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Everyone Gets a Little of it Correctly

15 Mar


Everyone Gets a Little of it Correctly

By L. Stewart Marsden

We’ve witnessed the passing of two world icons over the past weeks: Billy Graham and Stephen Hawking. Polar opposites, one might think. Each convinced of beliefs they deemed pivotal to understanding the universe.

Social media reaction has been varied for both, yet there is an undercurrent of respect for these men, different as they are. And, just perhaps, their similarities outweigh their differences.

Who got it right? Who got it wrong? What happens to those who got it right, and to those who got it wrong?

I wouldn’t touch that with a ten-foot pole. Many already have and hold on stubbornly to their opinion come hell-or-high-water.

For some, the death of Graham signals the end times. Prophecies and words of wisdom are no doubt abounding among some groups. Still others, bent on profiteering from this particular death, are stepping up production of miracle healing water, or prayer cloths, or whatever tangible item is the justifiable reason for someone who can ill-afford it to write a large donation check.

Hawking pooh-poohed religion, preferring the stability of science to the flimsiness of faith. He predicted the extinction of humankind within 100 years, and was convinced humankind had and continues to shoot itself in the toe in so many ways. Air pollution. Nuclear proliferation. Unchecked population growth that is rapidly dismissing the earth’s resources and ability to sustained.

One hundred years. A little over four generations based on the current mean. That would suggest all of this interest in genealogy is a fruitless endeavor.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Sign Watchers have been lining up and checking off the events that will usher in Armageddon and The Rapture. Apparently some feel Graham’s death is one of those events/signs.

Only a handful of mankind seems to care about either when you get right down to it. We’re still bogged down in the mire of right v wrong and other presupposed absolutes.

A friend posted a speculative question: is Stephen Hawking in heaven? That’s based on my friend’s assumption there is a heaven, or afterlife. No one has speculated that about Billy Graham. That would be heresy.

The various TV programs that deal with UFOs and ETs and all of the other out-of-this-world contentions, include the possibility that we will return to our planet of origination, and that we are other-worldly. Like the religionists, there seems to be great effort to separate us from the other animals of the earth, and dismantle what they call the “theory” of evolution. You know, hopping a fast freight from a planet a billion light years away, or being molded from clay during the literal six days of creation are far-better answers to imagining we hail from the genetic materials provided by fish or apes. Someone at some time decided to KISS. Imagine the embarrassment of knit-picking through the hair of your brother or sister, and then eating the mite!

I like the simile of the blind men who attempt to describe an elephant by feeling the animal with their hands.

“The elephant is like a strong tree trunk, thick and massive,” says one. “The elephant is like a snake,” says another. “The elephant is like a thin leather blanket,” supposes a third. “It is like a thick, solid wall,” asserts another. “A rope. The elephant is like a rope.” “The elephant is like a spear,” the last suggests.

Each has a little of what an elephant is correctly. Each is vastly wrong.

In the finality, it won’t matter, I think. Which is kind of the Calvinist position, right? You either are or you are not chosen, which doesn’t change despite your life. (I don’t suppose to understand that slant, and probably have only a little bit of Calvinism correctly).

So, where is Billy Graham now? Where is Stephen Hawking? For that matter, where is Gandhi, or Joan of Arc or William Wallace or Genghis Khan or Columbus or Thomas Becket or Hitler or Marilyn Monroe? Or how about your parents, grandparents and beyond? Where are they?

One of my favorite movie scenes dealing with this is from the movie “Rudy.” Father Cavanaugh has sat down next to the main character, Rudy, after the young man goes to church in frustration at not getting into Notre Dame.

Father Cavanaugh: [in church] Taking your appeal to a higher authority?
Rudy: I’m desperate. If I don’t get in next semester, it’s over. Notre Dame doesn’t accept senior transfers.
Father Cavanaugh: Well, you’ve done a hell of a job kid, chasing down your dream.
Rudy: Who cares what kind of job I did if it doesn’t produce results? It doesn’t mean anything.
Father Cavanaugh: I think you’ll find that it will.
Rudy: Maybe I haven’t prayed enough.
Father Cavanaugh: I don’t think that’s the problem. Praying is something we do in our time, the answers come in God’s time.
Rudy: If I’ve done everything I possibly can, can you help me?
Father Cavanaugh: Son, in thirty-five years of religious study, I’ve come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts; there is a God, and, I’m not Him.

