E.T., stay home

Star Cluster NGC 3603
For centuries, man has pondered his place in the universe, asking questions such as what is our purpose; why are we here; are we alone?

As we grew in intelligence, we found ways to listen beyond our own solar system for indications of life among the stars; and then, not being satisfied with just listening, we sent our own man-made space probes to explore our solar system, our galaxy and beyond.

Voyager I, launched in 1977, is currently the farthest man-made object from Earth. Other space probes include Voyager II, Pioneer 10 and 11, as well as the New Horizons space probe launched in 2006. Aboard Voyager I is a golden record that contains sounds and images selected to portray life on Earth. It is intended for any intelligent extraterrestrial life forms that may find it.

Countless men and women have spent their lives in search of life beyond our world, ultimately hoping to find beings like ourselves. Many careers have been made in that pursuit; many have been lost.

And now, Stephen Hawking, the most highly celebrated British theoritical physicist of our time, said yesterday that we might not want to attract the attention of any alien civilization on the chance they may visit Earth, carrying with them diseases which could wipe out the human race and every living thing on the planet.

Aliens could decimate humanity in the same way Columbus affected the lives of native Americans.

I have only one question:


It's all hush-hush!

I'm working on a big project. To be honest, it's eating my lunch, but I shall prevail.

Sorry. Can't tell you what it is. It's all hush-hush. Wouldn't want word to get out that I'm working on this big project because the minds of men are devious, and the amounts of cold, hard cash they might offer me could sway my decisions, and that would sort of be unethical, I guess, depending upon how much cash we're talking about.

Actually, I was stunned to even be offered this opportunity. I'm practically a newbie in the world of column writing -- not that column writing has anything to do with the project I'm working on -- and to be given the amount of responsibility I've been given...well, I would think it's unheard of.

But somewhere out there in the world, someone had faith in me and decided that I would be a good judge of something I really can't talk about, because, like I said, it's all hush-hush. So don't ask.

And why is it eating my cake? Well, because it's hard to judge one thing being better than another thing, and then explain WHY that one thing is better than the other thing. We're talking about people here, reputations, bragging rights, and to get it all wrong is a fate worse than death.

Of course, I'm talking hypothetically and off the record, and I flatly deny it has anything to do with a contest. In fact, I'll deny everything.

But, I've made my decisions, and now I must stick with them -- whatever it is I'm not supposed to be talking about -- and the devil take the hindmost. (Don't you just love that phrase? Devil take the hindmost. I have no idea what it means, and since no one else does either, what does it matter?)

Anyways, when all this hush-hushness becomes not so hush-hush, I'll let you know all about it -- win, lose or draw -- not that winning has anything to do with what I'm talking about. But I'll let YOU be the judge of that, and see how YOU like all that responsibility piled upon your back, causing you to lose sleep, hair, and your ever-loving mind.

Got to go now. All this sneaking around is giving me a headache.

I'm Gearing Up for a Pain-in-the-Butt Summer Adventure

The Shadow
I have a plan. A plan that will take me on a Summer adventure. An adventure that will cause me incredible amounts of pain in the butt -- literally -- but will give me a lifetime of good stories to tell.

My adventure is called The Saddle Sore 1,000, sponsored by the Iron Butt Association!

The Saddle Sore 1,000 is a motorcycle endurance ride, where the biker rides 1,000 miles in less than 24 hours. The biker keeps a log book, jots down where and when he fuels up, and proves that he made the trip through timed receipts and eyewitnesses at the beginning and end. The biker then sends his documentation to Iron Butt Headquarters, and after the ride is verified, he receives a certificate, a pin and a license plate back.

Yep! That sounds like MY kind of an adventure.

I'm not sure what route I'll take, or my exact date of departure, but I best start getting in shape now. Wouldn't want to flake out in the middle of the ride just because my body can't take the stress.

Saddle Sore 1,000. It's not just a ride -- it's an adventure!

My conversation with Hugh MacLeod

I like Hugh MacLeod. I like that he's a regular guy just like you and me (unless you're a lady, of course). I like that he lives way out in a small West Texas town but has made a global name for himself. I like the fact he'll give you and me the time of day, as long as he has the time of day.

Hugh Macleod - 4921.jpg
Hugh MacLeod is a cartoonist who owns a wine company, and if you've never heard of him, well, it's about time you did.

Several weeks ago, Elizabeth Potts Weinstein "introduced" me to Hugh MacLeod, and when I saw his art work, I knew immediately why she was raving about him. And let's make no mistake about it -- his cartoons ARE artwork.

It wasn't long before Tyler Hurst gave me an opportunity to write a story about my favorite pieces of MacLeod's work.

And then just yesterday, I decided to engage Mr. MacLeod in a bit of conversation, mano y mano, to see exactly how his artist mind worked.

I had noticed on his website that quite a few of his sketches were done not on regular drawing pads, but on musical staff paper. Being a musician myself (yes, banjo players call themselves musicians sometimes), I was curious to know why he had chosen to use such paper. So, pulling on my "I'm about to engage a Big Dog" boots, I sent him the following Tweet:

OldManOnMtTop Question for @gapingvoid -- why do you sometimes sketch on staff paper? Just curious.

And then I sat back and waited to see if he would respond.

The thing about "The Big Dogs" is that most of the time, they don't mind throwing us "Little Dogs" a bone every now and then. They're personable, they're witty, and they recognize that they were once exactly where we are now. So it didn't surprise me in the least when I received my answer:

gapingvoid @OldManOnMtTop Because I can ;-)

Ah, such a simple and straightforward answer, wrapped around a center with infinite meanings.

To analyze his response, because that's what all good journalists do, let's first look at the smiley face at the end. He's actually winking, which implies that MacLeod is giving the answer in friendly jest, with the unspoken acknowledgment that there is more to the answer than meets the eye.

And now, for his actual words: "Because I can."

