Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Art of Winding Weed-Eater String

There comes a time in sprinter when the mornings are still crisp enough for an old flannel shirt when we all must wake the mechanical bee hibernating in our sheds. Some of our wives have made a feeble attempt at this job with the new electric varieties but, all in all, weed-eating is still man’s work, especially in the south. Unless you have a yard man, this job does not discriminate. We must all do battle with dandelion and wild onions soon after the Bradfords are painted white. There are two scientific certainties. A yard will not look mowed with a big Dandelion growing next to the house. No lawn mower, no matter the turn radius or cost, will remove that Dandelion. I incidentally, have wondered on many occasions who pays whom to maintain this status quo. I cannot bear to believe this area of horticultural purgatory is simply the failure of imagination and engineering.

Have you heard of those cities which write you a ticket for unmowed grass?

With my flannel shirt on, I walk down to the little house. This structure should not be confused with the main house for you southern planters or the big house for all you ex-cons out there. The term little house DSC_1563was passed to me as casually as the suffix on my name. Just like the other things indiscriminately passed my way, both natural and learned, they are now parts of my soul. My daughter AND wife are now carriers. Maybe that is what the term soul mate really means.

The little house, home for lawn implements which were way to expensive, might tell you more about me than you wanted to know. I, I mean it, has tried to hang on, change and evolve and has the scars to prove it. The gutters are dirty little secrets covered in ivy and deep red wild roses. They allow the spring rains to play havoc with the foundation but, pulling the beautiful roses and green ivy away to repair them is just too painful. Thorns grown long ago lie in wait to bring blood. There are snakes in the ivy which are so dangerous they must be left alone. There is new corrugated aluminum where the door was replaced for yet another bigger, badder lawnmower. This aluminum stands out like a sore thumb against its dignified and peeling antique green painted cousins. The new door boasts it will not take paint to the world. With a suspect foundation, stubborn door and old gutters which do not work anymore the little house seems to still weather the occasional tree limb or spring wind pretty well.

…And who among us doesn’t have a little house of some kind?

The little house has a combination lock my father-in-law gave me. Women think they have the corner on the “something borrowed” market but, are sadly mistaken. The lock still has my in-laws’ anniversary as a combination. Since they have been married for over a half-century, the combination reminds me longevity DSC_1567and loyalty have not been thrown on the trash heap of history. The lock constantly needs oiling and cleaning so you can see and work the numbers. It is work that never seems convenient. In the rush for the well-manicured lawn, taking time to care for this relic from the Master Lock Company seems to get in the way of life at times. Somehow however, I cannot imagine lawn care without it. A lock like this, my friend for years, seems to always demand attention when time is shortest. I have found a little work along, is just easier. I have come to find joy in the work over the years.

Doesn’t our to-do list say as much about us as our accomplishments?

The contents of the little house are a study in capitalistic excess. There is a new John Deere which dubiously justifies itself. The Craftsman worked fine. A necessary lawn spreader which has worn the nail on which it hangs waits patiently for its charge. Pieces of wood with all manner of good intentions form the attic. Their projects sit quietly waiting for a rainy day which may never come. Then, there is the Husqvarna weed eater. It also replaced a Craftsman which is still in service at my father-in-law’s hunting camp. A necessity required for the proper grooming of a respectable lawn, the Husky could mow down all the rice patties in Korea in a single bound. These implements come with illustrations captioned with a Rosetta Stone of languages which are never read until the thing stops working. These implements almost all operate on my Waterloo of personal questions, “how hard could it be.” Knowing everything about the world is a lonely job but, someone has to do it. In desperation only, I seek guidance and strength from the maker from the Rosetta Stone.

Does your testosterone prevent you from reading instructions too?

