A Shot of Crassitude

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If you are one of the people who watched the Grammy Awards on Sunday night and thought the best performance of the night was by singer Natalie Grant who walked out on the “show”, don’t feel too bad.  It just means you have taste.

Or forgot the Grammys were on.

Don’t feel too bad about that one, either, as there are so many awards programs on these days that—I’m not kidding—the Emmys actually give out an award for the best awards program broadcast.  That’s got to be a hard choice to make because how do you tell all the Country Music Awards shows apart?  There’s, like, one every other week!

Anyway, what was I talking about?  I’m not sure, but I think I was going to say something about how, if you missed the Grammys, you can count yourself lucky.  If you missed the Pro Bowl as well, go ahead and call yourself blessed.  The Pro Bowl used to be a useless football-like game inHawaiithat was one degree less interesting than watching strangers at the park play touch football.  Now it’s a useless football-like game in Hawaii that has become even more like a touch football game by having washed-up former players pick teams like theyAREthe guys playing touch football at the park.

 

Anyway (part deux), a lot of people are upset about Sunday night’s Grammy program.  Some are complaining because Katy Perry dressed like the sort of woman who might pop out of a cake at a Knight’s Templar bachelor party then did a pole dance with a broom while pretending to be burned at the stake, all while—as near as anyone could tell (if you can discern the lyrics of a Katy Perry song, it’s time to seek counseling immediately)—invoking either Satan or the ghost of Mick Jagger (who, oddly, isn’t dead).  People who are objecting to her display fall, primarily, into two categories: those who object to the romanticizing of Satanism and those who are disappointed the “burning at the stake” was simulated.

In addition, other people are objecting because Beyonce’s derriere was fondled on camera by her husband.  This, we’re told, is something children shouldn’t have been subjected to on national television which—I think—ignores a much larger issue: the sort of parent who would allow their child to watch the Grammys anyway!  I mean, really!  Did they not know going in that this was a show dedicated to the most narcissistic and base human beings on the planet?

And let’s not get into the faux wedding ceremony.

I have no problem with the people of the music industry holding an awards program.  I don’t even have a problem that they often award music that, to me (and I mean this in the kindest possible way), has absolutely no value.

No, what bugs me about all of these awards shows is the arrogant presumption that I should care about them.  When the Lion’s Club or the local welder’s union gives out awards each year, they hold a nice ceremony and honor those within their respective orders who deserve honor, but they are never so presumptuous as to think anyone outside the organization cares.

Logo or Logos?

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It’s pretty common for churches these days to have a slogan. We want it to be short (so it can be remembered) and encouraging (so people will want to remember it). Something like …

“A family place”

“Worship in peace”

“A place to call home”

“Where Jesus is Lord!”

“Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

Nothing wrong with any of those slogans, but I’m rather partial to the last one just because it’s Scriptural. (Psalm 34:8, in case you’re curious.)

In these slogans, we’re trying to conjure up a positive mental image, the kind of thing that makes anyone who sees it say, “That sounds like a nice place. I’ll check that out some Sunday.” (Actually, we’re hoping you’ll check us out THIS Sunday, sometime between 9 and 11 a.m., check your local listings.)

It’s not a strange practice. Most businesses in our world are doing the same thing. Remember “Have it Your Way”? It’s been thirty years since a certain burger chain used that slogan, but all of us 40 and over still remember it. We may even remember the logo that went with the slogan back then. Cartoony guy with a crown? Remember him? Before they switched to that creepy guy with the plastic head.

I could go off on a long—and possibly angry or sarcastic—diatribe here about how churches have gotten so into the concept of branding that there have actually been cases of churches suing other churches for copyright infringement.

But anyway, back to this idea of a slogan and a logo. We’re looking for something friendly, attractive, warm … something that’ll bring the people in. Remember the slogan from a few years ago (it’s actually from more than a hundred years ago but it comes back every few years): “What Would Jesus Do?” That was a good slogan. What sort of slogan did Jesus use when reaching out to people?

Luke 9:23-24

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” (NIV)

Jesus’s logo was (and still is, look at our churches) an instrument of unspeakable pain, torture and humiliation and his slogan was, “Come and die.”

I’ve been wondering how well that would go over as a marketing strategy in Dumas. A giant banner hung out in front of the church that says, “Come in and die!” And instead of the nice, attractive, smooth cross we have hanging in the sanctuary now, what if we put up a rough piece of wood splattered with blood, chunks of flesh hanging off it where a person who had been flayed before being attached to said cross had hung? What would that do to our church attendance?

