I’m a Cat Guy Now!

We have a cat. A little black cat named Spooky. And I love her. And that is saying a lot because I used to despise cats.

Cats to me were aloof, independent creatures that allowed you the “honor” of taking care of them. Sometimes they were even hostile. Finicky and arrogant, to me compared to a dog they were vastly inferior pets. My dogs are loving and devoted animals. I would never bring a cat into my home and put up with their quirks. Well never say never.

Almost two years ago my wife Jen called me saying she needed the pet carrier. There was a kitten living at the school that was missing a piece of her ear. The teachers had been feeding her but the principal made it clear that she was going to call animal control and have her removed.

Now I was dead set against this idea but my wife was adamant. Jen said she would be no trouble, that the cat would stay outside, that she would be responsible for her. I was not happy about it but I relented. We now owned a cat. I even disliked the name she gave her, but Jen thought it was appropriate since our new addition was solid black and it was close to Halloween.

The first week was as Jen said. Spooky stayed outside and came home to eat. But even though she was around ten months old she was little. And I was constantly going outside breaking up cat fights and running off the much larger felines that roamed our neighborhood. Spooky was game but she always got the worst of it, and it started to bother me. I found myself proactively going outside mad as hell, making it clear to the other tabby’s in the neighborhood that our house was off limits.

About the second week Jen informed me that Spooky was going to have to be spayed and would have to stay inside for a week. I warned her she would have to be supervised so she didn’t rip her stitches. And I also reminded her that Spooky had never been inside before and would be very anxious about that. I told her to stay with her in my office and be prepared for a long night.

Jen brought her home after the surgery and about 8:30 they went in my office. I have a bed, TV, computer, and a full bath in there so they should have been comfortable. About 11:00 that night Jen came in and woke me up. She said Spooky was uncontrollable and that she was unable to watch her. I got out of bed, grumbled about how I told her so, and trudged to my office.

When I arrived I found Spooky half way up my curtains that cover a series of windows floor to ceiling. I reached up and gently pulled her loose. She looked perplexed and angry. I looked at her and told her that I knew she was hurting but that we both needed to rest, and that I was going to lay down in the bed with her so we could go to sleep.

I then proceeded to the bed and we went to sleep. All night. She curled her paws around my hands and did not let go.

From that point on Spooky was my cat. She healed up and still spent hers days outside but every evening she came home and stayed by my side. She slept on my back, next to me, on my hands, even on my head sometimes. She also would not let the dogs come near me anymore, especially our poor little Chug ( Chihuahua/Pug) Otis.

If I left town for a few days Jen told me Spooky would walk around the house wailing. When I came home she would try and ignore me but finally wouldn’t be able to stand it and would come get in my lap.

If I am taking a shower Spooky waits outside the door. If I am at the computer she climbs up into the chair with me. Some nights she stays out after dark. Jen will call for her to no avail but If I go outside she will appear from the roof, tree, or a fence and walk up to me. She buries her face in my hands until I scratch her cheeks. At night I can feel her nuzzling me and putting her paw on my face, careful not to scratch me.

Now she is still a cat and has all those predatory instincts. Birds, rodents, lizards are all in jeopardy but she is being nicer to Otis now. In fact he is now allowed back in the bed with us. I wake up most mornings with Otis sleeping between my legs and Spooky curled up with one or both of my hands secured in her paws.

Now I’m not going to fill my home with cats. My overall opinion of them is still the same. But I have to admit that when it comes to Spooky I have to make an exception. She is one black cat I was lucky enough to have cross my path.


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We Went to Disney World….Again!

My wife and I just returned from Disney World. We took our oldest son to celebrate his 23rd birthday. We have been to Disney so many times I have lost count. As the parents of two sons with autism, Disney was a place that they could enjoy and we would not be so conspicuous. Still the boys generally made things memorable for us, and unfortunately others. In fact in my archives of this blog you can find a post that details some of the more, shall we say illuminating, experiences we had traveling with them.

But this post is not about my sons. It is more of an observation of all the other people that vacation at Disney World. After multiple trips I can spot them a mile away. If you have been to Disney some of these people you will recognize. If you have never been you might still find this interesting.

ROOKIES: These are the people with their map of the park in their hands. They look at the map, gaze up, and then look back at the map. If they are not looking at their map they are usually vocalizing the mission for the day. ” First we hit Space Mountain, then we need to get to the other side of the park and get on Splash Mountain!”

RUNNERS: They are the most excited. Once they get into the park they begin to dash to their favorite attraction. Runners are often rookies but not always.

POWER WALKERS: They want to run but are self conscious about it so they walk so briskly they can’t help but look silly. Combine a power walker with a rookie holding a map and you will have collisions with other guests.

SCOUTS: These are the people that leave their group to go check out the attraction they want. You would think these would be children but most scouts are dads. They want to lead.  You can often hear frustrated wives pleading with their husband to stay with the group only to be dismissed with a wave of hand or ignored altogether. Scouts often become….

LINE HOLDERS: These are often dads who get to the attraction in advance and then let the six immediate members of their family cut in when they arrive ten minutes later. Most folks ignore it but every once in awhile you will hear “What the hell?”

STROLLER PEOPLE: These are the young families who have small children. The problem is that 21st century strollers are the size of Buicks and these conscientious parents insist on rolling down the middle of walk ways as opposed to getting on the sides. Their strollers also have numerous attachments that often crash into you as they pass you. The worst are stroller people with kids old enough to walk. Their legs dangle awkwardly from these rolling tanks but we wouldn’t want six year old Johnny to get fatigued!

