Army of one

I was chatting with my wife yesterday and we started talking about Moses… ya know… the guy with the white beard from the Bible. He was the one with the staff, wearing a robe. Had sandals. Ring a bell?

I can’t really give you a straight story of what he did because as many times as I have read the story, heard it, seen it in a movie, or discussed events from it, I can never keep it straight between any of the other guys who potentially matched the physical appearance of the description I just gave you.

Why is that?

We never met these people. We really don’t know what they looked like. We have ideas of what their customs were and how people dressed in society from that time period … but why do we have this pre-conceived notion of what THOSE particular individuals looked like? … so much so that I am easily confused between one character and another.

This was a question that came up while my wife and I were chatting yesterday, and she came up with the answer: Flannelgraph.

For those of you who never grew up with Flannelgraph, it was a Sunday School method of story-telling in the early/mid 80’s I don’t know if they still use it or not, but essentially, it was a big flannel board they’d put up on an easel, and the Sunday School teacher would tell the children a story and illustrate it using paper cut-outs of characters that had a velcro-like adhesive on the back that would stick to the flannel board. As the years passed, the characters tend to lose their “stickiness” and inevitably, while the teacher would be trying to tell the story, the characters would be falling off the board, causing quite a disruption and making it very difficult for the children to stay focused on the story.

The main problem lie in that the materials that were provided with the Flannelgraph were stock materials for all of the stories. You had one old fat man who played the part of Moses, Noah, Abraham, and various other fitting parts, a couple of scruffy lookin’ guys who usually played the part of a disciple, Cain, Moses’ sons, or possibly the guy who carried Christ’s cross; a few women who played various parts of women crying, being healed, or someone’s wife; an occasional soldier; and Christ: the Caucasian male with blue eyes, a white robe, blue sash, and long beautiful brown hair. He came with removable sandals so that the disciples could wash his feet, and an optional body that was either clothed in aforementioned attire, or beaten to a bloody pulp. There seemed to be absolutely no difference between Greek, Hebrew, or Roman. They all looked the same: white skin with brown hair.

There were other props that went along with these stories: a road, on which a man could lay on the ground awaiting a Samaritan or where Christ could carry his cross; a stone house, which looked very much like a home modeled after the Flintstones; a tree, from which Zacchius, the “wee” little man (apparently Scottish), would sit or under which Christ would pray his last prayers before being hauled off by the mob to be crucified. I also seem to recall some chariots, on which soldiers would ride, or men would be carried off to heaven, as well as streams, where babies would float in baskets. These streams came in two pieces, so they could be split and people could walk between them on dry land until the crowd lost their adhesive and fell off the board entirely, along with the Egyptian army who was in pursuit.

There were also stone walls that would serve as the backdrop for a castle, a city gate, or the inside of a building. This wall also came in two parts so that you could tear it apart as “walls came tumbling down.”

It all had a very Monty Python-type animation feel to it.

Ok, you get the idea. Flannelgraph… Multimedia technology for the 80’s.

Effective story-telling device? Perhaps. I’m sure that there are thousands of men and women who now know the stories of the Bible from having attended Sunday School and seeing their favorite characters “now in color” blaze into action on the flannel board.

…But there are a select few of us who seem to get the stories of Noah, Moses, and Abraham confused because they all seem to look like the same guy in our minds. I can just imagine meeting them in heaven and saying, “YOU’RE Moses? You look nothing like your Flannelgraph. You don’t look like Noah or Abraham, either, strangely enough.”

“Yeah. We get that a lot.”

Short pants

So here I am, sitting in my chair, writing in my blog as I notice my pants…. Hey! They’re too short!

I bought ’em at a cheapie store in Grand Rapids called, Steve ‘n Barry’s. I love the store cuz everything in it is like $7 or less. …but ya get what ya pay for, I guess.

One of ths shirts I bought from that store bled all over itself in the washer…. and now these jeans are too short.

