Category Archives: Autobiographical

The Lard Is Good to Me


Today I chopped up an apple and tried to log into my “nutrition” app on my iPhone. It is quite difficult to determine exactly how large an apple a person has. (worst pickup line ever… :Hey baby… how big is that apple of yours?”) I weighed mine in grams. 262 grams, and that was after the core was sliced out. I know this much… I weigh as much as a bag of 560 sliced apples. The Lard is good to me. Johnny Appleseed would be so proud of that pun.

I was just thinking of the Disney film the other day. It was called Melody Time, and featured 6 or 7 stories. There was a video featuring “Little Toot,” sung by the Andrews Sisters. He was a tugboat with pluck. People thought he was too little, but he had courage. It’s a classic tale. “In a world where tugboats are scared by giant barges…” And Melody time had “Bumble Boogie,” based on a boogie version of Rimsky Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumble Bee.” An animated bee ran away from scary musical notes and violent trumpet flowers. But mostly I remember Melody Time for the stories of Pecos Bill, and of Johnny Appleseed.  “The Lord is good to me,” He sang. “And so I thank the Lord For giving me the things I need, the sun and rain and the appleseed.” It is an old hymn (Swedenborgian, if you know your early nineteenth century cults). I never knew that; I always thought Disney made up the tune. The singer pronounced the it Lard. Maybe it’s a midwest thing. They do tend to use lots of grease in their cooking…

Today promises to be a good day. I got up early and made my coffee. I fed the cat. Sliced up the apple, of course, and now I am sitting quietly, typing on the computer. Here is a little secret. Are you ready?  Well, the secret is this:  eating lots of fruit and vegetables will make you fart. OMIGOD I was a machine yesterday. They were, thankfully, the opposite of silent-but-deadly.  Noisy but unproductive? Maybe the opposite.  Anyway, think “Congress” and you will get a sure picture of how I, and my gas, were exceedingly obnoxious yesterday. I was lucky that nobody knew I was so, uh, productive in my un-productivity.

I work at 11 o clock today.

I was thinking of music that is so firmly planted in my head that I need only two or three words to get the song stuck in my head. I am sure you have that moment.
I often (and by often, I mean several times a day) hear a name, or a few words, and it will graft a melody into my brain, sometimes for the next hour or so.  Seriously–how hard is it for you to hear the name Jenny without singing 867-5309? Or Cecilia? “You’re breakin’ my heart. You’re shakin’ my confidence daily.”  I know one or two people named Michelle who hate that song. Not to say that I blame them.  Only once or twice, someone has elected to sing the theme song to “Life of Brian” for me. I generally give them an awkward stare, and shout something like “Wolf nipple chips! Get ’em while they’re hot!” Then I will get an awkward stare back, and thereby win the awkward staring contest. I mean, the whole thing was a contest to begin with, right?

My mother and I were chatting about our family and music the other day. it started with reminiscing about my grandpa: “Boy could he whistle!” Followed by nonsense songs. Not nonsense like made-up words, but instead, the nonsense of finding a song for everyday tasks.  My mother would often sing “Doin’ the dishes…” or some other equally mundane task, maybe to the tune of “Doin’ the Pigeon” (know your Sesame Street, people. Seriously…) and I do the same thing.  My wife quirked an eyebrow toward me, a couple years ago, for inventing the lyrics “Beautiful balls, wonderful balls, wonderful balls of meeeeeeat….” It’s hymnic. And relevant. Some people have no taste for art.  We determined that my mom had this habit, and so did I. So did her dad.  Also, it turns out, so did my great grandfather. “Shopping for some shirts,” he would sing. Somehow, he made his day a little more delicious by singing about it. I barely remember my mother’s grandpa. I remember he shook a lot, and his jaw quivered when he wasn’t talking. He probably had Parkinson’s. I was 4 or 5 when he passed away. Neither of my kids do this, and it makes me sad, just a little bit. Even more so now, since I found out that four generations of my family have done the “singing-weird-tunes-about-everyday-events” thing.

