Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Word Is MODESTY

This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
Good gentlemen, what are you doing to yourselves? We hear this word a lot in the context of how ladies dress, but your servant wants to focus on the men -- because not a lot of people do. And frankly, I feel like men get a pass on this value when they should not.

When I worked at Six Flags Over Mid-America back in the 1990's, we had a rule for our male guests: no going topless. It didn't matter if you had the best beefcake and six-pack in the known world, you were not going to parade it around like you're on the beach. Put on a shirt. Still, guys would strut the hunk.

A skating rink in my hometown of Raytown had a similar rule: no tank tops. I gather this applied to Larry, a classmate who wore them year-round, even in the freezing Missouri winters. My working theory is he wanted the girls to see all his chest hair. He also had some beefcake. However, he never got into trouble at school for his fashion statement.

While Googling around on this topic, I was relieved to see I'm not the only person who's bothered by a double standard. Katelyn Beaty wrote in a Christianity Today article back in 2010:
While parents, youth pastors, and college staff spend much energy monitoring young women's clothing choices, young men are given few resources to think about how they present themselves, and how they might let a sister stumble. And I have yet to hear any Christian teaching on modesty as more than "covered up in all the right places." Before young women face undue pressure to monitor their male peers' sexual purity, Christian communities ought to provide a biblical context for why we pursue modesty in the first place—and make sure both men and women get the message.
Amy Buckley wrote in Relevant:
Some years later, while navigating occasional attractions as a married woman (wedding rings don’t end that), I began wondering if modesty applies to men: Does a man’s shirt, or lack of, ever send wrong impressions? Does the fit of his jeans ever invite women to linger and (gasp) lust? Does immodest behavior, like flirting, ever harm his relationships? What does modesty require of a God-honoring man?
I think a lot of us don't teach young men about modesty because we think we don't have to. The Bible says a lot about how women dress, but little about the men. And we don't think a naked guy's chest is arousing -- especially if we're guys in the first place. Both authors point out the Bible's stand on this, but the short version is this: modesty shows respect to GOD.

This may sound silly to you, but I'll let it fly: I figure my love of historic clothing is partly rooted in my love of THE LORD. Revolutionary War uniforms are my favourite, because one can look like both soldier and gentleman, all the way down to the knee breeches. Truth be told, a gentleman's calves were quite attractive to 18th Century ladies. No wonder they wore stockings over their lower legs -- or even spatterdashes over the stockings.

For my Scottish attire, I have always insisted my kilts fall below the knee. I hike up my stockings as far as I can get them so I will not reveal much skin, if any. Of course, that's impossible when I'm doing a festive twirl during a dance and the kilt lifts up. Before you ask the famous question, let me tell you I take proper defensive measures. When I told a fellow kilt-wearer that, he replied with this: "You know what that's called? Wearing a dress!"

In the 18th Century, people considered a gentleman half-naked if he wore anything less than less than three layers of clothing in public: shirt, weskit (vest), and coat -- in addition to the knee breeches, stockings, powdered wig and tricorn. This likely compelled a lot of sweat during those miserably hot colonial summers, but modesty was the rule, built upon the fashion sense of the time.

"I still wish men dressed like that," a lady friend once told me. The gentlemen would likely think otherwise.

Even when I'm not dressing in period clothing, that fashion sense still worms its way into my thinking. I bought a pair of long shorts because they reminded me of 18th Century sailor slops. I paired them with matching black over-the-knee socks, and a retro-Colonial look was born. The Queen Mother still thinks they're hip-hop shorts, though.

Whatever you may call them, I can't see myself ever wearing ultra-short boxers, much less a thong bathing suit or tank tops. It's not me. It's not who I am, and I definitely wouldn't feel right. Other guys' attitudes will vary, so I can only speak for myself. And this tricorn-and-breeches wearing guy would rather be fully dressed in the presence of GOD and others.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Word Is CIRCUS

This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
We interrupt our regularly scheduled series of word-based philosophical essays and memoirs to focus on another word which won't quite have the same meaning again. As this post goes up, Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus has announced their tents are coming down for good in May. Changing times, changing attitudes toward animal acts, and changing entertainment options all led up to this day. I also think the rise of Cirque du Soleil was the beginning of the end. However, the biggest factor in RBBBC's demise is this: the act had grown routine, perhaps stale.

As the AP's Tamara Lush points out, "When the circus came to town, kids dreamed of running away to join it and its ever-changing roster of stars: the sad-faced clown, Emmitt Kelly; the daredevil trapeze act, the Flying Wallendas; Gunther Gabel-Williams, blond-maned and fearless in the ring with the big cats." But other diversions caught up with the wonderment of the big top. Joining the circus didn't seem like such an escape anymore, especially after the Internet got into the house.

Many people are going to blame RBBBC's death on their decision to eliminate the elephant acts, after which ticket sales tanked. But its parent company, Feld Entertainment, did the math: it could not continue to pay lawyers to fight animal-rights activists, and it couldn't make money if cities were going to limit their options by taking a hard line on treatment of the wild kingdom.

Giovanni Zoppe, owner of the small Zoppe Family Circus, put it bluntly to KOLD News 13's Maria Hechanova:
"I think these animal rights groups are awful. I’m sorry if I offended anyone, I’m sorry. They’re a big percentage of why circus is dead. We can’t fight them ... It makes me very angry. Who are they to say what’s right or wrong. We’re around these animals 24 hours a day."
I say the elephant in the room wasn't elephants. Ringling Bros. would still be around if it had made the bold step of pulling in the feel of of some of its competitors: it should've de-emphasized animal acts years ago while increasing theatrics similar to Cirque du Soleil. Perhaps RBBBC could've pilfered a few Cirque producers to help reimagine the Greatest Show on Earth for new audiences. Instead, it just tweaked the basic show, thinking that its status as an American and cultural institution was strong enough.

It should've seen what was happening in the rinks. Ice Capades, Ice Follies, and Holiday on Ice all went dark when they couldn't evolve. Disney on Ice is surviving because it re-invents itself with new characters and new elements every year. Having a multi-billion dollar company and iconic characters doesn't hurt either. Sesame Street Live continues to play because it performs a different-themed show with new material every time it comes to town.

