Friday, June 28, 2013

Remembering Bluefield: Michael DuVal

Welcome back to another installment of Remembering Bluefield! I know, it's been a while since I've posted one of these walks down memory lane, but here we are. This week, we put Michael DuVal in the hot seat. Enjoy!

Michael DuVal

What year did you graduate?

What degree did you earn?
A.A. in Liberal Arts (I was in the last graduating class when Bluefield was still a two-year college.)

What drew you to Bluefield College?
I attended Bluefield because of the distinctively Christian environment it offered, which I learned about from a weekend revival team that came to the church I was a member of as a youth. (I arrived at Bluefield to move into the dorm two days before classes began never previously having set foot on the campus.)

What kept you there?
I never considered leaving. I appreciated so much the genuine interest professors had in me as a person. I formed life-long friendships when there. And, oh yeah, there was this girl...

Is there a class that changed your life? If so, what?
No life changing classes for me--but I really enjoyed being academically challenged by Mr. Farrar's Western Civ class and Dr. Tyer's World Religions class (which was packed into a three week J-term in January that the college offered way back then).

What teacher had the biggest impact on you? Why?
The staff person who had the greatest impact on my life was Whitey Davis, the Director of Student Activities. He encouraged and challenged me to grow as a leader and facilitated my going out on Friday through Sunday student-led revival teams preaching, leading in worship and youth activities in churches across Virginia (back then 15 to 20 student-led teams would go to minister in local churches each semester).

Did you live on campus or commute?
I lived on campus.

Who were your roommates?
The first semester of my first year my roommates were a Nigerian military veteran who had fought in a war in his country and a guy with long hair and a beard who was a dope smoker--who shall remain nameless here. (Back then in Cruise the rooms were about the size of those in Rish now. There were three men in most rooms with bunk beds stacked three high and a chest with three drawers for all your possessions.) My first January term I had another roommate who left school because he was homesick. (Are you beginning to wonder if I was a terrible roommate?) For the rest of my time at Bluefield, I roomed with Rob Brown, and we roomed together again after we transferred to the University of Richmond, so I guess I wasn't so bad.

Share an epic roommate story (if you have one).
Well, a prank that was done when I first arrived at Bluefield was that people would "penny" you in your room so you could not get out by wedging pennies between the door and its frame. However, this practice stopped when my Nigerian veteran roommate kicked the door in because no one was going to lock him in his room. And, there was the time when the guy in the room next to me built a homemade aquarium, filled it with piranha, and one night it gave way, and piranha flooded out into the hallway and down the steps. Do those kinds of things count as "epic"?

What's your most cherished Bluefield College memory?
Asking my parents to stand when I gave the valedictory address at my graduation and having people applaud for them, something I suspect they had never experienced in life coming from the poor, rural background I grew up in.

Where are you now?
I live in Roanoke, Virginia.

What are you doing?
I am the Lead Pastor of Journey Church, which is a portable congregation that rents seven auditoriums in a theater complex on Sunday mornings.

Does that mean you're using your degree?
yes, I am using what I learned in studying the liberal arts because I was taught to think critically and strategically and to communicate effectively.

Are you where you pictured yourself being when you were in college?
Yes, I pictured myself as a pastor in the beautiful mountains of Virginia that I began to love when I first came to Bluefield.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I see myself still as Lead Pastor of Journey, with several younger women and men pastors serving with me on the Sunday morning congregational teaching team.

What's your greatest post-BC accomplishment?
Academically, maintating the 4.0 GPA I had at BC at the University of Richmond also and graduating Phi Beta Kappa. Professionally, I serve as a Trustee of V3, a Virginia Baptist church multiplication initiative, committed to starting 200 new congregations in the next 10 years, and I serve on the Executive Committee of BC's Board of Trustees and was excited to take a leadership role in the formation of the Board of Directors for Bluefield's new dental school. Personally, my greatest accomplishment (if it can be called that) is having a wife who still loves me after 33 years and two wonderful children.

What's your fondest post-BC memory?
The relationships. My fondest memory of BC since leaving BC relates to wonderful relationships with many, many of my classmates for approaching 40 years. Almost 20 of us get together every other year at various places across Virginia to remember our days at Bluefield and tell stories--some of which should not be published here.

If you had it to do all over again, would you change anything?
I probably would give more thought to leading a student protest march that could have gotten me kicked out of college--but, hey, at least I didn't "streak" like a number of students did!

Thanks again to Michael DuVal for playing along this week! Not sure when I'll have another Remembering Bluefield installment, but it should be a good one.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Man of Steel

Okay. It's now been well over a week since I saw Man of Steel. Actually, it's been nearly two weeks. I saw it at 12:01 on, what was technically, June 14th, opening day. I left the theater thinking it was awesome. Today, as I sit in front of my computer to put down my thoughts, I still think it was awesome.

I should go ahead and mention, there will be plenty of spoilers in this here blog post. It's not because I want to spoil the plot of the movie for you, in case you haven't seen it yet. It's just because there's a lot I want to unpack and I'm not sure I'll be able to control myself or the information that spews out of my frantically typing fingers.

I guess I'm not really typing that frantically. I mean, it has been nearly two weeks since I saw the movie and I've managed to wait this long to write all my thoughts. But I had to wait. I wanted to make sure those thoughts would be coherent and not pure babble.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Superman film that we should have seen back in 2006 when Superman Returns hit the cinema. Not that I thought Superman Returns was horrible. It's just that it was a relic. It rehashed a story that had already been told in 1978. I guess they thought that if they threw in the fact that Superman fathered a child with Lois Lane, it would be viewed as fresh. I think most of the world disagreed. But let's not focus on failed attempts to reinvigorate the Superman franchise. Let's not focus on the past.

Let's focus on the present. Or, at the very least, focus on Krypton's past. The film opens up on Superman's home world. For the first time on film, we're introduced to an alien world that doesn't look like it's already dead. In the past, Krypton has been presented as cold and sterile. This time there are native creatures that interact with the people. Krypton is shown to have a rich history, one that I would love to see explored in the right way. But we only get a glimpse in Man of Steel. But it's a good glimpse.

