Sunday, May 25, 2014

These Days You Never Graduate From Graduating

From Sunday's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

Speaker: “Congratulations, Bill, on your graduation. Good job. Great job! What do you plan to do now?”

Bill: “Twy to got in to first gwade.”

This is what it’s come to, fellow Americans. We are renting robes and flat hats for preschoolers. Cute, but about as necessary as a thermometer in the Klondike.

As it was too late for Marley’s ghost, it is too late for me and others this week who will go to tremendously long graduation “exercises,” so called because you are worn out when you leave. Maybe you parents of grads-to-be can do something to stop the insanity.

I have got to hand it to West Monroe High, whose light of learning is ever burning, who is shining her beacon through the dark of days to come, and whose graduation ceremony I witnessed firsthand last May. They sang a choir song, had the Pledge of Allegiance and prayer, a  couple of welcomes, an eight-minute commencement “address,” then ran 400-plus efficiently across the stage and were saying good night to all proud parents and grandparents and well-wishers about 100 minutes after the first pitch was thrown out. Hail a work well done.

But that is not the heart of this testimony. Like gossips and intestinal gas, over-wrought and over-thought graduation ceremonies are likely going to always be with us. Someone in charge will refuse to budge, which means that Junior could have played a round of golf, ate a cheeseburger and read Proverbs in the same amount of time it took him to “get graduated” on his “special night,” the night that nearly killed him since he couldn’t use his cell phone the whole time the commencement speaker was droning about “the real world.”

Instead, the heart here IS the real world, one in which we have graduation ceremonies for people who not only can’t drive, but have so far barely graduated from “car seat” to “seat belt.” A friend the other day attended a pre-K graduation. Pre-K graduation? The kid is going to Kent State? Kansas? Kentucky? Somebody is graduating and moving to Kenya?

No. A ceremony was held – rented caps and gowns and the whole shebang, which is French for “wasted money” – for people who were going to but had not yet entered kindergarten.

 “The award goes to Timmy for Best Broccoli Eater! Susan, you get best Paste Putter-Upper. And no question, the award goes to Zack for Best Jumbo Crayon Eater.”

Why? The answer is that somewhere, there are parents with too much time on their hands. They invent things like pre-K graduation because it is a time-filler and they are “doing something for the kids.” What they are doing is causing every parent in school to take out a loan. This is almost as bad as our bending to something as insane as political correctness. Gentlemen! Wake up!

Another buddy went to fifth-grade graduation this week. Odd. On the bright side, he didn’t have to buy a robe and flat hat. He DID have to buy photographs. Always, there’s a catch. Is there no end?

Eighth-grade graduation is so commonplace that we don’t even question it anymore. I guess we want them to all be together that one last time before they go off to high school, which is the building two blocks down the street. Sigh …

An end-of-the-year program is understandable for children. Singing. Cookies. Everyone hanging around. FREE. But a structured graduation? What worlds are left to conquer for a kid who has already “graduated” four or five times before he’s actually a high school senior?

If they didn’t have fifth- and sixth-grade graduation ceremonies back in the day when that was as far as some of our granddaddy’s got before quitting to work at the saw mill, no way should we have them now. If we do, no way should we charge money for them. An illustration of time efficiency, fiscal responsibly and respect for the masses could be a neat final lesson for our real graduates.

Or we can just keep on with the stupid way we do it now.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Not All Men In Cyperspace Are Really Stars

From Sunday's Times and News-Star

Guitar picker Brad Paisley warned us in song that guys can be “so much cooler online.” Just because I’m slow as a caterpillar carrying a tiny caterpillar piano on his back doesn’t mean I can’t run a 4.3 40-yard dash on the Internet.

It’s always foggy in cyberspace. 

So let’s be careful with that initial date when we meet someone for drinks and dinner that we’ve “seen” before only on a computer. To illustrate, I have a date tale from one of my Second Moms.
“OK,” she began, “I have a story for you…”

Few of hers have been as good – as bad – as this one. 

Since her husband passed away most unexpectedly only a few years after she’d retired, she decided to explore online dating. “It was more about being lonely than anything else,” she said. 

How about a dog? Great idea! Most shed less than a man.

But she wasn’t really home much so she had to give up the dog and try another route. We both hated that: dogs rock it.

“During my self-pity I decided to look at one of the online dating services,” she said. “Wasn't looking for a boyfriend. Just someone to talk to, maybe go to dinner. Never had a desire to but got curious. The range of guys was from 60-70 years old. Here is what I’ve learned from reading their profiles.”
Here’s where it starts getting good…

“Many are very Godly men,” she said. “I don’t doubt that but it’s almost too religious if there is such a thing.

“And they all have motorcycles or horses.

