Old Hair in New Places and Other Signs of Aging

August 22, 2008

It occurred to me the other day that I have been around for a long time.  I realized this when someone was talking about remembering where they were when the planes hit the twin towers.  These types of events help define generations.  My generation is best defined by remembering where we were when John Kennedy was shot.  I was walking the halls of my elementary school in Jacksonville, FL as the news came that would change our world.  Those were stressful times anyway.  I remember 1962 and my dad driving us out to Jacksonville Beach where we saw a line of warships from horizon to horizon headed south to Cuba.  Later that night I saw a sky full of planes headed in the same direction.  On top of this there was a weekly exercise we were doing in school called, “Duck, and cover.”

    “If you see a bright flash, duck under your desk and cover your head; there has been a nuclear explosion.”  As if a 40 year old wooden desk which was half-rotted from three generations of gum stuck to its underside would protect you from the bully in the next row, much less a nuclear blast.

So one day recently, as I was trimming the hair growing out of my nose, I suddenly realized that I am now approaching old!  It wasn’t so much the memories of the 60s as it was trimming the hair.  Why is it that at some point around age 40, when hair begins getting sparse on your head, it suddenly seems to re-surge in many other less complimentary parts of the body?  For the first 40 years of life, I don’t remember ever having to trim nose hairs.  Now I can’t go a week without trimming them, lest my wife see me and demand that the trimming commence.  And it’s not just the nose, I have hair growing out of my ears, too.  And what is the deal with eyebrows?  Again, 40 years of wake up, leave, come home and sleep has suddenly turned into, “What in the world is that caterpillar doing on my brow?”

Something else I have noticed.  A friend told me I would know I was getting old when I started going “Ughhh” when I get up out of my recliner.  Shoot, I have been saying, “Ughhh” for years now when I sit DOWN in my recliner.  And yet I continue to sign up for the church softball team every spring.  Each year I tell myself, “Just one more year.”  Then I go out and play with guys half my age, turning double plays and hitting .600 and somehow, between administering massive doses of Advil and Ben-Gay, I complete another year.  What a sense of pride as I limp into the house to tell my wife, “I went three for four tonight…UGHHHHHH,” as I fall into my recliner. 

Older people have a tendency to sit around with their peers and talk about their ailments.  I learned this years ago when my wife and I sent our daughter to stay with my parents for a week.  About the middle of the week we called to see how things were going.  “Dad, please don’t ever send me here again.  All Papa and Gramma do is sit around with other old people and talk about what hurts and what doctor they went to this week.  I wanna come home!”

My wife and I are trying to avoid this scenario by hanging out with a circle of friends 20 to 30 years younger than ourselves.  They simply do not tolerate such talk.  Our conversations go more like this:

  • Friend: “Elijah is a little cranky today, he is cutting a new tooth.”
  • Me: “Yeah, I’m a little cranky myself, I just lost a tooth.  Hit it with the scissors while I was trimming nose hairs.  Where is Ryan today?”
  • Friend: “He and David are out hunting bugs.  And, by the way, what’s up with that caterpillar on your forehead?”

Iranians May Have Withheld Information about Nuclear Activities

August 14, 2008

I like to keep up on world events so, when I picked up the paper the other day, I was amazed to read this headline, “Iranians May Have Withheld Information about Nuclear Activities.”  You can imagine the shock I felt!  How can those darn Iranians be so rude?  Especially after the Taliban was so forthcoming about flying planes into the twin towers?  What I want to know is this, when did America become so naive as to think everybody in the world is going to tell us everything we want to know in advance? 

I realize America seems to think we have cornered the market on good sportsmanship and fair play.  We never cheat…except for occasional sports doping, water boarding and regime toppling.  Otherwise we are model global citizens.  Seriously, why do we think leaders of adversary nations would even consider being forthright with us?  What would history be like if we did that?

“Hello, Adolph?  Dwight Eisenhower here.  Yeah, it’s been awhile.  Say I just wanted to give you a quick update on a little something we’ve been putting together over here, Operation Overlord…O-ver-lord.  Let’s just call it D-Day.  Look, we’ve noticed you have been massing a large force at Pas de Calais on the French Coast.  You’re way off.  No, not even close.  We will be landing a massive invasion force in Normandy…Nor-man-dy.  Yes, I know we’ve been bombing Pas de Calais pretty hard, we were just messing with you.  Now write this down.  June 6 we will begin an all-out assault on Normandy.  No, I’m serious.  And those first 1,000 paratroopers you will see landing behind your lines, ignore them.  They’re rubber dummies.  No, seriously, they’re dummies.  And get this, they are rigged with firecrackers so your troops will think they are being shot at.  Yeah, that’s a good one all right.  Anyway, be ready because we are sending about 5,000 ships over the morning of June 6.  No, not 500, 5,000.  And we are going to land about 340,000 troops that morning.  So, did you get all of that?  Because we would really hate to make you mad by arriving unannounced.”

