Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Major Milestone: Column Number 1,000

 Today we’ve reached a major milestone. This essay is the 1,000th humor column I have written for the Republican-American newspaper. (Although the phrase “I have written” is not exactly correct, since I’m only on the third sentence, and I’ve got to type out about 550 more words before I can employ the past tense. On the other hand, I was an Engineering major who got a C-minus in the only English class I took, so I’m not really an expert at grammatical tensification.)

My first column was published in June, 2001. I was filling in temporarily for the talented Tracey O., who was on maternity leave. The editors told me that after my eight fill-in columns appeared, they would consider making me a regular columnist if they received some positive feedback from readers. So, I guess my campaign of begging all my family and friends to send glowing reviews to the editors was successful. Or maybe when the paper lost the advertising account of Big Lou’s Discount House of Army Surplus Beef Jerky, they realized they had some blank space that needed to be filled, and it was a toss-up between using either me or Bobby Wolff’s other card-playing strategy feature, “The Aces on Old Maid.”

When an editor informed me that my humor column would be a regular feature each and every week, my first thought was, “Hey, that’s great!” My second thought was, “Oh no, I’ve got nothing written for next week, and the eight fill-in columns used up all my ideas.” That was the beginning of my delightful relationship with insomnia, and the regular episodes of suddenly being wide awake at 2 a.m., and muttering to myself, “What am I gonna write about this week? Umm, I got nothing.” 
During the first couple of years, coming up with topics was a real challenge. But since then I’ve realized there is no shortage of topics about which to write, as long as I focus on two primary sources: wacky news events and wacky personal events. And if the various events aren’t particularly wacky, I use the technique I learned in that solitary English class: I wackatize them (otherwise known as embellishment and exaggeration). The hardest aspect of this column is finding a free hour to sit down with my computer and just write. No wait, the hardest aspect is forcing myself NOT to plagiarize something really funny I read online. 

I look at this column kind of like a baseball game. If three out of every 10 essays are funny, then I’m hitting .300 and I should make the all-star team. If four out of every 10 essays are funny, then I’m hitting .400, Hall of Fame material. I understand that three successes out of every 10 attempts does not apply to a lot of activities, for example, Lasik eye surgery, landing airplanes, or trying to keep the baby from rolling off the changing table.
If you think the percentage of funny essays should be much higher than three out of 10, well, at least my average is higher than anyone playing for the Red Sox this year. (And if you’re that gentleman in Naugatuck who regularly sends me notes saying I’m NEVER funny, I recommend you visit Big Lou’s Discount House of Lasik Eye Surgery, where his success rate is almost at the all-star level.)

Anyway, I think my percentage has increased a little bit over the years as I’ve been able to develop my craft, figure out what does and does not work, and most importantly, learn how to turn my computer on. Hopefully, the next 1,000 columns will be a little bit funnier — except in a certain home in Naugatuck.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Antidote for Envy Is Gratitude

A while back, I discussed the Seven Deadly Sins, specifically the sin of Sloth. I mentioned that as an American living in the 21st century, I am tempted by the other six Deadly Sins, too: Pride, Anger, Lust, Greed, Envy, and Gluttony.

For example, since the COVID-19 shutdown produced a concept known as “Quarantine Snacking,” I’ve been fighting a losing battle against the Deadly Sin of Gluttony. (Actually, I haven’t been fighting all that hard. My “battle” tactics have been a lot like the French army in 1940: lay down my weapon, and then wave a white flag with one hand while using the other hand to shove a glazed cruller into my mouth.)
Anyway, although I am tempted by all seven of the Deadly Sins, I’d have to say the sin that is the biggest struggle for me right now is Envy. And number one on my Envy list are government employees who retire in their mid- to late-50s with large lifetime pensions. 

Envy is incredibly destructive. It’s the only one of the Deadly Sins that produces no pleasure at all. The other sins, terrible as they are, make the sinner feel good for a brief time, until, of course, all the inevitable negative aspects of the sin come crashing down onto him or her.

Envy makes you feel miserable immediately. There's no happiness, however fleeting, with Envy. It's pure bitterness from the very start. 

Right now our society is consumed by Envy. For example, Envy is one of the most frequently used technique in advertising, even more so than sex. Just think how often people buy things they don’t really need, just because they’re made to feel envious of others who already own the items. If people stopped making economic decisions based on Envy, they’d have a whole lot more money in their bank accounts.  
Our society is overflowing with Envy. And without a doubt, that’s a major reason why so many citizens are miserable these days. Envy drives away happiness. 

And do you know what the worst thing about Envy is? When we are envious, we completely lose sight of all the blessings in our lives. Despite the economic turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, most folks in this country still have a standard of living higher than 99% of all the people who have ever lived (and that even includes those of us who do not have lifetime government pensions).

Imagine that someone from the year 1820 was suddenly transported to the year 2020, and then spent a few days following us around. After being flabbergasted by automobiles, iPads, microwave ovens, refrigerators, and electric lights, this colonial time-traveler most likely would exclaim to us, “You live like a king. Nay, better than a king! You have an abundance of food and clothing and shelter. You can travel easily and communicate with people in distant lands. And most of all, you have clean running water and flush toilets! How can you possibly be frustrated that you don’t have enough possessions? Why are you envious of others, when God hath blessed you so abundantly?!”

Hmm, good question, Jedidiah.
The antidote for Envy is gratitude. We need to count our blessings and focus on the wonderful things we have, rather than the things other people have. It’s the only way to get rid of the bitter unhappiness Envy produces. I’ll go first. I promise to be thankful for my job (which I enjoy, and which pays me enough to cover my bills), and stop whining about government employees and their generous lifetime pensions.

And I’ll try to stay away from the glazed crullers for a while, too. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Can 2020 get any worse?

 “Ugh! Could this year get any worse?!”

I’ve been hearing that lament a lot lately. No doubt, 2020 has been a doozy. We’ve had the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown, a crumbling economy, riots and civil unrest, historic statues being destroyed, and recently a tropical storm caused over 800,000 electric customers in Connecticut to be plunged into darkness. And to make matters worse, once major league baseball finally started again, the Red Sox decided to field a team that would have trouble beating the True Value Hardware Tigers from the Torrington Little League.
Whenever someone starts saying, “Could this year get any worse?!” I immediately cut them off. “Don’t say that! Please!” I exclaim. “You’ll jinx us!”

