC Load Letter?!?!

I went 44 glorious years without knowing what shampoo tasted like. Halcyon days indeed.

My calendar looked wide open to fit in the same pleasantness for at least another 44 years, until some system errors started recently getting reported.

Like all serious software bugs, it is almost never one thing at fault but a combination of proprietary systems.  Once you remove one component, the problem goes away.

Fortunately, I have kept meticulous notes of all my life software and hardware upgrades and replacements, so I recently set to running some diagnostics.  Here is what the Event Log reported:

System 448: Big beard (in the gigabytes)
System 467: Love cigars
System 467b: Wife hates cigars

I know most people's reaction would be to just rip out and remove one of these critical components, but older systems and their conflicts can cause even more problems if not approached carefully.

So, the current plan of action is still to apply the stopgap:

Patch 135: Taste Head and Shoulders Classic Clean 2.0

My main vendor / superuser recommended an alternative patch:

Patch 135b: Sleep in the garage

But this is an obvious n00b move that would only cause even more resource conflicts, including access to critically depended upon legacy hardware, such as:

System 4: Refridgerator
System 22: Shower
System 12b: Toilet

Don't even ask me about retired System 12a.

So, we are sticking with expanding the mainboard palate to accommodate hair care products. For now.

But I was not completely unaware of soapy flavors, in both bar and dish liquid form, because of a serious crash in the infrastructure when I was younger:

Virus outbreak / Pr0bl3m Child:  a particular 7 year old who cussed like a sailor

Luckily, this malware was quickly detected and (mostly) eradicated.

I wish I could say all my systems are becoming a little bit more stable or robust over time, but the transcript from one of my tech support calls from literally just yesterday has me worried:

Me: (after minutes of walking in circles) Honey, have you seen my headphones anywhere?
Wife: Do they look the ones you're wearing around your neck right now?
Me: Whaaaa... oh, come OOON! Listen. We will speak of this to NO ONE.

I admit that at first I tried to get that support log deleted as if it were a rare occurrence, but it's not. Just hours before that, a serious enough memory dump occurred that I put on my blinker as I was turning into my own driveway.

Yeah. And I'm only 45. One of the nicer models, but we threw out the warranty.

Sadly, that leaves me with only two remaining action items / queries:
  • How many more years can I get firmware patches until this operating system is no longer supported?
  • I wonder if Suave tastes any better?

Friday, August 1, 2014

Express yourself. For my Dad.

It's been a hell of a week.

I got a call Tuesday night that my dad went into the hospital because he was completely unresponsive and they thought he'd had a stroke.

Earlier that same day Amy found out she is losing her job as her company is closing the office and moving all the jobs out of state.

At time like these, I remind myself of the old saying, "When Life hands you lemons, ask Life what the hell am I supposed to do with these lemons? And when Life punches you over and over in the stomach, make lemonade and add some Smirnoff vodka."

This ancient Irish proverb doesn't make much sense but has been a help at times.

I've lost count of the number of times I've held Amy and said "it'll all work out" the last 25 years, but I think she might be getting suspicious I just don't know what else to say.

I still don't know what to say, but I have to write. This has become one of my only outlets since I gave up crying like a girl or punching holes in walls.

We were glad to get the news the MRI showed no stroke and he started to get more responsive again. But I just talked to mom and since they'd given him some Parkinson's medicine for some of his symptoms, he is unresponsive again.

I do not know how much more time my dad has, but I cherish every rare moment of clarity and lucidity.

When my oldest, adult kid was just a baby, we had an Oregon ballot dubbed "Death with dignity" to legalize euthanasia for those dying and in intractable pain. I don't remember how I voted, but I know I have learned since then that death is almost never dignified.  It so often reduces us to the time we were babies, helpless, voiceless and in diapers.

Death is almost never dignified, so we better make the most of our lives fitting that definition.

But thankfully life can be dignified and we're so often reminded of it in old family photos. With the Internet, these pictures have become ubiquitous and I lost count this year of the Facebook birthday reminders of those who are no longer with us.

I've often pleaded on my blog that we do not have tomorrow promised to us and to make use of every day to tell your friends and loved ones how much you care. Hug and kiss them. Make fun of them and get on their nerves. Give them something to recall you by.

I love writing and it is completely my dad's fault. It all goes back to when he tutored me one summer to keep me from being held back a year in high school. It only happened because I tested out trying to pass my sophomore year by smoking pot and not even showing up to school. The results spoke for themselves.

