Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008: A Year in Review

Looking back at 2008, it was just like so many other years, full of ups and downs.

I began the year as a seminary student enjoying a break between semesters. I'm ending the year as a seminary drop out, resting in the knowledge that I won't have to stress out about tests and research papers anymore.

I'm sure I disappointed a few people when I revealed this year that I would be withdrawing from school after only three semesters. Believe me when I say it isn't a decision that I came to lightly, it's something I prayed about a lot. Seminary just isn't for everyone.

I went west of the Mississippi River for the first time in my life. I went way west. I enjoyed a brief but extremely packed vacation in Los Angeles where I experienced the Back to the Future tour that few people come to know. I got my picture taken with Superman. I saw wonders that I dare not cheapen with heavy handed words.

I moved. Again. But this time I'm in an awesome apartment. A grown-up apartment. I signed a lease and everything.

I went to the movies a lot. I was introduced to the PlayStation 3. I experienced the joy of high definition in my own living room for the very first time.

I went to a wedding. I missed a wedding. Found out about an engagement or two, which will lead to more weddings in the future.

I joined a family this year. And whether they really consider me family or not, that's how I think of them.

I started and kept a job that has had a lot of downs. But it's a job.

I turned 28 this year. That means I have one more birthday before I stop the aging process. That's right. God and I, we struck a bargain.

I drank too much caffeine. I ate too much fast food. But somehow I managed to lose 15 pounds. Take that Surgeon General!

So here's to 2009. May it be whatever it will be. See you next year...

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Resolute

It's that time of year again. Time to look within ourselves and find what we don't like and make wild claims about what we'll change. Last year I made some resolutions, so let's take a moment to look back on those and see how I did.

I said I'd exercise more. I really don't think I did. But I did lose fifteen pounds over the course of the year. And no, I didn't gain it back. I lost it for reals.

I said I'd post something on the blog every day. I pretty much did. There were a few days that I wasn't able to post until after midnight, but I still maintain that it was still the same day on the west coast. Ergo, I posted something every single day in 2008. Except tomorrow. 'Cause it hasn't happened yet. But it will.

I said I'd be more social. Okay, so I wasn't much more social than I have been in the past. But that's mostly because I don't like people. No offense to the people reading this, 'cause I know you can be counted as people. For you people, I generally make an exception. I think it's safe to say I made a few new friends this year. Mostly, these are people that I met through knowing the Greenes and through church. But I think that should count as becoming slightly more social.

What should I resolve to do in 2009? I'm leaving this one open to suggestion in the comments. This is your chance to shape my life for the next year.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I had a movie-going trifecta this weekend. I began with Four Christmases, followed by The Day the Earth Stood Still. Last night I went to the theater, again with Jen and Nicole, to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I can't remember the last time I went to the movies three nights in a row. If I had limitless funds, I'd do it more often.

Have you seen the trailer for this flick? It follows the life of Benjamin Button, who is born as an old man, and as he gets older, he actually gets younger. Kind of like Mork and Mindy, but less random. Actually, this movie reminded me a bit of Forrest Gump. Throughout his life, Benjamin comes in contact with different aspects of American history. It's really not as obvious as when Forrest met several presidents or inspired John Lennon to write Imagine. Maybe it was just in the way that his story was told in flashbacks throughout the film.

I really don't have much to say about the movie. I wasn't blown away by it, so I don't have any over-the-top compliments. But I didn't dislike it either, so I have nothing to complain about. It was definitely a good movie, well worth my discounted student ticket of seven dollars.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Day the Earth Stood Still

The original version of this movie was always one of my Dad's favorites. So when I found out that Keanu Reeves would be starring in a remake, I was skeptical at best. I'm generally not a fan of a remake. To me, if a classic film is good enough to be remade, then it should also be good enough to be left alone to remain a classic. For those of you wanting to see the movie be warned, there may be slight spoilers ahead.

This new version of The Day the Earth Stood Still was about what I expected. I didn't get my hopes up, so I wasn't disappointed. I went into this thing expecting a big budget movie driven by special effects, and that's about what I got. Keanu Reeves gave a very Keanu Reeves performance. If you've seen any of his other movies, you know what I mean.

As I think about the movie more since I saw it last night, the more I like it. That's not to say I love the movie. I'm not writing this to say it was the best movie of the year. It really was about what I expected to see. But I think that Will Smith's kid, Jaden, did a pretty good job playing Jennifer Connelly's stepson, Jacob. At first I was just writing his character off as a jerk who was just being a jerk for the sake of being a jerk. But he was a deeper character dealing with a lot of realistic issues that a kid in that situation would deal with. And I'm not talking about being in the thick of an alien invasion. His real mother died when he was a baby. His dad, an army engineer, later married Jennifer Connelly, then was killed in Iraq (or so we can assume). So here's a kid who has some serious abandonment issues and is understandably angry with the world and takes it out on his stepmother. In the beginning of the movie you're ready to not like the kid, but as his story unfolds you become more sympathetic.

The original was a warning against the dangers of nuclear weapons and tried to teach a lesson in the midst of the Cold War. Logically, that part of the plot has been tweaked to reflect our planet's current peril: the environment. So the message is basically, save the world or die. Klaatu makes a good point when he says, "If the earth dies, you die. If you die, the earth survives." I don't know about that second part, but I guess, eventually, we will see about that.

The movie makes the point that it's not too late for humans to change. They point out that the only chance a civilization has to change comes when there's no choice but to change. On the brink of destruction, a species or civilization must adapt or die. That kind of makes sense too.

So overall, my take on the movie is that it was okay. It wasn't great by any stretch of the imagination. If I had it to do over again, I'd probably wait for the DVD. Instead, I would have watched the original, in all its black and white glory.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Four Christmases

I think that Old School was my first real exposure to Vince Vaughn. I missed a lot of his early work. I avoided the Psycho remake and have never seen Swingers all the way through. But whatever my first Vince Vaughn movie, I've thought he was hilarious ever since. I think it's the way he just goes off on these long tangents that have very little to do with the plot of the movie but somehow make sense when he's the one saying them. I'm not saying that I have some kind of boy-crush on Vince Vaughn, I just think he's funny. The crush part would come with Reece Witherspoon. I've had a thing for her since Far Away Home. That's real old school.

So about a week before Four Christmases came out, I was debating whether or not I'd want to see it. In fact, in talking with Nicole, I predicted from the trailer that the plot would involve a great deal of embarassment for the main characters, leading to some sort of misunderstanding between them, causing a brief break-up, which would in turn lead to a reconciliation because they would realize that Christmas just wasn't the same without each other. I was really close on this one.

The movie was extremely funny. I laughed so hard that I nearly cried. But I didn't cry. I don't cry. Okay, I cried a little, but it was very touching toward the end. I definitely recommend this movie. About 15 minutes into it, I decided that this would be one I would want on DVD. But if you go see it, don't sit next to the lady I sat next to.

I had the good fortune to sit next to a rather large woman with an obnoxiously loud laugh. I knew I was in trouble when she went into histarics over that new Wayans comedy that spoofs dance movies. I don't even remember the title of it. I'm trying to block it out. It looked that stupid. The woman next to me was going nuts. It only got worse from there. The next trailer was for Marley and Me. She laughed even more. God help me, I thought I was going to have to move. For a moment I was tempted to leave Jen and Nicole behind to fend for themselves. For a moment, Jen was tempted to throw a shoe at the large laugher. During the movie, she even talked to the characters. Here's a tip, just because you can see and hear them doesn't mean they can see and here you. Save the talking to the screen for when you're in the privacy of your own home where no strangers will openly mock you for it.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Question of the Week: Dreams

What was your most enjoyable dream? your worst nightmare?

My dreams are always weird. Well, the ones I remember are generally strange. I don't necessarily have good dreams, and I don't have nightmares. Even as a kid, I don't remember having too many nightmares. Mom may have a different memory of that, but I just don't remember ever having horribly scary dreams.

Of course I have had that dream where you're falling down the stairs or off a cliff but never quite hit bottom. I'll wake up scared from those, but I haven't had one of those in a long time. I've had dreams where I was flying. I always think those are nice.

But most of the time, my dreams end up being the kind where I'm carrying on conversations with monkeys and tearing down walls with plastic spoons.

*Question of the Week comes from The Book of Questions by Gregory Stock, Ph.D.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Life Story: Chapter Sixteen

Growing up, Christmas Eve meant dinner and gifts with family at Mamaw and Papa's. Back then they lived in a house out in Daleville, a town in Botetourt County. To a kid, it was a really long drive from our house in Roanoke to our grandparents' house in Botetourt. It was a trip that involved getting on the interstate and driving forever (or roughly 20 minutes).

