Category: Uncategorized

An American Guide to World Cup

English: FIFA World Cup Trophy Italiano: Trofe...

 

Every four years the world gathers representatives from their countries to kick a little round ball around a big field. This international tournament is called The World Cup because it really does include almost every country in the world (it isn’t like the World Championships we hold in the United States in which the only countries invited to our World Championship are countries that are directly above the US or are the US). The World Cup is a big deal in most corners of the globe and since I am an expert on all things global, I thought I would sit down this morning a give all my readers in the United States a guide to the World Cup. I have been watching the World Cup ever since I discovered that I can watch any sporting event that doesn’t include cars going around in a circle, or a baseball.

 

 

What you need to know to be an informed viewer:

 

 

1. The host nation, this year Brazil, spent billions of dollars (or Euros, or Spanish Doubloons)  to get ready for this big tournament and are now wishing they hadn’t even applied for the job. This happens every four years. Last time it was South Africa who was sorry they hosted the event. This is because the governing organization, FIFA, is the most corrupt organization on the planet: Worse than the Mafia, worse than Walmart, worse than Monsanto, and worse than SPECTRE. If you really want to know more about FIFA’s corruption just read anything about how the country of Qatar will be hosting in eight years.

 

 

2. When watching the games the player with the worst haircut is the best player. (There are two exceptions to this rule, but I will not bore you with real information here.) The best player from Brazil, Neymar, has hair that looks like Beaver Cleaver cut it.

Neymar with ball

Neymar, haircut courtesy of Theodor Cleaver. (Photo credit: San Diego Shooter)

Most teams follow this rule to make it easier for the casual viewer to follow the game. The US’s best three players have cut all their hair off to be different, so Kyle Beckerman (not America’s best player) has made up for it by growing the ugliest dreadlocks possible.

 

3. The most annoying part of watching soccer/futbol/foosball/football is all the faking of injuries. This is part of the game apparently. Pretending to get hurt runs contrary to everything Americans respect in sports and most real fans of the sport hate the flopping also (unless it is their team who fooled the ref), but guys will regularly fall down like they were shot by a sniper. Then the television crew will spend 10 minutes discussing whether it was a real injury or not. 99.999999% of the time they guy is perfectly okay. Usually he falls, rolls around for 3 minutes, is taken off the field in a stretcher, and then twenty seconds later is running around like nothing happened. This is usually when I yell at the television the most (yelling at the television is a skill all World Cup followers master). I like how rugby deals with injuries, if you get hurt the game doesn’t stop, the doctors come out on the pitch and fix you on the field. Fixing in rugby usually means pouring water on the broken leg and then wrapping it with tape and saying, “Right, that’ll do ya.”  In soccer they even kick the ball out of bounds when a guy pretends to get hurt just so nobody gets mad.

 

 

4. Germany, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, and the Netherlands are probably the only teams who have a realistic chance to win the whole thing, but it really comes down to a whole bunch of luck in my opinion.

 

 

5. There is pool play, this does not include an actual pool, and then there is the knock-out round, which does not include any actual punching. The US will be super lucky to get out of pool play since they are in the Group of Death. There is always one group that has too many good teams and so one of those teams will not make the next round and everyone in that country can complain that it was unfair. The group of death this year includes Germany, Portugal, the United States, and Ghana. (I think the England, Costa Rica, Italy, and Uruguay pool looks worse, but what do I really know?) If the US doesn’t make the next round nobody except soccer nerds will really care, but if we do make it out of the first round suddenly everyone will start watching soccer.

 

 

6. The US coach is from Germany and has already announced that we have no chance of winning. This made all the US soccer nerds mad, and then they shrugged their tiny shoulders and agreed, we really have no chance to win unless all the other teams catch malaria.

 

 

7. The US’s first game is against the team who has knocked us out of the past two World Cups. If soccer were a big deal in our country we would have invaded Ghana by now built a new nation like we did in Iraq.

 

 

8. The tournament will last about a month and during the final game the entire world (except for Canada and the US) will shut down to watch. During the last World Cup final I was in Paris and the whole city stopped. This is when I was attacked by Gypsies at an ATM. I fought them off by screeching and swinging my empty backpack with such force that I probably caused a tornado in Kansas.

 

 

9. ESPN is covering the World Cup and has hired about four guys who can’t speak English very well. I’m not trying to be mean, but sometimes it is painful to watch, and they have these poor guys sitting in the more ridiculous set ever constructed. This alone makes watching the World Cup worth it.

 

 

10. The US plays its first game today at 3pm Pacific Standard Time.

 

 

Blog Tour: The Writing Process, or How To Own a Blog Worth $1449.

Blogging Amigo and all around funny guy, Snoozing on the Sofa (aka Scott Nagele) has nominated me and fellow blogger Pieter who runs a blog called Ah Dad in a game of blogging tag that is a cross between winning a trophy for participating in U-5 soccer and hot potato. I like when I get nominated for these things, not because I am a self-centered jerk, but because the blogging world is the lonely island of misfit writers and getting any recognition is nice.

Scott’s blog is devoted to his family, which is growing rapidly, and his parenting adventures are humorous, and loving. In other words, Scott is my kind of guy. I have followed Scott’s blog for some time now and he always has great posts.

Pieter lives in South Africa, the country at the bottom of Africa that everyone can find, and blogs about his family. When Pieter isn’t watching the Springboks lose to the All-Blacks in rugby, he is buying tickets to see One Direction in concert. Anyone who takes his children to see One Direction deserves a medal on Father’s Day, but they probably don’t have Father’s Day in South Africa since everything is upside down there.

René Descartes at work

I also use a quill for first drafts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Okay enough about other people, let’s get down to why I am here. Why am I here? Like Descartes I blog because I am. At one time in my life I gave up on writing. (Note to my readers, I am about to be serious for a paragraph.) When I was younger I enjoyed writing. Writing in college killed that joy. I don’t know if it was the amount of required formulaic essay writing, the fact that I was a lazy writer, or if I my brain decided to surrender. Whatever it was, I came away from college and had given up on writing. Fast forward about 15 years and I was teaching high school English in a small Washington coastal town. I liked my job, enjoyed the students, but really didn’t have time to write. I taught many promising students, but the one that started me back to writing was one who died tragically. He was a very good writer and thinker. I really felt, as I do with many of my students, that he was destined to make a mark in this world. His death drew me back to writing. I started to find time to write.

On to the required questions.

1. What am I working on now?

My blog writing is a small bit of my writing pie. There are many days when I want to kill my blog and leave its dead body floating in the internet, but I am like Michael Corleone after he knew Fredo did it. Someday I’ll send my blog out fishing with Luca Brasi and it will never be seen again.

