Saturday, July 31, 2004

     I left my house to go to the shopping center to return a video. A huge Chevy truck was in front of me as we drove down a neighborhood street. I didn't see the squirrel, but I saw its rolling, trashing body as the truck crushed it.
     I stopped my car and watched. I could see it trying to drag itself off the road, trying to get back to a tree, back to somewhere safe where it wasn't in pain.
     I got out, stood for a moment. I could hear it squealing. I walked closer. Its lower body was flattened and bloody. One leg was hanging on by a tatter of skin. The other was lying a few feet away. It should have already been dead, but some cruel quirk kept it alive, kept it trying to get away.
     I got back in my car, took a deep breath, turned my wheel, drove forward and ended its pain.
     Sometimes that's the only mercy you can give.

Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 30, 2004

More flowers in the Butterfly Enclosure.
Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Purple cone flower at the Butterfly Enclosure at the zoo.
Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

     If someone offered me the choice between watching a political convention and a stick in the eye, I’d have to think long and hard. And then choose the stick.
     Let me amaze you with my amazing power of prophecy: I predict John Kerry will win the Democratic nomination. And I predict George Bush will win the Republican nomination. I’m so certain I’m right that I give you permission to quote me.
     In fact, the only ones who seem to have any doubt about the outcome seem to be the people who attend them. They always act like it’s somehow possible — despite all those millions being spent by the front-runner and the fact that all other candidates have dropped out —– that Mr. Podunk from the Hinterlands could get the nod. Of course, they don’t believe that. They’re just putting on a show for the cameras and for the general public. (They apparently believe the public has all the brains of gravel. And not smart gravel, either.)
     So if those facts are already established, what’s the point of conventions? Basically they’re just long commercials. And I do mean long. Four days of people at a podium saying things like, "We will run a positive campaign, unlike our lying, cheating, law-breaking, drunken opponents" or "We believe in freedom of choice. So if you want to support Communists by voting for our godless opponents, that’s your right in our wonderful land."
     Meanwhile, the convention attendees are drinking, swearing and generally behaving so badly that they could make Babylon blush.
     So I avoid watching the conventions. Well, it’s more than avoidance. It’s a mad rush away from any TV showing it. I’d watch golf before I’d watch a convention. Look, I’d even watch reruns of "Joanie Loves Chachi" before I'd watch conventions.
     Besides my mind is already made up. I’m going to vote for George Bush. Or John Kerry. One of the two. But is there any chance that someone else will run?
     Of course, I don’t trust anyone who wants to be president in the first place. Just seeking out that job with all its inherent tension, aggravations and madness makes me doubt a candidate’s sanity. And the candidates always say that their families fully support them! Madness truly is genetic.
     And did you hear that recently a voting computer in Florida lost a whole bunch of votes in a local election? What is it with Florida? I particularly like the election secretary who said that, other than losing the vote data, the election went well. I guess she meant that no one was crushed in the voting booth by falling chads.
     (Chads, by the way, are not fish. Well, they are fish, too, in herring family, but not when we’re talking about voting. In Florida, most of the counties with contested presidential results for the 2000 election used a keypunch voting machine. Cards are held in place next to a list of candidates. Voters use a little stylus to poke out certain holes on a card to mark who they want to vote for. The tiny bits of paper left over from punching these cards are called "Chad." No, I don’t know why. Maybe because they’re fishy.)
     I think we shouldn’t allow Florida to participate in the 2004 election. Who knows what horror they will unleash this time? Any state that allows thongs on its beaches has something wrong with it in the first place. I think they get too much sun and definitely too many moons.
     Of course, the conventions are only the start of a long campaign. I think one of the best things about November is that it all ends for better or worse on the first Tuesday. It truly gives us something to be thankful about at Thanksgiving.

Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Zoo worker displays painting by elephant.
Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

Monday, July 26, 2004

In over my head 3
     I had a surprise visitor at work: Thomas Thomason. My secretary was off this afternoon so I was working the front desk. I immediately tensed up when he came in. I had never talked to him about the situation at church, and I didn't know how he would react to my attempt to defend him.
     I said hi. He said hi. He asked if he could talk to me a moment in private. I told him that I was the only one there and asked him to sit down
     "I was dropping my teacher's guide off and Pastor Bill told me that you had been in there to talk to him," Thomas said. "He told me that you were upset about the whole thing."
     Apparently that restriction that kept Pastor Bill from telling me what Thomas had said to him didn't keep him from telling Thomas what I had said. Lovely.
     "I ... well ... I didn't mean to be sticking my nose in where it didn't belong," I said. "If I upset you, then I'm sorry. I was only trying to help."
     "Who told you about it?" he asked.
     "I can't say," I said.
     "It's all over the church, isn't it?"
     It was more of a statement than a question, but I nodded.
     "I would rather people minded their own business!" he said, a bit loudly. "You shouldn't have known anything about it!" 
     He was right. His ex-wife Linda (as always, all the names are changed to protect the innocent and guilty alike) should have kept her mouth shut. None of it should have happened.
     "I know you were trying to help," he continued. "But you're just keeping the whole thing stirred up. I want people to stop talking about me. Do you understand? Please."
     "Yes," I said. "And I'm sorry that I've upset you. But what happened was wrong. I know that you want it to go away tomorrow, and I wish people's memories were that short, but they will talk about it. I know I didn't fix anything, but I wanted to try."
     "I want you to stop trying," he said.
     "I will," I said. "But answer me one question: Why do you want to stop trying? You can't put this back in the bottle. Nothing good will ever come of this if it's dropped now."
     "You don't understand," he said. "I've already got a couple of phone calls from people who think it would be better if I left town now. Of course, I am leaving as soon as my house sells, but they want me gone now."
     "Did they threaten you?" I said. "You could go to the police --"
     "You really don't get it, do you?" he said, sighing. "I won't go to the police. Not in this town. Look, I know this is hard for you to understand. You're Mister Clean Living, the Milk and Cookie Boy. You've probably don't even know how to be anything else. And that's good. There need to be people like you. More of them. Most people wouldn't have gone to bat for a gay person. But you can't win here. They might talk about how they support you to your face, but their whispers behind your back will kill you."
     "So ... you are gay now?" I asked.
     "Are you asking if I'm active?" he asked. "No. And I take whole responsibility for my breakup with Linda. I cheated on her. Vows are vows. I should have been honest from the very beginning and told her that I had these feelings for men. I lied, and she paid for it. She's still hurt by it. But if you're asking if I might be active in the future, I don't know, but I do know that I might. I want to be loved again in my life. And I think I can be Christian and be gay, too. I also think we shouldn't talk about this. I can tell I've shocked you."
     I didn't say anything. I didn't know what to say. What do you say to that?
     "So are you sorry that you defended me?" he asked.
     "No," I said. "No. It was still wrong what happened. They had no right to judge you." I shrugged. "Of course, I'm judging them now, which is also wrong. Frankly this whole Christian thing is very confusing. I can only keep trying."
     He smiled. "You do pretty good. Better than most. I do want you to drop it, but since I haven't said it, thank you for trying. If more people were like you, it'd be a better world, and maybe none of this would have ever happened. So thank you."
     He left on that.
     You'd think that maybe I'd be patting myself on my back right now, but you'd be wrong. Nothing got fixed. He lost his Sunday school class. His ex-wife got away with using the church to ruin his reputation. He's got people calling him to ask him to leave town. I've got people whispering about me since I defended him. It's pretty much a wash all around.
     So I guess I will stop talking about it and let it go. Sometimes the bad guys win. I can only say, though, that it was still wrong. And while those people won't forget, neither will I.

Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Shark jaw.
Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Sand Terns.
Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

