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Friday, October 31, 2003


The Halloween Party

John carving pumpkinsFor about ten years running I had a big Halloween party at my house. Each year was bigger and better than the previous. I even took off work to decorate and I went all out. The entire house and yard was transformed into something resembling a horror movie set. Everything was right in those days for a good party. There were lots of willing party animals all eager to come in costume, drink, and act stupid.

Of all the Halloween parties, one stands out. It was the one I got in some real trouble with Barbara. Not the only one I got in real trouble with Barbara over, but the one I got in the most trouble with her.

If I remember correctly - memories are a little hazy due to shots of tequila - everything went well until the end of the party. The "hanger oneres" were on my front porch; Linda, Carol, Brian, Marty, Russell, and myself. It was 2:30 AM and we were in the process of dispersing. Linda was sitting on the porch and I grabbed the clamp holding her hair the way she wanted it. I was not going to take it off only make her think so. She turned around and without hesitation said, "let go of my hair you blind mother fucker." A new nickname was coined. Today my friends refer to me as the BMF. At the time her comment caused the remaining inebriants to break out in laughter and throw in a few words of endearment themselves.

All of this time, Barbara was in the house cleaning up. She was putting things in the refrigerator, picking up abandoned cups from tables and other places they had been left. A few comments had been made that I should be in there helping her. My friends were not seriously suggesting I brake off my hosting responsibilities and help her, they just pointed out she was working and I was not. Friends are helpful that way. They pointed out that if I did not help her I would be in trouble. They kept on making little comments about it. A man does not like to be told what to do. A drunk man really does not like to be told what to do. So against this backdrop I uttered the phrase, "Fuck Barbara! I'm not worried about what she thinks." Imagine that being said with a slurred voice and spastic hand gestures. They tried to shush me, but I was just getting started. "I can do anything I want - fuck Barbara! Sheeeeittt!" I thought nothing of it and eventually, the last person left and I went to bed.

When I got up the next day, Barbara seemed distant, maybe even angry, but I did not act like I noticed. Then Russell called me up. "Hey man," he said, "did you sleep on the couch last night?" "No, why?" I inquired. "Oh no reason," he said while laughing a bit. I started thinking, "I wonder what I did." I began to replay the party in my head trying to discover what I did to make her angry, but nothing came to me. Shoot, it could have been mistaken identity or maybe one of my friends said something to her that got her chapped. I will talk to her in a while and straighten everything out, I thought. Then Marty came over to bring Hobo home. In those days, Hobo would stay at Marty's for the party. I figured all of the commotion and costumes would freak him out. Marty asked me if everything was OK. "Well, Barbara is quiet, but I can't think of anything I did that would piss her off." Marty clued me in, "You told her to fuck herself you moron." He went on to explain that when I was saying "fuck Barbara," she had been standing at the door listening to the whole thing. "Oh," I said, "that's why she is angry." This last statement was in the Guinness book of world records for the biggest under statement ever made by a husband under the influence of tequila.

I hate the silent treatment and that is what I was getting. So I decided to enter the dragon's lair. "Is there something wrong?" I asked. The silence ended with that question. There was something wrong and she let me know about it.

After she vented a while, I tried to explain that I meant nothing by what I said and how it was more of a guy thing. I explained that if they had been talking about anything, the police, government, my fourth grade school teacher I would have responded the same. Tell a guy he is in trouble with someone, his first reflex is to say, "fuck 'em." I am generalizing my experience here, but I think it is accurate. My explanation was an attempt to say "I am wrong, but not as wrong as you are making it out to be." I was unsuccessful getting her to see my point. I guess when I said "fuck Barbara," she just took it the wrong way. Ha.

Thank God Barbara is a forgiving soul. This story is brought up every Halloween and lots of times in between. I still say she took it the wrong way, she shakes her head, and my friends laugh no doubt recalling their own marital episodes.

I guess the moral of the story is "don't drink and talk - it can be hazardous to the health of your marriage."

Have a happy Halloween and watch you do not over do it at the party.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, October 30, 2003


PE Class

I was an active kid and I loved to play sports. I was also legally blind. In our neighborhood games my friends adapted to my visual deficits. In baseball they threw the ball a little slower. If I was covering home plate and the throw was coming in from the outfield they threw the ball on the ground to me. That way I could hear it coming and then see it. Same thing in basketball, they adjusted their passes so I could catch them instead of hitting me in the nose with a "no look pass." Running or wrestling required no special accommodations. We played something nearly everyday and I would not trade those memories for anything.

Things were a little different in PE class. I was often the last one picked for teams. I also unintentionally provided a lot of comic relief for the other students. The coaches were not the most accommodating souls either, but a man needs to be treated bad to become properly seasoned.

I remember one fine spring day near the end of school. About to complete the 10th grade I was in my afternoon PE class. We were playing softball and I was stuck out in the outfield. The older I got the more my vision was a factor in my performance. The game was faster in grade 10 than it was in grade 6. So there I was squinting and trying to see the ball from right field. The batter swung the bat and I heard the unmistakable sound of a good connection. Then I heard the screams of my team mates telling me to catch the ball. "Strain, catch the ball," they yelled. What ball, I said to myself, I can't see it. It is a helpless feeling because I do not know if I am about to get hit in the head with a soft ball or what. The screams continued, "catch the ball strain!" Then the ball landed about 10 feet from me. I pounced on it and threw it to the infield as quickly as I could.

After play stopped, the substitute coach yelled out to me. "Strain --- are you blind?" he yelled from the backstop. "Yes," I yelled back. I could see a couple of students talking to him. After a few seconds when it sunk in on him he yelled back, "oh." Even I laughed at that one.

A good thing about PE though is it is honest. There is no faking it. You either can or you cannot do a summersault or hit a volley ball over the net. The significance of those feats are debatable, but the fact of it is a fact. I believe the education system has mistakenly removed many forms of failure. The reasoning is, "if Johnny gets an "F" it will hurt him somehow." Good. It should hurt him. Hurt him enough to try harder and to work harder. Gym class is life. Failing and competing are facts of life and while I do agree that kids need to experience success, it should not be handed to them no matter what. (end of sermon)

Gym class has a lot of potential trauma for kids. I remember one kid in my grade was really fat and had not yet hit puberty even by grade 8. He was ridiculed much worse than I ever was. He had a high voice, was passive and made a good target for the bullies. Many pranks were done to him and many towels snapped his backside as he walked to the shower.

In my day, there was a shower room and everyone showered in front of each other. The ones without hair on their genitals caught hell from the ones with hair.

Guys, do you remember the gear you had to have. One cloth gym bag (cheap cloth kind no kid would be caught dead with today), one pair of white socks, one pair of white shorts, one white t-shirt, one jock, one pair of Converse All Stars, and one can of deodorant. At the beginning of the year my mom took a magic marker and wrote my name on the gym clothes. On Friday the gym bag went home for washing. Some kids did not take their clothes home every week and the aroma of the locker room was a testament to this fact.

One of my favorite things in gym class was dodge ball. I could see well enough to be average in this "thinking man's" sport.

My son has had a completely different experience. He is a good athlete and was always one of the best. He played baseball, football, and basketball. He settled with basketball and played throughout high school. I got some vicarious enjoyment out of watching him excel where I did not. It is funny how that works.

What about you? Do you have any interesting "gym class" experiences?

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, October 29, 2003


The House Where the Weenie Dogs Live

This is a Halloween story. There was an eerie house in our neighborhood. I walked by it almost daily when I walked my dog Hobo. Something about it was strange - we never saw people we only heard that awful sound. From a distance the house appeared like any other house, but the comparison ends there. This house was evil. It was a vessel of untold torturous tales. No matter the time of day or night the beasts were vigilant. They would lie in wait for an unsuspecting sojourner. I could feel an evil force draw me near, but I somehow resisted the curiosity of the place. Others were not so lucky. As I walked my dog the silence seemed to spread as we neared the premises. The birds went quiet and the air stopped moving. Then at a time designated to strike the most fear in my heart all hell would break loose. The beasts would throw themselves against the door attempting to attack me and my trusty Labrador. Their gnarling teeth could be heard snapping wildly in the air. Their growls, barks, and howls sent chills up and down my spine. Hobo's hackles were up as he looked around trying to glimpse the threat. These beasts were too crafty and they would not attack with people around. Instead they would bide their time and feed on the unsuspecting and the curious. Many went in - no one ever came out. I am of course talking about weenie dogs. Are you laughing? Don't say you were not warned. I wrote a poem about this house and its dangers - I called it:

The House Where the Weenie Dogs Live
The sounds that came from there at night,
Set upon one an awful fright.
Now I know everyone was right-
about the house where the weenie dogs live.

I wish poor Billy had taken heed,
but his curiosity caused a larger need.
So on his corpse those beasts did feed-
at the house where the weenie dogs live.

Some say they're small and cannot harm,
now they wield a prosthetic arm.
Others say they're a common pet,
We haven't heard back from them yet.
One thing is sure they won't forget-
the house where the weenie dogs live.

The Devil Dog and Kujo know,
where they can and cannot go.
The Wolf Man with his teeth and hair,
is certain he's not welcome there.
Everyone else should best beware-
of the house where the weenie dogs live.