Maybe a person just needs a certain kind of personality. Maybe that person needs a voice that is unafraid to sing out loud. Maybe the person need a devil-may-care attitude for the muse to strike.

Kind of like today. I mean seriously, how is writing today’s blog not like making up a song about mopping the kitchen in your underwear? Except for the singing, and the underwear, they’re practically the same mental exercise.

You people are so lucky to know me!

That’s sarcasm, people. Don’t delete me immediately. And on that note (Ha! Note! Get it?) I need to shower and work.

Freewheelin’ It with Bob Dylan


When I run, I have a rock and roll playlist streaming on my iPhone. Today’s selection included “Highway Sixty One Revisited” by Bob Dylan. This piece was one of his first, after the famous folk singer went electric. The song includes this memorable scene:

Well, Mack the Finger said to Louie the King
‘I got forty red, white and blue shoe strings
And a thousand telephones that don’t ring.
Do you know where I can get rid of these things?’
And Louie the King said, ‘Let me think for a minute, son.’
And he said, ‘Yes, I think this could be easily done:
Just take everything down onto Highway Sixty One.'”

Another fun song he wrote around this same era is “Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat.” I recommend you check it out.

I don’t like Bob Dylan’s voice. He makes me shiver with nausea and indignation. Bob Dylan delivers his music with all the tunefulness of a steroid injected goat. Yet, despite his bleating, his lyrics are filled with vivid characters and imagery. They can be fun, especially if you don’t try not to listen to him and, instead, listen to it. Occasionally the images come a bit too fast and you just drown in his mental thrashing about. I’m thinking of the words from “Like a Rolling Stone”:

You used to ride on a chrome horse with your diplomat
Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat.
Ain’t it hard when you discovered that
He really wasn’t where it’s at,
After he took from you everything he could steal.

Huh?

And of course I’m running with Bob. Yeah. This was a blog about running. At least, that’s where this whole thing began when I started writing this morning. I’m at the end of my second week of actual running. In the early part of the Couch to 5k plan, the online coach calls for you to run for two minutes, and walk for two minutes. I end up running for twelve, and walking for twelve. Then I have a five minute cooling off period. Since I walk around the lake in a big loop, I occasionally spot folks headed the other way. Sometimes I see them twice, which defies some kind of mental logic. How can I see the same old person twice and the same Irish setter twice, and they don’t want something either time? I guess I’ve been working in the service industry too long now.

And the two minute alternations? That’s where I’m at physically. I’m taking it easy, wanting to make a lifestyle of this, sort of like what I’m trying to do with writing. I realize I need to lose a bunch of weight, and working my butt off is the only way I know how to do it.

Oh–believe it or not, I’m still writing, although my schedule has been sketchy. I’m a morning person. I like to wake up, and get things done before my mind or body realize what kind of torture I’m putting them through. I’m not a horrendously evil guy, but on occasion my body thinks so. Still, I’m throwing 750 words, or sometimes just a paragraph or two, onto the computer every day, even if you don’t see anything.

Apparently I have old knees. They’re older than the rest of my body–with the possible exception of my ankles–by about fifteen years. The rest of me ages correctly, but my knees and ankles put up stiff resistance every time I try to move. I guess I could probably do low impact exercise like swimming, but this costs money, and requires squeezing my giant hairy body into swim trunks. Also, I need to face facts: I’m not quite there aerobically. Even my twenty four minute sprint walks tend to heighten my breathing until I’m sometimes not sure I’ll make it home.

Speaking of breathing, did I ever mention I use an inhaler for asthma? It’s not a bad condition like some people, but I do require an inhaler. It can be incredibly tedious to have your lung capacity diminish to the point of each wheeze sounding like Minnie Mouse.

