31 October 2014

Halloween 1988

It's Halloween night and so far, traffic has been pretty light here in the Den. Interesting to note that there's been a common theme amongst the few children that have come by and it's not that they are all characters from "Frozen." Instead, they've all been pretty vocal in their candy tastes and they've not been afraid to voice their displeasure. A new tactic for sure, but I counter with the following, 'Ummm...it's candy. It's free. I'd rethink the complaint policy.'

With that as a tableau, I've been thinking about Halloweens past. It's been 36 years since the release of the best scary movie ever, "Halloween." It unleashed a terror in the form of a nutter in a William Shatner mask and a forever shrieking Jamie Lee Curtis, typecast for good. If nothing else it taught us too that no good happens to teenagers when the parents are out of the house.

Ten years later, for Halloween 1988, another terror befell another innocent group of young people. While not quite as bathed in gore as a slasher film, what happened to these kids was equally as disturbing. It was the Blisters:

The Blisters
I'd been off my mission over a year in 1988 when it was Halloween party time at my BYU ward. Now this being BYU, Halloween costumes meant, and still mean, that the costumes are, in a word, tame. Translation: women cannot dress up like they are working the pole and that modesty and a modicum of decorum remains paramount. As my roommates and I thought about what we would do for said party, a couple of things came to mind...what would be most borderline offensive thing we might do and since it was off-campus, how far could we take things without a long chat with the Honor Code goons. Given those guidelines and since we were living in a student ward full of recently returned missionaries, both male and female, there was only one option - The Blisters.

Yep, a living loving parody of the sister missionaries of the time (everybody calm down, it was 26 years ago!). The drop waist dresses, courtesy of the local thrift emporium, DI, were pretty much required uniforms in those days. In some cases, so was the slightly superior smirk that I was sporting. Blister T, in the center, and I served together in the same mission and we were both on the receiving end of those slightly superior sister smirks on more than one occasion. Our fourth 'companion' is not in this picture, but I can assure you, there was a fourth. We weren't about to violate 'mission rules.' So when we made our grand entrance in all our hairy legged, five o'clock shadowed, superior glory at the party at the now long gone Bridal Veil Falls, we got the reaction we hoped for. We probably got a bigger reaction because our tags read 'Blister' instead of 'Sister.' It was, in a word, awesome. And just a little bit scarring.

Thanks to the Blister in the center, another picture from that evening made the rounds on the interwebs this week on the Facebook. It got a great reaction and I thought it was worth rehashing here tonight, 26 years later.

Happy Halloween from The Blisters.

29 October 2014

Why do I have to do it twice?

Seriously. You want fries with that?
In my ongoing effort to see just how quickly I can obliterate my health savings account this year, I saw the dentist yet again today. The quest to fix my broken tooth has taken on the timing of the search for what the Kardashians' won't do for money. Simply put, it has no end. As a result, I found myself in the dentist's chair this morning for appointment #382. It started with the dentist telling me there was no need to numb me up because my tooth was dead anyway. Well, good morning to you too, Princess. It ended with me walking away with what I believe may have been a mild concussion, thanks to the drill she used. Apparently it was obtained from a recently shuttered mine.

Anyway, I decided to treat myself to a doughnut after the visit. Because why not head directly to a sugar dealer immediately after seeing the dentist. So I went to a nearby outlet of the ubiquitous doughnut purveyor that you can find, by law, about every 500 yards here in Connecticutistan and Mass. I walk in to get my pumpkin doughnut. As I approach the counter to place my order, the slacker kid assigned to the register appears out of nowhere and asks, "Bra', what can I get you?" Bra? He really said it. Hearing that word, I quickly looked around to see if Dog the Bounty Hunter was lurking in the shadows, but seeing no sign of a wicked mullet, I felt it was safe to proceed with my order. He began to swivel around to the rack o'doughnuts, when his manager swooped in and the following played out before my eyes:

Strident Teen Manager (think Tracy Flick from 'Election'): You just got back from the bathroom. You washed your hands, right?
Bra' the Donut Boy: Sha,yeah!
Strident Teen Manager: You have to wash them again.
Bra' the Donut Boy: But I washed 'em. 
Strident Teen Manager: Didn't you watch the video in training? You have to wash them twice. Once in the bathroom. Then again here!" She then harshly pointed to the sink next to the counter, expertly jabbing her microphone-adorned head toward the sink.
Bra' the Donut Boy: (in a defeated half-wail) Why do I have to do it twice?

