Humor

Don't Try This at Home (no, wait…)

The wise man built his house upon the rock.
The foolish man built his house upon the sand.
Then the foolish man sold his house to me,

so he wasn't so foolish after all, was he?

—New Testament scripture, or maybe it's from an old camp song. I forget.

Which is why, after waking up each morning with the ceiling a little closer to my face, we're having to spend LOTS of money putting a new foundation under our house. As you know, the way it's supposed to work is first you build your foundation, then you put the house on top of it. Doing it the other way makes absolutely no sense, unless you're tired of listening to the creaks and groans of timbers that make me think I should be walking around with an eye patch, a peg leg, and a parrot on my shoulder. (Actually, the parrot I got already. And my co-workers always know when he's been on my shoulder. CO-WORKER: "Eeeuuu!")

I don't mean to burden you with my personal problems, since you have enough of your own figuring out what the heck those "m life" commercials mean. Not to mention the Enron scandal that has tarnished just about everyone but the Bush administration which, fortunately, was out of town when it all happened. But don't worry, Congress is on top of the Enron mess, and we can all sleep easier at night knowing that, despite the sickening way elected officials are beholden to corporate interests, integrity in government will be restored. Unless they find another way around it.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2002
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Dateline: Our Nation's Capital

Those of you in the hinterlands—when you’re not taking care of your hinter—are probably wondering what life is like now in Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital, the most powerful city in the world, or as Pentagon officials have helpfully pointed out, a "target-rich environment."

Well, there’s one thing that’s true: We’re sure as heck not scared! Nope, Washington, D.C., is getting back to normal. People are going to work, shopping, eating out, and pretty much doing what they always did. At least, I think they are. It’s hard to tell, since I’m crouched here under my desk, sucking my thumb and hoping my mommy calls.

But seriously, with a few exceptions, our lives are really no different than yours. We still put our pants on one leg at a time, after checking for booby traps. We still shop for life’s staples: milk, eggs, gas mask filters. And, like you, we still have the freedom to just get in our cars and drive anywhere we want, the only difference being we never actually get there, on account of the Humvees. And the soldiers who, under strict orders not to use racial profiling, are stopping everybody who doesn’t look like a member of the Osmond family.

The reasons are clear, of course, as law enforcement officers continue to search for followers of the man who has distorted religion for his own devious purposes, the man whose adherents are even now living and working among us—possibly even next door to you—waiting for instructions from this twisted usurper who makes a mockery of God.

But enough about Pat Robertson. Let’s get back to life in our nation’s capital, a town that has the "can do" attitude to come together in a crisis and, in unison, pee in our pants whenever a car backfires.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2002
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I'm Okay, You're Not…

Our editorial staff recently took the Myers-Briggs personality profile test and discovered that, surprisingly, many of us have actual personalities. The test is designed to help people understand that disagreements often occur because different personalities see things in different ways, and not because some people are wrong. In my case, however, it's because other people are wrong. Nonetheless, I cooperated fully with the test and was hopeful that the rest of the staff could finally learn how to improve themselves. (I've been very patient.)

The tests were useful in many ways, and not just because we got to sit at the big conference table and eat donuts while we filled them out. The exercise reminded us that there are indeed two sides to every issue (or, as I helpfully pointed out, "my way or the highway"), and that if we understand this simple principle then disagreements don't have to deteriorate into emotional battles. Of course, what's the fun of working in an office if you can't have emotional battles? ("I was NOT chewing bubble gum during noon prayer! By the way, do you think an ice cube would help get that stuff out of my mustache?")

The test asks a series of carefully worded questions designed to determine the unique personality traits that make us who we are, such as:

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 2001
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To Grandmother's House We Go

Our yearly trips to see Great Grandma have always been bittersweet. From the time the children were very young, we have told them to savor each visit, since the frail and feeble relative would probably be going to meet Jesus very soon.

That was four presidents ago.

Today, at age 95, Grandma has outlived two husbands, numerous suitors, and every major appliance in her house. And the only way she’ll meet Jesus is if he shows up at her nursing home with a deck of cards and some pocket change he doesn’t mind losing.

This year she greeted us with two questions: "Who are you?" and "Did you bring any beer?" After patiently explaining our identities (her reply: "Suit yourself"), we began the most important task at hand: cleaning out her purse. Aside from card-playing, Grandma’s other pastime is sneaking food from the dining room, which she apparently does just for sport, since she never actually eats the donuts and creamers that we find mingled with the rosaries, rubber bands, and old get-well cards from people concerned about her health. (Grandma always gets better and later attends most of their funerals.)

