Of Blind Men and Elephants

You’re probably familiar with the Indian parable of the blind men and the elephant. If not, here’s a synopsis: a group of blind men encounters an elephant for the first time, and attempt to describe it. Each man can only feel one part of the elephant – one the tusk, one the tail, one the leg, one the trunk. And in describing their experiences, they come to wildly different conclusions. One, who touched the tail, said the elephant was like a snake. Another, who wrapped his arms around the leg, said no, the elephant was like a tree trunk. The one with the tusk said, no you’re both wrong… it’s like a smooth piece of wood.

In some variations of the tale, the disagreement becomes so heated, the men actually come to blows, and accuse each other of dishonesty because the shared experience was so different for each man. Not one of them had the complete picture, even though each thought he did.

The elephant and the blind men is a fairly good metaphor for the predictable outcry following the latest school shooting, in which 17 people lost their lives in Parkland, Florida. Everyone has a different view of the problem, but no one can truly identify it. Some say it’s a mental health issue. Some blame guns, and cry for “sensible gun control.” Some say it’s all because of the breakdown of society. And, just like the blind men and the elephant, each is partially right, but for some reason, seem to resist trying to put it all together. So people on all parts of the political spectrum point fingers, argue about what the problem really is, and scream “SOMEBODY DO SOMEHING!”

But do what, exactly? This is not a problem with a simple solution. There is not one single thing that can be done which will substantially make one bit of difference. Some people point at lawmakers, furious because they either lack the “courage” to “do something,” or because they are all in the pockets of the NRA.

Both of these views are simplistic and naive. Do you really believe that, if a member of Congress could come up with a magic one-size-fits-all solution, he or she would not do it? Do you really believe that not one member of Congress, who has received any sort of donation from the NRA wouldn’t put forth legislation of some sort – if any such legislation would work?

Or, we could ban the AR-15, because nobody needs an assault rifle. Okay, great. Ban ’em. Outlaw their sale. Now, you can feel good because you’ve done something. Problem is, there are all those AR-15s still out there. Not to mention more than 300,000,000 other guns.

No! We have to repeal the 2nd Amendment! Confiscate all guns from everyone!

Good luck with that. The most law-abiding citizens would likely give up their guns without resistance. But how many officers of the law will be killed when they go to confiscate those guns? How many people will hide their firearms? And we’re only talking about legally-purchased weapons. Oh, I’m sure the bad guys will give up their guns right away! Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a fair fight, because only the law-abiding citizens, legally owning guns will be disarmed.

Australia has often been cited as a country in which gun control was successful. Well, not so fast. There was a voluntary gun buy-back program in Australia, which was moderately successful. Then, a violent black market in guns blossomed.

It’s society’s fault! We need to take a close look at mental health laws, and DO SOMETHING! What, exactly? Okay, people with a serious mental health problem should not be able to get their hands on guns. Fine. How do you implement that? We can start with strict laws and background checks. Sure. That’ll do the trick.

It’s social media! It’s because we’ve taken God out of our schools! It’s because of bullying! It’s because the American family is falling apart!

Who’s right? Everyone. Every single blind man touching a different part of the elephant is right in his or her part of a shared experience. But everyone is wrong too. We like our problems to have simple, “DO SOMETHING” solutions. There are problems, however to which there is no simple solution.

The first thing we have to do is quit pointing fingers of blame. We have to realize that there is no simple solution. Then we must calm down, and accurately describe the elephant. We all want the same thing. We all want the kids to be safe at school. But all the hatred, vitriol, and blame-fixing in the world will not make that happen. It will not be easy. There is no quick fix.

Meanwhile, as of January 22, 2018, in Chicago there had been 141 people shot and 25 killed. At that point in 2017, 211 people had been shot and 41 killed, according to the Chicago Tribune. How many of the guns used in those killings do you suppose were obtained legally?


Coffee Break’s Over; Back on Your Heads

Are you familiar with the joke, the punchline of which is “Coffee break’s over; back on your heads?”   No?

Well, it seems that this fellow died and found himself in Hell. After his orientation class, a demon gave him a tour during which he was to choose where he would spend eternity. He was shown the Lake of Fire, where tormented souls were immersed in hot lava for eternity.

Coffee break’s over! Back on your heads!

