11-year-old me on why ancient man steered clear of Office Depot

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Word is we had a lunar eclipse down our way early this morning. The event offered me an opportunity to recall how utterly obtuse I was 40 years or so ago.

Last night, as I dropped my girls off at their mother’s house, we discussed the eclipse. They explained how they were considering getting up around 5 a.m. to view the unusual celestial occurrence. They had a basic understanding of what caused the event and were excited to see it.

As I drove home, I recalled that when I was the age of my youngest daughter, 11, I not only didn’t understand what an eclipse was, I was utterly unfamiliar with the word. As evidence, I can recall the first time I heard about the concept of an eclipse.

My mother was attempting to explain that people can be afraid of that which they do not understand and was describing how ancient societies were often very superstitious and fearful of rare phenomena. Among things that confused and frightened prehistoric people, she explained, were eclipses.

As I was unacquainted with the word, and not a particularly bright 11-year old, my ears only caught the second part of the word, “clips,” and my mind immediately wandered to “paper clips.”

With an ignorant arrogance not unknown among 11-year-old boys, I immediately thought, “Wow, what a bunch of morons – afraid of paper clips! Ha! Ha! Ha!” Mind you, I wasn’t confident enough in this anthropological assessment to voice this view to my mother; I simply sat there in smug, silent awe that a group of people could be afraid of office supplies.

Sure, paper clips could be exasperating when they got all looped together, and they could cause some really agony if the end of one got under a fingernail, but any society that was afraid of paper clips must have been a pretty pathetic one, I reasoned.

Looking back, I don’t know at what point I finally learned what an eclipse actually was, or at what point I realized what it was my mother had been talking about, but some years later I made the connection that I’d been off base – way off base.

Needless to say, my girls – who are a bit wiser and certainly more intuitive than their father was at their age – always get a chuckle out of that story. And there’s certainly no shortage of similar tales for me to regale them with. I guess that’s one of the few benefits of having been a dense kid.

(Top: Lunar eclipse seen earlier this year. Not pictured: Paper clip.)

Simpler, natural lifestyle of ‘olden days’ left something to be desired

dead by 35

In fairness, infant mortality likely kept life-expectancy figures low for prehistoric man.

But among those who made it into adulthood, even the most mundane problems associated with lack of medical care – i.e. rotting teeth, hemorrhoids, sinus infections, etc. – probably made them wish they were dead.

And, as far as I knew, deaths due to injuries incurred during mastodon hunts are way down over the past few millennia.

Amazon.com: Saving us from ourselves, one cartoon at a time

tom and jerryMedia outlets are reporting that Amazon Prime Instant Video is warning subscribers who view old Tom and Jerry cartoons that the venerable series may depict scenes of “racial prejudice.”

The cartoons, produced between 1940 and 1957, are being tagged by Amazon for its depiction of a black maid and for the use of blackface in some episodes.

Tom and Jerry: The Complete Second Volume is accompanied by this warning: “Tom and Jerry shorts may depict some ethnic and racial prejudices that were once commonplace in American society. Such depictions were wrong then and are wrong today.”

Amazon’s warning says such prejudice was once “commonplace” in US society, according to the BBC.

The warning was attacked as “empty-headed” by sociology professor Frank Furedi of the University of Kent, who said it was a form of a “false piousness” and a type of censorship which “seems to be sweeping cultural life.”

“We’re reading history backwards, judging people in the past by our values,” Furedi said.

Tom and Jerry was a longtime mainstay on American and British children’s programming, and can still be seen today.

However, it does seem rather difficult to believe that there’s a need to attach a warning to a children’s cartoon that identifies the stereotyping of blacks as wrong. Blackface is pretty much accepted as verboten in our culture today and has been for several decades.

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Starbucks: The more you know, and all that …

I don’t drink Starbucks for one singular reason: I don’t drink coffee.

I had a half a cup when I was 11 years old and it tasted like boiled tar – or at least what I assumed boiled tar would taste like – even when heavily dosed with sugar and cream, and I’ve never had an urge to repeat the experience.

That said, I can say with certainty that neither me nor my wallet are the Starbucks’ type.

The one time I did stop into the local store and asked for a Coke, I was told in a snotty tone by a 20-something “barista,” who had with more piercings than I cared to count, that “We don’t served carbonated beverages here.”

He said it in a tone as though I’d requested an omelette made from the eggs of the last two California condors remaining on Earth.

I will confess that I’m not certain what Starbucks’ customer training entails, but I suspect shaming and self-righteousness are key components.

(HT: VisibleFriends.net)

Flannery O’Connor remembered at historic Savannah church

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Fifty years after famed writer and Savannah, Ga., native Flannery O’Connor died, a memorial mass was held at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, the same church she attended as a child.

The Memorial Remembrance, which took place Sunday, was held in one of the South’s most spectacular houses of worship, a downtown Savannah church that O’Connor once viewed as a child from the window of her parents’ bedroom.

“In the great scheme of things 50 years is not a long period of time, however in the life of Flannery it takes on significant meaning,” said the Most Rev. J. Kevin Boland, bishop emeritus of Savannah, who led the Memorial Remembrance and delivered the homily. “Last year her prayer journal was published: What a beautiful treasure. Praying is the lifeblood of our relationship with the loving God.

