Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Day Off

Out earning today. Will just leave you with a simple thought.

I'm a victim of Reverse Jimmy Buffett/Ernest Hemingway Syndrome. Yes, that's the syndrome exemplified by the entrenched belief that, no matter where on the planet you are, you are the only American that the natives love.

The natives always hated me. So did the in-country folks, I believe.

I was never chosen for a sports team.

No girl ever danced with me when I asked.

Teachers didn't learn my name until the semester was over.

I was the "Marty" (Remember the movie? One of my all time hits.) of my world, except the woman who finally did pay attention was knock-down gorgeous.

Oh, I guess I had, still do, some extraordinary friends.

Well, there were some bosses that paid me well and taught me things.

I've always had good neighbors.

Some great musicians have befriended me.

Come to think about it, I've been pretty darn lucky.

Have a good day.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Tax law and training bras ...

My wife called him “your little running buddy” and we did go out jogging almost every morning the weather allowed. Now that he had talked me into training for a marathon, we became serious about it. It was in the fall of 1979 that we began our quest, so we would meet mornings way before sunrise and head off north from South Broadway. Sometimes we would drift over and make a circle into North Little Rock and sometimes we would turn west and head out Markham Street and back.

In addition to tacking on distance, I found that he had quietly increased the pace. He was just a tad shorter than I, and probably weighted less than 160 pounds. It was pure torture and I would complain if he got too aggressive. Saturdays and Sundays, we began to extend our routes, mostly pushing our distances to the ten-mile range. "Be a man," he would say when I whined, as if manhood were a choice.

Why I was doing this, I had no idea. I guess the most obvious plea would be insanity.

In inclement weather, we would meet at the reliable old Downtown YMCA. There, we carried out our daily mission on an indoor track that measured at 16 laps per mile. Mornings usually weren’t crowded, so it allowed for collegial conversation as we circled for what seemed like days. We talked of history, literature, politics, art, and sometimes tax law. Oh yes, tax law. That’s what he taught at the law school and he enjoyed pontificating about it. It eased the boredom of the incessant circulation, so I listened. I always felt they should have given me credit for taking his class had I entered law school. On practical matters involving litigation, he remained reticent, fearing, I think, that he might unknowingly give legal advice.

I’ll leave us there, spinning around that little track like specks on a phonograph record. These days we walk, my wife and I, around a similar track at a local gym. We manage a mile or two a day, which at our age might be considered respectable.

We don’t talk about history or literature now as we circle the track. I can’t keep up with her, so we each walk alone with our separate thoughts. I recently read somewhere that enjoying quiet time alone with those thoughts each day improves your memory. I hope so for our sakes, though I feel for the youth of today, whose greatest fear seems to be having a quiet, lonely moment, sans cell phone, forced upon them.

Oh well, it’s time to don my gym attire and head for a walk. Today I think I’ll try and see if I can remember anything about tax law while I stroll.

Nah. Who am I kidding? I'll probably see if I can remember anything about Betty Anne Bohanon, the only girl in Junior High who, they said, never bothered with a training bra. For the life of me, I can't recall why I ever found that to be interesting.

Now that I concentrate,
it's coming back to me.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Life's Challenges

 I think I mentioned once that right near the end of 1979, my next-door neighbor, and jogging partner, said one morning, quite casually, “Let’s run a marathon.” He sounded quite a bit like Mickey Rooney’s character in the old films, when he would say, “Hey kids, let’s put on a show!”

It made about as much sense.

Yes, I had been jogging for nearly five years. Yes, I had shed over 50 pounds. Yes, my blood pressure was a steady and reliable 120/80. Yes, I had actually run 10 kilometers once without stopping. Yes, that was 6.2 miles, and over rough terrain. Yes, we were jogging, on average, five miles per day. Yes, I was a strapping 36-year-old, if you can believe that.

But a marathon is 26.2 miles. In a nod to Greek history, the first marathon commemorated the run of the soldier Pheidippides from a battlefield near the town of Marathon, Greece, to Athens in 490 B.C. According to legend, Pheidippides ran the approximately 25 miles to announce the defeat of the Persians to some anxious Athenians. Not quite in mid-season shape, he delivered the message "Niki!" (Victory!) then keeled over and died. (

Get that? He died. People die trying to run marathons, maybe not as often as the ones trying to climb Mt. Everest, but they do die. They expire. They fall down and achieve ambient temperature ere the ambulance arrives. They are referred to as “the late imbecile” by their spouses and friends. It makes no sense. Your body completely runs “out of gas” before it is over. They call that “hitting the wall.” I had no desire to experience the phenomenon. The very idea was ludicrous. Five years earlier I had been a wobbling slob. Further, I had failed at every sport to which an American child was subjected back then. Who was he kidding? I would choose to live a while longer.

