OBITUARY: Billy Graham 1919-2018

Ah, poor Billy Graham.

Whether you’re a Christian or even an Anti-Christian, it’s very hard not to appreciate Billy and all his work for social causes in addition to the cause of Christ. Even Harlan Ellison once said that Billy seemed to be the only big-name Evangelist who seemed like a good man who actually practiced and believed what he preached, and wasn’t just in it for the money. (Paraphrased, owing to my faulty memory)

He opposed segregation before it was trendy. As early as 1957, he would refuse to preach at revivals that separated Black and White sections. He invited Martin Luther King to co-headline a 16-week revival in NYC. He spoke publicly about the need for nuclear disarmament. He advocated more attention money and time be spent on AIDS back in the ’80s. He was, as far as I’m aware, completely scandal free.

In the 1968 election, Nixon enlisted Graham’s aid in campaigning for him and helping him wrap up the evangelical Christian vote. He made a number of promises of how greatly he could help Christianity once he was in office. Graham did so, but after the election he quickly realized Nixon had been lying to him, and had no interest in making good on any of his promises. He grew disgusted at having been so gullible and so easily used, and remained mostly publicly apolitical for the rest of his life. Even so, he was a guest of 11 presidents, and functioned as an unofficial spiritual adviser to a couple of them.

You don’t have to agree with his stance on everything – heck, *I* differ with him theologically on at least one important point, possibly others – but in the end he was a man who spent his whole life trying to make the world a better place, both spiritually and materially.

He’d been retired for more than 10 years owing to failing health, but just the same: it’s a sadder place without him in it.

I miss John Bennett

I just got to thinking about how I miss my friend John Bennett. I haven’t thought about him in years, but he popped into my head on the way back from my kid’s school, and, dang, I miss hanging out with him.

John and I carpooled together when we were in high school. He was a somewhat-off, more-than-passingly shy guy who compensated with a sense of humor that I can only describe as random.

Example: One time we’d broken into an old building with lots of very old paint that was flaking.

John: I think this is lead paint.
Me: Probably.
John: Don’t eat the paint.
Me: [Laughing] Thank you for reminding me, John.
John: Don’t eat it!
Me: I won’t eat the paint.
John: Good. Because you shouldn’t.
Me: I wonder why this place was abandoned.
John: Maybe they all ate the paint and died.
[Time passed]
Me: Ah, crap! Back up, back up, back up! We need to find another way!
John: Did you eat the paint?
Me: No, the hallway’s full of snakes! Run!
John: [Running, screaming] As bad as this is, it would be worse if you ate the paint!

If that makes him sound aspergery or really OCD, it wasn’t. He was struggling to keep a straight face every time he said it.

Though incredibly low key, he was always a hoot. We’d be at his house, and he’d be making me listen to backmasked messages on Mylon LaFevre albums (Mylon was a Christian musician) and then he’d say, “Let’s go make bombs!” Being of an engineering mindset, he was really good at bombs. Being of a Floridian mindset, I as entirely in favor of this. Then, we’d sneak out into the well-known makeout spot for the high-school kids in the woods (It goes without saying that as a couple geeky Juniors, neither of us could get any chicks) and set the bombs off (Harmlessly). This, of course, scared the crap out of the people, and there’d be screams, and half the cars would go screeching off into the night, and occasionally a whole bunch of the guys would see us lurking and chase after us while we hauled ass back to John’s car. The time he looked over his shoulder while running, then slammed into a tree is probably one of the funniest things I have ever seen in my life.

We got back to the car, and he was more concerned about spiders than his bleeding wounds. Terrified of spiders.

His nickname was “Evil Genius,” which he chose for himself. Uhm, we’d get on the CB to see if any truckers were Catholics who could help us with our latin homework (nope). We’d sit on his hobie cat on the trailer on the back of his car while a friend would drive us around the Dunedin causeway, which sounded hilarious, but was utterly horrifying. Uhm…oh, he joined the Navigators, a Christian Youth Group, mostly in order to meet chicks. Eventually he realized that wasn’t gonna happen, hence their unfortunate group nickname, “The Never-daters.” One day in frustration, he asked for a garbage bag, then we packed up all their snacks in the bag and left. (We shared them with our friends and total strangers for the rest of the night.) We’d drive up to Newberry and go poking around in the caves.