I've done my part, I've tried to warn,
It's up to you to heed or scorn.
But if you scoff this much is true,
Those vicious beasts do wait for you-
At the house where the weenie dogs live.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, October 28, 2003


Tennessee Photos

Here are a few Tennessee Photos I hope you enjoy them.


Monday, October 27, 2003


Home Sweet Home

Mountain AutumnI was not looking for ruby slippers to click together, but I am glad to be home. You know how it feels when the party is over. The fun is a memory now and what lies ahead is back to work. The house and yard need some attention and there will be some catching up to do at work. Even with all of that and on this end of the vacation, I am happy to be home and heading into the routine again. I am especailly gratful to have seen the beautiful fall foliage in the Smoky Mountains. What a treat.

By tomorrow I should have some pics posted for anyone interested in seeing them. I am looking forward to catching up on everyone's blogs.

"Be it ever so humble, there is no place like home."

Until the next time
John Strain


Heading Home

All good things must come to an end. Rats! Oh well, we are packing up and heading home. Instead of fun and sight seeing we have a twelve hour drive to look forward to and it’s raining. Tomorrow I have to go back to work, waaaaahhhh. OK, I’m over it now.

We stayed in Gatlinburg last night in the Bear Skin Lodge. Very nice accommodations. Our room was on the third floor and our balcony overlooks the Pigeon River which is more of a mountain stream. With the door open the sound of rushing water lulls you to sleep. The really neat thing is a fireplace in the corner. It has a timer you turn like a heat lamp in the bathroom. One twist of the wrist and “poof” – instant flame. I have to get one of those for my house.

I better go – packing to do and all of that. I should be back to my regular schedule tomorrow.

Until the next time,
John Strain


Sunday, October 26, 2003


Trip Notes

I am enjoying the difference in scenery. Everywhere I look things are different, from the trees, to the terrain, to the people and buildings. This is all welcome to me. I enjoy “different” especially when I know I will soon return to my world. It is funny though. The only conversations I struck up outside our group of three couples were with some folks from Mobile, Alabama and some other people from Louisiana.

The weather has been fantastic. Clean, cool, crisp October mountain air enters my lungs like balm. There must be healing properties affixed to this air as well as it feels to my lungs. It invigorates and enlivens the body and soul. The smell of the East Tennessee loam reminds me of Octobers past from my childhood living in the Midwest.

Leaves are changing. Bright reds, oranges, yellows, and golds against the brilliant blue October sky create breathtaking images I hope my mind will hold forever. Mountains are tree covered and each one is a different color creating extra depth and beauty.

Cornstalks and scarecrows with pumpkins and fall flowers decorate many fence lines and store fronts. I am drinking it in like a healing elixir. I feel fortunate for every sense with which to enjoy this cacophony of beautiful and pleasant stimuli.

Hotels: Hotels are our home away from home when we are away from home. We are staying in a lodge / hotel. It is rustic which is marketing speak for “not having the amenities of a regular hotel.” The implied trade off is that the area is so nice; you won’t notice us cutting corners on a few things. For instance, the ice machine is not available to the lodge guests. One must take their small ice bucket to the desk and if someone is there they will fill it half way fro you. We discovered they would sell a bag for a buck so problem solved.

One other observation has to do with the shower. I first noticed the shower head looking different when I first stood before it vulnerable as the day I was born. The streamlined look must have had something to do with its force, because this stream was intense. I am talking car wash grade pressure. I would guess this shower head could easily be certified for bug and tar removal. The noise was deafening from the beads of water pounding on my skull. What the heck, a body needs a good pressure washing every now and then.

These observations are meant more to be funny than to be taken as serious complaints. Minor inconveniences I know will disappear when I leave are more amusing than they are aggravating.

More to come, stay tuned. I finally have access to a phone line.

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, October 24, 2003


Are We There Yet?

“Are we there yet?” Parents have dealt with this mantra of impatience since the advent of family trips. Today we traveled by car from Covington, LA to Cleveland, TN. Tomorrow we will arrive at our final destination “The “Wonderland Lodge” which is near Pigeon Forge. Today’s trip was 500 miles which gave Barb and I lots of time to talk with our other friends also traveling with us. We compared notes about our own family trips.

I remember being awakened before dawn and loaded in the back of our black dodge station wagon. I resumed my night’s sleep on blankets behind the back seat. The sound of the engine and road was a gentle lullaby. My parents believed in “making time.” There was a drive to get to the destination as quickly as possible. No stopping unless it was absolutely necessary. My mom was organized. When it came time to stop for gas she would coach us, “OK, go straight to the rest room and get back to the car, we have to get back on the road.” We did not stop for food, she had sandwiches prepared ahead of time. I am not complaining. That is how we did it. I did not know anything different.

We played games in the car to pass the time. My favorite was 20 Questions. “Is it bigger than a bread box?”. Wind from the windows down blew maps around the car and. voices had to be raised to be heard.. No AC in those days. Those are fond memories of days gone by.

Barbara’s parents were almost opposite. They left mid morning. If they saw an attraction of interest they stopped. No rush at all. So much so, Barbara said it drove her crazy. She wondered if they would ever arrive at their destination.

It was a good day driving. The weather was good, the scenery was pretty, and the company was enjoyable. Vacation does not start when we arrive at our destination – it started when we pulled out of the driveway.

Until the next time
John Strain

I hope to keep posting, however, the lodge where we will be staying Friday and Saturday does not have phones in the rooms. Hopefully the proprietors will allow me a few minutes to upload a story on the business phone.


Thursday, October 23, 2003


The Phone Company

I remember when phone numbers were alpha and numeric. Growing up my phone number was ME-1-5842. ME stood for Melrose. Our phone was between the kitchen and dining room. It was black and had a rotary dial made of metal. Dialing that phone required a strong finger. No phone jacks either, the phone man had to come to the house and wire it for you. I do not think we got our second phone until my sister got one in her room. She was 16 and - - well you know about 16 year old girls and telephones. The year was 1970. Becky's new phone was a light blue princess phone.

Long distance calls were only to tell other family members someone died or is about to die. Communication was normally through letters. One did not squander money talking long distance. You could always tell if someone was talking long distance because they would talk louder. Sure the quality of the calls made it somewhat necessary, but it was also psychological. One must talk louder because they are farther away. One required subject when talking long distance is the weather. "Is it raining down there?. . it is here." Never mind the distance is 1500 miles. One automatically assumed that if they could hear the other person in real time then the person on the other end of the phone must be experiencing the same thing as on this end. Time zones were barely comprehendible. "You say the sun is shining out there. It's dark as can be here. Are you sure the sun is shining where you are?"

There were no calling cards back then either. The operator helped you call long distance from a pay phone. It was easiest to call collect otherwise you needed a pocket full of change.

Fast forward to today. We have four phones in the house, with call waiting, caller ID, voice mail, and lord knows what. We have three cell phones and two beepers. I have DSL through the phone company. All of this costs from $200 to $250 a month. Sure communication is better, quicker, blah, blah, blah, but do we have to communicate so much?

Riding back from Subway the other evening with my son, his cell phone rang. One of his friends called from our house wanting to know when we would be home. We were a block from the house at the time. I am not advocating the Amish lifestyle, but I would bet 75% of cell phone calls are unnecessary.

I am not condemning cell phones and technology - I love it all. I am, however, a bit concerned about how an over dependence on certain conveniences stunts people's ability to problem solve. I can remember in high school, all of the contingency plans we used to set up to ensure the group made it from point A to point B. I remember driving around looking for a pay phone. I remember getting separated from the group. Cell phones would have solved a lot of problems, but I would not be as good a problem solver today.

This morning I am leaving on a little trip to Tennessee to see the fall colors. I am taking my cell phone. I hope I do not have to use it or the roaming charges will kill me.

I borrowed a laptop computer from my good friend Linda so I hope to keep posting while on vacation. I am due back home on Monday. That means my son can party down with his parents gone. What the hell? I am looking forward to the trip and I will take lots of pictures. You can bet you will be reading about my adventures in Tennessee in the near future.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, October 22, 2003



When I woke up this morning I felt strange. I had never felt like this before. "What am I coming down with?" I thought to myself. The feelings are hard to describe but I will try. I felt a little weak and dizzy. I was sad, almost depressed. I just felt yuck. "Maybe if I lie here another few minutes I will feel better," I thought, so I stayed in bed hoping that would happen. I could not stay in bed though, there was work and a million responsibilities waiting for me out there. I was feeling sorry for myself now, "why do so many people depend on me?" "Why can't they take care of their own problems?" I felt like crying. I was feeling trapped and overwhelmed. My life seemed one endless obligation and I could see no end to it. Then I started feeling guilty for having those thoughts. "I shouldn't be feeling this way," I told myself. I was right too, I had a nice family and a job that pays the bills. I have a good wife and she loves me - last night's activity under the sheets should prove that. I had never been this emotional. They seemed beyond my control. These emotions were more intense and came in waves of overwhelming feelings of, guilt, sadness, fear, anger, and some feelings I still do not understand.