As for diet? I just spent the last forty five minutes chopping up vegetables. I’m trying to make a serious attempt at eating more healthy food. This is going… Well, it could be going better. Most days I do well for breakfast and lunch, then when it gets to be dinnertime, I blow it horribly. For breakfast, banana, cherries and yogurt. For lunch, an assortment of veggies, and a dressing I made from yogurt and some variety of spices. I’m pretty much cutting carbs and fat out of my diet in the form of bread. I guess when it comes to it, I’m trying hard to eat things that improve potassium levels.  Avoiding cramps is a good thing. I ate dried apricots, but they had an awful lot of sugar. The other day I bought some prunes. They remind me of the cabin my grandparents owned in Wright’s Lake, way up in the Sierra Nevadas in California.  Great Grandma always had a big glass jar of dried prunes, and she’d dole them out slowly so we kids wouldn’t poop like seagulls. They were always a delicious snack that I’d really enjoy. Oh, and radishes too. I bought a bunch of radishes.  My Farmer grandparents always seemed to have radishes. They grew them in their huge backyard garden. I bought a few dozen of them today, washed them up and threw them in my veggie tray. I guess that’ll be my healthy dinner.

Then I chased a grumpy Alex away from the computer and began this blog. Nothing is earth-shattering today. I, ran, I shopped, I ate a little, I chopped vegetables, and now I’m writing. Work happens in an hour.

Oh, and Bob Dylan. He ties things together with his free-wheelin’ness. May your days be informed by his advice:

Look out kid!
Don’t matter what you did:
Walk on your tiptoes,
Don’t try “No-Doz”–
Better stay away from those–
That carry around a fire hose,
Keep a clean nose,
Watch the plain clothes.
You don’t need a weatherman
To know which way the wind blows.

Blessings and donuts to all of you.

Coffee, Jiffy Lube, and Old Victrolas


Today is warm and overcast, but I have my coffee and I am willing to get going on life.  I drove Judi into work and had her grab me a large coffee with the online ordering system. Don’t look at me that way–I’m a well-behaved gentleman and get my own coffee most of the time.  She got TWO large coffees and a sandwich so she wouldn’t have to make a second trip from her office (where there is lousy coffee) to the coffee shop (where there is much better coffee and a long line). At 6:30 AM, these are the sacrifices you have to make.

Next, I drove the car to the Jiffy Lube. They don’t open until 8AM, and I got there at 6:45 so it was sort of a mess-up.  I need to get the oil changed (not sure I’m capable of doing this task by myself anymore) and have the tires filled with air.  When we drove to Alexander’s birthday dinner last night, it seemed quite bumpy with 1000+ pounds of “cargo” in the automobile. I think we might have a slow leak in one of the tires anyhow, so this is just a stopgap measure, until I can buy some new ones, maybe later this summer.

It is 8AM and I was listening to Spotify for the last hour. Today’s playlist was from 1940. I assembled it a few months ago, when I was watching that Ken Burns documentary about the Roosevelts, and the second documentary about World War II.  Glenn Miller’s “In The Mood” was popular that year. So were “Tuxedo Junction” and “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,”.  It seems 1940 was full of Glenn Miller. The United states was still a couple years from entering the war, and the Depression was gripping us. I guess we needed something go make us believe in ourselves again.

Next, I listened to old wax cylinder recordings from the turn of the last century.  I’m coming to realize that I have missed loads of music that may have been really important to our history. The music is muddy, of course, with scratches and cracks. I guess when you record on wax, it’s bound to happen.  My Granny and Grandpa Spurgeon had some friends when we were growing up. I remember this place well, because Joe and Esther Moser had two different recording devices that played wax cylinders. One was Edison make, and the other was a Victor. In those days, the music was controlled by the manufacturer of the device it was recorded on.  Edison had its own stable of musicians and recordings, which would *only* be playable on Edison’s machines (not to mention player pianos) It’s not like today, when every song is easily purchasable on any device you’d like to listen to it with.