The other pieces of my writing pie are still in the oven, but this summer I will be self-publishing a book of short stories and writing a screenplay for my unpublished novel. If I don’t make too many mistakes in my first attempt to self-publish then I will begin working on self-publishing my novel Lost Summers In Paris. Lost Summers is my novel about the writers and artists in Paris in the 1920’s. I have two other novels in their infancy and I hear it is bad luck to talk about those things before they are done, but one is related to my recent trip to Europe (The Summer of Jon) and the other one is not.

2. How does my work differ from others in the genre?

My blog writing is difficult to put a genre tag on because I don’t really follow the rules for running a successful blog and this might be why it is a blog valued at $1449 by Google. I write a little travel, but my travel writing is not helpful if you are planning a trip because most of my travel writing is related to me getting lost and doing stupid stuff.

My fiction writing is usually about odd people doing odd things. I lean towards little tragedies and life’s mysteries, but what ends up on the page is usually determined by forces within me but outside of my control.

English: This systematic overview categorizes ...

Look, a graphic from Wikipedia. . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3. Why do I write what I do?

I started my blog as a place to practice my writing. I am a firm believer that public humiliation is the best way to hone a craft, and a subscribe to Malcolm Gladwell’s belief that one must put 10,000 hours into something before you can become really good at it. (I know what you are thinking. No, I don’t think I have reached the 10,000 hour platform.)

Almost everything that ends up on my blog is something related to my life. Somebody said (Plato? Emerson? Elvis?) that an unexamined life is not worth living. I think my blogging is a way for me to examine my life.

After the death of my student I decided that writing a novel was what I must do. I don’t know why but that is what I decided. I wasn’t sure what I would write, but one day I saw a picture of a baseball signed by the artist Vermeer. The article was about art fraud but the picture kick a hole open in my brain and I began to think about a baseball league that could have formed in Paris in the 1920’s between the artists and writers who lived there at that time. It started there…and then I read 50 books (really, I’m that mental)…and then I rewrote the novel 20,000 times (this is hyperbole)…and entered it in some contests…and rewrote it again…and now I think I am done with it. I am very proud of my work and think it has improved each time I completed it.

4. How does my writing process work?

I try to write each morning from 5am to 6am during my work year. It is the only free time I have since I have to attend rap concerts, watch Mad Men, see any televised sporting event that is mildly interesting, and eat.

My blogs write themselves. I sit down with an idea or something that happened and just let it go. I let my little muse go and I don’t worry too much about what comes out.

When I write fiction I take my time. I write, edit, write, edit, let the work age like a cheap wine, and then let my mind fix things. My subconscious is a much better writer than I am, my subconscious is also a much darker place than my working mind. I think that is because it is hard for light to get past my thick skull.

 

Pieter Claeszoon - Still Life with a Skull and...

Not my actual skull, but give me five more years. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And now I will pass the hot potato to two more bloggers.

The first blogger is one I discovered through Scott’s blog. She always had funny comments and so I followed her little picture thingy to her blog and found out that her blog posts were just as good as her comments. Traci writes about her life, her work, and her family. She has a quiet humor and there is a kindness to her writing that can only come from someone who lives in the southern United States. Check her out here: http://tracicarver.com/

My second blogger is CherryReads. Cherry’s blog is very focused: Free Hockey Romances. What is a Free Hockey Romance? Well, they are romance novels about hockey that Cherry can get for free. Her reviews of these novels are always hilarious. I don’t know much about hockey (and from the sounds of it that would not prevent me from writing a hockey romance) but that has not stopped me from really enjoying her work. You can find her blog here: http://hockeyromancereviews.wordpress.com/

Traci and Cherry, it is now up to you to pass along this chain-letter-blog-thing to two more bloggers (if you want, or you can ignore the whole thing and risk the 7 years of bad luck).

 

The Writer’s Voice Entry: Lost Summers in Paris

Blogger, and author Brenda Drake is running a Voice-like contest, where potential authors attempt to win representation from literary agents. I have entered the contest and made round two by being randomly selected by a computer. (I have begun preparing a speech.) Round two includes posting your query and first 250 words to your blog. The judges will drop by and read the entries and select the ones they like best.

So if you are a regular reader of my blog and are wondering if someone sane has hacked into my account and has taken control the answer is, “No.”

 

 

Query For LOST SUMMERS IN PARIS

When WWI American ambulance driver Jake is gravely wounded on an Italian hillside, he believes his life has ended. His unlikely survival takes him away from the muddy hillsides of the Italian Alps and lands him in a hospital bed in Milan next to a young Ernest Hemingway. As the two men recover from their traumatic wounds they discover a common love of sports and a mysterious healing power unleashed during their daily games of catch.

Jake returns to his family farm in Iowa and attempts to put his shattered life back together, but the war has changed him. A letter from Hemingway inviting Jake to come to Paris to “have a catch” is just the opportunity he needs to escape.

Jake is tossed into the swirling world of Paris in the 1920s. This 1920s is a world where a Dada inspired game of catch in the Louvre prompts the writers and artists living there to “play ball.” Jake tries to balance loyalty and opportunity as he is trapped between rival teams captained by Picasso and Hemingway, that is, until he discovers Hemingway is about to release a novel in which Jake’s very intimate injury is disclosed to the world. Jake is forced to choose between Hemingway’s overbearing personality and his personal struggle to make sense of a world that continues to betray him.

LOST SUMMERS IN PARIS is an accurate portrayal of the Lost Generation, but it is also a world where James Joyce can throw an unhittable curveball, Man Ray films the first Surrealist baseball movie, and Jake owns a magical painted baseball. LOST SUMMERS IN PARIS is a completed 100,000 word Adult Historical novel that will interest lovers of Hemingway, baseball, Paris and Art.

Lost Summers in Paris

(The First 250 Words)

Iowa: 1961

The letter triggered the dreams.Jake had not thought of the war or of Paris for years, but as spring approached his dreams returned him there each night. Memories buried deep and forgotten bubbled up forcing him to remember things he wished to forget. Most nights he woke wrapped in perspiration, fighting for breath.

It took Jake an hour to determine where the letter had come from. The cursive that at one time had been so recognizable was now distorted and unsteady. After Jake read the short note inside, he placed it on the kitchen table, with the rest of the bills, and tried to forget it, but like all debts in a man’s mind, the bills totaled themselves up and balanced themselves against his income. Jake weighed those debts each day and carried the total wherever he went. He could push those debts out of his mind during the day, but in the evening when life slowed and distractions ebbed, the weight of his debts sunk into him like a hot stone burrowing into the places in his mind he no longer wished to go.