Jor-El assists his wife, Lara, as she gives birth to a son. We soon find out that this is the first natural birth on Krypton in centuries. Children are grown, Matrix-style, in something called a Genesis Chamber. Not only are they grown and harvested, but they're programmed for specific purposes and tasks to be performed within their society. More on that later.

After the birth of his son, Jor-El goes before the Kryptonian high council, or whatever they are, and pleads with them. Yes, we've seen this happen before. Jor-El knows the planet is doomed. This time it's because they've used up the world's natural resources, including whatever useful stuff was found in Krypton's core. This has made the planet unstable. Its destruction is imminent.

But there's just enough time for General Zod to stage a coup. While Jor-El is trying to gain access to the codex which contains the Kryptonian genetic code that feeds the Genesis Chambers, Zod wants to eliminate the council so he can "save" Krypton in his own way. During the initial battle, Jor-El puts up a great fight and escapes. He manages to get his hands on the codex (which looks a lot like a deteriorated skull), does something technical with it involving baby Kal-El's space ship, then sends them on their way to Earth. In a fit of anger, Zod kills Jor-El in response to losing his own grip on the codex. Kal-El gets away, the coup fails, Zod and his people are tossed into the Phantom Zone and Krypton explodes.

Next we meet an adult Clark Kent. Well, I guess we don't know it's Clark Kent. He goes by "Joe" but we know it's him because he's played by Henry Cavill, who the viewer knows is the actor who plays Superman. Doesn't take much to connect these dots. We get the impression that Clark has kind of been floating around the world, with no real direction in his life. Whatever it is he's doing, he gets distracted a lot. Because he has this tendency to do good wherever he goes, saving lives and standing up for those who can't stand up for themselves. Before he's established as a hero, he's already a hero.

Eventually, he finds his way to a place in the far north where the military is investigating something strange buried beneath the ice. Turns out, it's an ancient Kryptonian scout ship. Clark finds his way inside, activates the ship and learns all about who he really is. Enter Lois Lane, investigative reporter extraordinaire. Clark saves her life when she is attacked by an automated security system on the ship. Then he disappears from her life.

But Lois Lane is not the type of woman to just let a man who can shoot heat rays from his eyes disappear into the ether. Being the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist that she is, she manages to trace her mysterious hero back to a farm in Kansas. She visits Martha Kent, then takes a trip to a local cemetery to visit Jonathan Kent's grave. Once again, she comes face to face with the Man of Steel.

Clark tells Lois about his upbringing and about how his father knew he needed to keep his abilities secret from the world because the world just wasn't ready to know that there was a being with his kind of power out there. Jonathan even sacrificed his own life to drive that point home for Clark. This convinces Lois to drop her story about a mysterious alien with super powers.

Now we come to the return of Zod and his band of outlaws. When Krypton exploded, the Phantom Zone was damaged, releasing the prisoners. Zod's people traveled throughout the galaxy, searching for signs of Kryptonian life. All they found was death as they came across a number of forgotten outposts. Then they picked up the signal of the ship that Clark activated beneath the ice, leading them straight to Earth. Upon arriving in Earth's orbit, Zod demanded that Kal-El turn himself over to them.

Zod made it seem, at first, that he wanted to welcome Kal-El into this group of what was left of his people. All he really wanted was the codex. He also wanted to reshape Earth in Krypton's image. This meant terraforming the planet, changing the atmosphere so that the Kryptonians could breathe the air. Zod was willing to wipe out all of humanity in order to achieve his goal.

Superman gained the trust of the US military and, with Lois' help, they devise a plan to send Zod and his people back to the Phantom Zone on a more permanent basis. This plan eventually works, but not before an incredible loss of life as Zod's ship and their "World Engine" nearly destroyed Metropolis. Zod managed to escape the singularity that pulled his followers back to the Zone, leading to the climactic one-on-one battle between the general and Superman.

That's your summary. And I feel like I left a lot out. I think I feel that way because the movie is so much deeper than the plot that's right on the surface. I'm hoping at this point you're not already bored with this post, because I've got so much more to say. If you're willing to stick with this, thanks. And I hope you at least like what else I have to say.

Let's talk about the acting. First of all, Henry Cavill is Superman. I thought he did a fantastic job as the world's greatest super hero. He's not the Superman that people grew up with. He's a modern Superman who was raised in our modern world. There are probably people who think he's too dark and brooding, but I don't think he is. When we first meet Clark Kent, he's sad and confused about who he is and this leads to a certain amount of loneliness. He's never in any one place long enough to lay down any roots. That's a hard life to live. But he's not a dark sociopath, like a certain caped crusader. He's still a Kansas farm boy. And when he figures out he can fly, he gets excited about it. The smile on his face as he flies for the first time is the kind of smile I'd have on my face if I figured out I could fly. It's the look of someone who's really excited about what he can do.

The rest of the cast was really good too. Amy Adams was great as Lois Lane. I'm not sure how I felt about the chemistry between her and Cavill. But that could have been a problem with the story. They just kind of got thrown together and sort of generate a quick relationship out of nothingness, simply because it's Superman and Lois Lane. When it comes to the character, I was incredibly happy that Lois figured out who Superman is before he even figures it out. For 75 years she's been this investigative journalist who never put two and two together. The only reason she knew about his dual identity for most of the last two decades was because Clark revealed himself to her after they got engaged in the 90s. Lois Lane should be able to figure out that Clark Kent is Superman. Otherwise, she needs to give back her Pulitzer.

