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Monday, September 15, 2014

Why I Took Up the Banjo

Okay, I admit it. I enjoy being a bit of an odd duck. I had to. It all comes from my difficult childhood as a nerdy, skinny little kid in the local public school where they sent all the thugs and toughs deemed unworthy to attend the local church schools and the heathen children whose parents didn't go to church. The rest of us who were simply too poor went there because we had to. It was a lesson in survival skills for the meek. By embracing the identity that was forced on you by your tormentors, I learned how to deflect them. If they call you a geek, be a proud geek. This confuses most bullies and spoils their fun......except when they beat you up in frustration because their words no longer make you cry.

While we meek types may, indeed, inherit the Earth someday, it sometimes feels like we may have to pay for it in blood. I was offered the chance to play in the school band at one point, but I turned down the opportunity. In order to play a band instrument other than drums (where the thugs were well-represented), you had to stick something in your mouth and when you do that, you can't really sing along.
skinny little kid in the local public school where they sent all the thugs and toughs deemed unworthy to attend the local

I took up instrumental music in 1971 when I bought a damaged Mexican guitar for $6 and fixed the bridge. It worked beautifully and made even my pitiful efforts sound good when I could actually get the thing in tune. It took me two years to develop a good enough ear to actually hear what in tune sounded like. Till then, I tuned my guitar visually by depressing the top string on the fifth fret, plucking it and adjusting the next string down till it vibrated when I picked the string above it. I learned this technique in physics class - I was that big a nerd.

They called me two-chord Tom and used to pay me to play elsewhere. When my guitar playing finally became tolerable enough that I was allowed to play with the guys at campfire at my summer camp job, I was offered an old used cheap banjo. No longer the obnoxious amateur guitarist I had once been, I jumped at the chance to revisit my halcyon days as an out-of-tune ballad singer via the banjo.

After 40 years of banging away at it, I can play well enough that folk don't run screaming from the room, although my wife (Miss Perfect Pitch) tends to keep putting it way in the back of the closet if she finds it left unattended for more than a few minutes.

Ah, well, I can always go to the woods or sit out on the porch, a spot to which generations of itinerant banjo players have been traditionally banished. That's okay. I like the porch and the woods.

More scope for the imagination.   — © 2014 by Tom King

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Ghost Writing For the Not Quite Dead

It's so much fun to pound a keyboard 16 hours a day  till your fingers are nubs and your brain can no longer find a reasonable way to spell hyperbole. You should try it sometime. What keeps us going is the pittance that trickles over the transom and the hope that someday we're going to strike it big. We're the 49'ers of the 21st century.
Sometimes, you'd do better to sell yourself to an Arabian Sheikh as his personal toilet attendant. That'll do too. I've written better than 30 books in the past 18 months. All of them, I am told, are selling well on

Not a one has my name on it.

But I chose this life and I'm damned well going to keep soldiering on in it till I win or they bury me - one or the other. I AM WRITER HEAR ME TYPE!

I'm sixty years old. My brain says I'm 22. My bones say I'm 112. We humans were not meant to live like this. I am thoroughly convinced that we were designed to live in lakefront bungalows, to sit on the porch every evening with a nice warm dog stretched across our feet and to play banjo till the sun goes down.

It's funny how you get to a point where you're ready to wrap it all up and get on with the living forever part. I've decided that when we get back to the new Earth, I'm going to build a big old schooner and take her out on whatever's left of the ocean. I'm gonna sail from island to island sampling the cuisine and jamming with whatever passes for a local pick-up band.

I will of course, take along the Missus and the dog - maybe even a grandkid or two - even in heaven I can't imagine my kids wanting to hang out with me for any length of time. I told my Sweet Baboo about my plans. She told me that it would have to be in heaven before she'd go out on the ocean in a boat with me at the helm. Mrs. King is not respectful of my sailing prowess.

I wonder. Will our spouses be as sharp-tongued in heaven as they are here? Maybe I was imagining the kind of spouses you get in the other heaven; the one where you have to blow yourself up first and then you get 70 of them.

Man, that sounds more like the other place to me. I have enough trouble with just the one.

© 2014 by Tom King

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Elder Leiske and the Testimony of Roma Barnes

I vividly remember the warm Sabbath Afternoon in Keene, Texas, when Roma Barnes gave her testimony. 