SCOOTER PEOPLE: The worst offense yet. Like many well intentioned ideas, (why deprive grampa of a family vacation if he is on oxygen), the scooter probably was incorporated as a value add with the best of intentions. Unfortunately many people riding these things have other issues that political correctness keeps me from stating the obvious. But you know who they are. They too ride right down the middle of he road and are also loaded down with bags, water bottles, etc. I saw a woman with a knee brace using a crutch to get around the park. Now she is a true hero!

THE OBLIVIOUS: These are the folks that suddenly stop moving for no reason and come to a dead stop in front of you. Rookies are big time offenders but stroller people and scooter people do it too. You would think that common sense would tell you to move to the side somewhere and get your bearings but not these folks. I saw a teenage kid sitting on the ground in front of the exit of a park who seemed to have no problem forcing people to step around him. Knowing incarceration would hinder my own vacation experience I resisted the temptation to put my foot in his chest.

TRAFFIC JAMMERS: The oblivious are the main culprits but large groups do it too. I saw a congregation of about ten people just stop and block almost a whole walk way. Disney security had to intervene and explain to these people that this was a bad idea. Unfortunately no one in that group apparently spoke english.

WE ARE THE SMITH FAMILY..WE ARE GIRL SCOUT TROOP 547, WE ARE…: What they are is a herd of humanity all wearing the same color shirt with some kind of logo or saying emblazoned on the front so you and everyone else in the park will know they were there and who they are. You might think they came up with this idea so they could split up and find each other later but they never split up.

HAT PEOPLE: I like a cap as much as anybody but Disney headwear is among the most ridiculous you will find. The only place a Donald Duck hat looks normal is at a Disney theme park. So while these folks look a little, pardon the pun, goofy at the park they will look a lot worse wearing that hat to the mall at home.

FAST PASS DISRUPTORS: The fast pass is a great idea. It allows you to schedule a time to ride a popular attraction and not wait an hour or more in line. It works great until the person in front of you waits to get to the entrance before getting their pass out. You wait while they dig around looking for something they should have already had in their hand when they got there.

THE INDECISIVE: Ordering food is a crap shoot. The best way to dine at Disney is to make a reservation at a sit down restaurant and eat like a civilized person. But if you venture into one of the counter service restaurants you have to guess right. Getting behind a single person is no guaranty of quick service if he or she is one of the indecisive. Despite the fact that menu is limited to maybe three choices this person waits until they get to the counter to start pondering their selection. The misery can be further compounded if he in fact is ordering for others. When he turns around and yells back at his wife, “Will Sally eat a hamburger or should I get her the chicken nuggets?” you know your fate is sealed.

BAD PARENTS: We know kids get excited at Disney World but they still need guidance. I saw a mother with two young twin boys. They were playing on the rails that divide the lines. They were sitting on the lower rung, holding the top rung and leaning backwards. It was no big surprise when one fell backwards and cracked his head on the concrete floor. He screams, she screams, and his brother laughs. She picks him up, calms him down, and then says nothing when they start hanging on the rails again. The line starts to move and she walks on. The kids hang behind, holding the rest of us up. Then they start weaving in and out of the lines. After about a minute she realizes her kids are gone. You also have parents who force a child to ride something they are afraid of. As the screaming echoes around the building you understand why this is the happiest place on earth.

THE REST OF US: Amid this sea of stroller people, scooter people, runners, and power walkers are the rest of us. We are walking calmly, waiting patiently, and are self aware.

On the drive back home my wife was saying how great our trip was. I think we will be seeing Mickey again soon. But next time I’m going to suggest we only go to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. They serve beer in those parks.





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The USA Is A Little Less Safe Today!

Appleton, Wisconsin is a paper mill town in Northeast section of the state. It is full of hard working people and achieved national recognition years ago when Sports Illustrated named it as the town with the most citizens per capita participating in athletics in the country.

It has three notable former residents. Harry Houdini, the master illusionist, was from Appleton. Willem Dafoe, who was in memorable films such as Platoon and Spider Man, also is a native son. Last but certainly not least was Rocky Bleier. A graduate of Xavier High School and Notre Dame, Bleier seved his country in Viet Nam and was injured in combat. Through sheer will he overcame those injuries and went on to win Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Appleton is the hometown of another individual of note. You have never heard of him and if you never chance upon this blog post you probably never will. His name is Greg Wilson. He is husband to Linda, father to Amy, Amanda, and Ashley, and he is an American hero.

Greg recently retired from the Air Force after 25 years of service. His full title was Colonel Greg Wilson Director Joint Test Location at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. But titles don’t tell the full story.

Greg’s modesty inhibits me to some degree to elaborate on his upbringing but to say he came from humble means would be fair and accurate. He was self sufficient at an age when most are still tied to their parents in a profound way. He worked hard and took responsibility for himself. His academics were such that he was able to gain admission and earn a degree from the Milwaukee School of Engineering.

I learned the rest of his story from Colonel William Reese, who flew in from Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany to preside over Greg’s retirement ceremony. The accomplishments in the various officer training schools and flight and navigation training Greg received were listed in detail. I heard how he excelled, always finishing at or near the top in his class, and how he earned the respect of his peers. I don’t have enough gray matter to describe what Greg’s contribution to our national defense were, but as I listened to all the accolades it was hard not to be overwhelmed. During a recent mission in Libya Greg detailed a plan on the back of napkin and it was implemented!

