Wednesday, December 31, 2008

So long to an awful year (mostly)

2008 has been one of the worst years of my life, and a pretty bad one for a lot of other people.

It started out poorly on Jan. 17 when my wife broke her leg. Then came six operations, several weeks in the hospital and a few more in rehab. There was the clerical error that meant that my wife didn’t get paid for two months. Then my father was in the hospital for a few days.

Things weren’t much better for the rest of the world. The world’s general economic condition knocked my prospects for a better job from slim to none. Many are mad at Madoff for the Biggest. Ponzi. Scheme. Ever, while the Big Three American automakers have proven to be as reliable as a ’75 Pinto.

Music continues to get worse, or maybe I'm just getting older. While American Top 40 and other teeny-bopper shows have year-end lists of the biggest hits, I have been reduced to nominating one song a year as This Year's Only Good Song. The winner this year is....Coldplay's "Viva La Vida."

I do have an award for Mondegreen of the Year. Apparently, this is one that was misheard by a lot of people, because Ryan Seacrest actually interviewed The Pussycat Dolls on American Top 40 in order to debunk the mondegreen. (Oh, the crap you stumble into on the radio during long road trips!) So here it is...

WRONG: I wanna have boobies
RIGHT: I wanna have groupies
"When I Grow Up," The Pussycat Dolls

Still don’t think it was a bad year? Did I mention that two of the most critically acclaimed films of the year are a Batman flick and a Pixar movie about a trash compactor? I thought that would shut you up.

It wasn’t all bad. It was a year where a lot of chickens came home to roost. The Spygate Patriots blew their perfect season at the hands of the GEEEEE-MEN (thank you, Chris Berman) in Super Bowl XLII, while the backstretch’s biggest mouth, Rick Dutrow, was suddenly lost for words when Big Brown finished last in the Belmont.

But the biggest comeuppance was saved for George W. Bush and the Republican Party in general, as the American public finally grew some brains and elected Barack Obama over faux maverick John McCain. It’s beyond the scope of this blog to list the many levels on which this election represents change—the country’s attitude toward race and the power of the youth electorate are the most obvious. But the most important trend may be a new-found tendency to respect the mind and leaders who think.

So this year could be likened to the opening of Pandora’s Box. All the ills, evils and diseases came out of the box—but at the end, there was hope.

Hey, the Steelers made the playoffs…

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Found On Road Dead

Years ago, I bought a 1992 Ford Tempo, and it was, without question, the car from Hell.

In the four years I owned it, everything went wrong. The front bumper came loose, a headlight went out, one speaker on the radio stopped working, the power windows wouldn’t go up and down in cold weather, a problem with the electrical system drained several batteries, and one windshield wiper slipped off its moorings and left a big scratch on the windshield. The last straw came when the fuel line broke in two and left me dependent on a jerk of a co-worker for transportation for several days. (And I bought the car two months before Ohio passed a lemon law. Of course.)

It was the last time I even thought about buying an American car.

My roommate when I worked in Minnesota in the summer of ’95 loved his Toyota pickup, and he gave me some advice.

“When you drive back to Ohio,” he said, “take a look at the cars you see broken down on the freeway. I guarantee you that every one will be American.”

I think I saw six cars pulled off to the side of the road on my trip back—and, sure enough, all were American.

My next car was a Honda Accord. I drove it for 13 years. I recently bought a Scion xB that I plan to drive for just as long, if not longer.

Judging from my experience with American cars, it’s not surprising that the industry is in trouble. We are being told that the Big Three automakers are weeks away from bankruptcy. We are being told this by their CEOs as they fly to Washington in private jets to beg for tax money.

While it’s tempting to tell them to pound sand, that would put thousands of people out of work and make a bad recession even worse. At the same time, the automakers should not be written a blank check with our tax dollars.

Give them the bailout—but attach some big strings to the money. Since this is our money that’s going to the bailout, we have the right to make sure it’s done right.

Bail them out only if part of the money is used for the development of hybrids and electrics, and fuel-efficient cars in general. Make them cut the production of wasteful SUVs and urban assault vehicles like the Hummer. Hold them accountable for the use of the money. Increase quality control and stop making cars that will be available for $4,000 at J.D. Byrider before the next Presidential election. And no more private jets.

Who knows? If the industry gets its act together, the next car I buy might be American.

In another 13 years or so.

Friday, November 28, 2008

My first mondegreen

Thanksgiving was yesterday, and with it came memories of my first mondegreen.
There was an ad for a department store that I can't remember that used the song "Over the River and Through the Woods." This song is also on the Alvin and the Chipmunks album, "Christmas with the Chipmunks," which I had when I was little. (Yeah, the song's about Thanksgiving, but they grafted a bridge onto the song that mentions Christmas to make it fit the theme.)
It's easy to mishear the Chipmunks. When they talk, I usually can't understand a word they're saying. But on "Over the River," one line stuck out:

WRONG: It sees the nose and bites the nose as over the ground we go
RIGHT: It stings the toes and bites the nose as over the ground we go

So since it's officially the Christmas season now, I'll leave you with Alvin...Alvin...ALVIN!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

career ur doin it rong

Today I learned that I did not get a position at work that seemed perfect for me.
This is the eighth interview I've had at my company without a single offer. My current position is adequate, but provides little chance for advancement and is not where I want to be in five or 10 years.
Why didn't I get the job? The only reason I can discern (aside from any one of several full-blown conspiracy theories) is that I was a bit lighter on technical skills than they wanted, although I was assured during the interview that I would be trained on any technical applications I might need.
It's the ultimate career conundrum--you can't get a job because you don't have experience, but WHERE IN THE HELL ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO GET THE EXPERIENCE? (And I'm a bit old for the Army! Navy! Air Force! Marines! Just the fact that I remember that ad ages me terribly.)
This is a big problem in information technology because the field changes rapidly. I earned a subsequent bachelor's degree in Management Information Sciences in 2002, and what I learned in school already seems dated. I can tell you the difference between ring architecture and bus architecture, but nobody cares. IT job openings make my head spin nowadays. C#? J2EE? WTF?
I haven't done myself many favors. As far as my career goes, I have always had a bad habit of jumping on every bandwagon right before it goes off a cliff. I got into IT back in the good old days, when every other ad on TV was for a dot-com. By the time I graduated, the dot-com boom was gone. Hard to believe that it was only nine years ago that Newsweek ran a cover of a cartoon woman crying and asking, "Why aren't I rich yet?" Now they could have her ask, "Why did I lose my house?"
Also working against me (for most positions) is that my pre-tech experience is in journalism. I once worked for the Daily Racing Form, which makes many techies react as if I'd been in prison. (Seriously, one interviewer actually started to get up from the table when he read that paragraph on my resume.) One person told me that my background had nothing to do with data. Anybody who thinks the Form has nothing to do with data has obviously never read one.
So where does this leave me? Do I keep trying to find another position in my company, hoping that the ninth, 15th, 28th time will be the charm? Do I keep sending resumes out into the black hole of cyberspace?
Or do I just clean up my cube and assume I'm going to be sitting in it for a long time?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A damn good generation

Not many people were shocked that Barack Obama won the Presidential election, but most were at least surprised by the decisiveness of the victory.

There is no one reason why he won. The cynic and the racist will argue that the black vote put him over the top, but African-Americans are only 12 percent of the U.S. population—not enough to account for a landslide.