“Fifty years after her death Flannery still speaks to us,” he added.

Mary Flannery O’Connor, born March 25, 1925, wrote two novels – Wise Blood and The Violent Bear it Away – and dozens of short stories before she died at age 39 of lupus.

She is said to have practically defined the genre known as Southern Gothic, a form that accentuates the grotesque, horrifying and, for lack of a better phrase, that which just isn’t right.

O’Connor’s writing was noted for its flawed characters and disturbing events, much of which was set in the South.

Her own mother is said to have asked her why she couldn’t just “write about nice people.”

O’Connor, who first gained a measure of fame at age 5 when she trained a pet chicken to walk backward, which caught the attention a newsreel company, moved to Milledgeville, Ga., in 1941 at age 15 after her father died of the same condition that would take her life 23 years later.

There, she lived with her mother and other relatives in an 1838 columned Federal clapboard house, which was not only the family home, but was briefly used as the governor’s mansion when Milledgeville served as the antebellum capital of Georgia.

After O’Connor graduated from today’s Georgia College & State University she enrolled in graduate school at today’s University of Iowa in 1945, with the goal of becoming a political cartoonist.

However, within a few weeks she had discovered the Iowa Writers Workshop, run by noted poet, playwright and novelist Paul Engle and switched to the school’s Master of Fine Arts program.

Discovering her vocation as a writer, she dropped ‘Mary’ from her name; had her first story, ‘The Geranium,’ published in Accent magazine, and received a Rinehart fellowship to work on a novel, according to The New York Times.

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It’s a dry heat, like the inside of a baker’s oven

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Given the above comes courtesy of the military-oriented blog Bring the heat, Bring the Stupid, it’s likely that the reading was taken at a US military base somewhere in the Middle East.

My first reaction was, well, it only feels like it’s 106.

Somehow, that’s likely small consolation to folks in that area of the world, particularly if they’re dressed in uniform and lugging around gear and weapons.

Note also there’s absolutely no hint of a breeze. Conditions more akin to the inside of an oven than, say, an inhabitable planet.

I’ve experienced temperatures as high at as 111 degrees (44 Celsius), in California’s Sacramento Valley – not a lot of fun, even for someone who revels in heat. I couldn’t image what another 10 degrees without any wind whatsoever would have been like.

Fifty years of good fortune, deserved and otherwise

tredagar iron works

I have absolutely no recollection of the event, but I know exactly where I was 50 years ago today: In a Catholic hospital in San Luis Obispo, Calif., being born. At least, that’s the story I’ve been fed over the years.

Since I don’t put much stock in the idea of changelings, I’ve gone along with this line and must say the first five decades have been interesting, perhaps even more so for those who have found themselves forced into extended proximity with me for an extended period.

The old phrase “Some are confused, others bitter” often seemed to best sum up the effect one was left with after a stint with yours truly. It might be added, however, that with the confusion and bitterness nearly always came no small amount of entertainment.

Highlights over the first 50 years (none of which are recommended):

  • A narrow escape from Mexico after trashing a hotel room with friends, ala The Who. It would be nearly a decade before I returned South of the Border, for which Mexican authorities were likely quite grateful;
  • Getting my first and only tattoo in North Hollywood, Calif., the night before the 1994 World Cup final, without telling my then-wife. She learned about it when I got home and found a small pamphlet titled “How to Care for Your Tattoo” while cleaning out my travel bag. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth afterward, all of it on my part;
  • Shooting out the back window of a fraternity brother’s car with a pistol because I wanted to see “if the gun worked.” Fortunately for me, the vehicle was DOA anyway and ended up being towed away. Overall, the less said about college the better;
  • Catching a cotton rat, and then losing it in my house for a week before finding it in a pile of dirty clothes;
  • Spending a night in a Durham, N.H., hoosegow after having been “overserved” at a local drinking establishment, then sitting in said jail cell between two knuckleheads who spent the better part of two hours yelling at each other about who was tougher. Talk about an experience that made me particularly proud of my life choices; and
  • The “Hull, Quebec, Incident,” details of which will remain unspecified for the sake of all involved.

There are others – too many to detail, sadly – but you get the drift.

Fortunately, for all the dozens of stupid, inane and half-witted decisions I’ve made, I’ve gotten a few things right.

Some were out of my control, such as being born of loving parents. Others were blind luck, such as after my divorce I stumbled upon a wonderful woman who is now my wife. And then there is the good fortune that one can only chalk up to Providence, such as being blessed with wonderful children, whose goodness and love helps me to realize that no matter how difficult things can be – and they have been very difficult at times – there is always something for which to be thankful.

So, while I’d wager that the next 50 years will almost certainly contain far few hijinks and shenanigans, I’ll also guarantee that they’ll be more fulfilling and rewarding.

As the old saw goes, “Even a blind hog finds an acorn once in a while.” The good news is that this blind hog has finally wised up to the fact that he’s got a pretty good deal.

(Top: Photo of Daughters 2, 3, 4 and 5 at Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, Va., last summer on a vacation arranged by their history buff father. Not surprisingly, they were good sports.)