The Rosetta Stone was never consulted when I developed the art of winding the weed eater string. I went about the task on my own. I am not sure why. Consulting the engineers at Husqvarna through their instructions would have been so much easier. Even a call to their hotline is in order when the directions are not so clear. Instead, I have developed a procedure which gets the job done. The string comes out of the roll kinked and screaming for attention. This unorganized mess must be attended. The way I handle this is toDSC_1569 circle on of the black metal posts which the previous owner of my home left me. I call the previous owner, Mr. Sparkman’s Ghost. Mr. Sparkman fancied grapes because they would give him an excuse to ferment their juice. The grape-vine post makes a great place to loop unruly weed eater string. Once straightened, the string can be wound quite easily. All of the mistakes of winding however must be reproduced until the appropriate emotion in sufficient quantity is produced. With a fresh spool of string, I am ready to attack the Dandelion.

You are always invited to sit on the rabbit bench while I wind the string.

A freshly mowed yard is its own reward. There are smells of freshly cut grass mixed perfectly with aromatic hydrocarbons. With entropy beaten back in the form of a smooth uniform cut, order is brought to the little slice of earth we own. There was a time when I, in my sweat soaked shirt, plop on a lawn chair with fermented yeast, malt and hops to enjoy my control of the universe. All those things, I have found today to be fleeting and temporary. Control is an illusion. The joy of labor is eternal.

Al Knows Best

We had a funny saying in our family about my Grandfather Curtis. We whispered that if he had fifteen minutes he could make you kin to us. I met a man named Al Hathorn later when I clerked at a drug store who was the same way. Al loved the public. He took joy in learning your story. In a few questions, he could usually find a mutual friend. It wasn’t hard for Al because he knew EVERYBODY. He made the little drugstore chain a smash hit in Russellville where I grew up. He separated our little chain drugstore from the pack because he actually cared about his customers. He loved their stories and loved serving them. He kept glass bottles way after the other guys because his customers liked them. He compounded salves and even rolled pills because he knew it would make you feel special. That kind of thing made you feel like he had gone that extra mile just for you. Rolling pills you ask, well that is an article for another day. Anyway, he knew, instinctively, what companies sometimes forget these days. He knew his check depended on his customers and he was grateful.

I hope you get to meet Al someday. He probably knew your uncle twice removed.

There were plenty of drugstores in Russellville and Al understood he needed to be different. God made him that way and he took full advantage of his difference to become a very successful pharmacist and a very good boss. It wasn’t a gimmick. It was a real service that no one could provide quite like he did. He taught me the real way to treat customers. He lived it. I guess he mostly sells friendship. The pills, liniments and salves were just a side benefit. I heard when he left the latest conglomerate to buy our little chain for a local neighborhood drug store, he carried over 300 scripts a day with him. Scripts are drugstore lingo for prescriptions.

See, you always learn something here.

The conglomerate was interested in how many scripts a pharmacist could fill in a day. They made the pharmacist stand 20 feet away from customers so he would not be distracted from checking scripts. Those scripts were really filled by a kid two or three years out of high school. Rolling a pill or compounding a salve was out of the question. The little clerks were supposed to establish the relationship with the customer. That was hard because there was a new one every few months. Apparently it is hard to make a living on eight dollars and hour. I think the conglomerate missed the strength of their pharmacist they got in-trade when they bought our little chain.

Do you sense a loss like that somewhere you do business?

Companies seem to be more interested in a gimmick or some kind of sneaky edge instead of a real innovative product these days. They want to put less cereal in a box, it’s settlement man, it’s settlement, or pay their employees less to put quick money on the bottom line. When they do this kind of short term money grab, I believe they lose their corporate souls. Yeah, I just said corporations had a soul. Well if not a soul, at least they should have a conscience. I think they should ask themselves if they have a product or service that really might make the world a better place. How they answer that question, I believe, is their corporate soul.

Do you know a corporation that really makes a better mousetrap? I think I know a few.