Strident glared and he knew the battle was lost. He sulked over to the sink and she spun back around to me with my doughnut magically in what I can only assume was her twice-washed hand. I kind of felt bad for Bra'. He was now staring down the barrel of a long shift of glares, recriminations, and probably a forced watching of the hand washing video during his break. I just hope she doesn't make him practice.

Hopefully he learns his lesson about picking his battles in the workplace. You've got to choose wisely. You don't want to be the one practicing hand washing in front of customers because you chose the wrong time to lament, "Why do I have to do it twice?"

27 October 2014

The Call

Earlier today, a young man, dressed in his suit and wearing his badge identifying him as a missionary, strode through airport after airport as he made his way to his assigned field of labor in a not-so-distant country, but in a world totally new to him.

Of course, that young man is The Missionary formerly known as The Boy. He, along with 11 other missionaries, made their way this morning from behind the Zion Curtain to Mexico. All twelve are bound for the same mission - Tuxtla Gutierrez. Their group has made their way through three different airports today before they'll get to their fourth in Tuxtla. I'm sure it has made for a bit of an amusing site. I would have loved to been a fly on the wall to watch twelve sets of eyes get progressively wider with each new airport and change of planes.

We've been able to stay in touch with him today, thanks to a throw-away cell phone that we sent him. Because airport payphones. I mean think about it - A) are there even any left anymore and B) who needs whatever highly contagious disease lurks in those that remain? So a throw-away cell phone it was. To hear his voice for the first time in six weeks was an absolute joy. From his first call to his last today, he sounded happy. It was a thrill for me to hear his conversation peppered with Spanish, albeit heavily American accented, it was Spanish just the same. It was even better to hear his excitement. He was excited to start talking to people. He sat next to a couple from Spain during his first flight and was excited that he could understand them describing their vacation in Cancun in Spanish. Any trepidation that the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I may have had vanished with that first call. A calm, even a peace, enveloped us as we talked to him. I am so grateful for that comforting blessing.

Talking to him from Mexico City was even more fun. The reality of being in a new country sounded like it was setting in. I asked him how it was clearing Customs. I've cleared Customs more times than I care to count in Mexico City so I know what he would experience. He told me, in Spanish, how it went down. As the Customs agent began to pepper him with questions, The Missionary said he asked him, again in Spanish, if there was anyone who spoke English. The Customs guy apparently smiled and said, "Mihijo Usted ya esta en Mexico. Ya habla espanol." (Son, you're in Mexico now. Now you speak Spanish!) That ringing you hear in the background? Yeah, that's the reality check bell clanging loudly. He then mentioned that his group was the only group of white people anywhere. How's that for enlightenment? It's actually a young man realizing he' not in the proverbial "Kansas" anymore.

I can't believe how good it was to talk to him. I'm so grateful for how good he sounded. I'm even more grateful for the peace that his mother and I are feeling. We'll need that knowing that we won't speak to him again until Christmas. Wait...what? That's right. A missionary calls home twice a year - Mother's Day and Christmas. It allows for the missionary to focus on what he / she has been called to do and there's some growing up that happens too, as a result. It's probably worse for the parents. That being said, I'm excited to talk to him at Christmas. By that time, his American Spanish accent will be long gone. He'll have gone native at that point. It'll be the Battle of the Accents - my Cuban versus his Mexican. We'll see who takes it. I can't wait!

The Final Leg

25 October 2014

Story Telling Voice

Since Netflix' streaming plan became a dumping ground for short-lived for a reason television series, straight-to-DVD again, for a reason movies, and a showcase for the talent (?) that is one Adam Sandler, we cancelled our membership. Then the Awesomes got hooked on one of the series showcased on Netflix and once they had used up every free 30-day membership they could find, Our Lady of Awesome called us and implored us to restart our membership so they could finish up watching the show. The stunningly patient and mighty fine SML found she liked the aforementioned series and it seems everyone was happy. Even me, as I've found a couple of cool documentaries.

I watched one of those cool ones this afternoon. It's called "Twenty Feet from Stardom" and it tells the story of some of the best backup singers (Darlene Love!) in the music business. It was a fascinating watch and it drove home to me just how powerful the voice can be. As anyone who has had the misfortune of being near me when I sing, you know that what I produce is akin to the sound two angry alley cats make while fighting over a rotting can of sardines. Suffice to say, it's not good. What is good is that the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML is stone-cold deaf in one ear. She has been spared years and years of agony. I long ago accepted that when I was swimming in the gene pool, I did not jump into the musical talent lane. I leave musical talent to my first cousins who are half of the incredibly talented band Delta Rae. They got musical talent in spades.