He took a look at a place where victims were skinned with rocks, over and over. He saw an area in which the condemned were slowly eaten by fire-breathing demons.  None of these places seemed to be where would like to settle.  Finally, he saw an area where thousands of people were milling about, knee-deep in poop.  They were drinking coffee and socializing. So the newcomer thought it would be, comparatively, fairly tolerable, and told his tour guide that this is where he wanted to be.  So he was handed a cup of coffee, and he waded in.  No sooner had he taken his first sip and joined a conversation, then the attending minion yelled, “Okay everybody!  Coffee break’s over!  Back on your heads!”

The past week — the week immediately following the triumvirate of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day (not to mention Hanukkah, Boxing Day and Kwanzaa, whatever that is) reminded me of that joke.  It always does. Life pretty much comes to a halt on about December 23rd, and we remain in the fog and disorientation of the “holiday” season until January 2.  Then, we are snapped back into reality. The tree is discarded, the lights come down, we subsist on leftover turkey, ham and Christmas cookies for several days, and we try to remember what we had been doing before the break.

This snap into reality could really not come at a worse time. If we lived in the Southern  Hemisphere, then we’d ease our way from January 1st into the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer with the outdoor activities, flowers, vacations and warm weather.  But no.  Not for us here in the Northern Hemisphere.  We emerge from the holidays into winter. Dead, cold, gray winter. The time between January 1st and the middle of March consists of something like 697 days.

Admittedly, since we now live in Southern Pines, North Carolina, it’s a bit less of a shock to the system than returning to work in the northern climes.  But it’s bad enough.

A number of  years ago, I came up with an idea I still think would be a good one. Right after the holidays, on January 1, we all go into hibernation. We just repair to darkened rooms, where old movies would play on TV, and we’d have snacks. We’d watch movies and sleep, only getting up now and then to go to the bathroom.  Then, on April 1st, we’d emerge in early spring.  We’d be well-rested and ready to take up life again. During that period of time, anything we were angry about would likely dissipate, tensions would evaporate, and when we got up, we’d be refreshed, friendly and happy to see everyone.

And we could have a reciprocal agreement with the Southern Hemisphere. They could stay up and watch over things in the world while we’re not paying attention. Then, they’d hibernate between, say, July 1st and October 1st, and we in the north could keep an eye on things.

So, what do you say?  Do you want to get on board with this?  We could get one of those on-line petitions going, and send it to… to…. uh…. well, somebody.  Then, we’d be good to go. I’m ready to get started on it this year… Who’s with me?



Living in the Sandhills

(Southern Pines, NC)  After a number of tumultuous years, it looks like we’ve finally landed where we belong:  the Sandhills region of North Carolina.  According to Wikipedia, the Sandhills “… is a strip of ancient beach dunes which generally divides the Piedmont from the coastal plain,  and is the evidence of a former coastline when the ocean level was higher, or the land lower.”

Pinehurst Golf Resort
The Pinehurst Resort
pinehurst ad
The place has been around for awhile

Now, though, some 20 million years later, the Sandhills of North Carolina are home to Pinehurst, Southern Pines, and Aberdeen.  There are other communities as well, but those are the three primary ones.  Pinehurst, with its famed Pinehurst Resort bills itself as “The Cradle of American Golf.”  Not being a golfer, I didn’t know that before we arrived here a month or so ago. But you don’t spend more than five minutes here without becoming keenly aware of that fact. There are something like 40 golf courses here.  Strangely, though, it seems there are no miniature golf courses in the area. It looks like I’ll have to learn to play big boy golf

So how did we get here?  About 6 years ago, I started to do occasional freelance advertising copywriting and production for Muirfield Broadcasting, a small, locally-owned company which owns Star 102.5 FM,  AM 550 WIOZ, and a cable TV station.   Tammy and I visited the area maybe 4 years ago when we were in High Point, and were pleasantly surprised at what a beautiful place it was.  So, a few months ago, when my friend Jan called from WIOZ to let me know that there was a rare opening, and asked if I’d be interested in applying, I jumped at it.  And, well, here we are.

A Sunday afternoon in Southern Pines

These are terrific people!  Friendly, professional — just a great group to work with. This is a rarity in American radio these days: an AM and FM that are locally owned and locally programmed, to the benefit of this beautiful community. And I feel as though I’ve returned to my radio roots: I host “Sunrise in the Sandhills” on WIOZ-AM, from 6 -9 weekdays. I play what they call “Adult Standards,” which is, essentially, what MOR Radio was when I first got into the business in the 1970s.

