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My grandmother turned 90 a couple of weeks ago. That fact alone is pretty amazing, considering that last summer, she was very ill and we weren’t sure she was going to make it. But she recovered with the help of the family (my mother most of all), and she’s just as feisty as ever now. But you didn’t come here to read about my grandma, no matter how awesome she is.

Yes, even more awesome than this

My family decided to have a celebration for Grandma to commemorate her incredible milestone. Now, I need to point out a couple of things: (1) my family is huge. Ginormous. “Wearing name tags at reunions” big. (2) My family never does anything halfway or on a small scale. This event wasn’t planned as a small get-together at someones’s house, with people bringing covered dishes and desserts. Oh but no – that’s like Charlie Sheen only thinking about having ONE drink. No, this event would be on the scale of a Rotary Club event or a Boy Scout Jamboree or Sarah Palin book signing in areas without the Internet. This party was to be huge, and everyone – EVERYONE – was expected to be there. I couldn’t say no.

But there were a few moments when I regretted not thinking it over more.

This event was planned to the hilt – there were performances, speeches, pre-arranged actions and movements…everything you’d expect from a formal gathering. There was even a printed program with my grandma’s picture on the front. It wasn’t hosted in someone’s converted garage…no, for this shindig, we had an entire church, including the kitchen and fellowship hall. This thing was major.

As with any major event, there were jobs for everyone. It wasn’t enough for me to simply attend – I was a part of the entertainment too. I was to help escort Grandma to her seat, and give a speech on behalf of the children, grandchildren, and great-grands. No sweat – talking is something I can do effortlessly, like failing a math quiz. My sister was slated to sing, my young cousin gave a speech, and so on. Just about everybody had a job to do. Bearing in mind that my family is very devout in its Christianity, most of the event was centered around religion and its role in my grandmother’s life, and on the family. I’m not a churchgoer, but I was growing up, so I’m accustomed to the pomp and circumstance that goes along with the religutainment (ree-LIDGE-oo-TAYNE-munt) that surrounds our usual festivities. However, sometimes Life throws you curveballs, and it’s up to you to stop laughing long enough to hit ’em.

When I looked at the event program, I noticed that one of the scheduled events was something called “praise dancing”, to be performed by a person I didn’t know. And as we proceeded through all of the speakers and well-wishers, I got more curious about that one line in the program because I genuinely didn’t know what that could possibly mean. My great-aunt (Grandma’s sister) introduced the young lady who would be performing this routine, lauding her ability to evoke the Holy Spirit and to personify the Word of God through her dance. I was intrigued. Allow me to set the scene for you, if you will.

  • Imagine a young woman, around 25-26, wearing a choir robe and white gloves (but with no accompanying choir).
  • Watch her as she walks alone to the front of the church, carrying a CD that she inserts into a little boombox that had already been pre-set for her.
  • Imagine her standing in front of my grandmother, eyes closed, listening to the song on the CD as it progresses through the introductory chords and notes.
  • Note in your mind that she is not holding a microphone.
  • Note Damian noticing that she is not holding a microphone, and the confusion on his face as he wonders if she’ll melt his face off by singing at a decibel level that would liquefy granite.
  • Hear the music moving into the first verse.
  • Observe the fact that the young is not singing, as you might have assumed.
  • Pay attention to her as she begins…miming the song.

(I’ll repeat that, because I bet it flew right by you. She starting miming. As in, doing mime-like activities. In conjunction to and in phase with the lyrics of the song. Yes.)

Like this, but with 64% more church

Not knowing what to expect with respect to praise dancing still did not prepare my mind for this. She began acting out the song’s lyrics and message, in a highly animated fashion. Oh, and she was lip synching the song too. Not singing it aloud – mouthing the words to the song as she pantomimed them to the audience. If the song said “Reach your arms to Heaven”, she reared back and stretched her arms to the ceiling. If it said “He saved me from sin”, she would wrap her arms around herself, then point to her own chest, then sweep her hands toward the ground to represent sin. And if the song said “He died on the cross”, she…yeah, she did. She stretched out her arms, hands dangling, with her head lolling off to one side. I think her tongue might’ve been sticking out too, I was flummoxed. And honestly, I wanted to laugh. Really, really bad. But I was  sitting on the front row, right in front of her and right next to my grandmother and mother, so I couldn’t just bust a gut without ramifications.

