Tuesday, July 29, 2014

I'm not a poet...and boy do I know it!

The Bard
When I was younger, having studied Spanish and English literature in college, occasionally I took a stab at writing the odd sonnet or two, although iambic pentameter has never exactly rolled off my tongue (or pen).  I didn't finish many of them, but here they are in their utter shamelessness:

The first was a joke (an obviously bawdy one) on the subject of BYU coeds; in fact, one could consider this my contribution to the "BYU coed joke" genre.  It also tries to make a joke of the relative social status of scholars versus athletes at BYU (although anyone who's gone to school there knows the opposite standing is closer to the truth -- not to mention the fact that, on average, BYU coeds actually are, and always have been, quite attractive):

 Scholar: "Why art thou, Sirrah, seeming pale and wan?
                I deign to hazard one shrewd guess in haste:
               This...B.Y.U. has put a bitter taste
                Into thy mouth; from thine eyes light is gone
                Because of hags as these, that o'er thee fawn."
Athlete:   "Your Honor speaks aright; indeed, I've fac'd
               Such sights and horrors as have never pac'd
               The long, dark halls of sicken'd minds! Ah, sawn-
               Away would I see these, my precious jew'ls--
               And, yea, my with'ring-though-yet-worthy tools--
               Before to such an evil-visag'd strumpet
               Be giv'n unfetter'd use of this, my trumpet!"
Scholar:  "What voids lie in the heads of bloody fools
               Succumbing to the grov'llings of such ghouls?"

The second one is a lover's lament (it's funny how nothing in this world causes the muse to descend more than unrequited love), written to a girl who didn't merit nearly so much creative effort on my part:

The night elapses slow; my thoughts are drawn
To times now fading in dark shades of gray,
In which you might have brought me light of day,
But that your fleeting love was here and gone
In merest moments. Would I'd seen the dawn
That came to life a sunset; then I'd say
The girl I loved did take my pain away--
But you did not. Nor did you look upon
This soul as one whose pure, impassion'd love
Could take you to planes outside and above
Your mundane concept of fulfillment, joy;
Instead, to you I was a little boy.
   Yet someday, say my feelings, I will prove
   This love wind, rain, and darkness cannot move.

The third combines three sentiments: (1) my love for Dorine; (2) my struggles through the years to know God; and (3) my distaste for sanctimony and the corrosive effect it has on my faith:

In trusting childhood I have bared my soul
To you, my evergreen, resilient jade;
Break not the moods that cast their cooling shade
On lives tormented by the flaming coal
Of worldly cares. I strain to reach my goal
To rise and meet the God from whom I've strayed.
But, yet, we know us not, though He has made
His light, at times, to shine upon a knoll,
In fading shades that color Heaven's bowl
At twilight's dying last. I feel betrayed
By those who claim to know Him but would wade
In methods of ungodliness. What toll
Might He force me to pay, if I elect
To derogate the tenets of their sect?

The fourth reflects my love for hiking in the mountains, still one of my passions in life. 

In coolest mountains I find youth anew--
The trail's the place to which I, hurried, run,
Encumber'd by the ghosts of deeds undone,
To cast aside a heavy load. I rue
The day in which inside an office zoo
I landed, longing for the shining sun,
Desiring water clear yet having none.
I dream of plunging into sky so blue
It nearly drowns me in its airy deep,
Of climbing on a winding path so steep
I lose my breath from effort and from awe.
Adventure waits, yet time reveals a flaw:
I'm stuck again inside this place, asleep,
With only longings in my heart to keep.

The last is, simply, a tribute to my father, written before his death: 

My father--all your years have told a tale
Of simple values whose profound intent
No longer holds its place in people bent
On taking what they can from life, who rail
On moral others, thinking, without fail,
To give no answer for their lives misspent.
Responsibility--it came and went,
A concept cast aside like last week's mail.
And there you were to take a lion's share,
So much I'm struck at all you've had to bear.
Yet honor and integrity make light
A burden that would otherwise delight
A masochist's most fond, intense desire;
I pray the Lord to lift you ever high'r.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

White Sands Trip, ca. 1962

Albuquerque 2nd Ward Deacons' Quorum, ca. 1962
I saw this photograph numerous times in my mother's photo collection when I was growing up.  It shows my oldest brothers Roger and Robin with their deacons' quorum and its advisor, Vern Payne (who, 50+ years later, is now the Albuquerque Temple president), in about 1962.  What piqued my interest in it recently was President Payne's mentioning it after giving us copies of the photo from the stake adult temple trip that I wrote about in February.  I decided to dig it out of Mom's photos and scan it into a .jpg file, specifically for the purpose of seeing how many of the kids Vern could identify.  (Vern suggested that I send it to my brother Roger, as well, to see how many people he remembered.)

Anyway, between the two of them, we were able to identify most of the kids, and I've labeled them in the attached copy.  I remember a lot of these guys: (1) Gary Iverson lived down the street from us on Love Avenue (and later was married for a while to my friend Ken Foley's sister Carolyn); (2) Chris Hill, a non-Mormon, was a friend of Roger's who used to come to our house a lot (Roger says he still has e-mail contact with him); (3) Earl Capps lived several streets east of us (his brother Dave and his family lived in our ward as recently as 8-10 years ago); and (4) Jim Done (pronounced "dohn") and Ray Sego were around for a number of years.  Note that there are two kids that neither Vern nor Roger could identify, and neither could remember the Kemp kid's first name.  I'm guessing the blond kid to Robin's left is Steve Tuttle, inasmuch as Vern remembered there was a Tuttle kid in the group and the one who was Robin and Roger's age was named Steve.  (Years later, I knew his younger brother Mike in the 11th [singles] Ward, where he met and married -- and later divorced, I understand -- a girl named Elaine Peterson.)

Vern tells an interesting story about the trip.  He was in law school at the time and was working nights at Romney Produce to make ends meet.  The trip to White Sands happened on a Saturday after Vern had worked two straight nights and had attended classes in between on that Friday; needless to say, he hadn't had a lot of sleep.  The group drove down in two cars, the other one being driven by Muriel "Mike" Iverson, Gary's dad (who presumably took this photo).  On the way back, Vern got a speeding ticket in/near Tularosa, the fine for which he didn't have the money to pay.  The local justice of the peace was going to lock him up until he came up with the "bail," and it was only after Vern was able to get someone to wire the money down that they were able to continue on their way.  And then they ran into a blizzard and icy roads, making the trip much more of an adventure than anyone had reckoned.

Not too many years later, Vern became the chief justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court, and one of his responsibilities was to exercise superintending control over the state's justices of the peace (or magistrates, as they were later known).  He says he ran into the JP one time who'd threatened him with jail in 1962, who in turn recognized him and looked self-conscious about how the tables had turned in the intervening years.  (I guess they both got a laugh out of it in the end.)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Oh, yeah....

"They comin' to America"
1. Immigration "reform".  The new immigration "crisis," consisting of unaccompanied minors (most from Central America) crossing the U.S.-Mexico frontier, once again highlights the need for greater border security.  It's well-known that Hondurans and Guatemalans who cross Mexico en route to the U.S. aren't treated very well by the Mexican populace, and, given the reported involvement of drug cartels and gangs, one can only imagine what's happening to children who are making that journey.  However, the U.S.'s taking them in, on the pretext that their lives would be in danger in their home countries if they were sent back, is ultimately stupid in the extreme.  One, the only reason people, especially pitiable minors, keep seeking to cross the border is that they know there's little chance of being deported.  (And we ask why there's such a flood?)  And, two, why isn't the U.S. trying to encourage the governments in Mexico and Central America to institute reforms that might actually provide security and opportunities for employment to their peoples?  It's a comprehensively wrecked region that relies on (a) illegal immigration to the U.S. as an escape valve to prevent civil unrest, and (b) remittances of U.S. dollars from indocumentados as a large percentage of its overall economy.  It's almost getting to the point where the U.S. may as well annex Mexico and Central America -- as the European Union has effectively done with economic basket-cases like Greece, Italy, Spain, Ireland, and Portugal -- for the drain they've become on American resources.  There are few countries in the world most of whose residents couldn't be considered "refugees" under the standards we're trying to use for people from south of our border.  Which leads me into my next topic....

2. Eventual disintegration of the United States.  Several conservative commentators, notably Mark Steyn and Pat Buchanan, have written about the inevitability of the breakup of the United States into smaller, regional nations.  As Steyn notes in his book After America, much-smaller countries than the U.S. (e.g., Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia) have broken up into numerous pieces when their central governments fell apart, simply because the economic, social, and cultural interests of their component parts, to put it mildly, didn't align.  The deepening concentration of regulatory control in federal agencies, not to mention the existence of America's own economic basket-cases-in-the-making (cf. California, or New Mexico without a federal teat to suck on), is eventually going to render it impossible for there to be any real "governing."  And certain states or regions will simply conclude that it's no longer in their interests to remain in the Union; judging from present business conditions, I'd say that process will probably begin with a new "Republic of Texas."  I don't even foresee a second American civil war to preserve the Union -- what military commanders will order attacks to preserve a dictatorial, faceless conglomeration of statist bureaucrats? -- although there almost certainly will be multiple regional wars with atrocities galore.  The LDS Church may well have to engage in a "literal gathering of Israel" (in Utah and environs) out of sheer desperation.

3. My weird "encounter" with Steyn.  While I'm citing Mark Steyn, I may as well write about the strange sort of "cyber encounter" I had with him a few weeks ago.  Steyn is selling gift certificates on his website as a means of generating funds with which to mount a defense in his libel lawsuit against climate-change poobah Michael Mann.  Feeling sympathetic to his cause, I bought a $25 gift certificate but with no intention of using it -- essentially, I donated the money to him.  I sent him an e-mail saying I'd thought about sending the gift certificate to a liberal friend but didn't do so because I thought my friend would use it.  Instead, I requested that Steyn re-post one of my favorite articles of his, an essay on the song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and how it ultimately drove a wedge between Paul Simon, who wrote the song and later wished, when it became a huge hit, that he'd sung it, and Art Garfunkel, Simon's friend and partner who actually did sing it.  Well, Steyn re-posted the article, but with some weirdly derisive comments aimed at me: (1) he seemed irritated by what he probably regarded as the overly "cutesy" tone of my e-mail; (2) he took pains to note that he hadn't been taking "requests" for old articles for a couple of years (and didn't I know that?); and (3) he referred to me as "Ken," even though my real name was right there on the page, which of course is always a deadly demeaning give-away.  (Would he have been kinder to me if I'd bought a $100 gift certificate instead?)  The hurt I felt wasn't enough to kill my enthusiasm for reading Steyn's commentary -- I agree with him on too many issues, and he's too wickedly funny -- but it made me wonder if the aforementioned liberal friend's having called Steyn a "miserable weasel" (or words to that effect) wasn't more descriptive than I would have thought.

4. Growing up in the 60s and 70s.  I sometimes reflect on what it was like to grow up in the 1960s and 1970s, when there were severely limited entertainment options and sources of news and other information.  How would my grandkids fare now with no video games, no Internet, no cellphones, three or four television channels, only newsprint and broadcast news to rely on for knowledge about current events, music that came on vinyl and magnetic tape only, and no Blu-ray players (or home movies at all, outside of what the networks decided to air a few times a week, usually late at night)?  I remember the spring of 1974, when I was still in ninth grade in junior high school.  The school I attended experimented with offering recreational programs on Friday afternoons, and I elected to participate in bowling.  A friend and I, always finishing early and left to hang out at the bowling alley until the bus returned to the school, would bum quarters off a girl he knew to play "Pong," the very first, very rudimentary video game.  We thought "Pong" was cool, but neither of us could have imagined the sophisticated video games we have today.  When I was a child, everyone played outdoors with the other kids in the neighborhood.  Later on, I spent a lot of time alone, shooting baskets in our back yard and playing guitar in my room; however, indoor entertainment was pretty hard to come by for someone who didn't constantly read books.  If I'd known then what I know now, I would have read a lot of books, and my parents probably would have been concerned that I was spending too much time indoors.  How times have changed!

