Monthly Archives: March 2014

What Time Is It?

Many years ago the legendary band, Chicago, posed the simple yet thought provoking question, “Does anybody really know what time it is, does anybody really care?,” on one of their multiple hit recordings. The perception of time has completely changed, due to technology, since the classic tune was written in the early seventies. Back then the clock was a visual representation of past, present, and future time because the second and minute hands suggested a complete picture of what was, is, and will be. That notion (of authentic time) is best described by Jarice Hanson in the book 24/7. Digital time, on the other hand, now recognized by the majority of today’s technological society is only an illusion of the true time. The author goes on to explain how the digital age renders a counterfeit sense of what is by presenting only the current moment; therefore, offering just a fragment of the complete picture.

Occasionally, people do want to really know what time it is, but with the advancement in technology they’re sometimes literally incapable of figuring out the authentic time on their own. If the digital time they’ve grown accustom to, found on all of their cell phones, computer screens, and now commonly found even on their wrist watches, is unavailable to them then some people are clueless as to what time it actually is when a clock is their only source for telling time. This was quite evident, several years ago, when I owned a small music store at the height of the compact disc craze. Many high school students frequented my establishment to get their music fix.

I had a clock that resembled a cd, with functional second and minute hands, setting on my counter. I routinely would point to it whenever I was asked if I had the time. Time and time again I was shocked, and then saddened, by the number of teens who could not decipher the correct time when looking at the cd clock. Many of them would just stare intently at the shiny object as if they were being hypnotized. I finally gave up, after many failed attempts, trying to teach the high schoolers the apparent lost art of telling time. I was forced to admit this was no longer the seventies, and maybe nobody does really know what time it is.



I almost died recently, or maybe I didn’t depending on how one regards the situation. Two weeks ago, before the crack of dawn, I was driving through a residential neighborhood, on my way to Starbucks, so I could do some writing. As I was approaching an intersection a pick-up truck not only ran through a stop sign, right in front of me, but it was also traveling at an extremely high rate of speed. I did not have a stop sign, so a mere second or two sooner and I would not have been able to avoid being hit broadside. Death does not discriminate. It knows no sex, race, age, or good from evil. We don’t always know when to expect it, but we do expect it because it is the circle of life, and no one is immune.

I remember my Grandpa Nolin telling me, when I was in my early twenties, how quickly time goes by. It was around that same time when I used to think, after hearing someone had passed away in their fifties, “oh well, at least they had a good, long life.” Now that I’m older, and getting painfully closer to that magic number, I no longer believe fifty is old. I’m also well aware my grandpa was absolutely correct about life being so fleeting. I know a widowed Christian woman who loves God, and when she was in her fifties had said she would rather be with her Savior sooner than later. I can appreciate her sentiment, but she still has good health, employment, children, and grandchildren. Maybe I’m a little selfish, but I prefer being on this earth for a much longer time, if possible, experiencing all of the good things our Creator has given us to enjoy. I would also like to grow old with my wife and have the opportunity to one day spoil some grandchildren.

I do not know when I will take my last breath here on earth, but I do know I will be in Heaven afterwards. I once had a non-practicing Jehovah Witness friend who had said about Christians, among many other things, that they believe in Heaven only because they are afraid of death. I rarely agreed with most of the things he had to say, but as a Believer I do take comfort in the knowledge of where I will be someday. That apparently is not the case for George Costanza in an episode of the beloved television comedy series, Seinfeld, when the gang decides to volunteer spending time with senior citizens. George, the neurotic worry-wart of the bunch, is paired with a spry 85 year-old man, and as the two are having coffee, at a local diner, George gets concerned after the man claims he is not afraid of dying. Volunteer Costanza questions how an 85 year-old cannot be afraid of death since he himself is already worrying about it, and he is only in his thirties.

