Welcome Camden Scott Fowler!

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The report from my sister, Amy…

“Camden Scott Fowler was born at 4:30 AM on August 31st. He is 6 pounds, 11 ounce, 21 inches long. He came out quickly. His mother, Kristen didn’t have time for meds. Last I heard (almost 8 AM) big sister Haley and big brother Noah were about to meet him and my Mom was making the 3 hour drive to meet him as well.”

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Remembering Franklin

Two weeks ago, we had to put down our cat Franklin. We had him for close to ten years. He had been losing weight, which was a good thing. At first we chalked it up to more exercise, given that we had just got a new cat, Toby, who kept him on his toes. He seemed normal otherwise, waking me up every morning outside our bedroom door announcing that the time for breakfast had arrived. He would closely monitor my progress and go with me downstairs. He was incredibly attentive to the whole process.

Then, a few weeks ago, he stopped. His cries were feeble and he was not just losing weight, but he was getting really boney. When we took him to the vet, they did x-rays and blood work. What they found was awful news. Franklin had a large, cancerous mass in his abdomen. Because of its location, it was causing all his vitals to become unstable. Even if they were able to stabilize his condition, there was little chance that removing the tumor would not be fatal in itself. Without removing the tumor his condition would only worsen. He was obviously in distress. That day was his worst. Usually gregarious and nervous around the vet, he just laid there. But he was purring.

The night before he had, for the first time in weeks, jumped up on my lap. He only stayed for a very short while, but I believe that was his way of saying goodbye. We never know how long we will have with our loved ones, even our pets. Hope and I had to make a sad decision that day. The prognosis was grim. People these days are apt to throw as much resources into a lost cause as they can for even the smallest hope that there may be a way to recover. In this case, the cancer had progressed too much and too rapidly. The vet told us that bringing him in earlier would not have done very much good, given the location of the disease.

We remember Franklin as another member of the family, a good little guy who made our lives richer and more interesting. I admit that I am not the biggest pet person. But Franklin made me see things differently. His expressions and personality was like a person’s and I will miss his little yelps and the way he organized the rest of the cats.

When we returned from the vet without Franklin, our two remaining cats, Ash and Toby kept looking around us and gave us expressions clearly meant to indicate we had forgotten something. But, no, we will never forget. For a pictorial tribute to this photogenic feline, follow the link here.

The Princess and White Trash

On my way in to work there is normally no end to the ineptitude and sheer stupidity that I encounter in the form of my fellow motorists’ lack of driving skill. (I’m certain that my fellow motorists think the same about me). This past Thursday morning was no exception.

Jahnke Road, in the Southside of Richmond, Virginia is a secondary artery that intersects with the larger Forest Hill Avenue, a route that hits a primary route straight into the City of Richmond. I take it when the Powhite Parkway is backed up with bumper to bumper traffic.

Prior to intersecting Forest Hill, Jahnke becomes one lane just after Blakemore Road. As you approach this change from two to one lane, there is a shopping center that includes a Food Lion on one side of the street. On the other, there’s a newly expanded school. At this intersection you wind up with three lanes from the two, so it is quite misleading until you get there. The middle lane is the only lane that keeps down Jahnke. The right lane is right-turn-only. The left lane is left-turn-only. There is no warning of this change from two lanes to one at any point until you actually get to the intersection, but locals seem to do OK. Others, not so much.

As I was approaching this intersection, I could see that the traffic ight was red. In these instances, I usually enjoy slowing down. That way, I can come to the prescribed stop. I had noticed, though, in the right lane was a late model BMW, silver in color. I frequently am wary of cars in that lane at this point on Jahnke since invariably, if they are the wiser local driver, they are trying to beat the traffic and cut into the middle lane. (The speed limit here is 35mph, by the way, which is easy to ignore since most automobiles are made to idle at that speed. But, I had been doing my best. At no point had I seen the BMW driving much faster than that either.)

But, as I am slowing to a crawl, the BMW speeds up and cuts in front of me. Then, to my surprise (without any blinker to indicate any of these manuevers), the Beamer cuts over to the left turn lane.

I was going slow enough that this was not a cause for brake-slamming and horn honking. I had nearly expected at least the move to my lane. So, I made my casual stop at the prescribed location on the asphault right up front, right at the paint. Then, curious, I made a casual glance over to the driver of the BMW.