By his own admission Greg had thirteen near death experiences while in service to his country. Those events don’t include ejecting from an aircraft over a desert. Probably harder on him was the time away from his family. Military families are resilient and Greg’s is no different. Linda was a bedrock and her sacrifice was significant in its own way as she too put the welfare of our nation above her own.

As I met all of Greg’s Air Force friends, all of whom served with him, a reoccurring theme was evident. These men were humble but had swagger. They were serious and focused yet able to laugh easily. They smoked big cigars and drank single malt scotch. And they love our country. More importantly they love us. All of them treated me with dignity and respect that I didn’t deserve. They keep us safe despite budget cuts and politics that hardly ever make sense. They don’t look or sound larger than life but make no mistake they represent the best we have to offer.

How many of us would readily die for a cause? How many of us would endure the mental and physical rigors a military life requires? How many of us would separate from our families for months on end knowing that each day could be our last?

Greg Wilson made decisions every day that helped keep our country safe and secure. Of his 25 years of service almost all of them were at a time when we were in conflict. Serbia, Desert Storm, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, there was never any peace time to speak of. And now he is retired.

Greg deserves this time off. He has given more than most. He should be allowed to go to Florida State football games with Amy, watch Amanda play basketball at Niceville High, and be at Ashley’s 8th Grade graduation next year. Most importantly he should be able to wake up everyday next to his wife, who is herself heroic in her own way. But selfishly as a country we have lost something precious. A brilliant man with ramrod values. A combination of intellect, compassion, and humility is no longer looking out for us. As such the USA is little less safe today. I wish there was a way to let others know that it is people like Greg that should be put on pedestals, not athletes, actors, musicians, and certainly not politicians. But guys like Greg would not hear of that. As such all I can say is thank you.




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Pilgrimages: Coming of Age

As I grew from adolescence and gained more personal freedom I was able to venture to sporting events on my own. From my teenage years to young adulthood my love of sports was now in full bloom. My pilgrimages were now of my own doing.

The New Orleans Superdome: It took Louisiana politics to new heights but in 1975 the most glorious sports structure the world had ever seen, The Superdome, opened for business. I remember being so enamored with the thought of my home town getting this glorious building that one day on the Pontchartrain Expressway riding in the backseat of my Aunt’s car I exclaimed that if I was going to die I was glad it would be in front of the Dome, as my Aunt had narrowly missed colliding with two other vehicles. And the Dome was still under construction.

It was the home of the Saints, the Sugar Bowl, and the New Orleans Jazz. It hosted Super Bowls,boxing matches, college basketball games, concerts, conventions, and anything else you could think of. I watched my Saints win glorious victories and suffer gut wrenching defeats. I watched Pete Maravich sink jump shots, and LSU upset Georgetown on a last second shot by Ricky Blanton. I saw national championship and state championship football games. When my high school basketball team won the state championship in 1977 we were guests of the New Orleans Jazz. It was my home away from home and was only three miles from my front door. And after a wretched defamation during Katrina it was restored to to even greater glory. If they sold burial plots next to it I would be first in line. And why not, as it was constructed over an old cemetery!

Lambeau Field: The home of the Green Bay Packers is like no other football stadium. A perfect bowl there is not one bad seat. The building is a shrine to championships that date back to 1919, to a team owned by it’s community in a town of just over 100,000 people. They come from all over the midwest wearing Green and Gold and whether they are undefeated or winless they  fill the stadium and cheer with relentless abandon. They love the Packers unconditionally. Even if they lose they comment on the good things the team did. I have been there four times and each visit has been unique. After the game fans line the narrow drive that leads out the stadium to the street so they can pay homage to their heroes as they drive from the stadium. The cheers are just as loud in defeat.

Tulane (Fogelman) Arena: I loved college basketball in the 70’s and 80’s. New Orleans had the City Series with Tulane, Loyola, University of New Orleans, Xavier University, Dillard University, and Southern University in New Orleans all playing round robin games. Xavier, a predominately African-American Catholic school that competed in the NAIA had Bruce Seals, Donald “Slick” Watts, and James “Shirt” Williams. Seals and Watts went on to play in the NBA. Dillard had Billy Ray Hobley who played for years with the Harlem Globetrotters. UNO had Wilbur Holland who led them to the NCAA Division II national championship game and later played for the Chicago Bulls. Loyola played in the series for one year and then dropped sports. Their best players, Ernie Loesch, Gary Kardzionak, and Phil Hicks, all transferred to Tulane.

UNO played in a band box called the Chamber of Horrors but later moved to the state of the art Nat Kiefer Arena on the lakefront. Xavier had the Barn and SUNO the Castle. But for me no place was like Tulane Arena. Once again I was just three miles from my house to the tiny gym on Willow St. You could buy a ticket at the door and with only 3,000 seats the place was LOUD! Tulane played against nationally ranked teams such as Louisville and Memphis State in the old Metro Conference. Southern Miss was a big rival as was LSU. I remember watching Tulane play Marquette, a team that a year later would win the NCAA championship. My heroes were Pierre Gaudin, Bruce Bolyard, Arthur Bibbs, Tony Beaulieu, and of course the great Phil Hicks. Every Mardi Gras after Tulane’s first basket beads were thrown on the floor stopping play! And with beer sales encouraged lets just say it was a tough place to play. When Tulane shut down basketball in the mid 80’s over a point shaving scandal I was heart broken. When they brought the program back in the early 90’s I was a season ticket holder.