Now the Greatest Show on Earth will fade into history after May. Family-run circuses like the Zoppe's will live on with smaller, more intimate shows and few if any animals. It won't be the same. That's exactly why they will continue to play and Ringling Bros. will not.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Word Is RUT

This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
Long ago, in a newsroom far, far away, I had a supervising producer who was deathly afraid of being boring. That's not a bad fear to have as a television producer. In fact, it's almost compulsory. But that fear becomes irrational when you constantly work to keep the production value high and still feel the ratings boogeyman is out to get you.

"I just feel we're falling into a rut," this supervisor commented one time.

This was a station that had a monstrous lead over its weak one-station competition and continued to consistently kick tail. Rut, my butt.

True ruts in business are brainless complacency nurtured by laissez-faire leadership. People show up and collect a check but do little except occupy mass. I've never worked in a business that tolerated that, either inside of television or out.

"Well, yeah," one might scoff. "You've never worked for the government!"

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Word Is FRONTING

This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
If you're following my Facebook page, you know one my frustrations is people who are one person in public and another person online. Social media stokes and nourishes people's inner troll, and yet they are able to put that troll back under the bridge when they have to live in the real world and meet people face to face.

"Fronting" is a more polite version of trolling. It's putting on an artificial persona better than the person who created it, whether it's online or in real life. Before you ask, I gather you could accuse your servant of this, for all those times I have worn tricorns and knee breeches and kilts and spoke the Queen's English. But that's what historical re-enactors love to do. And we love it so much, it's impossible for us to keep it from spilling into our present lives and times. I have said that if you put on a tricorn hat in the 21st Century, you better be a better person for it. If living the best and most honourable parts of your history doesn't inspire you, what's wrong with your heart?

"You're so real," a girlfriend once told me, and I found that puzzling since I seemed to be living more like an 18th-century colonial gentleman than a 21st-century TV news producer. I gather some people don't mind this kind of fronting. Not if it uplifts them.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Word Is FAILURE

This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
"Failure is not an option!"

"Epic Fail!"

"#Fail"

A word that once drew shame is now thrown around like a dart at people and situations we consider substandard and inferior to our sensibilities. I see this word used way too often in too much hyperbole. But since it's fun to toss about, I don't expect that to change.

I don't expect people to understand the nuances, either. A distinct difference exists between a failure and something that just didn't work. Failure, as hyperbolism now defines it, implies spectacular loss or defeat -- epic failure! Many times failure isn't epic; it's the inability to achieve something at a particular moment, despite having the necessary preparation, smarts or equipment.

Look it at this way: The University of Arizona Wildcat basketball team has gotten into the NCAA playoffs nearly every year in the 17 years I have been in Tucson, yet they have only made it to Final Four once in those 17 years. I don't consider that a failure. They have played their tails off and taken some grueling losses. Some teams were sub-par in some years, but you don't get deep into the tournament if you don't have the skill set.

So failure is a matter of perspective. In absolute disasters, the word fits unequivocally. Other times, it's just one of those trendy buzzwords.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Word Is LACONIC

This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
In ancient Greece, those from Laconia said little, creating a word that long outlived them. It comes with a negative, sometimes dour connotation. Many of these people have tremendous impact on the people around them, often for good.

But once, I had to work with somebody who said little while handling a sizable load of responsibility. Ms. Laconic edited tape at a previous station I worked at. She had a habit of not saying anything was wrong until she would utter a brief phrase over the headset. By then, it was too late to deal with it, prompting some awkward moments during a newscast. She had a habit of saying little, period.

And there were rumors. "She'll turn you into a frog," one director told me, thinking her broom was parked right outside. I never saw anything like that, fortunately.

Then there are the people who say little but just radiate warmth. A regular member of one of the dance groups I'm is quietly joyous and spirited, letting her movement do the talking. I prefer to call it focused; I'm that way myself when I'm trying to work through the patterns and gotchas of a strathspey.

As we know -- or should remind ourselves -- people talk in different ways. Some just enjoy the silence.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Word Is GIFTED

This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
When, in the course of our evolving English language, did we turn "gifted" from an adjective into a verb? What's wrong with "gave?" Now that I have that rant out of the way, let's get back to the adjective form of the word.

When I was in elementary school, those students who scored above a certain standardized test score got to take part in my district's "Gifted and Talented" program, commonly known as "G and T." I'm not sure what went on in this program, but I got the feeling it was lot like what Bart Simpson encountered.



Naturally, this leads to jealousy -- both in your wee servant and undoubtedly others. Why do only the smart kids get to do the cool stuff? Nowadays, we have magnet and charter schools that cater to your heart's desire while still teaching everything else. I wish there would have been one for software development. I was developing Mac applications while the other kids were playing dodgeball.

My parents could sense my frustration, and the Queen Mother had an answer. "Those people in G & T have to do extra work, and you grumble about the work you have to do as it is." Not long ago, after I brought up this memory again, the Queen Mother revealed to your servant that the G & T kids got to work on individual projects of their choosing, a sort of guided-study course. I could've persuaded a teacher or two to let me work on a Macintosh or TRS-80 or CP/M program as my project. I would dive deeper down the rabbit hole of software engineering and it wouldn't seem like work.

I never got into G & T. By the time I hit high school, the course selection was diverse enough to kill much of the blackboard blues. I got to load up on debate, theater and programming classes. I learned to sew in Home Economics. I learned to type. I had everything I wanted and lots of things I didn't have time for but would pursue later. That was the real "gift."

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Word Is PERSISTENCE

This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
I have learned the value of persistence in prayer, in my job, and shopping at thrift stores. Through persistence of making my rounds once or twice a week, I have scored some incredibly inexpensive fabric for sewing projects, computer books for my nerd indulgences, and a Medieval tunic.

As I have implied before, the art of scoring at thrift stores is to keep on the watch. You won't find a deal every time you go, but keeping at it increases your odds. In card games, the dealer will throw dozens of lousy hands your way, but the good ones will make it worthwhile.

You were expecting something broader and more inspirational than how to shop at Goodwill? Well, okay...

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Word Is YIELD

This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
Those who designed certain traffic laws never had to drive. Perhaps they never had to encounter the situation of making a turn while people were using a crosswalk.