As he had taught English for years in college, he would force me into a chair for at least an hour a day and "learn". To say it was like A Clockwork Orange scenario of being strapped down and my eyes clamped open is probably embellishing, but I was certainly an unwilling patient. Pupil. Whatever.

But suddenly a light bulb went off over my head when he told me that people strain their whole lives to be heard and express themselves and writing is one of the few chances to get it right. He said there were countless ways to express yourself poorly, but only a few ways to do it well and maybe even one way to do it just right.

My dad loved writing and my mom still does, in many books, articles and blogs. For that, I am thankful.

That miserable summer, dad instilled in me that with writing you can strive to express yourself in such a way to best be understood and not misunderstood. Even then, some will not get it. Try talking about religion or politics on the Internet if you don't believe me.

I see so many people who look like they are waiting someday to speak up and just be themselves. We worry too much about saying too much. We worry too much about what people will think. I often quote Anne of Green Gables (shut up) when she said, "I know I chatter on far too much but if you only knew how many things I want to say and don't. Give me some credit." That might even be fitting for my tombstone.

I've learned in my almost half century of making fun of people and getting on their nerves that someone will always judge and criticize you, no matter what you do. So don't think you can avoid that by clamming up and saying almost nothing.

My dad loved writing and getting up and speaking and those days are now mostly out of his reach. And though he might never be printed in an edition of Bartlett's Famous Quotes, I remember many pieces of wisdom he has given me over the years.

His manifold acts of speaking up and writing when it seemed like nobody agreed or was even listening is one of them.

So I'm not going to cry or punch another hole in the wall. At least for now.

It'll all work out.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Shene Reunion of 2014

As our plane approached JFK a few days ago, just when the sun was coming up, I was amazed at the minute by minute evolution of the colors in the sky and couldn't help but wonder if they only looked more brilliant because we had been up for 24 hours.

My two favorite things about flying on planes are 1) not having to do it and 2) if I do have to do it, my finally getting off.

But this is not because of anything inherently bad with planes. Planes are awesome, aside from the fact of being trapped with 100 other people in a hermetically sealed fart tube for 5 hours.

But I just am old and slightly broken down.  I have nerve disease and damage, which causes endless moderate to severe pain, especially in my right arm and left leg. So plane flights lasting more than a few hours are torturous. The pain in my left hip, leg and foot are so bad, I am almost always immediately limping around the next airport. With the 4 hour layover at JFK, I hope I was just known as the bearded shoeless guy and not the bearded stinky feet guy.

I was a bit surprised to talk to a couple uncles about how much similar or different nerve damage in the legs run in the family and how long they've dealt with it. But I was more upset to see how much my dad has progressed to having trouble walking at all by himself and I had to help support him whenever he tried to stand. When he did finally get to his feet by himself a few times, I tried not to hover but while still keeping a close eye on him.

Dad's health has worsened so much more than I even was aware since I saw him over a year ago. I had hoped to have one more game of cribbage with him like old times, but we simply were not able to play more than one hand before he gave up. But we did get a chance to hug. We tried to talk, mostly unsuccessfully.  I know he understands only some of the things I said. So now any and every understood word is suddenly priceless.

He demanded a shot of bourbon with me, to which I was happy to oblige. Thanks to his shaky hand and my beard, I think we were tied for amount dribbled down the chin.

He also demanded to be able to throw a few horseshoes which was a genuinely dangerous idea that we immediately agreed to for some reason. But he even got one tossed (okay, rolled) most of the way down without injuring anybody. Admittedly, the same could have been said for a few of my throws.

I know it was a bittersweet moment for him of excitement mixed with frustration that these damn machines we call bodies don't forever keep simply doing what we tell them to.

He and I both got very teary eyed at Lauren's tribute song to his best friend since childhood and my namesake, Patrick Finnegan who passed away suddenly earlier this year.  Aunt Ginia set out a beautiful memorial table for Patrick with a number of great pictures of him.  It helps that people named Patrick are almost always really good looking. And funny. And beloved, etc..

It was a bittersweet time catching up on everything, including how much time itself is the one catching up on all of us.

But thankfully that is always much more punctuated with vibrant life itself and the younger ones, including the running, screaming and jumping littlest ones. It is sometimes hard to remember our being that age and that free. And loud. And dirty.

