Category Archives: Personal Stories

Political Vandalism At The Bookstore

Since visiting used bookstores is part of one of my job, I don’t like to be bothered, interrupted or detained when I’m at a bookstore. And I certainly don’t like a middle-aged woman stopping me from entering a store so she can gleefully confessing a crime to me.

This is the story of an ordinary-looking woman who is either so politically motivated that she has lost her common sense or more likely so generally lacking in sense that she didn’t know that committing a crime is usually something people don’t admit.

On Monday, March 26, 2012 — a day perfect for walking in a park with someone you love — a frizzy-haired woman who looked like she could have been an elementary school teacher vandalized a car in the parking lot of a Half Price Books store and then confessed to me.

It’s a shame for her that I was the one person there who was least interested in what she had to say.

The Story

“You wanna know something mean I just did,” the woman said.

I didn’t answer.

“One of the people from the store,” she started, gesturing to the far part of the parking lot where the employees park. Then she paused.

She was holding the door into the bookstore open for me, but she was blocking the entry with her body.

“One of the people from the store,” she continued very slowly, “has a Barack Obama sticker on their car.”

She paused again, still blocking the door. I still didn’t say anything.

“I covered it over with a ‘Vote Republican’ sticker.”

That’s vandalism, I thought, but she moved inside the store and I continued inside too. I didn’t say a word, and she didn’t approach me again.

Why would someone admit to committing an act of vandalism to a person who might not approve of vandalism and might not even approve of her political statement?

The Silliness Of It

I’m completely apolitical. I don’t care about politics in the least.

I have identified as a Democrat at some times in the past, but I don’t participate in the political process at all anymore. My turn away from anything related to politics is part of my effort to simplify my life and make it more intelligent. Politics are just silliness, so I don’t participate.

If I had to form an opinion about President Obama, I suppose I think that he doesn’t live up to anyone’s expectations. But I don’t think I could bring myself to vote for a Republican. I don’t think I could bring myself to vote at all.

And I certainly couldn’t bring myself to vandalize someone else’s property to make a statement of any kind.

But why did the woman think I would approve of her act of vandalism against a store employee? She must have thought I was either a criminal or a Republican. Which was it? Is there a difference?

I didn’t report her to the police or to the store employees. I didn’t see which car she meant, and the incident may have happened only in her mind.

In my mind, I wonder why she was out alone. I know that Republicans are allowed to travel unescorted and vandals often work alone, but the woman who blocked the door to admit a crime to me seemed to have other issues as well.

Clenched Teeth Cause Problems, So Live With Your Jaws Dropped

At times, I have a problem with clenching my teeth when I sleep, causing sore gums, grinding away of the tooth surface, pain in my jaws, pain in my face and even a stiff neck.

It’s a bit unpleasant.

My bad pillow could be to blame — or it could just be an inherited condition. It might be something else entirely.

A doctor or dentist might not agree with me, but I believe my tight jaws are at least partially a symptom of spiritual rather than physical problems. Clenched teeth perhaps signify an unsettled life.

Here are a few things I’ve found that helps me live a life that doesn’t need to be chewed over during the night. Would they help you with whatever symptoms complicate your life?

1. Breathing more than I have to. Breathing is necessary for life, but deep breathing is a rarely practiced exercise that releases tensions of all sorts.

2. Going outside more than I have to. I don’t do it enough, but there’s always something amazing outside that takes my mind away from my problems.

3. Working less than I have to. I’m often motivated to keep moving, but in most cases, stopping early, quitting sooner and working better is the best course of action.

4. Walking whether I’m going somewhere or not. It’s the best exercise for body and mind, I think, and I’m not interested in being convinced otherwise.

5. Living better than I should be. I never seem to have enough money despite being abundant and resourceful, but many of life’s fine

r things — like parks, the best museums and downtown sidewalks — are available free for public use.

Maybe my list is a bit too complicated, however.

So let me say this another way: I try to live my life with my jaw dropped in awe rather than clinched in despair.

When I remember to do that, I don’t have a care in the world.

