collage no names

Rock On

Tonight, I’m going to a rock concert.

That’s right.  Me.

RO1The last actual concert by a rock band (not including my favorite local groups like Lucy’s Palace, Superjam, and Dance Floor Riot) I attended was Cheap Trick at Six Flags in the late 80’s.  Before that it was Bon Jovi in ’86, the Slippery When Wet Tour.

I’m hardcore.

I still remember waiting in line at the ticket office for something like eight hours to get those Bon Jovi tix.  It was miserable.  Nobody does that anymore.  These days, they’re sold online.  I got my tickets for tonight’s concert whilst in my PJ’s.

The headliner for my return to the world of bigtime concerts and bigtime concert venues is REO Speedwagon, along with Chicago.  I can’t wait.

I’ve been a fan of REO since the early eighties.  My big brother, Jeff, had their album titled “High Infidelity”.

At the time, I had no idea what “infidelity” was, and the play on words went completely over my head.  The album cover, though, was just suggestive enough to hook a pre-pubescent young man and inspire him to check out the music etched into the vinyl record inside.

That’s right, kids.  There used to be albums.  Vinyl records.  Not cassettes.  Not CD’s.  Not iTunes or YouTube or Pandora.  Albums.

So, one day, I sneaked into his room and listened to his new record.  I was hooked when I heard “Take it on the Run.”  Later, I discovered some of their other (better) songs, like “Ridin’ the Storm Out”, and my personal favorite, “Roll with the Changes.”

Now, I realize that REO Speedwagon is not exactly the standard-bearer for real, pounding, thumping, adrenaline-pumping rock and roll.  They’re not The Beatles or The Rolling Stones.  I know this.

I’ve always been a pretty eclectic music fan.  I can generally find something to like in almost any genre, even country.  Some country.

My big brother liked REO Speedwagon.  That was enough to get my attention.

In those days, I pretty much became a fan of whatever my older brother liked.  Simply put, I thought he was just about the coolest guy on the planet – but of course I never told him that.  I secretly looked up to him and endeavored to copy as much of his personality as possible.

It wasn’t easy.  Jeff was a guy who seemed to be good at everything he tried, while I often found myself falling decidedly short.  For example, in high school he played varsity baseball and basketball.  I on the other hand was cut the first day of baseball tryouts my freshman year.

Now there’s a memory that still stings – but that’s a story for another day.

Copying Jeff was a challenge in other ways, too.  There were things he did that there was just no way I could even think of attempting.

RO2He wore an earring, for crying out loud.  And though I pretended to mock him for it, I secretly had to admit he made it look cool.  But I knew for certain that – on me – a pierced ear would only be incredibly effeminate.  I was a short, scrawny little dude; the last thing I needed was to look effeminate.

Picking up my brother’s taste in music wasn’t really an attempt at copying him.  I didn’t make a conscious effort to like the same stuff he liked.  It just seemed that whatever he was interested in automatically became interesting to me as well.

As I got older, I began to branch out and develop my own interests.  We do still share some of the same hobbies – poker, for instance – but I don’t gauge my standing on the “coolness” spectrum by my big brother anymore.

We all grow up eventually.

I do still love REO Speedwagon, though.


(The Life of Brian ARCHIVES:
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Letting Go

My fellow fifth-graders and I at Progress South Elementary were all abuzz.  The classroom was bursting with even more energy than usual.

LG1Today, we would be starting our class project.  Each of the students was to receive a monarch caterpillar to feed, care for, and observe, as it made its transition through the stages of life.

I was no less excited than my classmates.  It was kind of like getting a new pet.

Since he was called a monarch, I decided to name him ArthurApparently I had concluded that my caterpillar was a male for some reason.  (Do caterpillars even have gender?)

I loved watching my little guy crawl around in his little cage, munching on his milkweed leaves and toddling up and down the twigs and stems I had provided for his habitat.

It wasn’t long, though, before this scene started to lose its charm.  Having a pet – even if it is only a caterpillar – is work.  I had to feed him and clean his cage.  Caterpillars, I learned, poop.   A lot.

One Friday afternoon, Arthur crawled to the highest point on the tallest of his milkweed stems and up the glass wall of the cage.  When he had reached the top of the wall, he then moved along to the ceiling.  He hung there, like an acrobat in the circus.

The time had come for Arthur to cease to be a caterpillar.  He would be changing from a larva to a pupa. He began covering himself with a strange, incandescent, gel-like substance.  Within minutes his body was encased in a green, shiny chrysalis.

I stood in awe, admiring the beauty of Arthur’s creation.  It looked like a flower bud suspended from the ceiling of his cage.

