Look What I Found

Yeah, okay, I must apologize for the lengthy silence. It’s been a rough semester ’round these parts. I promise, new blog posts will start rolling out soon!

In the meantime, the fine folks at The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature were kind enough to publish an essay of mine in their spring issue. You might like it, it’s in the same vein (pun intended) as most of the stuff I post here. Check it out, it’s called “An Eye Patch and a Grainy, Orange Keyboard.”

And again, I will start posting a bit more regularly in early March.

Until next time,

Peace!

The Typical, Welcomed House Guest Aura

Yes, I know, it’s been a couple of weeks. Forgive me, I sorta went off the grid over the holidays and have been a bit reluctant at rejoining society. You know how society is, there are large swaths of it that can be less than appealing; segments that make you cringe and look away; individuals so cold-hearted, selfish, and deluded they render BSC reasonable. Given that state of society, why rush, right?

Speaking of society, guess what I got for Christmas (for my writing students: that’s called a weak segue). I got an eighteen year old, five foot two, ninety-five pound bundle of estrogen and various other hormones, emotions, and hot-water-draining energy. My wife and I have a son, a thirty year old son. So, it’s been a while since we’ve done the whole teenager-in-the-house thing. Equal emphasis on the son part. Trust me, I was, and still am, ill-equipped to be the responsible party when it comes to kids of any age, let alone teenagers. And when the new houseguest is a female teenager? Let’s just say it’s been a learning experience so far.

Now, at this point you may be wondering exactly how it is we ended up with an eighteen year old female living with us. On one hand, it’s the proverbial long story. On the other hand, if I told you the details, you’d never believe them. On yet another hand (look, if you did know all the details, three hands would not only seem plausible, but normal), refer to my previous comment about the unappealing aspects of society and you’ll have a good enough idea of the why and how.

Whatever the reason (my suspicion is that karma is somehow involved), our new addition arrived a few weeks before Christmas. At first, the typical welcomed house guest aura settled over us. You know how it works: the towels are here, glasses here, computer’s in here, I’m up around 5:30, Terri rises at the elegant hour of eight, sometimes nine, occasionally ten, do you eat breakfast, let us know if you need anything else. Good night. Wait. I remembered eighteen. I gave her the benefit of the doubt and didn’t say anything more, but made a precautionary count of my beers and eye-balled the liquor levels.

After a couple of weeks, the welcomed house guest aura morphed into something akin to an extended distant-relative stay. Technically, this aesthetic rang true, as our new bundle of teenage joy and my wife are related. This phase didn’t last long. It ended abruptly on a late Saturday afternoon. Our new house guest had plans, as did Terri and I. Everybody needed a shower.

Normally, I don’t give much thought to taking a shower. For the past ten years or so, I knew that when Terri showered first, there’d be plenty of re-heated hot water by the time she finished her post shower extra-curriculars (exfoliating, extrapolating, applying creams, gels, and ointments, reading War and Peace, whatever women normally do in the process of “getting ready”). Even though I majored in English, I can do basic math. And I do teach logic in my comp courses. You’d think I’d have said, “Hey, there are two women in the house. One of those is a teenager with a date. Logic dictates multiplying the hot water usage by two and doubling the re-heating time.” One also would think this simple matter would’ve crossed my mind before the water temperature sent me to the verge of hypothermia, but no. I’m convinced the only thing that saved me from frostbite was the fact that all appendages and extremities somehow, miraculously retracted inside my body before the glacial liquid took its toll.

At this point, to reference the Bard, the gild was off the lily.

I’m not that bright, but I catch on quickly. It takes some planning as far as the rest of your day, but a hot shower around 2 o’clock Saturday afternoon is worth the sacrifices. That’s not all I’ve learned. In a little over a month, month and a half, we’ve been through boyfriend drama, boyfriend breakup, boyfriend reuniting, then breakup number two. They didn’t tell me about the second one for a couple of days. I liked the guy. Yes, I was hurt a little. Oh, and the new “they.” I’d forgotten that with Taylor, me and him were the “they.” Now, I’m outnumbered by the additional X chromosomes in the house. They’re plotting, I can feel it.

