Thursday, March 31, 2011

Play Ball!

Finally, Opening Day for Major League Baseball has arrived! Whoop-ti-do, you say? Not if you're as big of a baseball fan as I am.

The five months between the end of the World Series and Opening Day can seem like an eternity to die-hard baseball fans like myself. Sure, there's plenty of football and basketball (and if you're desperate, hockey) to watch in between, but these are all just second-rate stopgaps till baseball returns in full swing (pun intended).

I have heard all the complaints people have about baseball, and I understand. I do understand, but I don't necessarily care.

There's the "baseball is just sooo slooowww!" argument. I get that. Some people don't like that it doesn't have a shot clock or a game clock to more precisely predict the parameters of its duration. Or that it moves at a pace all its own. That a game could last a mere hour and forty-five minutes or an interminable six hours (depending on if it goes into extra innings). Me, I like the randomness of the game. At any given moment, something amazing could happen. Or nothing could happen. You never know...unless you keep watching.

Then there's the "baseball is just a business" and the "players are grossly overpaid" arguments. I can't argue with either of those statements either. Of course, baseball is a business. So is football, so is basketball, so are most things that entertain us. Their objective is to make money, and owners will do whatever it takes to make more money. Whether that means building a new multibillion-dollar stadium, or signing a star player for hundreds of millions of dollars to draw in fans, or soliciting a huge corporate sponsorship in exchange for renaming the stadium after said corporation. As for the overpaid players argument, I couldn't agree more. Nobody deserves to be paid $27 million a year to play a game, even if he is one of the game's premier players. But there is no salary cap in place in the sport – though I think there should be – so as long as agents continue to ask for the big money, and as long as the owners are willing to pay it out, the players are going to be overpaid. That's just the way it is. If a player is offered a huge contract, you can't blame him for taking it.

Finally, there's the whole steroids and performance-enhancing drugs issue, which has almost overshadowed the game itself over the past three-plus years. Official reports have revealed that throughout the past twenty years or so, and probably longer, a good number of baseball players – many superstars among them – at various points in their careers, were using anabolic steroids, human growth hormones, amphetamines, and other performance-enhancing drugs to transform themselves into bigger and stronger versions of themselves, as well as to be able to play through injuries. There's no question that the level of play among hitters and pitchers alike was elevated during what has now become known as the Steroid Era. In the mid-2000's, drug testing became strictly enforced and suspensions began being handed out for infractions of the MLB drug policy. Drug testing has effectively cleaned up the game significantly in a few short years, but it still has a ways to go. There is still not a reliable test that will detect a player's use of human growth hormones, so it's likely there are still players using this performance enhancer and not getting caught. But measures have been put in place, and Major League Baseball is doing a good job of holding players accountable. Will the game ever be completely clean? Probably not. As long as there is the opportunity to cheat – in any way – and get away with it, players will cheat. And not just in baseball, but in any sport. Or in life, for that matter. The point is not that the use of performance-enhancing drugs is not a big deal – it definitely is. The point is that the game of baseball is bigger, and more important, than the stupid choices a bunch of knucklehead players may have made, which have somewhat tarnished the game.

Are these arguments valid? Yes, absolutely! Every one of them has merit, and I will not quibble with anyone who proffers these as reasons not to get excited about baseball. I will simply say that these are not reasons that will keep me from watching the game I love.

So, without further ado....

"Take me out to the ballgame
  Take me out with the crowd
  Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack
  I don't care if I never get back
  Let me root, root, root for the home team
  If they don't win, it's a shame
  For it's one, two, three strikes you're out
  At the old ball game."


Monday, March 28, 2011

Things I Find Fascinating #1: "10 Things Everyone Should Know About Djibouti"

Djibouti is a tiny country on the Gulf of Aden in Northeast Africa. I have been fascinated with this country since I was a teenager. I can't explain why that's the case, except to say that I'm a bit of a weirdo.

