Law School, Barbie Dolls, and Maternity Riders

Fayetteville, AR: There are a few things that professors will tell you not to do when you are in law school.

Don’t get married.

Don’t have a baby.

Don’t rob Federal Reserve banks.

Crazy, right?

Thankfully, my experience in these endeavors is limited.

And the statute of limitations hasn’t run yet, so…

I’ll just stick to my story here.

At the tender age of 33, I went back to college. Before that, I’d been preaching for small conservative churches and wanted to get away from all the legalism.

So, I went to law school.

Anyway, my bride and I found ourselves at the University of Arkansas where one of the benefits of attending is free health care.

Well, it’s only free if you don’t count the millions of Arkansans whose involuntary taxes contributed to the costs. 

Thank you fine Arkansas tax payers for your generosity!

One of the riders to that health insurance was that pregnancy was covered. For some reason, I think this was a popular addition.

We already had an 18-month-old girl when I started law school.

But my wife wanted two girls, not just one. And she wanted them to be about the same distance apart in age as she was from her sister.

Law school is stressful enough so don’t complicate it by doing more stressful stuff.

Which is apparently why we decided to have a baby in my second year of law school. I even missed a final exam to welcome our second girl into the world.

I think that some classmates got married.

But that’s still not the point.

At the appropriate time, we went to the university health clinic for a pregnancy test.

At the time in the late 1990s, when a student visited the campus medical clinic, he or she would have been greeted with a life-size Barbie doll staring like a crazed zombie at the sick students waiting to receive Benadryl or other life-saving medicine.

Let me say that again: A life-sized Barbie doll. Well over 6 feet tall.

She was creepy.

I don’t know if it is still there but it was not very appealing, unlike the Mattel Russian Barbie I had purchased for my bride.

Which was pretty and stayed that way until one of our girls gave her a hair-cut years later.

Now, for reasons I can’t go into here, we were pretty sure that my bride was pregnant. But we had to get the official test from the clinic so some insurance official could make a car or house payment that month.

A few minutes later a young woman sits down in front of us with a stern look on her face.

And I could tell that she didn’t want to tell us the results of her findings.

Just tell us the news.

“Well,” she began. She was nervous.

“The results are back and, well… Well, um,  you’re pregnant.”

(Actually, only one of us was…)

But we both breathed a sigh of relief and happiness.

The worker, for a nano-second, was confused but then sensed our happiness and breathed a sigh of relief.

“Oh, good.”

She was visibly and sincerely relieved to see that we were happy.

I suspected that this announcement wasn’t always met with happiness.

I wouldn’t want her job.

We said thank you to the nice clinic worker and goodbye to the creepy Barbie as we exited the clinic and went shopping for diapers and baby clothes.

“Hey, Honey. Nicole sounds like a good name for a girl, don’t you think?”

Reading to Love

I learned this bit of information from my wonderful Aunt Dola in Washington, KY recently. When married, in 1903, my grandfather (Ollie Manning) couldn’t read. My grandmother (Mary Jones Manning) taught him to read. She was about 15 years old and he was about 26 on their wedding day.
This picture shows them on their wedding day (and it seems strange to me that the man is sitting down, but at least it’s not a selfie with duck lips). (The reason for sitting could also be that he is just so much taller than she. Sitting was better than making her look so short in comparison – even though she was short).

The other photo shows my grandfather reading the Bible to his sweet wife after her eyesight diminished later in life. Sadly, I never knew either one of them as my mom was the baby of 13 kids.

Colluding with Russians

For a long time, after the (evil) American embassy worker in Moscow denied her request for a visa, I thought about getting my fiancé (somehow) to Mexico. Then she could easily cross the southern border into the USA.Texas.

Right!

I honestly didn’t care if I got her here legally or illegally.

I didn’t care because I didn’t know the implications of the illegal method.

Now I do.

But if she could just get here, we could get married and everything would be perfect.

I’ve no idea how I would have gotten her to Mexico. I really didn’t give it a lot of thought.

You see, I had fallen in love with my translator in Russia and had asked her to marry me that August at a park in Satsuma, Alabama. The park was once the site of a house that we lived in when I was four.

I thought that’d be romantic.

The only problem (and this has been a major theme in my life) was ignorance.