The one persistent dream contained no magic. Jake sat in a wicker chair on the terrace of a Parisian café as the day transitioned to night. The late summer sun had set, a glow still held in the sky, and the heat of the day turned from irritation to contentment. Around the small, café table sat Jake, Ernie, James, Robert, and Tristan.

The Physics at the Crocodile and an Evening of Uncomfortable Situations

How many Santas can be in one place before it gets weird? Four, four Santas in one place at one time is enough, but on Saturday around 6 PM, in downtown Seattle, I was confronted by hundreds and hundreds of Santas within a two block radius of Westlake Center. Why were they there? I don’t know. It would have been enough to give Gretchen Carlson of Fox News a heart attack, because these Santas were not the stereotypical Caucasian, fat, old men in red suits, these Santas had their own version of who had been naughty and who had been nice. I saw a Santa spreading Christmas cheer by giving a passing motorist the finger. (Better than a lump of coal I suppose, but who honks at Santa anyway?) I saw a tattooed Santa in tiny satin underwear (I assume the underpants were satin, I did not touch the underwear or ask if they were satin). There were drunken Santas, sober Santas (a few I think), lady Santas, a full horn section of Santas, and even a gang of Santarchists. Santas were everywhere and the families who had just exited the Pacific Place 6PM snow show had some explaining to do. “Yes, Billy, these are Santa’s helpers. Whoa, Santa, put on some pants.” (Yes, it snows inside at 6PM every evening, and then the Gretchen Carlson Santa shows up. The snow is not really snow; it is probably little bits of asbestos shot into the air that float down on the packed mall center.)

We were in Seattle for the Physic’s album release: Digital Wildlife. The show included DJ Beeba (DJ Gilligan), Shelton Harris and Tyler Dopps, Tangerine, Dave B, and The Physics. It figured to be a full evening of music at the Crocodile, and, to be perfectly honest, I was looking forward to seeing The Physics again.

We ended up at the Crocodile very early because my daughter insists that we never be in a line behind two or more people. We were so early that we walked around for a little bit and then I talked our crew into getting me another shot of coffee. So we went across the street to a shop that served coffee and toast. Yes, toast. Really? Yes, toast. They serve toast? That’s what I said. Who sits around and says, “You know what Seattle needs, a toast restaurant”? Well, the toast thing was not the strangest thing about this place because I believe the entire shop was decorated by furniture that someone threw out or put on a street corner with a “free” sign on it. I felt like I had been dropped into an episode of Portlandia set in Seattle, but the place had some redeeming qualities: David Bazan was playing on the stereo when we came into the shop and anyone who listens to David Bazan is a friend of mine, and there was an upstairs that was so weird and creepy that it had to be experienced. I didn’t even let the used Kleenex tucked into the seat cushion next to me bother me even though I am a huge germophobe.

We finally got into the Crocodile and I went upstairs with all the purses, jackets, and my daughter’s camera (the camera mention is foreshadowing). I like the upstairs at the Crocodile because it is not crowded and not as loud as downstairs, but it is very dark and so sitting by myself in a corner probably makes people think I am some kind of weirdo, but I like to think of myself as the James Dean type of solo cool, not the Boo Radley sitting in a dark house watching little kids creeper, but I am certain that by the end of the evening my actions could be questioned.

DJ Beeba kicked off the evening. I have seen DJ Beeba several times and even though I still have no clue what a DJ does, I have grown to understand that he is very talented. When I saw him at the first Physic’s show I made fun of his Gilligan hat, but by the end of the summer all the hip kids were wearing Gilligan hats. So, here is some fashion advice to those of you who wish to be hip: bolo ties. I still have three bolo ties that my grandpa gave me so who’s laughing now?

Was it hard to get the crowd fired up? Yes, why? Because the Crocodile had a small cattle chute sized area for the under 21 patrons that was packed and a large empty floor for the over 21 patrons who were still over at the toast restaurant getting a slice of marble rye done over medium.

Shelton Harris and Tyler Dopps took the stage and played a tight, short set. The final song was one I recognized and for a moment found myself forgetting that I was an old man who should not be rapping along with the lyrics younger than most of my clothing, but it happened.

While Tangerine set up, DJ Beeba came back out onstage and played that funky music. People were walking all around the stage getting stuff set up and there was DJ Beeba in the background dancing around really enjoying himself.

Tangerine finally got all of their stuff set up (drum set, keyboard, bass guitar, and lead guitar) and began their set. I don’t want to overstate how much I loved Tangerine, but let me just say that I loved them. They have an early 1990s indie rock sound that I could not put my finger on, but kind of like Souixsie and the Banshees with a mix of steel guitar from West Africa, or maybe a little like Cowboy Junkies but less cowboy and more junkie. Whatever it is, it is dreamy, lovely, and Tangerine earned an AARP aged fan.

Dave B was next on the set list and after seeing him open for Sol recently, I was interested to see him again. To be diplomatic, I would say that the DJ at the Sol show hindered Dave B’s performance, but there were no such problems at the Crocodile as DJ Beeba stood in behind the wires and vinyl. Dave B also added a guitar player, drummer, and keyboardist. It would be a cheap shot to say that the guitarist looked like a Math major from UDub, and for once I will refrain from making fun of the musicians. (Yes, I realize I did take a cheap shot while saying that I wouldn’t.)

The stacked synthesizers dwarfed the guy manning the keyboards. I don’t mean to say the guy was small, but if Shaq were playing that thing he would look like Gary Coleman. The thing was the size of a WWI tank and could probably hide ten Santas inside if you removed the guts of the keyboard.

Anyway, Dave B was great. I don’t know how all the bits and pieces worked together with the DJ, drummer, guitar, and keyboard, but the group played together flawlessly. Dave B had tons of energy and the crowd filled in the gaps in the over 21 area and the entire place was packed, which soon became a problem for me because my prime location was no longer a secret and people were beginning to crowd the upstairs area and the space I set aside for jackets, purses and a camera soon became a contested area. I know that it is uncool to put stuff on a seat when riding a bus or subway, but I think those rules should not apply to me when I am at a concert.

The good news was that once the Physics took the stage most of the crowd upstairs decided that being downstairs was better. Maybe it was the grumpy old man vibes I was setting off upstairs, but whatever it was worked out for about 30 minutes. The Physics started their set and were joined by Owuor Arunga who added an interesting jazz quality to their songs.

