Friday, March 20, 2009

Semper Paratus


Above, on the day of my graduation from boot camp. I cut quite the image.

The words Semper Paratus mean "Always Ready" in Latin and much like the Marine Corps' Semper Fidelis, or Always Faithful, these are the words attached to a military force of the United States, the Coast Guard. I was a Coast Guardsman, something I am still proud of to this day.

I was a junior in college at Liberty University. Coming home over the summers to work at my father's business at Charter Catalogs was beginning to get a little old for me. When you work with members of the family, it can strain relationships. I was still a bit like Maynard G. Krebs of Dobie Gillis fame, and still had not an idea of what I wanted to do with my life, professionally after college. All the adult men- coaches and professors I knew- recommended military service. "It will make a man out of you," they said. Little did I know just how true that would be.

I was attracted to the Coast Guard because I did not really care to be blowing people up, crawling through the dirt and shoveling foxholes. The Coast Guard, on the other hand, had a more attractive mission, it seemed to me. To save lives (in search and rescue,) to be involved in drug enforcement (on our seashores,) and to monitor ports and ships for safety. That sounded like something I could go for.

I filled out all the applications and got my background check done with the police. As the Coast Guard is a small service, they really can't afford screw-ups, so they were and still are fairly picky about whom they accept. On my day of induction, I went to the recruiting station, raised my right hand, and said the pledge to defend the Constitution with my life. Then, off in a whirlwind of activity. We piled onto buses to the airport, and whisked off to the beautiful, sunny, tourist-centered town of Cape May, New Jersey. Not that I noticed any of it while I was there. A warm, congenial and friendly face greeted us on our arrival, clambering on the bus, sneering.

ALL RIGHT YOU MAGGOT HIPPIES!!! OFF THE BUS! GO! GO! GO! GO! GO!

We piled over each other to get out the doors and stood at what we considered to be attention while the instructors got into our faces and screamed. Fortunately, I was a little older than some of the kids that had just come straight from high school. A few of them were not used to being yelled at, and started to tear up.

The instructors quickly singled these poor souls out, smiling in glee. WHAT'S THE MATTER, MAGGOT? MISS YOUR MOMMY? WELL, GUESS WHAT? I AM YOUR MOMMY NOW, BOY! GO AHEAD AND CRY! CRY LIKE THE LITTLE BABY RECRUIT YOU ARE! HOW ABOUT AS YOU ARE CRYING YOU GET DOWN AND GIVE ME 50 PUSH UPS, MAGGOTS! ALL OF YOU!

So we are now grunting and trying to do push ups while still at attention on the ground. WHAT A PATHETIC GROUP OF FREAKIN' LOSERS! the drill instructors continued to shout, but with more choice words. WHAT DO YOU THINK THIS IS? CAMP SNOOPY?

One of the recruits on the ground near me decided to answer. "No, sir." It was a bad decision, as well as a poor choice of words.

DO YOU SEE ANY GOLD ON MY BLANKETY BLANK COVER? The guy then decided to compound the mistake by actually looking at the instructor addressing him. WHO TOLD YOU TO LOOK AT ME, YOU IDIOT?

Down we went for more push ups. I was beginning to understand that the smallest foul up by anyone in our unit would get the whole unit in trouble. We quickly wised up and shut up. Then we were piled into a line and marched off to receive our gear.

In lines, we were quickly evaluated for our uniforms, both dress and work. We were issued shoes, boots, belts and covers (hats;) given a raincoat and a sea bag (which is like a really large cylindrical backpack;) and marched over to the squad bay by which time it was about 3:30 am. We were not allowed to sleep until we had made our bunks, which were called racks, the military way. Finally, we collapsed on the government issue mattresses.

