Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Case of Mayor Bob's Oddly Green Colon

I unashamedly admit that I used to be a hardcore fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the one with Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean Luc Piccard, with Data, Troy, LeForge, Riker, and Worf. In one episode, a god-like character named “Q” takes the Enterprise and her crew to the beginning of life, that period of time where cells came alive and divided, giving them a glimpse into the primordial soup that eventually ended up as humans.

I have heard the term “going postal,” or the more up to date term “going educational,” since it first exploded (pardon the pun) into pop culture. Last week, though “Q” didn’t pay me a visit, I believe I got a glimpse into how such wildly violent episodes begin. Let me set the stage:

We had just returned from Virginia from two funerals (Myra’s grandparents). Just before our departure, I put our van in for an oil change…let’s be clear—an oil change. One alternator, two pinched belts and $520 later, we got our van back. While the van was in for its, ahem, oil change, I leaned against the kitchen counter wondering what else could go wrong. Looking up, I got my answer.

Let me be brief: one attic heating and air system, two malfunctioning overflow pans, five gallons of water through a wall and two ceilings in four rooms. Need I say more?

Let’s see, oh yeah, Nikki got sick and puked on my legs.

I also got word that a friend and Citadel classmate had inoperable cancer and was not expected to live through the week. (He died Sunday).

Then I walked out of my house and sitting on my trash roll cart was a fluorescent green tag. I, according to my city’s zoning police, had put my trash cart out too early. I am subject to a $500 fine and confiscation of my roll cart and would have to pay $75 to get it back.

My fair city has a $28 million budget shortfall. It has had three incompetent city managers in five years. It has had one incompetent police chief (who got promoted to city manager) and another chief who disobeyed his own procedural rules and left under fire. It has not closed its financial books in the past three years, does not know how much money it actually has or owes, has paid some of its bills twice and some never. For three years, we gave more than $300,000 to a music festival that never made one penny’s profit. Our state police staged a raid and seized our own water plant for forging records on water purity.

And yet my too early roll cart is the biggest problem it has for the present.

Alexey, my 11-year-old son, asked me the other day what I would change about my growing up if I could. I told him I was always an appeaser and I wish I would have learned a lot earlier in my life to tell people who pissed me off to go to hell.

It may have taken me longer than most, but that’s the message I left my mayor on his answering machine right after I told him where he could shove his little green sticker. I left him my name and address in case he wanted to discuss it. Mr. Emerson had it right when he said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

Beam me up, Scotty. There is no intelligent life in city hall.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hitler and the Pole Dancer

My sister and my mother-in-law both tried to warn me. Several of my friends with older children tried their best to tell me, too. “Watch what you say in front of your kids. They soak it up like sponges.” But did I listen? Of course not.

Thus we have these nuggets from the last week:

As many of you know, my wife’s grandparents died within a week of each other. We drove to Virginia for both funeral services and stayed at one of the new “suite” hotels that are all the rage. It had an indoor pool and we had about a half dozen kids aged 2-12 years old with all the assembled family. My daughter asked to go swimming and by asked I mean she jumped up and down tugging her mother’s shirt sleeve, yelling, “Pleeeeeeeeeease?” When Myra said yes, my daughter was naked in a flash, ready to put on her swimsuit.

We have kidded Nikki for years about becoming a pole dancer due to her “heightened” sense of fashion, shall we say. Once she came down stairs wearing knee high black patent leather boots, a cheerleader skirt that was way too short, and a top that on an older girl would have been aptly called a sports bra. She expected to go to the mall this way. I said to her, “Nikki, a hooker from Jersey just called. She wants her clothes back.”

“Huh?” she said. She wasn’t listening, but apparently, my son was.

When she so rapidly took off her clothes in the hotel room to get ready to go swim, I said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody get naked that fast.”

My son Alexey—dry wit that he is—said, “Yeah. That’ll serve you well in your later career.” She stuck her tongue out at him and got in her bathing suit.

At the funeral home, the half dozen cousins were sitting down waiting to be ushered in the chapel. Nikki had been in to see Grandpa in his casket, a decision we didn’t make lightly. When she came out tears in her eyes, she sat beside a cousin and said, “Grandpa is in Heaven. Jesus is taking care of him.”

The cousin very pointedly said, “Uh-uh…Jesus is a baby, so who’s taking care of him, huh??” Theology 101 or perhaps one too many viewings of Talladega Nights.

Later one of the adults told me that Nikki, still a bit teary-eyed, sat down beside her and said, “Grandpa fought in World War I against Hitler. Grandpa is in Heaven, but Hitler is in hell ‘cause he killed 600 people.” (Math is not her strong suit).

At least she listened this time.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Goodbye to The Colonel and the Lady

I usually try to be funny on these postings. With every other blogger weighing in on everything from politics to the economy, who needs another uninformed rant? But today I want to take a minute to honor a couple of people. There’s no humor here—sorry to disappoint.

It’s been a tough week for my wife who has lost her paternal grandmother and paternal grandfather within a week of each other. Homer and Betty Frailey were married nearly 30 years. They were divorced just as long. Every wedding and graduation in the family had the potential to be a tense affair—at least that’s what the rest of us thought—but these were classy people who appreciated what most of us often don’t realize: it was never about them. The events were about the people at the center of them.

Lt. Col. Homer Frailey, USAF (Ret.) was a hero. He served in not only WWII, but also Korea and Vietnam. As a friend of mine likes to say, you can only poke a snake so many times before you get bit. Grandpa put his life on the line in not one, but three wars—not police actions, not “conflicts,” but full blown wars—for us, for our liberty, for us to have the ability to live with a reasonable certainty of safety, for us to have the freedom to go to a park, a mall, a ballgame, or even to hold a protest sign against the very country he fought for. That’s what heroes do. But you’d never know it. He was as humble a man as you’d ever want to meet, even if his jokes were corny. He never expected accolades or congratulations for doing what he saw simply as his duty. Heroes never do.

Betty Frailey was a firecracker of a woman. She may have minced meat for a pie, but she never minced words. Grandma had a presence about her. She was no nonsense, direct, and suffered no fools, but she was also a loving, compassionate, pillar of strength. She liked confidence and if you had it, she loved you. She was a hero, too. After eschewing a career for herself to get transferred from one air base to the next in every part of the word, or worse yet, after having to stay behind to raise four hellion, er…rambunctious boys while her husband went to war, Betty discovered upon her divorce that she was not entitled to any of her ex-husband’s military benefits. She didn’t think that was fair, and though she never benefitted personally, she testified before the United States House of Representatives to help gain spousal benefits for those who followed her. She never told me that story. She never told me how good of a swimmer she was, or how she taught swimming to hundreds of kids. She never told me she was a lifetime volunteer with the American Red Cross. Why? Because she never made it about her.

It just wouldn’t be a blog of mine without some humor, so now that Grandma’s gone, maybe it’s okay to confess. After our wedding reception, with the bubbly still flowing, Grandma wanted to see what presents Myra and I got. She unwrapped every one. The problem was she separated the cards from the gifts. So if you got a very impersonal, “Thank you for our wedding gift. We always wanted one,” note from us, now you know why.

Colonel, thank you for a lifetime of service. Thank you for our freedom. Grandma, thank you for always making feel a part of your family. Thank you for always telling it like it is. We’ll miss you greatly. May God bless you both.