30 March 2009

"Ex Libris ... 2009" (2 books per week is all we ask)

Please note: I am updating the links to Amazon.com for convenience, and am getting to them as I am able. And, fyi, I am not making any money off of these links; just sharing some good books that I've read this year!

10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Mgt., Hyrum Smith
Time management from the co-guru over at Franklin-Covey. Worth a quick read for a refresher or first-time exposure.

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

An amazing convergence of politicians, policy wonks, and future politicians. Outstanding read.

Long concerned about race relations since I was a kid, Shelby Steele earned my unending respect with his Content of their Character. A Dream Deferred solidifies his position as leader of the movement which cares more about equal opportunity of equal outcome.

I've read several Lincoln biographies over the years, this is the best. But, don't take my word for it; the reviews of this tome are off the charts. It's a page turner and you'll enjoy it immensely.

Wow, demography and population studies show a Europe (with its birthrate below sustainable levels in ALL countries) within 20-50 years becoming a majority Muslim continent. This portends troubling developments if there is no reformation in Islam for a non-Muslim population.

GREAT read for the entrepreneurial-minded amongst us.

Real fun read by Sir Richard. His work ethic is infectious and provides us with a nice glimpse into his successes.

Need I say more? When it comes to chess, I'm a dummy ... but learning, and will soon beat my brother Gilbert on a regular basis!

Really interesting book on folks like Disney to Michelangelo, Tiffany to Emily Dickinson. Johnson looks into how these creative geniuses worked their magic.

27 March 2009

Crookshank: the Homestead Years

Settled in the early 1800’s on the edge of what would become Hoosier National Forest, Resolute, Indiana, today is a city of about 13,000 residents with tree-lined streets, rolling hills, languid breezes, a lazy river through the center of town, pies cooling on windowsills, still-working antique gaslight lamps, and friendly face after friendly face of all hues and colors. It is dear reader, a magical place to grow up; to be forced to leave here would be a sad thing.

A large portion of the homestead was annexed into the park by an Act of Congress in 1913, meaning that 2/3 of the ancestral home of eleven generations of Crookshanks and their heirs would be protected from being taken by the state or city governments for their uses. Almost 2,000 acres were under the protection by the grand daddy of all governments, the federal government, for better part of 100 years. Although most of their land was now included in the park, the Crookshanks and their kin would forever have free reign on their land -- and they made full use of it. There were vacation homes (more like tiny lodges) that sat on smallish lakes, creeks, and even the Ohio River. These were built over the many years by various cousins, aunts and uncles, and a few great, great grandfathers and grandmothers.

But, the one structure that received the most attention from Wes and his family was the raised basketball court with a large ‘C’ painted at center-court. It had a wood floor (built from the hardest, longest lasting wood from local trees), and was set 18 inches above the grassy field located behind Trip’s large barn. A colorful canvas canopy towered 50 feet over the court, like a giant geisha's fan, providing a much-needed sun shade. There was also (equally as important to the 47 first-cousins of Wesley Crookshank) a stream conveniently nearby that hot, sweaty players of many sports would routinely jump into to cool themselves down (along with several dogs, an occasional raccoon, and one very fat bunny).

Although born in Kentucky, 13 yr-old Wesley Crookshank's heart and soul (and large hands and feet) belonged to Indiana through and through. Though still in junior high, Wes could already palm a basketball with one hand and could score from all over the basketball court at-will: lay-ups, shots from the top of the key or behind the backboard. He was a fluid machine of arm movement, jumping ability, proper arc on his shot, and follow-through with his hand snapped-down just so. He didn’t really shoot the ball so much as toss it in with the skill of a supremely confident Army sharpshooter. Wes didn’t fire that often, but when he did, it was deadly accurate and sometimes bodies were bloodied and egos bruised.

Under the direction of “coach” Trip Crookshank, young Wesley could already shoot a basketball right-handed better than most ball players in Indiana. But, Wes was left-handed. His grandfather Trip (and Wally his dad) encouraged young Wes to throw a football and baseball right-handed since before he could walk. And, yes, shoot a basketball too, in spite of his being sinistral (which is not such a nice word for left-handers, derived from the root word for sinister), Crookshank would practice shooting right-handed in middle-school as he would for the rest of his life.

