Monday, January 26, 2015

Grandma Jesus and you

Since writing about Hashbrown Jesus last week, I've gotten a lot of positive response about that post. My family especially liked it. I went back the next evening for a late night snack and to see if I could catch HJ's real name (it's Gary, btw), but he wasn't working. My waitress, however, was there and she verified his story--his name, how he lives, how long he stays and works the grill at Waffle House every year.

As I reflected on that today, I remembered meeting Jesus on Christmas Day last year. Yes, just one month and one day ago. She walks the Earth, known to her contemporaries as Ms. Annie, but she lives and serves in a part of town known by locals as Frenchtown. I'm going to call her Grandma Jesus because that's what she has been to hungry people at the holidays for seventeen years.

And just like HJ, you'll find her among the downtrodden, the outcast, the poor and the marginalized because she, but for the grace of God, is one of them. We are ALL one of them. But we don't realize that in stooping down to serve, we get more out of the encounter than those we mean to serve. And do you know why? Because THOSE people are Jesus!

Did He not say that when you give your coat to warm a homeless person, you are in fact helping Him? I take those holy texts very literally. I know that when I fill a cup with water at the homeless shelter, I'm not doing it for nameless vagrant with the smelly clothes, the mussed hair and the dirty fingernails. I'm doing it because I look into that person's eyes and I see the face of the Divine.

If we will go hang with the homeless, the destitute, the prostitute, the marginalized in our society, we will see Jesus. Why are so many waiting for trumpets and a second coming? He's here, already, and He told us to be on the lookout. He's not carrying any cross this time, except the one we label Him with--homeless, beggar, queer, freak...(insert any label you want, here). He'd certainly appreciate a dollar, a warm meal, a friendly smile or someone to wash His dirty feet.

Will that someone be you?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Evaluating Birdman

I was captivated by this movie from the opening scenes, the witty dialogue between actors Keaton and Galifianakis and the drum-centric soundtrack (note: the drummer makes a few cameos throughout the film). In fact, I'm going to have to say that this is my most favorite movie soundtrack EVER! The jazz drum soloing seemed to fit the movie perfectly, but more importantly it suited my tastes to a "T."

But it was more than witty banter and cool drums. This movie struck a chord with me that is still resonating in my innermost self. I likened it today to the way the movie "Dead Poets Society" stuck with me at age 21. This was the middle-aged version of that movie.

Obviously, it's resonated with many movie-goers and cinema critics, alike. Which in itself is quite funny, since the movie takes a scathing look at snobby, theater critics. It also seemed to this movie-goer to be an autobiography of Keaton's real-life career. It's not a stretch to see his Birdman persona as the Batman he portrayed, ironically, the same year that "Dead Poets Society" was released (1989).

But it was more than autobiographic. It was emotionally stirring and hit WAY TOO CLOSE to home. A middle-aged man struggles with the path his life has taken. You know, us 40-somethings love to take stock at the supposed midpoint of our lives (as if we're all going to live to the ripe old age of our mid-80's). He's frustrated with his career path and attempts to reinvent himself, pouring himself completely into what he sees as a more worthwhile pursuit. Aren't we all taking stock and trying to gauge what exactly our legacy will be?

More importantly, he reassesses his relationship with his estranged wife/significant other, his daughter and his current female friend/co-star. His daughter, played by a personal fave, Emma Stone (those eyes! those cheekbones! that wicked smile!!!), is a complete mess, thanks in part to her father's absence in her life. You know, girls need their daddy's quality time. He's pretty much cut to the quick by her in one scene. The look on Stone's face is priceless after she realizes what she's done to him with her sharp tongue. It's quintessential Stone. She's a great actress, just by her facial expressions.

And this is where I'll note what a stellar job the casting director did. Not only did the casting director do her absolute best, she chose some of my favorite actors, including Stone (as noted above) and Edward Norton. I have loved his innocent-yet-devious, childish mug ever since I first saw "Primal Fear," in which he played an angelic-demonic altar (alter) boy. Zach Galifianakis has to be my absolute favorite comedic actor of the millennial era. His muted antics are a perfect fit for the film, much like the kick-ass soundtrack. As I said, his reparte' with the lead man in the first 10 minutes had me laughing out loud. He's just a funny guy and his timing is spot-on! I'd love to see the outtake reel of he and Keaton, who is very funny in his own right (I submit "Mr. Mom" as Exhibit A).

So casting, music, storyline...everything was right with this picture! I didn't even mind the quirky ending, which was reminiscent of "Big Fish" (2003, Ewan McGregor). No, I left the cheap theater very pleased and entertained. Introspective, but in a good way. Seeing much of myself in Keaton's exterior character, Riggan Thomas, and "Birdman," the low-tenored voice inside him. The war he raged with himself, the demons he fought, were all too real to me (more than I'd care to admit, but I think I just heard a cat let loose).

I'd recommend this movie to any guy my age. I'll bet any of you 40-somethings who were once moved by Dead Poets will be equally entranced, moved and amused at this movie. I'll probably own it on DVD one day, but who knows. I don't own a copy of Poets. Maybe it was just the right movie at the right time. Still, go and see for yourself. I promise you, if you are a drummer, you will dig the soundtrack!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

I met Jesus today...