My wife could tell I was not right. "What's wrong dear?" She asked very concerned. I guess she sensed there was something wrong. "I don't know," I told her. "I just feel sad and angry and afraid and guilty, but I shouldn't." My voice cracked as I was no longer able to hold back the tears. I pulled myself back together quickly, even more alarmed and worried about my state of mind, body, and spirit. "I must be losing my mind." I thought, "So this is what it's like."

I had to do something, so I forced myself out of bed and got into the shower. The water felt so good. I became overwhelmed with gratitude and almost cried again. I did not even soap up, I just stood there enjoying the warm feeling of the water on my skin. Besides I did not have the energy to lather up a wash cloth, move it around my body and rinse off. All of that seemed like an impossible task at that time. Once out of the shower I was drying myself when my wife walked in the bathroom to check on me. "How are you feeling now, honey?" She said in a very understanding voice. Then she said, "what's that on your back?" Evidently she spotted something wrong with my back. My level of fear shot up and I felt like crying again. What awful thing could it be? I did not want to know. Then she exclaimed in a loud voice, "Oh my god!" My wife began to laugh, then she really laughed, she lost all ability to speak due to the laughing. I kept asking her, "What is it? What did you see? What is so funny?" Still laughing she reached behind me and pulled a thin adhesive disk off of my back., then she said through continuing chuckles and cackles, "Somehow -HaHa- my hormone patch -HoHo- got stuck on your back -HeHe." Hearing her own words sent her back for one more lap around the laugh track.

The realization began to sink in on me like the estrogen had been doing for the past few hours. Evidently when my wife and I engaged in the physical activity last night, her hormone patch came off of her and ended up stuck to my back. My body was absorbing female hormones and when I woke up I found myself in a real life Goodbye Charlie movie.

"Now you know how I feel," she said still laughing. I, on the other hand, was just feeling relieved to know all of this would wear off. I did gain some respect for what women have to go through with all of this hormone stuff. Hopefully, it will be much longer than 28 days before I ever feel like that again.

This story is true, but it did not happen to me. It happened to a friend of mine. I figured it would read funnier if I put myself in it. I do not know if Jerry (not his real name) had all of the feelings I mentioned, but he had some of them. The part about respecting what women have to go through is also true. My hat is off to you ladies. You have all manner of bad feelings but forge ahead regardless. Ya'll have my respect. So here's to you and to brighten your day just a bit, Click Here.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, October 21, 2003


I've Looked Death in the Face

True to my normal routine, when I arrived home after work I flipped on the news. The reporter was talking about a woman. "Betty never dreamed she would be taking swimming lessons a few years ago. . ." The video was showing Betty having fun in a swimming class. The reporter continued, "Betty was much too reserved to enter a race dressed as the Tooth Fairy." Yet, there was Betty walking in a race with a sheer pink skirt and a sparkly tiara. She was laughing and having a good time. What was responsible for this outgoing and fun loving behavior? "I stared death in the face twice," she said.

Betty is a breast cancer survivor. At 38, this dental hygienist and mother of 2 young children was diagnosed with breast cancer. "My little boy asked me if I was going to live," she said, "that was one of the hardest things." Throughout the interview, Betty exuded happiness and a love for life. She was bubbly and effervescent.

The reporter began to detail Betty's ordeal. She had one mastectomy, but the cancer came back a year or two later. She had to have another mastectomy. Since then though she has been cancer free. "It is always in your mind," she said "sometimes I have an ache or pain and think - oh know, it's in my bones."

Betty talked about living life now and not being so inhibited. "I have faced death - so what is there to fear?"

Good for you Betty! It is a wonderful human ability and divine gift to take something like death and use it for motivation to live life more fully.

We can all learn from Betty.

Breast Cancer Information

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, October 20, 2003


Dear Mommy

When John was two years old our life was quite a bit different than it is now. Barbara and I were in our late 20's and living in a small two bedroom student housing apartment in New Orleans. I was working a mixture of all three shifts at a psychiatric hospital, doing the grounds at the apartments we lived in and going to school for my Ed.D. (doctor of education degree). Barbara had to drive me to work when I worked the night shift. To do that, we had to take John, which meant loading a sleeping 2 year old in the car and carrying him back upstairs when she came home. She hated it when I worked nights and was afraid. Afraid to be out at 11:00 PM, driving in New Orleans, and being so vulnerable with our son in the car. Her fear was driven in part, from her job as a rape crisis and battered women's counselor. She was exposed to horror story after horror story. It was easy for her to see something happening to her. Somehow we got through all of that and those times seem long ago.

If you are a parent then you know that children do not often say thank you or recognize you for the things you do to make their lives happy. Actually, they often complain that you as a parent do not do enough. A parent's job is to raise their child and prepare them to function independently in the world. The parent must teach things like appreciation and gratitude. Children do not exist to make the lives of their parent's better. So if a parent is waiting for their child to say something like, "You know mom and dad, I really appreciate all of the things you do for me. I see how much money you spend on me and see the time you put in to provide for my happiness. I really appreciate it." Those parents will be in for a long wait.

Still, it is only natural to let things get to you every now and then. Barbara was the mother of a two year old. She cherished every moment she could be with John. She hated to put him in day care and go to work. Usually the time spent with him was a break from the stress of her life, sometimes though, it was the stress of life. Two year olds throw temper tantrums. They cry when they do not get what they want immediately. They are not mindful of the fact you wash their clothes, make their meals, groom them, and worry about them. They mainly come to you to make them happy. They do not wait and they do not care if you had a bad day.

One day I heard Barbara getting John ready to go to day care and he was being a pain in the you know what. He was fussy and uncooperative. He hit his mother with a toy and contributed to the lore of the "terrible twos."

She came into the living room where I was sitting and she was crying. She felt unappreciated, drained, and guilty she was feeling that way.

I wrote this poem to put it all in perspective.

Dear Mommy
You follow me around all day,
and watch over me by night.
And to my little world,
you shine the brightest light.

I know it may not seem that way,
when I am sprawled out screaming on the floor.
When getting me dressed to go some days,
becomes an awesome chore.

But just because I whine a lot,
and hit you with a toy.
Doesn't mean I don't love you lots.
It means I'm just a little boy.

So keep pruning and watering,
and giving your love to me.
Right now I'm just a little twig,
some day I'll be a tree.

LJ at 2 years John at 17

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, October 19, 2003



Opinions - we all have them. Reading the opinions of others is good entertainment. You are reading my opinions now. I will be reading yours soon or listening to them. As we exchange our ideas we may alter our views a bit as our knowledge of the subjects increase. At least, that is my opinion about how it is supposed to work.

If we disagree with each other, so what? There is a Truth beyond our opinion. Who is to say which of us is closest to it? I have had strong opinions only to find out later I was wrong. Some, however, see it differently. Instead of believing there is a Truth beyond our limited understanding, they believe they know the Truth. They further conclude that anyone not agreeing with their brand of Truth is at best stupid and at worst evil. These people are spread throughout the world, throughout political systems, and all ideologies.

Then there are the "thought police." I have written earlier about Political Correctness. This effort to make everything the same is a greater threat to personal freedom than 100 John Ashcrofts. A good yardstick to compare to your opinion is how emotional you feel about it. We often feel more emotional about things we are less knowledgeable about. Case in point, The Tard Blog. This site is a lightening rod for the "thought police." The title grabbed my attention right off. Hey, someone is writing down something I often say. Yes, I have used and often use the term "tard" to refer to someone who is mentally retarded or developmentally disabled or whatever the proper term de jour is. Explore the site though. It is written by a special education teacher who is merely writing down the real things her students do. Let me tell you, coming from one who works with the mentally ill and mentally retarded, they can do some funny things. Are we to suspend our sense of humor because the person is developmentally delayed? To do so is inhuman. The people who do not laugh are the ones not accepting them as human. They may be well intentioned, but the distance they keep is withholding the thing these people need most - genuine human interaction.

I am handicapped myself. I am legally blind. I was not permitted to attend public school until grade 6. I cannot obtain a drivers license - even in Louisiana. Anyway, if you call me handicapped, visually challenged, or a blind guy my reality is the same. My friends call me "the BMF" or "blind mother fucker." I am partial to BMF to tell you the truth, but eyesight is only one aspect about me as a human. Mental illness is but one aspect of a person with that problem and mental retardation is one aspect of another person's life. So is it OK to call people derogatory terms? No, but it is not wrong to refer to people in ways not considered politically correct either. When my friends use the term "BMF" they are demonstrating their acceptance of me. If someone were to laugh AT me and use the term "BMF," to put me down, then it is derogatory and wrong. If someone is embarrassed because I whip out a magnifying glass to read a restaurant menu they are dealing with their own stuff. My point is this. The words we use are the tip of the ice burg. Being politically correct is "form" only. Being tolerant, accepting, and loving is "substance."

Back to the Tard Blog. On the front page are these words: "And before you write us pissed off about this site, please educate yourself by reading the FAQ and Disclaimer. Most of your concerns are answered there." These days folks are so quick to condemn something based on surface opinions they often miss learning opportunities. "ER" humor may seem ghoulish to someone unfamiliar with what someone in an emergency room has to deal with day in and day out.

