hot white sidewalks

firewalking ceremony  in china

I used Google Earth to take a look at our old house in San Jose the other day.

It was a normal looking little house…I think my father told me that in 1963 he bought it for 27,000 dollars.

Last time I checked, it sold for close to a million.

That’s not the real point to this story…but it’s just another illustration of how things change.  Nothing stays the same….and that’s a good thing.  It would be a pretty boring world if they did.

Looking at our old house, I started thinking about playing in the backyard.  I was 10 when we moved away from California….so my memories of space and scale are those of a little child…but it’s surprising how strong those memories are even now.

We had a backyard that was fenced in with redwood fencing….tall fencing that the kids in the neighborhood used to use like a trespass highway…like some nascent neutral zone that we could walk up on and never touch other people’s property (unless it was the low hanging fruit on their fruit trees).

The backyard of the house on Frolic Way was like a manicured jungle…grass and rose bushes and lemon trees and mud for GI Joe crawl fests…and a small plastic swimming pool for when it got hot.

When it got hot, the white sidewalk became a griddle.  Fire walking without the coals, a test of impending manhood….a rite of passage to make it into the house to claim the popsicle that was waiting inside.

I remember that we had a window of opportunity…step out of the pool, run down the hot sidewalk, and  try to make it to a shady spot before the water on our feet disappeared.  It was a “don’t look back” kind of situation…if you looked back to see the evaporating footprints on the white fire, you were a goner for sure.  I don’t remember any of us turning into a pillar of salt…but I do remember jumping in place and wondering how the ground could be so hot.

I don’t know why I’d want to…but a couple of days ago, I started to think of how this was a good theological moment to “wax spiritual” over.

My life has been a steady stream of jumping out of the pool to test just how hot the sidewalk really was.  I knew it would burn me…but until the coolness dissipated…until my feet were bone dry…I always forgot how it felt to be out on my own.

I’d go running back to the pool…wheeeeee…jump in and get cooled off for a while…and then start thinking about those delicious apples…I mean popsicles…that I knew I could reach if I just slid that chair over to the freezer.  Pretty soon, I was out of the pool again….running up the alabaster oven…turning to look at my footsteps evaporating in the sun…calling out, “God!!!  Where’d you go?”

I think devotion should be more than just seeking a response to need.

I think there has to be something more behind it than calling out to be cooled off when things get too hot.

You know, though…I do like popsicles…and the pool was always there before.  I can make it back.

I’m sure of it.

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the video store had boxes that frayed

video storeOne of the surest signs of “maturity” is starting to reminisce.

I think when a person is young, they’re too busy running around and in the moment to spend too much time looking back.

Get some years under your belt and you’ve got a bigger pool of memories to pull from.

Maybe it’s like a reverse picture of Dorian Gray…the memories pull us down to a place we don’t want to go…age us prematurely..I don’t really know.

The thing about my memory is that it’s kind of like I’m falling down a mineshaft…bouncing from side to side with each new thought…until eventually I land on the bottom and settle on one of the thoughts that more often than not turns out to be kind of strange and inconsequential.

Right now I’m thinking about video stores.

Video stores?  With all the important things going on in the world, I settle on video stores.  Why?

Well….back in the day, why, that was really living…why, I remember when Jimmy John used to pull up in his ’71 Charger and honk his horn just for a laugh…

Just kidding, the memories aren’t going to take that strange a turn.

No…I was thinking about video stores…and then I got to thinking about record stores…and then I got to thinking about the mercantile with its penny candy and those movies you could watch for a penny if you were willing to turn the crank and watch the cards flip over….


I really was thinking about video stores…and going in to spend/waste time picking up VHS boxes to flip them over and read the back.

If it’s that hard to make up my mind, why didn’t I ever clue in that maybe there were better ways to spend my time than flipping video boxes?

The thing about video stores….and the thing about a lot of the ways we used to purchase media like records or movies…is that it was such a tactile thing.  Those boxes were solid and clunky…you knew you were getting a “thing” when you went to pick out a movie.

It was a pretty social thing, too…maybe by default but you couldn’t help but engage occasionally with the other folks wasting time trying to decide on which movie they’d get that evening.

I love streaming movies on Netflix…it’s a movie lover’s dream to have a bunch of movies to call up at will….but I couldn’t help but think that it was a lot like going to the video store…a small percentage of decent movies and a whole lot of weirdness that I’ve never heard of before…and lots of time wasted because it was so hard to figure out which was “least crummy”.

