Friday, July 17, 2015

Re: Orthodox Christians Must Now Learn To Live as Exiles in Our Own Country

Rod Dreher’s article, “Orthodox Christians Must Now Learn To Live as Exiles in Our Own Country” is a wordy and somewhat rambling essay on the challenges now facing Christians due to the recent Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage. He makes numerous claims and offers a variety of anecdotes. Most of them are wrong. He includes some pretty exciting language to describe marriage equality such as “radical”, “extremism”, and “revolution”. He makes reference to phrases like “inventing rights out of nothing” and “a threat to democracy”. Apparently the world is about to end.

I see gay marriage as another victory along the way towards liberty, equality, and justice for all people as imagined by our founding fathers. Our history shows how we get there: slavery was abolished, the right to vote was extended to women and African Americans, segregation was declared illegal, and today all people finally have the right to marry under the law. Still our society is not perfect, but as we continue the slow march forward, at every step of the way those like Mr. Dreher lament how “the old ways” are gone. Despite their protest we eventually look back on the social change and call it what it is: progress.

Mr. Dreher makes specific points about this most recent victory for LGBT equality that I would like to address.

1) That we are a “Post Christian Nation”.

“Post Christian Nation” sounds to me like… ALL THE CHRISTIANS ARE GONE!!! Where did they go?? Did the rapture finally happen? I still see all my friends in my social media but I suppose it is possible that none of my friends are true Christians like Mr. Dreher. I wonder if Mr. Dreher is still here. Mr. Dreher are you still here? Can you see these words? Are you going to Chick-fil-A for lunch today or did they disappear in a puff of greasy holy smoke? Are you going to pick up some art and craft supplies from Hobby Lobby or did Jesus call the fake plastic flowers and decorative trinkets up to heaven where they belong?

Sorry Mr. Dreher, but we are not a “Post Christian Nation” because we never were a “Christian Nation” in the first place. Granted, Christianity is part of our culture and history, but it was never a basis for our government. The US Constitution is the fundamental document of our government and it does not contain any reference to God, Jesus, or Christianity. In fact it specifies that our government cannot establish an official religion and at the same time guarantees the free exercise of religion. All religion, not just Christianity.

2) That “LGBT activists” will really be coming after social conservatives.

So Mr. Dreher, have you noticed how people who enjoy model trains have not been “coming after social conservatives” the way the “LGBT activists” supposedly have? Why would that be? I suppose it’s probably because social conservatives generally have nothing against equality for people who like model trains. Social conservatives, insecure as they are, somehow allow model train enthusiasts to live as they will. They are free to use old fashioned steam locomotives, modern diesel-electric engines, or both. Model train enthusiasts are equal members of society under the law with all the rights and privileges afforded by our Constitution. 

Now imagine if social conservatives also had nothing against this same equality for LGBT people. This is just a guess, but I’ll bet the “LGBT activists” would be happy to live and let live if this was the case. I’ve never heard any LGBT person say that social conservatives should not have the right to marry the person of their choice, raise their kids, and make a train layout in their basement. If we could just get the same courtesy from social conservatives towards the LGBT community, imagine what that would be like. Everyone just living as they wish under the laws of the United States of America. Nobody trying to control which pair of consenting adults can and cannot marry. What a radical concept.

3) That LGBT want to change marriage.

This one is really puzzling to me. I’m not Christian or married, so to examine this I look to my own parents. They are devout Christians who have been happily married for nearly fifty years. Probably the biggest recent change in their lives is the sale of their current house with stairs and construction of a new house that is all on one level. It seems to me that all other aspects of their marriage, and life, are pretty much the same after gay marriage.

I think what is really having an impact on my parents is gravity. They don’t like stairs any more and quite frankly I don’t blame them. My own house has plenty of stairs and I guess they are kind of a pain. I’m trying to think if gay marriage has changed the nature of the stairs in my house. Or the pull of gravity. You know, I don’t think it has. It hasn’t changed marriage, either.

4) That we (Christians) are going to have to learn how to live with at least a mild form of persecution.

And here again is this tired old claim of persecution of conservative Christians. They can no longer force their narrow religious opinions of marriage into the lives of fellow citizens. This somehow ruins their own marriage and makes them “victims” of the day.

I’m reminded of the behavior of a young boy at a restaurant where I recently dined. He went into a tantrum when he was denied some leftover potato chips that were offered to another person at the table. He was so blind in his persecution that he failed to notice the ample number of potato chips remaining on his own plate. The child’s tantrum stopped when I pointed to his own chips.

I wish it was that easy to stop the tantrums of conservative Christians. I’ll point out how they are still free to marry the person they love, and yet they are not happy. There is wonderful diversity of potato chips in this great nation, and we should all be free to eat the chips of our choice. And we should all be free to marry the person we love. This is not persecution. It is simply the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all people.

Mr. Dreher continues to babble on about “Benedictine monks living amongst cultural darkness”. He wonders how to “build resilient (Christian) communities within a condition of internal exile”. He quotes a fellow in a monastery in someplace called Nursia who declares “how far things have decayed in our aggressively secularizing world” and blah blah blah blah blah… 

He says that the dissenting Supreme Court justices who warn of “the fall of the traditional American social, political, and legal order” are not like “wild-eyed prophets wearing animal skins and shouting in the desert”. Indeed. They are not wearing animal skins.