George continues his interrogation, and he keeps persisting the elderly man’s time on earth has to be just about up. He then declares the senior citizen is really pushing the envelope, but the old man’s reply is that he is grateful for the time he has, and he just doesn’t think about death all that much. Mr. Costanza keeps pestering the senior citizen, insisting he should be worried about his nearing demise, with more astounding comments such as, “How can you be grateful when you’re so close to the end,” and “You’re not stupid, you can read the handwriting on the wall.” The 85 year-old has finally had enough of George, as he gets up from the booth to leave, and tells the worry-wart, “Life’s too short to waste on you.” I hope my disposition about death, as I grow older, is closer to that of the elderly gentleman’s than to George Costanza’s viewpoint on the matter.

My first experience with death, except for the loss of a pet or two, was around the age of thirteen when my great uncle passed away. My parents insisted the whole family go to the visitation although only my mother and father would be attending the funeral service. I didn’t know the deceased all that well, and as a teen I had no desire for wasting a day off from school by driving out of town to mingle with some “strangers.” I admit the thought of seeing a dead body also kind of freaked me out. I tried pleading with my parents, in hopes of them allowing me to skip the visitation, but to no avail. Therefore, I resolved to take matters into my own hands. Shortly before the dreaded time had come, for us to leave, I made an escape out my bedroom window. The breakout wasn’t all that easy either: not with the window in the corner of the room being so small, my bed acting as somewhat of an obstacle, and then a short drop down to the ground below.

My daring feat was absolutely exhilarating. As I ran free down the street a sense of relief came over me, but it was almost immediately replaced with the fear of knowing I would be facing my father’s wrath when returning home later in the day. Unfortunately, I was not able to enjoy my new found freedom since I spent the entire time fretting and pondering what the punishment would be. The sentence ultimately handed down was much worse than the grounding, or the possible whoopin’ I had anticipated, because I was now being forced to attend the funeral service of my great uncle, and I knew escaping this time was not an option. Oh yeah, while my father was closing my bedroom window, in utter frustration and anger, he had broken the glass, but guess who had to pay to have the window replaced? Life is a journey filled with experiences and lessons learned. Death is a part of life, and without death we would never be able to fully appreciate life.

March Madness

This blog is dedicated to my lovely wife because she enthusiastically suggested I write one and title it March Madness although fully knowing the subject matter would have nothing to do with the NCAA Basketball Tournament. The catchy phrase most commonly relates to the college basketball playoffs always held during the month of March. She thought it would be clever putting the emphasis on the Madness part, but I told her I didn’t think it would be such a great idea. I explained how I would be concerned that anyone checking out my site may either see the title and choose to skip it, assuming the blog was about college hoops, or they might instead be enticed into reading it, supposing the topic was indeed about basketball, but then would become very disappointed after finding out it wasn’t. After great consideration, and remembering “a happy wife is a happy life,” I have decided to honor her request.

The infinite number of empty shopping carts found scattered around, the entire premise of a parking lot, and needlessly occupying numerous potential parking spaces is sheer Madness! My first thought about this typically seen scenario is that this sort of behavior must be an Arizona thing since I don’t recall this situation being all too commonly found in the parking lots of Iowa. Then I remember many residents of Arizona are transplants from other states, including Iowa, so I’m not sure where the culprits come from, but I do know for some strange reason(s) they are not putting their shopping carts away after using them.

I have purchased a few brand new vehicles over the years, and I have always done my part in trying to protect them from acquiring any damage. I’m constantly going out of my way to find parking spaces far away from the store, whenever parking in a lot, and hugging the curb on end spots in order to avoid those dreaded car door dings. I take these drastic measures to preserve my vehicle’s exterior finish, but nothing can save it from the mysteriously left behind shopping cart. Nothing irritates me more than when I come out of an establishment and find that a “basket on wheels” has been left next to my automobile. Except, of course, when it’s actually resting firmly against my car’s exterior. Almost all of the damage done to my vehicles in the past have not been caused by me, but by the negligence of others, and it never fails that after just a short couple of years my once immaculate vehicle ends up significantly marred.