Far from being sinister, Wes was indeed a natural lefty. His grandpa would tell anyone within earshot that the reason for this was that when Wes was a baby in Kentucky, he must have always been reaching towards Resolute to get back home again to Indiana because on the map, the Hoosier State would have been on his left. Being a lefty made writing with the fountain pen that school required him to use that much tougher, as one would invariably smear ink both on the page and your palm. So, Wes began to favor math over English because when working math problems, one could write top to bottom, figuring out the solutions neatly. Whereas in English class, it was a messy mess of green ink on his shirt at least once a week, and he’d feel the fool walking around school with evidence of his left-handedness on his sleeve for all the school to see -- an emerald letter 'L' of embarassment.

Being the grandson of a Methodist minister, Wesley scored points with the frugality commensurate with his faith. The game was never about Crookshank or his stats; he played out of loyalty to his team, and more importantly to win. It's not that Wesley played-down to his competition (like a weaker player might); it was simply that Wes was confident in his abilities (even if no one knew how good he was) and content to be unheralded. But, when scoring was needed, Wes could pour in the points like one turns on a spigot, as his cousins knew all too well.

Each afternoon, like clockwork, Wes would put on his well-worn sneaks, and pull-on his father’s over-sized basketball jersey -- after completing his homework, of course -- to shoot 100 free throws from the free throw line, aka, the “charity stripe.” He would wear the jersey over shirts, sweaters, even his jacket if the weather was freezing. From the charity stripe Wes would shoot with 97% accuracy each practice session, sometimes making 100 in a row. His talented cousins could shoot 80 or so in a row, but none ever matched the centennial mark from the line. After his 100 daily free-throws, he’d "shoot around" for another hour. On weekends, after chores on the farm were done, Wes and his cousins played hours upon hours into the friscalating twilight until they were called for supper.

Wes missed his father, more than he would ever let on to his grandparents. If Wes was sitting in class and heard a familiar Ford truck drive past, he'd crane his neck to see if it was his dad's green machine (only his closest friend, and cousin, Jerome knew what he was doing). And when his dad would come home for visits, Wes never let him out of his sight.

It was on one of these visits home that the Crookshank cousins played their uncles in a grudge match game that to this day is talked about with reverence. It was the beginning of the legend that was Crookshank, Wesley Ellis, and the first disagreement between Wes and the man he adored.

24 March 2009

Life as a 3-Act

I'm sure this is not news to many, but most plays and movies have a 3-act structure with your beginning (the setup), middle (plot development and conflict), and end (the denouement or pay-off). Back in the day when I was doing wholesale lending and consumer mortgages, one of my clients who was a producer on Cosby (and is now an SVP at Paramount Pictures) gave me one of my first books on writing (by Lajos Egri). I learned bunches from this read, and was convinced after seeing her house (and her neighborhood) that the entertainment industry was for me.

Fast Forward some 15 years after receiving the Egri book from her, I returned it to her (along with what I thought was a witty missive) when I was on the lot for a few months doing a consulting gig for Paramount's legal group. She had no idea who I was. Plus, I think she even had her assistant call security which is sort of like turning out the dogs on a peddler of magical potions. All this after I seriously saved her bacon (financially speaking, of course; it's not like she was hanging gutted swine on her Beverly Hills estate in the smokehouse out back of her manse) because she had no "real" means of income to verify. I was able to finesse her loan through committee, in spite of some very skeptical underwriters.

If life is a 3-act, then I'm certainly at the end of my 2nd act (and it has not gone swimmingly well to be honest). In all solid yarns, the 1st act has a good initial hook to keep 'em interested. I like to think that mine was along those lines (don't we all think that our early years are interesting?). I showed some real promise once upon a time, and thought the world would be mine for the asking/taking/grabbing of the brass ring ... now however it looks more like the world is mine for the settling/begging/backing into. No worries though, God is good, and I know that hard work is rewarded.