John: Hey, watch what happens if I turn out the light
Me: DON’T TURN OFF THE LIGHT, JOHN!

He introduced me to the concept of comedy albums (Bob & Doug MacKenzie), and I remember us seeing A Fish Called Wanda together for the first time while visiting him in Gainsville. It about killed both of us

Another fun moment! We were hiking across the unused, shoreward part of Honeymoon island once, through the tall grass, on our way to the woods, to set off bombs. This was broad daylight. I’d never done it before, but past experience had taught John that being on an island well away from the beach gave us a LOT more time to get away before the cops showed.

One time we went out to the woods on Honeymoon Island, which is where he used to test out some of his homemade explosives. Walking through the tall grass, and I hear rustling.
Me: “You hear noises?”
John: “Yeah.”
Me: “Rats? Snakes? Rats and snakes?”
Kpjm: “No. We don’t want to step on them, though. Here, I’ll clear ’em out.”

He lit an M-80, then chucked it randomly. It exploded. Suddenly, at *LEAST* a half dozen couples of elderly gay men hopped up out of the grass and came running out of the woods, either naked, or in their underwear, or speedos, looking horrified. He threw another M-80 high enough that it exploded in the air. The elderly homosexuals kept running. I said at least six couples, but it was probably more.

“Just in case there’s any stragglers,” he said.
“Good thinking,” I said. “So I’m imagining the first time you came out here, you didn’t know this was a place where gay coots go for anonymous gay coot sex?”
“It was a pretty awkward discovery,” he admitted.

I should mention John was wearing a pith helmet at the time. Whenever we went out in the woods or to the beach or the islands or climbing through an abandoned building, or sometimes even just swimming, he always wore a pith helmet. If you asked him why, he’d mumble something about monkeys.

We went to different colleges and saw less of each other after that, but it was always a hoot. The last time I saw him was his wedding. This was before I’d met my wife, and I was recuperating from a bad breakup, so I wasn’t dating anyone at the time. I asked a friend of mine who was a model to come along as my plus-one. Since we’d known each other for years, and had an easy back-and-forth, and a bunch of jokes only we knew, everyone assumed we were together. Every time she got up to go to the bathroom, the guys at the table (Total strangers) would compliment me on her.

“Oh my God, man, she’s gorgeous!”
Yeah, she is.
“You’re lucky to have a woman like that.”
I know. Her and her live-in boyfriend were going to go camping this weekend, but there was a last-minute change in their schedule, so…
“How did an average-looking guy like you get a girl like her?”
She’s not actually mine. I’m just borrowing her for the evening.
“Seriously, dude, how did you get a girl like that?”
I called her boyfriend, and I said, ‘hey, Bob, I need someone to go to a wedding with me, and Heather’s busy. Can I borrow your girlfriend?
[One of the girls at the table] “I think it’s the hair.”
Oh, for God’s sa—Yes. Yes, yes, yes, it’s the hair. Chicks dig the hair. [My current profile picture is from around then. I did have gobs of pretty good hair]
“See?”
Grumble grumble grumble. Then she’d come back.
“What did I miss?”
Everyone was talking about how much they like your dress.
“Oh, thank you!”

This lengthy digression is because evidently this is the reason I never saw John again. His wife was….uhm….not gorgeous. Not ugly or anything by any means. She just wasn’t a model, and all the other girls were basically normal-girl-shaped. By bringing a ringer, I’d inadvertently upstaged the bride at her own wedding, which was a terrible thing to do, and I had no idea that was going to happen. I later found out she was very upset. They never came back from their honeymoon, they started it here, went to Cancun or Fiji or Newark or some exotic place like that, and then ended it in Texas, their new home.

And that was that.

Probably going on 30 years ago. hadn’t thought about it in years, but now that I have, dang, I really miss my friend John.

The Beautiful Farewell to Star Trek

You ever stumble across something really stupid that, nevertheless somehow manages to fill up a hole inside you that you never knew was there?
 
It’s no secret I don’t like Star Trek, and the reason is obviously that I loved it once, as a kid. I’ve considered all subsequent Treks to be disappointing or flat out awful, and I abandoned the franchise somewhere around 1993 or 4. I like amateur films and videos and things, so my only exposure to Trek in the 21st century was through Fan Films, which primarily had nostalgia value, and mostly suck. Eventually there were just too many of these, and they were all too awful, and I drifted away from them.
 