Those words imply self-confidence, poise, direction, focus, determination, a coolness in the face of hardship, a master of his own fate, and one who achieves greatness not because it is handed to him, but because he earns it.

Because he can.

For the longest time, I sat at my computer wondering what would be the right response to his message. I'm sure he also sat at HIS computer, wondering what my response would be. But in the end, I felt any response by me would only sully his original thoughts, and so I let them dangle there in the interwebs...words of wisdom afloat on the backs of 1s and 0s.

Okay, so it was a short conversation, but you have to admit it WAS a conversation!

Thank you, Hugh MacLeod, for your artwork and time, and thanks for being a good sport!

I need a slogan

Recently, I felt like I was at a crossroads in my life, not knowing which way to turn, or if stopping and staying put was the better choice. I had lost direction; I had lost my focus; I had lost the willpower to check my zipper before going out in public.

I figured what I needed was a slogan!

But you can't just adopt ANY slogan as your own. Some are already taken. Oprah, for example, uses "Live Your Best Life." Elizabeth Potts Weinstein chants "Live Your Truth." Hugh MacLeod draws on "Remember Who You Are." And I'm sure if Tiger Woods had one it would be "Let's Just Do It, But Keep It A Secret, Ok?"

So, knowing that I needed a slogan to get me going in the right direction again, I came up with one that I think fits me quite nicely:

"Let's Get Stinky!"

I think it's a great slogan, but I'm sure you're wondering what the hell it means.

Well, when a person is working hard at what they love, they sweat. A body covered with sweat stinks. So, "Let's Get Stinky" could be a call to action to work your hardest at what you want in order to achieve your goal.

It could also be a pickup line in a bar, as in, "Hey, babe. Let's Get Stinky," but I'm not sure how useful it would be.

Anyways, that's my slogan and I'm gonna stinkin' stick with it. I'm working hard to achieve my goals, I'm working up a sweat to be the person I want to be, and if I get a little stinky along the way, then I must be doing something right.

So "Let's Get Stinky," and make tomorrow a better day!

Make this the year of ‘No More Stuff’

We Americans own too much stuff. We have dishes we don't use stacked in our cabinets, clothes we don't wear hanging in our closets, and exercise equipment just wasting away under our beds (but not my bed -- I’ve never bought ANYTHING remotely related to sweating on purpose).

Our stuff is in control of our lives and we’re just members of the studio audience waiting for someone to tell us to clap.

Well, friends and neighbors, I plan to do something about all my stuff. I’m going to simplify the way I live, regain control of my closet space, and give everything I own to the welfare of others.

Everything except for my tent and sleeping bag.

My tent is the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen. It’s not a cheap Mega-Mart tent. It’s a good four-season tent that’s just as cozy in the winter as it is in the summer. Combined with my polar expedition sleeping bag, I could go camping in Antarctica and remain as warm as a surfer on the beach in Malibu. Alas, I’ll probably never get to Antarctica to use them, but that’s not the point. I have them just in case I need them.

Other than my tent and sleeping bag, everything else is just stuff on its way out – except for my books.

I have so many books that it would be easier for me to open up my own library than to have them hauled away. If you like mystery books, I have a shelf full. If you prefer horror books, I have three shelves full. Books on relationships and turning yourself into a better person? Sorry! I got rid of that stuff a long time ago.

I could never give away my books, just as I could never give away any of my musical instruments (which include a banjo, trumpet, harmonica, two homemade didgeridoos, three rain sticks, 13 penny whistles, 21 bamboo flutes, four guitars, and a goat-skinned Irish bodhran which my family doesn’t know about -- so please, let’s keep it a secret).

Other than that, everything I've got is just stuff, and I'll soon be kicking it out the door.

Friends and neighbors, I submit that all our problems of today – global warming, high gas prices, home foreclosures, unemployment, the war on terror, the Tea Party – all of our problems are due to the gross accumulation of stuff. Without stuff, our world would be a better place, we would be better people, and our children wouldn’t stress out about what they’re going to do with all our stuff when we kick the bucket.

So I ask you: Do you have piles of clothes you never wear? Do you have more knicks and knacks than you could ever shake a paddywhack at? Do you have to use a machete to blaze a trail through your bedroom? If you said yes, then join me as I make 2010 the year of “No More Stuff.”

Together, we can change the world – or at least our living rooms.

If it takes A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, it'll still be worth it!

MY BOOK CAME IN THE MAIL!! It came yesterday. The book. The book I got for free because I wrote a story. A story about "stories"! And it was in the mailbox, and I took it out of the mailer, actually ripped it open, and there it was -- The Book.

A Million Miles
Okay, not THE The Book, but, you know what I mean:

Donald Miller's book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life.

Holy Cow! You CAN get something for free these days!

So, a few nights ago, Chris Brogan wrote a post about Donald Miller's book. The book is about how the author saw his life as a story, decided he didn't exactly like the way it was going, so he took the necessary steps to change it.

You could tell Brogan really dug the book! More than that, he wanted his readers to dig it. To that end, he challenged his readers to write a blog post about "the importance of story in your life." Write a story, win a book. By midnight, I had mine written and called it: "When One Has No Life, It's Best to Invent One."

(If you read the story, take a look at the comments. I think Brogan liked it!)

Anyways, the book came yesterday (sorry I was a bit gushy up there), and I can't wait to read it.

Thanks Chris Brogan for the challenge; thanks Thomas Nelson (publisher) for providing the book; and thank you Donald Miller for the inspiration!

Born To Be Mild!

There are times you find yourself just sitting around the house, or driving to town, or taking a shower, and a song gets stuck in your brain -- you know it's true -- and you just can't shake it, or want to. And then, out of nowhere, you start thinking of something else, like food, or maybe playing the banjo, and then you notice that the word "banjo" would fit right nicely into this song, if you just changed a word here or a lyric there.

The next thing you know, you've come up with completely different lyrics for that song that got stuck in your brain -- and it doesn't sound half bad.

