The abject sorrow of Saturday and the joy of Easter

This Easter weekend I was reflecting on the horror and brutal sadness of the crucifixion.

In human terms, I was wondering just what that scene must have been like – especially for the followers and friends and family of Jesus.  Here is the man who you have loved; your teacher, your healer, your friend, being brutally executed.  The wailing and sorrow must have been horrific.

But for some reason this year, it was Saturday, not Good Friday that really captured my imagination.  I was struck with thoughts and imaginations of how difficult that Saturday must have for the disciples of Jesus.  They must have spent that day full of guilt for not standing up for their Lord.  They must have spent that day full of sickening nauseous pain in their stomachs as they remembered the physical brutality they had witnessed.  They must have hated themselves.  They must have doubted God.  They must have spent the day in fear, wondering will the next knock on the door be the Romans come to crucify me too? 

On Saturday, all was lost.  Everything they had believed; everything they had worked for; everything they had hoped – lost.  There would be no triumph for the followers of Jesus.  It was all over. 

Except that it wasn’t over, because on Easter Sunday, God changed history.

Have any of you ever thought about that Saturday?  11 defeated disciples cowering in fear with a handful of supportive women.  Their Master lying in a cold tomb. 

If you haven’t thought about that – please do.  And reason in your mind how this cowering broken band of 11 men managed to change the course of human  history. 

People say they don’t believe in miracles – and it makes me smile.  These 11 had more influence on Western Civilization than any king, general, or philosopher.  A group of regular guys – ordinary people, changed the world because they were divinely appointed by God to do that.  The odds of that happening are impossible – would anyone have said on that saturday before Easter – “You know what’s gonna happen now?  These 11 and their followers are going to change the world.”  Who would have said such a thing?

On that Saturday – they were broken, scared, and ready to quit. 

Don’t quit.

Happy Easter.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wC6RXAJpPjo

-cj cheetham

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52 Songs for 52 weeks: Week 52 – Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel

This 52 week journey started a year ago with a Peter Gabriel and today it ends with Peter Gabriel.

Solsbury Hill, Gabriel’s first hit after leaving Genesis is the perfect way to end this list.  A great song full of hopefulness.  The imagery is outstanding and it is one of the greatest songs ever recorded.

Climbing up on Solsbury Hill
I could see the city light
Wind was blowing, time stood still
Eagle flew out of the night

It’s just a wonderful song.

And this live version – where Peter Gabriel sings Solsbury Hill while riding a bicycle is a clip that always puts me in a good mood.  gabriel is a guy who knows how to entertain and actually uses his music to make people feel happy.  What’s wrong with that?

Of course if you prefer the studio version – here it is:

That’s a wrap – 52 songs.  Get them in your music library.  Life is short – spend your day singing.

-cj cheetham

52 songs for 52 weeks will get your music collection up to par. If you want to have a better music collection – check in each week . Add a song a week and in one year’s time your music collection will be the envy of all your friends

Gym Cretins – A Field Guide

Until my late 20’s I rarely would go to a gym and workout.  I always found ways to be active by playing sports regularly.  But by the time I started to hit my late 20s, I began to develop the build that no man wants – Fat and Skinny. 

Fat and Skinny is a look where all your muscle mass (in your chest, arms, legs) atrophies but you simultaneously begin to develop a bag of flab just above the belt line.  Fat and Skinny is hideous.  And so in the mid 90’s as I sensed a looming Fat and Skinny look in my mirror I started hitting the gym regularly.  I pretty much have gone to the gym every weekday for the last 18 or 19 years.  I like lifting weights – I like working out; but the gym?  I don’t really like the gym.  I have a good reason.

All gyms are full of The Gym Cretins.

A Gym Cretin is a person who will simply annoy you to no end.  They are oblivious to their cretinism.  They roam the gyms of America taking every opportunity to ruin your day.  For almost two decades, I’ve been tracking the Gym Cretins like Von Helsing tracking vampires.  I have kept copious notes and sketches in notebooks.  If I can only understand the Gym Cretins, perhaps I can find a way to stop them; perhaps there is still time to save mankind.

