Thursday, September 15, 2011

Friday Funny: Those Pizzas in the Freezer Are Mine

I apologize for not having a Friday Funny last week...But, I'm back this week before I head to Lexington for the Battle for the Governor's Cup...So without further ado...

In my post two weeks ago, I talked a lot about college and making friends.  I mentioned my old roommate, Clay Johnson, and how we came to live together freshman year.  All of that got me to thinking about how different living with roommates is compared to living at home with your family, or living by yourself.  I've done all three at different points in my life, so I have plenty of comparisons to make.  And one thing is for sure: living with roommates is a unique experience where making memories and lifelong friendships (or enemies) are both unavoidable conclusions.

While I lived in Lexington, I moved a lot.  In the 7 years (2003-2010) that I lived there, I had 7 different addresses, including three in the span of 4 months.  I had a lot of different roommates: Clay, Matt Dowling, Lance Lucas, Tyler Mays, Steve Quattrocchi, Kenton Lanham, Noah Burton, Stan...Moving to a new place and getting a new roommate or two in the fall was about as predictable as registering for classes before each semester.  I don't have anything bad to say about any of those guys...They are all my friends, and were good roommates.  Sure, we all had arguments and got under one another's skin at one time or another.  But, all things considered, living with those guys was always a good experience.  Sometimes you realize, though, that just being friends is better than sharing a bathroom.

That being said, all of the different living situations I had during my years in Lexington offered up a lot of experiences for lifelong memories and some hilarious stories.  I probably don't remember half of them, but I would venture to say that if all of those guys and I worked together, we could write a book that would sell millions.  But, for now, I just want to share a few of the funny moments with you.

One of the things about living with roommates is that, like it or not, their drama becomes your drama.  It's unavoidable.  Most of the time, arguments with girlfriends or things like that occur while they are at home, and since you live in the same place, you will likely have to deal with at least some of it.  One instance took place my freshman year.  It's not really an instance, but more of the culmination of events that occurred over several months.

Our senior year of high school, Clay began a very short and insignificant relationship with a girl named Jenna that was a few years our junior.  The couple dated for about two weeks, and Clay ended the relationship.  Part of it was because he was moving to Lexington and the long distance would be extremely difficult.  Part of it was the fact that Jenna was borderline crazy, and I got to witness that firsthand very shortly after we moved into Blanding I at UK.

The late-night calls began the first week of school, as best I can remember.  She would call almost every night, and every night the conversation was essentially the same.  Jenna would beg for Clay to take her back, Clay would adamantly say no (and he would be nice about it) and then she'd hang up.  She'd undoubtedly call back at 3 or 4 in the morning, and considering I slept just three feet away, I usually heard the phone, or at least heard Clay saying, "Jenna, it is 4:00 in the morning...I have a test in four hours.  STOP CALLING ME."

After a couple of months of this, Clay and I were both getting fed up.  He had switched gears in how he dealt with it, and would be as mean as a human can possibly be to this girl, and it still didn't do any good.  It almost seemed the meaner he got, the more she tried.  It was ridiculous.  So, I finally reached my boiling point and told Clay that the next time she called at 4 AM I was going to answer the phone and go off.  I had had enough.

Well, the time came, and according to Clay, he came over to my bed and tried frantically to wake me up before she hung up.  He said I mumbled something, rolled over, and went right back to sleep.  To this day, I am so mad at myself for not waking up that night.  And, as best I can remember, I never got another opportunity.  The calls stopped shortly thereafter.

Sophomore year, Clay, Matt Dowling, Tyler Mays, and I moved out of the dorms and into an off-campus apartment.  Most of that year, our apartment was THE place to hang out.  We had someone at our apartment that didn't live there literally every night for about 6 months straight.  It got old, sure, but for the most part, it was a fun year.  Here we are as freshman (from left, Matt, me, Clay, Tyler), donning our Halloween costumes we purchased at Goodwill:

Tyler, admittedly, took a lot of abuse from the rest of us.  It was all in good fun, and a lot of it was deserved, but we always sort of ganged up on him.  Around Christmas, Matt, Clay, and I decorated a tree and put up Christmas lights.  Tyler, on the other hand, made fun us and was just being a total Scrooge.  So, after Tyler went to bed that night, we all waited a while.  Then, at around 2 in the morning, we got him back.

