Category Archives: strange and wonderful ideas about life

The Last Night of the Leave

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On the last night of my son’s 14-day leave from the Marine Corps for the holidays, we took him out to eat and then saw a family movie together.  It was the Pixar movie Coco.  And what a perfect movie it was!  First of all, it is about family.  It is about the connections we have to those who’ve come before us.  Grandparents and Great Grandparents and Great Great Grandparents… the greatness just keeps flowing back into the past.  And this movie connected living family members to those who came before.

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We spent a lot of our time over the holiday visit talking about the past and those who came before us.  My kids didn’t really get much of a chance to know great grandparents in real life, and great great grandparents were long gone.  My son only knows about Great Great Grandpa Raymond through my stories about Sunday afternoon baseball, listening to Harmon Killebrew and the Twins playing on the radio with Grandpa Raymond.  Great Grandma Beyer got to hold Number One Son and Number Two Son, but only Number One was old enough to remember her at all, and that only in the vaguest possible ways.  I try to keep them alive with family stories and anecdotes.  Much in the same fashion the movie did, although the main character Miguel (ironically the Spanish version of Michael) actually visits the land of the dead.  I haven’t personally gone quite that far.

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The movie also expresses a deep genetic love of music, especially guitar music.  My kids are all musical, and both of my sons play guitar.  Number Two Son is particularly gifted in a Spanish-style ability to pick out complex tunes by ear and by sheet music.  The movie’s music is without question the thing that makes it the best movie we have seen this year.

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And the movie is filled to the brim with bright and appealing artwork, being an animated movie filled with Mexican art, even having a guest cameo appearance by the incomparable Frida Kahlo.  This is easily the best movie she has been in since she died in 1954.  The comedy of this whole extended skeleton dance of a movie is laugh-out-loud gorgeous.    And artwork is also something I share a love for with my three children.

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So I put him on an airplane in DFW today, and he is now back at his base.  But I had him here for a precious little while and we capped it off with a precious little movie. Now, I have to admit, this post is not entirely a movie review.  It is more about how my family made use of it and interacted with it.  It is more of a family story that I needed to tell to keep the goodness of it alive and vibrant, painted in bright colors.  But if you really want to know what I think of the movie, then I will shout at you, “YOU MUST SEE THIS MOVIE!!!”  With three exclamation marks and everything.  It is simply that good.

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Robins, Blue Jays, and Blackbirds

God talks to me through the birds.  I know that sounds crazy.  Only a loony man like Francis of Assisi could ever believe such a foolish thing, right?  But is is true.  I am aware of the birds around me at all times because birds have meaning, and when I need to see certain signs from God to center and redirect my life and spiritual awareness, God puts certain birds in my way, hoping that I will see them and interpret their meaning correctly.

This morning at QT I saw three different kinds of bird.  First I saw a robin while eating my QT pumpkin spice doughnut.  Then a blue jay on the ground hopped out from behind the corner of the building.  Then a pair of blackbirds flew down to watch the jay hunting through the grass.

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Robins are traditionally the bird of spring-time, the harbinger of the end of winter.  As a boy in Iowa, it was always a relief after the long cold winter to see the first robin of spring.  But it means more than that.  Robins are reliable.  They leave for the winter to parts south and always return to bring hope for relief from our troubles.  You can depend on robins to provide that service.  The robin I saw this morning, I saw in early December.  Winter is just beginning.  But Texas is a place where robins spend the winter.  God is telling me through the robin that my troubles are ending, easing into a metaphorical Spring and Summer.  And like the robin, God is asking me to continue being reliable for my family and everyone else who looks to me for signs of hope, candle flames in the darkness, and a return to spring.  How’s that for bird-brained thinking?

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Blue Jays are bullies and thieves.  If you have ever watched birds go about bird-business, and ever specifically watched blue jays do their jobs, then you already know they are bully birds.  A blue jay will arrive at the bird feeder and drive off the sparrows, finches, and chickadees.  They use their superior size to dominate the other birds, eating their fill before allowing the smaller birds their chance.  They are aggressive enough to land on your picnic table and snatch a McDonald’s French fry or six if you are not close enough to swat them.  And it was a blue jay that got me three times on the top of my head with her claws, diving at me like a dive bomber, when I was ten and didn’t realize that her chick had fallen out of her nest and sat shivering next to the sidewalk where I was walking.

Seeing the bird this morning was a reminder that there will be more aggressive folks on the sidewalk of life ahead of me that I will have to avoid.  But this blue jay did nothing but hunt the grass for himself.  He did not bother any other bird.  So relief from the aggression of others is at least possible.