I am astonished as to any reason why a rational person, when done using a shopping cart for their convenience, would not place the empty cart into one of the numerous cart corrals provided by the store. Just seems like common sense to me. One recent evening I was waiting in the car, while my wife was retrieving a movie rental from our local Wal-Mart, when not one, not two, but three separate individuals left their carts in two empty parking spaces during the brief time span of 5 minutes. I was reminded, at that point, ignorance does not discriminate because the three guilty parties weren’t alike in any aspect whatsoever. One person was alone, the other was half of a couple, and the last offender was part of a large family. They all appeared to be of different races, and they were all getting into various types of vehicles. The most puzzling thing to me is there was a shopping cart stall a mere few feet away from where everybody had chosen to leave their carts.

There are no second chances to leave a first impression, and I think shopping cart etiquette speaks volumes as to who a person is. The truth as I know it is if the only one thing I know about a person is their decision of not properly putting their shopping cart away then I would have to presume that individual is irresponsible and selfish. If a human being cannot grasp the basic concept of doing what’s right, by considering others and their property, then I’m left wondering what else that person is capable of doing. I realize I may seem all high and mighty discussing this topic, but it is only because I can honestly say I have never improperly abandoned a shopping cart in my entire life. Please join me in helping to make this world a little better place by responsibly placing your “basket on wheels” in a proper location after using it, and at the same time you will be leaving behind a great first impression to anyone who may be watching. Together we can stop the Madness.


Oh no…here we go again. Some members of our state legislature are once again, not surprisingly, proposing new bills that would allow for additional gun ownership rights in the state of Arizona. What a perfect world it would be if everything in the Valley of the Sun was so rosy, with all of the state’s problems already solved, that the only discussion left to consider would be concerning gun issues. Unfortunately, that is not the case, so I wish our elected officials would show some common sense and concentrate on more important things instead. Thankfully, at least this time around allowing guns on our college campuses are not presently included in the mix. Last time several of our state representatives fought long and hard to pass a senseless bill, although it was eventually defeated, which included allowing guns on campus even though the majority of Arizona’s law enforcement agencies, including campus police, were adamantly opposed to the proposal.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to fire several shots from a handgun, during a citizen’s police academy class, and I admit I liked it. The experience was very exhilarating, and it gave me a glimpse into how one might be attracted to owning a firearm and participating in target shooting. Guns are fascinating to me, but I have no use for them. Maybe that’s because of an incident which happened long ago involving myself and an innocent bird. As a beautiful Robin sat on a telephone wire high up in the sky, happily chirping away and enjoying life, I took aim at it with my BB gun. Expecting to miss the target, like I had so many times before, I was shocked and then saddened as the bird fell from the sky and hit the ground with an awful sounding thud. At that moment I realized if my BB gun could do that much damage then what about a real gun especially with how potent they have become in the modern world. There is a substantial difference in the kind of weaponry used in the old western classics, commonly seen on the “boob tube,” compared to the array of powerful gun choices now normally seen in most of today’s action films. For better or for worse they’ve come a long way.

The truth as I know it is I am in favor of sane people, who have passed an extensive background check and have taken a gun safety course, owning as many guns as they would like. I also support enforcing all current gun laws, reinstating the ban on assault rifles, and reducing the number of ammunition allowed per gun clip. Many times I have heard the pro-gun argument that the main key to reducing crime is by arming as many of the “good guys” in our society as possible. However, the problem then becomes attempting to determine what constitutes a “good guy,” and what happens if the “good guy” one day becomes a “crazy” but is still armed. Another problem can arise when the “good guys” are firing at the “bad guys” in public and innocent people are caught in the crossfire.

