Monday, August 1, 2011


It was the summer of 1975...lotsa of firsts that summer for me. My first "real" job working at Dunkin Donuts, starting out mopping the floors, taking out the garbage and cleaning toilets. My dad said "always leave things cleaner than you found them" so after walking a hundred miles in the early morning one way..well at least two miles...the customers were treated to shining floors and spotless urinals. Another first was in the form of food...not a donut first Whopper from Burger King. Up to that point it had been McDonald's all the way...but this flame broiled beauty was something else! Dropped to me casually be a Dunkin co-worker my fast food boundaries expanded in one bite. The summer of 1975 was also the first time I really got the shit scared out of me by a mechanical shark named "Bruce."

The old Will Rogers Theater in Chicago was the place to be so me and my buddies talked our parents into early allowance, went to the movies unprepared for the carnage that took place off the coast of Amity Island, the haunting "dun dun dun dun dun tah..." when the shark was getting ready to strike, the naked swimmer in the opening scenes and the guy's head popping outta the wrecked hull of a ship with his eyeball missing..aieeeeee!  We hid in the theater and watched it four times in a row, getting more and more scared every time. It was great. That movie changed the concept of the "summer blockbuster" kept more people out of the ocean, and pools and bathtubs than ever before and made superstars of Spielberg, the late Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw and launched Richard Dreyfus into "Close Encounters." I built a replica of Quint's boat the "Orca" and shark frenzy was everywhere. T-Shirts, games, knock off movies (Tentacles and Tinterora) JAWS became a cultural phenomenon. I bet I have seen it more than 50 times.

Has not worked out well for sharks however.

The summer of 1975 saw a huge increase in people killing sharks because of the movie. Shark fishing has always been around but I guess humans needed to cash in even more with shark fishing expeditions that began to wipe out the supposed worst offenders, giant great whites, the formidable tiger shark and the tenacious bull shark. In the 36 years since JAWS the oceans have been seriously depleted of its top predator because people want to have shark fin soup, trophies on walls and supposedly safer swimming

I was reading a great book by actor Ted Danson called "Oceana" about his growing up on the coast of California and learning how important the ocean is to human the oceans die slowly...that which depends on the oceans do too....that uh...would be us. It's "Shark Week" on Discovery and for the tenth year millions will watch sharks do what they other fish and unfortunately an occasional human that enters their world. While its devastating..its also more likely to die of a bee sting or auto accident than being consumed by a Great White.

Humans have a propensity to project human qualities on the animal kingdom..making sharks for example "evil" or "bad." Sharks are just being they have for millions of years. Same goes for snakes, spiders and every other beastie that lives its life thru instinct. To paint sharks as savage "man-eaters" leaves out one simple but important fact. The only chance you have to be eaten to go into the water...and that is a choice we make once we leave our world and enter theirs.

JAWS is a great movie, its meant to entertain...and evoke emotion. It's too bad that humans have slaughtered these magnificent creatures in record numbers to somehow quell an inner fear that lives in the deepest part of our internal oceans. We are a) not the only species on the planet-we just act like it b) not the smartest species on the planet we just act like it and c) not God...we just act like it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

3,285 Days...

