Beware The Slough

DON’T GO NEAR THE SLOUGH! That was one of the stern warnings of my childhood. Why it was called “The Slough” I have no idea—maybe it was to make it sound more ominous.

I came of age (the first time) on a street named Quincy in south Tulsa, Oklahoma. Quincy stretched across the city from north to south and paralleled Peoria Street, but it dead-ended just about a quarter of a mile past our house near the banks of the Arkansas River. The Slough was somewhere at the end of the street. I don’t know for certain because as an obedient child, I didn’t go down there. Admittedly, it had more to do with fear than obedience—not unlike much of my religious journey, but that’s for another essay.

What is a slough exactly? The dictionary gives us this:

1.) a swamp
2.) an area of soft, wet land

To my young, wildly imaginative, ever-wondering & wandering, day-dreaming mind, a slough was a steaming, smelly, boiling bog filled with mutant creatures of the reptilian sort, like that Creature From The Black Lagoon.

creature-from-the-black-lagoon.jpg

There were a couple of houses at the far end of the street near the slough. I imagined that toothless men lived there with their sharp-toothed dogs and their snaggletoothed womenfolk. They probably brewed moonshine and their eyes had no pupils. The only thing they seemed to be able to read was the old testament in the King James version.

To this day, when I hear braggadocious talk and chants of swamp-draining, I picture The Slough, and the slough-dwellers, and while they would be all-in for the metaphorical swamp-draining, they wouldn’t want anyone messing with their actual swamp.

That dictionary that I mentioned a few sentences back also explains that a slough is:

3.) a situation characterized by lack of progress or activity.
4.) a mental state of deep sadness and no hope

As I live through my second coming-of-age, I have to admit I’m far more afraid of slough #4 than I ever was of The Slough At The End Of Quincy Street.

At The Table

TRYING NOT TO SOUND TOO… pitiful, sour-grape-ish, sore-loser-ish…

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, pilgrim. We’ll have the blessing to sit at a couple of different Thanksgiving feasts over that weekend.

jellocottagecheese.jpg

I am hoping everyone has safe travels.

I hope everyone has something good to eat.

I hope everyone has someone to be with.

I hope everyone around our table knows how much I love them and how thankful I am to be in their tribe.

I hope Ginger brings coleslaw. I hope to have a piece of pecan pie. I hope I don’t hurt someone’s feelings by not eating their sweet potato dish (even though it is covered with some marshmallow looking something). I hope they’ll understand that I don't like Jell-O that has stuff suspended in it. I like them, I like that they cared enough to bring something to the table, it’s just the idea of putting stuff in Jell-O. It’s like putting turkey organs in the dressing or the gravy. It’s just not necessary.

Another thing I hope won’t be at our Thanksgiving table: politics—red ones or blue ones, first ammendment or second, donkeys or elephants. I’m done. As I said at the top, I’m trying not to sound too… pitiful, sour-grapish, sore-loserish… I’m just done.

Not too far into our new marriage, we were at the Thanksgiving table at my Amazing Missus’ parent’s house. The food at that table was always wonderful and abundant. (Except for some strange tradition of putting oysters in the dressing.) [Apparently, I have an aversion to people putting stuff in other stuff that God never intended to go together.]

Anyway, we’re all seated, the blessing was said, and before we knew it, the conversation turned to A.I. This was the mid-70s and we were talking about A.I.?

Let me clarify: this was not conversation about the merits, threats, or potentials of Artifical Intelligence. This was a graphic dialog about Artificial Insemination. You see, I literally married the “farmer’s daughter”. The family had a long, successful history in the dairy farming business. As a city-boy of sorts, I don’t guess I had given much thought to the reproductive arts down on the farm.

A few seconds into the discussion, my Amazing-Mother-In-Law said, “That’s enough of that!” She spoke with a humble authority that everyone heard without any confusion or uncertainty. And, just like that; the conversation changed.

Oh how I hope that if politics comes up in discussion, someone with the moral certainty and authority, the clear-headedness, and the clear-heartedness of my late Amazing-Mother-In-Law will say, “That’s enough of that!”

Tattoo Time

ALTHOUGH THE BIBLE SAYS, ”You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you,” I have thought about it.

The Bible also says that if you have a rebellious son, you can take him to the city gate and the elders will stone him to death. Thankfully my parents had grace and patience, or they couldn’t find any elders at the city gate.

My decision regarding tattoos is not a moral dilemma. It has more to do with pain avoidance and artistic scrutiny. I don’t like pain, and to this point I haven’t been able to come up with an image I want inked into my epidermis. UNTIL NOW!

Before we get to that, let’s talk about one initial idea that didn’t make the cut.

If I ask, “Who was the first female in the Bible?” you would say: _____ _____ _____

Yes, of course; EVE.

But wait, what about that woman in Genesis 1:27?


Gen. 1:26 God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them

reflecting our nature

So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea,

the birds in the air, the cattle,

And, yes, Earth itself,

and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.”

Gen. 1:27 God created human beings;

he created them godlike,

Reflecting God’s nature.

He created them male and female.

Gen. 1:28 God blessed them:

“Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!

Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air,

for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”


Yea! That one! The one made from the same clay as Adam. Not Eve, who didn’t come along until later, in chapter two.

Early Hebrew mysticism called her Lilith. She shows up again in Isaiah (34:14), known as a “night-demon”.

Now that is the stuff of a great tattoo. I don’t know what a night-demon looks like, but I can imagine. Add an inscription, “Don’t Mess With Lilith!” and you have an awesome narrative. Of course, it makes no sense for me to have that tattoo and I’m guessing it would mean a lot of needle jabs (if that’s what the tattooist does). But, it would have been awesome for someone like Frasier Crane.