There are some amazing second acts out there for our example. (I suppose the metaphor breaks down here a bit, but let's press on shall we?) Let's look at a quick few:
  • Industrialist Henry Ford -- 20 years after Ford left home to become a machinist apprentice (and later an engineer for Edison), Henry founded his first auto company. He and Edison would become very good friends, and I have seen the jar which held Edison's last breath, that Ford personally requested, which is housed at the Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI.
  • Entrepreneur Colonel Sanders -- Started selling franchises at age 65 with $105 from his first Social Security check to fund his endeavors. He would soon become a millionaire after selling the parent corporation along with US rights (he retained the Canadian rights for himself). I have personally enjoyed way too much of his finger-lickin' poulet oeuvre -- trust me, it's good.
  • Actor Steve Bescemi -- Former NY firefighter.
  • Writer John Grisham -- Former attorney.
  • Entrepreneur Steve Jobs -- College drop-out, fired in disgrace from Apple, only to return to lead Apple and Pixar to their current design, creative and financial apogee.
  • Actor Dennis Farina -- Former Chicago police officer.
  • Governors Ventura and Schwarzenegger -- Former meat head steroid body builder/ wrestler with crazy accents. (Good gawd how did they get elected? Oh, wait, I voted for one of these guys.)
  • Writer J.K. Rowling -- Former researcher teacher (and on welfare).
  • Writer Tom Clancy -- Former insurance agent.
And F. Scott Fitzgerald once famously said that there are no second acts. Ha! Well, he actually said that there are no American second acts. But, the joke of that is that America itself is a second act. We started off as a beach head of sorts for George III's efforts to replenish his dwindling coffers. Then he went too far and ticked off the right sorts of Founders (Henry, Jefferson, Washington, Adams, et.al.) who could stand up to a monarch with myopic skills of statecraft. I suppose becoming the most prosperous and natural resource blessed country in the history of the planet qualifies as the paragon of all second acts.
If America, and Steve Bescemi, and J.K. Rowling can do it, perhaps we all have a second act in us?

17 March 2009

When the Fit Hits the Shan

Video games and systems are the devil.

They're not from the devil, they are the devil. They know how to torture you, and bring you gifts that only your soul knows about or wants, and then you are addicted. First taste is free say the street vendors of things that shall not be mentioned, but this devil, well he charges you $59.00 for the first game, and every game thereafter. And, it only gets worse, which brings us to our cast of players.

The setting: fair Los Angeles.

The scene: two star-crossed gamers sit cross-legged in yonder bedroom and are soon to learneth that money does not grow on trees.

My boys had some allowance saved up, and I matched their funds and we purchased a video game. After church I was making lunch, and they were off in Neverland loading their new game into the XBox 360. "Dad, the cable's not working!" Walking back to their room, I found them pulling and pushing cables in the back of the tv and into the game console. "What'd you guys do? Did you break it? You know I always tell you to be careful when you put the system away; you guys always are too rough with it!" Being a sensitive, caring father, I then shook my head back and forth with a disgusted "hmmph." I pulled on some cables and rebooted the system, trying not to smack the system on its side like we used to do with our old Nintendo system.

I looked closely at the cable, and lo, said cable was indeed bent/broken and would have to be replaced. "Dad, now we have to get a new cable, and you're not going to let us get a new cable because we don't have the money!" A game controller was tossed with disgust by one brother and then the damaged cable set was dropped harshly by the other. "This sucks!" Two words that are rarely permitted in our house without suffering dire consequences; my dander was getting up, "Watch it!"

"I can't watch it, the cable's broken!" Sarcasm towards an adult, not to mention their dad! Now my nostrils are starting to flare; heart rate skyrocketing. The breathless anticipation of two little guys had run headlong into the reality of disappointment. But, I kept my patience and powder dry.

Then the boys had a terrific idea, "Wait! Let's try that other cable set to see if it works!" Huzzah! Perhaps the day is saved ... could this ersatz cable set be jury-rigged to do for the day? I watched as they scrambled about, back and forth from room to room looking for old cable sets, and then yes, they plugged things in, fiddled about, and then they got sound coming through the speakers (always a good sign), and then video image ... but only in black-n-white. ugh.

"Here, let me reboot this for you guys" said I. I grabbed the system and set it down under their desk for safety. I pushed a button. We watched the screen, then there it was. The sound that all gamers know is the end of days, the ruination of one's fun ... permanently. It's a whirring, grinding, heart-breaking sound.

