Playful, Pius or Remembered Stuff

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Thursday, September 30, 2010

A small cultural aggravation

Last month I received notice from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) that it was time to renew my driver license. I had already done this the automatic method twice. So this time a written test is required. I remember the common sense nature of the questions they ask, but I obtained a book anyway. I immediately called for an appointment. This is a convenience that DMV provides so that I need not stand in that horrendous line the curls around the building every day. The soonest I was able to obtain an appointment was six week hence. I took it. Yesterday that day arrived and though I almost had forgotten my appointment, I arrived at the office 45 minutes early so as to have a little time to cram while waiting. But they took me early. I must say I was feeling rather smug when I stepped on the red carpet (yes, they actually have a red carpet for those who have made an appointment). While the other line curled down to the horizon (well, almost), here I was getting attention. But I soon found that this was a very special day--the computers were down! I don't mean the computers at the local office, but the DMV throughout the state of California. They weren't quite sure how to handle the situation. They did give me a vision exam, and someone even pointed me into the testing room. I breezed through the exam of obvious questions like an educated man being insulted with common sense questions, and I failed. What!? How could I fail that simple test. Boy am I embarrassed! After waiting for a while they sent me home, telling me to come back the next day with my paperwork in my hand.

Today I awakened a little after six, my sweet wife prodding me. After a shower and a little bit of cereal I was off to beat the crowd before the office opened. Okay, so much for that Idea. There was the line curling back toward the door after reaching to the end of the building. Couldn't I butt in front because I had made a reservation? I looked and found the red carpet conspicuously empty and all the people in line were headed for the only window that was open. It was labeled "appointments" but all personnel were obviously ignoring it. I dutifully waited for 65 minutes to get to the window. I was honestly thankful that my arthritis was at its minimal discomfort level, otherwise I am not sure I could have survived the hour standing in line. The next holding tank was a room with lunch room chairs and I could now sit. Everyone waited until a computer voice called his number "F014 now being served at window number one". Bingo! That's me. My thumb print was electrically recorded, my eyes tested (even though that had been done yesterday already). Now I paid my $31 fee, and I was qualified to wait in the next line to have my picture taken. Now I am thinking I understand why driver license photos are notoriously lousy. By the time the potential driver arrives at the camera he feels that he has been dragged through a keyhole, and smiling is the last thing he thinks of doing. I was determined to fool them this time. I remembered to smile and I ruined the whole game.

Next it was the written test again. Another line. The guy at the window wanted to know when I had taken the failed test. I told him "Yesterday." "But the receipt has today's date." I told him that I was here yesterday when the computers were down, and nobody knew what he was doing. "That's not very nice to say." "Well, okay, some people didn't know what they were doing, because other people were telling them what to do. I heard them. Somehow I got sent here to take the test without paying my fee." Now I was wondering if my unkind remarks were going to prejudice this tester when I brought the test back. No, I'm sure it doesn't work like that. But I had better spend a little more time with these "obvious" questions than I did yesterday. I only missed one of the common sense questions. So now I have a temporary license that will sustain me until the new one arrives in the mail. Wait, I already have a valid license until my birthday, October 21. Wait again! The way bureaucracy moves, I had better hold on to this temporary license because my valid license may expire before I see the new one in the mail. Making an appointment doesn't always work. Instead of wasting one morning I wasted two mornings because I had made an appointment on the fated day the computers were down. I remember George Carlin saying, "The computers are down? Awwwwww. Let's cheer them up!"

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

More Cruise ramblings

We thought it would be so nice to see Mexico and get a feel for the people and the region. When we disembarked in Puerto Vayarta, we were immediately bombarded with stall after stall of tourist items. Hats here, jewelry there, serapes and skirts and blouses, trinkets of every kind. At least they were not "made in China". But the path was paved with red brick, and the entire trail was obviously designed to attract the Yankee dollar. Since we were in the harbor, we had at least 15 propositions to take us for a water taxi, tour, glass bottom boat ride, et al. It suddenly occurred to me that we were seeing nothing of the real culture of Mexico. We could have been in Tijuana or on a Hollywood sound stage for that matter. I suppose an argument could be made that this was part of the culture--especially in places like Puerto Vayarta which so heavily relies on the tourist trade. And we did see the beautiful geography of our ports of call.

We ate lunch at an outdoor restaurant (third stall from the left) which served excellent food. We both tried fish tacos for the first time. I have often heard that they were delicious and that I ought to try them, but we never got around to it until now. Yes, and by the way, they were great. But I was most impressed by the large wooden bowl with many internal bowls of salsa. They were arranged in order by the degree of "caliente" ascribed to each. We ate more than we should (at least I did), and went back to the ship for dinner!