The fact is, this year could get worse. A lot worse. For example, so far during 2020, we have yet to experience an earthquake, a flood, a plague of locust, or an extinction-level meteor crashing into North America. But even if these cataclysmic events do not occur during the remainder of this year, it’s a safe bet that 2020 will get worse for one simple reason: this is a presidential election year. (If you had blissfully forgotten about the election, I apologize for ruining your day.) 

During every election since I was a kid, the experts regularly predicted, “This will be the nastiest campaign ever.” This year, I finally believe them. I wonder if there is a pill that will make me sleep for the next couple of months? I could wake up in mid-November, and it would be all over. (All over? What am I saying? The lawsuits over mail-in ballots will continue well into the new year. The winner may be decided by a Silver Fox vs. Orange Man mud wrestling contest. Hmm, I’d pay to see that.)

We have to keep in mind, no matter how bad 2020 is, it’s not the worst year ever. Back in 1968, there were assassinations, civil unrest, an unpopular war, and general chaos. I was 11 at the time and definitely not paying attention to national news. My main focus back then was trying to get more playing time with the True Value Hardware Cardinals in my hometown of Clinton.

If you think the COVID-19 pandemic is bad, back in 1918, a flu pandemic began that killed close to a million Americans. And if you think our current economic situation is dire, look up the financial statistics for the 10-year period starting in October, 1929.

For a world-wide perspective, how about the years 1939 through 1945? Referring to Great Britain's valiant struggle against the Nazis in 1940, Winston Churchill said it was “their finest hour.” But the years from ‘39 to ‘45 were definitely not mankind’s finest hour. (It’s hard to advance to the next round of the “Finest Hour” playoffs when 80 million people get killed, most of them civilians.)
The important thing to remember is that people are resilient. Whatever happens, we will deal with it. We always have, and we always will. Now, it’s true that some of us might not make it to the other side of the chaos. Some of us were not going to make it much further anyway, regardless of whether our society experiences turmoil or peace. That’s kind of what happens after a half-century of preferring Snickerdoodles and glazed crullers to broccoli and lettuce — or so I’ve been told by my doctor once or twice or a hundred times.

I’m sure we’ll survive 2020, plus whatever unexpected craziness comes along in 2021. But please don’t wake me, as I plan to be asleep the whole time — unless the True Value Hardware Little League team needs a first baseman.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Priest Discovers He Is Not Catholic

Did you see the news story back in August about the young priest in Michigan whose baptism was invalid? Fr. Matthew Hood was watching old home videos from three decades ago, and as he watched his own baptism as an infant, he noticed the presiding deacon said, “We baptize you…” instead of the correct, “I baptize you…”

Fr. Hood mentioned it to his superiors, who told him not to worry about it. But then on August 6th, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a document stating that the baptismal formula cannot be turned into a community act. In other words, using the word “We” rather than “I” makes a baptism invalid.
This meant that Fr. Hood was technically not a Catholic, which invalidated all the other sacraments he received, including First Communion, Confirmation, and his ordination to the priesthood. In true domino effect fashion, this meant all the sacraments he had performed in his three years of ministry, especially weddings and Confessions, also were invalid. The 30 couples he married during his priesthood technically are not married. And the countless people who confessed their sins to Fr. Hood technically did not receive absolution. 

The Archdiocese of Detroit quickly began the process of trying to contact everyone affected, including the untold number of people who might have been baptized invalidly years ago by the deacon who improperly baptized little Matthew Hood. This man served as a deacon for 13 years. Wow, what a mess! Fr. Hood was quickly baptized, confirmed, and ordained as a priest, so now he is fully and officially authorized to perform priestly duties.

Now, if you’re like most people, your first thought upon hearing this story is, “Wait a minute. If everyone involved sincerely thought it was a valid baptism, God surely doesn’t mind. I mean, do we focus on the letter of the law or the spirit of the law?”
Just imagine if someone confessed a mortal sin to Fr. Hood during Confession a couple of years ago. This person thought he was truly forgiven, and then soon afterward he died. When his soul stood before the throne of God, did the Lord say to him, “Gee whiz, Bob, you know what? That confession wasn’t valid. So, you didn’t receive any sanctifying grace and that sin wasn’t forgiven. Too bad, but rules are rules. Sorry, but you have to spend eternity in Hell. See ya.”

In the wake of this bizarre situation, some people actually have commented that a person like our fictitious Bob is out of luck. If the absolution offered by Fr. Hood was not valid, then the mortal sin was not forgiven, and no matter how sincerely Bob wanted to confess, repent, and change his life, he was cast into Hell. All on a technicality. 

Frankly, if that’s the way God does things, I’m not sure I want to keep worshipping Him.

When we ask the question, “Do we focus on the letter of the law or the spirit of the law?”, the answer is: yes, we do both. We focus on the letter of the law AND the spirit of the law.

We focus on the letter of the law because the Word of God is important. Jesus instituted the seven sacraments, and the Church has determined the proper rules and regulations, rubrics and rituals, required to perform the sacraments properly. 

These rules are not used because the Church wants to emulate the nit-picky Pharisees. They are used for the simple reason that if every presiding minister at a sacrament is allowed to put his own personal “spin” on the ceremony, over the course of 2,000 years all the rituals would become unrecognizable. People in Boston would be doing baptisms with clam chowder. People in Georgia would be doing the Eucharist with cornbread. And out in California, well, who knows how they would’ve modified the sacraments? The ceremonies probably would include surf boards and hang-gliders.
However, as we know, God is loving and merciful. He wants our hearts. He wants us to enter into a loving and trusting relationship with Him. If everyone involved in a particular sacrament sincerely thought he was doing it correctly, do you think God would withhold His sanctifying grace on a technicality? Does that sound like the God we worship?

 If there actually was a “Bob” who sincerely confessed mortal sin to Fr. Hood and then soon after died, we can be sure the sin was forgiven, and Bob did not get cast into Hell because of some ridiculous clerical error. 

The Lord God Almighty is all loving and caring. But we still should do the sacraments properly.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Limping for No Reason

 For the vast majority of my life, whenever I walked with a limp there was a specific reason. When I was 12-years-old, I woke up one morning and went into the kitchen. I banged my bare foot into a table leg and broke a toe. For the next few days, I had a noticeable limp. When the kids at school said, “Why are you limping?” I had a specific and concrete answer: “I accidentally banged into a table leg and broke my toe.”

When they laughed and called me a klutz, I quickly changed the story and said I broke my toe during karate class while kicking wooden planks into pieces. No one believed that baloney — mostly because they all knew I didn’t take karate lessons — but I stuck with that story because it just sounded better. The point is, my limping was due to a broken toe, and the broken toe was caused by an actual incident when my foot smashed into something hard.
Years later, I played in a football game at the Yale Bowl, and while running back a kickoff, I cut to my left just as a guy on the other team cut to his right, and when we collided, two ligaments in my knee went ka-zing! — that is, they snapped like old rubber bands.

