Count Your Blessings

Today is Thanksgiving. And while on the surface that may mean turkey, football, and parades, it should and does mean a whole lot more. Some form of Thanksgiving, even before the Pilgrims, was observed as early as the 16th century in various parts of the world as a way to thank God for the many blessings He bestows. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think it’d be a bad idea if we could steer things back in that direction. However, it’s not my intention to pontificate on the failures and foibles of our 21st century secular, anything goes, if it feels good do it society…atleast not today. My present purpose is to express my heartfelt thanks for all the positive things in my life.

I am thankful for a pretty fantastic family that I can always count on. My Mom left us 9 years ago, but I still have my Dad, my sister, 1 living grandparent, and two nephews, as well as assorted aunts, uncles, and cousins. I’m very fortunate.

I am thankful for my job. I’ve been jobless, I’ve had good jobs, I’ve had bad jobs, I’ve been fired…I’ve seen it all. With an economy that seems more and more headed toward socialism and no new jobs being created I am happy that I have a job that I like. It doesn’t pay enough (really though, what job does?) and as with anything there are occasional bumps in the road, but all in all it’s pretty okay.

I am thankful for my friends. I don’t use the term “friend” flippantly. Most of us have an assortment of acquaintances, co-workers, neighbors, church folk, and classmates…but how many true friends do we really have?? I have been blessed with several people in my life that I know are there when I need them and I can only hope they feel the same way about me. So thanks to Greg, who always makes me look at things from a new and unique perspective…The Owl, who always makes me think…and Slack, who always makes me laugh. There are others, but I don’t want to dive too deep and unintentionally leave someone out.

I am thankful for my church. Sunday mornings (and sometimes into the afternoon if the preacher is really in fine form) are a necessary refuge, a home base that reminds me of what’s really important. Wednesday night Bible study is a much needed mid-week pit stop. Our men’s group is small but mighty. I’ll never understand why more people don’t feel the urge to participate, but to the guys I know I can count on…Rod, Bart, Steve R., Steve H….and to the ladies who help us out so much even though they aren’t men and are therefore under no obligation…Sandie, Becky, Patricia, Bonnie…thank you doesn’t seem to really be big enough.

I am thankful for Facebook. I know that sounds silly and frivolous, and to a degree it is. But you know what…life doesn’t always need to be serious. Sometimes we need to loosen up and have fun. Facebook has allowed me to reconnect with a lot of old pals from grade school, high school, former places of employment, and especially college. It has provided me numerous hours of mindless entertainment, and I’m okay with that. So thank you to my little Facebook family…Becky, Heather, Tony V., Julia, Noelle, Vicki, Erin, FunDorkO, Deidra, Denny, and probably a few I am forgetting…for making this wonderful, crazy concept called Facebook even more wonderful and crazy.

I am thankful for my puppy. Even though he peed in my bed yesterday forcing me to trash a pillow, and even though he aggravates the living crap out of me sometimes, he’s still pretty cool. Thanks Rocco…Daddy loves you (and yes, I’m aware he’s a dog and therefore cannot read).

Speaking of frivolity, I am thankful to be a diehard sports fan and an unapologetic lover of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Marshall Thundering Herd, West Virginia Mountaineers, and Pittsburgh Penguins. Being a rather zealous sports fan can be infuriating, aggravating, frustrating, and rife with disappointment…but it can also be exhilarating, thrilling, and emotional. If we would channel some of the energy we spend on cheering on our teams into more meaningful activities what a wonderful world it would be. I am not an athlete, but I am an athletic supporter. You’ll notice I left out the Pittsburgh Pirates. There are limits.

I am thankful for good books and the ability to read them. I’ve been a bookworm for years and reading has provided me countless hours of pleasure and given me knowledge, both useful and useless. I am a Literacy Volunteer and very aware that there are way too many people out there who cannot read a street sign or a job application let alone Shakespeare or Dickens.