We had printed off the lyrics to some of the most timeless Christmas carols and stood directly outside of Tyler's door and sang carols as loud as we possibly could.  We would get through a song, die laughing for a while, stay silent to make him think we were done, and then bust out in a different song.  We did this for about half an hour.  For some reason, Tyler never came out to tell us to shut up.

Tyler also had the uncanny ability to leave his stuff in every place except where it needed to be.  He'd leave his backpack in the living room floor, his shoes and hat in Clay's room, dirty plates on the coffee table...If he could get it out, it wouldn't be where it needed to be.  I can't say much, because I know I've done the same, but in my own defense, I'm not nearly as bad as Tyler was.  One evening, the rest of us got fed up with it and decided to throw all of Tyler's stuff into a box, then, we threw open his bedroom door, dumped the box out all over the floor, then slammed the door shut.  Tyler could be heard saying, "Thanks, guys."  I think he got the point.

Our junior year, Clay, Matt, Lance Lucas, and I all lived in an old house on Woodland Avenue.  I mean, the place was a total dump.  There were countless code violations, and any inspection by the city of Lexington surely would have left the place condemned.  But, it had a great back deck, off-street parking, and was within walking distance of all the classroom buildings and Commonwealth Stadium.  Plus, it was a great place to have parties because you literally couldn't screw it up more than it already was.

One random weeknight, the four of us were up late sitting on the front porch.  It was about 2:00 in the morning, so traffic was light.  But, at one point, a car drove up the street from Euclid Avenue towards Columbia and the library, and then circled back around.  Their windows were down, and we could easily tell at least four of the five guys in the car were heavily intoxicated.  A minute or so later, we saw the same car come back up the street with one of the idiots hanging out with a baseball bat hitting the sideview mirrors off of every car parked on the opposite side of the street.  We all sat stunned.

We watched as the car stopped at the end of the street, and one of the guys got out and began jumping from car to car, running down the street on the tops of them.  Then, right in front of our house, he jumped up and with both feet, kicked the windshield out of a parked car.  We immediately knew we had to call the police.

The car then left and came back a couple of minutes later, parked ON THE SAME STREET THEY HAD VANDALIZED, and they all got out and walked up towards the south campus dorms.  A few minutes later, the police arrived.

We explained the situation and one of the officers shook his head and simply said, "(Screw) it.  Let's tow it."  The cops thanked us, and left.  The next morning, the car was gone.

Our senior and fifth years, Clay and I lived in a townhouse off Tates Creek Road.  The first year, Kenton Lanham was our roommate, and when he left to go to law school the following year, Noah Burton moved in to replace him.  I'd like to introduce you to Noah.

Noah is an interesting guy.  He is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet.  He grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and really has that typical midwestern persona about him.  Great friend, great roommate...But, Noah definitely had his quirks.

Noah was always in the kitchen making something, and typically it was something strange.  And, most of the time, Noah wasn't 100% sure what he was doing.  He didn't have a whole lot of common sense, and while he was a good guy, socially he was a bit awkward.  (Note: I do not mean any of that in a mean way, I'm just trying to describe him.  I like Noah.)

I just want to give you a few examples.  One time, Noah decided he would try his hand at making meat loaf.  Now, I'm not totally sure what he did...I've never made meat loaf.  But, I have never in my 26 years seen so much grease outside of a deep fryer in my life.  There was a huge slab of beef floating in the pan with a small lake of grease.  I could hardly look at it, and Noah somehow ate it.  And said it was good.  I don't know.  Once he was grilling chicken, and asked me what chicken looked like when it was done.  He did the same with hamburgers.

One time, Noah decided to do dishes, which was awfully nice of him.  He did dishes a lot, so I can't complain.  But, on this particular night, we were out of dish detergent that one would put in the dishwasher, so Noah decided to use liquid dish soap as a substitute.  You can imagine the result.  I was not at home when it happened, and only got to see the last bit of it being mopped up, but according to Clay...There were soap suds about a foot thick all over the kitchen.

One of the most hilarious things that ever happened (at least to Clay and I) you will probably think is dumb, but I'm going to tell it anyway.  It was a random winter evening, and Clay and I were watching a Georgetown/Syracuse basketball game on ESPN.  Noah got home and walked into the living room and sat down and watched with us.  Neither Clay nor I had any rooting interest at all in the game, we just liked watching basketball.  At the end of the first half, Georgetown hit a jumper at the buzzer and you would have thought we were watching Kentucky sew up a national championship.  Noah's reaction (with accompanying fist pump):


Clay looked up with half a boneless chicken wing hanging out of his mouth, and I stared at Noah like he was the elephant in the room.

"You a big Georgetown fan?" I asked Noah.  Clay and I both busted out laughing.
"No, I just hate Syracuse."
"Well...It's only halftime."

Probably not funny to you...But, Clay and I still talk about that one from time to time.

These few instances don't even begin to scratch the surface.  There are literally countless stories I could tell about my experiences with the roommates I had in college.  Not all of them are funny, and some of them are even bad because of fights or arguments we had.  But, in the end, we all grew up as people and we are all friends to this day.

Living four hours away from my parents, those guys became my family.  And, you could see that in our interactions.  Despite our differences and petty arguments that would arise, at the end of the day, we had each other's backs.  I guess that's the beauty of having roommates, isn't it?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Never Forget

There are many things that make the United States unique in this world.  There is no country on Earth as culturally, racially, religiously, or otherwise diverse as the U.S. of A.  And despite that diversity, there are times in this nation's history that bring all of those different races, age groups, religions, and ideologies together under one cause.  At those few times that dot our historical landscape, we are no longer Kentuckians, or whites, or blacks, or Jews, or Protestants, or Catholics, Hispanics, Southerners, Northerners, Indians, or anything else...We are all Americans.

The American Revolution...World War II...The Cold War...Putting a man on the moon...The 1980 Olympic Games...Regardless of their historical significance, they all have one thing in common:  they united the people of this great nation together for one goal.  Whether it was gaining independence, destroying suppression and tyranny, being the world's greatest military power, planting an American flag on the moon, or winning a hockey game...It was US vs. Them...Whether for better or worse.

My dad could tell you where he was and what he was doing when Neil Armstrong uttered those famous words from the surface of the moon.  He could tell you where he was and what he was doing when a group of young, American college students defeated the mighty Soviets at their game.  My grandparents could likely tell you where they were when they heard the news that Nazi Germany had fallen, and Japan had surrendered.  For those that experienced them, those few instances are engrained in their memories forever.

Today is September 11, 2011.  It's hard to believe it has been ten years since that fateful day when radical terrorists highjacked four commercial planes, flew them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and (due to the heroic acts of a few brave passengers) a Pennsylvania field.  More than 3,000 lives were lost that day, and the entire country watched in horror as the events unfolded before our eyes on national television.

Like my father with the moonwalk and the 1980 Olympic hockey semifinals, and like millions of Americans across this country, I remember where I was and what I was doing that day.

I remember driving to school.  The sky was a crystal blue, without even a hint of a cloud anywhere to be seen.  There was that first bit of a fall chill in the morning air, but the perfect weather for driving with the windows down.  Which I did.

I hung out in the commons area at school when I arrived, just like I did every morning that I wasn't running late.  The first bell rang, and we all filed down the halls to our respective classrooms.  My first period class was Mr. Leeper's junior English class, one of my favorite classes ever.

We took our seats, awaiting morning announcements to come over the intercom.  I sat in the far left row, second seat from the front.  Mr. Leeper took attendance, and then we heard the familiar "ding" from the intercom, expecting the announcements.  Only this time, all we heard was, "Teachers, please check your email."  Then nothing more.  I didn't think twice about it.

Mr. Leeper walked over to his computer, checking his email like he had been instructed.  I remember watching him intently, and to this day I'm not really sure why.  Things like that happened all the time, but for some reason, I was interested in his facial expression.  His reaction to whatever it was he was reading.  You could see the concern and surprise on his face, but he didn't say a word.  He turned around, reached up, and turned on the television.

I will never forget the first images I saw.  It was a live video of the first tower, it's upper quarter engulfed in flames, with thick, black smoke billowing out the top of it like a stack from an Industrial Age factory.  The commentators were saying how it appeared to be a tragic accident.  A few gasps could be heard around the classroom, but besides that, it was total silence.

About that time, they cut to a news anchor who was standing across the bay in New Jersey with the World Trade Center in the background.  I don't remember what he was saying, but while he was in mid-sentence, the second plane could be seen in the background flying into the tower, a huge fireball as the gas tanks exploded, and his shock as he turned around at the sound of the explosion.  At that moment, we didn't need the news reporters to tell us what we were seeing was no accident.

