Friday, December 23, 2011

Rendering Lard

We’re spending this Christmas with my wife Sandee’s family in Alabama. So upon our arrival last night we, like most families during this time of year, began eating and talking and talking about eating. After some time I was introduced to a new delicacy—the microwaveable bag of fried pork skins.

The wonder of the microwaveable bag of pork skins is a story for another day, but it was those pork skins that started a conversation that held us captive for a good bit of the evening.

After I “popped” the bag of pork skins I walked around the family room and shook them out the bag into everyone’s hands. While doing this I made the mistake of casually asking Sandee’s dad (“Papa,” “Big Dave,” or simply “Mr. Hill,” depending on who you are) what part of the pig the pork skin came from.

As Mr. Hill sat in his recliner, he could have insulted me for asking such a dumb son-in-law question (they are pork skins after all), but instead he overlooked it and launched into a tale about pork processing at home from when he was a 9-year-old boy. The story won’t soon be forgotten.

As we were munching on the pork skins he began, “You see when you butcher a hog, you first dip it in scalding hot water so you can more easily scrape off the hair.” As we checked our pork skins for any remaining pig hair, he continued, “It’s amazing—I’ve seen hogs that were completely covered with black hair but by the time we’d scrape ‘em clean, they’d be as white as the palm of my hand here.”

“So that’s where you get those skins there,” he said. By this time I was the only one that was still reaching into the bag for a second handful of skins. Everyone else was wondering what happened to the black hair that had been scraped off the pig whose skin they were now digesting.

Mr. Hill went on: “My Daddy used to say, ‘we’d cook everything but the oink,’ and we sure did. We’d bake the tongue, scrape inside the head to get the head cheese or pressed meat as we called it, and then sometimes we’d even bake the pig’s ears. The worst thing though would be making chittlin’s from the intestines. We’d boil them and would they ever stink! We’d turn them inside out as we cleaned them. Finally we’d fry ‘em up and I'm tellin' you, they tasted good! Pickled the feet too,” he said.

At this point Sandee took the conversation to a place no one really wanted to go. “Who was the first person,” she asked, “who thought of the idea of cleaning a pig’s intestines so they could boil, fry, and then eat them? What sort of person thinks of such a thing?”

No one really had an answer for that question, and few wanted to think about it long enough to conjure one up. But even if they did, Sandee followed it up with another: “Why,” she said, “did you all bake the tongue when everything else was fried?” Papa didn’t seem to know the answer to this question either but stated that the baked tongue was sliced in a very thin fashion to achieve maximum palatability.

“One other thing, we used to do,” Mr. Hill said, “was to make lard. You know just below the skin is all that pig fat—the lard. We’d scrape all that lard off then put it in a big 15 gallon iron pot. We’d heat it under a big fire until it’d liquefy and then the ‘cracklin’s’ would come to the top. We'd skim those off and that’s what we used to make cracklin’ cornbread and cracklin’ biscuits,” he said. “Then all that lard would sort of be strained and then we’d pour it into buckets to store for later use. We called that process Rendering Lard.”

Sandee suggested Rendering Lard would be a great name for our next diet. I thought it a more proper name for our son Davis’s next rock band.

Mr. Hill saved the best part of his memories for last, however, as he described to us the process of actually killing the pig. “We’d have this little chute that Granddaddy and me would force the pig in to,” he said. “Now Daddy hated killing the pig anyway but one time we had an especially large hog to slaughter—must’ve weighed 600 pounds—and Daddy was especially nervous about it,” he said.

Papa continued: “So how he’d do it is to get above the hog, straddle it sort of, then take a sledge hammer and knock it in the head. Well this one time—on this 600 pound hog—just as he was comin’ down on pig’s head with the sledge, the hog reared back so daddy wasn’t able to get him with a good blow. Boy that pig got mad! He chased Daddy around that pen until Daddy pulled his pistol and shot him. The bad thing about that though is he didn’t catch him clean with the shot so the hog squealed and got madder and ran around after him some more. Daddy emptied the pistol on him but the hog still wasn’t dead. Finally though he ran around in circles until he all of a sudden dropped. Hogs are mean. They aren’t docile like some people think.” I didn't have tangible evidence to refute this last statement, but wondered if we shouldn't study a control group of pigs who were not shot at and beat on with a sledge hammer before passing judgment on that particular hog for his contrary personality.

