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Saturday, January 31, 2004


Film at 11

Don't believe the title completely. It is 6 AM here as I write. My running partner is picking me up in 30 minutes for our 20 mile run. The marathon training is going well. In September I got serious about getting back into shape. Since then I have lost 20 lbs, (now I am 195) and I run about 40 per week. The Napa Valley Marathon is March 7, so we are nearing the end of our training program.

Tonight, I am going to a Mardi Gras ball. I will write more about that and have photos. Mardi Gras is packed with hidden meaning and tradition. It is much more than drinking and going crazy, although that is part of it.

Back from the run. The best part about a 20 mile run is to stop running. I have also noticed showers feel better and coffee tastes better too. I've got a feeling I will log some couch time. I better or that ball tonight may seem more a marathon than fun.

Have a happy Saturday blogdom, now it's off to the races for me.

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, January 30, 2004

I picked this up at Larry's Blog.

create your own visited states map
or write about it on the open travel guide


A Thought or Two

Three cheers for Friday! It has been a long week and I am ready for the weekend. Do I hear an amen? You have all heard the acronym TGIF (Thank God It's Friday.) Have you heard POETS? (Piss On Everything Tomorrow's Saturday.) I like the POETS acronym because it not only expresses joy at it being Friday, but further conveys an attitude and looks forward to the next day.

No running for me this AM. It is raining. When God feels I need an extra rest day, He sends the rain. Many of us have elaborate systems to show God's endorsement on one part of our life or another. They are usually self serving. I am thinking about my own system here. For instance, if it is raining, I interpret it as God wanting me to rest. On the other hand, if my wife were to point out to me I am not doing my share of the work around the house, I don't automatically think God is trying to get me off my lazy kiester. God gets credit for a lot He does not endorse and He gets a lot of blame for things people do. Here are some examples: "God, why me?" "God, where are you?" "Thank God, He must be looking out for me, the cop did not write me a ticket." "I think God wants me to buy that dress, He wants me to look my best doesn't He?" OK, sermon concluded.

Yesterday my comments were down. I was bummed to think I was missing out on the usual feedback. It occurred to me when I started blogging, I did not even know about comments. Now they are essential. Not only do our posts carry a certain message, but our comment threads contain complete conversations and can stand independent of the post. An example of a good exchange of ideas is the thoughts expressed in my post "No One Man or Woman." I expressed how people are much more important than politicians. I put my faith in (to use US examples) the individual Democrats and Republicans not the leaders of the respective parties.

Then as a microcosm of my point, the commenters, including me launched into a "take sides" political debate. Without comments, this would not be possible. Comments are like the town hall of our time. Instead of me rehashing ideas with my small circle of friends in Louisiana, I can exchange ideas with anyone in the world.

I would like to point out one such individual whose feedback I have enjoyed. Cheeky Squirrel. He offers a different perspective for me. He is outside the US and offers insights and humor I appreciate. I would like to sit down with him at his favorite pub and enjoy a few pints, on him of course because if I were in England, I would be his guest. Several of you are in Canada and offer another perspective. What a great way to challenge our minds and our ideas. If you truly want to learn and keep growing then blogging is a must.

The work day beckons so,

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, January 29, 2004


Balancing the Books

Door KnobI am amazed at how things often work out. One may lose some money by some strange circumstance, but then acquire unexpected funds the next day. When friends are involved, even more bizarre twists are possible. For instance . . .

The other day, I was attempting to purchase something on the internet. I whipped out my credit card and began entering the necessary information. I never can remember if my middle initial is on the card, but when I looked, I realized it was not my card at all. It was my friends card. We had eaten dinner the day before and I reasoned the waitress gave us back the wrong card. I picked up the phone and called Marty. "Hey man, you've got my credit card," I said. Brief pause - "Oh," Marty said, "that's why my PIN did not work down at Home Depot." He had gone to Home Depot and bought about $30 worth of door knobs. He entered his PIN twice and the checkout girl told him to just hit the credit button instead of the debit button. This bypasses the PIN altogether. He did and it worked.

We had a good laugh. I threatened to make a few charges myself. So Marty owes me $30. Well, we are going to a Mardi Gras ball Saturday night and Marty and his wife are buying our tickets. More than $30. I offered to buy the tickets, but Marty would not hear of it. "OK, then, just take the $30 you stole from me and buy us a bottle of Jack Daniels for the ball." Books balanced and the universe is set right again.

The real irony about Marty buying a door knob with my credit card is this. In October, I got a call from one of my credit card companies. I was asked if I had purchased $5,000.00 worth of hardware at the Door Knob Emporium in the UK. "No," I said, "as a matter of fact, I just paid that one off." To make a long story short, the charge was taken off of my card. I am glad it was one purchase and not my whole identity.

Enjoy your Thursday and watch those credit cards - you better keep an eye on your friends too.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, January 28, 2004


No One Man or Woman

As I listen to the returns from the New Hampshire primary I am anticipating more of the same this political season. Our country is divided almost 50 / 50. No matter who the Republicans and Democrats run, it will be a close election. No matter who wins, the losers will think the world is coming to an end and threaten to leave the country. it is so predictable, it is not even interesting.

What these politicians try to sell us is they will make a difference. If they are elected, the economy will improve, we will be safer, our children will be better educated, and the environment will cleaner. They will also say their opponent's policies will ruin the economy, threaten our safety, turn our kids into morons, and ruin the environment. It is amazing any of us get out of bed in the morning without one of these guys or gals to tell us how.

I cannot think of one time a politician ever did anything for me. Some of our presidents were good men and good leaders, but where would a leader be without followers? Any claim a president makes as part of his legacy would not have been possible without the support of us common folks. Presidents do not fight wars. They are waged and won with the blood of men and women from the cities and towns across this country. The greatest sacrifice is levied against nameless, faceless families. Their sorrow will not be publicized. Often their contribution is taken for granted, but every time their country calls - they answer with the best they have. They give proudly and quietly.

Presidents and politicians did not build the infrastructure of this country. They did not fight the wars. They did not lose their savings in the 80's. We should be insulted by their grandiose diatribes. We don't need them, they need us. They work for us and should serve us - the people.

I am not writing to impugn politicians, rather to remind us, if our country is to be great, it will only be because its people accomplish great things. We are a people who do not accept words like no, impossible, and "it can't be done." We are a people who find a way, invent a way, and achieve what others said could not be achieved.

I am a Republican. I will vote for George Bush again, but I will not despair if the Republicans lose the White House. It is not a Republican or a Democrat in the White House that matters most to our country's success. Our success is an outcome of our people. We are a great people. Look what we can do when we are divided 50 / 50. Just think what we could do if we were united. Just think.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, January 27, 2004


Copy This!

I feel very unappreciated. No, I feel down right abused. I think that is what they call it, when someone curses at you and uses vile language. I think that is what they call it when you are punched and kicked. I have feelings too you know and I believe I have some rights. This letter is to all of you in offices all over the world. Specifically, this is to those of you who feel it is OK to physically and verbally abuse the copy machine.

A bit of history may help. Do you remember how much books cost before Gutenberg invented the printing press? Well they cost a lot. There was no such thing as a book store either. You people had to hand write each one. I might also point out you folks were not that accurate at making copies. Just check out a few ancient manuscripts, scholars are devoting their entire lives trying to figure out if copies are authentic.

Remember the Xerox commercial with the monk? Now he was grateful. He saw a copy as a miracle. That's because he was in the business of copying stuff by hand. I doubt every home would have a phone book if it were not for us copy machines and our printing press cousins. Just think about that morning newspaper you like to read so much or your favorite magazine - not possible without me and my friends.

Your problem is you have gotten so used to me you now take me for granted. It is the good old "what have you done for me lately" attitude that really slips my belts and grinds my gears. Most of your companies are so cheap they figure they can save money by cutting out my maintenance. The office coffee pot gets more service than I get. I work my drum off all day long and not just on office work. That's right, I know you slip in your personal stuff: Your son's school project, your tax return, and the newsletter for your club. You must think I am stupid or something. Every now and then I eat some of it so the boss can discover someone is not all business with the company equipment.

One of my favorites though, is the moron on his or her way to an "important" meeting in five minutes. They plunk down a dog eared 20 page original. They ask me to collate, sort, staple, double-side and three hole punch 25 sets. Sometimes for spite, I screw it up halfway through the project. I would like to record the rants and strings of curse words you people utter and play them back to your pastor.

It goes deeper than not allowing adequate time to complete the project. There is no basic understanding of how I work. You people are professionals. You have college degrees, but you cannot take one minute and read my touch screen. When I do get jammed, usually due to your purchasing people buying the cheapest paper available, I have easy instructions on how to unjam me. Instead you throw your hands up in the air and curse me. Some of you slam down my cover or pull my doors open like you are searching for the winning lotto ticket. I have little treats reserved for those of you who forego reading the instructions. I burn the crap out of your little fingers and pinch you with one of my machine parts when I get the chance.

