Monthly Archives: July 2016

In My World

In my world racism is non-existent. I understand in the real world there are bigots, and unfortunately racism will never be completely extinct. It’s a regrettable, unintended consequence of our God-given free will. The good news is I don’t think racism is running rampant in America as what is continuously being purported by the media and a select group of talk show hosts, celebrities, and even a few of our country’s representatives. I tend to agree with what President Barack Obama said recently, during his weekly radio address, concerning current race relations in the United States. Our nation’s Commander in Chief said, “I know that for many, it can feel like the deepest fault lines of our democracy have suddenly been exposed and even widened. But the America I know…is just not as divided as some folks try to insist.”

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that 63% of those asked think race relations in the U.S. are generally bad, but I personally have not witnessed any prejudice against minorities in all my 50 years residing on this earth. In my world racism did not exist in the small Iowa town I was born and raised in. There were only a handful of minorities living amongst Newton’s population of approximately 15,000. My initial exposure to a different race, that I can remember, was when I was in elementary school, and one day a foreign boy sheepishly entered the classroom. He had moved to town from either Peru or Panama (I know the name of his country started with a “P”), and he instantly became just another classmate. I can’t say as the Peruvian or Panamanian ever became my best friend, but we did get along swimmingly. Even though the new kid looked, dressed, and spoke a little differently, than everyone else, I certainly never considered him to be “less than.”

My next encounter with different nationalities was during high school. There were now a couple of handfuls of minorities in the same small town. Among them were Black siblings, and both were in my graduating class. I didn’t have much contact with either of them because although the male was into sports he didn’t play high school baseball (my forte), and his sibling was a girl. My senior year I enlisted the services of an Asian professional photographer to take my graduation pictures. The kind, soft-spoken, local business owner somehow managed to make even my mug presentable enough for the Class of 1984 yearbook. I never once felt an indifference toward my Black peers or Asian photographer, and I assume they felt the same about me.

In my world I believe the perception of a racially divided country was ignited in the summer of 2013, with the inception of the Black Lives Matter movement. Now I’m sure the members of Black Lives Matter couldn’t care less what some White guy has to say in regards to their organization, but I highly value my thought-provoking input (pause here for chuckles); therefore, I cannot remain silent on the subject. I think the majority of those involved in the extremely loud and sometimes disruptive movement are misguided in their transparent us (Blacks) vs. them (Whites) mentality. Additionally, the organization’s obvious blatant disregard for others is quite evident with their numerous attempts at shutting down major infrastructure when protesting. Any sympathy one might have for the Black Lives Matter movement surely diminishes once they become a nuisance and risk the safety of others. It’s one thing to knowingly cause an upheaval, but putting officers’ lives even more at risk, with the uprising of extremist cop killers, is reprehensible.

I sincerely believe the recently exposed shootings of Black men by White police officers are almost entirely of a peace officer vs. alleged perpetrator nature rather than a race related issue. Sadly, each new reported case erroneously gets lumped together, by the Black Lives Matter movement and the media, with all the prior police involved deaths instead of rightfully being examined individually. In my world the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling, and Philando Castile aren’t related whatsoever. Martin was killed by a neighborhood watchman…not a cop (and not White). Brown had committed a robbery and assaulted the store’s clerk shortly before being fatally shot by police. Garner was placed in a chokehold (forbidden by the NYPD) while resisting arrest which resulted in his death.

Gray’s demise came at the hands of law enforcement while intentionally being negligently transported in a police van (driven by a Black officer). I don’t think the public has enough information yet on the Sterling or Castile shootings to adequately determine whether the officers involved were justified or not in taking such extreme measures. Some of the aforementioned situations, ultimately ending with a person being killed, seem defensible to me while some don’t, but all are tragic. There is one common denominator in almost all of the incidents mentioned: resistance to authority. I cannot help but think the majority of those who died would still be alive today if only they had fully cooperated when being questioned.

Much has been said lately, and YouTube videos have been made, about the need for parents to have “the talk” with their Black sons. No, not the talk. Parents are being encouraged to teach their children what to do if ever they’re pulled over by the police: stay in the car, turn off the engine, roll down the window, and keep your hands on the steering wheel. However, many in the Black community seem to think it’s unfair that they should be singled out and forced to bother with such a thing, and some are even irritated by the measly suggestion. In my world proper protocol when being pulled over by the authorities is not a Black or White issue. This White guy was taught to stay in the car, turn off the engine, roll down the window, and keep my hands on the steering wheel by both my father and my Driver’s Ed instructor. It’s just common sense.