Now that story might not have been about a Red Ryder BB gun, or a snowstorm, or someone coming back home for Christmas after World War II, but I think it’s one of the greatest Christmas stories I’ve ever heard. I'm glad my kids got to hear it first hand. Someday I hope I'll be able to tell one that is half as good.

But since I can’t, I think I’ll just go render some lard.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

About a Dog

Editor's Note: This story is not funny, but we didn't have anywhere else to go with it....

Much has been written about the dog. He’s man’s best friend and all that. We’ve cried about dogs from Old Yeller to Marley and Me. But those stories have always been about someone else.

Yesterday while walking my youngest daughter’s puppy I discovered our oldest dog Drover out in our pond. He was several yards from the bank, looking at me with a look that was a combination of sheepishness and of fear and of discomfort from the late October chill.

At first I thought Drover was simply going for an Indian summer swim, or more accurately a wade. Such an activity was not out of character for him, as often I would observe the four muddy paws that betrayed him.

But this time it was different. He wasn’t moving, and no amount of coaxing or cajoling could dislodge him from his muddy berth. He was stuck in the Missouri muck that had accumulated from a decade of spring gulley washers.

Freeing himself from his quagmire would have been a snap for Drover in his youth. An amalgamation of large breeds—Great Pyrenees and Coon Hound mostly—he had once been a rugged specimen of vigor and strength. But the years have not been kind to his large frame. Arthritis and other age-related maladies have taken their toll on him. Lately he would mostly lie around, and getting to his feet was indeed a chore, as the hours in one place would leave his arthritic joints “stoved up.”

So there he was, trapped, with little hope of unaided escape. After getting our puppy back in her kennel, I put on some boots and waded out to my loyal friend. If the water was cold, which I’m sure it was, I didn’t really notice. After getting a collar and leash on him, I tried to pull him out like a winch on a tow truck. The collar kept slipping over his head, and I began to fear it would act more like a noose than a lifeline.

So I regrouped, throwing the collar and leash aside. After freeing myself from the mud, I was finally able to pull him to the bank where he lay shivering and unable to stand or really move at all. The long odyssey to shore had taken all the surviving energy out of him. I couldn’t stand him up, so I went back to my house and called our vet, Dr. Morse, for some advice.

After our consultation I decided to try to get Drover to our barn and put him under some heat lamps. This process took about an hour as I had to carry him inches at a time until I could finally hoist him into the SUV. My little ambulance then took him to the barn, where I managed to lift him out and set him on the floor under the warming red lamps.

Dr. Morse suggested an elixir of maple syrup and water to give Drover an energy boost. He’d have none of it, and just lay cold and lifeless on the concrete floor.

After a warming night among soft blankets in the barn, Drover now lies in Dr. Morse’s office, his fate to be determined after a couple of days of observation.

I never really understood the degree of sadness that some people seemed to experience about their pet. After all, they are just animals. And, from an eternal context, I still believe a pet’s significance is over-rated.

But I realized something as I pondered whether or not these days are Drover’s last. A dog is indeed part of a family and indeed provides pleasure in-and-of himself. But a pet like Drover represents so much more.

As I think about Drover’s 13 years I see snapshots of our family and snapshots of myself. During his first night with us, I pulled his fluffy whining body up with me onto the couch where he finally fell asleep with me until morning.

I see him in the back yard when we lived “in town,” playing with the kids. I see him in on our little back deck in my daughters’ Little Tikes castle, a structure that he eventually commandeered for his dog house.

I can still hear him in the middle of a night in 1999, whining and crying out in that same back yard while I was desperately trying to go back to sleep in my warm bed. When the racket wouldn’t stop I went to investigate, and discovered he’d somehow gotten himself entangled in one of the swings of our kids’ swing set. It took me several minutes to free him from his contorted state, perhaps a sad foreshadowing of what one day lie ahead. Finally freed, he didn’t look back to thank me, but just wandered back off to bed, undoubtedly asleep again before I was.

One day I put together a chain link pen for Drover. I remember while constructing that thing, looking at the directions, frustrated no doubt, I got a call from my friend Al Reed. That day Al told me about the birth of his only son. After hanging up I went on back to putting together Drover’s pen.

The memories of Drover flow on. They are good memories of the dog himself, but more than that they are a thread that weaves our family together. Drover is somewhat of a final link to an earlier time when my identity was that of a father of young children.

As long as a dog lives, the family in some sense is linked to the era from which he first came. Drover is the last vestige of a time when I was young myself and the final composition of our family was still not yet fully revealed.