I love the scene in the movie The Hunt for Red October. Alec Baldwin playing Jack Ryan was a CIA analyst. Caught up in a cold war cat and mouse game in which he was a key player due to his expertise about the Russian Navy, subs, and a particular submarine captain. He found himself in uniform aboard a US Navy carrier. One salty officer began expressing his negative opinion of Jack Ryan wearing a uniform - not being in the Navy. The other officer shared a few facts with the old salt. He told him that Jack Ryan was the top of his class at the academy. He was injured in a chopper when it crashed in the Mediterranean Sea. He completed the last year of school on his back recovering from his injuries. By the look on the old salt's face he may have gained a little respect for Jack Ryan and a better opinion of him.

So have your opinion, but before you rail against a different view, make sure you are educated on the subject. Or try this. Genuinely attempt to understand the opinion. This is different than listening to it to find a flaw in the logic.

Here's to diversity. Let's celebrate differences not seek to eliminate them.

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, October 18, 2003


Blankety Blank Blank

Yesterday I read Brenda's Blog entitled The Art of Profanity. Needless to say, it cracked me up and it got me to thinking about the special place cursing has in my own life.

I grew up in a home where my dad would say "hell", "damn" and the occasional "son of a bitch" when he got angry or if he was talking to one of his buddies. I do not think I ever heard him use the "F" word. My grandfather and uncles on my mother's side of the family sprinkled these minor curse words more liberally throughout their language. I thought it was funny and loved to hear them talk. Though most of them have "gone on", today they can rest in the knowledge I carry on their tradition proudly.

I remember cursing as early as the third grade. One of the times I got in trouble at school that young was because some rat bastard tattle tale told the teacher I used the term "jack ass" instead of his name. Even then I was harassed by people with no tolerance.

Then there was the time I taught Doug from across the street how to cuss. I remember it vividly because I got spanked for it. Doug and I were walking to my backyard. While we were walking I said, "Hey, do you want to cuss?" "What's that?", he answered innocently. I should have said, "for crying out loud, don't you ever listen to your dad? Every other word is a cuss word." But, what I said was, "words like "hell" and "damn"." He gave it a try, "you mean - something like - get out of my yard you damn man." Complimenting my student I said, "yes, that's good." Then interrupting my lesson was the sound of my older brother's voice. He had been listening to the whole thing inside the house. "I'm telling Johnny." Then I heard him walking away. The footsteps were easy to hear on the wooden floor. Soon two sets of footsteps were heard returning. The other set belonging to my mother. "Johnny, you get in this house, you are getting a spanking. Doug you go on home and forget those words John told you," my mother said sternly. Her efforts were futile. I saw Doug a couple of years ago and he remembered the words I taught him and a few more.

I never slipped. I could be around my friends cursing up a storm, but around my parents, teachers, and other adults my language was clean. Most people can say the same. Where we get into trouble is when we are over heard.

My friend Russell is a pharmacist. Back in the 80's we both worked at a psychiatric hospital in New Orleans. He had this recurring pet peeve which seemed to happen every Friday. In those days, patients often went on weekend passes. The pharmacist would prepare the medication for the weekend - "pass meds." The nurses were notorious for not giving him the pass meds until late on Friday. Instead of getting the orders earlier giving him time to get them done in a leisurely way he often got them all at once. Families would be waiting, nurses would be calling, and Russell would be fuming. On one particular Friday Russell was hit with a pile of pass meds that had to be filled immediately and it was nearly 5:00 PM. Furious, he picked up the phone and dialed the extension of the offending unit to lodge a formal complaint. As he waited for unit staff to pick up the phone he railed about his plight to another employee. The problem though was this. Russell in his anger did not dial the offending unit. Instead he dialed the intercom and everything he said was heard throughout the hospital. "Every fuckin' Friday it's the same shit. I am so sick of those mother fuckers . . ." As he ranted he sensed an extraordinary quality to his voice. It seemed to carry and echo - then it dawned on him he was on the intercom. He hung up the phone going over excuses in his mind for his defense at the trial later. Then the phone rang. It was a call of support, "I could not agree with you more," the voice said. Lucky for Russell it was 5:00 PM on a Friday - all the big shots had left for the day.

Even people who curse have standards. For instance one of my friends who shall go nameless has an affinity to the word "cock." On numerous occasions we have been conversing and using every curse word in the book. If I use the word "cock" which I will eventually, he will stop and say, "I don't like that word." "Oh, I forget you have standards," I will say. After that I will use the word in 6 different forms in the next sentence. A good friend does that sort of thing for another friend.

I get credit for all of Barbara's curse words. If she ever curses, which is rare, she will blame it on me. "I never cursed until I met you," she will say. I have had a similar affect on others as well. I even got blamed for John using the "F" word as a 5 year old. Barbara, John, and I were in Biloxi, Mississippi one weekend with Barbara's parents. It was late afternoon. We had just come inside after being at the pool. Standing around the hotel room we were talking about where we were going to eat dinner. John being the energetic 5 year old was jumping on the bed and jabbering. As we talked we slowly realized he was chanting a bad word. "fuck, fuck, fuckin', fuckin' . . .", he jumped and chanted. "John, where did you hear that word?" Barbara said not hiding her shock. John went silent. He picked up on her tone of voice and decided to take the 5th. In the mean time I was looking for a 5th. Everyone seemed to look at me - like I would teach my 5 year old the "F" word. "I guess he picked it up from HBO," I said. After the shock wore off it was pretty funny.

Cursing can be over done. I suppose though it is a matter of taste. I would say the Def Comedy Jam and Rap Music over do cursing. Cursing is like seasoning in food. It is meant to enhance the dish not take it over. I believe cursing is much more effective if it is used sparingly.

Some situations call for a curse word. Once in a restaurant a waitress accidentally poured a whole pot of hot coffee on the back of the local minister. He stood up quickly, face turning red, and knuckles turning white as he gripped the back of the chair he said, "would some ungodly person please say some appropriate words."

Cursing can set people at ease sometimes. A little boy came to school and when the teacher asked him his name he said, "My name is Dammitt." The teacher thinking he meant "damnit" was understandably shocked. "That is not your name," she said. "Oh yes," said the boy, "my mom says Dammitt come here or Dammit stop that. My name is Dammitt." So the teacher called the boys mother and learned his name was indeed "Dammitt" it was an old family name. The teacher got used to it and after a while thought nothing of it. One day the principal visited the first grade class at the school. The teacher was showing off the children's spelling proficiency. One little girl stood up and said I will spell rose, R-O-S-E. "Very good," said the teacher. The next little girl stood up and said I will spell tulip, T-U-L-I-P. "That's great," the teacher said. Then little Dammitt stood up and said I want to spell chrysanthemum. The teacher said, "now Dammitt, you can't spell chrysanthemum." To which the principal replied, "oh hell, let him try."

Sometimes when I am interviewing people at the hospital their curse word usage is so funny I have a hard time keeping a straight face. It is funny to me and that lets off pressure. When I curse I am depressurizing and that is a good thing. I have heard it said that cursing is evidence of a lack of vocabulary. I think whoever said that is a jealous prick. Just kidding. Cursing has its place. If I hit my finger with a hammer I do not say "oh fudge or fiddle sticks." I use the "F" word and my finger feels better.

I once went to the horse races in New Orleans. When the announcer giving the call announced the winning horse, one could hear the word "shit" said simultaneously by everyone who did not win. In Mississippi the word "shit" has several syllables and several meanings. One might say, "you better get home or your wife will be mad." The proper response is, "sheeeiiiiit." Which means, "I am not worried about that because I am a man." Another use is in response to a question, "are you going to the deer camp this weekend?" The answer is "sheeeeiiiit." Which means, "yes."

Visit my Sound Bites Page for a couple of George Carlin skits. One is entitled "Usage of the "F" Word" and the other one is "Seven Dirty Words." funny stuff.

I better end this or it will be too damn long.

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, October 17, 2003


How Blogging Has Changed My Life

I began my blog three months ago and had no idea what I was getting myself into. What I thought was simply an outlet to write has become a second job / obsession. I signed up on Blogger and in no time my blog was created. The first day or two my time was exclusively spent on the writing. Then I started looking at other blogs. I saw prettier blogs, blogs with site meters, blogs with comments, blogs with pictures, and I wanted them all.

About that time, Mollie emailed me and gave me some positive feedback. I glommed onto her like a drowning man in a sea of unknown codes, hacks, and HTML syntax. Between her and her friend Matt they helped me get my site customized with the basics of blogging. It was fun, exotic, exciting, and intriguing communicating with someone I did not know thousands of miles away.

Soooooo, I thought blogging is more than writing, it is also about meeting people. It is about writing something that makes someone want to comment about it. It is about having an audience. Write something good, I reasoned, because there are people reading this stuff. My sister Becky read my blog faithfully. She would send pestering emails if I was late publishing the daily post. So I encouraged her to start a blog and she did. Now the monkey is on her back too. With both of us blogging and my mother commenting daily we discovered a new way of communicating. The 600 mile difference melts away for those few minutes each day and it is as though we were drinking from the same pot of coffee.

Then one day Kim mentioned me on her site and said some very nice things about my writing. Her feedback was how I had hoped people would respond to my content. I want to be a positive force in the world, but practical and realistic. I believe life is good and pretty funny most of the time. I do not take things too seriously especially myself. Since then I have gotten to know Kim and her husband Darin a little bit. They live in Canada and I enjoy reading about their life there.