When it was time to go home, I wished I could take Arthur with me.  I didn’t want to miss the transformation.  I wanted to be there, to see him emerge from his emerald shell and unfold his royal wings.

Monday morning arrived, and as the bus came to a stop in front of the school, I could hardly stand the anticipation.  I wanted to see Arthur, to learn if he had become a butterfly yet, to find out if I had indeed missed his triumphant entrance.

But when I got to the classroom, I found there was no change.  The next morning was the same.  Day after day, I rushed from the bus and into the building to the 5th grade wing, and burst through the door of our classroom only to find the same green orb hanging from the ceiling of Arthur’s cage.

This went on for three weeks.  I started to wonder if my caterpillar was a dud.

LG2Then it happened.  Twenty-four days after Arthur had climbed to the roof of the cage and covered himself in green goo, he reappeared.

I didn’t get to see him come out of the chrysalis.  By the time I arrived in the classroom that Monday morning, he was already out and hanging upside down next to the broken shell that had been his home for three and a half weeks.  His orange and black wings were draped around him like a regal robe, glistening.

I was in awe again.  I watched in amazement as he began to move the wings, slowly uncloaking his body, unfurling them, waving them back and forth as they dried.

Within minutes, Arthur was in full glory, his body sleek and black, adorned by his enormous, majestic wings.

My teacher announced that those butterflies which had successfully emerged from their chrysalises would be set free that afternoon.  Sadly, not all of them had made it.  I was glad Arthur had.

“One…two…THREE!  GO!”

As my teacher gave the shout, all of the fifth grade students of Progress South Elementary who had a healthy butterfly released them.  The sky above us was instantly filled with them.

As I pulled the cover off of Arthur’s cage, he flew into the air.  Then, for some reason, he turned back.  Instead of taking off for the great beyond, he came to rest on my shoulder.

I turned my head and gazed at him.  He sat there, calmly moving his wings back and forth.  For a moment, I thought that he might stay there, that he had somehow decided to remain with me, to be my pet.

Then he took off again.  Before I knew it, he was gone.

As I stood there in the playground of my school surrounded by classmates and teachers, our faces turned up and shading our eyes with our hands, I found myself feeling really sad.  Part of me was wishing I had kept Arthur in his cage.  But deep down, I knew that releasing him was the right thing to do.

Because he wasn’t mine.  Not really.

In this life, nothing is truly owned; all that we have is only on loan.   Of the things that we believe we possess, many will remain after we are gone, and so will pass on to someone else.

Others will be discarded, either due to our own boredom or their obsoletion, and perhaps become part of a landfill, or sold in a garage sale.  But in the end, all of it will eventually crumble into dust, returning to the earth from which it was borrowed.

It’s the same with people.

LG3My parents.

My  kids.

They aren’t mine.  Not really.  And they all leave us eventually anyway, don’t they?

Atticus Finch told us that it was a sin to kill a mockingbird.

It’s just as wrong to cage a butterfly.


(The Life of Brian ARCHIVES:
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She had been on the streets for at least a couple of months, probably longer.  She had no collar, no microchip – no name as far as we know.  She was dirty, malnourished, and covered in tick bites.

No shelters in the area had openings for her, so Missy decided to turn to us.

S1Take her in, just till she can be placed?  Of course!  Bring her over!

I had a feeling, however – even before I met her – that this was not destined to be a mere short-term solution.

Black dogs, according to animal rescue organizations, are the most difficult to place for adoption.   They call it Black Dog Syndrome, or BDS, and it affects cats as well.  It takes a black pet an average of four times as long to find a home as lighter-colored animals.

This little girl is as black as it gets.  She, like pretty much every other stray pet, is a mix-breed – a mutt.  My best guess is that she is Labrador/beagle, but that’s just a guess.  She has a distinctly retriever look, though at less than thirty pounds she is roughly half the size of a full-grown Lab.

She is beautiful, incredibly smart, and has the kind of temperament anyone who thinks of becoming a dog-owner dreams of.

So, yeah…we kept her.  She is part of our family now.  Her name – chosen after three days of observation and contemplation – is Annabelle.  In Latin, it means “one who is loved.”

Jenny, my girlfriend, once described me to someone as “a dog person without a dog.”  Well, that’s not the case anymore.

There’s something really special about having a dog.  I don’t mean to denigrate cats or cat owners, but for me, dogs are where it’s at.

Coming home at the end of a weary, stressful day has a new flavor to it now.  Regardless of what I may have done or said this morning, or whether I killed it or blew it at work, her tail wags with such enthusiasm and vigor that it reminds me of the phrase “the tail wagging the dog.”