Without a better mousetrap, a company is reduced to the gimmick to get an edge. Our Walmart culture rewards a company that builds the same mousetrap with child labor in Whateverstan over the brand built with pride for years in New Jersey. If you lock those kids in a fire-trap and payem 50 cents a day, throwing every third mousetrap away still makes you a pile of cash. Shareholders reward that company too. We don’t buy and hold good company stock with a decent return. We look for the quick buck from a company that has lost its soul at the altar of the almighty buck. In this environment, laying off a loyal work force and shipping the jobs to the fire-trap in Whateverstan becomes admirable and the stock soars. When dollar worship becomes the sole motivation for either buyers or sellers we not only lose OUR souls, we lose what made our country great. We lose things like innovation, service and real value. We lose our values. I think our values are the ones which Al’s customers come to buy. It sure ain’t the pills. They can buy those anywhere.

Another Brick in the School Show

I may have gone to one of my last “Summer Camp” shows tonight and I can’t help but, to be a little sad. Summer Camp in this context is a little misleading. There were no cottages, camp fires or cots at this camp. Depending on where you are, I have heard these programs called a number of things, Extended Day, After Care, Working Family programs, Beyond the Bell and my favorite, Hobby Hour. I have visions of Bob Villa and Tim Taylor instead of the usual college kid trying to get a jump on their fellow education majors. Whatever you call them, these programs are a modern answer to latch-key kids.

I wish you could have seen the show.

I was trying to smell the roses, I guess. So I spent some time watching the parents. First I looked for the parents who were traveling with us. A few of them seemed to be a little like me, maybe more alert. Some were still checking their email and producing the requisite golf clap at the end of each number. Like the rest of us, they were still in their scrubs, ties and greasy work uniforms. With the schedule busted due to the program, some were wondering what from the freezer could be possibly cooked and served in ten or fifteen minutes or if they could still mow the grass. Some were wondering if those pizza coupons were still in the car.

It seems like yesterday when my wife and I sat in the kindergarten auditorium.

I wish you could have been there that day. Our new principal, Dr. Morgan, apparently still feeling the sting of sending his youngest son to college, told us something I didn’t really understand at the time. He said to have fun, smell the roses and above all, DON’T BLINK. He went on to say these would be the fastest passing thirteen years of our lives.

With most of my daughter’s Extended Day Summer Camps in the rear view mirror I have some advice for you.

Never miss an opportunity to see the joy. I wish you could have seen the faces of the children whose parents were checking their email. The highlight of a second graders month is apparently being able to lip-sink a Taylor Swift song in front of all the camp parents. Even the jaded, unamused and sophisticated kids my daughter’s age had a hard time containing the smile from time to time. Look for the joy in the real teachers. You can tell a good teacher a hundred miles away. They smile, tap their feet and laugh frequently. They can’t help themselves. They love and dote on THEIR kids.

But, there is one of those college kids that I am really sorry you missed.

This was the one just off stage showing the first graders the dance moves. Her face, well, it was raw joy. It betrayed more than I ever could on this written page. It was full of hope, promise and the realization of an avocation well selected. Her hair bounced and she displayed a kind of unrelenting smile that made MY face hurt. After the number was over and her kids were getting their requisite golf-clap, she hugged them all. Her affection held up the show because her kids were taking too long to get off the stage. It may have bugged everyone who worried about dinner, schedules, weed-eater string, cleaning gutters, email, a raise… It didn’t bug me at all.

The Mind of an Engineer

My brain is in a state of constant conflict. The war is between my creative side and my inner engineer. I seem, at times, IMG_0809to be able to negotiate a truce between these forces, so I have become the self-appointed ambassador for my brethren. It is an ugly war that usually ends up with hurt feelings and bewilderment. You may have a similar response as you deal with my kind. We are creatures who really have your best interest at heart but, our amazing lack of people-skills, tendency for recreational problem solving and general alien approach to life make our interactions sometimes, well, unsatisfying. In the spirit of harmony, I offer this insight into the brain of an engineer. If you are willing to step over a few Legos and old Erector Set parts, I will be happy to show you around.