Obama’s appeal spread across many demographic groups, but one in particular was vital to his victory.

Throughout the campaign, I tried to judge who was ahead based on what I heard on the street and in the media, and the number of campaign signs I saw. Popularity seemed to go along the usual, stereotypical lines—more Obama signs in poor neighborhoods, more McCain signs in rich neighborhoods.

Nothing prepared me for what I saw last month when I went back to Otterbein College for homecoming.

I graduated from Otterbein in 1987, and I remember it being as apolitical as a liberal arts college could get. Perhaps it was just the general ‘80s zeitgeist, but most of the students there in my day couldn’t have cared less about politics. Given the choice between Reagan and Mondale, most of us would rather have had another beer (provided it was off-campus—read on).

First, there was the Obama sign in the second-story window at my fraternity’s house. Then there were the multiple chalk scrawls of “OBAMA” I saw all over the campus sidewalks.

Then came the homecoming parade. A group of cheering young people walked through the staging area passing out stickers reading, “I voted early for Barack Obama.” Most of my frat’s contingent wore them, as did many other people in the parade. (I did not take one, not because I didn’t support Obama, but because, as a Pennsylvania resident, I could not vote early.) It was almost an Obama parade, full of upper-middle class white kids, hardly radicals.

Bear in mind that this happened at a dry college in a town that was dry until about 10 years ago. Also bear in mind that the surrounding area has elected Republicans for as long as I can remember. Nobody would confuse Otterbein with Cal Berkeley.

Obama’s victory belongs to young people—people the age of my stepdaughters (24 and 22) and the students at Otterbein. What they see in him varies. Some are drawn by his undeniable charisma. Some are concerned about various issues—the economy, the environment, civil liberties. They are the people who voted early in states that allowed it. They are the people who lined up around the block to vote. They are the people who cared.

I came away from homecoming convinced that Obama would win. I also came away with a great hope for the future that goes beyond electing one President.

The generation in its teens and 20s is showing a great interest in the future of the nation and the planet. They have the potential to be everything the children of the ‘60s could have been had hard drugs not entered the equation.

This is not the greatest generation. That mantel goes to my dad’s generation for winning World War II. But if this generation stays involved and continues to care about things outside themselves, they will go down in history as a damn good one.

Monday, November 3, 2008

It's not all about you

On the eve of such a crucial election, I thought of asking why politics have become so divisive lately, but that assumes that politics have never been as divisive as they are now.

Sure, politics might appear to be more controversial now than they were when I was little, but I think that’s because I wasn’t aware of how high the stakes were back then. Can I take even a cursory look at history and say with a straight face that politics were bland and inoffensive in, say, the 1960s? Nope.

Politics have always divided people, but I think it’s fair to talk about one reason why they are so divisive now—the tendency of people to put personal, short-term interests ahead of what’s good for themselves, and the nation, in the long run.

If you ask someone why they insist on voting for Neanderthals (apologies to the Geico cavemen) who would destroy civil liberties and thrust the country back into the dark ages, the answer usually has something to do with taxes. Mr. Fascist Thug said he’d give me a tax break, while Mr. Progressive Liberal wants to give all my money to illegal immigrants. Given the vehemence with which this litany is delivered, you’d think that electing the wingnut would somehow end all taxes overnight.

Get real. Taxes exist. They aren’t going away. And if you want lower taxes, you may want to ask why $500 billion has gone toward a war that has benefitted nobody but Halliburton, while a similar amount is going to bail out failed corporations.

Then there are people who are screaming liberals on every other issue, but always vote Republican because they’re afraid that the government will take away that $20 peashooter that they fired once on New Year’s Eve. Hey, the Second Amendment is important, dammit! Who knows when you might need an AK-47 to keep those trick-or-treaters at bay?

In this election (and all others), it’s important to think about what issues are truly important, not just to you, but to the world.

For example, one of my voting issues is abortion rights. Why does a woman’s right to choose matter to me? I’m not a woman. My wife’s kids are grown. Abortion is not directly an issue to either of us in our daily lives. But the abortion issue matters to me on principle. If you don’t have the right to your own body, what rights do you have?

My Sitemeter tells me there’s not much traffic here, except from people who want to find out what a luleelurah is. So I may be talking to the wind here, but I felt like I had to do it anyhow.

I won’t tell you who to vote for (although you can probably guess). Just remember, when you enter the voting booth, that it’s not all about you.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A true secret ballot

The hotel for this year's Western Pennsylvania Mensa Regional Gathering had an unexpected guest--John McCain.

The Straight Talk Express visited the Green Tree Radisson, and along with McCain, Cindy McCain, and Sarah Palin, came three large buses, countless Men in Black, who knows how many advisers and assistants, and an overwhelming amount of luggage.

And all to talk to some farmers in Washington, Pa., about their taxes.

What a waste.

And it's not just McCain. I would have felt the same way if it were Obama. Well, maybe a little less, but I couldn't help but think that the whole method of running a Presidential campaign is extremely wasteful.

Millions are spent on the efforts of a handful of people to be elected to our nation's highest office. Not only is the process a waste of money, but voters wind up not knowing much about the candidates when all is said and done. Much of the information we receive about them is really propaganda, programmed to benefit their causes. There is also the tendency to confuse the candidate's personalities with their stands on the issues--especially this year, with race and (alleged) religion becoming issues as well.

I suggest radical changes in the Presidential campaign.

Try this plan and see what you think.

Publish a list of the candidates and their positions on the issues--but no names or pictures. Just call them Candidate A and Candidate B (and you could probably go down the alphabet farther, as the process would be open to third parties since it would be cheaper). Publish this list in the paper, online, on fliers, what have you. But you wouldn't know who the candidates are. They could go about their business, in their current positions (as they should). You wouldn't have TV commercials in your face saying that so-and-so wants to take your guns away or send your jobs to China. No conventions, no debates, no wanton spending of millions. Just the facts. You vote on the issues, and you don't know the candidates' identities until the election is over.

It's probably a naive idea. The temptation for the media to blow the candidates' covers would be great, and I don't know how the secrecy would be enforced.

But still--it's got to be better than endless campaign ads (mostly paid for by fat cats with hidden agendas) going on and on about how one candidate or another will provoke terrorist attacks, cause gay immigrant drug addicts to run rampant, and, worst of all--raise your taxes!

Saturday, August 16, 2008


I will never forget what happened on this day 31 years ago.

It started like any summer day at my house in Columbus. The weather was beautiful, and quite warm, so I, of course, was sitting in the basement, playing a made-up dice baseball game with a mock team that I called the Columbus Explorers. Once a nerd, always a nerd.

It was around 3 p.m., and I was listening to WCOL, which was the premier Top 40 station in Columbus back in the days before AM radio was given over to Rush Limbaugh. Suddenly, the music stopped and an announcer came on, speaking in a serious voice that rivaled Death in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels.


I knew this had to be important, because I rarely heard anything on WCOL besides music, DJ patter, and ads for Oxy-10. But what could it have been? Had President Carter been shot?


It took several minutes for the news to sink in. Even at that young age, I was well aware of Elvis’ status as a cultural icon. One of my favorite albums was Elvis’ Golden Records, and I knew that no one else epitomized the cultural phenomenon that was rock ‘n roll.