So, that's what happened here. I was thinking, "Man, I really wish I had some Pittsburg hotlinks, or pizza, and maybe a beer to wash it down, while I play banjo and decide whether or not I'm going to ride my motorcycle to work tomorrow."

Wow! Do I sound like a "wild man" or what. Sounds more like I was:

Born To Be Mild
Based on the song Born To Be Wild by Mars Bonfire and sung by Steppenwolf.

(Crank up the video -- it's at the bottom -- and sing along!)

Get your banjo strummin’
Head out on the highway
Looking for some hot links
Or whatever comes our way
Yeah darlin’ how ‘bout half a dozen
Take a few in a love embrace
Eat all that you want at once
And explode into space

I like spicy hotlinks
Covered with some chili
Wash it down with Shiner’s
Don’t be willy nilly
Yeah darling gonna make it happen
Grab a plate in a love embrace
Eat all of that food at once
And explode into space

Like a true banjo guy
I was born, born to be mild
If I climb that high
I think I’ll probably die

Born to be Mild
Born to be Mild

Once a country boy, always a country boy

You probably won’t think this is funny, but I find it hilarious.

A guy, born and raised in the suburbs of Dallas, moves out to the country, buys a John Deere riding lawnmower, puts some goats in his yard, shoots squirrels and possums, waves at people he passes on the road, and buys an old Ford pickup just because it’s an old Ford pickup.

These days I hardly even recognize myself. What’s next – a burn barrel?

You bet! Brought one home just the other day. You can’t be a practicing country boy without a burn barrel. I’ve actually started scrounging around the house to see what I can put in mine. Paper? Check. Cardboard boxes? Absolutely. Our collection of old Barney videos? Don’t tempt me.

I guess what’s funny about all this is that I was practically raised in malls, dealt with traffic congestion on a daily basis, didn’t know the names of the people who lived two houses down from me, could mow our yard in 15 minutes, and would have never thought of waving at someone I just passed on the road.

And that waving thing is what got me thinking about my transformation from city boy to country boy.

I wave at practically everybody now. It’s sort of the thing to do. You meet someone on a narrow oil top road, you best be waving. Especially if they wave at you first. Wouldn’t want to be un-neighborly, you know.

This is just my opinion, but I’m betting all this waving is carried over from old west times. You’re out on the range, where the deer and the antelope play, and you meet someone along the trail and to not say Howdy would be pert-near insulting. I mean, it’s you on a horse and him on a horse, and to keep on riding like you never saw each other would be plain silly.

People who ride motorcycles know what I’m talking about. It’s practically expected that when you cross paths with another motorcyclist you give them “The Wave.” We’re part of an exclusive club. Brothers and sisters on two wheels. We wave at our “family,” and don’t give a blessed care about those who travel on four wheels (except for pickup truck drivers. They’re okay.)

But owning a pickup does not necessarily guarantee admission to the country boy club. What matters is what you haul in it.

I know quite a few people who don’t haul anything in their trucks because they don’t want to scratch up the bed. That’s like having a charcoal grill and not cooking on it because it’s a little rusty. A truck is meant to haul stuff. A grill is meant to cook stuff. And to not use either as they were meant to be used is practically un-American.

I’ve been doing a lot of grilling lately. It’s an old grill, a little rusty, but it works just fine. When I brought home the burn barrel last week, my wife thought I was going to start using IT to grill things. Had to explain to her it was just for paper, dead limbs and her collection of Donnie Osmond records. She didn’t laugh.

It takes some people longer to transition from city person to country person, I guess.

So, let me see: I’ve got a grill, a burn barrel, some goats, an old truck, a motorcycle, and I wave at other drivers. I have a chainsaw on my porch, a shotgun in my closet, and a pocketknife in my pocket. All I need now is a boat and a cowboy hat.

I actually have been thinking about wearing a hat, but picking out the right one is a big decision. A hat says a lot about a person, and I don’t know if I want people judging me by what I put on top of my head. Is it best to fit in and wear one of those baseball-style caps? Or maybe just forget about covering my head, and display my almost-baldness with pride?

I went to the “Big City” the other day and drove past shopping malls, parking lots, high rise office buildings and luxury condos – things that a few years ago I viewed as normal and as the only way modern people were meant to live.

I saw a lot of trucks. I saw a lot of hats. I didn’t see any burn barrels, loose goats, or people waving at each other.

I couldn’t wait to get home to the country.

Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Sinkholes -- Oh My!

Now I'm wishing that I'd never watched that movie 2012.

Do you see those earthquakes happening every few days or so? Are you watching that volcano in Iceland spew ash across Europe? Did you hear about that car being swallowed by a giant sinkhole in California? Before watching that movie, I wouldn't have given any of those occurrences a single thought. But now I am, and it can only mean one thing:

It's The End Times -- 2012 -- the World Is Coming To An End -- Woody Harrelson meets his maker, and John Cusack saves humanity, sort of -- and look at me; I'm just sitting here, enjoying a morning cup of coffee, like nothing's happening.

I've got to get up. I've got to get moving. I've got places to go and things to buy and adventures to have before Mother Earth shuffles the deck and deals us all a new hand.

And the first thing I'll do -- mark it right off my "bucket list" -- is to fix the tail lights on my truck. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. And to not have them in prime working condition when the Eastern Seaboard falls into the Atlantic Ocean would be unconscionable.

There I'll be, heading west to escape the rising flood, and some gas station mechanic will comment about my tail lights not working, and I'll die right then and there of embarrassment. To drown would be preferable. In fact, I'd probably turn my truck around and head TOWARD the water.

Next, I've got to get a male goat for my female goats. Just the thought of Sassy and Stich going to the Big Goat Pen in the Sky without ever having the pleasure of being mounted by a horny buck keeps me awake at night. Who knows, they may be lesbian goats and hate the whole thing, but at least I've got to give them that opportunity.

I don't think I could handle their sad little eyes, looking up at me in their final moments as if to say, "We're about to be barbecued and we never had goat sex. Just once would have been enough. But it's too late now."

Oh, the heartache.

Speaking of heartache -- if the world comes to an end and I haven't repaired the leak in my roof, I'll never hear the end of it.

ST PETER: Welcome friends. Beyond the Pearly Gates lie streets of gold, fields of milk and honey, and heavenly shelter for the rest of eternity.
ME: You mean I made it? I went to the good place?
WIFE: It's amazing, seeing that you never fixed our roof. I just hope our "heavenly shelter" isn't leaky because I will NOT spend the rest of eternity with rain dropping on my linoleum like I have the last 15 years. Fifteen years I kept asking you to fix the roof, but you never did, and then time ran out, and now we're here. Holy Mother Mary and All The Angels, if I have to live in a leaky "shelter" with you for the rest of eternity, you will live to regret it.
ST PETER: Well friends, I hope you enjoy your ever-lasting life together!

And finally, I've got to buy some more rum. If I'm going to sink into a burning pit of molten lava, I'd rather do it with a Pina Colada in my hand and a straw in my mouth. It just seems like the best way to go.

Well, time for me to stop rambling and get to action. Time is running out, and I want to meet the end on my own terms.

But first, I think I'll have another cup of coffee.

The Human Brain Can't Handle Extreme Multi-Tasking

Researchers have recently discovered that the brain can only keep track of two tasks at a time, which is totally absurd because at this exact moment, not only am I thinking about what I'm about to type, and then typing it, but I'm also wondering where I put my tall glass of sweet iced tea, because I know I just had it and...

No...wait...I was just THINKING about making a tall glass of sweet iced tea, with lemon, if we have any, but I'm not sure. I'll check the fridge.

See, that's three things, isn't it? Now, where was I?

Oh yes. These brain researchers say our medial frontal cortex (whatever that is) divides so that each side can focus on a single task at the same time. Which again is totally ridiculous because I would think if our brains are up in our heads dividing all by themselves, we'd be able to feel something, or at least hear it. Not only that, but if they can divide once, shouldn't they be able to subdivide, and keep subdividing until we have our own little brainiac subdivisions, complete with condos, a golf course and free broadband internet?

Just kidding.

According to the AP article I was reading while driving my truck home and praying to heaven that I wouldn't get stopped by a cop or run into the back of the 18-wheeler I was following (that's three tasks, bucko!), one of the French researchers, Etienne Koechlin of the Universite Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris, said:

"What really the results show is that we can readily divide tasking. We can cook, and at the same time talk on the phone, and switch back and forth between these two activities; however, we cannot multitask with more than two tasks."

And now we know the REAL reason why this study shows we can't multi-multi-task: It was written by the French. The French enjoy one thing at a time, relishing every moment, every nuance, every pungent body odor.

So, imagine yourself a Frenchman (or woman if you prefer), sitting by yourself in some non-touristy cafe, savoring a bottle of 1997 Monbazillac Controlée when along comes a foreigner (let's say, German), texting away on their cell phone, while ignoring the waiter, and then getting upset because the waiter won't wait like good waiters are supposed to, and when the waiter comes back, the foreigner (no, not German -- Italian), is now talking on their cell phone, complaining about the service, and you can no longer relax with your wine because of the whine!

Oh yes, if I were that Frenchman (or woman, wearing a sundress and sandals, her hair pulled back to reveal her delicate cheek bones, her long legs stretched out and ... HOLY SHAGGY SHEEPDOG. She has more leg hair than I do!), if I were that Frenchman, I'd ... I'd...

I'm sorry, but I've got to stop this story right now. Just the THOUGHT of those hairy legs is making me sick.

They were right. The human brain can't handle extreme hairy legs on French women -- no, I mean multi-tasking...multi-tasking!

Excusez-moi. Où est la toilette?

On Open Letter To My F-100

Dear Truck,

I said some nasty things about you Tuesday. I probably used some colorful language while I was underneath you, yanking out your starter. I may have even suggested some extreme measures for "taking you out." But I didn't mean it. Really.

Okay, at the TIME I meant it, but you've got to understand -- you're old, you're cranky, your transmission's almost shot, your wipers sometimes don't work, there's a short in your tail lights, and you wouldn't start like you were supposed to. I was upset. The starter was supposed to fix everything, but it didn't. Can you really blame me for using those kind of words and wishing I had a few handy sticks of dynamite?

The good thing is, everything's better now. I gave you a new solenoid, and you cranked right up. Bravo! And please give me an encore the next time I really need you -- like tomorrow!

What? Yes, I trust you. Yes, I know you'll do your best. But your best hasn't been so "best" in awhile. Maybe tomorrow will be the start of a brand new day; a new era of being out on the road and not stuck beside it. Maybe tomorrow you and I will begin a new story; turn the page on another chapter and begin our lives fresh and new and raring to tackle what lies ahead! Maybe...

Oh, sorry. Yes, I sometimes ramble. I'll stop now.

So, will you forgive me for what I said Tuesday?

I loves ya!

When all else fails, try The Texas Stadium Solution!

Where's The Starter?
Did I tell you that I changed my truck's alternator all by myself? Of course I did. I told everybody. Well, everybody who would stay around long enough to listen.

A couple of weeks ago, me, myself and non-mechanical I went under the hood of my 1982 F-100, performed a quick operation on the alternator, got my hands real nice and icky, and resuscitated my truck from what looked like certain death.

But after several weeks of running pert near flawlessly, the piece of crap now decides it doesn't want to crank anymore. My very-mechanical friends pointed me in the direction of the starter -- which, they said, was easy to take off, easy to install, and "you'll be up and running in no time" -- so I bought one.

I took the old starter off (piece of cake), put the new one on (piece of chocolate cake), and the truck still won't start.

I think instead of a starter, the parts guy sold me a stopper. The crook!

Now I'm thinking about dynamite. Tow the truck to an empty parking lot, put a few sticks under the hood, charge admission, set off some fireworks, and send this rusty old monster back to the hell it came from. I'll even have an essay contest where some lucky school kid can push the "Button of Doom."

I call this The Texas Stadium Solution.

I'll let you know when tickets go on sale.

Tiger Woods -- just another potty mouth!

Tiger Woods
Oh, it gives me such pain and heartache to hear that Tiger Woods has a potty mouth. In fact, if I knew his address, I’d send him a bar of soap with a note attached telling him to, “Clean up your act!”

Premiere athletes like Woods are held to a higher standard than the rest of us mortals, and to be caught uttering curses that include God and damnation (and you know what I’m talking about), is just a jaw-dropping lack of self control from a man who prides himself on having super-human self control.

Tiger, don’t you know that little kids are watching your every move to see how they should act in the face of disappointment?

Don’t you know that teenagers just on the start of fledgling golf careers analyze what you say and do in order to be just like you?

Don’t you know that grown men secretly take notes of how you swing so they, too, can become better players?

And here you go uttering blasphemous ejaculations so everyone in the world can hear and then say, “He was such a good little boy, and now look at him. Just another potty mouth.”

For shame, for shame, for shame!

So what’s next, Tiger? Are you going to get caught smoking a joint on the back nine? Are you going to be arrested for robbing convenience stores after losing again? Are you going to be a hunted man for letting married women hold your putter and play with your balls?

Oh, the thought of it is just too much for me to bear!

I went in for oil, and came out with groceries

Every story starts with one word. Sometimes it’s a big word, sometimes it’s small. But without that first word, there could never be a second, or a third, or a fourth. So, I think I shall start this story with “The,” and after that, we shall see.

The other day, very early in the morning, I headed out to the local Super-Duper Mega Mart to buy a quart of oil. I always go in the morning because I’m a morning person. I buy oil because my truck requires it. I go to the Super-Duper Mega Mart because it’s practically the only game in town.

Very rarely do I carry my cell phone with me when I shop because I hate to be interrupted in my “get in, get out quick” expeditions. But for some reason, I had my cell phone with me that day – and it was on.

“Dear, since you’re at the Super-Duper Mega Mart, could you possibly buy some milk? I’d really appreciate it.”

That was my wife. She knows my number. I answer, “Yeah, sure, milk, fine.”

That’s how we guys talk. Mono-syllable. Straight to the point. Say what you mean to say, then shut up.

“Oh, and butter too, if you don’t mind. I prefer the kind in the tub, like we always get, but if they don’t have that, whatever you do, don’t buy the squeeze-it butter because that’s just plain nasty.”

Quart of oil, milk and butter. Not too hard. Maybe I should get one of those baskets.

“Oh, and leave your cell phone on just in case I think of anything else we need. Okay?”

I say, “Yeah, sure, phone on, no problem,” but what I’m thinking is, “Why did I ever agree to cell phones?”

The other reason I like shopping early in the morning is because there are less people out and about. They’re all still in bed, watching Good Morning Something or Other, drinking their first cup of coffee and...

Coffee beans. I think we’re out. Best pick up a bag or two. That way when I get home, after I change the oil in my truck, I can settle down and relax with a tall cup of freshly-brewed coffee.

I didn’t always drink coffee. In fact, I’m a new convert. I actually surprised my father and brother this past Christmas when I said if they were fixing coffee, I’d sure like a cup. You should have seen their jaws drop. Then they slapped me on the back and said, “Welcome to the club.”

But I will admit, I doctor up my coffee quite a bit. Can’t stand it black. Which reminds me, I wonder if we have any sugar left? Best call home and see.

“Yes, we have plenty of sugar, but I’ve found some other items we desperately need. Do you have something to write with?”

Holy Cow. Of course I don’t have anything to write with. I just came for a quart of oil. You don’t necessarily have to write down “one quart of oil” when that’s the only thing you’re getting.

But of course I don’t actually SAY all that. Instead, I say, “Yeah, shoot.”

“Well, it’s not much. Okay, we need some eggs, I prefer the two dozen Grade A eggs in the paper carton, not plastic, because it decomposes easier; we need some cheese, either Pepper Jack or Swiss, but we have plenty of cheddar, unless you want to buy some sharp cheddar, but I’ll leave that up to you; we need some bananas, and please make sure they’re yellow and not green like last time, and yes I know you’re color blind, but just ask someone; we could use some frozen vegetables, but just buy the store brand because the other is too expensive; and a couple of cans of tuna in water, not oil, because I’m going to try a new tuna casserole recipe tonight and...Oh, bread. We need bread. I think garlic bread will taste good with the casserole, don’t you? And could you please pick up some more coffee? Whole beans. I like grinding it up fresh. You’ve got all that?”

I say, “Yep, eggs, cheese, bananas, peas, tuna, bread, coffee. Got it,” but inside, I’m crying, because I just wanted oil. Only a quart. Just enough to get my hands dirty.

I say goodbye – then turn off the phone.

Every story starts with one word, followed by another, then another, and then another. Every shopping trip starts with one item, followed by another, then another, and then another. Once you come to terms with that, life is Peachy Keen.

When One Has No Life, It's Best To Invent One

Me and My Shadow

It wasn't too long ago that I was just your average go to work, come back home, watch "The Wheel" then go to bed sort of guy. I was caught in a loop, living from day to day with no apparent purpose or reason. If my life had been a story submitted for publication, there would have been no end to the rejection slips.

But then I bought a motorcycle.

Oh, baby, was the spouse upset when I tooled down the driveway on my brand spanking new Honda Shadow. The kids asked, "Is that yours?" and I replied, "Of course not! I'm just borrowing it for awhile."

Do you think anyone believed me? Absolutely not!

But I had a purpose for my bike. It wasn't going to be a toy. It wasn't going to just sit in the driveway gathering dust and bird droppings. It was going to be a part of a "new me." I was going to use it to add a bit of spice to "my story." And from that day since (coming up on six years and 60,000 miles) I've ridden my bike to work almost every day -- in cold weather, on hot days, when the rain came down so hard it stung my body through my raingear, and on a couple of icy days when I really shouldn't have been riding at all.

My bike is now a part of me, and I a part of it. And in the end, when others tell my story, they will say, "He was a biker."

Those Daring Young Men in Their Flying Machines

I've always wanted to learn how to fly, but it seemed like I was always too busy, or more importantly, too poor, to do it. But on Nov. 7, 2007, I soloed in a Cessna 150, and in July 2008 I obtained my pilot certificate.

Flying is an expensive hobby. Planes cost too much, the price of maintenance is out of this world, and it takes a lot of flying to keep your skills at an acceptable level. I knew all that when I took my first lesson. I knew that there was no way I could ever afford my own plane. I knew that after getting my certificate I would probably never have the cash to fly very much, if at all.

But I did it anyway.

Sure, instead of learning to fly, I could have spent my money on paying down some credit card debt. Sure, I could have fixed the roof or paid off the cars. But I wanted to write a new chapter in my life, a chapter full of excitement and of being able to do what only a few have even dared.

Flying is now a part of me, and I a part of it. And in the end, when others tell my story, they will say, "He was a pilot."

The Pen is Mightier Than The Sword

I have always enjoyed writing. I won a writing trophy in 2nd grade. I wrote a science fiction story in third. I took creative writing in high school. I was an award-winning journalist in the military. But it wasn't until two years ago, when I started writing a weekly column for my local newspaper, that I found my "focus" in life. I found that writing was the one and only thing that made my life worth living.

And then three months ago I started this website with the sole purpose of making up for lost time. Write one story a day. Without fail. Rain or Shine. In Sickness or in Health. In Good times and Bad. What God has brought together, let no man pull asunder.

Writing is now a part of me, and I a part of it. And in the end, when others tell my story, they will say, "He was a writer."

I had no life, so I invented one

Before three days ago I had never heard of Donald Miller. He's an author. He wrote a book called Blue Like Jazz. More recently he wrote a book called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I've Learned While Editing My Life.

The book is about turning the story of your life into a better story, and I look forward to reading the book some day. But for now, I'm DOING it! Editing my life. Creating new chapters. Looking foward to the day when my own life will be a story worth reading.

Thanks to Chris Brogan for shining the light on Donald Miller. And Thanks to Donald Miller for opening our eyes to endless possibilities!

Palin has Obama on the ropes

Kick Boxing...
Great job, Sarah Palin, on bruising up the President like you did over his new nuclear defense policy. You really jabbed him in the kisser, yes you did.

I mean, what gives Mr. Obama the right to sign a nuclear reduction treaty with Russia anyways? Shouldn't we be thinking the more nukes the merrier? And then he declares that America won't use the ones we DO have against a non-nuclear state that tries to attack us. And what did you say -- "No administration in America's history would, I think, ever have considered such a step that we just found out President Obama is supporting today"?

Oh, so right. Washington didn't pussyfoot around about nukes. Lincoln didn't shy away from H-bombs. Jefferson had the button right under his thumb most of his years in office. And now look at Obama. He goes out and declares that the world should be free of nuclear weapons, and that if any non-nuclear country attacks us with chemicals, we'll retaliate, but with conventional weapons -- not nukes.

Stonewall Jackson is probably turning over in his grave.

And like you said, how does being a community organizer give him more experience about nuclear weapons than you? Has he ever been out in the woods with a big gun, shooting elk and moose? I doubt he even knows what a really big gun looks like.

Now that you've got Mr. President on the ropes with your down-home repartee, here are some of my suggestions on even more witty remarks you can use against him to continue the thrashing:

Here's what you could say on health care: "Oh, sure, the government is going to take a more active roll in health care, but how is that going to feed the starving children in China?"

Here's what you could say on global warming: "Global warming is a myth, perpetuated by liberals like yourself who believe pollution is causing the Earth to heat up, when we all know that the SUN causes the Earth to heat up."

Here's what you could say on energy: "Are you seriously going to open up more drilling off the coast of Virginia and not Alaska? Hello? I think we have more experience cleaning up oil spills than Virginia has. Valdez? Remember?"

And here's what you could say on running for office: "You may have the office now, but I've got bumper stickers that wow the crowd, and they stick real good on bumpers."

Yes, Sarah Palin, use these "comebacks" along with any you come up with and there will be no doubt who the next president will be.

Keep up the good work!

Let Them Eat Cake!

Chocolate Stout Cake
Dear Diary,

It’s been a long time since I’ve written in you, and since I had a couple of extra minutes to kill before heading off to work, I thought I’d let you know how things have been going.

I’m no longer in third grade; I walked Cynthia home, once; I never married my fourth grade math teacher; my dog died; a cat ate my turtle; and firemen came to our house looking for a fire, but it was all a misunderstanding (I swear I didn’t call them).

I made it through high school and college with no visible scars. I have a respectable job, a family, and a closet full of clothes I can’t wear because I eat too much. I own a couple of cars, a house by the lake, a motorcycle, and a lot of other stuff I don’t need. And I have enough debt to keep me working until God says, “Cash in your chips – you’re done.”

All in all I’m living the American dream. But I’m starting to think that buying goats wasn’t the brightest idea I ever had.

I bought the goats thinking they would eat the grass, instead of me having to mow it. But who would have guessed my goats would be picky eaters?

Unfortunately, I believe it’s my fault they’re picky eaters. When I first got them, I gave them things like lettuce, bananas, carrots, and three-week old chocolate cake. What animal in its right mind would gladly munch on grass and weeds after eating three-week old chocolate cake? I know I wouldn’t. And now, every time they see me, they bleat out horrible noises that sound an awful lot like, “CAKE! Give us CAKE! Not vanilla. We only want chocolate cake! A cold glass of milk would be nice, too, if you have some.”

I want to know who said goats would eat anything, because it’s a lie. I left an old lawnmower out in their pen three weeks ago and they haven’t even nibbled on it.

So, you know what this means don’t you? It means I’m going to have to mow. Either that or buy more goats that prefer nothing but grass and weeds. But it would be my luck that the old goats would tell the new goats, “Hey, don’t eat that stuff. Something better is on its way.”

Goats are smart like that.

What do you mean you don't have a truck?

Just because Oprah doesn't drive a truck is not a good excuse for YOU not to drive a truck. If Oprah jumped off a cliff would you jump after her?

On second thought, don't answer that.

I'm just guessing here, but I'm pert-near positive that not only does Oprah not own a truck, but that she's never devoted a single episode to the one and only truly-American vehicle designed to do more than just get you from your penthouse apartment to Bloomingdale's.

It's a tragedy I say -- an unbelievable, un-American tragedy!

But, we can't all be perfect!

If I had my own show, I'd devote an entire week to Living With an American Truck. Monday's episode would be called "How to Show Your Truck That You Care." Tuesday would be "237 Reasons for Washing Your Dodge Ram." Wednesday would showcase celebrities who drive Ford F-150s. Thursday would be dedicated to "Hauling: It's In Our Blood." And Friday would be "Do It In A Truck."

Without a pickup truck, America wouldn't be the America we all know and love. How would we haul hay to our goats? With what would we pull our fishing boats? How would we go muddin'?

Trucks are useful; trucks are sturdy; trucks make you feel independent and able to do the things that need to get done.

Viagra can't hold a stick to The Power of the Truck!

I have no idea why Oprah never had an episode on such an all-American vehicle, but she must have had her reasons. Oh well, c'est la vie!

Are you ready to Live Without Oprah?

Вы для читать мой рассказ (Translation: Thank you for reading my story!)

Got a thrill the other day. Someone in the Ukraine read my story "A man can't be truly happy unless he has a truck to work on." Of course he had to translate my website into Russian, and who knows how accurate the translation was, but look how cool my site looks in Cyrillic. More cosmopolitan, I think.

Now for the scary part: Whoever went to the trouble to find my site and translate it into Russian is getting an up-close-and-personal look at life here in our God Bless United States ... through MY eyes!


Doesn't that just make you want to "duck and cover" under a school desk because you have this feeling that any minute now the Ruskies are going to start lobbing H-bombs our way in order to rid the world of its American infestation?

I do!

But, there is hope for us. Whoever read my story was reading about TRUCKS! And anybody on the face of the Earth who reads a story about trucks has got to be friend and not foe.

Trucks are universal. Trucks are understood throughout the galaxy as "the people's vehicle." Trucks bridge the gap between the mighty and the lowly.

If Jesus were alive today, he'd drive a truck.

So добро пожаловать (welcome), my Ukranian friend. May you live long and процветайте (prosper). And may можете вы всегда иметь грузовик в вашем гараже. (May you always have a truck in your garage!)

I'm a Grill Man

Oh baby, let me tell ya these last few weeks I've cooked more things out on the grill than I think I've ever done in my whole entire life. I've got smoke in my hair, steak in my belly, and I think I like it.

In fact, I like grilling so much now, I wrote this little song parody about it called:

I'm A Grill Man
based on the song Soul Man sung by James Brown and The Blues Brothers.

(If you can't remember how the song goes, fire up The Blues Brothers' video at the bottom and sing along!)

sizzling patties on a grill
Comin' to ya on a serving plate
Good cookin' I got what it takes
And when you get it, better eat it up
Don't you worry, there's more than enough.

I'm a Grill Man, I'm a Grill Man
I'm a Grill Man, I'm a Grill Man

Got what I got, by grilling hot
And I make it better, with W'ster Sauce
So Honey, please don't you fret
'Cause you ain't eaten, nothing yet

I'm a Grill Man, I'm a Grill Man
I'm a Grill Man, I'm a Grill Man

I was brought up on chicken wings
Hot dogs, steaks and other things
Now I grill, everything I got
Whoa, when I start, I just can't stop

I'm a Grill Man, I'm a Grill Man
I'm a Grill Man, I'm a Grill Man

Just grab a plate and dig right in,
Take what you want, come back again,
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

I'm a Grill Man, I'm a Grill Man
I'm a Grill Man, I'm a Grill Man

She gets her fashion sense from me

Becky Style
I'm so sorry, but I'm really not sorry.

It all started when my little girl was just a baby and I took it upon myself to dress her for the day. You know, that modern-father philosophy of being a part of your child's life instead of apart from it. Anyways, I don't remember where we were going, I don't remember exactly what I dressed her in, but I remember my wife's, mother-in-law's, and my mother's reaction to my baby's attire.

WIFE: "You can't be serious? Our baby is NOT leaving this house looking like that."

MOTHER-IN-LAW: "I told you it was a bad idea to let him dress her. Don't you remember he's colorblind?"

MOTHER: "I thought I raised you better than this. This is just over the top, totally outrageous."

Oh, I should be ashamed of saying it, but to irk all three of them at one time, well, I considered that a coup d’état! And so, throughout the years, I kept dressing her every chance I could get, just to rub the women-folk the wrong way.

Polka dots and stripes? Why not! Orange top and purple pants? What do I care -- I'm colorblind. Elephants on top and Zebras down below? Looked okay to me.

Funny thing is, my little baby thought it looked okay, too. And when it came time for her to dress herself -- and she let me know it was time in no uncertain terms -- when it was time, she continued with an eclectic style that made her Daddy proud.

She's my girl. She's got style. She doesn't let anyone influence her "look." And who taught her everything she knows?

Me -- Proud Papa!

Lamaze: It’s not just for childbirth anymore

It’s amazing how some days go just as planned, everything falling right into place, but other days throw you for a loop and you feel like tweaking the nose of anyone who looks at you cross-eyed.

On those “I’m gonna tweak somebody’s nose” days, I’m thankful for knowing Lamaze.