It about destroyed Jesus’s attendance figures. He goes from being surrounded by thousands to deserted by all but a dozen followers. Either Jesus was lousy at marketing or he wanted something other than just numbers.

He wanted followers. He wanted people who knew the cost and were willing anyway. He wanted people who weren’t just hanging around because it was the fun, cool or expedient-at-the-moment thing to do, but because they loved him and wanted to spend eternity with him, in his Father’s presence. He wanted people who would take him up on his offer of rest, but were fully aware struggle might come first.

People who would put him and his kingdom first. People who were willing to “come and die”.

Read My Comic Book!

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That’s right: if you have a Kindle (or Kindle Fire) and a short attention span, you can read my latest work in comic book form!  ”Burt & the I.L.S. – The Dragon’s Sceptre” is now available for order here at Amazon!

It’s the story of Burt Cottage, a tramp pilot with a beat-up sea-plane who is searching the South Pacific (why not?) for the Holy Grail when he gets entangled with Smitty, a peace-time gun-runner who is on the run from creditors.  Shot down by pirates, ship-wrecked on an island flowing with angry natives and lava, all would seem lost if not for … meeting the girl.  Will Burt save the day?  Will he have the nerve to kiss the girl?  Can he think of a good excuse to leave Smitty behind?

Find out in “Burt & the I.L.S.”!

Note: this great comic book looks great even on a “black & white” Kindle or Paperwhite!

 

Here’s a sample page from within the book.  (It’ll actually be more legible on your reading device!)  If you want to read the page, click on it and your computer, through the wonder of modern electricity, will show you a larger version of the same thing!

Whatever Happened to HIPAA?

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As a volunteer with both our local hospice and our local hospital, I have to take a class once a year about patient confidentiality. It is so drilled into our heads that we are not to discuss our patients’ medical condition(s), name or even beverage preference that I am afraid to even tell my wife when I’ve been to the hospital to visit someone.

Wife: “Where have you been?”

Me: “Um, happy hour at that really sleazy bar.”

Wife (knowingly): “I hope it’s not cancer.”

So imagine my surprise, then, to learn that anyone signing up for the government’s new health care program has, according to the official documentation, “No reasonable expectation of privacy.”

If I understand this right, I could still go to jail for divulging what I know about a patient’s medical condition to anyone other than the patient without that patient’s written consent, but the government can share all of my information—medical, marital, economical, etc.—with anyone they want and I have no recourse.

What’s really funny about this is that I have friends who claim to not be worried. “The government will protect that information,” they say with a confident laugh that borders on the psychotic. “This is the government!” they reiterate. “What is there to worry about?”

Edward Snowden, anyone?

I thought about starting this paragraph with something like, “You see, when I go to the doctor, I expect the only person to know anything about why I’m there is me, the doctor, the nurse, and maybe that guy with the hacking cough I was talking to the waiting room” but the reality is I DON’T GO TO THE DOCTOR.

No, it’s not a religious thing. Nor am I afraid of doctors. It’s just that I don’t get sick. Not sick enough to go to a doctor, anyway. Oh sure, I’ll get a cold or two every year, but then they go away. What could I look forward to if I went to the doctor about my cold? It would go away in the same amount of time, plus or minus whatever I caught in his waiting room, and I would be out money and time for my troubles.

I used to be the insurance company’s dream client. Lots of money paid in premiums, nothing paid out in care. When the insurance company sent me one of those mass-printed birthday cards with my name misspelled wishing me “another great year”, I figured they meant it.

Not any more. Insurance companies have been ordered by the government to drive up their prices, drive down their level of service, and drive as many people to the government teat as they can. Doctors are being driven out of business, hospitals are closing, and all our medical records will be on an easily-hackable government database.

At least my president has my back. Sort of. He’s kind of busy taking a selfie right now but, as soon as he’s done with that and with making another speech about himself, I’m sure he’ll pivot back to health care and fix all this up fastly and furiously.

Just Shove it ALL in a Cup

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According to legend, it was a man named Earl who invented the hamburger. Or, possibly, the sandwich. Living in a cave (or, maybe a castle), he was tired of getting the sauce from the meat all over his hands. He first thought of wrapping the meat in an old towel, but his wife was always buying those super-absorbent ones which are terribly hard to digest.

After many years of studying over the problem in the evenings, after spending his days at his job of standing on the corner and waving at passers-by, it finally came to him that if he were to put the meat between two pieces of BREAD, not only would it keep his hands clean, it might also give his intestines time to digest all that terry cloth he had swallowed.

Thus, the hamburger—or, as it’s known in Germany, “the sandwich”—was invented.