I can't speak for everyone, but for me, at that moment, I knew things would never be the same.  There are very few moments in one's life where they understand the significance as an event is happening, but that is one of the few times that I knew what I was watching and experiencing was something none of us would ever forget.

For the rest of the day, we did nothing but watch news coverage in every class.  In the hallways and at lunch, it was the only topic of conversation.  When I went home that afternoon, I watched more coverage.  It was the most important event I have ever witnessed.

The tragic nature of the events that day cannot be understated.  I could write forever and not be able to do it the justice it deserves, especially for those who were directly involved or who lost family members.  So I won't even try.  But, like the other significant historical events I mentioned, September 11, 2001 united this country in a way I had not previously seen in my lifetime, and likely won't see again.

People from all walks of life, all religions, all cultures, were drawn under one banner.  One cause.  After air traffic returned, after baseball and football continued to play games, and after the first American troops landed in Afghanistan, this country was no longer a breadbasket.  We were united as one, and fighting the same battle.  Whether we were wearing a uniform and carrying a gun, hanging an American flag in the yard, or just exhibiting a sense of pride and brotherhood, we were all on the same team.

That's what I remember about September 11.  I absolutely wish the events that took place that day had never happened.  I wish the thousands of families that lost loved ones still had those people sitting around the dinner table with them.  I wish the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had never taken place, and I wish the American lives that were lost fighting those wars were never taken.  With that being said, seeing the pride the American people embodied, seeing the attitude and ideology that made this country so great was inspiring.  Despite all of the violence, racism, and hatred that has tarnished the history of the United States, we proved we could come together and put our differences aside, if for just a short time.

Unfortunately, those events didn't unite us for long.  And, in some ways, they helped divide us.  They helped illustrate the darkness that can exist in all humans, and that part is extremely disheartening.  I want to share something that occurred last year in one of my classes while I was teaching at Metcalfe County to help illustrate my point.

We were covering World War II in my U.S. History class, and as part of the unit, we were discussing the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans during the war.  At one point during the discussion, a girl piped up and said, "We ought to do the same thing to all the Muslims."  I stopped speaking, completely frozen.  I didn't even know how to respond.

I asked her, "Why exactly should we imprison all the Muslims?"
"Because they attacked the World Trade Center.  We ought to put all of 'em here in jail, and nuke the rest," she said with all of the sincerity as possible.

I couldn't believe my ears.  The exact thing that had caused all of it...Hate...Was now rearing its ugly head after the fact.  I tried to explain to her that the act of a few radical psychopaths was no reason to collectively label every Muslim on the planet.  I tried to use the Westboro Baptist Church as an example.

"Is it fair to say every Baptist in the world is as heartless and misguided as those that protest military funerals?"
"No, but it's different.  I hate Muslims, they're awful," she said.
"Have you ever actually met one?" I asked, knowing she hadn't.
"No, but I've seen them.  I saw three or four at a Waffle House with my dad once, and they were making fun of Americans," she said.  I almost laughed.
"Ok, so, three people?  That's enough to say you hate a group of millions?"

It was like talking to a brick wall.  I could've offered any counter-argument imaginable and she wouldn't have budged.  Hearing that was saddening.  Just like anyone else, I hate what the terrorists did and continue to do on a daily basis.  But I also realize that millions of Muslims around the world, and virtually all of them in this country, denounce what terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda stand for.  Make sure you remember that, as well.

I challenge you to reflect on the events that took place that day in 2001.  I challenge you to remember those that serve our country, those that put their own lives at risk everyday to protect us at home, and to protect this nation.  Say a prayer for them and their families.  Shake the hand of a soldier.  If you know one, call them up and thank them.  Say a prayer for the leaders of this country, that they'll make sound decisions and bring our troops home.  Remember where you were, what you thought, how you felt.  But don't let those feelings fuel hatred.  As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently put it, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." Never forget.

Tell me your story in the comments below.  Thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

That's Life...That's What All the People Say

Over the weekend, Adrienne and I went to my parents house so we could go to the lake one last time before the boating season winds down.  When we first arrived, I noticed a box in my closet labeled "Pat and Betty's Letters."  Betty is my dad's mother, Memaw.  Pat is Dad's father, but tragically, he passed away in October 1957 when my dad was just six months old.  I had heard my Dad talk about the letters before, but I had never actually seen them, so I was intrigued.  But, we had just gotten to my parents' house, so I had to go visit with them for a while.