Only to be woken 15 minutes later by our loving and kind drill instructor. GET UP, RECRUITS! he screamed, throwing a trashcan down the center aisle. The white, glaring, buzzing lights went on and we scrambled in our skivvies to stand at attention in front of our racks. And, as you might have guessed, there was one guy who was not phased by the lights, the screaming or the clanging metal trashcans being hurled around. He had slept right through it and was still tucked into his blankets, snoring. The drill instructor closed in on him like any caring mother would.

GEEEEEETTT UUUUUUUUPPPPPPP !!!!!!!!!!!!!! he screamed right in this guys face, his veins popping out of his head and his face turning three shades of purple. The guy woke up, screaming from fright, and scampered to stand in line at attention with the rest of us. We tried to keep a straight face.

Off we went to do morning PT. Running, jumping jacks, sit ups, push ups, you name it. Then it was off to stand in line at the barber shop, and to get our new identity as well: "Recruit." The actual title is Seaman Recruit, E-1 in the scale of ranks. The lowest of the low. We were gutter-crawling, toothbrush-polishing, watch-standing, grunt-working slime. Some of the other graduated recruits who were still on base (E-2's, the Seaman Apprentices) and a few of the folks who had taken ROTC (E-3's, Seamen) had a smidgen more respect from the instructors than the rest of us did. They were held to a higher standard, however.

Then into another line we went to get our shots and dental check up. They love shots in the military, by the way. "Don't scratch this inoculation or you will go blind. That's an order," the doctor told us. And boy, did it scratch over the next few days. That's because the little bacteria in there were multiplying, but at the same time, our bodies were building up immunities to the little buggers.

Once the entrance week was done, we were handed over to our Company Commanders. They would polish us and make us into Coast Guardsmen, or attempt to make us wash out. Lives depended on us being able to do our jobs and follow orders to the letter. Over the weeks, we became more accustomed to our routine. We began to show a pride in our appearance and our training as a unit, Tango-118. We marched with military precision, ate with military precision, slept, showered, shaved, spoke and replied with military precision.

"RECRUIT HOUTCHENS!" I squared off the corner in the hallway pivoting 90 degrees on one foot and stood at attention just inside First Class Boatswain's Mate Metts' door. The Company Commander evaluated my belt buckle, my ironed uniform, my polished shoes, my stance at attention, and my military bearing. My eyes stared straight forward at attention, my ears waited for any orders. "What is the knot of the day, Recruit?"

"Sheep shank," I replied.

"The Petty Officer of the day?"

"Petty Officer First Class Stott."

"What is general order number eleven?"

"To be especially watchful at night, and, during the time for challenging, to challenge all persons on or near my post and to allow no one to pass without proper authority."

"Mmm," he grunted. "Dismissed."

I smartly did an about face and exited the office, once again squaring off the corner with my foot.

I still remember many of the times I spent there like they were yesterday. The classes, the people, the places. Sundays were special as we were allowed to go to chapel. How deep, emotional and meaningful those services were. I was elected protestant representative to the chaplaincy from my company, and at times, spoke to my fellow recruits just before lights out concerning spiritual matters.

I left boot camp in Cape May that summer as a mature (well, more mature,) responsible, highly motivated, tightly organized and physically adept young man. If you are young and lack direction or focus, may I recommend a tour in the US Coast Guard. It will make a man out of you.

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Theft by Taking

[Above- Free Cat Food! How enticing!] "...there is no such thing as a free lunch."

Theft by Taking

It's against the law. To steal someone's wealth, either by taking their property, breaking into their bank account, or acquiring money via paypal (which has happened to me, by the way.) It's also against the law to threaten harm to others via their livelihood. That is, unless you are the US government. Then it's ok. I am referring to the AIG scandal, the insurance company which recently was on the verge of bankruptcy until the feds intervened and gave them a whole bundle of taxpayer dollars. (See article- http://macedoniaonline.eu/content/view/6016/52/)

Now I don't consider myself to be making a whole lot of money. I make enough to get by and make my house and utility payments. I can remember times when my bank account was stretched extremely thin, even to the point of breaking. Now, the feds, lead by President Obama, are outraged, OUTRAGED I say, because of bonuses that have been given to executives at AIG. What they fail to tell you, is that these bonuses are guaranteed by the contracts these employees signed with the company, and that these bonuses were made public quite a while ago, before the government made the bailout funds available. Additionally, they don't tell you that should these bonuses not go through, AIG would quickly go down the drain due to lawsuits brought by said employees.

