Friday, April 19, 2019

The Ancient Era Before Cell Phones

This will sound crazy, but I actually remember the prehistoric age, the time before cell phones existed. No, really, it’s true. I lived during a dark and somber era when every type of communication required wires.

I can see your head shaking in bewilderment. And you are correct, the world was indeed a brutal place before the 1990s.

By the way, there was one type of ancient communication that did not use wires, but it did require paper, envelopes, stamps, and Postal Service employees. I won’t bother to discuss this type of communication now, since no one alive today has ever experienced it.

Back in those primitive pre-cell phone days, people were terrified of two situations: the first was being stranded when the car broke down; and the second was not being stranded when the car didn’t break down.

I think you can understand why the first situation was so awful. Imagine you’re on your way to a particular destination to meet a friend for lunch, and you’re driving merrily along, when suddenly your car makes a weird clanking sound, then it sputters, and then the engine just shuts off. You coast to the side of the road, and when you roll to a stop, panic starts to well up within you as you realize you are stuck. There is absolutely no way of calling for help because portable phones have yet to be invented.

So, at that frightening moment, you had two choices: either you got out of the car and tried to flag down a passing vehicle, the driver of which might decide to help you or might decide to murder you; or you could start walking to the nearest house to ask for help, where the homeowner might decide to help you or might decide to murder you. (The third option was to climb into the back seat, get into the fetal position and whimper, and hope when someone ultimately discovered your body, they would contact your next-of-kin.)

If you became stranded because your car broke down, it was, as we used to say in the ancient vernacular of those times, a “total bummer, man.”

However, in those days, having your car NOT break down was almost as perilous. You see, once you got to your destination, there was no way of contacting your friend to let him know you had arrived. You would go to the scheduled rendezvous point, the Oak Tavern on Elm Street, and wait. After a half hour, you would say to yourself, “Oh no, maybe he said the Elm Tavern on Oak Street.” So, you’d drive over there and wait another half hour. Then you’d go back and forth between those two places, hoping to catch a glimpse of your friend. After three hours, you would give up and drive back home.

Once you were home, you would call your friend on the land-line phone, and he would say, “What do you mean, ‘Where was I?’ We’re supposed to meet for lunch TOMORROW.”

This is why most people back then lived their whole lives in caves and mud huts and never traveled more than 100 yards from the place where they were born.

Then, as we all know from History class, that great German scientist, Gunther von Szell, invented the mobile phone (the name later Americanized to “Cell”), and people finally could live modern lives, able to travel to neighboring towns without fear of being murdered — or at least without fear of wasting three hours.

Someday, if you think you can handle the shock, I’ll tell you the incredible story of the communication method that required envelopes and stamps. Now, that was truly a primitive era in history.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Stunning Victory: Life Conquers Death

I can vividly remember a late Wednesday night back in October of 2004. I sat in the living room and gazed at the TV. My palms were sweaty and my heart was racing. The final pitch was thrown. Ground ball. Stabbed by Foulke. He flipped the ball to first, and the Boston Red Sox, defying all the expert predictions, were the World Series champions after an 86-year drought!

I responded by jumping around the living room, clapping and shouting, “Yes! Yes!”

I had a powerful urge to high five someone. Since my family was asleep, I was tempted to run across the street to my neighbor who is a Sox fan. Surely, he was also running around his living room looking for someone to high five. Since I was wearing only a bathrobe (I mean, ONLY a bathrobe), I decided against it.

As the Red Sox players celebrated on the field, a tear of joy trickled down my cheek. According to news reports, many tears of joy trickled down many cheeks all across New England.

What a joyful moment. After years of coming oh-so-close, after ending each season with yet another frustrating and inevitable defeat, the Red Sox finally reached the pinnacle. It was a dream come true.

About six months later, I remember slouching in the pew at church and gazing out the window. My hands were folded in my lap and my heart was barely beating. I looked at my watch, wishing this thing would be over.