 You’ve got a problem-I have questions

Ok, so you have asked an engineer about your problem. Let the inquisition begin! Just know, the number of questions will be proportional to our comfort with the subject. I must stop here to explain the lingo. To us, life is an equation. We love words like proportional, exponential, variable, relationship… Those words help us bring order to our scary world. Anyway, we will question you on every conceivable facet of your problem. Be warned, our questions may be seemingly unrelated, arcane and sometimes personal with no regard to your dignity or discretion. While you answer our questions, many times we make notes and draw pictures. Doing this is not a sign of disrespect or a lack of engagement, it helps us focus on your problem. Sometimes, after you are totally exhausted, we will feel we have accumulated enough data

I love data

Engineers feel that with enough data we could solve world hunger, answer the questions of human mortality and cause world peace. Data, we feel, is a gift from God. It should be shared freely and given with glee. We love to manipulate it, organize it, order it and arrange it. We make bar-charts, graphs and histograms from data. We formulate equations and create solutions from data. We love data.

I never have enough napkin drawings and lists

Once our data has been organized and we have properly stabbed entropy in the eye, the real fun begins. We get out our green graph paper or fire up the Excel spreadsheet. This decision is primarily dictated by the age of the engineer. Come back later for an in-depth discussion on that topic. We live for this phase of the problem-solution flow-chart. At this point, if one graph is good, three are better. A sketch or list of the pertinent facts will be produced to scale. We draw, edit and re-edit beautiful flow charts, decision matrices and back them up with solid charts and graphs. Those charts and graphs should describe the exact nature of the uncertainty and the relationship of all the variables in a potential solution.

 

Off to Engineer Mountain

Once we have checked-off items one through three we then must retreat to engineer mountain to ponder the results. This is a solitary affair and you are not invited. Engineer Mountain is really not a place but, a state of mind. Sometimes this physical place could be a Hacky Sac on the lawn or an office or the conference IMG_0812room. During this phase of problem solving, human interaction is not welcomed nor is it necessary. If human interaction becomes necessary, like some warning of impending doom, you know, fire, earthquake, tornado and alike, the process must be started again. We feel the process is most like building a pyramid. Blocks must be placed sequentially with the details of the solution confronted and overcome one at a time. These parts of the solution must be tested independently in a sort of thought experiment. Cause and effect are very interesting even entertaining. We like this process to build on itself to an apex of complete and orgasmic; clear-cut and final; breathtaking and brilliant, solution. Any disruption to this process will cause us to begin the process again. Should we be disturbed, you should expect a mix of anger, incredulousness and confusion on our part. We may not react well. It also may take an exceptional effort to gain our attention while we are on Engineer Mountain.

When I deliver your solution

Once we have properly studied your problem, sometimes days or weeks later, we will show up, many times unannounced and without an appointment, with our solution to your problem. If you have forgotten all about it and don’t even remember your question, just play along. This might require your whole repertoire or expressions, body language and listening words. Words like brilliant, inspired and grateful are always welcomed.


I hope this has helped. We are also able to answer questions on our feet, however, we always reserve the right to go through this process anyway. We love thought experiments of all kinds and usually can’t resist redundant and unwanted analysis. If you have moved on and find one of us presenting you with this kind of solution, simply refer to item five. We may resist immediate answers but, many times you will find our solutions in this scenario just as useful.

Afflicted with Lameitude

One of the perks of this new blogging job is being able to make up words. Today’s word is Lameitude. Big Brother Gates apparently hates my new word because he continues to underline it with a squiggly bright red line. At some point, I may add it to the dictionary which I am sure will be immediately reported through some seemingly innocuous update to the bowels of the high command in Redmond. His friend Mark will send multitudes of hoodie wearing geeks to determine what to sell me since I invented it. Their arch enemies, Larry and Sergey, over in Mountain View will develop some sort of algorithm to predict the who, what, when, where and why of new words and how they might capitalize on this knowledge.