I offer this guide in the hope that we are not too late.

The Gym Cretins – A Field Guide

The Cable Guy:  The Cable Guy is not a funny southern comedian nor is he an overlooked character from a Jim Carey film.  The Cable guy is the cretin in the gym who sets up shop at the cable machine and will not leave.  He does 90 minutes of cable flys, cable curls, cable press downs , lat pull downs, reverse pivot cable extensions.  You name it; if it can be done with a cable, the Cable Guy will do it and he doesn’t really care that there are about 73 other people in the gym who just want to do THREE stinking sets of triceps push-downs. 

The Elaborate Move Guy:   Look for this cretin near the dumbbells.  The Elaborate move guy is the guy who will be wildly swinging dumbbells in a 360 degree motion while doing reverse leg-lunges; then he will immediately knock out high knee sprints and drop for 20 wide-leg push-ups.  During all this frenetic activity other gym patrons are left ducking, leaning, and wincing – in hopes of avoiding a dumbbell off the head.  When you ask the Elaborate Move Guy what the heck he is doing – he usually says something about muscle confusion before knocking out 50 jumping jacks (the cretins call them “Jacks”) while bouncing a medicine ball off the back of the nearest person’s head.

Spandex Shorts Guy:  I first encountered this cretin in 1996 while stationed in Germany.  It was an encounter so frightening that nightmares of it plague me to this day.   I was in the gym and in walked a Lt Colonel who I knew (I was a 1st Lt. at the time).  He didn’t see me.  This Lt Colonel was not in great shape.  He was a bit pudgy actually – but he still thought it was smart to wear a pair of electric blue spandex shorts.  To top off the look, he was wearing a white tank-top, the string kind with the extra thin straps; the tank top was tucked into the blue spandex shorts.  I was almost catatonic as I stared at this spectacle of cretinism. 

Then he started to move.

He started doing some kind of side lateral movements while looking at himself in the mirror.  He wasn’t wearing headphones – but it was obvious that in his mind the song “Maniac” by Michael Sembello (from the atrocious movie Flashdance) was filling his mind.

I turned away; but my mind has never purged that image from my memory.  I fear that my last moments on earth I will think of that cretin – “Maniac, Maniac on the floor…” and then I will die.

Grossly Inaccurate T-Shirt Guy:

The Grossly inaccurate T-Shirt guy is the cretin with a Fat and Skinny body type who is wearing a sleeveless T-shirt that says things like:

I may be stupid; but I can lift heavy things

Life is Short; work hard

No Pain – No Gain 

A living oxymoron.

Multiple Injury Guy:

This Cretin will hobble around the gym wearing a knee brace, elbow brace, ankle supports, taped wrists , ace bandage wrap on the thigh and of course one of those magnetic wrist thingies that are supposed to give you energy and help you avoid injury (working great!)

To make matters worse if you are trapped within ear shot of this cretin you will hear his call:  “I used to be able to lift this much; I used to squat:  I used to be able to bend at the waist…” etc. 

The Screaming Guy:

Making a little noise during physical exertion helps – We all get it.  Even Steven Segal, master of Aikido, has been known to let out a grunt or two when destroying a group of bad guys with rapid blows to the face, neck, and chest.

But the screaming Cretin wants everyone in the same zip code to know – he just did a really heavy rep on the squat rack.   If you see this cretin in the Fat and Skinny version – just leave the gym and go for a run or something.  Do not approach the Fat and Skinny Screamer.

The I Only Do One Exercise Guy:

From the same phylum as the Cable Guy, this cretin takes up residence on a piece of equipment and does one exercise for 60 minutes.  I first encountered this particular Cretin on a Pec-Deck.  The cretin was doing pec contractions on a Nautilus machine.  I wanted to use that machine but I went about my workout and checked back every 10 minutes of so.  This Cretin sat happily doing pec contractions for more than an hour.  You will also find this cretin on the leg extension machine for up to 90 minutes at a time. 