After surgery, I had a cast on my leg from hip to toe for eight weeks. When the cast finally came off, I had a noticeable limp for quite a while. When people saw me limping and asked why, I could point to a specific event: “Well, you see, during the Nutmeg Bowl game, I tore ligaments in my knee while karate-kicking wooden planks into pieces.” (It still strikes me as a more interesting story.)

There have been other times when a specific incident caused a minor injury and a temporary limp. When we first bought our house in Torrington years ago, I learned an important lesson: never build a deck while wearing deck shoes. (You’d think the name of the shoe means you HAVE to wear them when building a deck.) Even when a small piece of 4-by-4 wooden post falls onto the top of your foot, you definitely notice it. 
However, in recent years the situation has changed. Now, I find that I’m limping and I don’t even know why. For example, a few weeks ago, I was walking around fine, no limp, and then I went to bed for the night. The next morning, I woke up and my ankle was sore. When a coworker asked why I was limping, I said, “Oh, I injured myself while having a dream about karate-kicking wooden planks into pieces.” 

I’ve never actually had a dream about karate-kicking wooden planks, but at least that weird explanation distracted my coworker from the real story, which is, I have no idea why my ankle hurt. It just did. The following week it was my left hip. Then a few days later it was my right foot. I can’t wait for tomorrow morning to find out which body part is the latest winner in the Aches & Pains Overnight Lottery.
No one warned me that senior citizenship meant that stuff will start hurting for no discernable reason. And so far, I’ve only discussed ailments that cause limping. There’s a whole list of aches and pains that occur unannounced with the shoulders, elbows, neck, and back. (Sounds like a legal ad on TV: “If you’ve been in a car accident, contact the law firm of Shoulders, Elbows, Neck, and Back.”)

I don’t know. With all these body parts getting so sore so often, I might have to give up my beloved karate lessons.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

What Is the Gospel?

 There is only one reason the Church exists, and no, it’s not to keep stained glass artists busy. Don’t get me wrong, stained glass windows are beautiful, and our worship experience is greatly enhanced when the sun shines through those gorgeous colorful windows. But that’s not why Jesus founded the Church.

The Church was not founded for the following reasons either: to give us a place to hold weddings and funerals, to provide an opportunity to show off our news clothes on Easter, and as a destination for folks to gather and have a potluck supper. (By the way, there is no one who enjoys potluck suppers more than I do. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, there have been no potluck suppers at any nearby parishes for more months than I can count—and it’s making me very sad!)
There is only one reason the Church was founded, and that one reason is to spread the Gospel message. That’s it. Everything else about the Church—the clergy, the fellowship, the food drives for the poor, the donations that support homeless shelters, the crisis pregnancy centers, the choirs, the pipe organ music, the flowers around the altar, the stained glass windows, etc.—are all good and noble and beautiful things. But they are not the main reason for the Church.

Jesus founded His Church for one purpose: to proclaim the Gospel message throughout the world for all generations. 

And what exactly is the Gospel message? Ah, good question. We’ve gotten so caught up in all the other activities of parish life that far too many believers don’t know what the simple and basic Gospel message is.

A straightforward explanation is found in the “Four Gospel Truths,” presented by the Life in the Spirit Seminar. (Some of our evangelical friends call them the “Four Spiritual Laws.”) Here’s a summary: 
Truth #1: God loves us and wants us to live full, happy lives.

Truth #2: Human beings are sinful and separated from God, and therefore we cannot know God’s love and share in God’s life with others.

Truth #3: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on the cross to pay the price for our sins, and then He rose from the grave conquering death once and for all.

Truth #4: If we put our faith in Jesus and seek to follow His commands, we can have our sins forgiven and receive the gift of eternal life.

That’s it. The Gospel message could not be any simpler. The Creator of the Universe loves His creation, us. But since by nature we are selfish and cruel, we commit sins, which cause a big gulf between the holy God and ourselves. Thankfully, God loved us so much, He sent a part of His own being, His Son Jesus, to take on human flesh. (Don’t get hung up on the mystery of the Trinity. It’s a mind-boggling concept, but the main point is that God is not constrained by the same 3-dimensional natural forces that limit us here in the material world. We take it on faith that the one, eternal, almighty, supernatural God can exist in three separate persons.)

Jesus did the most amazing act of love the world has ever seen: He willingly gave up His sinless life to pay the price for all the sins human beings ever committed. Then, three days later, the most amazing miracle the world has ever seen occurred: Jesus rose from the dead, conquering the stench of death once and for all.
That’s the Gospel. That’s the message that has transformed the world by transforming individual hearts from darkness to light, from anger to joy, from hate to love, from death to eternal life. All the other aspects of Church operations—the buildings, the programs, the stained glass windows, the fund-raisers, the potluck suppers—are merely tools to help perform the one and only job the Church has: to spread the Gospel message.

If you, like many believers, have lost sight of the basic Gospel message, this would be a great time to go back to the basics. The Gospel message can be summarized in those four simple truths. And as it says in Luke’s gospel: “Easy-peasy!”

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

How Many Online Accounts Are Too Many?

 I have a simple question: How many “user names” and “passwords” are enough? Out of curiosity, I counted up all the various online accounts and memberships I have that require login information, and my current total is 93.

Ninety-three! That is not a typo. I’m kind of afraid if I reach 100, my computer is going to burst into flames.
Before I counted all my user names and passwords, I guessed that I had around 40 accounts. But when I added them up, it was more than twice that number.

Some of the passwords are work-related, such as equipment selection and pricing programs from various manufacturers and access to areas of their websites that are not available to the general public. I have about 20 of these accounts.

The rest are personal, such as websites where I make purchases online: Target, Walmart, L.L. Bean, Home Depot, Dunkin Donuts, Panera, and Big Lou’s Discount House of Surplus Military Ordnance. (I’m kidding. I would never buy surplus military ordnance over the Internet with a credit card. It’s much better off the back of a stolen truck with cash.)

Then there are the various accounts I need in order to pay for all the stuff I buy online: two bank accounts, three credit cards, a debit card, PayPal, and Big Lou’s Discount House of Payday Loans at Only 30% Interest — Compounded Daily.

