Sunday, April 13, 2014

Injured List

No MSF today.  I'm getting over one of my periodic arthritis flareups in my right hand.  So, I'm giving the keyboard a rest.

Talk among yourselves.



Sunday, April 06, 2014

My Sunday Feeling

Last Friday, I did something I haven't done since I was a young Legal Services lawyer in Forrest City.  

I walked to work.   It felt like one of the few "full circle" experiences I have had thus far in my life.

It has been an interesting trip since I walked out of the Federal Building in 2011.  As folks tried to tell me going into it, "retirement" would be nothing like I thought it would be.  And they were right.  Don't get me wrong.  Everything is way cool.  It's just not like I thought it would be.  

I thought I would be back working full time in 6 months.  That didn't happen.  But then again, it's not like I tried real hard.  Hell, I didn't try at all.  

I didn't think I could stand working from home.  It's actually pretty great.  I didn't think I would do work for a bank.  But I am.

And I really, really didn't think I would find myself standing in front of a room full of high school girls at Mount Saint Mary's Academy.  But there I was, God help us all, proctoring chemistry tests and presiding over study hall.  

This all came about long about January when I decided I needed to be busier than I was at that time.  And because I often think I might be good at teaching I figured that substitute teaching would give me a taste of it to see if I liked it.  Both Saint Mary's and Holy Souls are within walking distance.  Catholic High is a mile away.  So I got VIRTUS certified (sexual abuse training), let everybody know of my availability and that was that.

I confess that I was pretty nervous as I walked down 'I" Street along with all the kids.  And I'm not the sort to get that way.  But I had never been in charge of a bunch of girls before. My friend Ann was out in the yard as I walked past. She called out to me.  She took notice of my jacket and tie.

"What are you doing here?" she asked.  It was a fair question.

"I'm subbing at the Mount today," I replied.

She hugged me. 

"You'll be great," she whispered. "the girls will love you." 

"Yeah well....we'll see," I muttered as I turned and manfully pushed myself into the wave of backpacks and uniforms.

I reported for duty.  They gave me my materials and a bottle of water.  Oh, by the way, we are having a tornado drill first thing. 

Perfect.  I promised myself that I would not let this be a metaphor for the day.

They assigned a kid to lead me to the room.  Good idea. I walked in.  There they were.  You're a real boy now Pinocchio.

I decided to lead with the truth.  It was all I had. 

The opening speech all day went something like this.

"Good Morning, ladies.  Obviously, I am not Dr. Hendrickson. My name is Paul Bowen.  I will be giving you the test this morning.  While I will be happy to answer any questions that you might have, you are pretty much on your own.  I am a lawyer.  I don't know the first thing about chemistry. Good luck."

All the classes were equally amused by my confession that I was a lawyer. Under other circumstances I might have explored this.  But there was work to do.  

I passed out the tests and sat down in the teacher's chair with my iPad.  It occurred to me that it had been 34 years since I sat in a classroom where folks were taking a test.  That was when I was at Tulane.  That was in a previous life.  And here I was now at Mount Saint Mary's.  Here I was now watching girls take a chemistry test.  Another "full circle" experience.  Two in one day.  Not bad.  

While my room was quiet, there were sounds of life elsewhere all throughout the building.  I spend a lot of time down the road at Catholic High.  It gets pretty noisy over there.  But there are also stretches of silence.  There was no time during the day last Friday where I wasn't cognizant of voices.  Always voices somewhere.

I thought to myself,"This is pretty cool.  I can do this."

Besides, hanging around with these kids sure beats practicing law.

About an hour into it, the iPad buzzed.  It was an email from downstairs. 

"Can you come back Tuesday morning at 8?"

"Yes I can."

"Great! "

Yeah it really kinda is.  

As I walked home I sent Ann a text.  I told her that I really enjoyed my day.

"You were raised to do this," she wrote back. " You were raised to be a teacher."

It occurred to me, off the top of my head, that this was the nicest thing anybody had said to me in a long time. A very long time. 

"Besides, Steve and I look forward to a lot of great stories out of this adventure."

Me too, actually.  

I used to walk to work when I was a young lawyer in the Delta. I hope it's a pretty day next Tuesday.  

It will feel good to walk to work for another day up on the hill.  Maybe I will decide that teaching is not for me.  Maybe I will go back to the dark side and practice law again while I still halfway remember how to do it.  

But for now, the "full circle" aspect of this is pretty amazing to me.  And I am grateful for the experience.  And, like my friend Ann, I look forward to the stories that are sure to come.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

VOX POPULI: The Consultant

"So," I said to the man. "What's new with you?"

" I guess you could say that I am a consultant," he said. "That's why I'm here tonight."

"That's why you're at (insert any mall thing that you might care to)?, I asked. "Not following."