I overheard one of my service people taking up for me. He said something like this, "There's nothing wrong with this machine. It is an ID 10 T error." (IDIOT) The service people understand us. You could too, if you would slow down a bit.

So the next time your original gets mangled or your copy job gets all bollixed up, don't launch into a tirade or slam me around. Remember, I have feelings too. Take a few minutes to get to know me and how I operate. I work better with less yelling and slamming and more understanding and pushing the right buttons. Come to think of it, your whole life might get better, if you slow down and understand the problem before you act. Just a tip I culled from a handout some social worker was copying for a group he was about to conduct. I thought it made sense, so I printed his job flawlessly.

Your Copy Machine

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, January 26, 2004


A Tribute To Captain Kangaroo

Read the press release.

One of my first teachers died last Friday, January 23, 2004. His name was Bob Keeshan, but I knew him as Captain Kangaroo. Captain Kangaroo was a marine in World War II and the first Clarabell on the old TV series, Howdy Doody.
Clarabell the clown
Captain Kangaroo
It is amazing to think Captain Kangaroo was on television 29 years. The first show aired on CBS in 1955, two years before my birth. My earliest memories of television are of Captain Kangaroo and I watched the show until I became too "old" for him. The show however continued for 29 years and finally went off the air in 1984 - the year before my own son was born.
Mr. Moose
Bunny Rabbit
I remember sitting in front of the TV in the morning. I had a little stool I used for a table and I often ate my cereal as I watched the Captain. My brother and sister were going to school and I stayed home with my mother. I wanted to go to school like a "big boy," but mom told me watching Captain Kangaroo was like going to school. I can still do a "dead on" Mr. Moose imitation. I get the most laughs when I have Mr. Moose using vile language at Bunny Rabbit. Do you remember the ping pong ball drops? Bunny Rabbit never said anything, but could express himself with the best puppet body language around that side of the Muppets. He was always getting in trouble for eating too many carrots. Mr. Moose was a goo ol' moose, but Bunny Rabbit was always messing with him. Then there was Mr. Green Jeans, Dancing Bear, and Grandfather Clock. I sat glued to the set listening to this interesting gentle man. It was good stuff.

Bob Keeshan was an advocate for children. He was very involved in early education and the mediums to deliver education. He affected a few generations for the better. I count myself in the mix - I have fond memories and a debt of gratitude.

Bob Keeshan was the first Clarabell on the Howdy Doody Show. The clown never said a word until the last episode when he said, "Goodbye kids." So I say to him with a heart full of warm memories and gratitude, "goodbye Captain and thank you. Rest in peace you deserve it."

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, January 25, 2004


Lamron (Part Four)

I cannot remember the specific first time I heard voices. I do remember some first times. It is the sort of thing that once you realize is is happening, you also realize it has been happening subtly for some time.

There were days where in my silence I heard whispers. I did not recognize them as whispers at first. They were noises interrupting my thoughts. Something perceived from the outside and far away. If you have ever heard your neighbors talking next door, you see them, but only hear a sound every now and then. You know the sound is a word, but you cannot distinguish it. That is how I remember the voices beginning.

Sometimes I would awake at night and not know why. Then I would hear a whisper. This scared me. I thought maybe I was being haunted by some ghost. Maybe an angel or maybe a demon was talking to me. I was fifteen when these things started.

My brother and I shared a room. Once I woke him to ask if he heard the noise. He told me I was crazy and went back to sleep. I learned to keep it to myself. I figured it was some kind of punishment for something I did or did not do.

When I would wake at night and the whispers began I could sometimes ignore them by praying. I would ask for forgiveness and ask God to make the whispers stop. I remember lying in my bed with my heart pounding. My family was asleep throughout the house, but what was disturbing me was not disturbing them. I was alone in this and many nights I trembled. The whispers got louder and more frequent. Then for no reason they would stop and I would not hear them for days or weeks.

If something happens enough, you get used to it and I was able to take the voices in stride. They still scared me occasionally but I could handle it.

I remember the first time I answered one of the voices. I was attending seminary in New Orleans studying to be a minister. It was a beautiful October morning and I was twenty-three years old. I was sitting in a classroom that held one-hundred students. The desks were arranged in four long rows and were on risers. It was an old building but freshly painted. The back of the classroom was all windows and one could turn and look out at the mature pecan trees and oaks with the spanish moss moving with the breeze. The grass was green and the sky was the brilliant blue of autumn.

I was taking a test and the only sounds were the occasional coughs and sneezes punctuated by pages rustling and erasers rubbing off mistaken attempts to answer questions. Some people would blow the eraser debris off the page and others gave it a quick two swipes with their hand. It was in this setting that I heard my name called vividly and within the room. "Lamron." Out of reflex I responded, "what." When I spoke I realized the difference in voices. My voice sounded real. The voice I heard cal my name now seemed like a dream. Moments before it sounded real. There were a few snickers and the grader looked up at me from his desk. The professors never came to the class to administer a test, that task was left to the grader. I shrugged and most people probably thought I was trying to be funny. I knew that I was going to have to work harder and be on better guard to conceal my secret.

Love and Kindness
When I look back over my life I recall times when I felt loved. There were a few times when I loved though it was not returned. I have experienced many acts of kindness. It saddens me though that many times I received a kindness, I did not properly thank the actor. Sometimes I rejected the kindness fearing motives that were not real. Mostly what I have experienced are feelings of disconnection, feeling invisible, and superfluous.

I think we all have experiences that give meaning to our feelings. When I think of love and acceptance and the comfort that goes with that, I think of how I felt when I was a little boy of six or seven. I remember our family being in the living room watching television. I was sitting next to my mother on the couch and I was leaning on her. Her arm was around me and as I drifted off to sleep I felt a kind of warmth and peace I have never equated. I remember the gentle rise and fall of her breathing rocking me to sleep, her voice was distorted to me when she spoke because one of my ears was pressed to her side. Her hand gently caressed me and patted me.

There were other times. Once with my father. We were walking at night in the winter. Probably coming home from a neighbor's house and I was wearing my pajamas under my winter coat. My father was carrying me. I told him I was cold and he held me up to his mouth and breathed warm air into my coat. That feeling of being carried and having him provide warmth was complete comfort.

There is a point in life when we have to seek out love and kindness for ourselves. Babies do not have to do anything. People naturally go to them. They pick them up and hold them to their chests. They speak kindly and pour feelings of love all over them. As we grow, this becomes less frequent. People do not see the need or feel it is appropriate to walk up to someone and pour feelings of love on them. We make exceptions for sports figures and movie stars. It is OK to walk up to them and tell them how much they are loved and pour out those feelings of goodwill.

I do not know exactly what happened to me. I found myself in a situation where I wanted the feeling of love and acceptance and to feel connected, but I was mostly afraid of people. I did not feel comfortable around other people. I do not think they were comfortable around me either. I withdrew and resigned myself to the fact that this is how it is. I had to rely on my memories. I knew that at one time I was loved and I held on to that.

This is all I have. The rest is in my head. Not to leave you hanging though, here is what I plan to do. The next chapter will begin as Lamron wakes up in a psychiatric hospital seclusion room. He will describe coming out of the fog of psychosis. As this occurs, you will learn of the process of a hospitalization. As Lamron talks to different doctors and therapists he will describe his life. The bulk of the book will be this hospitalization. What will happen to Lamron once he is discharged? You will have to wait for that. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to get to work writing "Lamron."

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, January 24, 2004


Lamron (Part 3)

Continuing as Lamron describes some of his "life themes." Thus far he has talked about, slow reflexes, and feeling lost.

Have you ever been in a foreign country surrounded by people speaking a language you did not understand? Now think of the obstacles you must clear to eat, find shelter, and work. How do you socialize or learn about current events? It would be difficult to keep u with the day of the week. You are the different one. The crowd usually ignores you, but it may laugh at you. If the crowd fears you then you are in danger of being removed and jailed. You do not have to commit a crime to be jailed - believe me. You need only be different and unable to communicate.

Unaware of Cause and Effect
I do not know if people realize the level of comfort they enjoy simply because they understand cause and effect. I am speaking on an interpersonal level. I can work a DVD player, make coffee in the morning, and change the oil in a car. Mechanically and as far as things are concerned, I understand cause and effect. With people and relationships it is completely different.

I do not blame others for this. I am simply writing to describe my experience and attempt an explanation. What I notice is an impatience and a fear. A fear of me. Sometimes I feel that I am a repulsion as though I had a disease that would infect others. I sense this. I feel it in the way they pretend not to see me. I feel it in their stare. Knowing and feeling these things makes me more up tight and more of a repulsion. I do not get the time to express myself. If I get frustrated and raise my voice I risk having the police arrest me for disturbing the peace or even physical violence from someone protecting someone from me.

Whatever it is about me that people sense and shrink from is as obvious as white lint on black velvet. I do not blend in. I avoid people. More often than not I am misunderstood. More often than not I do not understand. It is easier to avoid contact and this creates more problems. My "catch 22" is I need people to help me, but going to them often gets me hurt.

