September 29, 2009

Get Your Own Pew!…Amen

Posted in Just Darn Clever tagged , , at 7:56 am by Andrew

Given my Jesusical manner, it should come as no surprise that I’m a regular church-goer. And among the many benefits I garner from mass — spiritual nourishment, time with friends and family, high-quality donuts, Knights of Columbus breakfast — I also enjoy the parishioner watching.

People tend to straighten up and fly right in church: parents have more patience with children, personal hygiene is at its peak (more showering, less hacking and scratching), and it may be the only place where people don’t check their phones every minute.

But even the fear of God can’t drive certain bad habits away. That is why, in the quiet, grace-filled presence of Christ, people still protect what’s theirs. Specifically, I’m talking about how people jockey for position in a pew, fight quietly to hold that position, and relinquish it with a sense of defeat.

If you think I’m being too dramatic, perhaps you should go to church more often. (Or, maybe you do attend, but are too deep in prayer to waste time judging your fellow pewsters, in which case, I commend ye.)

Let me outline a typical pew battle for you. It starts, naturally, with the first people to arrive at church. Whether they’re front-sitters, back-rowers or middle-of-the-packers, they all do the same thing — take one step into the pew…and stop. They don’t walk into the center of the pew to leave room for later arrivals. No, they arrived first, by God (so to speak), so they take their rightful place…on the aisle.

This process is repeated, pew after pew. Soon, people have located every empty pew, and the church takes on a “bookend” feel — pews are filled on the left and the right, leaving a chasm (but not a schism) down the center.

Now the battle may commence. As later parishioners file in, they must choose a spot. Unable to find an “easy” seat on the aisles, they must 1) step over someone who’s already seated in order to access the empty space in the middle of the pew, or 2) hope people will relinquish their seats by skooching down.

You would think people would simply move down and make room, but for whatever reason, many people are unwilling to skooch. Maybe they think it’s “unfair” that later arrivals should be allowed to grab good seats just by showing up late. So they force newcomers to squeeze through to the center. Early bird gets the aisle.

Eventually, once the church is near capacity, parishioners must scan the pews…maybe even walk up and down the aisle looking for a seat. Again, you would think anyone sitting on the aisle with space in the center…would simply move down and give these poor people a place to sit. The charitable thing to do, right? And after all…you’re in church!

But far too often, seated pewsters sit stone-faced and allow people to wander. Apparently there’s no room at the inn.

Ahh, but this is when the Church Police get involved. I’m referring to the ushers, of course. How embarrassing is it that we even need ushers? Again…we’re in church…aren’t we a self-policing group? One that would welcome…dare say encourage thy neighbor to sit down?

But no, the Church Police must roam the grounds to enforce Christian attitudes. They walk around and give people the nod or the wave that means “skooch in, buddy.” The cold reality is this: people arriving late to church require a security detail to find a seat!

Let’s do better, people. Let’s teach our children the Christian gift of Skooching. Seat thy neighbor!

There’s a special seat in Heaven for those who do.

Can I get an Amen?

September 23, 2009

One Man’s Flagpole

Posted in Fun w/Photos, Top 6 tagged , , at 10:21 am by Andrew

There’s a house in my part of town with a flagpole in the yard. No big deal, right? Yet every time I drive by, I’m struck by the sight. Dumbstruck, even. And despite having seen this flagpole dozens of times, I always have the same reaction…

Flag Pole

Really? Who flies a windsock from a flagpole? Seriously?

I’m no expert on flag etiquette, but I do have a few things in my history that should qualify me to pass judgement on this one:

  1. I have a healthy sense of patriotism.
  2. My sons are Cub Scouts.
  3. I’m not a total lummox.

So with those qualifications on my resume, I can say with some certainty that flagpoles are designed to fly…oh…I don’t know…flags!

Every time I drive by the house, I have to fight the urge to knock on the door and quiz the owner. I’d love to meet Mr. and Mrs. Windsock, sit on their porch, share a glass of RC Cola, and discuss their views on America…and lawn art. I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for this breach of common sense.

In fact, to ease my odd need for closure on this one, I’ve created a few scenarios under which we could all understand the need to…fly a windsock from a flagpole. They are:

Scenario #1: Mr. Windsock originally had a homemade wind chime hanging from the flagpole — a beautiful design that featured his late mother’s best silverware encircling her cast iron skillet. But he said “it made such a racket that it scared away all those squirrels I like to feed…and occasionally shoot at.” So up went the windsock.