The law says when you're making a turn at a corner, and somebody is using a crosswalk, you yield to the pedestrian. That's the polite thing to do. But pity the person who's having to get to the other side with an impatient motorist who can't understand why one person should hold up his turn on a green light, especially when said person is in no expediency to complete the crossing. Harried chickens cross the road faster. Unfortunately, many humans do not.

Maybe it's time we bring the traffic laws into closer congruence with the laws of physics. Right-of-way will be determined not by who's walking, but by gross weight. That means when you're at a crosswalk facing a Hummer making a turn, stay out of the way. In Great Britain, reminders are painted on the pavement: "Look left" or "Look right." The responsibility -- at least part of it -- is placed back on the pedestrian. Get mowed down by a Mini Cooper and it's your own bloody fault. It's impolite, but it's realistic in the road rage age.

Cruising down River Road in Tucson after dark can be an illuminating experience, if you count your white knuckles. I usually spot at least one person walking or cycling in the dead of night wearing pitch black clothing -- no safety light, no reflective tape. The recommended speed limit is 40. I'd say you need to dial it down even lower. Errant cyclists and strollers are not going to change their habits, no matter how many times we report an auto-pedestrian death on the news.

Many of these entirely preventable deaths come from good 'ol scofflaw jaywalking, not just reckless drivers. Tucson Police just got an infusion of cash to help crack down on these issues, although I have yet to personally witness TPD ticket somebody for jaywalking.

"Did you know you were darting out into the middle of the street?"

"No, sir, I didn't."

"You know what a Hummer is?"

"Yes, sir."

"You ever been hit by one of those?"

"No sir, I thought they stopped making 'em."

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Word Is THRIFTY

This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
The Queen Mother never had to worry about your servant getting hooked on dope as a child.

"You wouldn't want to pay for cocaine when you found out how much it was," she jibed. That was before cheap crack came along, but no matter.

Just the other day, I was with Mom and Dad as we were walking past the shops in Victoria Gardens, the high-end shopping community in Southern California's "909." I kept noticing all the ragged, scruffy clothing in the windows.

"I could probably go to Goodwill and Savers and get the same thing for less than half the price," I said.

"Yes, but it's the way those jeans are ripped that makes them fashionable," Mom observed.

She still wonders why I'm buying clothing at thrift stores when I can afford to pay full price. The reason is simple: I believe most people can't tell a pair of preowned slacks from a fashionably scruffy new pair, and going the second-hand route allows me to get two pair for the price of one. Pre-owned socks and underwear are out of the question.

The Queen Mother also can't understand why I buy cheap toilet paper, the kind that sells for less than a dollar per four-pack. When the folks were last visiting me in Tucson, the Queen of Clean insisted on refilling more than a few cleaning supplies -- along with softer toilet tissue. I don't particularly care for something priced as though it should be perfumed on each individual square, but Mother won that round.

Spending less money on toilet paper means more money is available to give to others and stash away for other goodies, including retirement. I also don't know how long my Kia Spectra will continue to chug down the road, although it has gotten beyond 150,000 miles at this point with remarkably few problems beyond normal maintenance. Your servant's goal is to get it to at least 200,000. I would at least like to top the 170,000 miles I got from my 2001 Kia Rio. That car was made as cheaply as one could make a car and still meet federal regulations, down to the cracking plastic all over the place. Still, I got nearly 10 years out of that car, and probably double its expected mileage, even though the compressor became a recurring pain in the behind during the last months of its life. I kept the costs down by ordering used compressors from a junkyard parts recycler and hiring an amiable, talented mechanic to install it.

"A lot of people buy throwaway cars and just keep on fixing them," he told me as he worked on somebody's Toyota that probably should have been taken around back and put out of its misery years ago. The owners kept on fixing them because they found it cost-effective given the choice of a repair versus a car payment. Dave Ramsey has said the most affordable car you can buy is the one you're already in, extolling the virtue of staying in a "beater." I hear people calling into his show regularly with $100,000 in debt, and they're making payments on a $40,000 truck.

I have very few rules for what rides I will consider when I get that next car: it must be pre-owned. And it must be able to hold a French flintlock musket.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Word Is LOOSE

This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
You don't want many things in life to be loose -- your shoestrings, the bolts on your car, your pets, and many other things, many of which are not appropriate to be mentioned here.

"Loose" is one of those words where the negative connotations outweigh the positive ones. But I also remember watching basketball coaching legend Pat Summitt in a documentary praise one of her players for being "loose." It's a defense strategy, as I found out. Looseness can also imply adaptability, the freedom to pivot as situations demand.

Playing loose in your business means 1) you're trying to cheat people, or 2) you're trying to be nimble enough to get the drop on your competition and adapt to challenges. Looseness and sloppiness are two different issues. Sloppiness means you're ditching your passion. Looseness means you have a desire to win, but if you're so loose you ignore everything but winning, you're going to lose -- for being too loose.

So tighten up where you need to, but make sure you have a little room to play.

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Word Is INDULGENCE

This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
"I will allow myself one indulgence."

Your servant says that from time to time, taking more of something he enjoys beyond what he usually takes. Maybe it's food. Maybe it's an experience. Sometimes it's dancing.

Several months ago, I started attending an international folk dance group in Tucson at the suggestion of a friend. I had shown off a new Cossack outfit I had sewn and thought I needed a few dancing partners to go with it:



So I joined the group and quickly learned how incompetent my feet can be, especially on the more challenging Eastern European and Greek dances. Even dressing up as the merry Cossack to help frame my mind and heart could not always aid and abet the legs.



Requested dances make up a large portion of each session. However, I have a hard time remembering the non-English names of many dances -- just as I have a hard time dancing. Yet, one stands out as one I can both handle and enjoy: "Johan Pa Snippen" from Sweden.



I have wanted to request it several times, but I saved it and I waited until the week of your servant's birthday in December. We had a small gathering that night, but just enough were on hand to pull it off. I allowed myself that indulgence.

"Don't you ever splurge on anything?" Madame Sherri has asked.

"Well, yes, historic clothing," I point out. But even then, I've had the most fun making fancy garments out of cheap bedsheets.



However, the buttons are fancy silver. I allowed myself that indulgence.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Word Is ISOLATION

This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
I never forget what it's like to be alone, not of your own choice, but abandoned by others. I felt it a lot as a bullied child. I felt it again after Election Day.