And finally, I am so very thankful for a loving but just God who loves me much more than I deserve and a Savior, Jesus Christ, who died to pay the price for my sins. Intellectually I cannot even wrap my head around it, so I let faith be my guide and just accept the free gift that I can never earn.

Happy Thanksgiving to all. Eat, drink, love, laugh, and be grateful for blessings large and small.

The Parable of the Lost Wallet

I can be absent minded and scatter brained. Sometimes I wonder with a certain level of concern what I might be like when I get older. When I leave my apartment every day there are certain things I try to make sure are with me…cell phone, home keys, wallet, truck keys, the keys I need to infiltrate the guarded fortress where I work. I have to make sure I have both sets of glasses…if it’s sunny outside and I’m wearing sunglasses I need to make sure my actual glasses are with me as well, and if it’s not sunny at the moment but may be later I need to plan for that contingency. I have an air pump for my wheelchair cushion that I always need to have access to because the cushion tends to randomly go flat for no real reason. If I am going to the bank I need the proper paperwork. If I’m headed to church or Bible Study I need my Bible. It’s a lot of pressure!! And quite frankly, sometimes I fail in my mission. What usually happens is I leave my apartment and somewhere between entering the elevator on the fifth floor and departing it on the first, or maybe between the elevator downstairs and my parking lot it dawns on me what I’ve forgotten. This seems to be a case of “like father like son”, as I recall many times as a child it would take my Dad 2 or 3 tries to actually leave the driveway successfully without forgetting something. The apple truly doesn’t fall far from the tree.


I bring this up because I recently lost my wallet, or so I thought. I was working a swing shift and upon departing my workplace at midnight I gathered my stuff up and headed home. When I got home I needed my wallet for some reason. I forget exactly why. Anyway, I looked in my man purse (more formally known as a messenger bag) and couldn’t find it. I emptied the bag of its contents…a Bible, a book or two, my IPhone, keys…..but no wallet. I suddenly became concerned. But I thought for sure that I’d just left it on my desk at work, so I called. I work at a 24/7-365 hotline so I knew the lady working midnight shift would answer, which she did. I asked her to look for my wallet. No wallet. Now I was really beginning to freak out. I’m not a wealthy man and rarely carry much cash, so that wasn’t really a big deal. The bigger issue in my mind was the possibility of identity theft. I was overwhelmed at the thought of all the hassles involved with cancelling credit cards, having to get a new drivers’ license and social security card, and trying to replace various other things I carry, some of which might not seem all that vital to most but they are meaningful to me.


I only live about a mile away from my job, so I made a swift decision to hop in the truck and come back down to look myself. Upon arriving in the parking lot and getting out of the truck, wheelchair and all (and those who know me realize it’s not an easy process) I realized I’d made a slight error…I’d forgotten the previously mentioned keys to the fortress. I couldn’t just call and have my co-worker come down and let me in because she was alone and not allowed to leave her post…plus I hadn’t bothered to bring my phone either. So I returned home and by this time I was an odd mix of manic and exhausted. It’s not a good combination. I got the fortress keys (and my phone) and once again came back to the office. I came, I saw, and I did not conquer…still no wallet. I returned home resigned to the fact that the next day was going to be a hellish effort of phone calls and trips to the DMV and whatever else needed to be done. And then, when I was at that point where all I could think about was sleep, I had a revelation. I reached for the man purse and took a peak into the rarely used back compartment. I had a slight inkling, a miniscule recollection of possibly having placed the wallet there earlier that afternoon. I never ever put anything in that compartment. But this time I had put something there. Words cannot express the feeling of relief I had as I clutched this wallet…this meaningless, insignificant object…in my arms like a baby and literally said, out loud, “thank you Jesus!!”.


