Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Valentine for Heidi: Grrrr

Things have been busy around my house for the last two months: lots of visitors and house guests. As a result, I've been a bit more hit-or-miss with my blogging.

What doesn't suffer as much is my commenting on the blogs of others. That takes less time, and it's easier to reflect on the work of others, than to sculpt my own.

Just for fun, here's a poem I penned in response to a challenge from another English teacher. (And since today's Valentine's Day, I dedicate this to Heide, the first one who kissed me today!)

Heide: On Guard!

Black faced, brown legged,
she lies on the bedroom floor.

Big eared, strong mouthed,
she sits up listening to something...

Big breathed, big barked,
Heide lets out an alarm:

I jump at the noise.
So close, so loud.

Such a big bark,
for such a little room.

German Shepherd's sound tough.
(And they are!)

Pity the intruder that meets
her in the darkness of night.

Pity them?

Pity them not.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Ghost of Horatio Alger visits Frank

(Photo by Jean Yves Lemoigne)

It was Christmas Eve, 2007 when the ghost of Horatio Alger took me out for a tour of downtown San Diego.

I had read one of Horatio Alger’s books a few weeks before while researching Project Gutenberg. I had discovered that before his death in 1899 Alger had published over 100 novels of historical adolescent fiction. These books chronicled down-and-out boys who overcame poverty by hard work, personal virtue, and luck.

I was sick with a high fever, which I guessed, I had caught doing my weekly volunteer work at the downtown branch of the Disciples of Christ’s soup kitchen.

Alger’s ghost was clothed in a full-body sock. No features were visible, but I could hear his voice clearly as he escorted me in broad daylight through downtown.

“So Frank,” Alger prompted, as he forcefully turned my head to the side, “Do you see the soup kitchen over there?”

“Yes,” I replied looking up at the building.

“You think you’re helping the poor right?”

“Well of course! We feed them every Wednesday night.”

“Yes you do feed them, and that’s okay. Jesus himself said, ‘The poor you will have with you ever, and you may do good to them whenever you want.’ You do so on Wednesday nights.”

“True enough.”

“But you feel bad, almost guilty about your plenty and their lack. You feel like you never do enough. Yes?”

“Yeah. I feel like I’m the fortunate one, and they are just suffering great misfortune.”

At this Horatio laughed, and I was offended.

“You laugh?”

“Yes. I laugh at your ignorance. You conclude that the difference between you and, say the homeless man on the sidewalk, is one of fortune and misfortune.”

“Mostly: that’s true. If circumstances were different, I could be that man.”

“I think not,” said Alger with confidence.

“Why not?” I protested.

“Because you are hardworking, and he is slothful.”

“Isn’t that a bit harsh?” I replied.

“Not at all. Look closely. Is his face gaunt?”


”That’s because he rarely misses a meal. Do you see the cigarette butts strewn about him?”

“Yes, I see them.”

“He smokes two packs a day, and that’s a very expensive habit.”

“But Alger, the man has no legs!”

“But Frank,” he mocked me, “he’s on military disability!”

“But he’s homeless. Obviously he’s been cast off by society!”

“You might think so, but do you really think that this man has no family or friends?”

“Well, everyone has family, I guess.”

“Yes they do, and his have attempted to help him get off the street repeatedly, but he doesn’t want help. He’s a simple hedonist. He’s got food, smokes, a decent climate, and the undeserved pity of folks like you.”

“Now you are being harsh. What of his injuries?”

“He’s a veteran. He has access to help, good prosthetics are available for vets. (Look closely at his stuff. Do you see the leg extenders?) He has chosen his place, in fact, he has worked hard to achieve it. He has fought family, friends, and well meaning folk like you who keep trying to ‘rescue’ him.”

“Wow. I never knew. I’d never thought about it. I just thought he was like me.”

“He is like you, a man making choices and living with the consequences. But unlike you, he has little compassion for others. It doesn’t bother him that he wounds your conscience. To him, the joke’s on you.”

“Why are you telling me all this?”

“It’s my Christmas present to you!”

“What’s the gift?”