This is where I made what would turn into a big mistake; I stood up to enjoy the Physics’ set. I was not going to start dancing around like an aged Grateful Dead follower; I just thought that I could now do a little swaying (this is as close to dancing as rhythmically challenged people such as myself should do). For a good ten minutes I was really having a good time as Thig and Monk took turns rapping and getting the crowd be-bopping along. Then something bad happened, a couple moved up to the upstairs area and became engaged in “amorous” activities near where I was standing. Who cares, right? Sure, I don’t care if you want to do some heavy breathing in a corner, but if you are looking for privacy let me just suggest that darkness is not privacy. I did my best not to look too creepy, but that was an impossibility, I’m standing right there by myself and the couple was getting pretty serious about two feet from me. How serious? They moved to the bench seats serious. At least they were not blocking my view anymore, but now I was worried that my daughter’s camera was going to get crushed while the couple made the beast with two backs.

I know that I am an older person and that times change, but let’s agree that some things are best reserved for “alone time.” Ladies, if your date cannot find a better place than a dark corner, then it might be time to find a classier guy, a guy who will wait in the bathroom line for a private stall.

Eventually, I stepped in and moved my stuff and completely ruined the mood for the couple, my bad. The good news was that after I said, “You’re about to crush my camera,” and I moved the pile of stuff, the couple decided to find a better place to go, I hope it wasn’t raining too hard in the alleyway.

After Romeo and Juliet left, I was able to get back to swaying and enjoying the show, but the incident did remind me that I am really a visitor to these concerts and not at all James Dean cool.

How was the music? It was great. The show was sold out, the artists were talented, and the Seattle Hip-Hop scene is always entertaining. I don’t know a better value for the dollar than four hours of good live music.

TSOJ: A Trinity of Vienna’s Cathedrals, and Why is Siegfried’s sword so small?

Vienna has some interesting church history, but like most history it is too complicated for me to really understand so let me condense it down a bit for you: The Hapsburg Dynasty was pretty much Catholic and therefore everybody in the Austrian Empire was pretty much Catholic. The Hapsburg Dynasty lasted 800 years and in 800 years you can build some big churches, therefore Vienna has some big churches.

The three churches I went to see on my last day were: Maria Am Gestade, St. Stephen’s/Sephansdom, and Peterskirche. These three churches were all within walking distance (if you did not get lost) and could be seen in a few hours.

The first church was a little one and had an odd name: Maria Am Gestade (Maria at the Shore). The reason that this is an odd name is because the church is several city blocks from the green (not blue at all) Danube. A few hundred years ago the river ran right by the front door of the church and smelled like low tide. (I made the low tide thing up, but I imagine it was damp and smelled, but in the olden days everything smelled worse.)

The interior of Maria Am Gestade (Maria at the Shore).

The interior of Maria Am Gestade (Maria at the Shore).

What I liked about this church was that it was still a working church and when I walked by on Sunday  people were coming out of the service and drinking wine in the little courtyard. (I assume it was Sunday, I lost track of the days about three days into my trip. Iceland will do that to you.) The congregation were having a good time and I thought, “This is my kind of church.” It wasn’t just the wine drinking that interested me, it was that the people were laughing and having fun together. If I’m going to go to church I want to have fun and not get all depressed. The problem with me attending church in any of these Catholic churches is that I would never, ever listen to the sermon. There is far too much stuff to divert focus, I had enough trouble paying attention to my dad in a pretty plain church growing up. Imagine trying to listen to somebody who is nobody’s dad (hopefully) in a church with lots and lots of cool stuff to distract a young man.

Fancy stuff like this would distract me too much.

Fancy stuff like this would distract me too much.

The exterior of Maria at the Shore on the right, but the horse carriage is the real star of this picture.

The exterior of Maria at the Shore on the right, but the horse carriage is the real star of this picture. These horse carriages are all over Vienna and if you want to waste some hard-earned money you should go on one and tell me if it was fun.

After Maria, I walked to Stephansplatz to check out Stephansdom/St. Stephan’s Cathedral. Now before I start harping on Stephansdom let me offer this: All of this information about Stephansdom is my opinion and no fact-checking has taken place.

What I liked about Stephansdom: It was huge. There is a ton of history around the exterior and inside that is worth taking a few hours to see.

What I didn’t like about Stephansdom: If you wanted to see the good stuff on the interior, you had to pay to have a tour-guide walk you around. Sure it was only a few Euros, but I hate when a church gets turned into a money-making tourist attraction. I refuse to pay to see a church for a couple reasons: 1. I am cheap. 2. A tour locks you down and you can’t just wander around. Had I allotted two hours to see Stephansdom I would not have minded but since I was on a tightish schedule I wanted to go in, get a peek at the cool stuff, and then dash off for some lunch. I had a podcast loaded on my iPod and had planned on using it to see the church, but instead I got mad and spent all of my time trying to weasel around the security barring me from getting inside. I was not successful and now I was really hungry.

The short spire at St. Stephen's.

The short spire at St. Stephen’s.

Is this a little too big?

Is this a little too big? Cheapskates on this side of the gate, people with two hours to waste on the other side.

Who would listen to the priest if all this was available to look at?

Who would listen to the priest if all this was available to look at?

The big spire and its fancy roof.

Stepansdom’s big spire and its fancy roof.

I am sure you, Dear Reader, are familiar with the old saying, “Don’t go grocery shopping when you are hungry.” Well, I would like to add to that, “Don’t eat in a restaurant near Stephansdom when you are really hungry.” There are plenty of places to eat around Stephansplatz and since they are near Stephansplatz they are expensive. I knew this and I knew that I could find a cheaper place to eat by walking around on side streets and finding an out-of-the way spot, the problem was that I got lost and soon found myself just wanting to sit down someplace shady (not shady like crooked, but shady like without direct sunlight).  I saw a Greek Restaurant that met my requirements and grabbed a seat. The waiter came over and I ordered a beer and he suggested a mixed grill. I thought that sounded good so I went with his suggestion without looking at the menu price. (Remember when I wouldn’t pay a few Euros to take a tour of Stephansdom? I was about to pay those Euros and a few more to this shady/crooked Greek restaurant.) You know how the rest of the story works out, I ate the food, I thought it was good, the bill came and my eyes popped out of my head when I saw the big numbers on the bill. I paid the fine for being an idiot and wandered off to Peterskirche.

I was a little mad when I left the restaurant and even considered skipping Peterskirche, but as I walked toward the church I calmed down and let it go. For the most part I had managed my money well and one stupid mistake wasn’t going to ruin Vienna, but I will never eat in a Greek restaurant in Vienna ever again, Mediterranean maybe, but nothing with a blue umbrellas over the tables.

Peterskirche was awesome. It is not the best looking church from the outside, but it is really something on the interior.

The interior of Peterskirche.