Time and time again I’ve heard the tiresome argument, mainly from those most vocal in the Black community, how a White person especially a White man can’t fathom what it’s like to be Black. I suppose I can’t – not completely anyway. I certainly can relate though when it comes to being followed around by a store’s employee for apparently no other reason than due to one’s appearance. There’ve been many times throughout my life when I’ve sported long hair and earrings, and during those times I was treated differently (whether real or imagined) by others. I reckon my tattoos don’t suggest I’m a straight arrow either, but I am (for the most part). In addition, I’ve been pulled over by the police and left wondering why even after the officer drives away.

I don’t pretend to entirely grasp the plight of the Black man; however, I assuredly can empathize with anyone who has ever been treated unfairly due to the color of their skin. In the 90’s I was turned down for a small business loan mainly because I’m a White male. (Thank you affirmative action.) The media, especially The Arizona Republic, continuously insinuated that if a person was White and did not vote for Obama, during his initial bid for the presidency, then that individual must be a racist. As a White male I have often been made to feel as though I was a problem, an obstacle if you will, preventing minorities from achieving success. In my world the implementing of quota systems and the numerous “no Whites allowed” award shows tend to make me feel “less than.”

I have lived in Peoria, Arizona, for the last nine years, where the city’s population is well beyond 150,000. The Valley is much more diversified than the Midwest town I grew up in, and in my world racism is still non-existent. My lovely wife and I were at Desert Ridge Marketplace a mere three days after the nationally reported White cop shooting of a Black man, Philando Castile. We were enjoying FREE live music at the mall’s outdoor stage, amongst other ethnic groups, and it was obvious everyone was having a splendid time. I noticed the mix of people dancing to the funky sounds of the Thaddeus Rose Band in particular a Black gentleman near the stage who was partying like it was 1999. (Prince would’ve been proud.)

A couple of young White girls joined the older Black man on the concrete dance floor presumably to learn his choreographed dance moves. The man tried earnestly to teach his eager students (who by the way – in stereotypical fashion – had no rhythm) how to properly “bust a move,” but to no avail. It suddenly dawned on me that here we were, lost in the moment without a care in the world, while our televisions at home were reporting on broken race relations and a country deeply polarized. I leaned over to the missus and shared how difficult it was for me to comprehend all of the recent negativity in the news, concerning alleged racism, when in my world I just don’t see it.

I’m thankful to be part of the 32% listed in the Washington Post-ABC News poll, which includes President Obama, who think race relations in the U.S. are generally good. Obama, also during his radio address, eloquently proposed, “If we can open our hearts to try and see ourselves in one another, if we can worry less about which side has been wronged, and worry more about joining sides to do right…then I’m confident that together, we will lead our country to a better day.” Well said, Mr. President. In the real world we can only hope that one day racism will become extinct.

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Another Hall Of Fame

I recently got back home from a trip of a lifetime. My lovely wife surprised me, for my half century birthday, with a planned vacation – ALL ABOUT ME. I had expressed my desire to someday travel to a few cities including Cleveland. Yes, Cleveland. Sound familiar? Anyway, I noticed the missus kept using the phrase bucket list whenever discussing our trip with other people. Her terminology sort of rubbed me the wrong way. Call it what you will – simple semantics, “you say tomato and I say tomahto,” or chalk it up to me being a dope, but eventually I felt compelled to make my thoughts on the subject known to her.

I tend to view a “bucket list” somewhat negatively. I see the popular trend as being just a list of stuff a person assumes will bring true happiness once completed, yet if everything on their list is not crossed off before their demise then tragically the person thinks their life came to an end without ever having known complete fulfillment. I do aspire to travel and experience different things, but I certainly don’t need new adventures to possess contentment. Regardless, “bucket list” or not, I had a wonderful time at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, but that was just a portion of our week-long vacation. My trip of a lifetime included another Hall of Fame (also found in Ohio).

The feeling I got when entering Canton’s Pro Football Hall of Fame was akin to how I felt when going through the doors of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There was that familiar aura of greatness inside the hallowed walls of the National Football League (NFL) enshrinement. Only the elite, the best of the best, the cream of the crop, the crème del a crème are inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Their eminence is rewarded with a bronze bust of their likeness to forever be displayed in Canton. No good players, coaches, or special contributors to the game are allowed in the exclusive club: only exceptional individuals are welcomed.