The Horrible Form Guy (aka the Weight-Psych Guy)

These male cretins are usually accompanied by a female cretin they are trying to impress.  I recently saw one of these cretins in my gym I go to now.  He approached the cable-cross over machine and put the pin in the highest weight setting.  He was planning on doing pec cross overs with an incredible amount of weight.  He was wearing an Inappropriate T-Shirt. 

Now as an aside, the proper form for a cable cross over is to grab the two handles attached to the cables and then bring the knuckles of your two hands together like you are hugging a rain barrel that is right in front of your chest.  You don’t need a lot of weight.

But Horrible Form Guy is trying to impress his girl.  So he has a colossal amount of weight on each side.  In order to move the stack of weight, he literally has to jump in the air while grabbing the handles in order to generate enough momentum to get the weights off the ground.  Once he has done that – this particular Cretin ends up flexing his wrists repeatedly because any real movement of his arms will result in shoulder dislocation.  The wrist movement is bizarre, and not really an exercise – so he will typically start screaming with each wrist flexion repetition.

Innovator Guy:

Innovator Guy is a cretin who will take a piece of equipment and use it for something it was never designed for.  For example, you might see innovator guy balancing on a medicine ball while juggling 5lb plates; or doing handstands with two kettle-bells tied to the laces of his sneakers.

Naked Locker Room Guy:

Look – people change in locker rooms – so there will be nudity.  But Naked Locker Room Guy covers a lot of ground and has no idea where he left his towel.   So you might be brushing your teeth and Naked Locker Room guy is standing next to you, flossing.  Or you are tying your shoes and naked Locker Room Guys is checking his e-mail on his cell phone – standing.  I ran across a particularly nasty version of this cretin about 7 years ago.  He liked to walk around the locker room engaging strangers in conversations about the Tour De France.  I finally said “How about the Tour de Pants, jackass?   Put some clothes on!”

***

I realize I am only scratching the surface; there are so many more forms the Gym Cretins can take – and yes I am also troubled by that.

-cj cheetham

Luis Motta and the Joys of Minimum Wage

In the fall of 1988, I moved into a cottage in Fairhaven Massachusetts in preparation for the start of the school year.  I had just finished a summer of working on the cranberry bogs in my hometown.  Although that kind of summertime manual labor paid well, it was one of my first orders of business to find a job right away so that I could pay rent and keep the college “experience” moving in the right direction.

Finding a job is never very much fun.  At the time, I had very few skills, no car (I bummed rides), and even less confidence.  So I ended up applying for jobs just about anywhere.  I applied at a variety of retail stores, a nursery, a tuxedo rental company, and golf course but nothing panned out.  It became a standard procedure – apply for jobs, get rejected, and head home.  As part of my routine I would stop at the convenience store a few miles from my house to buy a newspaper and a coke.

That was where I met a man named Luis Motta.  Although I didn’t know it, Luis was the manager of that convenience store and soon to be my boss in a job that paid minimum wage.

Luis was an outgoing fellow, always engaging his customers in loud conversations and laughing heartily as he tried to get them to buy a cheese danish or something that was on sale.  He was a small wiry man, with sharp features, and large eyes magnified by his somewhat thick glasses.  He always dressed casually, in jeans and a collared shirt, but his appearance was impeccable; and although he was completely bald on top, you could see that the black hair on the sides of his head was still a matter of pride.

The first time I stopped in his store, Luis immediately greeted me in a heavy accent.

“Hello my friend how are you?”

And so began our relationship.  By my third or fourth encounter with Luis, he was greeting me with “Hello Crease – how are you with the job hunt?”

“Hey Lou,” I would say sheepishly having been turned down by a sporting goods store or sub shop, “no one is hiring.”  This is the standard line I would use rather than:  I am a loser and no one will hire me.

“Crease, listen man – you work for me.  I can only pay the minimum wage.”

When you are poor like I was – this was a huge break.

“Seriously, Lou?!  How many hours can I get?”

“How many you want?  As many as you want.”  Lou was smiling waving for me to come closer.