And black birds are the most common sorts of birds to see.  But when you say, “black birds” what do you really mean?  Grackles, creeks, common grackles, starlings, magpies, and redwing blackbirds are all black birds, even though they couldn’t be more varied and different from each other.  The black birds I saw this morning were common grackles, which, of course, aren’t even truly black.  They have iridescent blue-green feathers on their heads that can reflect sunlight with neon blazes of color.  Black birds tend to be scavengers, trash-snatchers of the highest order that live on whatever they find. So they really feel that all business is their business. No trash bin left unattended, or bug that a blue jay scared up and then ignored, is beneath their notice.

So God is telling me to appreciate all those around me.  I should notice and record their many unique beauties  and skills and useful utilities.

There was good reason that Francis of Assisi preached to the birds.  They are always watching, always listening, and, if studied carefully, always telling us about God’s will.

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An Unexpected Gift 

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This post is a movie review for Thor : Ragnarok , though I don’t really plan on talking about the movie very much.   It was an excellent comic book movie in the same tongue-in-cheek comedy tradition as Guardians of the Galaxy.   It made me laugh and made me cheer.   It was the best of that kind of movie.  But it wasn’t the most important thing that happened that night.

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You see, I spent the weekend in the hospital thinking I had suffered a heart attack during the Thanksgiving holiday. I thought I was facing surgery at the very least.   I knew I might have had an appointment to play chess with the Grim Reaper.   It is a lot to worry about and drain all the fun out of life.

Well, one of the things that happened that day, Tuesday, my first full day out of the hospital and, hopefully, out of the woods over heart attacks, was that I received my new replacement bank card because my old one had a worn out, malfunctioning chip in it.  So, I took my three kids to the movie at the cheapest place we could find.  I tried to run my bank card for the payment, and it was summarily declined.  I had activated it previously during the day, and there was plenty of money in the account compared to the price, but it just wouldn’t take.  So I had to call Wells Fargo to find out whatever the new reason was for them to hate me.  It turned out that it had already been activated, but a glitch had caused it to decline the charge.  While I was talking to the girl from the Wells Fargo help desk, the lady who had gotten her and her husband’s tickets right before us put four tickets to the movie in my hand.

The middle-aged black couple had lingered by the ticket stand before going in to their movie just long enough to see a sad-looking old man with raggedy author’s beard and long Gandalf hair get turned down by the cheap-cinema ticket-taking teenager because the old coot’s one and only bank card was declined. They were moved to take matters into their own hands and paid for our tickets themselves.

That, you see, was the gift from my title.  Not so much that we got our movie tickets for free, but that the world still works that way.  There are still good people with empathetic and golden hearts willing to step in and do things to make the world a little bit better place.  The gift they gave me was the reassurance that, as bad and black as the world full of fascists that we have come to live in has become, it still has goodness and fellow feeling in it. People are still moved to pay things forward and make good on the promise to “love one another”.  I did not have a chance to thank them properly.  I was on the phone with Wells Fargo girl when it happened.  The only thing that couple got out of their good deed was thank-yous from my children and the knowledge that they had done something wonderful.  I plan to pay it forward as soon as I have the opportunity.  Not out of guilt or obligation, but because I need to be able to feel that feeling too at some point.

I do have one further gift to offer the world.

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After we got home from the movie, I opened an email that contained the cover proof for my novel, Magical Miss Morgan.  Soon I will have that in print also if I can keep Page Publishing from messing it up at the last moments before printing.  It is a novel about what a good teacher is and does.  It is the second best thing I have ever written.

Sometimes the gifts that you most desperately need come in unexpected fashion.

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My Precious Things

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The dawn tomorrow is a hoped-for event, not a promise, not a guarantee.  For some it will not come again.  But that is what life is for, to be lived.   You must find the value in living and wallow in it while it is yours, and you must measure it not by the world’s measuring stick, but your own.

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Looking at it mathematically with only the cold hard facts, my life has come to very little.  After teaching for parts of four decades, I was forced by ill health to retire from the job I loved.  As it will in this country where profits for corporations are more important than people’s lives, my personal fortune, that horde of wealth that is allotted for public servants like teachers, was absorbed by the health care and pharmaceutical industry, and health insurers managed to get away with paying out less than I put in through premiums for a lifetime.  After having to pay for the removal of the pool, and after having to go into bankruptcy because Bank of America decided to sue me instead of help in my debt resolution, I really have nothing left.  And if we can’t pay the property taxes that keep going up because the State is continually reducing funds to public schools, we may eventually lose the house.  Broke and homeless.  But they cannot take away my precious things.  It simply isn’t possible.