"Dad!! You put it in upside down!!!! Dad!!!!"

The kids reached for the eject button as fast as human hands have ever moved. I could barely see their little arms and hands moving, they were a blur of determination to save their newest and best friend in the whole world. A tiny disk with levels to beat, nefarious characters to slay, new skills to learn, and accomplishments to accomplish in front of a virtual world of heroes and heroines to join forces with and/or rescue.

When you hear this grinding sound, you have fried your game. No coming back. I could still hear the words echoing in my mind from the 19 yr-old behind the counter with his soul patch under his lower lip, "Sir, do you want $3.00 game insurance for this game in case you bump your system while the disk is spinning?"

Of course not, I said. "That's just a revenue scam by greedy corporate types." That was telling him.

Two boys held-up the disk and looked at it (damaged disk that it now was), and then at me. "You ruined the game!!" "Dad, you broke it! Now what?!" The older one literally ran out of the house and down the steps crying. The younger one grabbed my leg, tears flowing freely already, and then he ran to my room and jumped on my bed, face down, to its furthest corner, bawling.

New XBox cable set: $39.00
Replacing XBox game: $59.00
Watching two sons meltdown: Priceless

I wasn't in any mood to take the blame (I said I was a good dad, remember?), nor did I want to open my mouth to speak afraid of what actually might come out. So, I slowly picked up my dish towel from their desk and walked back into the kitchen to finish making lunch. I put some jazz on and tried to breathe, running through what just happened in my mind. I literally didn't say a thing. I made lunch and waited. About five minutes passed and then footsteps coming up the stairs. The oldest was back in the house; good start. A couple of minutes later the youngest was back at my leg, deep sobs, face planted firmly in my side. The older one snuck in too, and he was in the big comfy chair in the kitchen.

"I told you guys that you can't be rough with your game system. It's not that rugged."

"I know dad, but you broke our game, and now we'll never get to play that game ... for like a month!" The little one still sniffling and wiping tears on my shirt, looking up at me with big eyes. The older one sad/mad/defeated from the corner: "I was really looking forward to this game more than any other game ever!" Each fix only satisfies until the next fix. It's a deadly spiral of game after game, new system after the next new game system, until finally grad school, marriage, or parenthood pries the game remote from your hands, and somewhere the devil cries "Noooo!"

After a few apologies by the three of us (yes, I finally took my portion of the blame), I told the guys that I had a gift-card with room on it to buy a new replacement game. "You're the best dad, ever!!" "Thank you, daddy! I love you!!" Jumping and cries of delight, exultation and raised triumphant arms. So maybe this deus ex machina move of mine wasn't exactly teaching them about scarce resources and the value of a buck, but I did frag their $59.00 game.

Whew ... peaks and valleys. Valleys and peaks. I'm trying to keep the guys on a level plane, but when you're 8 and 11, things are up and down, with an occasional fit thrown in for good measure, and an extra $90 from dad's wallet. It's watching your kids learn how to work through disappointments that's priceless.

16 March 2009

Untamed Beasty

There stood beside me a grove of yellow mango shrubs, each the size of a small boy.

In each moment I stood motionless watching, the weight of it all pressed down on my head, shoulders, and feet (burrowing deeper into the dark wet soil). An increased burden of helplessness; an impotence in its purest state overwhelmed as I heard the waves upon the shore somewhere behind me.

It was as if I could intuit each moment (not seconds, not time, but the single idea or notion of an individual and distinct nano event) as they passed by -- or rather were lit then extinguished -- one by one, like wood matches you get from a steak house, a half-empty box, rattling around. Each of them as important as its predecessor or successor, lined up like lemmings about to migrate to some eternal judgment that they surely would not pass. Each one wanted, yet wasted.

These moments pressed in on my conscience; the box never emptying, just rattling with fresh moments to be shaken to see if there were any left, then pulled hard against the box, then dropped down to the earth like manna from Heaven with a fleeting trail of smoke and a last gasp upon impact.




