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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

We Lost Two Humanitarians That Week

There are some people who were born to help others.  Not just a few, but multitudes.  A couple of weeks ago, the world lost two of them.  One was Nelson Mandella.  I don’t need to tell you about him.  A Google search turns up 1.5 billion results.  I’m going to tell you about someone lesser known, but who made an impact of countless lives, including mine.

He was Don Williams.  No, not the country music legend, just somene well-knowd in and around Greenwood, Arkansas.

He and his wife, Ann, were the first friends my parents made when we moved to the small town when I was almost 2 years old.  They and their three kids are part of the ever-shrinking group of people who knew me since before I can remember.  They’ve been like an uncle and aunt to me ever since.  The two families often went on camping trips and other activities together.

When I was in 1st grade, Santa Claus knocked at our door.  My brother, Mike, was three years old then and we were both ecstatic.  Santa sat on in front of the fireplace and we took turns sitting on his lap to tell him what we wanted.  I noticed Santa had shoes just like Don’s and thought Don must really know how to pick a good pair of those if he bought the same ones Santa wore.

The next year at Halloween the Williams family decorated their 3 bedroom ranch house as a haunted house.  They didn’t even charge people to go through it.  It was the early 70s.  Tmes were different and Greenwood was much smaller then.

Even after my family moved to Fayetteville a few years later, we never lost touch with them.  When we moved back seven years later, the friendship with them was like we’d never been gone.

In 1998 I was listed for a kidney/pancreas transplant.  When Don and Ann found out I needed to raise $50,000 because the pancreas wouldn’t be covered by Medicare, they organized a fund-raising committee.  A couple of weeks later, the first event took place.  They worked at that one and several others.

On that life-changing day in April, 1998 when I got The Call that a kidney and pancreas match was available, they actually beat the surgeon, who had to harvest the organs at a hospital a couple of hours away, to Oklahoma City.  More importantly, they waited with my parents during the 7 hour surgery.

When I woke up in ICU, the first two faces I saw were those of my parents.  The next two were Don and Ann.  How appropriate that they were there when I stopped being diabetic.  They drove two hours to visit me in the hospital when I was first diagnosed in 1977.

 I presented Don and Ann with the Greenwood Citizens of the Year award in October, 1998.  Pictured from left are Don, Ann, my mom, me, and my dad.

The list of humanitarian deeds Don did is long.  Even those closest to him probably couldn’t name them all.  Most of them had to do with helping those less fortunate.  Much of it was part of the United Methodist Church.  Others were as part of other organizations or on his own.  

Is it fair to compare Don to Nelson Mandella?  Well . . . yeah.  Okay, he never spent time behind bars, justly or not and his impact was on a much smaller scale.  But they shared a spirit of selflessness.  They both did all they could to lift up others.  Don was a Christan and the embodiment of the phrase “faith in action.”

I’ve often wondered if people who die around the same time are more likely to run into each other in the hereafter.  Maybe there’s some kind of orientation they do, kind of like freshman orientation at college.  Or maybe kindred spirits are naturally drawn to each other there.  I can picture Don in heaven, swapping notes with Nelson Mandella.

This isn’t the first time I’ve lost someone who had a positive impact on my life.  I know from experience that one of the best things you can do to keep someone’s memory alive is by doing things they did.  It doesn’t’ matter if you’re as good at it as they were.  Do it in rememberance of them and you just might feel their presence.  Since I’m talking about humanitarians, you know what I’m going to say next.

Uplift others whenever you can.  

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Not All Urinals Are Created Equal

It’s National Toilet Day.  What are you doing to celebrate?  To mark the occasion I’m writing about a fixture similar to the toilet—the urinal.  Since reading about a study last week by Brigham Young University, I’ve been thinking much more about urinals lately.  It’s actually an interesting article, with terms like satellite droplets, which has a nice science fiction ring to it.  There’s even a video.  The results of the urinal splash-back study will be presented Nov. 24 at the American Physical Society Division of FluidDynamics meeting in Pittsburgh.

Ladies, you may think this article has nothing to do with you, but if you have a husband, boyfriend, brother, or son in your home, this newly discovered information might just create a little more peace and harmony in your life.