...He was flipping orders of scattered, smothered, covered hash browns at the local Waffle House. Didn't catch his human name, but he's the graveyard shift grill cook there.

We struck up a conversation over my plate of browns, topped with scrambled eggs and thick, warm sausage gravy. I found out he has a "real life" down in south-central Florida where he runs a number of fresh produce stands. But six-months out of the year, Hashbrown Jesus lives in the woods...amongst the homeless.

I came to this divine revelation simply by asking about and old, homeless lady I had the honor of sharing breakfast with at that same counter only a month ago. It was Christmas morning and I found the only seat at the service counter, next to her. Wondering how this frail, little widow survived the cold nights of early 2015, I asked Hashbrown Jesus how she was doing.

He informed me that "Martha" (we'll call her Martha for this article), was doing fine and had been accepted into a home for women. At Christmas time, it had rained for days and Martha had complained to me that her tent had sprung a leak, so I dug up some dry things to give her to keep her warm. Well, come to find out, HJ was now the proud occupant of her tent and he'd secured it with a new tarp over the top.

He's one of the homeless who live in the woods near I-10 and US 27 here in Tallahassee. I don't know the precise location of the woods, but I suspect there are a good number of transient residents therein. I know of one other elderly lady whom he looks after while he's in town.

"I live as a homeless person, by choice," he tells me at my early morning breakfast. That way, he says, he can identify their needs, help them and relate to them better. If that's not being Jesus in the most real of ways, then I don't know what is.

And come to think of it, it's no surprise to me that we'd find Jesus out there in those woods amongst the homeless in modern times. We might also spy him frequenting a bar, a synagogue or the solitude of the trails around Lake Lafayette. Needless to say, he wouldn't have a home. He's not of this world.

Neither is Hashbrown Jesus. Who leaves the comfort of home for six months out of the year to live in the woods of north Florida where the December-January temps often dip into the 20's overnight??? "I keep warm with a small Coleman cooker. You know the kind with the green propane bottle?" I could just picture HJ huddled over a small fire, warming his nail-scarred hands over the blue flames on those wintery unFlorida-like nights. I imagine he has those ladies closeby him, sharing the warmth.

That conversation with HJ will stick with me for a long time. I am a better person for having met him this morning. I was both humbled and blessed by the encounter.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015


Trying to get traction for the new hashtag:


Use it liberally and be sure to like my new page on Facebook.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

HEL-LO 2015!!!

When I posted twice on Christmas Day about my day of volunteer service, I wasn't attempting to blow my own horn. It was just a very meaningful day for me and one of the best Christmases I've had since 2011, so I just wanted to express my joy on that day.

After blogging about the bittersweet taste of 2014, I determined to make 2015 mean something beautiful and powerful. On a sleepless night a few weeks before Christmas, an idea came to me that might just make that happen. I got a vision for a public awareness campaign that marries my love and passion for music with the fight against breast cancer. I'm going to call it Kick Cancer's Ass (sm). I plan to launch a cause and begin promoting it on social media very soon.

It's nothing earth-shatteringly new, but it is a way for me to honor my mother, who is dying of cancer, and the loved ones I've lost to the disease--my maternal grandmother, an aunt and a cousin who was a couple of years my junior and the mother of three children.

I began putting my new focus into practice on Christmas Day helping a homeless woman I met at breakfast and continuing it from that day forward. Again, I'm not drawing attention to my acts of service, but to my new energy and focus. I want to leave a mark on my community, wherever I am, and create a legacy for my daughters to be proud of and footsteps in which, hopefully, they will follow. My girls have ALWAYS been an inspiration to me, never allowing me to pass a homeless person in any of the places we've lived--Tallahassee, Indianapolis and Fort Myers Beach--without giving them something, even the change out of the ashtray in the car.

What do I hope to gain by launching a non-profit? It's not a get-rich scheme or anything like that (some people do get rich running non-profits). I just want to have a purpose greater than myself. I want to devote myself to something that will enrich my life. Yes, I have my daughters and being their Daddy is the most satisfying and life-enriching challenge I've ever faced. It gives me all the meaning I need for my life, but I also want to be about DOING something. I've always known there's more than 8-to-5 punching a timeclock everyday. There has to be! And while I will continue to be gainfully employed somewhere, I will be busy doing good, as well.

So for 2015, I've vowed to be more purposeful, more positive and more proactive. I just came up with that...three P's. That mission will guide my decisions and my actions for the coming years. It sparked with an idea in mid-December, turned into forward motion on Christmas Day and will continue as long as I have breath in my lungs.

Yes, 2014 was a challenge like none other I've faced. I am certain 2015 will bring even more difficult challenges, but my attitude is what will make the biggest difference. I am launching headlong into this year with a positive, self-affirming, more purposeful attitude. Thank you 2014 for reminding me about what's truly important. And HEL-LO 2015! Let's go and do good!

(Editor's note: As I began writing this, a stranger approached me at the McDonald's in Tallahassee where I find myself writing today, and asked me to move my car so she could have someone give her vehicle a jump. I gladly told her I'd help, as I have a long, heavy-duty set of cables in my trunk. I do believe in Karma.)