I just didn’t know about fiancee visas.

So, I did the only thing I knew to do.

First, a little background: All the guys with whom I traveled to Russia did so on business visas. We went as missionaries but had business visas.

You get there any way you can right?

So, to get my fiancé here, we applied for a business visa.

I could feel the wheels of brilliance turning.

So, this 18-year-old stunningly beautiful Russian woman sashays into the American Embassy in Moscow and applies for a tourist/business visa.

The striking problem was that such a visa means you’re going to return to Russia when you’re done with your, um, business.

But that wasn’t the plan.

And that was patently obvious to the mean American Embassy workers.

I thought it didn’t matter how she got here, just that she got here. And the ceremony would have fixed anything wrong with any possible illegalities of an invalid border crossing.

I was wrong. So wrong.

Did I mention ignorance?

So only after long waits at the embassy in Moscow with the aforementioned rude Americans turning down her request for a visa, did I learn about the “K” visas.

Not Special K mind you.

Turns out all I had to do was to apply and – voila – it was approved.

Who knew immigration could be so easy?

A year and a half after I’d met her, and after lots of anguish at trying to get here the wrong way, we married in Alabama.

I don’t know the answer to the problem of millions of illegal immigrants in the United States. I just know that we got the right paperwork – eventually – and were patient. Of course, if she were here illegally and I met her at that point, I’d probably have a different attitude.

Love conquers all.

 

The Yugo and a bad day in battle

I’m at Vacation Bible School on a Tuesday night in central Arkansas.

I love going to VBS.

When our girls were little, we’d take them to every possible VBS we could find. Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, Church of Christ, Church of God, Catholic, Free Range, Wiccan, didn’t matter.

Just kidding about the Wiccan, although I once saw a surrogate mom who was a Wiccan.

Maybe she was fictional.

Most of the VBSs were surprisingly homogenous. If I didn’t know better, I’d say they all bought their VBS material from the same place – maybe Nashville. But that’s just a guess.

There was one little Baptist church way out in the sticks east of Vilonia that we visited. Everyone just stared at us. They obviously had never had visitors, which made me wonder why they advertised in the newspaper in the first place.

But they had good cookies. That’s what I really look for in a VBS.

The church where I am tonight has, for the adult class, set up tents inside the building with tables of food. There are signs on each tent: Sweets, Drinks, Appetizers, Chips and Dips.  It is an efficient setup. The wall behind the podium reads “He-brews Café” with a large picture of a cup of coffee.

On the PowerPoint projector, the slide reads, “Foolish vows and their fatal consequences.”

And I start thinking about all the foolish promises I’ve made. As the list grows quickly, I realize this isn’t a good idea and return my focus back on the food.

With the notable exception of marrying a lovely Russian Princess, I can relate to making foolish decisions.

Buying a Yugo definitely rates on the top of the list. I got it from a car dealer in Daphne, Alabama, who obviously had no shame about selling the worse car in history in the first place. A close second is the purchase of new gray (black interior) Chevrolet S-10 from a dealer in Citronelle with no air conditioning.

Let that sink in for a sec… South Alabama in the summer and no AC.

I still think the dealership should have been prosecuted for cruel and inhumane treatment for selling anything without A/C.

These two decisions would rank high on almost anyone’s list.

The place is only about 20% full at the moment – but more are trickling in.

The chocolate chip cookies are excellent as are the rest of the dishes. I expected no less at a church potluck. I turned down a cup of coffee because I didn’t want to be up all night and instead went for the sweet tea.

I really need to work on my reasoning skills.

A few minutes later and we’re almost at 80% capacity. Almost everyone is balancing a Styrofoam plate, napkin, and cup as the speaker begins his lesson.

The guy in front of me reaches over to his plate of shrimp, which is sitting in an empty metal folding chair to his left and dips one of the crustaceans into some kind of red sauce. The professor steps to the podium.

I knew the guest speaker in graduate school in Nashville back in the 1990s. Which seems a really long time ago now. I say that I knew him because, well he’s pretty famous now. He went on from Nashville to do Ph.D. work somewhere. So, he’s a smart guy.

I just noticed that there are coffee pots and bags of coffee beans propped up around the room. Now the “He-brews” motif makes more sense.