Of course, it would be helpful if you just installed a urinal in the house.  It’s been done.  I know someone who bought a house from a family with five boys and the bathroom had a toilet and a white porcelain urinal next to it.  I attended a New Year’s Eve party there a while back and I’m sure that urinal got quite a workout and made the post-party cleanup less disgusting.

I’ve often heard women comment on how filthy public Men’s Rooms are. I’m not sure why they were ever in one in the first place.  I’ll assume it was by mistake.  That’s happened to me, but I have an excuse—I’m legally blind.

Gargoyle urnilas.

I’ll let you seated pissers in on a couple of secrets about the mess around urinals.  The first one isn’t a big secret.  If men don’t have to clean the bathroom, we really don’t care that much about aim.  This is especially true if the one having to clean it is a stranger who will be doing that long after we’re gone.  Don’t get all self-righteous, girls, I’ve had a job cleaning restrooms and you leave some really gross things behind.  They just don’t smell like wee-wee.

The second reason is more of a progressive process.  Let’s say the first guy to step up to the porcelain pee-catcher after the restroom has been cleaned shakes the dew off his lily and a drop barely misses it and lands on the floor a fraction of an inch in front of it.  There it sits, glistening under the fluorescent lights all by its lonesome.

Until the next guy comes along.

It may be conscious or subconscious, but he stands back just a bit more than he normally would, not wanting to step on the last guy’s whiz.  So, he ends up leaving a drop half an inch in front of the first one.  The next dude follows suit until the end of the day, when guys are standing about three feet back and just hoping for the best.

Of course, some urinals are designed in ways that reduce the odds of this trend even getting started.  Some of them, instead of the standard rectangle, are sort of round and have a part in front that protrudes an extra couple of inches.  One could sit on it and rest, if one were so inclined.  This type is comforting to use.  It reaches out to meet you halfway, as if to say, “Don’t worry, I’m here to support you and catch it all.”

In the last twenty years, there has been an increase in urinals made of stainless steel.  I’ve never tested this theory, but my guess is they are more indestructible than porcelain and less likely to retain odor.  This urinal says, “This isn’t your father’s urinal.  This is the 21st century.  Now you’re pissing in style.”  The shiny stainless steel looks more like it belongs in the kitchen of an upscale restaurant than a bus station men's room.  That up-to-date engineering just makes any man want to respond with a little more . . . um . . . precision.

Speaking of your father’s—more like your grandfather’s—urinal.  There is something to be said for the classic elegance of the roomy pissoir of the early-to-mid twentieth century.  I’m talking about the early models that start at the floor and come up to chest-level.  You stand in it as much as in front of it.  Many of them have a flat top so you can set a drink on them.  Back before smoking was banned in most public places it was common to see a built-in ashtray.  A guy could drink, smoke, and take a leak all at the same time.  Now that’s multitasking.

Ask any male what his least favorite type of urinal is and he’ll tell you it’s the trough.  These are common in bars, where drunks have terrible aim.  If you’re lucky, one or both end positions will be unoccupied when you walk in.  Then you get a tiny bit of privacy, or at least the illusion of it.  This is no place for the pee shy—or the insecure.  There will be comparisons taking place.  Everyone accepts this, especially the . . . um . . . gifted.  If it’s crowded and you can’t wait another minute, you’ll have to squeeze in, shoulder to shoulder.  The piss trough is The Great Equalizer.  You might see everyone from a little boy standing on tip-toes to reach it to an old man who looks like he might topple into it.  You can expect to leave with a little of your piss-mate’s spray on your pants.  Everyone accepts this, too, as long as it wasn’t intentional.    

Now that this exciting discovery about splash back has come to light, we can sit—make that stand—back in anticipation of how it will impact the brave new world of urinal design. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Gratitude Rollercoaster

The other day I had a great day trading stocks.  I flipped a stock that rose quickly.  It was the most profitable fifteen minutes of my life.  The euphoria had me pacing around the room, yelling, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” and making whooping sounds.  What a great way to start a day.

The next day I noticed that same stock rocketing upward and bought it, only to see it collapse.  In a panic I dumped it.  Then it shot up higher than ever.  I ended up giving back about one-third of my profit from the day before.  And I felt really, really stupid.  