I have been in more than my share of scrapes in 53 years, some I started, and others I finished. When I was 19 a severe electrical accident nearly killed me and I could not write for a year which knocked me out of college. On a less noble note I had more fights in the military when the liquid courage flowed than I care to remember, once getting beat on the head with a table leg in a full out brawl with some Marines in Boston that had me doing extra duty when I returned to the Coast Guard Air Station in Chicago after the Senior Chief got wind of my antics. I have been thrown out of bars and have thrown guys out of bars, once bending a biker dude backwards over a fire hydrant and it was only by intervention that kept him from being a permanent part of the pavement. Two weeks after my marriage in 1986 my then wife and I were hit broadside by a drunk driver and I was pinned in the wreck, narrowly surviving again. In my prime I could bench press 500 pounds and be it business or pleasure I never stood down from any man nor beast, holding my ground firmly to what I thought was right. By all accounts I have endured with crooked fingers, a knee that locks up a neck that constantly cracks and a nose that never gets enough air after being broken more times than I remember. My scarred hands hurt when its cold and my knees ache when its hot. Big deal.
If you look up the word “tough” in the dictionary however you will not see my picture there-you will see my daughter’s face.
Amanda Lee was born with a kidney defect that is common enough-reflux-which allow toxic urine to flow backwards into her bladder. Most kids grow out of this, Amanda did not. Right around her 2nd birthday the reflux was diagnosed, and the treatment was an ongoing bombardment of antibiotics and tests that created a lot of sleepless nights. Right before her fifth birthday surgery was planned for the reflux that was not correcting itself, a simple outpatient surgery that would fix the problem and give Amanda a normal life. I was on the phone in the kitchen in our little townhouse when the other line rang in. It was the doctor informing me that in addition to correcting the reflux, Amanda’s right kidney had to come out. It had grown toxic and was making her sick. In addition her left kidney had much less function and needed to be saved. Nothing prepares you for that news…no matter how tough you are.
The hours in the waiting room were agonizing for mom and dad. In the end the surgery went well and in no time Amanda rebounded. Check-ups and medication were still a part of the routine and everything went good for about eight years until the age of thirteen when her body began to change, and the little left kidney got tired of doing so much growth work. Beating the odds I turned out to be the best donor (both my dad and grandfather had kidney disease) and on July 18th, 2002 I prolonged my daughter’s life by donating a kidney to her.
That was nine years ago today.
In the 3,285 days that have passed since that morning at Children’s Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin I have watched the toughest person I know go thru tests, drugs, doctors and pain with nary a complaint. No questions of “why did this happen to me?” She is proud to show off the long scar that runs down the right flank of her body when the doctors took my really big kidney and put it in her small body. She has slowly become one with the organ that gave her a new life and I have not missed one day in nine years spending a least a few minutes in gratitude for the miracle. Amanda will soon be 23 and if she takes care of herself odds are that kidney will last the rest of her life.
There is a list that you are placed on when in need of an organ, upwards of 100,000 names are on that list waiting for a kidney or a heart or lungs. Every day people die waiting in line because for the most part we have not accepted our own mortality and the thought of becoming an organ donor means admitting that someday we will die. That list could be reduced greatly by simply signing a donor card in your state. Humans, greedy as we are seem to want to keep everything to ourselves even if we can’t use it anymore even our organs. Sorry to break the news to you-but none of us lives forever-but- we can live on in another by simply being tough enough to sign a donor card.
I did what any father would do and if I could grow kidney’s inside of me and hand them out as Christmas gifts every year I would. I remember the families in Madison that had been on the waiting list for years knowing that someone had to die in order for their son or daughter to live. More and more “angel donors” are popping up, people that are not related to the person in need but feel moved to give a part of themselves, be it a kidney or liver to help a stranger in some cases survive. Giving in such a way might just be the most Divine act any human gets to experience outside of the birth of children.
Life changes come in ordinary moments, when you least expect it and not prepared for it. The lessons that come with those changes are not something you can study for prior to the event, they are learned as a result of enduring through a change. I don’t see Amanda every day like I did when she was little. She has her own life now, working and in college, living six hours away and thriving. Those times when I do see her on my routine stops her eyes shine and her smile lights me up and I see a beautiful, talented and amazing young woman with a 53 year old kidney inside her helping her to live her dreams.
It’s been 3,285 days. Be an organ donor.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The People's Court

This is all Judge Wapner's fault- and Rusty Burrell his trusted courtroom bailiff. Doug Llewelyn the on the scene reporter is to blame as well. Back in 1981 when M*A*S*H , Dallas and Magnum P.I ruled the tube some really smart producer had the idea to get a retired judge to decide small claims with a camera in the courtroom. "I know you have both been sworn in and I have read your complaint" the white haired, black robed Wapner would say and for 30 mins America had access in a pseudo-courtroom and other people's business. Matter of fact for 12 years we could peer and pry into stolen television sets, bounced checks and dogs that did their business on the neighbors lawn and Judge Wapner would dole out the justice. Too bad the concept did not die out when the show was cancelled in 1993.