Many gun owners routinely insist the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution gives them the right to protect themselves and their property, via firearms, and I would agree with that. I would disagree though with allowing those weapons in public places because that would then infringe on my right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” as found in the United States Declaration of Independence. How can I be happy with the fear of knowing I’m possibly surrounded by people with loaded guns when I’m innocently patronizing a store, restaurant, or bar? I believe the true intent of our forefathers, when crafting the Second Amendment, was to assure all Americans, both individually and collectively, the right to bear arms against an invasion from another country onto our Nation’s soil. Many additional things could be said on the topics of gun ownership and gun control, but I guess unlike some of our state representatives I have more important things to do with my time.

About Beer

This is very hard for me, but I’ve got a confession to make. I’m James McCleary and I’m a beer snob. It never used to be that way, and I don’t know exactly when it happened, but it happened. I can no longer stomach most mass-produced, ordinary beer because the taste is now about as appealing to me as the thought of drinking tepid water on a scorching day. Once you go Craft, you’ll send all others away on a raft. That was my failed attempt at a humorous take on the classic adage, “once you go Black…,” or as my wife would probably say (as she so often does) it was merely me being “such a nerd” as usual. Anyway, craft beer is made in much smaller batches, offers an abundance of taste, and has an array of flavors. Becoming a beer snob wasn’t a very tough decision for me after trying just a few samples of the unique beverage, and now all I have are some faded memories of when I used to drink the “regular” stuff.

I do recall my first experience with ordinary beer when I was around the age of sixteen. That may seem pretty young to be consuming alcohol, but I was brought up in the “good old days” when nineteen was the legal drinking age in Iowa. My childhood friend, I met at church of all places, and I were hanging out one weekend at another guy’s house when we all decided drinking some beer sounded like fun. My friend made one phone call, and the next thing I knew another kid about our same age was delivering an ice cold 12-pack of something to us. The overgrown, full-bearded, and so adult-looking classmate of ours had no problem purchasing the beverage at a nearby convenience store. I can’t remember if I enjoyed the cold brew or not, but I did like the warm sensation it gave me, and I do know we had a good time that evening.

My father sometimes kept beer in the refrigerator when I was growing up, but he never had more than a 6-pack in the fridge at a time. The cans weren’t very difficult to locate among the ketchup, mustard, and grape jelly because the giant black letters B E E R on the shiny white can stood out like an African-American in the Republican Party. Our very religious neighbors across the street thought it was horrible for my father to have beer in the house even though he only drank maybe two cans per month. Unlike my father, my boyhood idol, who lived a few houses up the street from us, always seemed to be quenching his thirst.

I vividly remember my first day of high school baseball practice because afterwards I needed a ride home since I had run away the previous evening. (That’s a whole other story.) Anyway, after practice my elder idol, he was a Senior and I was a Sophomore, gladly offered me a ride. Immediately, after easing into his maroon ’66 Mustang, he retrieved a small cooler from the backseat and then popped open a frosty can of Budweiser. He offered me a cold one as well, being the gracious host that he was, but I refused because my idea of spring-training apparently differed from his. He was a natural athlete whereas I had to work a little harder in order to be competitive.

A couple of short years later I too found myself keeping a cooler in my vehicle, a baby blue ’78 Plymouth Custom Fury, but my cooler was much larger, and it contained the cheapest beer I could find. I thought I was pretty darn cool allowing my younger brother and his friends to watch me as I’d open up the trunk of my sweet ride and then open up a cold brew. Once in awhile I’d give them an additional thrill by using the shotgun method when partaking. This procedure meant poking a hole in the lower portion of the can, placing my mouth around the hole, and then quickly pulling the tab to release a forceful flow of the beverage down my throat. Nowadays, when looking back, I think I was an idiot!