Whatever you think, whatever you believe, you, too, have a little bit of it correctly. But not all of it.


The Last Hurrah

14 Mar

The Last Hurrah

by L. Stewart Marsden

Winter’s last hurrah blew in over night, and I’m pretty sure once this storm has passed, I can breathe a sigh of relief and look forward to spring.

Meantime, the local bird neighborhood was gathered when I came downstairs this morning with the dogs. They waited patiently (their feeders were bare) as I fed the dogs and slipped on my walking shoes and jacket. And they were on the verge of impatience as I slowly poured a fresh supply of seed into the feeders.

A flock of larger black birds apparently heard the ruckus, and decided to descend upon the feeders, which are not designed for them, but the smaller ones.

Don’t know why, but it upsets me when the big birds bully the smaller ones away. They can always go to the dumps and trash bins –– and aren’t above picking the streets and roads of carrion. I have this impression they could take out a few of the smaller birds if they’d a mind.

I once shot a robin when I was a boy. Like today, it had snowed, and I took my bother’s BB gun into the yard where I spied the bird yards away and aimed at him, well above so as to miss him. The shot didn’t miss the robin, however, and I watched in horror as the pellet arched downward and hit the unintended victim.

Even so, if I had a pellet gun or BB gun, I’d be very tempted to whiz one by the large blackbirds as a warning.

I know … it doesn’t make sense, does it?

As it is, when the big ones try to raid the larder, I step out and shout BAH! in a loud voice. The bullies scatter, yet the smaller birds hang close and swoop down onto the feeder. And I have a fleeting feeling of satisfaction, followed by one of foolishness.



Mixed Messages

14 Nov

Mixed Messages

L. Stewart Marsden

Every night during the evening news more comes out regarding sexual abuses men in power are alleged to have committed – either recently, or in years past – as a result of their power, position and influence. In an earlier blog I pointed a finger not only at the culture men are accustomed to as well as the lack of training boys receive at the hands of their parents in learning not to objectify girls and women, but the seeming lack of restraint on the part of the entertainment media, Hollywood and music stars, advertising and the fashion world in promulgating sensual and salacious themes and imagery.

As I sit and watch the accusations, confessions and denials, I wonder “when will this stop?” Like so many floodgates that have burst open (mass shootings, hateful political rhetoric and more), I’m uncertain who will draw the necessary lines in the sand for each and declare “No more!”

Then I receive a text from my youngest, who is looking for a dress for the prom. She asks, “What are your thoughts on this dress?”

What are my thoughts? WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS? She’s 14 years old, are my thoughts. There are Harvey Weinsteins and Roy Moores out there! There are hot-testosterone-blooded teenage boys out there!


But she’s not, of course. Thinking. She’s responding to the arbitrary guidance of her age group, who are also NOT thinking.

So I reply, “Looks like a cocktail dress for an adult woman.” Never mind what I was really thinking.

She explains, “What does that mean[?] I’m shopping for a dress for my winter formal.”

Winter? Not enough cloth to keep you alive! I think. But I say, “You’re too young for that dress.”

She replies in a huff, “Based on you and Mom, I’m gonna end up wearing a skirt that goes to my heels, and a hijab.”

And I think, Yeah, I could go with that. But I send her this pic, with the comment, I like this one …

Fourteen. The song Sunrise, Sunset goes through my head.

You chuckle. I’m obviously a prudish stick-in-the-mud, you think of me.

What? Wait!

The problems we face with the current outrage over sexual harassment is multi-faceted. And my youngest daughter, if I tell her how guys are visually-stimulated, and how they grow up without any sense of sexual responsibility, and how in their tiny brains (about the size of gonads) only process from a biological urge to propagate –– she will laugh me off. “Oh, Dad!”