Anyway, the Mosers had all these machines, and a catalpa tree in his back yard, that grew big long beans. He let me visit his son’s room. The son had died a few years earlier in a car accident. He owned a trumpet that he played in the high school band. Joe kept the room exactly the same as she had left it. Joe showed the trumpet to me, but wouldn’t let me play it. I was perhaps 12 years old so I wasn’t surprised he never allowed me the chance to put my own spit into his memorial tribute. My mother tells me Joe had a couple *really* old cars and would occasionally take them out for a spin. I don’t remember old cars. This was the first place anyone let me touch a typewriter. I thought it was the most amazing thing I’d ever thing. I guess Joe Moser liked his gadgets.

In my listening, I heard an old song that I hadn’t recalled in years.  My grandfather used to bounce me on his knee and sing it to me: “Pony Boy, pony boy… Won’t you be my Pony Boy?” went the chorus.  And he would bounce me harder and harder when the lyrics turned to “Giddy up, giddy up, giddy up, whooooooa!” He was a good man, my grandpa, and loved to sing.  That song is over 100 years old now.  When I knew him I don’t think there was a single record in the house. He listened to talk radio. It’s funny how things will change.  If you give a person a Victrola, they’ll be interested in music for awhile. But give them a song to sing, and that song will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Blogging for the Future


Here is how I find my most productive place to write, during a chaotic day.

First, I shut my eyes, and then I try to take a few deep breaths. That’s right folks: I type with my eyes closed. Then I focus on what the sounds are that are running through my head.There are so many other sounds here in the living room. Alex grunting on the couch; the cat yowling at my feet (apparently we starve the poor guy); and Judi watching the Outlander program she loves so much. Outlander is loud, with people speaking in English/Scottish accents. It’s so compelling. It’s hard to type when Scottish people are compelling.

And then I feel the pressure of the keys against my fingers. They just feel right somehow, the way right things should feel: the pad of my fingertips know the way to go, to produce the messages I want to say, when there is one. sometimes there is just no message though. Sometimes there is just nonsense.

Today, I am thinking about my family history.

I have been thinking of my past; specifically of the old folks I knew, but I didn’t really bother to learn from. Uncle Stanley and Aunt Elizabeth. Wilma Walker. Uncle Bob and Auntie Millie. Enid Hurst. Elma Ismert. My grandma Myrt’s sisters, Elanor and Wanda. These folks were all uncles and aunts and distant cousins. But almost never did I take the time to sit down and have a really good chat with them. Not to discover basic family facts, like birth dates, nor even deeper facts like what their schoolhouses looked like. But what I lament is that I never got to learn if they were sarcastic, or loving (I’m not entirely convinced these two are opposites), or angry, or prideful, or covered in some secret emotion nobody has discovered yet. My list is long. I knew so many of these people ,but I didn’t really know them. I mowed their lawns and did odd chores around their houses: (my great grandmother’s sisters Aunt Gladys & Aunt Mabel, for example) but I let all those opportunities slip past.

It’s too late to complain now. I’m doing what I can to gather up information about them. But how do you really know a person?

Here’s an example of something. My Grandpa’s grandfather was shot and killed by his son. He died in the hospital in Auburn, California. I just found this “Admitted to Placer County Hospital March 12, 1905, Age: 45. Resident of Lincoln. Gunshot Wound – shot by son Claus, age 14. (Doesn’t mention if it was a accident.)” Was my great great grandfather a kind man? the one picture I saw of him and his wife, they seemed happy. She was touching his arm a bit more intimately than you usually see in pictures of that era. But who knows if this is really what he was like? Was he a violent drunk? Was he abusive one moment, and charming the next? Maybe it really was an accident and my Uncle Claus was totally innocent.

And there was another great grandfather, who died around the turn of the century. He joined the Union army in Iowa, marched with his company down to a swamp in Arkansas, got sick, and was shipped home a couple months later. He was given a tombstone by the government for his service. But what service?