I was always a bargain shopper, when it came to purchasing beer, until I became a beer snob. I was in my early twenties when I got recruited to play slow-pitch softball, and after each game we would take turns bringing enough beer to satisfy everyone’s thirst. Bud, Busch, Coors, and once in a while their lighter versions were religiously awaiting us after each hard fought contest. I can’t help but remember my teammates’ reactions the first time I brought the mandatory refreshments to the ballpark. The shocking looks of disbelief, on each and every one of their faces, were priceless as I opened up the cooler filled to the rim with Black Label beer. I was actually quite impressed with the appearance of the fancy cans even if the cost was only $1.99 a 12-pack. I had rationalized that anything would be better than bringing cans that simply had the word BEER printed on them, but boy was I wrong. My teammates obviously felt differently about the situation as they quickly began ridiculing me, and then they continued moaning and groaning the entire evening while polishing off the “unacceptable” beverage.

I wonder if anyone from that softball team, of many years ago, has discovered the world of craft beer like I have. Presumably, even the “King of Beers” becomes inadequate to the palate of most people once experiencing the refreshing flavor of a coffee Stout, vanilla Porter, or the citrus taste found in a Hefeweizen. There is a fine art to brewing craft beer similar to that of the fine art of wine-making. The processes are indeed different, but in both cases the final product is derived from the extreme care that is taken when selecting the numerous ingredients and then figuring out the exact proportions to use. For instance, the Brewmaster (yes that is his title) at Four Peaks Brewery in Tempe, Arizona, makes a delicious Peach Ale without using any peach flavoring, or even the fuzzy fruit itself, during the brewing process. I have replaced all those ordinary, cheap beers I use to consume with caramel Reds, Browns, and personal favorite, India Pale Ales (better known as IPA’s in the craft beer world). I have also long since retired the shotgun technique. Nowadays, I can rarely be seen drinking any kind of cheap beer…except in the rare case of an emergency. I am a beer snob.


This time of year I can’t help but reflect on my youth when the game of baseball consumed so many days of my life. It is almost impossible not to think back with spring-training in full swing, the aroma of fresh cut grass in the air, and the “boys of summer” occupying every baseball diamond in the Valley. While growing up in Iowa, I don’t remember my parents suggesting I partake in any specific activities, but whenever I would find something of interest such as boy scouts, bowling, or flag football to participate in they were very supportive, and they did not hesitate to sign me up. It wasn’t any different the first year I was finally old enough to play organized baseball. My father hesitantly got roped into assisting the coach, that initial season, although I don’t think we had even yet played the traditional game of “father and son catch” up to that point. I guess my father didn’t mind helping out too much since he continued assisting, whenever asked, at different times throughout my career. However, I do think he preferred sitting on the aluminum bleachers, behind home plate, and watching the game not only as a parent but as a fan of the game as well.

When considering the many activities and sports I participated in as a child I knew something was a little different about playing baseball. I suppose I took a special liking to the summertime game because it came a little easier to me than most anything else I attempted, and once I discovered the incredible sport it was always at the forefront of my mind. Almost every day during my summer vacation was spent recruiting anyone in the neighborhood who was willing to play baseball or at least something similar. Whenever enough players weren’t found, for a full fledged game, then either a game of trap, 500, or sometimes an arousing game of whiffle ball would have to suffice. Those events could last all day long with the occasional timeout only being taken for either a short potty break or the dreaded dinner-time interruption. Most games would end in the evening but usually only after the batter could no longer see the ball. My parents were well aware of how much I loved the game of baseball, and they also knew how to make it work to their advantage. I was more apt to complete my household chores, do better in school, and behave better altogether with the looming threat of having it all taken away from me.

Entering my first year of high school that threat remained, not only from my parents, but also from the school itself since every student had to maintain a certain minimum grade point average in order to participate in any extra-curricular activities. I didn’t care much about excelling academically in school, but I always made sure I did well enough to stay eligible to play ball. A few months before I was to begin my initial year of Newton High School baseball the city’s loveable and longtime head coach passed away. I remember attending Mr. Eversman’s funeral, which was held at our town’s only Catholic church, along with what seemed like the entire community. I did not go to the service just so I could get out of a couple of classes for the day, as some students improperly did (although I won’t deny that was an added bonus), but I did go simply because I felt like I needed to be there. I didn’t know the beloved coach all that well at the time of his passing, but I had been anticipating the upcoming season, and I was excited by the prospect of playing ball for him.