There is no way to quantify the value of walking into a room and having someone so completely thrilled to see you.  It’s magic.

A couple of months ago, I responded to a friend’s request for help.  Her church was preparing to put on a musical and they had lost their lead.  Jenny nudged me, and the next thing I knew, I was cast as Jesus in a Rock Opera.

It was a bit of a stretch for me, definitely pushing me to the limits of my comfort zone.  There were moments early on that I wondered what the heck I had gotten myself into.  Doing this would require a pretty substantial commitment, in time, effort, and attention.  I had about a kagillion lines to memorize; of the thirty-four scenes, I would be in thirty-one.

During the weeks that led up to the performances, Jenny and I became more and more acquainted with the cast and crew of the musical, almost all of whom were members of the church.  Friendships grew like wildflowers; bonds were formed, and our eyes were opened to a community of care and love that we hadn’t even known we were missing.

There were two nights of the musical, and then it was over.  The rehearsals, the practicing at home in front of the mirror, the running of lines with Jenny were done.  So were the rushed dinners, the missed dinners, and the gallons of lemon-water I had been drinking to protect my vocal chords.

And then…

I missed them.

S2I had set out to do a favor for my friend.  In time, my focus expanded, and I was doing something nice for those wonderful people I had come to love and appreciate.

But in the end, it was I who was blessed.

We have been back, several times, to the little church down the street.  And we will be back again, I’m sure – often, in fact.

That first Sunday morning, as Jenny and I walked through the doors and found our way to a seat, there was that same feeling…that overwhelming sense that someone is truly happy to see you.

It’s magic, I tell you.

We aren’t strays anymore.


(The Life of Brian ARCHIVES:
(The Life of Brian PROFILE/BIO:                             

Property Rights – “Let’s (not) Go Down to the River”

Be sure to check out this section for a “Hot Topic” that is trending in the world of news, entertainment, pop culture or really anywhere else.

We will introduce a weekly topic on Monday, and then rotate the order of my regular columnists expressing their personal views each day for the remainder of the week, giving you a slightly – or radically – different perspective each day.

(This week we discuss Property Rights, specifically in relation to the sentencing of a man who shot and killed another after a dispute about him urinating on his property when passing through on a float trip)


Let’s (not) Go Down to the River – by Brian

First, a couple of observations…

One of the fundamental rules of gun-ownership, as I understand it, is this:  One should never take out his weapon unless he is prepared to use it.

Brandishing your Glock for effect is not only stupid; it’s illegal.

HT1That’s right – the dude who grabs his piece from the glove box and shows it to the other dude who just changed lanes in front of him without using his blinker – that dude just broke the law.

Firearms are dangerous.  I think we can all agree to that fact, can’t we?  They’re dangerous, folks.

So are fireworks, automobiles, and blind dates for that matter, but let’s stay on the subject.

My point is simply that if Mr. Crocker took his pistol down to the river that day to scare someone, he was being foolish.  There are moments in our lives when we make choices, sometimes in the heat of anger or fear, and those moments often lead to bad choices.

Bad choices tend to lead to bad outcomes.  This was a bad choice that led to tragedy.

Mr. Dart (the deceased) was no angel, and neither were his friends.  It seems everyone in this story made bad choices.  With so many wrong turns in so many decision trees, it’s no wonder things went so terribly, terribly wrong.

Dart was 48-years old.  I’d say he had been around long enough to realize that a guy with a gun is not someone to stand and argue with.  I don’t care if Mr. Crocker was right or wrong about the property line debate.  In my book, it’s better to walk away when possible, especially once there is gunplay involved.

Couldn’t the group have done that?  Simply walked away?

Sometimes it’s better to be alive than right.  Isn’t it?

Mr. Crocker could have left his gun in the house.  The floaters weren’t carrying weapons.  They weren’t stealing from him, or even threatening him.  They were peeing.

Having read several accounts about this story over the past few months, I still can’t say for sure exactly what happened, or who did what to whom.

Were there rocks thrown?  I don’t know.  Was Mr. Crocker justifiably afraid for his safety?  Don’t know.  Who was the first to escalate the confrontation to the point of violence?  Not sure.

HT2What I can say with a good amount of confidence is this:  Dart is dead.  And it could have been avoided.

That’s all I’ve got.



(Barbara Anne’s TAKE:
(Mikey-B’s TAKE:
(Heili’s TAKE:
(KMFP’s TAKE:        

Running the Race

Julie and Mike McMillen are no strangers to doctor’s offices.  In the last three years, they have spent more than their share of time in waiting rooms, exam rooms, and consultation rooms. It has become a way of life for them.  Since February of 2011, their world has gone from that of a typical suburban family to one of a life-and-death battle with cancer.