Death Valley: I know many of you think I am referring to Tiger Stadium on the campus of Louisiana State University and that is a special place. But while I root for LSU I have always been a son of the Crescent City with sentiment for Tulane and the Saints surpassing anything I felt for the Tigers. The Death Valley I am referring to was on the campus of Isidore Newman School in Uptown New Orleans. It was a hell hole gym that was home to the Newman Greenies.

A small elite private school Newman was a basketball powerhouse in the 1960’s and 70’s. I would go watch games at the Newman Invitational Tournament and later just regular games they had. I watched them play suffocating man to man defense and run a precision motion offense with relentless screens and backdoor cuts. But more importantly I was in awe of the atmosphere. Numerous pennants reflecting district and state championships. The mural on the back wall telling you what you already knew. That you were in Death Valley home of the Newman Greenies and they were going to beat you. I played there my senior year and it was no picnic. We squandered a nine point lead in the fourth quarter. I even blogged about it. That gym was a part of my coming of age in a decade where basketball was finding it’s feet and in 1979 two guys named Magic and Bird would change the game forever!

Wrigley Field: I was never a die hard baseball fan but I always had a sense of history and a love of nostalgia. When I was visiting an old friend in Chicago back in 1985 I decided to go to Wrigley. I have been back three more times and each visit is moving. I realize that I am sitting in seats and standing on ground that has been in continuous use for decades. Watching a scoreboard that remains unchallenged by progress. Sharing a common experience with fans that have long since passed on. If only they would just bring that goat onto the field and lift the curse!

I am no longer young but my list grows. I have watched the Red Wings play in Joe Louis Arena, visited Hinkle Field in Indianapolis where Butler plays, Hoosiers was filmed, and the real life Milan High School defeated Muncie Central. I even visited the Collosseum in Rome. But older eyes don’t have the vitality that young eyes do. You reflect backward as you get older, appreciating what you are seeing. But when you are young the world is waiting for you. Experiences are new and fresh. Possibilities are endless. You think you have all the time in the world. And you are right!




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Pilgrimages: The Early Years

All of us, if we are fortunate enough, get to visit places that not only have significance but also affect us in a profound way. For me many of those places are sports venues. Now for some sports is trivial, but for me the arenas and stadiums are places that allow us to gather and bond. By supporting teams we shared in their struggle. We rejoiced in victory and mourned in loss. Many sports venues are rich in legacy but the following are those that have left a lasting impact on me.

Tad Gormley Stadium-New Orleans, LA:  Built in 1937 and originally known as City Park Stadium it was renamed  after Frank “Tad” Gormley in the 1960’s. Gormley was a Massachusetts native who moved to New Orleans in the early 20th century to run a gymnastics club. He was also a trainer and coach at Loyola, Tulane, and LSU. Since most of the New Orleans area Catholic schools lacked stadiums it served as a de facto home field for them and the stadium served as a host for many of the finest prep football match ups in the history of the city. It also hosted the 1992 U.S. Olympic Track & Field trials. I was volunteering in the VIP section when number one world ranked decathlete Dave O’Brien failed on three straight pole vaults to miss the Olympics. Standing near me was Bruce Jenner, Bill Toomey, and Rafer Johnson. I also ran there as a middle school track athlete in New Orleans Recreation Department (NORD) city championship meet. The Beatles played a concert at Tad Gormley. But for me the biggest event was going with my dad to watch an exhibition game in the late 1960’s between the New York Mets and Baltimore Orioles. It was our first father-son sports outing and if I try real hard I can still smell the scent of fresh cut grass!

Tulane Stadium-New Orleans, LA: It was built in 1926 and torn down in 1980. It was the home of the Sugar Bowl, the Tulane Green Wave, and my beloved New Orleans Saints. It could hold 81,000 people and when it was filled to capacity no place was louder. The stadium had bones in the form of wooden bleachers that creaked with age as you trod them and screamed loudly when you stomped on them, adding to raucous cheers of the faithful that filled its bowl. As a young Cub Scout my love affair with the place began as I watched the Greenies beat Georgia Tech. I yelled the whole game through a cardboard megaphone my popcorn came in. I saw the Saints win their first game against the Philadelphia Eagles in 1967. In 1970 my dad was transferred to Germany with his employer. He said we could go watch the Saints play the Detroit Lions in an exhibition game or go to Chicago and watch the Cubs or White Sox play baseball. It was a no brainer. We watched the Saints. Four months later my father died. Returning home the stadium became a refuge. My friends and I ran its ramps going from level to level during Tulane games. I watched my hero, Archie Manning lead the Saints to victory against the then Los Angeles Rams in 1971. I went to my first Sugar Bowl and watched the Oklahoma Sooners beat Penn State. I remember sitting next to a young black boy during a Saints game when it began to rain. We shared an umbrella and we were the same..Saints fans enduring the same elements our team was. Later as a young teen I rode the streetcar to watch my first rock concert. ZZ Topp began to play and a guy offered me a funny smelling cigarette. I politely informed him that I didn’t smoke. I can still see the confused look on his face. I can also recall sneaking on the field with a football and a few friends after the new Polyturf was installed. We ran pass patterns and did play by play as we lead Tulane and the Saints on score after score. We then laid on our backs and let the sun warm our faces as we rested and felt the fresh turf beneath us! Heaven was close that day!

To be continued….



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The World is Flat!

I feel fortunate to have lived long enough to see the future unfold in my lifetime with the onset of computer technology. I am now never without companionship, never lost, never without something to read, never without a game to play, never puzzled with a question that can’t be answered. I can video chat, watch movies, and listen to music.