I resisted the urge to say – you know what Lou, I have the feeling this is going to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship; and started discussing the details.

The details were simple; I would work Monday through Friday from 3pm to 10pm, when I would lock up the store.  Lou would pay me the minimum wage, at that time $3.65, which meant I would be bringing home more than hundred bucks a week.   I couldn’t really expect anything better – maximum hours, no weekends to conflict with my Army National Guard duties and enough time during the day to be a full-time college student.

***

The job was not hard.  I would get to work and immediately take over the register, so Lou could do whatever he had to do in the office regarding bills, orders, etc.  Around 6 PM Lou would head home, and I would be in the store alone.  I would stock all the shelves, mop the floors, count the cigarettes (don’t ask me why – but every night I had to count every pack of cigarettes in the place).

Of course, there would still be customers, but honestly after 6Pm the store was rarely busy.  Lou was also cool with me doing my homework and I took advantage of that benefit as well.  Generally speaking, it was one of the easiest jobs I ever had.  Occasionally, pretty girls from the University I attended would stop in – not to see me but to get food – but I wasn’t complaining.  And there was also no shortage of crazy people.  Anyone who has ever worked in a convenience store knows what I mean – those places attract insane people.  But those are stories for another time.

The absolute best part of working at that store was getting to know Luis Motta.  Lou was a  hard-working guy.  He would roll into work at 5:30 AM every day and then leave at 6PM.  He kept his store immaculately clean; he knew his customers by name; and he never seemed to be in a bad mood.

Early on, I had made the mistake of asking Lou, “You are Portuguese, right?”

Lou’s eyebrows raised and he became more animated than normal, “Portuguese?!  I am Azorean, Man!”

“Azorean?”

“From the Azores – you know the Azores?”

“Oh yeah, of course,” I replied hoping he wouldn’t press me on exactly where the Azores were located.  He didn’t.

“What made you come to America, Lou?”

He looked at me like I was nuts.  “Work!”

Lou would spend his afternoons with me, listening to All things Considered on National Public Radio – there was no muzak in Lou’s store.  “I love dis show” he would say every day as he turned up the volume.   We would talk current events.  I was majoring in Political Science at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth – but it didn’t take long to realize that Lou had more common sense and knowledge of how the world really worked than the goofy professors at the university.  Sure the professors were smart about their area of expertise (which was usually some ridiculous subject like Marxist Theory of the Fishing Industry in Yugoslavia – or something like that) – but Lou was the kind of guy who built America.

One afternoon, after stocking the milk cooler I emerged and heard Lou in a heated conversation with one of our regular customers.

“I tell you man – I gonna vote for George Booosh!  Dukakis?  He take all my money!  Tax, tax, tax!”

In Massachusetts, everyone is a Democrat; it is part of their commitment to diversity.

After the customer left, I looked at Lou and smiled.  “Lou, I didn’t know you were a republican.”

“Crease!  Of course I repooblican!  That Dukakis – he an eeediot!  He tax, tax tax.”

So I let Lou know, I was one of 7 (the rest were in hiding) openly republican students on the UMASS-Dartmouth campus.  “Well, my professors hate me.  You know Lou, I could get you some Bush-Quayle bumper stickers and pins if you’d like.”

“Oh Crease….you must get me that.”

***

The next day when I got to work I handed Lou a handful of Bush-Quayle gear.  He was thrilled.  He immediately affixed a campaign pin to his shirt.

“What do you think, my friend?”

“Lou, are you sure you want to where that at work?  You are probably going to piss off some customers with that pin.”

“Crease, I no giva sheet.”  He handed me a pin.  “Put it on.”

***

At 9PM that night, a BMW pulled into our parking lot.  I watched as a very well dressed couple in their early thirties walked into the store.  They grabbed a couple of sodas and I was ringing up their order when the woman muttered, “I can’t believe you would wear that.”

“Excuse me, Ma’am?”

“I can’t believe you would wear that Bush-Quayle pin.”

“Oh.  Well, that’s who I am supporting.”