It is perhaps one of the great sorrows of family life that a child grows up while his or her dog grows old. I did it with the dog I got when I was eight years old. One day while I was at college my father called me and told me he’d taken Spotty (yes, I know, an original name) to Wayside Waifs in Kansas City to be put to sleep. It was time. Practically unnoticed during the presumed busyness of my collegiate life, I paused for but a moment, not fully realizing what a step out of boyhood and into manhood that day was.

And so it is with our children. Drover came into our lives as a free puppy that we weren’t even sure we really wanted. And since that time he has remained a fixture, outlasting other dogs as he presided over our kingdom with patriarchal formality. Never really playful, he just “showed up” every day. You knew he loved you, by his nuzzle and by his presence.

As Drover lies in the vet’s office I know it is only a matter of time. He may survive a few more days, or months, or even a year, but his vibrant dog’s life continues to ooze out of him. He is a sobering picture of the Apostle Paul’s statement that “the whole creation has been groaning with the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:23b) When he goes, a big part of my kids’ childhood will go with him. And a little bit of me as well.

I don’t know if dogs go to Heaven. If they do I know our focus on them will be minimal as we gaze on the beauty and glory of our Savior. But while on this temporal Earth, Drover has been a rich blessing to me and my family. Taken mostly for granted, his companionship and unconditional love will be sorely missed. In this picture of the Fall, we are reminded that our hope must be in eternity and in the grace that overcomes the groaning.

And now the cycle begins anew, as my youngest daughter’s puppy, just four months old, grows and frolics and provides a new context and a new backdrop for more years of precious family memories.

May they be as sweet as those given to us by Drover, our kind and loyal companion and friend.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

All's Fair in Words With Friends

As if Facebook wasn’t addictive enough, I now have another distraction in the Zynga app for Facebook called “Words With Friends.” Words With Friends (WWF) is essentially Scrabble with unlimited opportunities for participants to cheat.

WWF is played on your computer or other electronic device which sort of makes it Scrabble on steroids. One can play several different games at the same time, and there is no time limit during which you must make your move. This latter feature is critical as it affords one the opportunity to go make nachos or vacation in Paris between moves.

But WWF, like it’s cousin the World Wrestling Federation, is not just a game but bone-crushing, contorted , and sometimes serious competition. It certainly gets one's competitive juices going, and in some instances it keeps people from carrying out important daily activities like working, sleeping or going to the bathroom.

It's especially distracting when people send me game requests or "moves" during the business day, which is loosely defined as "when I happen to be sitting at my desk." Last week I was in a critical phone discussion about a real estate contract that will certainly never close and pay actual money. Thus, I put the party on speaker phone while I scoured my computer screen trying to find a strategic placement for the “Q” and other random letters which I’d been dealt. When asked an important question about a key paragraph in the contract, I started to blurt out “Quasar!” As if this wasn’t bad enough, I contemplated concluding the call by saying “while I have no substantive issues with this contract, I believe your use of the word ‘estoppel’ should be disqualified because it might be a proper noun.”

WWF causes one to contemplate drastic things like cheating, stealing, and opening a dictionary. The other night in a desperate attempt to keep my wife from taking a three game lead in a best of seven series, I started dreaming of buying vowels on the black market from a Colombian vowel-lord. Since there is no time limit for making a play in WWF, one has unlimited opportunities to consult friends, relatives, or the late Noah Webster. If particularly devious, you may consult Scrabble websites by asking questions like “What’s a five letter word that starts with Z and ends with R and has a J as the third letter?”

I would never do any of these things, unless the game is against my wife. She is a wordsmith, par excellence, so I will resort to all manner of deceptive practices in my attempts to beat her. Last week while she was taking a shower, I happened to walk by her computer and noticed the game we were playing against each other right there on the screen in front of me. It was her turn so I decided to help out by making a move for her. It just so happens the word “IT” was the only play I could see in the three seconds I had to make the decision. Can I help it if “IT” is only worth two points? She should’ve logged out before taking a shower....

Not only is my wife extremely competent--dare I say talented--but she knows words that I shouldn’t know. The best example is her use of profanity against me. While engaged in WWF competition, I will not resort to using synonyms for “defecate” and the like, but she employs them freely, demonstrating no shame in the lengths she will go to ensure my humiliation. As a gentleman, I will not resort to the use of such words, unless of course they are recommended by

I highly recommend WWF, unless you have burdensome demands on your life such as a job or family. If not, then have at it, but don’t let the intensity of the competition change who you are at your core.

