Monday, April 30, 2012

Misery loves company...wealth draws it like a magnet.

This morning when I got in my car to head to work, the radio station was set to a local country music station. Stinkin' teenager. Now, I'm by no means a country music fan (shocking, I know) and couldn't even begin to render a guess at who was singing the song violating my ears before changing back to my preset.

Garth Brooks?

Is he still in the business? I just don't know. The incident did, however, take me back to my college days when I was running around the Mecca of country music...Nashville, Tennessee.

Country music made a resounding boom in the early '80s, and the town was completely saturated with the extraordinary influx of higher per capita income. Of course, I was a broke college student working his way through a higher education with a part-time at the local Mickie D's. This particular  McDonald's was located in Green Hills, which at the time, was one of the more affluent parts of town.

Yep. Even rich people eat Big Macs.

This morning, I recalled on my way to work a particular evening of handing white bags out the drive-thru window...a story that has stuck with me through the years. It wasn't uncommon (by any stretch of means) to run into a country music star of the time just doing their normal routines. As a matter of fact, a few years after this particular story I'm about to share, I actually put shoes on Emmylou Harris without a clue who she was and why people I worked with were making a big deal about her. She did have a nice bod, but...

Yep. I worked in a retail shoe department too. Stop laughing.

Back to McDonald's. With all the new found wealth filling the city, seeing a Ferrari 308 was as common and seeing the infamously flammable Ford Pinto of the day. Made popular by Mangum, PI, the iconic red sports cars were buzzing around everywhere.  I got to see one up close on this evening as I passed a bag of food and drink carefully out to a rather pompous acting recipient who had the same look on his face most parents do the first time they catch the toddler drinking Kool-Aid from an open container on the sofa.

Don't worry jerk. I'm a professional, and your Diet Coke is in good hands.

As closing time approached, a late buzz of the drive-thru bell signalled either the most die hard of golden arch fans or a local co-ed with the munchies. Hmmm.

I'd like an order of Chicken McNoogets and a large orange drink please.

The slow southern draw and mispronunciations of McDonald's newest food craze provoked a giggle from everyone working this pre-headphone evening as it came across the box. I was anxious to interact with this character.

Pull around please.

From the box: Hey partner. Make sure I get some of that honey-mustard sauce if you would.

Please pull to the window.

I went to put the order together, and we all had another laugh in the late hour. What a hoot. Chicken McNoogets. Walking back to the drive-thru station, I watched the Ford Van circa 1978 or so pull up to the window. It was one of the popular vans from the '70s with the teardrop window on the rear upper corner, but this one was also sporting an advertising paint scheme:

My eyes trailed from the side of the van up to the driver as I walked closer. Now... I'm standing face to face with none other than Porter Wagoner himself. Wow!

Growing up, The Porter Wagoner Show was regular viewing at our home. I heard not only Dolly Parton, but also stuttering Mel Tillis for the first time on his show. Here was the Wagon Master himself in one of his famous rhinestone jackets with a ring on most every finger! He must be coming from a gig!

He had to turn the van off because the exhaust system was both loud and in need of obvious repair.

Partner. Don't forget that honey-mustard sauce.  (wink)

No sir Mr. Wagoner. I'll put in a few extra.

I appreciate that cowboy.

There is a certain unwritten etiquette when dealing with stars in public. After all, they're just people too and like their privacy. I was pumping gas one day across from none other than Randy Owen of Alabama fame and just coolly nodded a confirmation of recognition and left it at that. There was a certain degree of personal satisfaction on my part for not doting and appreciation conveyed for that fact on his part. Of course, that moment was completely shattered when a vehicle came whipping onto the lot, and a screeching lady with both breast nearly out of containment went running over to him for an unsolicited bear hug.

But this was Porter Wagoner... a Grand Ole Opry staple!

Fighting back the urge to strike up meaningless conversation, I focused on getting him on his way with sauce in tow.

I'm surprised a young fellow like you recognized and old washed up singer like me... 

Okay. Now I'm seriously fighting back my innate sarcastic mechanism that wanted to point out his name was plastered on the side of his van like a mobile billboard. Not to mention, the lift in the front of his hair was peaking somewhere around 8 inches...his signature trademark.

As he fired back up his van and pulled away, I thought about the Ferrari from a few hours earlier. Without a doubt, that jack-wagon had made a ton of money in the country music industry on the foundation built on the back of this falling star who was driving a near dilapidated vehicle.