During his homily, our pastor explained why that day—Easter Sunday—was so special. Almost 2,000 years earlier, defying all the expert predictions, Jesus’ tomb was empty. After an 86 zillion year drought, the celestial scoreboard read: Life: 1, Death: 0.

What a joyful moment that must have been. After years of watching death have the final say, no matter how long a person lived, humanity finally had reached the pinnacle. Defying all odds, the Son of God had risen from the grave and conquered death once and for all. It was a dream come true.

I responded to this fantastic news by nodding my head forward with my eyelids fluttering. I had no urge to greet anyone—high five or otherwise. I was not tempted to run across the aisle and embrace a fellow brother in Christ.

Unfortunately, I was not the only one in church that morning suppressing yawns and peeking at his watch. There was no clapping and shouting. No joyful cries of “Yes! Yes!” And definitely no tears of joy trickling down anyone’s cheeks.

Why not?

When you think about it, which is the more joyful event: a baseball game played by a bunch of pampered millionaires, or the fact that the Creator of the Universe made it possible for us to have eternal life?

In the grand scheme of things, the choice is, as they say, a no-brainer.

Certainly, I’m not trying to say we shouldn’t get excited about sports championships once in a while (although I don’t recommend the running around in a bathrobe at midnight part).

Maybe we’ve heard the Easter message so often it’s gotten boring. Or maybe the words have entered our ears but we’ve never really HEARD the Easter message before.

Maybe we need to contemplate exactly what God has done for us. Out of love, He lowered Himself to become one of us, sacrificed His sinless life to pay the price for our sins, and burst forth from that grave on Sunday morning crushing Satan’s evil designs once and for all.

Isn’t that worth a clap or a shout? Isn’t God’s awesome love for us worth a joyful cry of, “Yes! Yes!”? Isn’t that worth at least one little tear of joy trickling down our cheek?

This Sunday is Easter. The Red Sox game starts at 2 p.m. But please go to church in the morning and put things in their proper perspective.

Friday, April 12, 2019

The Key to Success: Playing Well with Others

Way back during Kindergarten days (or possibly during college — it’s been quite a while either way), there was one notation on the report cards that often went overlooked. When report cards were issued to my classmates and me, everyone, especially our parents, would focus only on the grades. “Oh good, you got an ‘A’ in Finger Painting,” a mom would say. “Hey, how come you only got a ‘C-plus’ in Beginner’s Napping?” a dad would ask. (Still could be either Kindergarten or college. Have you seen some of the frivolous classes that universities offer these days?!)

Anyway, on those Kindergarten report cards, there usually was an area for the teacher’s comments. There were two different comments that were much more important than all the academic grades combined. The two comments were: “Plays well with others,” or, “Does not play well with others.”

If you want to get an idea of how successful a child will be later in life, don’t look at his or her Kindergarten grades in Finger Painting, Beginner’s Napping, or Calculus II. Just look to see if the teacher’s comment is “Plays well with others,” or “Does not play well with others.”

In the real world — that is, the world where people have to interact with other people every day in the workplace — having intellectual skills is very useful. But having social skills is crucial.

Unfortunately, there are many people in society today who got straight A’s in all their classes, but who possess the social skills of an eggplant. (No, I’m sorry. That’s not fair to eggplants, which are admittedly not often the life of the party, but which also never blurt out to a co-worker for no apparent reason, “How can you be so stupid — and FAT?!”)

I suspect the 4.0 GPA anti-social guys, the kind of people we all have encountered in various work environments over the years, were given plenty of “Does not play well with others” comments on their Kindergarten report cards.

By the way, if you can’t think of a single social blunderbuss with whom you’ve ever worked, then chances are YOU are the one who does not play well with others.

No matter how talented and skillful a person might be, if he has such an annoying, confrontational personality that he makes his fellow co-workers daydream about various ways to dispose of the body without getting caught, it is not a good situation for the organization.

When companies need to hire a new employee, there usually is an extensive evaluation process, which includes a review of the applicant’s educational achievements, prior work experience, and even a criminal background check. This time-consuming and expensive endeavor could be streamlined greatly if the Human Resources department simply tracked down the applicant’s Kindergarten report card.