Songs tell a story. The really good ones, in just a few lines and told through amazing vocals and music, are as powerful as any gripping oral or written narrative. I've come to realize that each one of us has a story to tell. One of the more simple truths of this life is that each and every one of us is an individual, with unique feelings and experiences that craft our perspective. We live in a time when it has gotten so easy to tell our stories. Facebook, for what it is, helps us to tell stories and the Twitter lets us tell those stories in short form. Instagram helps us tell stories through imagery. I know I am constantly enriched by long format story telling found in podcasts like "This American Life."

And then, for me, there is this little labor of, dare I say it, love - the virtual den that is this blog. This has become my story telling place. For better or worse, I'll let you be judge of that. For the two of you who have stuck around here for awhile, you know that I've experimented with my 'voice' here and I'm still not sure if I've hit my stride, but I hope to continue to improve. The stories that make up our rich life experience deserve that. This much I know, there are still plenty o'stories for me to tell. I'm going to keep telling them here.

After all, we all have a story to tell.

23 October 2014

The Last of Thursday Favorites

Yeah, he sure knows how to take a memorable picture
Today marked our last official MTC P-Day email bonanza / letter from The Missionary formerly known as The Boy. He departs in just a few days for parts (kind of) unknown in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico and its 'hood. He proudly entitled today's email missive "Last Letter from the CCM." His excitement about getting to Mexico was not to be contained. He's ready.

From our point of view, it hardly seems possible that he's already leaving for Mexico. It was only a few short days, I mean weeks, ago that we said our 'See you laters' and now he is on the precipice of leaving the country for his field of labor.

We've loved Thursdays as it was the appointed day to hear from him. As parents, it's been a bittersweet experience to watch him grow from afar. We've seen the growth in him through his letters. We've seen a bit of the challenges he's experienced that have led to that growth. You're excited for that growth but wish you could be there with him to help him (so not an endorsement of helicopter parenting!!!). But you sit back, suck it up, and realize how these experiences are helping him see and achieve his potential in ways that may not have been possible if you were there to help him. It's probably been harder for us than him.

So, our new favorite day will be Monday as Mondays are his prep day in the field. I'm already counting the days for that first e-mail. Tick tock....

18 October 2014


Because this.
There is precious little left in this world that appalls me. Aside from Fox News and the Four Whores (whoops, too easy - no pun intended) Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Kardashians and their ilk, there just isn't much that leaves me appalled. Until today, when a seemingly simple trip to the grocery store left me speechless at the end cap of Aisle Three.

Because Glo Balls.

Tell your inner sixth grade boy to stop snickering. Right. Now. This is real and it's not a malady that GI's were warned about before heading overseas. Glo Balls are a food, and I'm using that description in the loosest terms possible, item that a once dead company, Hostess Brands, is foisting upon the public in order to celebrate Halloween.

One would think given my wont to enjoy the more bizarre foods that the world offers, that these 'snack' items would not terrify me the way they do. I mean I've eaten baloot. I've eaten what may or may not have been pidgeon cooked on the inside of an oil barrel in an alley in Shanghai. I've eaten what I still to this day hope was asparagus doused in what most likely was motor oil in Istanbul. Tadpoles for dessert in the wet markets near Wan Chai  in Hong Kong were actually pretty tasty. Worst of all, I've eaten poutine in Montreal and lived to tell the tale. Yet, these orange orbs leave me stricken.

Let's consider a few things. Firstly, they are covered in coconut shavings. You might as well be eating hair off your barber's floor. The consistency has got to be the same. Secondly, the orange coloring. Where did they get that? It looks like it's from one of the murky vats of tanning dye that the cast of 'Jersey Shore' was dipped in before every shoot. In a not so ironic twist, the Hostess web site offers zero information on their nutritional value. You'll note my shock. I cannot imagine eating one. However, thanks to the miracle of the interwebs, I've found someone who did. You can read his review here. It's pretty much brilliant.

I think I need to go lie down now. Maybe I'll have some kind of nightmare that will be worse than what is the Glo Ball.

16 October 2014

I may have created a First Class monster

Eyemask and ear plugs, just like on the plane
As it's Thursday, it can only mean that it was 'Letter Day' from The Missionary formerly known as The Boy (TMFKATB). He has been sending pictures with his letters and today's letter was no different. Included in the gallery of pictures was the gem you see to the left. You see 'Sleeping Beauty' in his bunk, donning an eye mask and ear plugs that are normally reserved for in-flight sleeping. He looks comfortable, right? I'm concerned though that this may be the same blanket I had when I was a 'guest' of the MTC thirty years or so ago.