As this young lady continued her performance by running down the aisle at Mach 2, I took the opportunity to scan the crowd to gauge other people’s reactions to this. I mean, maybe I’m the crazy one – it’s utterly possible. As I scanned faces, I saw a mixture of reactions – some were crying, some looked bemused, some were scowling, some were smiling and thoroughly enjoying it. Evidently this form of expression is not only known, it’s condoned and liked by many people. I made eye contact with one of my cousins while watching the Praise Mime, and our nonverbal, 10-second ocular conversation went something like this.

Me: “Are you seeing this? Have I gone mad?”
Her: “Yeah, I see it.”
Me: “Is this the way this should be, or is she having some sort of fit?”
Her: “I think this is the correctly planned arrangement of activities.”
Me: “I wonder what time my flight is in the morning.”

This performance went on for nearly 8 minutes, with the lady even pantomiming the vocal flourishes that good gospel singers do while singing. And I sat there, stone-faced, thinking of the economy or orange chicken or ANYTHING that would stop me from busting out laughing. Later that night, I gently asked my mom what she thought of it. She indicated that it was entertaining. I held my tongue. I may be going to Hell for laughing in my head, but I didn’t want to go with my mom’s handprint upside my head. I’m stupid but not crazy.

Peace.

Let’s be clear: Mel Gibson is completely, irrevocably, and certifiably nutso.

"...and now I'll never get mistaken for Debbie Gibson again."

He took his Riggs character from “Lethal Weapon” and said “Hmm…how can I make this guy even more insane, and at the same time, less likable? That will be my goal in life.”

Mel Gibson, not acting.

But I believe Whoopi Goldberg’s assessment that he’s not racist. Mel’s in counseling now, and he’s going to learn to stop doing things that make people think he’s Hitler’s more radical grandnephew. But I don’t blame him.

I blame his cellphone.

"'Scuse me officer, I better take this call."

You see, it’s not Mel who is saying these awful things; it’s that pesky predictive text feature on his high-end mobile. You doubt me?  I figured you would. I’ll prove it. In the table below, the column on the left shows what Mel was TRYING to type on his little touchscreen phone. The column on the right shows what his dastardly and devious device converted his well-meaning text to.

What Mel Tried To Say What Mel Actually Allegedly Said
I’m going to be home late – traffic is heavy today F*cking Jews…the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world
What do you want for dinner? What are you looking at, sugar tits?
I love what you’re wearing, Oksana. You look great! You look like a f***ing pig in heat, and if you get raped by a pack of n***ers, it will be your fault.
You mean everything to me. You’re an embarrassment to me
Can we talk? I think we should clear some things up. I am going to come and burn the f**king house down… but you will blow me first.
Did you do something with your hair? You are the most synthetic person… who the f*** are you?
I’ve been a real cad…I’m sorry, Oksana. How dare you act like such a bitch when I have been so f**king nice.
Let’s schedule a meeting to talk about the relationship. You insult me with every f**king look, every breath, every f**king heartbeat, every f**king selfish heartbeat you have.
We all have our faults, Oksana. Let’s work this out together. You’re a f***ing mentally deprived idiot. You’re a f***ing using whore. I own you. You don’t count.
Have you seen Consuela? She knows where I keep my nice ties. I will fire (name omitted) if she’s at your house. I will make it known and fire her. I’ll report her to the f***ing people that take f***ing money from the wetbacks, OK?

See? It’s totally not Mel’s fault. He’s a victim of technology and a vast conspiracy to sully his good name. I blame it on Obama.

"What the hell are you blaming me for THIS time? The War of 1812?"

(Mel…get help. Now.)

Peace.

You insult me with every fucking look, every breath, every fucking heartbeat, every fucking selfish heartbeat you have.

Now that I’ve been taking taekwondo (henceforth referred to as TKD, on account of me not wanting to type “taekwondo” any more than I ever have to), I’ve learned quite a few things that would greatly benefit me if I were ever in a situation where I needed to protect myself or my loved ones from attack from bullies, muggers, or deadly gravity-defying ninja pirates.