In the recent past, I was guilty of taking those already enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for granted because it seemed as though each and every year several new inductees were being admitted. I thought surely by now there must be hundreds of bronzed busts occupying The Hall. All that is true. There are now 303 individuals (including the 2016 inductees) honored within Canton’s revered facility. However, there’ve been tens of thousands of people associated with professional football since the game’s inception; therefore, in actuality the number of those who’ve been selected is fairly scant.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame includes an informative, up-to-date timeline showing how today’s NFL as we know it came to be. I learned the first player chosen in the very first NFL Draft was that year’s Heisman Trophy winner, but the talented, most sought after player had absolutely no desire to play professional football. The Hall also boasts endless memorabilia and numerous interactive exhibits. I discovered I throw a football just like Hall of Fame quarterback, Jim Kelly (well, maybe not as far – or as tightly spiraled – but somewhat similar nonetheless). I grip the pigskin in the exact manner as the former Buffalo Bills’ legend probably because our hands are the same size.

I was caught a little off guard when I came across a modest display featuring the most perfect picture. The photo was taken at the first professional football game played after the events of 9/11. (The NFL postponed all games for a week out of respect for the lives lost during the attack on our nation.) The inspirational picture, capturing a burly football player bursting through the stadium’s smoke-filled tunnel while proudly waving a life-sized American flag, was both sobering and uplifting. The way the United States came together during that horrific time in history was a thing of beauty. I wish we could experience that type of unity as a nation again without requiring another tragedy of that magnitude to bring us all to our senses.

By far, my favorite part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame was strolling by the rows of busts. They were arranged in chronological order by the year in which each member was inducted. I took my sweet time as I read each name and studied the inductee’s bronzed likeness before proceeding to the next bust. The first grouping of Hall of Famers I came upon, that I was genuinely interested in, were of a few players I had routinely heard of as a child. I certainly knew about Bart Starr, Johnny Unitas, and Joe Namath, but I was a little too young at the time to recall ever watching them play. My father has been a lifelong Kansas City Chiefs’ fan, so I’m well aware their Hall of Fame quarterback, Len Dawson, massacred opposing defenses throughout the 60’s. Unfortunately, I can only remember rooting for the Chiefs’ subpar quarterbacks, Mike Livingston and Bill Kenney, during my initial years as a football fan during the late 70’s and early 80’s.

I eventually came across some standouts I could actually remember witnessing firsthand their superior play on the football field. My interest in the bronze busts escalated when spotting many of my favorite players from my youth: Roger Staubach, Tony Dorsett, Terry Bradshaw, and Lynn Swann. I guess there was a time when one could be a fan of both the Cowboys and the Steelers. I also admired Hall of Fame running backs, Earl Campbell and O.J Simpson, around that time. Yes, O.J. Simpson. I even had (and still have) an O.J. doll…ahem…I mean an action figure complete with football uniform and jogging suit (knife not included). Sometimes our heroes fall – and sometimes they fall hard. I was a huge fan of Earl Campbell. I fancied the power running back not only because of his bruising-style of running but also because the Houston Oiler dipped Skoal tobacco (my beloved grandpa’s brand).

After a while I found myself amongst the gleaming heads of the more recent Hall of Fame inductees. Two of my favorite players from the 90’s were Deion Sanders and John Elway although I liked them for entirely different reasons. I was enamored with Sanders’ athleticism as an All-Pro cornerback and gifted return specialist. Watching “Prime Time” return a kick or an interception was anything but boring. The way Deion pursued the end zone with reckless abandon brought everyone to their feet and made opposing teams’ fans cringe. Many times the versatile athlete’s improvised returns would result in choreographed touchdown celebrations. I used to thoroughly enjoy Sanders’ showboating and his high-stepping into the end zone, but with age I’ve come to despise excessive celebrations of any kind on the football field.

John Elway, on the other hand, brought a controlled passion to the game. I can’t say as I cared too much for the lifelong Denver Bronco quarterback at the beginning of his career, but his obvious heart and vigor for the game converted me into one of his fans by the time he retired. (I felt the same way about Hall of Famers, Joe Montana and Brett Favre, and future Hall of Famer, Peyton Manning, at the end of their storied careers. I admit to having a soft spot when it comes to most NFL quarterbacks’ last hurrah. Of course, Tom Brady is the exception.)

John Elway led his team to back-to-back Super Bowl victories, during his final two years in the League, with sheer determination. I was reminded of his tenacity while watching footage of Super Bowl 32 inside the sacred walls of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The highlights showed Elway willing his aged body to perform as though he was a robust rookie. The scrambling quarterback can be seen sacrificing said body, for the slightest extra yardage, in pursuit of a much needed first down. His tremendous effort led to a touchdown – and his 1st Super Bowl ring. The next year Elway was even better, winning Super Bowl 33 and being named the game’s MVP, as the gritty quarterback undeniably went out on top.

Spending a day at the Pro Football Hall of Fame was definitely a dream come true. I wonder what’s next on my “bucket list.” Boston? Washington, D.C.? Paris? Ireland? Perhaps another Hall of Fame?