The interior of Peterskirche.

Wow! Delivering a sermon from here would make you feel like a big shot.

Wow! Delivering a sermon from here would make you feel like a big shot.

More over the top decor.

Want some action in church? Here you go.

This could distract me for days.

This could distract me for days. The blurred effect is because my hands were still shaking from anger at the Greek restaurant.

Boo Yah!

Boo Yah!

Little three-headed babies carved into the pews. Little three-headed babies carved into the pews.

Well, hello there, Mr. Dead Dude.

Well, hello there, Mr. Dead Dude.

Peterskirche was just the right size…like in the Goldilocks story…and it was free. I found a nice seat near the front and spent about 30  minutes just looking around at all the different items. The shrine to the dead guy still remains a mystery to me. I looked for who he was, but unfortunately the church only had literature in German and even the interwebs could not solve the mystery of who he was. He looks like somebody important and probably did something important, but I guess I will have to leave it up to Dan Brown to make up something devious about the dead dude.

After my trifecta of churches it was time to head back to the hotel and get ready for my final night at the opera: Wagner’s Siegfried (part 1, I think). My right heel had been hurting a little and I finally took a peek at what was going on. When I took off my day-glo shoes I noticed my foot was fat and that something odd was going on. My solution was an elegant one, I put on flip-flops and called it good.

My right ankle is usually a dainty number, this swelling concerned me enough to take a picture of it.

My right ankle is usually a dainty number, this swelling concerned me enough to take a picture of it.

I showed up around eight, ate some schnitzel and got ready to be thrilled by Wagner. I had high hopes for this opera. My sister-in-law is a big Wagner fan and The Ring plays in Seattle often enough for even someone as uncultured as me to know about it. I had also seen pictures of the sets for The Ring and was expecting lots of fiery action.  At 9:30 the little lady came out, talked in German for 20 minutes and then gave a two-minute English recap that included some information about the importance of this production from 1976. Well, now my expectations were even higher, a ground-breaking production that was done 35 years ago that is still controversial, this is going to be awesome.

It wasn’t.

It did hold my attention for about two hours though. Here is what was ground-breaking about the performance: it was set in an industrialized age, and the actors were asked to act instead of just singing. The industrial part made the production look dull and grey. I wanted bright colors and dragons…nope. The acting part was something I assumed opera singers had always done…nope. I guess opera before 1976 was more like the old Greek Tragedies where the words implied the action. In this production the guy playing Siegfried did a lot of moving around and shout-singing. The only other guy was some really old dude with a broken sword. Now even I could tell that the sword was a key element to the story and it just so happened that there was a big iron forge sitting in the background of the stage. I was determined to see the forge turned on and working. I was not going to leave until I saw Siegfried fix the sword.

While I was waiting for the sword to be made I got to see Siegfried have a five second wrestling match with a man in the worst bear suit ever (it looked more like a Halloween dog costume) and there was a lot of conflict between the old dude and Siegfried. Eventually, an hour and 45 minutes into the opera, Siegfried fired up the forge and began smashing the old sword pieces together. I was starting to feel like my nearly two hours was about to pay off, and then…Siegfried held up the completed sword and it was about 18 inches long. I mean it. It was like Bilbo Baggins’ sword, and when it comes to swords size really matters. You can tell me all you want that it is how you use the sword, but we all know that a big sword is always better.

Finally some action.

Finally some action.

That was it for me, I could not take it any longer, two hours of build-up for the world’s smallest sword. I got up knowing that I would miss the last bit of the opera and something else would probably happen, but I figured no matter what happened it wouldn’t be as good as walking back to my hotel on my fat ankle.

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TSOJ: Final Thoughts on Norway

Modeling is a gift for some, a talent for others, and a skill I don't have.  If the photographer was looking for an unnatural pose, then I am the man.

Modeling is a gift for some, a talent for others, and a skill I don’t have. If the photographer was looking for an unnatural pose, then I am the man.

Norwegians have a great deal to be proud of. Before traveling to Norway, I thought of Norway as that cold place where people cross-country ski. It is that place, but it is also a country that has much more to be proud of than Olympic Gold Medals in the 10,000 meter cross-country race. I leave Norway knowing the country a little better and understanding the people a little more, but knowing that visiting the two largest cities in no way makes you an expert. With that said, let me begin with my wild speculations about Norway.
I ran into several Americans along the way and heard the same cliché used to describe the country of Norway: Cradle to grave Socialism. The catch-phrase seems to be an American code for these people share more than then should. I think many Americans believe that Socialism is evil because it leads to other social evils like equality. I’m no expert on how to make a country great, but I do know that Norway does many things better than the US. Sure they have a natural resource in vast oil fields, but they also protect their wild lands with a fierceness that borders on Texas sized pride. They are taxed at a high level and the country is uber-expensive, but they get a lot for their “cradle to grave” whereas Americans think they are getting a bargain. American costs are spread out differently and the burden is heaviest on the poor, not because they pay the most but because taxes in America aren’t always taxes. Medical coverage in the US is a privilege and not a right, and even those of us who are lucky enough to have medical coverage find out that our coverage is shrinking while our costs are increasing. Our dollar for dollar cost of medical coverage is the highest in the world.

This is the guy we are talking about when we say grave.

This is the guy we are talking about when we say grave.

In Norway health is taken seriously and exercise is a national obsession. The US is obsessed with sports watching, Norway is obsessed with sport participation. This sports participation is encouraged in multiple ways. There are bike/skiing paths all over the place. On my bike tour of Oslo the guide said that during the winter there are skiing paths in the hills that lead to restaurants in the woods and that families will ski to these restaurants and have a meal. The paths are lit so they can be used at any time in the winter. The entire idea is to get people out of the house and exercising. You will not find too many overweight Norwegians which in the end drives down medical costs and increases a national happiness that cannot be measured in a dollar amount.

Page in the Bergen paper devoted to kids and families...I think.

Page in the Bergen paper devoted to kids and families…I think.