There’s a lot of gleeful squealing during phone conversations, a lot more talking in general. Terri and I had settled into old-couple-in-a-restaurant mode, able to have full and enriching conversations consisting of grunts, nods, facial contortions and nothing more. Now, it’s like, using words and all, like, to talk and stuff, like, you know? On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve discovered there’s a certain exhilaration, a sense of adventure even, when it comes to navigating rapidly changing moods.

I’m settling in, though, acclimating, so to speak. It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve come downstairs to find flames leaping from the stove burner covers and the ensuing smell has nearly dissipated. I’ve accepted that a teenage girl’s bathroom, unlike the previous “male teenager” experience of one washcloth and one towel for weeks on end, is filled with many, many things that are apparently critical to said species’ day-to-day existence. I’m at peace knowing that I understand even less about teenage girls than I do women of my own age.

And you know what? That’s okay. It’s more than okay. Baby Girl—yes, she already has a nickname—makes me smile. She makes me laugh, too. We’re bonding—she doesn’t like Beiber anymore than I do. I find myself worrying about her, hoping she has a good day, hoping she finds kindness and compassion, hoping she stops, breathes in—breathes out, and appreciates the beauty and joy in the world around her even when it’s sometimes hard to see it, even when society tries to blot it from her sight. Yeah, maybe this crusty old hippie has a soft spot, but it doesn’t really feel like an extended distant-relative stay at our house anymore. Feels more like family. Feels like a pretty good Christmas present.

The Old Hippie’s Heart Breaks…

Normally, anything I post to this blog is rooted in humor and satire. Not so today. My heart breaks for the people in Connecticut directly affected by this latest shooting. Children. Children. At school, no less. Children

We all know what comes next, we know it all too well. The endless questions. The analyzing. The TV specials. Those railing in support of the 2nd Amendment, those against. Those shouting we should enforce the laws already on the books; the fervently religious clamoring that if God were allowed in schools this would not have happened.

I’m sick of it all.

For the record—I’m an over fifty, white, Southern male. I own guns, both pistols and long guns. While I no longer hunt, having made a conscious and long-considered decision to stop several years ago, I did hunt for most of my life. I have a healthy distrust of government and fully support the 2nd Amendment as it was originally intended. This latest shooting will not change any of that for me, personally. I have no intention of selling or destroying my guns.

What sickens me is that society—you, me, all of us, each of us, has devolved to the point that this sort of thing keeps occurring. We have become so wrought in an us-versus-them mentality that we’re quickly losing all compassion for our fellow Man. Somehow, taking a gun, car, a bomb, words, whatever, and lashing out and harming others appears as a viable solution, an option for our side. Left versus Right. Capitalists versus Socialists. Christians versus every “religion” that’s not Christian. Israelites versus Palestinians. The Haves versus the Have-Nots. Rich versus Poor. The secessionists versus the Union. Unions versus Right-to-Work. Versus, versus, versus… It’s disgusting.

Leading up to this last election, on-going still, is the discussion of the direction in which our country is heading. Look at Newtown, Connecticut. Where we’re headed? That’s where we are.

My hope—if any hope can remain after another senseless shooting—is that all the pundits, the talking heads, the Fox News’ and CNN’s, the liberals and conservatives, the gun proponents and the anti-gun coalitions, the religious zealots and the atheists, will finally realize that theirs is only doctrine and dogma. My hope is that each contingency, regardless of their “us-versus-them” allegiance, can embrace some sliver of compassion, some parcel of rationale, and admit that it is entirely possible that their position doesn’t have all the right answers. That maybe, just maybe, our actions are often barbaric, and we Americans—as a society—legitimize those actions in grandiose fashion. My fear is that the richest, most prosperous, most successful country on this planet has so isolated its citizens into pods of like-agreement and us-speak that we prefer spouting our doctrines and dogmas over actually compromising to solve anything.

Stopping shootings such as this? It doesn’t lie in striking down the 2nd Amendment. It doesn’t lie in arming everyone to the hilt as a deterrent. It doesn’t lie in holding one religion or philosophy as the ultimate truth at the expense of all other viewpoints and pathways.