I wear a 30 x 30, and I love the other pair of jeans I got from that store… also 30 x 30’s. But those fit perfectly… even have a tiny extra bit of length on ’em, just the way I like it.

So on top of these short pants, I’m wearing white socks with black leather shoes.

I’m having flashbacks of like elementary school awkard days when my mom used to dress me in matching cordoroys and knit sweaters in the days before cordoroys were cool. My pants were probably too short and dorky-lookin’ then too.

Anyway… this weekend, my sister, Ruth, visited us again. It was a rare occasion when neither her husband nor her son were with her, so my wife and I got her all to ourselves. Great fun!

We watched some Star Wars, ate things that were bad for us, shopped, bought, watched more movies, played games… it was a pretty nice weekend.

Saturday evening, we decided to “work out.”

Our family’s style of working out isn’t what most people think of when they think of a workout. For me, it’s usually airsoft… constant running and jumping for about 4 hours with 25 lbs of metal and plastic strapped to you.

For my wife and I, it usually consists of Dance Dance Revolution on the Xbox. Don’t laugh till you’ve tried it. 2 or 3 songs into it, you’ll be sweating and wishing you hadn’t been laughing. Most people won’t even try it because they think they’ll make a fool of themselves.

They do. Badly.

We’re not too great at the game, but we can hold our own on a moderate level… 45 minutes of DDR is like running 4-5 miles… it’s not a really hard workout, but it gets ya sweating and tired by the end.

So this weekend, we did some Dance Dance Revolution with my sister. Imagine spaghetti dangling wildly on a fork. That’s my sister on Dance Dance Revolution… and she’s surprisingly better than most newbs. She has more coordination than she gives herself credit.

So at the end of that, we were all sitting on the couches, tired… then Natalie decided, “let’s do the Xbox fitness workout.”

A week or so ago, I bought an Xbox workout “game” for Natalie called “Yourself Fitness” or something. Essentially, it’s a digital personal trainer who takes all your information up front, then gets an idea of your personal health goals, and creates a diet and workout plan and schedule for you. It’s a pretty ingenious use of the technology.

As you progress, it adjusts the difficulty of the workout according to how well or poorly you’re doing… by the time you’re about 3 weeks into it, you’ll be doing a workout right at your level while being ambitious enough to keep you moving forward.

It also lets you incorporate equipment you might have at home into your workout like weights, stair-steppers, etc. It’s really a good-looking exercise program.

Anyway, we did about 20 minutes of aerobics and a few strength-building exercises… it was pretty mild, so afterwards, Ruth stepped it up a few notches and showed us a few leg-strength exercises that I hadn’t seen before. We did those for a while, and I taught her how to do “real” military pushups. (Man, I’m out of shape. I used to be able to do 50-80 of those no-sweat… now I struggle to do 25.)

Ruth’s idea of military pushups are essentially “men’s pushups” but she doesn’t go all the way to the ground with her chin like she’s supposed to, so she loses about 3-4 inches on each one.

I showed her how to do it, and she went down and then back uuuuuuuuu… down.

After that, we moved on to a little weight-lifting, then cooled down and stretched.

By the end of the evening, my apartment smelled like a foot and we were all walkin’ like we’d been riding a wild horse all day.

… so back to short pants. Why are my pants short? Probably because my muscles are so huge from working out that my clothes don’t fit properly anymore.

I guess we’ll have to go shopping again this weekend.

No excuse is going to cover for the dorky white socks, though.

The rock

This past weekend, we went to visit my sister and her family to celebrate my father and nephew’s birthdays.

While we were there, I went out with my brother-in-law to watch them play airsoft (I didn’t want to play and get all dirty since we were going out to eat that evening to a nice resturant.)

My 7-year old nephew, Matthew, went with us. He ran off with the young lady, Kari, who had come along as well, while Greg and I had a little skirmish. When we were through, Matthew had this huge rock that Kari and he had dug up… probably about a 20-30 pounder.

