Midnight Confession

Word.

 

Word is a strange word…the longer you stare at it, the odder it becomes.

Stranger still is the moment you hear correct words in a song after many years of singing the wrong words.

Karen was making a Margherita pizza last night while singing Midnight Confession, a song by The Grass Roots from 1968. I love that song, although I never knew the hook line.

The sound of your footsteps, Telling me that you’re near, Your soft gentle motion, babe, It brings out a need in me that nobody hears, except, In my midnight confessions, when I tell all the world that I love you…

At various times in the past 40 years, instead of midnight confessions, I have heard the words…

in my imagination

in morning at confession

in my denied confections

Misheard lyrics are difficult to remove from memory, like trying to rid your inner jukebox of Love Shack by the B-52’s. Wrong words and kitschy tunes won’t leave without a fight. But, when the real lyrics are revealed, the song sounds different because we aren’t imposing our own meaning upon the original.  When Karen and I suddenly discovered the right words, we sang it out loud in the kitchen. We had to purge the old idea and restore the original…in my midnight confession, when i tell all the world that I love you…which really seems to go well with a Margherita pizza and someone you love.

Another song from the Sixties, The Boxer, by Simon and Garfunkel, speaks of mumbles and words that we want to hear…

“I am just a poor boy
Though my story’s seldom told
I have squandered my resistance
For a pocket full of mumbles, such are promises.
All lies and jests
Still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest”

Human nature is to hear words we want to hear. Even when we can’t understand them, there they are, deep within us, waiting to break out, and once we hear and comprehend, they are no longer misheard lyrics. The truth, once hidden, is now revealed and the meaning transformed.

Harmony of word and melody is not only human, it is divine. In fact, the very idea of Word and Song goes back to a couple of verses in the Bible.

“In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth…”

There is lyricism and poetry repeated throughout Genesis chapter 1.

And God said…

And the evening and the morning were…

And God saw that it was good…

And God saw that it was very good…

Love spoke and animated the universe. The Word spoke and words became matter and the creation song… beauty, love, and relationship…began to shape the heart of humanity like a three-step waltz. 

This is why we sing in the kitchen…maybe this is generally why humans sing at all…because we understand words more deeply when they are set to music. To paraphrase Genesis 1…

In the beginning was the song of Creation and it was beautiful, as melody and harmony animated the universe in 3/4 time. 

If creation then is song, there must be words, otherwise all the songs we sing are jests and mumbles. There is another lyrical text from the Gospel of John that looks back at creation.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” 

The Lyric was always there.

The Word went looking for a choir.

There is a song heard daily in nature. It is the song of the loon on a New Hampshire lake, the roll of thunder echoing off granite in Colorado, it is the surf beating measures against coastal rocks at Cape Horn, the approaching percussion of bison hooves on the Oklahoma plains.

The universe is singing a song that rhymes. It makes me want to sing while hiking with my son or making a pizza with my wife.

And to pay attention…to the lyrics, the notes, the entire symphony.

I hear it has a pretty good finale.

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I’m Younger Than That Now

My son texted me last night and said, “We have some really big news.”

This is life; we are born and given a name without our approval, then we fall in love and marry, have children, who then leave and have their own children, and only then are we empowered to rename ourselves.

This is our chance to correct all the misconceptions of the past. I love the idea of second chances. Especially if your last name is Light and your parents named you Bud…you want a do over.

And this is a universal truth across generations. We want a name that highlights our better angels. I remember this about my Grandma Davis who typically cared very little about image and names. But there was one name we didn’t dare call her…granny.

This made for a perfect dare, and my sister prodded me to test the limits one day. I took the dare and called her granny. She hit me over the head with a rolled up Saturday Evening Post. She thought it made her sound old. I thought she was.

But like Dylan singing My Back Pages, “aah but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now,” she must have thought the same thing that my generation thinks…we are younger than that now.

Our age defiance runs deep beginning with simple denial, to the subtle art of requiring our grandchildren to summon us with hip and youthful grand names.