I have online accounts to pay other bills over the Internet: electric company, homeowner’s insurance, cell phone, and our Internet provider. (That’s an interesting arrangement: we pay for our Internet service via the Internet.)
There are many accounts related to travel: JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, Expedia, Hilton, Sheraton, Holiday Inn, Hertz, Enterprise, Triple-A, EZ Pass, Uber, and Big Lou’s Discount House of Forged Theme Park Passes.

The rest of my online user names and passwords are related to digital communications. They include a handful of different email accounts, my blog and Mailchimp accounts, a few wifi networks, access to the online versions of various newspapers and magazines, the MLB app, YouTube TV, and social media. By the way, I only have social media accounts with LinkedIn and Facebook. And yes, I know I’ve written many times in the past that Facebook was created by Satan, but I had to set up an account recently to watch Sunday Mass being live-streamed by my parish during the shutdown. I wonder if the Prince of Darkness had mixed feelings about having his invention used to proclaim the Gospel?

Then, of course, there are the accounts I have with the four corporations that run the entire world: Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon. I think when children are born nowadays, the hospital sets up user accounts for the infants with these companies. I guess that makes sense, since it’s impossible to be a member of modern society without this quartet of digital leviathans collecting personal data about every aspect of our lives.

To keep things simple, I use the exact same user name and password for every single one of my online accounts. It goes without saying that if someone ever got hold of this crucial information, he could purchase tens of thousands of dollars worth of products and charge it all to my credit cards, plus clean out my bank accounts in a matter of minutes. So, obviously I will never disclose that my user name is billyd and my password is abc123.

Uh oh. I probably shouldn’t have typed that last sentence. Now, I have to disappear from all the creditors. I’d better contact Big Lou’s Discount House of Getting a New Identity and Dropping Off the Grid. Also, I might need some discount surplus military ordnance.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Are You Following a ‘False Version of Jesus’?

Hey fellas! Before starting this week’s faith essay, here’s an important announcement:

The annual Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference is just around the corner: Saturday, September 19th at New Britain Stadium. This outdoor venue will allow for social distancing. Face masks required. Visit for more info and to order tickets. 

There is plenty of room in the stands for hundreds of men to spread out safely and enjoy the day’s festivities. Great speakers! Boxed lunch from Subway included in the ticket price! Adoration on the roof! Confession available throughout the day! Mass and reception of the Eucharist on the playing field! Order your tickets today!

Just when it seemed this wonderful event would have to be cancelled this year, God’s grace opened up this great opportunity: an outdoor facility large enough to accommodate hundreds of men safely. Centrally located in the state, right off a major highway. Come and join your fellow Catholic men for a day of fellowship (at a distance) and prayer (God is never distant!). And speaking of prayer, please pray for good weather! 

*  *  *

The other day I read an article on a Christian website that discussed “false versions of Jesus.” Here are some of those false versions of the Lord that people embrace nowadays:

Mean Jesus. This version of Jesus is angry, really angry. He has had it up to here with our sins, and any minute now He is going to come back and set the world ablaze.

Political Jesus. This Jesus most certainly is a member of our favorite political party, and His main focus is on legislation and court rulings.
Genie in a bottle Jesus. This version of Jesus leaves us alone until we fold our hands and summon Him to give us something we want. If our prayers are not answered right away, we are surprised and disappointed.

You look like you can take it Jesus. This Jesus is based on the common expression, “God never gives you more than you can handle.” Apparently, this Jesus likes to dole out suffering and illness by the truckload, and then see if we have enough faith to handle it.

I couldn’t care less Jesus. This version of Jesus is distant and silent. We’re basically on our own here in this world. Oh sure, Jesus wants us to make it into Heaven someday, and if we get there, that’s when He’ll introduce Himself to us.

Church Jesus. This Jesus is all about buildings and stained glass and liturgies and robes and candles. He is pleased if we do our rituals exactly right, even if we lose sight of Him in the process. Someone once said, “Being inside a church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being inside a garage makes you a Buick.” However, Church Jesus says, “You are a Buick.”

Follow the rules Jesus. This version of Jesus has a very simple message: if we obey all the Commandments, then we can earn our way into Heaven. So, all we have to do is be sinless our entire lives. Easy peasy. 
If/Then Jesus. This Jesus is a deal-maker. He’s the king of quid pro quo. If we do what He asks, then He will give us what we want. Maybe we should call this version the vending machine Jesus. If we pay the right price, we will get the Snickers Bar (or job promotion, well-behaved children, nice weather for our picnic, etc.).

These various versions of Jesus certainly are interesting. I think we all can recognize the flawed thinking with each version. And we probably can think of some friends, family, or parishioners who have embraced these various versions of Jesus.

I was surprised the article did not mention the most common version of Jesus these days: Do whatever you feel like Jesus. This version of Jesus knows that our feelings are the most important thing in the Universe. Whatever we sincerely feel is right, must be right. If we don’t feel like going to church, that’s OK. If we don’t feel like praying, that’s OK. If we don’t feel like following any of the Commandments, that’s OK. All those countless Scripture verses and centuries of Church Tradition, which teach the doctrines of Christianity and how believers ought to live their lives, take a backseat to our personal feelings and urges. The “do whatever you feel like” version of Jesus knows that each and every one of us is the center of our own personal universe, and our feelings and desires must be our guide.

Maybe this would be a good time for us to check and make sure we are not worshiping a false version of Jesus. The true Jesus certainly is full of love and compassion. He knows we’re sinful by nature and we are going to mess things up quite often. But He also desires that we repent and strive to follow His commandments. The true Jesus also wants us to make Him, rather than ourselves, the center of our lives. He knows our feelings are important, but they are not the foundation of godly living. He is.

The true Jesus is not mean or political; He’s not a genie or a vending machine. And He certainly does not want us to do whatever we feel like doing. The true Jesus is all-loving and all-just. That’s why He willingly died to pay the price for our sins. This is a version of Jesus who deserves our love and devotion. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The Amazing Bic Pen – Part 2

Last week I wrote an ode to one of the most reliable and inexpensive products ever invented: the Bic Cristal ballpoint pen. Since I stopped eating cheese because of a severe case of lactose intolerance and stopped drinking alcoholic beverages, such as wine, because of a severe case of loudmouth-drunk-itis, I think the Bic Cristal pen is the only consumer product I currently use that originates in France. What I mean is, the Bic company was founded in France by Monsieur Marcel Bich. The pen, surprisingly, is manufactured in Mexico. (The surprise is that it’s not made in China.)

Anyway, in last week’s essay, I wrote that the Bic Cristal pen has not changed a bit since I first wrapped my fingers around one while in the 5th grade in 1967. I can’t think of a single item that has not been upgraded or revised during the last half-a-century. 