5. My guitars.  I have acquired quite a few guitars over the years.  Now that Darren and Cait have returned from Taiwan and will leave shortly for California, we'll have fewer instruments in the house; however, here's a list of what I have: (1) Alvarez acoustic guitar; (2) Squier II Stratocaster (black with white pickguard); (3) Mexican Fender "Classic 60s" Stratocaster (Inca Silver with lime-green pickguard); (4) Squier Stratocaster (black with a mirror pickguard and a humbucking pickup in the bridge position); (5) Squier '51 (yellow with a black pickguard); (6) Epiphone Les Paul Standard (cherry red with cream-colored pickguard and gold-colored hardware); and (7) Ibanez 12-string acoustic (black with no pickguard).  With the exception of the Mexi-Strat, all of my guitars were made somewhere in the Far East (Japan, Korea, China, or Indonesia); I don't really even aspire to own an American-made guitar.  Kids today have a wide variety of inexpensive options when it comes to buying good guitars and amplifiers -- when I was young, most far-eastern imports were cheaply made, played poorly (no matter how you tried to set them up), and sounded terrible.  I recently bought a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and hooked them up to my "Epi" Les Paul and old "red face" Line 6 Spider 210 amplifier, with the latter on the "insane" setting with the chorus on and a little digital delay.  The stereo sound coming through the headphones is something that people, even professional musicians, would practically have killed for in the early 1970s -- but which I can get with fairly cheap equipment now.

6. My ongoing physical deterioration.  Every time I have to take a break from the gym (the last one being my recovery from hernia surgery), I come back just a little less capable of vigorous exercise.  My recent "5.4 mph for 30 minutes = 2.7 miles" treadmill regimen, which was a comfortable workout before the layoff, is now quite strenuous for me, and I'm not sure it will ever get any easier.  I do need to lose weight -- and to that end I've recently taken the baby step of switching from regular soda to diet soda -- and of course I get older every day, but there seems to be more to it than that.  Yesterday, July 18, I hiked up the La Luz Trail (from the bottom to the upper tram terminal) with Darren and Cait.  I did pretty well, and we did the whole distance in exactly four hours, later riding the tram down after having lunch at the restaurant; however, I felt horrible after we were done.  Usually I feel exhilarated after a hard hike in the Sandias, but this one only reminded me how rapidly I'm deteriorating.

7. Mischa the dog.  Our miniature pinscher, Mischa, who's diabetic, blind from cataracts, and requires twice-daily insulin injections, has understandably aged way beyond her ~9 years.  I've begun to regard her as almost a kindred spirit, inasmuch as chronic illness has taken a huge toll on both of us.  I don't fawn over her, but I've taken to petting her for a few minutes after giving her her night-time insulin, and it's clear she relishes the attention.  I don't know how much longer Dorine and I will feel that Mischa's life is worth preserving -- if she's clearly suffering, even we will ultimately decide to euthanize her -- but I think she and I understand each other.