“What marathon?” I asked.

“The Arkansas Marathon,” he said. “It will be in Booneville on March First.”

“March First? We can’t ready by then.”

“We could if we tried.”

“Well, I’m not going to try.”

“Come on. It’ll be fun.”

“No way.”

“We’ll move up to seven miles a day and be at ten a day by the end of the year. Then all we’ll have to do is work in some long runs after the first of next year.”

“You must be kidding.”

“No, I’ve started making some notes for a training schedule.”

“Well, erase my name. The very idea is ludicrous.” I used words like “ludicrous” when talking to him. He was a graduate of Harvard Law School and I thought it made me sound less like a country bumpkin that could be led around like a trained pig.

“I’ve already mapped out a seven-mile route,” he said. “We can start it on Sunday.”

“Take your seven-mile route and put it … uh … don’t assume collaboration on my part.”

“We’ll have to leave 30 minutes earlier than we’ve been leaving. That will still get us to work on time.”

“I don’t see how we could make it by March.”

“I knew you’d come around.”

“Where’s this new seven-mile route you’ve worked out?”

Thus began one of the strangest episodes in an already strange life.

Do you remember that life insurance
policy you were talking about getting?

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Belief Bridges

Theology Time: In an America desperately in need of what I call “belief bridges,” I find the Sermon on the Mount particularly compelling. By “belief bridges,” I mean things that may create harmony between people of differing worldviews, even for a short time.

We have covered the opening “blessings” previously. Though you could, as I have pointed out, chase some of those who today claim to be “Christian Leaders” with a copy of the Beatitudes, most thinking people would regard them as a guide to those whom the Galilean deemed happy. Why? Because, though they are set upon today, a better world awaits them. Others view them as a guide to fulfilling a Christian life. Others simply say, “Those are my brothers and sisters with special needs, and I am their keeper.” Whatever. They, these simple blessings, still have the power to shake the foundations of rational belief as part of the immortal Sermon on the Mount.

Summarizing this wondrous work in a few words is impossible. Simply consider some of the more well-known passages.

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (5:14-16).

You have heard that it was said, "Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth." But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also (5:38-39).

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (6:19-21).

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money (6:24).

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you (7:7).

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it (7:13-14).

Consider how “The Sermon” has been cited by both real and fictional personages. At one end of the belief spectrum, Jonathan Pennington, associate professor of New Testament interpretation and director of research doctoral studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, said this about the Sermon on the Mount, “… it’s wisdom from God, inviting us through faith to re-orient our values, vision, and habits from the ways of external righteousness to whole-heartedness toward God. This isn’t ‘law’ but ‘gospel.’ Jesus is inviting us into life in God’s kingdom both now and in the future age. This is grace.”

At the far end of the spectrum, that of non-belief, scientist and writer Carl Sagan says this of his atheist protagonist of the novel Contact, “Ellie, was deeply moved by the Sermon on the Mount.”

This concept of religious writing, one that serves to unite us, build bridges between us, and open the narrow gate to an exalted life, may seem strange to many in today’s America. I suppose that’s why we don’t hear much—even from those who claim to love the Galilean—about The Sermon on the Mount.

Too bad for us.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Youthful Heroes

Have you ever had such a pleasant surprise that it changed your life? It happened to me once maybe 20 years ago. Pleasant wasn’t the word for it.

It happened this way.

I had responded to a call from a worker at our state’s Office of Volunteerism and had agreed to some pro bono work for the City of Alma, Arkansas. That’s a nice community in the far west of the state, almost to Oklahoma. Yes, you remember right, it’s where Buck Barrow and another of Bonnie and Clyde’s gang members murdered a town marshal back in the 1930s. Anyway, it’s a long way from Little Rock.

 I figured I would drive there and do my thing, then drive back. But no, the man from the state insisted on driving the both of us in a state car.