I've heard complaints about Kevin Costner and Diane Lane in their roles as the Kents. I have no complaints. I thought they both did a good job with what they were given. My problem here, again, is with the writing. Their characters were just not fleshed out enough. There's so much more to these people who raised an alien baby than what we were given on the screen. Most of what we saw were in snippets of flashbacks. Another problem people may have had is with Jonathan Kent's death. I don't have a problem with that part of his characterization. During a tornado, he showed his son an example of a hero. More than that, he sacrificed himself to protect his son's secret powers. He felt the world was not ready to know about Clark's true nature and so silently asked Clark to let him die rather than reveal himself to the public. That was probably the most moving scene in the movie.

Then there's Clark's biological father, Jor-El, played by Russell Crowe. His role is part of the reason I'd love to see more about this version of Krypton. Jor-El was shown to be a passionate activist who loved his home and was willing to think outside the box in an attempt to save it. But he wasn't just a passive scientist. The dude could hold his own in a fight. I'm not sure how. I want to know where he learned to fight. He went toe to toe with trained Kryptonian soldiers. During Zod's coup, he was fighting as if he'd been trained by Batman.

I wasn't sure what to think of Michael Shannon before I saw this movie. I'm not too familiar with him, but thought he was great as Zod. General Zod is not the kind of villain who shows up and makes you feel sorry for him. In the past, the character has been portrayed as just a powerful guy who wants to be in charge and pretty much tear stuff up. There's never been a clear motive for why he does what he does. This time we get a good explanation. Zod was bred to be a warrior. He was born to preserve the Kryptonian way of life. When Krypton was destroyed, he lost a big chunk of that life purpose. When the remainder of his people were sucked back into the Phantom Zone without him, the rest of his life purpose was taken away. He was already a genocidal maniac. Losing Krypton just pushed him further over the edge. We learned about his motivation, but that doesn't mean we had to feel sorry for him. Shannon definitely delivered on Zod's emotional turmoil.

I'd be remiss to leave out Zod's second in command, Faora-Ul, played by Antje Traue. She made Superman II's Ursa look like a kitty cat. She very quickly adjusts to her new strength and speed and takes out human soldiers the way a ruthless Kryptonian soldier would. Fast. Efficient. Which kind of brings me to a problem I have with any Superman story that introduces Kryptonians on Earth. They immediately have super powers. Superman has been here for 30ish years absorbing the yellow sunlight and adjusting to how they work. Every time another Kryptonian shows up, they generally have the same abilities right away. I will say I liked how they had trouble with the super hearing and x-ray vision at first, disorienting them for a bit. But that was a minor inconvenience for Zod and his people. I'm not saying the new Kryptonians should show up and be like normal humans, but they shouldn't be as powerful as Superman right off the bat.

I definitely like all the little things that are thrown in to the movie that shows it takes place in a larger DC Universe. Most of the details have greater meaning in the Superman mythos. For example, we don't catch a glimpse of Lex Luthor at all in the film, but we know he exists. How do we know this? There are several moments in the film where we see product placement for LexCorp. Other characters are glimpsed or mentioned: Lana Lang, Pete Ross, Ken Braverman... all characters from Clark Kent's past in Smallville. And how do we know Superman's world will likely intersect with the rest of the DC Universe? Zod and Kal-El's climactic battle takes them into orbit where they crash into a satellite owned by Wayne Enterprises.

Finally, Superman kills. There's a part of me that's okay with this, because he has killed in the past. In the late 80s, Superman faced a General Zod character from an alternate dimension. That version of Zod committed genocide on an alternate earth, similar to what Man of Steel's Zod intended to do. Superman knew the only way to put a stop to Zod's murderous rampage was to end his life. It was a difficult choice which, in the comics, eventually cost Superman a piece of his sanity for a while. It's obvious that the Man of Steel is conflicted by this decision in the film as well. It doesn't seem to drive him insane, but it's not something he enjoyed doing.

However, that being said, there's a whole lot of destruction of property happening here. I mean, Metropolis is all but destroyed. The loss of life must be incredible. And it's pretty much the same story with Smallville, on a slightly smaller scale. Why isn't Kal-El too concerned about the risk to human life during all those fights he has with the Kryptonians? He takes time out to save Lois and the guy from SVU, but at the same time, he's driving Zod through the foundations of skyscrapers, knocking them over in midtown Metropolis. I get that, in the heat of battle, it's hard to slow down and think about the consequences of every punch thrown. But he only seems to notice the casualties when Zod points out that he will start purposely murdering people while Superman watches helplessly.

Overall, I still thought the movie was amazing. I'm excited to know that the sequel is already in the works. I'm not sure I should get my hopes up because there seems to be some current turmoil behind the scenes with the people at Warner Bros. They always manage to screw up a good thing. Unless it has to do with Batman or Harry Potter. For now, we have Man of Steel, which I plan to view repeatedly once it hits the DVD. If you haven't seen it, go see it. Totally worth the price of admission.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

That Time I Went to the Animal Park

I know, it wasn't long ago that I told the story of a trip to the zoo. But that particular trip to the zoo ended without actually getting to go to the zoo. This is a story about another trip to a zoo. It's a story that takes place before the non-trip to the zoo. A prequel, if you will.

Toward the end of the school year, I was invited to join the kindergarten classes on their trip to the Fort Chiswell Animal Park. Wait... I said "invited," but that's really the wrong word. The teachers kind of insisted that I come with them. I mean, they didn't hold a gun to my head, but I have a feeling their opinion of me would have diminished greatly had I declined the invitation.

Anyway, there's this animal park. It's not like a zoo where the animals are kept in neat and tidy enclosures. It's kind of like a safari park. The kids were loaded onto converted school buses and driven through a sort of wild animal preserve. That's not what it was at all, actually. But you get the picture.

Yes, we rode in converted school buses. That really just means they removed all the windows and painted the yellow buses with stripes or spots, to make them resemble tigers or giraffes. The effect was astounding. Astoundingly lame! Ha! Nailed it.

Hey, wildebeests! Thanks for killing Mufasa, jerks!
The tour was unimpressive. I mean, I didn't have anything to really compare it to, since I'd never been to a similar animal park where you ride around and feed animals from cups. The animals have been trained to be greedy. They see the bus coming through and they follow. They know food is coming. Camels, zebras, ostriches, bison... they all know what the buses mean.