The next night, I couldn't sleep so I decided what better time to take a look at the letters.  I retrieved the box from the closet, sat down in the floor, and placed the old shoe box held together with a shoestring on my lap.

I sat there for a few moments, I'm not really sure how long.  For some reason, I was frozen.  I couldn't immediately open the box.  Perhaps I was nervous about reading them, although I'm not sure why I would be.  Maybe I was just overcome with a feeling of solemnity.  I was about to see my grandfather's handwriting for the first time.  Finally, I took a deep breath and opened the box.

I was astonished at the vast number of letters.  There had to be at least 100 of them in the box, or at least it seemed like it.  They were in chronological order, running from August of 1951, to September of 1956.  I started reading from the top of the stack, and was immediately intrigued.

In all reality, I don't know that much about Daddy Pat (as he is affectionately known among our family).  My dad obviously never got the chance to know him, and has only relayed things he's heard from Memaw and the rest of the family.  I did know he was a Military Policeman in the Air Force, and I knew he had lived in Detroit for a while.  I knew he and Memaw lived in South Dakota for a while, and I knew he died of a brain tumor.  Other than that, I didn't know much.  So, getting a contemporary look inside his life was very intriguing to say the least.

The first letters were nothing of much significance.  In fact, if you had no connection whatsoever and were simply reading the letters for reading's sake, you might think they were relatively boring.  The first letter was written right after he had moved to Detroit, just three months after graduating high school.  Virtually every letter at the top of the stack talked about how he was trying to find a job, how he had just found a place to live.  How he would need a good winter coat, because it was already beginning to get chilly in Detroit.  He talked about Memaw too, and how they "always had a good time."  On Sundays they would go eat at a relative's house (I can't remember who it was) and watch television.  He even talked about how he was hoping the Army had forgotten about him.  Can't say I blame him.

I didn't read all of the letters...By this point, it was already about 2:00 AM and I was beginning to get sleepy.  So, I jumped ahead to the later letters.  One of which was amazing.  This one was well after Memaw and Daddy Pat were married.  It was the second to last letter in the stack, and in Memaw's handwriting.  She was writing to Daddy Pat's parents and she told them that Karen and Patty (my aunts) were doing well, and they were waiting to get clearance to leave the base.  Daddy Pat was in the Air Force by this time, obviously.  She also talked about how he had been to see several doctors.  He had already begun to get sick.  Seeing that part was painful, but there was light amongst the dark.  She said she had been feeling ill for a while, and she was pretty sure why.  "Looks like you are going to be Grandparents again," she said.  "After two kids, I think I know the symptoms pretty well.  If I'm pregnant, I think I'm about 2 months along."  The letter was written in September of '56, and my dad came along the following April.  Exactly seven months later.  She was right on the money.  Oddly enough, she said Dad was born on the exact day he was due.

The letters stopped after the next one, because the family was getting packed to move back to Benton.  Daddy Pat had gotten discharged from the Air Force for being permanently unable to perform...The cancer.  Just over a year later, he was gone.

Reading those letters, and hearing stories about their lives for years, got me to thinking about my Memaw and the incredible and painful life she has led.  Memaw was the youngest in her family, and both of her parents had passed away by the time she was only six years old.  Her father was killed after getting hit by a car, and I'm uncertain how her mother died.  But, she was essentially raised by her older sisters.  Even though a couple of her sisters were married with children at that time, I can't imagine what it would be like to grow up without "real" parents.  That's just the start.

Memaw and Daddy Pat were married in 1952, and they had three children together.  My dad, and my aunts Karen and Patty that I mentioned earlier.  They obviously knew Daddy Pat was very sick, even before my dad came along.  The incredible fear that she must have felt with two young daughters and a third child on the way, knowing they would grow up without their father, must have been unbelievably devastating.  Then, when the time came, she faced raising two daughters and an infant son on her own.  And through it all, she was steadfast.

Despite the unspeakable pain, she had to move on.  She married my Papaw who had dealt with an equally difficult situation in his own life.  He and his wife had a son, my uncle Darryl, and an infant daughter, Sheila, and were driving in his old Studebaker one night when a drunk driver swerved into their lane, hitting them head on.  His wife was killed, and he too was left alone with two young children.  From what I've heard, Daddy Pat's mother (Granny Edwards) introduced Memaw and Papaw to one another and the rest is history.  They are a real life Brady Bunch.