That is absurd you say.  Well, it could have happened, especially after the courtesy call we received in December of 1941.  “Is this Mr. Roosevelt?  General Yamamoto here.  Look, I just wanted to let you know we have a large group of folks headed your way.”

Grow up, America.  We are in a WAR on terrorism.  This is not a game and we can’t expect the other guys to play fair.  Do the homework, interrogate the suspects, look closely at the satellite imagery.  But don’t sit by the phone and wait for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to call the White House.  “George, Mahmoud here.  Hey, about those nukes…”

Animal Emotions

August 11, 2008

I don’t know what the world in general thinks about how animals think.  I do know they are a lot smarter than we give them credit for, and some are smarter than many of the people I know.  Many people think dogs are smarter than cats because they come when they are called.  I happen to think cats are the smart ones because they can do exactly what they want, knowing full well they are going to get fed anyway.

I have a cat, Lindy, who will come when she is called and she will even play fetch, up to a point.  You have to use the right object for the game which, in her case, is a plastic wrapped “star” peppermint.  Hold it by one end of the wrapper and give it a shake and she comes running.  The fun starts when you throw it because she will vault over things that a dog merely goes around.  Then she comes trotting back and proudly drops the peppermint right at your feet.

I wish she could teach that to my dog, Lucy.  Oh, my dog LOVES to fetch, in fact I think she lives to fetch.  She is a lab/coon hound mix which makes her, well, a mutt.  Her toy of choice is a tennis ball, which I buy by the dozen because she has not yet learned the difference between a tennis ball and food.  Apparently she must think it is possibly the toughest piece of meat she has ever encountered.  Her favorite thing is to catch a thrown ball on the first bounce.  But, as she brings it back, she will come close enough to make you think she is bringing it back, only to veer off and trot around thinking, “Okay, now it’s YOUR turn to fetch.”  So I ignore her which will eventually draw her into grabbing distance.  Ignore her a little more and she will actually touch it to my hand.  But if I try to grab it she is off again.  “Drop it!” I yell.  “Ha, ha,” she thinks.  It seems like possessiveness is an emotional quality of my dog.  I have also seen her exhibit joy and shame.  Do animals possess even higher emotions like self-sacrifice?

I think they do.  And I witnessed a most vivid example of just that many years ago when my wife and I were first married and living in a single-wide in Tallahassee, FL.  I was a hippie living like a redneck in this trailer on the outskirts of town where we had enough land to let the animals run loose in the neighborhood.  I had a huge lab at the time, an 85-pounder named d’Artagnan, that ruled over the other dogs of the neighborhood.  We also had a big orange male tabby cat named Thumper.  Just as d’Artagnan ruled outside, Thumper ruled inside.  So he was one indignant tomcat when my wife brought home a little female we named Kitty.  My wife bringing new pets into the house is a trend that would persist over the next 33 years of marriage.  I have learned to just let it be, as long as she cleans the litter box.  Anyway, Thumper was really put out at having this newcomer in his lair, and he would have absolutely nothing to do with her.

Until one day when Kitty got outside.  Not because a door was left open, she just walked out the kitchen window with no screen onto the porch railing and out into the yard (did I mention we were living like rednecks).  In a matter of seconds the frail little kitten was surrounded by d’Artagnan and his entourage barking up a storm while Thumper sat on the porch rail and watched (he, too, knew how to get out through the window).  But as the situation escalated, Thumper jumped from the rail to the ground between Kitty and the dogs, promptly darting out into the yard with the doggie entourage giving chase.  It was during this time that Kitty made her way back inside to safety.  After a lively game of “chase the cat,” Thumper finally made his way back in through the window and laid down.  Not long after that we found Kitty curled up with him, nursing on his stomach, and they were the best of friends thereafter.

I have seen some pretty intelligent behavior on the part of animals before and since.  But I may never see another example like this one, of an animal putting itself in harm’s way for the benefit of another.  I only hope that, faced with a similar situation, I would act with as much valor.