Maybe it’s not a sly local at all. Is it an elderly person who may just be a little bit confused? Is it a young punk who thinks he owns the road? Is it an elitist yuppie who thinks the same? Is it a teenage driver who just doesn’t know what they’re doing behind the wheel?

None of the above. The BMW driver was, as near as I could tell, a 20-ish African-American woman and she was ever so politiely presenting her middle finger while mouthing the words ‘white trash’.

Now, I understand the confusion of this fine woman. I drive a pick up truck. A Ford no less. It’s not a fancy one either. No ‘King cab’. No extra accoutrements that borders on SUV equipment. It’s an ’04 Ford Ranger, red, and it’s a little on the sporty side, the ‘Edge’ model. She wouldn’t know it, but it has a six-CD in-dash stereo system that is quite nice. But, the casual observer would look at it and say — ‘pick up truck’. And that would fit.

So, score one for the ‘white trash’ interpretation. Because, you know, obviously poor white people drive around in late model pick up trucks, or just pick up trucks in general. Sure, I wasn’t hauling large bags of aluminum cans to redeem for cash. No, in fact, the bed of my truck was empty. Certainly someone in this woman’s shoes, a young, clearly affluent person has her tastes influenced heavily by the media. So, really, I’m sure her opinion would be even further justified if I had been driving a beat up old clunker or, I suppose, anything without a BMW, Mercedes, or Lexus imprint attached.

Also, to her credit, I am sure she did not get a terrific look at me either. Otherwise she would have seen that, rather than the stereotypical flannel and baseball cap (being the dress code of all ‘white trash’ ), in fact I was wearing a white dress shirt and a tie. But, I suppose she saw ‘white’ – both the shirt and the color of my face… or, wait. Hold a sec.

This just in… my face isn’t white at all. In fact, the more I look at it, it’s closer to a washed out pink/orange combination. Pale, for sure. But white? I would beg to differ. Anyone who has looked for house paint will understand that white actually is not a color you can buy. In fact, a fellow blogger that goes by ‘Crooked Eyebrow’ has identified no less than five distinct varieties of the color that is known as ‘white’, including Abby white, Abode white, Parchment white, Milk Cream, and Butter milk.

Discerning artists also know that ‘white’ is more of a stock color mixed with others to form actual, usable hues. It’s a utility color, functional on its own surely, but with more prevalent use to liven other mixes of other stock colors. MAX Grumbacher, a maker of fine oil paint, have a tint called ‘Flesh Hue’. It is clearly not what I or Microsoft Paint would consider ‘white’. But it is more the color of someone with my skin tone, which, I have to admit, is paler than most. Being a redhead and all, I also have a multitude of dark brown freckles and spots on my body. So, in fact, as a whole, if you blended the colors on my body, it would be more of a tan color.

Skin tone aside, we can confirm, though, that our lady of the BMW by using the word ‘white’ could clearly have been referring to one of the peculiar, binary ‘race’ designations our country has chosen to focus on as somehow important. Again, a creature of the media, ‘black’ and ‘white’, to her, mean types of people rather than actual tints, hues, tinges, dyes, shades, colorations, tone, finishes, or washes. In this logic, we round up to the nearest binary value. There is either black. Or there is white. If the complexion of someone is nearer to one or the other, we round to the nearest one. This is sort of like using a number system that is either 5 or -5. Everything must fall into one of those values in order to have any meaning. You can see the trouble this woman was in. She was using an inexact system that is poorly constructed and of little use. The struggle for equal rights and the dream that Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of so eloquently forty-five years ago this month, was a call for the dissolution of skin color as a measure. There is no ‘black’. There is no ‘white’. There is only us. The people. She apparently only believes in the dream for people of her skin tone, which is, of course, divergent from the point of the dream itself, but I digress.

When we look at the situation apart from the essential systemic context of this young African American woman’s media-soaked viewpoint, we do have to interpret her language as, at worst, perpetuating classic skin-color-based racism. At best, she is merely a reprehensible, pig-assed elitist. What she was saying is, ‘I am better than you so my actions are justified regardless of the situation. I take precedence because you are inferior and the idea of race and socio-economic condition are intertwined to form my ideal insult – ‘white trash’. You are disposable because you do not belong in my space. I can invade your space because I am your superior.’ This is a prevalent societal attitude, so I can’t blame her for being confused. Everyone is in a ‘competition’. Clearly, she wants to be a ‘winner’.