And things went along pretty smoothly for a while. For the longest time, people were satisfied with just having their meat between two pieces of bread (or, wrapped up in a single piece, if there wasn’t enough bread to go around—thus inventing the “burrito” or, as it’s called in Spanish, some Spanish word), but then someone discovered mustard. Mustard, of course, is from the French’s word meaning “yellow as the sun” or, alternatively, “doesn’t wash out of clothes”.

After that, all heck broke loose and people started coming to the completely unwarranted (and likely paganistic) idea that pretty much anything could be put between those two pieces of bread: pickles, ketchup, relish and, in some part of the world, old issues of TV Guide.

Admittedly, not all of the additions were bad and some of them were even so downright tasty as to have been divinely inspired, such as guacamole. Soon, entire businesses were springing up based solely on the practice of finding new things to put between pieces of bread. Before you knew it, you had your Subways, your McDonalds, your Dairy Queens, your Dairy Kings, your Dairy Freezes, your Tastee Freezes, and your Aamcos. People were throwing chili peppers and fried onions and all sorts of INGREDIENTS on hamburgers and sandwiches and the world was doing pretty good.

But then, someone got the idea to take it one step further and, instead of mixing ingredients, mix entrées! Let me say, emphatically and without fear of reprisal because I almost never check my email address, that french fries are NOT an ingredient, they are a separate dish, and do NOT belong on the hamburger.

This is probably why communism is back on the rise. Americans have gotten so lazy that not only will we not take certain jobs anymore, we’re apparently too indolent to have to reach to multiple parts of a plate and must be served our meat and potatoes in one mush-mouthed serving.

One of my greatest fears—aside from the fact that the President took away my health insurance—is that the next logical step is to just shove the hamburger and fries into the blender with the chocolate shake and serve it all in a single cup.

With bacon.

World’s Largest Concrete Swimming Pool

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One of my earliest memories involves going to Cisco, Texas, which is east of Abilene on I-20. (If you don’t know where Abilene is, you may have to Google it; I can’t do everything for you.) If you’ve ever been to Cisco, you may be wondering why I would remember going there.

When I was a child, in the early 70s, my family (consisting of my parents and five kids!) would load up in the Ford station wagon and head to the east, not to see grandparents or anything quite so prosaic, but to go to what was billed then as “the largest swimming pool in the world”. Whether it was or not, I have no idea, but it was a great place to go.

Carved out of the Sandy Creek bottom on the lee side of the Williamson Dam in 1923, the pool was—at that time and well into the 1960s—the largest concrete pool in the world. Fed by fresh water from the spillway—and, yes, that meant part of the experience was feeling live fish swimming past your legs. Besides the two part pool (a “deep end” with a depth of 25 foot and a shallow end of 2-4 feet deep and an island that acted as divider between the two sections and had a great slide) there was a miniature golf course, picnic grounds and—though there were only remnants by the time I came along—a zoo and an amusement park. Within the pool, there was a massive slide coming off the island and into the shallow end, swingsets you could swing on WHILE IN THE POOL, and a massive diving tower.

45 feet above the waters of the deep end it rose. Ask my father. For, on one fateful day, he and my brother decided to try diving off the top of the tower. My brother chickened out—or wised up, as the case may be—but my father made the dive. Forty-five feet down to the water’s surface, touch the bottom of the deep end (remember that part about it being 25 foot deep!?!) and surfacing in tremendous pain with a burst eardrum.

My father’s enthusiasm for the Cisco pool waned considerably after that day.

When pulling up in the station wagon (it didn’t have sufficient air conditioning to make 7 people comfortable, which made us really appreciative of the fresh-water [no chlorine!] pool) the first place we would go was the main building. It was a two story building with an ancient skating rink on the bottom floor and a window where one paid to enter the swimming pool area. Between the building—which sat on something of a hill—and the giant pool, there was a whole bank of concrete steps, like a grandstand without benches. I remember my mother telling me that, when she was little, she remembered coming to the pool in Cisco from her home in Haskell to watch beauty pageants. Hundreds of people would sit on those steps (which even in my childhood still displayed in fading letters letters and numbers for divided seating) and watch the beauty pageant contestants parade across the bridge and island. Being something of a nostalgia buff even as a child, I wished I could have seen those sights, then walked the midway of the amusement park while a band played from the old bandstand.

Of course, I also thought of those things because of the aforementioned dam. The pool was on the east side of the dam and—arriving in the late afternoon after my father got off work as we always did—the dam was dark and brooding and foreboding and (thanks to my sister Beth who enjoyed pointing out that it was holding back a lakeful of water capable of killing us all and washing our bodies miles downstream) the single-most-scary thing in my world. Trips to Cisco were fun but often involved nightmares for days after.