Well, it turns out I was wrong. (I know, total shock, huh?) The Bic Cristal ballpoint pen had a major modification back in 1991, when they put a hole in the top of the blue cap. This was done to reduce the risk of someone choking to death if they accidentally swallowed the cap. Two things came to mind: first, most product improvements, especially safety improvements, are made after someone has been injured or killed. I wonder how many people actually choked to death on a Bic Cristal cap? I wonder if the deceased’s family members still break out in a cold sweat every time they see someone, like me, writing with a Bic pen? 

The second thing that came to mind is that I’d better force myself to stop chewing on the cap of my Bic pens while pondering what to write next. In this era of COVID, it’s probably not a very sanitary habit, and if it’s possible to swallow the cap accidentally, even if the little hole allows me to keep breathing and not die, getting that thing out will be an embarrassing Emergency Room adventure. Not to mention the sharp edges of the cap will do some serious damage to my throat. (I told you not to mention that!) I definitely don’t want to join the “Rod Stewart Sound-a-like Club.”
In doing my Bic pen research (because, of course, these essays are always factual, without a shred of exaggeration), I discovered that in 2006, the Guiness Book of Records declared the Bic Cristal to be “the best-selling pen in the world.” This honor was bestowed on the product after the 100 billionth pen was sold. 

When I read that sentence, my first thought was, “That’s impressive. They’ve sold a lot of pens.” But then I thought about it and said, “Wait a minute. One hundred BILLION?!”

That’s approximately one pen for every single person who has ever lived in the history of Planet Earth. However, since the Bic Cristal wasn’t available for sale until the early 1950s, we can ignore the 80 billion or so people who lived prior to that time and never had the opportunity to use one. They instead were forced to do all their writing with sharpened feathers and ink wells, chiseling on stone, or iPads.
So, for discussion’s sake, let’s say approximately 20 billion people have lived when Bic pens were available. If Bic sold 100 billion Cristal pens, that’s an average of five pens per person — for every human being on the entire planet.

That’s way too many opportunities for people to choke on a pen cap. Personally, I need to find something else to mindlessly chew on when I’m writing with a Bic. Anything will do, as long as it’s not French wine or cheese.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Words are Funny Things – Especially in Church

 Have you ever noticed that many words sound similar, but have very different meanings? For example, a few years ago I was a Lector, that is, I was doing the readings at Mass. This is how I proclaimed St. Paul’s words from Scripture: “…our Savior, Christ Jesus, who destroyed death and brought life and immorality to light through the Gospel.”

Oops, the correct word was “immorTALity,” which has a slightly different meaning than immorality. But those two words sound so similar, I had no idea I had just told the congregation that we all should go out and, in Jesus’ name, embrace a life of sin. As I walked back to my pew, I didn’t understand why people were giving me funny looks. 
I forgot all about it, and when Mass ended, a friend approached me and said, “ImmoRALity? Really? That’s what the Bible tells us to do?” 

My puzzled expression told him I had no clue what he meant. So, he explained what I had said. At first, I didn’t believe him, until at least ten people confirmed it. “Oh no,” I said. “I hope there wasn’t someone at Mass today desperately looking for spiritual direction. If so, I just sent him to the casino to blow his rent money on Blackjack and booze!”

Two other words like this are selflessness and selfishness. They sound so similar, but have the exact opposite meaning. I’m pretty sure in my many years of being a Lector, there have been times when I mistakenly encouraged people to stop being so selfless and instead become selfish.

And I’m sure there were a couple of occasions when I declared that the Israelites were commanded to obey the Lord’s statues. I suspect statues were not really popular with the Israelites, especially after the golden calf debacle. But there were plenty of important statutes. It’s remarkable how one missing “t” can really change the meaning of a word.
This topic reminds me of a time a woman approached me after Mass and said, “I often read your column in the newspaper. I find it fairly humorless.”

To which I replied, “Oh, thank you. I try to make them as funny as possible.”

She paused for a moment, confused, then said, “No, I mean, I think they are humorLESS.”

“Why, thank you again, ma’am,” I said. “I believe it’s important to have something humorous to read in the paper.”

She threw up her hands in frustration, muttered, “Wow, this guy is dense,” then turned and started to walk away.

“Well, I usually try to avoid deep subjects,” I said to her, “but thanks for the compliment!” (I’ve found that sometimes during situations like this, it’s best to pretend to be totally dense. And sometimes I don’t even have to pretend.)
My most memorable word blunder at church was due to the unfortunate fact that two particular words begin with “t-h” and end with “o-u-g-h.” The words are through and though. They each are pronounced differently; they each have different meanings; and while standing in front of a large gathering and reading from a book, they each appear almost identical on the printed page. 

While reading the 23rd Psalm, this is what I said: “Yea, thru I walk tho’ the valley of the shadow death.” Ugh, as soon as I realized what I had said, it felt like I was walking through the valley of the shadow of Shameful Public Speaking.

The bottom line is: words are tricky. I’ve been writing and speaking publicly for over 25 years now. For all you folks out there who read my column or hear me on the radio and then send me nice notes, I really depreciate it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

The Old Reliable Bic Pen

 My favorite writing instrument is the old-fashioned Bic pen. (I’m not sure why pens are called writing instruments, since no matter how hard I try, I can’t play a single note with one.) The official name is the Bic Cristal, and it has a clear plastic hexagonal tube with a blue or red plastic cap on the end. The pen is inexpensive and reliable, and for me, it fits very comfortably in my hand.

Bic Cristal pens have not changed at all since I first started using them, way back in the 5th grade in 1967. I can’t think of a single consumer product that has remained unchanged for such a long time.
Compare, for example, coffee makers in 1967 to coffee makers today. It’s not like I drank a whole lot of coffee in the 5th grade, but I vaguely remember those old silver metal percolators. They didn’t have timers or clocks or computerized push-button controls. The only “push” involved was pushing the short electrical cord into the wall socket, which caused the lights in the kitchen to dim. And of course, there were no Keurig machines back then, because in 1967 the fashionable way to ruin the environment was to dump a bunch of rusty old Buicks into landfills rather than fill up trash bags with zillions of little plastic coffee pods.

Have telephones changed much since 1967? Um yeah, quite a bit. Back then the rotary dial phones were mounted onto the wall, and you could get them in any color you wanted, as long as it was black. Nowadays, phones are fancy little computers in our pockets with countless applications, one of which is the telephone app — and if someone calls us without first sending a text to let us know they’re going to call, we get angry.