Dinner was always a fun experience. For many years it was your traditional turkey with the trimmings. Kind of like a sequel to Thanksgiving. Then one year, Mamaw decided to change things up. We had breakfast for Christmas dinner. Another year, we did a do-it-yourself sandwich line. It's nice to get a change up now and then.

My cousin Landon and I would crack jokes throughout the entire meal. Our parents would all tell us to cut it out. They wanted us to be a little quieter while we ate. But we knew that they were really laughing from the dining room while we cracked up at the kids' table. To be honest, there were times that we were laughing so hard, I was afraid one of us would choke.

After feasting on the roast beast, we would make our way to the basement where we'd sit on the floor and open presents. The kids would all open presents first (according to age), then the adults would open their boring stuff. Of course, while they did that, we would go and play with the toys we had just received.

One year, when everything was finished, April and I saw something amazing on the drive back home. It was a clear night that Christmas Eve, and on the interstate, we could see so many stars. As we looked up through the back window, we saw a bright light streak through the sky. That's right, we had seen Santa Claus.

Even back then, my mind was working logically. If he has to fly all over the world in one night, he would have to travel at the speed of light. Going that fast, if his sleigh would show up to the naked eye at all, it would appear as a streak of light. All of you unbelievers out there just hold on to your "meteorite" explanations. I know what I saw!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Legends of the Bank Teller - Episode XLI

'Tis the season to be jolly. To be generous. To be kind and understanding of your fellow man. Unless you happen to be a bank customer at my drive-thru window. Then it's the season to be greedy and impatient.

Take, for example, my day at the bank today. I've been here for less than an hour, and already I'm fed up with the people I'm here to serve. My very first customer was someone in the lobby who had some complicated stuff to do. A cashier's check and several checks to cash.

When I began helping her, there was no one in my drive-thru lane. But then, as soon as I got back to my station with her transactions, there were two cars waiting. This happens all the time, by the way. It's like some cosmic law that sets us up to fail.

Being the well-trained customer service minded person that I am, I told the man in the car that I would be with him in a moment. Meanwhile, I'm working on the lady-in-the-lobby's multiple complicated transactions. A few minutes pass and the lobby has cleared, save for the lady that I was helping. The lobby tellers come to get the drive-thru boxes to lend me a hand.

Then comes the buzzing from lane one. "Are you about to wrap this up!?" Now, I can be a patient person when I want to be. But when someone else's impatience begins to show, I have a real hard time hiding my own. I calmly explained to him that the other tellers were working on his transaction. "We're out here burnin' gas!"

Okay guy, first of all, you're in a Lexus SUV. Obviously our current economic crisis hasn't hurt you all that much. And hey, you're really complaining about burning gas? Have you been by the pump lately? Even here in North Carolina the gas prices have dropped dramatically in the last couple months.

I really wanted to ask this guy where his Christmas spirit was. I really wanted to tell him that we were swamped inside; that there were three of us and thirty of them. Do the math.

And then I exclaimed, as he drove out of sight, "Bah humbug to you too!"

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Major Award

Christmas is but days away. With it comes an annual event that my own television will not participate in, so I implore all of you out there with cable to take advantage of the opportunity that TBS is affording you. Of course I am talking about 24 hours of A Christmas Story. I don't have cable, so I won't be watching it all night on Christmas Eve like I have during the past few years. I do, however, have it on DVD. So I'll be watching it at some point. And I'm pretty sure the Greenes will have it on for awhile too, so I'll get to see it there. In the meantime, to tie you all over, here are two pivotal scenes from that holiday classic. Remember, this film is rated PG. Blog-reader discretion is advised.



Sunday, December 21, 2008

Truthiness

It takes a big person to attack someone's character when they don't have internet access and are unable to defend themselves. If you saw yesterday's post, you know that I was finalizing my move into a new apartment. I had assumed that I would be without internet for quite some time, and so I asked Nicole if she would be willing to post something on my blog. I trusted her to post something well-written and thought out. And then she posts propaganda calling me a liar. By doing this, she has planted doubt into the minds of you, my loyal readers. Her top ten list pretty much describes every way I ever talk to people, this makes it seem as if my speech is full of nothing but lies.

Ladies and gentlemen of the interweb, I implore you to use your judgment in this matter. I was once described by a Sunday school teacher as a "cesspool of useless knowledge." This is a moniker I often wear with pride. Sometimes that useless knowledge just pours out of me. A good outlet for that trivia comes when watching Jeopardy! or playing Trivial Pursuit. The problem is, no one ever wants to play Trivial Pursuit with me. Really, no one likes to lose.

Thus, occasionally these random trivial facts will just burst forth from my brain. Just because it happens to be a fact that I alone know does not make it untrue. And I'm not saying I'm the only one that knows about that random bit of information, but I often find myself being the only one in the room who happens to know. This is obviously to my great detriment as there is no one around to back up my claim.

Now, I will be the first to admit, there are the rare times when I will give a piece of false information just to see how far I can take it. I do this for my own amusement. However, this has proven to be a bad move, as even true and honest statements are met with skepticism and disbelief.

So, since everyone now assumes that I am lying at all times, does this mean that I'm bad at lying, or that I'm really bad at telling the truth?

In all seriousness, a big thanks to Nicole for taking over yesterday. Now that I've moved in I'll be getting my own internet hooked up in the very near future. In the meantime, however, I'm stealing bandwidth from a generous neighbor. Remind me to set up a secure wireless network when I get everything done. I don't want any mooches like me diminishing my signal.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Art of Lying

Aaron has officially moved into his new apartment and because of this exciting event, he is without internet service and has given me (Nicole) the awesome privilege of being his guest writer once again. If you are a frequent reader of this blog then you know that Aaron spends much of his free time with our family (at the Greenehouse). He hangs out with Kevin and I several times each week to watch shows like Prison Break, 24, The Amazing Race and Lost, which we love, but due to his complex personality we have had to learn to read Aaron.

All who know Aaron know that he is sarcastic and cynical and it is in fact part of his charm but with that comes the art of lying, which he is the king of. It is amazing how often he will sit on the couch in our family room and throw some random and untrue statement our way as if it were absolute truth. Over the past few months, we have had to learn the art of reading Aaron, knowing whether he is trying to pull one over on us. Here are a few guidelines that we should all take into consideration when having a conversation with Aaron. This will in fact help you to determine whether the words that are being spoken are that of truth or fiction….

The top ten ways to know if Aaron is lying...

10. The difference between a forced or natural smile. Aaron is not one who smiles often and so it can be difficult to know if his smile is forced or natural but if it is forced, he is in fact telling a lie. (Which he does 95% of the time)

9. Hands touching face. Aaron will often times run his hand through his hair. Sure sign he is telling a lie.

8. Stiff body movements. The problem here is that Aaron’s movements are already stiff and so this particular clue is not always helpful in determining a lie.

7. Emotional gestures are off. He will say something and then smile. The smile does not come with the statement.

6. Those telling a lie will not face those they are lying to. Aaron often sits on the couch at an angle when hanging out with us so that he is not facing our direction. (We are then unable to see the lie in his eyes)

5. A guilty person often gets defensive. Typically, this is Aaron’s response the moment he is called out on a lie. He immediately gets his back up and tries to justify his answer.

4. Speaks in a monotonous tone or his speech is muddled. Another one of those guidelines that is not always accurate in determining a lie with Aaron because this is how he speaks the majority of the time thus earning him the name “Mumble”.

3. Liars often times avoid “lying” by avoiding direct statements and instead imply answers. This is most often the case with Aaron. He is ALWAYS implying something….although he often says the same of me.

2. The guilty person will speak more than usual and add unnecessary details to convince you. Again, totally Aaron. He doesn’t talk much anyway and so when he lies, there are way more words coming from his mouth than usual.

And the number one way to know that Aaron is lying...

1. Using humor or sarcasm to avoid a subject
Enough said….

Friday, December 19, 2008

Question of the Week: Accomplishment

What is the greatest accomplishment of your life? Is there anything you hope to do that is even better?

My greatest accomplishment would have to be when I found the cure for the common cold. Without question, that's the best thing I ever did. Sadly, I have been unable to publish my findings and get the cure out on the market. The world's governments want to keep that kind of thing on the down low. As long as they keep the people of the world sniffling and sneezing, the pharmaceutical companies can continue to create over the counter drugs that only stifle our symptoms, rather than eliminate them once and for all. Think how many people would be out of work because they couldn't sell cold meds anymore.