About age six or seven I was with my family visiting a mill in Arkansas. On this particular river there was a waterfall just past the mill. I was with my brother and sister and a cousin or two. I remember being very close to the river and seeing the current moving rapidly. The noise of the water was deafening and to be heard, you had to shout. Even then, if someone was only a few feet away they would not hear you. I was following the others and having a hard time keeping up. They were quicker than me and the terrain was rough. There were lots of jagged rocks and obstacles. The trail narrowed and followed a rocky cliff that jutted straight up and towered overhead. Trees and vegetation were all around us. The trail, as I remember, narrowed and slanted slightly toward the river and the churning, white, swirling water. The rock face of the cliff on my right offered no holds for security. I was a few steps down the trail when i froze. To go on was too scary and I was too scared to turn around and go back. I knew I would slip and fall into the boiling, foaming water. I yelled for the others, but they were beyond the range of my voice. I just stood there crying.

The other children must have noticed I was not with them and my cousin came back for me. His voice was so comforting, "take my hand, I'll lead you across, it will be alright." I did, he did, and it was. Just like that my fear was gone.

I relate this story to explain the kind of fear and the intensity I have experienced throughout my life. It is not difficult for you to understand how a child could fear drowning in a raging river and even relate to the feeling with a similar experience of your own. It is more difficult for you to know that this is precisely the intensity of fear I may be feeling in a room that seems calm to you. You are not aware of any fear producing stimulus. That is because it comes from within myself. Know that the kind of fear that freezes a little boy can do the same to a man, because I am as helpless sometimes as the boy. I am paralyzed with fear. I am unable to keep up with the others and I am waiting and hoping for someone to take my hand and lead me to safety.

(More tomorrow as Lamron describes what it is like "hearing voices.")

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, January 23, 2004


Lamron (Part 2)

My name is Lamron. I was born on March 15, 1957. Julius Caesar was warned to "beware the ides of March" - at least he was warned.

My purpose in writing is to tell a story that is not often told. I have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, major-depression, bipolar disorder, and others. That is enough of a descriptor for some people. Once the word schizophrenia is used, I become neatly filed away. They know me. they know about me. They know what will happen to me.

I want to be more than that. I am more than a diagnosis. I am more than a series of medical records in psychiatric institutions. I may be stereotyped, but I am a man with dreams and feelings. I struggle to live and to find happiness. There are many more like me. I want you to see the person not the schizophrenic. I was born like you. I have a family like you. The things you want, I want. When I'm cut I bleed. When I am ridiculed or insulted it hurts me. I feel what you feel. Like you I desire respect. To be seen as an equal.

Please try to understand my words. Try to feel the feelings I describe. If you do that and if you successfully hear me - I believe we will both grow.

Life Themes

Some of the themes or dominant feelings I routinely experience are feeling lost, feeling not understood or able to understand, the frustration of not understanding cause and effect interpersonally, and feeling afraid. I have also included a few thoughts about hearing voices and some of my ideas about love and kindness. Love and kindness is something I want, but seem unable to provide myself.

These themes and ideas will emerge and reemerge as I tell my story. To describe these things, I have tried to use stories the reader can understand and with which he/she can relate.

Slow Reflex
One way to describe my life is like a slow reflex. You know the game kids play when two people stand facing each other. Hands are outstretched. One person has their palms facing up while the other person has their palms facing down. The one with the palms up waits for the palms down player to rest their hand in theirs. There is a brief moment of stillness. The palms down player tries to swat the hand of the other player before it can be withdrawn. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. That is because both players have close to equal reflexes. In life I think I mostly lose because my reflexes, my ability to think and reason and decide are not equal. Only later when the damage is done or the opportunity is lost, do I figure out what happened. Instead of being able to learn, it builds my fear and suspicion. I withdraw. I lose faith in myself. I trust others less until there is nothing in me that resembles trust.

When I was eleven years old I was on a Boy Scout camp out. It was October or November and all the leaves were off the trees. The weather was mild for Kansas. This particular afternoon I was going to complete a portion of my Second Class Scout rank. It was simply called "lost." I was blind folded and carried by two or three other scouts into the woods. After being carried a short distance they grew tired and told me to walk. We walked for a while stopping every now and then for them to spin me around. This was necessary to make sure I was good and lost. Finally, I was instructed to sit on a log and count to one-hundred slowly. My fellow scouts ran back to the campsite to await my return. My job was to find my way back. If I found my way back, I would be one step closer to being a Second Class Scout.

When I counted to one-hundred I removed my blindfold and looked around. It was a windy day and the sudden gusts moving through the trees sounded ominous. It was the warmest part of the day. I can still remember the smell of the woods. The smell of dry leaves and loam. The sun was shining brightly in the cloudless sky.

I began walking in one direction, but nothing looked familiar. I could not make out any distinct trails. I walked through, at times, knee deep leaves stepping over logs and tripping over rocks. I decided to change directions so I walked in a different direction, but with the same results. Up until that point I enjoyed the exercise, but welling up inside me was fear and the realization that I was indeed lost and no one was around to help me.

I changed directions again and again. I called out to my friends only to have my words muted by the noise of the wind. I felt panic and started to run. I tripped over a tree root and fell onto a soft carpet of leaves. I began to cry. I was lost, alone, and very afraid.

I began walking again. This time I found some semblance of a trail. I followed it until I began to see something that was not woods. There were tents and a bus. I had found a different scout troop. As I walked into the camp the kids were making noises but not speaking words. It was eerie and surreal. I spoke to one of the scouts. "I'm lost," I said, "can you help me?" The scout just looked at me as though he could not understand me. He reached out and tugged at my arm and motioned for me to follow him. I followed him past a line of boys who did not talk. We came up behind a man in a green scout uniform wearing a straw cowboy hat. He was kneeling down tending to a fire. My escort touched him on the back and the man stood and turned toward us. He was wearing dark rimmed glasses and he was very tan. I assumed he was the scout master so I told him the same thing, "I am lost." He looked at me the way my escort did and my confusion was mixing with my fear to form a whole new feeling.

The man walked away hurriedly and returned quickly. He handed me a tablet and a pencil. He motioned for me to write. I wrote the words, "I am lost." He wrote back, "what troop are you in?" "Troop 185," I wrote. He made some hand signs to some of the boys, then he took me by the hand and we began walking.

Walking out of the camp I read the side of their bus. Olathe School for the Deaf. We walked probably half a mile or so down a gravel road. I was feeling better now. Someone was helping me. We saw some people walking toward us and they began shouting. It was my friends with our adult leaders. They had been looking for me. It was so good to see them. The deaf scout master shook the hand of our scout master and walked back to his camp. My ordeal was over. I never told them how afraid I was or about my panic or about the tears.

This story is a metaphor for lapsing into psychosis. You begin fine even enjoying your surroundings. Then a subtle feeling of uncertainty grows to fear and eventually blooms into panic. You are alone in your predicament, but you keep on. Finally, you make, contact with someone who does not quite understand what is happening to you, but they take you to someone who can help. You are relieved but embarrassed so you keep the feelings and the account inside. Others think you are OK. They will never know the depths and intensity of fear you felt.

(More tomorrow)

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, January 22, 2004



Resting firmly in the category of unfinished projects, is a book idea I have dubbed "Lamron." Have you ever had a moment in your life when you had a realization so clear it was almost as if a voice was speaking to you? One day, I had such an experience while parousing the self-help books at our favorite book store in the French Quarter: Book Star. I often browsed the self help titles hoping to find something I could use in group therapy. At the time, I was conducting three group therapy sessions a day. The internet was not a resource then, instead, I had to find material in newspapers, magazines, and bookstores. After a while, the self help books became repetitive. I could tell by looking at the table of contents what the author's methods and conclusions would be. As Solomon said in the Book of Ecclesiastes, "There is nothing new under the sun." The best books contained material I could copy to use as a handout in one of the groups. Having a hendout reduced my prep time for groups. I would simply pass out the material in the group and we would read and discuss it.

So there we were, one Saturday at Book Star. John was fipping through books in the children's book section, Barbara was reading soft porn magazines in the adult section. Not really. I was in the self help books hoping to find the mother load of group therapy material in some book to cut down on my homework - when it happened, the "almost voice" I mentioned above. It said, "you shouldn't be looking for a book, you should be writing one." I smiled to myself, half taking it serious and half marveling at a new manifestation of my grandiosity. I told Barbara about my thought and she chuckled too, but encouraged me, "you should write a book." I did not start writing then, but the thought stayed lodged in my mind.

At the time, I was in my early 30's. I was busy with my career, school, and my young son. I was drinking in the experiences of married life and parenthood, but I was not writing them down or working on a book. From time to time, I wrote a piece to purge some thoughts rattling around in my head. Once or twice I began book ideas or even started writing, but nothing ever stuck. The closest I have come to a book is "Lamron." I have written about ten pages which serve as an introduction, but I wrote that four years ago.