Sure, there was still a nice chunk of change left over.  But nobody likes feeling stupid, especially when it costs a few hundred dollars.  This and a few other minor irritants dampened my mood.  It wasn’t a terrible mood.  I’d give it a C- if moods had a report card.

A short time later I went to a checkup with my oncologist.  When I arrived I saw the waiting room was packed.

“Great.  I’m going to have to wait a long time,” I thought pessimistically.  But within three minutes I was called back for my blood draw.  Then I had an even shorter wait to see the doctor.

But, that brief time in the waiting room was enough to remind me of how bad I used to feel when I had cancer and waited to have lab work done and see the doctor.  Looking around, I saw some pretty sick people and their loved ones sitting there with them.  It was never hard for me to realize cancer patients felt awful whenever I saw them.  This time I knew how they felt.

Three years ago right now I was dreading chemotherapy, which began the Monday after Thanksgiving.  The cancer was diagnosed the first week of November, which meant the entire month was spent with a dark cloud over me.

Fasten your seatbelt.  It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Aside from losing weight, my hair, and my lunch, I knew little else about the side effects of chemo.  I tried to prepare myself physically, mentally, and emotionally as best I could.

Those few minutes waiting to see the oncologist upgraded my mood to an A.

I don’t have cancer!  There is nothing for me to dread.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Most Attractive American Accent

This morning there was a brief mention on NPR about a survey by that said the Southern drawl is the most attractive North American accent.  If that’s true, why do so many of y’all make fun of those of us who have it?  Is it petty jealousy?  

A realistic Southern accent isn’t as easy to mimic as it might seem.  I’ve cringed at TV actors hired more for their looks than acting ability that tried to do it and failed.  I doubt some of them have ever even been to the South.

As the product of a “mixed marriage”—one Southern parent and one Midwestern—I was aware of regional accents from an early age.  Dad was the only one from his side of the family to wander below the Mason-Dixon Line.  The rest stayed in the Midwest or went out West.  I could 

Sexy, southern, and supernaturel.  Bill Compton and Sookie Stackhouse from HBO series True Blood.

expect some teasing at family gatherings.  But I learned how to handle it with grace by watching how my mother dealt with it.

When I was 10, my family vacationed near St. Louis.  We stayed at a campground that had a pool.  There was a slide and I remember a teenage girl, about 7 or 8 years older than I was, in line on the ladder behind me.  She pinched and tormented me mercilessly because she liked 

Thanks to the 1980s hit series Dukes of Hazard, shorts made from cut off jeans are known as "Daisy Dukes."

hearing me say, “Quit!” which came out sounding like “Qweeeyut!”  In retrospect, I should have kicked her in the face.  I was positioned for it.  But, she correctly assumed I was too much of a Southern gentleman to do a thing like that.  And for all I knew she had an army of other teenage girls from Illinois ready to do some kind of aquatic  Civil War re-enactment on me at the swimming pool.

My first year after college, I lived in Tampa, which is only Southern geographically, not culturally.  All those transplanted Yankees teased me, too, but without the pinching.  It was there that I was surprised to hear five words linked together in a way I never expected.

“Your Southern accent is sexy.”

Of course I just laughed because I assumed it was a joke.  It wasn’t.  I heard it again when I lived in Kansas City, MO.  There was also quite a bit of teasing—some of it friendly, some of it downright hateful.

Ellie May Clampit of the 1960s TV series The Beverly Hillbillies proved hillbillies can be sexy if they have all their teeth.

I’ll admit that, at times, I’ve consciously (and more often subconsciously) altered the degree of my drawl depending on the circumstances.  When I need to sound smart, I cram Dixie in a box.  When I need to be charming, I trot out the magnolia and mint julep until I sound like one of Scarlet’s suitors in Gone with the Wind.

Northerners eat it up.  The farther from the South they’re from, the more susceptible they are to it.  Sure, they may tease and mock you for it, but they’ll do that while bending over backward to 

Rhett Butler and Scarlet O'Hara from Gone with the Wind.

do what you ask.  Just be sure to sprinkle in plenty of phrases like, “if you don’t mind,” “I’d appreciate it an awful lot,” and “you’re so kind.”

So, let ‘em make fun of us.  It’s only the conscious part of their brains trying to protest while the subconscious part is being spellbound by the combination of Southern charm and words they have to work a little harder to understand.

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