And that’s when it hit me. I was reacting this way in regards to an inanimate possession, something completely replaceable and, in the grand scheme of life, not all that important. That’s when I began to think. I began to ponder people who come out of the mall or the grocery store and realize their car has been stolen. I began to contemplate folks who come home to find their home ransacked and pillaged, or worse…burnt to the ground. Then my mind wandered to parents who take their eyes off their child for just one second and all the sudden they’re gone. If I was so relieved to find something as relatively irrelevant as a wallet how must it feel to have that automobile found or realize that the thieves didn’t take anything of real value out of the home?? What must a parent feel like at that moment when a child who has been lost returns home safe and sound?? And then my mind began to zero in on Jesus.


I’d read the parables in the new testament about lost sheep, a lost coin, and the lost son. But now they had come to life in a very real, very personal way. The relief and dare I say joy I felt at the moment I found my stupid wallet can’t even begin to compare to the thrill Jesus  must get when one of his lost children decides to reclaim their relationship with The Father. I believe God speaks to us if we’re smart enough and open enough to hear what He is saying, and I believe that He was teaching me a very valuable lesson the night I didn’t lose my wallet but was convinced that I did.




100 Favorite Movies…..61-65

It dawned on me after I posted the previous installment of this series that I failed to write a pithy introduction. My apologies. It is difficult when one takes into consideration that by the time I’m finished with this project I will have written about 20 such intros. What makes it even harder is that my taste in movies tends to be so eclectic, something that is really being driven home to me as I write these little ditties, that usually there’s nothing to tie any 5 of these movies together. Today’s entry is a perfect example. There are virtually no similarities between any of these five films. I suppose the good thing is that with such a wide variety of things that I like I am bound to touch on atleast one thing or another that’ll be of interest to everyone.




65 Airplane!

If anyone were ever to build a Mount Rushmore of parody films, the first and foremost honoree would have to be Airplane!. Made in 1980, the film is meant to spoof a plethora of 70’s airline disaster flicks. It’s cast is a brilliant collection of heretofore tough guy types known for their dramatic roles, most notably Robert Stack, Leslie Nielsen, Loyd Bridges, and Peter Graves, who areairplane very much cast against type. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar makes a super fun cameo as himself apparently trying to live a double life as an airline pilot under an assumed name. The plot involves many of the passengers and nearly the entire crew, including the pilot and co-pilot, becoming ill because of food poisoning and a passenger who just happens to be a pilot with post traumatic stress disorder being called into action to fly and land the plane. But this is another rare case where the story takes a back seat. This time though the centerpiece of hilarity are sight gags and side-splitting word play. One has to watch Airplane! a few times to take in all the visual and verbal gags. There’s Barbara Billingsley, the mother on Leave It to Beaver, speaking ebonics. The emergency autopilot is a blowup doll. A guy who thinks he’s Ethel Merman (played, in her final appearance on film, by Ethel Merman). Co-pilots named Roger and Captain Oveur (think about it). And the great thing is, it never gets old. After over a quarter century those of us who love this movie still laugh when we watch.


64 Raging Bull

Robert Deniro is such a brilliant actor that he could take the worst story imaginable and make it halfway compelling. Fortunately as real life boxer Jake Lamotta, in a film directed by the legendary Martin Scorcese, Deniro has a good story with which to work. He also has capable support from Joe Pesci in what was his first major film. I’m not a big boxing fan, but the acting and Scorcese’s style make this a modern classic. Maybe if I’d have been born a few years earlier or if I loved boxing as much as I do other sports Raging Bull would rank higher, as it does on most lists of this ilk. However, I must remain true to my own tastes and preferences, and this is where it falls on my spectrum.