*Question of the Week comes from The Book of Questions by Gregory Stock, Ph.D.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Texting

I get bored at work. This leads me to either begin e-mailing friends who work at the same institution, like Brandon or Shalana, or to send text messages to people. Usually the texts go to Nicole, 'cause she's the one most likely to respond within a reasonable amount of time. Generally I'll begin with an actual question, but the text conversation usually mutates into something ridiculous. I give you an example from today's back and forth texting between myself and Nicole:

A: Meant to ask... May I do laundry this evening?
N: I guess so
A: I don't want to put you out or inconvenience you in any way.
N: Whatever
A: Why so passive aggressive? What did I ever do to you?
N: Hmmm. Let me think that one through.
A: Ok now you've actually got me concerned.
N: Really?
A: Are you messing with me?
N: Would I do that?
A: Absolutely
N: Never!
A: Lies! All LIES!
N: I do NOT lie!
A: Another LIE!
N: Whatever.
A: You shouldn't lie about lying about lying
N: You shouldn't be a pain in the butt
A: But I'm pretty sure that's one of my spiritual gifts
N: That's very interesting. A spiritual gift you say? Not one of the most spiritual or uplifting if you ask me.
A: It's one of the lesser gifts. My stronger gifts are in sarcasm and cynicism
N: I think you may be deceived because I'm pretty certain they are not spiritual gifts
A: Yeah. They're mentioned in the book of Second Opinions
A: Chapter 11 I think
N: I would be interested in seeing that particular book. What is it from? Aaron's version of the Bible
A: It's one of the lost Dead Sea scrolls. Sadly it was lost in the Great Chicago Fire many years ago. Its truths are but legend now.
N: How convenient for you!
A: No Nicole. It's a tragedy for us all.
N: I think you are extremely misguided and need medication
A: I just wish you could be a little open minded. I weep for you.
N: I will not be deceived by the workings of the devil.
A: Are you calling me the devil? That hurts.
N: I am saying that you are under the influence of the devil
A: Just to be clear you know that I haven't been serious about anything I've said right?
A: Except for the laundry

So that's been my morning. And I think that's pretty typical. Have fun with that.

Mission

More often than not, I forget about my dreams. I know that we all dream when we hit that REM stage of sleep, but most of the time I don't remember those dreams. And then there are the times that I do remember. Those rare dreams are vivid and often very strange.

A few nights ago I had one of those crazy, vivid dreams. I found myself on a mission team. My dream skipped over the signing up, the fundraising, the training. I was just suddenly in a jungle somewhere. I didn't know how we had gotten there, but we were ready to go to work.

We were there to help the local tribal population to build up their village and to share the Gospel. When I saw the natives for the first time, they reminded me of the tribe from that old movie, The Mission. Great movie, by the way.

Are you ready for the twist though? It's a big one. We weren't just in some Amazonian jungle, thousands of miles away. We were in an Amazonian jungle thousands of years ago. Yeah, we had traveled back in time to witness to a native group thousands of years before Christ's birth.

We were building boats for them. This was before boats had been introduced to their culture. Instead of Europeans coming to the New World to find them, they would be going to the Old World first. We were changing lives. We were changing history!

But I grew concerned because I knew we were on a mission trip. I knew that an important part of any good mission trip is to share Christ with the people you're trying to reach. But how does one share Christ with people in a time before Jesus made His first appearance on the globe?

Time travel's a tricky thing. Be careful with it. Don't abuse it. And don't tear a whole in the space/time continuum. You'll regret it later.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Legends of the Bank Teller - Episode XL

I haven't been feeling 100% for the last few days. I'm fighting off the beginning stages of what I'm sure will develop into a full-blown cold. I'm pessimistic about my chances of fighting this infection, because I'm never quite sure how to put a halt to things once the sore throat stage sets in. Once I begin feeling that, it seems inevitable that the sneezing and coughing are not far behind.

Yet I try. Since Sunday night I have been on a strict regimen of Ny-Quil and Day-Quil. I've found that constantly ingesting these medications will generally keep cold and flu symptoms to a minimum. Plus, I enjoy that knock-out feeling that Ny-Quil gives me.

This morning I was rudely awoken from a Ny-Quil coma at 7:30. Let me explain: Wednesdays are half-days for me. I don't have to be at the bank until 1:00. Translation: I get to sleep late.

But that 7:30 wake up call came from my manager. A co-worker had called in sick and I was needed to cover. I'm sure it was strictly voluntary for me to roll out of bed and work the full day. But how would that look if I had said no? So instead of fully enjoying my sleep-in day and my Ny-Quil hangover, I've made the difficult journey to work. Yeah, I took the Day-Quil, but even that is not powerful enough to reverse the effects of the Ny-Quil hangover. Oh, precious sleep, how I miss you already.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Life Story: Chapter Fifteen

It was around this age that I had really started to want a bicycle. I watched other kids in the apartment complex riding their bikes and I wanted to be a part of that. It's not like I wanted to join some biking culture. I just wanted to feel that freedom. The wind hitting you in the face. A playing card in the spokes to make it sound like a really crappy motor. The training wheels scraping the road ever so gently as you try to stay balanced.

It was also around this age that I had my first experience with the wishbone from a turkey. It was between me and Dad. Everyone kept saying for me to close my eyes, make a wish, and pull. As I shut my eyes tight, all I could think about was a brand new bike. I could picture it in my mind's eye. Nothing fancy. Nothing complicated. I wasn't even sure what a kid's first bike should be like, but I wanted one so badly I could taste it. Somewhere in the distance I heard Mom count to three and then say "PULL!"

My heart broke into a thousand pieces that Thanksgiving night. Dad walked away with the bigger side of the wishbone. His wish would be the one to come true. My wish would float off into a world of broken promises and unrealized potential and dreams that would never come true.

Upon seeing how upset I had become at not winning, Dad asked what I had wished for. And while the material child within me screamed at me to think bigger, I told him honestly, that all I wished for was a bicycle. He hugged me and told me not to worry, that I would get a bike. But even as a kid, I knew the way the real world worked. I knew that bicycles cost money. I knew that we could not afford to just go out and purchase a bike. He told me not to worry because he had wished for a lot of money.

This made me feel so much better. Obviously, if his wish was for lots of money, and he won the wishbone competition, he would be receiving lots of money any minute now. Within seconds, there was a knock on the door. Mom ran to the door and we were met with a group of eccentric people asking if we were the Pecks. One of them held a big bunch of balloons. One of them held an oversized check that said Publisher's Clearing House. We had just won $10,000!

Are you seriously buying this? If this is how the story of how I got my first bike really played out, I would have totally forgotten about the bike at the sight of a humongous $10,000 check.

The reality of it is that we had a big glass water-cooler bottle. Throughout the years I watched as my parents dropped pocket change into it at the end of each day. This was long before debit cards became such a precious commodity. This was back in the day when people actually carried around cash and had spare change at the end of every day. Over the years, that spare change began to pile up in that glass bottle. So the next day, Dad decided it was time to empty out that bottle and start all over.

This was the source of Dad's wish fulfillment. I don't know how much money he pulled out of that water bottle, but I know that it was more than enough to buy his son's first bike.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sore

I'm getting old. It's a fact that I can no longer deny. I know that many of you are out there scoffing at that statement. I realize that I'm merely 28 years old, but believe it or not, I'm beginning to feel time's effects on my body.

If you read my post yesterday, you know that I spent a good bit of time standing on my feet and singing to the tops of my lungs. I also mentioned that as the night ended, my throat became sore.

The pain from that sore throat woke me from restful sleep on an almost hourly basis. It was one of those hurts-to-swallow kind of nights. So I woke up and watched episodes of Friends until I was too tired to keep my eyes open. This cycle repeated itself several times throughout the night. The soreness persists, even as the day drags on. So I'm left wondering, are my pipes tired from singing so much this weekend? Or did the cold night air take a greater toll than I had hoped?

Ignoring the throat for a moment, I turn to the rest of my aching body. Used to be I could stand all day long and not feel a thing. In high school I worked in a factory where it was the norm to stand up for 6-8 hours straight. This weekend involved standing and walking for maybe 3 and a half hours at a time. After that we called it a night.

Whenever I had the chance to sit down, it was like experiencing a new kind of comfort that I'd never known. Then, when I would stand again, I was reintroduced to aches and pains that I just knew that sitting would alleviate. Time and again, those pains returned. Time and again, I would make that groaning noise that I used to make fun of my Dad for making whenever he would get up off the couch. Yeah, I'm making those old guy noises now.