Fan Films have always been illegal (Copyright infringement) but generally not prosecuted. A year or so ago, Paramount decided to start enforcing their rights, and now they’re verbotten. Nobody’s making ’em anymore. Nor will they.
 
Now, the slickest bunch making ’em was a semi-pro outfit out of California called “Star Trek Continues.” Despite the actors not looking much like their TOS originals, and some occasionally dodgy production values, it *felt* like Trek. It was really good, but I lost interest. Over 5 years they made about 10 episodes. Their final episode was said to be the last one of the golden age of fan films, the last one anyone could get away with, which just squeaked by under the wire. I decided, ‘what the heck, I’ll give it a shot.’
 
Now, when I was 10, 11, 12, I adored Trek. Obviously I wanted more, but like everyone else of my generation I really wanted “Seasons 4 and 5” more than movies, or spinoffs or whatever, right? Even still, I long ago made peace with the fact that it wasn’t gonna happen. And love TOS like I did, even as a kid I was aware that it had a lot of problems. I wasn’t blind.
 
But you know what I wanted? The thing that was secretly buried in my heart all this time? A hole in me that I never even noticed was empty? To my surprise, it wasn’t *more* Trek, nor more TOS.
 
I wanted a conclusion.
 
I wanted a solid end to the original show. Not a reunion movie, or anything like that. I wanted the Final Voyage of the Starship Enterprise at the end of its Five Year Mission.
 
And I got it. Holy crap, did I get it!
 
“To Boldly Go…” is a two-part episode. Without spoiling it, the Enterprise’ mission is complete, and it’s heading back to earth when it gets called aside to investigate strange goings on. It bookends the entire series, revisiting some of the circumstances of the “Where No Man Has Gone Before…” and there’s an extended callback to “The Enterprise Incident” that works really well, but the story is all new. Those elements simply serve to bring things full circle, to give a very well-earned sense of completion.
 
The sets are flawless, as are the costumes, the script hits all the right ’60s beats (Though with some modern flourishes, and with some ’60s narrative flaws that I think have to be intentional), the soundtrack (Mostly culled from old episodes) is perfect. It is a bang-on production, and honestly I had no difficulty believing this was the final episode of TOS (Which presumably would have aired in the spring of 1971)
 
At some point, about a third of the way through, the continents shifted inside me and this stopped being a fan film, and *became* TOS. It wasn’t about nostalgia, it was about an end to the epic and the epoch that had been dangling and incomplete in my mind these last 40 years. I never noticed, presumably because shows didn’t have finales in those days. They just *stopped.*
 
This, though, more important than ‘more Trek,’ this was the conclusion I’d never known I was missing. At some point, perhaps halfway through, my ten-year-old self showed up, and we watched it together, me remembering what it was like to be that young, and the other me forgetting what it was like to have grown so crusty and cynical about something I’d once loved.
 
So we watched it, and neither of me can say whether it was really objectively all that good. Both of us thought it was, but both of us were far too close to it emotionally to really be sure. In a way it didn’t really matter if it was good or not (Though, again, I think it was very good), rather it was about fixing that leak inside me. It was about closing that door that had been banging in the wind all these decades, and doing it with a sense of contentment and finality.
 
The final scenes set up ST:TMP, but I don’t care about that kind of continuity. It’s well done, but I don’t need it. What I do need is Kirk, Spock, and McCoy standing alone, talking about what happens next.
 
What I needed was Kirk requesting a desk job because he can still see the faces, and remember the names of all 78 people who died while he was captain, and he just can’t throw people’s lives away like that.
 
What I needed was was Bones retiring because “I’ve seen too much death, and I haven’t seen my daughter in five years.”
 
What I needed was a heartbroken Spock retiring to Vulcan because he’s been tainted by human emotion to the point that he just can’t take it anymore.
 
What I needed was these three guys having been *changed* by their voyage, saying goodbye to the people they were when they started, and moving on to the next stages in their lives.
 
What I needed was them coming home. What I needed was me coming home.
 