From my terrible dancing to the spontaneous pontoon ride to the good food and the performing and singing by Uncle Steven and his friend Steve, it was a wonderful time.  Steve B. even let me play his guitars a couple times and I think I easily played less than a hundred wrong notes. But it was my first time jamming with Uncle Steve and I couldn't have had more fun.

But the best part is still just simply hugging and hanging with family, both old and new.

What might be misleading with my melancholic tribute is that truthfully, the entire time was filled with a thousand laughs for every shed tear.

It so breaks my heart to see my dad this way and knowing that I may never get a chance to play him cribbage or chess again, but that could only even be true because we already have so many wonderful memories of those times together in the past.

And so I love playing often with my kids now, even if they try to occasionally cheat because I am so much better.

For every pain and every remembrance of loved ones lost, there are countless fond and hilarious stories and so many more new ones always being made.

Sometimes all we can do is laugh and retell them, sing about them or write about them.

If you can help it, don't ever miss them or let them go.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Westhampton Beach Invasion

On this day June 6th, many decades ago and before I was even born, some of the most powerful forces came together on a famous beach to make history in such a way the world would never be the same.

Sure, this is also the day of World War Two's historic D-Day invasion even more years ago, but I'm of course referring to the day Paul and Paula Shene tied the knot in Westhampton Beach, New York in 1965.

A good looking couple who would go on to to create at least 
one even more attractive person. Science.

Celebrating today their 49th anniversary, their almost half-century milestone is nearly twice the quarter-century anniversary that their good looking second born son and his beautiful wife just celebrated a few months ago.

I am not good at math, but I think I am catching up.

It is often jarring for me to see how my beautiful mom looked so much like my daughter today, just a few years younger than her granddaughter is now.

After securing my genetically modified attractiveness (GMA), I only spent 18 years with them before being gently encouraged to get (the hell) out of the nest, but a lot was crammed into those less than two decades.

Not long after this photo, my father joined the Navy and by the time I was three, we had moved from New York to a base near Chicago. A year later, we were on another naval base near San Francisco.

There was a lot of love in our household despite many bumps along the way.

Just a few years later my dad was honorably discharged after an injury and then his training as a special education teacher took us to a North Dakota Indian reservation where we spent a full year for one eternity.

We had some tough times. Far more than a petty blog could ever share.

Wedding vows are smart enough to include richer AND poorer, in sickness AND health. You will have both.

Call it the small print.

In the future they will probably have DNA based computer simulations to show people exactly how much medical problems our spouses will have, including hair loss, but luckily for now the "I do" is still a leap of faith.

As the years passed, my folks  and us kids would arrive back to live in New York where I got into most of my trouble, then Florida and then again Oregon, hitting 45 states along the way, most of which we Shenes are still legally allowed to re-enter.

They would move us cross country or to new states a total of six times before my mom's great aunt passed away. They have since moved to New York one more time, leaving two of their three offspring 3,000 miles behind on the west coast, mostly able to fend for ourselves.

However long you are tethered to your parents, it takes even more decades to appreciate the permanent influence of their upbringing and character or your desperate attempts to identify yourself outside of them.

My mother's love for drawing and painting and my father teaching me to play guitar and banjo when I was five are still hard to shake. The passion my mom gave me for respecting others different from myself and that which my dad gave me for expressing myself through writing (much against my will) is even more lasting.

One of my greatest heartbreaks is the decline of my father's health over recent years. My own health issues over the last few decades has reminded me to value the relatively short time we have here. Some things you have to experience firsthand.

A lot has changed in the world since the moon landing less than 5 years after the black and white picture above. I was less than a year old when we landed on the moon, so I didn't care about it much at all.  But at the time, nobody envisioned all our technological leaps, including the ability to keep our rambling diary entries permanently blogged for future generations to read. Or ignore.

What has not changed is a willingness for two people to find each other and devote the rest of their lives together. Through often unspeakably painful times and other many more amazingly wonderful ones.

I love you mom and dad. Happy anniversary.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Women's Rights are Human Rights

"I don't know why you girls aren't attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. It's an injustice, a crime, because... I don't know what you don't see in me. I'm the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman. I will punish all of you for it. On the day of retribution I'm going to enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB. And I will slaughter every spoiled, stuck-up, blond slut I see inside there."

That is just a small portion of the disgusting diatribe the Isla Vista shooter posted just days ago to YouTube before it was taken down. CNN still has a copy of the video and transcript in the link above.