Now, I could chalk these aching muscles up to standing for so long this weekend. Or I could just say that I'm coming down with something and these aches are due to my body being attacked by some kind of virus. Then I could at least have an excuse, other than my advancing years.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Anchor Soul

This year for Christmas, Faith Baptist Church put on a program called Anchor Soul. The last time something like this was done was before my time. From what I understand, it is generally done as a Halloween alternative. Some of my readers in Roanoke may be familiar with North Roanoke Baptist's annual Judgment House. I assume the programs are similar. This time, however, it was decided that Anchor Soul would be done as a Christmas special.

Anchor Soul is sort of a walkthrough play. A group begins with orientation in the foyer of the church, then they move from scene to scene. The performances went on for the last three nights and more than 1300 people came through the church. You may be asking how I was involved. Well, I was in the choir. And since the choir was involved, so was I.

In the foyer, the majority of the choir gave a Christmas concert for those waiting to begin their tours. Members of the choir were also used in the first two scenes: Heaven and the Nativity. Each night, we made three rotations. And because there were a total of six tenors, we were split up into three equal groups. On with the show...

Can you tell that this is the Heaven scene? I didn't get a shot of the whole thing, so let me describe the part that isn't in the picture. When I first walked into the room, I looked and saw what appeared to be a meteor crashing into a pod of whales. Turns out I was way off. Those whale tails up there are actually angel wings. And that meteor that cannot be seen here was representative of the throne of God. I guess that makes sense: the Solid Rock, the Cornerstone, the Consuming Fire. Yeah, I get it now. When we sang, we were told to focus on the "throne." And with the lighting and angle and pretty much the way your mind plays tricks on you, eventually the rock I was focused on started to look like a caricature of Sloth from The Goonies. That's gotta be really sacreligious.

This is Myra the angel.

I was playing a saint. No laughter, please.

Can you guess who this is? If you said Jesus, you're wrong. This is Simon. But he's playing Jesus, so I guess you're almost right. Sort of. Doesn't he look happy? He actually had it pretty rough. The choir got to rotate out after every eighth group. He had to keep standing there all night. They tell you Heaven will be a comfortable place, and I'm sure the real Heaven will be. Standing on wooden boxes covered in gossamer is not my idea of Heaven. Definitely not comfortable. But Jesus had to endure a lot more. See what I did there? That has double meaning. Yeah.

Scene two was the Nativity scene. I was going to include pictures from that scene, but I was afraid to do the flash photography. See, there were live animals. I didn't want to startle the goats and sheep. The goats went a little crazy on their own anyway. I had to contain my laughter more than a few times when one of them would butt another with its head.

You may have guessed, the Nativity was outside. The first two nights were downright cold. But tonight wasn't so bad. Plus our costumes (as townspeople) were a lot warmer than you'd think. Still, singing outside on a December night (three nights in a row) is probably not great for you. My throat's hurting a little. But that could be because of the crazy amount of singing that I've done this weekend.

I'll talk about the concert in the foyer at another time. For now, I'm tired. I'm going to bed. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Question of the Week: Fulfilled

Would you accept twenty years of extraordinary happiness and fulfillment if it meant you would die at the end of the period?

Of course I would. The way I see it, if I'm spending the final 20 years of my life happy and fulfilled, what's there to look forward to in life after that? To me, fulfilled means I've accomplished everything I ever set out to do. If I've done all that, I can die happy.

Then again, in that 20 years I'd become one of those people that I make fun of. Well, I don't necessarily make fun of them, but I just don't understand them. You know who I'm talking about. Those people who are just happy all the time. For me it's an unexplained phenomenon. As cynical as I am, it's hard for me to look at the circumstances of life and be unbelievably happy. Don't get me wrong, even a cynic can find joy in a situation, but that comes from a different place. Happiness comes from an emotional place that, to me, is totally circumstantial.

Yet there are people out there like Will Ferrell in Elf who just love smiling. Smiling's their favorite. I just don't get it. I used to think there was something in me that's broken, but not anymore. This is just who I am. Deal with it.

Besides, I do smile occasionally. There is photographic documentation of such occurrances. Just look on Facebook.

*Question of the Week comes from The Book of Questions by Gregory Stock, Ph.D.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Life Story: Chapter Fourteen

In second grade I had a teacher named Mrs. Shareef. This woman hated me. I only say that because she was kind of mean to me. When April had her three years later, she turned into a sweet lady. So why did she dislike me, but love my little sister?

Dad used to say it was because I was smarter than her. When I say "her" I mean Mrs. Shareef, not April. Though, come on. If you think about it, it makes a little sense. I did get upgraded to 2nd grade work while still in the 1st grade. A decision I still seem to be kicking myself for.

So we come to an age where we're introduced to multiplication and division. We come to an age where I was forced to stay at home alone. Remember how I said that I went to Pat's house after school? Remember how I said Dad worked 2nd shift? Well, Dad's schedule was a little tricky. Instead of having traditional weekends, his days off were Tuesdays and Wednesdays. This meant that we didn't have to go to Pat's every day. Ready for this? I had two different buses to keep track of.

On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I would take bus 81 to Stratford Park Apartments. On Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays, I would take bus 34 to Pat's house. One fateful Thursday, I got my buses mixed up. Oh no, I went home, but Dad wasn't there to open the door for me. As a seven-year-old, I had no keys. Whatever would I do? Things don't look so good for our young hero.

Luckily, I had at some point been introduced to the resident manager and knew which building she lived in. She was able to let me into our apartment. At that point I calmly called Mom at work. Back then I was pretty good at memorizing phone numbers. This was long before I became spoiled by the phone book in the cell phone. Because this was long before cell phones. I stayed home alone until Mom and April got home about two hours later.

Yet, after that amazing display of maturity, I was still forced to endure the babysitter for years to come. What's that all about?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Life Story: Chapter Thirteen

At some point it was deemed that a babysitter was necessary to take care of April and me after school. Around this time, Dad was working the 2nd shift at the railroad. This was great because he was there to make breakfast and take us to school in the mornings. It was bad because at night he was at work and didn't get home until around 11:30, long after our bedtimes. This meant that our afternoons were monopolized by a babysitter.

Our sitter's name was Pat. I'm not talking about the hermaphroditic character from Saturday Night Live. This Pat was a fiery old grandmother who babysat kids in her own home. Aside from myself and my sister, she kept a pair of brothers and one older guy who went to a different school. She also regularly had her two grandsons there, one of whom lived with her and her husband.

The in-house grandson carried the last name Costanza. These were the days before Seinfeld entered into our pop culture vocabulary, but if it had, we probably would have been calling him "can't stand ya." I know, it's mean. And we were kids. And we were mean. I know I've railed against bullying on this blog, but I've also admitted that I have been on both sides of that particular neighborhood problem.

Costanza was about a year younger than me, but was slightly bigger. Several of us would often pick on him because he was a little slow. Looking back, there really wasn't anything wrong with him, but that's just how kids are. Especially sarcastic kids who make a mockery out of just about anything in his field of vision. Yeah, I do feel a little guilty about picking at a younger kid. On the other hand, I have no doubt that he would have pounded me if he could only have figured out a little quicker that he was the butt of a joke. As it was, we could verbally jab him, then run away. He couldn't catch up.

There are three very clear things I remember about going to this house after school. One was that Pat and her husband had no problem cussing in front of the impressionable children. They would unapologetically throw around the Lord's name and some GDs. But then they would make a big deal about their church and how they went every Sunday. Makes sense to me.

Another is that Pat had this black cat named Boots. The cat was named this because of the white feet on an otherwise totally black body. That cat threw up more than any domesticated animal I've ever been in contact with. It was a daily ritual. "Oh, the school bus just dropped the kids off. Whose lap should I vomit in today?"

Finally, and best of all, is the two enormous maple trees in the front yard. Most of the year, there was nothing special about these trees. In fact, they may not have even been that large, but to a 7-year-old, they were huge. But during the fall, they would release an unprecedented amount of red leaves. To give us something to do (i.e. occupy us whilst she watched her stories), Pat would have the kids rake the leaves on a daily basis. We'd rake them into huge piles and then, of course, jump into them.

Pat would always warn us about spiders in those big leaf piles. But we never listened. We never listened, that is, until that one fateful day. Poor Kevin was never the same after that. She didn't let us rake leaves anymore.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Monday, December 08, 2008

Response

Aaron,

It was really great to hear from you after so many years. I'd ask what you've been up to, but hey, I already know that. I mean, I am Santa Claus. Everything is going pretty well at the North Pole. As you can imagine, things are pretty hectic right now. The elves always get themselves into a panic after Thanksgiving. I just have to remind them that we haven't missed a Christmas Eve yet, we're not going to fall behind this year. That little pep talk never really works though.