A “new sheriff” came strutting into our small town shortly after the death of Coach Eversman. Mr. Stoffers seemed pretty cool to us kids, when he first arrived on the scene, but everyone knew Coach Eversman’s replacement had some pretty big shoes to fill (not only figuratively but literally as well). The former coach possessed an intimidating build whereas his replacement was small in stature and assuredly had to look up to the majority of his players. Coach Stoffers had very different ideas on how to run a baseball program which included forcing mandatory short hair and no facial hair on all of his players. This was not a problem for me since long hair was forbidden under my father’s roof anyway, and I still had a baby face that only needed shaved maybe once a week. Before the season began Coach invited everyone over to his house, a few at a time, so we could get to know him and meet his wife and his dog. He had us talk about baseball, life in general, and we filled out a questionnaire he had waiting for us. Come to find out baseball was Coach Stoffer’s life, and he sometimes used our answers on the questionnaire as ammunition against us once the season began. I now regrettably had answered “pro baseball player” to the question, “what are your hopes and dreams for the future,” because after making an error (and honestly there weren’t that many) he’d gibe with the response, “and you wanna play pro ball someday.”

That first season under the new sheriff’s regime was a trying one for me. I can recall an early spring-training practice, held inside due to weather, when I had finally had enough of his criticism. During a pitchers’ drill, on the proper way of fielding bunts, I drifted away from the imaginary indoor mound, and with Coach Stoffers still yapping away I continued on through the gymnasium doors, out to my car, and headed home for the day. The next day the coach’s wife, who taught Physical Education at the high school, found me and suggested I should, “just show up to practice,” because her husband wasn’t going to beg me to come back. I would not have even considered rejoining the team that day if not for the advice my father had given me the prior evening. He told me I should not let one man stand in the way of doing something I love, so I did “just show up,” and eventually things got better: not because he changed but because I learned to deal with his antics. That’s probably why I wasn’t too fazed the very next year (my senior season) when after hitting a grand slam, and jubilantly trotting around third base, there was Coach complaining that my four-run dinger was not a line-drive.

Any dream I had of playing professional baseball was actually over before it began. Realistically, I knew deep down that I was good but probably not that good. I did earn all-conference honors both my Junior and Senior seasons of Varsity ball, and a couple of small Iowa colleges (Grandview and Simpson) did show some interest in me. Oklahoma State University also sent me an informational packet about the school and their baseball program. To this day I’m still not quite sure why. Shortly after my high school graduation I was informed about some tryouts, for the Cincinnati Reds, being held at a facility around forty-five minutes from my home. Someone must have believed in me enough to suggest trying out, but at the end of the day I wasn’t one of the handful of players chosen to stay. This time of year these days are now filled with numerous other things, and my body is not what it used to be, but the days of playing baseball still holds a special place in my heart.

Truth In Politics

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about politics and remembering a time when I used to think anyone who ran for public office was doing so in order to try making the world a better place. I had that same thought as recently as when our current president was elected; however, something always seems to happen to candidates somewhere between announcing their candidacy and shortly after beginning their first term in office. For those of you now expecting a good old-fashioned Obama bashing I think you are going to be sorely disappointed. I was hoping though that a guy fairly new to the political arena, and lacking in extensive government experience, would at least be a refreshing change from the norm. I figured he would not of yet had the time to acquire a large number of special interest groups; therefore, he would not have the expected obligation of placing their interests ahead of our country’s best interests once in office. Instead I have seen our leader’s decisiveness, willingness to compromise, and even at times his passion, diminish during his administration. I really don’t blame him because I’ve witnessed it so many times before, but I am disappointed.