Trek is done for me now. There is no more. It ended here, now, last night, on Youtube. None of the subsequent stuff exists. This is all I ever wanted without knowing it, all I never knew I needed. It’s done.
 
The episode ended, and rather than the usual music playing over the closing credits they just played the normal background bridge noises. Then that ended, too.
 
Then I sat there in the darkness, staring at the screen in bittersweet silence for a long time, feeling something I hadn’t felt in 30 years, and smiling all the way through, body, mind, and soul. 
 
And then the ten-year-old version of me got up, walked out of the house, and quietly closed and locked the door behind him.

An Ultimatum on Ultimatums

I’m gonna make an ultimatum about ultimatums:

For the last two years or so now, we’ve all been getting posts from people saying “I love Trump, and if you disagree with me, you may as well just block me now,” or “I love Hillary, and block me now if you don’t agree,” or Bernie or whomever. I don’t like any of those people, but you know what I like less?

Being told that if I don’t measure up to someone’s standards of intellectual purity, I’m not worth knowing. I really hate that.

Firstly: It’s insulting. Not to brag, but I’m actually a really good guy. I’ve done a lot of really good things that have helped a lot of people in my life. I don’t expect or want any praise for that. It is clearly something that you don’t care about, however, if you want to ditch me because I don’t love/hate Trump/Hillary/Bernie/Whomever in the way you do. I’m also charming, funny, smart, and creative. I’ve written six full-length books, which I’m told are quite good. Presumably that means nothing to you, though, because we disagree on some random issue, like, say, abortion or gay marriage or the Hawley-Smoot Tariff act. In other words, in your eyes, *none* of my good or interesting qualities matter, *ONLY* the way I vote. If I don’t goosestep along with your liberal or conservative goon squad, then I’m not worth knowing.

Secondly: If I like someone, like *them,* flaws and all. I can name 30 friends who disagree with me bitterly about different things, but I sill like them. And they still like me. If I like someone, I like them as a person, not because of a rigid set of arcane political views. This is called “Friendship,” and “Tolerance,” which are things that folks who sling ultimatums around clearly aren’t really into. Because clearly people don’t matter to you, just dogma.

Thirdly: I suspect you’re hypocrites. Guys: The hottest Victoria’s Secret model you can imagine asks you out, you go to dinner, you hit it off, she clearly wants to jump your bones and as you’re making out in the cab on the way to her place, she mentions that she voted differently than you did. Are you *REALLY* gonna say “Stop the car, because despite this being *literally* my fantasy since I was 12, you think differently than me, and I don’t even care about your reasons.” Are you *REALLY* gonna say that? If not, then clearly you’re a hypocrite. Ladies, gender-swap that (I dunno what the male equivalent of a Victoria’s Secret model is, but I’m sure there must be something). My point being that *IF* your’e the kind of person who *wouldn’t* get out of the cab, then you lack the strength of your convictions, which means you really don’t have any convictions, and you’re just blowing hot air to make yourself feel better.

Which is fine: Spew all the venom you want, I really don’t care, but telling me – or anyone – “If you don’t agree, then just block me right now” is a really bad thing to do, and I don’t think you realize that. Or you don’t care.

I was raised to think, and not just react. To value people more than money. To never trust *any* politician. I was trained not to give way to anger, at least not in public. The only blanket standard I expect from people is that they *don’t* tell me I’m worthless because THEY, THEMSELVES, are intractable. In short, you people who say “Block me if you disagree?” Guess what: I’m *BETTER* than you. You are self-righteous and petty and mean and you do not value others at all. I don’t praise myself much. I really don’t even like myself much, but there it is.

I expect a lot of you are gonna block me for this 

If so, I wish you well. Have a good life, and maybe try to grow up a little. Lose the anger.

So what order do episodes of The Prisoner go in, again?

I recently forced my family to watch “The Prisoner” series. As even casual fans know, there’s not really an official episode order. The broadcast order, the production order, and the order they were written in are all different. Worse still, four separate writers were working on four separate scripts that *they* were told were going to be the second episode. It’s confusing, and people have been nattering about it for fifty years.

I had my own opinion going in, based on the last time I mainlined the series about a decade ago. Upon completing it, though, I realized that while I was wasn’t any more wrong than anyone else, and probably less wrong than most, there was a more pleasing order they could go in.