Besides, if we are not naming ourselves, someone will. And it might sound not only old, but strange, for there is danger in allowing a toddler to name grandparents. The danger is that the name will stick like a sharpened #2 pencil thrown into an acoustic ceiling by a rowdy student, requiring a janitor with a ladder to make it go away. Otherwise, it will just hang there forever.

By virtue of the birthright bestowed upon the first grandchild, my daughter had the naming rights to her paternal grandparents. She named them Tampoop and Nammy. One stuck and the other, well, we had to get a ladder and remove it.

But why settle for the prosaic grandfather and grandmother?

The possibilities are endless. I’m thinking about Ace Umpa or Poppa Tart…or something Ukrainian that a baby can easily pronounce. Why not Baba & Gigi?

And the Greeks have wonderfully lyrical grand names…Yaya & Pappoús.

Karen asked me recently what I wanted to be called by a babbling grand. Perhaps I’ll be Bubs. Karen is leaning toward Keke.

And so it will be until the first grandchild changes it to Butts and Kaka. Maybe the old days of grandma and grandpa weren’t so bad after all, but just in case, I’m keeping that ladder handy.

Oh yes, the big news from my son and daughter-in-law. They are parents. We now have our third grand pet, Inola, a tiny furry bundle of Border Collie. I hope she calls me Bubs.

The Technology of 1,000 Spoons

While Brandon was home this winter he was imitating a Coast Guard cutter on our frozen pond, whacking the ice from a kayak with a double-bladed oar. He broke the oar like a hobo eating a hard pretzel. Which means he really is my son. Our family has a long legacy of tearing things up. Oars, lawn mowers, houses…Dad once hit the corner of our house with the tractor…which led my brothers and I to complete the demolition, sledge hammering the stone wall creating space to add four new windows. Sometimes accidents become a serendipitous remodel to your house…other times, you just have a busted lawn mower and shin deep grass.

Which brings me to my son’s equipment legacy. I once made my son a promise, that one day, when he had a house and a lawn mower of his own, (or a kayak) I would go to his house, borrow it…and beat the crap out of it, kind of like that oar against the ice. Here is my chance…his mower is defenseless in my shed.

I opened the door to my tool shed last week and spotted his electric lawn mower which he had left for me to store away until he returns from Toronto where he is doing graduate work on the atmosphere. I’ve heard of electric lawn mowers, but had not seen one close up.

I have a running debate with Brandon about this electric lawn mower. He is a meteorologist, smart, and ecologically aware. I applaud him for caring about the environment. But, I also enjoy giving him a hard time.

His rental home in Norman had a 100 foot deep back yard and the mower had a 90 foot cord because he had to splice the original 100 foot cord when he…well, you can imagine. I asked him, “Why do you have an electric lawn mower?”

His reply is typical of twenty somethings. “The environment, you obtuse carbon-eating dinosaur.” (He actually is polite but that is the tone)

Humans have always struggled with technology as simultaneous curse and blessing.

The famous economist, Milton Friedman was touring China and came upon a team of nearly 100 workers building an earthen dam with shovels. Friedman pointed out that a single worker could create the dam in an afternoon using a bulldozer. An official replied, “Yes, but think of all the employment the shovels create.” Friedman replied, “Oh, I thought you were building a dam. If it’s jobs you want, then take away their shovels and give them spoons.”

Which got me thinking of a better way to mow my lawn. Can economic theory apply to lawn care? Utilitarian economic theory permits my use of a Bad Boy riding mower. My son prefers environmental theory and a tethered mower running on watts instead of barrels.

But in the spirit of Milton Friedman, if it is less pollution we desire, take away our mowers and give us goats. If everyone employed a herd of goats, think about the benefit to the atmosphere, notwithstanding the ancillary impact of goat flatulence. Just for the record, I do care about the environment, but I have 12 acres to mow and I can’t find a 12 acre cord.

Here is my latest argument. Brandon’s mower is powered by coal and my mower by oil.