I sat with a kindergartener who wasn't too thrilled with the idea of getting close enough to feed the animals. No... he was thrilled. But it was the kind of thing where he talked a good game. Right up until the part where a camel stuck it's head all the way into the window and sniffed around for the kid's cup of granola.

The kid was really excited about the zebras. But he became less excited when the tour guide mentioned that the zebras have a tendency to bite. That's when he let me do the feeding. Sure, I don't mind getting bitten by semi-wild animals.

Good thing I don't mind getting bitten. Because that's exactly what happened. No, I didn't get attacked by a hungry zebra. I was attacked by a hungry ostrich. I had just taken a picture of the thing with my phone. Apparently it was angry that I hadn't asked permission to get the portrait. I barely had time to turn my back and its head darted into the bus and latched onto my upper arm. It didn't hurt, I was just startled a bit.

I got bitten by an ostrich. It's a story I'll be able to tell for the rest of my life. How many people can say they've been bitten by an ostrich? Now that I think on it, probably a lot. They're quite aggressive from what I hear.

This is the culprit. If you see this bird, ask before taking its photograph.

The teachers all agreed that the Natural Bridge Safari Park is far superior to the animal park we visited that day. Natural Bridge is where they usually take the classes for the annual zoo trip, but this year they decided on a closer venue, just to see if it would be worth it. I'm pretty sure they're switching back next year.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Question of the Week: The American Dream

What does "The American Dream" mean to you?

Well, that all depends. I have some pretty weird dreams sometimes. Especially if I've taken some kind of medication to help me sleep. Like, if I take Ny-Quil to quell some cold symptoms, I can be sure to wake up the next morning with some pretty crazy adventures that I've never actually gone on in the old memory banks. But it occurs to me that this may not be the kind of dream to which the question is referring. Moving on...

The American Dream, to me, is just to do the best you can with what you've been given. I know a lot of people out there would cry out that the American Dream is to become a huge success in your career. Some will say it's about settling down and raising a family. Others, especially in today's society, probably believe the dream is to be as famous as possible for as long as possible. These are the ones who believe that there's no such thing as bad publicity and will do anything to have their face plastered on the front of some tabloid magazine or to have their Twitter feed explode with tweets all about them. For me, it's just to do good and to share that good with the people around you. That's my dream.

What's your dream? And when I ask these kinds of questions, I don't mean for them to be rhetorical. I'm genuinely interested in reading what kinds of responses you have. And that goes for pretty much everything I post on here. I'm not saying I want feed back every single day. But, yeah, I do actually.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Adventure Days: The City of Roanoke

I know. A lot of people are probably looking at that title and scratching their heads. Adventure? In Roanoke?

I grew up in Roanoke. I've heard all the complaints. Heck, I've voiced some of those complaints. "There's nothing to do in Roanoke!" "Roanoke is boring!" "I'd rather be anywhere but Roanoke!" As a teenager, I'm sure I said each of those things a dozen or more times. I probably said those things in my 20s as well.

Somewhere in the process of maturing, I've discovered that whether you have a good time or a bad one is entirely determined by your perspective. Roanoke may not be the biggest or most exciting city in America, or even Virginia for that matter. But you should always be able to find something to do when you're there. The same could probably be said for every small town from sea to shining sea. Again, it's all about perspective.

I'll admit, there are some days that come and go where you'll have to make your own fun. And you probably have to get pretty creative with your fun ideas. But that doesn't mean you have to sit at home and complain about how bored you are. Right now, I'm living in an area that's smaller than Roanoke, but I still find things to do. And I've been able to find things to do in Roanoke as well.

For two consecutive Saturdays, I've found myself driving into the Star City, looking for adventure. I wasn't expecting a Lord of the Rings style quest... though that would have been awesome. I just wanted to have a swell time with friends. And, in my opinion, swell times were had on both Saturdays.

Last week, I met up with my friends Sarah and Amanda in Blacksburg. We hopped into Half Pint and made the 45ish minute drive down I-81. Or, I guess it would be up I-81, since we were going north. Anyway... road trip. Road trips are always a good idea. Even if you don't know where you're going. Maybe especially when you don't know where you're going. That day, we thought we knew where we were going. At least, I thought I knew. I volunteered to drive us since I was from Roanoke and knew the lay of the land.

The plan for the day was to visit the Mill Mountain Zoo, grab some lunch and a cupcake, then head back to the New River Valley. Not a bad plan, right?

Finding the zoo isn't a difficult thing. If you can make your way to the right streets, there are plenty of signs that can point you in the right direction. Those signs are very helpful as long as the streets they lead you to remain unobstructed. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case last Saturday.

Only a few days before, there had been a pretty nasty storm that blew through this part of the state. I'm not sure if it was actually classified as a derecho, like the one that tore through Virginia last summer, but there was a lot of wind and there were a lot of fallen trees and power lines. Because of this, the route to the top of Mill Mountain was blocked. But there were no detour signs. We were on our own.

But it's okay... I sort of know Roanoke like the back of my hand. I mean, every once in a while I find something new there, but it never seems serious enough to get checked out. We drove around for a bit longer than I had anticipated. To Sarah's (and really everyone's) disappointment, we missed the 11am feeding time for the red pandas. But we persevered. We were determined to make it to the zoo. Eventually I got us to the top of the mountain by going the long way around and driving up the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is a fun place to drive on its own if you've never been.

We parked, made the short walk to the zoo's entrance, and saw the handwritten sign: "Mill Mountain Zoo closed until further notice due to power outtage. Check our Facebook page for further updates."

