Trying to concoct a Kodak moment has its perils

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The first rule of Kodak Moments is that they are most powerful when they are allowed to unfold spontaneously.

When you press the issue, the magic always seems to disappear, even before you break out the Instamatic.

I should have realized this when I tried to concoct a Kodak Moment during the Advent season last month.

The plan was to replicate those sweet, tender scenes we see in TV commercials during the holidays where the adoring husband surprises his loving wife by leading her out to the driveway to find a brand new car complete with a gigantic red bow affixed to the roof.

I probably should have hired a Hollywood screenwriter and a video production company because things didn’t really go as planned when I attempted to catch my wife off guard.

The scenario began several months ago when Wendy started dropping subtle hints she had grown tired of piloting her 2007 Dodge Caravan around town. You know, hushed messages such as, “That van is a death trap!” And, “If we don’t unload that heap, your wife and kids are going to get left on the side of the road and our rotting corpses will get picked over by vultures!” And, “It’s making strange noises and alien space monkeys could fly out from under the hood the next time I crank it up!”

My personal transportation policy dictates that when I buy a new car I keep driving it until the monthly cost of repairing the thing surpasses the amount of a new car note, or until the rims snap off – whichever comes first.

I just about had her convinced that the smart-money thing to do was to hang on to the Dodge, but that’s about the time my beloved’s good financial sense began to be consumed by that most vile, wicked and uncontainable psychological complex: new car fever.

Attempting to formulate some kind of antidote against this insidious bug, I shared favorite family memories of the Caravan, like the way my son used to hustle Clone Warrior-style out of the rear hatch when his mom automatically raised the door and the years of hauling my daughter to dance lessons in her cute little recital costumes.

That held off the viscous virus long enough for us to strike a compromise by agreeing to wait awhile and then make a move some time in 2016.

But the new car fever had other plans. Like any good toxic virus worth its place in the Petri Dish, the fever lurked just beneath the surface, waiting to blow up when the time was right.

The prime time to attack came suddenly and forcefully when I made an innocent fact-finding excursion to a well established car dealership south of Baton Rouge known for taking tens of thousands of your dollars and giving you a new ride and a complimentary pack of “country sausage” in return.

Ordinarily, I’d rather take a beating with a ball peen hammer than darken the showroom floor of a car dealership. I’m still traumatized by the last car-buying experience I had when the salesman made me threaten bodily harm to get my driver’s license back and then disappeared into the ether with my old green Pontiac I was planning to trade in.

After I made the mistake of handing over the keys “just to get it checked out by the used car manager,” I never laid eyes on that Grand Am again. I still had some 8-track tapes and a half-eaten box of jujubes in the glove compartment.

Though this most recent experience wasn’t as heinous as the last one, the outcome was the same. I left there much lighter in the wallet than when I arrived.

Turned out the salesman dispatched to accost me as I entered the lot happened to be a former high school classmate. After giving me an end-of-the-year, good-old-boy, we’re-losing-a-ton-of-money-on-this, don’t-know-how-we-stay-in-business “deal of a lifetime,” he actually volunteered to join in on the plan to deliver my wife’s brand new Nissan Rogue, bow and all, straight to the house that very evening – an early Christmas surprise.

We decided I would drive him to the house in the Rogue, switch out all of the piles of useless junk from her old van to the new car – this could take a while – then he would take the Caravan back to the dealership on trade.

Things were going rather smoothly until I snuck around the driver’s side of the van, pulled on the door handle and set off the alarm that started blaring at several hundred decibels.

Like a shot, Wendy came storming out of the house in full-on mama grizzly mode, fists balled, nostrils flaring, eyes angry, neck veins pulsing, as the plan went up in flames. I was busted. But once she saw me still clinging to the door handle, stunned and wide-eyed like a deer in the headlights, and saw those new wheels in the driveway, she started weeping tears of joy. I even got a big hug out of the deal, which was just a little better than the country sausage.