After most mass killings, there is a scramble to find evidence of the motive, written or otherwise. There is also a mad dash to compartmentalize the tragedy by labeling the killer a terrorist, madman etc., so as to assure ourselves their madness or motive is incredibly rare.

What is rare in this story is how forthcoming the killer was about his motive and that his hatred toward women is actually and tragically not something rare in our world.

I am saddened that like most fathers, I occasionally lived in fear when my daughter went to college and thought those fears were becoming a reality as it was locked down when someone placed eight fake bombs around her Linfield campus in November 2009.

I was horrified in August of 2002 having to speed up the education of that same daughter at just the age of 11 when two girls around her age were murdered and buried less than a mile up the road from our house. The infamous location of the previous home of Ward Weaver is one that we still drive past every day.

I am physically disgusted to witness the increase of news stories about violence against women in places like India, such as the 2012 brutal gang rape and murder of a 23 year old woman on a bus by six men, including the driver. In a country where martial rape is legal and rape cases have doubled between 1990 and 2008, women are having to take to the streets in protest marches to condemn something as obvious as gang rape being wrong.

I am embarrassed by the fact that I know so many friends and relatives who personally have been physically attacked and abused for simply being women.

I am also ashamed at the unabashed mockery of the First Lady Michelle Obama, driven by her heartbroken compassion from having two of her own daughters, when she posted a picture holding a paper with the hashtag #bringbackourgirls.  In a world where just one month ago 276 girls could be kidnapped in Nigeria and sold like mere objects into slavery, that horror is somehow astoundingly ignored and replaced by our petty political attacks against a First Lady because she happens to not be of our own voting party.

Another hashtag, the most popular one currently trending on Twitter is #YesAllWomen. It is a viral, visceral and organic reaction to the Santa Barbara shooter who disgustingly said the college girls deserved to die because they refused to have sex with him.

Whether it can even be proven at this point if he was extremely insane or just mildly delusional, I will refrain from writing here what I really think about him because I simply cannot do it without the most profane expletives possible.

As a man, I live with the worry for my own daughter in such a country where this most recent shooter and his motives could somehow be sympathized with or even remotely justified.

But I am also aware enough to admit that I could never fully understand the degrees of fear or caution that most women experience daily of being abused and sadly, horrifically in many cases come to see those fears become reality.

The thousands of #YesAllWomen posts trending as I write this all serve to highlight the gulf that yet remains between the sexes in 2014 and a partial chance for us men to see things through their eyes. Take a few minutes to read many of them and then read some more.

In the flood of information and news coverage we endure daily, it is natural to fight back against these mass shootings with calls for awareness on gun rights or control, as well as mental illness and treatment.

But I think all of us should be able to take a minute or more from our regularly scheduled soundbites and bullshit debates to agree that it is never acceptable to hit a woman or debase them as mere objects instead of human beings with equal rights in utterly every respect.

You do not have to be a feminist to condemn misogyny and the objectification of women. Or if that is in fact the base tenet of feminism, along with the promotion of their being treated with equal respect and rights, then regardless of conservative or liberal ideology, maybe we should all proudly bear that moniker.

If we cannot stop to agree together on promoting things as basic and obvious as those truths here in first world America, then how can we even begin to imagine we have a right to speak to the tragedies and injustices of third world countries like India and Nigeria?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Through a glass darkly

"For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."
 - Paul the apostle, to the church of Corinth (1 Corinthians 13:9-13)

It is difficult to imagine being more sure of your understanding of Christ than a man like Paul, having what he described as a literal encounter with Him where he was struck blind only to be given back his sight three days later when prayed for by a stranger sent to him.

Turning in both character and name from being the infamous Saul of Tarsus who imprisoned Christians and oversaw their public executions, to becoming Paul the apostle who would spread the gospel further than any other disciple, was the epitome of a redemption story.

It had to sting Peter a little when Paul publicly rebuked him for gradually being influenced to refuse to even eat at the same table as gentiles who called themselves Christians, but were uncircumcised.

It's awkward enough that one of the only documented meetings between Peter and Paul centered on the topic of whether or not church goers were snipped... down there.

But Peter had said he already had previously been personally confronted and chastised by the Lord for his hesitance to follow Jesus' original command to actually go into all the world and preach the gospel... and that included the gentiles.

And yet even after he realized his error and tried to correct it, someone far more unexpected and unqualified was being groomed to do just that.

So it had to be far more embarrassing for Peter to be exposed for his error by an ex-Pharisee like Paul.

Think about it.