It must have been a pretty bad power outage for them to spell it with two Ts. Disappointment set in a bit. There would be no red pandas. No spider monkeys. No prairie dogs. Collectively, however, we decided not to let that dampen our spirits. Though we did discuss how we would tell the story of our road trip to our friends once we got back to Blacksburg. It was inevitable that someone would ask us how the zoo was. I thought it would be clever to say that the zoo was closed, but that I had gone to high school with one of the zookeepers, so we got to take a private tour. I thought it was a pretty good plan.

We decided not to waste the trip up to the mountain. So we strolled over to the Mill Mountain Star. Did you know that it's the world's largest man-made star? Yep. Take that, every other city on the planet!

Following that little stop on the tour, we drove down the mountain to have lunch at Fork in the Alley. If you've never eaten there, I highly recommend it. Very not bad. The kicker, though, was what was next door to the restaurant: Bubblecake. Best. Cupcakes. Ever. It was my first time. I got the Lemon Berry Whip. But I was really torn when deciding. So many tempting options. I'll need to make a return trip. Soon.

After that we headed back down the interstate. It was the kind of adventure that proved it wasn't about the destination, but the journey. Good times.

Today, I went back into Roanoke. I got a call this afternoon from Brandon. He was just calling to see what I was up to and let me know that he and the family were heading into Roanoke for the day. They'd been talking about how they hadn't seen me in a while, so he called to see if I'd meet up with them downtown. I figured, why not?

So I drove down (or up) and got a chance to see the newly remodeled Center in the Square. We took in the exhibits at the Science Museum of Western Virginia, which really isn't as cool as it was when I was a kid. When I was in elementary school, the field trips to the science museum were always a highlight. After we got our fill of how sound travels and what parasites do, we moved on to the Market Building for some lunch at the international food court. This was also recently remodeled. I think I liked it better when you walked in and felt like you'd been transported back to the mid-'80s. It's too modern now. Everything's clean and well lit. There aren't enough neon lights.

We walked around downtown a bit, took in some of the stores found in the market square, then made our way over to where some live music was happening. We weren't at the concert very long. None of us were even sure what the event was. After one song, we pretty much decided we'd had our fill.

As I was leaving the parking garage to head back home, I was asked by the attendant to pay $2.00. I whipped out my debit card and was then informed they only take cash or check. I had neither. So I write to you tonight from the bowels of a Roanoke parking garage. Please, if you happen to be driving down Church Ave. near the old fire house, could you spot me a couple bucks? I'd really appreciate it.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Summer Field Trips: Ferrystone Park

The best part about working in the summer program that my company provides our clients is the field trips. Every Friday during our seven week program, we take the children to various locations which are meant to promote social skills through therapeutic interactions with peers. At least, that's the way it's supposed to look on paper.

The reality is, field trips get us out of the classroom every Friday. Convenient, since the school we use for the classroom portion closes its doors on Fridays during the summer.

Also, another reality is, it's also the worst part about working in the summer program that my company provides our clients. Really, one could flip a coin and those are the same kind of odds you'd come up with in trying to determine if a particular field trip will be a good one or a bad one.

Today marked our very first trip of the summer. We loaded 24 kids onto a school bus and drove them about an hour away to Ferrystone Park. We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful first day of summer for a trip to the lake.

If you haven't been to the lake recreation area at Ferrystone Park, I'm sorry to say, you're not missing much. I mean, it's just a man made beach with some roped off swimming areas. I'm not a fan. But I can't say as I'm a huge fan of swimming in a lake.

Try not to stone me just yet. I just have this thing about water that just sits there. I'm not a strong swimmer, so I'm not a big fan of any activity that involves getting in water. But at least with a swimming pool, you can almost hope that it's being cleaned and maintained on a regular basis. A lake is a really big body of stagnant water. I can only imagine what goes on in that stagnant water. For the record, I dislike taking baths for the same reasons. I'm not a fan of sitting in a pool of my own filth. If I were forced to take a bath for relaxation purposes, I would need to shower beforehand. And after. 'Cause gross.

Anyway, I did get into the water. But no deeper than what came to my ankles. I was ready to go all the way, just in case an emergency situation arose. Thankfully, no emergencies occurred. So I mostly sat on a fake log on the beach and watched as children splashed about, having the time of their lives.

For the most part, it was a good day. No one ran away. No one was injured, by accident or on purpose. And I'm pretty sure each of the counselors walked away with their sanity intact. I know I did. I'll admit, it was touch and go on the return bus trip. I ended up having to change seats in order to keep one of my precious angels from hitting another. Repeatedly. Other than that, uneventful.

We have six more weeks to go. Which really means we have 10 more field trips. Because during week seven, we do a trip every single day. That is gonna be a crazy kind of week. Insanity may run rampant among the grown-ups.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Death of a Laptop

On Sunday, June 9, my laptop computer kicked the bucket. It was three years old.

I went to bed on Saturday night after watching a movie on Netflix using my computer. This was not out of the ordinary. I used the laptop to watch movies and TV shows all the time. That's part of the beauty of the modern internet. Everything seemed just fine.

I awoke on Sunday morning and attempted to turn the laptop on and found that it seemed to still be working just fine. If just fine meant that the screen stayed completely black. No images came on whatsoever. Ugh...

Later that day, I took the laptop out to Best Buy. Yes, I was well beyond my warranty and I let my Geek Squad service plan that I let them talk me into purchasing three years back, which I never used when I still had access to it, expire about a year ago. But I thought I could just ask them to take a look at it, just to see what the problem might be.

The Geek on duty informed me that the problem was probably the video card. Or possibly some kind of wiring issue inside the hardware. Either way, he let me know they wouldn't be able to fix it in the store. It would have to be shipped out to some unknown corner of the globe for at least $250. Knowing how much the cost of laptops have come down in recent years, I knew I could buy a new laptop for about that. But how would I afford such a thing when I struggle just to make ends meet from month to month?

I'm glad you asked. To answer that question, we have to rewind my life to roughly a week before.