But since you've stopped by my blog – and thank you for that, by the way – you may as well learn a few key facts about Djibouti, if for no other reason than to impress your friends with useless information, or to have something to talk about with strangers other than the weather.

1)  How to pronounce "Djibouti":  It's pronounced like this:  jih-BOOT-ee.  I dare you to say this several times in a row, and see if you don't laugh. Or at least crack a smile. If not, you may want to check your pulse, because that is an undeniably funny-sounding word. Hear it pronounced by clicking here –> Djibouti

2)   Djibouti has 195 square miles of beautiful coastline, and sometimes we drop bombs on it, just to practice.  Here's a picture of two U.S. Navy F/A-18 fighter jets conducting bombing exercises at the Gordia bombing range just off the coast of Djibouti.

3)   One third of the population consists of nomadic herders.  The other two-thirds of the inhabitants live in the unimaginatively named capital city of Djibouti. Here's one of those nomads:

4)   Doctors here are extremely overworked.  There are roughly 18 doctors for every 100,000 people who live in Djibouti. Even so, life expectancy is about 60 years for both males and females.

5)  The population is predominantly Muslim.  Approximately 94% of Djiboutians are Muslim, while the remaining 6% claim Christianity as their religion. Every town and village in Djibouti has a mosque where people go to worship. Here's one of them in the capital city of Djibouti.

6)   When he's not sporting traditional Arabian garb such as the jellabiya, a typical Djiboutian man might be seen wearing Western-influenced apparel. Take this fellow, for instance:

6)   They write some catchy music that you can dance to, if you are so inclined.  Check out this guy!


7)  Arguably Djibouti's most famous writer, Abdourahman A. Waberi has written numerous novels, essays, poetry, and short stories which have been translated into more than ten different languages.  In 2005, Waberi was chosen amongst the "50 Writers of the Future" by French literary magazine, Lire. Among his more popular works are The Land Without Shadows (a short-story collection) and the novel In The United States Of Africa. Here's a recent photo of Abdourahman:

8)  Here there be pirates.  Being situated at the entrance of the Red Sea, ships sailing off the coast of Djibouti are often targeted by pirates. The Republic of Djibouti recently provided its port as a base for the Russian Navy to fight piracy. According to various media reports, a total of 217 vessels were attacked in 2009 alone, resulting in 47 hijackings. Here's a Russian warship in hot pursuit of some Blackbeard wannabe's.

9)  If a Djiboutian starts talking to you about IOG, that's actually not some locally famous rapper, it's their President.  Having ruled Djibouti since 1999, Ismael Omar Guelleh is so well-known amongst his people that they don't even have to say the man's name. That's pretty sweet! President Guelleh (as I am, unfortunately, not Djiboutian, I will not dispense with formalities here) supports traditionally strong ties with France and has labored to reconcile the different factions in neighboring Somalia. Here's a piacture of ol' IOG himself:

10)  If you're ever in Djibouti City and get a hankering for Japanese-Greek-French fusion cuisine, try the Melting Pot.  Located on Heron Rue Bernard, the Melting Pot's multicultural cuisine knows no boundaries that can limit its creativity. Conventional techniques are combined with the freshest ingredients. Their dishes are as varied as the people who discover them. Check out their Japanese menu below (hope you can read French):

Thank you for indulging my oddball fascinations. There will be more of these to come. I don't know when exactly, as they do take some time to compile. But hopefully, they will be worth the trouble.

SOURCES: Wikipedia, BBC, and other random places on the Internet.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

When I Grow Up...

I recently celebrated my 33rd birthday, which is hard for me to fathom. I remember when I thought turning 25 was getting old! So, as is customary for me upon turning another year older, I ask myself: What do I want to be when I grow up?

I know what you're thinking: I already am grown up. Maybe that's true, or maybe being "grown up" is subjective. But that's only half the question. The other part of the question is what I want to be.

