Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Rental car insanity

Friday night I booked a trip to Oklahoma. (My mom had surgery and I wanted to help her for a few days. ) To my shock, I found a cheap flight for the very next day. I do not understand airline logic, but for some reason, I saved four hundred dollars by booking a flight twelve hours in advance as opposed to booking it three days or a week in advance. Go figure. I also booked a rental car through one of the major rental car agencies. Apparently I hit the wrong button while making my rental car reservation because when I walked up to the rental car counter they had no record of my reservation, and neither did my computer. No harm no foul, I thought. Since I made the reservation the night before, I figured this major company had lots and lots of cars just waiting for me to rent. The rental car company had other ideas. "We're all out of cars," I was told, "except for minivans." I knew minivans were much more expensive than the compact car I'd reserved the night before, so I told the guy thanks, but no thanks. With five other rental car counters in the baggage claim area of the airport, I thought I could get a car from someone else. How wrong I was. Over the course of the next hour, I went from one counter to the next, and each one told me the same thing: We have no cars available to rent. Some big horse show was in town, which made all the cars disappear. After going back to the original rental car counter and asking the guy how much for one of his minvans (sixty-five dollars a day, way too much for me), I sulked over to a chair next to an abandoned baggage carousel and fumed over finding myself stuck in a hick airport. Then it hit me. I popped open my trusty Macbook, logged onto my Yahoo account, and clicked the "travel" tab. I then proceeded to reserve a rental car from one of the companies who had just informed me that the horses in town for a show had taken all of their cars away. Five minutes later I was behind the wheel of my midsize car (a free upgrade from the compact I reserved) on my way to my mother's house. The company that had no cars when I asked a human being if I could rent one, suddenly had anything and everything I wanted. What the human being could not produce, my trusty laptop did. The moral of the story, as far as I can tell, is this: The government must run rental car companies. I don't know how else to explain such a screwy, messed up, illogical way of doing business.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

32 years and counting

I've always thought of myself as the creative type, the ready to try new things type, the never one to get stuck in the mud type. Now I have to rethink everything. On the day of the writing of this blog entry I am doing my best to concentrate on work, but all I can really think about is how excited I am about watching the Yankees play game one of the World Series tonight. And how did I get myself ready for the exciting Series action that promises to unfold on my television screen? By watching a replay of Game 6 of the 1977 Series last night on ESPN Classic, of course. I can still remember watching that game the first time, 32 years ago. My dog sat right next to me through every pitch. He barked whenever Reggie hit a home run, which, of course, Reggie did three times in that game. My current dog sat next to me during last night's rebroadcast. He didn't so much bark for Reggie as snore. My old dog cared more about baseball than the new one.
Once the rebroadcast of the game was over, I decided to listen to a little music. I pulled out my iPod and scrolled through the album covers, and, just like back in '77, one name dominated my music collection. That name hasn't changed since I picked up a copy of "Running on Empty" and found myself hooked. All my old lps and 8 tracks are long gone, replaced by cds and digital downloads, but the collection looks very much like it did back then.
So now I sit here in the quiet of my office, pondering the fact that I have not evolved very much as a human being. I've changed, of course, and matured, thank goodness. But my essential likes and dislikes are very much like they were thirty years ago when I drove around the streets of Moore, Oklahoma, the top down on my 1966 Mustang convertible, Jackson Browne blaring from my car stereo, a Yankee ball cap on my head. Now if I could just find a way to replace my beat up old Mercury Mystique with another Mustang, the circle would be complete.

Friday, September 25, 2009

One of everything, please, and how dare you charge me for it!

While reading an article about the "tea party" movement, I came across the story of one of the protesters. She is upset, angry, on the verge of outrage. Her problem? The alleged socialist agenda of the current president, along with his desire to increase government control over everything. (She did not comment on how the previous resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue increased the size and scope of the federal government on a scale that makes FDR look like Ronald Reagan, even though the last president came from the supposed party of small government.) No, the object of her outrage is the current president along with his proposed changes on health care, energy, and everything else we Americans hold near and dear. "The government needs to back off and let capitalism work," she said. An interesting comment, since the thing that pushed over the edge into outrage was not healthcare, but the lack of help from the "someone" with her mortgage that she can no longer afford.