There was more tragedy in Memaw's life.  Her brother lived in a small trailer behind their house for a while and in very mysterious circumstances, committed suicide one night.  When he didn't come to the house for meals the following day, Memaw became suspicious and went to check on him and found his body.  I can't imagine losing a sibling in that manner, but I definitely can't imagine finding their body.  Memaw has endured so much in her amazing life, that I can't even fathom it.

What is most amazing about her, is that despite all of the hardship and pain she has dealt with in her life, she is one of the most caring, loving, and compassionate people I have ever met.  If there was ever a person who deserved to be cynical or bitter, it is her.  But she is anything but.  She loves her family with unwavering constancy, and if she has ever been in a bad mood, I've not seen it.

I like to think that I'm her favorite grandchild.  She'd never say so, and I'm not sure why I would be the favorite, other than the fact I'm totally awesome.  But, Memaw and I have always had a special bond.  She was stricken with breast cancer when I was little, and while our house was being built, we lived with her and Papaw for a few months.  She says having Lensey and I there helped her get through the treatments, and ultimately, beat the disease.  Perhaps that's why we have that bond, but I'm not really sure.  Nonetheless, it's there, and always has been.

Lensey and I used to spend afternoons there after school.  I'd spend hours sitting on the dishwasher door, watching Memaw clean or cook dinner.  The door was permanently damaged from it, but I don't think she minded.  Or I'd sit at my table she set up in the living room so I could watch Nick Jr. and wait for her to bring me a ham and cheese sandwich with the crust cut off, with a tall glass of chocolate milk.  Memaw's chocolate milk was always the best.

In my 26 years on this planet, I only remember her even remotely getting upset with me one time.  I was about five or six years old, and Memaw decided to make some brownies and I wanted to help.  I asked her if I could break the eggs, and she reluctantly agreed.

"You can break the eggs, but be very careful and don't make a mess."

It was like telling a dog not to eat out of the garbage.  I really didn't mean to, but I slammed the egg down on the edge of the counter like I was driving a nail.  Of course, egg went all over the place.

"Zachery!  I told you not to make a mess!"  I stared up at her, in total shock.  I immediately began crying and ran back to the bedroom.

After a few minutes, long enough for her to clean up my mess I'm sure, Memaw came back into the room to console me and apologize.  She didn't really have a reason to apologize...I had done exactly what she told me not to do, and she didn't even yell at me.  I was just a fragile little boy, and it felt like she had.  But since that point, she has never even come close to doing it again.  Not even after I ripped the hook off the door in the bathroom because I was trying to climb up Papaw's belt that he always hung there.  Not even after bugging her hundreds of time to take me to Wal-Mart because "Suzy probably needs some food."  I knew Suzy (their dog) didn't need food.  I just knew she'd buy me a G.I. Joe.

I look at Memaw's life, and see how she is as a person, and I can't wrap my head around it.  She raised five incredible children, has been an amazing grandmother to 11 grandchildren, and now, as a great-grandmother, she continues that tradition.  She's the most genuine person I know and hasn't deserved such pain and anguish throughout her life.  But she lived it, and dealt with it, all the same.  The strength she embodies on a daily basis is something that I can't even begin to comprehend.

I feel guilty.  My life has been a cake walk compared to some of my closest friends and relatives.  I've never had to endure even one significant loss in my life, and Memaw had to endure losing both parents, a husband, and a brother long before that should have even been on the radar.  Adrienne and her family have had to endure losing a father, husband, brother, and a friend to hundreds of people much too soon.  DJ's father was fine and healthy one day, gone the next.  What have I had to go through?  Any problems I've had in my life have been so temporary and pointless, the fact I ever worried about anything sickens me now.

Trust me, I'm EXTREMELY thankful for the hand that I've been dealt, and I realize how incredibly blessed my life is.  Or at least I try to realize it.  But it doesn't stop me from thinking that it isn't fair.  Memaw, Adrienne and her entire family, DJ...They're all better people than I am, in so, SO many ways.  And yet, they've had to endure more in their lives than I could even begin to think about.  I don't want to know that pain, no more than they ever wanted to.  They're stronger than I could ever strive to be, and I have nothing but respect and love for all of them. 

