Graduation 2017...we made it! My daughter and I both crossed the finish line last Friday night. I do not mean to take any of the glory away from her for the truth is she did it all on her own and in a very grand way. But when she walked across that stage to receive her diploma, I was right there with her. Yes, tears and all.
There were some tense, behind-the-scenes moments leading up to the event. I'm just a dad and had not the slightest clue what to do, or when to do it...or how to, as a matter of fact. I had never ironed a graduation gown before and literally lost sleep the night before wondering how hot to set the iron. What if the garment burst into flames right there on the ironing board? I had a shirt do that to me once. I'm sure the entire fiasco would have made a pretty funny video. But you burn a shirt, you go down to the Walmart and buy another one. You burn up a graduation gown? I've never seen those at Walmart.
There were numerous banquets in the weeks leading up to graduation. In a small community such as ours, events such as that draw large groups of people together. You get to see folks you weren't sure were still alive. You get to sit next to people you don't like. You stand in long lines at the buffet table and when you finally reach out for that last slice of cheesecake, some six-year-old snatches it just nano-seconds before you claim ownership.
Graduation banquets are a time to share your feelings. For one particular affair, I had to write a letter to my daughter that would be read before a large crowd. Nobody told me about the two hundred word limit and I am an author. I'll be publishing that letter in book form shortly...at two hundred pages, it should be a pretty good read. At the next banquet, my daughter wrote me a letter. I had to stand before the crowd as she read it. Thankfully I wore a long sleeve shirt that night to wipe my blurry eyes with. That was even more emotional than letting the cheesecake get away.
Finally, the big night arrived and myself and an army of family members headed off toward the football stadium. Well, yeah! Where else would a small west Texas town hold a graduation ceremony? We arrived fairly early and the stands were already packed. Everyone around here is related to some student who is graduating. Every year the entire town shows up. Our entourage was forced to find seating the uppermost bleachers and we all scrunched together, fumbling with cameras and smartphones, trying to zoom in on the empty chairs lined up on the field. ln the stands, folks were testing out their air horns. Helium balloons bobbled above the crowd and as the moment arrived cheers rose throughout the stadium. This was the biggest event of the year, after all, and we had all came out to support those kids who had endured and conquered a grueling twelve years to get to this point in their lives.
As the ceremony concluded, the speaker announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, the class of 2017, I declare you graduates of...."
Well, you would have thought we'd won the Super Bowl. Before he could finish his speech, the entire crowd rushed the field. Air horns sounded throughout the crowd and confetti flew everywhere. I was really expecting fireworks to start shooting off on the fifty-yard line. I don't know how the rest of y'all do graduation, but around here we do it in a big way. After some serious searching, I finally located my own graduate and the family gathered around for pictures. As my eyes surveyed the mass of people on the field, I had a genuine feeling of euphoria. I found myself pondering the question 'Is this what Heaven might feel like?' For there was nothing but pure joy, love, and happiness radiating throughout the crowd.
And what better way to top off a graduation than to throw a traditional Texas-style cookout afterward. Family and friends gathered to continue the celebration, feasting on a brisket cooked to perfection. As the last of the crowd drove away well after midnight, I patted myself on the back. I may have faltered here and there leading up to this night, but by gosh, I had managed to pull off the perfect cookout. Exhausted, I slumped into my easy chair and cherished tonight, filing it into the 'Favorite Moments Of All Time' folder in my mind.
I am proud beyond words of my favorite daughter. Yes, I have only one but she is my favorite. Three years ago she came from a big city school to our little podunk high school, not only adapting...but soaring like an eagle. Her accomplishments these past three years are overwhelming and she shined like a diamond. I'm thankful the Good Lord afforded her the opportunity to experience life in a small town. And I am grateful to our community, school teachers, and so many more who not only acknowledged her potential but encouraged and cheered her on every step of the way.