"Came over to use the Internet access at Starbucks."


Bless his heart.  

Sunday, March 30, 2014

My Sunday Feeling

I saw in the paper the other day that Gerald Fincher had passed away.  Rev. Gerald Kemp Fincher was an important guy as I was coming up because Brother Gerald was the minister at Mabelvale United Methodist Church back in those days.  I had the occasion to visit with his daughter a couple of years ago.  She said that her parents were in poor health.  I found out when I read the obituary that Mrs. Fincher died last November.  

I refer to him as "Brother" rather than "Reverend" because when I was a kid, that's the way that the Methodist clergy, at the least the Methodist clergy as it obtained back in Mabelvale, referred to itself.

I started out at Oak Forest Methodist (not yet United) which is not too far from where I live now.  The pastor there was Brother Clint Burleson.  His daughter Katie and I spent countless hours playing board games on the front porch of the parsonage.  Brother Bob Trieschman followed Brother Clint.  He used to play touch football with us on the church parking lot.

We moved to Mabelvale when I was in the 5th grade. My first preacher there was Brother Ben Hines, followed by Interim Pastor Arthur Terry.  He went by Brother Terry, possibly in recognition that he was damn near 80 when they stuck him in there and that it might have been unseemly to address one so elderly by his first name.  By the time I hit Hendrix College, Brother Gerald was on the job.  

It occurs to me that Brother Gerald's generation of Methodist preachers might have been the last one to eschew the honorific for the more humble title of "Brother."  I still find myself addressing the clergy at my church as "Brother" from time to time out of force of habit, which is understandable given my history with the issue.   At least the males of the species.  But unlike today, there was no other kind that I was aware of back in the day. 

Anyway, Brother Gerald was a very important man in my life and not just because he was a good guy. Which he was.  But, as I have written in the past, my father died in December of my senior year at Hendrix. And I had applications pending at law schools all over the place.

The issue of how this was gonna get paid for was El Problemo Grande.  Hendrix and Tulane introduced me to the Student Loan Guarantee Foundation.  Brother Gerald got me hooked up with the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church (Really.  That's what it still calls itself.), which loaned me money to go to law school. Reasonable minds may disagree as to whether financing a legal education was a fit purpose for this program.  But I wasn't gonna turn it down if they were gonna loan it to me.

Looking back on it, the machinations I had to go through each semester were kind of comical.  As I recall, I only had to sign one note for each school year.  But every semester Brother Gerald had to certify that I was indeed a Methodist of good standing. And every semester I had to submit my bona fides to the campus minister (I forget how I addressed him) at the Wesley Foundation at Tulane in order to get the loan funds disbursed to the Business Office over in Gibson Hall.  

I was telling my buddy Don this story the other night after I had learned of Brother Gerald's passing.  He allowed as how, based on his recollection of my allegedly sinful ways in law school,in which Don was equally complicit much of the time, it was evident that Brother Gerald didn't quiz me too carefully about my Christian journey in Orleans Parish.

Which was true.  I'm guessing he didn't much care. Either that or figured that I wouldn't get into too much trouble.  No, he mainly wanted a report on how things were going each semester.  He wanted to know if I was OK.  Sometimes, not always, he would have a little extra money for me that an always anonymous donor would funnel through him.  It wasn't much. Gas money mostly.  

But it was a gesture that said, "We're proud of you. We still love you back home." 

Contrary to the noise from certain sectors of the media and politics, the vast majority of "success stories" are not completely self-made.  Most everybody I know didn't get to where they are today without the assistance of others. I know I sure as hell didn't.  

And I've tried to pay it forward and to pay it back. Because, in part, because that is what Gerald Fincher and all of the other mentors and encouragers that propelled me along would have wanted.

Rest in peace, Brother Gerald.  I will always remember you.  And be grateful.  

Sunday, March 23, 2014

My NCAA Tournament Feeling

This blog has been temporarily suspended due to obsessive basketball watching and a deadline on a real world project.  Will resume shortly.

Talk among yourselves.  

Sunday, March 16, 2014

My Sunday Feeling

A friend and I went to a deal at a local art gallery last night.  One of the featured artists is a local photographer who does amazing stuff.  He's one of these guys that isn't scared to go up in a helicopter or an airplane to get a perspective.  Or maybe he's scared but he's willing to make the sacrifice for his art. 

One of the pictures was an aerial view of a flooded out New Orleans after Katrina.  A neighborhood shot from above.  Probably somewhere in the Ninth Ward. What was interesting about the photograph was it appeared that lights were on in some of the houses, although my best guess was that the windows were reflecting the light from the searchlight on the helicopter.  

"You should buy it," she said. "Tulane and New Orleans are part of your past. It would look good in your living room. That picture is you."