Let me be perfectly clear. I am not talking about specific policies, platforms, ideologies, or even political parties. What I am speaking of today is the obvious transformation I’ve seen in our current president. I’m just saying the people we elect are usually not the same people we voted for a couple of years earlier, and President Obama is no exception. I do not think there’s anything wrong with a politician changing their stance, otherwise known as the “flip-flop,” on certain issues. We should all have the prerogative to change our minds every now and then. What’s not acceptable though is making mediocre excuses for a newfound position, “flopping” right before an upcoming election, or ignoring (and sometimes even denying) a past voting record. When “flip-flopping” one should be forced into giving an honest and believable reason for doing so.

In general, I think every politician could be liked, or at least somewhat respected, if they were willing to tell the truth at all times. That doesn’t sound too difficult, and it just seems like common sense to me. Don’t we teach our children at a very young age the importance of honesty and that there are consequences to lying? However, honesty does appear a to be a bit unattainable these days when considering the recent past and what seemingly now passes as acceptable rhetoric in the world of politics. So many answers given by our elected officials, to direct questions, are commonly either misleading, half-truths, or just disregarded by the politicians altogether. A fib, stretching the truth, distorting the facts, lying by omission, and a little white lie are merely different fancy ways of disguising what it actually is – A lie! Lying has become very prevalent in today’s society, regardless of what one prefers to call it, and apparently even more so in the political arena.

I think the most blatant lie ever told by someone in the oval office, during my lifetime, was Bill Clinton’s reply, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” after being questioned in 1998, about his possible unfaithfulness to his wife. He emphatically denied the accusation until proof of his infidelity surfaced, and making matters much worse he then made the hilarious claim that he didn’t realize sexual relations included the act of oral sex. It’s extremely hard for me, and probably for any other sane person, to swallow the fact that a fifty-one year old, well-educated man could not have known the definition of sexual relations. How refreshing it would have been if Mr. Clinton’s initial response to the question was that he had sex with a young intern, enjoyed it, and was sorry he got caught (if indeed that was the case), or better yet if he had immediately admitted the affair, apologized to his wife, and then let his constituents know he deeply regretted his actions (but again only if that was the truth) instead of pretending the indiscretion never took place.

As I get older, and maybe a little wiser, I am starting to believe (or at least consider) that all those cynical people, who are so certain, “there are no good politicians in the whole bunch,” might actually be on to something. The truth is I may be a little naïve, but I prefer to continue hoping there are still some elected officials out there who above all else have our best interests at heart.

A Snake Story

Once upon a time I had an unwanted encounter with a snake. Well, besides the occasional garter snake sighting that’s so prevalent to living in Iowa. This encounter was very different, and it happened during a visit to my Grandma and Grandpa McCleary’s farmhouse in Joplin, Missouri. One nice afternoon many, many, many years ago I strapped on my trusty BB gun and ventured out into the woods behind my grandparents’ house. And no, for those now wondering, my gun was not an official Red Ryder 200-shot carbine action air rifle like Ralphie’s in the holiday classic, “A Christmas Story.” It was merely a Daisy, but a pretty nice one at that.

As I wandered about, looking for something to shoot, I hopped over a small creek, and suddenly there it was: a massive black snake, only inches from my feet, leering at me with hungry eyes while its tongue violently lashed in and out of its mouth. I blindly and quickly jumped backwards onto the embankment, on the other side of the creek, as the ugly beast remained on his side seemingly taunting me and daring me to try and get past him. As scared as I was I still somehow managed to gather my composure. I pushed the safety button on my Daisy to the off position, slowly raised the rifle, and pointed it towards the intended target. I took a deep breath, gently squeezed the trigger, and watched as all those hours of shooting empty pop cans in my backyard had finally paid off. Bull’s-eye! I saw the shiny BB pierce the scaly skin of the humongous reptile. As a red dot gradually appeared on the black snake I fired my weapon another nine or ten times until the creature laid completely still.