Both sad and pathetic.

Of course, I found out years later that Wagoner was just notoriously cheap and filthy rich from his early music career and syndicated television show. He also had a serious hankering for honey-mustard sauce...but then, maybe I'm  the only one holding that telling information.

I don't know who these generic, pop-called-country music stars of today are...but they're no Porter Wagoner for sure. He is and always will be an original character of the genre.

* Porter died in 2007 at the age of 80. Misery Loves Company was one of several #1 hits for the singer from 1962.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

“We can evade reality, but we cannot evade the consequences of evading reality” Ayn Rand, Russian-born writer

After comments from several of you about my last post on doing the work, I must admit I came under a great deal of conviction...

Now let me state right up front I've never been a lazy person. That doesn't, however, exclude the fact that on past occasions I've found easier paths to get to a desired result. While my personal creed has most assuredly flopped Mitt Romney-style from the end justifies the means to do the right thing no matter what,  I still tote some baggage that apparently some of you remember quite well from days of old. Ancient history.

Yes. I'm talking specifically about school...that is. The other type of cheating is a completely different post/issue.

Not long ago, I received a text message from my teenager while I was at work, and she was supposed to be at school.

What is the Ring of Fire?

Thinking she was goofing off in class with some of her classmates, I quickly responded:

The after-effects of the new hot chalupa at Taco Bell... 
...or the title of an old Johnny Cash song I used to have on an 8 track.

Dad! I'm serious!

So, now I'm thinking she's using me like ChaCha to look smart in front of her friends.

A group of active volcanoes in the Pacific rim that goes along Eastern Asia around to Western North and South America. Why? (True. A better question would be why in the world do I know that?)

Are you sure?

Wait. Are you cheating on a test?!

Dad? Are you sure?

Yes! But I'm not answering anymore questions! Not good young lady...

I'm wondering why a teacher would let students have phones at that...out during a test? Is that education today?

The conversation with the teenager had a bit of a tainted feel to it later that day as I lectured on the values of actually learning a school subject (in this case geography) and the attributes of integrity as a foundational cornerstone to one's character.

Ouch. As I remember these recent events and recalled (with some of your help, thanks) my own antics from school...yep...the conviction starts pouring over me in buckets. Granted, I have used one of my former 'creative escapades' to illustrate the importance of doing your own work in school while talking with young people today. The story goes like this:

My very first semester of classes in college included the foreign language of Spanish. In my very first class of said subject, I quickly noted that the professor, along with everyone else in the class, spoke exclusively Spanish the entire class. I was completely lost not to mention embarrassed more than once by my feeble attempts to start adding to my class participation grade.

At the conclusion of class, I immediately went to the professor:

Tony C: I'm sorry. I must be in the wrong class. Is this an advanced Spanish class?

Professor: Hola. Senor Antonio, did you have Espanol in high school?

Tony C: Yes ma'am. Two semesters.

Professor: Did you make an A in those classes?

Tony C: Yes ma'am. Both semester.

Professor: Then Senor Antonio you are in the right class. Bienvenido.

Now the truth of the matter about my high school Spanish grade is that while my transcript shows an A grade in both semesters...Pam H actually made those A's...not yours truly.

A quick trip to the Registrar's Office and a drop/add slip took care of the problem. Well, except now 'Я говорю по-русски...плохо'.

But, I'm not even sure if that's the correct phrase in Russian to be quite honest.  Kids...just do the work! Believe me, you're much better off in the long run...and a much better person to boot.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

"Opportunity is missed by most because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." Thomas Edison

There are a few television shows that get recorded to the DVR for my benefit each week. Aside from my weekday regiment of the PBS NewHour, Tim Allen's new sitcom called Last Man Standing is a weekly watch for both me and Mrs. Tony C.

The premise revolves around a middle-aged father of three girls struggling to relate his old school way of thinking to their more modernized, sophisicated approach to life. His wife becomes the ultimate mediator between 'manly-man' father and daughters due in large part to the fact she is obviously smarter and much more refined than her husband.

Ahem...sounds very familiar. Too familiar actually if you just add Crocs.

The wife recognizes Tim Allen's character has a great heart and always the best intentions with his often hilarious shennaigans. Sort of a remake of Allen's first sitcom character, Tim Taylor, on Home Improvement.

