The Best of 'Strange Thinking' with author Rodney Strange
This week I want to take a break from all the current happenings throughout our nation and just tell you about the day I got lost. I know the first thing that passed through the minds of my female readers when they read that last sentence was,
"And you're a man and wouldn't ask for directions."
You are wrong, Chicklets! I did ask...and that is the story I wish to tell.
It was a beautiful fall-like Saturday morning that I sat out on my adventure to the city. My daughter's volleyball team had a game scheduled at LCHS in Lubbock, Texas. I had glanced at the schedule hanging on the fridge several times throughout the week, and in my mind, which is not always the right mind, I knew exactly where she was playing...LCHS, a private Christian school in the center of Lubbock, right over by the K-mart. I had judged that it would take me forty minutes to get from here to there, and right on schedule that Saturday morning, I stepped out of the house at nine-fifteen. The clock on the dash of my pickup read nine-fifty five as I pulled into the parking lot. I switched the key off and stepped out onto the asphalt. That's when the eerie feeling swept over me. As I glanced around the empty parking lot, a wave of fear rushed through my body as I came to the realization I might not be at the right school. I glanced at a sign looming before me, 'Trinity Christian School' which obviously would not be LCHS. I whipped my not-so-smart ten-year-old phone from its holster and stared at the time. I had three minutes to find the right school.
Frantically I pulled out of the parking lot, and in a panic, swerved into the next parking lot I saw...a convenience store! Someone in that store would surely know where LCHS was! As I leaped from my vehicle, a postal worker exited the store. As hurried as I was at the moment, I immediately noticed she was unlike any postal worker I had ever seen. A long and lean little filly, her blonde hair in a french braid, her official USPS issued shirt unbuttoned one button too many, and shorts far too short to be officially licensed by the Post Office...she took my breath away just watching her saunter across the pavement toward her little square postal jeep.
"Excuse me, miss...um, Postal Officer!"
She paused and a broad smile spread across her face as I approached. I explained that I was lost and now sort of late to a volleyball game and could she tell me where in Lubbock, Texas LCHS was? She whipped her enormous iPhone X out from where I did not know, as her shorts could not possibly have pockets big enough to hold that thing.
"Let's just google it!" she exclaimed, drawing her body closer to mine to share her screen with me. My heartbeat picked up a notch just watching her slender fingers type on the screen.
"Um, I think it would have to be Lubbock Cooper High School. It's about fifteen minutes from here."
I protested that I really was under the impression that I was looking for a Christian school...didn't she know of one with those same initials? Yes, she replied, there was a Lubbock Christain High School, but she had no clue where it might be. I hesitantly thanked her for her help, and with one more glance of over my shoulder to eye those long, tan legs, I bounced back into my truck, briefly pondering how it could be possible a mail carrier would not know where anything was.
Thirty minutes later, I again began my fruitless search for the illusive LCHS, having wasted precious time and gas driving out to the Cooper High School only to discover that, alas, it was not the right LCHS. Perhaps it was Lubbock Coronado High School, a woman standing outside of Cooper High School had suggested. Frustrated, I had driven back to where I had begun my search. I ventured down the street a bit farther...ten miles, eventually passing a sign that read, 'Lubbock Christain University.' I held my hand to my forehead and sighed. The initials did not match up! LCU was not LCHS. Nevertheless, I pulled into the campus, all but abandoned on this fall-ish Saturday morning. I spotted a jogger on the sidewalk and rolled my window down and gave her a shout. She continued, oblivious to me, her headphones drowning out my voice. I desperately tapped my horn...and she stopped.
As she came toward my vehicle, I could see she was young, attractive, athletic, and bra-less. She stooped and stuck her head through the passenger window, her arms crossed, resting on the door. My eyes unavoidably focused on what could have been two very distinctly protruding marbles beneath her thin tank top. OMG, don't stare at those, I told myself silently, averting my eyes to...OMG, hairy armpits! Don't stare at those either! I forced my line of sight upward toward her face where I saw the most beautiful smile and the greenest green eyes staring back at me.
"Sorry to bother you, but I'm looking for LCHS?"
"Oh, it's right over there," she pointed her finger toward what appeared to be a stadium, "Just head toward those lights at the football field!"
"I did mention it was volleyball, not football?"
She giggled and spread her arms wide, armpit hairs blowing in the breeze, "Yes silly! The school sits right beside the football field."
Then she was gone. I watched her jog away, admiring her lime green Nike shorts, then turned the truck toward the lights.