I sat down with a cup of coffee Sunday morning and flipped through our local Sunday paper, which was three times thicker than its usual four pages, and beamed with pride. My daughter, my pride and joy, and my biggest blessing had landed herself on every page of that special graduation edition. After reading the paper, I carefully folded it and tucked it away in that special place I keep my treasures.
And so, a chapter ends. Next chapter...college! I'm accepting donations!
I’m a storyteller. Before I started telling stories on the internet, I told them to just about anybody who’d listen. In fact, I’ve been telling stories long before there ever was an internet. I know some of you younger folks weren’t aware that at one point there was no such thing as the internet…I’ll give you a second to grasp that thought. Okay, moving on. The Good Lord has blessed me throughout my life, not with fame or fortune, and my love life has been somewhat sketchy, but I’ve been richly blessed with plenty of adventures throughout my life. Most of them make a good story to tell…so I usually tell them.
Both of my grandfathers were witty and humorous men. My Grandpa on my mother’s side was a master story teller and I can remember all of us grandkids sitting around him as he puffed on his pipe, awaiting a story. He’d puff for a few minutes, ignoring us, until a twinkle would come into his eyes, then he’d lean forward and begin spinning a tale. We’d all sit, mesmerized, listening and absorbing every word, laughing till our tummies hurt. It’s what folks did back in the day before there was television. Well, of course, there was television when I was a kid. My grandparents didn’t have one. There was no need for one. We had Grandpa.
I believe storytelling is a dying art. Don’t believe me? How many really good movies have you seen this year? Right! There weren’t any! There apparently aren’t any more good stories to tell. Hollywood keeps going back and telling the same stories over and over. I watched some old Spiderman movie last week on Amazon Prime. Other than “Bad Grandpa,” it’s the only movie I came close to turning off fifteen minutes into the flick. Movies, television shows, and even the songs we hear today are more often than not empty, void of substance and leaving the majority of us less than entertained.
In random conversations I tend to get myself into with those who seem fascinated by my stories, I’ve often made this statement: Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone has a book that needs to be written. If more people just like you would tell their stories, the world would be a much more interesting place.
We leave everything to the professionals anymore. We have professional authors, professional songwriters, professional movie producers and they all stay so busy in their profession there is no time left to explore their creativity. It’s become just a job for them. I can’t imagine being a professional writer, depending on my productivity to pay my bills. There are some days I am very unproductive. Days go by with nary a single creative thought passing through my head. If my survival depended upon my ability to write eight hours a day, five days a week…I’d starve. Come to think of it, I’m pretty hungry right now.
I find it stressful to come up with a topic for this weekly blog. I call it a blog because it’s what those who do this call it. I think they’re just stories and I don’t know who coined the term. Personally, I think there surely was a better word that could have been instilled. Blog sounds like something you do in the bathroom, don’t you think? My weekly struggles are not due to lack of ideas or topics. I have plenty of those. It’s more due to a limited ability to toss out something that might possibly affect someone in my close network of friends and family. For this reason, most of the people in my close social circle have no clue I write. I think most of the folks who know me have serious doubts that I can write my own name. I like it that way. But as time passes, more and more of the people who know me best discover the truth. They usually don’t divulge their discovery to me, but I see them whispering to others, “Stay far, far away from that man! He’ll tell stories about you!”
One of my most favorite stories is that of a young man stepping across the threshold of adolescence into adulthood. Some might say it’s a true story. I say true or not, it’s a pretty good story. Beginning this week, my book “Nineteen Seventy Something” will be made available in paperback. I think you will find it entertaining, much more than anything Hollywood has made lately. I just ask one favor…keep it a secret! There may be a girl or two who might think I wrote about them! I promise you, it’s the one story your grandpa never told you! See more about “Nineteen Seventy Something” here!
I'm just about ready to throw in the towel, hang it all up, chuck up the sponge, cry uncle, roll over and play dead, spank the monkey...no wait, that doesn't belong in this sentence. Quit. I'm almost ready to quit...social media. Social media is not worth its weight in goat turds anymore. If I could recoup all the time and energy I've invested in social media over the years and cash it in, I could retire. I could retire anyway, I suppose, but what would I do with my time now that social media is dead? Yes, I believe it...social media is dead.