It was a Monday afternoon. The same day that I went on a Chick-Fil-A/Goodwill/Sweet Frog adventure with a couple of my teacher friends. I was driving from Christiansburg, which is really just a stone's throw from my home in Radford. As I was stopped at a traffic light, I suddenly felt the jolt of a car smashing into my rear bumper. It wasn't really a smash. But it was definitely more than a light tap. We pulled into the nearby Wal-Mart parking lot, surveyed the damage, exchanged information and called it a day.

The damage to Half Pint was minimal. She received a slight crack and a couple dents that are hardly noticeable. In fact, I was told that the damage can't even really be seen unless you're really looking for it. That's good. Because I'm the kind of person that doesn't so much care about what my car looks like, as long as it gets me from point A to point B without any hassle. A dent on the rear bumper? I honestly couldn't care less about the thing.

But I called her insurance people to make the claim anyway. I didn't know what options I had, so I thought I'd just see what would happen. Turns out, they just wanted to meet with me, survey the damage themselves, then cut me a check. The idea is that I would take the money they gave me and then take my car to the body shop of my choice and replace the bumper using their funds. I met with the insurance guy exactly a week after the accident. If you're keeping up with the timeline, that's the day after the death of my laptop.

Insurance Guy seemed to like me. We had a lot of good banter going. Made fun of a lot of the same reality TV shows, that sort of thing. He seemed to appreciate my honesty. Though, I'm not sure what I was being honest about that others, apparently, are dishonest about. So he told me that, if he were me, he wouldn't bother replacing the bumper. He said that getting the bumper replaced for $500 or more would not increase the value of the car by $500. He would just pocket the money and go on with his life as if nothing happened. He said that there was nothing illegal about doing this.

That's when I told him about my computer and how it had passed on to that great technological trash heap in the sky. I told him that, in my line of work, I need a computer to do all the paperwork I'm expected to submit on a daily basis. Without this insurance check, there would have been no way I could have afforded to purchase a new computer.

Now, here I sit, typing away on a brand new laptop. When all this was going down over the last couple weeks, I couldn't help but be struck by the way it all worked out. As a man of faith, I have to believe that God had a hand in it. What are the odds that I would just happen to be hit by a car while sitting at a stop light? We were both already stopped. The light had barely turned green and I was still waiting for the car in front of me to go. How is it that the insurance company could have given me a check that was just enough to cover exactly what I needed: new computer, file transfer service from the Geek Squad, Microsoft Office software. Kind of nice how all of that fit together in such a cohesive way. Separately, those events happening could have been chaotic and incredibly frustrating. Together, they turned out to be a blessing.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Technological Withdrawals

This morning, as I put Radford in my rear-view mirror heading to Floyd for work, I came to a horrible realization. I had left my phone at home.

By the time the thought occurred to me that my pocket was empty, I was already 10 minutes away from my apartment. I was on a very tight schedule. Well, not very tight, but it was a schedule nonetheless.

I was on my way to pick up one of the kids we work with. I had told him yesterday that I'd be picking him up at a specific time. If I'd decided to turn around to go back fro my phone, it would have made me about 20 minutes late picking the kid up. So I decided to let it go. I knew it would make my day a little difficult. I had no idea how difficult it would actually be.

It's a little sad, really. I never considered myself the kind of person who is addicted to his phone. After all, it's not as if I call people very often. In fact, I really don't like talking on the phone. I'm the kind of person who would much rather text than talk. There's a big part of me that doesn't even like calling my clients' parents on a weekly basis, as is required by the powers that be.

But today proved that I must be extremely addicted to my cell phone. No... I'm addicted to my smart phone. As the day began, things weren't so bad. I was busy working with the kids and had no problems not missing my phone. Then things started to slow down.

I was unable to check my email. I was unable to see what was going on over at Facebook. I was unable to update my status to let everyone know that I very nearly ran into a polar bear on the way to school this morning.

Okay, I didn't actually almost crash into a polar bear this morning. That would be ridiculous, right? A polar bear crossing a random back road in Floyd County? Not bloody likely. But from about 50 yards back as I came over a hill, it sure looked like a polar bear. The kid riding with me thought the same thing. We actually had a good laugh over it. In reality, I probably only believed it was a polar bear for about a second. Maybe not even a full second. It didn't take long to see it was a very large dog. But it makes a better story when one believes I almost hit a polar bear. Hey, if a polar bear can show up on the island on Lost, why can't there be one in the middle of Floyd County, Virginia?

Anyway, by the end of the day, I was literally shaking. Slow moments in the day, which would have normally been filled by checking my phone for various messages, were filled with the slow passage of time. And a great deal of leg shaking, as if I was extremely nervous about something. I don't want to go through that again. Although, maybe it would be really good for me to learn to live without the smart phone. I spent most of my life without one and I did just fine. But that's just crazy talk, right?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

How I Spent My Incredibly Short Summer Vacation

I'm sure a lot of people think that, simply because I spend my days working within the hallowed halls of the public school system, I get to enjoy two months of summer vacation. I'm sorry to burst bubbles, but this just isn't true. I work. All year. Mostly.

There are the standard nine months of the regular school year. Those work days are a given. Of course, you can subtract a few weeks of time off due to various holidays. Depending on how the planet's ecosystem is doing from year to year, one could also subtract a number of cancellations due to inclement weather. But that's what we expect from a school year.

Then we arrive, in time, at those glorious summer months. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a teacher. Part of my reasoning was so that I could continue to enjoy summer vacations as an adult. As an adult, I'm fairly certain that summer vacation doesn't mean the same to teachers as it does to students. I have no doubt that it's a nice break away from the classroom for the teachers, just as it is for their students. But adulthood brings responsibilities that don't just go away because school's out. I can't say anything for sure, because I'm not a teacher. I'm a counselor.

I'm a counselor that works all summer. Yesterday, the non-profit for whom I work began its annual summer program. They place us, the counselors, in classrooms with students from all over the county that we serve during the regular school year. I've been given, along with a co-counselor, the responsibility for therapizing a handful of pre-K through 1st graders.

