Monday, June 26, 2006

An ode to watermelon

It doesn't take much to tell me it's summer.

But the biggest indication? All the cheap watermelon.

Last week gramma shared half of her giant watermelon with me. I took it home. It was good.

Everyone has those memories, most likely from childhood, that take them back and remind them of certain seasons. Sledding in winter, the weather breaking in spring, back-to-school in fall. For summer, though, it's that first juicy bite of a watermelon for me.

Sometimes I get a little crazy when it comes to watermelon. Don can tell you stories of me devouring an entire melon in one sitting, my face dripping, my belly painfully full. It's kind of like alcoholics blacking out after too much to drink - that's me and melons.

Watermelons were discovered in the African Kalahari Desert, of all places, and were good sources of water for the parched residents. Egyptians used to lay watermelon at the tombs of pharoahs to nourish them through the afterlife.

When I die, I want a watermelon, too.

Seeds, seedless, yellow, pink - whatever. Just give me a fork, a napkin (the more the merrier), and a big half-hunk of melon, and I'm in heaven.

You know at funerals, when most people are grieving for their lost friend or relative? I'm probably thinking of watermelon.

It's kind of sexual, if you think about it. Pink flesh. Dripping juices. Sweet and, at times, sour. Serpentine vines with dozes of giant, round spectacles of sin.

Yeah. I said "serpentine."

There are already religions devoted to watermelon. Well sign me up, comrade, because I'm preaching the Good News.

Give me watermelon, or give me...well...maybe some vine-ripe tomatoes would work, too.

Friday, June 23, 2006

On the evil of Bill Gates, and giving what you can

Is Bill Gates an evil man?

With the news of his semi-retirement from Microsoft to focus on his charitable organization, I'm feeling conflicted. Sure, Gates's business practices are Satanic, and he's putting the world's computers at risk by producing virus-attracting software - but he's giving away billions to help the world's poor and underdeveloped nations and people.

Leonard Pitts wrote a column in the Miami Herald saying that, when most guys reach middle age, their crisis usually leads to fast cars and young women. Gates, on the other hand, is giving away his money.

"As midlife crises go, that's not a bad one to have," Pitts writes.

He goes on: "I can't write a billion-dollar check. But I can paint a fence, mentor a child, maybe even endow a small scholarship. Bill Gates has me thinking with fresh energy about those and other things I can do -- the responsibility I have -- to change my corner of the world."

Amen, brother.

Pitts laments that he can't approach all the possible good Gates can do with his richest-man-in-the-world bank account, but even small things can make a difference. Moreover, Pitts says, we have a responsibility to give all that we can to make the world a better place.

"I never knew Bill Gates was a Spider-Man fan. But his stated reason for transitioning out of day-to-day responsibilities at Microsoft two years from now to devote his energies to charity work (''with great wealth comes great responsibility'') comes suspiciously close to the creed by which the webslinger has lived since 1962: 'With great power comes great responsibility'...It occurs to me, though, that maybe the lesson of Bill Gates' example -- for hundredaires and thousandaires, at least -- lies less in Spider-Man's maxim than in this one: Do what you can, where you are, now."

You don't have to be Bill Gates to better the world.

So maybe if Gates goes on to inspire philanthropists (corporate or otherwise) to give more, or ordinary citizens to give, say, $5 a month to their favorite charity, then the King of Capitalism could be renewed in the eyes of those that despise him.

We have a program in Rotary called "Every Rotarian Every Year" where, each year, Rotarians are encouraged to give at least $100 to the Rotary Foundation to help improve the world (through programs like clean water and Polio Eradication). For a bit over $8 a month, you can give and be assured that your small contribution is doing good.

And money isn't everything - some organization could just use an extra hour and a helping hand. Sometimes time is more valuable in money, especially with everyone so busy these days.

Creating a fortune and then quitting work to concentrate on giving it all away is pretty admirable. Every religion says to give back to those who need it, but I don't even think you need religion to help out.

It just makes you a good human being.

Kudos, Mr. Gates.

But I'm still not buying Windows Vista, should it ever come out.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Route 66: The road less traveled

A co-worker let me borrow "Route 66: A road to remember" - a documentary made in 1996 of a guy and his wife traveling the route and videotaping the trip. I took it over to grandma's last night to share (and to let her remember what the trip is like), and it was the first real thinking I've done about the trip since I returned.

I thought it was neat how I could point to a place during the video and say, "Hey, I was there," or "I ate lunch at that place" or "I got lost in that town."

The guy (Gary? Lee? Gary Lee? It doesn't matter) stopped at a few places I didn't, and buzzed by some stops I actually visited, but overall it was a good documentation of the route as it stood...Jesus...10 years ago.

What got me most, though, is just the thought that - about three weeks ago - I was there. Three weeks ago tonight I was zooming through the Los Angeles freeway system, risking life and rental trying to get the hell out of California. I slept in my car in Baker, got up to eat dinner at Denny's, and drove like hell through Nevada, Utah, and a bit of Colorado.

Three weeks ago. But it feels like forever.

Before I left, Suzanne asked if I would come back a different person. I remember telling her no, I would still be me, but maybe I would have a different perspective on things. Maybe the world would be a little bigger, a little roomier, but it would still be the world.

As the weeks have passed, I've found that I had it right. I'm no different, really, but my perspective sure has changed.

I remember that Sunday afternoon, when I drove across the Michigan state line, and thinking, "Yes, I'm home." That sense of familiarity - of knowing, of recognizing - was overwhelming. And when I pulled off I-94 and turned left on Airport Rd. to come back into Jackson, it was like my hands took over. Habit could find my way home for me. It was like I never left.