The great minds who created social media and took it to heights never imagined have in turn set out to destroy it. Greed overcame them, clouding their vision of a new virtual world where the masses would never have to leave the comfort of their homes to interact. And the masses loved it...until greed reared its ugly head.
Remember the early days of Facebook? Co-workers, friends, classmates, and family all gathered together via the internet, separated by miles, states, and countries, yet able to connect with one another with their fingertips. We liked and poked each other until the wee hours of the morning, our bloodshot eyes straining to focus on the computer screen before us. Nowadays, what's for supper and little Sally's piano recital have been shoved into oblivion, replaced with advertising disguised as social media. Those who think they know us better than we know ourselves sit in their cubicles beneath florescent lighting, deciding what we can and cannot see. Rather than investing time and resources into giving us better opportunities to connect with each other, they devoted their research to how to make another billion dollars. Yes, we still take our daily scroll through our facebook timeline, bored at the fake content thrust upon us, but hoping...still hoping for a glimpse of those days long gone.
Twitter. Yes, twitter is a different critter and not for everyone. And it is faltering as we speak. I can remember back in the early days of twitter how I would announce my new weekly blog post every Sunday night. My website would literally crash from the invasion of eager readers flooding the server. Yeah...no, that doesn't happen anymore. Back in those days, I had around six thousand followers. Today I have twenty-seven thousand and I'm lucky to get a handful of link clicks to my blog. Twitter never found it's purpose, nor did we. There's not much you can say in 140 characters including spaces and punctuation. Perhaps it was the novelty of those limitations that even gave twitter a chance, but those same limitations are taking it to the grave. Now, the only twitter frequenters are trying to hawk something or another to folks who don't want to buy anything. We all want to sell something! Twitter is like a Mary Kay convention. Everybody wants a pink Cadillac. Oh sure, there are a few who just wish to have their voices heard. My timeline is filled with haters, Republican haters, Democrat haters, gay haters, straight haters, God haters, cat haters. None of these folks seem to want to buy anything from the Mary Kay tweeters. They just want to hate. And to drive the final nail in their coffin, Twitter has now decided they will follow Facebook's lead and decide what we should see. Let me think...what do I want to see on Twitter? Thank goodness, I will no longer have to make that decision.
Pinterest appeared out of nowhere when Facebook kicked us peasants aside, making a place for us to post our pictures of food and clothing and random flowers growing in random places. Now, I really try to get all worked up over Pinterest but apparently I'm just not one of 'those people.' I dunno, I have a dog who sleeps all the time. I suppose I could put up a few pics of it. Can't imagine who would want to see a sleeping dog...or random flowers...or random food. But, the good news is, if you have a super photo of last night's dinner, Pinterest will let you promote it to thousands...for a fee, of course.
Here's the dilemma. All these social media sites cropped up at a time when entrepreneurs were literally crawling out of the woodwork. It offered people like me an opportunity to put ourselves out there, giving us a fighting chance of making our dreams a reality. When those social media sites realized this, they saw dollar signs. The common social media browser, i.e. us normal folks who are just killing some time while supper is cooking, are of little value to the social giants. These people are, however, of enormous value to the entrepreneur. As a result, social media has become one continuous newsfeed of advertising. And nobody is getting rich except the social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Frankly, I don't want to see exclusive updates from Donald J. Trump...I want to see little Sally's piano recital! So, frustrated, I put the laptop down and go find something else to do. And the more I do that and the more you do that, the closer social media comes to its demise.
When social media draws its last breath, what on earth will we all do with our eight hundred dollar cell phones? We may actually have to call somebody...shudder at the thought! Perhaps the time has come for us to get a life!