This is, partly, why I write blogs today. I don’t want my grand-descendants to say “Who was that guy?” I’d be a series of dates and nothing else. There is a bit of pride involved, but more than this, I feel like I have something to say sometimes. Or do I? I mean, look at today’s blog. It is pretty inconsequential, and I’m typing with my eyes closed, for goodness sake. What kind of information can I push to forward generations with my eyes closed? So that’s my fixation with Genealogy. Maybe one or two people will even remember my name in 2115. Even if I am a footnote, as long as I can leave some kind of imprint on the earth, I guess I can live what that.

The Outside Job


Somebody had torn the screen on the boys’ bathroom window at Pistol River School. In 1980, the school was already 40 years old. The building wasn’t sagging, but to us, it felt like it was a century older than us. So little things like tears in window screens added up to big destruction on a massive scale. At first it was a little rip. And as a team, because boys can’t keep their fingers out of holes, we all worried at the nylon mesh until the hole got larger and larger. At least I like to believe this is what happened. We all had to speculate as to what really happened. Eventually there was a big hole, shaped like someone had shoved their head through the thing in order to look at the sheep field outside.

Mr. Hyde gathered up all the boys,  even the ones from first to third grades, and we lost all our recesses. the girls got to play outside. All the swings, the tether ball, the merry-go-round and the monkey bars belonged to them, and them alone. As soon as lunch ended, we marched upstairs. As soon as we told the little kids to keep their grubby little-kids hands out of our desks, we crossed our arms and lay our heads down, in silence.  We watched the second hand slide by like an evil keeper of our punishment.

At the end of each recess, Mr. Hyde would question us.  “All you have to do is confess.  As soon as you tell me who tore a hole in the bathroom screen, you may all go.”

Nobody said a word, of course. We were angry and insulted by the very idea, not that we would rat out our friends–we would gladly do this to get our recess back–but that we had done nothing to deserve it.

It was the constant topic while we ate our lunches, as slowly as possible. Nothing was more agonizing than sweaty heads on sweaty desks.

“It could have been a girl. It could have sneaked in from the outside.”

“Right,” sneered Brett. “Like that would happen.”

“Well, it’s possible. We all know none of the boys tore that hole.” I offered.

“This is true,” Brett conceded. He must have been particularly miffed because Brett never conceded anything, ever.

“Well if it isn’t the girls, and it isn’t one of us, then who is it?” said Luke.

“It might have been one of the teachers. Maybe Mr. Hyde did it, and he didn’t want to get in trouble from the school board.”

“Yeah. I can see that,” said Luke. He always believed anything.

Then Woodie hit on what might be the truth. “Maybe, it’s an outside job,” he suggested with his casual North Carolina twang.

“Who in the world would bother to come around here?” Asked Brett. “And what’s an outside job?”

“An outside job is the opposite of an inside job, you know, like in the cop shows. Someone OUTSIDE the school did it. And I know just who the culprit is! Les Walker.” He said it with a nod. His enormous shock of white hair lent truth to his argument.  And all the boys nodded in silent agreement. Woodie was the brains of the outfit.

Les Walker was a guy who lived up the hill from our school, with his mom and dad. He was all black hair and sideburns, and had lived in Pistol River all his life. He sat outside the Pistol River Store with his dad, who cussed at us, as if we were a pack of demons. Les just stood there and nodded, as he he drank bottle after bottle of RC Cola. He was a few years older than my dad. When he was a baby, Ralph and Phyllis left him in a hot car with the windows rolled up, and he never recovered. He talked like a four-year-old, but loudly, each word was the honk of a goose.

One day, he was watching us play baseball, on the Walker side of the fence. Their sheep field adjoined Pistol River school. Mr. Hyde stopped our game and walked up to Les, all short, red and bristly, and said “Les, you are not to be on, or near the school property.”

So Les walked back up the hill to is place, shoulders slumped, with a bottle of cola in hand. I thought Mr. Hyde was being unnecessarily mean and I told it wasn’t very Christian of him.

Mr. Hyde just looked at me with a scaly gaze, and whistled our ball game back into play.

But our whole problem pointed to Les.