The list of "Judge" shows is too long to list here but its safe to say that Judge Judy took the concept to a whole new level. Part pit bull and part Jewish grandmother on steroids this feisty troubadour of justice sliced and diced the litigants verbally like none before her. One look from JJ and grown men peed their under drawers and even her own sex was not spared with comments like "its because your a stupid woman" or "did your mom send you here to piss me off?" Once again America loved it because in a world that seems so unjust- watching someone, somewhere get their just rewards was satisfying. Too bad it did not stop there. Now judges with baseball bats and judges with beauty queen looks and judges with deep accents and judges with best selling books are splayed out making sure the scales of justice are ...uh....maintained.

Some smart producer thought "Hey lets have an entire channel dedicated to millions of people sitting around watching other peoples business!" Court TV was born! Just like any good marketing move producers know that human brains have a hard time separating what is and what is not real. Meaning that you could watch a court case unfold before your very eyes, listening to opening and closing arguments and get emotionally involved in something that...A) you had no control over and B) it did not matter what you thought either way-because you are not on the jury. Audiences ate it up....and of course the OJ trial was brought right into our homes in and we learned that sometimes gloves don't fit like they used to.

A little girl died in 2008 and it made headlines but then with the ever changing news cycle it was lost in the shuffle until some really smart producer and a no-nonsense host began telling us that we need to watch this now and that its important and that someway somehow we have a say in how it goes. Phone lines were jammed during the trial with every sort of opinion of what did or did not happen by people who only knew what they heard on TV and as we all know-that is what matters most. My guess is that some really smart producer went to some really smart sales manager and said "Look at these numbers, imagine what you can charge for a 30 second commercial now!" It happens because that is what this game, in the end is all about from the media side of things. Pundits, talking heads, reporters and others all weighed in but the truth is...none of that ever mattered because 12 people had a decision to make-and even if you watched the trial from beginning to end-your voice really did not count in this...even if you felt it did. Was the young mother guilty? Will there be a movie and book? Will justice ever be done?

Every day in this country 5 children die at the hands of their parents or caregivers from abuse of some sort. That is 1,825 every year and a majority of these might make the third page of the paper and then is forgotten. Why did the Caylee Anthony case become so viral? Why do we know the names of people that most likely will never be a part of our lives? What is so interesting that viewers would watch hours of boring detailed testimony without any chance of weighing in on the decision? Because the media powers that be have us hooked in deep and they know it. My guess is that in a month from now-there will be a new tragic story or sensational courtroom drama that plays out and once again the blond bombshell host and the usual cast of characters will pick it apart. I predict a new round of outrage be it politician or celebrity, missing child or corporate greed and we will lap it up like hungry hounds, just like we have been trained to do.

The death of a child should never become a media circus, but that is what we said we will watch starting in 1981 when other people's business became our business. The purpose of this blog is to reach for Higher Ground and my only thought in that direction is to take the time that might be spent on watching other people's problems, no matter how enticing and engaging, and become a Big Brother or Big Sister. Go visit the elderly and read to them. Volunteer your time at a shelter for abused women or children. You can be around people that need some light in their lives, some justice to be done on their behalf and you won't have to be sworn in to make a real difference and change a life that has been forgotten, abused or mistreated.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


In 1977 George Burns was chosen to "play" God in the film "Oh God!" and was hailed as the perfect representation of the Almighty. His sidekick in the movie was singer John Denver who was hailed as the perfect representation of a "regular guy" who was kind of middle of the road when it came to his faith. God Burns shows up to tell Denver he has a message to spread and needs his help. After Denver reluctantly agrees to be "the messenger and not the message" his life gets turned upside down and all sorts of wild events play out as the masses and media cannot grasp the fact that God has returned, picked a supermarket manager to be a modern day Moses and the opposition to "the message" lands Denver in court. Experts in the form of modern day theologians and preachers dissect Denver's efforts and in the end, God finally comes into the courtroom, does a few magic tricks and disappears. The movie ends with more questions than answers. For a movie done about 35 years ago the underlying theme still stands. God gets a bad wrap for starting wars, allowing hunger, divorce, layoffs, 100 plus years of Cubs losing seasons and tsunamis.
God is also the most often used word when damming or blessing someone, having an orgasm or instilling fear when it comes to making a deposit in church. Tough gig..the God thing. I have alot of questions I want to ask God, so I put in a request and God said five questions would be a good start. So I have posted the questions and answers for your consumption.