No one is outraged by bonuses paid to top athletes and draft picks. No one is outraged by 20 million going to top actors and actresses, nor the producers and owners of Hollywood studios. It seems that no one in the White House is outraged by our taxpayer dollars supporting union screw turners making $90/hour including benefits at private automobile corporations.

As for me, I think wealth is a bit over-rated. Some might cry, "Spoiled Grapes!" and I would not deny them this. I am more than a bit mildly bothered by the governments hypocrisy in the above example. They say we all need to tighten our belts, but this does not apply to those who support their party.

When we penalize a segment of the population for being productive, we take away incentive for the cause of production. That's economics 101, folks. (Thanks, Coach Bailey!) See Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand.

It seems to me what is needed is a constitutional amendment with the provisions for a flat tax rate across the board. 23% to 25% or whatever it happens to be. A consumption tax replacing an income tax. Yes, this would result in more people saving money instead of spending it. It does not seem like such a bad thing compared to the inequity that is currently in place. Then, *all* would contribute towards our national spending, equally and fairly, including illegals that do not pay taxes but send our wealth to another country. A constitutional amendment would be required to keep politicians from "piling on top" of the percentage rate of the consumption tax.

Here is a question for you to consider: What is *really* going on behind the scenes? I mean this in a spiritual sense. What is happening on a national scale? What is it that is occurring, invisible to the eyes and ears of our deaf, dumb and blind population?

It is something to think about.

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

PS For more stuff on AIG (including retirement money for teachers) click on the following link: http://paul.kedrosky.com/archives/2009/03/the_aig_blackma.html There is a lot there to wade through, but one can find some passages that are startling. A lot of it is business-ese, but even someone like me can make sense out of parts of it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Best of the Best


For those who are just visiting my blog for the first time, I wanted to recommend the "Best of the Best," as selected by me. 150+ articles is a lot to digest, so here, briefly, are my personal favorites, as selected by genre. Enjoy!

Spiritual
God in the Box, January 2007
Walls, May 2007
Superman, May 2008

Philosophy
The Jellyfish of Micronesia, March 2007
I Am Not a Number, June 2007

Education
As the Parade Passes By, May 2007
FCA Speech, November 2008

Humor
The Pudding Story, March 2007
Marriage Announcement + Vacation, February 2007
(Judge Judy as a future mother-in-law)

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

Friday, March 13, 2009

Harry Weisgerber


In above photo The Ridgeview High School Jazz Band, "Tribe" [click for larger picture]

There was a man I once knew named Harry Weisgerber. He was the band director at Ridgeview High School, a wonderful guy who sacrificed a lot of time and effort on the behalf of his students, myself among them. This is a story of his life and times there, from my own perspective.

Harry had a heart of gold- perhaps too much. For although he was kind and giving, some students took advantage of his good nature, and of this he was undeserving. There was a student who at one point had difficulties with excessive alcohol consumption. At a certain school event, he had to leave and started throwing his guts up in the bathroom, because he had consumed too much alcohol, and this was not the first time. Harry did not turn him in, but rather gave him a lecture about how he would not just be an alcoholic, but would soon be dead or expelled unless this activity ceased.

I recall another time when the band got a platinum trophy in some competition, and we had a party of sorts in the band room the next day. Well, wouldn't you know, someone was spiking some of the drinks. They had smuggled alcohol into the school in refilled clearasil bottles, used for acne. Harry found out about it and came in to blast us. "FOLKS! What in the HELL are you trying to DO? GET ME FIRED? IF THAT'S WHAT YOU WANT, THEN FINE! YOU CAN DAMN WELL KNOCK YOURSELVES OUT!" And with that he stormed into his office and slammed the door shut, locked, and the rest of us just sort of looked around at each other in the band room, stunned and a bit angry at those who took advantage of him. ( I was not among those who did.)