For my tattoo, I’m thinking of a utilitarian message. Something that can be useful and minimalist. The inspriation came one day when I was trying to read the expiration date on a jar of pickles and thought that’s what I need for a tattoo—a “Best By” date.

ByTattoo.jpg

Why the summer of 69? Is that when I peaked? Have I grown stale, sour, even rancid since that time? That was the summer after I graduated from high school. I may not have been at my prime, but I felt like I was—world by the tail and all that.

But to feel like you’ve peaked at 18 is a bit moribund even for a guy like me that tends to create little private mental worlds. And it ignores the fact that life has been very sweet and full since that time.

So, maybe this arbitrary best-by date isn’t the summer after my 18th birthday in 1969 but rather the summer after my 69th; not that I’m expecting to quit or check out at that time, but just an acknowledgment that by around then I will probably retire from the working world and transition to the next chapter and then set a Not-Bad-For-An-Old-Dude date.

A SERIOUS PS: The scriptures I have quoted in this post are from a translation called The Message by Eugene Peterson who passed away today, October 22, 2018. Rest in peace Eugene. You will be missed.

 Eugene Peterson

Eugene Peterson

My Dinner Party

I have a friend named Kathleen. She used to live nearby but now lives in Detroit with her husband and son. I miss seeing her and talking with her. I do realize technology enables conversations between people seperated by distances. But, it’s not the same.

 Molly, me & Kathleen. Someone said, “duck lips” and I had no idea what they were talking about

Molly, me & Kathleen. Someone said, “duck lips” and I had no idea what they were talking about

Kathleen always challenged me to think bigger and beyond. She asks great questions and she plays these little games. She has one where she asks people to imagine a dinner party where they can invite anyone they want. Then she asks, “Who would you invite?”

I wrote a post about this a few years back. It’s called “Keeping Company”. You can read it here. Or save yourself the time. Here’s my list from that post. I don’t think I would make any changes.

David Letterman (he would ask really good questions, keeping the discussion going)

Flannery O’Connor (because she scares me and it’s good to be scared sometimes)

Paul McCartney & John Lennon (I know, I know)

Tina Fey & Amy Poehler (They will split an entree)

Yo Yo Ma (hopefully he and John would play “Imagine” together)

Atticus Finch (played by Gregory Peck)

Flannery O’Connor may be the least familiar of these. Wikipedia has this to say about her: “She was a Southern writer who often wrote in a sardonic Southern Gothic style and relied heavily on regional settings and supposedly grotesque characters, often in violent situations. The unsentimental acceptance or rejection of the limitations or imperfection or difference of these characters (whether attributed to disability, race, criminality, religion or sanity) typically underpins the drama.”

Her book, “The Violent Bear It Away” still gives me nightmares. All of the people at my dinner party, I believe would not be afraid to ask hard, intriguing questions. I probably would have to ask them to clarify and I still might not understand, but I believe they would accept me anyway.

When Kathleen plays this game, she’s not happy to just let you name who you would invite. You must talk about the conversation you imagine might take place. It goes like this: if you ask Kathleen a question, she might say what would the people at your dinner party have to say about it?

For example, (and by the way, I’m using the actual words from my dinner guests in this make-believe scenario) maybe I would acknowledge the despair I sometimes feel these days regarding the state of our Union. Maybe John Lennon would say:

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the wo
rld will be as one

To which Flannery O’Conner would surely reply, “To expect too much is to have a sentimental view of life and this is a softness that ends in bitterness.”

Then Paul McCartney might suggest:

When all the brokenhearted people
Living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be
For though they may be parted
There is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be

Wow, this is getting deep. So we retire to the living room. Now we’re enjoying coffee and pecan pie.

David Letterman says, “If it wasn't for the coffee, I'd have no identifiable personality whatsover.”

The conversation pauses and we listen reverently as Yo Yo plays “Thaïs Méditation” on his cello he just happened to bring to a dinner party at my house.

Then I say something like: Thank God for beauty; for art; for music, and for humor! Tina, you must have grown up in a funny family.

And Tina says, “I grew up in a family of Republicans. And when I was 18 and registering to vote, my mom's only instruction was 'You just go in and pull the big Republican lever.' That's my welcome to adulthood. She's like, 'No, don't even read it. Just pull the Republican lever.’”

The laughter feels good.

Ms. O’Conner says, “At its best our age is an age of searchers and discoverers, and at its worst, an age that has domesticated despair and learned to live with it happily.”

Lennon and McCartney:

I’m so much younger than today
I never needed anybody's help in any way
But now these days are gone
I'm not so self-assured
Now I find I've changed my mind, I've opened up the doors
Help me if you can, I'm feeling down
And I do appreciate you being 'round
Help me get my feet back on the ground
Won't you please, please help me?

To which Amy Poehler advises, “Don't treat your heart like an action figure wrapped in plastic and never used. And don't try to give me that nerd argument that your heart is a 'Batman' with a limited-edition silver bat-erang and therefore if it stays in its original packing it increases in value.”

Then Atticus takes his watch from the pocket of his vest. I’m not sure if he’s really checking the time or if it’s just a habit—pulling that watch from his vest pocket. He has the full attention of the dinner party and he says, “You just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don’t you let ‘em get your goat. Try fighting with your head for a change.”

And Yo Yo plays, “Leaning On The Everlasting Arms”.

A few days later I see Kathleen to tell her thank you for the Dinner Party game. She’s wearing a shirt that says, “Dare to Dream”. So I do.

 my friend Kathleen

my friend Kathleen