In over my head 2

     I called my pastor this morning about Thomas Thomason. Pastor Bill (as always, not his real name) could see me at 11. I arranged my lunch so that I could go in and see him. I got there a bit early. I was nervous and sick to my stomach, clutching my briefcase like it was a security blanket.
     We did a bit of small talk, and then he said he already knew what I was coming to talk about.
     I asked how.
     He told me that Roger (thank you, Roger, and I don't mean that) had called him last night and told him that I was upset. He went on to say that he couldn't discuss the matter since it involved private things between him and Thomason, but he could tell me a couple things.
     "First, I didn't ask Thomas to stop teaching," Pastor Bill said. "It was his decision. And second, he was already moving to the city. He's found a church up there, and he's just going to move his membership a bit early. He feels it's best for our church and best for him."
     He smiled. "I hope that makes you feel better. You need to trust your Christian brothers and not listen to gossip."
     I felt awkward and silly. "Well, I'm sorry I bothered you," I said. "I just didn't want him treated unfairly."
     "That reflects well on you," he said, rising. "Compassion is a wonderful thing." 
     I rose, and then I had a thought, and because my brain doesn't have a damper between it and my mouth, I said, "Did you hint?"
     "Did you hint that it would be better if he gave up the class and left?" I said.    
     "I'm sorry, but I can't discuss what we talked about," he said.
     "I'm not asking for details," I said. "I'm asking if you hinted. If you said that if the Lord was leading him to leave, you'd understand. Something like that."
     He had stopped smiling and was looking at me.
     "I can tell your mind is made up," he said. "Obviously you think I ran him off."
     "No, I'm just asking if you hinted," I said.
     "I'm sorry, but I think it would be better if we didn't talk about it," he said. "I can tell you're getting upset. I know I am. It's not pleasant to have my judgment questioned." 
     "I didn't realize that a minister was above being questioned," I said. "I'll remember in the future." I turned to leave, feeling sick and angry.
     "Why are you are so interested?" he asked. "Are you a friend ... of Thomas?"
     I honestly couldn't breathe for a moment. That 'friend' was so weighed with meaning, so full of implication. I don't think in my whole life, I've ever heard a word so heavy.
     For once my brain came through. "I barely know him," I said. "But I do know what's right and I know what's wrong. Apparently some people don't."
     I left.
     However, being me, I couldn't leave on a good exit line. I had forgot my briefcase so I had to go back in and get it, and then we talked for a few minutes, and he apologized and I apologized and then we ended up saying a short prayer together. Sometimes I just want to hit myself. Hard.
     Did I accomplish anything? Well, besides making the pastor mad? Not much.
     I always look at bad things and wonder what lesson I'm supposed to learn. And in this one, what did I learn?
     I have no idea. I won't blame God for this. It's not His fault that people choose to be mean-spirited and tiny, but I already know that.
     That a church makes mistakes? I knew that, too. Churches are made of people like me. Imperfect. Stupid sometimes. Mistakes are going to happen.
     That a gay person should keep his or her mouth shut in my town or pay for it? I knew that, too.
     Or do I just write this all off? Chalk one up for the bad guys and move on?
     Should I get off my soapbox and call it a night?
     I don't know.
     I just don't know.

Copyright 2004. All rights reserved, although I'd be surprised if anyone wanted to copy it anyway.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