Minutes later I scurried into the gym, making my way toward the rest of the parents of our volleyball team.
"Well it's about time!" several of the mothers chastised me.
"I liked to have never found this place. How much have I missed?" I questioned as I stared at my not-so-smart smartphone, which told me it was just past eleven.
"About fifteen minutes. You know these games never start on time." One of the mothers responded, "You want some advice? Ask for directions! Ask a woman! We'll never steer you wrong."
I nodded in faux agreement, my eyes focusing on my daughter on the court below. She glanced up into the stands, spotting her dad, and the faintest smile crossed her face. A huge sigh escaped from within me...I had made her game. Beyond the walls of that gymnasium, far from the city limits of Lubbock, past the boundaries of where I call home...the world may be crumbling beneath our feet. But at that exact moment, there was nothing more important than watching my daughter play volleyball.
with author Rodney Strange
The other night I was cruising around Twitter looking for folks who might share some common interests with me and ran a search for #babyboomers. Whoa, was I shocked to discover that, fellow baby boomers, WE are the enemy! Not one baby boomer did I discover, but rather what appears to be an all-out preparation to go to battle with US! I was disturbed, to say the least at the revelation that WE are to blame for everything that is wrong in America. I have spent considerable time researching this since that discovery...and there are indeed some points to ponder.
First, I must make it clear that I personally fall at the very end of the Baby Boomer generation, in fact, my outlook on life tends to fall in line with the Generation X'ers, which first began to make their appearance in the sixties. As you can see, I land right in the middle of all this. Let's get on to our Millennials.
In an issue of Time Magazine I discovered at the doctor's office, author Josh Sanburn describes Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000) as narcissistic, lazy, coddled, and even delusional, and he cites a decade of research to back it up. After spinning a considerable amount of negative backwash about the people who will one day rule the world, he wraps up with the conclusion that their self-centeredness, overconfidence, and optimism is a result of adaptation to a rapidly changing world.
Now here's what I think. I think it is our fault...we, the baby boomer generation did this to our kids. We did coddle them, hovering over them like she-wolves over their suckling cubs, ready to pounce on the first thing that made a move. We showed them what we had accomplished with our half million dollar homes with three brand new SUVs in the drive. We spoiled them with worldly treasures their entire lives. We told them they HAD to get a college degree and in fact, could do so with readily available student loans. We painted this rosy picture of what life would be like for them in the twenty-first century, then like mama birds, gently shoved them from the nest...and the world came crashing down around them. Those degrees earned with borrowed money can no longer land them a job. They are still living in the bird's nest, sleeping in the very beds they wet as toddlers. The future is bleak and sure to become even more so when the effects of tens of thousands of dollars in student loans will haunt them until their dying day. Our children, educated to the max, aren't stupid people. They see no bright future...and so they have taken on the role of survivor. Yes, they think they are entitled to a better life, and by gosh it has become every man for himself to scratch out some facsimile of the life their parents have lived.
We the baby boomers saw that the sky was the limit. We could achieve anything our hearts desired. Dad worked all hours of the day and night to achieve success, and when we wanted more, Mom went to work, leaving our Millennials to fend for themselves. We missed their ball games, piano recitals, and school functions. To compensate, we bought them stuff...TV's, iPods, Nintendos, X-boxes, and Wii's. We gave them phones so we could parent them from the other end of the line. We, the baby boomers amassed great fortunes which we spent on our turnkey children who raised themselves like abandoned bear cubs. Then we turned them out into the wild, wicked world and told them, "You too can do this." We lied to them. It's no wonder they are who they are.
We have failed our children in more ways than one. In our frenzy to have more than the guy next door, we sacrificed what is important. We gave our kids more 'stuff' than they could ever use up, but we failed to give them the love and nurturing we as parents are bound as parents to give. We also failed to deliver the most important necessity of all, we failed to give them a spiritual education.
The very beliefs our parents instilled in us...we were too busy to pass along to our kids. We worked long and hard all week. Sunday was just another day. We didn't take our children to church. We were just too tired to tuck them into bed and listen to their bedtime prayers. There was no organized suppertime, therefore no blessing before the meal. It's no wonder our children's beliefs tend to swing to the extreme.
I personally find the younger generation full of love and hope and determination...determination not to make the same mistakes we did. Millennials, I love ya...and I really do get it! Put me in the GOOD rest home when the time comes!