When I was a little kid, and someone asked me the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?", I would have likely given one of two responses:

1)  I want to be an astronaut. Okay, that's a pat answer, and a tad boring, but I grew up in the '80s when NASA and shuttle launches were all the rage. I was 8 years old when the Challenger crashed, and that was really the beginning of it all for me. I wanted to succeed those astronauts who had tragically lost their lives and complete their mission. At the time, I probably could have even told you what their mission was, in great detail, though all of the particulars are lost to me now. However, my astronautical ambitions slowly faded over time, and it's probably a good thing, since by now, my chances of going on future shuttle missions would be greatly reduced.

2)  I want to be Steven Spielberg.  Well, I didn't actually want to be Steven Spielberg, but I did want to do what he did. I wanted to be a filmmaker. One of the first films I remember seeing in the movie theater was E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. I was thoroughly and overwhelmingly impressed. And that was what I wanted to do. I thought for awhile I might even go to film school after graduating from high school. But that, like many childhood dreams, took a backseat to other aspirations.

Because there was this other thing that happened around age 9 or 10. I started writing. A lot. Make that, all the time. And, as it turned out, I wasn't half bad at it.

I had my first poem published in The Daily Reflector when I was 10 years old. If I can ever dig that thing up, I might post it here. It was pretty awful, but I was just getting started, so the roughness around the edges is understandable.

A year later, I started writing my first songs. My cousin Michael and I used to come up with these little ditties that we would sing in front of our family at special gatherings. I wish there were videos of these, because they'd probably be pretty hilarious now. But at the time they seemed pretty good to us; and in retrospect, I've likely heard worse stuff on the radio (especially the stuff on the radio these days).

Over the past 20-plus years (and calculating that time period is mind-boggling to me as well), I've continued writing for my own entertainment and for friends and family. I've penned over 200 original songs – most of them awful "unrequited love" songs during my high school days – probably an equal number of poems, and a dozen or so short stories. I even wrote a couple of one-act plays for college classes.

I got my B.A. degree in English with a concentration in Creative Writing at ECU back in 2000. Then I worked for about 8 years at jobs that had nothing whatsoever to do with Creative Writing. Such is life. Then I was offered a job as a copywriter/copy editor for Gander Mountain's catalog and website. A few years ago, I couldn't have told you what a copywriter did if my life depended on it. I've since come to realize that I can easily explain my job to any Seinfeld aficionado by saying, "What Elaine did at J. Peterman – that's basically it." I like my job – it allows me to flex my creative muscles on a daily basis, though there is a good amount of "just the facts, ma'am" involved as well.

So, I guess it boils down to one more (albeit multi-part) question: Is what I do who I am, and is what I am what I want to be?

Here's what I think. I don't think that my life – or anyone's life, for that matter – can be defined solely by what I do. Nor will I resign myself – at least not yet – to the fact that what I currently am is what I want to be.

What do I want to be? The picture's becoming a little clearer of late. But the veil of uncertainty hasn't been completely lifted yet, so I'm still reticent to say. But I am working on it. Moving forward little by little. And maybe I'm growing up a little in the process.

Poems For Your Perusal #2: "I Give You Part"

This is another old poem I pulled out of my "vault"... I hope it speaks to you as it did to me upon rereading it.


Lord, remove from me my ears
For I no longer wish to hear
The lies and gossip that they speak
Upon each hearing, I grow weak
And would, without Your guidance, take
Their lies as truth – a great mistake
And You reply, "Give me your heart"
And in response, I give You part.

Lord, remove my eyes from me
For I no longer wish to see
Images burned into my mind
Better off if I were blind
I would, without Your shielding hand
Be tempted to betray Your plan
You nod and say, "Give me your heart"
And once again, I give You part.

Lord, remove from me my lips
For often have I let things slip
A harsh or unkind word to them
That know You not – and in my sin
I fail to see, I'm failing You
When I say things that I don't do
You sigh and say, "Give me your heart"
And yet again, I give You part.