So, here I am at 61, playing the music I played in those days, and once again, I’m a radio “personality.”  I spent enough time as a news anchor, in both public and commercial radio, to get quite tired of both of those jobs.  And, unfortunately, in most places, the huge radio corporations like Cumulus and iHeart Media have bought up huge numbers of stations, fired the on-air staff, and replaced them with automatons.  Basically, the sucked every last bit of fun out of the business.

Here, we do it the old-fashioned way, and it works.  Of course, we still have time when there’s satellite programming… but the community spirit and involvement are very much alive here.

So here we are in the Sandhills. We love it here. And I think we’re here to stay.

This is Not Enlightenment. This is Insanity.

In 1954, I was born six weeks premature. That was a bigger deal 60 years ago than it is now. But largely, I think, because of that, I was a small kid… skinny (believe it or not) and short.

Premature birth, however, had nothing that I know of to do with the fact that I was, as I say, “born without the sports gene.”  My dad was a sports fan, a good athlete, and a sometimes sportswriter. But I never had — and still do not have — any interest whatsoever in sports. I was lousy at kickball, football, softball, and all the other sports we had to play when I was in school.  I was always picked last for any team, and when I was as far in the outfield as I could get, I prayed the ball wouldn’t come to me.  I knew that if it did, and I dropped it (which was quite often) I’d be bullied: called names, hit in the stomach, cruelly mocked.

Similarly, I had no interest whatsoever in the Industrial Arts, better known as Shop Class. Nonetheless, it was required. If it had been a choice back then, I would so much rather have taken Home Ec, particularly so I could learn to cook. But I was also aware that if I had been able to choose cooking, I would have been more mercilessly bullied than I had been already.

In other words, I was not a particularly happy kid. I actually remember thinking that things would have been easier if only I had been born a girl. I finally found happiness when I got involved with chorus and drama.

But I was not born a girl. I was a boy. It never occurred to me that I would ever be anything other than a boy, and, eventually, a man. I was not confused about my gender, or later, when I actually understood such things, my sexuality. I was a confirmed and committed heterosexual, and still am. I have a deep, resonant voice, no effeminate traits, and hair in all the right places. I am happily married to a confirmed heterosexual woman. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I still don’t know, or care, a damned thing about football. But I am a very good cook.

Tough. Deal with it.

I was, though, like all kids who go through puberty, confused about a great many things, and did not understand why I was picked on so often. Why I couldn’t start loving football, baseball, and all those other sportsball games.  I still have no interest whatsoever in sports. And I am still not at all confused about my gender or my sexuality.

It’s possible, though, that back in those lousy days of bullying, had I been presented with the idea that I could choose my gender, depending on what I felt like “identifying” with on a given day, I may have been convinced that I really was supposed to have been born a girl.  And had I made that choice, it would have been disastrous. I was not meant to be a girl. I was born a male, and a male is what I am now.

Recently, I’ve read articles about how, in some places, kids as young as 4 have been urged to decide what gender they identify with. And presented with the idea that they can actually choose, I’m pretty sure that some, who have had similar experiences to mine, will in their confused and miserable states, make the choice that they’ll regret.  At the very least, kids are in no way equipped to make that sort of decision, and those who urge it on them are guilty of nothing less than child abuse.

What I’m getting at here is this: You do not choose your gender.  At least not on some whim of what you feel like on any given day.  Putting aside for a moment the possibility that a few — a very few — may be able to make the case that they were somehow mistakenly assigned the wrong gender, and go through the necessary steps, including surgery and therapy, to permanently make that change, I can make this quite simple: If you were born with a penis, you’re a male. If you were born with a vagina, you’re a female.  If you find that difficult, then do what humans have had to do since time immemorial: Deal with it. Grow up. Life sucks sometimes. Some people have it more difficult than others.

You can’t expect the world to bend to your aberration, your emotional issues, or your whimsical decision to decide that you want to try to be the gender that you are not.