In any event, as usual I took the opportunity that evening to deliver another in-depth, dance-version lecture to the kids about wise financial management, pointing out that mostly you lead with your head but sometimes you lead with your heart. And I got to hold their mother up as a model of love, patience and kindness, an example of one who sacrifices so much for the sake of her family, who finds happiness within, lives a contented, joyful, grateful life and deserves more than I could ever buy her.

Later that night, after all the excitement abated, I did the thing I remembered doing the last time I bought a new car – tossed and turned all night long. I counted sheep, ran through the lyrics to all the Lynyrd Skynyrd songs I know, recited the preamble to the Constitution set to the Schoolhouse Rock melody, but nothing could keep those dollar signs from sapping my slumber.

Kodak Moments are a special treat, but no one ever said they were free.

Random wallet dive reveals everything but a Capital One card

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Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon has posed the question.

Samuel L. Jackson, Alec Baldwin, David Spade, Charles Barkley, a bumbling cartoonish Visigoth and even Santa’s elves have asked the question.

Lately, Hollywood actress Jennifer Garner has taken a respite from dealing with her highly publicized family drama to turn toward the camera and inquire, “What’s in your wallet?”

A few weeks ago I was cooling my heels in the doctor’s office and Garner popped up on the TV screen clad in her slinky red dress, strutted runway-style toward the camera, and delivered that catchy punch line for Capital One’s Venture Credit Card pitch.

So, not knowing how long it was going to take the doctor to finish his 18 holes and roll up in his Lamborghini for our afternoon appointment, I decided to actually look in my wallet to see what the heck was in there.

Pulling my bifold out of my back pocket, I found myself marveling at the thought that I even had a wallet. The way technology is progressing at mach speed, it won’t be long before the stuff we used to carry around in our wallets is contained in a computer chip embedded in our ear flaps.

Thumbing through the little dividers, it soon became apparent what is not in my wallet: a Capital One Venture Card.

In its place was a Home Depot card, a health savings account card that the doctor was about to suck dry, and a Disney VISA card. Sorry, Capital One, but when it comes to racking up a few pennies for every grand charged to the Disney card, the Magic Kingdom is going to win out every time. They don’t call it the Magic Kingdom for nothing: Disney has a way of magically separating dads from their dinero.

Also missing was the set of plastic sleeves that everyone used to have in their wallets to hold a small stack of family pictures. The stained, frayed paper pictures that otherwise would be tucked in my wallet are now stored as a collection of cold, sterile, soulless, digital pixels on my cell phone.

More digging revealed a few more interesting items:

• An old voter registration card tattered from wrenching it out during so many trips to the voter’s booth. The card denotes what Congressional, Supreme Court, Appellate Court, Public Service Commission, BESE, Senate, House, Parish Council and Justice of the Peace districts I’m in, along with other information I can’t decipher. Maybe there should be a law that if you’re not smart enough to understand your registration card, you shouldn’t be allowed to vote.

• A laminated parent ID card from my son’s kindergarten class at the First Baptist Church. I used to drive my boy to school every morning and I’ll always remember his last day of class there. Without his mom finding out – and probably in violation of some traffic law – I let him buckle up in the front passenger seat. I’ll never forget the look on his face as he sat tall and proud on our way down River Road on the last day before he graduated to Big School.

• A card outlining the 7 Coop Principles, which reminds me of my duty and responsibility to serve electric cooperative members across our state.

• A few business cards for networking purposes, or for jotting down a note when I can’t find a piece of scrap paper. A few years back, one of the digital fads was to exchange professional contact information with a colleague by actually bumping your cells phones together. I don’t see anyone doing that today. Personally, I prefer the old-fashioned paper cards. And like pencils and shoelaces, they don’t seem to be going away soon, despite their predicted demise.

• A Progressive Insurance card for my motorcycle, which indicates I’ve been a “valued member” since 2003. That’s the year I bought a brand-new Suzuki Volusia, which has been running like a top ever since. Just a few days after I brought it home, that bike got christened by my daughter who decided to take a metal rod and whack the front fender. I’m still working through the trauma and one day I might forgive her.

