Riff

I’ve been wanting to write again for some time but couldn’t find the energy to get started.  It’s not that I couldn’t find the motivation, mind you.  Every day, countless things come into my life to inspire, challenge, and humor me.  I figured they might have a similar impact on you, too, my faithful readers.

So I went with the old tried and true Daily Post and its writing prompt.  Tonight it is the simple word “riff”.  Here goes…

First I want to ask your prayers for someone who is dying.  It could be anyone.  In my mind he is a very real young man with a family and he will open his eyes into eternal life very soon.  I’ve been thinking of my own mortality lately.  I’ve always been rather fatalistic.  Starting in childhood with the death of my twin sister at the age of 4.  In the past two years I’ve lost my oldest brother and my father.  I think about these pages and the banal things I’ve committed to cyber paper and I hope that my beloved son and daughter will be able to patch together a glimpse of their old man when I’m gone.  My wife already knows me well so I hope she’ll be able to smile when she reads my posts again and remembers the craziness that was our life together.  I love them so much and I’m glad God gave me a brief moment in this life to spend with them.  Pray.

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Pretty sure the car should be up there, not the driver.

Second I wanted to give thanks.  Every day there are numerous things for which we can thank God if we only look around us.  Last Thursday night my 13 year-old Honda died in the parking lot of a Walmart while I tried to start it after a brief shopping excursion.  I could have cursed life for the horror of being stranded in a Walmart parking lot.  Instead here’s what happened.  I called a friend of mine.  “Hey, my car died…” I said before being cut off.  “Where you at?  I’ll be right there,” he said with enthusiasm.  THAT’s a friend.  He gave up his evening to come pick me up, drive my wife to a meeting, take me and my kids to his house so he and I could work out together (motivating me to push harder in the process), lent me his clothes after I used his shower, and drove us home.  I may have looked silly in his duds but I was clean and dry and happy.  Two days later my mother-in-law’s neighbor – who’s legal name is actually Bubba – gleefully accompanied me to the parking lot, changed out the battery with me and then drove with me to an auto parts store to buy a new starter.  Imagine.  The battery and the starter both died together.  How serene.  If only it wasn’t in a Walmart parking lot.  The first friend’s wife (he was already out of town celebrating his brother’s 40th birthday) came with me to wait for the tow truck.  She has AAA and I don’t.  I told you.  I have a Honda.  The tow operator didn’t have a clue what he was doing.  He was in training so it took a painfully long time.  Within an hour of getting towed back to my mother-in-law’s house, Bubba called me to tell me he had worked on it, changed the starter, and it was fixed.  Wow.

Finally, I want to celebrate life.  I’m turning 40 myself pretty soon.  As my brother-in-law, a trauma nurse, once told me “Today’s a good day.  I got out of bed unassisted, didn’t need any help getting dressed.  I ate breakfast not through a tube…”  You get the point.  I haven’t even reached the age my dad was when I was born yet I feel like I’m getting old.  My best friend just turned 40 last week.  He’s an amazing guy.  I always tease him by asking him to give me the “22 day rundown of what it’s like being a year older”.  Truth is he could run circles around me in every way.  But I want to mark this milestone as another year God has given me to serve him, another year with my wife and kids, another year to write.  I think 40 will be fun.  Even if it’s not; it’s just a number.  I’m still going to live regardless of what my birth certificate says.  How’s that for irony.  One of these days I’ll be able to do something spectacular like travel the world or have someone throw me a huge party like all my friends have done.  I should mention here that another good friend did throw me a party recently.  True, he knows I abhor surprise parties.  I just can’t get past the deception that goes into planning them.  A lie’s a lie even if it’s for a good cause.  And I often think that someone would only do something nice like that for me out of pity but I’m still glad he did and I enjoyed myself.  Even if I did enjoy the steak he cooked a “second time”…  But even without those things life is beautiful because it simply is and it deserves to be celebrated.  And that man who’s dying?  His life is beautiful at this very moment because he is one step closer to God.

I suppose I went on a bit of a riff there…  Oh well.

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True Love

This afternoon I had occasion to drive a few blocks away to pick up my daughter from a friend’s birthday party.  I didn’t feel like going because a cold front had moved in and it was windy and it’s Friday and I’m tired.

I got to the house and knocked on the door.  I’ve done this before.  It usually goes down like this.  A frazzled mom answers the door, half-crazed from running after a house full of little kids all afternoon entertaining them with crafts and games.  She might have frosting from a cake she slaved over smeared on her shirt.  She invites me in to “wait while I get her” before disappearing somewhere into the frenzy.  I wait around twiddling my thumbs for five to ten minutes until my daughter appears and tells me she’s just been having so much fun she NEEDS another five minutes.  I give in and wait around a while longer.  The whole process take an hour or so until I’m back at home watching the news.