RR1It is a battle they share with more than 13 million other families in the U.S. alone.  More than 900 thousand of those are melanoma patients.  One in 50 Americans will develop melanoma in their lifetime.  It is the fastest growing and second-most common of all cancers worldwide.

Everything has changed since Mike was diagnosed,” says Julie.  “We have learned to live with uncertainty.  I have learned to go with the flow.  Before this, I was a big planner.

A diagnosis like Mike’s may be surprising for some to learn about.  He had a mole removed in 1996 that turned out to be cancerous.  Then, for fifteen years – even with periodic dermatological screenings – he had no symptoms.  It wasn’t until a trip to the ER in 2011 revealed a tumor on his small bowel that Julie and Mike learned the melanoma had returned.

I know when Mike was first diagnosed,” says Julie, “we had many people questioning how skin cancer was in his lungs, his brain… Everyone thought it was ‘just’ skin cancer.  It’s not.

The impact the disease has had on the family is difficult to quantify.  It permeates every part of their lives.  “We have lost jobs,” she says.  “We have lost friends.  We have lost security.  We have probably lost our future.

The McMillen’s have three sons, ranging in age from ten to fourteen.  “We have learned it is best to be brutally honest with our boys,” Julie says.  “They were able to see right through the sugar-coated version we started telling them.

We’ve also learned kids adapt amazingly well.   They know the truth about the probable outcome.  They know we don’t plan very far ahead.  They also start almost any questions with, ‘If Dad feels OK, can we…’ 

“They’ve had their moments where they are angry, scared and hurt, but I’ve been able to talk to them and assure them that we will always be honest with them, no matter how hard it might be.

The toll this disease takes on families can be overwhelming.  As with any cancer, there is a psychological effect that comes from the initial diagnosis, with the first mention of that dreaded six-letter word.

RR2The financial impact is also potentially devastating.  Worldwide, the dollar amount is in the billions.  A patient who has been diagnosed with advanced-stage melanoma can expect to see his individual costs reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.  Even with excellent health insurance, there are usually significant out-of-pocket expenses.

A few months after Mike’s diagnosis, help arrived.  A cousin had heard about an event that was being held nearby.  It was a charity walk/run sponsored by Miles Against Melanoma (MAM), an organization dedicated to raising awareness about skin cancer, providing support for those who are fighting this deadly disease, and raising funds for research to find more effective treatments, and, hopefully, a cure.

There are so many ‘popular’ cancers out there,” says Julie, “that everyone has heard about, and there are walks for them.  I had never heard of an organization for melanoma before.  It was heart-warming to meet others battling this awful disease.

Amalyn Martin, the founder of MAM, started the movement in 2011 – the same year Mike was diagnosed – after her own father’s diagnosis.  At the time, she was operating a sunless tanning salon called Tans Are Now Safe.

It changed my whole outlook on life.  [Before the diagnosis] I put baby oil on outside,” says Amalyn.  “I tanned in tanning beds…We owned a lake house growing up, and we took care of burns with aloe – we did not deal with protection. 

“My dad never grew hair on the top of his head after he served in the war and did not wear ball caps or hats in the sun or on the boat, so [the sun] would fry his head.  That is where many of his spots have been located.”

The diagnosis was a wake-up call for Amalyn.  “Knowing it can be hereditary scared me,” she says.  “I changed my lifestyle and started preaching to the world about the dangers of melanoma.”

She didn’t stop there.  Instead, she did what friends say she always does when she is faced with a challenge – she got busy.  “I felt God planted a seed to start awareness through my passion of running,” she says, “and this need to educate my community about the dangers of melanoma…”

The organization’s first event was a 5K run.  The next year, the distance was changed to 6.2K to signify the death rate for melanoma patients at that time.  In 2011, a person died from melanoma every 62 minutes.  Today, that number is 57 minutes.

RR3I cannot keep changing the distance,” says Amalyn.

One mission of Miles Against Melanoma is to educate people about prevention.  “I have seen endless girls still want a tan,” says Amalyn.  “At what age is your own skin color that God gave you not okay anymore or not beautiful?  I want to change people’s mindsets.”

Many people, she says, underestimate the potential of this cancer.  They see it as “…just a mole removal.  It can merely be scraped off and it is gone.  Oh no, it populates your body if not treated.  It grows under the skin’s surface and has no problem spreading to other organs, and quickly.”

Amalyn has seen the cost firsthand.  “It breaks my heart to see people suffer through drain tubes, surgery, chemo,” she says, “and it is hard watching moms and dads, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles say goodbye to their loved ones.  No mother should ever have to bury her child.”

