Category Archives: Personal Reflections

The Boob Tube

Photo credit: Preto Perola/Shutterstock

I have been thinking a great deal lately about television, “the boob tube,” as my brother Brian used to call it. I rarely ever watch it now. Other than Fox News, I haven’t watched it in ages, and even Fox cannot keep my attention for more than a few minutes.  Maybe I’ll watch an old movie on Turner Classic Movies from time to time, but even that is increasingly rare. I have seen most of the old movies about which I have heard.  Most of the good ones, in my humble opinion, I have purchased on DVD and have seen many, many times, among them, North by Northwest, Charade, The Wizard of Oz, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, 49th Parallel, and Stalag 17, just to name a few.

Seems strange because, you see, I grew up on television. Never missed The Little Rascals or a Bugs Bunny cartoon or two before school in the morning or Bewitched or I Dream of Jennie in the afternoon. In fact, when I was young, I rarely ever read a book. One memorable night I asked my father if I could stay up to watch Mutiny on the Bounty. We made a deal. I was to read the book, a Scribner’s copy specially bought for the occasion in exchange for that privilege. Boy, was he mad when I welched on my end of the bargain. At the beginning of every summer, when presented with a reading list, I would dutifully carry it home from school on the last day and never look at it again until just before my return to school, worried that I might be asked to write a report or comment upon one of the titles. Inc fact, I’d worry all summer, never enough to read a book on the list, though. To be fair, back in those days, I never watched television during the summer either. We didn’t have one at our place at the beach—it was a rarity then—only breaking that rule when my father brought a small color Sony television to watch Neil Armstrong land on the moon. I remember that night so vividly. Neighbors came from across the street and nearby to crowd around our small set on the upstairs porch. We were suddenly popular. As I recall, Dad had also purchased two Rand McNally globes of the moon to show us where the Sea of Tranquility was. You may remember what one looked like:

Back at home, I loved to play outside and would most every day, especially if a friend or two happened by. Then, with my sparkling green Pea Picker Sting Ray, I would be gone until dark.  If no one came or the weather kept me inside, I would play with G.I. Joes or Hot Wheels and watch the Sylvania black and white we had in the den. The den was my special place. I could play for hours in that room without ever being disturbed.

Moving to a farm in Pennsylvania was the end of television’s grip on me. Presented with acres of forest, streams and pastures to explore, the television was only turned on at night for Mash, if that, because, you see, I now had homework. By eighth grade, it was do or die. I had a teacher with a bit of a temper, Jim, and he expected substantial effort and results. Do the work and you had nothing to fear.  Screw up or mouth off and you might go deaf.  (He was one of the best teachers I ever had.)  I remember him lecturing some of the laggards in our class, “This is the last time anyone is going to teach you this stuff.” He was right. Elementary math, percentages, long division and the like, and diagramming of sentences would fall by the wayside. By eighth grade, one was expected to know these subjects. You would be expected to know them, and no one would ever again take the time to help you if you were lost. I still cannot spell, but the Millennials coming behind me cannot either from what I can see. As a corollary to that, ask one what Antidisestablishmentarianism means and you will most likely get a blank stare. I learned this word in eighth grade: What I learned was that it meant one was against those who were against the establishment, irrespective of its ecclesiastical meaning. We had the most beautiful girl in our class, Tary, and she would always remark to teacher Jim what the meaning was. (In eighth grade, all the girls are beautiful, but Tary was one of the most so.) Non sequitur, forgive me, author’s prerogative.  Best of luck Millennials!

High school was even more challenging than eighth grade. Then came college. TV in the dorm? Forget it! Never would have turned one on. (I remember watching the Israelis invade Lebanon while walking through the campus center.)  Who had time?  Rigorous study was a seven day a week affair with time off on Friday and Saturday nights for house parties. For graduation, my dad bought the library carrel where I spent most of the time and gave it to me as a gift. I used to keep a copy of Soul on Ice on its shelf as a placeholder. Now, when members of my generation ask me about certain TV programs in the late 70s and early 80s, I haven’t got a clue. The Dukes of Hazard? Nice title!