It was bad enough the gospel was being broadcast much more far and wide by one who was not even an original friend and apostle of Christ like Peter... let alone it being spread by one like Paul who used to belong to the very religious order of Pharisees famous for helping orchestrate Jesus' trial and execution.

Apparently, even after having a powerful and life changing encounter with the Lord, the temptation is overwhelming to gravitate back to the false pride of being righteous through good works or spiritual gifts like Peter and the churches of Galatia and Corinth.

Before his conversion, Paul was a professional church goer, so to speak. He was a believer of the highest order. He spent his life in a temple observing every possible letter of the law, if not the spirit of it, while Peter spent most of his in a fishing boat.

So after his conversion, it was so much harder for Paul to fall to self righteousness and religious certainty and pride. That is what he had been saved from.

While most of us strive with our faith to reach a place of absolute certainty of who Christ is and what is truth or error, Paul could never forget what it was like to be struck blind and he famously wrote that we all can only see Him through a glass darkly.

Corinth was famous for their burnished mirrors and scholars still debate whether Paul spoke of looking through the typical uneven and distorted view of an ancient glass window or into the imperfect mirrors for which the city was famous.

We're so used to our modern, factory precision made windows and mirrors, we are not accustomed as people were for thousands of years to always seeing others and themselves through such distorted and flawed mediums.

So, sadly, the spiritual analogy is lost on many of us.

And like Peter, we quickly become so incredibly sure of perfectly seeing who God has condemned and who He has not.

Jesus spoke of two people who prayed in the temple, one with complete confidence and certainty and another too ashamed to even lift his head up while he prayed.

"Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted."
 - Jesus (Luke 18:10-14)

Maybe Paul personally heard or read of this very parable of Jesus, as Luke was one of Paul's disciples and transcribers. And maybe Paul was guilty of being just like that Pharisee before his conversion.

I could never sing as literally as Paul that "once I was blind, but now I see".

But I have been blind, even long after I thought my eyes were opened. More than Paul. And more than Peter.

You see, I have prayed at so many different times as both the unsure publican and as the arrogant and utterly certain Pharisee.

It has taken me many years to admit that I do not see as perfectly as I once thought about all the many lost and supposedly condemned publicans praying beside me.

And it has taken me longer to realize that as hard as I will continue to ever strain to be like Him and as hard as I will try my best to see Him, it is for now still only through a glass darkly.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Onward I hobble

For a blog to really grow in popularity, it has to tackle the important issues in our world today, which is why I have tirelessly focused on P90X, my Corgis and having to fly on business trips.

I also have written a few heartfelt tributes for people, but at this point, I am just trying to minimize the gradual decent into a macabre diary of everything breaking apart and pieces falling off of me.

When they finally do send me down river and set the boat on fire with flaming arrows, I mostly hope for two things - one, that I am actually really dead at that point and not just sleeping... and two, that people say a couple nice things about me.

I already have a "good" friend who promised me this week that if I let him give my eulogy that he would spend it making fun of all my never-ending problems and him trying to make everyone laugh.

(Another time, he told a comedian friend of ours he thinks he totally could do stand-up, so I think I should give him a shot.)

As I hobbled into the hospital today with my leg brace, I passed a young lady who smiled at me. But I am not stupid.

I know girls are no longer smiling because they think I am the cute 45 year old that I mistakenly used to think I was just a year ago.

They're smiling out of sad pity for the crippled 65 year old that my limp and beard make them think I am now.  A couple even held doors for me today, which was "nice".

Yes, I know all the white in my beard makes me look older than I am, but I really don't think about it that much. But still, the two most common suggestions people give me about my beard are:
  • Shave it off
  • It looks terrible, shave it off
The third input is "It's awesome, it is epic" (actual quote from a human female I did not even give that big of a tip to) but this opinion is as rare as biblical miracles. Maybe even more rare than unbroken Presidential promises.

I fully admit that 90% of the beard compliments I've gotten were at the tattoo parlor.

But I have a hard time convincing my detractors that I just like it and want to grow it out and that I am not just doing it because I "love attention". This is easily disproved by two simple facts:
  • Yes, I love attention, fine you got me on that one
  • But I don't love negative attention, so shut it
I have been on either crutches or this leg brace for a week an a half, as the doctor said it hurts too bad to step on because I have "a neuroma".

I told him he was rude and maybe I thought he had "an aroma" too and that made it really awkward for a minute.