How about footwear? In 1967 we wore Converse All-Star sneakers, the exact same sneakers worn by college and NBA stars. Good ol’ “Cons” are an amazing feat (feat? Get it? Feet?) of engineering. Take a thin slice of rubber, connect it to an even thinner piece of canvas, add some laces, and voilĂ ! You have a basketball shoe that gives the same level of support and cushioning as if you wrapped your feet with Kleenex. On the other hand (or foot), today’s basketball shoes use space-age polymer foam, firm leather, lots of thick padding, and when you lace those babies up, it’s like your foot is encased in a ski boot. Although today’s Nike “Air Jordan” and Adidas “Harden” models cost as much as a 1967 Buick, they are a million times more comfortable than Converse All-Stars.
Here are other consumer products that also have improved dramatically since 1967: televisions, washing machines, automobiles, eyeglasses, wristwatches, radios, and medical testing equipment. It seems inconceivable to me if every product in the world has improved in the last half century, then why is the Bic Cristal pen exactly the same?

I suppose the folks at Bic would answer my question with a question: “Why tinker with perfection?”

Well, that’s the reply I would expect from a clever marketing executive, and I wouldn’t be using Bic pens all these decades later if they weren’t really good, but there is plenty of room for improvement. For example, when I misspell a word using a Bic pen, the pen does nothing to alert me. A spell-check function would be a cool feature, don’t you think?
Also, if they’re going to call the pen a writing instrument, it would be nice if I could play music with it. Nothing fancy, of course. But if I could sound like Clarence Clemons on the saxophone, that would be pretty cool.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

The New York Times are A-Changing

I recently read a book about the D-Day invasion of Normandy, one of the major turning points of World War II. On June 7, 1944, the day after D-Day, the New York Times ran a lead editorial, which read in part, “We pray for the boys we know and for millions of unknown boys who are equally a part of us….We pray for our country.” Then the editorial said the cause for which the U.S. military was fighting “is the cause of the God who created man free and equal.”

Can you imagine the New York Times writing an editorial today that mentions praying for our country and that God created mankind? Of course not. Nowadays, they wouldn’t even print a letter-to-the-editor that made those statements. 
It’s been a long time since the D-Day invasion at Normandy, approximately three full generations. But compared to all of recorded human history, 1944 was not that long ago. Many people alive today can still remember that historic day.

So, the question is, what has changed since D-Day to make the editors at the New York Times go from patriotic Americans who acknowledged the power of prayer and God as Creator to today’s situation, where people who sincerely believe in God are not welcomed on their pages?

Were the Times editors in 1944 church-going believers? I have no idea. I suspect some may have been, but even the ones who were atheist or agnostic understood the vast majority of Americans believed in God. Hence, the strong words of that editorial.

Since 1944, the percentage of Americans who profess faith in God, who go to church or synagogue regularly, and who consider religious faith important has dropped drastically. Why is that? Did something happen that offered strong proof that God in fact does not exist? 

Actually, no. If anything, the discovery in the 1950s of the double-helix structure of the DNA molecule, the basic building block of life, presented strong evidence that life is far too complex and intricate to have come into existence by accident. And don’t forget, the key foundational belief of the secular worldview is that life on earth was formed by unplanned, unguided, random chemical processes. It was all just an accident, as molecules randomly followed the laws of physics. One day there was a swirl of various chemicals banging into each other, and the next day there was a living organism that could take in nutrients, expel waste, and reproduce itself. All by accident. From that moment in time, secularists argue, a series of genetic mutations (that is, more accidents) and survival-of-the-fittest adaptations produced all the varied forms of life found in the natural world, including human beings.
In the years since 1944, this secular explanation of how life began became official doctrine among America’s ruling class. Any claim that a divine Creator may have been involved were at first politely dismissed. In our current culture, the politeness has disappeared. Claims that the God of the Bible is real and that He is mankind’s Creator are now either sarcastically mocked or angrily denounced. The editorial staff at the New York Times certainly is not the cause of this seismic shift in cultural thinking, but because of their high profile, it’s convenient to say they epitomize this intolerant point of view.

The reason the God-fearing, hard-praying culture of 1944 changed into the skeptical and secular culture of today is simple: religious faith went out of style. Nothing in all of science or philosophy came along and torpedoed Judeo-Christian belief; we simply drifted away from it. Probably because human beings wanted to be the center of the universe.

The thing is, God’s existence does not depend on our opinion about it. He is real, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. 
Please keep this in mind the next time you’re wondering why our society is such a mess. We are currently conducting an experiment to see if a civilization can survive without faith in God. The early results don’t look good.

And please do what the New York Times said in 1944: believe that God is Creator, and pray for our country. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Is Retirement Hazardous to Your Health?

 Recently I had some dental work done, and upon meeting the oral surgeon, the first thing she said to me was, “So, Mr. Dunn, have you retired yet? Or are you still working?”

Hmm, I guess my ploy of wearing my baseball hat backwards and not tying the laces on my sneakers is not fooling anyone into thinking I’m only 20 years old. I replied to the doctor, “Oh no, I didn’t win life’s lottery. When I got out of college, I wasn’t smart enough to go to work for the government and get one of those gold-plated, lifetime pensions. So, I’ll have to work another five years or so before I can afford to retire.”
Just when I was starting to feel sorry for myself that I am forced to work at a job I enjoy, which pays me enough to cover my expenses, I read an article about retirement. The title of the article was, “Want to Retire Early? How It Can Actually Kill You.”
Citing statistics from multiple studies, the article noted that for many retirees, “instead of crossing items off a bucket list, some are kicking the bucket.”
It seems the sudden shock of going from a very busy, purposeful life to just hanging around the house all day produces many adverse physical and emotional effects. Some people use their new-found abundant free time to sit on the couch and watch TV all day. If you think working in an office and eating lunch at the hotdog joint across the street is an unhealthy lifestyle — and it is — lounging on the couch for nine straight hours in your bathrobe while inhaling multiple bags of cheese doodles can make even the most vibrant cardiovascular system say, “Sorry, pal, I quit.”
Retirees often experience loneliness and depression. The hustle and bustle of work may be exasperating at times (especially when you’re in a meeting with Wendell from Accounting, who makes an annoying slurping sound when he drinks coffee), but it often is intellectually stimulating and invigorating. Going from that environment to one where you spend all day having one-sided conversations with the hosts of infomercials makes people long for the opportunity to hang out and chat with Wendell — annoying slurping and all. According to the article I read, “The likelihood someone will become clinically depressed rises by 40% after retiring.”
A big impact on mortality, according to the article, is this: “Once you retire, there’s a lot more time to think about death.” Many people view retirement as the last stage of life before it comes to an end. Making the move from active employment to retirement causes the perception of the end of one’s life to jump from a far distant future to right around the corner. Jack Guttentag, a professor at The Wharton School, said, “You always knew intellectually that life was short, but during the years when you were building a career and a family, the emotional recognition of that fact was kept at bay.” It’s often a type of self-fulfilling prophecy, as retired people now have plenty of time to worry themselves sick.
Experts recommend that retired people stay busy. It’s important to have a set schedule. Get involved with various groups and volunteer your time. Focus on helping other people. Keep your mind active and engaged. Hmm, that sounds suspiciously like having a job, but with no paycheck.
I think I’ll just skip the seismic lifestyle shift and the stress of retirement by staying at my job for as long as I can. Going to work every day seems a lot more enjoyable than the way retirement is described in that article. And that’s even factoring in Wendell’s annoying slurping.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Should Christians Watch Violent Movies?