And this is my take on North Carolina’s so-called bathroom law:  If you have a penis, you use the men’s room.  If you have a vagina, you use the women’s room. If you have actually taken it all the way, and have had the gender-change surgery, and have now have new and/or different parts, then you may use the restroom that goes with your new gender.  But that’s if and only if, you’ve gone far enough so there’s no going back.

But if you’re a woman who decides that she’d rather identify as a man, or a man who has chosen that he wants to be queen for a day, tough. Deal with it.

To do otherwise is not enlightenment.  It is insanity.   Now you’ll have to excuse me. I have a souffle in the oven.


Anticipating Thanksgiving: Ten Years Later

I apologize in advance. This post is self-indulgent, but it’s just expressing how I feel at the moment.

The Week Before Thanksgiving, 2005

I was, as always, looking forward for our annual trip to North Carolina to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with my wife, my sister, my niece, and my mom and dad.  I was in charge of roasting the 16-pound turkey every year, primarily because of my soy sauce, melted butter and liquid smoke baste… which gave the bird a buttery, smoky flavor and rich brown color. And there was my sister’s rich, delicious pecan fudge pie. That alone was the worth the trip. But spending time with my wife and family was, of course, the main attraction. We only got down there about once a year, and it was one of my favorite times. We always started the return trip home on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and had made a tradition of finding someplace interesting for an overnight stay on the way home. One year it was the Strasburg Inn in Virginia. One year it was the Sky Chalet with sweeping views of the Shenandoah Valley. It was always a good time.

The Week Before Thanksgiving, 2015

I awoke this morning, as I have for the past month: with the fear and gut-wrenching anxiety that comes with not knowing how I’m going to pay my rent, make my car payment, pay for car insurance, and pay back all the money I owe other people. I have two part-time jobs: working for American Airlines, and driving a taxi, but I still just scrape by. And I look ahead at my plans for Thanksgiving. Well, Mom and Dad are both gone, and after having lived in her rec room for a large part of this year before returning to State College, I think my sister’s pretty much done with me. I’m no longer married, and am now going through a separation from a subsequent marriage. So it’s just me. After years being married, and having a large circle of family and friends, I admit that I am having a great deal of trouble adjusting to life alone. And I don’t like it. My plans for Thanksgiving day consist pretty much of driving a taxi from 7 in the morning until 6 in the evening. CATA doesn’t run buses that day, but people still need to go places. So it might be somewhat lucrative. I hope so.

People keep telling me that I just need to maintain a positive attitude. They tell me that life is good. They tell me that I’m lucky just to be alive. They helpfully point out that there are a lot of people out there who have it a lot worse than I do. They are correct on all points. But at the moment, I am just not feeling it.

The United States of Fred

It’s been a week or two since I did a blog post. This is due to a feline-related tragedy during which I tripped over a cat in the dark, and landed on my laptop. This, while probably leaving its internal organs intact, destroyed the monitor, and if I boot up that computer now, I get a screen which looks something like part of a post-modern art exhibit.  So I’m reduced to a tablet, and yesterday I spent more money than I was comfortable with on a Bluetooth keyboard for it.  It makes blogging (and most other things) considerably easier than trying to write something with just the tablet.  The kitty which was the proximate cause of the tragedy has been affixed to the wall with duct tape so that this never happens again.  Her pitiful cries are getting fainter…

But that’s not what this is all about.  No, it’s about this:  If Mr. and Mrs. Vespucci had not named their son “Amerigo,” and instead had named him, oh, Fred or something, things would be vastly different in this hemisphere.  This the sort of realization that hits me when I’m on the road, and come to the end of an audiobook, with no more downloaded.  By the way, audiobooks are the greatest invention for long-distance drivers since beef jerky.  They provide entertainment, keep me awake, and to a certain degree quiet the voices in my head.

Anyway, back to the Vespucci question.  What prompted this particular thought is the alarming number of businesses whose names begin with “Ameri.”  In just the past week, I’ve seen AmeriGas, AmeriStaff, AmeriBank, and  AmericInn, to name just a few.  A quick Google search turns up hundreds and hundreds more.  There’s AmeriBag, AmeriDoc, and maybe the worst, AmeriDream.  It’s a mortgage company.

I wonder what the motivation is in naming a business this way, particularly when said business is local or regional, and has no national reach.  Is it born from some odd sense of patriotism?  Or is it just AmeriDumb or AmeriLazy?  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a flag-wavin’ patriot.  But I still don’t get it.