I must go now. I’ve got an 11 o’clock with a Proper Noun who represents the Consonant Cartel.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Penny Pilfered is a Penny Earned

It was a plain sign, barely legible in black marker and affixed with a clear piece of tape to the cash register. Yet, as it hung over the little container of pennies on the convenience store counter, it spoke volumes about the state of the U.S. economy. Its words were simple yet eerie: “Need one or two, take ‘em. Need three, get a job loser!”

The sign in this rural convenience store in the Upper South went up shortly after one customer took fifteen (15) pennies from the small, brown tray so that he could apparently purchase an 89¢ can of Dr. Pepper for 74¢. Showing little regard for his fellow consumers who would follow, he emptied this community chest and forced dozens of subsequent customers to break nickels and dimes, and in a couple of extreme instances— Susan B. Anthony Dollars.

Yes, we have indeed fallen on hard times. Forget indicators such as housing starts and retail sales and unemployment and manufacturers’ orders. Apparently the American consumer, in a desperate need to pinch pennies, has stooped to pinching pennies, literally, from the community penny pot.

Economists disagree as to the origin of the community penny pot. Indeed, this practice represents a relatively new medium of exchange and it is almost exclusively the domain of the convenience store. I figured this out when I asked the clerk at Dillard’s to slide me some pennies to supplement by maxed-out AMEX card for a recent clothing purchase. She had obviously never shopped at Lazy Lee’s Bait and Convenience. But the community penny pot, like most good ideas, was borne from a desire to solve a problem—bankruptcy. No, actually that is the problem Mr. Dr. Pepper was trying to solve.

Initially the community penny pot was designed to rid or minimize ourselves of annoying loose change. You’ve seen the signs—“Need a penny, take one; got a penny, give one.” Sure the concept reeks of socialist principles, but it has worked and given us pride as in some small way we would leave the convenience store thinking that we’d beaten somebody out of something and helped us forget we just spent $1.69 for that 20 oz. Co-Cola. We could also leave satisfied knowing that we had just given two cents to the next guy in line, even though we would never consider taking him to lunch.

Unfortunately, I believe excessive penny pilfering is not isolated but in fact widespread. It offers us evidence that much larger economic forces are at work. Like most economic laws, like life insurance, these forces are not easily understood and undoubtedly global in scope. Let’s dig a little deeper—under the cushions if you please—and see if we can tell what’s going on.

One theory: increased copper prices. After all, copper is trading at about $4 per pound on the New York Mercantile Exchange. These numbers reflect a jump of about 100% in just a few short years.

Let’s do the math here. According to my Pitney Bowes postage scale, ten pennies weigh .8 ounces. Everyone knows (except for me 10 minutes ago), however that a penny is no longer 100% copper but instead 2.5% copper with the remaining 97.5% comprised of donut glaze, Snicker’s residue, and caramelized dryer lent. The rest of the metal is actually copper plated zinc, and zinc is spotting at around a dollar per pound.

If copper and zinc outstrip the face value of the coins, a veritable avalanche of economic repercussions will follow. People will begin robbing children’s piggy banks. Consumers will take to making change out of offering plates. The man who once pilfered 15 pennies for a Dr. Pepper will now do something much more ethical but equally troubling economically and toss back three nickels.

Another Theory: Uh, don't have one. Read on....

The resurgence of penny popularity will have far-reaching implications. Indeed, the fallout will impact economic and non-economic walks of life. In random acts of physical exertion not seen in post-depression America, I foresee a day in the near future when people young and old will once again, stop in their tracks and actually bend down and pick up one of these little coins. I can see a new demand  for 50¢ rolls of coins. I can see people paying pennies for thoughts worth much less.

I can see children across the country once again wearing money belts and nerdy money changers. I can see businessmen proudly wearing new shiny pennies in Italian loafers, finally understanding the coins are worth more than the shoes. I can see parents and children thinking twice before putting a penny and three quarters in a theme park vending machine with the intent of transforming the coin into a trinket.

But most importantly, I can see a day when Mr. Dr. Pepper will once again get a job. And then, and only then, will we be reunited with economic equilibrium.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Tons and Tons and Tons

Have you ever heard expressions like “It hit me like a ton of bricks,” or “He made tons of money?” How about “My wife has gained a ton of weight!?” (These words have never come from my lips and are only uttered by men who have little regard for their lives) Or have you ever read a sign that said something like the following: “Bridge Ahead—Weight Limit 5 tons?” If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these questions, then congratulations! You now have a frame of reference from which you can appreciate this column.