• A SmarTrip pass for the Metro in Washington, D.C. I bought the card during a recent trip to the nation’s capital that coincidentally fell on Veteran’s Day. It was inspiring to see the large crowds at Arlington Cemetery and all the veterans gathering at the various monuments. The Vietnam Memorial Wall was especially packed with veterans bidding each other a hearty, “Welcome home.”

• A sliver of paper with the address and phone number of a very special older couple that I send a flower arrangement to every Christmas. It’s about time to make that annual visit to the florist.

• A business card from L’Hirondelle Restaurant located on the southern California coast. The card was acquired during a memorable trip with my wife back before our two kids started school. These days, any family travel plans are dictated by the schedule of the Livingston Parish School System. And husband-and-wife getaways are restricted to late afternoon walks around the block with the dog. Pecan Creek Subdivision looks lovely this time of year.

• A card verifying my membership in the General Council on United Methodist Men, in which “Every Man Shares in Evangelism, Mission and Spiritual Life.” The card has an expiration date, reminding me that my spiritual walk is a long journey that requires constant renewal and rededication.

The card also reminds me that Christmas is on the way, a time to pause, to push aside the distractions, and reflect on where I’ve failed to live up to my commitments and responsibilities, where I may have succeeded in serving others, how I might improve, and how grateful I am to receive God’s mercy.

So, I have to ask: What’s in your wallet?

Getting government back in the black with a celebrity selfie tax

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Raise your hand if you’ve declared your candidacy to be the next Commander-in-Chief.

Now that our own Gov. Bobby Jindal has brought his long-running campaign for president out of the shadows and Donald Trump is – literally – making a lot of noise, the race to replace Obama is already hitting its stride.

Things are sure to take an ugly turn, but personally I try not to get too lathered up about politics. I figure our ingenious system of checks and balances will prevent any particular political party from placing a stranglehold on power and driving our country into the ditch.

I mean, if we can survive the Civil War, two World Wars, the Great Depression, political assassinations, Vanilla Ice and Madonna, certainly we can sort through spirited debates about health care, immigration and gun laws.

But I digress.

All the bluster and blow brings to mind my own illustrious political career.

At the risk of sounding boastful, the fact is that I am a perfect, unblemished one-for-one in seeking political office. I don’t mean all the other offices I’ve held over the years, the ones where you miss a meeting and suddenly you’re chairing three church committees or you find yourself named president-for-life of the neighborhood garden club. In fact, there’s a long list of clubs, groups and associations that are still trying to recover from my “leadership.”

No, I’m talking about offices I actively sought out and campaigned to get.

That one glorious run for the gold occurred in 1975 when I took the bold step of announcing my candidacy for the office of Fire Chief at Cedarcrest-Southmoor Elementary in Baton Rouge.

But before I could draw a bead on that coveted position, my power grab had to become catalyzed by some high-profile role that would improve my name recognition and create the impression that I was a responsible, hard-working, 12-year-old kid.

Looking for just the right launching pad to deploy my strategy for success, I talked my way into becoming a crossing guard. About a block east of school was a busy intersection. To assist the neighborhood walkers, there was an adult guard supervising two students who got to wear a bright orange sash with a safety badge pinned right over the heart.

The student crossing guard also got to wield a 6-foot wooden pole with a large iridescent orange flag attached on the end. The job was to wait for the adult guard’s signal and then step right out there into the traffic, lay that long flag out horizontally across the road and stop the cars in their tracks while the kids shuffled through the intersection.

Almost 40 years later, I can report with a great deal of pride that no children were lost or pancaked by a Mack truck on my watch.

So, after a successful and scandal-free stint as crossing guard, it was on to bigger, better, more prestigious and powerful positions.

Quickly realizing my ambitious campaign had to be financed, I began saving my 25¢ weekly allowance and built an impressive war chest that contained just enough cash to cover the cost of a couple of posters and a box of crayons. I should have emulated the professional politicians and used someone else’s money, but all my friends were just as broke as I was.

Once in the Fire Chief’s chair, I have to say that I served with honor, distinction and competency. The school did not, in fact, burn to the ground during my term, although there was one unfortunate incident.