63 Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Readers of this series know by now of my affection for Jimmy Stewart. I’m also a bit of a political aficionado and an unabashed patriot, so Mr. Smith falls right into my wheelhouse. The story revolves around a small town yokel (a role Stewart showed many times he could play perfectly) who is handpicked to fill an open seat in the U.S. Senate. He is chosen by a corrupt political machine who believes he can be easily manipulated so they can achieve their selfish goals. The villain in this complex web of deceit is the elder senator from Stewart’s state, played by Claud Rains, who is probably better known for playing the corrupt police official in Casablanca. Rains played the role of conflicted slimeball several times and was apparently quite good at it. I’m not sure how a Frenchman snagged the role of a United States Senator, and the fact that he doesn’t really make much of an effort to hide the accent is somewhat distracting. Adding support as a caustic adminstrative aide is Jean Arthur. She is assigned the task of babysitting the doe-eyed new Senator and gradually falls for him. The plotline specifics, in which Stewart’s character wants to build a “national boys’ camp” on land that, unbeknownst to him, Rains’ character has more nefarious and profitable plans in store, are not necessarily all that crucial. The film is about political corruption, and in its time it was groundbreaking. We’ve become a much more cynical nation now. But 70 years ago a movie that took such a dark view of the inner workings of our government was quite controversial. Stewart’s performance show’s his range. Over the course of his career, from lighthearted comedies like Harvey and The Philadelphia Story through Hitchcockian fare such as Vertigo and Rear Window to hardscrabble westerns including Shenandoah and The Rare Breed Stewart did a bit of everything and proved himself to be a fine actor. With Mr. Smith he gives a small sampling of that range within one movie, goofy and fun in some scenes and dark and solemn in others. Because of the access the masses now have through things like CSPAN, the internet, and talk radio there’s not a whole lot that goes on in Washington DC that’s unknown or all that shocking. To some degree that hurts the legacy of Mr. Smith because we don’t see what the big deal is outside of Stewart’s winning charm. However, taken within the context of its time it’s quite a cinematic achievement.


62 Meet the Parents

DeNiro makes a second appearance in today’s group, so I guess I was wrong…there is a common thread after all. This time however, he’s doing comedy…and doing it surprisingly well. Meet the Parents stars Ben Stiller as a male nurse who goes home for the weekend with his girlfriend (who he is planning to make his fiancee) to…you guessed it…meet her parents. Unfortunately for Stiller, things get off on the wrong foot and get worse from there. Hilarity ensues. This is one of those movies that has more than its fair share of memorable scenes and lines, which is its main charm. Stiller has never been funnier in my opinion, and Owen Wilson has an hysterical cameo as the girlfriend’s former boyfriend. After watching this film water volleyball, Puff the Magic Dragon, airports, and cats can never be thought of like they were before…trust me. A sequel was made a few years later called Meet the Fockers. It was okay, but as with most sequels it failed to rise to the high level of the original.


61 Silence of the Lambs

Is it a horror film?? I suppose. I’m not necessarily sure how the experts categorize it. If it is officially a horror film it is most certainly on the high end…..sort of like how Dom Perrignon and Andre Extra Dry are both technically champagne but one is $150/bottle and the other is available at 7/11. Silence of the Lambs is based on a really great book about a young FBI agent who enlists the aid of a jailed, psychotic cannibal to track down a fellow serial killer. The psychotic cannibal is Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lechter and he is one of the creepiest yet most sublime creations in cinematic history as portrayed by Sir Anthony Hopkins. Unlike most maniacal killers in stereotypical gorefests (think Jason from Friday the 13th, Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or Freddy Krueger from Nightmare on Elm Street), Hannibal doesn’t need knives or chainsaws, doesn’t wear a mask, and doesn’t have any kind of otherworldly nonsensical powers. He’s actually pretty realistic…almost like a normal person you or I may know, may work with, or who might live down the street…except for the fact that he likes to eat humans. Jodie Foster is fantastic as Clarice Starling, the agent who looks to be in way over her head. The whodunit part of the movie is secondary to the interactions involving Hannibal and Clarice, but it’s also what separates Silence of the Lambs from the rest of the cliched mass of blood-n-guts. Sure there is some violence, but there is also a compelling story and extraordinary performances. I won’t go so far as to say the movie is better than the book, but let’s call it a tie.



Random Thoughts 15

The whole concept of hate crimes is insipidly inane. Murdering someone because of their race or sexual orientation isn’t any worse than murdering someone for any other reason. Either way it’s murder. Hate crimes are just a branch of the vapid political correctness tree.