But now I know that there's a lot more out there than our wet, humid, green state. I've looked across the Mojave, I stopped to pee in the mesas of New Mexico, I've seen a roadrunner prance down a small canyon in the Panhandle.

It's made me appreciate what we have here. The only state that kind of reminded me of home was Missouri, and that's only because it was so green and lush and hilly. Most of the rest, except for parts of Illinois, were totally alien to me. And I saw them.

Just last night, on a walk through Cascades Park, I was almost attacked by a snapping turtle. He had dragged himself out of the pond and was trying to cross Kibby Road, a pretty busy street. Luckily me, some hippie, and a cop prodded the big dinosaur bastard back into the pond. He sure put up a fight.

It got me thinking that snapping turtles are pretty common up here, and in the Midwest, but a few miles away they encounter a whole different group of wildlife. I saw armadillos along side the road in Oklahoma - tons of them - and it reminded me of raccoons or opposums here at home. They were just different.

I guess I've gained a new appreciation of what I see and hear and experience in Michigan. Going away taught me to look at things closer right here at home.

That's the first thing I notice when I go away to somewhere I've never been: what's different? What makes it NOT Michigan?

I traveled a road less and less traveled. And maybe it did change me, just a bit. I think it's more likely that my experience just gave me a fresh set of eyes.

So far, they fit me just fine.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

The United States of We're Straight

Bigotry is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant. education and free discussion are the antidotes of both. - Thomas Jefferson

- - - - -

A recent Gallup poll showed that, when Americans were asked (without any prompting) what the top issue politicians should be concerning themselves with, do you know where gay marriage ranked?

No where. Not even in the top ten.

But don't tell Bush that. According the the president, stopping the gays from getting hitched is Priority Number One.

"This national question requires a national solution," Bush said, "And on an issue of such profound importance, that solution should come not from the courts but from the people of the United States." [this from CNN]

Profound importance. Gotcha. Where did that "from the people" part come from, though?

If you're a political junkie, you can see this type of political, election-year swagger come around every two or four years. Like clockwork. Usually, though, it's bone-head issues like flag burning (Allah forbid) - designed to stir up a politico's hand-wringing base into stepping into polls and Taking Their Country Back.

What's really sad, though, is this issue actually affects living, breathing, tax-paying Americans like you and I.

There are few issues that will get me as fired up as this one.

Let me say it simply: there is no homosexual "agenda," there is no "attack on marriage" (just like there was no "attack on Christmas"), and there is no threat to our "way of life." Gays, bisexuals, and trans-gender folks just want to get hitched, and suffer like the rest of America, and live out their lives quietly, with maybe a few adopted rug-rats hitting baseballs through the neighbor's window.

But to hear it from the mouths of Those Who Care, you'd think there was an all-out war on this country - rivaling the degradation of the environment and the terrorism threat that's so often held above our heads. And who's leading the charge?

Gays. You know, those guys all the chicks like to hang out with because they're non-threatening? Yeah, those guys.

Why does one major political party find it necessary to pick on a harmless, minority population when the rest of America thinks it should be focusing on the mess in Iraq or the economy?

Part of me thinks it's because they find the whole idea ("They stick what WHERE?") revolting.

In which case: don't knock it before you try it.

The other part of me thinks it stems from a religious point of view. And I can respect the idea, to some degree, if you think god destroyed a city because two chicks got it on in their private bedchambers. Hell, I'd be scared of that kind of god, too.

But if you're Christian, I really think you have bigger issues to worry about. We have many more sick, wounded, hungry, and poor in this country and around the world that deserve more attention that Big Gay Al and his blouse. Feed the hungry, tend to the sick, and nourish those starving souls that have yet to receive His Grace. That's what Jesus said - the same Jesus who played poker with prostitutes and the "lesser" segments of society. Treat them with kidness, with compassion, and with the love they deserve - and tell them to pass it on, while they're at it.

But no where have I read of the angry Jesus that would stand at a press conference and denounced a lifestyle that harms no one, like Bush did today.

And if you think what Those Folks do is "nasty" or "inappropriate," then I suggest you grab your husband or wife off the computer, away from the porn sites, and spend some time doing what you think IS appropriate.

Frankly, I find the idea of sitting and watching TV every night repulsive. Millions of Americans do it. But you don't see me legislating my disgust.

You'll never hear me use a slippery slope argument, but look at the road we could be heading down. A century ago we found the idea of a black man and white woman (or vice versa) having sex absolutely indecent. Hell, there are still a great many folks who are turned off at the very idea. Blacks would be beaten, hung, and burned because a group of people thought it was (a) outrageous or (b) against His will that he or she should be in love with a white him or her.

Luckily, we've gotten over that 19th century frame of mind. Some of us have, at least.

But now we're faced with a similar line of reasoning, and the Party in Power is trying to pass laws to make sure Billy and Jenny are safe and sound from the Homo Menace.

Do you want only straight couples to marry? Fine. Pass a church ordinance that says so. Don't let the gays joint together in your place of worship. In the eyes of the law, however, such bigotry is unlawful and - I believe - unconstitutional.

We used to pass laws that were racist and that restricted freedom, not so long ago. The Taliban and the Iran government have done the same just recently, right here in our own time.

So pick your path, but pick it cafefully. If you're not careful, the "morbid minds" may ultimately have their way with you.

And how dirty would THAT feel?