I have reconnected with long lost friends and family members. I can follow people’s exploits and celebrate milestones with them. I have a Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter account. But even more amazing you now have access to everyone in the world. Later this month while in Rome I will reconnect with a family friend I have not seen in over forty years, thanks to social media.

Last week I was in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on business and was given tickets to watch the New Orleans Hornets play basketball against the Brooklyn Nets. I took my cousin Jon with me.  At the game we noticed Jennifer Hale. Jennifer is typical of media personalities these days, a gorgeous woman who also is skilled as an announcer and interviewer. Along with covering the Hornets she also is a sideline reporter at National Football League games.

Jon was commenting on how attractive Jennifer was and that she was also very nice, as he had friended her on Facebook. I glanced at him and said “I bet I can get her to wave to us!” Of course Jon protested, thinking I was going to start calling her name or embarrass him somehow. But I assured him I felt I could get a wave without making a sound.

What he didn’t know is that I followed her on Twitter to get Hornets updates. So I sent her a tweet. It basically said that my cousin was a fan, that we were sitting over right shoulder and that he wanted to wave to her. I then showed Jon and he said that she would never see it and wouldn’t do anything..blah, blah, blah.

Not more than a minute passed before she turned and looked right at us. We waved and she waved back. Jon was very happy! He even sent her a thank you message on Facebook, and to her credit she answered him back.

But Twitter and Facebook give you access to nationally known people as well. Kiran Chetry , while she was still at CNN, did  a story on autism. Given that both my sons have autism I felt compelled to write her, as I felt the story was slanted. She answered my e-mail the same day! Super Model Emme posted on Twitter for everyone to stop what they were doing and take ten deep breaths to relax and calm themselves. I tweeted back to her that while doing that I actually dozed off and was that centered enough? She also responded saying “HA!!! Love that…nice job.”

Recently I started following Gemma Godfrey. As a finance professional I track a lot of media people who deal with investing and finance. Godfrey is British and is the head of investment strategy for London based Brooks Macdonald and she also appears on CNBC. Shortly after following her, she began to follow me. Then I got a LinkedIn request. then I got a request from her to recommend her on LinkedIn, which I was happy to do. Then she asked if I would vote for her for broadcaster of the year.  Did I mention she is also a quantum physicist and has over 41,000 followers on Twitter? I even went on a diet for a week to help Adrienne Bankert with Dallas CBS affiliate KTVT do some research for a story she was working on, all because I answered a question she had tweeted.

Business opportunities, job opportunities, planning  a vacation, you name it, we now have the ability to share and exchange information like never before, and I for one am grateful! I just wonder if Gemma or Jennifer will read my blog?



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Speaking For Those Who Cannot!

I am an avid Facebook user. I love the interaction and the ability to connect with and rediscover long lost friends and relatives. I try to accept most friend requests unless I absolutely have no idea who the person is. To be honest most of my 600 plus friends are really no more than acquaintances. I discreetly hide a lot of their posts but one got through to me that gave me pause. And after some reflection it spurred me to action.

It was a caption with pictures of three young men of color with their pants sagging and their underwear exposed. The caption read explicitly “STOP IT! You look like a F@#$%ing Retard. Now I don’t care for that look on young people regardless of their ethnicity. But I took offense to the post for a couple of reasons. One it was vulgar. Two is that I have two special needs children that are diagnosed as mentally retarded and autistic.

Now I would like to think that I am not overly sensitive to labels. My sons are mentally retarded. Calling them mentally challenged doesn’t soften the blow. They have severe limitations. But that label has become a substitute word to allow us to bully people we don’t like.

All ethnic groups have endured slurs. Irish, Italians, American Indians, Jews, Poles, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Women, and Gays all have derogatory labels. But as they gained a voice they have fought back. They have challenged people’s supposed right to slander or ridicule them. As a result those labels are now uttered in private and not for the main stream to see or read. But our desire to bully or lash out at those who offend us has spurred some to find another derision. We call almost anybody who behaves or acts in a way that we find offensive a retard.

The irony in all of this is my son’s could care less. They are fastidious dressers. They tuck in their shirts, pull up their pants, even button their shirts completely. They wash their hands and frankly just go about their business. If they could talk they would probably say “Dad let it go. It doesn’t bother us so don’t let it bother you.” But because they are good natured it does bother me. And because they cannot speak I feel I must speak for them and others like them.

Many years ago I ran the ToppSoccer program for special needs children in Mandeville, Louisiana. I had several children who had Downs Syndrome and were fairly high functioning. We also had some more severe children. So I broke the field in half and placed the kids in the most appropriate setting possible. We had a lot of fun, but one day I saw the best and worst of people.

Pelican Park is very large with a heavy demand. One day,by accident, the fields got overbooked. A group of typical kids and their parents showed up thirty minutes before we were to conclude thinking they would have the field. I explained to the coaches that we would be wrapping up soon but that didn’t stop some of their players from ringing the field and saying things like ” What’s wrong with them?” or ” How long do we have to wait?”

One of my players upon hearing some of this walked to me and said ” We can get off if they want to use the field.” This was the same group of kids that cheered every time someone scored a goal and insisted that practice not end until everyone had scored a goal. I looked down at him and in my most authoritative voice I said “Hell will freeze over before we leave this field one minute before our allotted time is up!” I then cast a gaze at all the kids and parents lining the field. They all moved away and sat down. My little player just said “Ok.” and ran back to join his teammates.