The arrow in my argumentative quiver is courtesy of Senator James Lankford.

As a self-proclaimed political recluse, I was at first reluctant, yet still fascinated to attend a round table session with Senator Lankford, and I listened to his story of an exchange he had with a proponent of electric vehicles. The Senator said, “My vehicle is fueled by oil, yours (electric) is fueled by coal.” Meaning, power is produced from the electrical grid to power hybrids and all-electric vehicles. So, please don’t blissfully believe you are not polluting while plugging in.

Like most statements made in the political realm, one can find truth and hype. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, coal sourced power plants make up the largest percentage of electrical power plants in the United States at 33.28% followed by gas at 32.77%, nuclear at 19.57%, hydro at 6.04% and wind at 4.69%. Oklahoma is decidely more clean, with gas plants leading the way at 45.2%, coal at 32.71%, and wind at 18.43%.

So, the Senator is correct. When you plug-in your electric vehicle, there is a price of emission. But according to the Department of Energy, that cost of emission is still currently about half the pollution footprint of a gasoline powered vehicle.

The take-away is to not be fooled into believing there is no environmental cost to plugging in your electric vehicle…and it’s a much higher cost than I would have imagined…and yet, 11,435 annual pounds of CO2 equivalent is still a lot of environmental impact for a gasoline powered vehicle versus 6,258 annual pounds of CO2 for hybrid and electric vehicles.

http://www.afdc.energy.gov/vehicles/electric_emissions.php

My son is making me a better man. I’ve grown mellow and have repented of my malevolent revengeful scheme against his power equipment. I will leave his gentle grass shaper to collect dust in silent repose awaiting his return from the Canadian halls of meteorological research. Maybe I’ll even power it up and take it for a gentle spin through a meadow of clover.

I think he’s probably right. I admire my son’s tenacity dragging that ragged cord through grass clippings during a sweltering Oklahoma summer. Here’s to the spirit of my son and the younger generation who are gaining on me fast, busting down stone walls with sledge hammers, mowing gently, and building dams with 1,000 spoons.

I wonder how many goats it takes to mow my lawn? Someday my son will debate the impact of greenhouse pollution with his son and his son will win, but he’ll still promise to go over to his son’s house and beat the crap out of his goat. Legacy doesn’t die without a struggle.

Line ‘Em All Up

It’s a unique thing we do with our American Presidents. We roll out the red carpet and play Hail to the Chief while mocking them around the coffee pot and on Saturday Night Live. 

No other country does this so well. We glorify on the one hand and belittle on the other.

It gives our Presidents a cartoonish caricature…a surreal mix of reality and fantasy, the unreachable quality of royalty mixed with that of a sceptre-wielding buffoon.

But we want our President to be, well, Presidential, in the vein of, ask not what your country can do for you and fireside chats, however, twitter seems clipped and brassy, perhaps 140 characters shallow?

Hubris seems to be an occupational hazard of the presidency. If you were lacking in self-awareness when you took office, it’s clear that by the time you say goodbye to your staff that you are now more aware that the world revolves around you. It is, to be fair, a challenge to remain humble while listening to Hail to the Chief every time you enter a room.

Which gives me great pause to consider that President Trump, (if I had written that a year earlier, I would have typed LOL after Trump), enters the White House with infinitely more hubris than any predecessor, even without hearing as yet, Hail to the Chief.

But there are occasionally Presidents who seem earthy, more human. Lincoln, FDR, Truman, and now, for me, Obama. I haven’t always agreed with him, and I’ve even described him as arrogant at times, but I understand his humanity more deeply than Reagan, Carter, Johnson, Nixon…

Speaking of Nixon, I’m reminded of a song by James Taylor titled, “Line ‘em Up”, about the moment he left office, and about the hypocrisy and denial in the midst of hubris in that moment of goodbye:

I remember Richard Nixon back in ’74 and the final scene at the White House door

and the staff lined up to say good-bye, tiny tear in his shifty little eye,

he said, “nobody knows me, nobody understands.