Here, then, is my opinion of the best episode order, and my explanations as to why.

1) “Arrival.” – This is the premier episode, in which our protagonist is kidnapped and shows up in The Village. It’s sort of got to come first, right? Duh.

2) “Dance of the Dead” – This is one of the weakest episodes, generally relegated later to the run of the short series as a result. It’s also one of the four “Episode Number Twos” that were being written concurrently. Despite its dramatic problems, this is definitely the number two-iest of all the possible number twos. Our hero is still very angry, and he’s introduced to several locations for the first time, all of which he’ll take for granted in subsequent episodes. Here they get special notice, however. Likewise, the rambling and somewhat pointless plot seems to be more about impressing Six with how inscrutable the place was than any other purpose. “We’ll weird the truth out of you yet, six!”

3) “Chimes of Big Ben” – This is one of the four “Second episodes,” and the one that most people consider to be the second episode. They’re wrong, of course, but that’s the consensus. This is one of the best episodes of the series, and Leo McKern is the absolute best Number Two. So good, in fact, that they brought him back twice more. Interestingly, this is also the closest the Village ever came to breaking Six. He actually starts to spill his guts. It’s also the episode in which they identify his one consistent weakness, which they’ll use against him for the rest of the run.

4) “Free for All” – This is the one where Six discovers he can run for the office of Number Two. I’ll be honest, this one could also be in the 5 or 6 positions. It has to be fairly early on in his stay, as he sort of half-believes he can genuinely get power.  It wouldn’t be that easy to dupe him later on.

5 ) “Checkmate” – There’s no solid explanation for this one going here, but logically it must take place pretty early in Six’s stay. He realizes that prisoners and guards can be told apart by their attitudes. He attempts to organize a mass escape using this to figure out who he can trust, but his own imperious attitude runs it aground. I place it early because it’s simply not the kind of observation it would have taken Six long to make, and it’s not the kind of mistake Six would make later on.

6) “A Change of Mind” – To be honest, this could just as easily go in the #4 position. Flip a coin. It’s a sort of meh story, so I just placed the better one first. Definitely it has to take place in the first half of the series, though.

7) “The Schizoid Man”  – one of my favorite episodes, despite it really not making much sense. Evil Twin stuff. In the end, Six manages to assume the identity of one of his clones, and as he’s being driven to the heliport, Number Two mentions “The General,” rather conspicuously. Six has no idea what Two is talking about, so he plays along and says he’ll “Report in to the General,”  when he gets back home. Two finds this a really odd for him to have said, since one doesn’t “Report in” to the General. “Well, you know what I mean,” Six says. Two realizes it’s actually Six, not one of his duplicates.  Given that, the next episode must logically be…

8) “The General” –  It turns out that “The General” is a supercomputer. There are seventeen “Number Twos” in the course of the series, but not all are created equal. “Arrival” starts with one in charge, and ends with another. “It’s Your Funeral” has four. Likewise, as I said, Leo McKern turns up three times. Then there’s this guy: Colin Gordon. He’s got two episodes. This is the first. He’s very self-confident.

Interestingly, the plot of this episode doesn’t really have anything to do with Six directly. They’re not trying to break him. The masters of The Village are simply trying out some new technology (IE, the General), and Six decides to ruin it.

9) “A, B, C” – Colin Gordon turns up as Number Two again in this one. How do I know this one is second? Because Two was confident and self-assured in the previous one, and in this one he’s a disheveled wreck with a peptic ulcer. The episode makes it very clear that he’s in a lot of trouble from The General debacle, and if he doesn’t break Six this time, he’s done. He doesn’t break six.

10) “Many Happy Returns” – Six wakes up to find The Village deserted. He builds a raft and sails back to England, where he contacts his old bosses. They don’t trust him because he quit and then disappeared without a word “For month,” but eventually stuff happens and he’s back in the Village again. “Gee, Gilligan, you think we’ll get off the island this week?”

Why did I place it here? Internal references make it clear he’s been gone for a long time. The overall feel of the episode puts it towards the middle of the run, and the plots to break him are getting more elaborate but less effective. Which is all doubletalk for “It just feels like it fits” to me.