I caught some flack from a couple of people after I published last week’s blog post. These people, who I associate with on a personal level, seemed concerned that I had implied that I just haphazardly toss my personal life out there for the entire world to enjoy. Of course, that’s not really what they fear. They are scared to death I just might tell a secret about them. So, just for fun, I thought I’d rock the boat a little this week and really tell something that will rattle a few cages…here goes!
I gingerly placed the palm of my hand against her cheek as I peered into her eyes and beyond, far beyond into the very depths of her soul. I watched a tear form in the corner of her eye and I brushed it from her lash with a finger.
“I can hear your heartbreaking,” I whispered softly.
She remained silent, pressing her face further into my hand.
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” I continued, placing my other hand against her heart ever so lightly, “I’m here now. Please don’t cry.”
Her lips drew closer to mine and I closed my eyes and tasted her sweetness, sensing the passion of her despair.
Well, there you go! That’s about as personal as one can get, don’t you think? I should never share a moment like that with anyone, much less on the internet with, ummm….I’m going to guess around twenty-five thousand will see this week’s blog post. Let’s take a closer look. I did not divulge any descriptions that would give this person’s identity away. What color were her eyes? Her hair? Did this event happen earlier this evening or twenty years ago? Or…did it happen at all!
I am a writer…I write fiction. The above is nothing more. Who I visualized as I wrote is not the same person you saw as you read the blurb. If in the course of writing something I do happen to refer to a true event that passed through my life at some point, I’ll guaran-damn-tee you you’ll never know if it was fact or fiction…even if I wrote it about you. I’m just that good!
When I sat down to write ‘Nineteen Seventy Something,’ I had intended to base the story on my teen years. Page after page, I diluted the truth with embellishments and falsehoods until upon completion; the novel was just a story...fiction. Sure, there are half a dozen people who might recognize a random event within the book, but they’d be hard-pressed to accuse me of letting any skeletons out of the closet.
Let’s face it. Everything is fiction these days. The news…is not the news. It’s embellished and slanted in every which direction to the point that it borderlines fiction. When I studied journalism way back in the day, we were taught that one’s personal opinion was to never bleed into the news story you wrote. Today the news is simply someone’s twisted opinion.
Politicians are perhaps the best storytellers of our time and they produce much fictitious fodder to fuel the media’s fascination with fiction. By the time the general public gets the story, it’s apt to be a fiction doubleheader. We, the American people are often befuddled and bedazzled as we wade through the inaccuracies that bombard us daily.
So who can we trust to tell us something true? Surely scientists wouldn’t fill our heads with fiction! I fear that the scientists of today are more storytellers than their predecessors. Recently scientists proclaimed that as much as fifty percent of the earth’s water is older than the sun. But wait…doesn’t that nullify the ‘Big Bang Theory?’ Scientists overload us daily with new revelations, many of them unbelievable and likely most of them mere fiction.
The late famed physicist and devout atheist Stephen Hawkins told us we no longer have any reason to believe that a God exists. We now have enough scientific evidence to support the hows and whys of the universe that we can put the Supreme Creator theory to rest. He said, and I quote, “In my opinion, there is no aspect of reality beyond the reach of the human mind.”
I’m a simple minded person and there are a lot of realities beyond my reach. The fiction of today’s world tends to confuse my mind. When I search for facts, I turn to the only reliable source of fact in existence today. The Holy Bible, written over a period of two thousand years by forty authors from three continents in three different languages, has not a single contradiction within its pages. That WOWs me!
Gotta go…I see a smokin’ hot blonde coming down my road in a shiny black Camaro! Haha! Can’t believe everything I tell you!
It's been a tough week for me, just one of those weeks that beats a man down. And when I get beat down so far, I throw a party...a pity party. Weeks like this get me to thinking about how, if I were really honest with myself, truthfully...my whole life has been pretty tough. So, I've moped around for a day or two contemplating that perhaps I should throw in the towel. Give up. Not anything major, mind you, like eating rat poison. No, more along the lines of piling up on the couch, turning on Netflix, and devouring an entire family size bag of Lay's potato chips. If you know me, you know that if it comes to that, I've pretty much given up on life.
We all go through these little bumps in the road and I suppose we all handle it differently. Some drink. I'm not much of a drinker...I've still got a beer in the fridge from 1999. I just haven't had the urge to drink it. Some folks turn to drugs. The last time I laid eyes on any illegal substances was the night Sticky Nikki pulled a baggie out of her panties on some dark country road back in Nineteen Seventy Something. Ah, and there you have it. I just gave it away with that last sentence. When I get down and out, I go back...to Nineteen Seventy Something.