ME- Thanks for your time today God..I appreciate it.-
GOD- No problem really- but I am on a time constraint-keeping an eye on some fault lines.

ME- So my first question is....frankly...the world seems to be going to Hell in a hand basket. Whats the deal?
GOD- First- you could never fit the world into a hand basket-secondly Hell is not what you have been told it is. Third-there is no deal. You can do whatever you want-just gets a bit tiresome when you use your free will and choice to screw things up and then either a) blame me or b) ask me to fix it. Either way you are missing the point and the truth of what I AM.

ME- Huh OK...second question why do so many people think you are a man? Are you a man?
GOD..I am a man. I am a woman. I am a child. I AM WHAT I AM- like Popeye said. I am the wind, the water, the wood. There is no place that I am not- unless you decide that I don't belong. Men wrote about me so they made Me in their image...its the other way around.

ME..Hmmm OK so why do so many people, mostly politicians and TV evangelists use the word God to either instill fear or ...well.. instill fear.
GOD- Choice. What will you be? God Fearing or God Blessed? Its a control thing-an illusion of power. Someone that appears to know more about me than the person they are speaking to holds the power over them. True evolution would be to find ME within YOU and then listen to inside-not outside. I come as standard equipment at birth and free of charge. The only price you pay is when you don't listen.

ME- that.
GOD. I get it right most of the time..
ME-OK question you really care if your name appears on a sign, or money or pledge?
GOD-Next question.
ME...Excuse me? Sorry God but ...
GOD- Last night in Las Vegas someone lost their home and entire savings by betting lots of green pieces of paper with a dead president on it and "In God We Trust" printed on it. That same night some drug addict rolled up a twenty dollar bill and snorted coke right past the "In God We Trust" and a little later a hooker gave a guy oral sex for one hundred bucks with "In God We Trust" while she moaned for money "Oh God baby give it to me." Want me to continue?
ME- I get it.
GOD..Good..the most important place to put me is in your heart...everything else is a bumper sticker to me.
ME- Last question..
GOD..Thank God..uh no pun intended.
ME..Wow..does prayer work?
GOD...I don't know.
ME..WHAAAAT? How could you not know? cannot get any closer to me than you are right now. You cannot buy me closer, pray me closer or bribe me closer. So to pray "out there" for me to do something on your behalf is counterproductive. You want me to cure cancer? Stop smoking or filling the air and water with filth. You want me to send you more money? Keep the flow going by giving what you have to someone else first. You want me to improve your marriage? Quit trying to fix the other person and work on you. You want me to end hunger? Then remove the dictators from office that keep grain on the docks. You want me to end suffering? No way...because then you would never know how much I really love you when you get through it. You have everything in the world you could ever need to create a life you can imagine. Its not easy-but not supposed to be. Time for you all to grow up a bit and understand this. What you put out comes back, what goes around comes around and if you always do what you have always done, then you will always get what you have always got.
ME...thank you...very much...
GOD-thank you ...all of you because its through you that I braille the world. You are my eyes, my ears, my hands and my heart.
GOD..Yeah I know cool huh? Gotta go...wanna catch the rest of the Cubs-Giants double header.
ME..Uh God...could you possibly help the Cubs..ya know.
GOD...Ahahahahhahahahahhahahahhahahaha. NO

Monday, June 27, 2011

Follow the leader...

When I was a kid we played the game "Follow the Leader" and in case you are a product of the techno age and not well versed in staying out until the street lights came on or drinking water from a public fountain or only having four channels on the tube let me enlighten you.

First a leader or "head of the line" is chosen, then all the kids line up behind the leader. The leader then moves around and all of us had mimic the leader's actions. Any players who fail to do what the leader does are out of the game. The last person standing other than the leader is now the new leader. The leader of course can do anything they want to and everyone has to follow it or they are toast. I can imagine an adult version of that game but that's for another blog.

