Monday, February 28, 2011

A Tempting Offer

After finding out about the demise of my mother's marriage, one of my brothers floated an idea past her by email. He said that if she were to rejoin the Jehovah's Witnesses, the religion he's been enmeshed in for his entire life and the one that she left in 1984, he would allow her to visit him and their two children. You see, once a member leaves, others still in the organization are not allowed to socialize with them. Of course, my mother got around this in the 80's and 90's as her Witness kids were still young and not yet baptized into the faith. Now, with this particular brother having a position of power within the religion, he wouldn't dare risk getting in trouble by hanging out with his mom.

This got me to wondering if the Witnesses are a cult.

I suspected so, but Googled it this morning for confirmation and, indeed, there are quite a few ways in which the religion falls in line with a standard cult. Here are some examples:

"Cult leaders will tell you you can only be "saved" (or can only be successful) in their organization alone. No other organization has the truth, all others miss the mark.

Cult leadership is feared. To disagree with leadership is the same as disagreeing with God. The cult leaders will claim to have direct authority from God to control almost all aspects of your life.

Cults also try to cut you off from your friends and family because they hate others being able to influence you. A mind control cult will seek to maneuver your life so as to maximize your contact with cult members and minimize your contact with people outside the group, especially those who oppose your involvement.

Those who control the information control the person. In a mind control cult any information from outside the cult is considered evil, especially if it is opposing the cult. Members are told not to read it or believe it. Only information supplied by the cult is true.

Mind control cults keep their members so busy with meetings and activities that they become too busy and too tired to think about their involvement.

In a mind control cult like in Nazi Germany or Communist Russia, you must be careful of what you say and do; "The walls have ears". Everyone is encouraged to watch out for "struggling" brothers and sisters and report what they see to leadership. Often information given in deepest confidence is automatically reported to leadership."

My mother is in the midst of composing an answer to her youngest son. I'm sure the idea of being able to see him and two of her grandchildren is tempting, but it would be at the cost of her present beliefs. Of course, she would actually be like many of the Witnesses, not believing much of what is said at their meetings, but realizing that leaving the organization and the shunning that would ensue would be too great a thing to bear.

Monday, February 21, 2011

My Greatest Strength

In early November of 2007, I celebrated my 37th birthday at TGIFriday's with my wife, mother, and her new boyfriend. It was a grand occasion sullied only by one of the gifts that I was given by my mother and her man: Joel Osteen's best-seller "Become A Better You".

For those who aren't familiar with the work, it uses Christian scripture as a basis for telling one how to live a better life. I would've loved to have seen my face when I received it. I'm not against self-help books, but one that relies primarily on the Bible misses out on a good deal of other great information that's out there. My mother had written some kind of message on the first page of the tome; the page that's typically blank. Something along the lines of "All the best, hope this book is a help to you". I smiled, but wished they had spent the money on something else.

In most cases, I would go to Barnes & Noble and return the book; my experience working there in the late 90's alerted me to the fact that they happily accept exchanges for something else even if one doesn't have a receipt. The note that my mom had posted in the book put a dent in those plans, however. It was as if she was ensuring that I couldn't return it. I wasn't about to give up, though. I carefully tore that first page out and decided I would try returning it. The cashier at B&N looked at the book for a few seconds to make sure there was no obvious damage before giving me a credit on it. Unlike the minutes after I received it, I could now smile genuinely at the thought of getting exactly what I wanted.

Not too long after, the office I was working for provided all its employees with a copy of another runaway best-seller, this one called "Strengths Finder".

Its purpose was to find an employee's strengths and then tell them how to make the most of them. My boss said we would eventually get around to utilizing it, but months went by without a mention of it. I decided that I would just return the thing and wound up exchanging it for Britney Spears' new one, "Blackout"; great disc, one of my favorite tracks on it is called "Get Naked".

Wouldn't you know it, a few weeks later, we were told that it was time to do the exercises that were in the book. They could actually be done online which was a relief to me, but not so much when I went to the site because it asked for the specific identification code that was printed in each book. It looked like I'd have to buy the book back, but damn if I wasn't gonna try to find a way around it.

I went with my high-school friend to Barnes & Noble in LaCrosse one weekend and took a look at the copies they had of Strengths Finder. I noticed that the ID codes for each book were different, but realized that if I copied down one of the codes and then went onto a computer and used it, I might be able to get around having to purchase the best-seller. I got a piece of scratch paper from my friend and wrote down the digits with a smile on my face. A couple days later at work, I headed to the site, entered the code, did the exercises, and printed it all out. A group of us went over the results shortly thereafter. It turns out that my greatest strength is not letting books sit around that aren't going to be read.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

July 23rd, 2010

That's the day I received Colin Firth's highly acclaimed 2009 film "A Single Man" from Netflix. Though it was number one on my Netflix queue (that's the reason they sent it, of course), I never could find the 100 minutes to sit and view it. And this from a guy who rarely works more than twenty hours a week. No, on evenings when I'm watching TV, it's typically to get caught up on what's been taped on the DVR.

It took "A Single Man" being on that DVR for me to finally watch it. You see, I saw that it was playing on Showtime a few days ago and knowing that it would be presented in HD, as opposed to standard def (which is the type of DVD player I have), thought that might be just the thing I'd need to finally catch it. This turned out the be the case as the day before yesterday, I watched the film with my life partner.

The movie, which takes place in 1962, is about a man whose partner of sixteen years has died in a car accident. For months afterward, the hardest part of his day is just getting out of bed. Though he has a beautiful house, a job as a college professor, and is surrounded by friends who adore him, life is no longer worth living. The movie spends twenty-four hours with him, a day that will wind up being the most pivotal of his life.

I've expressed before how magical it is to sit down and watch a film and then be floored, feeling things that you never expected to, going to work the next day and feeling blessed that you were witness to such a work of heart. "A Single Man" was just this to me and in 9 times out of 10, the movies I fall hardest for are the ones that have fantastic endings ("Titanic" and "American Beauty" being two examples). As the credits rolled, my wife asked what grade I'd give it. I said, "An A". She said she felt the same.

I'm going to be keeping the DVD a little bit longer now so that I can watch "The Making of" and listen to the movie's commentary. If I'd known that the film was going to resonate so strongly with me, I'd have watched it months ago. But such is life sometimes, when the very thing that will bring you incredible happiness is right under your nose, there all the time, just waiting to be experienced.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Fort Myers

In March of 1993, my stepdad took me to Florida; it was my first visit to the Sunshine State. If you'd like to read an account of my experiences on that first day, written just weeks after it occurred, click here.

On the third day, we drove from West Palm Beach to Fort Myers, Florida. It was the only chance I got to spend a significant amount of time on the roads of Florida. The number of orange groves we passed made it patently obvious that we were down south. We listened to a good deal of country music as that was what I was into at the time and he didn't mind it too much. When Radney Foster's hit, "Nobody Wins" came on, he pontificated on how that was certainly the case when it came to marriages breaking up, as his and my mother's was. Well, I thought, if one of the parties wasn't happy in the relationship, leaving it could be construed as a win of sorts.

In the early afternoon, we arrived at our destination, Hammond Stadium, the spring training home for the Minnesota Twins.

The complex was beautiful and though the game would be split-squad, meaning only half the team would be playing, being able to see my heroes up close and outdoors was sure to be a treat. We headed to our seats which were about eight rows up along the first base line. I was disappointed that Kirby Puckett, the most popular Twin, wasn't in the lineup, but a relatively new guy named Chuck Knoblach was there. I actually had a poster on him on my apartment wall that had him jumping in the air at second base to throw someone out at first called "New Kid on the Blauch". I still have this baseball card of him in the basement:

There were some clouds in the sky as the game got underway, but they moved on. I took a number of pictures during the early innings, including one of the moment that a hitter made contact with a ball. I ended up having it converted into an 8 x 10 so that I could look at it from time to time in my apartment and remember that lovely March afternoon.

Later, I purchased a Minnesota Twins Fort Myers T-shirt that had pictures of alligators on it. I wore it with pride that summer, that summer when I would gain so many friends, but my happiness would rapidly erode. I was feeling great that day, however, breathing in the warm air. I don't believe the Twins won, but it didn't matter. This was merely spring training, a time for the players to get back into shape.

When the game ended, I encouraged my stepdad to sit outside the stadium for a time so that I could see some of the players leaving in their street clothes. I got a nice little thrill seeing Knoblauch driving off the grounds in a nice car with a smile on his face. We headed off for a bite and then to Orlando, where I would have my first bite of Universal Studios Florida.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Recent Facebook Status Updates

For those who aren't friends with me on Facebook, here are some of the postings I've made over the past few months:

There are few pleasures greater than putting on a pair of underwear that have just come out of the dryer.

"This is hard" - comment made by my wife two minutes into her first ShakeWeight workout

I was listening to a Christmas song yesterday and one of the lyrics was that Jesus's death was much less joyous than his birth. I'm like, "Whose isn't?"

Some time ago, when I was checking out at Target, the cashier asked if I'd be interested in signing up for one of their credit cards; they're bright red. I said I would if I could get it in purple. She said they weren't available like that, which is great as I wasn't interested in it, anyway.

I'll sometimes use my fingers for counting at work, but will only move the very tips of them so my colleagues won't realize what I'm doing.

The commercials for Proactiv almost make me wish I had acne. What else could compel such striking Before and After pics?

The expiration date on my bottle of Aquafina is December 21, 2012. They obviously got the memo that no one will be drinking the stuff the day after.

Went to Subway two days ago to get a six-inch before work. The guy working asked if I'd like a footlong, that it would be just a little bit more to get one. I told him, "No, I get intimidated by anything that's a foot long".

Wednesday, February 09, 2011


Though never agrarian in any sense, I felt it would do me some good to take a class in Horticulture in 11th grade. All Ag classes were taught in an annex of the Senior High building which had a greenhouse attached to it. I showed up the first day and was introduced to our teacher, a nice-looking lady who appeared to be in her early 50's. Her name was Mrs. Raddatz and though her hair was a bit grey, I quickly grew to like her. Instead of individual desks, our classroom had eight long tables; two people could be seated at each one. As was typical of me in those days, I chose a place in the back row. I wound up having my own table as we had a small class, about seven people.

I deflated a bit on that first day when the teacher told us that every Monday we would be required to water the plants placed high in the concourse. I didn't like the idea of the students sitting in the concourse (they were in study hall) seeing me with a watering device. They might think I was a femme. I always first sought to water the plants that were the furthest from the study hall kids. On occasion, I got stuck doing the ones closest. I shouldn't have worried, though. There was a guy who came off as much tougher than me named Butch who didn't seem to mind the task.

Butch ultimately come off as too masculine, however. He'd frequently pick on a guy who sat at the table behind him. His name was Matt and he dressed, well, fabulously. It was obvious he was gay, but I had no problem with his gentle soul. When Butch derided him, Matt typically ignored it.

One great aspect of the class was being able to get up and walk around the greenhouse.

That kind of hands-on thing wasn't typical of other high school classes. One morning, as class was about to start, the teacher gave me a note that said I was to report to the administrative offices. It had to do with a recent appointment I'd had with the counselor.

You see, the teacher I had for my Video class had noticed that while other students spent lots of time talking to their peers during downtimes, I was content to just sit in my seat. He thought there might be something wrong with me being a loner, so requested that Mr. Timm see me. I talked to Timm one afternoon and he said that there was nothing wrong with being on the quiet side, that he had the tendency to be this way himself, that the world would be much too rowdy if everyone had an outgoing personality. Timm made me feel that I was just fine being who I was. I never went up to Opprecht, the Video teacher and confronted him on what he'd done. Hell, that'd be going against my MO.

One other note about the Video class: there was a Jehovah's Witness girl named Jina who was in a more advanced class in which students were required to lip-sync to a favorite song of theirs. Now, for this to make sense, you have to realize that Witnesses believe that they will live forever in paradise on Earth. The song she chose was Belinda Carlisle's "Heaven on Earth". Ridiculously appropriate, I thought. I used to fantasize about what song I would sing if I took the class. It would mostly likely be a Beatles one as I was big on them back then.

Anyway, someone in the admin offices apparently wanted to go over one more thing in regards to the issue, but I didn't want to miss a minute of the Hort class (I was really concerned about getting good grades at that time), so ignored the request and watched one of those filmstrips that were so prevalent in 80's high schools.

One afternoon, as we broke for the greenhouse, a classmate named Ben was trying to get through, but a girl named LeJeanna was blocking his way. After a beat, he said, "Move out of the way or I'll boof you". I just saw her working at ShopKo last week and couldn't help but think of that incident when I saw her.

A number of years later, while attending college, I was watching Jenny Jones. A man came onto the stage whose name was Mattress Fever. He looked familiar, so I stepped close to the screen. Oh my god, it was Matt from the Horticulture class. He had apparently changed his name. We all watch talk shows from time to time, but never expect to see anyone we know on them. I was glad to see that he was doing well and still dressing fabulously. Butch, I'm sure, would have a different reaction, but there are few things grander than being exactly who you are.