Mr. Dreher says we live in interesting times. I say we live in a time of progress, and it is good.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Open Letter to KS Legislators on Unlicensed Concealed Guns

Dear Kansas Legislators,

I’m writing to urge you to reject the bill to allow unlicensed carry of concealed guns. In Kansas you need a license to drive a car on public roads. You need a license to do many jobs (doctor, lawyer, teacher, etc). If you want to open a restaurant and serve food to the public you have to obtain a license. The idea that we should let anybody with no training and no license walk around with a loaded gun under their shirt is complete insanity. A concealed carry permint in KS requires fingerprinting and a criminal background check. Do we really want to do away with this? I can't see how it would make us safer.

Many people argue that there is no difference between concealed carry and open carry. To me the difference is obvious - I can SEE the gun with open carry. If someone walks into a restaurant with a rifle on their shoulder or a pistol on their hip I can immediately walk to the back of the restaurant, go through the kitchen, and out the back door. I don’t know if we have a “good guy with a gun” or a “bad guy with a gun” just by looking at them. But I can clearly see they have a gun. I might even see the gun out the window before this individual gets inside the restaurant.

Many people argue that criminals have concealed weapons so we shouldn’t have restrictions on concealed weapons since it won’t make a difference. This argument is utter nonsense. If laws don’t make any difference then why do we even have any laws? If we have speed limits then only the criminals will drive too fast so we don't really need speed limits. If we have laws against theft then only the criminals will steal so we don't need laws against theft. If we have laws against rape and murder then only the criminals will rape and murder so we don't need laws against rape and murder. Pick ANY law and you can make the same argument that criminals simply ignore that law. And yet somehow, we all agree that laws are good. Laws keep the vast majority of people from doing things that harm other people. Should we eliminate DUI laws? If we have laws against drunk driving then only the criminals will drive drunk. So let's get rid of DUI laws, right?

Here is a great quote from Karl T Frederick, an Olympic gold-medal winner for gun marksmanship: “I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons. I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.” Karl T Frederick also happened to be the President of the NRA at the time. I believe “The right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” is an important part of our constitution. I, Paul Klusman, believe in responsible gun ownership. I also believe in common-sense gun control laws. The 2nd Ammendment does NOT mean the founding fathers imagined a big free-for-all where ANYBODY can carry a gun at any time, anywhere, with zero restrictions, no license, and no training.

Paul Klusman

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Response to Joseph Stromberg and his article "What research says about cats: they're selfish, unfeeling, environmentally harmful creatures"

Dear Mr. Stromberg,

In response to your article about cats being, “selfish, unfeeling, environmentally harmful creatures” I feel the need to provide some perspective that your essay lacks.

Your first point compares cats to dogs in an attempt to demonstrate how cats do not show affection and do not form attachment to humans, at least not the same way dogs do. It certainly is true that cats and dogs show affection differently. I often tell people that if they suffer from any sort of insecurity they should get a dog and not a cat. A dog will always provide instant affection on demand at all times and all places. Cats on the other hand, are the more subtle animal. They demonstrate affection and attachment on their own terms. There are times when a cat seeks attention and there are times when the cat prefers solitude. This does not mean their affection is not genuine, even if it is demonstrated differently than dogs or even human infants.

As I write this, one of my own cats is pawing at my leg, looking up at me, and making direct eye contact. I know what she wants: physical contact. I reach down and give her a little scratch on the head, then go back to my writing. Here again is the paw on my leg. More head rubs which she clearly enjoys and then back to my writing. And again more pawing at my leg, and so on, and so on. If she is particularly insistent the only thing that satisfies her is when I pick her up and park her on the table just between my chest and the laptop keyboard. She will sit there, curled in a warm ball, for up to a half hour while I write. Mind you breakfast was served an hour ago so she is not seeking food.

There are many other examples I could mention such as my cats gathering near when I’m upset, vocally crying and watching out the window as I drive away in the morning, and greeting me at the door when I come home at night. Of course these are all subjective, and we really have no way to “measure” genuine affection. What I can tell you is that I am the author of a popular series of cat videos on YouTube, and I receive daily contact from my fans who express affection for their own cats the same way that I demonstrate affection for mine in the videos. My videos have been viewed over 17 million times. I’ve received tens of thousands of comments directly on the videos or through other social media where people from all over the world express love for their own cats. That love is real.

Your next point attacks cats for their environmental destruction. It is true that free-roaming domesticated cats do kill birds and small mammals in their local area. For fun. Well, so do some humans. And let’s be real here, the vast majority of harm that comes to birds, animals, fish, and so many other parts of the planet is due to human activity. Every strip mall, every McDonalds, every industrial beef operation, every new car, every cell phone, and every item purchased at Walmart represents environmental destruction in the long run that is incomprehensible to the average person. Overall, the destruction caused by domesticated cats is a tiny drop in the bucket compared the wrath of human greed. If you really want to help out animals around the planet perhaps you shouldn’t upgrade your cell phone when the next shiny new model is released. Cats in the wild are only doing what their natural instinct compels them to do. You can change your behavior, they cannot.

Finally you report on the devastating effects of a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii that can be found in cats. According to your report, the parasite can cause “altered behavior, neuroticism, schizophrenia, lower reflexes, traffic accidents, and suicide.” The same wikipedia article where you pulled this information also reports that the parasite is present in many other types of animals including pigs, lambs, and birds, as well as contaminated water, unwashed fruits and vegetables, and dirt. In fact the biggest risk factor to humans is consuming undercooked meat. You did give undercooked meat a passing mention but pegged most of the blame squarely on cats. If you really want to warn people about Toxoplasma gondii you might urge them to get their burger “well done” instead of “rare” next time they go out for dinner, but instead you chose to spread sensational nonsense about cats.