Cleveland?

This past February my lovely wife surprised me on my birthday with a planned vacation – ALL ABOUT ME. My reward for turning a half century old included us visiting Cleveland. Yes, Cleveland. I can’t tell you how many times I was asked, “Cleveland? Why Cleveland?” after sharing the news with others, about the generous birthday present I had received, before our impending June departure. The answer to that incessantly proposed question is easy: because Cleveland rocks! The Ohio city is home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and as a former music store owner, music connoisseur veteran, and Rock and Roll historian (I aced my Rock and Roll History class during my one year of community college) it makes perfect sense that I would desire to one day wander the esteemed museum’s halls.

There’s an immediate aura of greatness when entering the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The phenomenal facility exudes energy and excitement. There’s also an overwhelming feeling of unity amongst the sea of assembled fans; People of all shapes and sizes, age, and color have come together in celebration of Rock and Roll. The sizable, uniquely designed building boasts seven levels filled with all things music related. Inside the remarkable museum is the complete history of Rock and Roll and how it relates to the world. There’s also numerous exhibits and displays, countless memorabilia, and a few mini-theaters that continuously show video clips of those who’ve been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

The first theater my wife and I just so happened to enter was showing some footage of my beloved Prince, so we quickly found a couple of empty seats and nestled into them with anticipation. Seeing my all-time favorite performer on the big screen was surreal. I was fraught with mixed emotions as I watched the recently passed, enigmatic superstar wailing on his guitar. Not even my wife was aware (until now) how close a teardrop, balancing on the rim of my right eyelid, was from toppling over and trickling down my cheek. Thank goodness the auditorium was dark.

Prince’s accomplishments and contributions to Rock and Roll are extensive, but The Hall also recognizes the “Rude Boy’s” significance in how the Parental Advisory labels on recorded music came to be in 1985. The Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) was a committee whose goal was to slap warning stickers on any music they deemed too sexual, violent, or drug related. The organization compiled a list, known as the Filthy Fifteen, which included the most “objectionable” songs during that time, and Prince was on it for his sexually explicit “Darling Nikki.” Supposedly, PMRC committee member, Tipper Gore, had found her 11 year old daughter singing the words to Prince’s less than wholesome song when she decided the government should intervene to prevent minors from listening to such “filth.” (Here’s a novel idea: maybe parents should better monitor their children’s choice of music rather than getting the government involved.) The results of the mandatory Parental Advisory labels were far from what the PMRC had intended. In fact, there was an increase in sales of Rock and Roll music after the warning stickers were introduced.

I know there’s been some pushback over the years concerning Rock and Roll music. I’m well aware Elvis Presley was initially banned from The Ed Sullivan Show due to the King’s inability to control his swaying hips. However, I did not realize the extent as to how long it has been going on or how relentless politicians have been in their attempts to silence Rock and Roll. It does appear politicians and the music world have mended some fences in recent years though. The saxophone that former President Bill Clinton played, during his first presidential campaign in 1992, is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Clinton became somewhat of a “rock star” after integrating music with the political world. The unlikely partnership between the two entities has flourished ever since. I’m not too keen on government officials attacking the music industry, but I certainly don’t care for entertainers publically endorsing politicians either.

After 6 hours of leisurely roaming The Hall (bless the missus for humoring me that long) I decided I had probably had my allotment of all the sights and sounds the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame had to offer. My wife and I then set out for a nearby duct tape event. The aptly named Duck Tape Festival was precisely what one might expect from the event’s unambiguously titled celebration. The Duck Tape brand festival featured all things duct tape. There were seemingly endless rolls of every color and design imaginable of Duck Tape for sale, duct tape crafts for the kiddos, and several famous landmarks crafted from the sticky stuff. My field of expertise is not critiquing works of art, but I must say the Eifel Tower, Liberty Bell, and Mount Rushmore displays, concocted almost exclusively out of the “fixes everything” product, were truly sights to behold. “Mt. Duckmore,” an amusing and clever replication of South Dakota’s magnificent landmark, included Trust E. Duck, Duck Tape’s mascot, sculpted alongside the carved busts of the four former U.S. Presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt.

The Duck Tape Festival was interesting enough (and FREE), but we were actually there to see the evening’s musical guest (also FREE). The event ended with a performance by 80’s MTV darling, Lita Ford. The Heavy Metal queen began her set over an hour and a half late, but it was worth the wait (at least to me). It was a little hard to complain since the price was right (FREE). FREE is good. Besides, attending a Rock and Roll concert just seemed like the perfect ending after an entire day spent at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Cleveland? Absolutely!