But then he spelled it out for me as an injured nerve. Then he gave me a shot right into my foot with what was probably no longer than a 4 or 5 foot needle. There's no way that was the regulation sized needle, but I guess I had it coming for the "aroma" comment.

Luckily, he said I should be able to walk normal again in as little as 3 weeks, just in time for me to stay fat and out of shape for the family reunion this summer.

Then I stormed out of his office as quick as you'd expect a fat man with one foot could storm, but I'm not giving up!

I may be a chronic breaker-aparter and pieces-falling-offer, but I am not a quitter. 

I WILL start exercising again as soon as possible and I WILL still lose this winter weight before summer*.

Then I can finally focus again on writing about important things, like cigars and Corgis. Maybe beards.

*summer 2015

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Advice for Life

As I sat down on the plane next to a much older gentleman, I could not help but notice a bit of mischievous smile on his face. He was easily in his 90s, so I was a little surprised he was not more withdrawn and sullen like so many of the others.

We had many hours of a long transatlantic flight ahead of  us and with the inflight movie down with technical problems, we started making small talk.

He seemed to have a good sense of humor and air of calm and confidence. Before long, we both really started to hit it off, even cracking jokes and poking fun of each other a little.

Halfway through each of us enjoying our second drink, I jokingly asked him what advice he would give a "young" man like me for living life.

At first, there was quite a long pause as he seemed to be reaching down for the right thing to say.

Then the smile completely left his face. He suddenly became more serious than I'd yet seen him.

I don't think I will ever forget the words he told me:

"Don't say anything. Don't do anything. Keep your head down in this life and do little as possible to attract any attention. 

Anything you do or say that stands out just draws others' notice and judgement or worse yet, their criticism.  

Your goal should not be to get people to like you, but simply to get as few people as possible to dislike you. 

If you are careful to always worry about what people think about you, then you are less likely to say or do anything with which others might not like.

Dress and style your hair exactly as much like everyone else as possible, to blend into the crowd. 

If you don't, then you can either spend your life bullying others into feeling self conscious about their appearance or spend it withdrawing deeper into yourself as others bully and pressure you about how you look.

Don't try to leave a mark or be an influence for change. History has proven that nothing good comes to those who do.

Live every day as if you will never run out of them. You may only have one day or a hundred days left on this earth or you may have ten thousand. 

But however many or few they may be, live as though you have a million days left, so you do not need to start living life until maybe some other day down the road.

Don't laugh too loud or try to make everyone else laugh or worse yet, make them think. You might say something stupid or unfunny and you will always regret it. 

Be reluctant and slow to give out hugs, kisses or compassion and never, ever let others see you cry as these kind of things only show weakness.

Complain often about your problems. This will let others know you are already hurting and unhappy which might make them content to leave you alone.

Don't sing or dance. Don't learn to play an instrument. Don't draw pictures or paint. Don't write any songs, poems or stories, because that is just silly. 

People may not like them, plus you have more important and serious things to do, like work.

Don't waste time sitting in the sun, going for walks or traveling to new places. Don't look at nature unless it is on the screen of your computer. 

Spend as much time as possible looking down at your phone, because that is where you will find the most happiness.

In fact, don't go outside unless you are getting in your car to go to work.

Just go from the box of your house to the box of your car to the box of your office cubicle and back again. Spend as much time as possible in a chair, on the couch or in your bed. 

Watch as much TV as possible. Reality shows are the best as you can watch scripted people pretend to live their lives instead of you ever living your own. 

You can watch movies, but do not read any books as they might challenge what you believe. The only reading you should do is on websites that reinforce everything you already think.

Don't believe in or pray to any God, unless He personally shows up in front of you and speaks to you. Then check yourself into a mental ward, because you are obviously insane.

If you do choose to have faith, only congregate with those exactly like you and never open up and truly befriend anyone who believes differently.

You will have a choice to make... either become so earthly minded that you are of no heavenly influence... or become so heavenly minded that you are of no earthly use.

Don't plan for the future, whether it is saving money or eating healthy or exercising. 

Live just like today will never end and tomorrow will never come. Eat as much junk food and drink as much alcohol as possible, because all that matters is how you feel right this second.

Never talk about anything of import, like politics or religion, unless it is to attack and argue and tell people how stupid and wrong they are for not believing the things that you do.

Do everything you can to grab, take and keep as much as possible, whether it is solitude or attention, winning arguments, or getting money or respect. 