The movement has grown each year, as more and more people have taken up the cause with her.  She now has 10 chapters operating in different regions of the country, including St. Louis, St. Joseph, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, South Texas, North Texas, Oklahoma City, North Carolina, San Diego, and Washington State.

Through the efforts of Amalyn and her fellow volunteers, significant funds have been raised to help support research and treatment for melanoma.  On February 24 of this year, they gave $16,000 to the Melanoma Multidisciplinaryteam atSiteman Cancer Center.  They have also made donations to the Melanoma Moonshots program.  Several chapters of MAM gave money to Kadynce Royer, a 7-year-old stage 3b melanoma survivor who spoke before Congress about the need for more melanoma research and education.

RR4In addition, they have been able to help families like the McMillens.  The support is not only financial, though, says Julie McMillen.  “We have gained some amazing friends,” she says, “who stick by our sides no matter what and will always be there.”   Julie now heads MAM’s family assistance program.

The main event for MAM is its 5K Run. The goal of the run is to raise funds and awareness, as well as provide a fun family atmosphere.  The 4th annual MAM 5K will be held this year on June 7, 2014.  They are expecting over 2,000 participants.

Included in the event are several kids’ activities, including appearances by Batman and Fredbird.  It is a family-friendly occasion, with refreshments, snow cones, and even a cupcake truck.  There will also be a free concert from one of the area’s great local bands.

Michelob Ultra has teamed up with MAM St. Louis in support of the 5K Run, bringing along their running team.  One of the runners, Bryan Glass, won the last two USA Track and Field Championships.  Don Dowling is an elite wheeler and medal winner, and will be with the Mich Ultra team as well.  Mich Ultra provides free beer samples to the MAM St. Louis 5K.

All proceeds from the event benefit melanoma research, and contributions are tax-deductible.  MAM is a 100% volunteer organization, and a 501(c)(3) charity.   Additional volunteers are welcome for the upcoming event and for all the organization’s activities.

Through the efforts of this group of volunteers, and with the help of their communities, they hope to raise awareness in every city in the United States.  Their aim is to change the mindsets of Americans about prevention and protection.   “I want this cancer to finally be seen as something to worry about,” Says Amalyn.

RR5For the McMillens, their hopes are more personal.  “Our only hope as a family,” says Julie, “is for the new drugs to allow Mike to stay alive, so we can continue raising our boys together and one day grow old together…the same wishes and dreams most couples have.”

She adds, “Like any cancer patient, Mike hopes for a cure.


Miles Against Melanoma is doing its part to try and make that hope a reality.


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KKK as “NeighborHOOD” Watch – “Really?”

Be sure to check out this section for a “Hot Topic” that is trending in the world of news, entertainment, pop culture or really anywhere else.

We will introduce a weekly topic on Monday, and then rotate the order of my regular columnists expressing their personal views each day for the remainder of the week, giving you a slightly – or radically – different perspective each day.

(This week we discuss the KKK as “NeighborHOOD Watch”, resurfacing in a Missouri town to announce that they will now serve the community in this respect… how noble!)


Really? – by Brian

Are those guys still around?

Look, I’m not going to waste a lot of time piling on to the sentiments of my fellow columnists with regard to this subject.  They have already expressed with great eloquence pretty much everything I was thinking when I heard about this.

HTaThe Klan?  Really?

One of the most precious and most fundamental things we enjoy as Americans is the right to free speech.  That means everyone has the right to peacefully express their ideas and beliefs, so long as they do not infringe upon the rights of others in doing so.

There are a lot of stupid people in the world.  In fact, sometimes I feel like I am surrounded by them.

There are also many intelligent people with whom I simply do not agree, and whose views on certain subjects I find appalling and ludicrous.  But I respect their right to be wrong.

But the Klan?

What kind of muddle-headed rube or half-witted idiot does one have to be to be inclined to joining up with something as profoundly stupid as the Klan?

How is it possible that there are enough morons within 100-miles of the 63010 area code to piece together a chapter of this joke of an organization?

My faith in humanity is in jeopardy.

You see, the KKK, in my view, should have forfeited their right to free speech a couple of hundred years or so ago, when Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox.  You guys lost, geniuses.  Get over it.

Burning crosses and lynchings equals criminal activity, not speech.  I was going to put “in my book” at the end of that last sentence, but screw that.  In everybody’s book.


So, this white guy has a message for you bunch of brainless bigots.  Don’t come watching my neighborhood.  We can take care of ourselves.

You losers can go crawl back under that rock you’ve been hiding under.