11) “It’s Your Funeral” – Six has realized he’s stuck in The Village for the long haul, and he begins to take an interest in the other people who live there. The plot does not revolve around them breaking him. He discovers a plot to assassinate Number Two (Well, *A* Number Two. There’s four in this episode), and stops it in order to prevent reprisals against the other Prisoners.

12) “Living In Harmony” – a format-breaking episode that seems to take place in the Old West. Six is a sheriff who turned in his badge for unstated reasons, and left town. He gets knocked out and wakes up in a cowboy town called “Harmony,” where he immediately runs afoul of The Judge who runs the place. In the end it turns out to be Virtual Reality, and The Judge is Number Two.

Why did I place it here? As I said, the efforts to break Six are getting more elaborate and less effective. This is arguably the most elaborate.

13) “The Girl Who Was Death” – A terrible episode, and a terrible idea: Number Two hits on the idea that Six might let down his guard around children. It doesn’t work, predictably, as he spins a ludicrous Avengers-styled goofball story with Number Two as a supervillain. Why do I place this here? Because clearly the Village is out of ideas.

14) “Hammer into Anvil” – This week’s Number Two is a sadist who cajoles one of the other prisoners into suicide. Six swears revenge, and over the course of the episode he drives Two insane. This is one of the episodes in which no one is even remotely trying to break Six. I’ve placed it here because Six has grown stronger with each of their attempts. He’s now at the point where they know they can’t break him, but he can easily break them.

15) “Once Upon A Time” – Flag on the play. None of the attempts to break Six have gotten anywhere, so Number 1 stops trying. He recalls Leo McKern to The Village and forces them to undergo Degree Absolute, a psychological test of will that will break one and kill the other. It goes about how you’d expect. Nobody questions that this is the penultimate episode of the series, since it leads directly into

16) “Fallout” – the finale.

“Wait, wait,” you say, “There’s seventeen episodes, not sixteen.” That’s true. I’ve omitted “Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling.” It was shot during a scheduling conflict when the star was filming a movie and couldn’t get away. His appearances are confined to some sloppy voiceovers, a thirty second cameo at the end, and a whole lot of stock footage. The rest of the story involves his brain being transferred into the body of another, and being sent out into the world to capture a missing scientist. Along the way he visits his fiance.

You see why I left it out? Everyone hates it, it’s just stupid and poorly acted and poorly written. Everyone onscreen seems bored. The entire thing plays out like someone’s fanfic. I’m not the only person to just drop it from the canon.

However: If you’ve gotta stick it in somewhere, I’d put it in between “It’s Your Funeral” And “Living in Harmony,” since it fits the whole theme of doing more elaborate stuff and getting less payoff.

Some of my order is pretty solid: The first two, the last two, the Schizoid/General/ABC troika, but some of it is pretty subjective, two. Episodes from the first half of the series have a different feel than the ones from the second half, so it’s pretty easy to group them accordingly, but *within* that grouping, my own order is based on what seems to me to flow best.

So there you go.

What do you think?

MY DIARY: Day 18,542: “Innocence.”

I’ve been thinking about my dad a little bit lately.

He suffered a traumatic brain injury on Christmas Eve, 2011, and died the day before New Years Eve, so it’s not surprising, I guess.

I never got to grieve for him. My mom is – I’ll be charitable – mentally ill. I have no siblings, no close relatives nearby, so keeping her functional and arranging the funeral and delivering the eulogy and all that stuff fell upon me. I did a good job, I say with no small amount of pride. I don’t take compliments well, and I compliment myself even less, but being thrown in cold into a trauma like that, I think I genuinely did good.

Life got worse after he was gone and, as I said, I never got time to grieve. I almost would, but people were counting on me. I couldn’t afford to let myself to fall apart. There were taxes to settle, corporations to dis-incorporate, estates to settle, things to re-title to my mom, finances to shift. None of this unique, everyone has to do it at some point, I suppose, but in my case if tell on me. I did adequately. I’m great in a crisis, merely ok in an ongoing state of duress. Barely-functional under normal circumstances.

As a result of all this, I feel oddly numb when I think about him. I packed it down so tight, suppressed it so thoroughly, even banishing him from my daydreams. (I daydream a lot). I was very afraid that if I wrote down the things I was feeling – like how it’s been years and I still can’t bring myself to sit in his chair – it would all come flooding out, and I’d be a basket case, and life would get worse for everyone, particularly my mentally-ill mother. And me. I definitely feared it would roll back on me.