Fast forward to today:  When I was a boy, we had a choice of the following channels 2 (CBS), 4 (NBC), 5 (WNEW), 7 (WABC), 9 (WOR), 11 (WPIX), and channel 13 (WNET).  The last one was always in black-and-white for the longest time.  What I remember most are the movies on channel 7 in the afternoons and evenings (Creature Features in the spring), as well as the movies on channel 9: (Million Dollar Movie), which used the opening theme from Gone with the Wind.   You could always find a good one there, like PT-109.   Moving to Pennsylvania, we had similar channel arrangements; although, the numbers were all those that we did not use being in a suburb of New York: 3, 6, 10, and 12.  The programming pickings were a bit slimmer, but I watched TV less, so I didn’t care. Free time was spent doing chores, walking in the woods, swimming or visiting nearby neighbors.

Here at home I have at least 175 or more channels with my current package arrangement on DirecTV.  Out of all those, I only watch three: FOX News, CNBC and Turner Classic Movies. My total viewing time this past week amounted to something under an hour. Best of luck Madison Avenue. Who reports news anymore? As Rush Limbaugh once opined during the JFK Jr. funeral: “The coverage outruns the news in half an hour.” This leaves 23.5 hours to fill, paraphrasing Rush for that last sentence.  Mostly, it is just rather indelicate at times conflicting opinion, and for the most part, I already know what I think about any given issue.  Other than FOX, the rest of the on-air media has taken sides, embarking on a fool’s errand to pin Russian influence on the presidential election on Donald Trump, as many have stated in one form or another, “A cover-up in search of a crime.” Don’t waste my time.  If I want to know what is happening up to the minute, I consult Twitter or TweetDeck, then I log onto Fox or whatever the news source is. If it’s a big story, then I will head for the TV and tune in. Sorry ladies and gentlemen, you did it to yourselves. As for game shows and sitcoms—I like to play games—charades—with real people, and I don’t like my values, my patriotism, my country, or my religion disparaged and undermined.  Dysfunctional individuals and relationships fail to interest me. I can read the police blotter. I would rather read a book.

Read a book. Thank you Audible. Wish I had had that marvel in college!  In the past four weeks, thanks to Audible, I have read four books—Incendiary, The Operator, Agent 101 and The Great Crash of 1929—often with the same zeal I used to listen to WABC on my transistor radio under my bedtime covers. I can choose what I like best or what fancy strikes me and go anywhere—to any time period—for a refreshed and refined understanding of that period and the challenges its inhabitants faced. Wishing for an afternoon to revisit my childhood, I can read Winnie the Pooh.  As my brother’s bookplates say, “There is no Frigate like a Book / To take us Lands away.” (Poetry in origin by Emily Dickenson.) Then there are the online courses at Hillsdale College: American Heritage, Economics 101 and Introduction to the Constitution, just to name a few.

Back to The Story of Cape Fear and Bald Head Island….



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David and Goliath

Photo Credit: Anelina/Shutterstock

I feel that I am living in a time of manifest, engulfing evil.  Not that I’ve studied him, but the Old Testament god Moloch comes to mind. Rampaging, burning everything in his path, mercilessly devouring sacrificed children. Daily in the Middle East ISIS sacrifices Christian children, as well as those of other faiths. Yet the people in the West do not see it, or they simply turn their heads. We Americans, I would venture to say, are momentarily sun-blinded by our cell phones, our iPads, our Facebook friends. Every day, I ask, “Where is the outrage? Who stands against this in church?” At times, I feel like a voice screaming in the wilderness.  I hear the trees move above me, their branches scraping, the rushing wind, I even hear my own footfalls on the leaves. I walk the path God entreats, but where is my fellow man, my fellow Christian? When will he save his brother?

Tonight, I stood on a stile on south beach by the club facing the southwest. The wind must have been blowing at least 25 to 30 knots. I thought of walking the beach around to the next beach access, but then I realized my cries for help, if such were uttered, would go unheard, die unanswered. My voice would carry only into the next breaking wave, then to be scattered with bits of blowing foam on the beach and into other turbulent breakers. As it was just twilight, I thought I would save my trek for a calmer day.  Sound preparation in body, mind and spirit is the steel of valor.