I just have time for a quickie! Ah, get your mind out of the gutter. We are in full-blown graduation mode around here. It kicked off with Senior Prom last weekend. That was a fiasco! I couldn't even get the girl out of the house. She wanted to leave but, in a nutshell...zipper. Dads are just dads. That's all the Good Lord intended for us to be. There's supposed to be a mother around for events like, well, prom. My daughter and I have been winging it on our own for three years now and up until that zipper, we've managed pretty well. Up until that almost three hundred dollar dress threw us a curve ball.
Everything was right on schedule. Hair was done, nails polished, makeup that would make any celebrity jealous. Nothing left to do but put on that dress that cost as much as a good color TV. Me, being the single dad that I am, had given the princess plenty of space and had busied myself with washing dishes. I knew I would soon be needed and kept an ear out for,
"Dad, would you zip me up?"
When the call came, I dried my hands on a tattered dish towel and reported for duty. I figured ten seconds to zip that dress up and another five minutes fumbling with that tiny clasp that all necklaces come with and she'd be off. Well, I was wrong. First, if I was designing a prom dress that would sell for nearly three hundred bucks, I'd put a quality zipper on it, like my wrangler jeans come equipped with. I was barely able to get that tiny zipper head (do they have a real name?) between my fingers. But once I had a firm hold on it, it zipped right up...three inches to her waistline. And there it stalled like a Ford.
After struggling for fifteen minutes, I suggested she take the dress off and zip it up.
"Just slip it over your head. I think it will work."
My daughter, fighting back tears for fear she'd mess up her Hollywood makeup, expressed her doubts but in desperation, agreed to try. I stood behind her closed bedroom door.
"Is it going to work?"
"Dad, I can't even get my arm through! What are we going to do?"
"Slip that dress on...we're going to Grandma's!"
I knew it was just a man thing. I had already peeked out the window to see if the neighbors across the road were home. We needed a woman! I'd never seen grandma wearing a prom dress but maybe, just maybe she could zip one up.
Fifteen minutes later -
"Gosh, I can't get it zipped either! My old hands...let me see if my neighbor is home."
A quick glance out her window and she shook her head, "I'll call my friend who sings in the church choir. We may have to get the whole choir over here but we'll get that dress zipped up!"
Fifteen minutes later - The lady from the choir appeared at grandma's kitchen door.
"I don't know why you think I can zip that dress up if neither one of you can."
I sighed and hung my head. I had failed as a father. I couldn't even zip up a dress. I felt tears trying to form in my eyes. I glanced at grandma who seemed to be fighting back tears, too. I knew my daughter would already be crying but...you know, Hollywood makeup. The choir lady took hold of the zipper head. I held my breath and...zippp!
Well, I don't know. Apparently, it takes a special talent to zip up a prom dress. I lack that specific talent. Obviously, runs in the family seeing how none of us could get such a simple task accomplished. So, my daughter made it to the prom, fashionably late, but there none the less.
And so it begins. New dresses to buy, random events almost every evening, awards banquets to numerous to mention, church luncheons, and the big night itself...graduation! Invitations still lay on the kitchen table. Is it cool to invite people over facebook? Can you just text them? I mean really, shouldn't relatives just assume they're invited?
Oh, hang on! I'm having a panic attack. It just swept over me like a tsunami...beads of perspiration forming on my forehead. Sweaty palms, rapid heart rate, can't catch my breath!
Do graduation gowns have zippers?
I stumbled across the picture a while ago...yes, that picture up above, and the moment my eyes locked onto the image, some pretty amazing things happened inside my brain. I immediately smelled how the old mechanic's garage surely smelled. I inhaled the aroma of old motor oil that had seeped deep into concrete and grease that had forever stained the old wooden workbench. Though you can't make it out in the image, I'm sure the floor is littered with greasy, misplaced bolts and car parts that no longer serve a purpose. Tools that only a mechanic could name clutter those shelves in an unorganized fashion and only the man who placed them in their exact spot could reach over and put his greasy hand on whichever tool he needed without even shooting a glance in that direction. Yes, I can say I have stood right there in that shop...or one identical to it once upon a time.
