One Hundred Monkeys in Texas

August 29, 2008

The 300

Filed under: Athletics,High school — alancochrum @ 9:26 pm
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It’s not often that you get to be present for three milestones in your high school alma mater’s history.

In the fall of 1977, my junior year, Arlington’s Lamar High School had a pretty good football program that nevertheless had never made it to the district playoffs. Crosstown rival Sam Houston was ranked fourth in the state of Texas. The Lamar Vikings? Well, not exactly.

But something happened after an offensive shootout with district rival Haltom in which Lamar came off second-best. The following week, Lamar unexpectedly blitzed intracity rival Arlington High, 41-6. The week after that, the Vikings stunned Sam Houston’s Texans, 43-12.

In that fall of 1977, Lamar went to the high school football playoffs for the first time. From my spot in the band, I watched us take a last-minute victory over Fort Worth’s Arlington Heights High School to capture the bi-district crown.

(True, we did have our head handed to us in the regional game with Odessa Permian. But back then, Odessa Permian handed a lot of teams their heads.)

The fall of ’78, my senior year: The Vikings went 10-0 to take their first outright district championship. (The previous year, they had shared the actual title with Arlington but went to the playoffs because they’d defeated the Colts.)

Another bi-district game with Arlington Heights. This time we weren’t so fortunate: a 35-0 loss. But we’d still managed to get those district laurels.

And tonight: With a 41-30 pre-district win over Fossil Ridge High School, Lamar’s Eddy Peach — the only head football coach that the north Arlington high school has ever had — racked up his 300th win. Only a handful of Texas high school coaches can say the same.

And I was there. In the big scheme of things, it’s a small piece of history — but it’s history just the same.

August 19, 2008

I feel her pain

Filed under: Books — alancochrum @ 10:57 am
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Yet another quote from Flannery O’Connor, this one from a May 1956 letter:

“My room is getting worse and worse. … I can’t put the books in the bookcase very well because I can’t tote them [because of ill health] and there ain’t any more room in the bookcases anyway, so there are books all over the bureau and books all over the floor and a large collection under the chair. Every now and then my mother declares that she can stand the sight of it no longer and she and the colored woman assault it and this is an operation that makes me feel I am being sawed in two without ether.”

My long-suffering wife, who must share a house with about 3,000 books of various kinds, would sympathize with Flannery’s mother; I would sympathize with Flannery.

August 15, 2008

Here comes the rain again … falling on my head like a new emotion

Filed under: Weather — alancochrum @ 7:31 am
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I was reading in my bedroom easy chair this morning when I heard the rain start up again. (We were awakened during the night by a huge clap of thunder and a bit of a storm, leading us to unplug a few things, including this computer.)

I was reminded, as I often am, of something from a book … At first I thought it was C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but then I realized it was Elizabeth Enright’s The Saturdays. (Both stories begin with children stuck in a house because of the weather.)

“‘But it isn’t enough just to have it plain rain,’ continued Rush …. ‘Oh no. Today it has to go and be a sousing sopping pouring wet kind of rain that you can’t do anything about …’

“He was quite right. It was a very wet rain. … All the city sounds that could be heard above the rain itself were wet sounds; the long whish of passing automobiles, damp clopping of horses’ hoofs, and the many voices, deep, or high, or husky, that came hooting and whistling out of the murky rivers at either side of the city.”

What’s outside my house isn’t nearly “a sousing sopping pouring wet kind of rain that you can’t do anything about.” But after days and days of upper 90s and low 100s on the thermometer, if that kind of rain chose to park above my city, I wouldn’t complain a bit.

August 13, 2008

After the storm surge?

Filed under: Business,Economy — alancochrum @ 3:12 pm
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I was coming home yesterday from a vision therapy appointment for one of my kids when the notices caught my eye: Gasoline at $3.66, $3.65, $3.67 …

I recently have been driving significantly less than I once did, so prices may have been at this level for a while now without my noticing. But the image that leaped to my mind was the aftermath of a hurricane.

The storm swells and reaches landfall; the flood pours into the unfortunate city. The water rises, and rises, and rises, farther than many of the residents have ever seen or troubled themselves to imagine.