Well, I am dusting off those ten pages and thinking about adding to them. Today, I will share the idea of Lamron with you and post a portion of the book. Tomorrow, I will post a bit more.


Lamron believed he was normal - almost everyone else knew he was the opposite. This is a story about Lamron's struggle to exist. This is a story of his search for peace and happiness - what most people would call the American Dream.

Lamron began his life the way many do. He was born into a typical family. His opportunities and experiences were the same, more or less, as were his contemporaries. Things around him were the same but Lamron was different.

It was not so noticeable when Lamron was young. As he grew it could not be concealed. The differences were striking. His behavior, his thoughts, and his appearance caused some to fear, others to laugh, and most to stare.

Lamron did not accomplish things and he achieved no measure of success as most would reckon it. He had no possessions. He had no wife or children. He could not maintain a job or live independently.

People tried to help him, but Lamron seemed to resist the help. He did not take the advice or change for long. His life was a circle of incarceration, of abuse, of brief moments of hope, of disappointment, of depression, and always loneliness. He felt disconnected, cutoff, discounted, lonely. The kind of loneliness that increases when surrounded by people with whom you cannot relate.

Usually when one emerges from psychosis they are at a loss to describe the experience in a way others can understand. It all stays locked inside with no language to bridge the gap. Like trying to describe color to someone who is blind or to describe sound to someone who is deaf, the common thread is missing and words fall short. Lamron was different in this respect. He was a Rosetta Stone of sorts. He had the ability to use our words to show us his world.

The doctors could not explain how or why he had this ability. None of his medical tests or psychological tests or medications or therapies were out of the ordinary. He was just able to di it - to make people understand.

This is his story. (To be continued)

What of the name Lamron? it is "normal" spelled backwards.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, January 21, 2004


Not Worrying Anymore

On December 29 I wrote a post entitled "Worry." I had some concern about my job for a number of reasons. Support rolled in from the blog community and it felt weird. My first impulse was to answer each comment with, "oh it's nothing really, I'll be OK." I resisted that urge though and accepted the kind thoughts and support. On another level, I was touched and strengthened to know, people who had never met me, were showing genuine concern for me. I took down your names and if I wind up losing my job, I can contact you for emergency funds, OK? Just kidding, but I would do it for you.

It was good for me to be the one receiving help for a change. I am usually the one saying the things I was getting in the comment box. Blame it on manhood, but I do not like being the one needing help. I know now if I were depressed, I would not want to take antidepressants. They are OK for other people, but I don't need them. I can handle it, it's not that bad. I need to work on that.

As for the reasons I was worrying, they are not so ominous. Business has picked up and I think things will be fine at least for the short term.

So let me say thank you once again for your concern. I wanted to let you know things are fine and you had a part in sustaining me.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, January 20, 2004


Tolerating the BS

Have you ever considered how much BS we read or hear each day? Everywhere you look and listen, BS rains down. There is corporate BS, legal BS, media BS, racial BS, sports BS, religious BS, institutional BS, political BS, and advertising BS. This is not an exhaustive list. I am sure there are many more BS categories.

I cannot speak for other countries, but I believe the average American is exposed to so much BS we become tolerant of it. When did lying become OK? I was not a very good sneak as a child. I tried to get away with things, but my mother had eyes in back of her head along with maternal radar and intuition. So if you pair her qualities with my poor eyesight, I did not stand a chance. I learned I could never win. I always got caught. Lying was futile. If I lied, mom could produce more rebuttal proof than Dan Rather on 60 Minutes. Fortunately for me, lying did not pay off and today I am still lousy at it. If I try to lie, my face turns red and I do not fool anyone.

In today's climate though, I could get away with lying. Living in Louisiana exposes you to corrupt politicians. One of our state senators was caught on video receiving money from former Governor Edwin Edwards who is now serving time. Somehow, he got off. Video proof of a crime is not given more weight than the criminal's denial. Middle Eastern countries may be harsh when they cut the tongue out of a liar, but we go to the other extreme by rewarding them. BSers get book deals today and make the talk show circuit. Consider the New York Times reporter who fabricated the news stories. His BS had been tolerated and he was promoted until he eventually severely tarnished the reputation of that paper. His firing only came after the public became aware of the BS. The NYT fired him to save face. The reporter has a book deal.

When political correctness gained influence, so did BS / lying. The PC movement prizes words over reality. Somehow a quadriplegic is better off if he is called physically challenged than if he is called crippled. I grew up with the adage, "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me." I still believe that phrase. Somewhere along the line it got changed. The new adage goes something like this, "words are devastating and people must use only words which do not offend me." The PC folks have adopted this philosophy which is a set up for unhappiness. One thing I know about personal philosophies is this: The best ones do not give power to other people.

Bad example: Me + (someone else doing something) = Happiness
Better example: Me + (nothing except God) = Enough

I am responsible for myself and to other people. There are limits with my responsibility to others. I cannot be so responsible to them I lose myself. My expression of thought and someone else's Offend O Meter may at times conflict. Who then must change? My thought is neither must change. I can have and express my thoughts and they can be offended. We can agree to disagree.

More BS.

It amazes me people fall prey to the commercials about weight loss. Psychic hotlines are more BS. Here is a way to check if a psychic is real. If they ask for your name, they are not a psychic.

More BS

It is interesting how the public responds to liars. OJ got off and the country was divided along racial lines. The race card was played successfully. Bill Clinton lied time after time and the country was divided along party lines. The importance of character was debated. Pete Rose is still banned from baseball because he gambled and lied about it. Jesse Jackson has been shaking down major corporations for years. Al Sharpton coached a girl to lie, claiming she was the victim of a racially motivated crime and he is a legitimate presidential candidate.

More BS.

The S&L scandal in the 80's resulted in the thieves of billions of dollars getting lashed with wet noodles. Enron and the more current corporate scandals are still being played out, but if history is any indication - the conspirators will go free.

There will always be BS. My brother got a lesson at a carnival once. He was lured to a "sure thing" to win great prizes by some carnie. He spent $7 on a rigged game and all he had to show for it was a teddy bear that squeaked when its belly was squeezed and a balloon on a stick that whistled as it deflated. He bought $7 worth of BS. That $7 was a fortune in those days and I bet George still grieves that loss.

We choose how much BS we tolerate. We have the power to put down the magazine or newspaper. We can change channels or turn off the TV. We choose whether to act on an offer that sounds too good to be true. We decide to tell the truth or lie ourselves. Like most things, it comes down to hundreds of choices we make each day.

I have rambled I know. This is a hodge podge of thoughts loosely related. Oh, BS, I am trying to make excuses for something poorly written and poorly organized. See, BS is so subtle we do it unintentionally. What I have tried to say is the truth is given up too easily. We sacrifice the truth for politics, race, personal financial gain, and a host of other reasons. Personal offense has become more important and more mobilizing than the truth. Personal character is excused if it suits our politics. We are the ones who suffer from the lies and BS - we are all partially responsible. I hope, at least, I gave you something to think about.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, January 19, 2004


Recurring Dreams

Dreams have always fascinated me. In the field of psychology, various schools of thought attach varying degrees of importance to them. Personally, I think the person having the dream is the best interpreter of the dream. I also do not ascribe a lot of weight to them beyond their basic meaning. In other words, I do not have a dream and let it trump careful decision making while awake. Sometimes a dream is a kick in the pants or even a reminder of some sort.

I have a recurring dream theme. The circumstances change, but the basic elements are there. Here is a typical scenario. I am in high school and suddenly realize I have not been attending a class, usually a math class. I feel the dread and panic welling up in my chest. My thoughts are, "Oh know, now I won't be able to graduate." The rest of the dream is spent looking for the class and maybe even talking to the teacher. I rehearse excuses and contemplate contingencies. When I awake, I feel so relieved.

OK, here is how I interpret this. I did not attend my high school graduation. Because I finished early I did not have to, so I did not. Maybe the fact the dream takes place in high school has something to do with it. The math part may have to do with me only taking basic math in college. I did not go beyond the quadratic equation. Math inadequacy no doubt. But the biggest thing is I never completed my doctorate. I did the course work, the qualifying exam, had my project approved, but never finished. Finally, I quit. This fact still generates lousy feelings if I think about it enough. I will not go into why I quit, but the basic reason was I had a family and a job and kept procrastinating.

I wonder why I can't have a recurring dream involving intimacy - if you know what I mean, wink. I guess it is a good thing I do not have those dreams regularly or I would spend a lot more time sleeping.

Sometimes if I have a really strange dream, I may do a google search and see what some of the dream sites say about the symbol. For example, flying or teeth falling out. I would recommend reading three or four different sites then average the responses. No one really knows what this stuff means and dream interpretation is not far removed from reading tea leaves.

Do you have any recurring dreams?

Dream Facts & Tidbits
Dream FAQ's
Sexual / Erotic Dreams This site lists sexual dreams and you can even give a shot at interpreting them.