He should look comfortable in that he, of all our children, benefited the most from 'turning left' upon boarding an airplane or in more basic terms, not having to sit in The Village. He got lucky on far too many occasions when flying with me or by himself and enjoyed the relative comforts of the 'front of the bus.' Knowing that he should get his flight plans in the next few days, this is what manifested itself in a bit of our real-time email conversation today:

ME: Time is really flying! Excited to get your flight info.
TMFKATB: can you upgrade me to first class? its gonna be terrible. haha.
ME: I'd have to upgrade your companion too. Can't separate you!
TMFKATB: haha ok that sounds good to me. you know im too spoiled to deal with that
ME: Um you best be prepared for life in Coach, my friend.

Suffice to say, he'll be enjoying a lovely ride in Coach. Clearly, though, I may or may not have created a First Class monster. But as far as monsters go, this one is pretty tame.

If you had asked to follow The Boy's mission blog and have not been able to access it, or not gotten the invite and are still interested in reading along, would you please message me directly. It's been brought to my attention that a lot of you were not able to access it. I've found the Blogger invite system to be really tempermental, too.

13 October 2014

Columbus Day - disease and shopping

C'mon, can you name these three ships?
Today is the day the U.S. marks the observance of Columbus Day, or Indigenous Peoples Day (no, I'm serious - it's a thing) if one insists that I be all Alameda County Politically Correct, a day in which we celebrate the day in which Columbus discovered the Americas. See what I did there? I said 'the Americas.' It's a fairly common misconception that it was Columbus who discovered America. He did not. It's not like he sailed up to a beach near Daytona and announced, "It's 'Merica. Now somebody get me a hot dog!"

I was thinking about Senor Columbus and what his arrival brought to the Americas late last week while I was talking to a colleague in London about the fact that our U.S. offices would be closed in observance of this auspicious day. He'd just been talking about how excited our media seemed about the Ebola issue and I noted that on Monday we'd get a chance to honor Columbus and thank him for bringing mass communicable disease to the new world. Because flu, scurvy, and STD's.

You may recall the little ditty from elementary school that helped us remember the achievements of that voyage from 1492. You know the one..."In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue." I've reworked just a few lines:

In fourteen ninety two,
Columbus sailed the ocean blue

He had three ships and left from Spain
He sailed through sunshine and brought with him a world of pain

Of his arrival the natives would soon rue
Lamenting, "If only he'd brought a mild case of ague"

I wanted to put my spin on the whole thing but you try finding something that rhymes with 'gonorrhea.' It's not easy and I don't have that kind of time. That said, the legacy of Columbus does go far beyond bringing the agony of communicable disease among other travesties. I mean, where would we be without half off sales on sheets and minor household electronics without him and the observance of this day? If you get upset about the concept of Columbus Day sales, that's kind of ironic. The basis of Columbus' expedition in the first place was to increase trade. The fact that you can get a toaster for an additional 30% off today is simply a fulfillment of legacy.

09 October 2014

Time stands still on Thursdays

Missionary training hasn't changed him
As noted previously, upon learning that Thursdays would be The Missionary formerly known as The Boy's 'day off,' it was immediately our new favorite day of the week. Today is Thursday and it is still our favorite day of the week. We didn't hear from him until early afternoon which threw the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML's day for a bit of a loop.

His letter, which is now posted at his blog, was positive and reflects the musings of a young man in the process of growing up. There's a lot of ground still to cover (one need only look at me, his father, to know growing up takes awhile) but it was great to read his thoughts on what he's learning and experiencing.

The wait to get these emails is, at times, agonizing. Time literally stands still on Thursdays as we wait to hear from him. The wait's been worth it each time though. His personality shines through in all that he writes. I knew it would. That makes me happy.

He'll be in training for three more works and then he'll be in Mexico, when we think Monday will become our new favorite day. Until then, we'll stick with getting all kinds of excited about Thursdays.

08 October 2014


I find myself a bit flummoxed (is that not one of the greatest words the English language has to offer?) as I write tonight. The call to action I heard on Saturday and wrote about that same day has ruled much of my thinking since then. In that time, as I found myself in Midtown and the East Village, it feels like the homeless population has quadrupled. It pains me to realize that my handing out a couple bucks here and there is not to going to solve the monumental issue that is poverty in this country. I just can't figure out what I can do to make more of a difference.