Mrs. Claus has been keeping herself busy. She bakes like a madwoman. She's been toying with the idea of starting a mail-order bakery for the last hundred years or so. Now that this internet thing has taken off, she's even thinking about starting the business online. I support the idea 100%. It would definitely be a nice way to make some extra money, since I do the toy thing pro bono. I'm hoping to save up enough money to get myself one of those new flat screen televisions. I hear they're nice.

As for your list, I've done a lot of thinking on that. While it is noble of you to ask for peace and happiness for those you love, there are some things that even Santa can't give. It always breaks my heart to see families and friends torn apart at any time of the year, but especially at Christmas. I can hand out reminders of the love that can be found, but really that's no more than what you have the power to do yourself. Unfortunately, an encouraging word is all I can offer, and I pray that it can serve as a reminder of the love that only comes from God. The blessings of peace and joy are things that can only come from Him. People just forget to go to Him with those requests.

Sadly, it seems that I have become the symbol for commercialism during the Christmas season. I started this gig so long ago attempting to spread some Christmas cheer, giving to those in need. And now, especially in your country, little kids flock to the malls to beg my helpers for expensive items that they'll just take for granted a month after Christmas. I know, I've seen it a million times.

As for your job search and your current residential relocation, I'm afraid you're on your own. I don't necessarily mean that as a bad thing though. You've grown up to become someone who tries very hard to be self reliant. But don't forget that one of the most grown-up things that you can possibly do is to ask for help when you need it. Just try not to go so far as to become a mooch. People tend to not like that.

And I'll see what I can do about that Batman film. I'll check my list one more time, but I'm pretty sure you're on the nice side. Just watch your step in the next couple weeks. A lot can still happen between now and Christmas. Say hello to your sister for me. And have a Merry Christmas!

S. Claus

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Elevator Action

The move continues. Today at lunch, Brett asked if he could come and hang out at my house. I told him that if he did that, I would put him to work. He was equal to the task.

The rest of the Greenes went home to watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Again.

Brett sacrificed his entire afternoon to help me transfer heavy boxes from my old home to the new. Thus, he's the first guest I've had at the new apartment. He said it was the biggest apartment he'd ever seen. He probably hasn't seen too many apartments.

I gotta say, the kid was a real trooper. He waited at the car while I carried boxes to him, then he loaded them into the Escort. We made three complete trips. His help allowed me to get every packed box out of my house. Of course, this doesn't mean the job is done. I've still got work to do. More boxes to fill, furniture to relocate, etc. But the bulk of the work is complete.

At the new building, when we were on one of our elevator trips up to the 2nd floor, Brett pointed out some graffiti on the inspection tag. Someone gave Ms. Cherie Berry (I think names that rhyme are funny) a mustache. Then they wrote, rather conspicuously, the letters "F" and "U" under her portrait. Brett asked what those letters meant. I informed him that they were curse words, and left it at that.

In other news, my mailbox key does not work. This will need to be fixed posthaste!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Letter

Dear Santa,

I know I haven't written in a long time. I'm horrible about keeping up with people. First, how've you been? How's the Mrs? Things still running smoothly in the workshop? I hope things are going well.

I've been busy for the last 20 or so years. I mean, there's been a whole lot of school and work going on. But I'm sure you understand that. I mean, you stay busy all year making toys and all. Wait, what do you do the rest of the year? I mean, we only hear about the Christmas Eve adventures. I do notice that kids seem to forget you're watching until about Thanksgiving. Then they turn into angels.

I don't want this to turn into a crazy "I want, I want" letter. I know that's all you ever get. But I'm sure it will turn into something like that. I won't ask for anything lofty like world peace or eternal happiness. But I would like to request a moment of peace and limited happiness. Not for the world at large, but at the very least for my friends and family. Christmas is a very hectic time of the year. As much as we try to remind ourselves that it's about celebrating Christ's birth and about sharing time with loved ones, we still get caught up in the commercialism of it all. So if that week between Christmas and New Year's Day could be slightly peaceful, that'd be great.

I kind of think of that song that Amy Grant did, Grown Up Christmas List. I'm sure you've heard it. That's kind of what I'd like to ask for. But I can't remember all the lyrics, so I won't go into that. But if you turn on one of about a thousand radio stations, I'm sure you'll hear it at some point. A lot of them are playing Christmas music 24/7.

On a more personal note, I would like The Dark Knight on Bluray.

I would also like a full-time job. I don't know if that means I'd like it to be with the company I'm currently with or if it's with someone else. Either way, it would be nice.

Finally, I'd like to have all my things moved to the new apartment by Christmas. Maybe it's a lot to ask, but could it be done with some of that magic you're always bragging about? I don't much like the heavy lifting.

And so I don't come off sounding so selfish, is there anything you would like this year? Cookies? Pie? Tall glass of milk? Carrots for the reindeer? Let me know. Hope to hear from you before Christmas Eve!

Sincerely,
Aaron

Friday, December 05, 2008

Question of the Week: Nucular

If you knew there would be a nuclear war in one week, what would you do?

First I'd want to know what happened to the peaceful transfer of power going on in the White House. Did the president throw a temper tantrum because suddenly he's not gonna be president anymore? I mean, he had to know there was a time limit on that gig. Eight years, that's it.

If I knew where one of the ground zeroes would be, I would probably make my way there. I figure, in nuclear war, I'd much rather be killed immediately in the blast than suffer through nuclear winter or possible radiation poisoning.

Though, I guess if I knew that it was coming, I could try to stop it. I mean, if Jack Bauer can avert numerous national defense catastrophies in one day, I'd say it'd be possible for someone to do it in seven. I'd be a hero. Though I'd rather the country's safety be in Jack Bauer's hands.

After the nuclear destruction was thwarted, I would then market my precognitive Jedi abilities as a way to attain fame and fortune. It is as I have foreseen it.

*Question of the Week comes from The Book of Questions by Gregory Stock, Ph.D.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

An Outing

I have the day off today, as I do all my Thursdays. It's a nice arrangement, I'll admit. I'm sure it's a temporary one, but I enjoy it while I can. I decided to be productive with my day off: packing more of my things and ferrying them over to the new apartment.

In the 16 months that I've been living in Wake Forest, I've been receiving monthly shipments of comic books from the shop back at home. It keeps the geek in me happy. Don't make fun. Anyway, as I was packing this morning, I realized that all those comics that have come in the last year have no place for storage. They've just been sitting in a stack on a bookshelf. So this means I had to seek out a comic book shop that would sell me a storage box. If nothing else, I need to transport these things to the new place.

So for the first time, I did an online search for a local comic store. Lo and behold, I found one. It's about a twenty minute drive from Wake Forest, but it's the closest I could find. I don't think this means I'll end the arrangement I have with the folks back home. But at least I know there's one in Raleigh if I need it. Those are my people.

And, driving to the store, I passed by a place that I've never been before. In the time that I've lived here, I've never been to the Crabtree mall. According to Nicole, the mall on this side of town is bigger, but the stores at Crabtree are better. They have a Disney Store. They have a Cheesecake Factory! This opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Now, I've never been to a Cheesecake Factory, but I've heard good things. I've heard they have everything. I've heard that's not an exaggeration.

Okay, I've wasted enough time. Now it's time for me to get back to the packing and moving.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Legends of the Bank Teller - Episode XXXIX

I recently regrew the goatee. Maybe it'll just be a winter thing. One can never tell with these facial fads. But I did receive a compliment from a customer. I was told that it was a good look for me. The problem is, this customer was a dude.

Maybe it won't stick around too long after all.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Packing Up

I hate moving. It's a pain. But it's a necessary evil. After 16 months living in a duplex and paying rent to the seminary, I'll be moving into a proper apartment, paying rent to some property owning corporation.

For the month of December, I technically have two homes. I'm in the duplex until the end of the year, and I've already signed the lease and paid rent for the new place. The huge plus to paying two rents in one month is that I can take my sweet time in moving. I don't have to set aside a single day in which I have to panic and have everything out of the old place so I can finally settle into the new. No, I have an entire month in which to get my stuff from one home to the next.

So I'm sitting here on my sofa and I'm noticing how things are already disappearing. Books are vanishing from shelves. An ungodly amount of DVDs has taken up temporary residence in plastic storage containers. Pictures are coming off the walls, leaving holes and empty space in their wake.

This place is going to start looking really sad in the next week or so. I guess the only thing I need to make a real plan with is the furniture. Anyone got a truck and a strong back? Oh, and are you willing to loan the use of said truck and strong back? At some point I'll have two sofas, a recliner, an entertainment center, three bookshelves, two dressers, a desk, and a bed that will need to be moved. Now that I've written it all down, that seems like a lot. It's really not though. When I moved in, it was just myself, Mark, Brandon, and Kara that did all the heavy lifting. We had this place loaded up in about 90 minutes, and that included all the boxes of books and movies. Those will already be at the apartment. So, who's with me? If you act now, I'll throw in pizza on the day of the move. That's right. Food. Who wants to turn down that kind of paycheck?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Favorite Things

Oprah's going around stealing my ideas. So now I'm gonna take one of hers and make it more awesome.