I look back on times where I felt like my life was falling apart and, now, I just laugh.  I don't laugh because it's funny, I laugh because of how ridiculous I was.  I've been blessed, there's no question.  And having those people in my life (Memaw, Adrienne, DJ) has given me even more blessings because of the inspiration the provide on a daily basis.  If I'm ever able to become even half the person any one of them are, then my life will have been a good one.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Have We REALLY Come to This?

For as long as I can remember, or at least since I've had the capabilities and resources to use, I've been a big history buff.  It began at an early age with baseball.  Baseball was my first love and one of the things that is unique about the game is its attachment to tradition and history.  You can catch a glimpse of this by watching just a few minutes of any telecast of a Major League Baseball game.  Without exception, there will be a totally ridiculous statistic brought to the viewer's attention...Just as an example:

"Wow, John.  This is only the fourth time since 1891 that a team has recorded a single, double, triple, and homerun in three consecutive innings."

I honestly have no idea if that statistic is correct, but I can guarantee that baseball stats are so in depth, that the right researcher could tell you how many times it has happened, what two teams were playing, and what players recorded each hit.  Having that tradition and depth is what drove me to research baseball.  My dad always talked about some of his favorite Cardinals growing up: Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Joe Torre.  He talked about Stan "The Man" Musial, and made sure I watched Ozzie Smith's spectacular glove work at shortstop.  I got my hands on a few books detailing all-time great players, or historic stadiums.  Granted, it wasn't much of a research base, but my love for history started with researching baseball.

As I got older, my love of history only grew.  I majored in history at UK, and had about 50 credit hours worth of history classes, ranging from Colonial American history, to the ancient Mycenaeans, Victorian England, Medieval Europe, post-Roman Russia, Ancient Greece...I touched on a little bit of everything.  And I loved it.  Not only did I get to learn about other cultures in lectures, but I also had to do a ton of research on my own.  Now, I don't love research...In fact, it can get extremely tedious and mind-numbing.  But, the end result makes it all worth it.

I'm not just a history nut, though.  I'm an information nut.  I'm a research nut.  You can ask anyone of my friends.  Just in the past few months I've researched things as useless and pointless as the life span of a lightning bug, why cats purr, NCAA Football champions since 1940, the word "feral" and countless others.  If something comes up in conversation that I don't know about, or if I just think of a question, I will immediately log on to Google and look it up.  I'll research anything, but historical topics are by far my favorite.

It kind of goes without saying that I watch the History Channel often.  Pawn Stars, Mysteries of the Bible, Modern Marvels, Cities of the Underworld, American Restoration, any of the countless documentaries they show about a variety of topics...I love them all.  But, I have to admit, HC has taken a very strange turn in the last few years.  Much like every other major network on television today, it is important for them to keep viewers watching.  They have to draw you in with something.  Apparently, presenting facts about historical events wasn't getting the job done anymore.  With the dreaded year 2012 swiftly approaching, the History Channel has turned to fantastical doomsday prophecies and theories in an attempt to stir up hysteria that already exists in a society that is constantly being told what to think by the media.  And how do they get people to watch this nonsense?  They present it as fact.

Take a look at this trailer for History's hit show, Ancient Aliens.

Now, I realize they very carefully word it so it's not EXACTLY factual.  Key words like "a new theory","perhaps", and others cover their tracks.  But, if you watch the show (and you really, really should, at least once) you will see that theories and presumptions go out the window.  Experts that tell you why our civilization can be explained by alien encounters will go to the furthest depths to convince you they are right.  And, when presented with evidence to the contrary, it is simply brushed off as coincidence or not even addressed at all.

In the scholarly world, Ancient Aliens is pushed aside as a crackpot theory, as well it should be.  It is called "pseudohistory," which, as the name suggests, is nothing more than partial history.  Basically, pseudohistorians take widely accepted historical fact and attempt to refute them, or change them.  Often, they will take history and instead of disproving it, they simply give an alternate route.  This is the case in Ancient Aliens.

On the show, they look at everything from the Pyramids of Giza, ancient Mayan culture, Stonehenge, and even Renaissance art looking for evidence of alien life on earth during antiquity.  Is it far-fetched?  Absolutely.  Is it ridiculous?  Without question.  Borderline insane?  Ha, well, watch one episode and you be the judge.  I think it is.