Then there was the time we took a field trip to Milledgeville, Georgia, but that's another story.

In my senior year I dropped out of band because I was involved in church, football, and other activities. I remember going into his office to tell him the news that I was dropping the class. He was dissappointed, explaining that he had counted on me being in the band, as he had a position for me in the bands formations for halftime shows. He wound up recruiting some freshmen to march, faking the instruments so that it would not look like he had holes in places. I felt bad about that, as I did not want to put him out, but had made up my mind about what activities I wanted to be in that year.

When I got ready to graduate, he discovered that I would be attending his alma mater, Maryville College, and he went out of his way to talk to me and wish me well, which is just like him. The story does not end there, however.

Years later, after college in 1988, I was back in Atlanta working as an Educational Therapist, before I became a public school teacher. Ridgeview had by then become a middle school, and Harry then worked as a 6th grade teacher, no longer burdened with the excessive demands of band director. I happened to have as a patient on the ward a student who had attended Ridgeview Middle School the previous year. I will call her Anna. When I asked Anna about this wonderful man I had had the opportunity to know, she replied that she simply hated him. I was dumbfounded. We had a signed consent to speak with her teachers at the school, so I gave Harry a call later that day.

We spoke cordially for a while and I enjoyed getting to speak with him again, and I felt the feeling was mutual. He related that she was essentially a massive troublemaker and a continuously disruptive force in the classroom. And yes, they had a big time personality conflict. Oh joy. I thanked Harry for his professional opinion and invited him to go to lunch sometime, on me. Regrettably, that was not to be.

When I informed Anna the next day that I had spoken with Mr. Weisgerber, she replied emphatically, "I hope he DIES." It was only a few days after that that I was informed by Anna that Mr. Weisgerber had indeed, died.

I was taken aback, in sorrow and disbelief. I called the school. It seems he had gotten sick and tried to work through the illness, then stayed at home for a few days. By the time he got to the hospital, he had a horrific case of pneumonia and died shortly after that.

It was such a shame. He was in his early 40's at best. I look back in fondness, treasuring the good times, and forgetting the bad ones. Harry, wherever you are, you have had a profound impact on me. When I get to heaven, I still want to take you out to lunch, and we can sit and talk. Yes, that would be good.

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Facebook


Well, I finally relented and put myself up on facebook, which my sister has been recommending for a while. I am being cautious at first, because I have read that viruses can get into ones computer by pretending to be a friend asking you permission to run a program. When it activates, it gets all your info for the purposes of spamming and advertising, God save us. So, I have declined being involved in Mafia wars and these little gaming applications I have been invited to, for now, which I suspect are very similar to the program "Tiny Kingdoms," where you basically recruit others to your little ponzi empire.

The good thing about it is that I have been able to reconnect with many lost friends and classmates I have known over the years, special folks who have inspired me in one way or another. Over time, the memories fade and become lost, but memorable events remain with me along with the friends who were there, bringing a smile to my face and joy to my heart.

I have been asked to be the sponsor for the Beta Club, and last night we had a big to-do, an induction ceremony, with candles and a brief discussion about service, leadership and achievement. I even wore a tie. Mrs. Bryant was incredibly helpful to me in handing out certificates, awards, pins, window decals and other stuff. All I had to do was the easy job of reading off the names of the wonderful students as they came up to get their stuff. I can imagine juggling the microphone and somehow managing to tip the entire pile of stuff onto the floor below the stage.

It was an honor to recognize these students as in order to get invited to the Beta Club, they had to have all A's or all A's and one B in their academic classes. No small feat, there, so I was very pleased to give these teens some well-deserved attention for their achievement.