Further research on the topic indicates that people with a poor immune system (cancer or AIDS patients) are most vulnerable to the parasite but the vast majority of infected people clear the disease with little or no symptoms. Your same wikipedia article concludes the following: “Numerous studies have shown living in a household with a cat is not a significant risk factor for T. gondii infection, though living with several kittens has some significance”. This means that adult cats normally develop a strong immune response to the parasite and present no risk to humans, while young cats may pose a small risk for a short time before they develop an immune response. Overall, I would suggest the best way to avoid the peril of Toxoplasma gondii is education and the presentation of relevant and accurate information, something that is lacking in your poorly written essay.

I understand that your article might be “all in good fun” to some degree, and certainly a good-natured “dogs vs. cats” debate will continue. But your article and others like it can do real harm. Cats experience a disproportionate amount of suffering by hateful people who would torture or kill them for fun. Your article is clearly biased, lacks perspective, and only adds to the ignorance of people who would harm cats. If you lack the sophistication to appreciate the subtle ways in which cats express affection, it is unlikely that I will change your mind. You probably just won’t ever like cats. However some perspective and intellectual honesty would be welcome in your otherwise slanted and sensationalist writing.

Paul Klusman

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Open Letter to Kansas Legislators on Religious Freedom

Dear Kansas Legislators,

Thank you so much for passing a bill that allows people in Kansas the freedom to exercise their religious beliefs and discriminate against homosexuals. For it is written in the Bible that, "a man laying with another man is an abomination"  in Leviticus 20:13.

I'm wondering if you would also take up the cause for other things mentioned in the same book of the Bible? For example, Leviticus 19:19 states "...nor shall a garment of mixed linen and wool come upon you." I think this might also extend to cotton-polyester blends: (Ma'am? I believe your socks might not be 100% cotton, and that is an offense to my religion. I'll have to ask you to remove your socks and cast them upon the ground before I serve you this coffee.)

Leviticus 11:12 states that whatever is in the water that doesn't have fins or scales is an abomination, so we really need to crack down on people who eat the wrong kind of seafood: (Oh heavens me, do I smell SHRIMP on your breath? I'm sorry, but even with cocktail sauce, shrimp is STILL WRONG!! You will have to go home, purge, and brush your teeth before I can change the oil in your car.)

Leviticus 23:3 states that we shall do no work on the Sabbath, so we need to show people who work on Sunday what they deserve: (Hey young man, didn't I see you hard at work when I came into that waffle shop for breakfast last Sunday? You should NEVER serve waffles on Sunday. We all know maple syrup is from Canada but we live in KANSAS and love JESUS! Now get out of my liquor store!!)

Leviticus 19:9 states that it is wrong to harvest the very corners of a field of crops. It doesn't say how round you should leave the corners, but you know people cut them too tight: (So farmer Ted, you sure are proud of that new harvester aren't you? Turns pretty tight corners, doesn't it? Yeah you're a sick man. We all know you are just trying to get EVERY LAST SHRED OF WHEAT FROM YOUR FIELDS!!! Sorry but you'll just have to get that prescription for your cholesterol medication elsewhere!! I'LL  BET YOU'VE BEEN EATING SHRIMP, TOO!! THAT'S WHY YOU HAVE HIGH CHOLESTEROL!!!! REPENT FARMER TED!!! REPENT!!!!!)

I could go on with plenty more examples of sinful behavior from the Bible that needs attention from the good folks of the Kansas Legislature. Of course it might take days, weeks, or even months to draft and pass additional legislation like this, but don't we all want to exercise our religious beliefs?

Or perhaps we can just let people exercise the religion of their choice in their homes and churches as the founding fathers intended but not force that religion onto others. Perhaps we shouldn't pass legislation that encourages people to practice bigotry in the name of religion. Perhaps we should concentrate on legislation that seeks to improve the economy rather than demonstrate how backwards and narrow-minded Kansas is.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Hot Technology on a Friday Night in Wichita (Warning: contains F-bomb plus a drunk man leering at some ladies)

The other night I went to an art show. The last Friday of each month is a city-wide open house event where you get to visit different art studios and rub elbows with sophisticated art people and admire the creative talents of passionate artists from our community. I have an appreciation for art so I like to go to these things and I also like to girl watch.

My buddy Ryan was going to join because he likes art and culture and he also likes to girl watch but really he does have an appreciation for the finer things in life and he is rather sophisticated so he fits in well at an art show. Unfortunately he also tends to get rather sophisticated migraine headaches, which he did that evening so I had to go solo.

The art was pretty cool, and quite a few of the displays involved video technology and one even had a deal where you could move your hand against a wall and a digital projected scene would create glowing sparkles that followed your hand. 

They also had some grilled mac-and-cheese sandwiches and those were awesome except I have to be careful because too much dairy can give me a bit of acid reflux. I'm on some pretty good medication so that's usually not a problem, and for that matter I suppose staring at art for too long can make your eyes tired and I do spend most of my days staring at a computer screen so my eyes get kind of dried out especially in the winter.

So I got my fill of mac-and-cheese sandwiches and art, and towards the end of the event I wandered into a smaller room that wasn't part of the art show but was a small business involving some cool email application for smart phones. They were having an open house and two ladies started telling me about the email product for smart phones so I had to show them my phone:

No for real, ask your Grandpa: Can I have his hand-me-down cell phone?

Yes, that IS my cell phone. It has two unique safety features:

1) Nobody would ever want to steal it.
2) The buttons are rubbed off and the keypad doesn't really look like a keypad and it is rather confusing so I'm the only one who knows how to use the phone.