A week or so ago my dad turned up in my dreams. Because it was a dream I didn’t remember that he was dead. I just said, “Oh, hi dad,” and he nodded and sat down while I went on about whatever nonsense was going on in the story. Eventually I woke up to go to the bathroom (Because I’m 50), and when I laid back down again, I realized he’d been there. I was suddenly sorry I missed him. Not sad, oddly, but just sorry. I tried to will him back as I drifted off again, but, no luck, he was gone.

Now, I know it wasn’t him. My belief in the supernatural is…measured… at best. I believe in God and an afterlife, but not ghosts or sleepytime messages from beyond the grave. That stuff doesn’t happen. I know full well that whatever goes on in my unconscious mind is a product of my unconscious mind, something I’m telling myself, sometimes with a reason, but mostly just random. I know all that. More importantly, I believe it.

Still, the next morning I was sorry that I had largely ignored him in the dream. Even if it was my own subconscious speaking to me in his voice, it would have been nice to hear his voice again. It’s been so damn long.

Now, anyone who knew my dad could tell you he was a great guy. I called him “A living saint,” and he always bristled at that out of humility, but it’s really hard to stress how great a guy he was, and what a long shadow he’s cast as a result. He was a living Horatio Alger story, only without the creepy understated homoerotic elements.

His family was poor in the Great Depression. His mom ran off when he was three. He was homeless, but managed to survive and be a normal kid. Played with the kids with houses, went to school, slept in a coal cellar. Eventually the state picked him up and put him in an orphanage, which he hated.  My grandfather eventually re-married so he could get custody of his kids back, then the entire family moved to Florida, where the Child Welfare laws were unreasonably lax even then.

They were still dirt poor, but they had a house. My dad took odd jobs, mostly as a delivery boy on his bike, and the family frequently lived off of stuff that washed up on the beach. Eventually he graduated high school, joined the USAF, served out the Korean War, GI Billed his way through college, became an Aerospace engineer, and ended up working for NASA in the Apollo/Skylab glory days.

Then he lost everything because Congress effectively shut down NASA in 1973/4.

He started over again. This time he went into business, and my mom went nuts, and we moved, and working – no joke – sixteen hours a day he managed to build a successful career for himself capable of supporting all of us in nearly-patrician fashion. He could easily have been a millionaire, but his opinion was, “What do you need all that money for? As long as you’re comfortable, isn’t that enough?” He was a deacon at the church, honest to a fault, a great guy. He built his life from scratch *Twice.* The second time in middle age.

He died at Eighty. He looked 60 or 65. He took care of my mom, and he took care of me (I’m mentally ill too, just in a more entertaining fashion than my mom) and while that wasn’t the life he wanted – come on, everyone wants a *normal* family – he never once complained. It was just his lot in life, and he accepted it and worked to make it better.

the impressive details of his life aren’t really why I’m thinking of him, though. I’m thinking of the “Living Saint” quality that he had, and it struck me today that really, he made it through life uncorrupted. He didn’t lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who did. He didn’t hate anyone, and he held true to his values even when they were unpopular. He treated people of all races equally long before that was the norm. He made it through life assuming the best of everyone, and because he so clearly assumed that, most people tried to live up to it. He made life better for the people around him, just by merely being him.

I mean, yeah, he had some negative qualities too, everyone does, but in his case they were trivial.

I’m told the definition of “Saint” comes from the latin word meaning “Set Apart.” If so, that’s definitely my dad. Somehow he made it from one side of life to the other still pure of heart like a child, still full of faith for all the good stuff in life, and still believing in the future. So many people don’t. So many people, like me, just kind of give up. My dad, though? He was a good man from start to finish.

I miss him. I feel numb about him, but when I think about his fundamental goodness, I can feel…something? I’m not sure what, but something more vital than the little glimmerings of all the memories I’ve compressed into a little ball in my soul. I can’t take him out of that ball and look at him, or think about him. It’s been too long. I couldn’t grieve now even if I had the option to. I’ve grown coarse and gnarled and complicated and sad and self-loathing in ways he never did. That opportunity is shot, and will not return.