I wrote a book titled 'Nineteen Seventy Something' a few years back. It's a good book if I do say so myself. I wrote it during a pretty tough time in my life, much tougher than this week has been. Looking back, I didn't realize it then, but writing the book was a form of therapy, probably the best therapy I could have gotten. As I wrote what would become a fictionalized account of my early years, I began to realize just how bad those days were...and I never knew it at the time.
I found myself on my own at the age of seventeen with my senior year of high school looming ominously before me. I had a piddly job sacking groceries that brought me a paycheck of around seventy bucks a week. I had a car payment, rent, and all the usual bills, and somehow I had to feed myself with what was left over. If I had a twenty dollar bill in my pocket, I thought I was living in high cotton. More often than not, my money usually ran out a couple of days before payday, and most of those days, supper was a piece of bread or a few saltine crackers and the scrapings from an empty peanut butter jar. Those were the good weeks. There were weeks where I'd have to buy a tire or a starter for my car, or a jar of peanut butter. Then there was the senior ring, a tux for prom, and all those expenses that come with graduation. When the soles of my boots wore through to the pavement, I made insoles out of cardboard. That'd get me by for a few days, and then I'd put more cardboard in my boots. I suppose I could write a book about those times...oh yeah, I did.
Not much of all that made it in the book. When I allowed my memories to rattle loose from their hiding places within the depths of my mind, it wasn't those times that I remembered. It was the good times. Only in later years did I realize that in spite of all the trials and tribulations I endured in the seventies, I looked back on them as the good old days. I asked myself why and the only answer I ever came up with was...because I survived. And I grew up strong!
I was a kid at the end of his teen years, full of hope and dreams, and I never let anything take either of them away. I took life by the horns and held on tight for the ride of a lifetime. I never even considered failure a possibility. I worked forty hours a week and made the A honor roll. I was in the senior play, active in FFA, editor of the school paper, and won second place in the state in the UIL journalism competition. I paid off my Plymouth Roadrunner and never missed a payment. I had friends, best friends. I had girlfriends...two at once and they didn't care! I discovered a love of such magnitude that few would ever experience in a lifetime. I received a scholarship to college and never missed a day of class. I moved from a shack that had been converted from a chicken coop into a three bedroom, two bath house, charming and quaint...with carpet and air conditioning! I promoted up through the company to become the youngest store manager in its history...then promoted to become the youngest area supervisor ever. I accomplished all of this before the age of twenty-one. Not one time did I ever consider giving up...not once.
I've had more tough times since the seventies, lots and lots of them. I call them adventures. The Good Lord grants some folks immense success, financial wealth, enduring love. ageless beauty...me, I've been blessed with lots of adventures. I'm grateful for every one of them. Through it all, I've never lost the hope and dreams...and I've never lost faith. I suppose without those bumps in the road, there'd be no adventures...and no stories to tell. Am I really going to let one lousy week get me down? No...because I go back...
My eyes focused on the girl sitting beside me on the hood of my car out in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. She was all I had in this whole world at this exact moment...and I couldn't bear the thought of losing anything more than I'd already lost. My hand drew her face close to mine until our lips touched and I let Sticky Nikki D take my loneliness away, if only for the night. Rising up through the air like the smell of colitas, the wail of the guitars of the Eagles played on the 8-track and the words rang in my ears,
'We are all just prisoners here, of our own device...'
With author Rodney Strange
You just never know when the world as you know it is going to come crashing down around you. There I was last Monday merrily cruising through life with my Rusty Goat mentality just as I've done for years now. I narrowly avoided an accident down at the edge of town when I ran a red light while craning my neck to scope out a hot cowgirl putting gas in her Dually pickup truck. A skimpy little pink blouse that left most of her midriff exposed had caught my eye, but it was those exceptionally short blue jean daisy dukes that nearly caused the wreck. My heart rate had simmered down somewhat by the time I pulled into the parking lot of the local Walmart Dollar Store. On the way in to buy some dunkin' sticks and coffee for tomorrow's breakfast, I fiddled with a package of peanut butter crackers, finally managing to rip through the cellophane. I popped a whole cracker in my mouth and with the first crunch, felt a pinch on my arm. Turning around, I came face to face with a short brunette who has been shamelessly stalking me in recent weeks. Her eyes twinkled as they met mine.
"Can't you find anything better than that to put in your mouth?" she giggled and winked.
I smiled, my cheeks bulging with a wad of chewed cracker.
"When are we going to go dancing? I've been asking you this same question for three weeks? I'm beginning to think you're putting me off!"
