Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I Have No Explanation

Before anything else, dear readers, know that however important spirituality is in my life, I am not a believer in what I call smoke-and-mirrors theology: those coincidences to which people ascribe powerful religious significance. As a student of magic - the David Copperfield kind, not any kind of dark art - I've seen the powerful hold incorrect assumptions play in self-delusion. So here's my dilemma...

On January 28, 1984, a 38-year-old co-worker died suddenly from an allergic reaction to prescribed medication.

On January 28, 1985, the father of another co-worker in the same small office died.

On January 28, 1986, I received a phone call at my office telling me that Challenger exploded.

On January 26, 1987 (ok, a couple of days early), I received a phone call at work telling me my father had been shot.

Of course it's possible to pick out any date and find bad things happening. And I'm not a superstitious person. Still, it's not hard to see how this string of events - not just things, but big things, ranging from the bad to the downright catastrophic - would be enough to give one pause.

At work today I was thinking about this, about the silly superstitions that played in my brain for years after that, and how they're made to look even sillier by our having gotten past so many January 28's since then - including this year's - without incident.

Reveling in my smug delight, I encountered a co-worker who looked stunned and upset. One of our colleagues, returning to the mainland from a vacation in Puerto Rico, died suddenly on the plane. Jean had recently quit smoking and was an avid exerciser, a high-energy good humored person, and a delight professionally and personally. I don't know her age but will guess at mid-to-late 50's.

Shaking my head in shock that her sudden death happened at all, let alone today, I learned it actually happened yesterday. January 28.

As an engineer I say to myself, "You're a man of science. How can you possibly think there's a connection?" The problem is that I can't help but to follow it up with, "You're a man of science. How can you ignore data just because you don't yet know where they fit in?"

Normally, I try to bring journal entries to some logical point at the end. I am unable to do that today. And maybe that is the point.

As I said - I have no explanation.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Pop Art

While I won't comment on rumors that Tomato-Man was involved in the recent breakup of MJ and Spiderman, the responses I received - that he received, really - both here and privately are gratifying and appreciated. On the surface, it might appear he's simply the result of a budget-conscious athlete who couldn't afford steriods and human growth hormone, opting instead for injections of licopene and Miracle Grow. As is the case with most things, the truth is a lot less exciting.

First, a bit of housekeeping. Although I adapted it to Tomato-Man, the basic superhero figure used was created by a gifted balloon artist named Ken Stillman. (You can - and I hope you will - check out some of his amazing work at his web site, http://balloonmaster.com/ .)

Tomato-Man's story begins in Fort Lee, NJ, with a wonderful lady named Carmela who has a charming family-type Italian restaurant there. For the past who-knows-how-many years, Carmela (who I hope someday to make the subject of a well-deserved tribute in this space) has closed her restaurant to the general public one Sunday around Thanksgiving time and hosted a night of dinners for as many sheltered families as the place will hold in three or four sittings. The organization of the event itself is astonishing: Carmela and her equally selfless team execute the arrival, seating, serving, entertainment, clean-up and set-up for the next group with great, practiced precision. Even more impressive, though, is the genuine love and dignity that overflow from every aspect of the evening, elements generally missing from organized efforts to provide a meal to someone in need. There's music, dancing, entertainment, and everyone is young again. Words don't do it justice. If all this reads in a way that suggests I think of Carmela as an angel come to earth, it's because I do. (Looks like a bit of that tribute made it in after all.)

So what's this got to do with Tomato-Man?

For the past several years, it's been my privilege to be brought into this great event to make balloon sculptures for the folks in attendance. (My weekend profession is children's entertainment.) While the number of people there requires that the balloons be things that can be done fairly quickly, each year I try to make something big and special for Carmela herself. From one of these efforts came - you guessed it - Tomato-Man.

So it turns out that the story of Tomato-Man actually has very little to do with him, and quite a lot to do with kindness, respect, and a real-life superhero from Fort Lee, NJ. I like it better that way.

Unrelated Item 1

Memo to the press: You can stop reporting that Tom Cruise is an alien sent here from another planet for the purpose of reconnaissance preparatory to invasion. We already know that.

Unrelated Item 2

In this season of political campaigns, speechmaking and fist-pounding position asserting, I have to share this gem I came across. This was Tallulah Bankhead, campaigning way back when for FDR and against Tom Dewey. "Mr. Dewey is for unity. Next he will declare in favor of motherhood, the zipper and the telephone. Will all the candidates for disunity please stand?"