(Mikey-B’s TAKE:
(Barbara Anne’s TAKE:
(Heili Flammable’s TAKE:
(KMFP’s TAKE:     

Thanks, Mom

The souls were worn out.  It was bad enough that they no longer left a design in the dirt when I ran through our next-door neighbor’s patchy lawn.

TM1When new they had imprinted a distinct pattern into the ground with each step, informing anyone who might care that a kid wearing TRAXX sneakers had been this way.  But now the design was gone, and the rubber souls were thin and smooth.

They were slippery, too.  It was difficult to stop short from a dead run.

It was time for new shoes.

I had been begging my mother for some Nikes.  It was hard for me to make her understand that, in the 7th-grade, it just wasn’t socially acceptable to walk around in shoes that had been selected from a giant bin in the middle of the K-Mart aisle.

I was at a new school, and I was having a tough time fitting in.  The rules of middle school social life were complicated and foreign to me, and I was decidedly behind the curve.

I believed a pair of cool, name-brand gym shoes might help.  I was equally convinced that showing up to school wearing Blue-light Specials would do my social status a great deal of harm.

Hence the begging.

It was pretty unfair of me, to be honest.  I knew we couldn’t afford to splurge on high-dollar tennis shoes for me.

We weren’t poor, really.  But we definitely didn’t have a lot to spare.  Nikes would cost easily two-to-three times as much as the K-Mart shoes.

But I begged anyway.  And Mom caved.

So, on a Saturday afternoon, I found myself perched on a stool inside an actual shoe store, having a salesman measure my foot.  Next he stood and walked down the aisle and through some swinging double-doors.

Moments later, he reappeared with a bright orange shoebox in hand.  He knelt down in front of me and opened the box.

They were grayish-tan in color – canvas and suede, with an electric blue swoosh splashed on the sides.  I still remember the smell of new leather and rubber.

The salesman stood next to my mother, and I tried them on.  I looked up at her as I tied the laces.  She was smiling.

I walked around in the shoes for a few minutes; they felt incredible.  I looked at myself in the mirror.  I looked taller, I thought.

These shoes were my ticket to popularity.  Or at the very least, they might stave off ridicule for a while.

Sometimes, in middle school, the key to survival was as simple as learning not to chum the water.  A kid in discount sneakers might as well be a wounded baby seal in a school of tiger sharks.  At least that’s how it seemed to me at the time.

I looked at my mom.  After just a brief moment’s hesitation, she grinned.

Are those the ones you want?” she asked.

Yeah,” I said, trying to sound casual, “I guess these are ok.”

Ok?  They were freaking awesome!

After taking my new Nikes off and handing them to the salesman to be boxed up and taken to the register, I sat back down and put my old shoes back on.  Mom sat next to me while I tied them.

It was at that moment that I noticed something.  My mother’s shoes were looking pretty ragged themselves.

I stopped for a second.  Then I looked up at her.

You need new shoes, too, Mom,” I said.

Me?” she replied.  “Oh, no.  I’m fine with these for a while.”

We went to the cashier, and Mom paid for my Nikes.

In the car, I pulled the orange shoebox out of the shopping bag and opened it.  As I admired my new shoes, my eyes were drawn to the floorboard next to me.  I looked at my mother’s ragged shoes, and then back at my brand new ones.

TM2I realized at that moment that she had passed on getting herself some desperately-needed new shoes in order to afford my more expensive ones.

I felt instantly ashamed.  I looked at her, and for perhaps the first time I understood something about this lady sitting next to me in our car.

I have never forgotten that moment, or the simple example of sacrifice it represented to me.  In the grand scheme of things, it may have been relatively minor.  But its message is one that has impacted me ever since.

It was perfect love.

Thanks, Mom.


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Just Checking

“Hey, are you ok?”

I opened my eyes.  I was lying on my back, staring straight up into the late afternoon sky.  The pale blue was broken by the feathery white of wispy fair-weather clouds, and by a growing number of faces, some familiar and some not.

JC1The expressions on those faces reflected varying levels of concern – everything from “Is he dead?” to “Can we get the game going again, now?”

Hey, man,” another voice echoed, “You ok?”

I had heard the first question; I wasn’t ignoring the guy.  The absence of a response from my lips was due to one simple piece of reality:

I had no idea if I was ok or not.

Seconds earlier, I had been sprinting down the first base line.  I was trying to avoid hitting into a double play, something of an embarrassment in slow-pitch softball.

I had beaten the throw.  Then, on my second step past the bag, a sudden, sharp thud on my left ear sent a burst of pain through my skull.  The ringing had already begun by the time I hit the ground.

The infielder had missed his first-baseman’s glove by a good five feet or so and had managed to clock me in the side of the head.