Am listening to "Walk with Me," by Caedmon's Call as I sip coffee and get ready for work this morning. Time to make the doughnuts!

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

Monday, March 9, 2009

Daily Bread


I have been reading the devotions of the Reverend Billy Graham for my quiet time. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Now, you can, too! Just click the link below to Billy Graham's website, then click on "Read today's devotional >>." I read the scripture quotation out loud, repeating it several times, then follow along with the commentary. It's a wonderful way to start the day. I have the site bookmarked, so all I have to do is click on it each morning before I read the news.

Here is the site: www.billygraham.org

Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God; give us this day our daily bread.

I pray that this link and the thoughtful perspective of this humble servant of God might be a blessing to you.

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

A Delicate Balance



As a conservative thinker, I find myself in a dilemma. The problem is this: on one hand, pragmatically speaking, I am against many of the policies of our current American President, Mr. Obama. These policies include: money to and dialog with Hamas, the folks who have been indiscriminately shelling innocent citizens for many years (who also seek the destruction of the state of Israel;) finances supporting overseas abortions and stem cell research; selling out eastern Europe in order to make a deal with the Russians regarding Iran; driving our economy down with every speech he makes (of course, the unions are exempt from this criticism as they drive, pardon the pun, our auto industry into the grave.) I find myself in near opposition to many social, economic, domestic and foreign relations issues that Mr. Obama espouses. We all have a stake in this, my students included, as $1400 of *your* money, the money you have yet to earn, has already been spent in earmarks, just this year. Grats!

However, here is where the I am reminded of Jesus and the Roman occupation of Israel. The Jews at that time sought to overthrow the Romans. You see, besides taxing the population dry, they also put up shields of one of the Roman gods, Caesar, on the walls of the Holy Temple. This was greatly offensive to the religious sensibilities of the people. The Roman tax collectors and soldiers were above the law when it came to the Jews- they were like a big, armored gang. The Jewish religious leaders were afraid of Rome. They had to do a delicate balancing act between supporting their people and placating Rome. Is this beginning to sound familiar?

Jesus did not overthrow the Romans. His kingdom was a spiritual one. Here is the deal: Political power is temporal and of this world, although our common enemy seeks to subvert it to our detriment. God's kingdom is within the hearts of men. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven. So, does this mean that political ideology is inconsequential? No. Rather, it illuminates it. The policies that run contrary to Christian thinking are symptoms of illness, not the illness itself. Change must come from the inside out, as only the Holy Spirit of God can change the hearts of men. To borrow a quote, the *real* change you can believe in is spiritual, not political.

I don't know it all. My view is limited by my earthly perspective. All I can say is, Lord, change my heart, and help me to see. Let me be Yours, totally and completely. In changing me, let Your will be done.

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Hoops for Heart


I was thinking today about our local Hoops for Heart thing happening at our school, Mill Creek Middle School. It's a good cause, with monies going to the American Heart Association. There are little prizes for students to win, water bottles and t shirts and such. As I reflected, I realized something.

There are other diseases of the heart. Unseen ones, and I am not talking about romantic crushes that have been unrealized. I am talking about the scars we accumulate from hurtful words, hurtful actions, either directed towards us, or from us towards others. Did you know we hurt ourselves when we spitefully cause pain in others? Yes! Because it hardens us, making us think that its okay to treat others that way.

So, here is my idea, well not really mine, but an idea that came to me that I think has merit, and is worth more than all the dollars that can be accumulated in all campaigns worldwide. How about, with each and every "hoop" that is scored, we say a silent little prayer for those with heart hurts that cannot be seen? God, please bless them. God, please be with them. Please draw us all to You. Forgive us all. Help us to forgive others. Heal those whose hearts are hurt. Enlighten our eyes so that we might see You, and Your love.

As we do this, we engage our Maker in our lives and in the lives of others. We intercede for them, and our own hearts are changed and softened as a result.

So here is to Hoops for Heart. With every basket, let our silent prayer be heard.

G.Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian