Sunday, July 17, 2011

Brother James?

When I was in the seventh grade I wanted to be a Franciscan Brother. We were taught in school by these fine men, and at the time they made a powerful impression on me. True there were a few wackos mixed in, Like Brother F. who used to hang me up by my belt in the cloakroom (there's a word you don't hear much anymore) and use me for a workout bag when I misbehaved. Then there was Brother D. ( the role model for Darth Vader). A short, bald, muscular man, Brother D. had problems I can't get into here, but fortunately he was transferred out of our school the year I was to get him as a teacher in eighth grade.

Luckily, most of the Franciscans who taught us were good men who sacrificed for the good of serving God and man. I respect all religious...priests, nuns and brothers...who answer the Lord's call and devote their lives to helping others. While my religious career was cut short after my first game of "Spin the Bottle", Phil, my good friend and neighbor, entered the Franciscan Order and spent a number of years teaching and working in administrative posts. He later left the Order, married and currently lives in Phoenix with his wife Susan and daughter Claire.

At Mass today we were addressed by James McKnight, Marist Priest and spokesperson for the Catholic Missions around the world. Father McKnight is a former New York City native about my age who also heard the call and spent his life doing missionary work, including 25 years in the Philippines helping people in that largely Christian country. As he talked of his experience I kept trying to picture me at the age when Father McKnight joined the Marists. Could I have ever left my family, my country, and everything I held dear to travel across the world not knowing what fate had in store for me? I think not. The church was wise in choosing a man like James McKnight to pick up this challenge and help spread Roman Catholicism to new converts.

Let's take religion out of the equation for a minute. Even if we want to be cynical and say the Catholic Church does good just so it can swell the ranks of the faithful, no one can deny the fruits of their missionary outreach. These dedicated men and women help educate, doctor, feed, house and clothe the poorest of God's people. They go to the farthest corners of the earth bringing something that the people living there never had much of...hope. The Church is criticized for all its riches, and yet there is no other religion I am aware of that walks the walk more than Roman Catholicism. All this happens no thanks to weaklings like me, but to staunch, steadfast and courageous men like Father McKnight who spend their lives fighting for the dignity of others.

I remember as kids in school being asked to take home a "Mite Box", a cardboard cutout that we folded into the shape of a box. We were expected to go out and solicit coins to put into the box that would then be donated to Catholic Missions around the world. Like Father McKnight did at today's Mass, a missionary priest would visit our parish back then with tales of unbearable poverty in some exotic country where they were posted. It was hard to relate to such hardship even though the way we grew up would have probably placed us below the poverty line by today's standards. How could children have nothing to eat or wear; how could there be no drinkable water; how could babies die for want of basic medical care?

As a kid I could never fully appreciate the accomplishments of Catholic missionaries on earth, but I can now. I pray that these good women and men receive blessings in the afterlife a thousand times more than they earned during their lifetime. If by any chance I do get into Heaven, look me up. I'll be the guy shining Father McKnight's golden sandals.


Children's Craniofacial Association

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Following the Rules

I’m a rules guy. I try to follow the rules that help keep our society civilized and expect others to do the same. That’s where my plan fails. By the way, I should state up front that I do break the rules myself sometimes, but I try to do it in a way that doesn’t affect others. For example, I’ll exceed the speed limit by five or ten miles an hour, but I’m not reckless about it. I don’t tailgate or cut people off, but just drive faster than the rules say I should. Since maybe 7 out of 10 drivers do the same, it has become sort of OK to do this, but yes, it is breaking the rules. What bothers me is people who flagrantly break the rules with no regard as to how it affects others. Here are some examples:

Lines: We stand in line for all sorts of things like supermarket checkout, department stores, banks, DMV transactions, etc. Most businesses now use a single queue for multiple cashiers so you don’t get stuck behind the guy who needs the price check or the pinhead who is never ready to order or pay when his turn comes. I also hate people who come to the head of the line and say: “I’ve just got one or two items…is it OK if I cut in?” Am I empowered by all those in line behind me to give permission for this line cut? No. Why can’t the cutters just wait their turn! If I’m alone with a big order, I’ll always let them ahead of me, but I won’t presume it’s OK if other people are waiting as well. The vehicular equivalent is the guy who starts his own exit line after driving around all the other cars waiting to exit. If I thought I could get one, I’d have a bumper-mounted missile launcher on my car to take these selfish bastards out of the gene pool.

Courtesy: Extending simple courtesies to one another is the grease that keeps our society lubricated. Some misguided men decided that the advent of “women’s lib” was an excuse to stop holding doors and giving up their seats on public transportation. Courtesy has nothing to do with gender. Standing so an older or physically challenged person can sit is just common decency. A modern discourtesy that pushes my buttons is loud, inane, never-ending cell phone conversations in public. In New Jersey and Connecticut, drivers stop when there is a pedestrian in the crosswalk. Some New York drivers step on the gas. People show up in restaurants and hotel lobbies in bare feet. Inconsiderate theater-goers show up 30 minutes after the curtain only because they’re too damned lazy to leave home on time. I could go on. We need to examine our behavior and restore some of the little niceties that were once taken for granted.

Classroom behavior: When I was in grade school, the teachers ruled with an iron fist. People today are horrified by this. They can’t bear the thought of a child being spoken to in a critical tone in school much less physically disciplined. They miss the point entirely. In school, right from first grade, the rules were explained to us. We had two choices: obey them and be left alone, or disobey them and risk the consequences, including maybe a whack or two with a ruler. It didn’t take much to get us to appreciate the wisdom of following the rules. Once we did, the teacher was free from distractions and could focus on teaching. Moreover, we were less inclined to make trouble and could focus on learning. And learn we did. Students today can do as they please and teachers have little recourse. Discipline is non-existent and to make things worse, parents will often defend their children without even hearing the teacher’s side. If you need a reason why students today learn less than those of 50 years ago, look no further: it’s the lack of discipline.

In the workplace: There are rules that apply on the job. Like in school, workers have the rules explained early on and also the consequences for not obeying them. That should be enough but it never is. People come late to work regularly. They abuse sick time. They take risks at work that put themselves and their co-workers in harm’s way. They horse around, harass co-workers, dress inappropriately, defy management and generally behave like babies. One development that works against compliance with the rules on the job is the power of unions. Originally established to fight abuses of workers, unions have seen to it that the shoe is now on the other foot. Like the misguided parent in the classroom, they stand behind their members no matter what the offense. They also press for pay rates and benefits far above what is paid in other countries for the same skills. This has made doing business in America very expensive and unproductive. Ironically, the very jobs unions seek to protect have been driven overseas because of their greedy excesses.

I know I am probably out of step with a lot of people, especially younger ones, in insisting that people obey the rules. Today’s mantra is “Let me do my own thing.” The problem is when your thing conflicts with my thing, who wins? That’s why rules (and laws) are set up…so we all know what we are required to do to avoid anarchy. Is it too much to expect people to obey?


Children's Craniofacial Association

Sunday, July 3, 2011


I know the legions of the politically correct will gag on this, but I'll put it out there anyhow. Why do women walk around scantily clad, showing all their assets, and then get indignant when somebody notices. When all the merchandise is on prominent display, why be surprised when perspective customers show an interest. If the store's not open, why hang out the sign? Enough with the maxims, you get my point.

On the subject of compliments, I agree with Mark Twain...beware. He believes people are mainly interested in themselves, and only flatter others when they harbor an ulterior motive. Most seemingly innocent compliments have strings attached. So when out of the blue someone gushes over your wonderfulness, check the envelope carefully for surely there is a bill enclosed.

What is it with fat guys and motorcycles? I'm not talking "20 pounds overweight" fat, I'm talking "their shadow can kill a dog" fat. In thinking this out it occurred that maybe they just can't fit into cars; that makes sense. I don't know how the bike frame even supports them. I did a blog once about the worst jobs in the world. Being a seat on a fat guy's motorcycle has officially moved into the top three.

Speaking of bad jobs, we need to rethink the way we deal with the poor folks who hold these jobs. It's so easy to tee off on that nervous kid behind the McDonald's counter when he forgets the secret sauce on your Big Mac. We figure his life must already be in the crapper to be working here, how can one more chewing out hurt. Be the better person and save your sharp tongue for the condescending bitch at Nordstrom's who thinks she's better than you.

Is that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? No wait, maybe its a brain surgeon on 24-hour call, or a NYC Mayor who needs to be reached at any time while on his Bermuda vacations. Oh sorry, false alarm. It's just another one of those pretentious a**holes walking around with that Bluetooth stuck in their ear as if they couldn't possibly be out of communication with mission control for even a minute. Please.

Human perception is a tricky business. We see things so differently, especially when it comes to resemblances between two people. Sometimes a friend will say: "You know, you look just like so-and-so." Naturally, you wonder and you're curious to meet so-and-so to see this "double" of you walking around. When you do get introduced, you're usually horrified to see that he looks like the star act in a circus sideshow. Is that what I really look like! Shoot me now.

This isn't pleasant but it needs to be said. Summer is a great time, but the 'Wardrobe Horror' meter lurches into the red zone. Top of the list: ugly feet. Please don't wear flip flops if your feet are so disfigured that they cause children to cry. Next: donate the tank tops and Spandex pants to Goodwill if you're 80 lbs. overweight. Finally, older men who wear black socks with shorts, you look like you stepped out of a 1950s porno movie. Stop it.

In a letter to the Editor of the Daily News, a woman complained that they wouldn't let her take her Kindle e-reader into Yankee Stadium. Here's an idea the game. Root for your team, talk to the fans, have a hot dog, and enjoy the sunshine and green grass. It won't kill you to take a break from your pathetic electronic addiction for a few hours. (see Bluetooth.)


Looking for a worthy charity? Try these folks:
Children's Craniofacial Association