Now, I have no idea if the BMW princess is paying for her ride herself or if her daddy bought it for her or her baby daddy bought it for her or her pimp bought if for her. I have no way of knowing. All that I know is that she is headed for a life of frustration with the ‘princess’ attitude. While racism is a well-established, though misguided tradition here in America, there is another tradition that transcends the boundaries of skin color – that is, we have no tolerance for royalty. That’s one we founded the country on.

Of course, her royal highness, if she had intelligent advisers to guide her opinions (rather than the mainstream inanity that passes for media) would be wise enough to know that the vehicle one drives is not a reliable marker of a person’s socio-economic status. Many people ‘of stature’ in the world, are smart enough to drive in a sensible car that runs, rather than throwing money away on a fancy car. Of course, if she were a true princess, given her driving skills (or lack thereof) she would be smart to hire a driver due to insurance reasons, but I digress.

Origins and Identity

“If we don”t know where we came from, we don’t know who we are.”

This quote assumes that identity is formed by external factors. I would say that identity is created by who you think you are. Though that may be shaped by externals, we all choose the influences that shape our lives. It does not necessarily need to be shaped by our origins. In fact, from a logical standpoint, all we need to know is that we are and we can move forward. Knowing where we came from is not necessarily to get to our destination. We just have to understand as much as we can about where we are in the moment.

We can also choose to ignore how others perceive us. We simply act as we want to act. In order to have a true identity, we must act with intention and not out of habit, tradition or compulsion.

On Baptists, Uncooperative Cooperators, and Amway

In my early days in Richmond as a young adult, I was looking for a church home. Having grown up the son of a Southern Baptist preacher and having entered my studies at the University of Richmond intending to follow in my father’s footsteps, I wanted to root myself in the familiar. Richmond was new to me. Though I had spent four academic years here, the world surrounding the UR campus was largely a mystery. I had been out, but had no car of my own and my focus was campus life – literary magazine, school paper, Baptist Student Union, a campus rock band, the campus radio station, plus I worked part-time at the Virginia Baptist Historical Society/University Archives for quite a few semesters. Existing on Federal grants otherwise, my needs were met on the beautiful campus.

Despite being largely insulated from the ‘real world’, campus life was a step up from the much smaller world I had known growing up in the church. My early life was separated into ‘us’ and ‘them’ – the ‘saved’ and the sinners. Any interaction with other people automatically included an evaluation of whether or not the person was going to heaven. If not, it was my duty to show them the way to eternal life.

At some point, I could no longer sustain the worldview of my childhood. I had grown too much and my eyes were opened to a life far less judgmental and limiting. Saving souls into an amorphous future nirvana also became less a priority the closer I came to leaving campus. I needed a job and actual, substantive support for my ministerial pursuits was nil. I I had decided, then, to go into Secondary Education. It was late in the academic cycle and the program was in the midst of being revamped, so I ended up having to spend an extra semester after I normally would have graduated to take part in student teaching. I had passed the National Teacher’s Exam my senior year and my momentum was high. Until I met Margaret Gunter.

Student teachers are paired with ‘cooperating teachers’ who essentially turn over their class for a semester to the student teacher. There is a collaborative relationship that needs to exist between the two individuals. Mrs. Gunter and I never established this relationship. Instead, she insisted on teaching her classes for the first two weeks of school, while I continued a redundant program of ‘observation’ in the other English classes of Douglas Freeman High School. Never mind that the bulk of my practical training up to that point had included copious amounts of observation.

I had been gung ho to get into the classroom. My colleagues, fellow student teachers, were reporting their exciting first days of classes and their experiences. Meanwhile, I was still taking notes on pedagogical techniques.

I never did regain the momentum. I dropped out (passing) and moved to Ohio to spend time with my estranged father, who I had not seen for more than a few hours at any time during my four years of college. The backstory there is that he and my mother divorced as I was finishing up high school and after he was essentially defrocked by the Baptists he was blackballed in Virginia, moved to Pennsylvania and joined the Church of the Brethren. Plenty more could be written on that subject, but it would fill a book.