We have had some great leaders in our history...none really come to mind...but that's not the point. With the advent of technology and information there is no shortage of leaders...or followers. Recently motivational guru James Ray was convicted of allowing three of his "followers" to die in a "sacred sweat lodge" and eighteen other "followers" were carted off to the local ER. For all the good Ray might have done in the world with his books and seminars he will end up in prison with followers of a different sort I suspect. Its seems we have as many "life coaches" as we have lawyers and while there is great value in being a coach there is a danger in becoming a crutch.

Be it the President of the United States or the leader of the local PTA or leader of the pack, its in some of us to lead, to get out front, to put it on the line to boldly go where we have not gone before. Leaders according to my old friend Maj. John Buccarrelli are not born-they are made and becoming a leader is a choice. So then would be following a choice. In politics there is no shortage of wannabe leaders that spew all the right words and some wrong ones that give the appearance of leadership. Emulated by thousands that think like they do they are lifted above the followers like a modern day political Pied-Piper and shout from the bully pulpit "Follow Me!" Leaders need followers and vice versa-its a parasitic relationship that only works if the host stays healthy-and if not then both the host and the throngs of followers die off. Hitler thought he had a good idea and so did thousands of other frontal lobe missing countrymen. Its only when a group with a better idea came along and did something about it that things changed.

True leaders understand the relationship between them and their followers, they understand that the objective is to empower those that follow in such a way that they become leaders as well, in their own lives. Another may teach or tell but each has to do the work on their own. True leaders never get swallowed up in the adulation, they say "we" more than "me" and they understand that with great power comes even greater responsibility and conviction.

As more and more Presidential hopefuls jump on the bandwagon and throw out "God Bless America" more than Kate Smith ever did we have to consider the actions they have taken in the past and what they are asking us to mimic-and just like the kids game someone is going to get booted out. Might be Gingrich or Bachman or Mitt or Tim and then only one will be left standing. Most likely won't be James Ray. We are all flawed human beings that often masquerade as perfect human doings and when the inner and outer don't line up the headlines have a field day.

Good leaders are scarce, the best plan of action might be to follow yourself. I have always said that its important who and what is going on in the White House but its far more important who and what is going on in your house.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


I had never seen the movie "Transformers" until just last week. I was ignorant of the fact that the movie was based on the toys my son had played with just a few years before and I also had not been one of the millions that watched Shia LeBeouf and Megan Fox escape annihilation at the hands of the evil transformers-about all I knew of the movie was the "Bumble Bee" Camaro that I had seen at a car show. So you will have to excuse me from the details of this flick and the predicted stream of sequels that have followed.

Nevertheless the concept of transformation has my attention and just because you are not turning yourself from a souped up eighteen wheel diesel tractor-trailer into a flame throwing, missile launching, Armageddon raising robot does not mean that you cant be a transformer, matter of fact if you are alive then transformation is not only your birth right but also a rite of passage for humans.

Transformation is usually by choice or by chance-often times both. The choices we make both consciously and more often in the unconscious state of being lead to the chances we take and even more choices we make based on those chances. Sometimes life just plain sucks..just about everything sucks. If  you choose to leave your job- or your jobs leaves take a chance and make the mental leap like a some air borne acrobat waiting for the next trapeze to come along-in the form of a new job and as you hang there in mid-flight transformation begins to take place. Every manner of fear comes to test does every manner of faith. The situation begins to squeeze you in ways you never had been squeezed, just to see what comes out of you....the real "juice" of transformation is in the circumstances you helped create and now endure. The process is remolding you, from the inside out and that is a process that is ongoing no matter where or who you are. Choices contain great power..and don't be fooled -not making a choice-is still making a choice.

It appears that life has a personal blueprint for each of us, somehow tied into our soul growth-for what might trip up one has little effect on another. The transformation process is disguised as illness, divorce, job loss, stress, racism, name it- the opportunity to be transformed lies dormant in each and every brick on our personalized yellow brick road.