It used to be that people would tell me, "Oh my GAWD you need to get a new phone!" but now people are like, "WOAH!! Is that REALLY your phone??!! That is SO AWESOME!! Hold on, I need to get a picture..." Yes, people actually do take pictures of my cell phone with their cell phone, and post the picture of my cell phone online where I can't see it because I can't see online with my cell phone.

Anyway, I was showing off my antiquated cell phone to these two ladies and they were pretty amazed. I was pretty amazed because the ladies were quite attractive. One of them had this really unique blue hair, sort of like a light metallic blue tint sort of thing, and I was a bit more drawn to her but really they were both very nice ladies. I might in fact call them "hot" as in "hot chicks" but that is not very sophisticated and I try to be sophisticated at an art show like Ryan, and Ryan doesn't normally use that sort of term so neither do I.

I was explaining to the attractive ladies that my cell phone can make and receive phone calls and it has voice mail and it can send and receive text messages, and wouldn't you know it just then I received a text so it was the perfect opportunity to demonstrate this functionality. The text was from Ryan and it said, "How is the show? Any hot chicks?" I showed it to the ladies and they were... less than impressed. The hottest one with the blue hair was particularly not impressed.

So then I wasn't really sure what to do. I just struck out talking about my fancy cell phone, and at that point I could... describe my acid reflux caused by too many mac-and-cheese sandwiches or my dried eyes from looking at too much art. I could mention that I have a condition called blepharitis that causes clogged oil glands at the base of my eye lashes which makes my eye lids swell a bit and turn slightly pink. I actually do have this condition. It's not that bad, though. With proper treatment like rubbing my eyes I can have a mostly normal life like other people.

So after a bit of awkward conversation I put my phone away and wandered off to see what else I could see. I stopped to get some coffee and had a conversation with a woman who was writing a blog about her efforts to conceive a child, I admired some more art, I stood by and watched an impromptu game of pictionary for a bit, and then a particularly drunk fellow wandered by and said hello.

"How are you?"

"Good! How are you?"


"This is a good time isn't it?"

"It IS! Yes!"

"Are you an art enthusiast?"

"(pause) not really. But I live within walking distance and what else is there to do on a Friday night around here."

"You're not into the art?"

"Nah. Are you?"

"It's OK. Some of it's good."

"Most people here... don't really give a F*** about the art. They just like to come hang out."

"Like you."

"Like me. And you."



"I like to girl watch."

"Oh yes. That one there. Nice big T*** and some good hips. I'd love it with her."

"I understand she is trying to get pregnant."

"Oh I could help out with that! I'd love it. And that one there, she's very pretty. Look how pretty she is."

"The one playing pictionary?"

"No the one over... well yes the pictionary girl is pretty, but I'm talking about the one over there. With the hat."

"Oh yes very pretty."

"Very pretty. I'd LOVE it with her!"

"I don't know if she is trying to get pregnant."

"Most of them aren't. But that's OK."



"I think we are having the most genuine conversation of anyone here."

"We are. Everyone else is having some BS conversation about the art, but this is real."

"A real conversation"



"I'm going to go away, now."

"OK. Nice chatting with you."

"Nice chatting with you. I'll see if I can get lucky. Take someone home."

"Or look at some more art."

"MOST people don't give a F*** about the art."

"I don't."

"Me too! F*** it!"

"F*** it!"

So then it was my turn for pictionary. I got "Neil Diamond's Greatest Hits" and I drew a stick-man kneeling and then a ring with a diamond and then a hand hitting a stick-man on the head and I also put in a blank: Kneeling + Diamond Ring + (blank) + Hitting someone, and somebody guessed "Neil Diamond's Greatest Hits" and then it was time to go.

On the way out I paused by a small group with the hot chick with the blue hair. One of her friends was showing off various small toys she had in her purse that her kids had left behind in the car that day. Out came a little pink pony and then a little blue pony. She gave the blue pony to me and the pink one to the hot chick with the blue hair. I was going to suggest that in some cultures this indicated that we were now married, but then the hot chick with the blue hair switched the ponies so that she had the blue one (to match her hair) and I had the pink one (to match my dry swollen pink eye lids) and then she wandered away.

I felt badly that the kids might miss their pink pony so I gave it back to the lady with the purse and wandered off. I don't know if the blue pony was ever returned by the hot chick with the blue hair. It seems like the lady with the purse knew the hot chick with the blue hair pretty well so I'd venture to guess that the blue pony eventually made it back as well. Or perhaps the blue pony got to go home with the hot chick with the blue hair. I don't think that pony even gave a F*** about the art.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Candygram Deliveryman

I've got this friend who is trying to expand her work in the modeling business. She is a lovely young lady with a vivacious personality that really comes through on camera. She and her photographer boyfriend got some new photos done up in a nice slick-looking portfolio and she's eager to get some more exposure here in Wichita. I don't know how difficult it is to build up a network in this industry, but apparently there is a good amount of competition even in Wichita, so getting yourself noticed is pretty tricky.

As a model, bringing your portfolio into the front lobby of a new advertising or modeling agency and handing it to the receptionist would likely get that portfolio placed into a giant stack of other portfolios that will never see the light of day. So my friend decided the best way to get to more of the head honchos around town was to hide her photos inside a candygram which could be delivered directly to each head honcho. The head honcho would dig into the candy and notice the portfolio hidden underneath. They'd be impressed with the audacity of the whole thing and would likely remember the young lady in the photos and might give her a job.

Pretty clever, huh? But the question is, where do you find a candygram deliveryman? In Wichita?