At the time Southwestern Union College (the college later changed it's name because the girls wouldn't buy T-shirts with the school initials on them) was captained by Elder Leroy Leiske, a lovely man. He didn't have a Ph.D. and was scorned by some of the more stuffed of shirt among the church's leading lights at the time. Despite his lack of academic credentials, the man nearly doubled attendance at the school, boosted the numbers of marriages among students, beautified the campus and put the school on solid financial ground. He remembered the names of every one of his students and there were better than 600 of them. We all felt special. He's the only college president I ever saw get a standing ovation from students for walking out on stage in a chapel service. The kids loved the man.

One of the things Leiske attended to particularly well was the spiritual health of the students. He believed in the power of unstructured religion and held semi-regular testimony meetings at the church and in the college auditorium. He always seemed to know when we needed a recharge and would hold one just in time?

It had been a beautiful service and as we were nearing the end of it. Roma Barnes made her way up to the front to wait her turn to testify. Roma was basically our little town's resident odd duck and one never quite knew what she was going to say. Elder Leiske, who had fielded Roma's contributions to the service before, tried roll things up before she could get up front.

Unfortunately for the spiritual atmosphere that day, Roma refused to be denied. It became obvious that she had a burning desire to speak and looked so pathetic that anyone who didn't know Roma would have thought Elder Leiske was being mean not to let her speak. Finally, he motioned her forward and Roma took the mike. Native Keeneites took a deep breath.

I remember Leiske whispering to her about time and keeping it short. Finally, he shrugged helplessly and stepped aside. Roma wasn't entirely of this world at the time and she took the microphone with this very solemn look on her face. She wore a beige dress that hung like a sack on her down to her knees. She must have been in her late 40s or 50s by this time and she didn't believe in beauticians nor beauty products. This is not to criticize her appearance but to set the stage for her testimony. Simply put, Roma was a strange old bird. Roma's stern gaze swept over the congregation.

"I have had a terrible problem for many many years," she began. "I've struggled with it and prayed about it and finally the Lord has revealed to me what was causing my terrible problem." She paused dramatically. You could have heard a pin drop.

"Spices!" she announced shaking her head sadly. "They made me too sexy!"
Leiske went pale. A vast collective snort went up from the congregation and several crass individuals actually laughed out loud. I remember Ted Ramirez, our student body president and his buddy, Tee Chincheretta, sitting over to one side, doubled over in pain, their whole bodies shaking. Roma turned and left the podium, her warning to the saints well and truly delivered.

Elder Leiske's closing prayer was heroic!

© 2014 by Tom King

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams Was A Hero

Robin in The Fisher King

The death of brilliant comedian, Robin Williams has shocked and saddened the nation this week. Everyone's asking how could a man, so rich, so talented and so well-loved end his own life like that. He seemingly had everything to live for.

The Internet's predictable leap to judgment by the usual set of self-proclaimed experts has got us all sorts of clever answers.

  • He wasn't a Christian so he's gone straight to hell - don't be sorry for him.
  • He just didn't read the right books.
  • See, we told you wealth doesn't bring happiness.
  • He was a liberal douchebag
  • He chose to kill himself because he was a coward.
There are lots more, but this stuff sickens me and I don't want to repeat any more of it.

Suicide may indeed be a person's choice. I think of Saul who did not wish to die at the hands of the Philistines and others who took suicide as a way out of what they saw as an insoluble problem.

But the idea that suicide is always a clear personal choice is not true at all. There is evidence a-plenty that Robin Williams suffered from bipolar disorder or something closely akin to it. Bipolar is a cruel disease in which an underlying severe neurological condition causes maladaptive psychological responses. What that means is that at times your perception of the world becomes utterly distorted and things make perfect sense to you that make no sense at all to anyone else.

I have two family members who have made multiple suicide attempts over the past few years. They failed, not for lack of trying but  because family members were watching, praying and intervening when they lost contact with reality. In one case, I am certain angels intervened. Neither wanted to die, not really. It's just their perception was so distorted that it seemed the least selfish thing they could do. Later, when they weren't in the middle of a psychotic break, they could see that what they believed with all their hearts at the time was not true.

Many artists suffer from mental disorders. Many of them incorporate their illness into their art. Earnest Hemingway, Vincent Van Gogh, Mel Gibson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, John Nash, Brooke Shields, Carrie Fischer, Emma Thompson, Herschel Walker, Michael Phelps, Howard Hughes, Paula Deen, Elton John, Craig Ferguson, Margot Kidder, Sinead O'Conner and Kurt Cobain are just a few of the famous people who battled with neurologically-based mental disorders and often lost their lives to it.