These little people were good to me, oh I’m gonna shake some hands.”

Somebody line ’em up, line ’em all up, line ’em up, line ’em all up.

Eight years of Obama have gone by. Where have they gone? This morning I watched a clip of Obama saying goodbye to his staff and others. It wasn’t anything like that Nixon moment. It was classy and full of grace.

No, I didn’t always agree with President Obama, but I’m thankful for Barak and Michelle Obama, for their humanity, their passion, their grace.
You can tell they were loved. They were real. They defined grace and class. They were human.

Early in the Day of Cold and Green

These are the salad days of my son and daughters, my nephews and nieces, not that they are cold and green, rather that it’s their heyday, their walk in the sun, although salad, like the heyday of the young, can quickly go from crisp and cool to limp and warm, in an East of Eden boxcar minute.

Wedding Brandon Liz
Brandon and Liz

In Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, Cleopatra is regretting her youthful dalliances with Julius Caesar when she says,

…My salad days, / When I was green in judgment, cold in blood…        

Shakespeare uses the phrase salad days presumably to mean youthful and impulsive. Cleopatra’s words, “green” and “cold” suggest good qualities in salad and youthful dalliance.

 

Wedding Drew Brittany 2
Drew and Brittany

 

Which leads me to another tossed salad, the offbeat love story of H.I. McDonough (Nicholas Cage) and Edwina (Holly Hunter), in the movie, Raising Arizona.

H.I. McDonough – voiceover (Nicholas Cage): These were the happy days, the salad days as they say. And Ed felt that havin’ a critter was the next logical step. It was all she thought about. Her point was that there was too much love and beauty for just the two of us and every day we kept a child out of the world was a day he might later regret havin’ missed.

Wedding Tom Michelle crop
Tommy and Michelle

The term salad days represents H.I. and Ed at the zenith of their youthful exuberance. I mean, after all, H.I. did rob a convenience store with a ladies panty on his head. That’s very cold and green.

wedding nieces nephews 2015
Salad people (except the Garden State romaine)

These salad days remind me of the weddings of the past few years in our family and of weddings to come. I recently asked Karen, “Have you attended all of your nieces and nephews weddings so far?” There are 26 possible weddings…7 so far…Karen has made all 7, and has plans to attend 19 more, if invited.

Wedding Megan Ray
Ray and Megan in New Jersey

It’s early in the day of cold and green for these youngsters, so much so that I’m changing the name, with all due respect to Bill Shakespeare. I’m changing the name from salad days to cake days, these days of love and marriage, of youth and odd behavior, and wedding cake. Besides, cake is sweeter and you can stick cake in the freezer and eat it a year later on it’s anniversary. Try that with salad.

wedding Liz George
George and Lizzie

In two weeks, we’ll be fork deep in icing on the wedding day of Brandon and Liz, and Liz will become Elizabeth Taylor, who once played Cleopatra in the eponymous movie. And I’ll do what I love to do at weddings. Dance and eat cake.

Wedding Jace
Cousin Brooks son, Jace Davis walks his Mom down (not technically a nephew but he calls me Uncle, so…

As for dancing, my skills are measured in pulses of bodily confusion, illustrated again with dialogue from “Raising Arizona,”

Gale (John Goodman): Everybody freeze. Everybody get down on the ground.                                      

Old Man: Well which is it young feller? You want me to freeze or get down on the ground? I mean to say if’n I freeze I can’t rightly drop and if’n I drop I’m gonna be in motion.

That’s exactly how I dance…somewhere in between frozen and dropping to the ground.

Cake on the other hand is more natural. The last wedding cake I had was so good that I had it and I ate it too. I had always heard that you couldn’t do that, but I did.

wedding Tom Cristine Mason
Thomas IV and Cristine

Twenty-six salad and cake people, ages 16 to 35. Hmmm, we’ll eat a lot of cake in the coming years, and dance many strange dances.

Wedding Jim Robyn
Jimmy and Robyn

Just think honey, only 19 more weddings to go. You better buy some dancing shoes and a silver fork because that’s a lot of cake and kemosabe. But it will be fun…we’ll dance like Justin Timberlake doing the Mambo Cakewalk while everyone watches and we won’t even care and then we’ll eat Italian wedding cake with coconut icing, but unlike Cleopatra, we won’t regret that dalliance one little bit, because these are after all, our cake days, when we dance with abandon and lick the icing from our fingers.

wedding-lauren-beck-1
Lauren and Beck

Stolen Babies and Shallow Advice

I was holding Jude when I realized why I steal babies. We were at Jace and Carly Davis’ wedding and Jude looked like he wanted me to hold him so I held out my arms and he held out his and we sashayed about the dance floor doing the Baby locomotion. More about baby stealing in a moment…

It was during the trip to the Davis wedding in Little Rock with two of our adult children and their dates this past weekend, that I told my wife something I had shared with no one else. It was about a waning feeling as a young man while losing the Samson-like invincibility grown from long hair and vanity. It was the feeling of power Springsteen sang about in Born to Run, “…girls comb their hair in rearview mirrors and the boys try to look so hard,” which is really difficult to pull off when my barber is cutting my hair and referring to the recession again and again before I realize he isn’t speaking of the economy.

It sounds comical to me in my mellow years since I rarely try to look hard anymore, as I once did in my raging Springs-teens. I’m more into comfortable quirky, like Andy Griffith wearing Sanuks and strumming Suwanee river on the front porch swing. And my ego is unaffected by insult because there is none left to shatter when my wife says to me, “You are the hippest man I know, from the ankle down.” “Thank you,” I reply, before the subtlety of the insult becomes clear. (This means I have great taste in shoes and socks…and nothing else)

I am no longer invincible and it’s a relief to be unburdened. Once nothing remained to be admired in the window of shallow self-reflection, there still remained my teen Geist masquerading as a father, doling out wisdom like Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s Vacation. (Good talk Russ) Some of the most useless advice I’ve given to my children over the years, although stolen and shallow, is nevertheless memorable, which often returns to me in remarkable ways wearing the garments of profundity.

When my son left for college, I told him what Steve Martin’s father told him. “Always carry a trash bag in your car, it doesn’t take up much room and if it ever gets full, you can just throw it out.” And I’ve also passed along to my son a love for colorful socks and advice on wearing them. One Sunday morning we were loitering in the garage waiting for the girls as they put the finishing touches on their Sunday go-to-meeting outfits. Four year old Brandon was wearing a Lord Fauntleroy outfit with shorts and dress shoes and I envied his dapper look, the socks-on-full-display style I couldn’t pull off due to my age and social convention. He sported a black sock and a blue sock, which I advised would be frowned upon by those who devise the color matching rules. He said that mattered little to him. He told me, “You can’t really tell in the garage, it’s too shadowy. Besides, I don’t go by color, I go by thickness.”

Youth is indeed wasted on the young.

And when Jenna was seven-years old, I took her aside before a soccer match and said to her, “I’m going to give you a little advice. There’s a force in the universe that makes things happen. And all you have to do is get in touch with it, stop thinking, let things happen, and be the ball.”

Of course, that’s Ty Webb telling Danny Noonan how to excel at golf in Caddyshack, but Jenna didn’t know that. A ball is a ball is a ball and there does seem to be a cosmic force connecting the ball with the feet of the greatest players. As Jenna grew older, I shortened the pregame admonition to, “Be the ball.”

So, back to baby stealing. As I was holding baby Jude at the wedding, my cousin told me that just for a moment, he caught a glimpse of me holding my own son, 22 years earlier. And I realized that I was still holding my son, because these moments with our children are not restrained by time. They move freely in and out of our consciousness like the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision crying “Holy, Holy, Holy,” to one another. And so I remember those moments when Karen and I left the kids with Nammy on date night and returned to find them snuggled up in pajamas and we raced to get to them first, literally knocking each other down to be the first one in the room upon our return. So I guess stealing babies is about returning to those moments on some level.