Do you have as much trouble with focus as I do? Do you think it is part of my disease?

Well, back to the word of the day. Lameitude is a progressive seemingly incurable illness which afflicts parents. Research on this disease has been troublesome because it affects parents though a wide range of ages, nationalities and cultures. In a strange twist of the scientific method however, it has now been determined that the disease’s onset is most closely linked not to the age of the victim but, to the age of the victim’s children. More study is needed and continue to monitor this website for breaking news on this disease.

I think I should tell you some of the symptoms so that you will know if you have contracted this insidious disease.

After diapers, colic and potty training my wife and I were happy parents for a time…

I have to stop here. Can you believe Bill underlines potty? The fact that Bill doesn’t know the word potty is both scary and an indictment of our society. Were there so many levels of nannies and caretakers between himself and his children that he was robbed of the splendor of the potty? Well, I just feel sad for him…

Parenting was simple. Our daughter had needs and we met them. Food was easy after sterilized bottles, breast pumps and frozen milk. She ate most anything including broccoli and crunchy carrots. Entertainment was a breeze. Hours and hours of uncontrolled laughter could be produced by the cutting of the eyes. Clothing was a snap. A sundress with the blue vomit stain of too much birthday cake was socially acceptable. As long as she was clean, fed, warm and dry, things went well. Her only extravagance was a song to go to sleep and a new dress for church. Songs work for lots of things. My favorite is Sweet Baby James.IMG_0058

You must be vigilant with this disease because, out of nowhere, sometime around her 11th birthday I began to be afflicted with Lameitude.

Yup, I hate to tell you but, eye cutting will quit working. Total and complete meltdowns will occur when you bring out the blue vomit dress. My Lameitude makes her refuse to eat broccoli, carrots, lasagna, chicken stew, potato soup, peppers, onions… well, it would be easier to list her current Lameitude tolerant menu. My singing has become revolting due to my Lameitude. I really don’t see or understand how embarrassing my Lameitude has become. It is so embarrassing my daughter has resorted to walking several steps ahead or behind me when in public.

I tell you, Lameitude affects everything including my speech and voice.

Lameitude has caused the language centers in my brain not to function properly. It makes me think I am speaking easily decipherable sentences but, apparently, I can’t. Many times I believe I am speaking but, my daughter’s eyes remain in a glazed, catatonic state.

It is a really terrible disease and I hope you don’t get it.

I really hate it for my daughter. She has resorted to staying in her room because she can’t stand the disease’s effects. She hardly, if ever, smiles. She mostly talks to her friends though Facetime, Facebook, IPhone, IPad, IThis and Facethat now. She must fill her days with Instagram and YouTube and other things I can’t understand because of my disease. I hate to say this but, I am afraid her mother has it too. There was a time when they were inseparable. My daughter was even clingy to her mom but, my daughter has to get away from her now too.IMG_0052

I have to tell you, I really miss my daughter. I miss swinging and going fishing. I hope I am cured soon.

Scout and Jem all over again

My mom has a signed copy of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I paint a little so, for her birthday a few years back, I painted her a Mockingbird. I painted the bird on a red background so it would match her book cover. She proudly displays the painting with the book and tells everyone who asks, and some who don’t, that her son painted the picture. She even forgets about how Harper Lee signed her book. This is strange because I think it is one of her favorite books. Harper is not really her favorite author because she really only wrote one book, more or less. But, that is a whole new story that I won’t bore you with now.

I think mom likes the book because it attempts to reach into the cracks and crevasses of our fear. It especially explores our fear of people who look different. Sadly, part of our walk on this earth is to separate, characterize and sort. As babies only a few days old, we instinctively know we must be able to differentiate men (?) and women (lunch). Later we learn things like triangle headed snakes put you in the hospital while the round headed ones just hurt a little.

I guess you have figured out by now that this is not a book report.