Sure, other rockers had died during my childhood—Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison. Their deaths could be explained easily. They did too many drugs. But Elvis’ drug use did not become public until after his death, so the world—including an 11-year-old kid sitting in an Ohio basement—wondered why.

If anything, Elvis was, at the time, a symbol of the enduring qualities of rock ‘n roll. It didn’t matter that he had been recast as a Vegas-style entertainer that my grandmother could like. The fact that he was still having hits 20 years after he first shook his hips proved that rock ‘n roll would not only last, but could also age gracefully. How ironic that seems now.

After a few minutes of pondering this brush with mortality, I walked upstairs and out of the house. Our German shepherd, Jazz, was sitting in the fenced-in portion of the yard, looking dejected. She was usually chained up just outside the back step, so this was strange.

Mom said that Jazz was behind the fence because she had bitten a man who was delivering towels to Dad’s barber shop. He had apparently wandered into Jazz’s territory and surprised her. It was a minor wound, and nothing more came of the incident. It was the first and last time Jazz bit anybody.

While these two events stand out in my mind because they happened on the same day, there was no connection between them, of course.

Or was there?

My Grandma Acky had a weakness for tabloid newspapers such as The National Enquirer and The Star. She would read these papers cover-to-cover every week, laughing at the most ridiculous stories and believing some of the more straight-faced items. In the months after Elvis’ death, these papers were dominated by stories about Elvis, loaded with the sordid details of his final years.

One day, I thought about the events of Aug. 16 and put two and two together. It would be six more years before I would learn the word “synchronicity” via The Police, but I apparently understood the concept. I came up with this idea that there was some connection between Elvis’ soul and the towel guy’s leg, and then the tabloid headline flashed in front of me: “MY DOG KILLED ELVIS!”

I think I should have called the Enquirer with the story. I could just picture Jazz and me on the front cover, under some headline like “German Shepherd Holds the Secret to the Mystery of the Century!” I even thought of a possible motive. (Never anthropomorphize animals—they hate that.) I could picture Jazz being interviewed and saying, in my dopey “dog” voice, “He said I ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog!

Such are the thought patterns of an 11-year-old boy who ate too many Creamsicles and had no interest in playing sports.

I never called the tabloids, although it wouldn’t have been the most absurd news item ever written about Elvis. But for better or worse, I will always remember Aug. 16, 1977.

It was the day Jazz bit the towel guy.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Call The Police (and Elvis Costello, too)

You want me to stay sane, right? That’s why you didn’t get a mondegreen from me last week. I have many lyrics that I have misheard over the years, and it seems useless to run them into the ground when nobody wants to read them. Although there is one that seems fitting. Again, I’d misheard this for years. I found out through Wikipedia that the line from Elvis Costello’s “Radio Radio” in the second verse is:

Some of my friends sit around every evening
And they worry ‘bout the times they had
While everybody else is overwhelmed by indifference
And the promise of an early bed

And I heard this for 30 years as:

Some of my friends sit around every evening
And they worry ‘bout the times ahead
While everybody else is overwhelmed by indifference
And the promise of an early death

I think they’re both pretty good. So, hey, that makes me a songwriting genius right up there with Mr. Declan Patrick Alouysius McManus himself. OK, maybe not.

On that note, my wife and I saw Elvis open for The Police last week. It was a great concert. While Elvis’ set was far too short and designed, I think, not to overshadow the headliners, he plowed through a stripped-down set of his oldest and newest. There were several tracks from his latest album—and, yes, it did start out life as an album—Momofuku, as well as tracks from the days when he was poised to be the Next Big Thing, before he described Ray Charles to Stephen Stills and Bonnie Bramlett. Yes, there was “Radio Radio,” and “Alison” (a duet with Sting!), and “Watching The Detectives” and “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.” While Costello has never been known for hit singles, these have become signature songs that he can’t get away from playing.

Then came The Police. I should note that I have not been as familiar with The Police’s oeuvre (every rock critic has to use “oeuvre” at least once in a career) as with Elvis Costello’s. I know all about the hits, of course, as they were part of the soundtrack of my high school years, but there were just other artists whose records I wanted to spend my allowance on.

Cynics will say that The Police’s current tour is just more money-grubbing from a has-been band with no new material. Nobody who saw Monday night’s show would say that. Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers were not going through the motions as many aging rockers do. They played as if they had something to prove. And I was impressed with the chops they had.

As I get older, I have come to appreciate technical skill in music more. In the ‘90s, I was more of the alternative rock mindset, which held that passion is EVERYTHING, even if you have no talent. It did not occur to me that you can see excellent displays of passion in preschools across America, but they’re not worthy of a record contract. Maybe it’s my wife’s influence, maybe it’s gray hair, or maybe it’s my karaoke hobby, but I now have greater appreciation for how hard it is to make really good music.

I already knew that The Police have made some great hit singles, with a unique mix of punk and reggae and hooks that stay in the brain forever. Who can forget “Every Breath You Take” or “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da”? But what I didn’t realize is that they can also flat-out play.

The Police and Elvis Costello came to prominence as part of the ‘70s punk movement because they happened to be in the same neighborhood, but they were never really punks. Their music was always more sophisticated. It is telling that Copeland and Summers were veterans of prog-rock outfits (Curved Air and Soft Machine, respectively), which was exactly the thing that punk was meant to overthrow. This sophistication may have made punk purists sneer at them, but maybe it’s why they’re still rocking while Johnny Rotten is selling houses in L.A.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

I write the songs that make the mondegreens....

WRONG: Thoughts of me holding you bring in a sneer
RIGHT: Thoughts of me holding you bringing us near
"Weekend in New England," Barry Manilow

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Going down tuuu in a luleelurah

Instead of a standard mondegreen this week, I'm going to feature a video of a song that is one big mondegreen.

This YouTube video is a parody of the Fall Out Boy hit, "Sugar, We're Goin Down." (NOT SAFE FOR WORK)

Apparently, this video has spawned a whole host of imitators, most of which target Fall Out Boy.

(Here are the real lyrics, for comparison.)

And I don't know what a luleelurah is, either.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

A mondegreen 35 years in the making

I found out yesterday that I'd been mishearing a lyric for 35 years! It happened when I was reading an excellent interview with one of the song's writers, Thom Bell.

WRONG: Betsy Ross sewed her little white shoes
RIGHT: Tootsie Roll soul in little white shoes
"Rockin' Roll Baby," The Stylistics

What else have I misheard for so long?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Fresh from my warped mind

Just to show that mondegreens aren't entirely a product of my youth, I misheard this one on the radio the other day.

WRONG: Tie the kids to the back of that limousine
RIGHT: Tie the cans to the back of that limousine
"Love Is a Beautiful Thing," Phil Vassar

Friday, June 27, 2008

Life After "Life After Life"

Do you go to bed at night horrified by the prospect of Jesus Christ eating your liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti because you once downloaded porn off the Internet?

Well, probably not (unless you’ve read way too many Chick Tracts), but if you do, worry no more. Maybe.

Earlier this year, I read a book that I've been wanting to read for years--Life After Life by Dr. Raymond Moody. This was the first book to deal with the possibility of an afterlife seriously from a research-oriented viewpoint. I hesitate to call it scientific because Moody does not claim it is scientific.