I drove by the old pool a few years ago and was surprised that as much was left as is. The skating rink—like most everything else from my childhood (see the article from two weeks ago)—burned down, but there are still remnants of a gazebo, the old picnic tables, some crumbling cabins and—surprise!—the pool is still there, though the shallow end is overtaken by weeds and the water in deep end is dark and scary.

 

(If you’d like to see some excellent pictures of the zoo as it looks today (or, in 2000, anyway) click here.]

Photographic Memory

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I like taking pictures, but I have never been particularly good at it.  I don’t feel too bad about this now, because I have come to realize that most people with cameras have about the same skill level as I do.  There are a few people who are really good, and the rest of us are saved by our equipment.

Photography, like many forms of art, can be in the eye of the beholder.  When most of us think of “great photographers” (admit it: up until this article you had never once thought of who or what a “great photographer” might be), we think of Ansel Adams or, maybe … someone else.  (I thought about looking up the name of some other great photographer, but then I thought, “Why bother?”  Which, I’m going to say, says more about the general public’s response to photographers than about my own laziness.)

Looking at my book of Ansel Adams photographs, or the book I have of photographs by David Muench (I knew I could come up with a second name if I thought long enough or took the effort to swivel my chair around and look at the book case behind me), it’s easy to think, “Well, if I were standing in that exact spot, I could have taken a great picture like that, too!”

Well, maybe, but probably not.  See, those guys not only have “an eye for the landscape”, they also studied things like composition and lighting and they know how to use filters on their cameras.  See, I’ll go on vacation and take two hundred photos, of which maybe 2 will be of sufficient merit to be show to anyone not related to me.  And it was an accident.  I just happened to snap that picture when the light was just right.

I do like taking pictures, but I fight an inward battle.  On the one hand, when I get back from a vacation, I always wish I had taken more pictures so I would have more of the vacation to re-live.  On the other hand, while on the vacation I don’t want to spend all my time looking through a view-finder.  The modern digital camera has been a great boon to people like me: a pretty-well-focused picture, easily taken, from a compact camera—but I am often too slow in getting it out and turned on so the picture I wanted has passed out of range.  Instead of taking one anyway, I shove the camera back in my pocket and move on, thinking I’ll “take the next one” but not prepared when the next opportunity pops up.

But then, I learned that I have more in common with the pros than I thought.  Out of the 200 pictures they shoot, they might only have 2 that are worth showing off.  The difference is, they have the dedication to take 200 hundred pictures of the same thing, confident that—once they get to develop the pics (the really good photographers still use that stuff called “film”), they’ll find the one or two where the lighting, the filter, the composition and the etc. all fell into place.

This doesn’t happen to me because, as alluded earlier, I barely have the dedication to photography necessary to swivel my chair.

Oh, and Steve Tohari.  He’s a good photographer, too,

Things That Never Were

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In the town where I grew up (Abilene [which, by the way, is not exactly 'the finest town I ever seen”]) there was a place on the northeast side of town called “Old Abilene Town”. Built out on I-20, so it would have been visible to people traveling between Dallas and Midland (and trying their best to ignore Abilene as much as possible), it was a conglomeration of buildings designed to look like an old west town.

There was a saloon (of course) and a doctor’s office in an upstairs room and other frontier-like buildings. And, some Saturdays during the year, you could go out there and watch “gun-fights” staged by local actors who were—I hope—using blanks. (Not like certain parts of Amarillo where you can go and watch gunfights with real bullets.) And there would be people dressed in costume running the various stores, singing in the above-mentioned saloon, etc. There was also a rodeo grounds on the property at which my brother and his buddies started a rodeo for high school students that has grown in the four decades since to be one of the largest rodeos of its kind in the world.

Old Abilene Town (or “Old Abilene Town” as it was called, we weren’t much for shortening names), however, is no more. It closed up in the late 70s and, by the time I was in high school, there was nothing left, the buildings having burned down in what turned out to be a fortuitous “accident” for the owner who had them insured. Those of us who remembered Old Abilene Town remembered it as a sort of fond joke.

A joke because it wasn’t supposed to have been that way. When it was built, the Old Town that we came to know (frontier buildings on a main street) was just supposed to be a starting point. According to my parents, when the place was built the owners were telling everyone they were going to add rides and shows and all sorts of things that would make Old Abilene Town competition for 6 Flags as the “most fun place in Texas!” They were going to turn it into SEVEN Flags Over Texas (the traditional 6, plus “Black Flag Roach Killer”). It never happened.