Oh, by the way, I have now lost four of the six pounds I gained during the cruise. I don't want to be called "Rotund Rollie".

Friday, September 24, 2010

Cruising the Mexican Riviera

Well we were not dancing (though many others were), nor did we climb the rock wall (but some enterprising 89 yr old did), but we were there aboard the Mariner of the Seas (Royal Caribbean) for 7 days. It is overwhelmingly large. When it was built it was the largest RC cruise ship afloat. One of the comedians quipped that it was like a floating city. "In fact I heard that on deck 4 there is a bad neighborhood." Just coincidentally the casino was on deck 4.

There were 14 decks in all, counting the wedding chapel way up on top. My favorite line did not come from a stage performer at all. When we were at the photo department, Barbara got out of the wheelchair (yes, she needed it for all the walking both aboard ship and when we were ashore) and stood at the counter. Since there was a lot of foot traffic just then, I decided to move the chair to a more convenient location. Now we had saved a banana from breakfast in case we needed a snack later (now that is funny). She had left the banana on the chair, and as I walked the chair to a less congested area, a female Brit, with distinctive accent, said, "Are you taking your banana for a walk?"

So we gorged ourselves with an elaborate breakfast buffet every morning. Everything from custom made omelets to a plethora of fruits to biscuits and gravy, pastries, corned beef hash, sausages, bacon, scrambled eggs (with or without herbs) oatmeal, grits, etc., etc. I tried to kid myself that I would make up for my gluttony by pushing Barbara all over creation in her wheelchair. I gained about 6 pounds in that week. (But I have lost 3 of those pounds since we have returned.) Of course the assigned dining room was like a 5 star restaurant every night. When lobster night finally came, both Barbara and I had two of them. One night, when I complained that the asparagus was tough, the waiter brought me a plate full of better stalks. I wasn't going to say anything, but they come around and ask how the meal was. I just told him. When Barbara had a tough steak, the waiter wanted to bring another complete entree, but she was behaving herself with much more conservative cuisine resistance and insisted that she had had enough to eat. She only gained 3 pounds, and if you have ever gone cruising you know that is very conservative.

Stay tuned for more about the ship, and some impressions of the Mexican Riviera in the next post.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Patriot Day

I hope to see it printed on the calendar that way soon. September 11, 2001 is a memorable day, a life-changing day. America lost it's naivete on that day. Organized baseball suddenly realized they were playing a boy's game, and maybe they should give it up as too trivial in a new-found sense of sobriety. I'm glad they didn't, but I am equally glad they began the new tradition of singing "God Bless America" during the 7th inning stretch as well. And somehow it seems when I am watching a Yankee game, these cynical New Yorkers have grown much taller in patriotism and you can sense it when that 7th inning vocal is belted out. Have you heard the singing cop sing it? You really get the feeling that he means every word. Yes, we lost our innocence, but the new wave of patriotism that has erupted is a healthy response to the ugly attack that has brought war to our own continent.

Here in Lakewood, there was a Patriot Day Concert featuring the 300th Army Band. The appropriate dignitaries were present, and a country western singer belted out typical heartland brand patriotism. It was a great celebration of the American spirit. There was even a prayer offered, but it was offered to a god who apparently is not the God of the bible, nor the God who promises to hear prayers offered in Jesus' name. Political correctness dictates that public prayers be innocuous and generic, but has not yet extinguished the idea of prayer altogether.

Three thousand miles away there is a pastor of a tiny church who has gained international attention by threatening to burn a copy of the Quran. It seems at this juncture, that he has had a sign from God that made him cancel (or postpone) his plan. He doesn't get it. I would hope that his "sign" from God was the simple instructions of our Lord Jesus Christ, who taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute and spitefully use us.