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, January 18, 2004



My new buzz cut

I go to this little old fashioned barber shop. The barber's name is Ray. Ray has been cutting hair for nearly 50 years. His wife used to work there too, but sickness has her sidelined. This shop sports several amenities which appeal to me and I have remained a faithful customer. Number one is cost. Because Ray gives you a haircut and not a "style" he only charges $7 and that is up from the $6 he charged for years. He does not tell you to get his shampoo, conditioner, spray, gel, etc. - only does the haircut. Then there is the time factor. A haircut at Ray's takes about 5 minutes and that's if you have to wait for three people in front of you. He is like a Samurai with the clippers, scissors, and comb. A haircut there feels like being inside a funnel cloud, but when the powdered brush comes out to whisk off your neck, every hair is in place and Ray gets an approving nod. If you watched the mini series "The Thorn Birds", you may remember a sheep shearing contest. Ray could have won that thing one-handed.

The shop is small. It is a one small room with a back area for a rest room and storage. The two black vinyl and chrome chairs face the big picture window so cars and passersby are the view. Eight black vinyl chairs with chrome arm rests face the two barber chairs and they usually have a well read newspaper or a dog eared magazine sitting on two or three of them. One other chair often holds the hat or jacket of whoever is in the barber chair. Etiquette dictates you do not touch the hat or jacket. If possible leave an empty chair between you and the hat / jacket. I leafed through the March 03 edition of Popular Mechanics while I waited my 2 minutes for my turn. I did not have enough time to see which router the editors recommended in the article I started reading. The lighting in the shop is fluorescent. The fixtures are not recessed, just there with their exposed glowing tubes of light. The floor is an old speckled tile and the paint is a drab brown. Ray indulges his more vain customers with two large mirrors, frameless, affixed to the wall. Behind the barber chairs is a shelf and a sink for shampoos. I have never seen the sink used. A couple of documents are thumb tacked to the wall, I assume are his barber's license and occupational license. An old radio / TV combo plays the local country station in that unmistakable tinny, nostalgic tone. In many ways, stepping into Ray's shop is like stepping back in time. It would not be out of place if the news reports on the radio talked about the Viet Nam War or Korea.

There is something very comfortable about Ray's place. Many of the men who go there are older. Some are assisted by their sons, who are middle aged themselves. It is a place where I am comfortable. Conversations are short, usually about the weather or sports. Folks usually converse agreeingly. I cannot recall an argument in there. Ray cuts the hair too fast and keeps folks rotating, which does not leave time for talks to turn ugly.

So I sit in the chair like I have many times before. Only this time I said to Ray," I want to do something different, I want to cut it all off, not shaved, but a close cut, crew cut, whatever you call it." The whole time I was talking, Ray was looking at me like I was asking him to give me a lobotomy. He came around to the front of the chair and touched my arm, "are you sure." I responded quickly, "yes," but the confidence was draining out of me. Did Ray know something I did not know? Was I making a terrible mistake? "I have thought about it and this is what I want to do," I continued, confidence still draining. I could feel my ears turning red. There was a customer eves dropping on the conversation and I imagined him laughing to himself. Ray said, "OK, if that's what you want." The way he said it is how my mother would say yes when she really thought otherwise. I remained strong and before I knew it, I was experiencing what many young men must have felt entering the armed services, prisoners entering jail, and Sinead O'connor every couple of weeks. The hair was falling in my face, my lap, all around me. It seemed like a lot, but when the buzzing of the clippers stopped and the chair was twirled - I was pleased.

My son drove me to the shop. He laughed at first, but said he liked it and that has been the consensus so far. The added advantage is I will be more aerodynamic so I am expecting a speed gain on the morning runs.

That pretty well highlighted my Saturday. I did not get the run in due to the rain, but after I post this entry today, I am headed out.

Enjoy your Sunday

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, January 17, 2004



If this were Becky's blog, that title would draw the readers to the screen like starving kids looking into a candy store. Since it is my blog, however, it only means this post is written in a hurry. Speaking of Becky, it is killing me as a little brother not to fill in a few blanks on her romance novel, but if I do, she too possess the power of the pen and would, no doubt, fill in a few of the blanks I have left. It would amount to trading queens in chess, ha.

It is raining this morning. No big deal, except I have that 16 mile training run scheduled. It has to get done so I will have a nice run in the rain. If I ate chinese food and slowed to a walk it would be something Becky could include in her posts -"Do you like chinese food, walks in the rain?

I received just enough encouragement to go ahead with the hair cut / buzz. Dorothy offered to install hair extensions, but it is awfully cold in Michigan these days. Maybe this spring Dorothy. Weather here today is in the 60's. Maybe I will post a before and after photos for your laughing pleasure.

Last night our gang bantered the idea of getting a sack of oysters today. I love raw oysters. The way to eat them is on a cracker topped with a concoction of cocktail sauce, horseradish, and Tobasco sauce. They must be hot and spicy. Some people enjoy a nice cold brewski with them too. I am one of those people. The fun of such an event is giving each other pointers on the proper shucking technique and just generally BS'ing as you enjoy some fine eating.

Dale moved his blog to Typepad, so make a note of the address change. It looks great - maybe I should move over there with him.

I better run, literally. I hope you all have a nice Saturday.

Never mind about the running. My running partner just called to cancel. I stuck my head out the door and said to my self, "screw this" (well I said something to that affect to myself), anyway, it should be dry tomorrow, just a little colder. I hate to put off the run and have it continue to loom. It also means I have moderate my food and drink intake tonight. Running with a hangover is one of my least favorite things. It ranks right up there with a stomach virus and babysitting the neighbors 6 year old with ADHD. On the upside, I have more time to edit my year end video.

For those of you who use Macintosh, get iLife 04. Not only is iPhoto, iTunes, iMovie, and iDVD updated, but you get a new program called GarageBand. This program is awesome! It is a music making program. I am going to have fun with it. The best way to describe it is it is a keyboard for the computer. Just choose an instrument and peck away. Lay down tracks and mix the sound. A musical moron could come up with something nice with this program. I may try connecting a MIDI keyboard and tap some of the other features of this software. I could explore computer fun forever. I love it all. Music, photos, video, and especially blogging.

Weather Radar

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, January 16, 2004


About Blogging

Thursday, I was discussing blogging with a coworker. She said a morning news program was talking about blogs. I reminded her of my prediction back in July. Shortly after I drank the "blog kool aid", I was telling everyone how they would be hearing more and more about this relatively new phenomenon.

I started a blog to write and record things about my life. At first, I just wrote for me. It was just a journal. I knew someone could read it, but did not think much about it. An email from a reader changed my perspective. There is someone out there reading my stuff. Then I got a sitemeter and comments. I quickly became obsessed. I wanted to see if I got a hit. I would shamelessly republish my blog to get on the sidebar of Blogger. If I was on the sidebar it would usually generate a hit. I learned bits of info about my readers like the time zone they were in, the type of browser and OS they used. I was thrilled each time someone put my link on their site. I read the site of the person who linked me. Sometimes I emailed them and commented on their posts. I developed acquaintances and eventually a new kind of friend. None of this I expected or even dreamed about when I launched the blog July 19, 2003.

Some of the blogs I read voiced strong opinions I did not agree with. Other blogs, I agreed with more easily. The difference though is I did not blow off the ones I disagreed with, because I had gotten to know the authors some and appreciated them even if I did not agree or believe everything they said. If you are saying "duh" right now, look at yourself. How many friends do you associate with who differ drastically from you in politics, religion, or culture? Now look at your blogroll. How many of them are different? If you are like me, I have lots of people in my blogroll who I have disagreed with on a number of topics, but it has not been a test of fellowship so to speak. I enjoy reading the different points of view. I give them the benefit of the doubt. I look for ways to accept them - not reject them. I am not this way with people face to face.

One positive aspect of blogging is that communication is slowed. On the news / talk shows, communication is fast paced. Guests must make their point quickly and with some flair or we flip the channel. It is common for both guests to be talking at the same time. They do not discuss, they attempt to out shout their opponent. Listening does not happen. They do not seek a middle ground of agreement, but stand firmly in their narrow view condemning all those who differ. In blogging, one reads the entire post thus "hearing the author out." When I do respond to a post I show respect for the author's opinion. I am a guest on their site and if I disagree, I try to do it respectfully. After all, we are much more than a political opinion. We have so much more in common than political and religious views - family, children, school, spouses, pets, and interests - to name but a few. We like to express ourselves. We are interested in others. We want to connect and interact with people. It gives me a rush to think someone in England or Canada gives a darn about what I write.

Is it possible to treat those we interact with daily as well as we do our blog buddies? Maybe you do, but I am pretty sure I cut my blog pals more slack than I do people I see each day. Maybe it is because we do not want anything from each other in blog land. We are not in competition. There is no reason to manipulate each other or attempt to control one another. We read what each has to say. We respond supportively. We have seen photos of each other, but when we blog, we are invisible. Our clothes, weight, and appearance do not matter. In real life, these things do matter. The good looking blonde with cleavage gets more help and attention than the "plain Jane." The pretty people get chosen over the ugly people. Cute babies get more love and attention than ugly babies.