Scenario #2: Mrs. Windsock enjoyed membership in the “Decorative Flag of the Month” Club. She looked forward to flying new beauties each month – the groundhog with sunglasses in February, the bunny rabbit in knee socks in April, and her favorite…the polar bear wearing the Christmas sweater with deer on it. Precious! But when the economy tanked, the Windsock family was forced to cut back on such indulgences. So up went the windsock.

Scenario #3: For years…a good 10-12…Mr. Windsock’s favorite shirt was a stunning, red, white and blue rugby. A beautifully designed “flag shirt,” complete with stars and stripes. He wore it to every festival, church picnic, and of course, weddings. It stole the show at the 4th of July parade and Labor Day softball tournament. But one fateful day, the shirt took a direct shot from a mustard-catsup-relish bomb dropped from Mr. Windsock’s brat. Try as she might, Mrs. Windsock could not erase that stain. So with sadness in his heart, Mr. Windsock retired that flag shirt in a ceremony befitting the service it had provided him for a decade plus — he burned it in the backyard at sunrise. To ease his pain, like buying a new puppy after your long-time pet has passed, Mrs. Windsock bought her husband a new symbol of patriotism – a fluttering, vinyl, conical flag-like homage to America. And up went the windsock.

What I’ve demonstrated here is that we all need to ease up before passing judgement. Whether it’s a windsock on a flagpole, a lawn ornament collection of plastic raccoons, or even Astroturf in place of a yard, there’s bound to be a perfectly reasonable explanation for all manner of lawn art.

And if I ever do have the pleasure of making acquaintance with Mr. and Mrs. Windsock, I will share their story with all of you. Until then, I can only pause and nod whenever I pass the Windsock Pole. Godspeed America!

September 11, 2009

Whose Muse?

Posted in Just Darn Clever, Parenting, Top 6 tagged , , at 10:35 am by Andrew

I was listening to an interview with a musician talking about his new album. He answered the usual questions about inspiration, muse, etc., and the musician said something along these lines: “When I started writing songs for this album, I wasn’t sure what direction I’d go, but I had enough courage to let the inspiration take me where it wanted.”

OK, so my first instinct, like yours, was to ridicule such talk. “Courage to let the inspiration take me”? Isn’t that just artsy speak for “I wasn’t very motivated”?

Mock if we must, but problem is, it works. The artist lobby has succeeded in convincing the rest of us that art and artists are other-worldly. A strand of copper wire may be a strand of copper wire, but place a tag in front of it with the words “Modern Rage,” and suddenly it’s art. Deeply moving, emotionally complex art.

So I realized my attitude was all wrong. Rather than ceding to artists the exclusive rights to “following their muse,” the rest of us need to change course and find our own inner artists. Indeed, it’s time to saddle-up the muse and ride him wherever he takes you.

Next time you fill out that monthly sales report for your boss, “let your spirit lead you” as you artfully create numbers based not in fact (or revenue), but in spirit. It’s not about how much you sold…how much do you feel you could have sold?

When the police pull you over for doing 40 in a 30…just say “I was following my muse, officer, and she was doing at least 50.”

Perhaps those examples are too rogue for your taste…too modern artsy, and you’re more of the subtle impressionist school. Hey, that’s cool. There’s a muse for that too, and you’re less likely to get fired or a speeding ticket. Try these muse-infused efforts:

  • Next time you mow the lawn, instead of the boring back-and-forth or shrinking perimeter (you know that one), spend a few moments channeling the yard gods. Have some courage, and soon you’ll be artfully guiding your lawnmower through some free-form swaths that reflect the oppression of the working class in emerging post-revolutionary Mexico. Your neighbors will be amazed.
  • Stuck in a rut with your kid’s lunches? Still making that boring ham and mayonnaise or PB&J? Or worse, Capri Sun and Pop-Tarts? Be brave and run with the culinary spirits, people. You’ll be cranking out cashew-encrusted bologna with seared raisinets. Or pan-fried seasonal gummy-bears in a kool-aid reduction. Teachers will be so impressed, you’ll become a guest lecturer in art class.

 So yes, it’s time we all show some courage and follow our muse. Place your faith in the spirits and let them guide you to new levels of delusionment…I mean, enlightenment. That’s what I did. In the beginning of this piece, I didn’t know what to write…where to go with it…what to say. But I trusted my muse, I got out of the way, and enjoyed the journey with my inner word nymphs. And look where they took me?

Nowhere.