 During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offered this important spiritual observation: “Garbage in, garbage out.”

Well, Jesus didn’t say it exactly that way. The phrase is popular in the computer software world, and it means if you start with incorrect data, you’re going to end up with incorrect results.
This concept is mentioned in the Bible, sort of. In his epistle to the Romans, St. Paul wrote, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2). And in his letter to the Colossians, Paul wrote, “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth” (Col 3:2).
Paul meant that if we fill our minds with unwholesome thoughts, we will end up living unwholesome lives. In other words, Garbage in, garbage out.
This idea came up recently when I read an article on a Christian website that said believers should not watch movies with bad values. The article specifically mentioned James Bond movies.
Is it wrong for a Christian to watch James Bond movies? Um, asking for a friend.
It’s an undeniable fact that James Bond movies glorify violence, alcohol abuse, and sexual promiscuity. I guess you could make the same statement about three-quarters of all the movies and TV shows produced these days.
So, I guess the question is, can we watch popular entertainment without some of its unwholesome values seeping into our souls?
Well, I’ve watched a lot… er, I mean, my friend has watched a lot of James Bond movies over the years. And he doesn’t go around blowing things up and shooting people every 15 minutes. He hasn’t had a drink in 30 years, and he has never cheated on his lovely wife.
But can he really say he has not been subtly influenced by all the coarse themes depicted in James Bond films, along with all the other secular content he watches, reads, and listens to?
Hmm, that’s hard to say.
And speaking of “listen to,” what about popular music that is not very wholesome? I’m reminded of that classic song with a nice melody but horrible lyrics: “Imagine,” by John Lennon. The song opens with these words: “Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky.”
The song is pretty much the Atheist Anthem. It’s about as ungodly as it gets. And this song is played frequently on my favorite Catholic radio station, along with many other well-known pop songs. I’m pretty sure faithful Catholics do not hear this song and suddenly renounce their religious beliefs and embrace Mr. Lennon’s dream of godless utopia.
In addition to enjoying James Bond movies, I also, er, I mean, my friend also likes listening to John Lennon and the Beatles. So far, my friend has not been tempted to try Eastern Mysticism, LSD, or comically odd hairstyles—as long as we ignore his 1975 high school yearbook photos.
As Catholics, we are not Bible-thumping fundamentalists who insist that watching any movie or having a single drink of alcohol are sinful behaviors and therefore prohibited. The Catholic Church teaches that alcoholic beverages are acceptable—in moderation. Alcohol abuse, however, is a sin.
The same, I suspect, is true for movies and music. If it’s occasional entertainment that doesn’t cause us to “conform to the pattern of this world,” as Paul described it, then it’s probably OK.
The Holy Spirit can help us discern what is best. If the only movies a person watches are in the James Bond genre, or if he or she only listens to coarse music, then maybe it’s become a “Garbage in, garbage out” situation, and it’s time instead to “think of what is above.” It might take some digging, but there is a fair amount of wholesome, uplifting entertainment available. 
I think I’ll give that a try… er, I mean, I think I’ll tell my friend.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

TV Addiction Is Getting Expensive

About two years ago, I signed up for YouTube TV, at a cost of $35 per month. It’s a terrific streaming service, owned by the digital behemoth Google, which allows you to watch television shows over the Internet. It includes all the major broadcast networks; a bunch of cable channels; and a plethora of sports options, including ESPN, NESN, Fox Sports, SNY, MLB, Golf Channel and about a dozen others. When I first signed up, I was so excited I blurted out, “With that much programming, YouTube TV is easily worth $100 a month!”
Well, it turns out, just as we all suspected, our dear friends at Google are in fact listening in on all of our conversations (and probably most of our thoughts). No sooner had I signed up for the service and made my joyful comment, they raised the price to $40 per month. Then last year, it went to $50 per month. And just last month, they announced another price hike, this time up to $65 per month.
On the one hand, you could make the case they’re still charging me less than what I said the service is worth. But on the other hand, this is, after all, an 85% price increase over the span of just a couple of short years. I mean, c’mon. Who would have the gall to treat their customers so shabbily (besides, of course, our delightful power company here in New England, Eversource)? 
I suspect YouTube TV is following the same business model developed by Joey “Dr. Mellow” McGillicuddy, who was the resident drug dealer in the town where I grew up. Dr. Mellow would sell his products to the high school freshmen for WAY below market prices. Then, when the kids were addicted — boom! — the clever doctor would jack up the prices and make a fortune off the newly minted pot heads.
Speaking of newly minted pot heads, is anybody besides me a little uneasy about the number of states that have legalized recreational marijuana? It’s turning into an industry that soon will dwarf Google for sheer size. The libertarian in me says, “Hey, people are going to get high anyway, so it might as well be regulated and taxed.” But the cautious senior citizen in me says, “Hey, get off my lawn!” No, wait. I mean, the cautious senior citizen in me says, “Hmm, do we really want to send the message to young people that becoming a ‘fog-brain’ is no big deal?”
Take it from me, a former 1970s fog-brain. I know using a substance that ruins a person’s ability to concentrate is not a good thing. Or to paraphrase Dean Wormer, “Fat, high, and stupid is no way to go through life, son.”
OK, enough about drug addiction. Let’s return to my original theme: TV addiction. When I complained to a coworker that YouTube TV raised their prices yet again, he said, “Well, then just cancel the service.”
A half hour later, after the smelling salts revived me, I realized the sad truth: I am addicted to TV. Just cancel the service? At the exact time when live baseball games finally are being televised? I can’t do that. The withdrawal symptom would be too painful.
So, whether it’s Dr. Mellow or Dr. Google, those drug dealers really know how to get someone hooked. Because it’s been so long since I’ve had anything to do with Dr. Mellow’s product, my concentration has never been better. And tonight, I’m going to concentrate on the baseball games, using, of course, YouTube TV. (Assuming Covid hasn’t shut them down again.) But if they ever raise the price above $100 per month, I definitely will cancel the service. Maybe.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Spiritual Sloth is a Deadly Sin