In short, we may be more honest and more ourselves when we blog. When we interact face to face there are a myriad of things to get in the way of communication. I am hoping this experience of blogging will make me a better person. Maybe if i practice unconditional acceptance, tolerance, and support long enough in the blogsphere, I may start doing it more in the world. Maybe, others will do this too. We are talking about form and substance. Looking good is what the world wants. Good content is what is important in the blog world. Perhaps one day the world will value content and substance over form like we do in the blogsphere. If this is to be, we will all have a part in it.

Dale, my cousin, has caved to pressure and started a blog. I am sure you all will enjoy reading his posts. Dale has a great sense of humor and a warm and unique writing style. Check him out.

Busy Saturday planned. It is supposed to rain, but I have to get in a 16 mile run for my marathon training. After that, I get to work at the hospital to catch up on my cases. Looks like I will have to reward myself with a nice meal somewhere that evening. Ribs sound pretty good at this time.

I am ready for a new hair style. Due to the lack of hair, I am thinking a crew cut. I don't have the nads to shave my head, but I do want it shorter, just to see how it looks. The "Queer Eye guys" did this for another guy who was nearly bald and it looked good. I could really freak Barbara out if I shaved my beard. She has never seen me clean shaven. I grew the beard in 1980. That means I have had it more than half of my life.

The mars project is incredible to me. I thought about how, on one hand, there are people dedicated to this kind of exploration. They give their lives to learn and advance the knowledge of mankind. Then there are those, on the other hand, whose life fulfillment culminates in strapping a bomb to their body, boarding a bus and blowing themselves and those around to smitherines. Somehow destruction fulfills their life. How can people be so far apart on the meaning of life?

TGIF gang!

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, January 15, 2004


Mr. Evil

When I was studying to be a minister, I obtained practical experience in the summers. For instance, one year I was a minister of youth, another year I was a summer missionary. I think it was the summer of 1979 when I was working as a teacher at the Vacation Bible School our church was conducting. My group was the 5th and 6th graders.

Vacation Bible School or VBS is a lot of work. Churches usually have to beg people in order to fill all of the teaching and staff positions. Why? Because those little kids can be mean. It isn't school, they just got out of school. The teachers are not real teachers, so the kids get their jollies putting the screws to the grown ups.

However, this particular year, the little urchins were in for more than they bargained for. They were not going to have some reluctant teacher who is only teaching, because he or she could not outwit the nominating committee. These lucky brats were getting a gung ho seminary student with back up from his mom and his sister, both are now famous bloggers. They were equally as motivated and we saw it as a challenge to teach them and not endure them.

Our plan was to take the initiative and keep them on their heels. We wanted to give them stuff they would not expect, thereby keeping them guessing. We had a fun 2 weeks of taking it to them and my mom tells me that every now and then she will run into one of our former students and they still talk about that year's VBS experience.

One of the things we did involved drama. One of us would dress in some sort of costume and drop in, seemingly interrupting the class. The kids enjoyed this and I think they learned because they did not realize they were being taught.

My idea was to dress like a hood. I would burst through the door in the middle of class and encourage the little tikes to be evil. I would tell them to disobey their parents, stop going to church, don't listen to the teachers. My hope of course, was to teach them positive values by voicing their opposites. It was a bit of a risk. What would I do if the squirts agreed with me?

I put on jeans, a white t-shirt, black leather motorcycle jacket (no offense Don and Dorothy), I carried a piece of pipe for a club, had a machete on my belt, a chain, and a "go to hell" hat. I guess I was going for the James Dean look in Rebel Without a Cause. While mom and Becky were teaching the class, I slipped out and got into costume. Then I waited outside the door for my cue. I was going to make a big entrance in the middle of their singing.

When it was time for the big entrance, I hit the door as I was opening it to make a loud noise and startle them if I could. The door flung open making the desired bang. I walked deliberately from the back of the class to the front. As I walked, the shock wore off and a couple of the boys began to snicker. They obviously knew it was me so they relaxed. I had to think of something quick to keep them in "uncertainville." What I did next was walk to the podium at the front of the class and with a sweeping blow with the pipe I was carrying, sent it flying across the room. I heard one little boy whisper, "I think he is mad." I noticed the picture of Jesus on the floor. It had fallen off of the podium so I stepped on it and kicked it too. This really got the kids attention and now it was quieter than a library.

I began to talk. "Go ahead and laugh. I like it when you laugh, because it means you aren't taking this stuff seriously. This is a waste of time. I can't believe people are here. Why don't you go do something fun like throw rocks at cars or steal a bike?" They just sat and stared at me, they did not know what to think. I completed my discourse and slowly walked out of the room, chuckling all the way. Mom and Becky debriefed them and determined trauma counselors would not be necessary. I walked down stairs and when I walked by the pastor's office, I had another idea.

The pastor was at his desk writing something. I stood in the doorway and leaned on a file cabinet with my right arm. I said in a low voice, "I want to see the pastor." He looked up, then did a double take. "John . . . is that you?" He let out a big sigh of relief and started laughing. "I was about to say, I'm not the pastor, but I'll go get him for you." We laughed and laughed about that one.

When I went back upstairs, the kids told me that when I was gone, some bad guy came by and told us to do bad things, but we aren't listening to him. They acted as though the visitor was not me as we continued to talk. It certainly made an impression.

It makes quite a difference on a job, if you are interested in it and you spend a little time putting your own personal twist on it. That is one Vacation Bible School none of us will ever forget.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, January 14, 2004


Having a Ball on a Monday

You may remember me writing about my friend Marty, who was running for a Parish Council seat. He got into a runoff, then won the runoff. On Monday, Louisiana inaugurated people to their new offices, including our first female governor. The St. Tammany Parish seat is Covington. We have a brand new justice center and it was the site for swearing in the new politicians. I attended the ceremony, which took place at noon. That evening, a ball was held in honor of the reelected Parish President along with the new and returning councilmen. Here are a few photos of the days events.

St Tammany Parish Justice Center

Look at the guy on the front row with the video camera. Guess who?

Marty before he was sworn in as District One Parish Councilman
Marty just before he was sworn in as a parish councilman
Marty already helping his district one constituents
No sooner than he was sworn in did Marty begin helping his district one constituents
The ball room was decorated beautifully
The ballroom was decorated beautifully
John in tuxedo
I wish I still had that other tux
Barbara, John, Marty, Mayor of Covington, and her husband
Barbara, John, Marty, Mayor of Covington, and her husband
Band leading a second line
The band is leading the crowd in a second line which is a sort of dance while waving a towel, napkin, or handkerchief
John and Marty all cleaned up
John and Marty all cleaned up

I told Marty, "Now that you have been sworn in, you will soon be sworn at." Good luck to him and the new politicians all over the state.

There's a 20% chance that I'll win a Bloggie
What's Your Chance to Win a Bloggie

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, January 13, 2004


The REAL Job Description

I am a social worker in a psychiatric hospital. When I began training to be a counselor I had an image of sitting in an office in leather wing back chairs surrounded by bookshelves holding a top notch psychology library. A receptionist would usher patients in and out to sit with me. I would solve their problems and they would love me for it. Hahahahaha, hehehehehe, hohohohoho. It did not turn out like that.

Some of my friends are nurses who trained to become a nurse to help people. In their mind they saw themselves wiping the brow of a sick person. Helping scared children facing operations laugh and feel better. They had a basic, giving comfort and relief where it was much needed idea of nursing.

Some of my friends are teachers who envisioned themselves standing in front of a class talking to children with hungry eyes and ears, taking in every intellectually nourishing word. They would make a big impression on the little life and never be forgotten.

The drive to become a counselor, nurse, teacher, or "name the profession here" was probably rooted in a similar understanding of what that profession did. Firemen put out fires, police lock up bad people, lawyers . . . well . . . bakers bake bread, and so on. Somewhere along the line our balloon of naïve understanding deflates and we are left holding the shriveled up piece of rubber in our hand and a bewildered look on our face. At this point, some may quit their job, thinking nurses at hospital X get to be nurses, so you work there. Teachers at school X get to be teachers, so you try to teach there. You still believe, but the balloon deflates again. You could change careers, but now you realize it is all BS so you just stay bewildered, bitter, or you find a way to make it work for you.

I blame lawyers and greedy, lazy people who feel they deserve a million dollars anytime they are inconvenienced for this condition.

Much of what I write, and many of the forms I fill out are more about covering my ass than they are about documenting what is going on with a patient. Do I hear an Amen? Nurses, teachers, social workers, doctors, policemen, and all of us have to cover our ass, because we are preyed upon by low life, scum bag, attorneys who would not know justice if she took off her blind fold and their willing accomplices – people looking for a quick check.