I saw people hurting. I saw people celebrating. And your servant was caught dead in the middle, just like that PoliticalCompass.net graph that measures where I am on the ideological scale. I never have considered myself liberal, conservative, authoritarian or libertarian. I don't fit neatly into any one political box, and the chart proved it.


For many years, I have felt myself isolated from prominent politics, too complex to be summed up by a bumper sticker, a D or an R. I put on a tricorn hat and a Continental Army uniform and people will gather I'm conservative. Well, not all the time. I bend liberal on other issues. I will support unions while also supporting the right to work. I strongly support ladies on equal pay issues, just as I strongly support gun rights. But I also believe rights come with responsibilities. I partake of international folk dance and love to dress up as a Russian Cossack. I put a bumper sticker on my car last year saying, "Washington/Adams 2016." It's complicated.

"A lot of people feel the same way as you do," a friend tried to reassure me when I told him I felt abandoned by political movements.

Before and after the votes came in, I prayed a lot. When it was all over, I told people at my church while they praised GOD, they also needed to pray for those feeling scared or hopeless. Now was not the time for tap-dancing on graves. I even tried to share what I thought was a neutral, diplomatic and reverent stance on Facebook, something consistent with loving your enemies as well as your friends.



If I knew people were going to let loose on me, I would've kept my empathy to myself. Margaret Thatcher once said if you're in the middle of the road, you get run over. Various political factions hate moderates -- except when they're needed to win elections. Your servant was no different. People also accused me of not wanting to listen to other opinions...

"It is harmful to personal growth when you decide to shield yourself from opinions that are contrary to your own and thus keep your safe place safe. It seems that you just want to place controversial issues "out there" when you desire (your right), comment upon them (your right), but then exclude certain folks from hearing your voice in order to get the biggest positive bang of affirmation from your "selected" facebook friends. To be unwilling to hear differing opinions, retards intellectual growth."

I had to read the above from my own flesh and blood. On facebook. From a relative. In public. Like a two-year-old getting spanked at the supermarket.

Never mind that I listen to differing opinions all day in the newsroom or on Facebook as part of the business. It didn't matter. I offered a rose and felt it shoved down my throat.

When my friends don't act like my friends, it hurts. When they lecture me like a parent scolding a child, it hurts. When they say they don't want my prayers, it hurts -- even when I say, "Be Blessed" to them more times than I can count. On Facebook, nobody knows you're hurting unless you say so. They don't see me lying in bed at night, wondering what to say, what to do, or whether to do anything. They don't see anything I do to sympathize or empathize with others outside what I say publicly, or misinterpret silence for consent when it's just politely stepping away from the madding crowd under the if-you-can't-say-anything-nice principle. They don't see me sending birthday greetings and virtual courtly 18th Century bows every morning to people I have friended but barely know. On Facebook, I have an easier time living as that colonial nobleman who is more than just a profile picture. As a re-enactor talking to kids about their liberties or how to dance with regality and honour, it flows from me naturally as if your servant is countering the ugly in the world. And still, that ugliness bites my behind.

"If you take one thing away from here," I once said to a young lady in my persona as a soldier in George Washington's Army, "know that freedom doesn't come from governments -- it comes from GOD." That young lady happened to be a Muslim foreign exchange student who had been studying American history and found herself confused and bewildered about how a nation that fought for freedoms could soon find itself in the Civil War. Truth be told, I have problems understanding it myself at times.

Back in the day-to-day world, I sucked it up, buttercup, with my safety pins on the inside, holding the buttons on one of my Colonial coats. I had work to do, outfits to make and balls to look forward to rather than pity parties.

I told a friend I might have to step away from Facebook, something I chafed at doing. The social network is becoming the new e-mail, the indispensable part of digital life you can't opt out of because millions of people are on it. Even my workplace expects me to maintain a Facebook presence. But why allow myself to be bullied anymore? Taking gut punches is no way to live, but fortunately, that friend suggested a humane and diplomatic solution which didn't involve unfriending, blocking or deleting my account. I decided it was finally time to get up off the ground and stand up for my battered self by instituting a kind quarantine.



The response was immediate and overwhelming. People who never commented on anything I have written showed they had my back. And people I called friends proved they deserved that distinction. I thank GOD for all of them. Sometimes Facebook serves the common good after all.

Some of you reading this still feel isolated, and hopefully it's not because of so-called social networks that are increasingly anti-social. Or others chastise you because your beliefs don't neatly conform to either Holy Conservative Principles or Holy Liberal Principles. Remember this: you work for GOD. GOD will ultimately look upon your heart, not your Facebook friends (some in name only) or your real-life friends, or the political establishments trying to woo you.

When Phil Collins was going through one of his divorces, he wrote a song for Genesis called "Guide Vocal," on the Duke album. He summed up what I have often felt when isolated, but I didn't want to repeat out loud or on the screen in anger...

"I am the one who guided you this far,
All you know, and all you feel.
Nobody must know my name,
For nobody would understand, and you kill what you fear.
I call you now, for I must leave.
You're on your own, until the end.
There was a choice, but now it's gone.
I said you wouldn't understand.
Take what yours and be damned."

Don't be damned. Be Blessed. May GOD Bless You... even if you don't want to hear that from me.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Word Is RELEVANT

This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
While trying out for a newsroom job, a potential news director asked me what my news philosophy was. Fortunately, I had prepared myself for that proverbial Big Question with a one-word answer: relevance. Why should I care? Why is this news? What does this mean to my life?

It's a philosophy that has worked; I've gotten job offers with it. But your servant is just one producer, not the news director. So each newscast has at least a sliver of time dedicated to forgettable car crashes. While I don't give a whoop about those things, somebody else does, and you work for your viewers who consistently put "traffic" as one of the top issues they care about in every viewer survey we conduct. "Crime" is high up on the list as well. You get what you ask for, and if you didn't ask for it, the other person did.

Those who feel themselves irrelevant to the relevance question end up leaving the business. A good friend of mine told me, "When you stop caring, it's time to leave." One reporter friend is now an insurance agent, where he feels more relevant than ever helping people plan and protect their lives. The feedback is immediate and not measured in ratings points. Other news friends and colleagues suck it up and go on to the next story, knowing that the sum of the parts is not always quantifiable by a numerical metric. They're thinking about the long game.