A ton is a lot of weight. In case you thought one size fits all for tons, I offer you a brief tutorial. A “short ton,” to be exact, is 2,000 pounds. It is a generally accepted notion that if we want to speak about things that weigh a whole lot, we speak in terms of tonnage. Sometimes we invoke the term “metric ton.” A metric ton is 1,000 kilograms or 2,204.6 pounds. The metric ton has some unknown and unnecessary correlation to liters, Celsius temperature, kilometers, and the French.

Most metric measurements, like the French, are wimpy and effeminate. However, there is something very manly about anything, even fanny packs, purchased by the metric ton. One does not need to know how to convert metric tons into any sensible measuring unit, like the bushel. It is simply enough to know that the ton is a whole lot of weight. We men look at one another knowingly, and exude respect for a fellow male who orders anything by this measurement.

But something about tonnage changed after I moved to the country. It suddenly became a fairly insignificant unit of measurement. The biggest, baddest dump truck I could find could only hold 20 tons of sand and about the same amount of gravel. (“One inch Clean” not a “Crusher Run”)

There is something very satisfying about a dump truck backing down your driveway. It signals to all within earshot that you mean business. The dump truck declares to all who draw near that a country man is hard at work. Dump trucks carry the stuff with which boyhood dreams are forged—sand, gravel, dirt, and dead animals. These boyhood dreams come to life at the first sighting of a dump truck approaching a grown man’s property.

Recently I ordered 20 tons of sand for three reasons: I had built a sandbox, I wanted to build a golf green and sand trap, and that was how much Jimmy Ghin’s dump truck could hold. I had no idea how much twenty tons of sand was. I thought, when delivered, it would create a 30’ mountain on my property and, once leveled across my 9.73 acres (per survey), that 20 tons of sand would make my property look pretty much like the Sahara Desert and a maybe even a lot like the set of Rat Patrol.

Upon delivery, I found my little sandbox took 1-2 tons. Then, the rest was distributed between my green and sand trap. It eventually melded into the landscape until I hardly recognized any difference. In fact, I even needed some more but even though the cost was only $14.95 per ton, I was told for delivery there was a 15 ton minimum order. What sort of world do we live in when a guy can’t order 14 tons of a macho commodity like sand, gravel, or cow manure without being considered a lightweight?

It was a lot of fun ordering sand and gravel and such by the ton. But something else gave me even more satisfaction than the dump truck backing down my driveway— the sight of my kids playing on the ten ton pile of sand on the “green” before we smoothed it out.

From where I sat, they appeared to be having tons of fun. And for me that was worth every penny of that $14.95 per, metric or otherwise.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Bisque Management

The Friendly Fish Lice (Louse?) enjoying
Trout Almondine'
One recent morning I was checking email at our kitchen island when I had the chance to observe my younger daughters packing their school lunches. What at first appeared to be run-of-the-mill meals I soon realized would be totally stand-up fare at French Laundry in San Francisco.

Their backpack-style lunch boxes were being stuffed with plastic containers of lobster bisque as well as about 2 pounds of mixed strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. I was impressed by their taste and wondered why I was left to fend for myself with hot pockets and expired salami.

I didn’t realize it before that morning, but it appears my children are participating in a school lunch subsidy program, the primary benefactor of which is ME to the tune of over $17.67 per meal. I know high level executives who don’t get $15 per diems and are forced to study the McDonald’s value menu in search of something that will pass muster with the CFO.

But not us. We’ve taken a “no child left behind” mentality when it comes to the quality of the noon time meal. When I questioned my wife about this she informed me she got a good deal on the bisques at Costco. She said the intention was for the girls to split one of the containers. The girls evidently didn’t get the memo.

I remember my school lunches growing up. It was a special day indeed when my mother cut my PBJ diagonally instead of straight across. The diagonal cut was especially wonderful when it did not reveal a hidden heal of the loaf. It was also really cool when I got an individual bag of Fritos or Lays instead of fumbling through a baggie to find an amalgamation of chips and pretzels and such. The piece de resistance was finding a Twinkie or even better, a chocolate pudding Snack Pack.