Not all of the feedback has been positive. Some in the blogsphere do not share my outlook on life. One evening I was following links on site meter. Oh boy, I thought, someone else has linked me to their page. Then I read this review. I guess you cannot please everyone.

It is funny who reads your blog and who does not. In an effort to boost readership I emailed my friends several times. Some of them read it almost daily and some of them do not read it at all. I see it as a challenge to write what I think and feel in a way that is entertaining, thought provoking, funny, and at times poignant. If you write it they will read (say that phrase in the raspy whisper voice from Field of Dreams.

I have watched a lot less television and logged many hours in front of the computer since I began this blogging thing. I have learned a lot because unlike just BSing with the boys I am writing something down. I want to make sure I am accurate. This process has me reading and learning. Bring on the trivial pursuit game. I am more aware than I was before. I need topics, so I observe more thoroughly. I think things through. The way I used to write began with me inspired by a thought. That thought would simmer in my mind for some time then I would write. I would think about it and change it and think and change some more. Now I am throwing out what amounts to rough drafts. Write it, publish it, think of something new.

Next week we are going to Gatlinburg, Tennessee to take in the fall foliage. How am I supposed to blog up there? I do not own a lap top. I will figure something out, but it illustrates a new problem I have to deal with. Add that to the list: Turn off the ice maker, take the dog to the vet, and figure out how to blog away from home.

Three months after beginning to blog I am different. I am communicating with my family in a new and rewarding way. I have some new friends. I know a lot more about how the web works, and I have reawakened my passion for writing. I wonder what the next three months will bring.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, October 16, 2003



I THINK that I shall never see  
A poem lovely as a tree.  
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest  
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;  
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;  
A tree that may in summer wear  
A nest of robins in her hair;  
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;  
Who intimately lives with rain
Poems are made by fools like me,  
But only God can make a tree. 
--Joyce Kilmer 1886–1918

Growing up in Kansas City we had a big elm tree in our front yard. I climbed it many times and that tree is in numerous childhood memories. Trees and boys just go together. They provide challenge, rest, shade, home base, a meeting place. They hold rope swings, tire swings, and forts. Trees mark time. They hold on their trunks our carved initials of love and memories of times gone by. I bet if you gave it some thought there would be a special tree in your life.

Today on the news I heard a story about a tree in Harahan, Louisiana, (just outside New Orleans). A 600 year old live oak tree named Old Dickory had been spared the developers again. My question is, why would there have to be a fight to save such a tree? Can any amount of money justify destroying something that was planted in the 1400's. In my book that tree takes precedence over any amount of money. I am not a tree hugger or a radical environmentalist, but I admire and appreciate the natural beauty of our world. We cannot continue to pave paradise and put up a parking lot.

I found a few good links about trees in our area. Just a few miles from where I live in Mandeville, Louisiana is a tree called The Seven Sisters Oak. This tree is about 1,200 years old. Respecting your elders also applies to trees.

This next link is to Harriet Blum's Photography. It is a neat site to explore.

In closing I want to express my sincere regrets to all of the Chicago Cubs fans. I understand the pain only a sports team can cause. Emotions can range from highest ecstasy one moment to suicide the next. Keep the faith - one day they will win.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, October 15, 2003


Tid Bits and Random Thoughts

Chrysanthemum Allow me to empty my mind of some thoughts I have been carrying around.

Mum's the Word:
Barbara and I went to Home Depot and bought some chrysanthemums, the $6.00 size. I love the rich colors. A wheel barrow holds four pots and is parked in our front yard for all to enjoy. What an autumn color burst it is. Replacing the impatiens with the chrysanthemums or any other switch usually has me feeling like a traitor or I am being unfaithful. Three pots of worn out impatiens have been relegated to the side of my shed. Seems like an injustice. All they did was bloom all summer and look beautiful. Even in the plant world it is "what have you done for me lately."

Puppy: My twelve and a half year old dog Hobo takes arthritis medicine. He has difficulty standing up and laying down. It is so hard to watch him decline. He ran out of the medicine so we stopped by the vet on the way home from work. Inside the vets office I struck up a conversation with a lady who was waiting for her dog. The conversation could have been about our children. We discussed their ailments. She was also there to look at a puppy. Our vet, as are most vets, also broker in abandoned dogs. Our dog was abandoned. The vet got him healthy and we gave him a home. Anyway, this particular puppy had been found in a dumpster. Some compassionate responsible person must have felt a dumpster was a good way to get rid of a puppy. He was rescued nonetheless and brought to Dr. Maher. When the nurse (I guess she was a nurse she was wearing scrubs) brought the puppy out to the lobby I got to take a turn holding him. Then I had to go get Barbara out of the car to come see the pup. She took a turn holding him. He was black and brown with floppy ears and a thin tail that wagged continuously. He was very snuggly and seemed to love the attention. I thought about how holding a puppy brought out such positive emotions in everyone there. Barb and I were coming home from work, quiet, tired, barely talking. One second with the cute puppy and we were laughing and smiling. Moral of the story, if you are not the kind of person who feels it OK to throw a puppy in a dumpster then go hold one any time you want a lift. Oh, Hobo smelled the puppy when I came home and gave me the cold shoulder like I had been cheating on him or something. He does not have to worry though - he is the top dog for life - his life.

Bed Side Manner: I remembered a funny story involving one of our former patients and the medical doctor at our facility. Doctor Lee as, I will call him, while accomplished in medicine lacks bedside manner. His personality flat, no small talk, no smiling or anything resembling kind human interaction. If he is irritated he is even less congenial - if that is possible. Dr. Lee comes to the hospital once or twice a day to oversee the medical conditions of our psychiatric patients and to do routine history and physicals, H&P's. One afternoon, Dr. Lee was going about his business and was being interrupted by a very intrusive bipolar patient I will call Martha. Martha had no concept of interrupting or intruding. Dr. Lee (who is Filipino) is frequently errently referred to as "that Chinese doctor." "That Oriental doctor." Martha kept hounding him. Finally getting enough of her pestering, he said "go away you are bothering me." Martha looking highly insulted fired back, "you don't have to talk to me that way - after all - I support your country - I eat Chinese food." The fact Martha was making what she thought was a valid point was even funnier than the look on Dr. Lee's face. The nurses in earshot did a good job concealing their urge to burst out laughing. Dr. Lee headed for the door in his customary method of not saying good bye.

Bad Day: I get up in the morning at 5:00 AM. My running partner Neil comes to my house at 6:00 AM. That gives me an hour to wake up, post my blog entry, stretch, and most importantly, get the coffee ready for Barbara to push the button when she heads back to our room from the shower. If I do not have the coffee ready there will be trouble. The kind of trouble I would just as soon not deal with so I make the coffee every day. On Monday though, I woke up with a start. You know the feeling in your stomach when you realize you just over slept? I jumped out of bed at 6:00 AM. Neil had come and gone so I was going to have to run alone. No big deal, but I hate to make him come to my house to run and I am sleeping. Next task, make the coffee. I began the usual routine. I rinsed out all of the coffee maker components. The carafe was sitting on the counter and I had the disposal running to deal with the coffee grounds I had just poured in the sink. When I turned off the disposal, my hand knocked the pot on the floor shattering the morning silence and itself into a zillion little pieces. At this juncture I had the thought, "this may be a bad day." At least it was certainly shaping up to be one. I broke the news to Barbara and she took it pretty well. Given the degree to which we like coffee, I had envisioned a scene reminiscent of Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend, tearing up the house looking for a bottle. Luckily we still had our old coffee pot. Bad day averted. I just got back from Bed Bath & Beyond with the replacement carafe - $25. I guess it is cheaper than crack.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, October 14, 2003


Covington, Louisiana

Today I want to showcase my town. I grew up in the Kansas City area, but since 1979 I have lived in Louisiana. Covington has been my home since 1991. My son grew up here and I have some very good friends here. Click some of these links and see why I love my town.

Covington was founded in the early 1800's. Goods were shipped up and down the Tchefuncta River to Lake Pontchartrain and finally to New Orleans. You can read more about Covington's history here.

Covington is best known today for its robust art community. Check out this gallery for a sampling. Make sure you click the "artists" link and then select John Akers. Heck check them all out. Click the "Covington links" to see even more galleries and artists.

Lee Harvey Oswald attended Covington Elementary School in 1946. Today the school is named CJ Schoen Middle School pictured here. Oswald lived in a house nearby that is now a restaurant.

Another interesting fact about Covington Elementary school (besides my son attending there) is Louisiana Governor Earl K. Long's sanity hearing was held there. He was eventually committed to Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville, LA.

The Tammany Trace is a rails to trails project that links several towns together. A great place to run or cycle.

Lake Pontchartrain is an estuary. It is 25 miles across from the North Shore to Jefferson Parish on the South Shore. I once ran a marathon across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway - the world's longest bridge.

Covington is home to the third oldest Carmelite Monastery in the United States. Browse the pics and see how "hip" these sisters can be.

The writer Walker Percy lived in Covington. His daughter ran a book store named the Kumquat. Percy had an office upstairs where he wrote his books.

Here are a few more attractions in the Covington area.