If there is the comment, “Plays well with others,” then hire the person immediately. But if there is a “Does not play well with others” comment, then call Security and have him or her escorted out of the building.

During a recent family gathering, I mentioned this theory. My mom made quick eye-contact with my siblings, and then turned to me and said, “Well, it’s probably not THAT important.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Oh nothing,” she said. “After all, you turned out, um, OK.”

“Hey, what are you saying?” I said. “Did I get a ‘Does not play well’ comment on my Kindergarten report card?”

“Don’t worry,” she offered. “You always got A’s in Finger Painting, and after some private tutoring, you improved your grade in Beginner’s Napping.”

Then she patted the back of my hand, and said sweetly, “Who needs friends, anyway? We’re all still proud of you.”

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Time to Get Back to Basics

Do you ever get the feeling that every aspect of your life has become fast-paced, frantic, and complicated?

You don’t? Really? Well, then you’ll have to tell me the secret of your serenity, because these days my life feels like I’m pedaling a bicycle in the middle of the Indianapolis 500. Everything is swirling around me at breakneck speed.

This sensation of being overloaded can also apply to our faith life. For example, I regularly visit eight or ten different Catholic websites for the latest news and commentary about the Church. This past year, obviously, has been especially newsworthy, with the sex abuse scandal and the McCarrick crimes taking center stage.

But it dawned on me recently that these websites hardly ever talk about Jesus. Their focus has been mostly on news stories, such as accusations, victims, settlements, cover-ups, secret files, grand juries, attorneys general, felony convictions, etc. There’s no doubt in my mind the people writing for these websites are faithful Catholics, but it seems the doctrines of the faith have taken a backseat.

Maybe it’s time once again to focus on the basics of why we call ourselves Catholic. I’m reminded of the old profession of faith we used to make during Mass: “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”

It doesn’t get any more basic than that. Three simple statements, but each incredibly profound, describing the core of the Christian faith.

Christ has died. This statement reminds us of the cross. Jesus willingly gave up his life to pay the price for our sins. Without Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, our sins cannot be forgiven.

St. Paul was one of the most brilliant theologians in Church history. And yet, in his first letter to the Corinthians, he wrote, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

I suspect St. Paul was tempted to delve into deep theological topics during his sermons in Corinth. But he had to remind himself not to lose sight of basic beliefs, one of which is the fact Jesus was crucified and died for our sake.

Christ is risen. If Jesus simply died and stayed dead, then our faith is worthless. The
Resurrection makes everything else worthwhile. The moment Jesus walked out of that tomb, goodness conquered evil, and life conquered death. The Resurrection means that death no longer is the final chapter of our story. Physical death is now merely a transition from this earthly life to eternal life in Heaven.

Christ will come again. We often forget about this promise from the Lord. He clearly told us that He is coming back, and this time, no one will be confused about His identity. Some of us still might be alive here on earth when Jesus’ Second Coming occurs. But I suspect most of us by then will have had a second date and year carved into our tombstones.

Either way, we are going to see Jesus, the mighty and just judge. This third basic statement reminds us that our current situation in life is not going to last for long. There will come a time when our souls stand before the throne of the Most High God. It might be a good idea to start getting ready for this cosmic encounter, rather than do what most of us do: convince ourselves that we have plenty of time to think about stuff like that…later.

So, it’s probably time to dial back my Catholic website browsing. The current news is important, but not as important as focusing on the core doctrines of the faith, especially with Passion Sunday and Easter coming soon: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

Hopefully, that will relieve the uncomfortable sensation of race cars swooshing past me as I frantically pedal along the Indianapolis Speedway.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Inventing Famous Quote Easier Said than Dunn

The other day I was convinced I had invented a great new quotation. I was listening to a friend reminisce about the good old days, the days when, as he put it, “Bruce Willis still had hair.”

The first thought that popped into my head was, Sheesh, that’s pretty weak. There must be more poignant and meaningful things to reminisce about than Bruce Willis’ dormant scalp follicles.

And that’s when the great new quotation just popped into my head: “They don’t make nostalgia like they used to.”

I paused for a second to let it sink in. Ooh, that’s a good one, I thought. That’s definitely a keeper. Might even get my name in one of those books of famous quotations.

Now, let me just say, I swear, I had never heard that expression before in my life. I was certain I had just created a brand new original clever quotation. But to make sure, I went on the Internet and did a Google search. I was stunned to find hundreds of matches. It seems my brand new original clever quotation was neither new nor original. Rats!

OK, well that one is already taken, I thought, but how hard can it be to come up with a genuine original clever quote? So, I had a new mission in life: create a unique quotation and get my name in one of those books.

Some of the quotes I came up with were like the nostalgia quote, someone else had already thought of it first. I soon realized creating a new quote is a lot easier said than done. (And “a lot easier said than done” is not original either!)

Every time I thought of something good, it turned out not to be original. For example, when I thought of “2B or not 2B, that is the question,” I learned that Shakespeare already said it, apparently when he was trying to remember his hotel room number.

When I came up with “I shall return,” it also was not original, having been used by Bernie Sanders every time he lost a presidential primary, dating back to his first attempt against FDR in 1940.

Other ideas turned out to be misstatements of famous quotations, such as my favorite quote back when I was in college, “Four score and seven beers ago,” and the desperate command I yell to my lawn each Spring, “Mow thyself!”

Other mangled quotes include:

  •  “Early to bed and early to rise, gets you to work on time, what a surprise!”
  • “A friend in tweed is a friend in need.”
  • “All the world’s enraged, and all the men and women merely slayers.”
  • “Tis better to have brushed and flossed than never to have brushed at all.”
  • “To err is human, to get the next guy to hit into a double-play divine.”
  • “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll drink beer all weekend.”
I was just about ready to give up. But a few weeks ago, while visiting with friends and family, I spent a lot of time listening to old people (mostly me) complain about their latest aches and pains, and reminisce about the good ol’ days of youth. (“Youth is wasted on the young” also is not original.)

While driving home, a new quote popped into my head. And this time a Google search did not produce a single match. I’m confident that NO ONE has ever used this expression before. Here goes: “The most frustrating part about being old is remembering being young.”

And if you don’t think that one is any good, to use a famous old Shakespearean quote, “Tough noogies, pal.”

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Jesus says, ‘Go, and Sin No More’

In the Gospel reading at Mass this weekend, we have another example of God’s overwhelming love and forgiveness: the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery. Jesus’ opponents, the scribes and Pharisees, brought an adulterous woman before the Lord, and demanded, “In the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So, what do you say?”

It’s obvious the scribes and Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus. They didn’t particularly care about the woman, or the Law of Moses, or that justice was served. Their only motivation was to force Jesus into a no-win situation so that no matter what He said, they could use it against Him.

If Jesus replied that the woman should be set free, they could accuse Him of ignoring the Law of Moses. If Jesus replied that the woman should be put to death, they could accuse Him of being hypocritical about His message of forgiveness.

At first, Jesus said nothing. Instead, He bent down and started writing with His finger on the ground. This is the only place in the Bible that records Jesus writing—but we’re not told what He wrote. (Can you imagine if Jesus had a Twitter account? My goodness, things would be quite different.)

I’ve often speculated about what Jesus wrote. Maybe He wrote down the name of the man who committed adultery with the accused woman. And maybe this guy was standing right there in the crowd clutching a stone. Jesus finally looked up and offered the famous line, “Let the one among you who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Then, as the angry throng pondered those words, Jesus bent down and started writing again. Maybe at this point He wrote the names of the leading Pharisees’ mistresses. No one knows for sure. But we do know how the crowd finally responded: “They went away one by one, beginning with the elders.”

After everyone left, Jesus said to the woman, “Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she answered.

Jesus then said, “Neither do I condemn you.”

At this point in the story, many people nowadays stop reading. It’s just so comforting to know that no matter how we behave, Jesus says to us, “Neither do I condemn you.”