Much of Robin Williams comedy was the result of his successful sublimation of his wild swings from mania to depression and back to mania. He worked it all into his comedy routines. It's little wonder he did so well playing lunatics as in The Fisher King and One Hour Photo. He'd been there, done that and bought the T-shirt franchise.  His portrayal of men on the brink of madness were heart-breakingly real for a reason. He'd been there. He was probably there at the time he played them.

I lost a good friend ten years ago to the ravages of bipolar.
He was a brilliant preacher and Godly man and incredibly creative. Toward the end of his life his brain betrayed him. He began having blackouts, panic attacks and psychotic breaks and at the last and he became so isolated that no one was there when the madness overwhelmed him and he put a shotgun in his mouth and blew out his brains.

The truth is that Robin Williams death may have been inevitable - a consequence of his bipolar.
What may be the real miracle is that he managed to hold off his own death for so long in the face of the unrelenting effort by his own brain to kill itself and stop the pain.

The number one outcome/side-effect of bipolar disorder is suicide. Those who love a person with bipolar need only miss the signs just once to lose their loved one. I know. I care for someone with bipolar. Most days are good, but once in a while it all goes to hell in a hand-basket and if I wasn't here, I could lose the person most dear to me in all the world.

Robin may have lost the fight in the end, but given the severity of the disease that eventually claimed him, his long and courageous fight against it deserves to be lauded for what it was - heroic. Like the defenders of the Alamo, Robin Williams held out as long as he could. You don't berate a soldier who died at his post.

So, Robin, go with God my friend. He sees the sparrow fall and notes its resting place. I suspect one day Robin will stand before the throne of Grace, look up into the face of God and say, "There you are." And God will say, "I have found you my child, come home with me."

© 2014 by Tom King

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Food Nazis, Shopping Snobs and Fashionistas, Oh My!

Okay, they got me going again. This morning there were a bunch of posts about stupid Walmart shoppers, how badly they dress and how the proletariat is being exploited by the evil folks in Bentonville. Close on the heels of the Walmart prudery came a shot at McDonald's for offering Tofu Nuggets and that set off the whole pink slime nonsense even though the so called "nasty" pink slime in McDonald's burgers, hasn't been part of McDonald's cuisine for years. I wonder at the wheezings of disgust at McDonald's one-time use of a textured vegetable protein based additive. Have these guys never seen the inside of a slaughterhouse? Now that's nasty! Mashing up soybeans is a whole lot less nauseating I promise you.

I don't go to McDonald's very often. It is a rare deal when I do. My arteries aren't as young as they once were. I do, however, drop by sometimes after an exhausting shopping trip to Walmart because, God bless 'em, they have a location inside my Walmart. McDonald's is handy to have close by when I need it - when I'm hungry and only have a dollar left for instance. Walmart is also handy to have available when I can't afford the mom and pop grocer's exhorbitant prices or need more than just groceries. Walmart is one trip for everything and saves gas and store-hopping and I can get my meds for $4.

I suppose the reason I get peeved about the anti-McDonald's, anti-Walmart nonsense I see in places like Facebook is that it looks to me like bullying. Believe me, I know what bullying look like. I see it as little more than a lot of upper middle-class, liberal, snobby, rich people wannabes who badly need to look down on somebody, anybody in order to feel superior to the rest of us mere mortals. The truth is that most of them could care less what us members of the proletariat eat. They just want to be able to think they are better than somebody and their lives are so pathetic they are reduced to the same kind of bony finger pointing that made them give up religion. Some little old lady at church probably told them their skirt was too short or their hair too long when they were kids. Ironically, they grew up to be just like them - sneering, finger-pointing critical food-Nazis, shopping snobs and fashionistas. They post pictures on Facebook of Walmart shoppers in ugly outfits and giggle at them. They blow up any urban legend that suits their "I'm superior to you" meme so long as it's critical of the lifestyle of the lower middle class and poor. Anything to deride the tastes and habits of regular folks just trying to get by on a budget that can't absorb the cost of a Gucci handbag.

I grew up on beans and rice and baking powder biscuits. A baloney sandwich and a handful of chips was haute cuisine in our house. It really hacks me off when people describe perfectly edible food as "nasty". You want nasty, go to an upscale french restaurant. Eat some raw oysters, uncooked fish or snails and then tell me the McDonald's dollar hamburger is "nasty". One man's sushi is another man's fish bait. The whole thing is nothing more than the same kind of nose-in-the-air bullying I had to put us with in elementary and high school from the jocks and the cheerleaders and the rich kids and I hate it every much now as I did then. You want to see some "nasty" food, I can show you stuff you wouldn't believe, next to which McDonald's gets 3 Michelin stars!

Get over yourselves people. There is plenty to talk about on Facebook given the hell into which this world is rapidly descending. Instead, you guys use your energy finding ways to set yourself above the folk you see as little more than simple, ignorant hicks. Marx called the "the proletariat" and it wasn't any nicer when he said it than what you're doing now. Bullying wasn't attractive in high school, dudes and dudettes, no matter what you told yourselves. And it isn't attractive now! 

Remember the Golden Rule - treat others the way you want to be treated. You can't afford to anger the proletariat, because when the zombie apocalypse comes (and it will come), McDonald's dollar menu may look pretty good to you and the zombies behind the counter may just refuse to serve you.

To paraphrase the queen of snobs, Marie Antoinette, they may just say, "Let 'em eat snails!"

I'm just sayin'

© by Tom King

Friday, July 11, 2014

Not Enough Pottery Shards - Why the Archaeologists Say the Bible Is Fiction

Eli Shukron walks through remains of the Citadel of David
An Associated Press story reports that Israeli Biblical archaeologist, Eli Shukron has found, what he believes is David's Citadel at Jerusalem - the one David captured in his conquest of Jerusalem. It fits the Biblical description perfectly, but other archaeologists say it can't be David's Citadel. The claim rekindles the debate again about using the Bible as a field guide for finding archaeological sites. First off the Biblical account is fiction, as all "true" archaeologists know, and besides there aren't a bunch of pottery shards dating back to David's time lying about the place.

Archaeologists do love their pottery shards and in the absence of centuries of ceramic debris, they inevitably conclude that, whatever it is, isn't as old as unreliable witnesses (like the Bible) say it is. I mean do these guys really base their belief in the infallibility of pottery shards on the idea that everybody in olden days just left the pieces of their broken pots lying around on the floor or in the yard? Were there no ancient trash men to take junk to the town dump?  

Apparently some professors
do leave an archaeological record.
One wonders what these guys' homes and offices must look like. Do they leave beer cans and broken wine glasses around on the floor for the enlightenment of future archaeologists? Do they pitch their old socks and juice boxes out the window to create a nice orderly progression of crap on the lawn so that later generations of archaeologists can accurately the site where the famous Dr. Illinois Smith once took his historically significant naps?

Eli Shukron, who found the place (and the water shaft David and his men crawled through) points out that the Israelis weren't in the habit of leaving broken pottery fragments lying around for centuries in places they lived for the convenience of Ph.D.'s doing archaeological dating. Even the historically inconsequential Hebrews had brooms and wives who disapprove of untidiness.

The site fits the Biblical account to a "T". This is troublesome for so many archaeologists who have refused to believe David was any big historical deal, although they did have to admit he existed when someone found an old inscription near some really old potter shards that mentioned King David by name.  They still resist the idea that he actually was anything more than a minor warlord.  After all, it would threaten the premise that the Bible was not at all historically accurate, but a fictional account written many centuries after the supposed events.

And besides, if the guy who found it is Jewish, it must be a fraudulent discovery meant to extend Israeli control over the poor mistreated Palestinians of East Jerusalem.~ That's what all the cool guys, liberals and propeller-headed Ron Paul conspiracy theorists say anyway, because we all know how trustworthy they are and what liars Jews are.~
The First Doctor of Thinkology

I'm utterly fed up with the smug self-proclaimed intellectuals and their super-cool self-worship. It's a shame we can't just get the whole war for human hearts right out into the open.  Actually, I expect the war is already heating up. Certainly the anti-Christian, anti-Jew, anti-conservative faction is growing ever more brazen and irrationally angry at anyone who disagrees with the progressive socialist agenda for making us all the same by making us all equally miserable (while making themselves our rulers by virtue of their great brains).

Really, I think we should get some university to issue all of these progressive geniuses a Th.D. (Doctor of Thinkology).~ Maybe brand them with some sort of mark so we, the ignorant masses, could identify them for the towering intellects they think they are.~

Come Lord Jesus. I'm ready to go home.