I really need to work on my observation skills too.

As I recall, old Jephthah got into a bind, prayed to the Lord for help, and promised God that if God rescued him he would sacrifice the first thing that walked out of his house when he returned home.

Seemed reasonable. And generous. His making a deal with God seems a little like Burt Reynolds in the movie, “The End” where Reynold’s character tells shouts out, as he drowns, that if God would only save him, he would give God all of his money. Or something like that.

But here’s the big error message that should have been flashing in Jephthah’s mind: “what are the possibilities of things that can walk out of my front door?”

I am guessing that he didn’t consider that his daughter would be the “first thing” that sashayed out.

Just so you’ll be clear here: Jephthah supposedly agreed to sacrifice his daughter to God as a human sacrifice because…. wait for it…

She was the first thing (human actually) that walked out the front door of the house.

Wouldn’t he expect his family to greet him after a long absence?

I know I have been on the receiving end of a welcome home greeting many times after being away on government service.

But, would God even accept a human sacrifice?

I have my doubts that he actually followed through with this insane promise. But, hey, what do I know about ancient and near eastern religion and culture?

Regardless, it’s a serious lesson on making foolish and destructive decisions.

I remember years ago, trying to use the logic of Jephthah when I tried to get out of a contract that I had signed. The Air Force officer listen to me politely, but a contract is a contract, so no luck.

The book of Judges is just sad. And dysfunctional.

And this dysfunctional family of God never really learned: The Israelites rebel, God disciplines; Israel repents, God delivers.

Rinse and repeat.

Sometimes I feel a lot like the Israelites.

I think I will have that cup of coffee now.

The Age of Electrical Outlets in Russia

I learned basic electricity in high school.

Because of this stellar academic achievement, I felt well qualified to plug in a Russian appliance.

The appliance is a Russian Samovar, which is basically a glorified tea pot.

The old ones were lit by oil, but this one was electric.

I felt up to the task.

A little about electrical outlets and appliance cords. In the Motherland and most other European countries, electrical outlets are a little different. Most are 220 (give or take a few volts) and 50 cycles, which really is irrelevant to the point, but because I took basic electricity I felt obligated to let you know that I know what that means.

Sometimes, I’d have to use a heavy transformer that I brought with me from the states to power other stuff I lugged along, like computers and hair dryers.

I soon learned that the main purpose of Russian electrical cords is to thin out the foreign population.

So, I am in my future in-law’s apartment and I have a Russian cord in my hand.

It is the electrical cord to the aforementioned Samovar and I’m trying to plug it in so I can boil some water.

Which, is a necessity.

Did I mention that it was 220 volts?

But I am having some difficulty plugging it in – which was a good thing because…

In my other hand is the other end of the cord. The end that plugs into the device – the tea pot.

Oh, and here’s the thing – both ends of the cord have the metal prongs…

Protruding outward.

One end goes into the wall socket, 220 volts, and the other end, also exposed, is securely clutched in my right hand.

And, it ain’t going anywhere because I have a death grip on it.

Where else would it be, right? Normally one would feel safe holding the other end of the cord in your hand because the manufacturer isn’t trying to KILL you!

At least here, I assume, the manufacturer isn’t purposefully taking advantage of the stupidity of the user!

So the first surge of electricity, which is apparently designed to kill stupid Americans unfamiliar with the safety regulations (or lack thereof), shot through my hand and exited my right foot in the matter of milliseconds.

I don’t know how, but I yelled.

This brought the other people in the apartment into the living room to see what the commotion was about!

As they strolled in, I was able to pry the instrument of death from my clenched hand.

So, thank you Russian electrical engineers for designing a superior power cord for thinning out the herd and for the permanent scar on my hand in the shape of two metal prongs.

 

My brother's bike

It was a Kawasaki 900.

Probably a 1978 or 1979 model.

I don’t remember, but it was a beautiful bike.

Dark blue and way too much power for a teenager to handle. Heck, my 5 horsepower Briggs and Stratton mini-bike that my dad bought for me when I was 13 was way too much power for me to handle.

I was a teenager – maybe the 11th grade – and I don’t want to brag or anything, but I had a motorcycle license. In its wisdom, the State of Alabama wouldn’t allow me to drive four-wheeled vehicles at 14, but driving the far more dangerous two-wheel type was just fine.

David is my brother and he spent a lot of time working on the road at construction sites.

The Kawasaki was also his.

He was a welder. No, he was a tremendous welder. And sometimes during my high school years, he and his fiancée got married and moved to Houston, Texas so he could attend tech school and fine-tune his welding skills. Also, being the 1960s hippy that he was, his hair was longer than his wife’s blond locks.

Sometimes during that time, my dad, mom, sisters, and I made the long drive to Houston to see how they were doing. You never know what dangers lurk in Houston.

They were doing pretty well, just a young couple trying to make it in the world. I don’t remember if he was working anywhere, but he was definitely attending school.

One night, we drove to what must have been North Dakota just to watch a movie at a drive-in theater. They were showing a doubleheader and one of the movies was Ode to Billy Joe. I don’t remember the other movie. Did I mention it took a long time to get there?

David was so good at welding that he worked himself up in the construction industry (mainly paper mills) to manage remote welds on nuclear power plants. I don’t know all the specifics, but I remember talking with him about his job and some of the different things that he did.

One of the challenges of his job was that he had to limit his daily exposure to nuclear radiation. Is that something that you have to worry about in your job? Let me say that again, nuclear radiation was a daily concern for David. I quickly concluded that that was something that I probably didn’t want to pursue.

For some reason, he took a great interest in the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster in Ukraine.

Who knows why.

But he loved welding and became an expert. Like a lot of welders, he liked working with stainless steel. We made a lot of stainless belt buckles at the Crossett, Arkansas plant, but don’t tell anyone.

Once, I texted him a picture of some nice stainless steel work of a staircase at Fort Campbell, Kentucky where I was stationed at the time. It was just a staircase of a new building, but the stainless-steel work was really nicely done. He later told me how he appreciated that I thought about him and his work.

But, back to the motorcycle. I had my own car at the time that I appropriated David’s Kawasaki. It was a 1973 Dodge Gold Duster, had an imitation snakeskin roof, and some type of clear plastic over the seats. The plastic thing took a little while to get used to. The Duster had a slant-six engine and, while I forget the horsepower, it was just a beautiful car, especially for a punk teenager.

I liked my car, but the motorcycle was way cooler. And one day, David made the tactical error of leaving his motorcycle unattended at mom’s house. So, what’s a little brother to do when the older brother is away?

What would Bueller do?

Exactly.

It was loud. Either it didn’t have mufflers, or they were really bad mufflers, or they were just designed to be as obnoxious as possible.

I suspect the latter.

I hate loud motorcycles, but the cool factor was just too much to pass up.

And, like I said before, this bike was way too much power for me to handle. In the 11th and 12th grade, I would leave school around 11 o’clock or so for trade school in Prichard, which was right beside Vigor High School. I studied air conditioning and heating, just like my dad. He had his own air conditioning company and I’m sure at the time I was planning on going into the trade myself.

On this lovely fall day, I took the Kawasaki. As 11 o’clock approached, I sashayed over to where the numerous other bicycles and motorcycles were parked, beside the cafeteria and the track. I climbed aboard the beautiful Japanese creation and started the engine.

Did I mention the mufflers were loud?

My friend Tim Tutton later told me that although he was clear across campus he smiled when he heard the unmistakable sound of the thunderous Kawasaki rocket cranking up.

It was a beautiful feeling, pulling out of campus onto Maple, then Old Highway 43, then the real 43 and heading south.

I was happy just to be able to use it for a few days and show off on a bike that I clearly had no business riding.

How cool was it to be a clueless teenager and ride such a cool bike when you’re 16 or 17 years old?

Occasionally I’d borrow other stuff too like say, blue jeans. If David was foolish enough to leave his blue jeans at my mother’s house, they were fair game. And bonus if there was currency in the pockets!

I have a few tools that he loaned me now and then through the years. I can’t return them to him because he was killed in a tornado last year in Saint James Parish, Louisiana.

At some point, he grew out of the motorcycle riding, like most sane people do. I did (but I am not making any claim on sanity). I was encouraged to stick to four-wheeled vehicles when I almost became roadkill on Interstate 65 over the Mobile River Delta when a lady in a van drifted into my lane. I am so glad I didn’t kick her van like I wanted to.