The book is basically a case study of people's experiences while being clinically dead, just prior to being revived. What they experience has become a cliché in the years since the book was published in 1975--going through a long tunnel, seeing a bright light, being reunited with loved ones and seeing a review of your life.

What struck me most about these experiences is that they make for pretty damn boring reading. That may be from overexposure, since the experiences have become such a part of American pop culture. They've inspired a really bad movie, been parodied on "The Simpsons," and spawned a cottage industry of scam artists. And if that doesn't epitomize pop culture, what does?

The sameness of the stories is a big part of what makes them so reassuring. For if these were mere dreams or hallucinations, why are they so similar? I doubt if any two people have the same dream in one night. Although you would trash my theory if you had a dream on June 25 about singing "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me" at karaoke but finding it was out of your range.

While the subject’s religions, or their behavior during life, are not dealt with, they do not seem to be a factor, one way or another, in the pleasantness of the experience. The sensation of peace and unconditional love is the same for all—except for one person who attempted suicide and wound up in some gray purgatory. (Almost all near-death experience researchers take a dim view of suicide, which, I suspect, is due to liability issues. Nobody wants to get sued by the parents of some kid who couldn’t wait to get to the other side.) Nobody’s experiences even remotely resemble the traditional Christian concepts of heaven or hell. So worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster or J.R. “Bob” Dobbs with all your might! As for you Scientologists, well, you made your own bed.

Moody also does not address cross-cultural differences, which makes me question his methodology. He lists several cultures, mostly Native American peoples, which he did not study because he didn’t have the resources. Yet the back cover mentions that he teaches at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas—within easy driving distance of thousands of Native Americans. Couldn’t Moody break himself away from the craps table long enough to talk to some of them?

Does Life After Life answer your questions about the afterlife? It may leave you with more questions than before. But if you need more evidence of life after death than an ancient edict by some invisible thing in the sky, it might make you rest a little easier.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

This one would make a cool cartoon

This week's mondegreen:

WRONG: I can see all popsicles in my way
RIGHT: I can see all obstacles in my way
"I Can See Clearly Now," Johnny Nash

Come to think of it, this phenomenon isn't limited to songs, at least not in my life. I remember, when I was little, having to go to the basement because a tomato was coming. And hearing about how Michelangelo painted the Sixteen Chapels. I'll bet he was exhausted! And when I read the Bible, I couldn't figure out why those Old Testament kings had so many porcupines....

Then there was the time that my brother was watching the cop show starring Jack Lord that was set in the 50th State. I asked him what he was watching, and I thought he said, "A Wife I Know."

But the funniest was the time that he told me about this songwriting seminar where he met one of the writers of a song that had been a country hit for Gary Morris, but would later become more famous when covered by Bette Midler. Imagine how I laughed when he said he met the writer of "Women Eat My Wings"!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Mondegreen of the Week

WRONG: The pizza in the pizza
RIGHT: The preacher and the teacher
"China Grove," The Doobie Brothers

Friday, June 13, 2008

Ain’t Too Proud to Blog

I had planned to make my next blog entry about life after death, but sometimes the matters of this world must intervene.

Many of you probably know my wife, Jamie—in fact, a lot of you came to my site through hers. (I know this is true because I have Sitemeter.) She has enjoyed sharing her knitting, and her life, with you for quite some time, and she has received a lot of positive feedback from Buttercupia.

As I noted in a previous entry, Jamie broke her leg in January, which required six surgeries and a long rehab which is still continuing. She came back home in April and returned to work two weeks ago. She walks with crutches and is slowly…slowly…getting better.

Yesterday, she learned that, due to a clerical error, she had been getting paid for time that was supposed to be devoted to unpaid medical leave. As a result, there has been a substantial overpayment, and she will not receive another paycheck until August.

I’m sure many of you know what would happen if one person in your household was suddenly without income for two months. Let’s just say that Bananarama didn’t know a damn thing about a cruel summer.

Last night, I wandered into several sites devoted to cyberbegging. That’s right. People actually beg for money on the Internet, usually with a sob story that may or may not be true. In most cases, my money’s on “not”—but you never know. When I read one spiel from a woman who claimed to have lost her front teeth in a “domectic dibute” [sic], I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry.

As a descendant of unreconstructed Ohio krauts, I am very uncomfortable with begging. I heard speeches about pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps before I could tie my shoes. But there are situations where begging is not bad. If it weren’t for begging, public TV would not exist, Jerry Lewis would be just another washed-up comic, and kids would find Halloween pretty boring.

Is this one of those situations? I’ll leave that up to you.

Jamie has a link to a PayPal account on her site (just look for the word “Ranunculus”). If you’ve enjoyed her knitting pictures and patterns, if her smoking cessation entry helped you quit, or if she turned you on to a favorite site through her extensive list of links, now would be the perfect time to let her know. And thanks.

May we be in the position to do the same for you someday.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

A Lakers rally song?

This week's mondegreen:

WRONG: Tighten our belts, abuse the Celts
RIGHT: Tighten our belts, refuse to sell

"Round and Round," Ratt

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Mondegreen of the Week

WRONG: I'm coming down fast with a lighthouse above you
RIGHT: I'm coming down fast, but I'm miles above you
"Helter Skelter," The Beatles

Thursday, May 29, 2008

How Stupid Is That?

Behold the face of terror!
Right-wing twits who whine about being censored by the "PC Police" are turning around and gloating over their success in censoring a scarf.

Dunkin’ Donuts has pulled an online ad featuring celebrity chef Rachael Ray after Faux News commentator and Asian Uncle Tom Michelle Malkin complained that a scarf Ray wore in the ad looked like a keffiyeh, a traditional Arab headdress that some associate with terrorism.

That’s right. Forget Osama bin Laden. Forget the videotaped messages on Al-Jazeera. Al-Qaeda has reared its ugly head in the form of a woman who says “Yum-O!” and hawks coffee for Dunkin’ Donuts.

Seriously, what evidence does Malkin have that Ray has shown any terrorist sympathies, except for a scarf whose design cannot be distinguished in the above photo? I suppose Dunkin’ Donuts makes croissants, too. They’re shaped like crescents—so that clinches it! Dunkin’ Donuts is obviously part of a terrorist conspiracy!

This reminds me of the equally absurd 1980s urban legend that Procter & Gamble was run by Satanists because its logo contained the moon and stars.

Is this the best that the right wing can do anymore?

They’ve started a war in Iraq that has accomplished nothing, wrecked the economy, eviscerated personal freedom, tarnished the reputation of the U.S. worldwide, and proven themselves incapable of protecting us from a hurricane, let alone terrorism.

But, hey, they’ve saved us from a paisley scarf.

Get that on a campaign ad now! “Protect us from paisley. Vote Republican.”

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Mondegreen of the Week

Since I got a lot of hits with mondegreens, I'll try to do this every week as long as there's one that I remember (and heard myself, not just heard of). Enjoy.

WRONG: Your turtle dance will come
RIGHT: Your turn to dance will come
"The Drum," Bobby Sherman

Monday, May 19, 2008

I Threw My Vote Away

“Don’t throw away your vote” is a mantra often heard around election time, usually from a supporter of a major-party candidate, to dissuade you from voting for a third-party or write-in candidate. The philosophy behind that statement is that it’s wrong to vote for a candidate who has no chance to win.

