Monday, November 25, 2013

The Cold Truth

I'm nominating son-in-law David for the honor of "Fanatic Fan of the Year" based on last weekend's performance.
I should first mention that David lives in Columbus, OH, which is not only the state's capital and largest city, but also home of a formidable football team, the Ohio State Buckeyes. David, however, is a BYU guy, and is interested in OSU only as a means of  knowing how to avoid game day traffic jams.
BYU still plays most of its games in the West, but they are a football independent now and can theoretically schedule just about everyone. ESPN, the kings of cable, have helped this happen. Last Saturday the Cougars came to South Bend, IN to play Notre Dame.
The Columbus - South Bend trip takes about seven hours to drive, and David decided that was as close as his alma matre's team would be coming, so he made plans months ago to be there. Daughter Anna went, too, and she never even attended BYU, though she has an uncle who's on the faculty. Maybe I should nominate her, too.
Late November in the Midwest can be brutally cold, and that was the couple's misfortune. The temperature was under thirty, and the wind made it feel like the teens. Snow flurries flew from time to time as well. It must have felt like an icicle through the heart, and it only got worse as the game dragged on. They stayed to the end, which by then required lights to see.
It wasn't a bad game as these things go, but the home town Irish got the win, leaving nothing for the two of them to do but point the car back towards home. I'd hate to guess how long it took to regain feeling in all their appendages, but they made it back, no doubt thankful that growing up in Idaho and Iowa probably aided their ability to withstand pain in this academic Antarctica. We can only hope that next year's schedule allows a November trip to somewhere a bit more human-friendly, like Shreveport or Mobile.      

Monday, November 18, 2013

Fifty Years After

I had another look at that Subaru commercial I mentioned last week. It turns out that the back of what appears to be a male head is seen a couple of times very briefly. That must be "Dad". What's appealing about this little spot is the mom's unexplained moment of looking lovingly at the early-teen daughter, who doesn't quite know what's going on. But WE know. Cars are being sold.

I saw a football game last week which included a pass receiver named Fakes. I thought that was pretty cool. Then I noticed a new name on the Iowa basketball team roster - Jok. Good luck to both of them, I guess.

In the fall of 1963 I was in the 9th grade at Muscatine (IA) Central Junior High. Part of the building was where my grandmother had attended high school. No parking lot. No athletic fields nearby. Churches on two sides. It's been gone for decades, so all I can do as a tour guide for Old Muscatine is point out what used to be where. It's not the most exciting view of the past, I admit.
But around the noon hour on November 22nd, we got the news over the school PA system that President Kennedy had been shot. I probably didn't quite realize what had occurred, and started to say wildly inappropriate things (a normal tendency for 9th graders) out loud. I'm sure no one remembers what the inappropriate things were.
Not very long after, the news of President Kennedy's death reached us, and things calmed down in a hurry. We were sent home for the rest of the afternoon, probably most of us to our family TV sets to learn more about what had happened. Our set, like most, was black and white.
I have written before about John Kennedy in this space. He was born the same year as my father, though he looked younger. That made him 46 years old at his death, and his wife was just 34. His presidency never had a chance to fully bloom because it never reached the three year mark. Though a Democrat, he was more conservative than today's Party faithful. The Cold War was near its apex, though Vietnam was not yet a name synonymous with death or failure. The cause of Civil Rights was moving forward, mostly via court decisions, but the president's own devotion to the cause was changeable depending on the political winds of the day.
I could drone on about the changes that came about after Kennedy's death, although, truthfully, there were no big changes to our young lives in eastern Iowa. At least not yet.    

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Three Completely Unrelated Things

When the year began, I started doing something new, at least for me. I'm now the grandpa of eleven, with two more expected shortly. None live closer than five hours away, and so my face time with each of them is pretty limited.
Every Sunday, I sit down and write ONE of them a short letter and invite them to write back. I send these by MAIL, because no one else is contacting them this way. And who knows? Somebody might want to keep them.
I noticed that one of our sons had been doing some work-related travel, and that he's leaving home again this weekend to watch (along with our other son) an auto race in Texas. As it happened, it was his son's turn for a grandpa letter. I suggested he keep track of his dad's trips and what's different in the places he goes to compared to their family's home in Utah. He's only nine, but he's also pretty smart, so we'll see. Hey, I know there are probably a hundred ways to learn these things, but the country's STILL full of people who think you need a visa to go to New Mexico, and probably think Iowa is part of Hawaii. Let's stay out of the trap that says that the only things we should bother to know are tied to our jobs or our PCs. Not so.