Fortunately, as it happens, I was not seriously injured.  An evening spent in the ER (along with a $200-copay), a bit of a headache, and a decidedly unattractive left ear for a few days were the only consequences of my little run-in with that little yellow monster.

It could have been a lot worse.

I feel bad for the guy who threw the ball.  He obviously didn’t mean to hit me – the throw just got away from him.  It happens.

That’s part of life, isn’t it? These unplanned detours from our structured and mapped out daily schedules are seldom convenient and often involve some kind of pain.

Often, at the time one of these incidents presents itself, the pain – whether physical or in another form – can seem to be so great that we place ourselves in the center of our very own pity party.  It’s easy to get distracted by the moment at hand, and for the time being we aren’t able to take inventory and recognize that yes, in fact, we are ok.

JC2Perspective – it’s a valuable and often elusive tool, especially when your ears are ringing and you’re lying on the flat of your back.

And what about when someone close to us is the one whose bell has been rung?  How much concern do we show when our faces are the ones blocking the view of the sky?

It’s happening all around.  Every day.  Even when we are too busy or too preoccupied to take the time to notice.

The truth is, most of the time we don’t really want to know how the next guy is doing.  We would much rather he just say, “I’m fine.”  That way, we can get back to our own little cocoon.  Right?

I wonder what would happen if we made it a point to notice – really notice – when someone is in pain.   It’s just a thought.


(The Life of Brian ARCHIVES:
(The Life of Brian PROFILE/BIO:             

Kids on Social Media – “Anti-social”

Be sure to check out this section for a “Hot Topic” that is trending in the world of news, entertainment, pop culture or really anywhere else.

We will introduce a weekly topic on Monday, and then rotate the order of my regular columnists expressing their personal views each day for the remainder of the week, giving you a slightly – or radically – different perspective each day.

(This week we discuss Kids on Social Media.  An age limit is set – and easily skirted – yet a large amount of parents have no problem with this)


Anti-social – by Brian

Picture the scene with me, if you will:

HT1A nice, handsome family of four gathers around the dinner table for the evening meal.  Mom has made her famous meatloaf, a recipe that has been handed down from mother to daughter for five generations in her family.

The “secret ingredient”, as it turns out, is Lipton soup mix.  But no one needs to know that.  And it’s frankly irrelevant to the story.  Which I will now get right back to…

Dad looks up from his plate and takes in the beautiful image of his wonderful family, happily enjoying a home-cooked meal and chatting pleasantly about the day’s events.  He smiles.

Ok, now imagine everyone with a smartphone in his/her hand.

This week’s Hot Topic is about social networking and children.

“Social” networks –the term is quickly becoming something of an oxymoron.  Truthfully, in some cases, services like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even Snapchat (which I do NOT get), have actually led to a decline in social interaction, if you ask me.

Everywhere I go, it seems, people are glued to their little 5-inch screens, swiping or feverishly punching away, their thumbs moving with the speed and precision of a highly-trained artist.  Texting has become a 21st-century skill, one which appears to have become as basic to our children as riding a two-wheeler was to me at their age.

The technology that we have available today has afforded to us some very great opportunities.  Twenty years ago, who would have thought we would be able to get in touch with almost anybody, any time of day, no matter where they are?

My daughter can be on a beach in Costa Rica and send me a picture of the sunset, and I will see it instantaneously.

That, my friends, is amazing.

But what are the costs of all of these great advancements?  And what effect are they having on our kids?

I think it’s a question worth exploring.  Let’s face it – there are definite dangers involved when social interaction becomes limited to a touchscreen and a keyboard.

Human beings crave connection to other human beings.  It’s the reason people go crazy when they are isolated, whether as punishment or as the result of some tragedy.

Facebook is not evil.  Neither are any of the other social networks.  I once heard someone say that Facebook ruined their marriage.


No, my friend…I’m sorry to say that if your marriage was weak enough to be taken down by the internet, then it was probably already doomed.  But that’s just my opinion.

But when it comes to our children, I do believe it is the responsibility of parents to monitor and protect them from those things that can derail their development and enjoyment.

The networks are a tool, and a really good one, if you ask me.  Facebook, quite honestly, has helped me rekindle some great friendships, as well as build new ones.   In truth, had it not been for Mr. Zuckerberg’s little invention, I might never have met a certain lady that you may have read about in my columns.

But almost any tool can be dangerous in the hands of one who is not equipped to handle it.  It’s our job as the teachers and protectors of our children to make sure they do not harm themselves.

How can something like Facebook be harmful to a kid, you ask?