I agree that voting for a fringe candidate is usually futile. While I don’t agree with everything the major parties propose, I have found that most third parties are on the fringe for good reason. Their ideas range from impractical to insane. Check out the platform for this party—or this party—if you don’t believe me.

Another problem with third parties and write-in candidates is that they can take votes away from viable candidates who, while they may not agree with you on everything, are by far the lesser of two evils. I can’t help but think of what the last eight years might have been like if not for Ralph Nader.

But there was one recent contest where a write-in vote was justifiable.

Pennsylvania’s recent Democratic Presidential primary was hailed as one of the most crucial primaries in the state’s history. The state’s primary is usually meaningless because it’s so late in the season. Not this year.

The contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama means a lot to many. People are excited by the prospect of a woman or black President. Others see the election as a struggle for the future of the Democratic Party—the old guard, represented by Clinton, against the youthful Obama.

To me, it was Coke vs. Pepsi. I couldn’t find much difference between their positions on major issues. I don’t think that being a woman or black is, by itself, a good reason to vote, or to not vote, for anyone. I know that, in November, I will vote for whichever candidate receives the Democratic nomination, because that person is preferable to Bush Light.

While I generally like both candidates, I am not happy with either’s stand on environmental issues. Both appear to be too close to the oil and coal industries, and neither is promoting alternative energy sources strongly.

My attempt at a tiebreaker involved trying to determine which candidate was more electable. I studied political websites with the same scrutiny I once reserved for the Racing Form, but all the articles I read were inconclusive. Mostly say hooray for our side.

Meanwhile, I began to be disappointed at the childish bickering between the two candidates. As the crucial day grew nearer, the race grew to look more like a high school election. When I found out that Clinton, Obama and McCain were going to appear on WWE Raw, I had finally had enough.

My wife had toyed with the idea of writing in Al Gore. I’d written in candidates before (back in my college days, I actually wrote this guy in for Governor of Ohio), usually from disgust with the candidates on the ballot.

This time, it was not disgust but hope for something better. While Gore has said, time and again, that he is not interested in running for President (and I don’t blame him for not wanting the job), there is a bit of a movement to draft him, and talk of nominating him should the convention be deadlocked. Which got me to thinking…if there’s enough support…and enough write-in votes…just maybe…

At least Pennsylvania makes it easy to write in a candidate. Just choose the write-in option and a keyboard appears on the screen. So it was that I typed in A-L-B-E-R-T-space-G-O-R-E-,-space-J-R-.

How did it feel to throw my vote away?

Not bad.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Bitterness: From Without or Within?

Much has been made of the statement made by Presidential candidate Barack Obama about people in small towns who have lost their jobs.

"It's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or
antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or
anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations," he said.

Obama has come under a lot of fire for this statement. People have called him elitist and accused him of putting down guns or religion (as if those things are above criticism).

The truth hurts.

For there is no doubt that there is bitterness in small towns across America, especially those towns where industries have gone and left nothing to replace them.

I worked for a brief time as a welfare caseworker in such a town—McKeesport, Pa. McKeesport was one of many thriving steel towns in Western Pennsylvania until the Pennsylvania steel industry shut down in the early 1980s. The town has yet to recover.

The people I encountered in McKeesport were beyond bitter. I could look in their eyes and see that many have given up. But they do not fit Obama’s example. None struck me as being terribly interested in guns (barring any criminal activity that they kept outside the office) or religion, and none cared about immigrants one way or the other. Hell, some of them are immigrants, although not as many as Faux News would have you believe.

You may call them lazy. You may say that they’ve made bad lifestyle choices. I can tell you this much—I didn’t meet one person in that office who wanted to be there.

Obama’s words reminded me more of a different demographic—the people I met while writing for a community newspaper in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. The paper covered a town that defines the American suburb. It is not rich, but neither will anybody confuse it with McKeesport. Nobody in this town is wanting for a dime. To steal a riff from Garrison Keillor, all the children are rosy-cheeked and above average. Their parents are prosperous, proud, proper—and bitter.

The residents of this town have been taking solace in the things Obama’s talking about for a long time, and their financial status has nothing to do with it.

Guns? My first episode of culture shock in this town occurred when my paper published a cartoon criticizing the National Rifle Association. Little did we know that the mayor of the town, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, many of our advertisers, and, most embarrassing of all, the owner of the paper, were all NRA members. This town is the NRA! It was all the paper could do to stave off a major ad boycott.

Religion? The spires of fundamentalist churches form a philosophical Maginot Line along the outskirts of town, designed to keep out any progressive influences. During my stay at the paper, conservative influences became more prevalent, until there were actually editorial columns asking for more media censorship.

Anti-immigrant sentiment? Please! These people would call me an outsider because I graduated from a rival high school. I can’t imagine what they say about immigrants.

Perhaps Obama was just trying to pull diverse groups of people into his tent. And, let’s face it—“Give me your tired, your poor, your bitter assholes who won’t listen to reason” just won’t make it as a campaign slogan.

Then again, Obama might want to save his breath. One more thing about the folks in Bitter City—most of them would vote for a trained monkey if he had an R by his name. And they did.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

An Open Letter to the Candidates

To The Honorable Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Barack Obama:

I know that I am probably wasting my time writing this letter, as you are all quite busy right now and don’t have the time to read it, but I feel that there is an issue that whichever of you is elected our next President needs to address urgently.

During this campaign, we have heard a lot about various issues. There has been a lot of talk about the economy, the war in Iraq, immigration and health care. These are all important and worthy of debate, but one issue overrides them all.

The threat of global warming has made the environment the most important issue in this election. To your credit, all three of you have supported bills in the Senate that address global warming.

I submit that your efforts are not going far enough, as evidenced by your stands on other environmental issues. All of you have expressed support for biofuels, which would not only add to greenhouse gases, but would also divert agriculture from producing the food that people desperately need to eat.

All three of you are also proponents of “clean coal,” which would merely transfer waste from one stream to another, and would not be feasible until around 2020, anyhow. It would also encourage the coal industry to continue its hideous practice of blowing the tops off mountains and destroying the surrounding environment.

It is easy to put your name on a bill purporting to do something about global warming. It is quite another to propose policies that undercut those efforts.

None of you are doing much to support the alternative energy sources that would truly reduce the threat of global warming—solar, wind, and hydro power. Other Presidential candidates have brought these forms of energy to the forefront of their campaigns, including John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich, and Mike Gravel. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that those candidates have fallen by the wayside. Maybe that’s because they couldn’t rely on money from the oil and coal lobbies?

My litmus test for a candidate for any national office used to be their stand on abortion rights. I reasoned that, if you don’t have the right to your own body, what rights do you have? I still think a woman’s right to choose is very important, but global warming has forced me to supplant it with the environment as the number one issue. The survival of man and many other species is at stake. There are many other vital issues, but we can’t argue about them if we’re dead.

As I write this, one of the top news stories is the collapse of a 160-square mile ice shelf in Antarctica due to global warming. The time for denying that the environment is the number one priority for the next President is past. The threshold is now.

Sincerely yours,

Bob Fritz
Penn Hills, PA

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

2008: A Pain Odyssey

Contrary to how it may appear, Fritzburgh An’at has not been abandoned.