All of this sightseeing may have made you thirsty. If so, stop by my favorite bar The Columbia Street Tap Room for a tall, frosty brew.

I love it here. I have adapted well and my friends have named me an honorary Southerner. I wear the monicker proudly.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, October 13, 2003



Memories bring a smile to our face, they haunt us, they muster all kinds of feelings from guilt to pride. What you do now becomes a memory. Life is often compared to a journey. The memories are what is in our rear view mirror. What does that little disclaimer on the mirror say? "What you see in this mirror may not be completely accurate," (my loose paraphrase). This fact is never more evident then when I discuss the "good old days" with my family. We do not remember things the same way. Over the years who screwed up and who was the hero has several versions. I have thought to myself on more than one occasion, "am I nuts? I thought it happened this way." Let's face it, our minds tend to rewrite history to protect us from the truth. If you want to get technical you could call it denial or something, but I think most of us do this without trying.

One man went to his doctor and said, "Doc, you have to help me with this memory problem." "How long have you had this problem?" the doctor responded. The man replied, "what problem?" Age has a way of stealing our memory. This can be very sad. We often have geriatric patients at my hospital. Sometimes, their memory is completely gone. They do not recognize their own spouse or children. Without a memory we would not know who we are or were. The things we accomplished, the places we have been would be locked in our minds out of reach.

Former President Reagan is like this now. Alzheimer's disease has taken his memory. He is alive, but he does not know who he is or who his family is. There is a merciful side to the slow seepage of memories. The mistakes we make or wrongs we did slip away as do the good memories. The pain we feel when we suffer loss is forgotten and what lingers is something we can tolerate.

I wrote a poem about being remembered in an earlier post entitled Remembrance. I want to be remembered. One of the reasons I write this blog is to record my thoughts so they will not be lost. Someday my son may want to know what I thought about things. I may not be around, but my words will remain.

A glance around the room where I now sit triggers many memories. From books on the bookshelf I may remember a class or a professor. An old pocket watch with a Catterpillar fob brings to my consciousness my grandfather and uncle. An old timing gear from a Plymouth sits next to the watch and brings back memories of auto mechanics classes in high school. I usually collect a coffee mug or a shot glass from places I go. All of them are memory cues of good times.

I sit in a wooden rocking chair when I watch television. It is the same rocker I sat in to hold my son when he was a baby to feed him his bottle. I was surprised by my feelings when my father sold the house I grew up in. I had been away from home several years, but when it was sold I was sad. Maybe because I was more aware of the passing of time. I had memories locked in that house and I could no longer access them.

So what can one make of this rambling post about memories? First of all, what we do now will be a memory tomorrow and beyond. Memories fade and that fact is a two sided coin. While I cannot bask in the exact feelings of "make out" sessions I enjoyed in the past, I also do not feel the guilt and shame of past mistakes. The memories I do want to remember I write down or commemorate them with a coffee mug.

My wish for you is your good memories will stay fresh in your mind for you to savor and re-experience, while the bad memories will be forgotten only leaving behind the lessons they taught you.

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, October 12, 2003


The Symphony of Life

Saturday evening the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra was in our town. When is the last time you attended the symphony? If it has been some time I would encourage you to go at your earliest opportunity. The whole event made me feel better about myself and even our world. If others there had similar thoughts and feelings I imagine the world contains a little bit more joy, hope, and optimism. Watching the news is an exercise in anger, shock, and pessimism. Who was killed? Who raped whom? What crazy thing did someone do? Who is spewing hate on whom? These things very subtlely pull us down. We begin to think the world is mad, crazy, out of control. Saturday night at the concert in Covington, Louisiana I was around several hundred people who were polite, well behaved, and positive. Events like attending a symphony provide us balance for some of the negatives which daily bombard us.

One of my first observations was the general demeanor of people inside the music hall. Barbara and I were greeted at the door with a smile and kind words. Concert goers were well dressed, soft spoken, respectful, and well mannered. Compare this description to the last ball game or concert you attended. Even at little league games parents caught up in the competition of the moment will hurl insults at kids on opposing teams. The manners and decorum of this event was a breath of fresh air like the cool north autumn breeze outside the venue.

I also enjoyed the tradition of the event. When it is time to find your seat and settle in the lights are flashed. Then the tension and expectation builds as the lights dim, the conductor steps to the platform, as he raises the baton there are several seconds of silence. No coughing, talking, cell phone ringing - somehow 400 people are silent. The kind of silence only respect can muster. Then with a motion of the baton the silence is pierced by 65 musicians hitting the first note at once. The sweet strains of music, from pianissimo (soft) to fortissimo (loud) soothed and healed souls. When a person stops and settles down and places their awareness in the moment this kind of healing is possible. With each crescendo I felt more relaxed and at peace.

I marveled at the oneness at which the musicians performed. All accomplished musicians assembled in one place, yet none stood out. They gave themselves to the greater possibility of the group instead of insisting on individual promotion. Would that our politicians were this way. Imagine what a symphony they could perform if they would pool their talents and direct them toward a group effort instead of attacking and blaming each other.

When I arrived at the music hall the musicians were warming up. You know what that sounds like. 65 musicians and instruments doing their own thing. it is a jumbled collision of sound. Then when they turned to the same piece of music and took their cues from the conductor the result was harmony. This can happen in our world. It is possible. It is not so important who is our leader but will each of us follow. Will we contribute to the group, sacrifice individual recognition for the possibility of something beyond what any one person could achieve?

I realized each person is like a musician in an orchestra. Our instrument is what we do. If the music produced is pleasing it is in part because we do our job well. If the music produced is harmonious it is in part because we work together. I cannot make you practice your instrument you have to do that. I am responsible for doing my job in the world. But "if" I become more serious about what I do and I strive for harmony above personal recognition the music becomes a little bit sweeter. If you do the same then the music is sweeter still. A ground swell begins with one or two willing and dedicated individuals. Believe in something better, expect more from life and from yourself. We will all benefit and be rewarded with beautiful music as performed with the instruments of our souls.

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, October 11, 2003



TV, the idiot box, the boob tube, tool of the devil, aid in education, ultimate baby sitter, insert your term here. I have watched a lot of TV. Some of the best and worst moments in my life involve TV. In 1985 the Kansas City Royals won the World Series (a best moment). September 11, 2001 I stayed glued to a television watching in horror the events of that day and the days to follow (some worst moments). When a hurricane is bearing down on Louisiana, television is vital. I have used TV to laugh, cry, be informed, learn, gawk, and waste time. I have discussed "what was on TV last night" many times with coworkers. I have debated, promoted, and condemned television programs.

Here are some TV milestones and "firsts" which come to mind. Color. If you are old enough to remember the advent of color television I bet you are replaying the NBC peacock promo in your head right now. Only rich people and lucky people had color television. If I, as a kid, had to go with my mother to some "old person's" house the boring trip was suddenly transformed into a blessing if a color television was present. The words, "you can sit in here and watch TV Johnny while we visit in the other room," were like verbal ambrosia.

The evolution of set design has been fascinating. From the plain early days, to the bright, "busy" sets of the 70's (Laugh In), to today's spaceship control room sets (ESPN).

Television programs reflected societal views and in turn shaped views. Archie Bunker in "All In the Family" helped us deal with racial issues realistically and with humor. Black versions were "Sanford and Son" and "The Jeffersons." Today programs are fostering discussion about the gay lifestyle. "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," and others. The best shows do not preach, but accurately present issues. Much of the time opinions are short sighted because they lack all of the variables. Once someone is aware of most or all of the facts and variables, they form a more rounded and fair opinion. Some resist though and hold to the statement, "don't confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up."

"Laugh In" was one of the shows that pushed ideas and notions about sex and decency. "Saturday Night Live" pushed those ideas and notions a bit further.

I was addicted to shows like Adam 12, Dragnet, St. Elsewhere, Medical Center, and ER. Some sitcoms and series hold a higher place in my rankings - MASH, Seinfeld, and Cheers. Where were you when they aired the last episode?

I hated to see Johnny Carson's last show. He was a father figure. The Tonight Show music is as comforting as a mother's heartbeat or a lullaby.

It is amusing to hear critics of television - Not a particular show, but "T"elevision. I once watched a TV preacher condemn television. According to him, people who watch television are heathen sinners. Guilty your honor. If I had taken his advice I would not have seen his sermon. Then there are the "highly informed, educated" parents who do not have television at all. They figure it will poison their children's little minds. All that does is make their kids work a little harder to watch TV. When they go to a friend's house they glue themselves to a set until they "catch up." If you want to raise a strange child keep them away from TV. Without an understanding of TV and current programs they are deprived of what 99.99% of their peers have in common. To me television is a tool an appliance. All or nothing answers are usually wrong. Parents need to monitor their child's television viewing, but the "goods" out weigh the "bads" by far.

These last few observations have been floating around in my head for a while. The first one has to do with Emril Lagasse on the Food Network. Barbara watches this all the time. I guess you need to watch a show from the beginning, but I am a bit confused on Emril's audience behavior. More than once I have entered a room while Barbara is watching Emril Live. I hear something like this, (Emril) " . . . then you kick it up a notch . . . put in some cayenne pepper . . ." (audience) "Oooooh . . .ahhhhh . . . shouts of encouragement." Emril now caught up in the moment says, "lets give it some more." This goes on until the audience is whipped into a frenzy like the Zulus before a battle. How do you applaud cayenne pepper? I have observed the same behavior for garlic and beer. I guess they give out surveys and find people who have never seen anything interesting. Then garlic, beer, and cayenne pepper will surely astound them. Just kidding, I have probably applauded garlic a few times myself and I have been in the mosh pit cheering beer.