Are you afraid that I haven't had a chance to relax? Are you afraid that I went directly from the last day of school into the first day of summer counseling? Of course you're not. Because you are a loyal Carp Dime reader and you, no doubt, noticed an inconvenient absence of new material during that week plus that I was in and out of cyberspace. I had time to relax, kids. Fear not.

My first official day of summer break was uneventful. Well, the whole weekend was kind of uneventful to be honest. Looking back, I have no memory of that weekend. If I did something with you during those three days after the last day of school, I apologize for being flip about it. But it's been a couple weeks since those days occurred. I'm lucky to remember what I had for lunch today. Actually, I know exactly what I had for lunch today. Turkey, cheese, baby spinach on whole wheat. I know this because it's the same thing I fix for my lunch every day that I pack. Which is every day.

The first Monday of my summer vacation saw me hanging out with teachers. And several students from my school. It's like I can't get away from it. I only had a week and a half off, and I found myself surrounded by people I'd seen every day for the past nine months. What was I thinking?

I was thinking that I wanted to have a fun time during my little bit of time off. These are teachers that I've come to consider good friends over the course of the school year. And the students? They're actually those teachers' own children. I had a delicious lunch with them at the local Chick-Fil-A, followed by a couple hours of browsing at the Goodwill. After all that, we wrapped up the afternoon with some Sweet Frog. That might have been my favorite part.

The next day, I left town. I drove down to Wake Forest, North Carolina to visit for a few days. I hadn't been down there in nearly two years, not since a few months after I moved back to Virginia. Look, the Raleigh area isn't the glamorous vacation spot that most people would look for when they have a week away from work. But it was incredibly relaxing for me. And I had a blast.

I was able to visit with my cousin and his family, my former boss, and the Most Awesome Person I Know. There were no grand adventures. We didn't solve the current financial crisis. We just spent time hanging out, catching up on the last couple years and laughing. Oh, and most of these events were accompanied with food. That's always a good idea. Talking with food.

So there you have it. I was able to enjoy my time away from school. I'm back to work now and kind of miss that vacation. But I am happy to be earning a paycheck again. That whole unpaid vacation thing is kind of a drag. At least, it will be when July comes and the vacation shows up (or doesn't show up) on my paycheck.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Before Seeing Man of Steel

As I write these words, I sit alone in my apartment. I'm waiting patiently for midnight to arrive. Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time should be aware that I'm kind of a big Superman fan. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to anyone that I'm kind of excited about Man of Steel, the latest incarnation of Superman on the big screen.

There's been no question in my mind that I'll be seeing this film at some point during the opening weekend. It's just been a question of when. Unfortunately, I'm scheduled to work my second job on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. That kind of cuts into the possibilities a little.

So I was left with the options of the midnight premiere on Thursday night or a Saturday matinee. Despite midnight movies being high on my Murtaugh List, I decided to get a ticket to the midnight show. I have a feeling I'll think it's worth it, once I've seen the movie. But I might have some slight regrets when I have to go to work tomorrow.

I attempted to invite a few friends to come to the show with me, but none could make it. It might be a good thing, though. I'm not sure I'm ready for people that I've so recently become friends with to see me geek out on such an epic level, which I'm sure is bound to happen.

I mean... it's Superman... back on the big screen... And, for the record, I will be wearing a classic Superman t-shirt. I doubt I'll be the only one.

I won't post my thoughts on the movie immediately after seeing it. No matter how good or bad the movie is, I'll be too excited about it. I'll see it as awesome no matter what. I made that mistake with Superman Returns when it came out. Posted a glowing review the very next day. I was later informed that Superman Returns wasn't as great as I initially thought it was. Upon repeated viewings, I kind of had to agree. Sad, really.

But I'll post some thoughts at some point after processing. It'll either remain awesome or it will be something less.

Update: It's a little after 3am. My first impression, which may be a little fueled by sleep deprivation: it was some kind of awesome! Like, really awesome. Like, I'd be willing to see it again, that kind of awesome.

PS - I saw a total of 14 people with Superman t-shirts of varying styles. I'm a little surprised there weren't more.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Single Guy and the Last Week of School

Well, it happened. The Single Guy made it through an entire school year in the same job in the same location. Hopefully, there aren't too many people out there scoffing, as if this accomplishment is such a difficult thing to believe. Remember, the Single Guy maintained a steady position as a drive-thru bank teller for more than three years. He hated it, but he did it.

Since becoming a counselor, the Single Guy found himself placed in two different schools. He would have certainly been at the first school for a full year, had he began the job at the beginning of the school year. And, really, moving wasn't his idea. But he was happy for the move once it had happened. He made friends and grew to enjoy his time there, just as he had enjoyed his previous school.

The last week of the school year was a non-stop thrill ride that offered excitement and adventure around every corner. Well, one would have believed that last sentence if one's regular life involved being trapped in a sensory deprivation chamber for 24 hours a day. Although, that scathing bit of sarcasm makes the last week of school sound incredibly boring.

It wasn't boring. The Single Guy had plenty to do. The end of school presented him with a great deal of paperwork that needed to be finished. A lot of it also needed to be signed by his clients' parents. Therein lay the challenge. There are a lot of times when parents are difficult to contact by phone, much less to convince to meet face to face to sign forms.

But the Single Guy got it all accomplished in the three days of school that were available. Then he was able to move on to the more amusing things that the last week of school had in store. For one thing, there was the Beach Blast.

No, a period is the wrong punctuation to use with Beach Blast. The exclamation point is more appropriate. For one thing, there was the Beach Blast!

This event was much like what a lot of schools may consider Field Day. Unless it's the kind of school that considers Field Day a day of competition with track and field events. The kind of Field Day that Beach Blast! is like is the kind that involves a bunch of fun activities that may or may not have a great deal of structure: splash balls being thrown about, sidewalk chalk, inflatable bowling (that was impossible to play with the wind), temporary tattoos, etc. It was fun. Right up until the part where it began to storm.