My classmates and I were standing in a long lunch line, and out of the blue one slightly unstable student – whose name I won’t disclose but who is probably pressing license plates at Angola right now – decided to test the functionality of one of the fire alarms affixed to the wall. It’s possible the kid had it all thought out, like a trained terrorist, to cause maximum chaos and pandemonium. Or, it’s quite possible, like your average terrorist, he wasn’t thinking at all.

When he cranked down on the lever and the alarm started blaring through the halls, my Fire Chief instincts immediately kicked into gear. I went into full-on Nicholas Cage mode, dashing through the cafeteria and alerting all the teachers and staff that this was merely a false alarm and there was no need to panic.

Thinking back, I was probably less like Nicholas Cage and more like that Fire Marshall Bill dolt who used to appear on the sketch show In Living Color.

The trauma of that false alarm, particularly the responsibility of having to bear the burden of someone else’s stupidity, squelched any ambition I may have had to continue my nascent political career.

All of this got me to wondering what I’d do if I were forced to be the POTUS today. I’m sure I’d be a one-term prez because the only plank in my platform would be to place a sin tax on social media in an effort to undo the destruction a decade of Facebook has wrought.

Everyone would get three free posts each week for things like vacations and family events – dinner plates and pets would be banned – but after that the tax burden would skyrocket.

Oh, and celebrity selfies would cost dearly. And because I expect Hollywood narcissism to continue unabated, the selfie tax alone ought to put our government back in the black in no time.

You can see – if you’re not too busy posting on Instagram right now – how my administration would be doomed for failure.

So, while others are pledging to dedicate their souls to restoring our beloved country’s rightful place as leader of the free world, I hereby pledge not to campaign for president.

Staying away from the halls of power is probably the best way for me to serve my country. The current field of presidential candidates can all thank me later.

If you need an elementary school Fire Chief, however, I’m your guy.

One mile stands out in a long summer spent on the road

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There’s nothing like a good road trip every once in a while to break up the monotony of everyday life.

But this summer has been ridiculous.

A few weeks ago it occurred to me that I’d been breaking out the travel bag and rounding up the miniature toothpaste tubes a lot more often than usual.

Typically, between personal and professional obligations, I’ll have to hop on a plane or jump in the car for a cross-country trip no more than three or four times a year. But lately I feel like Johnny Cash belting out a breathless rendition of that jaunty old tune, “I’ve Been Everywhere.”

I haven’t been to Hackensack, Cadillac, Fond du Lac or Davenport, but it seems I’ve been to just about every other destination on Cash’s tongue-twisting roster of far-flung cities and towns.

One day, feeling a bit saddle-sore, I decided to stop and tally up the miles I’ve put behind me since February and came up with a grand total of roughly 16,000. Now, that might not sound like much to a long-haul trucker, but for a homebody, that’s a pretty far piece.

The total includes traveling through the air and over the land, but it also includes a short trip on the water. In June, I was involved in a national publication’s effort to revisit the Louisiana coast for a story on the 10th anniversary of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

For two days we toured the coastline taking photos and conducting interviews, and the journey included a ride on the ferry crossing the Calcasieu shipping channel near the remote Monkey Island in Cameron Parish.

Boarding that ferry and then motoring along the secluded shore on Hwy. 27 all the way out to Holly Beach, well, that’s when my colleagues realized they weren’t in Washington, D.C., anymore.

At least 5,000 of the total 16K were made with teenagers in tow. In mid-June, I climbed aboard a charter bus with 27 students and four chaperones for the annual Youth Tour trip to the nation’s capital, which is, for the record, 1,120 miles and about 350 are-we-there-yets away from Baton Rouge. One way.

A second lengthy road trip involved my own 13-year-old daughter.

Casey, the scholar in the family, decided to participate in the Duke University Talent Identification Program in which junior high kids can take the ACT and qualify to enroll in an accelerated college-level interim course.