But something in this isn't right
I battle, yet I lose the fight
Could it be that I'm naive
Enough to think that I believe
That Your sufficiency of grace
Will put things in the proper place
And I won't have to give my heart
That You'll accept me, part by part?

Lord, I surrender – take my life
And make of it a sacrifice
That You and You alone shine through
Be glorified in all I do!
Without subtracting all of me
The whole of You is tragically
Subdued – and so for this my part
Lord Jesus, here – take ALL my heart!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Personal Foul

In honor of March Madness, or in spite of it, or – actually this has nothing whatsoever to do with March Madness. But here you have it: a basketball-related acrostic with 12 phrases that accurately describe me on any given day of my life.

Perpetually late
Effortlessly verbose
Rudely interruptive
Statistically fascinated
Obviously overweight
Nonsensically adept
Alphabetically aware
Largely cynical

Frequently self-centered
Occasionally mean-spirited
Unnecessarily antagonistic
Lackadaisically inclined

Comment if you want a more detailed explanation of any of the above, but I think most are self-evident. And if you know me very well, you already know that they're entirely true. For good or ill. And if you didn't know me very well before, well, now you do.

Follow Me

No, I'm not trying to convince you to follow my blog. That would be lame and a little desperate, and I'd like to think that I'm neither of those. At least not that I'm aware of.

I'm pondering over the words that Jesus spoke to the men who would become his apostles. "Follow Me."

I am a fairly skeptical person by nature. And I wonder, if Jesus, a perfect stranger (appropriate considering His perfection), came up to me today and said, "Follow Me," how would I respond?

I think my first instinct would be to say: "Why?" And then, assuming I was actually willing to follow, my next question would be: "Where are we going?" I might not say it, but the thought would be running through my head: "And what happens if I don't follow You?"

But, amazingly, we don't get those responses from the fishermen and tax collectors who received - and forthwith answered - Jesus' call to follow. Instead, this was their response: "At once they left their nets and followed Him." When Jesus saw Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth and uttered those two words - "Follow Me" - the verse says that "Matthew got up and followed Him." No questions, no what-if's, he just got up and followed Him.

Sadly, this was not always the case when Jesus beckoned people to follow Him. There was the rich young man who boasted about keeping all the commandments, yet still lacked something in his life. Jesus told the man, "If you want to be perfect [spiritually mature], go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” So, of course, the man did as Jesus said, right? Not exactly. The verse continues: "When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth."

I wonder if, instead of being like the disciples, I would be like that rich young man. Would I be unwilling to give away all that I had - both in riches and reputation - to follow a Man I didn't know, who didn't tell me why He wanted me to follow Him, and wouldn't tell me where I was going? Would you?


Matthew 16:24
"Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me."

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

I Like Christian Rap...A Lot...So What?

Anyone who regularly visits my Facebook page already knows that, more often than not, I don't actually put anything relevant about myself or my life in my status updates. Instead, I prefer to pepper my page with stupid celebrity quotes, thought-provoking or amusing things thought up by great thinkers, or memorable and meaningful lyrics from songs that I like.

Of the latter category, the majority of my lyrics quoted are from Christian rap songs. That's because Christian rap, or "holy hip-hop" (not a huge fan of that term), or gospel rap – whatever you may choose to call it – is the genre of music that I listen to the most.

Admitting this – and, by the way, I'm not ashamed of it – is sure to make me unpopular with some of my fellow Christians. Why is that? Because, apparently, a lot of believers simply cannot fathom that a style of music that is often used by the world to promote drug use, immoral behavior, and other debauchery can also be used by Bible-believing Christians to make theologically solid music with God-honoring lyrics that can point the lost to Christ. But it can.

I have been listening to Christian rap for about three years now. I have discovered a plethora of artists and groups that, I wholeheartedly believe, seek to honor God in their music, seek to win souls for Christ through their songs, and seek to make disciples for Christ by the inspirational – and often taken directly from Scripture – lyrics that they write. I have been encouraged, uplifted, and oftentimes challenged by what I have heard.