What does GOD say to news people when they stand before the throne? It can't be any different than what HE says to anybody else. GOD doesn't rank us by profession, even though HIS subjects do. Think about that the next time you turn up your nose and snort at a news person.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Word Is DISRUPTIVE

This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
I'm annoyed by this trend of people taking words with negative connotations and making them into positive adjectives. "Sick" is one of those words. So is "ridiculous." But I have special gripes for those who have turned "disruptive" into a paradigm of trendiness.

A March 2015 edition of Doonesbury points this out beautifully. In the last five years, "disruptive" has become a catch-all for anything new, unusual or different that has to be great simply because it's new, unusual or different, or something that does so in a new, unusual or different way. Quality or effectiveness does not enter into the equation. Simply being different is value in and of itself.

If value doesn't matter anymore, anything goes. Thus we end up with a plate full of bad ideas that became good because they were "disruptive." So what, you may argue, if there's one good idea in the pile -- it's a numbers game. Not when the bar is artificially lower.

When I was a child, people got in trouble at school for being "disruptive" in class. Please don't tell me it's the latest educational trend, designed to shake the stodginess out of the learning experience and provide an exciting, dynamic new model.

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Word Is DENOUEMENT

This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
If you can remember your literature classes, you may remember the teacher talking about the climax of a work of fiction, followed by the tying up of loose ends afterward -- the "denouement." That's pronounced "day-know-mah" if you read it out loud.

That is where we are right now as the new year begins. The party is over. The climax is past. The action began back on Thanksgiving Day, perhaps a little before that. Some will say it began back in October, but not for your servant. I refuse to deal with more than one holiday at a time. I won't discuss Thanksgiving until after Halloween. I won't think about New Year's until after Christmas. And after every Christmas and New Year's Day, it's the same: we are suddenly but not unexpectedly at least a little bummed out. Too many holidays in rapid succession will do that to you.

What else is there to look forward to in the next few months? Valentine's Day? Nah, and especially not if you're single. The next real event holiday for many people is Easter, or maybe Mardi Gras. But they're not Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's.

I was ready for Christmas 2016 back in June and July, when we were going through a depressing, discouraging display of inhumanity, of people shooting up nightclubs, cops shooting people, and people shooting cops. Please get here December, I thought, so we can remember how to care for one another again. We shouldn't have to wait another year for that.

So here we are in the denouement. And we are feeling a bit lost and hoping the new year doesn't leave us wishing for New Year's Eve faster than it should.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Word Is PRESENCE

This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
Woody Allen once said, "Showing up is 80 percent of life." Jean-Paul Sartre said, "To do is to be." A former boss of mine said about coming in on off hours, "Sometimes, I just have to be here."

Some people think their presence is increasingly unnecessary or negotiable. In a former newsroom job, a producer managed to slip away from showing up when a major hurricane hit, thus increasing the workload on others during a hectic and stressful times. I doubt this person suffered any meaningful consequences.

My Queen Mother has dealt with parents who have no discernable presence in their children's educational life. These people never show up for parent-teacher conferences. Many who do openly display incompetence and cluelessness about their role in making sure their offspring do not contribute to the dumbing-down of a nation. But we don't grade parents in school.

Just being there doesn't guarantee you success, but it does wonders to prevent failure. I've known at least one boss to say, when it comes an unfortunate time of layoffs, they're hard-pressed to cut somebody who's always there working their tails off -- even if there's other issues -- because those people have invested themselves in the operation. Elsewhere in the time-space continuum, we know people who simply occupy mass in our lives with little benefit. Showing up is part of it, but so is showing our work and showing we care.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

We're All To Blame

Yes, I read it. Yes, I heard it. Yes, I cringed at the frat-boy bile that came from the mouth of you-know-who, a decade before he became a candidate. I have heard how people are recoiling from him, castigating and condemning him, disassociating from him, disavowing him -- and how people are still supporting him.

I have also heard the replies about you-know-her. What about the emails, the speeches, Benghazi and Bill -- especially Bill and his womanizing and sex sins? In their warped comparison of hormonal fiendishness, that guy isn't as bad that former guy.

I am choosing to place those arguments aside because the bigger elephant in the room is this: from sea to shining sea, that thumping sound you hear is consultants, pundits, and political types banging their noggins against hardwood trying to discern how they could have been so wrong, how you-know-who beat a clown car of competition, how all their predictions of imminent implosion failed so spectacularly, and how that guy prospered on insults, lies, bullying and ignorance that would've sunk at least two dozen candidates.

I read every theory of how we got to this lonely junction, and I have a few more. The shortest is we're angry and we don't care. The slightly longer version is we will put up with or give a pass to all the imbecilic rhetoric and causticness so that we may have a candidate who will do what all the others would not. I've also read the theory that our collective ignorance led us to this point. I agree, but only so far. Here is my admittedly unscientific but exhaustively thorough explanation of why that guy is where he is. This builds upon what I have told you already but adds a few more uncomfortable facts. You may not want to read it, and if you don't, fine. This is my opinion; it's not gospel. But I will quote from that great sage Nature Boy Ric Flair: "I don't care whether you like it or not, you better look at it!"

Here's the "too long, didn't read" version of why that guy rose to where he is: we're all to blame. Yes, all of us.

Now, the long version.

Republicans, you're to blame. You wrung your hands about reining that guy in. You feared another Ross Perot. You let him bully you into submission. You let your fat cats with the dark money sit on the sidelines and wait for him to flame out, which he didn't. By the time you all realized that wouldn't happen, the game was over. You didn't have a backup plan. Your candidates complained and cajoled and criticized, but ultimately, they capitulated. Your last best hope, Sen. Ted Cruz, had one bad night in Indiana and he decided to take his marbles and go home. That voter who got in his grille and said "we don't want you" must have really deflated his soul. His fight leeched out of him suddenly and inexplicably. You feared a chaotic convention. Then this senator -- the one who-know-who verbally abused and demeaned -- mysteriously flip-flopped on a non-endorsement because, you know, party unity. Protocol above principle.

Tea Party, you're to blame. You didn't dump the birthers and the haters. You tell us you're not really a party; you're a caucus. Fine -- don't call yourself a "party" then. Or get off your duffs and become one instead of riding the Republican coattails. You made it okay to shout down your opponents. And worst of all, many of you did it in the guise and garb of our Revolutionary War ancestors who fought and died so that you may have the freedom to conduct yourselves like abhorrent parasites. I find that aspect of your so-called caucus offensive above everything else, being a re-enactor who has brought people together in cheering and celebration for the nation we love, regardless of politics, educating them about their heritage, and giving them pride in their heritage whether they've been citizens since birth or since they took an oath.