Lamaze, which is a French word that means, “Controlling one’s pain through breathing so as not to kill anyone during contractions,” is a technique used by countless soon-to-be mothers in order to keep their husbands alive while having a “natural” childbirth experience.

But Lamaze is not just for birthing anymore.

Let’s say you’re in Wal-Mart on a quick shopping trip. All you need is some charcoal, a couple of steaks, and an oil filter. You gather up your items, head to the shortest line, and get stuck behind a person who bought a can of Low-Fat Marinated Aged Cow Tongue in Barbecue Sauce, which didn’t show up on the cashier’s price list, and for the past 30 minutes some mid-level manager has been running through the store trying to figure out how much a can of the stuff costs, and you can’t jump to the next line, the one that’s moving at the speed of light, because you're trapped in front of 10 other shoppers.

Lamaze comes in handy in this kind of situation.

Breathe in, breathe out. Focus on a distant object. Take a cleansing breath. Breath out through your mouth, in through your nose. Release your anxiety, and look, the contractions are over, and you haven’t killed anybody or had a baby.

According to Wikipedia, the suppository of all modern knowledge, Lamaze is a prepared childbirth technique that was developed in the 1940s by Dr. Fernand Lamaze, a male pediatrician who told his patients to focus on their breathing and they’d feel no pain during childbirth or afterwards when they received their bill.

LAMAZE: My dear, just relax, breathe in, breathe out, and look – no pain.

PATIENT: Dr. Lamaze, I must be doing something wrong, because I feel a LOT of pain, and if you tell me one more time that I don’t, I’m going to rip your tongue out with my fingernails and feed it to my cats.

Then one day someone invented the epidural, and all the women rejoiced. But you can’t go around giving yourself an epidural every time you’re frazzled, so let’s get back to Lamaze.

Suppose you’re at the office. Your boss comes in and asks where you filed those important files he asked you to file yesterday, the files that he needs right this very minute, which are the same files you don’t remember anything about because your boss never asked you to file them because he’s a raving lunatic that can’t even remember your name.

You don’t know why you’re still at this lousy job when you could be making more at Burger King, but you are, and now he’s breathing down your neck, and the thought occurs to you that if you claim self-defense, you might get off scot-free.

This is a very appropriate time for Lamaze.

Focus on something (no, not that sharp letter opener). Take a quick cleansing breath. Breathe out through your mouth, breath in through your nose. Let your nostrils flare a bit for your boss to see. He might think you’re about to blow a gasket and back off. Breathe out, breathe in, slowly, count to 10, and think happy thoughts. Look, you can fly, you can fly, you can fly.

Sorry, wrong story.

Or how about those times you’re stuck in traffic, everything is stop and go, and some idiot bolts out of his lane right into yours, doesn’t even look, causing you to slam on your brakes, dump your expensive Iced Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha into your lap, which elicits a slew of colorful language from your mouth, language that your 6-year-old son, who is sitting in his car seat right behind you, has never heard, but boy is he going to try some of those words at school next Monday.

Lamaze. Think Lamaze. Focus. Breathe. Happy thoughts. Don’t push yet, not even a little bit. Keep your hands inside the car. No obscene gestures. Focus. Focus. Breathe out. Concentrate. That’s better. Your heart is slowing down. Your blood pressure is back to normal. You can release your death grip on the wheel. Much better. Good. Good.

It’s Lamaze, and it’s not just for childbirth anymore. Don’t wait – find a class near you. Today!

My Talk With God

god doodle
Since yesterday was Good Friday, and tomorrow is Easter, I thought it might be a good time to sit down and have a little chat with God. You know, make some comments, ask some questions, offer some suggestions -- that sort of thing.

So, here's how our conversation went:

Dear God,
     From this mountaintop I see your handiwork. But goats? Were you just in a bad mood that day?

Dear God,
     If you created me in your image, then I’m going to have some serious problems following a short, fat, bald guy to the afterlife.

Dear God,
     Thank you for making me a man, and giving me the ability to pee standing up.

Dear God,
     I wanted to be tall, rich and handsome, but you made me short, poor and ugly. Bad connections? Have you thought about switching to Verizon?

Dear God,
     If you created man, and man created the banjo, then I guess you’ve done some good -- in a roundabout sort of way.

Dear God,
     Thanks for giving women cleavage. Bravo!

Dear God,
     Since you know everything before it happens, couldn’t you have done something about Lady Gaga?

Dear God,
     When I die, can you see to it that I can continue to tweet from heaven. It will really freak people out.

Dear God,
     I’ve heard that hell offers wifi hotspots and heaven is still on dialup. Could you do something about that before my time is up?

Dear God,
     If you’re not serving hotlinks, chili and beer up in heaven, then I ain’t going!

Dear God,
     I asked you to show me a sign and you did. So, are you using minnows or worms?

How I'm going to make my Good Friday a Great one!

Hey, you. Can you quiet down a bit? I'm trying to sleep here. Don't you know it's a holiday?

Ok, well it is for me. It's Good Friday, and I'm thinking this might be a good day for me to stay in bed, catch up on some sleep, and do absolutely nothing -- and the last thing I need is a bunch of yoohoos like you making a bunch of racket.

And don't you even dare think about getting out that lawnmower and mowing your yard at this hour. It's my day off, for crying out loud!

So, here's my agenda for turning this Good Friday into a Great one:

1. Stay in bed.
2. Stay in my pajamas, while I'm staying in bed.
3. Read a book while staying in bed.
4. Only get up to fix breakfast and lunch, but then eat it in bed
5. Do not answer any phone calls.
6. Do not check email or Twitter account more than three times.
7. Do not update Facebook status more than five times.
8. When spouse comes home and asks why I haven't done any work today -- play sick!
9. Under no circumstances allow spouse to check forehead for temperature.
10. Do not write any stories today!

Oops! Got to stick to agenda. I've written too much already. Have a Good Friday. Adios!