Haunted Houses

August 7, 2008

I go to a fair amount of movies, and I watch a lot of them on TV. Over the years I have seen my share of scary movies about haunted houses and such. I almost never watch slasher movies because I don’t find myself particularly entertained by seeing someone brutally murdered; that’s just me. My wife, on the other hand, can watch the most gruesome depiction of bloodletting and just laugh out loud, which can be really irritating in a crowded movie theater. “That’s a really good effect,” she says while I hide my head underneath my jacket.

I am not especially fond of being scared. And I think most people, at their core, are the same way. Why is it, when you watch “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and you see someone get scared, they always jump up and down like they’re going to wet themselves yelling, “Don’t ever do that again!” But the same people will go to a theater and experience the most horrible thing imaginable: $13.50 for a bucket of popcorn and two Cokes. Then they go into the movie and get scared all over again.

People in haunted houses perplex me. Whether they buy a haunted house, stay overnight in one on a dare, or find themselves trapped in one having to endure endless Amway presentations, they all have one thing in common. They stay there! Now I have not had much experience with hauntings, but I think I know how I would react…I would get out! I may be wrong, but cats barking like dogs, portraits bleeding from the eyes, and objects flying off the table and hitting me in the head are not features I look for in a home. But the idiots in the movie call Professor Bloomingdale from the university and have him come out and assess the situation. Only when the good professor emerges from a closet with a butcher knife stuck in his gizzard will the poor wife grab her husband and say, “I’m a little concerned about our house, Bob.”

It usually ends up that the house was built on the site of an ancient Indian burial ground. Doesn’t the zoning commission look into these things?
    “Mr. Jones, I see you want to build a 450 home development on the site of an old Cherokee burial ground.”
    “That’s true, but we dug up as many of the remains as we could find and tossed them into the dumpster behind the Wal-Mart.”
    “Approved. Next order of business.”

Of course, in their haste to begin Phase 1 they missed the remains of the Cherokee medicine man, Sticks Gizzard With Knife, and he is now on a rampage. After a couple of months of doing battle with the spirit of Sticks Gizzard and losing the dog, three university personnel and a mother-in-law (there is always an upside), the spirit finally joins his tribe in the dumpster, which was consecrated with an official state historical landmark sign, and the house burns down. Now is the logical time for the family to move to a new neighborhood or Alaska. But no, they rebuild on the site and, in the process, discover the remains of an Indian princess with a knife where her gizzard used to be. Get out!

Midnight Bus to Iguacu

July 31, 2008

Author’s note: This was originally written on the very bus which is the subject.  I was with a group of Baptist volunteer missionaries in Southern Brazil.  Our host missionary booked us on a bus leaving Caxias do Sul at 7:00 pm which would arrive in Iguacu at 11:00 am the next morning.  My friend and translator, Jose’ Isidoro, upon seeing we were about to board a bus, said to me, “Why is John sending us to Iguacu on this bus?  I have friends who made this trip and were robbed.”  Apparently many southern Brazilians travel to Paraguay with large amount of cash to buy electronics, which are about half price there.  Banditos, knowing this, will cut down trees which fall across the roadway stopping traffic, then they emerge from the forest with sub-machine guns and rob the passengers.  This is just what I wanted to hear as the driver yelled, “All aboard.”  I rode and bounced and cramped from 7 pm to 3 am, when bored to death and unable to sleep, I wrote the following.  Enjoy!

Midnight Bus to Iguacu

A bullet hole was in the windshield of the mighty bus
Then came the tale of armed banditos frightening all of us
I said, “You’re joking!” but my friend insisted it was true
And thus began our fateful trip to Foz do Iguacu.

Rolling through the darkness, there’s nothing else to do
But grab a pen and maybe then record a thought or two
Cramping thighs and bloodshot eyes are what’s in store for you
Riding on the midnight bus to Foz do Igucu.

What’s that I see, why, could it be a playground or a park?
It’s hard to tell at 3 AM when all you see is dark.
I feel a little better as I see the moonlight glow
Until I hear the driver say there’s eight more hours to go.

“Maravilha” said the driver as we stopped once more
Getting up to stretch my legs I headed for the door
I went into a little bathroom thinking it was free
Until a man behind a desk said, “Thirty cents to pee.”

On and on into the dark the mighty carriage rolls
Delivering its cargo of exhausted Christian souls
Before too long will be the dawn and then those skies of blue
But still there is no thrill, just six more hours to Iguacu.

Sixteen hours of tribulation, backache and despair
Could that be the falls I see? Thank God we’re finally there!
Stepping off that bus I am so glad this trip is through;
And next time I will fly to see the Foz do Iguacu.