Yesterday the November 16 issue of Rolling Stone arrived – a subscription my youngest son (22 yrs) has. Hugh Hefner, Bob Guccione, and Larry Flint might get a little red-faced at the cover – upset some other magazine encroached upon their empires.

Cosmopolitan, along with GQ and a host of other magazines ply their pictorial pornography in the checkout aisles of Walmart and Rite Aid for all eyes to see.

And none have it over the “Adult-only” content available on the internet.

But what gets me are the entities expressing outrage and creating distance between themselves and the growing number of those accused of sexual aggression.


Mixed messages.

Had guests over the other night. We watched a re-run of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Amazingly, the show was entertaining! And not one untoward reference to extramarital sex or sexual conquest (vis a vie Friends, 2 1/2 Men, Sex and the City, etc.). Remember when Eddie Murphy’s humor on SNL was void of profanity?

I’m not a prude. Far from it. I won’t approve my daughter’s purchase of that particular prom dress, and suggested some more modest alternatives. I’ll let you know how that works out.

And I’m NOT saying that if she, too, were to become a statistic of sexual abuse, the onus would be on her. But I want her to realize what words like provocative and sexually alluring mean. Each has its appropriate place in a committed relationship.

As we untangle the various scenarios of abuse, I hope we are also able to close various gaps of mixed messages. It’s not only male and female involved in this issue, it’s whole industries. The question is whether or not those industries will admit culpability and do the right thing. I’m not going to hold my breath until that happens.







My Treatise on Gun Control

9 Nov


My Treatise on Gun Control

L. Stewart Marsden

I once had the idea that Detroit should outfit all automobiles with paintball guns on the hoods of their products. Automatic rack-and-pinion pivoting devices that could zero in on some a**hole who doesn’t know what they’re doing behind the wheel of a car. The idea is that the bad drivers will have cars covered with paint splats. Red, blue, yellow – a veritable rainbow of responses to those folks who drive down the highway at 80 mph texting, or putting on makeup, or (and I’ve seen this) reading a damn book!

Nuts! Cuckoos!

The idea is you see a multi-splatted car and you avoid the hell out of them. At some point the sheer weight of the paint slows the car.

Now look – all you law-abiding and devoted-to-safety gun owners – you must agree that there are fools and wack-os out there that should NEVER get behind the wheel of a car! We’ve come a loooong way legislating safety features, laws, and requiring drivers’ training to cut down the spillage of blood, bones and brain matter on our highways. Haven’t heard too many complain about seat belts, infant car seats, air bags (well, when they work), road-gripping tires.

Here’s the other thing about driving: NO ONE DRIVES A HIGH-OCTANE FORMULA ONE RACING CAR ON THE STREETS! Unless it’s a race, of course. But even then, there are RESTRICTIONS!

The sad thing is, apparently vans and trucks and cars have now become a weapon of choice for the America-haters.

Guess what? Automobiles are NOT protected under the Bill of Rights! They are a privilege as, I believe, should be gun ownership. With privileges come responsibilities.

So, segue onto the subject of Gun Control.

The very word “control” seems to cause a great many pro-gun people to shift mental gears to mean “we’re gonna take your guns away from you.” Gun registration as well as being licensed to own and use a gun is also suspect. Too many “Seven Days in May” conspiracy stories, I guess. By God, everything is a conspiracy.

Take a breath. Inhale. Exhale.

Just like the process of training someone to use a car for work, for recreation, to get from Point A to Point B safely and with the least amount of danger to others, gun controls are a good thing.

“Guns don’t kill people …”

Exactly! Nor do cars, but idiotic, psychotic, unprepared and uncontrollable drivers.

“Stricter controls will not keep guns out of the hands of criminals …”

True. And cars will also be stolen, or used as getaway means and end in death and destruction. But you still have to turn your lights on in the State of North Carolina when it rains. The vast majority of automobile drivers are responsible people. Where have I heard that before?