Monday, January 14, 2008

These Just In...

Item 1: It's a Crying Shame

Newly-released polls show T.O. has surged ahead to be the new front-runner in tomorrow's Michigan primary...


Item 2: Picture This

I recently came across a marvelous journal created by a lady named Krissy that has, among other things, themed photo contests. The current contest is for items beginning with or resembling the letter T, and entrants submit photos by posting them in their journals. Always ready to try a new adventure, I offer you, and Krissy, my balloon superhero, "Tomato Man." (Yes, there's a story behind it and, if ever I completely run out of things to write about, I might even tell it sometime to fill space.)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Say It Ain't So, Obama

"There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance - that principle is contempt prior to investigation." (Herbert Spencer)

A firestorm of sorts has erupted in our church, or at least in the on-line discussion group connected to the church. One of the members posted a forward she'd received about Barak Obama that begins "This is VERY SCARY!!!!"  and that gives some pretty dire-sounding warnings: born to a terrorist radical father, raised by a radical terrorist step-father, won't recite the Pledge of Allegiance (and even turns his back to the flag and slouches while others recite it), etc. This really is scary stuff. If it's true, not only does it mean we're ready to elect a dangerous extremist to the White House (ok, ANOTHER dangerous extremist to the White House) but, even more devastating to our national security and stability, it would mean that Oprah lied to us.

Just a small amount of fact-checking (or just plain common sense) easily shows the e-mail to be just another internet hoax, passed along by yet another person convinced they're being helpful. By now I would have expected people to know that an inflammatory forward-of-forward e-mail that twice asks the recipient to forward it to everyone they know is, at the very least, highly suspect. A few important lessons come out of this:

1. There are large numbers of people who still don't know that an inflammatory e-mail that twice asks the recipient to forward it to everyone they know is probably a hoax.

2. The e-mail - and this may be the biggest lesson - dares readers to check it out on Snopes, even providing the link for it. This is really brazen since, if you click on the link, you'll find Snopes discredits the original e-mail. This really underscores the potential for a zealot - and we're all zealots about one thing or another - not to check things before passing them along as known fact, a phenomenon well known to anyone who has spent time either in a sixth grade classroom or an AOL chat room.

And do you want to know the sickest part of all this fighting? I now look forward to reading the discussion group's e-mails more than ever.

Unrelated Item 1:

In spite of how cynical the above may read to some, I've found a lot to be encouraged about these days. A woman and an African-American are leading contenders the presidency, not as radical fringe candidates running on their gender or race but simply as Americans. A major Hollywood celebrity "came out" and the world yawned and said, "what else have you got?" There's hope for us yet.

Unrelated Items 2: How's That Working Out For You?

The Britney headline-de-jour on aol news told of pills, incoherency, and a standoff with police. And that was just Dr. Phil. (I guess it was only a matter of time before someone emerged as the Al Sharpton of the entertainment world.)

Unrelated Item 3:

In the current culture of so-called divas who have dance troupes, light shows, and truckloads of stage sets - and who, if stripped of their production and made to simply stand at a microphone and sing, would barely earn a living - I'm coming to realize that Shakira is the genuine article, and a real treasure. Just thought I'd mention that.

Unrelated Items 4: Peggy's Sued

Somewhere between severely ironic and you-can't-make-this-stuff-up is a news report I just read saying that Maria Elena Holly, the great Buddy Holly's widow, and Peggy Sue Gerron (yes, that Peggy Sue) are currently at each other's throats. To Holly's "Peggy Sue" and "Peggy Sue Got Married"  can now be added, "Peggy Sue Wrote a Book," and Mrs. Holly is taking exception to some of the content. That this is sad news has nothing to do with who's right and who's not.

A few years ago I saw a PBS special celebrating Holly's too-short meteoric career and music, and it was thrilling to see people like Maria Elena and the widow of Norman Petty, Holly's producer with whom there had been some long-running legal fighting over rights, royalties, etc., coming together out of love for the music and respect for the man who wrote and sang it. I'm sure hoping something can be worked out here too.

Unrelated Item 5: This is VERY SCARY!!!!

Did you hear the one about President Bush going to the Middle East to lend them his expertise on achieving peace? Yeah, I thought it was a good one too. Be sure to forward it to everyone you know.