She chose a creative writing class offered at Appalachian State University, nestled more than 3,000 feet high in the mountains in lovely Boone, N.C. I could hardly blame her when she balked at the option to fly, but that meant making the 1,600-mile round trip not once…but twice…within three weeks.

Having just spent a week in Washington, any wanderlust I had earlier in the year was left on that charter bus when I hit the exit after returning to Baton Rouge.

Just the thought of making those two round trips had me concerned – especially without a commercially licensed driver to depend on. I mean, I can’t sit for 15 minutes watching the evening news without falling asleep. How was I going to have the stamina to drive that far?

What if I got caught in that nightmarish rush hour traffic in Atlanta or Birmingham, or stuck in that tunnel in Mobile? I might not make it without getting arrested. What if there’s a blow-out? I’m not really sure where the spare tire is hidden in vehicles these days. Is it on the bottom, on the roof, in the glove compartment? What about hotel rooms, meals and other travel expenses? The bursars at Duke have already drawn a quart of blood out of my veins.

While freaking out about pulling off back-to-back multi-state road trips, I didn’t realize – until it actually happened – that one of those 16,000 miles I’ve traveled this year was going to be a lot more difficult to navigate than the rest.

That was the mile I passed back through the gates of Appalachian State University and turned southward on Hwy. 321 bound for home…without my daughter there by my side.

This is the season when many parents are saying goodbye to their children heading off to college, or to a first job or otherwise leaving the nest to make their own way in the world.

I remember the day I left home for college, a school that was 330 miles and two states away. I remember making that tight left curve on Colonel Allan Court that took my childhood home out of the frame of the rear view mirror in my 1980 cream colored Toyota Corolla. Through the lens of an 18-year-old, I remember the moment as a new beginning, filled with excitement, anticipation and curiosity about where life would take me, but also tinged with sadness.

But now that 30 years have passed and I can see that picture from a different vantage point, I’m sure my parents, though sharing in my excitement, experienced that same moment mostly as an ending, heartbroken that their meaningful role as dedicated, hands-on providers unfailingly and completely committed to the protection and well-being of their only son for nearly two decades, was moving into the past even as they stood in that doorway and watched me disappear around that corner.

I received a small taste of that unnerving emotion while pulling away from Appalachian State, agonizing over leaving my dear child behind but understanding I had to go. I knew the route back home, every highway number, every turn to make, but it still felt as though I was aimless, lost, drifting toward the unknown, hurtling out into a boundless expanse of dark open space.

I suppose it was a dress rehearsal for what’s to come, and I need to get prepared. To those parents experiencing separation this summer, buck up and be brave – parenthood ain’t for sissies. To those teens leaving the nest, do not – I mean do not – forget to call home.

Sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip

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Serving as a chaperone on the Washington Youth Tour feels a bit like taking a voyage to Gilligan’s Island.

Every summer, Louisiana’s electric co-ops send a group of 25-30 castaways – I mean students – to D.C. to learn more about the electric co-op movement. And each year it seems the characters and plots come right out of a comedy premise dreamed up by Sherwood Schwartz.

Schwartz, who also gave us such campy TV hits as The Brady Bunch and My Favorite Martian, could have easily typecast the crew setting out from the tropic port of Baton Rouge last month.

Representing a cross-section of our state, every year the group includes a few brawny jocks, a few perky cheerleader types, a few brainiacs, some who are shy and reserved, and some who are Dale Carnegie curve-setters. Toss in a beauty queen or two and you’re ready to roll the cameras.

Gilligan? Well, that has to be me. I usually try to provide the comic relief. There’s no guarantee I’ll survive spending 35 hours on a charter bus with a group of rambunctious road-tripping teenagers, but humor improves the odds.

Whether part of this annual adventure or not, every time I’ve visited Washington it’s always reminded me of Gilligan’s Island, a place of contradictions, irony, buffoonery and implausibility, set apart from the real world, seemingly a product of someone’s wacky imagination.

My suspicion is that, at some point during their week-long stay, the students probably wondered what zany uncharted desert isle they were inhabiting. Touring all the memorials and monuments was tame enough, but some of the politically- charged activity they observed on the streets seemed to grab their attention.