There cannot be a better place in the world to be a kid. If I were a kid anywhere in the world, I would want to be a Norwegian kid. Kids are celebrated here. I would guess that 20% of all stores in Norway are stores for children. I have heard a few kids crying on long trips (these could be American kids for all I know), but everywhere I have gone kids have things to do. On the train there was a whole car devoted to families with young kids. There was a little play room and the kids were in there messing around while the parents sat outside. Kids are allowed to run around and be kids. They can climb on stuff, they can lay down in the aisle on a boat and take their shoes off and their parents don’t rush in to make them behave. It is like the whole country decided at some point that the most important thing in the world is happy kids because happy kids become happy adults. In the old church I went to in Bergen there was an area in the church for kids to play IN THE SANCTUARY! I can imagine the disapproving looks this would get in the US where well behaved kids means quiet kids. I don’t know how the Norwegian state assists with families, but I would bet one Oslo beer that both mothers and fathers have significant time to spend with their children in the first few years of a child’s life: paid time away from work for mom and dad, built-in paid vacation for all jobs.
There might not be a better country in the world to be a woman. Equality here is real. The number of women I saw doing “men’s jobs” surprised to me, and women represent a large percentage of politicians in Norway. Men can be stay-at-home dads and women can be rock masons. The only place I saw only men was with the King’s honor guard, but that was a small sample on one day, so I don’t know if it is an accurate observation.
Adults are allowed to run. How often do you see American businessmen running? Maybe in an airport like OJ, but most of the time adults not wearing running outfits and jogging shoes are seen as weird in the US. Disagree with me on this one? Well ask yourself if you saw an adult running down the road what would you think? I know what I think, “Is he escaping the from the cops, or is he running from imaginary demons?” In Norway, I saw many adults run little bursts and they didn’t look like they were running from someone.

Norwegians have a real problem with liking bad folk singing. In Oslo the most popular street performer was a guy singing John Denver songs. Hearing a guy sing Country Roads with a Norwegian accent just did not do it for me. (Remember, John Denver once gave me $5.) I don’t want to beat they guy up too badly, but if he were a street performer in America no one would give him money or listen to him. In Bergen, there was a duo singing folk songs by the waterfront and there was a huge crowd. They actually sang Sweet Home Alabama. SWEET HOME ALABAMA! People from outside of Alabama should never, ever sing this song. First off if you dropped a Norwegian in the middle of Alabama they would have a heart attack. Second of all, the song was written as a response to Neil Young’s song Southern Man which was about racist problems still alive in Alabama due to slavery. Now I know that Sweet Home Alabama has a great little guitar lick and is great little jam, but I’m with Neil Young on this one: The Southern United States should not be celebrating their “heritage” and Norwegians should not be singing this song.

Every Norwegian driver thinks they are a rally car racer. Maybe it is because there is no snow on the roads, but they like to drive fast, turn without braking much, and stop and start abruptly. I saw rally car racing on the television a couple times in Norway, and I didn’t watch much TV. As I sit here in the airport I have seen multiple airport vehicles tearing around like the driver was in a Vin Diesel movie. I suppose when you drive in the snow most of the year, driving on bare pavement makes things too easy, so Norwegians like to spice it up by driving like stunt men and women.

The kid area in the old cathedral.

The kid area in the old cathedral. Photo taken using the Barbara Walters’ filter.

Norway has the lowest percentage of people practicing an organized religion. (I think this information comes from Jo Nesbo books. By the way, Jo Nesbo fans, there is a new Harry Hole novel out in Norway and in five years you may be able to read it in English.) Often times people equate religion with ethical behavior, other times people equate unethical behavior with religion, but Norwegians strike me as very ethical people. They make all appearances to care about other human beings and their society does what it can to balance the scales of injustice. There is a greater balance between rich and poor here than any other Western country and the people are proud of that fact. I’m pretty sure there is a lesson to be learned from these heathen Vikings about what it means to love your neighbor.
The human brain is amazing and my brain has been challenged by one specific item in Norway: Doors. My brain usually works pretty well when it comes to looking at a door and knowing whether it is a push or pull situation, but in Norway I got it wrong almost every time. If I was supposed to push, then I was pulling. If I was to be pulling, I was pushing. I don’t know what it is about the construction of the doors in this nation but there is an optical illusion taking place with the vertical lip of the doors. I never realized I take in so much visual information before opening a door. My little brain got fooled so often that I began to “do the opposite” of what I thought I should do and this actually worked. I probably looked like someone confronted by a door for the first time as I stood there waiting for the information wash through my brain, but at least I stopped pulling my arm out of socket. Doors are also hefty numbers here, weaklings are going to die in the cold during a storm. The winter must blow some cold strong winds, because most doors weighed a metric ton.

Mini-train with mini-tunnels.

Mini-train with mini-tunnels.

Norwegians love building train tracks and tunnels. The option of building around something never seems to occur to them. There is a child-like playfulness when it comes to tunnels, some tunnels are built just because they want to poke a hole in something. It might have something to do with their national fascinated with trolls, but I’m not sure. It could also be that they just like a fun challenge. Whatever it is, they sure get a kick out of drilling through a mountainside. They also love their trains, steep trains, fast trains, high-altitude trains, and just regular trollies. If you like trains, then Norway should be on your list of countries to visit.

Gatsby: A movie review before seeing the movie

Cover of "The Great Gatsby"

I have not seen the new Great Gatsby movie, but it is going to be horrible. How do I know? I just do. I don’t think I am alone in my opinion. (No, I am not secretly a republican congressman, or a member of the 700 club.) First off, the movie was originally slated to open at the end of 2012. It could be that the producers were worried about the Mayan end of the the world and wanted to make sure the movie beat the apocalypse to the box office, but I suspect what really happened was that the movie was previewed and people said, “This movie sucks.” So the people in charge moved the release to May.

May is a great time of year for releasing…pollen? I don’t think there has ever been a great movie released in May. May is where bad movies go to die. What makes me an expert on movie releases? Nothing, I just have been living long enough to see movie releases pushed back, and not once has the push back been a good thing. If the movie had been pushed into the summer to compete with the mindless explosion movies, I might be more willing to believe that Gatsby is going to go on to be blockbuster, but it was moved to May where it will line up against other classics like Tyler Perry Presents Peeples, and Fast and the Furious 6.

My next problem is the director, Baz Luhrmann. I don’t know much about Baz other than he directed two movies that I hated: Moulin Rouge and Romeo and Juliet. His movies are very stylish, bright, and loud, but turning Fitzgerald’s Gatsby into a musically driven pile of bright colors and loud sounds isn’t going to make Gatsby a great movie. Take Romeo and Juliet  for example, the play is pretty good. The writing is solid and I believe the guy who penned the play knew what he was doing. Then along comes Baz who decides to spice up the play by adding loud noises, flamboyant outfits, and a gaggle of young actors that are way, way over their heads. A few of the actors did not seem to understand the words that were coming out of their mouths and so Baz gave them these two directions: “Yell the lines if you don’t know what the words mean.” Or, “Whisper the lines if you don’t know what they mean.” Shakespearian language is not about yelling and whispering, it is about understanding the words and speaking them as the writer intended. Leo DiCaprio was about the right age for Romeo, but he was terrible in the movie. Painfully terrible in my opinion. I realize that I am not the target audience, but there were times when Leo looked confused by the sounds coming out of his mouth. Someone needed to explain to him that the words were actually in English. Having the director who brought out the worst in Mr. DiCaprio does not bode well for Gatsby. Leo is older and a much better actor these days, but can his experience overcome the flashy stylings of Mr. Luhrmann? I hope so, but I doubt it.