He asked me if he could keep it. Thinking to myself, “I don’t want to carry it… and what are you going to do with it,” I said, “no, it belongs to the park. It’s their property. It needs to stay here.”

Immediately, upon not hearing what he wanted to hear, he went to his father and asked, “can I keep the rock?”

Greg concurred with what I had said, and Matthew went off to “fake-sulk.”

He walked around us in circles with his head hung low, bottom lip protruding, wimpering loudly enough that we could all hear it. It was an obvious ploy.

The next thing I know, Greg’s over there telling him, “the rock belongs here…. you want the rock? You can keep the rock. Maybe we can find a bigger one. Would you like that?”

At this point, I got a little ruffled. Matthew had originally asked me a question. Upon not getting the answer he wanted, he went to his dad to try to get a different answer.

Once he didn’t get what he wanted, he manipulated his father into giving him what he wanted, completely negating previous authority.

So the question in my mind was, “what’s the point of an authority figure in his life when his father, who is so easily persuaded, can just overrule anyone? Matthew will learn not to respect authority if he can always get away with anything he wants when his dad is around.”

My wife, Natalie, has had kids like that in her classrooms before; the kind that don’t respect authority because they have a parent who will always side with the child, no matter how the child behaves. There’s a word that describes those kinds of kids: holy-living-terror-brat.

I took it up with Greg as we were leaving the park and he pulled the trump, “I’M HIS DAD AND I CAN CHANGE MY MIND IF I WANT TO!!!” card.

Wow. The big man with the big mouth sure put me in MY place. Say it louder! It makes me think you’re sooo powerful!

I mean, how do you respond to that? I am always looking out for Matthew’s best interests. …but I figured I was overreacting to Greg’s overreacting, so I stood down, remembering that even though the delivery was overly harsh, he was absolutely right. He IS his dad, and he has every right to change his mind…. but it ate at me all day… and all night. I’d hate to see Matthew’s respect for authority ebb away. It’s one of the things that makes him such a good kid and sets him apart from so many other kids I’ve seen.

… I just have to remember: My nephew’s a good kid. His dad loves him. He comes from a strong, Godly lineage. He’ll be ok.

…maybe when Matthew asked to keep the rock, I should have said, “if you can carry it, you can keep it.”


The other day, a few of us were in a meeting and one of my co-workers brought in a box of Nabisco Tomato-Basil Wheat Thins.

In my opinion, that’s crossing the line.

I can understand Sour-cream and onion. I’m ok with Fat-free. I can even stoop to Ranch or Honey… but Tomato-Basil… now we’re introducing chicken maranades into our crackers.

Who is coming up with this stuff? Somewhere in Snack-cracker Land, there’s a lab with a bunch of reject snack flavors sitting on a shelf: Chocolate and salmon, Asparagus-Kiwi, Orange-hot mustard, Mint-Avacado, Clam-cola, Hamburger-Strawberry…. They must have figured, “people like our crackers… people like Basil with Tomato… I think we have a winner.”

No, you don’t.

Random flavors being thrown together to form a new delicacy doesn’t constitute a “winner.”

I’m going to have to try to come up with a flavor of my own to get rich off of:

Tuna Latte.

I think we have a winner.

Mini Golf, Go-karts and airsoft… ahhhhhh.

Good stuff this weekend. My sister and nephew visited us Thursday-Saturday.

Friday night we went to the local Craig’s Cruisers, a family-fun center with video games, mini-golf, and go-karts. It was all fun ‘n games till my sister told me the score. I was in SECOND place… the competitive nature in me took over and it was all about the win after that. Alas, there would be no victory dance in Paul-land.

Ruth scored 4 or more hole-in-ones that night… and they were the most ridiculous hole-in-ones I’ve ever seen. One of them, the ball passed over the cup 3 times before turning back toward the cup, missing it, and doing a hairpin turn before sinking in… this is stuff you’d expect to see in an old 50’s comedy like Abbott and Costello or Three Stooges.