For instance, while lining up for a photo in front of the White House, the students stood within a few feet of a feeble old woman seated in a folding chair flanked by a patchwork wall of large hand-painted signs – Westboro Baptist-style – calling on the U.S. to stop supporting Israel.

The woman chattered non-stop in a frail, heavily accented Middle-Eastern voice to anyone who walked by about how the U.S. is a terrorist nation with blood on its hands. And as the woman prattled on about a complex, intractable, generations-old issue the kids didn’t really know much about, I think that’s when they realized they weren’t in the Boot State anymore.

I hoped they would realize this was what they were there to see first-hand – the democratic process in action, people in the street vocally yet peaceably expressing their opinions, whether you agree or not, without being thrown in prison. But I think they just wanted to move away from the old wind-bag.

Later that day, the group encountered more protests while walking along The National Mall. One was a parade-like demonstration where a few dozen folks marched while calling for “clean power.” As with all public protests, only one side of the story was presented. But the activists bellowed a clever, catchy chant, so I think our students were slightly entertained as they made their way to the Smithsonian Museums.

Yet another demonstration was witnessed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. This event was a call for the worldwide elimination of child labor and slavery. The keynote speaker, Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi, was passionate in his delivery, but his audience was sparse. Most people in that vicinity were less interested in the plight of the planet’s 168 million exploited children than trying to find some relief from the 100-degree heat.

As the stage was being struck, the students decided to have their picture taken around the individual 7-foot letters that spelled out the word “FREEDOM,” which served as a dramatic backdrop to Satyarthi’s speech.

But no sooner had they begun gathering around the letters, an agitated organizer swept in and waved them away with as much passion, anger and vigor as Satyarthi had shown at the podium. I hoped, again, the students were grasping the irony of being shooed away from a set of letters that literally spelled out the word “FREEDOM,” and maybe understanding freedom has its limitations. But they seemed more interested in grabbing one of the Popsicles being peddled by a nearby vendor.

Still another interesting, yet heartbreaking, twist occurred just one day after visiting the Lincoln Memorial and reading the text of his second inaugural address on the north wall. That’s the one where Lincoln reminds both sides in the Civil War that the God they both claim to worship cannot be pleased that they’ve tragically decided to destroy one another and battle brother-against-brother to the death over an institution that is itself morally indefensible.

It was later that night that we learned a disturbed young man, professing racial hatred and inconceivably attempting to trigger another Civil War – like the 19th century conflict that cost the lives of more than 620,000 – and once again turn brother against brother, Christian against Christian, slaughtered six women and three men, in cold blood, during a Bible study, in a house of worship.

Washington has its flaws, and can sometimes seem like a bizarre island set apart from the real America that lies beyond its borders. But the work that goes on there is serious business, where leadership changes, laws get written, people argue, and the winds of doctrine blow mightily, all without resorting – at least
theoretically – to violence.

Hoping that our Youth Tour students grasp this lesson and understand how blessed we are to live under this form of government is the reason Louisiana’s electric co-ops support this program. And it’s the reason we’ll head back to Washington next June.

To view a video of the trip, visit https://youtu.be/5WZydmnqfuM.

Expecting a double-shot of swag for Father’s Day this year

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Like a lot of dads, my Father’s Day haul typically consists of a greeting card and a few pairs of socks.

Or maybe if I’ve been really good – defined by how much I’ve forked over for dance lessons, motocross gear, activity fees, sports equipment, electronic gadgets, vacations, etc. – I’ll get a handy three-pack of fancy designer underwear or a gardening tool from Walmart.

But this year I’m expecting a little lagniappe for going the extra mile in the Daddy Department.

As my children have reached the ages of 13 and 10, the demands are only increasing, and I’m proud to say old Pops is stepping up to the plate. For that, I expect to receive some real high-quality swag come June 21.

For example, I knew I was going beyond the call of duty when I signed up to drive my daughter to school last fall. Casey, an academic rock star – not that I’m bragging or anything – attends a junior high school that happens to be located not conveniently on my way to work, but 20 minutes in the exact opposite direction. So, that meant nearly 10 straight months of pre-dawn departures and 40 minutes of daily drive time even before beginning the morning commute through heavy Baton Rouge traffic.