The only thing wrong with that picture is the car. Uncle Charlie only worked on Model T's and his shop was always filled with several in various stages of restoration. He'd always beam with pride while giving my dad and me a tour of that old greasy shop each time we visited. We finally timed one of our visits just right and before we even had a chance to knock on his front door, Uncle Charlie's head appeared from the door of his garage, a smile on his face that I'll never forget.
"Over here! You're just in time. I'm ready to start one up that I just finished!"
Minutes later, me and my dad and Uncle Charlie were cruising the streets in a Model T that surely looked even better than the day it rolled off the assembly line. And that's what I remember about Uncle Charlie. He's probably been gone forty years now...and all it took was that picture to bring him back!
My mom handed me a manilla envelope the other day, so overstuffed with old photos that one more picture would render it useless.
"I don't know who they are...family, your dad's family."
I carefully opened the envelope and scattered the photographs on the couch beside me and found myself lost in unknown history for the next two hours. Many of the old pictures were from the eighteen hundreds and progressed, I guessed, into the era of World War Two. With my dad gone now for several years, these images were only faces without a name...lost for eternity. I found myself wishing I knew more about our family. I found myself sad that I didn't.
In this day of digital images that one cannot put his hands on, I wonder...will someone decades, even centuries from now have our faces a mere arm's length away? It's certain we won't be stored away in a worn manila envelope resting on the top shelf of someone's closet. It's even doubtful that our images will survive in a junk drawer on some antique iPhone that will no longer charge. I fear that we will be the 'missing generation.' Without foresight enough to preserve our cherished moments that made life special, our future grandchildren, and their grandchildren will only have faceless names to remember us by.
And this is the 'Age of the Selfie!' Many of us take pics by the hundreds...of ourselves, our pets, the food we eat. We plaster ourselves all over social media. Some of us put our faces out there on dating sites. We have our own blogs and websites with our faces all over them. We're in the online church directory. We're in the clouds, those virtual storage lockers that absorb the overflowing images our smartphones can no longer hold. And yet, not one picture that you can hold in your hands. I challenge you! Go find a real photograph of yourself...of your kids, that was taken in the last year! I bet the farm most of you can't do it.
Do you really think your Facebook page is still going to be around a hundred years from now? Do you think Facebook will be around that long? Will cloud storage still have your cherished images safely tucked away? Will future generations be able to pick up a newspaper clipping of your obituary? No...duh! But I have my grandfather's and great-grandfather's obituary, as yellowed and fragile as they are.
My daughter studied the old black and white photo in her hand.
"He is definitely one of us. See the eyebrows?"
I nodded and pursed my lips as I stared at the handsome man in a World War II soldier's uniform.
"Look, same eyebrows on this guy! This was taken at some studio in Boston...says 1846. Did our family come from Boston?"
I smiled and replied, "No, we came from England...through Boston. Perhaps this ancestor became the first American in the family?"
I don't want to be a faceless name for future generations to simply forget about. I want someone a hundred and fifty years ago to stare at my picture and exclaim,
"Look! You got those eyebrows from your great-great grandpa!"
Anybody got a polaroid camera you wanna sell cheap?
"You know, those little clamps that you pinch with a pair of pliers...for a lawn mower?"
The chubby guy behind the counter at the farm store stared off absently for a full thirty seconds as he attempted to grasp what I needed.
"Ooooh!" I saw that light bulb glowing dimly above his head, "Like for your fuel line! Yeah, we ain't got none of those. We do have fuel filters, though!"
My head dropped as I turned and headed for the door. I had been everywhere in this podunk town...both places and neither had those clamps I desperately needed to repair my lawn mower.