“Maybe I could talk to him,” I suggested.

“Yeah. Okay. Anything, as long as we can go back to recess,” said Brett.

Along with the Dalbys, Woodie and I rode the bus together toward Carpenterville, and we had to sit and wait at the Store, while Grandma took the rest of the kids to their homes.

So that day, after school, we kicked up gravel as we walked across the street. Les was there, sucking on his bottle of pop. His dad greeted us with a string of profanity.

“Hey Ralph. Hello Les,” I began.

“HI!” shouted Les.

“Dirty mother***” said Ralph. He drooled when he cussed because only half his face worked.

“Les, we have a question for you.”

“My name is Lesley!” he told us.

“We know. Les… Do you think you could do us a favor?”

“Mamo and papa got cows!” he exclaimed.

“Do you think you could, you know, tell Mr. Hyde that you were the one who tore the screen? So we can have recess again?”

“And sheep! I like sheep!” said Les.

“Goddamn sheep,” agreed his father.

“So, do you think you can? It would mean a lot.”

“Do you want an RC? Papa will get you one.”

And Ralph fished out a dirty sumbitch dollar, from his right front pants pocket. Les marched right into the store and handed it to Floyd, and got us two bottles. “It’s not for me, it’s for my friends!” he announced proudly.

Floyd just nodded, saying nothing. He never said anything. He would have rather been fishing.

The pop bottles were cool to touch, and were beading with sweat on that hot Pistol River afternoon. We drank them fast because the school district didn’t allow food or drinks on the bus. Grandma didn’t care, but rules were rules, she explained.

“So… What do you think?” I asked Woody.

“I think that went well,” and he nodded to his half finished  bottle.

“I got no teeth!” shouted our new friend as we boarded the bus.

“That’s right! See y’all tomorrow?” Woody shouted back.

“Bye!” waved Ralph and Les. We both waved back.

It was another week before we were allowed to get our heads off the desk. It just happened one morning, at ten o’clock recess. Mr. Hyde just glared at us and said “What are you doing in here? Aren’t you going to recess?” And so we did.

I could imagine how the confession went down. Les, hair combed, and dressed in his nicest suit, had a visit with Mr. Hyde, where he told him about his friends, and how he had accidentally put his smashed his face through the bathroom windowscreen.

“My good sir, I had been trying to stop a rampaging sheep. I had him pinned against the back wall of the school, but the bugger was just too quick for me. But don’t worry, Mr. Hyde. I will make monetary restitution. With money. But I feel for the children. If, perchance you would give them leave to remove their heads from their desks? Here is a million dollars. Don’t tell papa. He would be quite cross if he found out.”

And Mr. Hyde’s eyes glimmered as he accepted the money, and then the two gentlemen shook hands and shared an RC Cola.

And that, my friends, is how teamwork and soda pop will get your recess back, every time.

Another Man’s Trophies


hotdog_trophy
Finally, a trophy I can win!

When I was young, my mom and dad split up. You’ve probably heard part of this story, if not all of it, if you’ve been following my blog. I had five whole years under my belt. My mom, my sister and I continued to live in the house on Windsor Drive in Sacramento. She worked on McLellan Air Force Base to make ends meet.

And while she did her thing for the Uncle Sam, I worked at the local kindergarten. My teacher’s name was Mrs. Simmons, and she had a tall pile of red hair. In my mind today, she looks and talked like Marge Simpson, except with different hair. I doubt she had such yellow skin. That’s just my imagination.

In first grade, my teacher was Miss Hitomi, a very short Japanese American lady. She hugged us every day when it was time to leave class. I liked her a lot. I was supposed to have Mrs. Lamb for second grade but we moved to Oregon, and started at Pistol River school instead. This was in 1975.