I enjoyed the movie for the dazzling special effects and the good vs evil plot while predictable worked. What I really liked was the message that you cannot judge a Camaro by its stripes no more than you can judge a life by the challenges it holds. Both are built to get you somewhere-and rest assured the transformation is just the way it is. What you do with that transformation determines how far down the road you go...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Root Cause

When I was in high school biology class with the one and only Ms. Dettmer I can clearly remember her holding up a jar filled with water that had a plant with an extensive root system filling the glass and in her thick German accent saying "Dis plant vould not live vitout da root system! Do you zee dat everything in nature has itz roots! Every ecosystem dat has adapted to zee environment has roots you can zee and zome you cannot see! Every food chain from da smallest plankton to da biggest vale is all about a root system!" Now Ms. D had a bit of trouble with the English language and my German at the time was limited to two hours a week, mostly because Heidi took German too but I got her drift. Everything in life has a root cause...everything... and as I have gotten older and more observant I see that the root cause of every challenge is where true and lasting change can take place....but first one has to have the courage to dig thru alot of dirt to get down to the nitty gritty of what is...and why it is...what it is.

For humans, our belief systems are like the branches of a tree, shooting out in every direction according to what we believe to be true. The world is filled with forests that have all manner of tree in them, each vying for their place, the nourishment and to keep their roots intact.  For example-take a look...a hard a real hard look at the roots of your political views. If you are dirt honest with yourself the chances are that how you see politics is something that you observed, learned or heard growing up. As a kid growing up in the 60's and 70's in Chicago my dad was a dyed in the wool Daley Democrat..Hizzoner the Mayor Richard J Daley had been in power for many years and the talk around our table is something that fed my roots-that Chicago was the greatest city in the world...that its the city that works...that if you needed a new garbage can the alderman was a call away...and to be a Daley Democrat..well...that's just the way it was. So my roots grew and grew and got connected over and over again...a belief was born. When Daley died and others took his place over the years, I could not BELIEVE it...did not match up with what my roots told me was the way of things. The city would fall apart...the alderman would not take a call...what then? Of course the city did not fold, the garbage got collected and eventually a new belief formed...not everything I believed was true...unless I made it so. It took years to begin to form new roots, new beliefs politically and go against the grain as it were when I felt it time to do so. Roots are neither good nor bad...they are just roots.

Each of us is governed by the roots that we have sunk deep into the fertile soil of our minds and by doing so we have acted on those roots as if they are the absolute truth-even though they are only true because we continually think they are. Someone has roots that said they should always clean their plate because there are starving kids in China grows up to be overweight and may not even really understand why. A marriage falls apart after one partner's beliefs are rooted in feeling not good enough because of birth order and spends a lifetime making that belief true, even though they once again end up miserable and no matter what the other partner says or does cannot change the behavior so deeply rooted in perception kept alive by belief. Every racist has its roots...every Christian...every..body has their roots..Sometimes these are toxic roots that have to be dug out over a long period of time, for if left deep in the soil of the soul, they continue to send negative, non-life affirming branches into every area of life. As the season to tend the yard is upon us you can mow down all the dandelions and it appears they are gone-but give it a few days and bang...there they are again. Pulling them out by the roots is the only way to truly change a it your yard...or your life. Every problem our country has...and every problem in our lives..have their roots...that if go unexamined or unchallenged or unchanged...creates havoc in our lives. You cannot fix a problem at the effects of have to be at the root cause for transformation to take place.

But alas most do not want to pull out the roots...because it hurts so frigging much. For the most part humans would rather endure the short fixes that appear to solve the that change nothing in the long run and it only increases the pain that comes from being afraid to do the ultimate root canal...on the soul and the unwillingness to dig in the dirt creates pain that radiates out to every branch and every leaf. Its good to remember that the roots that need to be pulled out...aren't yours anyway..they were fed and watered by someone else in the formative stages of life. So you don't have to blame yourself...or even those that encouraged or discouraged the growth pattern that no longer serves. Your only mission...should you choose to accept it is that the spade is in your hands..and no other. No one else can dig out your roots for you. Not even Ms. Dettmer.