14 March 2009

Breaking the Fast

You know there's a problem in your life when you can't make it to lunch without thinking about food. I don't mean like a foodie would think about food, "hmm, shall I fricassee my chicken this evening? do I have enough shallots? I shant think so." I mean, the "my stomach is growling so loud that co-workers in cube city are sending around emails asking if anyone else felt and heard that small earthquake," type of hungry.

Small forests have disappeared from our ecosphere due to the volume of magazine articles published on the importance of a substantial and balanced first meal that breaks the fast. Eating a little breaky-break isn't just a nicety, it's a necessity. If like me, you weren't taught the true art form that preparing breakfast can be, one that I never had as a youth and struggle with even now to force myself to develop as an adult.

I've heard tell that Steven Spielberg routinely makes breakfast for his many children. I think this is an excellent tradition to hand down to these future creative types. (Can you imagine Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw (and Amy Irving) rearing the future accountants and mechanics of America?!) What a great way to start the day with some stability and routine for all families; especially for the patriarch on-the-go. If, like the former Cal State Long Beach grad and billionaire film-maker, you do not get home 'til 10pm most nights, at least you can start the day expressing the importance to your little ones on making sure they have the sustenance needed to begin their day and make it to noon recess and lunch in future-executive-in-training style (who do you think has the better schedule, the film exec or the 3rd grader?). Seems to me that its all upside on this morning chef proposition.

What helped me get in the routine of breakfast was two things: first, I started working out (swimming to be precise). Burning those calories really requires that you have the fuel to swim 1/2 mile daily (guilt also requires a lot of calories to burn when you skip your morning workout). Second, I wanted to make what I actually enjoy eating. So, I bought a french press and have one nice cup of coffee each morning (with a little taste of creamer). My morning routine is usually cracked wheat sourdough toast and a poached egg, some OJ, and some cut fresh fruit. (To mix it up a bit, I'll have a toasted bagel with peanut butter and some shredded wheat cereal.)

When you like what you're cooking -- and I love my french press -- it's easy to get into the habit of a regular breakfast. Not only will you avoid those subway-like rumblings in the ole furnace, but you'll also have a nice respite before the day's traffic, tempests at work, and mid-morning temptations like the doughnut your co-worker waves below your under-fueled nose.

War of the Worlds, A Film Review

Note: This review originally appeared on LuxeMont.com

Steven Spielberg is our greatest living filmmaker. He has been consistently superb in his element, which is delivering dramatic tales of survival. Some may argue that he lost his footing a few rare times along the way (Temple of Doom, 1941 and Hook), but not here. His latest film is a remake of the original 1953 film of the same title, and he brings the best out of everyone attached. Spielberg delivers the goods for an intense white-knuckled two-hour journey -- fifteen minutes in and we’re twisting uncomfortably for the remainder of War of the Worlds.

Spielberg is expert at helping us quickly understand the drama that is the Ferrier family (Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning and Justin Chatwin); we see Tom Cruise’s Ray Ferrier as the wholly inadequate divorced, part-time dad that he is. We know instantly why Mrs. Ferrier left him and why his kids have no connection to him. He’s a selfish jerk, but not for long. Dakota Fanning is great as the youngest Ferrier trying not to mentally collapse or get vaporized by tri-pod aliens. Justin Chatwin is equally good as her older brother who is more like her father helping her stay calm.

War is very similar in feel to Jaws, Duel, Close Encounters and Jurassic Park. In each of these films we track our heroes as they confront faceless, formidable and relentless pursuers. Whether it was the submerged shark, the faceless driver of a semi, or unseen alien pilots of large cloud-covered UFOs, we sit on the edge of our seats as our heroes try everything merely to survive. Indeed, when they make it back to shore, avoid the Jurassic mouth that is trying to bite them into equal parts, or finally get to a “safe” place at a roadside cafĂ©, we relax only for a moment because we know that a semi is about to crash through the phone booth, a Great White is about to try and sink the boat, or aliens are about to unscrew the hinges on the front door.

And, so it is with War. We don’t see the alien life-forms for over an hour, and then only twice. Spielberg holds the reveal back here as well, and the tension is taut when it first occurs. This film is not for children. War of the Worlds is a sci-fi horror film, full of death, blood, and tense moments. We track the Ferrier clan as they innovate their survival scramble, unwittingly traversing headlong into foreign tripod invaders, only to use every ounce of their courage, mental toughness, and physical stamina to steer clear once again. We witness real deaths, not stylized violence a la Lucas’s Star Wars. As he used the red jacket in Schindler’s List, Spielberg here uses clothing here to hauntingly remind us that these garments were once occupied by neighbors, friends, and loved ones.