The fact is when we call someone retarded hoping to hurt them we do two things. We show our own cowardice in picking on a group that can’t fight back and we further demonstrate that we are really too afraid to use the label we really want to say. Personally my goal is to be worthy of being labeled retarded if that means I treat people the way my son’s do, with respect, compassion, and understanding. I fail in this endeavor frequently but they and others like them never falter. I guess my boys maybe could have done better than me as a dad, but I am certain I could not have done better than having them for sons. So boys please forgive your father for being outspoken on this. I know it doesn’t bother you but it made me feel better to speak out when I know you cannot.



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Christmas Memories!!

Christmas is a joyous time of year and much has been written about it. Despite all the propaganda out there to brand Christmas as something out of a Hallmark card the fact is it remains a very personal experience for each and every one of us. I recently reflected on all the Christmas seasons I could remember and decided to share a few of the more memorable ones!

Santa Comes to the Trailer Park:

My father worked for Kaiser Aluminum. He had been transferred to West Virginia in the late 1950’s and it was there I was born. Well actually I was born in Ohio because that was where the nearest hospital was but I digress. Because the assignment was temporary all the relocated families bought trailers to live in. Whenever I get a bit too full of myself I just pull out my birth certificate. Written on it plain as day is place of residence: Trailer Park. My dad was subsequently transferred to India so my mother decided we would move home to New Orleans and just wait for my father’s two year assignment to play out. She actually liked our trailer home so we bought another one when he got to New Orleans. It was there that I enjoyed my third Christmas.

By then I was talking and self aware. I realized that we had no chimney, no snow, and that we lived in the community of Arabi, Louisiana,which to me was somewhere Santa would never find.  We visited Santa in the department store but I was skeptical. I told my mom that there was no way Santa would bring me my space helmet.

One night there was a knock at the door. Mom told me to open it and when I did staring up at me was Santa Claus. In his hands was my space helmet. He came in and sat down. He said he came early to see me so I would know for sure that he knew where I lived. He pointed to a spot on the ceiling. It was a valve of some kind that opened up. He said that was “my chimney” and that he would make it inside our house with no problem. He then said  he was busy as he had a lot to do before Christmas Eve, and he left. I didn’t bother to see if he had a sleigh anywhere, I just knew for sure that he was real!

An Uncle’s Love:

My Uncle Jake was my mother’s younger brother. They were about eighteen months apart in age and very close. He was a strapping man. About 6’ft and 180 pounds with the strongest hands and grip I ever experienced. He taught me how to shake hands saying that when you meet somebody for the first time you look them in the eye and shake their hand like you mean it! Unless it was a woman of course.

He served in the navy and saw combat in the South Pacific. I am certain he suffered from what we now know to be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as I heard stories about his nightmares. He was a commercial painter, bar tender, owned a taxi cab, and was a merchant seaman. He traveled the world. He also married often. Four times to be exact with two children each by his first three wives, Betty, Laverne, and Shirley. Yes you read it right.

After my dad died my Uncle Jake made an effort to be there for me. He would come by our house and play cards and after I got my drivers license I would take him on his errands and sometimes out to eat. He could be a very intimidating man if he was irked , which made me feel safer with him than anyone I had ever been with or have been with since.

Christmas time at my grandparents in New Orleans was loud. The Italian influence was evident as people seemed to holler more than talk. It wasn’t unusual to hear laughter, cursing, crying, and laughter again within a brief period of time. Finally we would get around to opening presents.

I was probably no more that thirteen when I saw my uncle standing in a doorway. He motioned me to come over and he pulled me inside the hallway where it was just him and me. He then handed me a small hand held transistor radio. I knew it wasn’t a new radio. It wasn’t even wrapped. But I didn’t care. He was looking out for me the best he could. A little over a decade later we lost him to lung cancer but I carry him with me, especially when I shake hands with people.

The Best Christmas Present Ever:

One of my first cousin’s is my Godfather. He is about twenty years older than me so he was more like an Uncle. Just like my Uncle Jake after my father died he tried to step up and fill that void for me. And he did in every way but one and I always felt bad about it. He never could find me a Christmas present I liked and I never could disguise the fact that I didn’t like them. It made us both feel bad.

I always have dressed conservatively when left to my own tastes. My mother would often dress me in what she though was “stylish” clothing. Bell bottoms, silk shirts, loud colors. Once I got to high school I rebelled and started dressing to my taste. I was fortunate enough to attend an outstanding private school and my peers wore golf and tennis shirts, khakis, corduroys, and top siders, so I wanted to fit in with them. But every Christmas my Godfather would give me clothes from All American Jeans or some other clothing venue like that. I would try to smile and say how great they were but he knew better. He would look at me in a button down shirt, khakis, and penny loafers and mutter something about me dressing like an old man.

I finally went off to college. When I came home for Christmas I was determined that no matter what he gave me I was going to get genuinely excited and make sure he knew I liked it. When it came time to open presents I saw my present from my Godfather. As I unwrapped it my face lit up. Inside was a case of beer and fifty dollars!!! It was, and still is, the best Christmas present I have ever received!

What I have realized is that all of the above have one common thread. Love. Unconditional love manifested in acts that create happiness for others. They are just a sample of the blessings that I have received in my life and are the motivation for me to try and do those very things for the people I care about.