No, it lies in treating all beings with some degree of compassion. It lies in asking all those questions that will inevitably follow the Connecticut shooting for the next days and months before an occurrence, not after. It lies in reaching out.

It’s not complicated, people, unless we make it so.

When Willie Shows Up in Your Dream…

Yes, it’s that time of year. First, we have the date 12/12/12, and of course, everybody’s excited about the Mayan calendar’s approaching world end date of 12/21/12. Throw in the Geminid Meteor Shower on 12/13/12 and it must create some kind of universal trifecta. Some pyramid portal that’s responsible for letting in all these crazy dreams I’ve been having lately.

I fancy myself a writer (yes, I’m aware very few others think likewise, but I always received a check plus in the “entertains himself” column). We writer-types are highly in-tune to these cosmological signs, so in-tune that we perpetuate the myth that these signs are actually proof of a muse, and if one does not have a muse, then…well…one is simply not a real writer, but is instead, a muse-less writer. Muse-less writers are doomed to forever scribble only fan-fiction, or worse, get a job. If both of those fail, the muse-less writer begins reeling off vampire or S&M fiction and listening to Justin Beiber. When that happens, we real writers call them sell-outs and hacks, unethical capitalists preying on the helpless and unknowing masses, somehow duping those masses into buying their little books and therefore, getting paid for their….their…writing. But, I digress.

I was talking about dreams and writers. Me? I rarely dream, at least not that I remember. I go long stretches, months and months, without recalling a single dream. So, when one presents itself with any clarity, I assume it contains a message from the other side. You know, some cryptic yet deeply existential truth whose message ultimately turns out to be “don’t eat jalapeño poppers dipped in Sriracha an hour before bed.” Or something more practical, such as “buying a veggie burrito out of the back of that guy’s van at the Widespread show may not have been a pragmatic choice on a school night.”

But lately, the frequency and intensity of these dreams has increased, so it has to mean something. It started a month or so back. Nothing significant, at first. I’d wake with a start, vaguely aware I’d been dreaming, but not able to remember anything. I’d plod to the bathroom then try to summon the dream’s return as I drifted back to sleep…always to no avail. Next, it increased to once a night and I could grab snippets of the scenes when I awoke, even remembered them the next morning, but fractured and disjointed, never enough to translate.

The past week or so, things have gotten out of control. I’m awake three or four times a night, which means three or four trips to the bathroom. I’m not eating anything strange, I’m not eating late at night, but still the dreams. The scenes aren’t that weird or bizarre by dream standards, no Inception stuff, no Nightmare on Elm Street. Nope, not the first hint of sex, no trains and tunnels, no hotdogs chasing doughnuts, no Jamie Lee Curtis, no Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island, nothing.

Instead, I get random but normal people coming up to me, asking to borrow $789 dollars for a variety of reasons. Exactly $789. One was starting a business. Who knows what kind of business you can start for exactly seven-hundred-and-eighty-nine bucks. I knew I was dreaming, but didn’t think to ask. Another needed brakes. Still another wanted to buy books, lots of books. The same book. My book. Naturally, I wanted to help, but I had no wallet.

One night, homeless people—I assumed they were homeless because of the cardboard boxes and shopping carts—tried to catch salmon as they swam upstream to spawn. The shopping carts lined the opposite bank of the stream, snaked out of sight into the thick woods beyond the rushing water. The people used the cardboard boxes to catch the fish when they leaped, then dumped them into the nearest cart, where the salmon flipped and flopped until they escaped and slid back into the water, only to be caught again. I thought of Sisyphus, then got up to pee. I got up a lot that night. My subconscious apparently has a twisted sense of humor, offering up all that rushing water.

The best one, I had a couple of times. I stood in line at a Bojangles restaurant. It was a long line and it stretched behind me, out the door, and down the street. You’d’ve thought the Fundamentalist had heard Foghorn Leghorn was gay and Bojangles supported his coming out, there were so many people. I carried a sign, but it had a huge picture of broccoli on one side and a peace sign on the other. The line moved forward, one person at a time. When I could see behind the counter, I recognized Willie Nelson. He’d nod and smile at each customer, then turn and pick up a piece of chicken and a biscuit, drop them in a box and send them on their way.