Each year around this time, Oprah does her "favorite things" episode. A lot of the time, her favorite things include items which only a television icon making multiple billions of dollars can afford. This year, I read that her favorite things were a little more affordable, due to the sagging economy.

So I think I'll do a list of my own favorite things. But when you read them you have to draw the words out like Oprah would. Even if you don't watch her show, you must have heard her on occasion. You know how it is when she announces a guest or something.

1. iPhone 3G - Retailing at $299.00, this thing does it all. It does way more than I need. But who uses their phone to talk to people anymore? If you're feeling crazy, use it to call your friends this Christmas. But most of the time you can use it to find a place to eat. Or identify a song you don't know. Or play Super Monkey Ball.

2. Hug - I'm really not much of a hugger. But a lot of people are. And I'll admit, I do enjoy the occasional hug now and then. Helps me to remember what it's like to be a real person, not an emotionless robot. Now, these are generally free. But if you absolutely feel the need to spend money on a hug this holiday season, I'm sure you could find a homeless man who will hug you for five bucks. But who wants to deal with the fleas? Personally, I sugges that you find a friend or family member who is willing to hug you for the bargain price of nothing. You won't find a better deal anywhere. Not even on Black Friday.

3. Playstation 3 - Okay, I already have one of these. The real question is, why don't you? Sure they cost $399.99, but it's a total entertainment system. Not only do you get to play video games on it, but you can watch your high definition Bluray movies too. Don't have an HDTV? Get one. It's so awesome.

4. Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cakes - These are real easy to find. Go to any grocery store's snack aisle and drop $1.99. Almost as easy as getting that hug.

5. A Christmas Story - $29.99. Best. Christmas. Movie. Ever.

6. Nintendo Entertainment System - You just can't go wrong with a classic. This is listed as used (of course) on Amazon for $58.99. It comes with Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt and the Zapper. I still say they should make a version of that game where you can shoot the dog also. That stupid mutt always laughs at you when you miss the ducks. Dumb dog.

7. Snowflakes that Stay on my Nose and Eyelashes - Okay, I stole that one from The Sound of Music. But nonetheless, I'd like to see some snow.

So there you go. Ideas for what you can get me for Christmas. Get to it. There are only 24 more shopping days left. And hey, if you've got any other suggestions, throw them out there in the comments. You never know what could show up under your tree.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Life Story: Chapter Twelve

For about five years there in the late '80s, my family lived in an apartment at a complex called Stratford Park. Back then it wasn't a bad place to live. I'm not sure how the neighborhood fares these days.

We had a patio on the other side of the sliding glass door that was surrounded, for the most part, by brick walls. It had a very enclosed feeling. The living room had an ancient upright piano that was supposed to inspire me and April to practice on a daily basis. Really didn't work.

Over the years we had some interesting neighbors. Directly upstairs, I remember there being a couple with a very destructive relationship. The man was very abusive. There were a number of times when we could hear him yelling at the woman through the ceilings. If I remember correctly, my parents called the police a few times and even endured threats from the man for not minding their own business. Eventually they split up and she moved safely to Chatanooga where she had family.

Toward the end of our stay there, we had neighbors across the hall with two young daughters. Finally, someone for April to play with. The older of the two had a crush on me. She showed this by being very, very annoying. What made it worse was that we went to the same school. Of course we went to the same school, we lived in the same building. So very annoying.

The apartment complex also had a swimming pool. And though I never learned how to properly swim, it was a nice way to break up those boring summer days with no school.

The hallway outside our apartment had an odd smell. To this day I can still remember it, but I can't describe it. I can't say it was like mildew or stale air or anything like that. All I can say is that it was unique. I've never smelled anything like it since. But I remember pushing that door open to enter the building and being hit in the face with it, no matter what time of year it was.

We lived there until October of 1990, when we moved into the only house my parents ever owned. I never missed that old apartment. I never will.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

I Made This

Yesterday our branch was pretty slow. I guess most of the consumers in the Triangle area were out shopping. Or visiting other branches of our banking institution. Anyway, with things being slow for me at the bank, I was asked to set up the Christmas tree.

The artificial tree was up on a high shelf in the storage room, and was pretty heavy. Being the only man in the branch, it is assumed that I have the ability to do all of the heavy lifting. That's an assumption that I won't argue with until they start asking me to pick up cars. I think that's outside the range of my abilities.

Once I figured out how to put the plastic branches in place, I took it upon myself to string the lights. Unfortunately, I wouldn't be able to begin this process until several hours later. No, we didn't get a sudden rush of customers. Last year, when Christmas was over, some moron decided that the most efficient way to store the lights would be to ball them up and shove them into a box. Good idea idiot!

I spent the better part of the rest of the day untangling the biggest mess I think I've ever experienced. What made it worse is that one of the strings was made up of lights with little plastic hooks on each individual light. That did not make the untangling any easier.

Finally I got the lights straightened out and wrapped them around the tree. I then took it upon myself to hang the ornaments, complete with a crappy red bow on top. Really, that thing needs some work, but it was almost the end of the day by that point. So I put up the tree at work. All by myself. And now I'm in the Christmas spirit. I even changed my ringtones on my phone.

Normally, when my Bluefield friends call me, I hear Journey's Don't Stop Believin'. Now I'll hear The First Noel, Carrie Underwood style. Whenever the Greenes/Hamiltons call me, I hear Starship's We Built This City. For the holidays I'll be hearing The Chipmunk Song. Everyone else, normally, plays the theme music from Superman. For Christmas I'll hear Carol of the Bells. Now, if it'll just snow a few feet, the Christmas season will be complete.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Question of the Week: Money

Would you rather be given $10,000 for your own use or $100,000 to give anonymously to strangers? What if you could keep $1,000,000 or give away $20,000,000?

Okay, please don't think of me as an entirely selfish person. But I'm kind of selfish. I'd keep the $10,000. I'd keep the million. I know that $10,000 isn't a lot of money. It really wouldn't go very far. But it would take a pretty big chunk out of those student loans I have looming over my head. I've been pretty fortunate for the last 18 months or so to not have to make those payments. Now that I'm quitting school, those will be kicking in again sooner than I'd like.

And they say that a million dollars isn't that much money these days. I think I could make it work. If you're smart with your money, you can make that million last a very long time. Maybe even a lifetime.

Come to think of it, those questions would make for a good reality show or even a movie. Find an eccentric billionaire who's willing to put up the money. They offer that option to your Average Joe. And it turns out the only way that Joe gets to keep any of the money, is to give it all away. Something like that. I'll talk to Moon Vest at CBS about that.

*Question of the Week comes from The Book of Questions by Gregory Stock, Ph.D.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thankful

Everybody and their brother is probably doing a blog post today about something or someone they're thankful for. After all, today is Thanksgiving Day. It's a national holiday that started off as a way of showing thanks to God for the harvest and for His provision for the coming winter months. These days, the holiday has progressed into a celebration of gluttony. More often than not, Thanksgiving is referred to as Turkey Day, because that is where the importance tends to be placed. Generally, it's not a day to thank God for His blessings, it's a day to overeat and fall asleep watching football in front of the TV.

But I, like everybody and their brother, remember what the day is all about. And here I will share the things for which I am thankful.

I'm thankful for the Greenes. I'm thankful that they are willing to take in strays on national holidays and when the plumbing goes bad. I'm thankful that they're willing to give me a ride from church to lunch so I don't always have to waste gas when we're all going to the same place anyway. I'm thankful that Nicole lets me win the occasional game of Rummy, just so I don't always have to feel bad about myself.

I'm thankful for a guy named Geoff Johns. I am a comic book geek. And Geoff Johns is a comic book writer. He is responsible for some of the best story telling in comics during the past decade. The scope of his stories and the depth of his characters make any project he does worth buying.

I'm thankful for a job that I complain about on a regular basis. Yeah, I complain all the time. But at least I have a job to complain about. With the economy being what it is, it's hard to know where someone's next paycheck may be coming from.

I'm thankful for a new apartment that is so much more awesome than the place I'm living now.

I'm thankful that God has opened doors for me to leave seminary and still be okay with it.

I'm thankful that my blood relatives understand that I'm not able to be there for Thanksgiving (or Christmas).

I'm thankful that there's gonna be another Bourne movie. 'Cause those are awesome. And on that note, I'm thankful for the upcoming sequel to Transformers. Yeah.