But that’s not the end of this story. Jesus concluded by saying to the adulterous woman, “Go, and sin no more.”

This statement confirms that Jesus has not abandoned the concept of right and wrong. Certain things are right, and certain things are wrong. There is a HUGE difference between righteousness and sinfulness. Such a huge difference, in fact, that Jesus came to earth specifically to bridge the gulf between holy God and sinful mankind.

If you’re ever tempted to think Jesus does not take sin seriously, just remember why He died on the cross. Jesus offered up His sinless life as a ransom for our sinful lives. He died to pay the price for our sin. His Passion and death occurred for one simple reason: Jesus takes sin seriously—deadly seriously.

Jesus also takes love seriously. So much so that He offers forgiveness to people who don’t deserve it: the Prodigal Son, the adulterous woman, me, and you. A person who can look up to Heaven while being tortured to death and say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” is a person who takes love very, very seriously.

Next weekend is Palm Sunday. As Lent draws to a close, let us focus on Jesus and His overwhelming love for us, and the overwhelming forgiveness He offers to us. Let’s make this year’s Easter celebration the most holy and joyful ever.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Readers Reply – and They’re Angry!

I knew I would get some angry feedback after a recent column. But the vitriol turned out to be in response to a completely different topic.

Two weeks ago, I discussed people who bring so-called Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) onto airplanes. I opined that I did not think it was such a good idea to be forced to share a cramped row of seats with someone else’s pet alligator or Shetland pony. If a person needs a pet to feel comfortable, fine, but what about me, who now has become rather UNcomfortable as a Pit Bull sitting in the middle seat next to me is staring at my jugular vein and licking its chops?

So, I figured my rather flippant way of describing pets would cause many animal lovers to send me angry email notes. Well, I did get a lot of reader replies, but they were overwhelmingly in support of my point of view. One person said, “The only ESA I need to make me comfortable on a plane is some Emotional Support Alcohol.” Hmm, OK.

The only note I received in favor of animals on planes came from a gentleman who pointed out, “I’d rather fly on a plane full of 4-legged animals than the 2-legged [jerks] that are usually on the flight.”

That’s a good point. Comfort pets on planes rarely get drunk, argue with the flight attendants, smoke in the restroom, or spend 10 minutes trying to cram a duffle bag the size of a Ford Fiesta into the overhead compartment.  

It turns out the column that did produce angry feedback was printed in the newspaper three weeks ago. In it, I discussed my fear of driving in snow and I made a few snarky comments about TV weatherpersons who excitedly hype every snow flurry as if it were a life-threatening blizzard.

Speaking of blizzard, I received a blizzard of email notes, each and every one angrily denouncing the way local TV stations go into BREAKING NEWS EMERGENCY CRISIS MODE every time there might be a little snow. The reader responses castigated local TV stations in general, and one weather forecaster in particular, whose name may or may not rhyme with Zott Zaney.

People complained about schools being cancelled frequently based on faulty forecasts; about the way every molecule of bread and milk disappears from store shelves the day before a predicted storm; and the TV stations’ annoying habit of interrupting regular programming at a really crucial moment of “General Hospital” to give another breathless update that it might snow in 18 hours.

The most interesting note I received was from a fellow who used to own restaurants in Connecticut and cited TV weatherpeople as a major factor in his decision to shut down his business. He said there were countless Saturday nights when the majority of his customers called to cancel their dinner reservations because the weather forecast was so dire. And then it turned out to be some scattered flurries that didn’t even coat the roads.

This former restaurant owner mentioned one particular “Zaney” TV personality as the prime “weather terrorist,” and insisted that weather forecasters cause more damage to the economy than Al-Qaeda terrorists. I took his comments with a grain of salt, since he seemed especially agitated while typing his email note. I’m sure if he had a chance to calmly and rationally ponder this issue, he would back off a bit and agree that weather forecasters aren’t that bad, and they only impact the economy like a ten-day power outage.

Overall, there was a lot of anger filling my email inbox. I wish people would be more polite and less impulsive, you know, like our Commander in Chief.