Another shot she took, she hit it way too hard and it bounced off a wall, defying all laws of geometry. She hit the wall parallel, but the ball bounced as though she’d hit it perpendicular: the ball ended up bouncing backwards… directly toward the cup. Hole in one.

I stood there shocked, mouth-open, as she danced, skipped, and squeaked over to pick her ball out of the hole.

In the end, she ended up beating me 41 to 42. …one lousy stroke. I was glad she won. She never wins.

…off we went to the go-karts.

My nephew ran past me toward the go-karts and yelled as he was 10 feet in front of me, “RACE YA TO THE GO-KARTS!” As usual, I was in a race with my nephew and lost before I even knew I was racing.

I haven’t done much go-kart racing, but after doing a few laps in those little cars, I realized why people like doing that. I applied all racing knowledge and physics that I’d learned from playing racing video games and found that I’m actually pretty good behind the wheel. There was one other guy there who was a pretty good racer too.

The rule at the course is, “no bumping or reckless driving.” I tried very hard not to bump other cars, but quickly realized that they had no intention of showing me the same courtesy; an irritating thing to deal with until I realized I could use it to my advantage and ended up passing people I was previously afraid of bumping, knowing that I was not in the wrong if THEY bumped ME.

Friday rolled into Saturday which was a pretty relaxing day. The weather was beautiful and Natalie and I went to Barnes and Noble and picked up some new books.

She got a mystery novel, and I got the full complete collection of one of the newer Spiderman comic series in hard-back. I’d seen it before on the shelves but didn’t like the price tag. Saturday, it was 30% off. This is the picture of a happy guy.

Sunday afternoon, we went to our friends’ house for lunch. My buddy, Fred (Pootie), noticed that some kids were playing airsoft in the back-woods. Natalie was tired, so I took her back to our place, grabbed my gear and went back out to their house.

Fred stepped out of the car wearing my shoulder-holster and his airsoft full-face mask. The kids took one look at him and said, “Dude! We’re not playing with you! You look like a professional.”

…then they saw me.

High boots with camo pants, a drop-leg holster boasting a M93r full-auto gas pistol. “No fear” was all over me as I stepped toward them wearing nothing up top but a thin black t-shirt, as if to say, “your meager skills and weapons are of no concern to me. I will break you.” (Usually, you wear heavy clothes when playing airsoft so as not to take too many painful hits that will leave welts…)

As if that wasn’t enough, I popped the trunk and pulled out of my gun case my full-metal MP5, complete with tac light and laser-sight (both of which are completely useless in the middle of the afternoon, but dramatically increase the intimidation-factor).

As it turned out in the first few skirmishes, I met their expectations. I “killed” all 4 of them within the first one or two minutes of each skirmish.

At that point, I decided it was time to come down to their level, so I swapped out for some weaker guns, and we played some elimination and bomb-disposal rounds until one of them cracked the slide on my Tokyo Marui pistol. They needed to be punished. So I pulled my MP5 back out and punished them.

In the end, everyone had a great time. I was taken out by a well-laid sneak attack by Fred, and again in the last skirmish by one of the guy’s little 8-year old brother.

He was a pudgey little guy with a bright yellow t-shirt, scared to death of getting shot… but he had guts. The others were lying in wait under cover. I figured the little guy would stay where he was, but he lept out and rushed me. I saw and heard him coming, but didn’t have the heart to shoot him from 3 or 4 feet away so I let him take his best shot while I blind-fired at the ground toward him.

I never felt it hit me, but he said he got me. So, with no questions asked, I called myself out.

He also took a hit. One of my shots, riccochet off the ground and hit him in the knee. I could see it hurt, and I felt terrible, but he was a tough kid and he laughed it off as he limped back to the safe-zone.

I’d keep my eye on that one. He’ll make a good ally someday.