I’m not sure what triggered the Kawasaki memory. I long ago filed it away in a dusty file folder in my mind. Maybe that’s what happens when you lose someone close. The dusty memories want to seep out every now and then and remind you that they’re still there, longing for a simple ride in the open air.

 

Could you please just use the microphone?

I am sitting in church today thinking about my dad. His birthday was earlier this month.

If he had stopped smoking, he would have been 89 years old, that is if nothing else had killed him.

You know those Facebook memes that detail the change in the color and condition of lungs if the owner stops smoking cigarettes? On one side, there’s a horrible looking blackened lung. The other picture shows a healthy-looking lung.

I have no idea why they had to pull a pink looking lung out of a guy just to show that it was healthy. Couldn’t a nice picture have done?

From 20 minutes to 10 plus years, and almost every time increment in between, leaving cigarettes yields a better you – and lung.

At 10 plus years without nicotine, it’s like you had never smoked at all. I’ll always believe that if dad could have stopped, he might be here.

But who’s counting, right?

The church folks have installed new pews and carpet. And, surprisingly, it smells like new pews and new carpet.

It’s nice. Before the new stuff, the back rows were strewn with fold-up chairs and worn-out carpet. (I’ll be honest: I didn’t even notice the new stuff until my bride told me – which makes my constant preaching to her about being situational aware look weak – and unaware).

I can hardly hear the speaker because the microphone is too far from his mouth.

It would be nice if he’d adjust that little problem. I’ve never understood folks who refuse to use perfectly good microphones, wrongly thinking that the conversation level of their voices would carry throughout the room.

I once sat in a large meeting room in San Antonio trying to hear an Army Colonel give a talk about career progression in the United States Army Reserve. I was interested, but couldn’t hear her.

Why?

The first (correct) thing she did was to put the microphone up to her mouth. That’s usually where the human voice emanates.

It was going well for about .02 seconds when she heard her voice broadcast over the speakers and frowned. The next (incorrect) thing she did was to say, “I don’t need this thing, do I? Y’all can hear me, can’t ya?” And she proceeded to put the microphone down.

Well, no Ma’am. No, we can’t hear you.

We can’t hear you now that you removed the one thing that would have allowed your voice to be properly amplified throughout the room and ensure that the audience understands your intended communication.

Unless you didn’t intend to be heard.

Which, I suppose, is a possibility.

But I keep my mouth shut.

Why don’t people use microphones? That’s why they’re there. Why are people scared of their own voices?

Here’s my philosophy: If you are in a profession that necessitates you giving speeches from time to time, learn to love your voice people. Go to a Roger Love seminar or Toastmasters or something. Doesn’t matter. Just get help.

Today!

I think there should be penalties for speakers who really don’t want to speak. Like, you are demoted to private and given the job of cleaning kitchen in Antarctica.

The Army, in its wisdom, made her a General a few years later.

I wonder if there’s a lesson there.

In the pew in front of me is a 12-year-old girl taking an enormous number of selfies. Beside her, is a little boy. Maybe he’s five years old. He’s playing with a toy truck. His mom suddenly looks at his left ear and becomes worried. She jerks his head around, the same way my barber used to rotate my nappy head in the barber chair when I was 6 or so.

I hated that.

The boy continues to play.

The mom says something to her mom, who is sitting next to her. The boy’s mom re-examines the ear and looks more concerned. By the look on both women’s faces, one would conclude that he has something dreadfully wrong with him.

But the reality is, I suspect, that he probably didn’t wash behind his left ear (or right one for that matter).

It’ll probably take a few more birthdays for him to correct this problem.

The sermon is over and another guy is making announcements. I can hear him. Someone is sick and in the hospital. A young couple wants to place membership. Some older member is celebrating a birthday.

It’s been 35 years or so since my dad stopped smoking for good. You know, given his other health problems, he likely would have succumbed to one of them. But, I would have been willing to give the no-more-cigarettes thing a try.

I glance to my left and it looks like the selfies are going to continue for the time being.

I suppose it’s better than smoking.

You go, girl. And kid, please. Wash behind your ears so your mother won’t freak out in public.