OK, if it was also a cyborg Jesus, we'd be screwed.

However, as I’ve increased in rank and belt color (I’m purple with a green stripe now, baby. I’m like the Prince of TKD), the chance of injury has also increased. Let me let you in on a little secret, folks – I don’t like getting hit. At all. It sucks quite a bit, and the amount of knowledge you gain from be struck in the mouth by someone’s foot isn’t proportional to the amount of pure pain and embarrassment you also gain. Granted, as you learn different ways to defend and attack, you often just get pissed and try to seek vengeance, but vengeance only goes so far when you take a side snap kick to the ribcage. Vengeance has a way of rolling out on you like it was doing a dine ‘n’ dash at a new Red Lobster restaurant. Although pain itself is moderately effective as an instructor for what not to do, it is most certainly not an accurate measure of success. But I’ve learned that a very effective method for assessing success is by how often I DON’T get hurt.

Case #1: The Jealous One

When I started TKD, there was a woman and her son who were a rank and a half ahead of me. As I proceeded, I showed enough progress that the black belts allowed me to skip some ranks to the point where I caught up with the two of them. The woman (who I’ll call Kicker) was at first somewhat relieved to have another adult to work with, but when we were placed together in a group with a black belt instructor, it became evident that I was a bit more advanced than she was. Now, I’m not saying that to brag – hell, I’ll readily admit that what I know about TKD can fit into a thimble with room left over for the script for “Glitter 2: Electric Boogaloo”. But I do pick things up quickly, and I have the added advantage of having a son who takes TKD on different nights, allowing me more chances to pick up additional information and to practice more. She noticed that I could pick up things after seeing them once, but she needed a few more repetitions to catch it, and perhaps felt threatened by that. Who knows. But whenever the subject of my rapid advancement came up, she would wrinkle her nose.

Part of what we learn in TKD are pre-packaged hit-and-react maneuvers called One Steps. One Steps need 2 people, and require that one person punches at the other, and the other does a series of blocks and counterattacks that are pre-arranged. One of the One Steps (One Step #1, if you’re curious) involves a block and a punch to the solar plexus or ribs, whichever you can get at easier. When we perform them, the intent isn’t to do harm, but to demonstrate that we know the proper technique. Since it was just me and Kicker in our group, we had to take turns on each other. She was the attacker first, and I successfully did #1 from the right and left side without difficulty. But when I became the attacker, Kicker couldn’t seem to get her technique down. She needed to repeat it…a lot. And each time she hit my ribs, she did that shit with gusto. Now, she’s a good bit smaller than me, so the first couple of punches didn’t really affect me. But after around the 8th, my ribcage sent a text message to my brain that basically said “Dude, WTF r u doing? Make her stop!” By the time she finally got it, I could barely lean to that side, which I wanted to do really badly after that beating. She kinda smirked, but I got the last laugh later. She skipped a class, and during that class the head master allowed us to go ahead and test for the next rank. I passed. That act of kindness was not repeated, so now I’m ahead of Kicker, and don’t have to be kicked or punched by her anymore. My ribs thank me.

Case #2: On The Good Foot

A couple of weeks ago in class, we finally got to spar. Sparring allows you to actually hit and kick someone besides the air, which is terrifying and awesome all at the same time. We’re fully padded (mouth guard, helmet, hand and foot guards), so there’s little real danger unless you do something wrong, or do something dumb. That’s where I come in. Among the matches I had that day, I was paired up with an adult orange belt. Orange is one belt rank below mine, so I immediately began fiendishly plotting all the evil things I was gonna unleash on this unsuspecting and undertrained guy. I mean, why not? It’s all a learning process, right? I’d learn how to use my advanced techniques, and he’d learn how to take a kick. Win-win. As we worked through our match, I noted two things: (1) that my punches weren’t very effective on him, as he was a bigger guy than I am, and (2) the guy stood very tall and upright, meaning his ribs were exposed. That was like seeing a bacon-wrapped honeybaked ham with my name on it…in cursive. I said to myself “OK, make a fake to his head to make him rise up and block, then give him a hard roundhouse to the side. That’ll show him.” So I faked a punch to his head, making him rise up, and then I came around with a roundhouse kick to the ribs. SCORE. He sucked in wind, and I felt better about myself.