My Sitemeter tells me that this site has been firing blanks so far. I can (sort of) understand why, since all I’ve done is take shots at obvious targets like Fred Phelps, and make a Presidential endorsement that became the kiss of death. But I will soldier on, mainly because I hate abandoned blogs. Especially since I had to name this blog Fritzburgh An’at because both Fritzburgh and An’at, by themselves, were already taken by blogs that haven’t seen a post since there were actually good IT job opportunities. If you’re not going to blog, at least have the decency to take your page down.

I have an excellent reason why I have not posted to this blog in over a month.

On the night of Jan. 17, I received a phone call from my wife, who had been bowling in her regular Thursday night league. She had lost her balance while trying to pick up a spare, stepped into the lane, slipped, and heard “all sorts of popping noises.” She was lying on the lane as she spoke. I rushed to the bowling alley, where she was surrounded by an EMS crew and being placed on a stretcher. From there, it was off to one hospital, and then another.

The next day was full of waiting and conversations with doctors. A surgeon said that two large incisions would have to be made in Jamie’s leg in order to relieve compartment syndrome. There would be six operations over the next month. The first one was to make the incisions (a fasciotomy—note that there are some graphic photos at that link), and four were to clean and dress those wounds. The third operation in the series fixed the actual break, which turned out to be a fracture of the tibia plateau. A fixator was placed on the leg, which involved the insertion of two pins in the break and two more farther below in the shin. The fixator was removed after a month, then replaced by a brace and boot.

The prevailing feature of Jamie’s life this year has been constant pain. She has been on various pain medications, with a dose given every four hours. In addition to the physical pain, there’s the frustration at not being able to move freely or do more than the most minimal tasks by yourself. It is so hard to see someone you love in such pain and be helpless to do anything about it. It is easy to feel like a failure.

She is now in a rehab facility, where she will be for several more weeks. She does physical therapy daily, which involves exercises such as hopping across the floor while holding parallel bars, and gradually bending the knee farther. Bending the knee is especially painful, because she could not bend the knee for over a month.

I go to see her every night when possible. I have also been taking care of two dogs and three cats, and keeping our house in a semi-normal state. But it is hard for me to complain when I see Jamie spending minutes pivoting across the floor to go to the bathroom or put on a CD, or struggling to get in and out of bed, or trying in vain to find a comfortable position in bed.

Jamie is my hero.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

God hates everything!

I’ve been thinking a lot about religion lately. Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church recently protested the funeral of a woman and her four kids who were killed by a drunk driver. The reason? She lived in Maryland, a state where an $11 million judgment was recently won against the WBC for protesting a funeral of a soldier killed in Iraq.

Somebody’s going to hell because they lived in the same state where you just lost a lawsuit. Makes perfect sense to me.

Hell is not a new concept to Phelps, of course. His WBC (why do those initials make me want to go bowling?) is notorious for protesting the funerals of everybody from gay people to U.S. soldiers on the premise that they are all in hell. His primary fixation is on gay people, as evidenced by the title of his website, Since 9/11, he has extended his venom toward the U.S. military (due to “don’t ask, don’t tell”), then America in general, and any other country that he sees as especially gay-friendly. Hence the following websites:,,,, and Even Mr. Rogers is in hell, according to Phelps! “It’s a beautiful day in the AAAAAAAAAAGH!”

Of course, it doesn’t take too much Googling to find sites that soundly refute Phelps. This site, for example, uses Bible verses to cut through Phelps’ crap like a chainsaw through a bowl of mush. (And you have to love the guy’s name: Darwin Fish.) Not that Fish is exactly a relativist. He has a whole list of religious figures—including Billy Graham!—that he places in hell for taking liberties with Scripture.

So the question is—assuming there is a hell (and there are plenty of eyewitness accounts of people who claim to have been there), who’s going there?

Many people, such as Fish, think that hell is reserved for people who don’t accept a certain religion—which, not coincidentally, happens to be their own religion. Phelps apparently consigns anybody to hell who has ever looked upon a gay person with less than absolute loathing.

One thing I have noticed about Biblical interpretations (and the same probably goes for other religious texts, too): the more literal the interpretation, the crueler it is. The more chapter-and-verse references you see, the more the interpreter claims to be “objective,” the more people are likely to be damned.

So I have come to one of two conclusions:

1) Religious texts simply can’t be read in the same way that one might read The World Almanac or The Encyclopaedia Brittanica.


2) God hates everything.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Fritzburgh endorses a candidate

So I guess it is time for Fritzburgh An’at to endorse a candidate for President.
There was a time when I thought of running myself, but then I figured that any votes I might get would only take votes away from the Democrats. I think we learned our lesson from Ralph Nader.
This is a very important election. We have a chance to bring America back to sanity with the choice we make this year. With the current mess in Iraq, spiraling gas prices and a horrible economy in general over here, and the decline of America’s standing in the world, we need a change.
It goes without saying that the Republican candidates are all a bunch of poopyheads who want to maintain the status quo. That goes for Ron Paul, too, who, behind all his rhetoric of freedom, is just another social conservative who would ultimately put women in burqas, even if he leaves it up to the states to do so.
Then there are the Democratic candidates. The problem with them is that the ones who make the most sense don’t stand a chance. The only one I could stand to listen to during the early debates was Mike Gravel, who probably won’t even get his own vote. Then there’s Dennis Kucinich, a man of great principle with a lot of innovative ideas—but he looks like an elf. Elves are just not electable in this country. Maybe it has something to do with Santa Claus.
Which, in essence, leaves us with the Big Three.
There is Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has proven that she will say or do anything in order to get elected. She has a well-documented history of kowtowing to special interest groups, and she is not committed to withdrawing troops from Iraq. The best thing I could say about a Clinton presidency is that she will receive the input of her husband on many decisions. Remember the ‘90s? Peace and prosperity? What a radical concept!
Then there is Barack Obama, whom I am tempted to support just to spite the people who are passing nasty junk e-mails about him. He is undoubtedly charismatic, the future of national politics. I question his stance on some issues involving alternative energy (he is a supporter of “clean coal” and ethanol). Even if Obama is not elected, you haven’t heard the last from him.
Which brings me to John Edwards. Now, no candidate is perfect, but Edwards appears to strike the best balance. He has experience as a trial lawyer representing injured people against corporations, so he has the background needed to stand up to big-money interests. He is committed to reducing the number of troops in Iraq with an eye to pulling the U.S. out entirely. He also wants to develop truly clean alternative energy sources.
I also found this article convincing. It left me with a lot of respect for the man. If he can pursue a political career despite his son’s death and his wife’s illness, I think he can handle whatever the next four years may throw at him.
For those reasons, John Edwards appears to be the best option, short of Al Gore entering the race.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Lord and the Lady

With a new year comes a resolution, of course—and my resolution this year is to be published.
I have written The Lord and the Lady, a 57,000-word young adult novel about paganism, but I find it too limiting to call it a “pagan novel.” Instead, I think it’s about the struggles we all have to be ourselves in a culture that demands conformity.
Jesus was always the answer for 17-year-old Alaina Cole, but when pagan teen Will Clayson moves into her hometown, she starts asking a new set of questions. She is soon faced with many choices—Christianity or paganism, her friends or her church, and the dictates of her culture or her sense of what is right. Her dilemmas form the core of The Lord and the Lady.
To start the year, I’m using Fritzburgh An’at as a forum to post the first chapter of The Lord and the Lady. I welcome any questions, comments, and constructive criticism—and if you are a publisher or literary agent, feel free to contact me!


The First

Alaina Cole held Danielle Speck’s shoulders and lowered her into the water as if to drown her.

Danielle did not mind, as she leaned her head back into the water with a satisfied smile. Alaina pulled Danielle back out of the water two seconds later, and they hugged.

There were six other teens in the water in three groups of two. The two girls to the left of Alaina and Danielle also hugged, as did the two girls on the right. Farther down were two boys, who, of course, were not about to hug each other, so they high-fived and shouted “Woo!” as if their high school football team had just scored the winning touchdown.

The kids who had been lowered into the water each had a look of bliss, the kind that some of their peers might get from some good pot. Not these kids, though.

For they had all just accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior.

There were about 300 people around them, all applauding, some cheering, a few shouting “Amen!” or “Praise God!” The weather had cooperated on this August evening for the baptism ceremony, which, weather permitting, was always held at the outdoor arena at the Shady Glen First Christian Church.

The people came from all over Shady Glen, Ohio, which had a population of 9,439 in the last census—over a thousand of whom belonged to Shady Glen First Christian. The parents of the kids involved in the ceremony were there. Most of them had dragged their kids to every service at the church before the kids could talk. There were also some other townspeople who had nothing better to do on a Wednesday night. But most of all, there were teenagers, some of them baptized in similar services not so long ago. They were fervent followers of Kevin Boyer, the youth minister.

Kevin had come to Shady Glen five years ago after graduating from an obscure seminary in California. His home state was appropriate, as his blond hair and goatee made him look like an aging surfer boy. He did not care if he was too old for the part. Even though he was now 28 and married with a two-year-old son, he could often be seen tooling around Shady Glen on a skateboard he called Big Bertha, which was decorated with crosses and Bible chapter-and-verse references. That, along with his penchant for peppering his speech with words like “rad” and “phat” and calling boys and girls alike “dude,” made him very popular with the kids. With the urging of someone as cool as Kevin, the kids didn’t mind burning their Ouija boards and rap CDs—or even abstaining from sex.

It wasn’t always that way. In the 1960s, Shady Glen’s churches included one each of the more traditional, mainline Protestant denominations—Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Episcopal—as well as the Catholic church, St. Jerome’s. When Shady Glen First Christian opened in 1970, it was in a white, one-room building on the edge of town—the stereotype of the little country church. Its first minister called the church “non-denominational.” Shady Glen’s old-timers just called the church strange. What was all this talk about repentance and the Holy Spirit and being born again, they wondered? Wasn’t just being a good person good enough anymore? The church remained small for several years, until evangelical Christianity took a big upswing in the late ‘70s.

At that time, young people began to defect from the town’s mainline churches. They became fed up with spending Sunday mornings listening to their grandparents gossiping to the tune of a fusty pipe organ. Soon, they brought their friends to church with them, and they brought other friends. By the late 1980s, Shady Glen First Christian was the largest church in town—big enough to move out of the little white building and onto a three-building campus, including the main meeting hall, a youth center complete with a regulation-size basketball court, and the outdoor arena.

Meanwhile, the mainline churches withered as their members began to die off and not be replaced. Shady Glen Episcopal Church became so small that it merged with another church in the nearby town of Morgan City and moved there. The Methodist congregation was now so tiny that the weekly service was often held in one of the Sunday school rooms to cut the utility bills.

Shady Glen First Christian continued to grow after Kevin came to town, thanks not only to his rapport with the kids, but a slick, aggressive direct mail campaign aimed at teens. It gave the church a snappy nickname—“The First”—and portrayed it as the coolest place in town, which it was to much of Shady Glen’s youth. Shady Glen was a small town, after all, and The First was more exciting than hanging out at the Dairy Queen or sitting at home watching MTV.

Now, standing behind a lectern, Kevin turned toward the baptismal font, which was really a long, wooden trough filled with water three feet deep. He fanned his right hand out toward the font and turned back toward the crowd.

“Hallelujah!” he shouted. “Praise God!” The applause swelled as many in the crowd stood up.

The kids climbed out of the water and walked toward folding chairs in the front row, where stacks of towels awaited them. Alaina used a towel to drain some water out of her jeans, while Danielle used hers to dry off her curly, blonde hair with a frantic motion.

“All we hear in the news is how bad our kids are.”

Kevin’s voice boomed through the loudspeakers as the arena became quiet.

“You turn on the TV and all you see are kids getting pregnant, using drugs, killing people, stealing—and I know you ask yourselves, ‘Where will it end?’”

He paused as they pondered the question.

“Well, I’ll tell you where it ends—right here and right now!” he shouted as he poked an index finger into the air.

The crowd broke out in a roar of applause that shook the arena’s wooden floor.

“For we’re stopping it tonight! We’re stopping it one by one, with every fine young person such as Ashley, and Danielle, and Nicole, and Scott, that we bring to Jesus!”

The congregation responded with a cheer as if it were one entity, approving the baptism with a power worthy of any deity.

“Amen!” Kevin continued. “These young people here in the front row are the hope of our great nation. They will remain true to the Lord Jesus Christ. They will not end up getting high, stealing, listening to that horrible rap music, conceiving babies out of wedlock and then murdering them with abortions, like so many young people in America are doing today! No! They are our hope. They are America’s hope!”

There were a few stray claps, but most of the people remained silent, as Kevin looked down at his notes. He usually looked down right before he dropped a bombshell.

“And, I hate to say it—“

The crowd was fixed on his face, waiting for him to reveal the next threat to their way of life. What would it be this time? Rap music, homosexuality, and secular humanism had already been exposed. Kevin had been playing those cards with great skill since the day he came to town. Now he had the distant look in his eyes that he got when he was about to reveal the latest peril, as if he saw it in the distance waiting to pounce on the congregation.

“—but we must be eternally vigilant, for the forces of evil just will not rest! I have learned from a reliable source that the empty storefront at the corner of Fourth and Main—right here in Shady Glen—will soon be home to a purveyor of witchcraft supplies!”

There were a few gasps, but they were drowned out by a hubbub of confusion. Witchcraft? Come on! They don’t have witches anymore! Sure, there’s that show on TV, “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch,” but that’s just some kid’s show—nobody takes it seriously. Ridiculous! Tell us more!

“That’s right—witchcraft! The devil is renting a storefront right here in Shady Glen! Now, I know what you’re saying. Witchcraft—that’s something out of “The Wizard of Oz,” isn’t it? They don’t have witches anymore. We had the Salem witch trials long ago, and we burned them all, didn’t we? Well, I hate to tell you that witchcraft is still here, and it’s very, very real.”

The crowd grew silent again.

“You might have heard about it in the news. These are people who have rejected the Lord Jesus Christ! They make up their own gods, create their own rituals, and perform them—sometimes naked!”

There were a few gasps, as some of the older people were shocked that a minister would use the word “naked” in a sermon.

“The people who practice this perversity that they call a religion might call it Wicca or paganism or Druidry or whatever other name they might make up. They might tell you that they aren’t Satanists because their religion was around before Jesus. They might tell you that they worship the earth and love nature. Nonsense! For these people do not have faith in our Lord Jesus Christ! And you’re either for him or against him! If you do not believe in Jesus, you worship the devil, and you are destined to spend eternity in hell!”