“I’m here…I’ve got to pick something out…”

Now, so much is internal and isolated…we sit at a terminal to Skype,  or pick out a movie…read the news…order a blender….buy our books….reserve our books at the library….write a blog about sitting at a computer doing the things that used to take us out in the world…


The video store was such a diversion from “real life” …it was such a squandering of my time (and of all the folk’s time who were waiting on me to make up my mind) …but in retrospect…to reminisce….looking back at it all now…it was pretty much the most interactive media experience that I’ll probably have for the rest of my life.

But…with a few clicks of my mouse, I’ll add another something to my queue and forget that I ever had to stand in line to rent that Jackie Chan VHS for the third time because I couldn’t remember that I didn’t enjoy it the first two times.

Maybe that’s another kindness of aging…you forget what you’ve spent so much time reminiscing over.

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it’s what we watch

Children’s programming is where it’s at.

At least, it seems to be where we’re at these days.

Luckily, a lot of it is pretty entertaining…so when our three-year old becomes obsessed with a show, it helps that it’s watchable.

The weird thing about it all is that much of the time we know more about what’s happening with the rescue bots than we do with what they’re doing in our government to rescue us from the fiscal cliff.  You know what you know….we are surrounded by transforming robots and television shows about transforming robots.

I’ve mentioned it before…but I sure do wish I had stock in  the company that thought up the idea of having a bunch of toy robots that need other robots to be complete…and then maybe the robots that complete the robots that needed the robots to be complete need robots themselves to both look good and feel complete.  Lots of need….lots of buying if you can’t escape fueling the robot need.

What a bunch of needy little toys.

But it is kind of cool, really….”now this one turns into what ?  A fire truck? That’s pretty cool”.

I wonder sometimes if the really good lesson here is just learning how to appreciate…and how to stop living for myself so completely.

It’s a good thing to be able to enjoy what other people enjoy…even if you’d sometimes not watch the same show about the same robots for the 10th time.

flat on the bottom

Stopped to talk to a buddy who’s refurbishing an old house on his property.

He’s using a lot of red oak tongue and groove paneling that he had milled from some lumber that he had drying out for a couple of years…using some hickory that was in the same pile of rough sawn, too.  It looks great.

I asked him how it was going..and he mentioned that he had to take a break to fix his lawnmower.

“I’ve got to fix that tire….it went flat on the bottom”.

Flat on the bottom…ahhh, I love that.

I’ve mentioned before that most of how we find life is just a matter of perspective…one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor….and this is a really nice example of that.

Sometimes, I don’t know that I’m supposed to feel bad until someone reminds me.  “Don’t you know?  It’s just not fair…you should do something about it.”

Well…life isn’t fair, things aren’t equal, some folks have it better, you never really get a break….etc., etc., etc.  Alright already…I get it.

But, like that t-shirt said…Life is G….

Makes me think of a story that I heard that I really liked about a Mexican fisherman….

An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked.  Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna.  The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The Mexican replied, “only a little while.”

The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish?

The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.

The American then asked, “but what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos.  I have a full and busy life.”

The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you.  You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat.  With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats.  Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery.  You would control the product, processing, and distribution.  You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15 – 20 years.”

“But what then?” Asked the Mexican.

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part.  When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions!”

“Millions – then what?”

The American said, “Then you would retire.  Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

That’s a hard thing to accomplish if you’re already skirting close to the side giving the fisherman advice …to make the move to a sustainable retirement… without working at making the move to a sustainable retirement….that’s a hard thing to figure out.

When work and life are so intertwined that where one starts and the other ends is impossible to measure…how do you arrive at that destination?  How do you make what you love your livelihood?  Or is it just a question of figuring out how to love what you do for a living?

And who wants to “jump ship” when you’ve got a good thing going?  No matter how nice the island in the distance seems with its palm trees swaying and all the coconut milk you can drink, on the ship you get to suck limes and never worry about getting scurvy.  And I think people respect that decision.  It is expected and to be respected that when someone asks you, “howzit goin’ ?” you can say, “pretty good…I’m still sucking a lot of limes…”

Sucking limes…flat on the bottom…I guess in the end we all just kind of muddle through and watch the days zoom past.

in the details


van halenOne of the legends of rock, and one that I never really understood, was the request that Van Halen put into their concert rider that asked that a bowl of M&Ms be placed in their dressing room that contained no brown colored M&Ms.