After nine months in Ohio a second gestation of sorts in my developmental life, I returned to Richmond, primarily in the hopes of reestablishing a relationship with my ex-fiancee at the time (scratch fiancee – we were instead ‘engaged to be engaged’). Yet another story.

Meanwhile, I still felt that joining a church would be a first step to perhaps an eventual move to the ministry, once I got on my feet financially and socially. What I had found during my student teaching experience, besides having a less than cooperating teacher, was that teaching also requires at least a baseline financial stability, plus a social network/support and stability that is difficult to achieve being away from family and friends. Yes, I had college buddies around, but they were in the same fix I was in.

Alone and eager to find friends, I joined Derbyshire Baptist Church. The roommate of an old college girlfriend (not the ex-‘fiancee’) and her family were kind enough to provide my transportation when I first started going to the church, since I was still without a car each Sunday.

After I had taken my first full time job with a ‘head hunting’ firm and got a car, I was able to go on my own. Feeling more settled and sensing enough similarity there with the homogenized world I had grown up with, I decided to join. I was looking for roots wherever I could find it. One Sunday, then, during the ‘invitation’ section of their religious ceremony, I ‘went forward’ and there it was. I was a new member.

Pretty soon, I received a call in my one bedroom efficiency apartment on Grace Street. It was from a man who identified himself as representing the church. We struck up a conversation and he quickly learned that I was new to Richmond, had only started temping (full-time), and was basically in start-up mode. I was 23.

He informed me that there was an opportunity in the church for someone in my situation. It seemed like it was perhaps a ministerial opportunity. I had applied for a youth minister position at another church in the area. Ironically, one of the pastors there knew of my father, and had even gone to seminary with him. Small world. Unfortunately, the association did not help. I was hoping that this experience with Derbyshire would go better.

We met at Aunt Sarah’s pancake house, for lunch. The whole episode is chronicled in detail in a journal entry I made at the time (prior to blogging, we did things like writing in notebooks to ourselves but nobody ever read them, so blogging was invented). Rather than rergurgitate that entry here, I will summarize: the guy was an asshole Amway salesman. And if I ever meet the sonofabitch in my life again, I will rip his eyes out and stuff them down his fucking throat. Except he won’t have the opportunity to gain any nourishment from his occular diet since I will have concurrently ripped out his jugular with my bare hands, which will make it somewhat difficult to swallow I am thinking.

Oh, did I mention that was not a particularly pleasant experience?

Yeah, well, after about five hours of a heavy sell job where this poor excuse for a biped (not a human by any means) explained his background in the defense industry and other such ‘important’ connections and promises of meeting girls at Amway meetings, I took some of his tapes and literature and agreed to consider the ‘opportunity’.

The first stop on my way from this meeting/sales pitch was to the Boatwright Library on the UR campus. As a lifetime member, I had access to do some research, so I hit the stacks and after a few hours of reading, I found little about Amway that indicated it was anymore than a multi-level marketing scheme. My parents and other family members had been sucked into Amway in the early seventies, when they were following any new trend that happened to come their way. They abandoned it before I was even in First Grade. So, I was already quite skeptical, but when you are young and looking for an opportunity you consider that perhaps things have changed.

I did not have much respect for the company after my research. But, even so, I popped one of the tapes he gave me into the cassette player of my car. The more I listened, the more I was unimpressed and, in fact, incensed that I was stupid enough to not walk out as soon as the guy started opening his little folder showing the true nature of his ‘opportunity’. Of course, having gained a terrible reputation over the years, they were no longer calling themselves ‘Amway’ but instead ‘Quiztar’.

I rolled down the window as I was driving down Patterson Avenue back to my apartment. I yanked the cassette out of the player. Normally, I believe littering is reprehensible. In this case, I believe I made a mistake, but I am simply reporting what happened rather trying to gain any absolution – I hurled the cassette out the window into the median, accompanied by obscenities, etc. You get the drift.

When I got home, I called the kind gentleman who had offered me such a wonderful opportunity and told him very simply never to call me again. And I have never set foot in a Baptist church since.

The reason this dark chapter in my history occurs to me is that the times Dispatch has a story today on the front page of their Business section on ‘Tips to avoid pyramid scheme’ and it links to www.pyramidschemealert.org which has an article linking Amway to Blackwater (the infamous U.S. contractor in Iraq tied to the GOP, darklord Cheney and his minions, and, of course, to the current bogus POTUS). That’s at this link here.

Happy reading!

Afternoon at Panera

French onion soup with a chicken sandwich (I don’t remember which)… the soup and sandwich deal with green tea… like it’s green, the color… not sure if it’s actually really actual ‘Green Tea’. She had corn chowder and a sandwich and regular, unsweetened tea. She read the Richmond Times-Dispatch briefly while I wirelessly tapped into the internet with Panera’s Wi-Fi, hitting the CNN site, checking out the big news of the day… Edwards’ affair… peril in Georgia (WWIII anybody?)… and Bernie Mac’s passing.

Woke up to the news of some kind of stabbing in Beijing.. somebody related to to somebody having something to do with one of the American Olympics squad. And the news reported it like… oh boy, this puts a big stain on the grandeur of last night’s opening ceremonies. I’m thinking, uh… sorry somebody got stabbed, but does it really? I mean, seems like they are somehow completely unrelated. Stuff is going to happen. Good stuff. Bad stuff. Not sure what can be done about crazy people stabbing others people. Could it be some kind of stunt to try to discredit China? I’m not like a big China fan, but seems like a lot of people want to see them fail at this and I think that’s not a good attitude.

Ok, so this entry is chronologically out of order. Blame George Lucas for brainwashing me in my formative years with his idiotic space saga movies… consider the second sentence of this entry as a ‘prequel’ to the first.

Gadgets and their Cables

Got a new cell phone recently… it had been over three years since I upgraded with Verizon, so I had $50 towards a new one. I bought a eNV2, which is a slick little camera, text messaging, and gaming device, as well as a phone – a transformer of sorts. With a 2 Gig micro card it can really store a lot of 2 megapixel pics, a nice size for a device where taking pictures is a side functionality.

Of course, I like to be able to hook the gadget up directly to the computer to transfer stuff using a program called BitPim. This requires a cable. Verizon doesn’t sell this cable, since they would rather you text yourself the pictures for some reason (could it be that they make money on text messaging plans?) OK, well cynicism aside, I consulted Amazon to see if I could find something. I ordered a cable and that evidently is a normal gadget USB cable. I need a micro gadget USB cable. Whoops. So, I’ve ordered another cable from ‘cellphonegadgetsrus.com’ or some such place (that’s not really it). Here’s hoping that does the trick…

The other stupid thing is that I couldn’t get the Smart Card reader I have to read my micro card on the upstairs PC… boo!

New Super Technology

I recently bought a new laptop. Actually, two identical laptops… Inspiron 1525s. One for me and one for my wife. Sort of a his and hers type deal. No, I didn’t spring for the blue and pink colors. Actually, they look identical.

It’s amazing how much more productive and creative you can be when you have the proper tools. It took ages for my old laptop to even startup. It was created back during the dawn of civilization. They no longer create batteries for it. That’s how old it is. A Gateway Solo 5100 that I bought at a computer show for $350. Since then I had to replace the hard drive, install a new operating system, upgrade the memory, add a sound card, and now, finally, I gave up trying to get it to be a truly functional laptop. Without the battery, the portability is gone and what’s the point, if you can’t take your laptop with you to the Starbucks, Panera, mall… etc.

So far, so great. I have set up a wireless network here at the house and she and I can share files with the server upstairs (an old, but working PC that has been our central computer) and even print from downstairs to the printer upstairs. I also bought a laptop cooling unit to set the thing on. It plugs into the USB port for energy and has four USB ports attached. Right now I’ve got it plugged into the electric, but it’s nice to know it also is portable.

Other specs on this lovely piece of machinery: Intel Core 2 Duo CPU T8300 @2.40 GHz. 4.00 GB of memory. 32-bit Operating System running Windows Vista Home Premium Edition. Two hard drives – 285GB main drive with a 9.76GB recovery drive. Plus DVD RW Drive.

Needless to say, it’s like I have jumped right into the 21st Century. Going so long tolerating super old equipment makes using this all the sweeter, like a huge weight lifted off my technological back. Oh yes, it’s a paltable feeling.

A lot more to come…