During a recent episode, Allen's character (Mike Baxter) is listening to his middle daughter whine about forgetting her lines during a school play (which he happened to miss) when she finally admits to the fact she didn't really put forth effort to actually memorize them.

What's wrong with you!?  You know you've got to do the work! That's what we do in this family. We do the work!

Over and over that  phrase has since buzzed in my head. Do the work! How completely and simplistically profound.

There are a number of positive attributes I get from my mom without a doubt. But, the one dominate principle I learned from my dad is to never be afraid of hard work. A lesson by example from a man who in 35 plus years never missed a day of work for sickness. Not one.

Where has this principle of  do the work been lost?  I'm constantly riding my teenager about her responsibilities around our house. Granted they're not great task but are put in place to help her better understand everyone plays an important role in making up the family. She will have her own some day, and only then will she truly realize the amount of effort required just to get through a single day of living in modern society.

But that fact hasn't really changed in thousands of years.

Sure. Our culture has become less physical with technological advances, but the garbage still has to be taken out! Meals still have to be prepared and cleaned up. No. We don't have to spend a tremendous part of our day working to hunt, kill and cook the food we eat, but we do spend a large portion of each day at a job that pays us so we can purchase the food we need to live.

I work for a relatively small Department of Defense contracting company. The model keeps the number of employees to a minimum in order to maximize the compensation for all of us who work there. To a person, everyone seems to loves it.  But there's a mutual understanding that due to our lean composition, it is vital each employee do his/her job with maximum effort and be willing to pitch in when the occasional overload shows up. That's not my job is not only an unacceptable's practically nonexistent.

Unfortunately, I don't see the same demeanor at my church where the typical (to churches) 10% of members do 90% of the task necesary for the church to thrive and function. Such a shame too. In a congregation of over 300 people, so much could be done for God's glory if everyone would do the work  He needs us to do.

What I find most baffling is this lassez faire attitude in today's church bridges each and every generation...even to the surviving members of the Greatest Generation. Christians can't blame just young people for the stagnant state of the American church. We've become increasingly lazy as a whole in our society and as a subset in our places of worship.

A daunting subject matter that undoubtedly will require more addressing in future post. I'm going to leave you today, however, with a thought and hopefully a chuckle.

The thought is this: The next time you're walking down your street, in your office building, around your church or anwhere else for that matter...and you come across a piece of trash on the ground/floor...pick it up and put it in a trash can. Do the work necessary regardless of blame or due credit and don't leave it for someone else to do.

Now here's the chuckle. It's a little disturbing watching this knowing I'm in complete agreement with what Tim Allen is saying for the sake of comedy...but that's a blog post for Mrs. Tony C to write I suppose.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Be kind whenever possible...and remember it's always possible.

A couple of phrases/concepts I've recently heard via television or radio have managed to capture my attention and ultimately have worked into my muses.

Just yesterday while out for lunch, I was sitting at a red light listening to a radio commercial about retirement I'd already heard several times. What caught my attention was the premise being made that until that first day of  a person's retirement, we each face deadlines near constantly. That fact is actually the underlining principle behind students being assigned homework in school.  Learning to meet deadlines while producing quality work is the actual goal of homework...hmmmm.


As I pulled through the the red light, my right, front tire finally gave up the ghost. Granted, I had been pushing it for quite some time, and that green stuff called Slime you shoot into your tire for a slow leak problem can only go so far. Such is life, no big deal.

Limping into the closest parking lot for the required pit stop, I noticed a female sitting on a bench outside of this particular Walgreens. Duly noted to self. Surveying my surroundings is an old habit from years gone past. Old habits die hard but sometimes prove useful. I found a nice spot in the rear parking lot of Walgreens in the shade.

I opened my trunk and prepared to retract my spare for the task at hand. I'm thinking 10 minutes...tops.

Hey! I can change that tire for a few extra dollars!

From around the corner comes the aforementioned female on said bench, and it is immediately apparent to me what profession the aforementioned female is currently listing on her nonexistent resume. Great. Just great. Rear parking lot of Walgreens with a pro. This kind of stuff ends up news even in the most innocent of circumstances.

Aside rendered on a personal level, she also boasted of mechanical skills and immediately started digging around in my truck trying to retrieve the jack.

I'll have you on your way in no time Sugar.