Reflections On Life From A Walmart Parking Lot

As I sat in a Walmart parking lot waiting for someone several months ago — perhaps even a year or more ago — I scribbled on the back of a window envelope in which some kind of bill had been delivered some notes on what I saw.

If I had gone completely paperless at the point, I might have had nothing on which to write these observations. Then again, they might not be very important anyway.

I’ve finally gotten around to typing up these comments as a part of my project in December 2011 to clear the little pieces of paper off my desk. Of course, the observations here are skewed because they only represent what I could see in my rearview mirror.

Here they are:

  • We’re always on the phone. And it seems from what I can see that walking while celling is a dangerous thing to do in a Walmart parking lot.
  • We’re disconnected from the present moment and situation. People who were almost walking beside each other or who passed within inches never acknowledged the other person as fellow participants in life. I wouldn’t have either.
  • We’re sometimes mindless automatons. Since buying from Walmart doesn’t require all of our minds’ skills, we turn off most of them.
  • We’re consumers even when we can’t afford to be. People who can’t afford to wash themselves or their cars or repair the things that have gone wrong with their current possessions would perhaps do best not to buy more.
  • We’re fat.
  • We don’
    t like our jobs, and we’re still stewing about them when we get to Walmart after work. If we work at Walmart retrieving carts, we stew while we’re outside.
  • We’re segregated when we want to be. I didn’t see anyone who was black and very few of the shoppers at this location were Hispanic. At other Walmarts, few of the shoppers are white, I suspect.
  • We think bigger is better and we express that through our cars. If we’re tiny men, we are especially likely to drive big cars. An SUV with a single occupant doesn’t make sense in any way, but I saw lots of them.
  • We’re all going to be just fine. It’s all just silliness that I see in the Walmart parking lot. My life is still hopeful, and I hope others have hope too.

In fact, I wrote on the back of that envelope that my life and the world in general is getting better in many ways despite what I saw.

My life is better today than it was then, and it’s still getting better.

Being Gay Is Not A Moral Issue, The Baptist Pastor Told Me

According to one of the pastors at a huge Baptist church on a hill above Austin, being gay is not a moral issue.

The pastor is right, of course, but I like the statement and the way I received it for several important reasons.

First, the backstory.

More than a decade ago, David and I were both enamored with the message and the style of a Baptist preacher we heard about who was different from the rest. He talked about second chances and compassion. He seemed to take a simple, no-nonsense approach to his faith. His age and the ups and downs of his life had taught him that thinking you have all the answers is a sure sign that you have none of them.

There was a problem, though. Since I’m gay, I’ve always had an understandably negative impression of Southern Baptist churches and their condemnation of the things they don’t understand. I couldn’t continue to listen to his messages if he and his church were anti-gay.

Not especially caring if I reached him directly, I sent an email to the church. The pastor who answered did a very good job. Here’s why:

1. I got an answer to my question.

Most people who deal with the public are trained to avoid answering questions directly. That lessens the chance that the organization they represent can be held liable for their mistakes.

This attitude was best represented by an old man who worked in the RadioShack store in Fort Worth Outlet Square when I worked in the advertising department upstairs. I noticed he answered every customer’s question the same way: “We’ve found that in some cases it works and in some cases it doesn’t, but you’re welcome to bring it back if it doesn’t.”

The pastor at the big Austin church answered my question though: What is the church’s position on homosexuality?

“We don’t have a position on homosexuality because it isn’t a moral issue.”

There was no hedging or hiding. There was just an answer.

2. It was a good answer.

It was a simple, well-stated answer that the pastor offered to me. It didn’t need explanation or expansion.

Rape, murder, incest and sexual abuse are moral issues about which the big church had a position, but being gay just is. It just happens. It’s a neutral state of being.

Being left-handed was once chastised and rebuked, but it’s really just a quirk. It’s less common than being right-handed, but it isn’t a moral issue. It isn’t an issue at all.

Hazel-colored eyes are more common than blue ones, and brown hair is more common than ginger. But the less common situation isn’t inferior to the more common one.

3. It was a consistent answer.

I already knew what the church’s position on being gay should be since I’d heard a number of the pastor’s sermons.