Finally, I'm thankful that the hunger that I'm currently feeling will soon subside when I gorge myself on the bountiful feast that's being prepared as I write these words.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Empty

Welcome to my new place. I hope you like it. It's a little empty right now, but I'll fix that throughout the month of December as I slowly move my belongings from one place to the other. But for now, I give you the virtual tour of my new apartment. Please take your shoes off, I don't want anyone to track mud onto the hardwood floors.

Check out the high ceilings. Every room is like that. I estimate them to be about 15 feet. I was thinking of hanging Christmas lights up there, but I'd need a really tall ladder. And I'm kind of afraid of heights.

This is a view of the living room from the window side of the apartment. That's my front door in the background. Under the light there, that's where the foosball will go.

This is where the magic happens. And by magic, I mean sleep. Thus far, that's the only trick I know for this particular room.

I know some tricks for this room, but I think they're pretty self-explanatory.

Three guesses what will be happening in this room.

And here's another view of the living room. It feels like such a big place. Definitely has plenty of room for my crap.

Uh, so that's my place. Come visit any time. Except on Thursdays. That'll be Lost night.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Clear Rite

For the most part I've been disappointed with Saturday Night Live for the last few years. But as long as they keep using Kristen Wiig in their sketches, they're good to go.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Life Story: Chapter Eleven

Church has always been a very big part of my life. I was raised in a Baptist church. In high school we changed churches, but it was Baptist as well. During college I explored other church options, but going to a Baptist college kept me close to that tradition.

Until my senior year of high school, I went with my family to Villa Heights Baptist Church. As a kid, the church was located in this ancient building in what had become a crumbling Roanoke neighborhood. I began my church experience as many kids do, with Sunday School and Children's Church. While Sunday School would remain a constant throughout my life, I quickly outgrew Children's Church.

By the age of four, the teachers in the Children's Church were asking my parents to do something else with me. Apparently I was a difficult child. I don't think I was to the point of sticking my tongue out or turning desks over, but I was asking the tough questions. You know, like, "Who was Cain's wife?" "What was Noah's last name?" "What are boils?" Things of that nature.

So Dad gave me a shot. It was time for me to see if I could handle going to Big Church. This was a huge thing. I would be sitting by myself at the age of four. Probably a mistake to let a kid that young to be left to his own devices during a church service. There's only so much scribbling on offertory envelopes that one can do. Why would a four-year-old be sitting alone in church? I'm glad you asked. Mom and Dad were both in the choir. Thus, every Sunday, they were sitting at the front of the church. So I sat in the third pew on the organ side. Remember, this is a very traditional Baptist church. This means that the first few rows in each section were empty.

So there I am, alone in the third pew, with not even a stranger to keep me in line. I'm minding my own business, not really paying attention because, I'm sorry, the sermon was boring. Suddenly I'm jerked out of my seat by my Dad. There he is in full choir regalia and yanks me into the little room behind the organist. "If you ever do anything like that again, you'll be in Children's Church until you're in college!"

What'd I do?

Okay, I'm not so innocent. I was lying down on the pew. With my arms up in the air. I was pretty much just being a kid who was left alone in church. I put the blame for this one on my parents. Look, just because I'm asking mature questions in Children's Church doesn't mean I'm mature enough to handle being alone in Big Church.

I spent the rest of that day miserable in Children's Church. I was angry at myself for disappointing my Dad. He had placed a lot of trust that day, I kind of shattered that. But what can you really expect from a four-year-old? Especially in a church where sneezing during the worship could be considered blasphemy.

The next week I was back in Big Church. But this time I was sitting in the balcony with my grandparents.

And yes, I realize this story is somewhat out of order. It just didn't occur to me to tell church stories, but that's ridiculous. I have so many church stories to share. And church has always played such a pivotal role in shaping the person I've become, for better or worse. So I figure there will be more later.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

MK v. DC

There's a new video game out for your popular home console systems. It's called Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. Those who don't speak geek may be confused about what the DC Universe is. It is the universe in which Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman all reside. And unless you've been living under a rock for the last 15 years, I'm sure you know Mortal Kombat is. Okay, it's a video game franchise that sparked controversy when the original installment showed realistic characters and (gasp) blood.

Some time ago I heard that they were working on a game that would bring together the mythos of Mortal Kombat and the classic heroes and villains of the DC Universe. Last week, the game was finally released to the public. I got my hands on a copy and initially thought it was awesome.

Being the first fighting game to feature DC characters since the uber-lame Justice League Task Force, it holds a huge attraction for someone like me. For years, the Marvel super-heroes have been showcased in several games that have been very well done. I guess I've just been jealous of how cool the people at Capcom were able to make Spider-Man and Captain America look. When would Superman get a turn? All of his games are stupid at best.

So I'm thinking, here's someone's chance to do it right. I mean, the last few Mortal Kombat games have been great. But to be honest, I've been a little disappointed with this installment. A lot of people have complained that this game would be a lighter version of Mortal Kombat. They complained that you wouldn't experience the same kind of thrill you got from past games. After all, Superman and Batman don't kill their enemies. This seriously detracts from popular fatalities where someone gets decapitated or has their spine ripped out. That's not my problem.

My problem comes in one of the game's concepts. Is it really believable that Liu Kang could possibly take down Superman? Could Scorpion's spear really pierce Superman's chest to drag him over for a quick uppercut? The plot of the game tries to explain this away with Superman's vulnerability to all things magic. But does that mean that every character in Mortal Kombat is a magical being? I don't buy it.

The graphics are almost what one would expect for a PS3 game. Not up to the standard set by some other games, but pretty good nonetheless. I will say though, that Wonder Woman looks completely ridiculous. It's like her face was animated way wrong.

I just don't get it. DC Comics is a subsidiary of Time Warner, right? You'd think, with all that backing, they'd be able to do other media the right way. So far, the only thing they seem to have gotten right is the new Batman franchise. Superman can't catch a break on the big screen. Wonder Woman has been put on hold so many times, she's probably hung up her golden lasso for good. And what about all those other characters they've got? If Iron Man can get a decent movie made, why can't The Flash? Okay, Iron Man wasn't decent. It was freakin' phenomenal.

Apparently there's a DC video game coming out that's some kind of online role-playing game. Hopefully it'll turn out better than this. Don't get me wrong, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is a fun game. It'll be nice to take control of Green Lantern and hit Sub-Zero with a giant hammer every now and again. But I think it could have been so much better.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Quantum of Solace

Last night I went with Kevin and Nicole to see the new James Bond film. If you're expecting a classic Bond with invisible cars, bowtie cameras, exploding cufflinks, and wristwatches that shoot lasers, you will be disappointed. If you're expecting a decent follow-up to Casino Royale, your expectations are much more realistic.

Nicole mentioned that she had read some reviews that compared the new Bond to a Bourne movie. That's a fair comparison. From word go the movie is non-stop action. Well, I can't say non-stop. There are a few beats where things slow down. But those beats are very few and far between.

Again, people expecting the suave James Bond of the Connery days will be somewhat let down. Daniel Craig, according to Nicole, does have a certain charm. But he makes James Bond more of an action hero than any previous actor. I can't think of a previous Bond who would chase down their target on foot and pull Batman-style moves by jumping from rooftops fire escapes. If I'm wrong let me know. I just can't picture Roger Moore taking off in full-sprint. Seems more of a leisurely stroll kind of guy.

But that's the thing people need to realize. We live in different times than the James Bond of the 20th century. Those cheesy gadgets that Q used to showcase for Bond are out of style. People, I think, want more realism in their spy movies. Okay, I'd like a little more realism. I don't want to see James Bond get caught, then placed in some supposedly inescapable death-trap with one inept guard in the room. It's a James Bond movie. You know he'll escape, even if the escape is unbelievable. In Casino Royale he was captured and tortured. There's a lot to be said about having him beaten to a pulp and watching him go through that pain, but still knowing he won't be killed.

Quantum of Solace is definitely not a stand-alone film. Most of the plot makes sense only if you've seen Casino Royale. On that note, the new movie felt more like an extension of the previous film, rather than a brand new Bond. But they couldn't very well make Casino Royale five hours long, could they?

So if you're looking for classic Bond, go out and rent Dr. No. If you're looking for the 21st century's take on Bond, see Casino Royale first, then go see Quantum of Solace.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Question of the Week: Hatred

Have you ever hated anyone? If so, why and for how long?