I'm devastated and water logged?

"I don't know," I said. "I wasn't looking to buy anything tonight." 

She took me by the arm. 

"Let's find out what they want for it.  It won't hurt to ask."

I asked.  It wasn't bad. I told the owner of the gallery to mark it "sold" and that we would settle up next week.

Still, it wasn't like I needed any more stuff to hang on the walls around here.  Or that I needed to spend money on the same.  I expressed these thoughts as we walked to the car.

"Look," she said. "This is what I think.  You worked hard for a really long time.  This is the part of your life where you should reward yourself now and again.  You've earned it.  So it cost a little money.  You've got money. Besides, that picture is a link to your past and will look great in your living room."

And that was all there was to it.

I suppose that I am just now getting comfortable with the notion that I am in a phase of life that is traditionally associated with a certain age demographic.  

I'm very fortunate.  I'm in a good spot.  I don't count it as my due and I don't take it for granted.  But it's probably not a bad thing that I have enough of my mother in me to not throw money around.  I like to think I have things in perspective.  Then again, a person can be wrong about such things.

A friend of mine died a week or so ago.  I hadn't known her for very long and I didn't spend that much time with her.  She had a virulent form of cancer that she fended off for over 8 years.  

She was tough and brave.  Never complained.  I probably only saw her a handful of times in the year and half or so that I knew her.  Mainly, we texted and talked with each other.  Or, to put it more accurately, I mainly just listened.  

She sent me a message saying that it was time to say goodbye.  Of course, this was during the last ice storm and the roads were impassable.  And I had a meeting that I agreed to do first thing once the roads cleared.  Besides, she had always beat the cancer back before.  I figured that I had time to get to her. I told her I would check on her in a couple of days.

"Okey dokee," she texted back.  I never heard from her again.

I figured I had more time.  I figured wrong.  I blew it and there is no fixing it. And I have spent a good bit of time since then trying to kick myself to death.

Although I still consider myself a young man, I am in the stage of the game where the arc of statistics and biology start favoring the casino.  Second chances will come fewer and more far between from here on out.  

My fellow patron of the arts is right.  Second guessing myself about spending a little money is kind of silly in the great scope of things. I can always get the money back down the road. Nothing wrong with enjoying simple pleasures while you can.   

Better to save the second guessing at this stage for those defaults that can't be undone in the hope that they never happen again.  

Because there are some things you can't do over. There are some things that you can't get back.  

And because the odds are favoring the casino at this stage of the game. 

Sunday, March 09, 2014

My Sunday Feeling

Maybe it's true.  Maybe the worst is over.

Yesterday was gorgeous with a high of around 70. This time last week it was sleeting as the officials at the Little Rock Marathon were trying to get folks off the course.  What an awful experience that was.

I don't run in races any more due to my back.  But I have run in many of them in my day.  I've run in the cold.  I've run in rain and I've run in high wind.  I have shown up at races and thought "this is going to be tough."

Never have I arrived at a race and thought "This is a mistake."  It was sprinkling when I got there, the wind was howling and the temperature was degrading it seemed by the minute.  Little Rock was under a Winter Storm Warning at the time.  

I was just taking pictures and I was dressed appropriately.  Still after a couple of hours, I couldn't feel the camera.  The wet wind cut through the layers under my wind jacket.  I decided about then to start heading home.  

I was about halfway to the house when a car pulled up.  Window comes down.  Young guy in the neighborhood named Colin.

"Do you think we'll ever play golf again?" he asked.

I paused to watch the hypothermia victims as they headed for the downhill leg on Lookout.  Most of them looked beyond miserable.  

"God, I don't know," I said. "I just don't know."

The latest ice storm hit us around 6 that evening.  And I thought to myself that I couldn't remember a more brutal winter.  From December to March, Central Arkansas averaged at least one winter storm a month. The low last Monday was 14 with a wind chill of zero.

But yesterday was nice.  A bunch of us planted trees along Kavanaugh Boulevard.  Most people appreciate that sort of thing.  There are exceptions to every rule of course.  You can't please everybody.  

But it was nice to be outside doing stuff.  Runners and bikers were everywhere.  Men and women out pushing strollers.  Now that's more like it.

And today Daylight Savings Time begins.  Thank God. As I have said before, I hate Standard Time.  I need more time to sit on the swing, cook on the grill, hit golf balls and otherwise stay outside in the light.  If ever I had Seasonal Affective Disorder it was last Sunday night as I sat and listened to the sleet hit the ceiling and windows.  

My neighbor is from Texas.  He was getting out for a bike ride for the first time in months.

"Do you think Winter is over?" he asked. "Really over?"  

"God I hope so,"I replied. "I hope so."

Because I can't remember a worse Winter. Man, I really need me some Spring.