What a “rock star moment” that must have been for them….to be able to throw your weight around with a crazy request like that.

What’s next?  Teal colored fur boas and personal hovercraft?

Recently, though, I found out the reason for the request.

Van Halen reasoned that with all the things that could go wrong when a concert promoter was preparing for their show, that the M&M request might be a good indicator of how attentive to detail the promoter was.

If they could handle a bowl without brown, maybe they’d do a good job of hanging the dangerous rigging or making sure that all the electrical needs were handled correctly and safely.

brown m&ms

It turns out it wasn’t just an unreasonable rock star request…there was a real method behind the madness.

The phrase “God is in the Details” is used so much that it’s become almost a cliche at this point.  We don’t pay attention to the thought like we might because we hear it so often…but it’s true….it’s the details that matter in the end.

And…the hard part is knowing what details are going to make a difference.

We can become enamored of surface details…making sure that the cuff links are polished and that we’re wearing the right brand of watch…to the point where we are willing to let the important details fall by the wayside.

At least we can look fabulous as we drop down into bankruptcy.

I think about all this stuff a lot better than I execute it.  If I can’t figure out what might be important in the detail area, maybe I can just adopt the scatter shot approach and cover a couple of the important ones by worrying about handling all the details, no matter how mundane or ineffectual they might be.

No grand observations or conclusions here (move along folks…nothing to see here)…just a new appreciation for what might lay under the surface of a request like “no brown M&Ms, please”.

how does it feel

How do you suppose it would feel to be flying high off the success of one of your most popular albums ever…an album released during the singer songwriter renaissance of the early 1970’s…and then be told by your record company that they’d lost the follow-up album that probably would have pushed you over into even greater artistic and commercial triumph?

I don’t know how that would have felt.  It’s really kind of hard to say unless you’d lived it yourself.

That’s what happened to Eric Andersen back in the early years of the 70’s.

He’d released Blue River…the album that featured this song as the title track…had great success with it only to be told that the followup album had been lost.

My introduction to him was the album that he recorded and released in the mid 70’s…an album called Be True to You…that contained much of the lost album that he re-recorded after the original album was reported lost.

The lost album was finally found and released in 1991 and titled Stages: the Lost Album.

This guy is one of the great folk singers of the 60’s and 70’s…worth checking out both for his music and for the story of a great potential derailed by record company error.


just look it up

I remember going to the library and if I couldn’t find anything about what I was looking for in the old card catalog , I’d go to the well-worn set of World Book or Encyclopedia Britannica encyclopedias  and try to find the information I needed there.

Holy Smokes, the world has changed.

I’m doing some car repair and it really helps to be able to look up a video about how to pull off the repair.

Usually, what I find is completely helpful.  There’s going to be something in most of the videos that I can use to get the job done.

Sometimes it’s just wading through a lot of weirdness.

Like this video…talking about stiff u-joints and Humphrey Bogart…what’s that about?  Sometimes it’s a lot more fun to run up against the weird element than it is to go right to the pertinent information.

We’ve had all this information for just long enough that we are starting to take it for granted…we are able to take it for granted.

I remember changing out one of the two Volkswagen bus carburetors in the 1972 bus I owned at the time in our driveway in Marietta.

It was sleeting and I didn’t know what tools I should try to get together.  The engine bay is small on those old buses…and by the time they figured out that a bigger, more complicated engine was a good idea, the space to work was even more limited.

It was cramped…it was cold…but I got it out and put the junk yard replacement carburetor in and it fired right up.


I didn’t have the option of “looking it up”.  I just muddled through and it worked.


Having access to these YouTube videos is kind of like having a cell phone/satellite phone/GPS on a Himalayan expedition…it changes the experience somehow when you have someone else figuring it all out for you…or you can call someone if it all goes downhill.

It is cool to be able to look stuff up.  I enjoy being able to find out how to do stuff and the visual is a good way for me to see how it’s done.

I just remember how it felt to be out in the cold and figuring it out for myself.

she sat on a bus


The thing about great moments in history is that by the time they become “great moments in history”, the people involved have become almost super human….able to leap tall buildings, etc.

I’m listening to a book called Quiet by Susan Cain.  It’s a book about the real power that quiet, introverted people have in the world.

One of the people she talks about early in the book is the Civil Rights hero, Rosa Parks.