May you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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John and Marie

I am a Catholic. Growing up in New Orleans everyone I knew was Catholic. There were Catholic churches within blocks of each other all across the city. My father was from Wisconsin and he too was Catholic.  Therefore I thought the whole world was Catholic. Over time I came to realize the multitude of ways people worshipped and that the world was not Catholic. It was very illuminating to say the least, to discover all the different paths people took to get closer to the Creator.

I never felt a desire to leave the Catholic Church,but I never had that aha moment so many with deep faith claim to have experienced. Recently I attended my first ever silent retreat. And while I didn’t have a bolt of lightning hit me or feel overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit I did have what I will refer to as moments of clarity.

The retreat I attended began on a Thursday night and ended after Mass on Sunday. You were silent but there were several lectures in the chapel, opportunities to pray the rosary, and participate in the Stations of the Cross. The days were full but the idea was to calm yourself and try to feel the presence of God.

Now for those of you who know me I gave myself a 50-50 chance of surviving this. I am a type Triple AAA guy and crave social contact. Plus the nature of my work keeps me alone a lot anyway. I travel quite a bit by car and when working in my office don’t interact much with people. I reflect and ponder things all the time and felt more of that was probably not going to amount to much. And truthfully that first full day dragged on like no other I have had in a long time. But slowly I began to adapt to my surroundings and the tranquility it offered. And I began to listen in earnest to John.

John Schexnaildre was our retreat facilitator. He is the Adult Faith Formation Coordinator for Holy Cross Catholic Church in Lafayette, Louisiana. He lead all ten of our lectures. The first was an introduction. The others touched on God’s Love, Imaging God, Sin, Jesus as Lord, Humility, Incarnation, the Paschal Mystery, Jesus’ Agony in the Garden, and Resurrection.

John was no fire and brimstone guy. Slight of build, bespectacled, and balding he is not the picture of a man who could dominate a room. His voice was calm but confident. As he lectured he referenced scores of authors, countless texts, and used reason to support the teachings of our Church. More importantly he didn’t judge, and he offered what we in the business world call best practice behaviors.

He shared his own personal struggles. This brutal honesty not only served as a living example of how John used his faith to cope with his trials it also earned my trust, and probably the trust of every man in that room. Things that were difficult for me to comprehend before now were grounded and the rationale behind them more evident. Even the scripture we were assigned to read now resonated more with me.

When you are on retreat they feed you very well. The meals are delicious and there is a well stocked pantry with snacks and a refrigerator full of drinks. One of the ladies serving us seemed so joyful in her face. She glided more than she walked. There was no disdain in her face as she picked up our dirty dishes and cleared our table. This was a woman who found great pleasure in her work.

One night we had brown jambalaya for dinner. I adore brown jambalaya. So I snuck back to the kitchen after breakfast the next day and gently knocked on the door. The lady I was looking for came out and I passed her a note. On it I professed my appreciation for that particular dish we had for dinner and could I get the recipe?

Her face lit up. “It’s so easy,” she said as I began to write down the ingredients. Her name was Marie and after I had my recipe she told me her story. Of going to St. Peter Claver Catholic School in town and that it used to be next door to the retreat house. That she had worked for the Jesuit Order for 44 years, along with many of her family members. That it was her life and love! At age 68 she said she would often walk or ride her bike to work!

John and Marie serve God and others in different ways but the key is that they both serve and they wake up each morning thankful and joyful for the opportunity the day will bring.  For me, while I found the lectures fascinating and meaningful, my moment of clarity came from inter acting with John and Marie. Witnessing their humility and their commitment to be of service to others.

As instructed I journaled the whole time I was at Our Lady of the Oaks, and truthfully came away with more questions than answers. But I can also say with sincerity that my faith did deepen, as much by what I observed as well as heard.

Changed, reaffirmed, peaceful, maybe all or some? That part I am still working out. But I am confident that I can be thankful for the days I am given and the opportunities those days offer me. All I have to do is think of John and Marie. Like Marie said, its so easy.




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Where is Atticus Finch When You Need Him?

Atticus Finch is a fictional character but a man of great virtue none the less. He was a widower and a lawyer raising two children in a fictional deep south community called Maycomb, Alabama during the Great Depression. His story is told in the Pulitzer Prize winning novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee.

Atticus was quiet, compassionate, and level. He parented with authority but never with a heavy hand. He had respect for his children and and everyone he came in contact with both socially and professionally. It was this commitment to ethical behavior that resulted in a request that he defend Tom Robinson, an African-American, who was accused of the rape of Mayella Ewell.

Atticus, despite intense societal pressure, did his best to prove the innocence of Tom Robinson. When Tom was found guilty Atticus remained resilient, hoping that the appeal would bring justice.  Tom’s death at the hand of prison guards placed yet another burden on Atticus. He had to go and tell the Robinsons that Tom was gone.

Bob Ewell, Mayella’s father, was an alcoholic. By spending his government relief checks on alcohol he is forced to hunt wild game illegally to feed his family. He confronts Attticus as he is leaving the Robinson’s home. He then spits in his face.

Now for most people such an intimate and personal assault would provoke the strongest of responses. But Atticus, measured as always, slowly took control of his rage, wiped his face, and left. Later in the book when Ewell tries to harm Atticus’ son Jem, and is killed by the mentally disabled Boo Radley, Atticus is still compassionate and moral enough to want to do the right thing. It is only the insistence of the sheriff that the case was closed by him vehemently stating that Bob Ewell fell on his knife.