First, there are the obvious concerns about a child becoming a target for a pedophile.  It happens all the time.  Just watch To Catch a Predator.  Almost every single one of those guys uses Facebook to find his victims.

Texting has become such a huge part of our society that it now has its own vernacular.  Who among us sees phrases like “LOL” or “SMH” without immediately thinking “Laughing Out Loud” and “Shaking My Head”, respectively?

I wonder what the end result of this new style of “shorthand” will be on our kids’ ability to articulate actual words when called upon to do so in the “real world”?

Time will tell, I suppose…

Then there is the question of social development.  We already live in an increasingly anti-social world.  Our houses are closer together, and yet we tend to be more disconnected from our neighbors than past generations.  We come home, close our garage doors, and hardly speak to anyone.

I know this is not the case for everyone, but it does seem to be a trend, nonetheless.

If our kids are allowed to rely on the internet to learn social skills, I fear the results could be really detrimental.

So, what is a parent to do?  Should we take their smartphones, tablets, and laptops away?

I say no.  Like it or not, our kids are likely going to need the ability to function in the digital media world.  If we cut them off, they are likely to be behind their peers in the end.

Maybe the real solution is the age-old bit of advice your mother has been trying to tell you for years:

Everything in moderation.

HT3Add to that the one thing that should be obvious, but seems to maybe not be sometimes.  That is this:  It is your job to always know what your kid is doing.

If he or she has a Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media account, you not only have the right to snoop – I personally think it is your duty to do so.

Oh, and one more thing…

No phones at the dinner table.




(Heili Flammable’s TAKE:
(Barbara Anne’s TAKE:
(Miss Meza’s TAKE:   

The Hand-Slap App – “No Thanks”

Be sure to check out this section for a “Hot Topic” that is trending in the world of news, entertainment, pop culture or really anywhere else.

We will introduce a weekly topic on Monday, and then rotate the order of my regular columnists expressing their personal views each day for the remainder of the week, giving you a slightly – or radically – different perspective each day.

(This week we discuss what I call “The Hand-Slap App”, which everyone now logs onto daily to see who got arrested that they may know.  Is this fair?  What about their children, who may be subjected to ridicule as a result?)


No Thanks – by Brian

I haven’t watched the evening news in years.   It frankly used to irritate the crap out of me that the local stations seemed to feel the need to have news programs from 5 to 6, then from 6 to 7…and then AGAIN at 9, 10, and 10:30, for crying out loud.

HT1This is the Midwest – their AIN’T that much “news” in this town, folks.

These days I get all my information about who got killed, or arrested, or had a fender-bender –  or fell off a grape-stomping platform, for that matter – from the same place most everyone else does, the internet.

Five minutes of reading headlines as they scroll across my laptop screen can usually give me at least a general idea of what’s going on in the world.

Now, let’s be clear about one thing.  The vast majority of that which technically qualifies as “news” doesn’t really amount to much more than a different version of the kind of rubbernecking that makes something as simple as a stalled vehicle on the shoulder of northbound-55 the cause of a virtual shutdown of the morning commute (can you tell this particular thing is a pet peeve of mine?).

What I’m saying, basically, is that most of the “news” we’re being sold is not really news.  It’s just another TV show.

… And I have opted out, thank you very much.

So, apparently there is now an App you can download to your smartphone (or iPhone, if you’re an Apple sheep) that will fill you in on one of the things the TV anchor likes to keep you updated about (dangling preposition – ugh) – who got arrested.

I had no idea my phone could tell me this stuff.  The “news” is chasing me, it seems.

The question being raised on this week’s HT concerns the impact this information could have on children once their friends find out Mommy or Daddy (or Uncle Billy, I guess) got locked up over the weekend.

On the one hand, the old “police blotter” has been around since forever.  Granted, no one – especially middle-schoolers – reads the newspaper, and granted, everyone has a phone in his/her pocket.

So it’s not outrageous to conclude that kids will be more inclined to know about so-and-so’s run-in with the fuzz.


HT2I’m a pretty sensitive guy.  I get it.  Kids have to deal with bullying as it is.  So why add to the ammo?

As far as I’m concerned, if your parents can’t stay out of the slammer, you have more pressing problems in your life than whether your classmates know about it.  But that’s just my opinion.

As far as this App is concerned, I see it as nothing more than another form of the aforementioned rubbernecking that is a phenomenon of the human psyche.  If you’re really concerned about potential dangers in your neighborhood, there are ways to obtain the necessary information.

I for one am not putting an App on my phone to feed this info to me.  I’ll stick to Angry Birds.



(Heili Flammable’s TAKE:
(Barbara Anne’s TAKE:   
(Mikey-B’s TAKE:  

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