This film will remind you of many other end-of-the-earth scenario films, like Signs, Independence Day, and Armageddon. But, it is done in a very earthy, real manner (Signs was excellent, but lacked the FX firepower and punch that this film has). When watching War, you feel like you are on Ray Ferrier’s block and that you’ve brazenly tagged along attempting to survive. We can’t help be drawn in rather than simply watch from some removed safe distance in our $13.50 leather stadium seating. The special effects are amazing, and you will not find a single defect on the FX front. The screenplay and score are both economical, serving the overall quality of War of the Worlds. There is no misstep on the plot with “quick-fixes” that save the day deus ex machina style. Instead, we watch our protagonists suffer and attempt to survive the old fashioned way, with gritty realism, and earthling know-how. If you loved the Saturday afternoon Sci-Fi festivals on your local television stations as a kid, you’ll love this film.

11 March 2009

Selling Sex, er, I Mean Food

Like all former high school athletes of a certain age who see the jowls staring back at them in the mirror (and can no longer hide the paunch), we fancy ourselves in the category of "good time Charlie" emeritus. We're ready to be called back in "the game" (or the scene) if the coach ever needs us. Nothing quite as cool or hip as a pudgy, bald guy with a mysterious past. Oooooooh, old guys! That's hot.

But seriously, I think that most of us who are parents view ourselves as being far from prudish teetotalers trying to throw a wet blanket on America's collective good time. That's how the mainstream media portrays us ordinary, conservative types. We who live in a modern America cannot help but be connected to the Internet at whizzing speeds, with smartphones that give us music, the Web, photos of our kids, and email at a touch ... all while watching our kid's soccer games or driving on the 405 fwy. We're all cool. We're all connected. We just don't want to be corrupted.

If you're like me, you have had it with the pornification of America, the very America that our kids are growing up in. Whether it's the magazines in the doctor's waiting room; the billboard that you and your brood drive past daily on the way to school; or every parent's nightmare, those pesky cable tv ads, it's obvious that Madison Ave. believes that sex sells. And, now, sex is personified in plump female chocolate-filled hard-shelled candies. It's bad enough that every new doll targeted at our young daughters are all whorish in appearance, with Barbie's new tat on her shoulder, and Bratz in stripper pumps. GP are ya with me?! (Arcane Kirk Franklin reference alert.)

Just type "M&M ad" in Google or its subsidiary YouTube, and you'll find results with several U.S. ads featuring a green female M&M in high heals putting on a strip-tease show of sorts. The foreign territories feature even racier ads with swimsuit photo shoots with swinging tassels. (joking about the tassels, but it won't be far behind, trust me.) Green M&M's have developed a folklore of sexual potency over the years, and now Mars is actually capitalizing on what was once a juvenile urban legend of sorts. Green candy soft-core porn is now actually being monetized by this large Fortune 500 type company! (And, I can't even eat a burger at Carl's Jr. without worrying about finding Paris Hilton's soapy thong bikini bottoms in my Carl's Superstar with Cheese!)

There are recent ads for other products colored with the same lusty, breathy overtones, like other chocolate candies, and even Chapstick is getting in on the act with a dress that keeps falling off. It is getting beyond surreal when a company believes that sales of a diminutive plastic silo filled with waxy material can be improved by sexing up the packaging. Remarkably, this was all predicted 50 years ago by Professor Lewis.