I said all that because, after a whole year in Oregon, I spent the summer of 1976 in Sacramento again. My time was split between my dad and both sets of grandparents. It was the bicentennial, and the California State Fair was going on. The bigwigs shot fireworks into the air every single night. Some nights I could even stay up late enough to see them. The Montreal Olympics happened that summer as well. Burger King was giving out posters. I had one of Bruce Jenner, the celebrated decathlete. He was the coolest thing that hot summer.

Evel-Knievel-Stunt-Bike
Evel Knievel fell off his bike much more than managed to jump over canyons for me.

Mostly, I stayed with my grandparents, but my sister and I spent a few nights at my father’s house. He shared a place with a couple other guys. One of them was named Douglas. His friends called him Drugless because, well, you get the picture. In this house was first time I heard Neil Diamond. Not that Neil Diamond has  anything whatsoever to do with this story. But the important bit was this: my dad had trophies.

They must have been high school treasures; stuff he had collected when he was young and cool and was a bit of an athlete. The trophies shined in his bedroom. Little men stood on top of their marble platforms, performing mighty feats of wrestling and track & field, just like the decathlete. My father also had a handful of medals that he’d gleaned from whatever-he-did in high school.

I wanted them SO badly.  I wanted to be like the guys on top of the trophies: strong and fast and made from glimmering bronze. So I asked him, “Can I have them?” No, he told me. I don’t remember the reason he gave me. Maybe he wanted to relive those years, back when he had hair? I can’t be sure.

I threw an awful tantrum of some kind. And I remember cheering myself up by singing the “Crash bang, crack em up, and put ’em back again” jingle from Kenner’s Smash-Up Derby cars. My melody making went on for about a half-hour. I asked my Dad, “Do you like my song?” I’m sure he said yes, even though my ears were screaming no, because when you’re a Dad, this is what you’re supposed to do.

Maybe it was my tantrum, or possibly it was my beautiful song. Whatever the reason, at the end of my summer, my dad presented me with a cardboard box full of trophies. At first I was elated to have his shiny athletic accolades. That lasted for about a half hour before I realized that I didn’t earn them.

What’s the point of having a trophy, if you did nothing to get it? These trophies were not mine. My father was giving me a piece of his past, but I didn’t want the past. I wanted a box of accolades. I wanted people to say “Wow! How did you get that trophy?” So I could reply, in some offhand way, “Oh, you know, I’m a wrestler.” And then I’d put on some dark sunglasses and my fans would ask for my autograph. But, of course, none of that happened.

GI Joe
His hair was fuzzy. I eventually picked his scalp off. GI Joe really needed a helmet after that.

In fact, these things ever turned out the way I expected. The Evel Knievel stunt cycle popped wheelies, but it could not (and would not) transform me into Evel Knievel. The same thing happened when I got my 1970s GI Joe and his yellow rescue copter. I didn’t rescue a single person, and neither did Joe. The soldier just stared straight ahead at me with his lifelike hair and beard, and his eyes never even twitched. His kung fu grip didn’t stop a single bad guy that summer. His copter had a cool crane that, if used carefully,  could rescue a small pile of sticks, one stick at a time. But, I their glory never rubbed off; not even when Evel and Joe traded their super powers. Joe fell off Evel’s bike, and Evel just broke even more bones in his already-fractured frame every time he fell out of Joe’s copter.

When you need to do something, you had better do it yourself. Bruce Jenner won’t hurdle his way into your life. Your dad’s trophies won’t make you a better rescuer. And even the combined powers of Evel Knievel and GI Joe can’t make your sister behave the way you want. They’re all another man’s rewards.

Yet, this is nothing to be sad about. It’s just the way things are. Work for the things you want. Malcolm Gladwell says it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. What, in my life, have I done for 10,000 hours? There are no short cuts. Maybe *then* I’ll get my trophies.

Pick Your Passion


In the late 1980s, I had entered the city of Santa Cruz as a newly-minted student at Bethany Bible College.  I knew it was my duty to bring Christ to others.  We were required to do a semester of student service every year. It even went on our transcripts, and could bar us from graduation. But I was not sure how I would choose this.

Continue reading Pick Your Passion