I think television died a two part death for me. The first part came on May 20, 1993…the last episode of Cheers. The final blow was the demise of Seinfeld on May 14, 1998. I just haven’t given a damn about scripted prime time television since those two events occurred.

Comedian David Cross was recently bragging that he snorted coke…the drug not the cola…at the White House Correspondents Dinner mere feet from President Hussein Obama. Oh where to begin?? First of all, the only reason Cross was there was because he is inexplicably dating cute actress Amber Tamblyn. Yeah, you’ve probably never heard of her either. Both are so far down on the relevance scale that they are barely worth writing this sentence. Cross’ career highlight was cancelled TV show Arrested Development, a show so fantastic and popular it was…well…cancelled. Secondly, what kind of a society do we live in where such an illegal act is not only not frowned upon but put on a pedestal?? There is no doubt in mind that the same intellectually vacant societal succubuses that thought it was funny that Letterman cheated on the mother of his child with a professional subordinate will find it hysterical that Cross “got away with” snorting coke at The White House. Amongst this group will likely be the approximately 3 dozen people who ever bothered to watch Arrested Development and the even smaller group of losers who wasted their $$ at the local cineplex for Cross’ live action Chipmunks film. And finally…way to go White House security. Not even I can pin this one on Hussein Obama. I almost feel sorry for him. How safe is he supposed to feel if it’s so easy to commit a felony within feet of him, at an official White House function??

The older I get the more I embrace short stories over long novels. It seems like my attention span is decreasing.

The shootings at Fort Hood and an office building in Orlando are tragic stories, situations that I cannot even fathom. I believe more details will come out about the Fort Hood situation, but thus far it looks like a Muslim with atleast some anti-American feelings decided to handle things in precisely the way The Koran tells its followers to. It’s scary to think that the armed forces can be infiltrated like that. And I’m sick and tired of politically correct apologists who keep defending Islam and saying it’s a truly peaceful religion with a few overzealous nutjobs. That’s just not the case. Maybe those folks who have the knee jerk reaction of soft selling the reality haven’t been paying attention, but I have and I’m not afraid to call a spade a spade. Islam seems to have more than its fair share of violent zealots. As far as the Orlando shootings…it was a disgruntled former employee. That’s certainly not new or unique, but it’s never been something I’ve been able to grasp. I’ve been on both sides…..having to fire people and having been fired myself. It gave me no great joy to have to do it and not for one second do I believe the folks who did it to me got any kind of perverse pleasure in their task. It’s not personal, it’s just business. For someone to get so angry about it that they take innocent lives is just something I will never understand.

I’d honesty forgotten that football legend Lawrence Taylor matriculated at the University of North Carolina until he showed up at one of their televised games.

The just released 3D motion capture animated version of A Christmas Carol starring Jim Carrey is amazing. It’s stays fairly true to the book and is rather dark and disturbing in places. I enthusiastically recommend it for all moviegoers and especially fans of the classic novella and/or Christmas movies in general. However, I recommend leaving the crumb crunchers at home. Just because it’s animated doesn’t mean it’s kid friendly.

I think it is entirely within the realm of possibility that within a few decades physical attendance at school may be purely voluntary. I envision an Internet based home schooling system (government approved of course) where a child has a curriculum to complete at home at their own pace, meaning an intelligent, driven child could conceivably graduate high school by their early teens. Conversely, a lazy, academically challenged person may not finish until they are legal adults. Either way it will drastically reduce demand for teachers, eliminate the necessity for upkeep of older school buildings and the construction of new ones, minimize health and security risks (think swine flu & Columbine), and utilize a reward system in which the smart go getters are able to move forward with their lives much sooner. I’m not saying this is all gonna happen tomorrow, but don’t be surprised if you see a version of this scenario on some scale within your lifetime.

This just in: both Sting (the singer, not the wrestler) and Bono are idiots.