6a0120a6abf659970b01348734d01c970c-800wi   I saw a woman and her two kids getting breakfast at QT this morning.  The kids, a boy and a girl, were both wearing jackets and pajama pants.  They were both cute, and happy, and speaking Korean to each other.  And I realized after smiling at them with my goofy old coot grin, that I am not prejudiced in any way when it comes to other people.  They were Asian.  I notice details.  But that was an afterthought.  It really wouldn’t have mattered if they were black, white, purple, brown, or yellow.  (Though I have to admit I might’ve been slightly more fascinated by purple.)  Not being prejudiced is a precious thing.  It comes from a lifetime of working with kids of all kinds, and learning to love them while you’re trying to teach them to also have no prejudices.

And, of course, I still have my family.  I was a professional when it came to talking to kids, so I applied those professional skills to my own family as well.  I actually talk to my kids, and know them pretty well.  They have learned to draw and paint and tell stories from me, and may one day be better at it than I am.  They are musical and play instruments… and, hey!  Maybe we could form a family band!  All of those are also precious things.  Let’s see Bank of America try to take those things away from me.

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And it may have occurred to you by this point why I am thinking about precious things and using pictures of my sister’s favorite TV show from the 70’s.  We just lost a singer and actor from that show whose music meant a lot to my family once, and always will.

And he was not a lot older than me.  And his life was not easy either.  But he lived with music in his heart and artistry in his soul.  David, you will be missed.  But your precious things still benefit us.  And some of us will probably be seeing you again soon to thank you yet again.

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Aeroquest… Adagio 2 – Nebulons

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Adagio 2 – Nebulons

 

     I am one of the few Scientist/Historians ever to make a thorough examination of Nebulon physiology and culture. It helped that I lived with some of them for a while, even helping to raise a couple of very young ones. And unlike the cross-bred lizard-Russian-Galtorrian-Human idiots who were the superior authority and dominant race of the Galtorr Imperium, I didn’t try to belittle them as mere “Space Smurfs” and take their existence as a joke.  As a participant in the destruction of the Galtorr Imperium and the rise of the New Star League, I, Googol Marou, can speak with some authority on the subject of Nebulons.

Suffice it to say, the present shape of the Milky Way Civilization in the Orion Spur owes much to the nature of Space Smurfs.  They were critical to the Imperial defeat and the unification of the New Stars.  You will see more of that in this history, well, unless I inadvertently forget to tell you that part.  I have been known to get a bit absent-minded when my mind is on superior matters of science, or the baking of pies.  But I have to admit to my great shame, that I, like most Imperials, was prejudiced against the Nebulons at the start.  We thought them in many ways inferior because of their living technologies and small stature.  What we didn’t realize is that their neotyny, their child-like physical make-up, was evidence that they were indeed more advanced than we in an evolutionary sense.  They were also environmentally friendly, living in symbiotic peace with their living technology. Instead of exploiting worlds, as the humans and Galtorrians had done, they created new living environments.

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Now, my genetic inquiries proved that Nebulons were practically identical to Earthers.  They were capable of interbreeding with us without genetic manipulations.  That makes them more like us than a Galtorrian, even a crossbred Galtorrian/Human fusion.  They also possessed a few advantages we didn’t have.  The copper-sulfate-based pigments in their skins were originally caused by diet and exposure to nebula radiation.  It gave them immunity to radiation that was deadly to any other humanoid.  The bright yellow hair was apparently also due to exotic radiation exposure over centuries.  I formed a theory that Nebulons may have originated on Earth and evolved as they explored deep space, beyond the known stars of the Thousand Worlds.

Now, as to their culture, they center it around living organisms that function symbiotically.  Their spaceships are the Great Nebula Space Whales, those strange fish-shaped balloon-beings that apparently bred in the depths of mighty gas giant planets and migrated to the gaseous clouds of nebula space.  They are much the same size as an Imperial Dreadnaught, and can easily support 500,000 Nebulons in their oxygenated inner chambers.  They even have spaces in their heads where the Nebulon pilots can live and function, tickling nerve endings to get the space behemoths to fold space and jump light years in an instant.  Manipulating jump space is the same whether you do it with a massive photon drive, or the natural glands of a space whale.  It is a matter of using gravity to fold space at a weak point in the fabric of space, making a worm-hole to another part of space, usually no more than six parsecs distant (for those who are math-challenged, that means about nineteen and a half light years), and coming out of jump space at the end of a spider web-like trail that litters space with the cobwebs of interstellar travel.

Nebulons also make clothing of living tissue that keeps the body it surrounds at the proper temperature, and absorbs and digests all dirt, sweat, and dead skin cells.  Nebulon clothing is self-cleaning!  It also grows with the young to avoid the need for ever changing it.  I can’t wear Nebulon cloth without cringing, because I know what it really is, but I am told that if you get used to it, it is like a perfect second skin.