But there’s nothing too good for our children. We don’t trifle with processed foods…only the best to feed the brains of our young scholars. Next we’ll be fetching in gourmet lunch boxes FedEx from Curtis Stone.

Our family’s choices of school lunches unfortunately raised other more pressing questions, the most glaring of which was: What is bisque, anyway? I assumed it was French for “things that can be mopped up with a biscuit. I guess I did know it was some kind of soup, but I didn’t know the difference between bisque and soup and chowder and etouffe and stew and bullion and bouillabaisse and chili and genetically engineered Hormel canned chili.

So instead of continuing my work and attempting to make real money, I researched the definition of bisque. I found one which best suited this column, which was from gold standard Wikipedia. It said: Bisque is a smooth, creamy, highly-seasoned soup of French origin, classically based on a strained broth (coulis) of crustaceans. Basically bisque is a soup made up of ground up lobster claws and such, or she crab guts, or crawdad pinchers. But as the definition explains it can be made up of any crustacean “parts,” which leads us to another even more gut-wrenching question: What…is a crustacean?

We’ve all heard of the most famous crustaceans—lobsters, crabs, crawdads (crayfish/crawfish), shrimp, etc. These are generally aquatic animals. But what about the “lesser crustaceans?” These would include both “parasitic crustaceans” and “terrestrial crustaceans.” You’ve maybe heard of some of these. The parasitic crustaceans would be critters such as fish lice and tongue worms while the most famous terrestrial crustacean is the friendly woodlice (a distant cousin to the kindly “roly-poly”).

I’m appalled that these crustaceans do not have their very own bisque named after them. After all, I’m sure these creatures can be ground up into a very formidable and tasty coulis of their own. Yes, I know their names wouldn’t just roll off your tongue and may not look good on the menu of a French restaurant, but you have to admit the price point of TONGUE WORM BISQUE would be much more affordable for the family of a real estate broker during an economic downturn.

But I guess until a cheaper version of crustacean coulis becomes available, or until I’m ready to go hunt for some fish lice to make my own, my wife will continue to search for bargains at Costco. We will settle for only the best for our young scholars. Bring on the bisques and the berries and the Crème Brulee for a school lunch that will be the envy of all my kids’ friends.

And all the while I’ll be back in my office wondering...If the salami has yet to be opened, did it really spoil four months ago?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thoughts on Turning 50

Not Enough Fingers to Say "50"
Ready to go trout fishing in my new hip waders!
  The great American Philosopher Oprah Winfrey once said “Life Begins at 50.” But she was not talking about age, she was talking about United States Dollars—in Billions. But what about the rest of us? What about those of us who have net worths of, say, less than Oprah’s? How are we to deal with such a milestone anniversary?

One’s 50th birthday is a time of reflection and contemplation—the reflection in the mirror triggers contemplation of plastic surgery. But instead of turning to the scalpel, I’ve turned to the pen; a catharsis of sorts I suppose.

But why write a blog post about turning 50 on a blog that’s supposed to be humorous? After all, nothing about turning 50 is funny. But then everything about turning 50 is funny. If  it’s not, then you’ve taken yourself way too seriously over the last 49 years and 364 days.

When you’re 50 and you’ve been diagnosed with a shoulder “impingement,” and it’s excruciatingly painful to throw a curve ball or hit your son on a deep (or even shallow) post pattern, it’s easy to reminisce about how great you used to be and how the years have robbed you of all your glory. But it’s the seasoning and maturity of 50 that tells you and shows you that your curveball always hung anyway, and any guy hitting below the Mendoza Line could “take you yard.” It seems that 50 releases you from pretension. At 50 you must come clean.

Fifty graciously reveals to you your mortality. It shows you that you’ve trusted, like Ponce De Leon, in your youthful vitality, that you’ve often foolishly relied on a strength that rested inside you and that was of your own manufacture. Fifty (and Jerry Seinfeld) teaches you that you are actually well passed mid-life, unless of course you plan on living to be a centurion. Fifty reminds you that true strength comes from outside of you.

But most of all 50 gently reminds you that this temporal life is not all there is. It shows you the folly of your self-sufficiency and, divested of your youthful vigor, that an eternity awaits which is not tainted with insulin resistance or wrinkled skin or shoulder impingements. It frees you to joyfully and hopefully acknowledge with absolute certainty that which should have been realized and practiced and reveled in at 25, 35, and 43—that we live amidst a fallen world and that aging and death, although a consequence of the Fall, point to a future glory which is infinitely superior to even that of catching a deep post for a touchdown.