But that’s what made me think about the Vespucci family, which long ago, unwittingly, named two continents.  I wonder what may have happened if they had named their future cartologist “Fred” instead of “Amerigo.”  For one thing, we’d have North and South Fred.  We’d have the United States of Fred.  And we’d have FredGas, FredBank, FredStaff… you get the picture.  Sure it’s a dumb picture, but it’s a picture nonetheless.

Amerigo "Call Me Fred" Vespucci
Amerigo “Call Me Fred” Vespucci

Then there would be “Fred the Beautiful.”  And from Iran, we would hear the chants of “Death to Fred!”  And that would just make everyone giggle.

Okay, I guess I’ve pounded that stake into the ground as far as it will go.  I could write more on this, but it would just deteriorate (if it hasn’t already) into complete AmeriCrap.

In our next installment, I’ll explore why the sentence, “Hiring Smiling Faces” gives me the creeps.  Or maybe with that, I’ve already said enough on the subject.

At Least They Left The Light On For Me

(Pasco, WA) —  One of my favorite times during these cross-country school bus delivery trips is going to sleep. I check into a motel, have some supper, crank up the A/C and hit the sack. After a 600-mile day, frequently in a non-air-conditioned bus, I love to crawl under the comforter, and read for about an hour before drifting off.

Beautiful Pasco Washington, as seen from the Motel 6
Beautiful Pasco Washington, as seen from the luxurious Motel 6

At the end of this trip, I delivered the bus, and since my flight home isn’t until tomorrow, I found myself in the Motel 6 in beautiful Pasco, Washington.  I checked in a bit earlier than usual, and immediately cranked up the A/C.  And out poured hot air.  Not uncooled air — HOT air. This isn’t one of those usual under-the-window units found in most rooms.  It has an actual thermostat on the wall.  So I called the front desk and explained the situation.  The nice desk lady said she’d find me a room in which the air was properly conditioned.  She checked 3 or 4 rooms and they all had the same hot-air problem.  Finally, though, she located a room on the other side of the building in which the air conditioner was actually conditioning the air.

But then, she decided to test the TV remote because, she said, they’d been having problems with the remotes.  It worked fine.  But the TV didn’t work.  The only channels that were even watchable were the local ABC affiliate, and Univision.  So the maintenance guy came up and jiggled the coax in the back of the set a few times… and said he couldn’t figure out why it wouldn’t work.  Nice desk lady then offered to move me to yet a third room.  But I declined.  I figured I could either see what’s on ABC, or try to figure out what they were saying on Univision. But I don’t care anyway.  Nice desk lady asked me at least four times if I was sure I could get along without the TV.  I kept hoping she’d knock a couple of bucks off the room rate, but no such luck.

It occurred to me recently that since the end of last year, I have spent very few nights sleeping in an actual bedroom.  When I’m in High Point, I’m still living — temporarily, I fervently hope — in my sister’s den. Probably an equal number of nights have been spent in hotel rooms.  I generally read some travelers’ reviews, but don’t put much stock in them.  I usually have the feeling that the people who write most of them are probably naturally grouchy, and get the kind of treatment they dish out.  Many reviews talk about the “rude” staff.  But I can say that never once has anyone been rude to me.  In fact when I arrived quite late at a hotel in Laramie, Wyoming a few months back, and after a little normal banter, that nice desk lady invited me to come back to the lobby later to sit and talk.  Which I did.  We sat in a couple of nice leather chairs, and learned each others’ stories.  It was great.  Of course, being on the road all the time gets pretty lonely, and I’m starved for conversation.

Sometimes the reviewers come up with legitimate complaints, but I think that, by and large, they’re people who are never satisfied with anything.

I generally stay at the lower-priced chain motels: Motel 6, America’s Best Value Inns, Rodeway, Red Roof Inns… places like that.  And I rarely have a negative experience.  And if I need to call about something — like an air conditioner that just spews hot air — I’ve always been met with a quick response, apologies and courtesy.  But I think that has something to do with the way I treat people myself… do unto others and all.

Early next week, I’ll be taking a bus to Maine.  Haven’t been there for years, and I’m looking forward to it.

So despite the AC and TV issues here, I’d stay in any Motel 6.   The price is certainly right  And they left the light on for me.