I knew that he believed God was accessible to everyone, so I knew he couldn’t disapprove of gay and lesbian people if he was really a person of integrity. It’s nice when someone turns out to be true to his or her own convictions on every topic.

It was also nice to see that someone else on his staff was willing to speak as truthfully as he always seemed to speak.

A Few More Thoughts

We visited that church a couple of times. We didn’t see many gay people, but we saw lots of young families and lots of singles — many of whom where probably damaged by divorce and family strife since the pastor had a particular affinity for people who had been deserted by the people they cared about.

Our interest in the church on the hill in Austin was only a passing fancy. If you want to know more of my always-developing thoughts on religion and spirituality, please visit So Much More Life and read Atheism And Spirituality Are The Same Thing and Religion Is Like The Letter People.

I’ve moved past the point of caring about any particular church’s position on any particular state of affairs, but I haven’t forgotten how the pastor answered my question.

I didn’t want the church’s approval; I wanted to know if I could approve of them. I did.

The senior pastor there was long ago silenced by illness and a lot has happened to the big church over Austin, I’ve heard. Still, there was a time more than a decade ago when someone there did something right by answering directly, truthfully and in a way that was consistent with their overall message.

I won’t soon forget that.

Sagging And Stroking At The Mall

People can do whatever they want. I don’t care who people love, how they work or what they wear. Still, I’m compelled to make a couple of wardrobe-related observations.

I wear very simple clothes. For me, it’s a polo-style shirt, jeans and some kind of sturdy athletic shoes all the time. My ensemble works equally well for concert halls, fast-food restaurants and grocery shopping.

I wear a belt so that my pants always fit, no matter whether I’m a few pounds heavier or a few pounds lighter than usual — and no matter whether the pants were a perfect fit when I bought them or just the best the thrift store had on a day when I needed some.

During my Monday reluctant mall walk (see this post on So Much More Life for more on why I reluctantly mall walk), I saw a teenager with his left hand drawn to his waist who also had an unusual gait. It’s sad to see a guy so young who has had a stroke, I thought, but at least he’s out and around.

Immediately, though, I noticed his friend had the same afflictions. They probably went to rehab together.

Do you see where this story is going? The two paragraphs about my attire should be a clue.

The guys were, to use what I think is the appropriate term, sagging. They were — stop me if you’ve heard of this — intentionally wearing pants that were much too large as a fashion statement.

Wearing clothes that don’t fit right is the kind of misjudgment that a young guy who has had a stroke could easily made, but these guys hadn’t actually had a stroke at all.

As it turns out, they needed to draw their hands to their sides to keep their pants up. One of them even briefly gestured with the clenched hand, then quickly returned it to its position at his waistband, proving that the hand worked just fine.

I can only guess exactly why the unusual gait was necessary, but it must require ointment a couple of times a week. Clothing that rubs the wrong spot will do that.

It takes courage for a person whose body has been badly damaged to go back out in public looking different from the norm. But what does it take for a person without physical disabilities to intentionally hinder themselves for the sake of fashion?

I’m not suggest that there’s anything wrong with wearing funny clothes. I just wonder what’s wrong with someone who wants to.

Geezers Rock And Don’t Know It

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it here before, but I spend my weekend evenings at Central Market (http://www.centralmarket.com) in Fort Worth listening to live music. In the several years I’ve been a regular there, I’ve heard dozens of bands. Many of them are good. Quite a few of them are really bad. The Geezers, however, are in my top two or three. Actually, as the general quality of the bands offered has declined through the years, the Geezers are among only a few that have survived through the numerous management changes of the market’s Burgers and Bock events.

High-quality harmony (and lower quality humor!) from 3 Fools on 3 Stools (http://www.3fools.net) is gone from Central Market. Singer-songwriter-guitarist Brad Thompson (http://www.bradthompson.com), who once made monthly appearances, now rarely performs. Original music is offered only during Fort Worth Weekly’s Thursday Night Live events, in front of a smaller audience and with less support from the store. Other once-regular bands are now gone so long from the venue that I’ve forgotten their names. Central Market’s newer Southlake store, with its better organizational skills but less attentive audience, has stolen away Thompson and many others. Their smaller stage means smaller bands or individual performers work best, and that means bands have fewer people with whom to split the small performance fees.