Remember, giving away any of those things to others always means less for you. 

Now listen to me carefully...

Be incredibly careful about befriending anyone and even more importantly, ever loving people. 

Trust me, anyone you choose to love is just opening up yourself to be hurt. You can never get a broken heart as long as you do not open it up and give it to anyone. 

And if you do get hurt, do not ever forget it. You must hold on to that pain. Be quick to anger and slow to forgive, as a reminder to never make that mistake again.

Don't bother settling down with someone, as it probably will not work out and you will just get hurt again.

Be reluctant about telling any of your very few, select friends and loved ones how much you care about them. 

If anyone you do care about ever gets sick or suddenly passes away, you can always tell them at the last minute how you feel about them. 

Or you can live with the regret of missing that chance, if it is too late.

Remember, on your own deathbed, you will only regret the embarrassing things you did, but never the things you were careful to never do. 

Even if you could somehow go back and do those things all over again, if you were smart, then you would still choose to not do anything risky.

If I could sum it up, I would say to never be reckless or vulnerable enough to actually "live life". 

Just spend the illusion of your seemingly limitless number of days as if you're about to eventually... some other day... live your life.  Maybe. In a future that will seem like it might never come anyway.

Always act like you're only about to finally start living life... in the future.

It's just... it's safer and so much easier that way."

As he trailed off, I just stared at him stunned and speechless. I almost felt betrayed. I couldn't believe within this previously smiling, laughing man actually lived such a bitter cynic.

Then he looked up at me again, this time with what looked like tears in his eyes and he told me:

"But more importantly than anything else, especially if you're already doing any of these things... young man... please... please do the exact opposite of everything I just said."

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Every move you make

Earlier this week I went in for a sonogram on my heart (EchoCG).  Aside from complete certainty I am not pregnant yet, they have not offered me other useful data from that test.

They have been monitoring me over the last few weeks because for at least the last 3 months, I have been waking almost every night with my heart racing super fast, sometimes out of rhythm.

With my heart then beating as fast as if a zombie had just broken in or as if I had chased a hobo around the block, it is almost impossible to doze back off and thus the accumulative lack of sleep is somewhat destroying me.

While sleep has long been called "overrated" by our lovable neighborhood crack addicts, science shows it is surprisingly useful for preventing dying. So I would like to do it regularly again.  At least a few times during my average work-week and preferably not while at my desk or in the car.

So, for my doctor to get all her ducks in a row and kill two birds with one stone, she decided there was more than one way to skin a cat and sent me last night to count sheep at an in-lab sleep study to see if I have apnea.

This is that story.

First I should warn you this might get a little graphic, even scary. I was even able to surreptitiously smuggle a few photos out that were secretly taken on my phone by the sleep technician. Someone had to break this story about the seedy underbelly of sleep "science" and I... and maybe TMZ... am that someone. Are that someone. Whatever.

My healthcare provider (real name omitted - we'll just call it the made up name of "Piezer Kermanente") has a large campus directly across the street from a Day's Inn hotel and actually uses their whole 3rd floor for studying people sleep. My experience there last night was typical.

When I arrived to the hotel, I saw we were just down the road from Clackamas Town Center. I was immediately encouraged by the hotel location and my chance to nod off a few inches away from the on-ramp to I-205 and what occasionally sounded like frantic hobos possibly being chased by zombies.

I bypassed the front desk and followed the "Piezer Sleep Study" signs to the 3rd floor. Once checked in, they walked me to my room and we passed a larger room full of scores of monitors where they were meticulously recording dozens of us patients snore and drool.

My sleep tech looked like he was moonlighting from his regular job as a college linebacker, so as he escorted me into my room I was relieved there were no candles flickering or Adele softly playing.

But the huge bank of video cameras on the ceiling were still a little unnerving. It felt like I was stuck somewhere between either a sting of Toronto mayor Rob Ford or the making of a new Kardashian tape.

♫ "Every move you make, every snore you take..." ♫

Falling asleep in a new hotel has already long been hard enough for many people, but this place was different as you immediately noticed on this floor the rooms have OH MY GOD NO LOCKS ON THE DOORS.  But I was immediately set at ease that probably almost none of my fellow patients in the next door rooms were sleepwalkers and/or wanted by the FBI.

The tech informed me the cameras were supplemented by very sensitive microphones throughout the room which they listened to live and recorded. This is of course very useful and inviting for make-believe people who never, ever fart during the night.