Taking on the role of transit chief does have its rewards, however. On the way to school each day, we’d pick up one of Casey’s friends, and I found the conversation between two 13-year-olds can be entertaining. They would be mortified if I divulged any of the contents of those gab-fests, so I’ll just say the Avengers, derpy classmates, wacky teachers and lunch room drama were frequent topics. Though I always kept my ears open for anything inappropriate, it was always innocent, silly chit-chat. Lord knows what they talked about after I dropped them off.

So, for all that child ferrying, I expect to receive a Father’s Day bonus. Then, I expect a double-dog bonus for my contributions to my son’s activities.

Austin runs full-tilt from daylight to dark. Sometimes it’s hard to believe he’s packed so much into a single decade of life. He’s participated in just about every sport or activity you can imagine – motocross riding, BMX, basketball, skateboarding, scooters, swimming, archery, fishing, canoeing, bowling, shooting, track, flag football, whittling, volleyball, art, Scouting, you name it.

But lately he’s developed a fixation on baseball, especially since he made the league all-star team and gained a reputation as a skilled player.

When he was born, I used to look forward to the day when he would be old enough to get in the back yard and toss the ball around. But that was 10 years ago, and now, even though my spirit is still game, my arm feels like it’s barely hanging on by a single slender shred of shoulder sinew.

Every afternoon, rain or shine, he wants to go outside and practice perfecting the throwing motion they taught him at Brad Cresse’s baseball camp. And every afternoon, I have to drag myself off the sofa and slip on the old ball glove.

So far, I’m in good enough shape to survive our daily practice sessions, but my sore shoulder will be grateful when I can finally hand him over to the more youthful high school coaching staff.

Later, we’ll look back on these days as our Field of Dreams bonding experience, but right now I really just need a big bucket of Bengay.

All-in-all, as much as dads may complain, we know the dance recitals, birthday parties, awards programs, ball games and other family activities are the things that give our lives meaning.

But with my son, I have to draw the line on Major League Baseball. Austin is fascinated by the games he sees on TV and the discussions he has with his buddies who all have their favorite squads.

One day he wanted to know what team I pulled for when I was his age. I told him that was easy, the Cincinnati Reds, also known at the time as the Big Red Machine. In the local league, we called our team the Green Machine after our heroes, who won five pennants and two World Series titles in the 1970s.

The Reds’ line up included popular players such as Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Dave Concepcion, Tony Perez, George Foster and Ken Griffey. I even showed Austin how to do Joe Morgan’s quirky little elbow flap the slugger did when he was up to the plate.

I recalled those days with fondness, but when Austin asked which team I follow today, I told him I hadn’t paid attention to the majors in years. Still, he insisted that I tell him which team I like best. After trying to beg him off, I finally unloaded with a lecture on greed he didn’t see coming.

I told him I remember the exact time I dropped pro baseball. It was the 1994 strike. Not the 1981 strike or any of the seven previous strikes, it was the 1994 walkout that turned many fans against the pros forever.

Grown men who got paid handsomely to play a child’s game decided to balk in the middle of the 1994 season and leave all those hero-worshipping kids – and their dads – hanging. The strike lasted more than seven months and the World Series was cancelled for the first time in 90 years.

It was an argument over money that drove players and management apart, and it was money that brought them back together – or more precisely, the fact that they lost over $1 billion in revenue and lost the loyalty of fans to the NBA and NASCAR…not that I’m bitter.

Maybe today’s players have a little more gratitude for any human who would shell out hard cash to watch a man swat at projectiles, or maybe they all take performance-enhancing drugs, I don’t know. I just know there are more entertainment options than in 1994.

Now, if Austin grows up to be the starting shortstop for the Reds, then all bets are off. Oops, sorry Pete Rose.

Bashing America’s burger behemoth is a favorite pastime

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When you’re the big kahuna, it seems like everybody’s looking for an opportunity to bring you down.