© 2014 by Tom King

* You will notice a sprinkling of an odd bit of punctuation throughout this article that looks like this:  .~    It is called a snark mark and is used to indicate sarcasm. I use this mark so that I clearly indicate when I'm not serious, lest I get another round of "Congratulations on finally seeing the light" emails from my propeller-head readers. I hate having to burst their bubbles after they have worked so hard cutting and pasting and sending me all those Youtube links about the Illuminati, the Bilderberg Conference and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.


Friday, June 20, 2014

I Discover My Indian Name

As a person who is a bit more than one quarter Cherokee if you add up all my ancestors, I consider myself part Native American. My Indian ancestry comes from two sides of my family and I am married to a Scots-Irish-Ouachita woman (which is a whole other blog by itself). As a result, I've always kind of felt like I should have an Indian name. Trouble was, I could never figured out what it should be. Traditionally, in many of the tribes your name is given to you by the tribe.

I was thinking about this today and I suddenly realized that I had already been given my Indian name and by people I still remember fondly as my "tribe".

It was back in the 80s, when I was working at Odyssey Harbor. I ran the equestrian program and was in the saddle all day long, leading strings of troubled kids with mental and physical disabilities out onto the trails on horseback every day. We were like hunting parties or something - me and my string of mounted Wahoos!

One day one of the kids told me that the boys had a nickname for me. I asked what it was. His answer made me laugh.

Buffalo Butt".

 I suppose, riding along behind me for all those hours, the name had sort of jumped out at them. We Kings are, admittedly, a bit haunchy. We're built with long torsos and short thick legs and well established gluteals. We're like Weebles. We may wobble, but with our low centers of gravity, we don't fall down. I kind of grinned. My middle son, who was also amply haunched, they called Little Buffalo. 

For a long time I used to stamp my letters with a rubber stamp of a buffalo. I think I may resume the practice. I kind of like the name they gave me. Oddly enough, it was an expression of respect and affection I think. I loved those boys and I think they understood that.

© 2014 by Tom King

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Bony Fingers and the Suppression of Happiness

Iranian "Happy" dancers arrested and forced to apologize publicly.
Six Iranian young people were arrested and forced to humiliate themselves on Iranian TV for the seditious act of creating a video of Pharrel Williams' breakout hit "Happy" and posting it on Youtube. The video "Happy in Tehran" went viral on Youtube almost immediately and within hours the culprits were identified and arrested. Of course, world opinion went promptly against the Tehran cops - particularly the police chief - and Twitter broke out in a rash of calls for the kids' release.

A lot of folks on the left expressed dismay that any government agency could be so anti-happiness and decided that Republicans must be responsible somehow.~

It is to laugh.

Except, of course, in Tehran.

Look. None of this surprises me. There are always going to be people out there, who can't stand to see others happy. I think it's because they are so busy clawing their way to the top they don't have time to be happy themselves. Lets face it, in order to achieve a state where you have so much money and power that you are financially, socially and politically secure takes a lot of work. Happiness suppressors work so hard to climb their way up into the privileged classes, because they think this will provide them with great security and that this high level of security will, somehow, make them happy.

When it does not, it makes them grouchy old curmudgeons (look it up). So when these would-be rich and powerful people see, to their horror, people with little money, no power and no social standing cavorting about being "Happy", it offends their sense of rightness. This is not how they thought the world should be. Their world works on a simple formula:

  • Rich and powerful = Happy
  • Poor and powerless = Sad

Any other formula deprives these guys of their joy at having achieved superiority to other mere mortals. So, of course the would believe that people cavorting around being happy without having had to suffer, compromise, lie, cheat and steal their way to their own elevated status must be doing something evil. This evil is by definition, a threat to their own exalted status,therefore it must be stopped.

It's hard for people who depend on external things to make them happy to tolerate happiness in people who lack money, power and influence. It throws their whole worldview out of kilter.

We used to get that a lot with the bony-fingered old people in church who though our kid songs were just way too bouncy to be religious. Tehran doesn't have a monopoly on people with the strong desire to rain on someone else's parade, particularly if their own parade going badly. There's always one in every crowd who appoints him or herself the official party pooper.

Such people should be arrested and thrown into a bouncy castle with a box of Oreos. Perhaps it would do them some good.

Just one man's opinion.

Tom King © 2014