Grandma has lived in three nursing homes in the last 10 years, each change prompted by management that felt she’d "be much happier elsewhere." The real reason, of course, is that other residents don’t appreciate the little "whoop whoop" sound she makes every time she lays down her cards and reminds them that they probably shouldn’t have skipped their nap that day.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2001
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Last One in the Gene Pool…

Congratulations to genetic scientists who have finally proven that humans are more highly developed than roundworms. (Working on the human genome project, scientists also believe we're more complex than the mustard plant, but they're still checking to be sure.)

The reason for the comparison is that humans have roughly the same number of genes as the roundworm, although ours produce more proteins and work harder. (Which might come as a surprise to those who thought a similarity to lower life forms explains why teen-agers listen to The Backstreet Boys, one of the current crop of so-called "boy bands" who, ironically, sound like girls. Admittedly, my generation also listened to boy bands, and when Frankie Valli sang "Walk Like a Man" in his trademark falsetto, it sounded more like "Walk Like a Man Just Hit by an Under-thrown Fastball."
But I digress.)

Now, it's no surprise to me that humans are smarter than roundworms (Losers!), and, although there are a couple of people at the office who have much in common with mustard plants, I think this is pretty good evolutionary news. In fact, I feel vindicated in my childhood hopes that the roundworm toughs at my high school would one day regret the unkind things they said to me. (I prayed they'd have to eat their words—although, as it turns out, they don't so much eat them as secrete an enzyme that is then re-absorbed through their outer membranes.)

Not surprising, roundworms took the news hard and complained that this was just another in a long series of indignities they have endured throughout history. Bad enough that Jesus chose the mustard seed for an important analogy—they always felt "the Kingdom of God is like a roundworm" had a much better ring to it—but this latest slight was a little hard to swallow (although, again, if you're paying attention, they don't actually swallow).

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2001
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CODE BLUE! (Or is it red?)

My heart has a curious sense of humor. Every three or four years something strikes it as funny and it chuckles arhythmically in my chest. Maybe it's anticipating how humorous I look when, immediately thereafter, I fall to the floor and come to rest with my face pressed against the carpet. At that moment I usually think two things:

 

  • I'm having a heart attack.
  •  

    And then, of course, there's the ride in the ambulance with the cool flashing lights and the neat siren. By the time I arrive at the hospital, I'm actually feeling much better and don't see why I should stay. But then they do an electrocardiogram (KGB) which shows an abnormal heart beat. I have to take the doctor's word for this, since the print-out just shows a bunch of squiggly little lines. Sort of like the artwork our kids used to make and then we'd have to say what a fine job they did even though it was just a bunch of squiggly little lines. (Sorry kids. But I can't live with the lies any longer.)

    So for the next three hours I'm walking around the emergency room with all these wires coming out of me, not realizing that my movements were sending false signals that I was either having a major cardiac event or was standing in a pool of water being struck repeatedly by lightning. Which caused nurses to come running. "SIR! You can't walk around here like that! Now please get back into your bed!"

    "But I'm not tired. And, by the way, it's NOT a bed, it's a gurney. And why do they call it a gurney, anyway?"

    Nobody ever answered that question, or the other interesting questions I had, except once when I asked, "What's this handle thingie do?"

    "It turns off that man's oxygen, sir, and YOU SHOULD NOT BE TOUCHING STUFF! NOW GET BACK IN YOUR BED!!"

    "You mean my gurney?"

    "WHATEVER!"

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    Sojourners Magazine March-April 2001
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    Electoral Shock

    At press time our nation hung in the balance. Evenly split between opposing sides, we waited to see what the outcome would be, and prayed that our divisiveness would somehow resolve into a clear choice between "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" or "Survivor II."

    Coincidentally, the presidential election had similar problems, which by now have all been worked out, resulting in the Oval Office being occupied by one of the following:
    • a tickled George W. Bush ("Say, is this Corinthian leather?" Staff: "Sir, pay attention, please!")
    • a confident Al Gore ("My first priority is to kiss my wife." Staff: "Actually, that's no longer necessary, Mr. President.")
    • or, and I speak with the hope of an entire nation, it could be...Alexander Haig ("I TOLD you I was in charge!")

    As I write this, vote counters in Florida are still painstakingly tabulating—in many cases, by hand—the numerous flecks of vitriol spewing from the mouth of Republican spokesman James Baker. Additionally, officials in at least six Florida counties have been unable to account for the mysterious loss of several inches of height from Democratic spokesman Warren Christopher.