Television became more and more realistic. Just think of how someone died in an old western compared to how someone was splattered in Miami Vice. In the early days a love scene requirement was one individual had to have one foot on the floor. Now, well I don't have to describe what happens. Family depiction morphed from Ozzie and Harriet to The Brady Bunch to The Osbornes. Attempts to be realistic often missed - Starsky and Hutch, Cannon, Charlie's Angels. Then "Reality Television" hit the scene. Survivor took the country by storm, but this is after shows like COPS had been well established. Reality television is no longer realistic. It is only natural to attempt to improve something, but what they are pedaling as realistic is seeming more and more staged. The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, For Love and Money, Big Brother - "Oh brother."

Television costs money now. Do you know anyone with just an antenna? As a kid growing up in Kansas City we got 3 channels - ABC, NBC, and CBS. If the weather was right, I could twist the knob and see a snowy station from St. Joseph, Missouri or Topeka, Kansas. Technical marvels in their own right. Then the cable came in to existence in the early 70's. Do you remember the promise of the cable people? "Someone will be out to install the cable between 8:00 AM and the Second Coming of Christ."

I have lived most of my life away from where I grew up. The problem posed was my favorite sports teams were never on TV. Today though I have it all with Direct TV. I never miss a Kansas City Chiefs football game, Kansas City Royals baseball game, or Kansas Jayhawks basketball game anymore, and I appreciate it.

So here's to television - you are not perfect, but neither am I.

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, October 10, 2003


Don't Take It From Me

I serve up advice to my son on a regular basis. After all I am older than he is, more experienced. When it comes to school, cars, work, girls, sports, and just about anything else - old dad is the sage. At least I used to think so. As it turns out, my son may be better off following his own instincts. He got them from me too.

Case in point. Barbara and I have supplied our son with money to the extent he has not had to work. We did this because he played basketball. In high school his plate was full with basketball and studies. My thinking was basketball is good for him physically, emotionally, and socially. As much work as he did it was like a job. The coach was his boss and his team mates were his coworkers. I was satisfied he was learning good job skills and ethics which would ensure a successful career once he started working.

This year he started college and is not playing basketball. It became obvious to me and him that he needed to get a job. Lucky for him I am willing to share my immense fund of knowledge and wisdom with him. Too bad he does not realize what an opportunity he has with me around. Somehow he seems unmoved by my sage advice. John irritated me a bit. He was picky about where he wanted to work. I would make a suggestion, "I heard New Orleans Food and Spirits is hiring bus boys for $6.50 an hour. They are close to home and you could work your way up to cook if they like you. . ." John was unenthused, "I don't want to work in a restaurant." We would play the game of me making a suggestion and him telling me what is wrong with the idea. Often our conversations ended with me lecturing about all work is dignified, you can't have everything, a job is to make money, young people just have to do something, you shouldn't be so picky, you act like you are too good to work there. You get the general idea. "I don't want to work for minimum wage," he said. He went on to list other requirements he had. The job had to fit into his workout and social calendar.

Getting jobs has not been easy for me. An earlier post chronicles my first job in the psychiatric field. I have had to work from the bottom up. Therefore, John's choosiness grated on me. Rather than harp on the subject, I just let it go. I knew eventually he would realize his old man knew his stuff.

Between social engagements and pick up basketball games, John applied for a job at Circuit City. I did not give it much thought. The word on Circuit City was it was difficult to get a job there. I gave him some encouragement because he put out some effort, but offered no further lecture. Then about one week later, he got a call from Circuit City for an interview. The kid was excited. I schooled him on how to handle an interview. "Wear some nice clothes, look people in the eye, shake hands, speak up, speak clearly, have a pen with you, etc." My advice poured out like corner instructions at a boxing match.

He went to the interview and they hired him on the spot. He makes $9.00 an hour and has good hours - close to what he wanted to do. If he had taken my lame advice, he would be bussing tables for $2.50 an hour less. Lucky for him he blew off my advice.

I guess I am not as wise as I thought. I am proud of him for landing the better job. Maybe he can get me on down there. Birth is the child separating from the mother physically. As the child grows he/she becomes more and more independent. It seems obvious now that I should back up a little more. A parent teaches the child an awful lot and in return the child will teach the parent a thing or two. John is teaching me some things. A relationship is developing that is more equal than parent to child - it is man to man.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, October 09, 2003


John's Marital Conflict Primer

At sea level, water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. The Pope is Catholic. Bears poop in the woods and married couples argue, fuss, and fight. Do any of these sound familiar?

Argument # 1:
Her: Do you think I am your maid or something?
Him: What are you talking about?
Her: I am talking about I do all the work around this place. I work, then when I get home I have to cook supper, then I have to clean the house. It never ends.
Him: Well, what do you want me to do?
Her: I shouldn't have to tell you what to do - you should be able to figure it out.
Him: Just tell me what you want me to do.
Her: Just forget it.

Argument # 2:
Her: (walks up to husband as he is watching a football game) What do you want me to fix for supper next week?
Him: I don't care, whatever.
Her: You never want to talk. I have to make all of the decisions.
Him: Can we talk about this later?
Her: What's wrong with now?
Him: The game is on.
Her: It's always the game. You love football more than you love me.
Him: No, these are the playoffs - we can talk later.
Her: Never mind.

Argument #3:
Her: (walks in the house holding a new pair of shoes)
Him: What the . . .did you buy more shoes?
Her: I need them for work.
Him: What's wrong with your other 200 pair?
Her: They aren't the right style.
Him: I'm living with Imelda Marcos.
Her: Women need more shoes than men.
Him: You are going to spend us into the poor house.

Barbara and I are both therapists so fortunately we never argue. The three examples were taken from my case notes. Actually, one cannot be a husband and a therapist to the same person. I get into enough trouble being a husband. If I were to attempt to also be a therapist it would amount to waving a red flag in front of a bull or holding up a sign with the words "slap me" on it.

To resolve conflict there must first be a foundation of like, love, and respect. If you like, love, and respect your partner you have the basic stuff needed to work through most any conflict.

    Ten Tempest Taming Tips

  1. Have a sense of humor: One of the quickest ways to end an argument is to start laughing. It is difficult to stay pissed off and unreasonable when your sides are splitting. There is an axiom: If it will be funny later it is funny now. The time between being angry and laughing about it can be compressed to the actual moment if you get good at this. Let's face it, many of our marital arguments are funny if not ridiculous. After the release of tension through laughter the conflict almost evaporates in an atmosphere of cooperation.

  2. Have a sense of timing: Choose the proper time to discuss your problem. Barbara and I learned early in our marriage not to discuss anything "big" until after supper. We had a number of run ins before we realized our arguments were being fueled by our own end of the day fatigue. Now we put things off until we both feel like tackling the conflict. This raises the likelihood we will get it resolved.

  3. Use "I" messages: "I" messages begin with the word "I". The alternative is to begin a sentence with the word "you". The problem with "you" statements is the listener often becomes defensive. In a conflict it is best to speak from your own point of view and not tell the other person what they are thinking or what their real motives are. Example: (I message) I would appreciate it if you would unload the dishwasher. (You message) You never unload the dishwasher.

  4. Seek a win-win solution: If one person wins - both are winners. If one person loses - both are losers. Be willing to compromise and consider several possible solutions. Creativity is helpful. 99.9% of marital arguments or conflicts can end up with a "win-win" solution.

  5. Allow your partner to have their own feelings: Every now and then I get mad. Especially if I cannot find something I am looking for. I may curse and slam things around in the process. Barbara used to get upset and raise her voice at me. Then I would raise mine back. Eventually she learned that me being angry had nothing to do with her. I could be angry and not be angry with her. Now she lets me rant. I get it worked out of my system and she just shakes her head.

  6. Address one problem at a time: Introducing more problems before the first one is solved only confuses things. This tactic keeps an argument going but leaves problems unsolved. If you made a mistake, admit it - do not say something like, "well, I may have been late, but you never pick up your clothes."

  7. Be patient: In conflict people sometimes feel an urgency to get their views out. If both parties feel this way it results in two people talking and no one listening. Take a deep breath. Listen to the other person. Your patience will reward you with knowledge to help you resolve the conflict.

  8. Seek to understand then to be understood: If you try to first understand the other person, you gain valuable information and give them an opportunity to calm down. Often an argument is a simple misunderstanding. "Oh, we are saying the same thing - what are we arguing about then?"

  9. Know what you want and ask for it: Don't play guessing games. If you want something, ask for it. Waiting for someone to read your mind is a long wait. Also, asking for what you want gives clear communication to the other party. A win-win solution can only happen if both parties know what they want. One has a better chance of getting what they want if they ask for it.

  10. Understand your feelings are about you not about them: Your feelings are your stuff. They result from your thoughts and beliefs. If you are angry look for reasons other than - "he pissed me off." Instead ask yourself why did I get mad at that? What is it about "that" that bothers me?