Tony C: Ma'am, that's okay. I can do this pretty quick.

Let me just get this jack out and we'll...

Her phone rings.

Hello. Waiting for you. You're late this week. Helping this guy change a flat tire. No! I'm really helping him change his flat tire. Okay. I'll be right here.

By this time, I had managed to fish a $10 bill from my wallet. Yes. A risky exchange, but...

Tony C: Okay look. Here's $10. Just go back to the bench and wait for your...friend. I'll take care of this.

For nothing? You don't have to do that.

Tony C: Yes. I know. I just need to change this tire and get back to work. Besides, what kind of gentleman would I be letting a lady change my tire. No offense meant of course.

Well God bless you mister. I can buy me some cigarettes now. God bless you.

Tony C: God bless you too ma'am, and I mean that with all sincerity. He blesses me all the time even though I don't deserve it.

(Smacking me on the arm) Yep, me too! Ain't that the truth Sugar!

My heart sank just a bit as I watched her walk away and then climb into the truck for her...ahem...appointment. An overwhelming sense of anguish fell over me as I reflected on the fact she was some body's daughter, maybe even a mother.

I'm sure she is well known to the other people around that parking lot for what she, what she does... but I don't begrudge a single second giving her that $10 in front of them. Sure. I just wanted her to go away, so I could change my flat in peace and be on my way. But after the fact and upon reflecting on the brief exchange, I find comfort in knowing that regardless of her circumstances and choices, she still acknowledged an understanding that God blesses us. 

The radio commercial I was listening to when my tire blew out was trying to convey that responsibilities end at retirement, but we all face a last ultimate deadline even in retirement. We can't afford to rest, even in old age, on our responsibilities to God until that final retirement comes. That's true planning for the future.

My next post will look at the other phrase/concept I've recently picked up from...of all things...a sitcom. 


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Best of TCT- Just listen for hooters to know it's really Spring...

From April 2009

Snow on the blooming redbud tree is not that uncommon in the Southeast.

The air was filled with the sounds of yard work this weekend in my neighborhood. I even noticed one of the neighbors planting annuals around her mailbox...a task she most assuredly will repeat next month. Like many others this weekend, she fell victim to the Calender Spring/Actual Spring trick bag. What? That's right...the Calender Spring/Actual Spring trick bag. Trust me, it got me one year too.

The calender tells people the vernal equinox (aka Spring) happens most years on March 20, as it did this year. Days and nights are of relatively equal length as the sun travels around our planet's equator. Despite the mystical sooth sayings of a certain pudgy rodent in upstate Pennsylvania six weeks earlier, the exit of cold weather is much more orderly, predictable. Everyone in the South knows cold weather hasn't officially ceased until each of the 'mini-winters' have run course because there is a big difference between the season called Winter ending and cold weather ending.

There are three distinct phases, generally speaking, that precedes the departure of cold weather in the Southeast. Granted, this isn't new stuff...Farmers' Almanac has been printing it since 1818 with far more accuracy than that witchcrafty groundhog in PA...and farmers use the phases to determine when certain crops should be planted. The indicator for the arrival of each phase is the blooming of certain plants.

We are currently experiencing Redbud winter here. Although it was a nice toasty 74 degrees on Saturday, the blooming of the Eastern Redbud tree has brought with it a cold snap that calls for a chance of snow just a mere 4 days removed from warmer temperatures. After another brief warming spell, dogwood trees will bloom and with that another cold snap usually around 3 or 4 days long. Last to arrive will be blackberry winter...somewhere around the first of May. The distinct brier can be seen blooming all along Southeastern roadways with promises of fruit for cobblers and pies by July 4th...making the last of the cold spells a little more bearable.

Now when I was but a young lad in the times before central air conditioning (at least at our house), I knew when I heard the hoot of the Hoot Owl outside my window after sunset it would soon be time to raise the windows at night and take off the white Fruit of the Loom t-shirt during the day.

Of course, I now know that scientifically speaking there are no Hoot Owls, just the native Barred and Common Barn Owls, and the louder hoots are timed to their mating cycles. Still, even though Spring officially started March 20, for me cold weather isn't truly gone until the owls have made their presence known...a happier time for us all.

So for this boy from the Southeast, forget the lessons in horticulture related weather...warm temperatures and hooters go hand in hand for me.

Take it for what it's worth.