For about 2 hours.

About 2 hours and 1 minute later, my foot, the one I so viciously kicked him with, began to hurt. A lot. Like, a whole helluva lot. I’m not a wimp, so I tried to just put some ice on it and elevate it, but the pain only got worse. I couldn’t put any weight on it at all, and…I wept. Yes, it hurt that bad. I only cry at funerals and when watching “The Natural”, so imagine my embarrassment at crying over a hurt foot. It was the worst. DWW took me to the emergency clinic, and we found out it wasn’t broken, which was good to know. Apparently I pinched a nerve in my foot, and it was all better in a couple of days, but still – I hurt my foot while kicking someone. Who does this? Oh yeah, I do.

Case #3: Slippery Slope

Last Thursday night was the first time I’d been back to class since I hurt my foot, so I was supremely jacked up and ready to rumble. This class had a shortage of adults, so when sparring time came around, I was paired up with a black belt. This is basically like staging a slap fight between a 1st grader and John Cena, folks, and to be clear, I was not John Cena. But I wasn’t afraid – I wanted to prove myself against him, so I went all out. We had been going at it for 2 or 3 minutes, and I was sucking wind while he was buffing his nails and checking the TV listings for “Lost”. I figured the only way I could get through his defenses was to make a sudden shift to the right, then punch through his open fists. Sounds like a good plan, right? Well, let me tell you a little about the foot pads we wear first. They cover the top of your feet in a thick cushion, but there’s nothing on the bottom except for two thin plastic strips that prevent the top from flying into someone’s face. Those strips don’t have any traction on them whatsoever, and only our bare feet provide any friction to keep us from doing the MC Hammer dance while we fight. When you perfect your center of gravity (like the black belts have), you can practically do TKD on an ice rink without falling, but…I’m not a black belt. So when I made that sudden shift to the right, I quickly found myself…airborne. I have no idea how I did it. One second I was about to give him a taste of my right fist pad, and the next I was floating, completely horizontal in the air, just as if I had stepped on a banana peel. And the only think I could think during that 1 second of airtime was “…oh shit.” Then I hit the ground, flat on my back, knocking the wind out of me. As dark-skinned as I am, I know everyone in the gym could have seen me blushing. I was mortified, because not only had I slipped like a character from a Pink Panther cartoon, I had done it utterly on my own, with no physical contact.

I quickly jumped up, super-pissed at myself. Now I let my anger take control, which is exactly what they teach you NOT to do in Jedi School. Resuming the match, I circled around the black belt and decided “To hell with the trickeration – I’m taking the direct approach. I’m kicking him in his damn stomach with a side snap kick. Oh yes I am.” The problem with this strategy is that it relied on the black belt being a complete idiot, and on me suddenly becoming Jet Li instead of Jet Ski. Neither of those were the case. So when I unleashed my furious side snap kick, two things happened simultaneously:
1. The black belt was no longer in the place where I was kicking.
2. I got a ginormous cramp in my calf muscle.
Yes, I got a cramp in my kicking leg from kicking absolutely nothing. At THAT point I realized the best thing to do was to just call it a night and sit my dumb ass down, because I was obviously not a martial artist.  Most embarrassing of all was when another black belt came over, eyes full of sympathy, asking if I was alright. No, I was not alright. My ego and dignity both got knocked the hell out.

So now, instead of counting the number of belts I have, or the number of kata I can perform, I’ll measure my success in reverse – by how many injuries I come home without. Because truly, a green belt means very little if I have to carry it around on crutches.

Peace.

My youngest, 7YO (they grow up so fast. I can remember when he was 4YO, and 10YO was 7YO. Still with me?) is in the Gifted and Talented (GT) program in our school district, meaning he goes to a separate, Fame-style school full of uber-smart elementary schoolers who are either going to solve the world’s problems, or recreate dinosaurs from DNA preserved in amber.