We have central databases where every vehicle operation violation is recorded. We have tags on each car that indicates the vehicle passes a mechanical inspection on an annual basis. We have license renewal requirements, so that each driver must reapply for an operator’s license. We require auto insurance. We have stricter licensing requirements for bus drivers, and truck drivers. Even moped operators must now get a license to drive on public throughways.

Who’s complaining? Virtually NO ONE!

Is it a hassle to go annually to the DMV for a new license plate sticker? Damn right it is! Is it costly time-wise and wallet-wise to have my car inspected annually, and maybe have to replace that headlights or taillights or windshield wipers?

Why do I tolerate this overbearing scrutiny and control? Because I’d rather drive to the beach than walk. Or take the bus. Or the train.

We have an agency in place that can be utilized more effectively in filtering out at least some of the wack-os and, as 45 says, folks with mental health problems, from buying and possessing a gun. The ATF. Will it be overwhelmed? Only if it does its job. Heck, think of the number of people who will need to be employed to handle the load? What a boon! And, a self-financing procedure. Like the DMV.

So, first, enable the ATF to process licensing, with local offices (just like the DMV). Compared to the cost of someone being killed by a gun (jail, court, attorney fees, lost income of the victim, hospital costs). Take the licensing process out of the hands of the Sheriff’s departments so that the load can be handled, and so that consistency of process is guaranteed.

Second, enact laws that require regular licensing (like driver’s licensing). I get my license, I get a DWI or speeding ticket, and I lose my license, or it is restricted. I get a gun license, and within the year I am convicted of a felony, or go through drug rehab, I lose my license. A point system like that in the driver’s license. Further, that anyone diagnosed with a mental disorder that could affect the patient’s ability to legally use a firearm be reported to the ATF. By the way, licensing would require mandatory training (NRA?) as well as passing a written AND, initially, firing range test.

Third, require that a gun owner purchase and maintain liability insurance for each firearm purchased. Just like owning a car where accidents happen. The insurance companies will love this, and the cost of owning a firearm just for insurance will curb the number of guns a person can afford to own.

Fourth, require that firearms are also inspected on a regular basis by qualified people to ensure accidents don’t occur because of mechanical malfunction. Require recall letters from manufactures for such problems, as well as a guarantee of repair or replacement.

Fifth, as with a car, require that a private owner transact the sale of a firearm to another person through their local ATF office. Failure to do so would be a felony crime.

Sixth, require that the loss, theft, or decommissioning of a firearm (dismantling) be reported to the ATF. If to the police, that the police alert the ATF electronically.

Seventh, restrict the sale of types of firearms and add-ons (bump fire stocks, hair triggers, silencers, magazine capacity, etc.).

Eighth, require the registration of ammunition and its sale – as do the pharmacists with prescriptions. Lot, box, shells. Shell casings could be barcoded.

And I could go on. The point is that while a few advocate no guns at all, most of us realize that won’t happen – regardless of the 2nd Amendment. And certainly no law or restriction is going to be absolutely effective. There will always be those outlying circumstances and people who defy logic and sanity.

But – IF the laws are enforced with due diligence, perhaps some of the tragedies like Sandy Hook Elementary School, and the Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, and other non-terrorist initiated massacres, will be avoided.

Deer hunters, skeet shooters, biathlon athletes – even those who want/need a deadly way to protect their home and family members – will be able, within the law, to do those things.

Expensive? You bet. So is a car.

Cost of an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle: between $500 and $2,500;
Cost of 500 rounds of ammo: about $150;
Cost of a bump-fire stock: $1,500;

Cost of a human life: priceless.*

*According to the EPA ( ), the value of a human life was $7.4 million in 2006.






If God is for you …

2 Nov

If God is for you …

L. Stewart Marsden

By now, unless you live under a rock, you know the Houston Astros won the World Series last night over the LA Dodgers.

No doubt, in some interview, some Houston ball player is going to thank God for the events leading up to the franchise’s first World Series win. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t fault anyone for thanking God for strength to endure something.

I also suspect there are those who are convinced that God engineered the victory. All of the sponsors are thanking Him, as is ESPN, for the full seven-game event. One of the most exciting events in baseball drew unprecedented viewers. Thank God!

This, after God apparently judged Houston earlier in the fall with Hurricane Harvey. Now I can say that with some certainty because all of the insurance companies that had to and are digging through their coffers call the weather event an Act of God. Therefore we know God did that. I haven’t checked in with Westboro Baptist Church to see what exactly God was judging through the storm’s devastation. No doubt some pretty bad things.

Apparently God then had second thoughts, and decided He’d been pretty tough on the Texas Gulf area. Like when he was surprised at Abraham’s commitment to sacrifice his son in obedience. “Wow!” He said. “Didn’t really think he’d go through with it!”*

At the same time, God had been busy judging California through massive fires. Either that, or He has a lot of stock in the NAPA Valley wine companies, and figured the price of a bottle of Pinot is going to go through the roof.

Everyone from the New York area knows that the once Brooklyn Dodgers skipped west years ago, and needed to be punished. And since the Yankees were upended by the Astros in league championship play, this was poetic justice. I think the Eleventh Commandment* is “THOU SHALT NOT LEAVE BROOKLYN!”

Whatever His reason, God favored the Astros, and shook things up before giving them the final “Well done” nod.

Do I really believe this? Take the notion forward a bit and the following holy conclusions would have to be reached:

The New England Patriots are NOT satanic;
Peyton Manning really IS funny;
If you don’t own an iPhone (whatever the latest edition), you really are less of a person;
Colin Cowherd is the last word in sports commentary;
45 is God’s man.

*While not scriptural in terms of the exact words, I figure if the Televangelist Pastards (borrowing this term from a friend) can make up stuff like this and get away with it, then sell tap water as Miracle Water, then I can take a little poetic license.














Time –– It’s All Relative

19 Oct

Time –– It’s All Relative

By L. Stewart Marsden


I wrote a poem years ago entitled “All the Clocks Are Broken.” In its simplistic rhyme and meter, it playfully touches on time and how fickle it is. For example, in anticipation of a great event, like a birthday or Christmas, the clock slows down to a crawl, making your toenails itch.

Or, the opposite, during an exam, the hands fly about the circular clock face.

Anything requiring the passage of time can teeter or totter, almost arbitrarily. Turning old enough to be able to do something:

  1. Join a club, team, or participate in age-related extracurricular
  2. Drive a car
  3. Graduate high school
  4. Buy alcohol or cigarettes (although the latter isn’t as popular as it was in my day)
  5. Get a body piercing
  6. Get a tat
  7. Vote
  8. Go to college
  9. Graduate
  10. Go to post grad school
  11. Graduate
  12. Go for a PhD
  13. Graduate
  14. Get a job
  15. Get an apartment
  16. Lose the body piercing
  17. Get a J.O.B.
  18. Get another tat … and more piercings
  19. Get married
  20. Buy a house
  21. Have children
  22. Feed, house and clothe the kids
  23. Take them to clubs, teams, and other extracurricular
  24. Get them a car
  25. Go to their high school graduation
  26. Sign the permission form for their first body piercing
  27. Move them into their freshman dorm room
  28. Smile weakly in reaction to their first tat
  29. Offer them their first glass of wine
  30. Attend their college graduation
  31. Co-sign for their first apartment
  32. Attend their post college degree graduation
  33. Co-sign their student loan for their PhD
  34. Celebrate their first job
  35. Take them and their fiancé out to dinner for the first time
  36. Go over the budget for the wedding
  37. Cry at the wedding
  38. Go on a cruise
  39. Downsize to a condominium
  40. Take pictures of the first grandchild
  41. Announce your divorce
  42. Move to an apartment
  43. Retire
  44. Move to a senior living facility
  45. Meet with the lawyer and finalize the will

Numbers one through 14 pass slower than molasses going up hill on a 20 degree day with a 45 mile-per-hour headwind.

Fifteen through 45 happen quicker than the snap of a finger. The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate finger*.

After a bit of time had spilled down the drain, I noticed something. The years aren’t like some straight roadway that disappears in the desert at some unseen infinite point. The years are more like a Slinky, recurring coils where the four seasons have claimed a spot on the circumference of each coil. Depending on what is going on, the Slinky of time stretches and compresses. For the first million or so years of the planet, for example, the slinky is stretched nearly to its limit. As life developed and evolved, and as humankind (oxymoron) grew in number and impact, the coils compressed.

Today, the Time Slinky is tightly compressed, almost to the point of the annual coils melding into one another.

That’s comforting to some extent. It means even though Time is zipping along at breakneck speeds for me, we will make it through this particular phase of time, and perhaps the coils will then relax, and begin to stretch out again, the tension loosen.

I hope so.

*The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate Award was a commentary staple on a popular television comedy show that ran in the late 60s through the early 70s – Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. More like a pfft on the Time Slinky. I always thought the finger on the award should not have been the index finger, but one over.










Strange Fruit

13 Oct


Strange Fruit

By L. Stewart Marsden


Today I went on a search for one thing, and found another, quite unexpectedly. It was a cold splash of reality against my white, Anglo-Saxon heritage. I was searching for that silly beer commercial where the stadium vender, hawking his lager, has been placed in venues like a living room or a bathroom, and at one point, a cemetery during a burial. Funny.

That’s what I want when I go – a beer stadium vender shouting out “Ice cold beer, here! Get your ice-cold beer!”

Oftentimes YouTube puts another video – usually an ad – before the video you want to watch. You can skip it after 3 to 5 seconds if you like. And, just as normal, I click <skip ad>.

The “ad” in front of the beer commercial began with a close-up of a beautiful black woman with a large Afroesque hairdo, dressed in a beautiful slip-like dress, holding a microphone and staring up toward light that lightly bathed her. All else was dark.

She began to sing. I couldn’t place the song in my head. It was like a combination of Billie Holiday’s Summertime with some kind of mourning tune: melancholic and haunting. As she sang, visuals of forests and trees and other less-appealing imagery filled the screen.

On she mourned, and as she continued, I finally realized what the song was about. It was past events I had no touchstone with at all. But she did, and she did not have to reach so very deeply to urge that link to the surface of her voice.

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood on the root
Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

Every word, every phrase, every line, every stanza was delivered with that haunting voice. Then I looked up the song. It was first performed by Billie Holiday in 1939 from a poem written by Abel Meeropol published in 1937.

I did not know the poem.

I did not know the song.

I did not know the pain.

What I do know is this: an old white man can learn something new. I learned something new today – not that lynchings took place (I was aware of that), but something, finally, gripped my soul and squeezed. We (white culture) did that. Why?

The following is a link to that video, performed by Andra Day. There is also a version of Holiday’s performance of the song, as well as many more. Not too many are performed by white artists. Kathy Segal (Sons of Anarchy) did one. I don’t recommend it.








2 Sep


By L. Stewart Marsden

Anton Ego, food critic, is a character in one of my favorite movies: Pixar’s Ratatouille. A sophisticated version of the Grinch, he seethes venom with his condescending reviews of the restaurant industry in Paris.

He says,

“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read.”

It is metaphor to our current and perplexing nationwide conflict. Too easy to slip in the word “media” where Ego is talking about food critics. Or, perhaps, the extreme Right, or the extreme Left.

If you are familiar with the story, you remember he goes to investigate the hullabaloo over a new chef at a once-thriving restaurant.

There, a waiter asks if Ego knows what he would like for his meal.

Yes, I think I do. After reading a lot of overheated puffery about your new cook, you know what I’m craving? A little perspective.

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, in addition to its devastation and carnage of Houston and the surrounding area, we are also left with perspective.

Facebook abounds with quotes and images similar to “America is NOT Charlottesville; America is Houston!”

Well, we’re both. Unfortunately. The perfect among us cannot hide nor eradicate the imperfect.

As a nation, we show the world our best and our worst. From the vitriol of antagonists who can’t stand one another, and are dedicated to sniping at every opportunity (we thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and read), to belittling and bashing one another; to hitching a thousand boats and driving thousands of miles to help with search and rescue and aid.