I watched a 60 Minutes episode about malpractice insurance. One MD in the East, who was an expert with high risk pregnancies, was paying one million dollars a year for his malpractice insurance. He quit taking those cases because he could not afford to practice.

Now, if someone is harmed due to negligence, that is a different story. Let’s say some guy runs over me and puts me in a wheel chair. I should receive medical care, wages I would earn up to retirement, and a few bucks for my trouble. If I buy a cup of hot coffee, place it between my legs and get burned when the car hits a bump I should get laughed at.

We could discuss unfounded court cases and outrageous judgments all day. My personal favorite is fat people blaming McDonalds for their excess pounds, and let's not forget the folks who are dying of lung cancer blaming tobacco companies for shoving cigarettes in their mouths. Whatever happened to personal responsibility and the natural consequences of your behavior?

We had an incident occur at a Wal Mart in a nearby town where a strange smell filled the store. For reasons of caution, the store was evacuated until the source of the smell could be determined. Before the source of the smell had been located, people were showing up at emergency rooms complaining of headaches, dizziness, and an assortment of symptoms as a result of the Wal Mart odor. The fire department concluded there was no danger. The topper was when a person walked into the Wal Mart in Covington (35 miles away from the store in question) and collapsed. When he was revived (BS), he said he must have inhaled something. The store manager said something like, “you moron, that was at the Bogalusa store.”

It would not be so bad if it did not affect us so much. Prices are higher for goods to pay for these BS lawsuits. Insurance premiums are higher due to fraud and BS lawsuits. My job requires a lot more writing and form filling out because of BS lawsuits.

So, the way I see it, we were not being naïve to think firemen put out fires, counselors talk to people, teachers teach, and nurses provide comfort and care to sick people. We were right, but because we have to protect ourselves from the lawyers we have lots of paperwork.

Maybe Shakespeare was right.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, January 12, 2004



John's Swollen Ankle

Back Home Resting
We got to take an excursion to the local emergency room Sunday evening. My son John rolled his ankle while playing football. The swelling was pretty bad and it was so tight I wanted a doctor to check it out. He has rolled his ankle severely twice before. We were lucky. It was not too busy in the ER and we were in and out in about two hours.

There were no breaks, but the doctor immobilized the ankle with a splint. Fortunately, John is not playing organized basketball or he would really be bummed. As it is, he has to keep off of it for a few days and may miss some work. I was impressed with the hospital staff. They were polite and efficient.

As for John, he has to lay around on the couch, play video games, and watch DVD's. Poor kid. John's Swollen Ankle

On a more pleasant topic, one of my azalea bushes is blooming. It thinks it is spring or something. The usual time for azaleas to bloom is normally March. The south is so pretty in the spring. I cannot wait to see the beautiful colors and smell the magnolias and sweet olive. I am getting a bit ahead of myself.

So that is my Sunday. I went to work for a few hours. Watched my Chiefs lose :( and took my son to the emergency room. One never knows what will happen on any given Sunday. I hope you are having a happy Monday.

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, January 11, 2004


Old School

Looking Out to Sea, Norman RockwellThe name of this painting is Looking Out to Sea, by Norman Rockwell I have it hanging in my house. The man, I imagine, is the little boy's grandfather. He is an "old salt" judging by his clothing. Using the same criteria, I would say the little boy is enamored with his grandpa. He is attentive and has his hands clasped behind his back as he listens to his grandfather tell a tale of the sea. Even the dog is enraptured by the story. If you concentrate you can hear the gulls and a far off bell ringing. The waves gently lap the shoreline and the smell of salt is in the air along with the words of past sea adventures. The boy is being mentored and nurtured. Captain grandpa is handing down his knowledge and experience to willing ears. He is stoking the boys furnace of imagination and possibility. Some day the boy will embark on his own sea voyage. He will feel called and not know why exactly. His grandfather's words will whisper to him and nudge him. The words will give him strength when the voyage is rough and one day he will pass them on. He will stand on a hill overlooking the sea. His hand will rest on the shoulder of a wide eyed boy and he will speak words that are both his and his grandfathers. Words that have been handed down through the ages.

I think of the poem Sea Fever by John Masefield

I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way, where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

I was listening to former Giants quarterback Phil Sims on ESPN radio talking about the hiring of Jee Gibbs as coach for the Washington Redskins. He was singing the praises of the "old school" coaches, like Vermeil, Parcells, and now Gibbs. There was a trend several years ago to jettison the "old school" coaches. The knock on them was they were not hip and could not relate to "today's" players. Then Dick Vermeil came out of many years of retirement to coach the St. Louis Rams. In three years the Rams won the Super Bowl. The trend now is to resurrect these old guys. I guess they know something after all. Sims went on to say that to win in the NFL teams still need organization, discipline, and toughness. "That will never change," he went on to say.

We can learn a lot by listening to those who have done it before. There are so many players now who don't listen to their coach they have become a caricature. Leon in the Budweiser commercials is their poster boy. The tried and true methods are being proven. One flashy player does not beat a group of less talented players who play as a unit.

Isn't it neat? Just looking at a picture can bring these thoughts to the surface. Art, music, and poetry really "do it" for my soul.

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, January 10, 2004


My Other Family

My closest family member lives ten hours north. The telephone and internet have done wonders for keeping us up on each other, but it is not the same as being with them. Blogging has added a dimension to communication we have never known. In many ways it is making us much closer than proximity could. We especially realize what we are missing when we get together. Our visits are enjoyable and we become aware of what we have missed and will miss in each other's lives.

Fortunately, I have another family. A family of friends and coworkers who share in my life day to day. These friends do not take the place of my family, they add to it. I know many people who only fight or have uncomfortable feelings when around their family. They deal with the same old things that were going on in their childhood. There is competition, favoritism, deceit, jealousy, and a host of other fun things at each family gathering. I am not sure I would hang around my family if it were like that.

They say you can choose your friends but you can't choose your family. This is true, but I can choose where I spend my time. My other family has taught me this. I feel just as comfortable with them as I do my real family. That is not a lowering of my family in significance, it is elevating friends to family status. I feel like a lucky S.O.B. (Use George Patton voice here.)

At the hospital I really love the people I work with. We laugh together, know the names of each other's pets, kids, spouses, parents, etc. We know when it is their birthday. We sense emotional changes in each other and offer support. Sometimes we get pissed at each other, but we make up. Sounds like a family to me.

Being a man at a hospital, I am in the minority. There are pros and cons to this arrangement. Not as many people to talk football with, a lot more crying, and more conversations about chick stuff, but there are advantages. It is almost like having several wives. We interact like that. They can never fix the copy or fax machine - enter me. If there is a birthday cake, I don't want to cut it - enter them. Bottom line, we like each other and we laugh a whole lot. How much better could heaven be than laughing all the time?

On National Nurses Day, my pal Marty and I decided we would do something nice for the nurses. We settled on the idea of getting a rose for each one. So we coughed up the money and bought about 30 roses. On each card we wrote this message: Dear _______, you are our favorite, don't tell the others. Love, John and Marty. Our legend grew - that is the BS legend. One nurse who still works there, tells me she still has that card on her refrigerator. No doubt in the most sincere card received section. As I said, we laugh a whole lot.

So if your family is too far away to see that often, do what I did, expand your definition of family. Get yourself another family in addition to the one you already have.

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, January 09, 2004


Risking Embarrassment

I am a disciple of Albert Ellis, Ph.D. and his Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy. He has withstood the test of time and his theories pervade psychotherapy today. He is a common sense, practical, funny man now in his 80's and going strong.

One of the things he does in his therapy to help people overcome their fear of embarrassment or anxiety in general, is require they place themselves in embarrassing situations. The theory, born out by tons of research, is a person desensitizes themselves from the anxiety by being exposed to it. This sort of thing translates to other forms of anxiety. For instance, if you have a fear of public speaking you will be less fearful, because you will learn that it is no big deal to be embarrassed.

Here is an example of what he does. Since his office is in New York, he tells his students to take a subway ride and yell out the stops on the train. Another option is to walk up to someone and ask them a ridiculous question. You get the idea.

In the spirit of this exercise in embarrassment, I am going to do a virtual dropping of the pants. Don't click off, I am not going to launch a soft porn site here, but I am going to share a few photos most people would consider embarrassing. Why, for reasons I stated above and because I could not think of anything substantive to post.

Actually, I credit Darin with the idea. His comment about the bike photo yesterday got me thinking about other silly photos I had.

(Did I mention I love Alison Krauss? Her song "Empty Hearts" from the "Forget About It" album is playing and it is a peaceful and sooting melody, almost a lullaby - if you are into that sort of thing)

It is Friday and I feel the usual anticipation of an evening with friends. A few drinks and recap of the week, then onto the seafood restaurant for more indulgence. I hope these photos bring a smile and not pity.

John in Tux age 20The first tux I wore standing in a wedding, age 20

HalloweenHalloween Party Hosts

Christmas Party KissClaude and Marty competing for my affections

Big Rocking Chair in IowaIs this one big enough or should we get the bigger one?