8. The Eubank Chapel.  The Eubank Boulevard LDS meetinghouse in Albuquerque, which was first dedicated in 1966, holds a lot of memories for me.  I haven't attended church in that building (except for stake conferences and baptismal services) since the Indian School Road building, which we still attend, was dedicated in my senior year of high school in January 1977; however, I spent a lot of my childhood and adolescence at the Eubank building, and thus it's the one I remember most vividly.  It's where I was baptized, attended Primary, played numerous "junior" basketball games, explored the underground system of "tunnels" with my deacons' quorum (once even crawling through an air-conditioning duct across the ceiling of the gym), became infatuated with Dorine when I was 13, first made out with a girl (not Dorine) when I was 14, rehearsed with the "band" some of us tried to put together in the 1974-75 time-frame, sang in the ward choir (primarily to be around the girls), spent a scary night with a couple of friends (complete with what we thought were evil spirits), often went to play pickup basketball with friends (sometimes even entering with keys that we'd come by -- I shan't say how -- which my dad invariably confiscated on the sly while I was asleep), attended stake dances (many with live local bands, some of which were pretty good), and pulled more than a few pranks (e.g., locking shut all the upright pianos in the building with a key from an armoire that we had at home -- funny how the powers-that-be knew to come to me when someone urgently needed to use a piano for a wedding rehearsal!).  I confess to being a bit of a rogue in those days, but I was actually one of the least-wild boys in our ward.  (For the record, I also had a fair number of genuinely spiritual experiences at the Eubank chapel as I grew up.)

[Update 6/19/16: Here is a photo of the Eubank Chapel when it was new in 1966 and there was virtually nothing around it.]

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

2014 World Cup

Wondo's Whiff
I watched quite a bit of the recent FIFA World Cup soccer tournament in Brazil.  There were some pleasant surprises -- (1) the U.S.'s advancing out of its "Group of Death" with Germany (the eventual winners), Portugal, and Ghana; (2) Costa Rica's winning its group (beating Uruguay and Italy and tying with England) and then advancing to the quarterfinal playoff round by beating Greece; (3) Mexico's doing well in its group (beating Cameroon and Croatia and tying with Brazil with some great goalkeeping from Memo Ochoa); (4) Tim Howard's stellar goalkeeping for the U.S. against Belgium, which singlehandedly kept the U.S. in the match (which, in turn, the U.S. would have won if Chris Wondolowski had netted a practically wide-open, point-blank shot near the end of regulation time -- see photo); and (5) the 7-1 shellacking that Germany administered to Brazil in the semifinal round (not exactly "pleasant," but notable for the jaw-dropping porosity of Brazil's defense).  As usual, however, the tournament had its share of disappointments, too, particularly: (1) the highly questionable penalty kick given to Holland in the final minutes of its playoff match with Mexico; (2) the fact that the U.S. based so much of its offensive strategy on having a muscular "target" striker, Jozy Altidore, then didn't have a similarly physical player in reserve when Altidore went down early in the first game with a hamstring tear; (3) that so many "knockout" games ended in unsatisfying (if dramatic) penalty-kick shootouts; and (4) poor refereeing that resulted not only in bad calls but also in violent play and injuries (cf. Neymar's fractured vertebra in the Brazil-Colombia quarterfinal).  Nonetheless, the tournament came off without any major issues (i.e., protests, acts of terrorism, half-finished stadiums, bad public transport, inadequate lodging, etc.), and it's fair to say the best team, Germany, won the Cup.

This World Cup raises the perennial question where the U.S. men's team goes from here.  Once more, the U.S. qualified comfortably out of the CONCACAF region, and on this go-round three of the four CONCACAF teams in the tournament advanced out of group qualifying into the final 16 teams.  However, it's getting to be anticlimactic for the U.S. to get that far and not be able to win a game (or two).  I can't help questioning Jurgen Klinsmann's leaving Landon Donovan and Eddie Johnson -- experienced players and proven goal scorers -- off his 23-man roster.  (Donovan is still, even at age 32, the greatest soccer player the U.S. has ever produced, and Johnson would have been the physical, athletic presence the U.S. needed in the middle after Altidore's injury.)  Some of the younger players had proud moments in the tournament, especially John Brooks, Julian Green, and DeAndre Yedlin, but the Belgium game was very winnable and the firepower just wasn't there.  I guess we'll see where Klinsmann takes the team in the next four years; I can't wait for the next round of qualifying to start!