Can you fill in the blanks? "Love. It's what makes a _______ a ________." The terms "house" and "home" work pretty well, but I'm thinking of a new auto company slogan in which both blanks are filled with "Subaru". It seems to fit especially well in a current commercial in which a mom makes note of all the important milestones that have happened in her daughter's life as a passenger in the family Subaru. Of course this has nothing to do with the car itself, but there's just enough poignancy in this micro-drama to at least make the commercial enjoyable. But I wish a dad was included, even if he had no lines.
On the other hand, Mercedes Benz has a bold new theme which makes me want to puke. In a flurry of Teutonic ego, the company shouts that it's out to make "The best or nothing". It almost sounds like a line from an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. Yes, I know. He's from Austria, not Germany. And I know selling to luxury car buyers must be different from pitching to customers of whatever class Subaru sees itself in, but if this were a slogan showdown, I'd give the edge to Subaru in a minute.

Finally, who would think that five years after her non-hit with voters that we'd still be hearing about Sarah Palin? She didn't push McCain to glorious victory in 2008. She couldn't hide some stupefying ignorance about the world, revealing herself as totally unqualified as presidential material. She didn't, in fact, even keep her job as Alaska governor once it became obvious that bigger and better deals were available promoting a certain goofy right-wing worldview. As neither an officeholder nor a candidate, there's no pressure on her to be anyone but her cute self as long as people keep showing up to see her. It's a little like Dennis Rodman, whose goofiness was completely tolerable when he was pulling down lots of rebounds in the NBA, but who is now just another eccentric guy with strange hair. Sarah's still quoted, and still on TV, but...WHY?
All I can think of is this. For a certain number of Americans, she fills the role of slightly naughty neighbor who can always be counted on for some hot gossip over the back fence. Our society no longer has such folks, since everyone's now on the job and there are no longer any clotheslines but, hey, we've got Sarah to say out loud what we may be thinking. May I be struck down if I ever start thinking like she does. She can get her millions from other folks. Let's just hope she's paying her taxes legally.


Wednesday, November 06, 2013

What I Should Have Said

Two things we would almost never think of together - poker and religion - had an odd meeting just last night. I can't say why, but those poker shows on ESPN are a big enough hit to justify millions in stakes and prize money. Last night was some kind of final, and a winner emerged, a younger man with no special aura or image. There, surrounded by a stack of cash the size of a pitchers mound and sporting a new jewel-encrusted bracelet gaudy enough to give "bling" a bad name, the winner thanked "God, for making it all possible." Let's hope some of the cash goes towards a home study course in Religion and Ethics.

The trip to Iowa for Marla's wedding gave us the opportunity to do a few new things, one of which was to ride on the BART train from Jake's home in Orinda to the San Francisco Airport. It was very early in the morning. Our fellow passengers, no doubt mostly commuting to their jobs, looked more sleepy than anything else. I noticed a large man perhaps in his thirties wearing sunglasses even though it was pitch dark outside. He had twin images of the famous Nike "flying man" on the backs of his calves. They didn't seem tattooed so much as branded onto his skin, though that part left me guessing. I was surprised, however, to see that although he was wearing sneakers, they weren't Nikes. Go figure.

Not long ago in this space I mentioned Phil, one of our local tennis players. He doubles as a sometime critic of Mormonism, which is perfectly legal. A week or two ago, he said he had a question. How much, he wanted to know, do the Mormon leaders get paid, and why don't they say publicly how much it is?    
I wish I could have given a snappy answer, but found myself falling back on the fact that many of the LDS leaders serve at reduced pay from what they were making in the private sector, and that other church critics have tried to mine this field before and have come up empty. These answers didn't seem to satisfy Phil, who no doubt would have reeled in horror if I had asked how much he makes doing the laundry of Humboldt County's rich and famous.
Now I know what I should have said: "Phil, with all due respect, I think you're asking the wrong question. If someone is a con artist intent on fleecing the faithful for big bucks, which I freely admit happens pretty often in this country, then such a person shouldn't be paid anything, should they? But if, on the other hand, these are leaders who really do deliver revelations from God as useful to us as those of Isaiah's or Daniel's or Moses' day, then the value of these people would be more than almost anyone on earth, wouldn't you agree? The real question, then, should be 'Are these true leaders, genuine successors in a line of prophets?' We know no real prophets would try to scam their believers. Would you like to get your own answer to this question, Phil?" I'm not sure what he'd say to such a proposal, but I hope I'm better prepared the next time tShouldheology breaks in on tennis at Hammond Park.