At the same time, I have been discouraged, disappointed, and disheartened by some of my fellow believers' response to my choice of music. Most simply don't understand. What is the appeal? And, can I really relate to everything the songs talk about?

The appeal is both in the message and in the music. I've already covered the message. Let's talk about the music. Back in my late teens, I was, for a time, a big fan of secular rap music. This was back when MTV still played music videos, and I would watch them nonstop. I even knew all the words to the popular rap songs. But then I started to realize that a lot of the things that were talked about in the songs, and a lot of the images I saw in the videos, were not things that a Christian young man should be hearing about or looking at. So I stopped listening to it.

I completely switched gears, and started listening to Christian pop/rock – which was and is still good – but I still missed the style of music I had left behind. At the time, there were hardly any Christians making rap music, and most of the ones who were weren't really any good.

About three years ago, I rediscovered my love for rap music when I heard about and began listening to current Christian rappers like Lecrae, Trip Lee, and Flame. Christian rap had come a long way in a short time, and it was worth listening to. And so I did. And so I do.

Back to that other question: Can I really relate to everything the songs talk about? Short answer: No. First of all, unlike the majority of the rappers that I listen to, I am white. I did not grow up in the projects with an absent father and a single mom who worked all the time. I did not sell drugs on the corner from the time I was a young tyke. I have never even experienced what you could call "hard times" of any kind. So, no, I cannot relate to everything in the songs. But I can relate to the messages of discipleship, respecting authority, compassion, uplifting your brothers and sisters in the faith, and I can surely relate to the message of the gospel.

So, for anyone out there who would like to debate me on whether or not there is even any such thing as Christian rap, or whether or not Christians should be listening to rap in any form, or anything like that, I will respectfully decline to participate. It really doesn't matter to me whether you like or approve of what I'm listening to, no more than it matters to you what I might think of whatever you listen to. Let's agree to disagree and just skip the arguments.   :)

If you are ever interested in listening to theologically sound, God-honoring music – that just happens to be rap – allow me to offer you my recommendations. You can check them out on YouTube or iTunes or Facebook or Myspace or Amazon or wherever you go to listen to and buy your music.

My favorites are (in no particular order):

Trip Lee
Sho Baraka
Yaves (The Street Pastor)
Young Joshua

There's many more that I could recommend, but these will get you started.

Dear Elderly Man Riding A Shopping Cart Like A Skateboard...

Dear Elderly Man Riding A Shopping Cart Like A Skateboard,

Saw you in Harris Teeter last night, doing your thing.

Was wondering what you were up to when you jogged to the front of the store, seemingly in quite a hurry.

Thought it a little odd when you passed by me again, having fetched a shopping cart, still jogging while pushing the cart along at a pretty good pace in front of you. I actually had to cut right quickly to avoid being grocery store roadkill.

But what really got me was when you came barreling down the frozen foods aisle, quite literally kicking off with your back foot, your front foot on the bottom rack of the cart, then stepped up fully onto the rack, and zoomed the full length of the aisle at breakneck speed. I nodded politely at you as you passed but I don't think you noticed. You were pretty engrossed in the task at hand.

By the way, that was a deft evasive maneuver, veering left just as that mom was approaching with her two rambunctious boys. I think you really got their attention.

Just wanted to drop you a quick line to say I admire your chutzpah in attempting to recapture your childhood in a crowded supermarket – I would never have the nerve to actually go through with it.

Or, if it wasn't that, and you were just crazy or something, I admire your unabashed lunacy – I only do weird stuff like that when nobody is looking. Or when I'm in a foreign country. Like the time...well, never mind.

Anyway, I sincerely hope you were able to find everything you were looking for last night. Whatever that was. And hopefully I'll see you in there again sometime. It was, shall we say, an experience!