    The fear, of course, is that no matter who wins the presidency, he will be ineffective in leading a bitterly partisan Congress unable to achieve anything of significance. No wait. That was last year.

    This whole electoral mess was, in my opinion, caused by the state of Florida which, geographically speaking, has always been the one kid in class who'll do anything to get attention. While the other states nestle closely together in relative harmony, Florida sticks its neck out, looking like a complete doofus trying to touch the equator. ("I can almost reach it!") Let's face it, Florida is the unwanted uvula of the continental United States, the little hangy-down part of our electoral discontent.

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    Sojourners Magazine January-February 2001
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    College Bound (and Gagged)

    Because our oldest daughter absolutely refuses to join the Merchant Marines after high school, she made me drive through New England this summer looking at prospective colleges. It wasn't a bad trip, as it turned out, because I was able to spend a lot of one-on-one quality time with her in the car, whenever she removed her earphones (twice). In fairness, she would occasionally set aside her CDs to listen to the radio, which was great for me since she enjoys a wide range of music, as long as it's the Red Hot Chili Peppers. (Maybe it's best we never listened to my generation's music, since it would have led to tough questions like "Dad, what is a 'Shondell,' and why does Tommy James have more than one?")

    Our trip up the East Coast was good after we got through New York (motto: "Expect Delays"), and we did well sharing the food we had brought along, especially after we developed a procedure of first counting out all the pretzels and then dividing them by two. Of course, driving with 79 pretzels on your lap took some getting used to, but I managed (the secret is keeping your legs perfectly still—and never, ever move your foot to the brake).

    After only two food-related incidents (Toll booth guy: "Sir, do you have any other bills? This one has yogurt on it...no, licking it off won't help!...sir!...I'M NOT TOUCHING THAT!") we entered the Land of Expensive Colleges. These were schools that matched a comprehensive set of criteria that my daughter had devised: They must be at least three hours from home, and they must cost at least $32,000 a year.

    Her parents' criteria were only slightly different:

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    Sojourners Magazine November-December 2000
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    The Choice

    In just a few short months you'll wake up on a crisp Tuesday after the first Monday in November and do your part to dramatically affect the course of history. That's the day you discover your mortgage check sitting on the kitchen counter, behind the toaster, and it's already a week late (and possibly a little dark and crispy). So you'll frantically rush to the post office to send the bill by overnight mail, which will be delivered within the next calendar week, unless you express the slightest irritation at having waited in line for an hour. (Then your envelope would go in to the "special box.")

    After all that, you will probably remember something about the democratic process and your civic duty to make your voice heard in the presidential election. In a moment of poignancy, you'll recall the impassioned belief of our forefathers that even a single vote can make a difference. And then you'll laugh and laugh, because of course it doesn't make a difference, silly!

    But what the heck, you're already up and dressed anyway. Plus, you don't want to make up some story to your co-workers about how crowded the polls may or may not have been, depending on whether you did or did not vote, and then, on that basis, have them accuse you of making up the whole story just to take off work. (Are you following this?)

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    Sojourners Magazine July-August 2000
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    Driving Miss Crazy

    There comes a time in every man’s life when he has to begin a sentence with a really bad cliche. This is one of those times. You see, words are not coming easy to me these days. And when I do speak, I seem to be talking in gibberish, running my words together in a strange new dialect:

    "YOU’REGOINGTOOFAST!" I’ll say, seemingly at random. Or I’ll blurt out "STAYINYOUROWNLANE!!"

    Or even, "WATCHTHECURB!"

    And I’m talking louder than I used to, as if I were trying to alert someone far away. An ambulance, perhaps.

    It’s just a coincidence, of course, that this only happens when I’m in a car being driven by my 16-year-old. While technically still a child, she has earned the right to drive our 2,500-pound minivan because she passed the District of Columbia’s grueling written test, a test specifically designed to weed out incompetent drivers through the use of such demanding questions as:

    • What is your name?
    • What is your address?
    • Do you have $14?

    By law, she cannot operate the vehicle alone. For the safety of others on the road, she is required to have a frightened and babbling adult in the car with her. And since I say things like "LOOK OUT!" with less emotion than my wife, the family has chosen me for this task. (Our thoughtful 14-year-old generously offered to take my place, so that we parents could "just relax at home," but we declined.) And so we drive, every day, through the nation’s capital, negotiating its mean streets, avoiding potholes and drunken diplomats (both of which are immune from prosecution), and, above all, trying to minimize the number of pedestrians we knock over in the crosswalks.

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    Sojourners Magazine May-June 2000
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