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Needless to say, the closer I got, the more excited I became. It was Willie, after all, the Red Headed Stranger himself. When my turn arrived, I moved up and Willie turned his back to me, going for the chicken. I reached forward, but when he turned back around, it was Ric Ocasek from the Cars. Trust me, that was not “just what I needed.”

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What does it mean when Willie Nelson shows up in your dreams? More importantly, what does it mean when Willie’s replaced by Ric Ocasek in that dream? I don’t know, but for some reason I’ve been considering the possibility of writing a YA vampire, S&M book that first appears as fiction but ultimately morphs into a biography that unveils Justin Beiber as the main character.

Everything Your Student Needs to Know About Final Exams

This Old Hippie is feeling slightly refreshed and blissful of late. It’s a combination of things—an enjoyable Thanksgiving spent with family, the new music project is shaping up nicely, and most importantly—five days away from campus. As always, I try to stay in the moment, but I know a stark interruption to this calm lurks. That stark interruption is known by many names, several of which cannot be spoken, but the generic, speak-able term is “end of the semester,” and I can feel it approaching.

Those of you who’ve been reading along for several months (thank you) might remember the post at the beginning of the semester called The REAL Top Ten List Every Freshmen Needs To Know. In that post, I offered a behind-the-scenes-view-from-an-educator’s-perspective list for parents and freshmen that I hoped would provide a realistic idea of how to approach their first semester at college. Well, this is the time of the semester when we find out who paid attention. Ah-ha, didn’t know there’d be a test, did you? Therein lays the problem, literally. Yep, you guessed it—exam time. And, after offering sage advice to begin the semester, I would be remiss to not offer a few comments for ending a semester. So, here’s the REAL top ten list every undergrad needs to survive exams.

1.    Number One on the “Freshmen Needs” list explained that college profs’ have their degrees and therefore already know all the crap discussed in class and that it’s the student’s job to know it too. Thus, the final exam. Tip number one—if you don’t know it, don’t try and fake it. Your professors have listened to every pitiful excuse imaginable all semester. They’ve attended countless departmental and committee meetings. They have read essay after essay after essay filled with sentences like “The ballerina rose en point and raised one slender leg behind her like a dog at a fire hydrant.” They are tired, irritable, over-worked, under-appreciated, and frankly, at this point in the semester, are searching for someone, anyone on whom they can take out their frustrations. BS’ing an essay answer on the final puts that target squarely on you, dear student. Just admit you don’t know by writing “I have absolutely no idea what the answer is and beg for your mercy, oh Wise One.” Odds are you’ll get more points for the honesty.

2.   Yes, the library is filled with knowledge and yes, my first list implored you to take advantage of that most fabulous building and those employed therein. It happens every semester about this time… All of you wandering around the building with that squid-like look on your faces, staring mouth-gaped at row after row of reference materials, numbly asking: “Where are the bathrooms at?” (and blinking in utter confusion when we reply, behind the preposition). You need to understand that knowledge rarely happens via osmosis by spending one week in the library at the end of the semester. And yes, yes, a paper on legalizing marijuana is a fantastic choice for that ten page sourced paper due tomorrow, the one your prof said should be argumentative, unique, and insightful. But no, producing your backpack smuggled bong in the Library’s quiet study area and then sparking it does not constitute research.

3.   Number Three on the original list suggested that attending class was a good idea. If you failed to heed that advice, be sure to have your student ID handy when you show up for the final. Sure, Mommy and Daddy always said you were special, but just because you showed up to the first day of class, and two other times, does not mean your professor will remember you now. Although, while that professor is putting so many red marks on your final it’ll look like Santa’s overcoat, he or she will probably mutter, “my, my (pause to flip back and check the name), Joshua is so special.” So, essentially, Mommy and Daddy were right. Remind them of that next semester as you are explaining what academic probation means.

4.   Remember how, in the original list, I explained Thursday nights were “college nights” at every bar in every college town throughout the land? Well, if you’ve spent the semester conducting an independent study at said establishments on each and every one of those Thursday nights, you’ll be disappointed to learn that an exam for aforementioned independent study is not, contrary to popular belief around the beer pong table, offered on Reading Day. On a related rumor-dispelling note, no quality points are offered for spending Reading Day hammered, either.

5.   Being relaxed, confident, and prepared are essential components of a successful final—oh, who the hell am I kidding? Re-read point number one above. Pay close attention to the sentence, “They are tired, irritable, over-worked, under-appreciated, and frankly, at this point in the semester, are searching for someone, anyone on whom to take out their frustrations.” As a student, that’s everything you need to know as final exams approach. If you haven’t put in the effort up to this point, don’t bother now. In fact, skip the final altogether, it’ll be one less for your professor to grade and when you re-take the class, perhaps the professor will remember and appreciate this simple kindness. Trust me, no professor wants to read “…and that forms a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently pressed in a Thigh Master” in your blue book essay answer.

See? Now look. I knew it. No more blissfulness. Gone. And I have a stack of research papers to grade before final exams. Oh well. But hey, “Christmas time’s a-coming.” That means a break of nearly three weeks. Relaxation. Bourbon. Quiet. Bourbon. Yes, I said bourbon twice, spring semester’ll be here before you know it…

Until next time, Peace!

Let Uhaul Help You Secede

This Old Hippie is confused. What’s new, right? I started seeing Facebook posts this week about twenty states petitioning to secede from the Union. I know it’s wrong to assume things, but I assume this action is a reaction to the election outcome. I make this assumption based on the Facebook “signs” and a few requests I’ve been sent. “Help Texas Seeceed.” “Sign this Petitition to let North Carolina succeed.” “Make Georgia Interdepent.”

The list I saw included twenty states: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. In a fit of intelligent rage, the state of Georgia filed twice.

Now let’s think about this a minute. Sure, it sounds crazy at first. Sounds like a slap in the face to what made this country such a great place, a United place. A place where “give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free,” is a metaphor that provides the foundation of the American Dream.  You know what’s not written on that poem at the Statue of Liberty? Not a single line about give us your stupid. Nope, not a word.

So, maybe it’s time to reconsider. Maybe these folks clamoring to secede are on to something. After all, it’s obvious the national mandate of No Child Left Behind has been an educational failure, but then again, maybe there was no bubble marked “the correct spelling of secede is secede” on the standardized test in those states. And who wouldn’t want to see Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina secede and form College Football Nation? Outside of that (and New Orleans) what do they really contribute? Pecans, alligators, peaches…maybe, but then there’s Duck Dynasty and Honey Boo Boo.

As far as Texas and Florida, folks they’ve been gone for quite some time now, we may as well make it official. Give us Austin, and the Conch Republic and we’re good. Tennessee? They should be banished for what they’ve done to country music. Kentucky, if you insist you can go, but at least let the good people of the Appalachians opt out, we’d love to have them. But leave the bourbon. North Dakota and Montana? Okay, the one hundred and three white people can leave, the Crow and Sioux and Cheyenne never wanted you there anyway.

Missouri? Show me. You told Disney he had to sell beer at his little park, and how’d that work out for you? And if you must go, please take Todd Akin with you.

Et tu, New Jersey? The Boardwalk’s cool, and we all love Springsteen, Atlantic City has its seedy appeal. But Snooki? The Situation? See ya.

Michigan and Indiana? Really? Are you sure? Where will you go? They grow corn in Iowa, too, you know. And what about you Arkansas? It’s Huckabee, isn’t it? Yeah, maybe it’s best if you go. New York, Oregon…oh at this point, why not? As far as my state, North Carolina…well, give me enough time to get to Asheville. It might be full of faux hipsters, Wiccans, and weirdos, but there’s plenty of old hippies, so I’ll be right at home. And Colorado? Put down the bong, you’re not making any sense.

Nope, I don’t get it, don’t understand it at all. Grandaddy always said if you ain’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, and the way I see it, that pretty much applies in this case. As far as all these people going to all the trouble to file petitions and go through the process of secession—well, isn’t that a little hypocritical? If you really don’t want any part of this country, of our democracy, of our melting part, then why bother filling out the government forms of the very government you’re railing against? Let Uhaul help you secede. Their process is much more streamlined. Feel free to rent one of their fine trucks and secede until your angry heart is content. The rest of us got this, we’ll stand here United, differences intact, problems to overcome, but United. And we’ll move forward.