Today was different.

The mom answered the door right away with a very little girl in tow.  The young lady couldn’t have been more than 2 or 3.  Her mom had no cake smear and did not appear the least bit stressed.  “I’ll get her for you,” she said as she calmly walked toward the kitchen with a smile.

Before I had time to wonder if I had stepped onto the set of Stepford Wives the little girl who had been following her ran toward me with open arms and the biggest smile.  Her head was slightly cocked and tilted a bit downward yet she was looking right into my eyes.  She ran toward me so fast I didn’t have time to think. about what was happening.  She threw her arms around my legs and said “Hi!” as she gave me the warmest hug.  And she almost didn’t let go.

I knew right away that something was different, indeed something was special.  This little girl has Downs Syndrome.  I don’t know why that should occur to me or even enter into what I’m describing except that I was immediate aware of how much the problems of my own world don’t matter and how much love, true love, this angel was showing to me at this moment.

In an instant my heart stopped as I was caught up in the moment.  She was so immensely filled with joy and happiness and it was all because I was there.  I can’t recall anyone ever greeting me like this before.  She took my hand and made me stoop down to the piano bench sitting next to us.  She motioned toward the bench.

“Do you want to play for me?” I asked  “Yeah!” she said and she scampered onto the bench.  She played so beautifully for someone who can’t play.  I know because I play; so I offered to play for her.  I stood behind her stooped over the bench so I could touch the keys, my arms encircling her.  She put her head back on me and looked up as I played.  She didn’t touch the keys, just listened lovingly as though I was playing the most beautiful piece ever written.

And she loved it.

And she loved me.

And I love her.

My daughter came around the corner and I had to say goodbye to my new friend.  She smiled and waved and gave me another hug.

God is so good to give me just a moment of His love and that family is so blessed to have such a treasure.

May you also be blessed to experience His love.

A Debt of Gratitude

Miss me? Don’t answer that. Instead, say a prayer or two for me. I could use them right now. But enough about me…

A few weeks back a friend of mine was going out of town for a week. He posed a request to me. 

“Could you pet sit for us?”

I didn’t even honestly know he had a pet.

He doesn’t.

His little girl has a bunny rabbit. My motto is, if it doesn’t jump into your lap showing the affection of a hyper caffeinated child, it ain’t a pet. Also, if the slightest noise can cause it to have a heart attack and die, you might want to consider a dog. 

But we had a bunny when I was a kid. OK, we had about ten bunnies over the years. After Mom accidentally cooked Thumper I would have thought we’d learned our lesson. More on that later. 

Lepus: Latin for messed up.

Maybe it was the way he asked. He seemed genuinely embarrassed. He’s a pretty manly guy – the kind who exudes confidence that he could take on anybody in a brawl he’s that well built. To observe  this jacked dude lower his head and almost whisper the question “Think you could, um, take care of my daughter’s rabbit while we’re gone?” was quite comical. If it were up to him and he had zero regard for his little girl’s blatant admiration of her old man I think he’d let the critter starve. 

But I have a little girl too. More to the point I have a friend and here he was asking me a favor. 

Of course I said yes. And I meant it. The fact that I’m only writing about it now indicates how it truly was nothing to me because I was just helping a friend and fellow dad. 

And Fluffy and I had some good times. For a week straight I’d drive over, let myself in, watch some Cinemax, toss some hay at the rabbit, drink their wine, and leave. After five days I realized they don’t have cable and don’t drink. Once we got that straightened out I stated going next door where I encountered an emmaciated bunny. Also Cinemax has some weird titles. Fluffy and I frolicked together in the yard. I read him a few bedtime stories. Wilt Chamberlain: My Story seems to be a favorite. Every night without fail as I was putting the book down Fluffy would roll his eyes and say “Eh, I’ve got better numbers” before crawling into my lap and saying “I love you Daddy! and drifting off to sleep in my arms. 

Tonight I stopped by my friend’s house for a few minutes. It’s nice to catch up. We live a few minutes apart but see each other very sporadically. As I was on my way out the door he handed me a paper bag. “Just a little thank you for taking care of the furry little guy.” How did my brother Paul enter into this?

It was a bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin, and a big one at that! It was totally unnecessary but I accepted with great delight. He then added the compliment that he could tell I’ve been working out. Before you get all “that’s weird” on me, know that this man has borne the brunt of my insane desire to get in as good shape as he is for years. That compliment was very much appreciated. 

So, children, learn this lesson. When a friend asks a favor always say yes. Who knows? There might just be gin in it. And if you’re lucky you might just have a good friend who knows you like gin (and who understands how insecure you are about your body compared to his). 