And it never happened more than once. Every few years, someone new would come along, buy the place, slap a new coat of paint on the clapboard, and start telling us how they were going to fulfill—and maybe even surpass—the old plans. Roller coasters, thrill rides, swimming pools, movies stars … the works!

I guess all these people were just dreamers, hoping to sucker—I mean, “entice”—somebody with more money into investing. Ads would be placed in the newspaper, word would come of “big money” that was going to be invested by some “rich oil man” and Old Abilene Town would be “on the map”.

What happened? I ask that more rhetorically than anything else. I know the answer: America changed. It used to be that there were lots of “roadside” attractions that people would go visit on their summer vacation. “World’s Largest Ball of Twine and/or Phlegm” and so forth. I think a lot of this came because America was still new to the automobile, but the roads weren’t very good. So, if you were loading the family into the old flivver for a “summer of fun” you really didn’t want to have to go out that far, if you didn’t have to. A family from, for instance, Leuders-Avoca, might drive the first day to Abilene and see Old Abilene Town after fixing the flats they had incurred; then, the next day, it would be on to Cisco, Texas, where—after fixing more flats*—they’d spend the night in Conrad Hilton’s first hotel before lazing away a day or two in the “world’s biggest swimming pool”**.

Now, though, our cars go 75 miles an hour with no problem and, so, we’re willing to go a lot further afield for these trips. At least, we were until gas topped $3 and all our disposable income got fined away because we refused to buy an insurance policy that’s worse than the one we used to pay less for.

* I have a letter my grandfather wrote my grandmother when they were courting in which he states that the drive from Haskell to Throckmorton (40 miles) had been a good one because he made it in two hours and only had to fix three flats.

** Cisco, Texas, really did have both of these things at one time.

Shutdown Korner

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As I sit here pondering the cost of having some federal workers go erect concrete barriers on all the roads leading to Lake Meredith verses the cost of the previous practice of never having anyone helpful there when you needed them, I’ve come to the conclusion that we’ve all been played.

Scratch that.  We’ve all been had.

Can you imagine the early settlers of this great country just standing by while the British erected barriers to keep them away from the fishing hole?  Of course not.  And not just because the British were notoriously slow in realizing the benefits of concrete K-rails.  It’s because the early colonists would have hopped right on their four-leg-drive vehicles and gone around the barriers.  Saying, as many do upon eating sushi even to this day, “Give me fish and/or give me death!”

No, we have been had.  We’re letting a federal government block access to our national monuments, our health insurance they lyingly told us we could keep and, in some metropolitan areas, our enormous carbonated beverages.  (OK, that last one isn’t really a federal action, but I’m sure it will be soon.)

Everyone from the President on down to the park rangers—remember when we used to respect them?—are telling us these measures are not about saving money (too late for that) but about inflicting the maximum amount of discomfort on the American people.

And we’re going along with it!  That just floors me, because we’re the country that invented (I think, I’m not going to a lot of trouble and looking this stuff up) the electric recliner, the beverage cup holder, the TV remote, and long, lazy strolls in the country-side.  We invented the ergonomic koozy for holding our 12 ounce cans, for crying out loud, and here we’re letting some “constitutional lecturer” take away our freedom to recreate on the lake of our choice?!?!  George Washington must be spinning like a centrifuge in his grave right about now.

And let’s not even get into the idea of a government that prevents it’s fighting men and women overseas from watching the baseball playoffs on TV solely because the chief executive wants all the attention on himself.  And let’s forget that he’s threatening Catholic priests with jail time if they minister on our military bases.  And pay no attention to the blood of our dead inBenghazi, or the sounds of border agents being murdered with weapons sold to the malefactors by our own government.  And, whatever you do, don’t try to figure why we’re building fences around our monuments but not our country.

Nope.  Just sit back and relax and let the President take care of everything, from our phones to our doctors.  As the doctors say: it won’t hurt a bit and it’ll all be over in a moment.

The new murder mystery, “Toltec Mountain”, is on sale now!!

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My newest (and best?) novel–”Toltec Mountain“–is for sale now!  Order it for your Kindle, or for your Nook.  Don’t have either one of those?  You can get a free ap at Amazon that will allow you to purchase and read Kindle books on your phone, PC, or any Apple device here.

And, after you’ve read the book (and loved it), please be sure and give me a good review at Amazon and B&N.  Good reviews propel sales!

Got questions about this or any of my other books?  Email me at garisonfitch@gmail.com