“Deliverance from false guilt! Compassion is good. Genuine guilt is good. But don’t waste your limited amount of compassion on the undeserving. Ask questions, interview those who visit your kitchen. You need to get out from behind the counter and get to know who you’re serving. Some of your myths will be shattered, and you might find a few down-and-outers who are looking for a hand up, not a hand out.”

“Hmmm… good points. When I get over this fever, I just might have to make a few changes. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. Times change, but the human heart doesn’t. Oh my. Look at the time. I’ve got to fly. My next appointment is in 30 minutes up in San Francisco.”

And poof! Just like that he was gone, and I was back in my bed, sweating out the fever. At least I wasn’t in a big hurry to get better. After all, tomorrow was Christmas!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Pretty Woman meets Urban Church

Oh my God. I can’t believe this is happening to me, she thought as she walked briskly up the downtown street.

Here I am, out for my morning walk, and I think my life has changed.

I didn’t even know they had churches in theaters, let alone ones that offered topics like “Misplaced Jewelry.”

It was a ploy, and they got to me.

I really didn’t know what I was in for, especially walking into the middle of the service, but there was that guy up front saying… what? Oh yeah… saying, “Like a ring of gold in the snout of a swine, so is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion.”

That was his idea of Misplaced Jewelry: A golden nose-ring on a pig. I’d agree with him, and I don’t know much about pigs.

But the second part: “So is a beautiful woman that lacks discretion?” That was the mind bender.

Who wants a woman who thinks, let alone one who thinks well? That’s not what my daddy taught me.

What did he use to say? Oh yeah, “Honey, your looks will take you far, but no one cares what you think, so keep quiet and let your looks carry you.”

And my looks have carried me! But am I a bejeweled pig?

What else did that preacher say, “Grace is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.” Get out!

Beauty is empty? I think not!

But what if… what if… what if…

I’m going to have to read that other part he said he’d talk about next week: Proverbs 31.

There should have been a sign! A “Do Not Enter” sign like the one in front of me.

I feel like a truck hit me, like the one coming down the street. There was no warning about what the truck contained. It should’ve said, “Beware! Truck contains disconcerting thoughts, contrary contemplations, or maybe… liberating ideas!”

What if Daddy was wrong?

What if… I’ve been wrong all along?

What if?

(Stephen King in his book On Writing reveals one of his writing methods: he finds a scene, invents some characters, and plays "what if?" That's what I did with this photo I took last Sunday while out on a walk in the Gaslamp District of San Diego. I passed two theaters holding church services. I saw this woman walking, and I asked "what if?")

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Mini-Vacation and a Funeral

Hi, I'm back!

One nice thing about teaching is the vacations: they happen quite often. Besides the 10 weeks of Summer vacation, two weeks at Christmas, and one week for Spring Break, there are various (and fairly numerous) three day weekends.

Today was Lincoln's Birthday. Next Monday is Presidents' Day. I have them both off. Nice.

Sometime last year, when I was planning my timeshare vacations, I booked three nights in San Diego in the Gaslamp District for this weekend.

One of the nice things about planning so far in the future (and paying in advance) is that come hell or high water, you go!

Sometimes staying at home is the easier option, but planned vacations "force" you to get up and go. So we did... and it was good!

We drove down (120 miles) on Friday afternoon, stopping for dinner at a nice restaurant just inside the northern border of San Diego County. Las Olas, the restaurant, sits on the beach on the southern edge of Leucadia. (We ate there three times.) Great Mexican food, reasonable prices, a relaxing, casual, and friendly atmosphere make it a great place to eat and enjoy companionship.

Life is strange.

While my wife and I were enjoying our mini-vacation, a dear coworker was planning the funeral for her husband of 29 years. He was 58 and died suddenly last week. Just before I left work on Friday, I found out that there would be a funeral on Monday. My mini-vacation would be over, and I'd be back in town.

And I was. And I went.

One of the best ways to show that you care is to be there.

Sometimes that means being there for a mini-vacation. Sometimes it means being there for a friend's husband's funeral.

Life is strange.

Twelve years ago I was the one having a funeral for a spouse. Time marches on. Things change. Wounds heal, but they often leave marks.

Life has its golden moments (and weekends), and it has its tragedies (and heartbreaks.) It's all part of the human experience.

But it's still strange.