We watched Carly and Jace kiss after saying “I do for as long as we both shall live.” And I thought about how happy Jace and Carly looked as they danced among family and loved ones. I remember Jace Davis and Drew Taylor and Brandon Taylor just a few months old, rolling on their backs on the carpet together like upside down turtles trying to get upright, to get on with it, this business of life.

And when I see my grown children, and understand that they have survived my dim and strange advice, it’s like looking beyond time and seeing the glory of God flowing like wine, as they discover for themselves the force in the universe that moves mountains. It’s amazing how the Good Lord can make something good out of advice like Be the ball.

I sometimes struggle to describe what it means to be a Dad, because I feel like I’m cheating, like somehow I get more than I give. My kids are all grown now, and I find myself at a wedding holding baby Jude and I remember my own children, like it was yesterday. There goes my daughter walking onto the pitch. “Be the ball,” but how can she possibly know what that means?

Yesterday I opened a mysterious package thinking it could be a bomb, so I opened it slowly so the bomb would detonate slowly…but no, I realize my birthday is only a few days away. Maybe it’s a gift.

It’s a gift from my 24-year-old daughter who is now a soccer coach in Nashville.

And I find my stolen words have returned to me written on a shirt.

 Be the ball Jenna

Kicking the Wickets with Yogi

I miss the elocution of Yogi Berra. He once said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” Last night as I watched Draymond Green’s leg fly north like a sledge hammer on wings directly into the fork of Steven Adam’s wickets, I couldn’t help but remember how much better it was in the old days when I played basketball and the physics of a 5’9” white kid who couldn’t jump nor discriminately kick past ankle height made the basketball court a safe haven for opponents body parts.  

Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams reportedly said Draymond Green has reached “peak annoyingness,” to which Draymond replied with gleeful wit, “I just be me.”

Apparently the advanced physical gifts of today’s high-flying athletes has hamstrung their elocution. I miss the old days when athletes spoke meaningfully, without malice, and with full wisdom and transparency, like Yogi Berra.

If only Draymond could tell us what happened in the language of Yogi.

Maybe he would have said, “When you come to a fork in the road, kick it.”

I miss the old days of plain simple to understand language from sports heroes. It’s accessible. I can understand it. And it points out the absurdity of trying to figure out everything on my own. In that spirit of human understanding, I’ve listed some of my favorites bits of wisdom from one of the greatest catchers and philosophers in baseball history, Yogi Berra.

Yogi knew how to rate a 5 star hotel.

“The towels were so thick there I could hardly close my suitcase.”

And he gave much thought to legacy.

  • Yogi was asked in an interview to play a game of word association and the interviewer said, “Mickey Mantle”, Yogi answered “What about him?”
  • On death and memory: “You should always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise, they won’t come to yours.”
  • And my favorite quote about death when his wife Carmen Berra said, “Yogi, you are from St. Louis, we live in New Jersey, and you played ball in New York. If you go before I do, where would you like me to have you buried?” Yogi replied, “Surprise me.”

Yogi was so wise, he could subdue Mother Nature. “It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.”

And yes, Yogi summarized the basis of all scientific methodology in seven words. “You can observe a lot by watching.”

Yogi also knew the value of goal-setting when he reminded us, “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.”

And he certainly gave me my finest tip on selecting a restaurant. “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.”

There have been Nobel Prizes awarded for economic thought that were less nuanced than Yogi’s words, “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”

And as someone who has swung a golf club all my life, I relate to Mr. Berra’s advice on how to swing a bat. “How can you think and hit at the same time?”

Exactly.

And, some words from Yogi about what Draymond may have been thinking when he flailed his leg long after the basketball had left his hand and his foot had found a home, “You don’t have to swing hard to hit a homerun. If you got the timing, it’ll go.”

Finally, words from Yogi that express how I felt the first time I visited the New Jersey home of my wife to be,

“It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.” Thanks for the memories Yogi, I remember that like it was yesterday, or was that tomorrow?