Democrats, you're to blame. You gave us a president who spent all his political capital in the first half of his first term and left nothing in the tank. He did an end run around Congress when he couldn't get his way. Whether it's legal is a question for the courts. But what's legal isn't always practical, beneficial or productive. You further alienated half of America who didn't vote for you. You let an unabashed socialist run who wasn't even a member of your party. Yeah, he got to caucus with you, but that's not the same. Telling somebody they don't get to milk the cow for free is not in the platform.

Libertarians, you're to blame. You sit on the ballot and take up space every election cycle, not bothering to lift a finger to campaign or put forth effort to win. You blow every chance to show Americans a third party might actually be viable and necessary. A former presidential candidate of yours decided to run for president as a Republican. Shouldn't that tell you how much pondwater you're sucking?

Congresspeople, you're to blame. You still won't do the three things that would show us you are committed to public service over power. Those are 1) ditching the filibuster, 2) passing a balanced budget amendment, and 3) giving the president the line-item veto. You keep kicking the tough issues down the road. You let dark money do your dirty work. You run never-ending campaigns. You don't even read the bills you pass. And in your gridlocked existence, you still get plenty of recess time to do even more of nothing.

Talk radio, you're to blame. You consistently parade before us all the reasons why America stinks with little or no solution to fix things. You say you are exercising a First Amendment right, but you will never admit when you're wrong. You don't care, and you don't have to -- just like Lily Tomlin told us about the phone company. You say you want to restore America's glory, just like that guy, but nobody voted for you, and you're accountable to nobody but your advertisers and management. Who are you really working for?

News media, you're to blame. You let that guy play you like a slot machine in one of his casinos, and he kept on hitting the jackpot. You jumped on every one of his outrageous tweets without pausing to think about whether he was surreptitiously getting free campaign ads out of it. You deployed your army of talking heads to discuss that guy, perhaps exposing his issues and contradictions along the way, but mostly, you just talked. You let him suck up airtime and push other campaigns off the air in a real-life game of "The Apprentice." Even before all this, your cable nets decided to remake themselves more in the image of news-talk radio rather than all-news, all the time -- except for that measly little network with the Arabic name where idealistic journalists went to see their careers die.

Churches, you're to blame. You decided to make GOD's word into a salad bar, picking and choosing what parts of the Bible you would stand on, or misinterpreting and marginalizing it. You decided some sins weren't so bad when it came to getting people in the door and money in the offering plate. You forgot love sometimes has to be tough as well as tender. When you asked, "What would JESUS do?" you forgot getting out the whip was within the realm of possibilities. And many of you support that guy, willing to give him a pass on his despicable behaviour because you think some greater good will come in the end. That's called moral relativism.

Social media, you're to blame. You make hating and incivility convenient and trendy. You reduce complex issues to 140 characters or less. Then, you turn them into hashtags. You allow people to troll without consequence and hide behind pseudonyms. You allow bullies to take their crass craft to new audiences. Then, in the name of stopping bullying, you end up censoring rational-but-unpopular discussions.

Social justice movements, you're to blame. You're so busy being angry, you forget you need to carry an olive branch with that sword. You tell us black lives matter, but you don't have time to seek out and praise police officers who are setting examples of leadership and justice. You say immigrant lives matter, but you forget about those who have put up with the waiting, the bureaucracy and the runaround to do it legally. You say higher wages matter, but you demand those dead-end fast-food jobs pay what you consider to be a living wage rather than demand our leaders figure out ways to create new, higher-paying jobs that are career-focused and don't involve cleaning the grease trap. And too many of you act like posterior orifices in the process, diluting your chances of winning friends and influencing people.

Corporate America, you're to blame. You continuously come up with new ways to unburden yourselves from your pesky employees and customers. You create soulless voice-response systems when we call for help and shove the business of assisting your patrons onto outsourced foreign call-center workers who are given Americanized names and taught a bit of pop culture but are left powerless and clueless to resolve sticky issues. You tell us off the record you would like to hire more people in this nation, but it would hurt your bottom line or stock price or earnings potential or whatever. Did you have one dollar left over after expenses last year? Good. You're profitable. Maybe it wasn't as much as you would've liked it to have been, but any year where you didn't lay people off, close offices, slash salaries or mandate unpaid leave is a good one.

Labor unions, you're to blame. Your mission to protect the dignity and safety of workers has crept into padding their paychecks with benefits your bosses can't afford anymore. Maybe you conceded a few things. Maybe you didn't. Maybe you went on strike. Maybe it worked for awhile. And now, maybe you realize you had a finger, if not a hand, in the outsourcing of America.

Wall Street, you're to blame. You can't kick the derivative habit. You continue to embrace financial instruments that do nothing to create wealth or hedge against risk. You sell investments you don't understand to people who don't understand. You've legalized gambling under the ruse that it's beneficial to our global marketplace. You still can't explain to my satisfaction why bundling up mortgages and selling them as investments was ever a good idea.

Schools, you're to blame. You scream if anybody mentions the word "voucher" and kick teachers around with low pay and obnoxious students. You pepper your boards of education with Congress-seekers who are not ashamed to use kids as pawns to achieve political goals. You teach standardized tests instead of the three R's. You push parents to put kids on Prozac and Ritalin rather than demand the grown-ups engage in drug-free behavior modification, more commonly known as discipline. You have done your best to disillusion the creative and caring and reward the slackers and seat-fillers. You cut music, art and recess. (These kids should run for Congress; they'd certainly get more recess.) And your students aren't educated in civics or history or why they should care about our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, or our Bill of Rights. Many don't even know what any of those are.

Universities, you're to blame. You allowed political correctness to own you in the all the wrong places. You have wanted a diverse student body, a big and open tent. Nothing wrong there. But is that your number one priority over actually educating and researching? Every incoming freshman should receive a statement similar to this: "This is college, not utopia. Try as you might to create a perfect world here, you still have to face the world out there. That means hard knocks and hard work. We will set standards to combat racism, sexism, and those inexcusable discriminations. But we will not get it right all the time, and you won't either. That's life. We will expect you to understand this is an institution of higher learning, not a petri dish. You did come here for a degree, right?"