I’m embarrassed to admit that 50 once dogged me. It hunted me down and loomed large on the horizon. It was a giant boulder tethered to my ankles and pulling me downward toward the ocean floor, further and further into the suffocating abyss. But as with any disoriented thinking, down seems up and up seems down. As I awoke this morning I was given a transformed perspective. I was surprised that the boulder that was 50, instead of dragging me deeper into the darkness, was actually pulling me to the surface where I gasped a fresh breath of air that is the rest of my life.

In Psalm 90 Moses asks the Lord: “So teach us to number our days, that we should gain a heart of wisdom.” In the same Psalm he talks of the brevity of our lives and that the years “are soon gone and we fly away.” I’m hoping my 50th birthday will begin a time where I go beyond lip service and genuinely embrace these truths not as a consolation prize, but as the focus and goal and expectancy of all I say and do.

Now that will be something to celebrate.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Long Form Birth Certificate: Not Just For Heads of State

Who knew that there were various forms of birth certificates? Who knew, except for vital statistics geeks, that birth certificates came in an array of styles, colors, and options, not unlike their sister documents the 1040 income tax return (the "long form") and the 1040A ("not-as-long-form")? Maybe census takers knew. After all, they're in the habit of randomly picking every house without a rabid pit-bull to administer their "long form" interview. Maybe they knew what we didn't.

But we can now thank Donald Trump for bringing Hawaii's long form birth certificate into the public eye. Evidently Trump dispatched an investigative team (future Presidential aides Gary Busey and Meat Loaf) to the Aloha State to get to the bottom of the controversy surrounding President Obama's birth certificate. Obama had been under attack by his political opponents and accused of arrogance from his political allies for only releasing the short form version of the document. Today Trump claimed victory for smoking out the document from inside the stacks of Hawaii-5-0.

But the really stunning news from today's disclosure, irrespective of your political leanings, is that we continue to labor within yet another two-class system: those with only short form birth certificates and those with proudly possess both short and long forms. As we attempt to break down the various socio-economic walls and barriers that separate us, yet another schism emerges which makes us realize we're just lost in some endless game of Whack-A-Mole.

We've always heard the criteria. We've always heard about the "stuff" of Presidents. They're left handed or they're Masons or they're from the Skull and Bones Society. But the long form birth certificate has taken us by surprise. Yet another lofty difference between the "haves" and "the wanna haves."

But Wait! There is hope! For me personally, that is (but probably not for you). I just pulled out my birth certificate and am proud to report that I possess a long form birth certificate as well. In fact, my birth certificate is almost as voluminous as President Obama's (see photo above). His contains 23 boxes; mine contains 21. That's pretty doggone close. If not Presidential then my birth certificate is at least Gubernatorial. And it far exceeds any measly and laughable "short form," which reportedly just reports date of birth, whether or not the doctor was there or not, and if he was what he was watching on TV when he was telling the labor and delivery nurse what to do.

In fact, the Prez and I have a lot of stuff in common when our birth certificates are placed side-by-side. Although he's younger than me, we were both born in 1961--both during the baseball season in which Maris and Mantle were starring in a movie directed by Billy Crystal. We also both had mothers who were born in Kansas and were given middle names after famous kings (POTUS after King Hussein of Jordan and me after King Charles the Finley of the Kansas City Athletics).

The similarities continue. Surprisingly, neither the Prez nor I resided on farms at the time of our birth. We both were urban dwellers, delivered within well-defined city limit boundaries. Both of us were delivered by M.D.s and thus neither of us endured the disgrace of being delivered by D.O.s, midwives, or police officers. Neither of us were part of a set of triplets or sextuplets, although neither Hawaii nor Missouri were sophisticated enough at the time to even put a box on the form to check for sextuplets.

But I really need to stop boasting. Suffice it to say that I now know I've got a little more going for me than I thought I had when I woke up this morning. Me and the POTUS and the Long Form. It's not so bad, this view from the top.

But if you only possess the short form in your safe deposit box, and have to go through life wondering if you were born within city limits or if lived on a farm or were delivered by Marcus Welby, don't lose heart. Some of us and our potential were recognized from places even as obscure and remote as the delivery room of the Kapiolani Maternity & Gynecological Hospital in Honolulu.

Yes, people like us are given the Long Form. And the rest of you losers will just have to join Busey and Meat Loaf as Donald Trump staffers.