I am thinking of one man in particular as I write this blog.

This, I reflect, is the year of cancer. Almost everyone whom I know has either had it, or has it, or is in the process of vanquishing it.  One cruel, wily, often merciless opponent.  Cancer killed my father and my best friend, Dusty.  I never really understood the pain until my Aunt Jo Anne had suffered from metastatic breast cancer which resurfaced in her spine. She was brave, even on morphine, she was oh so brave. Like many who have endured radiation and chemotherapy, she had trouble eating. Food was tasteless to her and she, in particular, couldn’t stand the smell of turkey—too much like her chemotherapy said she, but she did love a tasty, tender filet mignon!

What of this cancer? This Dad killer, this Dusty killer? I pray about it. I pray for Jesus healing hands to rest upon the shoulders of those afflicted whom I know. I have even asked God if I could trade places with some of my friends, if I suspected they had it. When you love someone that much, you’ll give your life for them.  I remember praying that prayer once for a girlfriend and minutes later almost choking on my lunch.  It was as if God were testing me, saying, “Did you mean what you said?  Never forget that I, Lord of all lords, King of all kings, can seize your life from you in an instant.”

As I think of this latest friend, a Marine’s marine and Vietnam vet who now struggles with Agent Orange-induced cancer, I am 700 miles away powerless to help him. Many days I have pondered tactics: “What other treatments should he consider? What other courses of action? “When should I go to see him?” I have beseeched the Lord on his behalf, but no miracle prayed for miracle has presented.   The only thought I have over and over is this: “The Lord often saves his bravest warriors for his toughest battles.” If you knew my friend, you’d know this fits him to a T. I have seen this with my father, with Dusty, with Aunt Jo Anne, with Dana and many, many others.  Some, like my dear friend Marie, have beaten cancer, this scoundrel, this wrecker of lives at least three times. I have often wondered how she did it:  Special DNA? Tough German stock? (Sorry P. C. zealots, you’ll find none your free speech suicide pills here.)  Bravest warriors? Toughest battles?  I think back to the story of David. David and Goliath which I reread again today.

Goliath strode onto the battlefield supremely confident of his power, his prowess in battle. Heavily armored, he terrified the Israelites, 1 Samuel 17:11 When Saul and all Israel heard those words of the Philistine, they were dismayed, and greatly afraid.  David came as a hum ble servant of the Lord: 1 Samuel 17: 26 And David spake to the men that stood by him, saying, What shall be done to the man that killeth this Philistine, and taketh away the reproach from Israel? for who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God? For the Lord had prepared him well for this day, this battle, unpretentious shepherd though he was. The Lord had prepared him well. He had fought both a lion and a bear to free a purloined lamb from their clutches: 1 Samuel 17: 36 Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God. David displayed the confidence of the Lord’s will with him such that Saul allowed him to go into battle to save the Israelites from certain slavery and servitude under the Philistines.  Think of it: the once mighty, now fearful king trusted the fate of his kingdom with a mere shepherd: 1 Samuel 17: 37 David said moreover, The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine. David invoking the spirit of the Lord, together with his “sling” and his “five smooth stones” confronted Goliath using even the same language that Goliath had in describing what would be his end. In that instant, I can hear the subtext—David in effect saying, “I am your equal”: 1 Samuel 17: 45…I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. 1 Samuel 17: 46 This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.

So today I think of my friend battling cancer and heart disease with “his sling” and his “five smooth stones,” the love and grace of the Lord, Jesus miraculous power to heal which assured David victory against Goliath on the battlefield: 1 Samuel 17:  47 … the Lord saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hands. My friend must summon the same courage David drew upon if he is to be victorious. In this last valiant effort, twirling the sling of the might of the Lord above his head, he must draw upon the exquisite power of the Holy Spirit with steadfast aim to lead him to sure victory.

As I reflect upon the cancer that threatens to take my friend from me, the Iran nuclear deal’s passage in the Senate this afternoon, the murderous wrath of ISIS and even the anniversary of 911 attacks here in the United States and abroad, I humbly ask the Lord to confer upon my great friend and also upon me the courage of David knowing “1 Samuel 17: 47…the battle is the Lord’s.”