The crowd erupted with cheering. Something about that word—“hell”—always made these people go crazy, especially when Kevin said it.

“So what do we do?”

A thin voice could be heard from halfway up in the seats once the cheering began to subside. It was Dara Bingham, a woman who was a mystery in town before she started having children. She now had six of them, ranging in age from 14 to two. When she started having kids, she also started becoming worried about the content of TV shows and music videos and the effect they might have on her kids. With the help of the ministers at Shady Glen First Christian, this worry blossomed into full-scale disgust with popular culture, which she was soon able to turn into a weekly editorial column in the Shady Glen Recorder. It was full of blather about how everything from Ivy League academics to “The Simpsons” were out to destroy the children of Shady Glen. And the town ate it up. If you judged from all the compliments she received when she walked down the street, it was the most popular column on the Recorder editorial page. But before this column hit the paper, nobody in town seemed to know her. Her former teachers at Shady Glen High School had to be shown old yearbooks to remember her, and those who did remember her recalled her as a shy girl who showed no real aptitude for anything—least of all Basic English. But now she was Shady Glen’s resident expert on popular culture.

“I’m glad you asked that, Dara,” Kevin continued. Of course, he had asked her to ask that question about an hour before the baptism. He even told her when to ask it—right after he said “hell.” “I know that some of you are thinking of taking the law into your own hands—of trashing the place, burning it down, or worse—but I beg you, please, do not do that! These people are well within the law, they can open their business, and they have the same protections in the secular law as we do…for now…”

There were a few smiles and nods around the congregation. Kevin, as well as the senior minister, the Rev. Tim Marshall, were not interested in running for office themselves, but they, like most of the members of the church, yearned for the day when righteous people would overturn Roe v. Wade and put prayer back in public schools—and they weren’t above openly campaigning for anyone who had those same goals.

“…but there is a bigger reason why we must not use violence against these heathens—because the Lord Jesus Christ forbids it! He said so himself in Matthew 5:44! He said, ‘Love your enemies! Bless those who curse you! Do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be the children of your father who is in heaven!’”

There were shouts of “Amen!” and cheers throughout the arena. Just how someone they’d never met had used and persecuted them was a question none of them had asked. Kevin hadn’t asked that question, either. All he knew was that Rod Landon, a Shady Glen First Christian member on City Council, told him who planned to rent the building and what for. Kevin also knew that his wife had wanted to open a restaurant in the same building, but found the rent a bit too high.

“I want you to go home and pray for these people—pray that they find the perfect love of our Lord Jesus Christ. And when they come to town, we must be kind to them and show them God’s love, so that they will see the error of their ways. For nothing is greater than the power of our Lord!”

There were a few prayers, a few more hymns accompanied by Joyfull Noize, a five-piece electric band on a stage behind Kevin, and then the service ended with people hugging those around them. Danielle’s parents and younger brother and sister all mobbed her in a group hug. Alaina’s parents walked up to her and clasped her for a split second. They laughed and exchanged niceties, and then Alaina, as she usually did after the Wednesday night service, told her parents she was going to Dominic’s for pizza with her friends from church.

The kids stuffed into various cars and rode the few blocks down to Dominic’s.

“Did you hear about the car that the 12 Apostles drove?”

Jeremy Echols asked that as Alaina gathered with her friends around the table at Dominic’s in front of a large cheese and a large pepperoni and mushroom. Jeremy was president of Young Life at Shady Glen High School and had an air of maturity beyond his years. His father was one of the town’s most successful attorneys, and was a bit disappointed that his son wanted to be a minister, but tried not to let it show. He figured his son could be a success at anything he wanted to do, and the boy hadn’t done anything so far to prove him wrong.

His dinner mates were silent, as they’d never heard the joke before—or at least they weren’t letting on.

“They were all in one Accord!”

The kids groaned. Andrew Yeoman, Jeremy’s best friend, tossed a wadded-up napkin at him.

“Thirty whacks with a pepperoni for that one, dude!”

“‘Dude?’ What is this? Kevin Boyer, Jr., here?”

“Hey, I left my skateboard at home, man!”

Alaina was sitting at the end of the table, to Jeremy’s right. She was on her second piece of pizza and was having trouble finishing it as Jeremy ran through his litany of jokes. Where is baseball mentioned in the Bible? Oh, boy, here we go again—Genesis 1:1, “In the big inning…”

The stomachs began to get full and the kids were starting to get tired. Finally, there was silence, and Alaina asked the question she’d had on her mind ever since Kevin’s sermon.

“So have any of you heard anything about this witchcraft store?”

“I didn’t know anything about it until tonight,” Lisa Post said. Lisa was a cheerleader and had the personality to go with it. She was five foot two, greyhound thin, with long black hair and enough energy to light up the stadium. “It gives me the creeps! Ugh!”

“Why?” Alaina asked. “What do you really know about witches, besides what you’ve seen in the movies?”

“I’ll get you, my pretty! You and your little dog, too!” Jeremy broke in, hitting the Wicked Witch of the West’s voice dead-on, to much laughter—but not from Alaina.

“Well, I read an article in Rolling Stone last year that said that witches are not Satanists. They worship nature and the earth—“

“Tree huggers!” Jeremy mocked as he picked up the napkin that Andrew had thrown and tossed it at Alaina. “And what are you doing reading Rolling Stone, girl? Don’t you know that all those rock magazines have a humanist social agenda?”

Jeremy said the last three words with great foreboding, even though he wasn’t really sure what a humanist social agenda was. He’d never heard the phrase before Kevin used it a sermon six months ago.

“My dad said he saw on the 700 Club where witches sacrifice babies!” Lisa said, her voice starting to shake with fear.

“How do you know?” Alaina asked. “Do you remember that girl who was in our class when we were freshmen? Redhead, wore all that Goth stuff—I think her name was Megan?”

“Oooh, that girl was weird!” Lisa said.

“Yeah, she was weird, but she was also really nice. I witnessed to her a couple of times, and she started telling me about this Wicca she was into. But she was still nice to me when I talked about Jesus. She listened. She even asked some questions. I liked that. Then she moved away. I kinda miss her.”

“Face it, Alaina, you like everybody,” Jeremy said, admiring, but wary for her sake.

“Yeah, you even like that Fitzgerald kid!” Andrew said.

“Justin’s one of my best friends! He saved my life when we were 10—“

“Yeah, we know, he pulled you out of the creek when you couldn’t swim,” Andrew retorted. “He’s still a weirdo. I can’t believe they made him drum major.”

Jeremy laughed. “Yeah, he sure knows how to twirl that baton. I hear it’s all in those wrists of his.” He waved a limp wrist at Alaina to emphasize his point.

“Come on, guys,” Alaina protested. “Be nice.”

The conversation turned to the classes the kids would take when they went back to school, the Bible chapters they were supposed to read for Sunday school next week, and a linebacker on the Shady Glen High football team who was suspended for smoking pot and how stupid he was to blow his senior season like that.

Alaina let the subject of witchcraft rest, but she thought about it throughout the conversation. She thought about who the people behind the shop might be, what they believed, whether she might be able to save them, and just how much their beliefs really threatened hers.

After a while, she tired of all these thoughts, then thought she’d have another piece of pizza.
Copyright 2008 R.A. Fritz