Until next time, Peace!

The Electoral College Doesn’t Have Frats…

Apparently, there’s an election next week. Wait, don’t run away, this is not a political post. Well, it is, but it’s not the standard robo-call, mud-slinging, fact-twisting plea to which we’ve become so accustom over the past year. It’s not a written appeal to vote for Obama and more of the same or for Romney and whatever his positions are today this morning at the moment in the first part of the sentence he’s currently saying. No, it’s not that at all.

See, once one becomes an Old Hippie, one occasionally experiences a certain…shall we say, not wisdom, but perhaps, clarity. In one of those recent Carlos Castaneda-like moments, I discovered the perfect plan to end Congressional grid-lock, to render the party-line filibuster obsolete, and most importantly, to spare us reasonably intelligent and rational thinking Joes and Janes from all the crap slung at us during election season, which now seems to begin six weeks after the last election.

The problem is rooted in the current two-party system, you see. It’s created some sort of apocalyptic yin and yang that, instead of a balancing of good and evil, positive and negative forces, has become a struggle between stupid and ignorant. This struggle, combined with the instant access technology allows and the de-evolution of actual, un-biased journalism, has produced a bevy of candidates that frequently make us want to wash our hands repeatedly after voting. Or should, anyway.

So, here’s the plan…

First, re-configure the whole Electoral College. Don’t know what that is? Don’t worry, no one really does. You’ll probably hear A LOT about it over the next week, though. From what I can tell, it’s not an actual college. Let’s make it one. Let’s round up a couple hundred of the best minds in the country—specialist in economics, foreign affairs, social issues, history, the zombie apocalypse—and then hire the duo Shovels and Rope (just because they’re the best, smartest band currently making American Roots Music…yeah, I said it Beiber, and you can tell that Swift girl the same) to oversee the whole bunch. Make it an actual college.

Then, we do away with the current method of electing our officials. Instead of people running for office (people who invariably, as a whole, tend to be former lawyers, used car salesmen, descendants of life-long politicians, sharks, or amoebas), our Senators, our Representatives, our local leaders, even our President, are selected through a blind lottery. Take everyone’s social security number, put ‘em in a hopper, give it a spin, and start drawing numbers. Everybody spends three years studying at the new Electoral College (we’ll need to ban frats and sororities at the college, and no football team, but cool Belushi-esque apparel with ELECTORAL COLLEGE printed on it will be available for everyone).

After matriculating from college (students are assessed on the T-Ball scale: everyone plays, everyone gets a trophy, and everyone graduates) and depending on the branch to which they were selected, individuals serve between two and six years in office. During that time, they collect whatever salary they had when selected, be it that of a pizza deliverer (see, English and Art majors, in this plan there is a place for you, too), mule-skinner, double-naught spy, or certified brain surgeon, and their job is held for them until they return from service. Unemployed? Not a problem, you can still suck at the teat of whatever government program might remain until your stint is done.

Sounds crazy at first, but think about. No more attack ads, no more robo-calls. We won’t have to lie to those poll surveys any more. No debates, no spin, no playing fast and loose with facts. Risky? Sure. But whose opinion on the job situation is more realistic, the guy laid-off from the Orangutan Condom Factory or a guy who received a 45 million dollar trust simply for being born? Right now, look at the person next to you. Even if they’re sitting there slack-jawed and drooling, flicking that angry bird across the screen, listening to Justin Beiber through those stupid ear buds, don’t you think that person has a better idea of how we common folks live than the bunch currently in DC?

I know, I know, but we can wish, can’t we? But who knows, maybe this idea will spread. Maybe, just maybe, some candidate will run in 2016 on this very platform. But, we have to somehow survive this election. So, do your homework, verify their platforms, conduct a little research, before you punch that ballot next Tuesday. And come next Wednesday, remember, it’s always just as Greg Lake told us it would be, “the Christmas we get, we deserve.”

Until next time, Peace!

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