That’s why I’m grateful for the Geezers. Other than Dave Millsap (http://www.davemillsap.com), they are all that is left of the music that made a grocery store hop and rock for years.

The past-their-prime implication of a name like the Geezers doesn’t serve the band well. Their website (http://www.geezersrock.com) says they are business and medical professionals who play music for fun, but they could easily be music professionals, too.

They’re a classic rock cover band playing familiar songs. They don’t play original music, they don’t play so-called “deep cuts” that no one remembers and they aren’t pretentious about anything they play. More importantly, they don’t show up with columns of lights, neon signs or wireless headsets. They bring a committed group of guys and just enough equipment to do the job. Imagine that.

One band that debuted last season started out as a promising rival to the Geezers as the best classic rock cover band in the 817. Then the bigger speakers, colored lights and less familiar song choices showed up. The arrogance of the singer increased, too — of course. The quality of their music is declining because they’re spending their money on gadgets rather than their time on rehearsals.

Here’s the really bad part, though: The Geezers don’t perform very often, either at Central Market or elsewhere. And from the brief conversations I’ve had with their members, they don’t know they’re good. I’m glad they’re unpretentious and unassuming, but I hope they realize they are appreciated.

This post was originally published on one of my previous blogs on May 25, 2009.

How I Went to College Too Soon: Definitive Version

If people find out that I only went to three years of high school but didn’t drop out, they wonder how it happened. Here’s how it happened. This is the official, final version to which I will refer all future questions. It really is a long story. Here goes:

When I was a junior in high school, I found out about a program at the University of North Texas that allowed students with an 85 average and meeting some other criteria to complete their final year of high school concurrently with their first year of college. Finally, I had discovered my way to escape my small town! I applied and was accepted to begin at UNT during the summer before my senior year of high school.

As soon as I arrived on the UNT campus, I asked for an appointment with an admissions counselor. When we met, I told him that I very strongly disliked (hated) small town life and would like to complete high school in Denton while living in the UNT dorms. He said he could arrange that, if I wanted. Then came a question: “Did you really read the papers you signed to get in here this summer?”

I thought I had.

He told me that my admission to UNT was unconditional — not dependent on returning to high school. It was agreed and assumed that I would continue in high school, but it wasn’t in the paperwork and it wasn’t required. I was 16, accepted at a major university and already moved into the dorms. UNT was the only university I ever seriously considered, although I can’t really remember what I liked about it so much. Things were fun for a couple of weeks. I was overwhelmed, though. I couldn’t sleep in barren dorm room, so I stayed up most nights hanging out in the lobby with a couple of friends. That seemed normal enough.

I didn’t stay long. My small town had not prepared me for big city (well, medium city) life, and I got into some minor trouble in the dorms. I was thrown out of the dorms and out of the university within about three weeks because I had involved myself with someone who turned out to be the most important student on campus. And things went bad right away. I was allowed to complete that summer semester, but I couldn’t return.

My semester at UNT was all the proof of eligibility I needed, however, to enroll in a community college. So, off to Weatherford College I went. It was a rocky time because I had very little experience with life and absolutely no social skills, but I made it through a couple of years. I went on to the University of Texas at Arlington, where things went very well. My BA in Communication came in 1994.

I would like to say that I have a college diploma despite never completing high school, but I was forced to get a GED while I was at Weatherford College so that I would be eligible for financial aid. It’s really a better story if I leave out that detail, so forget I mentioned it. Actually, the more details I include, the less interesting the story gets. Isn’t it funny how that works?

So to put it simply: I’m the guy who went right to college after his junior year in high school and never got discovered.

(Note to any administrators of WC, UNT or UTA who happen to be reading: I explained all these things to you at the time, so I didn’t break any of your rules. Really. Probably.)

This post originally appeared on my So Much More Life blog at www.gipplaster.com before I decided to focus that blog more tightly on simple living and minimalism. I moved this post here because it doesn’t fit in very well there.