I think this is the reason why reasonable political discussion is nearly impossible. We live in a nation that wants the government to leave them alone, and to take care of our every problem. Yes, health care needs to be reformed, so the government should fix it by leaving it alone. We're sick of paying high property taxes, but we want world class schools. For that matter, we're sick of paying every kind of tax, and heads are going to roll down at city hall if someone doesn't get out here soon and fix that pot hole in the street in front of my house.

I thought of ending this post, my first since finishing my latest book, with a little sermonette of how we must live consistent lives, but I decided against it. Inconsistency in thought is the hall mark of the current age. We've grown so accustomed to holding onto mutually exclusive thoughts and beliefs as if they compliment, not contradict one another, that we cannot imagine life without them. In the words of the Brain, we want a world that is both flat and puffy. Now we have it. God help us.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Why posts are so few and far between

I am six weeks away from a book deadline, the memoirs of a past World Series of Poker champion, and poker is only one very small part of his story. My daughters enjoy this time in my life which they affectionately refer to as "deadline dad." Deadline dad alternates between zany and cranky. Deadline dad also has very little time to do much writing beyond the book whose timeline is rapidly counting down. That's why there hasn't been a blog post in a while, and probably won't be another until sometime after September 1. In the meantime, shameless plug ahead, read "How Can A Good God Let Bad Things Happen."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The price of fame

Another celebrity couple broke up this week, which shocked absolutely no one. Celebrity couples break up at an alarming rate, and they have since the day Cleopatra dumped Julius Caesar for Mark Anthony. Cleo and Jules didn't have a house full of children, which makes the latest case of celebrity divorce more tragic than the one immortalized by Hollywood a generation ago. Ironically, the latest and greatest couple to call it quits actually achieved fame because of their family life. Neither can act or sing or possesses any of the requisite skills earlier generations demanded before bestowing stardom. These people became famous by being themselves as the television cameras rolled, or more to the point, by being a couple joined together in the trials and travails of surviving parenthood. Now they've split up for the sake of the children. As a child of divorce I can honestly say that most children would prefer their parents learn to get along for their sake. Instead the celebs say they are going to go their separate ways, which, of course, is a nonsensical statement when you share eight children. Whether they like it or not, those eight little faces will keep the warring parents' lives intertwined for the rest of their lives.

As the news of this latest celebrity divorce takes its turn as the lead story in all the news outlets this morning, I can't help but wonder why the couple allows the television cameras to continue to invade their lives. They announced their split on their television show last night, with new episodes planned for the remainder of the summer season. "The show must go on," they said, as if the show really had to go on. At the risk of stating the obvious, couldn't they have pulled the plug a long time ago right around the moment they noticed their relationship had started to go south? What makes fame so alluring, so addictive, that they would rather cancel their marriage than their television contract? One of the two stated that their marriage would have ended whether they were on television or not. Perhaps. Yet I can't help but wonder why, if one's marriage is that shaky, you would willingly add the weight of celebrity on top of an already poor foundation. For that matter, I have trouble understanding why anyone would want the headaches and hassles of fame. I know a few famous people. They all say the same thing: being famous is a royal pain in the backside. It always has been, and always will be. Yet people will pay any price, make any sacrifice, to place themselves in the middle of the public eye. We want to be known. We want people to care about the most insignificant details of our lives. I don't understand why. Throwing away ten years of marriage and forcing eight children to become statistics seems an awfully high price to pay for celebrity. But then again, their show's ratings have never been higher. The custody fight episodes should prove to be quite the encore.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

I thought this only happened to old people

Later today I will drive north one hour, fill the car with part of my daughter's possessions that fill her college apartment, then drive back home to store them in the garage. It's an annual dance we do, but this is my daughter and my last whirl around the dance floor. Four years at Taylor University end Saturday when she walks across the stage and receives her degree. Two weeks later we will stand together on another stage where I will pronounce her the wife of a man I did not know twelve months ago. Eventually the two of them may move into a place large enough to hold the odd boxes of her possessions stacked in my garage. Until then they will sit and gather dust, a reminder of how quickly these years shot by. I thought this only happened to old people.