That's where I come in:

Who can make the sun shine?
I was skeptical. I figured a candygram deliveryman should be some young guy trying to work his way through college. It's a fun job but it probably doesn't pay that well, and you'd have to imagine that a guy in his 40s wouldn't really be able to make a living at it. I suppose it might be a part-time gig just for fun? Despite my concerns they insisted I was the guy to do this, and I figured it would be a good "acting" experience so why not? If I could pull this off perhaps I do have a future as a leading man in Hollywood. Or the lead monotone narrator in cat videos or something.

I had much of the outfit already, including the fake clip-on bow tie, white shirt, and black penny loafers and belt. My friends supplied the pants and hat and candygrams with the hidden photos and some of the shiniest new pennies I'd ever seen to go into the penny loafers. And you can't believe how well the pants fit! I just gave them my size, they went out and shopped around and found pants that looked WAY too big and frumpy on the hanger, but once I put them on we were all amazed at how perfectly they fit. Like they were tailored or something. I guess I'm frumpier than I thought. But yeah once we all saw how well the pants fit we all knew this was meant to be.

So my task was to march into the lobby of these various ad agencies around town and try to talk my way to hand-delivering the candygram to the big cheese of each agency. My big concern was that I'd come up against some skeptical receptionists who'd want to know more details about the "company" I worked for, what is the website of my "company", how long have we been in business, why have they not seen more candygram deliveries around town, and "I'm sorry the boss is VERY busy right now you'll have to leave it with me and I'll get it to him when he's free", etc, etc.

I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out the "back story" for this character I was going to play and rehearsing what I'd say in response to the judo-trained security receptionists who would tackle me and wrestle me to the ground if I tried to make a break for the boss's office, and the candygram would crash to the ground and break open spilling candy all over the floor and sitting amongst the candy would be the modeling portfolio as plain as day and the receptionist lady would would say, "Ah-HAAHH!!! YOU'RE just trying to get to the BOSS!! I'm sorry but he's VERY BUSY and we've got PLENTY of portfolios from all SORTS of models tying to break into our business!! What do you think you're trying to do here, mister? Just 'cause you've got candy and a balloon you think you can just go right up to the BIG KAHUNA and pull a fast one?? I don't THINK so!!!" She'd wrap my arms and legs in duct tape and then I'd end up in jail for trespassing AND I'd be wearing a candygram delivery outfit in jail.

It turns out the outfit worked perfectly and everyone was happy to show me straight to the boss without question. There was none of the interrogation that I anticipated and really, it was remarkable how willingly everyone took me straight to the lady or man in charge. Just walk in with a smile and they smile back and all the defenses are instantly down. I mean, you could rob a bank with this outfit. At least once before word got out that some nut in a candygram outfit was robbing banks. You could hand out lollipops as you walked out the door with your pile of stolen cash so it would be fun, too.

I can't honestly say that ALL of the big-wigs-in-charge were 100% happy to see me. One guy was pretty serious and was very busy and he was sitting at the head of the room full of all his ad agency worker-bees and it was VERY serious and everyone was HARD at work at their computer:

Receptionist Girl: (talking to the boss) "There's somebody here to give you a candygram."
Boss: "What? What are you talking about?"
Receptionist Girl: (pointing back to me at the other end of the room) "I'm serious."
Boss: (looking over at me - probably thinking I'm a stripper or something) "I don't have time for this."

I could hear this dialogue from across the room, and sensing that I was about to get turned away I figured I'd better just make the candy hit and run so:

Me: (Walking across the room to approach the boss) "...I understand you're a busy man and this won't take more than a minute. Somebody would like to sweeten your day with a candygram from the 'Something Sweet Candygram Delivery Service'. Enjoy and have a lovely day." (hand off the goods, tip of the hat, turn and exit)

As I handed off the box of candy the look of irritation on the Boss's face melted into a smile, and at that point everyone in the room relaxed and smiled as well. I suppose the guy was relieved that I didn't: 1) Strip 2) Sing and Dance 3) Take more than a minute of his time.

One thing that struck me was how cool and groovy these ad agencies were. Nothing like engineering cubicles where I work, and one place even had a swoopy-slide or a fun-slide or whatever you want to call it for getting from upstairs to downstairs. You know you're at a groovy place if they have a swoopy-slide! And wouldn't you know it the boss was upstairs so after handing off the goods (and posing for pictures) I got to go down the slide. You can't be the happy-fun candygram delivery man who just posed for pictures with the boss with candy and a balloon and NOT go down the fun slide!

All told I think we made six or seven hits that morning. I was a bit nervous at first but the last ones were pretty easy. I was really getting into my "role" and having lots of fun towards the end. We went for burgers after it was all done.

Arriving back at the house we wondered what to do with the extra candy and the spare balloon. If you have some sort of production that involves balloons you want to get at least one extra for a spare because they're fragile. I'm pretty careful around balloons so we didn't have to use the spare and we had almost enough candy for one more candygram, but what would we do with a spare candygram? I still had the outfit on and it just seemed like I needed to take advantage of the opportunity to deliver a candygram to... someone...

Part 2:

Quite a few years ago I started hanging out in a small coffee shop where I got to know a few of the other regulars. Somehow I acquired the nickname "St. Paul" from another regular named Eldon. I thought his name sounded like a character out of "Lord of the Rings" so I dubbed him "Lord Eldon." Another regular is Dianne who is married to an engineer named Darryl. Dianne tends to bring in food from other nearby shops, which is somewhat irritating to the coffee shop owner, but Dianne also brings her grand kids in for cookies and snacks at the coffee shop so he can't really complain too much. Anyway Dianne is always generous with the food she brings as well as inviting many of us over for dinners at her house, so she is "Lady Dianne the Bountiful." She also likes to visit at the coffee shop and will do so often long after her husband Darryl is talked out and ready to leave. He never tries to cut the visitation short and just waits while "Lady Dianne the Bountiful" gets all her talking done, so he is "Darryl the Patient."