Amy has also often told me I can tear into weird and profanity laden outbursts in my sleep, so I had a little fun and pretended a couple times to blurt out in my sleep,  "... the %^&*ing money we stole is buried behind the Town Center! Zzzzzz!".

I don't know if he fell for it, but the tech told me that, "all the sensitive wired connections can tell exactly when you are awake or asleep, so please stop doing that".

I almost forgot about the wiring. Since there are only a couple hundred thousand or maybe million of them attached, you hardly notice they are even there. Here is the picture of me taken by tech once we were done:


Sorry, wrong picture! Here is the correct one of me:

The Six Hundred Dollar Man

To get an idea of how many stickers and wires are attached, try the following, easy test:

  • Pick up a palette of self-adhering electrodes from Costco and carefully attach one on every single square inch of your exposed skin and hair. Yes, even your hair.  Finally, stick on three more of them. This is how many they will be using.

They even had to put electrodes on my jaw. This raised my concerns, especially with the foot thick grey rug I have been carting around under my nose and ears for the last 9 months.

Fortunately, the tech assured me despite my thick beard that they would remain stuck on my jaw with a "special type of glue that will wash right out" and sure enough, it absolutely did not wash right out at all.

The next morning, I even had to sneak mid beard shampooing to my neighbor's unlocked room to steal an additional bottle and I clearly disturbed and offended several sleepwalkers on the way.

Anyway, despite all the wires jabbing into every never-intended-for-wiring crevice of the human body, I think I finally drifted off to something similar to sleep.

Ahhhhh... finaaaaaa.... ARGH!!!

About 3 hours later, I awoke to the 200 lb linebacker hovering above me in the dark and saying that one of the wires might be loose.

Sure that might sound unsettling, but since I was in a strange new hotel room without a door lock, clearly attached to the Matrix, I was able to immediately drift back off to not sleeping ever again until I got back to my house.

Every few hours the tech's voice would come over the room speaker and say, "Pat, I notice from our sensors that you still are not falling back asleep. Is everything OK?"

I replied back, "What IS life? Why are we even here on earth? Do YOU believe in life after death?"

The tech then said "that's it, we're done".  He said he had actually gotten good data of me sleeping on both sides and my back, so they might have enough for analysis.

After my shower and hallway shampoo incident, I was ready to pack up. It was just about 5:00 am and the sun was starting to come up just like at the end of the 3rd movie of the Matrix trilogy.

And I felt satisfied that I had just finished thoroughly exploring some of life's most important existential questions as well as personally contributing to this fascinating new pseudo-science.

I couldn't help but smile as I drove passed the Clackamas hobos and zombies and finally headed home, possibly in the right direction on highway I-205 on just 3 hours sleep.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

When the devil went down to Georgia, God swung by Oregon...

 Thousands of unsuspecting Portlanders praying

Once upon a time... many, many... seriously... MANY years ago...

Me: Ohhhhhhhhh Lord, please see fit in any way possible to use me... a lowly and humble vessel... to show the world you are real and have a sense of humor... I just want to...

God: MY SON....

Me: God! Hi! I was just...

God: Yay, I have heard your petition and I will give you the gift of almost always being able to laugh and wanting to try to make others laugh...

Me: Whoah, nice! That's sounds pretty aweso...

God: ...despite constant painful trials and health problems that will go on for decades, possibly forever. It will be like Life itself is punching you in the face over and over and over and over and over, but yay, I will strengthen you to try your best to stay positive and laugh about it...

Me: Um, wait...

God: ...but finally there will be periods where that stops and it switches over to being like Life is just kicking you... full on kicking you in the groin with steel toed boots. Seriously, it's... it's gonna get bad, I'm not gonna lie to you. And yet you will somehow, someway try to stay joyful and keep a sense of humor, which is actually kinda weird...

Me: Wait... wait, what? WHAT? Can you... can go over that again? I don't...

God: ......................

Me: God?

God: ......................

Me:  Hello?! Hey! Don't go all silent! You were talking literally just seconds ago!

God: I work in mysterious ways.

Me: Oh, come oooooooon! I'd like... can we... can we switch that for another one? I'd really like...

God: Sorry, I... look, I already gave you that one. You have it. You have to keep that one.

Me: No! Come on! This is bullsh....  I mean, this is baloney! Switch it out for something else! Please!

God: ......................

Me:  ARGH! Whyyyyyyy?!

God: Maybe you should have been more specific when you started this prayer.