But when I think about how good he was, it always makes me smile.

That’s not much, I know. It’s enough, though. For now, anyway.

SUNDAY SERMON: My unusual take on the book of Revelation

The Revelation, the conclusion of the Bible is attributed to the apostle John was writing in the 90s. Given its trippy imagery, and imminent eschatology, it’s always been a source of unhealthy obsession for my fellow Christians. Not least of which because John *clearly* thought this stuff was happening any day, and yet here we are more than 2000 years later and, well, it hasn’t.

There are many theories to explain this, and apologetic interpretations to explain this. Most of them range from ignorance to outright lunacy, with a layover in con-job somewhere in the middle. This is my take on it, which is far from unique, but is very unusual. It mostly comes from reading Dr. Hugh Schoenfeld in his 1988 book, “The Original New Testament.”

Now, the Apostle John would have lived through the First Jewish War of 66-70 AD, which lasted almost exactly 3 1/2 years. He was talking about prophecy and visions, but he had to do it in a manner that was not immediately obvious to his oppressors, so he used highly elliptical imagery, mostly culled from Daniel. However, it’s important to remember that he was writing for his immediate audience: late 1st Century Christians, and *NOT* 21st Century Christians. Thus he uses allusions and things that THEY would easily understand, but which are befuddling to us because we live in a different time, place, culture, and political reality than they did.

Imagine you’re writing a letter to a friend, and it’s full of coded Simpsons references. Imagine someone in 4200 AD trying to understand it. They can’t without understanding our period. Likewise we cant’ without understanding the period Revelation was written in.

When you take the time to study it from a historical perspective you find that pretty much everything up until “There was silence in heaven for about a half an hour” is a direct (Yet coded) reference to specific instances from the 66-70 war. Wormwood refers to the Roman practice of poisoning wells. The water becoming as blood refers to the Battle of Joppa in which there were so many dead bodies that the water actually did turn red. The locusts are the Roman army with their horsehair helmets. The scorpions are (IIRC, I don’t have my notes right now) the Assyrian cavalry. The number of the beast is *ALSO* the number of the Roman Tax Stamp used during the rein of the Emperor Dominitian, and so on.

All this stuff had already happened. It wasn’t stuff that was yet to happen, it was in the past. John was getting across the idea that the end times were already upon them, and that they’ve lived through a lot of it.

At the “Silence in heaven for about a half an hour” part, this shifts from relating the war to actually talking about The Future. In context, the “Silence” is a kind of time out between the first half of this tribulation (Which has already past) and the second half, which is yet to come. God has extended this time out because He is merciful and wishes as many as possible to be saved before the end, but make no mistake: The end *IS* coming, eventually. Since the war lasted 3.5 years, John assumes the 2nd half will last 3.5 years, hence 7 years of (Active) tribulation.

So there you go: Half of Revelation has already come and gone.

ANNOUNCEMENT: I finished Big Pharma!

I just finished writing the novel, “Big Pharma,” which I’ve been working on (And mostly fighting my anxieties about) for a bit over a year.

About a year and a half ago, maybe a little under, my friend James Stephen Graham told me he was dying. He’d written several space adventure novels in an ongoing series, and there was one that he was about 4/5ths done with, which he’d obviously be unable to finish. He asked me if I’d do it for him. I said, sure, of course, I’d be glad to.

Since then I have taken a *SHAMEFULLY* long time finishing the manuscript. (And, as I said, mostly fighting my own anxieties about doing justice to my late friend’s work). I read and re-read his other books, took extensive notes, wrote, got frustrated that I wasn’t really capturing his voice, started over again, got frustrated. It wasn’t hard work, all the details and outlines I could need were given to me, but I was basically fighting myself. I do that a lot.

Anyway, the manuscript is done. Now I need a British friend of mine to translate my portions from American to British (You know, spelling, weirdo quotation marks, etc) so it’s not a jarring transition for the reader. Then a quick formatting edit, and then it’s online.

This also ends my self-imposed exile from writing.

To all Jim’s fans, and his wife Vivien, I truely, deeply apologize for the delays.

You can find Jim’s other books here https://www.amazon.com/…/B0…/ref=bseries_auth_1_B006OM9GX0_1