The fallacies in the show would literally take months of research and writing to fully document.  So, I'm just going to focus on a few.  First of all, let me introduce you to Giorgio Tsoukalos, who is the primary "expert" the show uses.  He appears in every episode, and if you visit his website you'll see this little gem in his SELF-WRITTEN bio:

"Giorgio A. Tsoukalos is the star and Consulting Producer of ANCIENT ALIENS - THE SERIES (2010) and publisher of Legendary Times Magazine, the only Ancient Astronaut publication in the world. Giorgio is the real-life Indiana Jones and he is changing the way the world thinks about the Ancient Astronaut Theory."

He is referred to as the "real-life Indian Jones" but when he is the one calling HIMSELF that, it loses any meaning it MIGHT have had otherwise.  Let's try an experiment.

"Zach Edwards is the coolest guy on the planet.  He knows everything there is to know about everything.  He is the Easter Bunny.  He is Santa Claus.  And he is changing the way the world thinks about what a man is, and should be."

Do you believe one word of that hogwash?  Neither do I.

Let's go back to Tsoukalos.  One of the things that any real researcher looks at when examining a source, is the credibility of the source.  For instance, when writing a research paper, the internet can be a great tool.  Using websites with extensions like .gov, .edu, or .org are usually extremely credible.  They are operated by the government, educational institutions, or legitimate organizations that may specialize in a particular topic.  Likewise, using written sources can be tricky too.  It's best to use scholarly journals as sources, because they are written by experts on the particular subject.  Obviously, the best to use are contemporary authors who saw an event first hand, obviously not the case on Ancient Aliens.  In the case of Tsoukalos, let's take a look at his "credentials."

Tsoukalos graduated from Ithaca College with a degree in Sports Information Communication.  After that, he worked as a bodybuilding promoter for Gold's Gym until 2005.  He travels, and runs the website that I referenced above, but does that make him an "expert"?  Absolutely not.  In reality, it makes the fact that the History Channel uses him as an expert all the more laughable.  How can a television network that supposedly produces programming about historical topics use a guy with a background in Sports Information as their primary expert?  If the show was about the history of bodybuilding, I might be more inclined to trust his judgement.  But when it's based on a theory that human civilization has been fully set in motion by aliens coming to earth?  Sorry, I can't believe a word he says. Not to mention, this is what he looks like:

If his lack of credentials aren't enough, you should hear some of the theories he whole-heartedly believes.  Just a few:

-The Babylonians had nuclear weapons.
-Every "god" in every religion was actually an alien.
-The whale that swallowed Jonah was actually an alien spacecraft.
-The ancestral foundation of the halo is light reflecting off of alien helmets.
-Humans are descendants of an alien civilization from a distant galaxy that was in the midst of a major war.  With their civilization on the verge of total destruction, they traveled back in time and across galaxies to Earth, where they implanted clones of themselves to build a new civilization.  This one is my favorite.
-The Annunciation to Mary was actually a spacecraft that made her pregnant.  He references a painting that records the event, saying the artist "Saw this spacecraft over Mary, and recorded it in this painting!" Problems: The painting is a Renaissance painting, produced roughly 1,500 years after Mary would have been alive.
-Science-fiction staples like tractor beams and time travel were extensively used by these "aliens."
-He constantly uses the term "exra-terrestials" instead of "extra-terrestrials."  This one isn't a crackpot theory, but it bugs the crap out of me.

Tsoukalos is little more than a salesman trying to get you to buy his product.  He does no scientific examinations, and has been accused by a group of similar scientists from Cal Tech of stealing their research findings and plagiarizing them as his own.  Nothing but controversy surrounds this guy, and unfortunately, that may be why so many people tune in to watch.

I just don't understand why the History Channel has sunken to the level of putting this garbage on television.  Don't get me wrong, it's extremely entertaining, but they truly present it as legitimate historical study, and it is anything but.  I challenge you to watch an episode or two, just so you can see the hilarity that is Ancient Aliens.  But, don't watch anymore than that.  If you do, they may keep it on the air and that would be the worst possible conclusion to this issue.

As an historian myself (albeit a poor one), I take offense to the lack of credibility underlying this show.  I'm all for revisionist historical study, because the ultimate goal is to find out the truth.  But, there is a fine line between revisionism and insanity.  And with Ancient Aliens, the History Channel sprints up to that line, and long jumps over it.  Key thing to remember...Don't believe everything you hear.  And don't feed the hysteria.