On the other hand, I find it thought provoking that Muslims on the other side of the world took this occasion to burn American flags, beating their clubs on the ground or raising their fists and chanting in cadence, "Death to America". Violence was anticipated all over the world because of this. I was wondering, would nations fear violent retaliation if somewhere there was a Muslim leader who ceremoniously burned a Bible? Would it even gain the media's attention? Can you imagine a crowd of angry Christians chanting, "Death to Turkey!"?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


I've never tried to grow watermelon before. It looked invitingly healthy as a tiny plant at the nursery. Although I was there for other things, you might say the purchase of a watermelon seedling was an impulse buy. Now you must realize that our yard is taken up with a cement patio, a gazebo and a few hedges, and consequently there is very little space for the planting of crops. Between the edge of the gazebo and the cement patio, where I had an exotic Mexican weed removed, there seemed a sufficient space to house this tiny plant. I enhanced the soil with "Black Forrest Compost" which seemed so helpful to our happy fig tree and the flourishing tomatoes. There were two stems of the nascent watermelon, which looked promising. But in a couple of days, when I inspected this baby sprout, a disgusting snail had eaten one of the stems with fatal damage. Remedial steps were taken, and the product I had chosen made quick work of the rest of the snail family.

That one stem, however, proved to be quite virile. I had no idea how far one watermelon plant would send its runners. They are under foot. They have invaded the gazebo and the yard to the distance of 20 feet or more! I was impressed. But when we left for a week in Sedona, we asked our friend, Jennifer Kooi with her children, to water our plants while we were away, and Jen's own admitted personal pledge was that nothing was going to die for lack of water on her watch. When we left there were a few tiny melons about the size of a small plum. "How cute" I thought. And while we were away we received a report by way of Face Book that the watermelons were getting large. How large can they get in just a few days? I will be happy on my first attempt if I can grow a watermelon the size of a cantaloupe. But when we returned home we found the melon bigger than two cantaloupe. I went to the store and happened to notice that the watermelon there were all smaller than ours in the garden.

My new problem was simply, when do I know it is time to pick the thing? I went to the Internet and got conflicting advice from the "experts". Jack Harvey, our long time friend in the church, was a Nebraska farm boy. But he was no help. He said that at home they didn't plant watermelon until after barley harvest. Then when the vines began to die and subside, the whole field was populated by melons. As a boy he said they would pick one up, drop it, and then just eat the heart out of it and leave the rest. Then our friend, Fred Alexander, was passing through and he thumped the melon and checked it's belly and told me that it had plenty of water (little wonder after all the exaggerated watering it had received by Jennifer and myself) and that it was ready for harvest. Fred is a bit of a farmer from Paso Robles, so I took him at his word.

It seemed to be the logical progression of events to invite the Koois over for lunch, and ceremoniously open the watermelon for dessert. I hope the pictures tell the story.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Preaching sick

I call it "preaching sickness" but most simply call it nervousness. I've been preaching the gospel for 48 years now, and I must confess I still get preaching sickness. When I am about to enter the pulpit my thoughts wander to "how can I possibly give these dear people a message from God?" Or, "I have nothing to say" or "I just can't do this!" I don't really lose that edgy feeling fully until I begin to actually preach. Then I get lost in the word of God. I am excited about the wonderful news of God's love in Jesus Christ that I find it relatively easy to flow and gush over the pulpit and into the congregation. Then (so help me this is true) I never cease to be amazed that someone is blessed by something that came out of my mouth. I have often prayed, "Lord, you can make something of nothing, therefore bless this sermon." God used a dumb ass to speak to Baalim, and it is just as miraculous that He uses me to speak to people.

But recently my sickness was more literal. On vacation in Sedona, AZ, I was asked to preach at our mission station in Cottonwood, about 25 miles away. Before Sunday dawned, I was bent over the toilet, vomiting. I felt crummy from head to toe, and weak as a kitten. But I had a responsibility to fulfill, so off we went. Barbara had to drive the car while I dozed. I leaned on the pulpit and gasped for breath as I gave it my best effort under the circumstances. When I was finished, and about to administer the Lord's Supper, I had to ask for a chair to finish. Of course I made it a point not to touch the elements for fear of spreading the plague. I sat for a while rather than greet folks at the door, but this being a small group informality was in vogue. After being chauffeured back to the resort, I crashed for the remainder of the day. I didn't have the strength to change my clothes. Strangely, the next morning I was fine, and even a bit hungry.

That reminded me of another sick preacher I witnessed in my early Christian years. Before we were married, both Barbara and I were worshipping in our OPC in Eagle Rock, CA. On certain Sundays, when our pastor was away, we had other men supply. One of our favorites was a man named Paul Lovik. He was faithful to the word, and he was positive and enthusiastic in his manner. But on the given Sunday I have in mind, during the evening service, he had to abandon the pulpit in mid-sermon, to leave the auditorium through a side door, but he barely made it before we could hear the unmistakable gaging and splattering of him puking. When he felt he was finished, he returned to the pulpit and finished the sermon. Frankly I don't remember what he was preaching about.