One of the Seven Deadly Sins is “sloth.” I always thought this meant physical laziness, and since I’ve been gainfully employed for the past 40 years and I do chores around the house on a semi-regular basis, I was certain sloth was the one Deadly Sin I didn’t have to worry about. (The other Deadly Sins, by the way, are Pride, Anger, Lust, Greed, Envy, and Gluttony. Since I’m an American living in the 21st century, I most certainly DO have to worry about these sins.)
However, I recently read an article that explained the concept of sloth, in theological terms, does not mean physical laziness, but instead it means spiritual laziness. The deadly sin of sloth is a lack of spiritual hunger.
When people have spiritual sloth, they get bored with God and all things religious. There’s no real passion or desire to engage in prayer, read Scripture, or be involved in church activities. Some people abandon all religious endeavors entirely. Others go through the motions: they recite rote prayers blandly; they skim through a few pages of the Bible without letting the words touch their hearts; they show up for Mass or church services on a regular basis, but their minds are a million miles away.
In short, their faith life is dry and dusty and sterile. These folks have more emotional passion when they watch a mediocre movie on Netflix than when they bow their heads and communicate with the Divine Being who created the Universe.
Some people lacking in spiritual hunger eventually walk away from all faith-related exercises. At least they’re being honest about it. God is not important to them and so they don’t waste their time with anything religious.
Other people who also lack spiritual hunger, continue to go through the motions out of inertia or a sense of obligation. They actually might be in worse shape. This is because they THINK they’re doing all the right things, and therefore God must be pleased with them. After all, they can boldly mark all the key items on some unofficial Christian Checklist: Recite prayers? Check. Read the Bible once in a while? Check. Go to church each week? Check. Throw a few bucks in the collection basket? Check. Refrain from robbing banks? Check. Avoid committing murder? Check. Never root for the New York Yankees? Check.
We are in a very strange moment in human history. For the first time in 2,000 years, Catholics are NOT obligated to attend Mass. During the past four months, the bishops said it’s OK not to attend Mass because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Remember the good ol’ Sunday Obligation? When I was a kid, the nuns who taught our Catechism class told us that maybe someone could be excused from going to Mass on Sunday if they were in a coma or locked in a North Vietnamese prison camp. Maybe.
I think I’m not exaggerating when I observe that many American Catholics have been spiritually slothful for quite a few years, long before the pandemic occurred. Now that we have this unprecedented experience of being excused by the bishops from having to attend Mass, I have a question: Once public Masses are in full swing again, how many Catholic will respond by saying, “When I went to Mass, I didn’t get anything out of it. When Masses were cancelled, I didn’t miss it. So, why bother going back?”?   
Spiritual sloth is real. A lack of hunger for God is why the Church has been so lukewarm for most of my adult life. If we only realize how awesome God is, and how much He wants to be the center of our lives and fill us with joy and passion, we won’t be spiritually slothful. It may be hard to believe, but the Divine Creator of the Universe is actually a lot more exciting than a mediocre movie on Netflix.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Medical Research: Grumpiness Leads to Dementia

Recently, I read a medical article that discussed RNT, which stands for Repetitive Negative Thinking. I was surprised to learn there’s an actual medical term for this. I always thought constant grumpiness was the default setting for everyone who works in the HVAC business. (And I suppose many people could chime in and say their particular occupation/industry is rife with RNT. It seems all of America these days is consumed with negative thinking — and I’m sure social media has nothing to do with it. Yeah, right.)
The main point of the article I read is that new research indicates Repetitive Negative Thinking is associated with memory decline and Alzheimer’s disease. Here’s the interesting observation: it appears that people with memory problems do not become grumpy; instead, people who are grumpy develop memory problems. So, when we ask that age-old question: Which came first, the chicken or the hissy fit? Medical research says if you spend your whole life complaining and criticizing, there is a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. On the other hand, if you go through life cheery and optimistic, chances are you’ll be the only one at the Senior Center who can answer the questions when “Jeopardy” is on TV in the recreation lounge.
The reason Repetitive Negative Thinking can lead to memory problems is because negative thoughts and words produce stress. And constant stress leads to all kinds of physical problems, including heart attacks. (So, the good news is, if you’re a grumpy person, you may avoid getting Alzheimer’s disease — because you might drop dead first. See? Problem solved!)
The article I read offered advice on how to become less grumpy. Step one: Quit the HVAC business. (No, I’m kidding. This is where you’re supposed to plug in the name of your particular occupation/industry, just for laughs. Of course, if my clients and co-workers learn that I’m making fun of the HVAC industry, they’ll get even more grumpy towards me.) 
Anyway, the steps the article actually advises to reduced chronic crankiness are the following:
First, smile more often, even for no good reason. It’s a proven fact this will boost a person’s mood. In my work environment, whenever someone is smiling for no good reason, it usually means he is plotting to hurt someone.
Next, the article says good posture helps improve your mood. By the way, the medical article was written by two doctors, and here is an exact quote: “If you slump, you tend to grump.” Where did they get their training, the “Groucho Marx School of Medicine”? 
Personally, when I’m at the office, I spend about seven hours each day hunched over my laptop computer. (I spend the other two hours in the break room looking for snacks.) By the end of the day, my spine looks like a question mark. Maybe I’ll have to get one of those stand-up work stations to improve my posture.
The next step is to focus on what you feel grateful for. I think I’ve got this one covered, since my office has photographs of loved ones: my darling wife, my beautiful daughters, my new grandson, and Xander Bogaerts.
The final suggestion is to give yourself happy moments. Well, when I was in college, I gave myself many happy moments, most of which were expensive, illegal, and almost killed me. The article explains: “If you know you like a certain song, play it to boost your mood — and it will.” OK, I can do that. I just hope the rest of the office doesn’t mind Jimi Hendrix blasting at 90 decibels.
Repetitive Negative Thinking is a genuine medical condition. I think we all should try to break this bad habit. You go first, ya grumpy bozo.