I am trying not to get caught up in the emotions of the weekend. I am doing my best to remember that this is exactly what my wife and I raised our daughters to do, beginning with the moment the doctor handed each one to us and said, "It's a girl." My mind wants to run back to dances with my daughter in a living room converted into a ball room, where a high pitched little voice would say, "Spin me, daddy," only to erupt into laughter when I did. I'm trying to keep the memories at bay, but I find it is a losing battle. Only old people live in the past, yet I find the past is trying to suck me in as I face a quickly transforming present. I don't begrudge the changes sweeping over me. I don't want to live in the land of what once was because that which is now holds too much promise. Yet I find myself on the edge of something that feels almost like grief. I do not mind the passing of time, I only wish it had not passed so quickly.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Bad Review

One of my favorite books received a bad review at Amazon. Not just a bad review. A scathing review. A review that included the words, "I'm sorry I wasted my time and money on it." Like I said, it was a bad review. I've had bad reviews before. A few people have dissed my book "Living with Less," one because it had too much God in it (which I took as a compliment) and another because the book did not give you Dave Ramsey type details for how to downsize but instead spent most of its time telling you why to downsize (which was exactly my point). I can brush aside those kinds of bad reviews because the reader actually got my point. They just didn't happen to like it. The writer of the bad review that prompted this blog entry didn't care what my point may or may not have been. He simply hated my book. He hated the way I wrote it. He hated the content. He just hated my book. And this particular book happens to be one of my personal favorites. And this bad review also happens to be the only one posted for the book at Amazon. The sales numbers are so bad that this may be the only person who has ever ordered the book online. 

I guess by now I should start trying to wrap this little entry up and move toward some semblance of a point. I don't know that there is one. I've had bad reviews before, and I know I will get them again. In fact, I recently read the first few pages of one of my most recent releases and I put the book down in disgust. I guess I just gave myself a very bad review. Bad reviews, scathing reviews, reviews that use the words "a waste of time and money" are a part of the writing life. And the worst part of all of this is not the fact that someone posted a bad review to one of my books, but the knowledge that I've posted a few of my own in the past. 

Monday, April 27, 2009

State of fear

I last heard of swine flu back in the 70's when Jimmy Carter spent a ton of money to stockpile enough swine flu vaccine for every man, woman, and swine in the US of A. At least it seemed like a ton of money before Bush and Obama showed us what real spending looks like. Now, out of nowhere, the swine flu is back with a vengeance, and it's a good thing, too. More and more people have grown so numb to the constant drumbeat of fear about the economy that we no longer run around like our hair is on fire when Wolf Blitzer comes on the air and tells us how the next six months will make October, 1929 seem like a vacation in Maui. Thank God we can panic again. Health officials say we may be on the brink of the first global pandemic in a generation. As of today 20 cases of the flu had been reported in the US. 20! And this out of a population of 300,000,000! 

This may well become the feared pandemic Jimmy Carter warned us about thirty years ago. I pray it does not. My guess is that the swine flu will be this year's equivalent of the bird flu, that is, something the prophets of doom in the sensationalist news media tell us will be a dire threat to the survival of the species that turns out to be nothing of the sort. Therefore, in honor of the well coifed doomsday prophets of cable news, I now present my five favorite ways in which life on earth will be wiped out.

5. The Atlantic Ocean current will stop flowing due to the influx of too much fresh water into the ocean, therefore triggering a new ice age in which we all die.
4. An unknown comet comes hurtling toward earth, and our best efforts to stop it only split it in half. When it hits, we all die.
3. An asteroid the size of Texas comes hurtling toward earth, and since we do not have a team of Texas oil drillers to send up to stop it, it hits the earth, and we all die.
2. The core of the earth stops spinning, thus causing the earth's electromagnetic field to fail. Without this field, solar radiation cooks the earth, and we all die.
1. Grave robbers from  outer space invade the earth two at a time. The bring an army of the recent dead back to life, and when the leaders of the earth refuse to listen to their warnings, we go ahead and develop solaranite, which, when ignited, blows up the earth and the sun and we all die. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The death of free speech

I'm not exactly sure what date needs to be placed on the tombstone. April 19, 2009 is not that date. No, it was merely the latest evidence that free speech is dead and buried in the United States. In case you missed it, Miss California lost the Miss USA contest after answering a question regarding gay marriage. Rather than pander to the judges, and rather than fill the next two minutes with meaningless fluff that would offend no one (and not answer the question), she spoke her mind. Believe it or not, she answered the question. She exercised free speech. The openly gay judge who had asked the question was aghast. He later said that if she had won the title, he would have run up on the stage and ripped the crown off of her head. Later, on the Tuesday, April 21 edition of the Today show, he explained his outrage. In short, he said she should have answered her question in a way that would not offend anyone, except, of course, Miss California's own conscience. He basically told Matt Lauer, how dare she speak her mind! How dare she actually answer the question! How dare she speak freely!