“Maybe if you would wake up and vote for Dukakis you wouldn’t have such a crappy job.”

I wanted to slap her, but I didn’t.

***

Working for Luis Motta was not a crappy job.  It was a great job.  He was a good, fair, decent boss.  He treated me like a human being (he raised my salary to $4.50 an hour after a couple of months; which caused a small celebration).  If not for Lou, I’m not sure I would have financially survived that fall semester of college.

Luis was a hardworking immigrant to our country and he loved being an American.  He was honest, funny, and treated everyone with respect and kindness.   No, he didn’t drive a BMW and no he didn’t have a degree.  He had something better:  character.

I learned a lot from Luis.  He made me into a much harder worker than I had ever been before I met him.  He taught me to talk to strangers.  And he taught me that it was okay to have strong opinions and disagree with people.  Yes, it was a minimum wage job, but not everything of value comes from a paycheck.

Sometimes the value comes in knowing that you are working for a decent man, who loves the country, and treats his employees like they matter.  A guy, who traveled a long way to work in Fairhaven, Massachusetts;   a man who then enjoyed his work almost as much as he enjoyed All things Considered on NPR radio every afternoon in the fall of 1988.

– cj cheetham

P.S.

William F. Buckley famously said “I’d rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.”

I’d always liked that quote – but it never really made sense to me until I compared the eminently decent Luis Motta with that cruel woman who drove a BMW.

52 Songs for 52 Weeks: Redemption Song by Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros

“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, None but ourselves can free our minds”.

Week 51.

Joe strummer is an all-time favorite and is the former lead singer of the Clash.

The Clash were a favorite band of my younger days and remain so today.  They had a way of singing about important issues – but did it while having fun.

This song was actually originally recorded (and written by) the late great Bob Marley.  Marley recorded this after he had been diagnosed with cancer – and it is a sad reflective song, but it remains so uplifting and positive.

Strummer’s treatment here is incredible – and ironically this song was released after Strummer had died of a heart attack (too young at age 50 in 2002)

“Without people, you are nothing”

R.I.P. joe Strummer.  Thanks for filling my life with songs.

Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom
‘Cause all I’ve ever had is:
Redemption songs;

– cj cheetham

P.S.

No – I don’t have any idea why Steve Buscemi is in the tribute video.  Apprently he was a big fan.

52 Songs for 52 Weeks: Week 50 Save It For Later – The English Beat

If anyone ever asks you why were the 1980s so great?  You wouldn’t be wrong if you answered:  “Because of the English Beat”

The ska-influenced Beat recorded some great albums.  Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger on vocals backed by outstanding musicians.   I considered choosing one of their lesser known tunes (End of the Party) but ultimately settled on Save it For Later which was probably their biggest hit in the USA.

The English Beat ended up splitting into two bands that you probably have heard of:  Wakeling and Roger went on to form General Public (and release infectiously happy albums and the massive single:  Tenderness.)  Andy Cox and Dave Steele (guitar and bass respectively) went on to form the Fine Young Cannibals (She Drives Me Crazy); both fine bands.

But it was when all 4 of these guys were together that they recorded their best stuff.  Pick up their album Special Beat Service and you’ll get what I mean.  And yes the video here is great too – forcing bored psuedo-intellectuals to the dance floor.

Happy Music!  We need more of it!

-cj cheetham

P.S.

Check out General Public and Fine Young Cannibals too.  More happiness!

52 songs for 52 weeks will get your music collection up to par. If you want to have a better music collection – check in each week . Add a song a week and in one year’s time your music collection will be the envy of all your friends.

I sequestered myself today; 2% across the board

This sequester chatter has been all-encompassing this week.  So in the spirit of shared sacrifice (and let’s face it what is more up lifting than sharing in misery) I sequestered myself today.  I wanted to know first-hand just how draconian and painful a 2% cut can be.  It was an across the board cut too – I wasn’t about to allow any easy off ramps.  There were times I wasn’t sure I’d survive the day.   