I scooped up the obliterated snake with the barrel of my rifle, and I trekked back towards my grandparent’s house. I was ecstatic while fully anticipating a much deserved congratulations, for my tremendous bravery and for saving my family from the beast, when I got there. My grandma was the first person to see my prize-kill after returning to the farmhouse. Beaming with pride, at first, I felt quite differently when after catching eye of the motionless eighteen-inch creature, dangling from my gun, she questioned why I went to all the trouble to kill a small, harmless, and innocent snake. At that point, as my heart sank, I simply had no good answer.

Snakes And Bulls

Last month a Kentucky Preacher, Jamie Coots, died shortly after being bitten by a rattlesnake and then not seeking medical attention. The star of the reality television show, Snake Salvation, was handling the reptile during a church service when it attacked. I can’t even begin to comprehend the thought behind handling those scaly creatures, especially in a church setting, because if I remember correctly the slithering snake in the Garden of Eden was up to no good. Mr. Coots had previously been bitten by other snakes during his career, but he was very vocal on his stance that they could not kill true believers of God. I guess the now former pastor either did not have enough faith, or more likely he was just plain wrong in his way of thinking.

There’s quite a difference between belief and absurdity; however, that knowledge seems to be lost in this case because the son of the late Mr. Coots has taken over the pastoral duties of the church, and he insists on handling the exact snake that took his father’s life. I can’t say I’m a fan of any snake, and just the thought of watching the movie, Snakes on a Plane, raises my blood pressure a bit. There has to be some sane reason why God created the ugly reptiles, but I haven’t figured that one out yet. I think it takes a certain kind of courage, or possibly mere stupidity, to even be in the same vicinity as them. The Coots Family defends the “killer snake.” They eagerly divulge that the snake was raised by them, and it had never bitten anyone before.

This reminds me of so many Pit-bull attack cases I’ve seen on Judge Judy. The owner of the aggressive dog almost always says their pet is so sweet, gentle, and would never hurt anyone. That is until it eventually tears someone to shreds. The truth as I know it is that all dogs with any Pit-bull blood in them whatsoever should be euthanized for the safety of all humans. That is coming from an animal lover, excluding cats of course, who is against animal exploitation of any kind. I am the guy who roots for the bull at rodeos. I also have no sympathy for those who are trampled on, or gored, during bull runs. Having a healthy fear of all wild animals seems like common sense to me.


I suddenly knew Arizona was home, while driving one autumn afternoon with the windows down, when some words from a song on the John Denver cd I was listening to grabbed my full attention. Heading towards Thunderbird Park, for a hike, my eyes became misty as I surveyed the surrounding beauty of the Valley, and I heard the lyrics, “When he first came to the mountains his life was far away,” blaring from my car’s speakers. The decision of moving to the desert was reaffirmed at that moment. The journey had begun several years prior when my family took a trip to Arizona for the first time. I had an inkling the Grand Canyon State could one day be home, as I was basking in the sun poolside (barefoot and shirtless), after feasting on a traditional Thanksgiving Day meal. On our second visit to Arizona my wife and I decided, simply for the heck of it, to take our son to Tempe for an Arizona State University promotional event deemed Sun Devil Days. After exploring the campus, and seeing glorious Palm Walk, I remember thinking this just seems like home.

As lifelong Iowans my wife and I had never seriously considered moving away. That is until our son was offered an academic scholarship to attend ASU. We were intrigued by the idea of leaving the Hawkeye State, at first, and then we grew with excitement at the prospect of beginning a new adventure; however, how could we even contemplate leaving our family and the only lives we had ever known behind? After many “happy hour” discussions we decided to have faith, take the plunge, and follow our son to the Valley of the Sun. We traded snow, squirrels, and the fear of striking deer on the highway, for sunshine, lizards, and the fear of falling rocks. Life in the desert has been an adjustment, but shortly after moving here, and hearing the soothing voice of John Denver sing the personally relevant and powerful words, “He left yesterday behind him, you might say he was born again, you might say he found a key for every door,” I knew Arizona was home.