Well, my mama taught me to never talk with my mouth full, which was convenient at the moment so I shrugged. Giving her the universal fingers-to-the-ear sign for 'call me,' I turned and scurried on into the Walmart, knowing she didn't have my number.
Once I arrived home, I plopped down into my easy chair, grabbing the laptop and checked my email, wondering what I was going to cook for supper. I took a deep drag off my e-cigarette peace pipe as I deleted everything. Then, with hesitation, I clicked on the link to a dating site. My eyes lit up as I discovered I had one message. Not bad for an old guy, I thought. My enthusiasm faded as I stared at the photo. The message likely had been sent from an out-of-state nursing home. I'm old but not that old, I muttered as I shook my head.
For reasons unknown even to me, I had spontaneously put my profile on a dating site the previous week and up until this moment had not had a single nibble. I didn't expect much. I'm pretty old to most women searching for true love. I'm beat up and rough around the edges. And then there is the issue of who I have become.
My fear is...can I escape that 'Rusty Goat' persona that has become so 'me' over the years? I am very comfortable in this skin. I drawl my Texas accent proudly. I conversate through tales and parables. I'm fond of words like ain't and ya'll and it's really hard to refrain from throwing a damn in here and there. My fear is trying to overcome who I am.
I reluctantly opened the message.
'Hello. I found you on the dating site and I think you would be a perfect fit for my daughter. She is single and apparently intends to remain so for the rest of her life. It worries me that she will end up like me, old and alone. So, I have undertaken the challenge of finding a suitable man for her and I choose you. She lives in your area, is a doctor and a very attractive middle-aged woman. Would you be interested in learning more?'
My mind spun out of control. A doctor? Shaking my head, I knew someone of such prestige would never be interested in the likes of me. I never wanted to be one of 'those people' and it's likely that throughout the years I've missed some golden opportunities because of my insistence to remain 'just a good ol' boy.' But, as I pondered over this, I realized that I thrive on challenges. I've accomplished much in my life and succeeded at most everything I've taken on, except finding true love and getting rich, and I haven't given up on either of them. So, I find myself excited at the prospect of yet another challenge. Perhaps the biggest challenge won't be escaping that Rusty Goat persona...perhaps it will be as simple as making 'those folks' love me for who I am...
My eyes sparkled as I typed my reply.
"Yes, please, tell me more!"
As an author, there are many potholes, in fact, vast chasms that one must cross when putting their work on public display. One is self-worth. How does one wish to be remembered when they're gone? As an author, my reputation with the masses of readers who may come into contact with my writing means something to me. I could probably write some pretty wild erotica. Matter of fact, I had a whole short story written in my head the other day as I stood behind a smoking hot little thing in a checkout line at Walmart. There she stood clutching a set of watercolors...and nothing to paint on. She was the kind of woman you'd find on a rack at Dillard's. Me, Goodwill. But she was eye candy and I was fully aware that I had about as much of a chance of landing a date with her as I would Reba McEntire. My imagination spiraled out of control. But, no. Truthfully it is not the millions of folks I will never meet who keep me in check. It is that pitifully few that I know personally. My family, friends, and fellow church members. Oh, and pastors. I value my personal reputation too much to jeopardize it with those around me.
This is where an author takes on new challenges. Can I write a sultry love scene fit to be viewed by a pastor, a Sunday school teacher, or my child? Can I draw my reading audience into a moment of passion without using a single word unfit to be spoken in a church building? Can I as an author pit two characters head to head in a heated conversation, and portray that scene fitfully without using four-letter words? Yes, I can. And taking on a challenge of this magnitude makes me grow as an author.
In my last novel, 'Imperceptible: The Parables of Steele,' there are two very mild curse words in chapter one. Once you get past those, you'll not find another cringe-worthy word throughout the entire book. I'd bet the farm you'd never notice their absence. Yes, pretty proud of achieving that. Pat myself on the back.
So what are you as a person worth? Whether you're a writer like myself, or a singer, a teacher, a mentor, or a parent, do you jeopardize your reputation, do you de-value your self-worth, for the sake of 'shock and awe?' I find it a refreshing and rewarding challenge to take a high road. And let's face it...F-words lost their shock value long ago and there's nothing left to top 'Shades of Gray.' I cherish the challenge of taking a mere teaspoon of my personal imagination and turning it into a raging river flowing through your mind! An author worth his salt doesn't need much imagination. He just needs to figure out how to make the reader use theirs. Sometimes all you need is a beautiful woman, some watercolors, and a spoonful of imagination!