Fingerpainting? I don't think so.

When we moved 7YO to the new school, we had the option of sending 10YO over as well, even though he didn’t test his way in. But since he was going into the 5th grade and would be changing schools anyway for sixth, we felt it was pointless to uproot him from all his friends just for one year of parental convenience. His grades and test scores weren’t high enough for him to qualify on his own, which was really too bad. But he was better off staying put.

This year, his scores and grades were high enough for him to be invited to potentially attend a math, science, and technology (MST) center. MSTs are one step lower than GT, because they are focused strictly on advanced math and science, whereas GT is well-rounded nerdishness. Still, MSTs give kids who are skilled in those areas advantages over kids (like me) who are merely average, or dare I say, mere mortals. When we got the letter of invitation for him, he was ecstatic, and we were also pretty pleased. He’s always had an affinity toward math and science, even with his ADHD, so it’s a natural fit. In theory. That whole ADHD thing means his ability to focus is roughly equivalent to my ability to drive through University Park here in Dallas without someone noticing I don’t belong. If he’s admitted, it’ll be a struggle.

I say “if he’s admitted” because even though we got a letter of invitation, that’s just the first step in the process. The letter invites you to come to a meet ‘n’ greet, where the staff shows you all the lovely amenities of the joint. You then have to fill out an application, including your child’s report card from the previous year (meaning 10YO’s 4th grade report card), and then they’ll choose among those applicants and send them official invitations to join the program. Parents then have a window of opportunity to either allow their kid to go, or keep them enslaved to a life with mere mortals at normal middle school. Having gone through this before with 7YO, we’re veterans to the process. And last night was the big meet-up.

As we walked up to the new school, 10YO and I had a conversation:

10YO: “Hey Dad, what’s all this white stuff on the sidewalk?”
Me: “It’s salt.”
10YO: “Why did they put salt on the sidewalk?”
Me: “When it was cold and icy, they put salt down to help melt the ice. By the way, it’s not just salt – it’s salt mixed with sand or dirt. It’s not for eating.”
10YO: “Oh.”

We continued inside, where we were blown away by the academic offerings from this place. Astronomy, forensics, pathophysiology,  algebra, field trips to nuclear power plants and NASA, robotics, animation…and this is just 6th through 8th grade, people. It’s an awesome opportunity to say the least. There was an 8ft tall Eiffel Tower made of tongue depressors in the hallway, built by students. And it was perfect. That place is like “Fame”, but for smart people. We finished the tour, and went back to the car to head home. As we pulled out, we began discussing dinner. I looked back at 10YO, and noticed he was looking a little green around the gills. This conversation ensued:

Me: “Are you ok?”
10YO (lying down, clutching his belly): “Oooooh….”
Me: “What’s the matter?”
10Yo: “I don’t feel so good, Daddy…”
Me (concerned): “What’s the MATTER? What happened?”
10YO: (silence)
Me (figuring something was seriously wrong): “TELL ME.”
10YO: “Um…I ate some of the salt.”
Me (confused): “Salt? What salt?”
10YO: “The salt off the ground.”

Now, I don’t know how familiar you are with the salt used to de-ice roads and sidewalks, but it’s not Morton’s Little Girl Wasting Salt With An Umbrella table salt. It’s usually pure rock salt, mixed with dirt or sand. Rock salt is not the same as iodized, edible salt. It will make your tummy hurt, particularly if it’s mixed with sand and is lying on the dirty dirty ground and if you’re dumb enough to consume it, which evidently my child is.

Yes.

No.

Me: “Son, that’s NOT the salt you eat! Are you kidding me? Why did you do that?”
10YO: “I don’t know.”
Me: “It was on the ground, son!”
10YO: “I know.”
7YO: “It has dirt in it, you know.”
10YO: “I KNOW!”
DWW (riding shotgun, and only so I could hear): “Dumbass”

Please take a moment to let the irony sink in. My son, targeted as a potential bright academic star, while on a visit to the advanced school he’d be learning new and very cool technical things, ate the sand-and-rock salt mixture from off the ground. At age 10. He recovered, but hopefully he learned a very valuable lesson.

Maybe.

Peace.

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