04 July 2015

Because 'Murica

Chuck Norris. Enough said.
 Another celebration of America's Independence Day is upon us. 239 years ago, the thirteen colonies declared themselves a new nation, paving the way for appliance sales, drunken barbecues, and treacly patriotic songs (Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Lee Greenwood's 'God Bless The USA'). It is precisely what the Continental Congress must have envisioned on that fateful July day when the Declaration of Independence was made, right?

I am proud to be an American. My US passport is proof of my citizenship and has unlocked the world for me. I've loved being able to experience different parts of the world, but coming home never gets old.

I am in awe of our unfailing sense of exceptionalism. One need look know further than Chuck Norris for that. Check out the pinnacle of his acting career in "The Delta Force." The film is in a word, hideous and exploitive (OK, two words, so sue me). But it's Chuck at the apex of his American bravado.

I love that our nation's press can a run a headline about a 'sleepover' hosted by a failed presidential candidate for two of the 382 vying for the nomination and no one bats an eye. Lest you were confused, these are U.S. presidential candidates having a 'sleepover,' not candidates for student body president at the local high school. One can only hope that the Romney's house help are able to find a place to hang the Trump piƱata that Rubio is no doubt bringing.

This holiday also allows for the displaying of our flag in all manner of ways, both beautiful and unfortunate. Even in the borderline socialist, never met a tax we didn't love state that we reside in, flags line the streets right now and they are beautiful. Flags also are acting as pants, shorts, shirts, and swimming suits. By and large, this is unfortunate and anything but beautiful.

Unless you are the owner of a craptastic tae kwon do shop. Because who is going to want to take a roundhouse kick to the face from those pants? No one. Because 'Murica. Except for the United Kingdom, I don't recall seeing a country's flag used as apparel as unfortunately as it is here in the United States. It is a nutty phenomenon and I guess that it is one of those things that makes us unique. We are a nation that is free to let its flag free, no matter how awkward it may be.

In spite of the madness of letting the flag act as someone's Daisy Dukes, the United States is still an amazing country. Its geography is like other in the world. Its people are as diverse as they come. Its politics are an ongoing train wreck. It is a nation that embraces its freedom in all kinds of ways. It is a country I am proud to call my home. I love this place,

May God continue to bless America, in spite of itself.

03 July 2015

July '85: When Tina Turner sang me through the gates of Heaven

Yes, I did think it was a sports car. 
The summer of 1985 found me preparing to embark on my LDS mission. I'd completed a year and half of study at the BYU and I was home for a couple of months, earning some mission cash. I was working again (I'd worked there during high school but I was no longer required to where the 'elf' outfit - let's not speak of it again) in a Scandinavian imports store in what was then Snottsdale Scottsdale's answer to Rodeo Drive (if Rodeo Drive were populated by Gilbert Ortega Indian jewelry outlets). I'd roll in to work on those summer mornings in my super sweet Honda Civic 1300FE, with the sounds of the B52s blaring from the cassette deck. If you're wondering what the "FE' stood for, it was not 'Ferrari Engineered. It was, wait for it, Fuel Economy. My teenage delusions led me to believe I was driving the coolest sports car ever. These were the same delusions that led me to a most unfortunate "Urban Cowboy" phase earlier in the 80's. You would have thought I would have learned a thing about delusions from that hideousness alone, but I did not.

While the B52s were my morning jam, my musical accompaniment on the way home was usually Tina Turner and her career restoring album, "Private Dancer." Even then, I was wickedly susceptible to ear worms and in the summer of '85, there was no escaping Tina. So on a hot July afternoon thirty years ago, I was on my way home from work, listening to Tina, with my open can of Pepsi (I know, I know, Pepsi. I was 18. Chalk it up to teenage foolishness) ensconced between my legs. That was what we called a cup holder in those days. Cars did not come with the pre-requisite 79 cup holders like they do today. We had to improvise.

As I was heading northbound towards an intersection, listening to Tina demand "Let's stay together," I noticed that the car heading westbound was going to blow through the stop sign that only the east and west bound drivers had. At that moment, everything slipped into that slow motion, suspended animation that any of you who have been in a car accident may recognize. Within seconds, this little Fiat convertible T-boned me in the passenger side of my car and sent my Civic spinning into the yard of one of the houses lining the street.

The force of the accident slammed me into my door, knocking me unconscious and causing some other fun, albeit minor injuries. Of course, I didn't know that. The force of the accident also slammed my legs together, causing the open can of Pepsi to explode like a volcano, covering me in its carbonated goo. As I began to come out of the blur, I couldn't, or wouldn't, open my eyes. I felt like I was covered head to toe in something wet (the aforementioned Pepsi) and all I could hear was the raspy voice of Tina Turner imploring that we stay together. It struck me as odd that she just kept saying, 'Let's stay together.' I thought because I couldn't open my eyes and wasn't feeling anything that I was dead and that Tina was the lead 'Welcome' songstress. This was an answer to prayers because I was really hoping that the chorus of heavenly angels would be a little more peppy than the Mo'Tab. I, at that point, was delighted with how things were turning out for a dead guy. I mean Tina Turner leading an angelic choir. I'd had a pretty awesome life up to that point. So if was the way I was going out, it was time to just wait for my name to be called or for someone to say, 'Go towards the light.'