I knew who Rosa Parks was…I understood the history of it all…but…I didn’t know anything about her as a person.

Imagine a quiet person who gets on the wrong bus one day, a bus driven by a racist driver who she’d had a confrontation with years before.  She’d promised herself that after that earlier altercation that she would never ride his bus again.

But this day she’s tired and gets on his bus again…years after she’d made that promise to herself.

Of course, he yells at her and tells her to get off the bus….in his mind it’s a bus for “good white people”, and the law backs that up…it’s not a place where a colored woman can sit at the end of a tiring day.

And this time she just quietly says, “no”.

Rosa Parks, knowing the repercussions…knowing that refusing to give in to something so basically wrong as another racist’s demands is not going to end well for her…says “no”.

She wasn’t some militant, extroverted crusader…she was just a woman of courage who was willing in her own peaceful way to stand up against something that wasn’t fair…that hadn’t been fair for a long time.

She wasn’t too tired to move…she just didn’t move this day…and gave the Civil Rights movement a rallying point that allowed it to move against the unfairness found in much of the South…and the nation…at that time.

I will never understand what that feels like.  I’ve stood up against random bullying on occasion…but I will never understand what that felt like for Rosa Parks to stand up to that bus driver and the unfairness of the situation that day….to stand up to the unfairness she’d known all her life.

Rosa Parks is the woman who really got the Civil Rights movement started.

Rosa Parks,especially now that I understand more about what kind of person she was , is my new hero.

The thing about all this that I’m starting to understand as I get older is that maybe it makes it less somehow if anyone considers her actions as only a “great moment in Black History “…this was a great moment in history that was colorless.  Rosa Parks was a courageous human being.  Period.

Getting on that bus that day was a mistake.  It was just a random mistake that a tired woman of courage and conviction made…and then her response to the situation set things into motion that changed our world for the better.

This book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking  has opened my eyes to a lot of interesting people who changed things in an unassuming way.

I loved getting to know Rosa Parks a little better because of it.



taco bell gonna save the world

doritos taco

When I was going to school in Atlanta, we used to take our sketch pads to one of the parks downtown to draw.

We were stationary entities, sitting ducks for every curious homeless person who wanted to panhandle us or just find a captive audience for whatever rap they wanted to engage in.

I remember one guy came up to me and started to visit.

He put his arm around me and said, “You know what’s gonna save the world?”

I didn’t…”no, I don’t.”


I’ll never forget that….or wonder if he knew something I didn’t about how the world rolls.

Yesterday, I heard the news that because Taco Bell has a beloved product in the Doritos Taco, they were able to create over 15,000 new jobs.  Read the story here.


Forget cash for clunkers, forget incentive, buybacks, rebates, earned income credits, social security, or any other plan to save the country and our economy.

Forget all that stuff.

What the President and Congress and all the rest of them need to do is just take off those kid gloves, get themselves to a kitchen somewhere and start cooking up some delicious and addictive FAST FOOD!

(soylent green is PEOPLE, right?)

You hear news like Taco Bell’s and it all becomes clear what we as a country need to do.

And it also points out that job creation isn’t really about creating good jobs…it’s just about getting someone moving around behind a formica counter.  (There may be some Taco Bell folks who love their jobs…but from what I’ve seen it doesn’t always seem that way if you’re standing on the other side of the counter waiting for someone to lovingly construct another bean burrito ).

Any news is good news when it comes to taco sales going up, I guess…it’s just a weird commentary on our economy and on our eating habits, too.


white smoke


I grew up in a Lutheran household…so most news of the Catholic church didn’t go much farther than remembering that Martin Luther put some nail holes in their door.

Yesterday, they chose a new Pope.

Usually, I’d greet the news with curiosity.  The Catholic church is a foreign entity to me…not something I have any experience with…not something I have any really strong interest in.  It would be just another news story.  I don’t have any personal stake in how that particular type of Christianity practices their faith.

All this in spite of the awareness that the Catholic service is pretty close to the Lutheran one.

But….I really like this new Pope.

From the little I’ve heard about him, he sounds like someone who maybe can do the Catholic church and possibly the world a lot of good.

He sounds like a very socially aware and down to earth fellow.  It sounds like, from the little I’ve heard of him, that he loves God and loves the people.

A new Pope would normally fly so far under my radar that the only thing I’d notice is the white smoke and the pomp.

I am anxious to see what a good man can do when he’s given one of the highest positions in the Catholic world.