Voters, you're to blame. As I have said before, you held your nose and marked the lesser of two or more evils too many times when you should've just gone down to the write-in line and penned any of the following: "None of the above," "Somebody else," "Somebody better," "Somebody wiser," "Somebody with a brain," "Somebody with a soul," "Somebody with a clue," or "Try again." You have discouraged the noble from running and let slimeballs ooze in. You have dashed between parties like a spoiled child who plays estranged parents off against each other, darting to the one who will give you what you want, throwing a tantrum when you don't get it, and then running to the other one. You say term limits are the answer, but less than half of you vote in the first place, making it the lazy alternative to exercising the Constitutional right your Patriot ancestors have died for.

And I'm to blame. I have been the good little Facebook member, largely embargoing myself from political discussions when I should have stood up. I picked my battles because I love my Facebook friends and I don't want to unfriend any of you. I can honestly tell you I have never done that, and I want to keep it that way. But maybe I should've started talking about all these things earlier and brushed off fears of trolling and bullying. I have been bullied before. I can deal with it again. But I didn't want to.

Even so, I'm not lifting my Facebook embargo, except for those occasional breaks. Much of what I have needed to say on the things that have, I have said. People can take it or leave it.

So all the blame has been doled out to all those responsible, to more people than I have fingers for, not even sparing myself, and I probably left out a few. When you blame the other guy, you have to realize you're also the other guy's other guy. In major and minor ways, knowingly or unknowingly, intentional or accidental, we are all contributing to the problem.

Just don't blame me at the voting booth. I'll be casting my ballot for George Washington.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Bourne Again

Reel To Reel: Jason Bourne

Going Rate: Worth matinee price
Starring: Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Intense violence, mild language

Nearly a decade after the last Jason Bourne movie to actually feature Jason Bourne, Universal dusts off the series and recharges it. While it's great seeing Matt Damon back in the title role, and he delivers plenty of lightning-fast action, it feels like a remake of one of the first three Bourne films. Even though Bourne finally learns his identity in this one -- apologies if that's a mild spoiler -- many things are left unanswered simply because I figure we need some gas left in the tank for another couple of sequels.

We are reintroduced to Bourne as he makes scratch in brutal bare-knuckle fights the way Clint Eastwood used to do alongside Clyde the orangutan. Only Bourne doesn't waste time punching into the camera. The CIA is still looking for him and still can't catch him despite being wired into just about every camera on the planet along with a creepily ambiguous social network known as Deep Dream. Things start getting real when former CIA operative and Bourne confidant Nicky Parsons (Stiles) hacks into one of their servers and steals files outlining Treadstone. You'll recall it's that super-secret operation that created super-killers to terminate people the super-spooks didn't like in the name of national security.

CIA Director Robert Dewey (Jones) wants Bourne taken out, but he is getting pushback from cyber-ops topper Heather Lee (Vikander), a rising star who wants to be the point person on the operation. Lee is the kind of self-assured genius who could take a Keurig coffeemaker and reprogram it to track you from thousands of miles away. Dewey kicks it old school, dialing up an asset so secret we only know him as "Asset" (Vincent Kassel) and launches a covert operation to undercut Lee's op while terminating Bourne. Asset has his own motivation: Bourne's actions indirectly led to him being kidnapped and tortured.

We have a little bit of political intrigue. Dewey is chummy with Deep Dream's topper Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed), a middle-eastern mashup of Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs. But mostly he fills screen time walking around and looking like a Silicon Valley rock star.

Jason Bourne doesn't try to get too ambitious. We go to Athens, Berlin and London between trips to D.C., but it's not the kind of serpentine travel we've seen in previous Bourne movies. But one thing hasn't changed: it seems the smarted the CIA assets get, along with their toys, Bourne can just outmuscle them. I wondered in my 2012 review of the Bourne-less The Bourne Legacy how a group of intelligence chiefs could have so much information and yet be so clueless. I thought the same thing here, but at least Tommy Lee Jones' character gets points for flipping the script.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

On To The Highlands

In the second half of our 1991 UK vacation, the Royal Father rented a car and learned the joys and hazards of driving on the left side of the road. To my relief, he didn't end up like poor Clark Griswald:



PART FOURTEEN: WHAT'S OLD IS NEW AGAIN

The start of our second week began with a stop in Portobello, an open-air affair of shopping, antiques, and street musicians. I saw a blues guitarist, Central American pipe trio, organ grinder, and an Indian (as in India) folk puppeteer. I also saw a ton of old silverware and jewelry I didn't care for, along with a man in a tricorn hat selling old tattered documents. Once more, if I had been in my history groove, I would asked to paw through some of them... if I didn't offer to buy the hat first.

Getting around turned out to be a dangerous exercise, as I noted in my journal:
Cars are parked the length of the street, on both sides, and stands block the sidewalk or street if there isn't a car there already. Occasionally a car will honk its way through -- one almost picked me up as I was taking a picture.
I also heard what sounded like a rip-off. While ambling among the vendors, a British man's voice pierced the air:

"F---ing bastard! I'll make a mark on you!"

PART FIFTEEN: BACK TO SHAKESPEARE'S PLACE

Now in control of a car and our schedule, we went back to Stratford-On-Avon to visit the teddy bear museum. It's not the place I would think to visit on my own, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed it, if only for getting to see an original Fozzie Bear from The Muppets -- along with a bear once possessed by the late Christopher Robin Milne, son of Winnie-The-Pooh author A.A. Milne, the boy who was the Queen Mother's inspiration for my first name. The museum says the son was not fond of this particular bear, which is why it is displayed with its back toward you.

Dad had some problems getting on the correct motorways, but that was largely due to him still not having his glasses until we returned to Warwick Castle. Miracle of miracles, somebody had found them and turned them in. Now he could see to read maps.

PART SIXTEEN: MERRY MEN (AND ONE QUEEN MOTHER)

We visited Sherwood Forest, not far from a theater in Nottingham where the new Kevin Costner Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves movie was appropriately playing. Waking a short hike into the woods, bees zinged around us from every direction and Brother Michael kept trying to swat me.