Drats. I barely knew him. His name was Hal Naylor, and was a fastidious sort of guy—tall, thin, neat, and no-nonsense. And here I was, well, much the opposite in some ways. But I was stuck with Hal for maybe four hours in a car, just the two of us. Maybe I could keep him occupied by relating my fascinating life’s story. Maybe not. Drats.

We took off. Somewhere about the western city limits of North Little Rock, something motivated him to tell me about his life. First thing was, he was distantly related to Dwight Eisenhower, the Dwight Eisenhower. Hal told about how, when he was a young boy, the Colonel had stopped by to visit family when passing through Kansas. Hal had met him and still remembered how splendid he looked in his uniform and highly shined boots.

Then it really got interesting. Hal was a college student when World War Two broke out. He left college, joined cadet pilot training program, and, at age 21, found himself piloting a B-17 Flying Fortress and its nine-man crew, ten counting Hal. Holy wingspan! Now, I’ve nothing against the youth of today. I’m only thinking how few 21-year-olds I would let take my car in for an oil-change.

Oh goodness. On the flight over to England, the Germans hacked the plane’s communications and he landed in a neutral zone. After being hustled out, he made it to England and began bombing runs over France and into Germany.

We were halfway to Alma by then, but I hadn’t even noticed.

On, if I remember right, their sixth mission, they got shot down. Being the pilot, he was the last one out, barely making it through a hatch jammed by the heavy winds of a fast descent. His parachute was tied to his leg, so he had to slip it on as he fell. Somehow, he made it onto German soil.

I’ve always thought it interesting that he, although quite talkative, didn’t have a lot to say about how they carried out his rescue. He just said, “I walked through Germany to a designated spot.” Still classified after all those years? Maybe. Anyway, his rescuers told him to hide in the woods at the edge of a clearing where, a plane would land at 0130 Hours, a while after midnight. It would turn around, a hatch would open, and he had 30 seconds to be through the hatch before the plane took off.

He’s 21 years old, mind you, in Germany and facing certain death if anything went wrong.

The plane came, landed turned and waited. The hatch opened and our young escapee started running.

“Then,” he said, “I heard all the footsteps behind me. I made the conscious decision that if they caught me and killed me, I would be as close to that plane as I could get.”

Somehow, he reached the plane before they overtook him and he dove through the hatch. Another body dove in behind him. Then another, and another and another. Soon, the cargo space was full of young Americans and the plane took off for freedom. Seems they had all been waiting with no knowledge of another person anywhere around.

On that day, I took the shortest ride to and from Alma, Arkansas that I ever took. Gee, I wish I could take it again.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Old friends

I knew I was really back for another conference of the Arkansas Municipal League when a hand grabbed my shoulder and said, "Hello Jim. Good to see you again." It was Jeremy.

Jeremy, and I'm tempted to call him a young man but he's not so young now, works at the convention center where they hold these summer conferences. I first saw him nearly 22 years ago when the center was part of the Excelsior Hotel, then the Peabody, now the Marriott. He was 16 years old then. He'd catch your eye because he worked so hard, amidst all the confusion of attending to over a thousand attendees. His job wasn't one that usually entailed a long career.

But years passed and he showed up just as I did, like clockwork. Then one day I commented on the fact that he had been on the job a good while. We talked about it and this pleased him quite a bit. I don't think anyone else had ever noticed. Soon, we began to joke about it at each new conference. "Good to see you again. We made it another year. How's it going?" It was probably against the rules, talking to the guests, but we didn't care.

Now it's moved to a handshake and hug. We've each gotten older, maybe a little bigger. But greeting one another is sort of a milestone, a little continuity in a world in which instability is the only stable element which one can expect.

You don't find folks staying at the same job for 20 years these days. Moreover, you don't find people staying that long and seeming to enjoy it.

It's nice knowing Jeremy, just a person I see once a year, sometimes twice. It's nice knowing there are things in this world you can count on, even if it's only a friendly face. It's just nice, that's all.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Off Working

Off to the second day of the Arkansas Municipal League summer conference. If I hear any juicy gossip, I'll, uh, probably keep it to myself. Actually these affairs are hot beds of respectability, so I don't expect much.

Had a long talk with colleague Jeff Hawkins yesterday. We discussed "movements" in our profession and how they tend dissipate as they are dashed against the sunken reefs of reality. He went off on one long rant and I called him an old grouch.

He just cackled and went on.