A Bemused Bystander

Monday, March 7, 2011

To Know Me Is To Read Me

Real Talk:  it took a lot of self-convincing for me to decide to start writing a blog. It wasn't that I thought I would quickly run out of interesting and/or relevant things to say – so far, so good. And it wasn't because I don't enjoy writing or that I don't express myself very well through writing; on the contrary, I love writing and it has always come fairly easily to me. The problem was and is entirely with me.

I've always been a pretty private person, not really letting many people in on what's going on inside my head. It's not that I lack emotions or opinions; I just don't express them very well in ways that you can see and hear.

As a result, I think I am somewhat of an enigma (at best) or an eccentric (at worst) to people who know me. There is a degree of vulnerability which comes with opening myself up to other people with which I've never been entirely comfortable. I don't know why that is the case, but it is.

So, in an effort to break this 32-year pattern, I decided to make it a point – on a regular basis – to express my thoughts, feelings, and opinions in the best way I know how – by writing about them. Thus, "The Plural Of Hyena" blog was born.

I recognize that not everything I say will resonate with everyone and that some of my opinions or ideas may be frowned upon. Who knows, maybe some people will choose to disassociate with me altogether, but I hope not.

So here I am. Taking a leap of faith and letting you get to know me better. Not that your life or mine will necessarily be affected one bit in the process – it simply is what it is. And so am I.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Too Short To Ride The Roller Coaster

I'm sure you've all seen the signs that go something like this:


Well, sometimes I feel like I'm head and shoulders above that line and am prepared for any dips, turns, and spins that roller coaster may throw at me. Other days, I'm just shy of the qualifying height, and am content – dare I say, relieved – to be sitting on the sidelines and watching all those poor suckers blow chunks on the folks behind them.

(Okay, maybe that was a little gross, but I'm a guy...give me a break!)

What am I talking about, you ask? Good question.

Sometimes you see something coming that you aren't able to avoid, and yet you still find yourself ready to meet that challenge head on, come what may. Other times, you see trouble coming and you want to tuck tail and run the other way. I'm having one of those "tuck tail" days.

The more reliable of our two unreliable vehicles went into the shop yesterday, with both Mary and I expecting the worst. Turns out, it wasn't as bad as we expected. Just a busted alternator. I say "just" like getting it fixed didn't cost money – it did. But it could have been worse. We both breathed a huge sigh of relief. That is, until – on the way home from the auto shop – our other, older, and much less reliable vehicle decided that this would be an ideal time to show signs that its alternator was also on the fast track to busted! If you ask me, I think it's a sibling rivalry thing. Or that our imported car was jealous that the domestic van got to take a field trip to the shop, and it wanted to go too. I don't know, I'm probably over-thinking this whole thing.

Regardless, now we have to take the other car in to get it fixed. Of course, the tax refund check was just direct-deposited into our bank account this week!  Of course it was – that's when things always fall apart, right?

So, just a heads-up here: if you see me running down Arlington Boulevard (that's in G-Vegas for all you out-of-towners), and if I'm screaming like a banshee, and looking more than a little crazy, just smile and wave and keep on driving. Maybe I'll be tall enough for the roller coaster next week.

Turns out I spoke too soon about the van - Mr. Reliable that it thinks itself to be - about it being "all better now" and all that jazz.  The check engine light decided to make an encore appearance just as Mary was pulling into our driveway. Problem UN-solved!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

An Inkling Of An Idea

Something's cooking in my brain - and no, it's not the kind of things recently or presently cooking in Charlie Sheen's brain - that dude's completely wack!

I don't know if or when it will come to fruition. But if it does, it could be pretty exciting, and a little scary.

The thing is, I don't want to do anything for self-gratification or self-promotion, so I have to be careful to check my motives.

I know all this is vague, and that's by design, but I don't want to elaborate just yet, in case nothing comes of it.

So all I can say is, I guess, stay tuned.

(OK, I promise my next entry will be of more substance, or at least more entertaining. That's all for now.)