Not only is "Lady Dianne the Bountiful" generous with food and hospitality, but she is also quite the would-be match-maker. Shopping at a fancy department store at the local mall one day, she was so impressed with a vivacious and bubbly sales associate young lady named Erin (not her real name) that she decided I should meet Erin and try to get a date. "Lady Dianne the Bountiful" suggest that I go to the store pretending to be looking for something for my Mom for a birthday or Christmas present all the while REALLY being there for the purpose of getting a date with Erin.

So when I found myself in a Candygram Delivery outfit and spare balloon and almost enough candy for one more candygram, I decided I would go to the mall and seek out Erin at the big fancy department  store and deliver unto her a candygram from the "Something Sweet Candygram Delivery Service" and ask her out on a date. We were a little short of candy so I made a quick trip to a local grocery store to get more candy. Not wanting to waste any time I just kept the outfit on and went to the store. One lady did come up to me as I was waiting at the self-checkout to ask about the outfit:

Lady: (smiling) "I have to ask you. Why are you dressed in this white outfit?"
Me "I'm a candygram deliveryman!"
Lady: (with big eyes) "Really?!!"
Me: "Well, no not really. I'm just doing a few candygrams for a friend. I'm really just an engineer."
Lady: (still smiling) "Oh I see."
Me: "But I do make cat videos on YouTube."
Lady: "You make what?"
Me: "I make videos with my cats and put them on the internet."
Lady: (now looking uncomfortable) "I don't know what you're talking about." (quickly leaves)

Back at the house we got the last candygram put together, tied on the balloon, and I was on my way to the big fancy department store at the mall to seek out a date with "Erin". I walked into the store in my fancy outfit with candygram and balloon, went up to the first service desk I found, and asked where I might find "Erin." Turns out there are at least three "Erins" who work at the big fancy department store so I had to call "Lady Dianne the Bountiful" to ask about the correct department in the big fancy department store, and when I couldn't reach "Lady Dianne the Bountiful" I had to call "Darryl the Patient" and get the phone number for their daughter who was also with "Lady Dianne the Bountiful" the day she met "Erin" at the big fancy department store at the mall.

Having determined the correct department where I would find "Erin" from the daughter of "Lady Dianne the Bountiful", I made my way with a small collection of other curious employees to find her. By this time word had gotten 'round about this guy in a candygram outfit who was looking for "Erin" and she just about spotted me before I saw her. This whole time I'd prepared this speech in my head about "how she had so impressed my friend who had been shopping at the big fancy department store and on behalf of my friend and myself I would like to present you with this candygram from the 'Something Sweet Candygram Delivery Service' and by the way I'm not REALLY a candygram delivery guy but I'm an engineer at Spirit Aerosystems but I also make cat videos on YouTube with my buddy TJ and my cats and I also like other things like swing dancing and in fact I would be dancing with our dance group later that evening at a book signing to entertain the crowd while they were waiting for Kirsty Alley to sign their book and if she wanted to come on out to the book signing I'd dance with her if she wanted..." and at some point I'd ask her out on a date.

So I walked up to "Erin" and it went something like this:

Me: "Hi I'm..."
Erin: (bubbly) "You're the cat guy on YouTube!"
Me: "Yes I am, but today I'm a candygra.."
Erin: (bubbly) "And you work at Spirit as an Engineer!"
Me: "yes"
Erin: (bubblier) "And you're into swing dancing!"
Me: (pause) " do you know all this?"
Erin: (super-bubbly) "Oh I've been stalking you."
Me: "I see..."
Erin: "Not really. My brother-in-law works at Spirit and he found out about you and showed us your videos and he thought it was cool that you work at the same company where he works and so that's how I know you work at Spirit. And then one day I recognized you from the videos when you were out dancing with a group somewhere here in town."
Me: (relieved) "Oh, ok."

I couldn't believe it. I'd rehearsed this whole line of dialogue and "Erin" totally stole my thunder. Yanked the rug right out from under me. Pulled a bait and switch. Took the needle right out of the haystack before I even started looking. I lead the horse to water and it started drinking before I could even tell the horse to drink.

But the rest of the conversation went very well, and I'll have to give credit to "Lady Dianne the Bountiful" for picking a lovely lady for me to ask out, and I did eventually explain to "Erin" that my real intention was to give her my phone number and try to get her to join me for dinner or coffee or dancing at Kirstie Allie's book signing later that night. She said she would have to think about it since she was, sort of... at the moment, she couldn't really... , she was in a situation and it was like..., etc. etc.

So many months later and I've not heard from "Erin" (she didn't make it to Kirstee Allee's book signing) but I figured it was a long shot, anyway. I wasn't sure how I'd be received wearing a candygram outfit, but really how often do you get an opportunity to try something like that, and what more could a guy do to get a date? At the very least "Erin" got to enjoy some yummy candy and has a good story to tell. My friend got a few calls from some of the ad agencies so the candygram delivery bit actually worked, and if I ever want to rob a bank I've got one good idea for how to do it. Plus I got a really great fitting pair of white pants. You shouldn't cry over spilled milk but if you spill it on white pants you can't even see it 'cause they're both white.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

What are the odds? 

Tonight's tale is of amazing odds, the power of teenage awkwardness, and the science of material behavior. 