As Dickens wrote,

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…

Perspective. We say that in the aftermath of tragedy: it put things into perspective.

Why does it take a devastating hurricane, tornado, illness, horrific event to grab our attention, shake sense into us enough for us to see (some of us, that is) that we are better than whatever it is that brings us shame?

It’s like we’re caught up in an emotional maelstrom that dulls all other senses and sensitivities. Perhaps a quasi-mob mentality, only the mobs are at either end of a see-saw. The vast majority of us just want none of it. Content to let things play out. Please, we say, can we not go back to normalcy?

We are all afflicted in one way or another.

Perspective. Not sure which is worse: the radical ends of the spectrum, or the sluggish majority that separates the extremes.

With disasters come the stirring of wills to be involved in some helpful way. Who is helped at the time is not dependent upon nation of origin, color of skin, gender identification, religious value, primary language spoken, political affiliation, economic standing, outstanding warrants, meat-eater or vegan, educational accomplishments. Or any other attribute that would normally keep us from deigning to be involved with that victim.

For a moment, we will have experienced what it is to give emotionally and financially and physically to a cause without regard to anything but the betterment of those who have lost home and loved ones.

This, too, shall pass.

Houston and the area will eventually get cleaned up. The snipers and critics have already begun to crawl out of the water-saturated woodwork and begin what they do best. The nation will breathe a sigh of relief at not having more than half the nightly news centered on all of the problems that do and eventually will exist. We’ve done our heartfelt and pocket-felt due diligence, and can return to normal.

And the carousel will start up again, slowly at first, and crescendo to spinning speeds.

Until the next disaster.

When,  once again, we will be presented with the opportunity to gain Perspective.

Things That Go Bump in the Night

24 Aug

Things That Go Bump in the Night

By L. Stewart Marsden

Since a kid I’ve been susceptible to my imagination at night, seeing things or hearing things that weren’t there. The jacket hung on a door hangar, transformed into a ghoulish being by the dark tones of night. The darkest corner of the ceiling, harboring a shapeless “thing” that would suddenly jump out at me. Things skittering about on the periphery of my vision.

I saw “King Kong” down at the beach one summer, and was effected for life. Years later, “The Time Machine,” also at the beach, had me turning my back on the one window in my bedroom, assured that if/when I turned to look, I’d see the red eyes and white-haired blue bodies of the Morlocks staring in on me.

Karloff, Lugosi, Lon Chaney & son, Price, Christopher Lee were the men behind the monsters, and I loved them all. I devoured magazines on horror make-up, anxious to uncover the magic behind Frankenstein, the Mummy, Dracula and the Wolfman.

Like Cosby’s great schtick on the radio show, “Lights Out,” I loved being scared. Not horrified, mind you (the advent of Nightmare on Elm Street and other blood movies was not to my liking at all), but scared.

Everything was filmed in black and white, even though Technicolor was available.

Yeah. Scare me to death.

The night before I left for prep school I watched a horror film called “Blood of Dracula.” It was about a girls school where one of the faculty had somehow procured the blood of the vampire, and along with a magical pendant, could turn students into creatures of the night. I wondered if one of the faculty members – maybe the science teacher – was likewise preparing for us boys and I would meet my destiny with horror.

At prep school, I was quartered in an old wood frame dorm, House C. I shared one of the second-story rooms with my roommate who was from Savannah. The rooms were spacious. My window looked out onto the delivery court of the Walker Building, a combination dormitory, office, and dining hall structure of brick and antebellum design. Several floodlights illumined the delivery court – a large square with a loading dock along one side. It was the favorite haunt at night of dozens of feral cats, who gathered to fight over garbage and other night-time activities. When late evening fog would roll into the square, and the cats would begin to fight, screeching and growling, it was the perfect soup for my imagination.

After lights out, I would pull out a flashlight, bury myself under my bed sheets, and read from Bram Stoker’s classic horror tale, “Dracula.” The fog, the cats’ yowlings echoing  in the courtyard, were the perfect visual/aural background, and more than elicited my ripe and visceral imaginings.