And so it goes when you live in a small town. Pray your sneaker doesn't have a blowout...not a shoe to be had in our little community since the Walmart closed down. I glanced over at the abandoned building as I drove passed it on the way home, the faded facade still sporting the outline, 'WALMART' above the shuttered doors. On down the road a ways I passed by the Sears Homestore, standing vacant and dark as the Walmart. The Sears folks had simply disappeared into the night a few weeks ago, not bothering to announce their departure. Word around town is they emptied their inventory into a U-Haul truck in the wee hours of the morning and drove away...just like that.
Arriving home, I reached for my laptop and within a minute or so had ordered those little clamps I needed from Amazon. Five clamps for less than five bucks and with my free trial of Amazon Prime, free two-day shipping! I would have easily burned twice that much in gas driving up to the city for those clamps. I chastised myself under my breath for even wasting the gas to drive to the farm store. Amazon had become a way of life for me since the closing of Wally World, and judging from the numerous packages protruding from rural mailboxes up and down my road, I'd say I'm not alone.
UPS has announced plans to hire six thousand workers as they roll out Saturday delivery. The Post Office has quit their whining about losing money. And if you need further proof, Amazon is poised to hire five thousand new workers, work-from-home customer service representatives, to handle their constantly mushrooming business. Meanwhile, Walmart, Sears, JC Pennys, and Payless Shoes are locking up stores faster than a loose woman after a rich man.
The world as we knew it changed as we binged out on Netflix with glazed-over eyes. Actually quite rapidly, I believe. Like overnight! We, unable to pry ourselves away from continuous episodes of 'Supergirl' and 'The 100,' began to discover we just simply didn't want to leave our homes. So, in desperation and a dire need for supplies like shampoo and underwear, we turned to Amazon.com. By the droves!
Here's how I know...I have a few websites here and there. Why? They have from time to time made me some pocket change. In fact, those pesky Google ads that annoy all of you so much paid off my house and my pickup. And I still had enough fun money left over to occasionally chase a few women on Saturday night. But over the past few months, my revenues from Google have dwindled dramatically. I'm talking no more Happy Hour at Sonic!
Google considers themselves the god (little g) of the internet. Trust me, they do. The very thing that made google GOOGLE was their advertising and since their conception, the company has shared a portion of their revenues with webmasters who are willing to place ads on their sites. But I think Google has fallen asleep at the wheel, perhaps like those retailers going under on a daily basis.
I have gotten accustomed to my pocket change...that monthly check from Google, and as those checks became smaller and less frequent, I began searching for something more. During the past few weeks I have redesigned most of my websites, The Rusty Goat included, and incorporated Amazon ads throughout them, trimming down Google's presence. And the result? A two hundred percent increase in revenues! Yes, I admit I am overwhelmed as I wipe tears of happiness from my face.
Not only do I sell my books exclusively on Amazon (pocket change) I am now a die-hard Amazon Associate (more pocket change.) But in spite of the income, I am able to garnish from the company, I am also a true believer in the concept of Amazon. As a frequent Amazon shopper, I save significant money...even more since going Prime. My stuff shows up in the mailbox in two days and I have a world of variety to choose from when I shop. And I can shop while bingeing on 'The Heart of Dixie.'
Here's a rundown of my Amazon purchases this month:
Ariat Western Boots $100.00 (Western Store $169.00)
Imitation Rogaine 3 bottles $18.00 (Walmart 1 bottle $12.00)
Blades and belt for the riding mower $35.00 (Sears 80.00)
Cabin filter for the pickup $7.00 (Auto Zone 15.00)
European virgin human hair toupee for men $105.00...I didn't really buy that! Just seeing if you are paying attention.
I gotta wrap this up. The Smoke Shop in town was out of my Irish Latte Vape Juice. What if Amazon doesn't have that? Cinnamon, cotton candy, watermelon...this may take a while. Hemp flavored...wonder what that tastes like?
What is our world going to look like in five years if all the stores close down? Heck, we'll never know, we will be streaming Amazon movies and shopping online for popcorn...hey, here's something called 'Horny Goat Weed,' Interesting...