Just as we were leaving, we spotted some re-enactors headed in the other direction -- men in tights. We didn't double back.

PART SEVENTEEN: PILGRIM OF YORK

Since Mother got her museum indulgence, you figure Dad would get his: the National Railway Museum in York, filled with boxcars and railcars and passenger cars. We spent quite a bit of time there, meaning we had to rule out a drive to Edinburgh until the next day.

My highlight, though, was a visit to the York Minster Cathedral.



It's bigger than Westminster Abbey and the architecture is miraculous, especially the stained glass. Looking back upon this 25 years later, I am convinced this is a point where GOD was trying to reach out to your servant and pull me back to HIM. What I didn't realize then, but what I could feel, was HIS presence all around in the stillness and sanctity of the cathedral. I didn't want to take pictures. I didn't want to roll the video camera. I just wanted to feel GOD within me in those moments.

Dad, however, had other ideas.

I had paused to say a silent prayer to all those who had given their lives in exploration of the world, as suggested by a shrine I encountered, when I heard his voice breaking the silence.

"Did you film all of this?" he asked, just as I'd begun.

"Yes," I muttered, trying not to sound annoyed.

PART EIGHTEEN: WE'LL LET IT SLIDE



We saw a little kid slip and fall while trying to slide down the hill of Clifford's Tower. Mother told his parents to take him to the York Fire Department down the street. That didn't faze Brother Michael, who decided he wanted to try it anyway. He survived, but with a pinch on the posterior after the Queen Mother got done dusting him off.

PART NINETEEN: HIGHLAND FLING

After that brush with brush in York, we made it into Inverness, checking out the scenery along the way, along with Loch Ness, which has its own museum dedicated to the legendary monster.

Dad has been looking around for a kilt or at least pretending to. The big question is, will he actually wear it? I can hear the Royal Mother saying, "Your father buys these things and then he doesn't use them."

Dinner came from Pizza Hut because Dad could put it on his credit card, and fortunately, I lived to eat. We were crossing the street, and I was in no particular hurry when I heard Dad snarl, "MOVE IT!" I hurried on across, escaping a direct hit from a car rocketing by at what had to be at least 50 mph.

All sorts of fliers are up for a "Scottish Show" or two, complete with people dancing in kilts -- long before your servant decided to put one on. I regret we didn't check one of them out over a couple of pints.

But no matter, we had enough of an adventure when we got to the quaint hotel. From my journal:
The whole place looks like it was once a house, with windows that have been sheetrocked over and doors that won't open. Our room has a storage hutch that could've come from Containers and More for a closet. On the other side of the room is a sink, right at a 90-degree angle from the foot of Mike's bed. The bathroom has no real door. An exit sign, unlit, hands above it and a glass door with "push" above the handle was held open by a chair when we arrived. A curtain in front of the door helps to at least keep some privacy.

As you enter the bathroom, straight in front of you is a frosted-glass door that leads out back. It was locked, but we managed to get around that. Mike pressed in on the push-latch above the lock, and he was in the backyard. No sooner was he starting to peek in some other people's windows when a pit bull ran into him and chased him back inside, barking and yapping. I wasn't quite sure whether to leave the door open or close it, knowing that d--n dog might follow him in.
Meanwhile, the parents have a hot tub and a large sitting room. But neither room has a telephone.

The next day found us on the road to Edinburgh, with a stop in Aberdeen. They were having an international music and dance festival in that town, and my repressed culture-vulture self secretly wanted to check it out. We didn't. The city was packed as it was anyway, with Simple Minds playing a gig here.

PART TWENTY: CASTLE IN THE AIR

I thought Edinburgh castle wasn't as interesting as the Tower of London, but oh man, what a view.





From the highest point there, on the clear day, it truly looks like you can see forever. We saw the crown jewels also: one room, not much compared to the Tower of London, and they will only be worn if the U.K. ever gets a Scottish king.

The one thing we wanted to see and didn't was the world-famous military tattoo, the soldiers in their beautiful kilts and bagpipes.



PART TWENTY-ONE: LANGUAGE BARRIER

I forget where we ate lunch after departing Edinburgh, but I do remember the Royal Father had a bit of trouble in the buffet line communicating with the server. Dad had a real struggle deciphering what the Scots said through their thick brogue. But accent wasn't the problem here.

"Would you like chips with that?"

"What?"

"Do you want French Fries?" Her query was terse, and I could just see her thinking, another bloody tourist.

"Yes."

"Would you like your hamburger with a roll?"

"Huh?"

"Do you want a bun with that?" She was reaching the breakpoint.

"Oh yes."

I should've given everybody a primer in The Queen's English before departure. But strangely enough, most British restaurants we've encountered have used the term "French Fries," including McDonald's.

PART TWENTY-TWO: VEGAS IN THE LAKE DISTRICT

Our journey took us back into England's Lake District, and after gandering at the lake and its many swans -- some quite aggressive -- we went shopping and were surprised to find an arcade with slot machines. I went for some spins and ended up winning 30p on a machine that only cost 2p a play. You won't get rich by hitting the jackpot; the maximum payout is only about 5 pounds. If that isn't enough a vice for you, a shop next door has just about every dirty gag gift imaginable, including various clocks featuring various cartoon animals mating.

PART TWENTY-THREE: COUGH

As we made our way back to Gatwick airport the next day, the realities of imperial leaded gasoline hit my system hard when we got stuck in a traffic jam and I started breathing in all those fumes. It didn't seem to help the cold I was catching.

PART TWENTY-FOUR: THE LONG WAY HOME

The return trip from Gatwick to St. Louis wound the clock back in a more favorable direction, meaning I didn't have the jet lag issues. We left London at 12:30 in the afternoon and wound up back in Missouri around 7:30 before the cab ride back home.

The Queen Mother says when you start looking like your passport photo, it's time to head home. We were definitely looking the part, exhausted and probably more than a little crabby from so much time on the road. Didn't we learn anything from the Disney World experience? At least we ate. Sometimes it's best to spend more time doing fewer things, but who knew when we would be back in England again? Actually, the Royal Parents would end up going back at least twice as a side excursion from chaperoning a school trip to Spain. They just tacked it on to the end of that excursion. Meanwhile, my brother and I were stuck back in St. Louis to house-sit, work and wonder.

THE END (FOR NOW)