As I grew older, I outlasted my childish fears. I revisit them for entertainment, as well as escape from the real and far more scary realities of this day – the things that really do go “bump” in the night.




19 Aug



By L. Stewart Marsden


When I was about ten years old, I began having intense attacks of pain on my right side under my rib cage. It was deep inside. The best way I found to describe it was it felt as though a double-bladed knife, triangular in shape from its tip to the hilt, was being slowly inserted into me. The pain would gradually increase over hours, and I did everything I could for relief to no avail. It got so bad I would force myself to throw up in order to empty my stomach. Again, useless. I even banged my head against the wall to distract my mind elsewhere.

I was checked and tested for a myriad of maladies, including hepatitis and ruptured appendix, during which time I must have drunk gallons of pasty, chalky “stuff” that would show up problems under x-rays.


The attacks repeated over a number of years, seeming to get more and more painful and intolerable. And the duration also lengthened, from several hours to a day and a half. The usual guess at a diagnosis was severe indigestion. So whenever I felt an attack coming on, I’d drain a bottle of Pepto Bismal – thinking it might lessen the severity. That’s what you get for thinking.

Finger down the throat. Head banging on the wall. Even had a pediatrician give me morphine once. Well, that worked, but it sure wasn’t going to be the normal treatment.

Over the years I suffered dozens of attacks. Only complete exhaustion and drop dead sleep helped me survive.

The spring before Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hinkley, the attacks began to occur within weeks of each other. At the around the same time, I found out my older sister had her gallbladder removed due to having painful attacks.


A gastroenterologist told me I couldn’t have gallbladder disease, and my pain wasn’t the result of gallbladder attacks because I had been having them since I was ten.

“Improbable,” he surmised, having never heard of someone so young diagnosed with the malady.

This time the tests – for gallbladder – came back positive, and proved the doctor wrong.

The surgery took hours longer than was expected. My gallbladder had shrunk up under my liver, and the surgeon cut a large half-moon opening to the right of my stomach area in order to actually move my liver So he could get to the gallbladder.

It looked like a dried-up lemon, he told me later. And it was packed with dozens and dozens of BB-sized stones that had been produced over the years.


It tells us something is wrong, and compels us to do something about it. I’ve heard preachers say metaphorically that it is God’s way of steering us in the right path. I have a response to that premise, but I can’t write it down in mixed company.

The solution for my pain over the years was first the diagnosis. And no one for the longest time reached a correct conclusion. At the time of those attacks, I was happy merely to have the pain go away, which they eventually did, but only to come back again.

There is no such thing as timeliness as far as pain is concerned, in my opinion.

I’ve been told that the pain of a gallbladder attack is at the same intensity as what women experience when in labor. I wouldn’t know. That could only be asserted by a woman, and I trust they would know.

We’re in a time of pain. The country.

Just shy of fifty years ago we were also in a time of pain not dissimilar to now.

Then, the sources of the pain were evident. On Sunday evenings when CBS covered the war in Vietnam on 60 Minutes. Kent State. Martin Luther King assassinated. The Black Panthers. The bombing of Hanoi. Bra-burning. Marches, marches, marches.

And like a gallbladder attack, it was like a two-edged knife being slowly inserted into the gut of the country, and there was no relief to be found.

We’re there once again. The faces are the same, only the names are different. Afghanistan. Syria. Al Qaeda. ISIS. Terrorism. Police brutality. Denial of rights to a different set of minorities. Racial tension. Political buffoonery. Fascists. Bigots. Racists.

For those of us who were around the first time during the 60s and 70s, it’s deja vous all over again. Ground Hog Day. Like the unseen gods are saying, “We’re going to do this until we get it right”-kind of scenario.

Is it just me? Or have I felt this pain before? And will we ever have a definitive diagnosis? Will we go into surgery to have this malignancy removed at last?

Were it only that simple.

In the meantime, we have the pain, which will persist and recur until solutions are found.