Today such restraint and ethical behavior is hard to find. Road rage causes people to curse and drive recklessly. Parents at recreational sporting events yell at volunteer referees and coaches, and sometimes they physically confront them. And our media is now separated into camps with them not just championing opposing views but also feeling the need to disparage the opponent in the process.

We have become a society where we feel to get what you want you must demean your opponent or competition. My mentally disabled sons reside in a care facility that is dependent on Medicaid funds. As a parent and board member I fear for the future of a place that has done so much for them. But my hope is that over time we will become less dependent on those funds and find alternative means to sustain ourselves. But what I have seen is that with budget cuts looming many organizations have taken to attacking one another as they lobby for their cause. And this confrontational and harsh tactic is being used in lieu of stating why they are viable and worth supporting.

Nowhere is this more prevalent than in politics. When I was in retail banking I kept my politics to myself as I was of the thought that I had to provide service to both Democrats and Republicans. I also was one that often voted across party lines and felt like I supported the most qualified candidate based on their credentials, not their party affiliation. But lately I have become more vocal in my opinion, a right I feel I and all Americans have.The result has been a learning experience for me and an awakening as to how emotional, and intimate, the process has become.

Now I have friends that fall into an array of ethnic groups and socio-economic categories. I have done charitable work for children at risk and also served in leadership positions in numerous non-profit and civic organizations. I felt I was a citizen of the 21st century. Until I decided to not support the re-election of our President. Then I realized that whatever assessment of fairness I set for myself, if I was not in the camp of those who supported Barack Obama I wasn’t to be debated, I was to be questioned and dealt with. Sadly I think the same goes for those who don’t support Mitt Romney.

Four years ago I read the book “Game Change”. It discussed the 2008 election and suggested that the recruitment of Barack Obama by powerful Democrats was a calculated step to keep Hillary Clinton, and her husband, out of the White House. That concept interested me because at that time Obama was in fact the Junior Senator from Illinois and prior to that he served in the Illinois State Legislature. I knew Mr. Obama was intelligent. He had attended an elite private school in Hawaii and later Harvard. You don’t make law review without being smart and I had no doubt he was a loving husband and father. What I questioned  was whether or not he was qualified to lead the most powerful nation on earth that was reeling from an economic crisis of epic proportions.

I wasn’t a big fan of John McCain, even less when he selected Sarah Palin as his running mate. It was almost a coin flip for me but in the end I chose the more experienced McCain with the hope that Palin would never actually ascend to the Presidency. When Obama won he said in his acceptance speech that for those that did not vote for him he would be their President too. I sat there in front of my television and saw the joy in so many faces. People who for so long felt like they never had a voice and now they did. Europe as well was awash in happiness over this historic election. I wasn’t angry that my candidate had lost, as in fact I wasn’t that enamored with him in the first place. I decided to hope along with so many others, that President Obama would be the beacon of light so many had prayed and waited for. But four years later that light is flickering. Our President is more rock star than diplomat, more regal than presidential, and lately has exhibited hubris instead of humility.

No educated person would ever suggest that our national debt could be eradicated in four years. But to have it ascend to greater heights to me is unacceptable. Previous Presidents conducted numerous interviews with the legitimate press and spoke often to crowds without prepared notes. This President prefers to meet with talk show hosts and celebrities, hold staged meetings with carefully scripted remarks via teleprompter, and often chides reporters if they do press him on issues. To me it is all sizzle and no steak.

With the onset of Twitter and Facebook everyone can now engage in the debate. I questioned a reporter on Twitter about his support of a speech Mr. Obama made to a group of ministers a few years ago about Hurricane Katrina and the relief effort for New Orleans. The speech to me was an attempt to get these ministers to accept the concept that New Orleans was treated differently than other disaster areas because those most at risk were from low to moderate income families and African-American. Obama also had delivered his remarks in a style more befitting a preacher than an elected official. If Mitt Romney was to be held accountable for his remarks regarding the 47%, which he should have been,then certainly Mr. Obama should be held equally accountable for his remarks regarding Katrina.

The journalist I was engaging was one I have a high regard for and read regularly. But as we exchanged tweets I could sense that the tone of the debate was becoming harsh. I didn’t want to offend my counterpart so I went to great lengths to be civil and find common ground. We eventually closed amicably but it certainly could have gotten out of control if both he and I hadn’t eventually exercised some restraint.

During the most recent Romney-Obama debate I found myself tweeting and posting on Facebook, gleeful in the poor performance of our sitting President. The next day I felt actual anger that, after having a night for his staff to prepare, Obama gave a carefully scripted speech answering all the questions he could not answer the night before. Then the tweets from both sides started to come. Finger pointing, accusatory, defiling, and ugly.  And in the case of Obama, also pleading for money. It was then that I realized that I was ashamed of how I had behaved and disheartened that common civility and national pride has been replaced by a will to win at all costs. That party dominance is now more important than the welfare of the country and it’s citizens.

This system discourages people of substance from running for office, unless you want your life scrutinized, your every move watched, your every utterance critiqued. Politics is more than ever a place for those who want power and influence, and they will say or spend whatever is necessary to get it, and once gotten, keep it.

We need men and women elected to public office to be more like Atticus Finch. People who are guided by observing simple acts of decency and kindness. People who will do what is right, rather than what is in their best interest. People who can win and lose with dignity. People who can disagree without being disagreeable. People who will speak the truth no matter how uncomfortable it might be to do so. If we can’t judge our elected officials on performance rather than on their party affiliation we will suffer more than economic hardship. Unfortunately Atticus Finch is not a real person. And we need him right now.




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