In 1993 I vowed to always hate the people at NBC behind the cancellation of Quantum Leap. Along with that vow, I included the producer of the show, Donald Bellisario. Not because he had anything to do with the cancellation, but because we were given the news that Dr. Sam Beckett never made it home. Because of this, I have refused to watch Donald's other creations: JAG, NCIS, and even reruns of Magnum PI. He's got a lot of shows with initials in the titles. Maybe that's why Quantum Leap failed.

Okay, really I'm kidding. I only wrote the above because I can't think of anyone that I've ever actually hated. I'm sure that when I was a kid I told my sister that I hated her out of anger, but it wasn't something I ever meant. I think a lot of people are very careful to say that they don't hate people. They just dislike them a lot.

I don't see what the big deal is. If you're thinking it, you may as well say it. Sure, "hate" sounds a lot more harsh, but so what? If that's how you feel, it's how you feel. "Love" is an emotion that, theoretically, is just as strong, but we throw that word around like it's nothing. Maybe we should be more careful with our "I love you's" too.

*Question of the Week comes from The Book of Questions by Gregory Stock, Ph.D.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

If Kids Ran the World

When I was a kid, I remember finding a Dr. Seuss book in the church library called If I Ran the Circus. It isn't one of my favorite Seuss works, but I did enjoy the rhyming aspect. Something about rhyming words when you're a kid. It's almost comforting.

If memory serves, it's about a boy who looks into an empty lot and imagines what it would be like if he started up a circus. He thinks about how he would run things. Eventually, his imagination gets the better of him and things kind of get ridiculous. I think. It's been about 20 years since I've seen that book.

Yesterday I wondered what it would be like if kids took over. They outnumber the teachers and administrators in all our schools. That's where I imagine it would all begin. Take a look at your average playground. You have a whole lot of kids running around in their own little cliques. You rarely hear of all the kids in one grade getting along or coming together for a single cause.

But what if all that changed? What if, somehow, they were able to form a collective hive mind? What if, somehow, they were able to coordinate their efforts via the internet or some newfangled video game that their parents just don't get? What if there was a particular time on a particular day when all the kids just decided to strike back.

No more pencils. No more books. No more teachers' dirty looks.

We used to sing songs about taking over the school when we were kids. We'd take well-known and beloved songs and change the words to make them fit our fantasies. Just how would we finally do in our teacher? How could we get the principal out of the way? We had these lofty dreams, but what if those dreams were met with success?

What about after? There are never any long range plans. It seems that the notion of taking out the authority figures was enough to get us through those really hard days. We never realized that once the authority was gone, the kids would become the authority.

I didn't watch CBS' Kid Nation last year. I assume it was a failed social experiment. From the ads I saw, the kids were at each others' throats just as bad as adults are when it comes to the balance of power.

The kids take over the schools. From there, they establish their strongholds. I would assume that the high schools would not be trusted. They're too close to adulthood. The rest of the kids would fortify and plan and eventually bargain with the government.

In the beginning there would be an appointment made to the presidential cabinet. Soon after there would be a kid representative at the UN. Legislation would soon be passed that would allow for children to run for office and to vote. Then we'd have all of our tax dollars going to fund things like Hannah Montana concerts and bigger and better Chuck E. Cheese's.

Of course, all of this hinges on the ability of the kids to finally work together. Lets just hope that those cliques just stay cliquey.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Life Story: Chapter Ten

What can I say about the first grade? I'm one of those people who has the uncanny ability to remember each of the teachers that he's had throughout his life. So when I start listing my teachers in these consecutive blog posts, Mark's gonna make fun of me.

My teacher that year was Mrs. Atkinson. She was very sweet, and looking back now, I can see that she was also very manipulative. She knew just how to act and what to say to wrap her impressionable young students around her finger. I guess any good teacher should have that ability. I think it helps to prevent an uprising. Look at the average class size in your public schools. If those kids ever realized that they outnumbered their teachers 23 to 1, the coup would be inevitable. Could you imagine what it would be like if kids ran this country? That's an interesting thought. Maybe I'll explore that tomorrow.

Anyway, I was in a new school for the second year in a row. My days at East Salem were gone but not forgotten. Now I was matriculating with the class of 1998 by way of Raleigh Court Elementary. It was in Mrs. Atkinson's class that I met two very influential people in my life: Jessica Smith and Justin Walker.

I've mentioned Jessica in the blog before. She's pretty much the only person I've maintained contact with since high school. And she's absolutely the only person I've maintained a real friendship with since the age of six. Justin is the person who was my best childhood friend. But I don't really remember doing a whole lot with him until around the third grade. So we'll put off these friendship stories 'til later.

I got in trouble a lot as a first grader. Apparently, Atkinson had it in for me. She would send home long letters about how I was acting up in class. She would make up some kind of propaganda like I was sticking my tongue out at her or turning my desk upside-down. I have no recollection of any of these events.

Turns out I was bored in class. In first grade, I was apparently a super-genius. Or at least mildly "gifted" in certain areas of study. I would breeze through a great deal of the classwork and then act out in order to cope with my boredom. Thus it was decided that I would have extra work. Advanced work. SECOND GRADE WORK!

Way to go six-year-old me. You had the chance to be a slacker from day one and you blew it! What were you thinking? Extra work? It's called take a nap, chump! Twenty years will pass by and you'll be begging for those naps that you could have enjoyed so freely. I am ashamed of you six-year-old Aaron.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Legends of the Bank Teller - Episode XXXVIII

In case you're just tuning in for the first time, I work at a bank. More specifically, I work at the drive-thru window at a bank. For the most part, this means I stand with my back to the lobby.

Now, occasionally I feel the need to turn around to see if there are any customers lined up in the lobby not being helped by anyone. I'm very fast at what I do, and can therefore move quickly between the window and the lobby. But sometimes, when I turn to check on the lobby situation, I get a little freaked out.

I don't freak out when there are five people waiting impatiently. I get freaked out when a customer that's being helped by one of the other tellers just happens to make direct eye contact with me at the exact moment I turn around. That tells me they've been staring at me. Why have they been staring at my back? Why when I turn around are they looking directly at me?

If it happened once or twice, I wouldn't think it's a big deal. But it happens all the flippin' time! Any other drive-up tellers out there that experience this phenomenon? Please, share your stories. You're not alone.

Brian Fellow

Recently I've started watching 30 Rock through the Netflix website. I never gave this show a chance when it first started. But then it started winning all these Emmys (or is it Emmies?), so I thought I'd take a look. It's actually pretty funny. I had forgotten how funny Tracy Morgan is. So in honor of his hilarity, here's an old clip from SNL. I apologize to my readers across the sea, Hulu doesn't allow for foreign viewers.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Source of My Powers

I've been told lately that my posts are slipping. I'm told that they're not as good or as funny as they once were. I'm not being consistent with the quality of the content. I just want the two or three of you that have complained to know that I'm taking this to heart. There's a good chance you're right.

I can't help but wonder what's caused this change in me. I could easily blame school. Even though I'm withdrawing soon, the fact that much of my time is consumed by exams and research papers has not escaped my attention. But I think the problem is much deeper.

A few months ago I made the decision to determine what was going on with my emotions. Or, I should say, my lack thereof. After a great deal of prayer and a small bit of self-discovery I've been able to let go of a lot of bitterness and grief that I had been clinging to for so long. In the process, I believe that some of my cynicism has somehow leaked out of my system.

Could it be that those repressed feelings of anxt and anger were the source of my sarcastic powers? I certainly hope not. I think I've made a lot of progress on the emotional spectrum. And yet, here I am, posting another blog that's just not very funny.

I think I'm also getting a little self-conscious about this thing. For a long time, I was sure that no one ever read this blog. Now I'm aware of about 20 people that I personally know who read the blog on a weekly-ish basis. So this means that I probably can't be as free as I want to be to make fun of anyone.

Generally I pride myself on not caring what other people think. And generally, when it comes to what people think about me, I don't care. But I hate feeling like I've hurt someone's feelings. I know I'm mean at times. I know that I can be harsh with the sarcasm, but I've never meant anything to be malicious in nature.

But because more people in my life are reading these words, I feel as if I need to tiptoe around certain issues that I would otherwise be brutally honest about. Because I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. With certain people, I can be totally and brutally honest. These are the people whom I consider to be my best and closest friends. The rest of you are basically acquaintances. I don't like to be brutally honest until someone knows me well enough to know that I'm not saying the things I say to be mean. Despite the rumors, I'm not really evil.

Maybe I need to find a happy medium. Somewhere there must be some sort of middle ground where I can still be cynical and sarcastic and at the same time be honest with what I'm thinking and feeling. I'm going to try and return to not holding back. This means I might someday start hurting feelings. Keep in mind that this is not on purpose. But it'll probably happen. If I had feelings, they'd be hurt by others all the time. There, I feel better already.