CS Lewis was quite prescient in this prediction (which I guess is a tautology. Damn those tautologies!) As many of us Clive Staples fans know all too well, his writings are as fresh today (and important) as ever. He wrote in Mere Christianity (ch. 15) about Sexual Morality, with insight into the differences between the cultural notions of modesty and decency. Here are his comments about young men and their sexual appetites:

One critic said that if he found a country in which such strip-tease acts with food were popular, he would conclude that the people of that country were starving. He meant, of course, to imply that such things as the strip-tease act resulted not from sexual corruption but from sexual starvation.
Everyone knows that the sexual appetite, like our other appetites, grows by indulgence. Starving men may think much about food, but so do gluttons; the gorged, as well as the famished, like titillations.
Lewis had this spot-on, to a degree. He recognized our natures to be sexualized, at whatever age, and by whatever happens to be the imprintable material in our respective lives. That's why we find movies like American Pie so discomfiting: they're funny because they're (some parts of them at any rate) true. He just did not realize that our culture (British and American) would actually have companies paying millions of dollars to indeed show food stripping, during the family hour.

Even stuffed Americans who've gorged on (been force-fed?) sexual advertising for the better part of our lives are still titillated by Chapstick, Barbie, and M&M ads. I have spent the best part of my parenting years trying to forget the garbage I've allowed to seep (nay, seer?) into my conscience. Much of it is downright bad. Taking captive certain thoughts and making a down payment on renewing my mind is about the best I can do right now for myself.

But as for my two sons, they are getting a dad who is trying his best to give them a childhood that stretches as far into the future without losing that innocence and child-like spirit of adventure. Every day is new and exciting still for them, until that dreaded day when the veil is lifted on the everyday porn endemic in our society. Childhood will end for them on that day, and I don't need the pornification of America to speed that along.

10 March 2009

Crookshank: Wesley Ellis

In 1968, 12-yr-old Wesley Ellis Crookshank was one of hundreds of Crookshank cousins within six counties of the town of Resolute, Indiana. In the late 1940's and early 50's, with the return of brave Hoosier men after World War II, there was a population boom to say the least. As a result, it became more than a little monotonous to hear roll called around the various schools and their classrooms with hundreds of Crookshanks in attendance: "Darnell Crookshank?! Jeremy Crookshank!? Justin Crookshank?! Sally Crookshank!? Silvia Crookshank?!" (See what I mean? Completely obnoxious, right? I'm ready to pull my hair out just writing that sentence.) Kids were constantly rolling their eyes each morning, and the Crookshank name began to wear out its welcome, which was quite unfortunate because there wasn't a more hospitable bunch in all of Perry County and its environs to be sure.

A meeting was held at the homestead, and soon all Crookshank kids were no longer enrolled with their last name; they merely used their first and middle names. And, so it was that Wesley Ellis Crookshank simply became: Wesley Ellis. Or, Wes to his grandpa and friends.

It is said that a Crookshank can recognize a cousin (even one they’ve never met or haven’t seen since childhood) as far removed as 3rd cousins. The distinctive ears (not unsightly, just especially familiar to one used to seeing the elongated lobes staring back in the mirror); the bountiful head of hair; penetrating stare looking for clues seemingly at every glance for some mystery that could erupt without notice; and the smile ... the especially kind smile. There it was. The one trait all Crookshank cousins possessed and that their parents cherished.

An unwritten and unspoken ritual began with Crookshank men doffing their cap (or taking them off completely for women) and acknowledging a passerby as far back as the 1800’s. The Crookshank smile was one that had a dimple on one cheek and a smile line on the other. Always, or almost always, seemingly pulling one on the other with each smile. (One should always not say always, dear reader. Well, you get my meaning.) The ritual would begin when a Crookshank might recognize a relative, he or she would slightly turn their head, smile, and nod a little hello. When the return smile revealed a familiar dimple and a smile line, good manners required one to stop and make the proper introductions. So, on dozens of school campuses in Indiana, Crookshanks using their first and middle names could spot each other fairly easily.

Wesley Ellis had it, and he recognized the smile on more than a dozen kids on the school yard also. And they all recognized him as a Crookshank in good standing with his family and community. He was good stock as they would say. Even for a boy who was born in Kentucky, and whose dad still lived in Prospect driving around in his old green pickup truck.

The conversation eleven years earlier between Wally and his parents Trip and Fiona Crookshank took all of ten minutes. All three knew that Wally had returned to ask his folks to help rear Wesley Ellis while he continued to make a living and a name for himself in Kentucky. The baby needed stability, a women's influence, and family. In Resolute, Indiana, on the original Crookshank homestead, he'd get all three, especially the family.