And then, the pain kicked in and my eyes sprung open. I could no longer hear Tina. I heard sirens. I was not dead. Dang it. What followed was a delightful chat with the police and paramedics, including my refusal to be treated on scene because 18 year olds are invincible. I wasn't invincible as my visit to our family physician proved the following day. I was wrecked but I was in far better shape than my totaled car. For the car, it was fatal, but for Tina, not so much. I managed to pry the cassette out of the tape deck because priorities.

As the car was towed away a couple of days later to be parted out, a part of my youth went with it. It was time for me to grow up. I was leaving for a two year mission in what was then a matter of days. I had no idea what was ahead of me. The growth. The challenges. The tests. The joy.

I hear the first few notes of "Let's Stay Together" today and it's July 1985 all over again. It was the summer I straddled the line of adulthood with marginal success. It really did kick off my trip into adulthood. Thirty years later, I'm appreciative of the lessons of that summer.

And I'm still hoping that when it is my time, Tina is there to sing me in.

29 June 2015

S'up, he said

During the time that TMFKATB served in Mexico, his English grew worse and worse and that was reflected in his weekly emails. They were an exercise in translation frustration as I tried to make them readable for his blog.

Now that he's Stateside, one would think that with the English influence, things might improve. One would be wrong. Now, to give credit where credit is due, it is a little easier to read his letters but as this week's email showed, he's using his Spanish enough to still impact his English syntax. That's fine by me, as I want him to hone his Spanish-speaking skills. They will be a blessing to him for a long time to come.

I was reminded of that today as I led a video call with my team, who stretch from Canada to Argentina. Our newest team member, an Argentine, is much more comfortable speaking in Spanish. Most of my team speaks Spanish but one does not so I was able to translate and was grateful to have been given that gift of a second language. Thirty years ago, as I hoofed it through the streets of 'locura' that was, and let's face it, still is, Miami, I had no idea how that language would serve me for the rest of my life. It's been a blessing. A straight-up blessing.

Reeling it back from Memory Lane, TMFKATB had a good week. He is really happy. He had a couple of experiences that reminded him why he's serving. He feels like they were pointed to people this past week to help them specifically and not be happenstance. He sees the hand of God in those encounters. It's an impactful lesson for a nineteen year old.

In spite of being in the heart of the Zion Curtain, he's not wanting for all things Latin. He raved about Salvadoran food and a place he wants to take me to some day. He couldn't say enough about the chuleta. Here it is:


That, my friends, is one well dressed pork chop. He's being well fed. Given that he lost thirty plus pounds, Salvadoran pork chops and the homemade bread that gets tossed their way isn't a bad thing. Until it is. He'll know when it is. It'll be the moment one of the buttons on his white shirt snaps off as he exhales and hits the kid across the table from him in the eye. I know this can happen from sad experience.

May he learn from my mistakes...

27 June 2015

Cops

Springfield's finest
Cops. Police. The Fuzz. The Po'po.

No, this is not an ode to that old Fox Television gem that still lives on today. Seriously, new episodes are still being produced. If I learned nothing else from that televised train wreck, it is that there's nothing a crackhead loves more than a set of pink curlers in their hair, ill-fitting t-shirts, and a trailer park. If you see any combination of the three, grab a seat and a bucket of popcorn, because it is about to go down!

My history with crackheads is decidedly light as is my interaction with the police. I have several friends who are former police officers and they are some of the most stand up, decent people I know. Two of them in particular have an empathy and a love for their fellow man that you don't often see in others, let alone former cops. I think that empathy comes from seeing people at their lowest and seeing what happens when redemption occurs. It's fascinating and encouraging.

In the media, you don't often get to see that side of the police. Too often, in television and movies, they are buffoons or criminals themselves. In our era of 'always on' news, it is the rogue or murderous cop that deservedly gets the headlines, not the ones who do their jobs, and do them well, day in, day out. As is typically the case when anything gets painted with a wide brush, the truth lies somewhere in between. Most cops are good cops. They want to do a good job and they care about the lives they are entrusted to protect.

They also like a good Asian burrito. Wait...what? What about the donuts, you ask? Ah, you slave to stereotypes! Let it go. Earlier this week, as I slipped out of my midtown office to head to the heinous Hell that is Penn Station for my slog home, I had one thing on my mind - getting dinner at the pop restaurant extravaganza that is Broadway Bites. A riot of taste from Colombian to Turkish delights, there are all kinds of options here to sate one's hunger, so of course, I was eating there. As I roamed around the stalls assessing my options, two of New York City's finest were doing the same. As I finally sidled up to Domo Taco, the two cops got in line behind me. After I placed my order, in a tone that could only come from someone capable of crushing someone's head in his bicep, I heard, "Sir, what do you recommend?" I turned around and what ensued was an awesome conversation with two cops about the finer points of Asian burritos and tacos. Turns out these two were beat cops from Brooklyn who were in the midtown 'hood on a special assignment. They were like kids in a candy store with all the food that was on offer. We debated the burrito versus the rice bowl and I convinced them that Korean-infused version was the way to go. After they got their food, we went our separate ways. They must have liked what they got because I didn't get arrested.

There are good cops and there are bad cops. There are good and bad people in every profession and in every walk of life. I'd like to think that they good outweighs the bad. In the end, it does. I'll take the good every time.

By the way, speaking of good, get the braised five spice pork burrito whenever you see it on a menu.

If you want a really good read on life as New York City cop, read "The Job" by Steve Osborne