Some books, even really great books, cannot be made into movies. Gatsby is tough to translate onto the big screen because it is Fitzgerald‘s writing that makes the book special. The plot isn’t much to get excited about (mysterious rich guy woos an old flame), but there are passages in Gatsby written by the angels sitting on Mr. Fitzgerald’s shoulder. Those words cannot be turned into a loud, flashy movie about the Roaring Twenties.

Hemingway wrote in A Moveable Feast “His [Fitzgerald] talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings.  At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred.  Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless..” (This is one of the nicer things Mr. Hemingway said about Fitzgerald in the book. Hemingway had a way of saying something cutting and complimentary at the same time.) Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby is a butterfly also. It is beautiful and floating, it moves quietly, it darts up and down, and then it rests. The butterfly is beautiful and should be enjoyed for what it is, but I fear Mr. Baz  Luhrmann fingers are covered in butterfly dust and a once beautiful thing is lying on the ground struggling to live.

My Pretend Interview with Terry Gross

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

GROSS: Why did you want to make this movie, “Moneyball”?

Me: Well, I didn’t want to make the movie. I think that was Brad Pitt, a lot of people get us mixed up though.

GROSS: It’s a very, like, dialogue-driven film, even though there’s a lot of, like, baseball scenes in it. But your performance, even though you’re basically sitting in a chair talking and making phone calls, your performance is very kinetic. You always seem to be moving, you know, chewing ice, eating, moving your hands, throwing something.

Is it challenging to do a kinetic performance in what is basically, you know, a managerial position kind of role?

Me: Again, Terry,  that is Brad Pitt. I don’t even act. It doesn’t look too hard though.

GROSS: Let’s talk about some of your other films. Let’s start with “Inglourious Basterds,” Quentin Tarantino’s recent film. It’s set during World War II, and you play Lieutenant Aldo Raine, who’s charged with putting together a team of, like, real killers to kill the Nazis.

So here you are explaining the mission to your team.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, “INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS”)

GROSS: That’s Brad Pitt in a scene from “Inglourious Basterds.” I like the way you say Nazis.

Me: I think I say Nazi just like everybody else.

GROSS: Did the script say to pronounce Nazis, Nazis?

Me: I’m not sure. I didn’t see the script. You can probably find it online these days. Try Googling “Inglourious Basterds+Script,” I’ll bet you’ll find it there.

GROSS: You have a scar on your neck in the film, and it looks like either you were strangled with a wire and survived, or your throat was slashed and you survived. Do you know what happened to your throat?

Me: Okay, I’ll just pretend from here on out that I am Brad Pitt since you can’t seem to separate the two of us in your mind. I hear there could be a prequel to explain the scar on “my” neck.

GROSS: Oh. And is that a possibility?

Me: Sure, I haven’t seen a script yet, but Quinton and I have talked about making it.

GROSS: Now, you grew up in Oklahoma and in Missouri. And your family was Southern Baptist evangelicals?

Me: Wow, who does your research? I grew up in Montana and California. My dad was a Presbyterian minister though.

GROSS: So what was your Christian background like? What was the emphasis like in church? How was that reflected in your upbringing?

Me: Well, you can expect that I went to church pretty regularly since my dad was the minister. Presbyterians, well most Presbyterians I know, are not the fire and brimstone type of Christians. We are more into the love and forgiveness aspect of Christianity. Since I was a PK [Preacher’s Kid] I did what I could to stay out of trouble, but I also did a lot of crazy things so the other kids would know I was a normal kid. Sometimes PKs have to step out there a bit to make sure other kids don’t think we are going to lead a prayer meeting or something.

GROSS: Now, you studied journalism in college. What did you expect to become?

Me: Finally, your fact checkers got one right. Yep, I have a Journalism degree. I was wanting to do sports reporting, but once I did an internship I decided it wasn’t for me.

GROSS: This is where?

Me: Whitworth College in Spokane.

GROSS: OK.

Me: I just had a bad experience and near the end of the internship I was really disillusioned for about two weeks.

GROSS: Two weeks is such a – it’s the blink of an eye.

Me: It might seem that way sitting in your interview chair, but do two weeks of something where you don’t get paid and you have your soul crushed each day…two weeks is a long time.

GROSS: So you knew your mind.

Me: Yeah, I was done with journalism. I’m glad I made the decision to do something else.

GROSS: So you go to L.A. and then what? You get there, then what?

Me: No, I went to New Zealand for about three months. I worked in a factory for a couple months.

GROSS: In what?

Me: A factory. I made Formica tabletops, the glue made the day go by more quickly. 

GROSS: You were an extra in “Less Than Zero”?

Me: Not that I recall. I don’t even like that movie. James Spader is cool, but I like him better now that he is on The Office.

GROSS: That must have been fun. I mean…

Me: Sure, I’ll bet being in a movie is fun. Better than making Formica tabletops.

BIANCULLI: Brad Pitt, speaking to Terry Gross in 2011. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BIANCULLI: Let’s get back to Terry’s 2011 interview with Jon Eekhoff.

GROSS: So you start getting in films and you get very famous. What was the strangest thing early on about actually – not only being successful, but being famous?

Me: You know Terry, when you are pretty tall, like I am, people tend to look at you all the time. I see them trying to guess just how tall I am and some of them even ask, “How tall are you?” It doesn’t bother me, but you don’t find people asking fat people how much they weigh.

GROSS: So did that make you want to be in the limelight any more or less?

Me: I don’t know if limelight is the right term for being tall. What does limelight mean anyway? Limelight…do limes give off light? Maybe there is a lime colored light when people are on stage that makes you look important. But like I was saying being tall gets you ready for people paying attention to you.

GROSS: About how much to share about yourself and…

Me: Yeah, once you feel like a mutant, you always feel like a mutant.

GROSS: So you live in a world where money is so weird. I mean like you were able to sell the first pictures of the first child that Angelina Jolie gave birth to for $4.1 million to People magazine. And then you, you know, you donated the money to charity, put the money to good use. But that’s just like so weird, to get that amount of money for a photograph.

Me: What? Okay, I’m married. My wife is probably going to listen to this interview. I did not have a baby with Angelina Jolie. I haven’t even met her. I don’t think she is my type, not that she’s a bad person…

GROSS: It’s crazy. It’s like values gone nuts. So…

Me: I’m sure there’s lots of pressure on her.