In over my head ... as usual

     Like most of the trouble I find myself in, this started because I couldn't keep my mouth shut.
     Here's the stit: I live in a small town, but attend a fairly large church. Over 700 people attend each Sunday morn. Last Sunday before service started, while I sat with a few friends of mine, a couple of them were talking about Thomas Thomason (not his real name for good reasons). Apparently the pastor was going to ask him to not teach Sunday school anymore. (I'm recreating this conversation as best I can. Bear with me.) 
     "Why?" I asked. 
     "Because he cheated on his wife," Lori (also not her real name, but I should give it) said. 
     I frowned. I didn't know Thomason very well -- mostly just saw him across the crowd -- but I didn't think he had a wife. A fact I mentioned. 
     "It was years ago," Lori said, grinning at Joan (another alias). They were obviously sharing a joke.  
     "Then I don't get it," I said. "Why would it matter now?" 
     "I shouldn't say," she said. 
     "Okay," I said. 
     "But I will," she said. "He cheated on her with --" dramatic pause "-- another man." 
     When I didn't respond, she giggled. My friend Roger (AKA as someone else) looked at me and tried to change the subject. 
     "I think we're going out to eat after church --" he started. 
     "So he's going to be asked to not teach anymore because he's gay?" I asked. 
     "Well, I don't think he's gay now," Lori said. "He's lived alone for a while." 
     Roger's wife Helen (also someone -- well, you know the drill by now) could also apparently read my face, because she jumped in with, "I think we could try out that new Chinese place." 
     "Then why is he being asked to not teach Sunday school?" I asked, perhaps a bit loudly. 
     Lori edged away from me. Joan's eyes got big. 
     "Well ... because ... you know ... he was with another man ..." 
     "And so he's tainted forever, is he?" I nodded. "I understand. So much for God's forgiveness. He cheated on his wife, and now we're going to punish him." 
     "It's not that," Joan said. "No one wants him to teach their sons." 
     "So he's a pedophile, too?" I asked. 
     "No," Joan said. "But he might encourage them to ... you know." 
     "Oh. So he's going to teach them to be gay," I said. "Let's see. He gets about 30 minutes a week with them. He must be one smooth talking fellow." 
     Lori sighed. "I shouldn't have said anything to you. We all know how you get on your soapbox. You're always sprouting off about something. If it's not the whales, then it's the forests. Don't you ever get tired?" 
     "That's going over the line," Roger said. 
     "Yes, I do get tired," I said evenly. "But then some narrow-minded, backward, knuckle-dragging, half-witted person gets me angry, and I perk right up!" 
     A lot of people were staring. Roger and Helen were embarrassed. Lori and Joan picked up their purses and moved further on down. I sat and fumed all through the service. 
     At lunch, Roger and Helen both said that they agreed with me, but also said that there was nothing anyone could do. Thomason's past was all over the church now. 
     "How did that happen?" I asked. 
     "His ex-wife came back to visit," Helen said. "She asked several people to pray for him and told them that she believed he was struggling with it again." 
     "That's clever," I said. "She gets to be pious and vicious at that same time." 
     Helen shrugged. "Maybe. Anyway, some parents approached our pastor and told him that they wouldn't allow their kids to attend any class he taught. I don't think our pastor has any choice. It's not Thomason's being asked to leave the church." 
     "It's wrong," I said. "It's flat out wrong. It's against everything the church is supposed to be. Forgiveness. Acceptance." 
     "If you had kids, you might think differently," Roger said. "I wouldn't want my children exposed to a gay teacher." 
     "He's not teaching gayness," I said. "He's teaching Sunday school." 
     "Yeah, but they might look up to him," Roger said. "They might think it was okay since someone they respected was gay." 
     "How would they know?" I said. "Is he wearing a button that says, 'I'm gay and I'm proud'?" 
     "Their parents know," Helen said. "And kids hear everything."
     "Do we seriously believe that all a kid needs to be gay is to have a gay teacher?" I asked.
     "It has to do with influences," Roger said. "Teachers influence kids. In this day and age, parents have to be careful."
     "Then they should drop cable television and lock their kids up in a cave 'cause there are a lot more things influencing their kids than a man who's got 30 minutes a week with them!"
     Helen changed the subject then, and I let her. Didn't seem much point in continuing the conversation. But I knew as well as they did that Thomason wouldn't stay in the church now. Since I am usually the last person in the church to hear any news, it was a good bet that everyone knew. Too many people would snub him. Oh, a lot of them would be subtle. A quick turn of a shoulder. A lack of invitations to dinner or to golf. No requests for him to attend the men's prayer breakfast. He'd get the message and get it quick if he hadn't already.
     Monday afternoon, though, I was surprised when Roger dropped by my office.
     After a bit of talk, he got to the point.
     "I just thought you should know that people are talking about you," he said. "No one believes it who knows you, but I thought you should know what they are saying."
     If I had half the brains that God gave gravel, I wouldn't have let him continue. Nothing good ever comes out of hearing what people are saying about you. I know that. I know that. 
     "What are they saying?" I asked.
     "Well ... and I know this isn't right ... but they're saying you might be gay," he said. "Of couse, Helen and I are letting them know you're not, but you should be aware of it."
     "And why do they think I'd gay?" I asked, already knowing the answer. "Simply because I thought it was wrong for Thomason to be asked to stop teaching Sunday school."
     Roger nodded. "You're not married. I mean, you date a lot, but people wonder about it."
     "Do they?" I snapped. "Perhaps I should have sex with my next girlfriend on their front porch. Or start my own porn site. I'm not gay, but it wouldn't be any of their business if I were."
     "I know, I know," Roger said. "I'm on your side. And this will all blow over. But maybe ... you should cool it. A bit."
     "Cool it?" I felt sick.
     "Not be so ... ah ... loud about Thomason," Roger said. "You don't even know him. You don't have to stand up for him."
     I sat there for a long time.
     "If I don't, who will?" I said finally.
     "You can't do anything to help him," Roger said. "The pastor's already asked him."
     "He took it well. Told the pastor he understood. But he's not going to attend there anymore," Roger said. "He'll probably be happier somewhere else anyway."
     "Are you okay?"
     I nodded and managed a smile. He stayed for a few more minutes and then left.
     It's Tuesday. I'm sure they're still probably talking. Those who talk and those who listen. It would be easy to turn this into some sort of rant against churches in general and that one in particular. I hear that lot from people who tell me that they are done with church and God because so-and-so is a hypocrite or such-and-such happened. (Frankly, I get tired of hearing it and find myself impatient with those telling me about it. Repeat after me: "Churches are filled with people. People make mistakes. People make mistakes everywhere. Churches are no different. Christians are not perfect people. They're just people trying to get better. I should give them a break because I'm not perfect, either.") It would be easy to condemn the pastor and those parents. To dismiss them as bigots and stupid.
     But they're not. I know several of them. They work in local charities. Take food to the elderly. Take Scouts on camping trips. They give to the United Way. They participate in Walk-A-Thons. They love their kids. They work hard jobs for not enough pay. They struggle financially, but still give to the church and to missions. To dismiss them so casually is to be guilty of what they have done to Thomason.
     I could talk to them. Some of them would listen. But I wonder what the point would be. I doubt I would change anyone's mind. And then there's the cost to me. I work in this small town and to be considered gay is a quick way to lose sales and friends. (Listen to my cowardice talking. Listen to my ethics and morals scurry away.)
     So what do I do? Do I stand by and let injustice happen without raising my voice? If I do nothing, am I not just as guilty?
     I thought as I typed this that I would come to some sort of conclusion, but I don't have one. I don't know what to do. But I will do something. Maybe it will be small and maybe it will be ineffective, but I will make the gesture. If only for this selfish reason: Someday I might need someone to stand up for me.

Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Galapagos tortoise.
Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Baby pygmy hippo on shore and mother in water.
Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Baby pygmy hippo.
Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Snowy Range Mountains, Wyoming. Copyright 2004 K.C. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

I think over again
my small adventures, my fears
-- those small ones
that seemed so big --
and all the vital things
I had to get and to reach.
Yet there is only one great thing
-- the only thing --
to live to see
the great day that dawns and
the light that fills the world.
-Eskimo song

Tuesday, July 13, 2004


You sit there calmly.
You brush aside anyone
that doesn't meet your approval
with cold disregard.

I can see your
youthful, graceful body
in a royal robe
with a jeweled crown
on your black silk hair.

Queen of Hearts? No!
Queen of Diamonds? Maybe.
Queen of Spades? Surely.

But you're not a queen.
Actually you're not really anything.
I can't imagine why I
thought otherwise.

Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Orith's Lament

Orith was a young man, dreamer, singer
of things that were not and could not be.
He dreamed of world beyond worlds,
and the stars laughed in his dreams.
But only the dull survive.
Dreamers are, of necessity, not dull.

And Orith sang,
"Dreams could be and we could love.
Must we lose it behind walls
that slowly cloak

Dreamers make a world jealous, hateful,
in envying those who make not into become.
They drowned Orith in poverty and strife and hard living
that allowed no singing and crushed every dream.
When they were done,
they laid Orith at rest,
a white lily on his chest.

Orith never sang again
in this world
but on certain nights
I am told
you can hear him.

Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

A Strange Thought

Often what I see
and what I believe
are universes apart.
And I yell that
it should fit.

Alternating between hope
and despair, the thought
comes to me:
Wouldn't it be funny if --

No, probably not.

Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Paris Church. Copyright 2004 JR. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Posted by Hello

Friday, July 09, 2004

2004 New York Marathon. I'm the 45th person from the left and 16th down ... Posted by Hello

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Paris at night. Copyright 2004 JR. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Stuffed Ram at Bass Pro Shop. Copyright 2004. All rights reserved. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Stuffed Polar Bear at Bass Pro Shop. Copyright 2004. All rights reserved. Posted by Hello

Monday, July 05, 2004

"I learned that it is the weak who are cruel, and that gentleness is to be expected only from the strong."
-Leo Rosten

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Our Flag ... Long May It Wave Posted by Hello
The Star Spangled Banner
By Francis Scott Key

Oh, say can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, now conceals, now discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines on the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! O long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wiped out their foul footstep's pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven-rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, for our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner forever shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Friendly dog. Copyright 2004. All rights reserved. Posted by Hello

Friday, July 02, 2004

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."
-Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Green roof. Copyright 2004. All rights reserved. Posted by Hello