I've been to the Sisters of Charity Mission in Kolkata, India and have seen the legacy of Mother Teresa in action. The work of these missionaries is as awe-inspiring as is gut-wrenching the epic poverty and suffering they are trying so hard to alleviate. Although it was brief but powerfully rewarding, I worked in philanthropy long enough to know the good organizations from the bad. I know there are so many out there trying to right what is, to me, a fundamental wrong. No child should go to school hungry. No mentally ill (and can we please get over that stigma) person should be left on a street corner. 

We can do so much more for our brothers and sisters. This nation is still such a land of abundance and opportunity, regardless of what the 'truth tellers' on Fox News may say. This isn't a Red State / Blue State issue. This is about people who hurt and who need help. Not one of us can say we haven't hurt or needed help. How lucky we have been to have had the resources and support network to get through those moments. 

I guess my flummoxed state comes from the overwhelming nature of the challenge and the fact that there are so many ways to help. If you've found an organization or someway to help your fellowman, I would love to hear about it. 

04 October 2014

Do Something

Every six months, in April and October, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in all corners of the world gather for sessions of what is called General Conference. It's ten hours worth of teaching over two days. The October session is going down this weekend and that's how the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML have spent today and will spend it tomorrow - in learning. And watching the Twitter blow up over the hashtag #ldsconf. Apparently, we Mormons love us some Twitter action during Conference.

These sessions of conference are amazing opportunities to be taught and 'fed' by those I believe to have been called of God at this time to provide revelation, guidance, and teaching. Sometimes, I walk away from these sessions feeling awash in guilt for all the things that I'm not doing, but I mostly come away from them feeling strengthened or challenged to do more. As the first two sessions wound up today, I am feeling challenged to do more.

In a powerful address by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, we as members of the Church were challenged to do more, much more, for the poor of the world. He reminded us in no uncertain terms how Christ taught that the poor shall not suffer. We must do more to help alleviate or end that suffering. He challenged us to stop withholding from the poor because we feel that they've brought their circumstances upon themselves. We are all guilty of bringing something upon ourselves and none of us, Christian or not, can stand in judgement of another like that. We must, whether we be rich or poor, do what we can to help those who cannot help themselves.

Elder Holland spoke of the work of Mother Teresa, her work, and the work of the Missionaries of Charity. He told the story of how Mother Teresa responded to someone who asked her how she could carry on her work in the face of insurmountable odds. She said that her work was about love, not statistics.

In the end, we may not be our brother's keeper, but no matter your belief system, we are our brother's brother. We can take care of one another. It's time to step it up and to help stop the suffering of those who have nothing or suffer. We can make a difference. It doesn't have to be huge. But one act of kindness makes a difference. Let's each do something about it. Let's make a difference.

03 October 2014


The High Holy of Maps - this is a 'rite of passage' picture
For as long as I can remember, maps have been a source of endless fascination for me. Now, it's not like I have hundreds of maps laying about or adorning the walls of my man cave. I have no man cave and I'm too borderline obsessive compulsive to have unfolded maps strewn about. Nor was I so fascinated that I decided to dedicate my life's work to cartography.

That said, maps did me a huge favor from a very early age. They helped me to see that there was a world out there that was far different from the world I knew and I wanted to see it. From time to time, I would pour over maps, figuring out where I would go and how I would get there. I wound up spending a lot of time buried in airline route maps that were embedded in timetables. Yes, I grew up in a day when you had to have a timetable from all the carriers in your hand if you wanted to know when there was a flight to London on a Wednesday. Those were dark days. Let's not speak of it again. As I poured over those maps, I plotted how I'd get to where I wanted to go. My mind ran wild thinking of what I might see and do in those far-off places. I've been very lucky because I've been able to get to most of those places. What an amazing place this world is!

I got to thinking about maps earlier this week on our new favorite day, Thursday, because we heard from The Missionary Formerly Known as The Boy and his letter, now posted on his blog, had a few pictures including the one featured in today's post. He's standing in front of the large map that is found in the MTC and he's pointing to his mission. It's essentially a law from on High that every missionary while in the MTC plants him/herself in front of the map, pointing to their mission, and gets a picture. I did it nearly 30 years ago. On that subject, in one of his notes, Elder Lyons pointed out that he knows the MTC is really old because I was there. Nice.

Anyway, as I looked at this picture of him, it made me think of how his world view is going to change as he gets to Mexico and makes it his home for two years. His world view will change and so will he. I'm excited for him. In spite of the challenges this world faces, it's still an amazing place.