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Nebulons exhibit a child-like love for life, treasuring each others’ presence and having fun almost all the time.  I have come to find them truly endearing.  They rarely go to war with each other, and have to be seriously goaded into fighting by any potential enemy.  It turns out that it is a sad thing that we can’t all be more like Nebulons.  And to think we wasted all those centuries despising them for their differences!

 

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Sequel + Mania = Sequelania

I hate to spring another portmanteau word on you so soon after the atrocity that was “Hypocrasisyphus”, but I have been seriously putting things together that do not belong together.  For example, I have been binge-watching two Netflix series; Stranger Things 2 and The Punisher.   Stranger Things 2 is the sequel to the Duffer Brothers’ hit last year, Stranger Things, and The Punisher is the return of a surprise breakout role for Jon Bernthal as the violent vigilante anti-hero, Punisher, from Daredevil, Season 2.   ST2-Final_poster

I love the 80’s monster movie thing that is called Stranger Things mostly because of the kids.  I mean, the most important protagonists in the story are the gang of Dragon’s Lair-playing kids that are so like the gang of kids I taught and played games with in the 80’s.  They have the same cohesion and feel as the kids gangs in Steven Spielberg movies like the Goonies and E.T.   They are the real heroes of the story who actually do the most to defeat the monsters they face from a looming evil dimension on the verge of taking over our world after taking over the body and soul of my relative, Will Byers, one of the gang.

 

I won’t spend much more effort describing that one, since I wrote about Stranger Things 2 in a previous post.  Instead, I want to connect it to my most recent binge, The Punisher.  As I said before, these two series have absolutely no relationship to each other beyond one nutty retired school teacher bingeing on and loving them both.

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The Punisher is about war, violence, the trauma that those things create, and putting the shattered pieces of lives, families, and psyches back together again in a way that resembles making scrambled eggs from Humpty Dumpty.

The main character, Frank Castle, has been a special forces soldier with a talent for violence and a reasonable code of honor developed to combat unreasonable malevolence.

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He has come home from war after having been a part of a covert, CIA assassination squad that has done terrible things, in fact, things more terrible than even the soldiers themselves realize.

The result being, somewhere along the way, a toxic secret has gotten out.  Castle’s wife and two children are targeted and killed while Castle himself survives.  He seeks to put himself back together like the King’s men attempt to do with Humpty Dumpty, through revenge, and killing the people who killed his family, and the people who were part of the plot behind it.  Through two series he murders, assassinates, and otherwise exterminates bad guys, drug dealers, rogue agents, and others who have betrayed him in multiple ways.

But as mind-numbing and stomach-turning as the violence is, the story is about family.  The family that Castle lost.  And the family of the Edward Snowden-like character, Micro, who are still alive, but only because the NSA spook Micro is thought to be dead when he actually is alive and working against the same villains who killed Castle’s family.

And there are just enough scenes with family and guitar-playing moments of insight to convince us that Castle would’ve been a pretty great dad, if only he had been given the chance, thus amplifying the tragedy a hundred fold.  Aha!  There’s the unlikely link.  The two things are both about the struggle to raise kids in a dark and dangerous world.  I knew if I just twisted the puzzle pieces hard enough, I could make them fit together.

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I Love to Laugh

“Mickey, why can’t you be more serious the way smart people are?”

“Well, now, my dear, I think I take humor very seriously.”

“How can you say that?  You never seem to be serious for more than a few seconds in a row.”

“I can say it in a high, squeaky, falsetto voice so I sound like Mickey Mouse.”

“You know that’s not what I mean.”

“I can also burp it… well, maybe not so much since I was in junior high.”

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“I distinctly remember getting in trouble in Mrs. Mennenga’s third grade class in school for pantomiming pulling my beating heart out of my chest and accidentally dropping it on the floor.  She lectured me about being more studious.  But I made Alicia sitting in the row beside me laugh.  It was all worth it.  And the teacher was right.  I don’t remember anything from the lesson on adding fractions we were supposed to be doing.  But I remember that laugh.  It is one precious piece of the golden treasure I put in the treasure chest of memories I keep stored in my heart.”

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“I always listened to the words Groucho Marx was saying, even though he said them awfully fast and sneaky-like.  I listened to the words.  Other characters didn’t seem to listen to him.  He didn’t seem to listen to them.  Yet, how could he respond like he did if he really wasn’t listening?  In his answers were always golden bits of wisdom.  Other people laughed at his jokes when the laugh track told them to.  I laughed when I understood the wisdom.”

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“Laughing is a way of showing understanding.  Laughing is a way of making yourself feel good.  Laughing is good for your brain and your heart and your soul.  So, I want to laugh more.  I need to laugh more.  I love to laugh.”

 

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