Ben & Rita’s Road Trip 2010: DAY 3

Another great road trip. Can’t believe this was seven years ago. Enjoy!

Harvey Millican: Raising Your Kids Without Lowering Your IQ

Waffle House

Today was all about one place; one man; one word: Biltmore, or as I have to come to refer to it, the Appalachee Revenge! There’s a story behind this.

Constructed in the late 1800’s (I didn’t say “built” because it’s Biltmore and the two “built’s/Bilt’s” would have driven me crazy); the Biltmore Estate is the largest private home in America. George Washington Vanderbilt (yes, crazy name, I know) was the youngest of three sons born to William Vanderbilt, son of Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt. The Commodore had built his fortune first in shipping and then in railroads (hence the statue of him in front of his train station, Grand Central Terminal). When the Commodore died he left $100 million to his son who then doubled that fortune in ten years’ time. Most of that tax-free money went to George’s two older brothers who ran the family industry. George had to settle…

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Benedict and Rita South by Southwest, 2011:Day 6

Tonight I decided that the time had come for me to make use of these old family stories of mine and turn the blog into a bedtime story for my little angel. I really enjoyed re-reading this one. Perhaps you will too!

Harvey Millican: Raising Your Kids Without Lowering Your IQ

There is a show on HGTV that I have always liked. It is called House Hunters. In this show the hostess, Suzanne Whang, cheerfully narrates the story of an individual or couple who is looking for a new house. First, a note… The programing on HGTV has really declined since the housing bubble burst. A few years ago the network had a whole slew of shows dedicated to the art of house flipping. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it refers to the practice of buying a house with the express intent of performing a dramatic makeover and then selling it. In good economic times this can be a lucrative, if not risky, deal. For instance, a person might purchase a house for $200K, carry the mortgage for two to three months (usually while carrying a mortgage on the house they actually live in) and then sell it for $400K…

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I’m a Hurricane!

I’ve been busy with work lately.  The beginning of a school year is always hectic for the teachers and administrators.  I’ve barely had time to watch the news.

Imagine my shock when, driving to work at 6:30 this morning, I saw a large electronic sign overhead flashing “Avoid Texas Coast/Harvey Making Landfall”

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I’m even on the Drudge Report!

What do you know?  I’m famous!

They named a hurricane after me!

I accept this honor on behalf of Harvey’s everywhere.

On the other hand, if it turns out to bring death and destruction then I renounce this storm.

But it is kinda’ cool…

They Sold the Farm!

Some of you know that my vision is terrible. Not my “vision” vision but my actual eyesight. 

I was told when I was ten that it would get progressively worse until my mid-twenties and then level off; maybe even get better. 

They lied. I’m almost 40 and it’s still getting worse. Granted it’s not getting worse as quickly as it once was. 

Nevertheless yearly eye exams are not a luxury for me. I have to get in to the optometrist or I can’t see. 

I am currently sitting in the chair. 

This is fun. 

What in the world does that say?

I’ve already been run through the battery of pre-testing options. There’s the puff of air. Still not sure what this one is for. Then there’s the “big E” test. Newsflash: I can’t even really see the “E” at this point without my contacts. 

Some tests are new. A retinal photograph has replaced dilation. This is nice as I really never liked stepping out into the mid-day sun after one of these visits looking like an anime character. 

But they got rid of one of my favorite tests. For almost thirty years I’ve been coming to these visits and looking into a giant box at a picture of a farmhouse. Again, the purpose of this test has never been explained to me. I always assumed it had something to do with focus. Then again it could just be a way to calm me down, not that I’ve ever been agitated at the eye doctor. 

This test is so ridiculous.

Truly the farm was a peaceful place. If you’ve ever had this test you know what I’m talking about. It was in a field. I imagine it was in Iowa. There was a lot of corn. I made up a backstory about the farm. It was owned by an elderly couple who’s children had moved away after industrialization had rendered their role in the agri-business field redundant. This couple now wait at home for someone to visit. Once a year I pop into their lives. I feel like such a voyeur. But I think they understand. They’re just happy for the company. Their rotten kids never bring the grandkids – Kip and Karen – around. Brats. 

Where was I?

Oh yes, the farm is gone. All that remains is a hot air balloon and there isn’t enough Valium on earth to get me in that thing.

There’s also the omni-present “better/worse” flipping lens test. Yeah… as I’ve said before, leave the room, doc. I’ll flip it around and find what works. Then I’ll call you back in and you can write it down. 

St. Lucy, patroness of the blind, pray for us!

UPDATE: They just upped my script. -4.25 in both eyes and I get to try daily wears for the first time!