There wasn't a whole lot happening on Wednesday during that last week. Mostly movies and end of year parties and the cleaning out of desks. But the actual last day of school provided all sorts of excitement.

It was a shortened school day. The only planned event? An annual faculty vs. 7th grade softball game. Teachers only required the younger kids to watch the game for one full inning, knowing that they didn't have the necessary attention span to sit through a full game. After that first inning, the children were free to roam the playground. It was mildly controlled chaos. Somehow it worked.

So, that last school day may have been more exciting for the kids than for the Single Guy, but it was a shortened day, so that was something. Once the little ones boarded their buses for the last time, the grown ups enjoyed a potluck lunch.

The Single Guy hadn't planned to stick around for the potluck. He didn't make anything to share with the others. He feels a little guilty participating when he didn't bring anything himself. But several teachers insisted that he stay. And his lunch was amazing. He probably ate too much. And went back for dessert twice.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Summer of Running

Running is a very different thing than it was a year ago. Well, it is for me anyway. I can't speak for anyone else out there. I'm sure there are a number of you who have loved hitting the pavement on a regular basis for years. I'm sure there are a number of you who wouldn't even consider running unless you were being chased by a bear or a zombie or a zombie bear. For most of my life, I would have placed myself with the latter.

Now I kind of enjoy running. Well, I did. Up until about a month ago. That's when I decided I wouldn't run again until I had a decent pair of running shoes. And when I say "decent," I actually mean good. I wanted a good pair of running shoes. I wanted the kind of running shoes that they sell you in a store that's designed to help people maximize their potential as runners. I'm not trying to toot my own horn and declare that I have a great deal of potential as a runner. But I know there's at least a little potential there, and whatever it is, I want to maximize it.

But have you been to those stores? Do you know how much it costs to get a good pair of running shoes? It's not cheap, and we'll leave it at that. Therefore, I had to wait.

Waiting meant that I would not be forcing myself to keep running. There was a part of me that feared the possibility of injury due to wearing the wrong kind of shoes. I know that was a little irrational, seeing as how I'd been wearing the wrong kind of shoes for every run I'd been on during the previous six months. However, prior to the Monument Avenue 10k, I started to feel a certain amount of pain with each run. It was subtle at first. It steadily got worst. My knees... my back... my shins... It wasn't good.

Then the happy day came when I was able to make the long awaited purchase. I wasn't thrilled with the amount of money I was laying down, but I told myself that it would be worth it. Probably for well over a year.
Aren't they comfortable? You can say yes. 'Cause you can totally tell just by looking at them.

Since coming home with the new shoes, I've been out a few times. I'll be honest, I'm not running the way I'd like. I'd like to be running at the same level I was at back in April, when I did the 10k. That's not happening though. I'm told it'll come back quickly, and I'm hoping the ones that are telling me that are right.

Last night was the first time I went for a run in Bissett Park since April. Things are different now. We're deep into spring, almost summer, and there are a lot of things I really enjoyed about the run that I didn't get during the winter when I would run on the river path.

For one thing, the smells are different. Summertime brings out a lot of great smells: fresh cut grass, honeysuckle, stagnant water from last week's flash flooding, soggy Fritos left behind by some inconsiderate litter bug. Now that I think on it, I should probably find a cleaner place to run. But the honeysuckle was nice.

There are more people in the park, too. Kids playing on the playground. Couples playing tennis. A bunch of overweight white guys attempting to play basketball. I'm really not making fun of them, they play better than I ever could. Also, there are lots of people sharing the pathway. People running, people walking, people on bikes. It's nice because, well, I don't feel so alone.

For a long time, I was running at the crack of dawn on the treadmill at my apartment's fitness center. It was just me in there. It was kind of creepy running while it was so dark and still outside.

Running in the light and warmth of day is so much better.

Being a runner in the summer will be a new experience for me. Who knows? Maybe I'll get a decent tan out of it. Though I doubt it. I'll probably forget to put on sunscreen one day and come back home with a not-so-healthy sunburn. It's what I do.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

I Don't Even Know Where to Begin...

I have been gone from this thing for so long, I'm not even sure what to write at this moment. I've had a lot happening in the last few weeks. To leave any of it out would be a crime. Okay, maybe it wouldn't be a crime. I'd be a little surprised to find out that there are people who have even missed checking Carp Dime on a regular basis to see if I've written anything within the last two weeks. Here's what's been going on, which I'll try to flesh out as this week goes on...
  • I survived the last week of school!
  • I spent the first official day of summer vacation with teachers! the Goodwill...
  • I spent 3 days in North Carolina!
  • My laptop died!
That last one sounds like it's as exciting as the previous topics. It's not. It's far less than exciting. But it all worked out in the end. Which you'll see once I get around to writing about it. So please, stay tuned. I promise I'll be back on my regular writing schedule now that I'm getting back into a regular routine. And have a working computer again. No, really, it's a story for another time that I'll seriously get around to.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Question of the Week: Breathe

When was the last time you listened to the sound of your own breathing?
Just now, only because this question got me thinking about it. Now I'm a little paranoid. Am I breathing normally? Should my lungs be making that kind of sound? Is that sound of my lungs or do I have too much hair in my nose? I don't normally take time out of my busy schedule to listen to my own breath. I don't need to hear myself breathing to know that I'm still breathing. That full feeling that I get in my lungs is generally good enough for me. Sometimes, when I'm having trouble sleeping, I'll listen to my steady breaths and I'll make a conscious effort to slow my breathing in an effort to calm myself. It never works and I remain a die hard insomniac. But, if we're talking about hearing our own breaths on the clinical level, I'd have to say I haven't listened to my own breathing since I was a little kid and managed to get my hands on Dr. Keagy's stethoscope while we sat in his office. I didn't hold on to them for very long before he snatched them back. Calm down doctor, it's just a stethoscope. You probably had a drawer full of them, the way other people keep socks or silverware in special drawers.