The Miss USA controversy is only the latest round of criticism leveled at one who dares to go against the rising tide of accepted belief. We expect such dissent only from those on the far right fringe, from the Limbaughs and Becks of the world. Not from real people. I'm told that a law against "hate speech" is winding its way through the Congress. The law will bring into the legal code that which is already the prevailing sentiment. If and when the law passes, it will merely be the final nail on the coffin of free speech.

As I ponder the question of what killed the first amendment, I find only one logical answer. Political correctness did not kill it. Nor did politicians. And neither did bloviating social commentators on the left or the right. No, I think something far more insidious, something far more difficult to root out of the culture dealt the final blow to what was, in truth, a rather fragile right. I believe the collective immaturity of the American culture and people killed free speech. Tolerating dissent, engaging in an intelligent conversation with those who see the world in a completely different way, and allowing those with whom we disagree to speak freely and openly, all require a level of maturity America has not seen in nearly a generation. Instead we puff up like a toddler whose favorite toy was taken away whenever anyone disagrees with us. We shout and try to drown out dissenting opinion rather than enter into genuine debate. Worse yet, we feel personally attacked whenever anyone thinks in a way that forces us to rethink our own positions. 

I have long believed that independent thought is the most dangerous thing in the world. The angry reaction to one lone beauty pageant expressing something other than the company line shows how true this is. Since independent thought can only be expressed through free speech, we must eliminate the latter to protect ourselves against the former. The fatal blow was dealt long ago. Today we are merely free to say that which will offend no one, no one that is, except ourselves.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The week after

Two weeks ago I finished the first draft of my latest book. Unfortunately, that meant I hadn't actually finished anything. Finishing the draft is like the seventh inning stretch of a ball game. You stand up, stretch, sing a few bars of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," then you sit down and get back to work. I always watch "The Matrix" when I finish the first draft. I don't know why. I did it once, and now it is my personal tradition. I took a couple of days off after my Matrix viewing. Since it was the weekend, that only seemed like the thing to do. I also went to an actual ball game, a Thursday afternoon Reds game during the first week of the season. That too is a tradition. Then it was back to work, back to page one of the manuscript, time to rewrite, revise, re-evaluate what it is I love about writing. I love to write. I'm not so wild about rewriting.
A couple of days ago, in between creating this blog and tweeting on Twitter about how much I do not like rewriting, I finished the final draft. The book, a collaborative work called, "Don't Just Survive It - Sing!" comes out some time next year. The person for whom I wrote it loved it, which makes me very, very happy. And the publisher loved it, and since the woman for whom I wrote it owns the publishing company, I had a pretty good idea they would. Now I can finally relax. The book is done. The deadline was stretched, but I delivered. Book twenty-three now moves from my "works in progress" to the "finished books" file folder on my MacBook's hard drive.
Now it is Monday. No deadline. No stress. And I'm not quite sure what to do with myself. I have a new book on which I will start working as soon as my partner signs his contract. In the meantime I am going through deadline withdrawal. I have this nagging sense that I need to rush to my office and buckle down, only to remember the book is finished. I think I will spend this week reading. Writers love to read. Then again, I may choose to sit on the couch, a little dog at my side, and do nothing at all. It is, after all, the week after a deadline. I always enter such weeks with high hopes of accomplishing so much, only to discover my brain has rebeled after being squeezed a little too hard for a little too long. My dog is about to fall asleep. I think I will join him.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


A cardinal decided to crash into my kitchen window the other day. She liked the experience so much that she backed up, and crashed into it again and again and again. Her wings must have tired, because eventually she sat on the window sill and pecked away at the glass. I read somewhere that birds do this when they see their reflection in the window. Either this bird is pulling an A-Rod, and giving herself a little self love, or she isn't very bright. Come to think of it, the two are one in the same. The bird was really starting to get on my nerves until I looked deep into her dark little eyes. To me, she looked like a Maggie. Now that's her name. She isn't so annoying any more. In fact, everyone in the family looks forward to her visits. Maybe there's a lesson to be learned here. Maybe Maggie came to my house to teach us all about how building relationships allows us to move beyond focusing on one another's annoying little habits. Or maybe Maggie is just a less than bright bird that is too stupid to stop running into the bird flying right at her near my house.