It starts with a search for a book. The yearbook of my 7th grade when I lived in Alabama, to be exact. I attended Georgia Washington Junior High School for one year while our family was stationed in Montgomery. We had previously lived in ND, and it was a bit of a culture shock moving from Minot, ND to Montgomery, AL. I had a thick ND accent and I stuck out like a sore thumb that had just recently lived two hours from the Canadian border but now lived in the deep south. I can't say that I particularly enjoyed the experience overall, but there were bright spots here and there. 

So anyway I looked for the yearbook tonight first on my bookshelves down in the prop room. That is the room filled with all of the props from all of the cat videos plus other things that might go into future cat videos. Including an assortment of books. I couldn't find the yearbook but damn it I DID notice the copy of "Mechanics of Materials" that I STILL need to return to a friend. 

"Mechanics of Materials" by Ferdinand Beer, Jr. and E. Russell Johnston (hereafter to be referred to as "Beer and Johnston" in the vernacular of engineers) is sort of a classic text that provides the basic foundation for structural analysis. It is the work that I do on a daily basis and though I don't often have to consult Beer and Johnston, it is nice to have around just for reference. Or inspiration perhaps, like a bibliographical muse. 

I first studied this book as an undergraduate in 1989 or 1990, I believe. Unlike some other topics of engineering, this one made perfect sense to me. I've always been interested in mechanical things and the ideas presented in this book came easily. The book is very well organized and the information is clearly presented. And really, the illustrations are lovely. Done before the time of computer graphics, the illustrations are at the same time part technical information and part artistic expression. I admire the beauty and intellect of Beer and Johnston same as I would an interesting and attractive lady. 

The reason I had to borrow THIS particular copy of Beer and Johnston is that I haven't seen my own copy for years and I wanted to use it for a video. Like an interesting and attractive lady who is uncomfortable with attention from nerdy guys, MY copy of Beer and Johnston had left the scene and was nowhere to be found. Any engineering office will have several copies of this book around so it is not essential that I have one of my own, and so I've gone without for a long time. It has probably been 10 years or more. 

You can see THIS particular copy of Beer and Johnston in a cat video that we produced last year. Go and watch "An Engineer's Guide to Cat Flatulence" and you will see THIS particular copy of Beer and Johnston in one of the final scenes. Towards the very end of the video I'm reading "Flatulence Bedtime Stories" to the kitties. The storybook is actually THIS copy of Beer and Johnston dressed up for the camera. Pause the video at just the right time (6:52) and you can even make out the "Mechanics of Materials" on the cover underneath the graphic. 

"Mechanics of Materials" in costume for the cat fart video.

So anyway, the reason I was looking for the 7th grade yearbook in the first place was that I wanted to share a story of amazing odds regarding one of the "bright spots" of 7th grade in Alabama. And her name was... "    ." Of course I don't remember her name and that is why I was looking for the yearbook in the first place. And so we will just have to give her a name. I believe it began with the letter "M." Like Millicent, or Maggie, or Mellisa, or something like that. Let's call her "Michelle." I'm pretty sure that is not her name but it will do for now. 

Michelle happened to be one of the girls in the girl's PE class during the same hour that I had my PE class. The boy's PE class rarely did any activities with the girl's PE class but we could see them collected on the opposite side of the gym at the start and end of the hour. And of course being newly interested in girls AND having superb vision I spotted Michelle early in the year and admired her for quite some time. From across the gym. Where I couldn't talk to her. 

While I never interacted with her I did think she was very pretty, and I suppose I projected that she would have a nice personality and like the same things as me (model airplanes). I imagined that she would be as attracted to me without actually knowing me, as I was attracted to her without actually knowing her. She was probably destined to be an Aerospace Engineer just like me and appreciate a book like "Mechanics of Materials" by Beer and Johnston. She might even have liked cats. 

It turns out one day the boy's and girl's PE classes did get to come together for a new activity: square dancing. While being pretty miserable at all of the more typical athletics of PE, I anticipated that I might not be too bad at square dancing. I was in the band after all, so I did have some basic rhythm, and with this activity I'd get to interact with girls!! 

So when it came time to pair up with a dance partner we were told to "go get a dance partner" whereupon I made an uncharacteristically bold move and walked right up to Michelle. I said hello and smiled, and I think I remember her making some kind of socially required minimal response, but otherwise we talked very little, and there was almost no eye contact on her part. 

After just about a minute, she began glancing back at her girlfriend who didn't seem to have a dance partner for some reason. The two of them exchanged some invisible secret girl communication with their eyes, and shortly thereafter Michelle walked away and her friend took her place. 

Bait and switch!! While Michelle's friend was pleasant enough she just didn't really do it for me like Michelle did. For one thing, once we did start dancing she had really cold and clammy hands. Not that this was her fault but I'm sorry, what can any of us do when we are attracted to one person and not another? 

Michelle's friend DID make lots of eye contact, and it was clear that she was just as interested in me as I was in Michelle. I'm sure Michelle was interested in some other guy and yet another guy was interested in Michelle's friend with the clammy hands. That is how romance worked in the 7th grade during PE square dance lessons. An infinite loop of longing and frustration.

The lessons went on for several weeks, and whatever romance that might have sparked on the gymnasium dance floor instead remained in the 7th grade circular holding pattern. Grab your partner now do-si-do and round-and-round-and-round-and-round-and-round-and-round-and-round-and-round-and-round-and-round.... Otherwise I managed to survive the 7th grade in the roughest school I'd ever seen, and after a year we moved away and I never looked back. Just another chapter in the life of a military family. 