As Harper so painfully points out, we in the south have brought differentiation to a whole new level. My best and most personal example of this is the difference between my first and second grade years in the Nashville Metropolitan School System. It seems that the good citizens of Nashville held out for “separate but, equal” as long as they could. The piper finally came around right before I graduated the first grade. When other kids were buying pencils and notebooks my classmates and I should have been buying riot gear and helmets. When mom dropped me off on the first day of second grade, the white parents were out in force. We were lucky they were only throwing epitaphs and holding signs not fit for Sunday School. Once in the class, I met big black Mrs. Battleaxe (not her real name). She quickly informed us white kids that she and those black kids had been on the bus since five that morning and they didn’t need any slack from us. After beating me with a three-foot wooden device designed to draw circles on a chalk board, she informed me that I was a lazy boy that would never have made it at her old school. Soon after that, she told me I was too stupid to pronounce my own name.

You may have spent some time in a war zone and maybe we can compare notes sometime.

This was our reality for months. We were a bunch of innocent seven year-olds, black and white, just trying to survive another day. Finally, mercifully, a truce seemed to take hold. After the adults got tired of war, we kids did what kids do. We began to discuss culinary differences between fried bologna and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We made friends I still Facebook today. Sadly, many of my cross-town brethren have fallen victim to the vicious street. Mrs. Battleaxe even came around a little. She stopped forcing us to listen to stories of the marble steps and golden bannisters of her former school.

Like Harper, you probably know the pain is in the resistance and not the change.

The first step toward a solution is always admitting you have a problem. We have passed bad ideas to our children because we can’t get honest with ourselves. We perpetuate the problem by whistling past the graveyard and by doing so, we continue to fight the same battles. By being silent, we allow people who look like us to force us all to feel the pain of resistance over and over again. Forget the moral arguments if you like. Ignore new covenant if you want. By the way, Jesus’ skin was probably a different color than yours. Seek change because you are tired of the pain of resistance.

Bub’s Light

They still make fun of me today. I sat on his couch in his living room and rubbed my hands together while I watched them intently. It was like I concerned that they would spontaneously combust or something. I looked at the floor, walls, hands, anywhere but his eyes. I couldn’t look at the eyes of the man whom I was asking for his daughter’s hand. As beads of sweat formed on my forehead which, by the way, was much shorter at the time, he only smiled.

His smile was a service because, you would have probably laughed out loud at this spectacle.

He smiled because by this time it was really no secret. By this time, Jennifer and I were spending most of our non-working time together. By this time, I ate at his table almost every night. By this time, I was his helper on his various projects. By this time, I was his Walmart wingman. By this time he had already introduced me around at the hunting camp. By this time, I was already his third son. By this time, he knew all we lacked was a ring and a vow.

I wish you could have known him.

You would have liked Bubba because everybody else did. Going anywhere with Bub took longer because he knew EVERYBODY and each and every one of them liked him. He greeted everyone warmly even the strangers who were apparently visiting from another planet. He introduced me like I was some kind of royalty. He was so proud of me for reasons which continue to escape me now. With Bub, I always felt like a wealthy Widget mogul when we both knew I counted my Tom’s Chip coins in his basement.

Like my own dad, I learned service from Bub. He constantly provided his electrician skills to anyone who needed help. He would get old air conditioners and refrigerators for his service. He knew the value of service and the dignity of a widow-woman’s two Mites. Today we still use a stove Bub got in trade. He allowed me to help when I could. He loved the stories people told and few people knew that a little conversation and coffee after a job was all the payment he needed.

He left us almost a year ago now. There is darkness in this life but, Bub was full of light. Toward the end Bub had a Cardinal visit him from time to time on the Dogwood tree outside his window. There is a Cardinal that sings as I sit on the cinderblock steps in my front yard most mornings. I use that time, just as the sun comes up, to pray and meditate. Maybe its Bub’s Cardinal because I sometimes feel Bub’s presence as his Cardinal sings. Maybe Bub just asks God to send the Cardinal because he knows I miss him.