GROSS: Yeah. Especially what you’re trying to do is like at least try to take the values gone nuts and put it to good use, put the money to good use.

Me: Sure, I want to do good things with my money, but I’m a teacher and we aren’t exactly raking in the cash-o-la. I do try to do some good with the limited funds I have.

GROSS: So did it work? Did it head people off at the pass? Did it prevent you from being stalked in the way that you feared you would?

Me: I guess. I don’t really have any stalkers.

GROSS: So at least nobody else could claim that they had the first photo.

Me: Okay. Now I’m lost. What photo?

GROSS: That’s where the big bucks are. Right.

Me: If you say so.

GROSS: You know, I interview people for a living, that’s how I spend my time, you know, and I care what my guests have to say, I’m really interested in hearing how the choices people make when they’re living their lives, why they do what they do, how they do what they do. At the same time I don’t really understand why everybody needs to know the intimate details of your personal life or your children’s lives. And I imagine you don’t really understand that either. But it’s something you probably have to think about a whole lot more than I do. Do you have any answers to that? Like why do people feel that they need to know or that they’re entitled to know personal details like that?

Me: I think many people think other people’s lives are exciting. Most of us live pretty boring lives. I think the whole Hollywood fixation is strange. I like certain actors and actresses, but I don’t understand the thinking that makes those people more interesting than your neighbor.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Me: Maybe I’ll write a short story about that.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Me: A story about a neighbor who gets fired from his paparazzi job and decides to start taking candid shots of his neighbors instead of actors. Maybe the main character has discovered that actors are just boring people also.

GROSS: Are there actors you felt that way about when you first met them?

Me: Well, I haven’t met too many actors. I did meet John Denver once. That was one time I was star-struck. I really like him when I was growing up. He gave me five dollars for carrying his bags.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: So can I squeeze in one more film clip before we have to end?

Me: If you have to.

GROSS: Great. OK. So this is “Fight Club.” This became a real, like, cult favorite. And you star in this with Edward Norton. And he plays somebody who’s been traveling on business, meets your character on a plane and comes home to find his house has been destroyed. He calls you up and then you meet in a bar, and then you basically make a strange request to him. You say, hit me. Here’s the clip.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, “FIGHT CLUB”)

GROSS: That’s my guest, Brad Pitt, with Edward Norton in a scene from “Fight Club.” So the character says how much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight. Have you been in fights? I mean you’ve had to be in fights for movies. What about real life?

Me: Not that I can remember.

GROSS: But even when you were young, did you?

Me: Oh, sure, like elementary school age. Boys fight then.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. So did you and Ed Norton end up hurting each other at all during the making of this film?

Me: Ed Norton? Nope, I think you are confusing me with Brad Pitt again. I do think I could take Ed Norton though. He looks like he is in good shape, but I’m betting he is about 5’10” and I’m 6’6”. I would just pick him up and drop him on his head.

GROSS: So how many people walk up to you and say the first rule of fight club is not to talk about fight club?

Me: Just my son.

GROSS: Really?

Me: Yeah, we really like the movie.

GROSS: It’s one of those like famous lines, which I think I just got a couple of words wrong in, but nevertheless.

Me: My son has the rules on a poster in his room. I’ll look later and give you a call.

GROSS: What do people say when they meet you?

Me: Do you want fries with that?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Do you have to worry about that?

Me: Eating French fries? Yeah, I shouldn’t do it but you know…they are good.

GROSS: Well, thank you so much for talking with us.

Me: Thank you Terry. I really enjoyed talking with you. 

Repost: My Memorial Day

I grew up in a small community in central California. The two major industries (if you can call them that) were farming and the Navy. It might seem odd to people that there would be a Navy base far from the water, but the San Joaquin Valley provided the Navy with clear skies for the pilots to get lots of air time and practice. In my small neighborhood most of my friends had fathers who were Navy pilots.

As a young boy, I remember listening to a conversation between my father and a next door neighbor who had just returned from a tour in Vietnam. The neighbor described what was happening over there as “hell,” an image that was very vivid in my mind as a child growing up in the church. Even though the war in Vietnam was thousands of miles away, it was a very real part of my community, so much so that I had friends who had fathers who were POWs and MIAs. These men loved flying, but they also loved their country in a time when service to their country was not too popular.

I also remember talking to one of my friends about his father, who was a pilot, who had been awarded a medal for bombing a building. My friend said to me, “I guess my dad has killed people.” My friend seemed to have trouble with the dual images of father and soldier.

The life of a Navy family didn’t change much after Vietnam, because the fathers were often gone on long cruises around the world. These cruises could last as long as 6 months and were very difficult for my friends who were without a father during that time. It is an incredible sacrifice for a family to make and it is one that continues today.

One of the most memorable people that grew up on my block was another kid: Vincent “Otis” Tolbert was a few years older than me and his father was also a Navy pilot. Otis was a large kid and grew into an even larger man. When he was a senior in high school, I was a freshman. He was the star fullback on the football team, and tossed the discus for the track team. He eventually went to Fresno State on a football scholarship.

One day Otis dropped by my house to talk to my older sister, she wasn’t home. Otis saw that I had a Risk game out and asked if I wanted to play. We played for a few hours, they were memorable hours for me, because Otis was all of those things I longed to be: popular, athletic, and intelligent. For him to sit down and play a game with me, meant so much. It was as if a personal hero had dropped by my house just to spend time with me.

I followed his career at Fresno State until I moved away and lost touch with where he was and what he was doing.

I know now that Otis was serving his country in the Navy, like his father. He served in Desert Storm and then took a job serving his country at the Pentagon. On September 11th, Otis was at work when a high jacked airplane slammed into his office killing him.

I found out Otis had been killed when I read a list of 9/11 victims, at first it was hard to believe that someone as strong and athletic as Otis had died. He was one of those people I assumed would live on beyond me because of his vitality and strength, but he didn’t.

I am not a flag waving American, but I do believe in the ideals that the United States represents. Otis also believed in the ideals of our country, so much so that he was willing to serve his country as a soldier. His sacrifice is what Memorial Day is all about. It is about him and the thousands like him who have died in the line of duty. With Otis, Memorial Day has become more personal for me. I will think of him this weekend, I will think of his family, I will think of the other families I grew up with who had fathers serving in the Navy and I will thank them for what they have done for all of us who practice our freedoms daily. I will also hope for the day when people like Otis Tolbert will not have to give their lives for freedom. I will hope for world peace and I will hope for a day where we celebrate an end to all war.

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