With a foundation of like, love, and respect for your partner and an observance of these tips, your marital conflicts will improve. Give it a try.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, October 08, 2003



How do you measure accomplishment? Do you focus on the end result only or do you factor in one's effort. It is easy to buy into views on success, achievement, and accomplishment that ignore effort. Women compare themselves to images of super models and find themselves lacking even though they may be at their ideal weight. Men feel they have to acquire great wealth or they are not good providers even though their family is comfortable. We pursue impossible dreams and feel we are failures if we miss our goal. Is this you?

In 1980, my step father nearly died because of a fast moving strep infection. He lived, but not before his leg had to be amputated. His recovery was long and slow at a Colorado army hospital. A typical day was spent in physical therapy. My mother watched men struggle to take a step or lift a 5 lb weight on the amputee ward. On a television in the therapy room she saw athletes preparing for the 1980 summer olympic games. The world class athletes struck quite a contrast to the handicapped men struggling to do what most take for granted.

Here is the poem she wrote about the experience:

Amputee Ward
Outside is a world who loves a winner.
How we applaud

And rewards are great.
A raise.

How differently we achieve here.
To sit up once more
One unsure step
To button
To drink
To swing a stump that was a leg.

And to feel the heady joy of
So innocent and pure
The angels bend low to watch.

Blog Update
Have you been wondering about Jack? The latest is he only stayed at the homeless shelter two days. The van driver told me Jack looked scared when he was let out at the shelter. There were about 50 homeless men waiting in line to get into the shelter. So Jack called his mother and he ended up in the group home I had taken him to a few days earlier. Jack continues to learn the hard way. For now, though he is safe.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, October 07, 2003


Feeding the Soul

For some reason I felt down today. Those who know me will be shocked. I never feel down. Folks count on me to be the funny guy, lifting others up. Today I took a bit of a break. I went through the motions of the day more subdued than usual. Maybe it is withdrawal from working on that DVD project. I had put every waking moment into that and now I am without a new goal. Too early for analysis though, I figure by tomorrow I will be back to my old self. When I came home this evening I started going through my usual routine, but stopped. I did not feel like going through the same old routine. My thought was I needed to break tendency to see if that might help.

So instead of watching the news or sitting at the computer I put my dog on his leash and walked out in the yard. Hobo was happy - he loves to go on walks, but this was a different kind of walk. I just ambled around my yard looking at the plants and trees. I really looked at them. I studied them and was rewarded with beauty that is there but often unnoticed. There is beauty all around us that only requires an open and focused mind to see. For instance, the sun shining on a cypress tree revealed a gradient of color from green to golden brown on its delicate foliage. I also noticed tiny yellow spheres in the foliage, I am guessing seeds. They were smaller than a BB. Another cypress tree had red sap leaking out of it - blood red. Some plants were winding down for fall and others sported new growth. My camellia bush already has buds on it and later this year or early next year it will treat me to some beautiful white flowers.

While I looked at the plants and noticed how the sun bounced light around my yard, Hobo happily sniffed and peed. I watched him and tried to understand his intent, but had no revelation - probably just being a dog. I listened to the birds singing their last songs before dusk. Then I sat in a swing under a big oak tree. I thought about how the tree was older than me. Like a posted sentry it has stood watch in this place since before my birth. Now it watches over me. In the summer it shades me. From now until May I will be raking its leaves giving me exercise and good mulch. The roots which protrude from the ground have a carpet of bright green moss between them. Running my hand over the moss I felt its soft coolness.

I watched the sun slip beyond the horizon and noticed as once vivid colors seemed to drain to black and white. But as the darkness slowly crept in around me a spark in my soul was kindled. A small portion of quiet time fed my soul - refreshed and renewed I walked inside.

That is one way to feed a soul. Other soul food comes in the form of music, art, or literature. Watching your child sleep or play will feed the soul. Maybe I starved mine out a bit, but breaking my routine gave me the opportunity to feed it.

Is your soul healthy or malnourished? Feed it regularly and often.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, October 06, 2003



There are eighty-six thousand, four-hundred (86,400) seconds in a day. Bill Gates with his billions cannot purchase one more second for himself - we all have the same portion of time. We complain we do not have enough time. We become anxious when we are late. If we have too much time we get bored. If we waste time we feel guilty. Prisoners are doing time. We put our children in time out. Some look forward to better times. Others recall their past good times. Much money is spent on watches so we know what time it is. We are paid for our time. Time keeps ticking away. We are getting older. The world is changing. Our time is running out slowly not unlike Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz," whose time was measured by the witches hour glass.

Many problems are time related. Boredom, stress, impatience, even depression are problems of time. "I can't stand it." "I cannot take it anymore." These are statements of time problems. We tell ourselves "it will always be this way." This belief leads to feelings of depression and being trapped. We may not be able to control how much time we have, but we are able too control what we do with the time we are given.

The older I get I realize more and more how precious time is. There is always one more sunset, another rainbow, so many things to enjoy. Knowing time is running out gives me a certain urgency - not an anxiety or anything painful, but an awareness to savor the gift of the present. The present is all we have. Our memories fade into a foggy place where we can only recall vague images of times gone by. In our memories are the details of other lives lived. The college years, childhood, the summer vacation, a wedding, a deceased loved one fade with the years. Sometimes this is merciful. We forget the pain as we forget the event. It is always a part of us, influencing us in subtle ways.

Time can be a comedian. Some have not noticed time has passed and they still wear clothes as though they were younger. I have to remind myself time has passed and avoid playing one on one with my son. I usually wind up injured. I look at my son and see the gift of time he has. My father probably looked at me much the same way. Young people feel they have all of the time in the world. Little do they know it is only as much as a blink of the eye.

Three questions to ask yourself: (1) What is most important to you? (2) How much time do you devote to your answer for question one? (3) What do you want to do about?

Until the next "time"
John Strain


Sunday, October 05, 2003


Marking Territory

This is a photo of one of the sign spattered corners in our town. Saturday was election day in Louisiana. Voters had to decide a number of local and state contests. I have learned a few things about politics and conducting local campaigns because my friend Marty is a politician. He spent 8 years on the city council and Saturday he was vying for a parish council seat. (parish is the same as county)

On the local level, candidates usually run their campaign on a shoe string budget. No TV ads. The incumbents spend the most money by throwing big rallies (parties) with an open bar, food, and music. Otherwise most of the money spent, it seems, goes into signs. A lot of energy and scrutiny goes into the placement of signs. The rush to get the signs up is a competition within a competition. There are also rules governing where one can and cannot put their campaign sign. For instance, signs cannot be placed on public property and they cannot be put in a location without the property owner's permission. Rules are made to be broken and sign controversies are not unusual for a local election around here. The primary sign offense is when someone places a sign in a prominent location without permission - say a telephone pole along a highway. Some of the more crafty sign law breakers place them high enough on the pole no average would be sign cop can reach it without a cherry picker. If the candidate for whom the sign supports is confronted about the rule violation, they never know anything about it. "I apologize for one of my obvious over zealous supporters. I would not authorize nor do I condone breaking sign placement laws. We run a clean campaign here . . . blah . . .blah . . .blah." That statement should be spoken with a Foghorn Leghorn accent.

Rational discussions with candidates about campaign signs produce a continuation of irrational behavior. They will say of their opponent, "yes he has a lot of signs out there, but signs don't vote." Then he will get in his car and feverishly post more signs trying to catch up. He will say to his friends, "It looks bad if he has more signs than I do." There may be some benefit in having signs all over the place. When I see a sign in a yard, I figure that household supports that candidate. Depending on who it is it could possibly be influential. I have not noticed increased traffic by my house to see whose signs I have posted though.

A sign can work against you if it is grammatically incorrect. For instance, during a recent election the candidate's name was written in this way, "Ed. Peters." Ever since then he has been known as "Ed Period Peters." He did not win his election either.

Our election sign behavior has its parallel in the animal world. Dogs pee on things to say, "this is my territory." I think putting up a sign is the same thing. Some politician is saying "this is my territory, my supporter." A sign then is a form of pee. Political pee. Maybe that is why in politics there are always "leaks" and politicians get "pissed" off. Maybe that is why there are tax "hikes", and politicians are often all "wet." To carry the comparison further, new politicians are often embraceable, cute, and innocent like puppies. More seasoned politicians can be grumpy and attack like an older dog. Like a pack of wild dogs politicians may devour a weaker one viciously. Some in the political arena more resemble dogs when it comes to sexual behavior. They often have problems controlling their appetites and want what the other "dog" has. Come to think of it politicians are an awful lot like dogs. I like dogs quite a bit though. My dog behaves well because I don't let him get away with things. Sure he may get in the trash occasionally if the lid is left up, but when he hears my voice scolding him he lowers his head and tucks his tail between his legs. Politicians get away with whatever the voters allow them to get away with. Well, these are just some thoughts.

Sunday morning early they will be collecting their signs. I do not know what they do with them but they will disappear until the next election. All of this sign behavior is interesting but, more importantly, beneath it all I have an appreciation for democracy and the power and privilege to choose our leaders and representatives.

Until the next time
John Strain