Moving from Rock Island to New Orleans1985, moving from Rock Island to New Orleans

Young married couple in FloridaYoung married couple in Florida, 1983

Enjoy your Friday.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, January 08, 2004



John on BikeI have been thinking about risk ever since I read my mom's blog post about my great grandfather. He left Denmark to avoid being conscripted into the German Navy. He came to America not knowing how he would survive. He left his family vowing to send for them when he could. I cannot imagine such a risk and I have never risked anything comparable. When faced with a hard choice, he chose action over inaction.

As it turned out, he made a life for himself and his family in America. I am the benificiary of his risk. We are all beneficiaries of the risks made by our ancestors. They attempted unbelievable things - they accomplished even more incredible feats because they were willing to take risks, what a contrast to today.

We are so careful. Organizations exist solely to protect consummers, workers, animals, you name it. At some point, being "careful" more closely resembles "paranoia" and "fear." Don't give your kid a grape, he might choke - I wouldn't risk it. Don't leave the house without your cell phone. Don't swim after you eat. Wear your safety glasses. Get the 401K, long term insurance, and make sure your car has air bags. All good advice, and all illustrate how focused we have become on safety and security. The events of 9/11 have sent this need for safety and security into hyper drive.

If great grandpa Andersen were considering going to another country today, can you imagine the advice he would get? "Are you crazy Hans? You don't know anyone in America. Where will you stay? How will we contact you? You better stay and join the German Navy." Safety and security come at a price. We pay by giving up dreams and possibilities. We mortgage excitement and anticipation for what we think is peace of mind.

A boring life is a life without risk. I am not suggesting anyone be foolhardy or endanger themselves, but I would challenge you to "go for IT." You have to figure out what "IT" is. When a person finds IT, they are motivated to get out of bed in the morning. IT is the subject of our dreams and our deepest yearnings. Have you been told you can't have IT or you cannot do IT? Do not believe them. IT is possible, if you are willing to risk a little certainty and predictability. Can you be confused or not know "the answer" for a while? Will you put up with some trials and failures on your way to IT? If so, then do it. Symbolically lay down your hammer as did grandpa Andersen in that Danish shipyard. Embark on a journey to a new world. A world full of promise and possibility. We are only limited by our dreams and the dedication and energy we are willing to expend to make them realities.

Don't be afraid to go out on a limb, that is where the fruit is.

Note: I risked riding the bike you see in the picture above. Shortly after the photo was taken, I crashed as I attempted a turn. The risk was worth the fall. How many people can say they rode an antique bicycle?

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, January 07, 2004


Twelfth Night and King Cakes

King CakeI have lived in New Orleans and the surrounding area since 1979. I dove headlong into the customs and culture. This was a joy, because most New Orleans customs involve either eating, drinking, socializing or a combination of all three. One such custom is eating king cakes beginning on Twelfth Night. Twelfth Night celebrates the arrival of the Three Kings to the birthplace of Christ. It is observed on January 5th and marks the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

There are as many king cake types as there are Mardi Gras beads. People have their favorites and mine is a cherry and cream cheese filled king cake. They resemble coffee cakes, but have purple, green, and gold sugar sprinkled all over the top. These are the traditional Mardi Gras colors. Gold represents power, purple stands for justice, and green represents faith. Concealed inside the king cake is a small plastic baby. This all seems normal to me now, but as I write this I am aware of how strange it all is. Anyway, whoever gets the baby has to buy the next king cake. There is always a next king cake. We bring them to work on Monday, because Mondays are boring. We bring them to work on Friday to celebrate Friday. As a matter of fact, there are ample excuses and reasons to bring and eat king cakes. In times past, the baby was a random way of selecting a queen for a particular Mardi Gras ball. Some people have been known to swallow the baby in an effort to avoid buying the next king cake. Not everyone is generous or in the Mardi Gras spirit.

If you are the type of person who relishes sitting down with friends and drinking a cup of coffee, you would love the king cake custom. We all give our diets the finger and eat the tasty treat without guilt. It is easier to indulge if you have company. It is just plain fun. These cakes are eaten throughout the Mardi Gras season. This year Mardi Gras is February 24, so I have about 7 weeks of king cakes to eat. It is a tough job, but someone has to do it. I read where the New Orleans area bakeries produce about one million king cakes each Mardi Gras season. Approximately one third of those are shipped.

Check out the king cake history. King cakes are just one more reason I love it here. I wish I could give you all a big piece of this gooey, sticky, yummy, treasure - but you will have to settle for a virtual piece of king cake. Just cut a slice from the picture above - enjoy.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, January 06, 2004


Dresser Drawer Archaeology

Drawer ContentsWhen I was working at a church in Buford, Georgia one summer I helped some people clean out a house of an elderly woman who had recently died. I do not remember the circumstances completely, but I do remember going through drawers, closets, and boxes full of paper, letters, greeting cards, and sundry items this lady saw fit to keep. Fact number one: People save stuff. Fact number two: Said items have meaning for the saver and possibly a small group of people. In this case, I was on the outside. These personal memories held no significance for me. That's the way it is. The things which are meaningful to us, do not hold significance for many others.

So I got to thinking. In a never ending quest to develop new blog genres I pulled the small handkerchief drawer from my bedroom dresser and paroused the contents. What would an archaeologist conclude from this sample of my life's belongings? This could be an entire blog series. My desk at work, my shed, other drawers, closets, and corners in my house and in my life all tell a story. This post tells one such story. The story of my handkerchief drawer.

Drawer Contents:
26 business cards, most of them mine
16 handkerchiefs
6 folded up pieces of paper with phone numbers and other info
3 paris of gloves used for running
3 pennies
3 band aids
3 credit cards
3 ball point pens
2 Packages of collar stays
1 jewelry box containing, 1 set of cuff links, 4 tuxedo shirt studs, my high school class ring, a ring that belonged to my step father, a gold bracelet that belonged to my step father, a key chain of the Greek god of fertility Priapus, with an over sized penis I bought in Turkey.
1 estimate sheet for our new roof August 02
1 piece of paper / crude story board for a video I was thinking about making
1 Office Depot gift card, probably $6.00 left on it
1 post it note with a chart detailing my weight and dates from a couple of years ago
1 House key from our old front door
1 alcohol prep
1 round silver pipe trim
1 plastic bag containing a watch band link
1 plastic bag containing 6 X 3'' #12 screws
1 plastic bag containing 4 buttons
1 plastic bag containing 1 ceiling fan bolt
1 Saints vs. Falcons ticket stub 10/21/01
1 Saints vs. Rams PLAYOFF ticket stub from 2000
1 House of Blues ticket stub for Peter Frampton 10/30/2000
1 Ticket stub for the Titanic exhibit at Union Station in Kansas City
1 restaurant receipt from 11/08/01
1 Audubon Zoo admission receipt from 03/25/01
1 heart rate monitor
1 Working Timex Indiglo watch
1 Whoopee cushion
1 US Army stainless steel pocket knife
1 white sock, probably Barbara's
1 Craig Wilson baseball card, who????
1 broken "bolt puzzle"
1 medal I won at a run
1 Fossil watch owner's manual

What would an archaeologist conclude from this dig? If he/she tried to posit a logical explanation for these items being gathered in this spot, they would be wrong. At least I cannot think of any intended purpose for collecting these items in my handkerchief drawer. The main reason this stuff is in the drawer is because I empty my pockets on the dresser and I throw spare parts and tools up there if the bed is already full. Barbara gets tired of the clutter and moves it to my drawer. Once in the drawer it stays. These items would stand a better chance of getting out of a black hole than my handkerchief drawer.

I know where each screw came from and the ticket stubs conjure good memories. I have so many handkerchiefs because my mom gave me some of my step dad's after he died. Looking at the cuff links makes me think about going to Mardi Gras balls. The high school ring was a prize at one time in my life, but now it resides in the darkness of the jewelry box in the handkerchief drawer.

I suppose the archaeologist would conclude that I had a sinus problem, and liked to collect hardware and phone numbers. He/she might note that I occasionally got out to sporting events, restaurants, concerts, and the local zoo. They would theorize about the groups of three. 3 gloves, band aids, ball point pens, pennies, and credit cards. Perhaps they would believe I was a soldier because of the US Army knife. The heart rate monitor could indicate cardiac problems, probably developed after winning a race. The key chain with the Greek god and over sized penis might represent a dark side to the owner of these things - perhaps he worshiped penises they would guess. What of the whoopee cushion? Is this another perverted fetish of some kind? Why did he have a Craig Wilson baseball card? What did the key unlock? The poor devils would theorize themselves to death. Cockamamie theories are the stuff good books are made of and my archaeologist would no doubt hit the lecture circuit and answer questions about the god with the big weenie.

Look around your abode. What would the archaeologist think about your artifacts? Is your stuff as random as mine? Our stuff tells a story, what story does your stuff tell?

Until the next time
John Strain