Fast forward a number of years later and we were now in Springfield, VA. I liked VA quite a bit more than Alabama. I had cool friends, I was having lots of fun with model airplanes, my high school was excellent, I was in the school band and we pretty much ROCKED, and overall life was good. 

One of the less exciting aspects of my life at that time was the confirmation class that I attended at our church. I was open to religion and faith, so I didn't mind the idea of taking the class, but our instructor was pretty uninspiring, and I have to admit that none of the studies really grabbed me.

What did inspire me were a few attractive girls in the class. One of the girls was just spectacular. WAY out of my league and in fact I completely failed to make any sort of impression on her the entire time we were in the class together. I tried to interact a few times but got just about zero response. Never mind there were other girls and we had some good amount of time to spend in the duration of the class. 

Another girl was quite pretty and seemed like someone who might be more compatible with myself. She had a pleasant personality, and she even seemed familiar somehow. It took a few weeks before it hit me, and I had to check my 7th grade yearbook for confirmation, but would you believe this other pretty girl in my confirmation class in Springfield, VA was the very same Michelle who had rejected my square dance advances a few years prior in Alabama! 

it seems hard to believe, but her family had also moved VA so many years later, her family had also attended the same church as mine, and of all the confirmation classes held during the course of a year she was enrolled in the same one as me. I had never seen her during any of the regular church services but here she was in my class. What are the odds? 

But wait it gets better: as part of a fun exercise for our confirmation class, our uninspiring instructor decided that we should all do the "Secret Santa" thing. We would all be a Secret Santa for someone in the class and bring gifts with a short note for them each week. And guess who was the recipient of my Secret Santa gifts? Yup. Michelle. And this is 100% true. She went to the same school as me in Alabama, she moved to Virginia years later, went to my church, enrolled in my confirmation class, AND I was her Secret Santa. What are the odds? 

During the remainder of the class I dedicated myself to this Secret Santa activity with gifts to Michelle every week accompanied by notes about how I knew her in Alabama and different hints about who I was. This was lots of fun, and in order to maintain total secrecy I observed a strict lack of interaction with Michelle the whole time! Surely Michelle would be impressed on the final day of class when I revealed myself and she then understood how clever I was to keep her guessing 'till the end! She would then admit her attraction for me and romance would instantly blossom right then and there. Or something like that. 

It turns out the lack of interaction with Michelle was pretty easy to maintain as she also had very little interest in me. I dropped hints about how we had both attended Georgia Washington Jr. High back in Alabama, about our PE class together, and even a mention of the square dancing incident, but she never guessed the whole time. On the one hand I was kind of irritated that she had absolutely no recollection of me, but otherwise I enjoyed watching her quiz the other kids about their 7th grade year, what parts of the country they lived in, and any experience they might have in square dancing. She did approach me at one point, but I sort of just gave her a blank stare when she questioned me. How clever I was. 

I suppose I might have risked the whole Secret Santa thing and tried to actually talk with Michelle, but that is not the way young would-be engineers do things. After all this was a religious confirmation class and part of me thought that none other than GOD himself had destined Michelle to be with me. It was a done deal. How else could it possibly happen that we would come together in the same state, in the same city, in the same church, and in the same confirmation class all these years later? AND I was her Secret Santa, no less. What are the odds? 

Turns out whatever fate or providence or hand of God was at work, they were no match for my lack of romantic ability. Turns out that completely ignoring a girl (other than anonymous gifts and mysterious notes) is not a way to win her affection.   The day finally came when we revealed ourselves to our Secret Santa recipients. In the last minutes of the last meeting of the class I walked up to her and revealed who I was. She said, "Oh" and turned and walked away.

That wasn't exactly how I had planned things to go, and while I was disappointed, I guess I wasn't too surprised. Deep down I knew that romance required a little more direct effort and not so much sly and cunning secret strategy. A blank stare didn't make her heart beat any faster, and somehow it didn't occur to her how remarkable the odds were that we had been brought back together. That GOD had brought us together. Somehow, psychic mental telepathy didn't figure into the deal and SHE couldn't read MY mind. 

And so it was never meant to be and it never was. Oh well she probably didn't like model airplanes, anyway. Probably allergic to cats, as well. We were two ships passing in the night. Then sailing around the vast oceans for a few years and then passing in the night AGAIN and I saw HER but apparently she didn’t have her radar on and SHE never saw ME. 

And I STILL can't find that damn 7th grade yearbook. I checked quite a few boxes in my basement but no luck. It is down there somewhere but I can't find it. You know that scene at the end of the first "Indiana Jones" movie where the crate containing the Arc of the Covenant is being tucked away amongst millions of other crates? Yeah, my basement is like that. TONS of boxes down there with ancient artifacts. 

But digging through just the second box I reached all the way down and wrestled out what felt like a 7th grade yearbook and there it was: MY old copy of "Mechanics of Materials" by Beer and Johnston. Mine is an older edition with a bit more wear, but after all these years it is back again. Like an interesting and attractive lady who was once uncomfortable with attention from nerdy guys, but doesn't seem to mind it so much now. 

Good to see you again.

Flipping through the pages I see notes penciled in the margins from back in 1989 or 1990 and the memories of that time come back to me. College was difficult and the engineering program was stressful, but it was a time of optimism and looking forward. And this particular class I really enjoyed. Oh "Mechanics of Materials" it is good to see you again. YOU appreciate model airplanes, at least from a structural standpoint, and you don't mind cats at all. And looking at you now, your illustrations are just as lovely as the day we first met. 

The Illustrations are lovely.