For a seemingly endless time, the new sea laps against the house walls and the street signs and the car tops. Then, subtly, one day it seems lower. Then it’s definite — the water is below the watermark. And gradually the grimy tide ebbs and drains, the flotsam and jetsam come to rest, and the precise damage can be calculated.

Exactly where we are in the course of Hurricane Petroleum I don’t know. (Maybe we’re only in the eye of the storm.) But the surge seems to have abated somewhat, and I somehow have a vision of teams of economists, all wearing hip waders, venturing forth to see how many of our structures are left standing, and in what condition.

August 11, 2008

Another Flannery shirt in my mental wardrobe

Filed under: Spirituality,Writing — alancochrum @ 4:34 pm
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“When I ask myself how I know I believe, I have no satisfactory answer at all, no assurance at all, no feeling at all. I can only say … Lord I believe, help my unbelief. And all I can say about my love of God, is, Lord, help me in my lack of it. I distrust pious phrases, particularly when they issue from my mouth.”

— Letter of Aug. 2, 1955, The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor

“Groundhog Day” redux

Filed under: Movies,Spirituality — alancochrum @ 7:41 am
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For a long time, I had heard how wonderful the film Groundhog Day was. I was skeptical. A weatherman (played by Bill Murray) who keeps repeating the same 24 hours over and over? Ya gotta be kidding.

Then I found a VHS copy on sale for a dollar or two and decided: Well, all right, let’s see. And I was impressed.

I was telling a friend recently how suprisingly deep this film was. The friend — I can’t remember if she had seen it or not — wasn’t buying it. No, really, I said. The key moment lies in the middle of the film, when Murray’s Phil Connors is driving around with two drunken acquaintances and asks them: What would you do if there were no tomorrow?

Which is precisely what Phil proceeds to explore, in predictable fashion. He gorges himself. He steals from an armored car. He conducts laboratory studies in seduction. In short, he indulges himself in every way — and eventually, like the author of Ecclesiastes, discovers that it’s all emptiness and chasing after the snowy wind. (For that handful of people out there who don’t know how — or if — he manages to get out of his predicament: Go ahead, watch the movie.)

Last night, it was like deju vu all over again. I had bought a secondhand DVD of Stranger Than Fiction, the 2006 movie in which a bland IRS agent (Harold Crick, played by Will Ferrell) starts hearing a female voice narrating his life. He soon discovers that, inexplicably, he is actually a character in a novel being written by an author (Karen Eiffel, played by Emma Thompson) who plans on killing him off.

About halfway through the movie — which, despite what one might expect from Ferrell, is definitely not written as outright comedy — I was finding it lacking. “And I paid ten dollars for this!” I said to my wife.

But then it struck me: In a way, this is actually a movie about God and Man.

What happens when a person confronts his Creator about what is happening to him? Can that act — in real life, we call it “prayer” — make any difference?

Late in Stranger Than Fiction, a literature professor (Dustin Hoffman) who has read Eiffel’s manuscript reluctantly tells Harold: I’m sorry, but you have to die. That is the only way this story can end. And after all, you cannot escape death in the end anyway. This is a magnificent story, and this is the way it has to be.

But Harold refuses to accept that. He tracks down Eiffel and asks her not to kill him. And (not to give away too much), his plea does change the ending of the story in a way.

I was reminded of the story of King Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20. The Judean king becomes ill, and the prophet Isaiah comes to him and says: Get your affairs in order; God says you are going to die.

Now, if the Master of the Universe goes to the trouble of sending you a personal message that you’re not going to make it, it does seem a bit cheeky to fight it. But Hezekiah does. He prays that God will remember what kind of person he has been.

And the startling thing is that before Isaiah even gets out of the palace, God changes his mind: “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the leader of my people, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. … I will add fifteen years to your life” (NIV).

You always hear that life is sometimes stranger than fiction. Maybe there’s more to that than we usually think.

August 8, 2008

Author! Author!