Being a rather mild-mannered, non-threatening small kahuna, I usually just get ignored. But I remember back in college at the University of Alabama, my best buddy was a pretty big kahuna and he always seemed to walk around with a target on his back.

He stood about 6-foot-4 and weighed in at about 275, give or take a few Quarter Pounders. Played for a spell on the football team under legendary Coach Bear Bryant until he realized that even when you’re a big kahuna, there’s often a bigger kahuna on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage.

We were fellow resident assistants in the freshman dorm and it seems that everywhere we went, somebody wanted to challenge him, provoke him somehow. He was always getting into an altercation at a local bar, a dorm dance, a frat party or a pick-up basketball game at the rec center. It didn’t help that he wasn’t the type to just turn around and walk away when someone was itching to pick a fight.

I thought about my old friend as I read yet another story bashing the big kahuna of the burger realm, that iconic, quintessentially American fast food establishment, McDonald’s.

For some reason, McDonald’s has always been subject to ridicule and derision. I remember even back when I was a kid 1,000 years ago we sang a song spoofing a McDonald’s TV jingle that was popular at the time.

It went something like, “McDonald’s is your kind of place, hamburgers in your face, French fries between your toes, dill pickles up your nose. And don’t forget our vanilla shakes, they come from polluted lakes…”

I’ve never really quite understood the widespread contempt for McDonald’s. I mean, it doesn’t seem to me that the company’s food is any more or less synthetic, processed, artificial, unhealthy or gut-busting than a lot of other restaurants out there.

One thing I do know, however, is that my 13-year-old daughter will absolutely, positively not even go near the place. Just mention the name and a wave of nausea flushes over her face.

She started to have her suspicions about McDonald’s after she learned of the 2004 documentary called Super Size Me that got the food purists and the health care community all in a froth.

Out to prove a point, enterprising filmmaker Morgan Spurlock ate nothing but McDonald’s food for 30 straight days. He gained almost 25 pounds at the end of his experiment and reported a long list of physical and psychological maladies from high cholesterol to mood swings.

That’s all my daughter – who is a dancer and likes to keep her shape – needed to hear. In a classic case of selective information consumption, she completely ignored the high school science teacher in Iowa who conducted an experiment of his own.

He ate nothing but McDonald’s food for 90 days, but restricted his calories by opting mostly for all the healthier choices on the menu board and also walked for 45 minutes a day. He reported dropping 37 pounds and improving his health significantly.

The teacher pointed out to his biology students that it was the caloric intake, the moderate exercise and the right choices that made the difference.

But none of that mattered to my daughter after she saw a video about what happens when you look at a Chicken McNugget under a microscope. Once she saw the bright bits of iridescent blue Lord-knows-what, Ronald McDonald was dead to her.

Knowing of her contempt for the Golden Arches, I asked her if the other students at her school felt the same way. Her response was that a few of them believe Ronald McDonald is part of the international Illuminati secret society and possibly even masterminded the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Love or hate McDonald’s, it’s going to be quite a while before the burger behemoth ever completely fades into oblivion. The company has more than 35,000 restaurants across the globe and is adding an average of two new franchises somewhere around the world every week.

While all the bashing and piling on have certainly taken their toll as evidenced by lower corporate earnings over the past two years, McDonald’s sold $31.1 billion worth of hamburgers last year. Gulp! The average McD’s pulled in $2.5 million in sales last year while the average Wendy’s grossed $1.6 million and Burger King made $1.2 million.

Personally, I have no beef with the burger giant. Every once in a while when the mood strikes, I’m going to pull into a McDonald’s and partake of one of those delicious custom-ordered Double Quarter Pounders without questioning what’s actually inside it that makes it taste so dang delicious.

And when the weather turns hot, I will occasionally beat the heat by getting in the drive-thru line and ordering one of those scrumptious Oreo McFlurries. The only problem is that half the time the dairy machine is down for repairs, just when my mouth has already commenced watering for a cool, satisfying dessert.

Now there’s something that red-haired clown and I really need to discuss.