“And they lie.”


“Some are just downright scary,” she said. “One in particular gave me the heebie jeebies. He’s riding a mule and looks like he lives in a swamp.”
He’ll probably have a reality show soon, but there’s more to love than money. So my Second Mom passed and settled on trading texts with a guy who looked “OK.” They decided to meet in a Shreveport/Bossier casino. Safety first: my girl knew there would be people around.

“How can I describe him?” she said. “Let’s see: his profile picture is probably 10- to 12-years old. His description was 6-3 and 245. My description of him is he had neck problems, was kind of stooped, and the lies kept coming for five minutes until he stood up to go to the boat. I said I thought we were going to talk a while first. He sat back down.”

Eventually they piddled around on the boat a bit, then he followed her to a local diner. 

“He apologized for his appearance,” she said. “Huh? The reason he had trouble talking was that he only had four or five teeth. It didn’t matter because by this time I knew we were not a match. In parting he added, ‘You’re a cute little thing.’ OMG.”

She actually wrote that to me. “OMG.” At which point I was ROFL.
(OMG means “Oh my god” or “As if” and ROFL means “rolling on the floor laughing” or “HA! I just spit up chocolate milk through my nose!”)

No matter your age, some things – some reactions – in the dating game never change. “OMG,” she wrote in summary of Dr. Debonair’s closing line. So beautiful.

“He later sent a note that he was interested, was I?,” she said. “I still haven’t answered that.

“I want to emphasize this. I was extremely cautious. I was never alone with him and considered my safety first and foremost. Been there. Done that. Case closed.”

Turns out both my Second Mom and my science teacher were right: there are vacuums in space.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

'Follow The Rules And Follow The Mules...'

From Sunday's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

“We're in the Army now.
“We’re not behind a plow.
“We’ll never get rich diggin’ a ditch.
“We're in the Army now.”

When you apply for an appointment to the United States Military Academy and begin receiving letters in the mail from West Point, it has to be both thrilling and intimidating.

But when your Army-issue boots arrive, and they sit there in the closet with your high school tennis shoes and your Sunday shoes and your flip flops, looking a lot more mature and grown up than your other shoes, all standing tall and at attention and whatnot, then things start to get real.

At church Sunday, a proud and somewhat rattled mom showed me just such a picture, the floor of her baby boy’s closet and the new size-13 boots. Maybe size 14s by now. (He has a “firm foundation” either way.)

His mom also showed me a picture of his nameplate and other things that will be sewn onto his uniform. And not a high school athletic uniform, but a uniform worn by members of the United States Army.

Big-boy stuff.

In less than two weeks he will a high school graduate. In late June, he and his boots leave for West Point, where he’ll become a member of the Corps of Cadets. 

The military. The U.S. Army. The Thin Gray Line. That kind of a deal.

“We’re in the Army now …”

Just the other day when I met him, he was in the eighth grade and I was the grownup in charge in his Sunday school class. We didn’t cover how to cook a baked potato in the wild or even how to quarter a well-fed ox for sacrifice, much less how to dig a foxhole, repel off a mountain or fire an M1. How could I have known? Who knew Josh would apply to be in the military? It’s like predicting Bozo would grow up to split the atom.

I’ve watched him and some others in my step-daughter’s graduating class “mature” these last few years. I’ve seen this particular guy act like somebody I used to know, which would be me. 

As a preacher’s son, he is as goofy as I was. Maybe even a bit more. Once in a high school football game he caught a pass and got cracked on the helmet and knocked into next week’s game, and they had him on the sideline, asking him to count fingers and answer questions, and I asked the people around me, “Unless that doctor knows him, how is he going to know if Josh is OK or not? If he’s acting crazy, for him, that’s normal.”

Unless you don’t like teenaged boys who are a brick shy, whether they’re acting or not, it’s impossible not to have a fondness for him. Besides being crazy, we have other things in common, like a crush on my wife. But he was recognized by Shreveport’s chapter of the National Football Foundation for scholarship, and was on the all-district football team, so he is much smarter than I am, and a better athlete. He is also much more brave. 

I have told his mom that if she starts to miss him, I will come over to their house and eat everything in the icebox, just to make it feel as if he’s still around. But like so many other moms, she’ll have to come to grips with the sad truth that parenting ain’t for sissies, and that you grow them up to leave and become independent, and then when they do, it sort of hurts your feelings in a way that’s weird. You almost feel guilty. You definitely feel sad. I did. Still do.  

He’s breaking his boots in this summer so they’ll be ready for – of course -- boot camp, all of July and August. And while he doesn’t mean to, at the same time he’s breaking a piece of the heart of the first and only sergeant he’s ever had – his momma’s. But even the part that’s broken is proud.