Filed under: Creativity,Newspapers,Writing — alancochrum @ 9:13 am
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I finished a consulting job yesterday. A family friend asked me to analyze a weekly newspaper in which he’s considering investing. He thought it might be handy to have an ink-stained wretch take a look at the product, and I was happy to oblige him.

The sense of relief/accomplishment that I felt when I mentally typed “30” on my report — don’t worry if you don’t understand; it’s a newspaper thing — merely confirmed something that I’ve long known about myself: I enjoy the writing process much more when it’s over.

When I was working years ago at the Waco Tribune-Herald, one of the opinion writers whose work I copy-edited was Lewis Grizzard, a longtime humorist for the Atlanta paper. (For those who are too young and/or insufficiently Southern, Grizzard was the Jeff Foxworthy of his day, with his roots in newspapers rather than TV.)

In his 1982 book They Tore Out My Heart and Stomped That Sucker Flat, Grizzard wrote: “I was back at my typewriter writing newspaper columns eight days after my [heart valve] surgery. … [I]t’s what I do for a living. I hate it. I curse it. But without it, I’m somebody else.”

Unlike the late Mr. Grizzard, I don’t really detest the creative process.  But as Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman noted once about herself (long after I had decided the same thing, independently), I like having written much more than I like writing.

August 7, 2008

‘Dog’ backwards

Filed under: Dogs,Spirituality — alancochrum @ 8:00 am
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The dog only thinks she is mine, you have to understand.

She technically belongs to my younger daughter, who got her as a birthday present. We acquired her — the dog, not the daughter — from a pet-rescue-operation person who lived about half an hour south of our home. Molly is a sheltie — really a pretty well-behaved animal, although she barks more than my wife would like and sheds more than we need.

Her primary sleeping place is my daughter’s bedroom. But when the daughter is absent overnight — at a friend’s, say, or a church retreat — Molly has decided that the carpet at the foot of our bed is an acceptable substitute.

And since I’m the one who rubs her belly and walks her most of the time, she has decided that I am Good Company. She is lying about four feet away as I type this. When I go downstairs for lunch, she will relocate to the dining/living room near the table. When I return to the computer, she will bound up the stairs so she can be in the same room. She likes to be around me.

This ought to be a picture of me and God, who feeds, waters and shelters me and gives me treats. I ought to be as drawn to the divine presence as Molly is to mine. Suffice it to say that the “ought” is not as “is” as it should be.

I once heard about a prayer: “God, make me the kind of person that my dog thinks I am.” To that you could add: “God, make me the kind of ‘pet’ that my own pet is.”

August 5, 2008

‘I would be glad to be judged by God right this minute’

Filed under: Books,History,Soviet Union — alancochrum @ 6:21 am
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A story from Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who died Aug. 3, that he related in the first volume of The Gulag Archipelago amid a discussion of courage in the face of interrogation:

“N. Stolyarova recalls an old woman who was her neighbor on the Butyrki bunks in 1937. They kept on interrogating her every night. Two years earlier, a former Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church, who had escaped from exile, had spent a night at her home on his way through Moscow. … ‘All right then. To whom did he go when he left Moscow?’ ‘I know, but I won’t tell you! … There is nothing you can do with me even if you cut me into pieces. After all, you are afraid of your bosses, and you are afraid of each other, and you are even afraid of killing me.’ (They would lose contact with the underground railroad.) ‘But I am not afraid of anything. I would be glad to be judged by God right this minute.'”

There’s the key. When you can say that last sentence at any given time, half the battle is won.

August 4, 2008

Wearing a Flannery shirt

Filed under: Humor,Spirituality,Writing — alancochrum @ 3:35 pm
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I am working through The Habit of Being, a collection of Flannery O’Connor’s letters edited by Sally Fitzgerald. An excerpt:

“I read [Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica] for about twenty minutes every night before I go to bed. If my mother were to come in during this process and say, ‘Turn off that light. It’s late,’ I with lifted finger and broad bland beatific expression, would reply, ‘On the contrary, I answer that the light, being eternal and limitless, cannot be turned off. Shut your eyes,’ or some such thing.”

Not everybody would find that amusing. Actually, not too many people would. But I do.

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