I typically go to bed at 11pm and wake up at 4:40 am.  That’s 340 minutes of blissful sleep that I selfishly consume each and every night.  But if you are really going to embrace sequester, you’ve got to start your day right – with a savage 2% cut.  So I got up seven and a half minutes early this morning.  When my alarm went off at 4:32, I was surprised that I felt fresh.  I quickly thanked God for our public servants in Washington and then hit the showers.

A guy doesn’t need a ton of time to shower.  I can usually knock it out in 10 minutes.  Get in there, lather up and rinse off.  There is no need to rinse and repeat – forget the conditioner.  I am all business.  600 seconds and I am ready to tackle the day.  However, today I had to take a sequester shower.  How could I possibly get clean with a 2% cut?  A 2% cut with a meat clever off of my 600-second shower is 12 seconds!   So somehow, I managed to get my 10 minute shower done in just 9 minutes and 48 seconds.  Sometimes I surprise myself with how resilient I am in the face of horror.

Off to breakfast.  I keep it simple; a couple bowls of cereal and a couple of cups of coffee is all I am really looking for.   I checked the label on the cereal and did some quick calculations – two bowls of cereal with milk was coming in at 280 calories.  That meant I would have to drastically trim my breakfast by 5.6 calories in order to be sequester compliant.  I figured that was about one spoonful of cereal.  It probably would have made the most sense to eat all the cereal except for that last soggy spoonful, but what kind of sacrifice is that?  Instead I took the first scoop and dumped it straight in the trash.  It hurt to see that nice crunchy cereal go down the disposal, but I felt pretty special when I choked down that last mushy scoop of Cheerios.

The coffee was a bit tougher to calculate:  two cups for a total of about twenty ounces.  I was going to have to find the strength to trim two fifths of an ounce from my java intake.  Sure, it was less than a gulp – but it was brutal to dump a teaspoonful of hot coffee in the sink.  I had some real reservations about whether I’d be able to function after enduring such a massive cut from my caffeine budget.

My commute to work is about 30 minutes (1800 seconds).  It’s not so bad when you have the radio on.  But today’s commute was the dreaded sequester drive and required a 2% radio cut.  So, I slashed my radio listening by 36 seconds.  I know.  You are thinking – “how could he put himself through that kind of torture” but you haven’t heard the best part.  Rather than employing what the news media calls a “targeted cut” and turning off the radio during a commercial, I indiscriminately turned off the radio during a great song.  I didn’t even allow myself to whistle or hum during that interminable half of a minute.

By the time I reached my desk, the personal sequester experiment was taking its toll.  What kind of maniac could endure a two percent cut?

In a typical day, I’ll get at least fifty e-mails that need a response.  But this was not a typical day.  In order to cut my e-mail responses by two percent, I would have to ignore one of those fifty e-mails.  As my computer came to life I made a commitment that would make a white house budget analyst proud.  I decided the very first e-mail of the day – no matter how important would simply be deleted.

Imagine my surprise when I saw the subject line on that first e-mail:  HOT!! Budget Sequester Guidance

To make matters worse it was from my boss.  I suppose some will say “gee, how ironic.”  But all I did was mindlessly delete that e-mail.  No sense in actually looking at my entire inbox and picking the least important e-mail to delete.  Where’s the shared sacrifice in prioritizing?  Besides, I would have missed an offer for free Cheesy-Bread from Dominos.

I think you are getting the idea.  My work day under a 2% personal sequester was a living hell.  I had to cut my water intake (normally 3 quarts) by a whole two ounces.  My lunch hour was hacked down by 72 seconds!    Instead of using 6 post-it notes (54 square inches) I had to trim a square inch off one of them – I used a hatchet to do the cutting for dramatic effect. 

When I got home I tried to explain to my wife just how brutal my day was under a withering 2% across the board sequester.   But how do you explain the impact of such inhuman austerity?

We ended up watching a movie tonight  – one of my favorites actually, Hoosiers, starring Gene Hackman.  It’s a great basketball story with a thrilling ending.  But its 114 minutes long – so I couldn’t watch two minutes and 18 seconds of it.  I know – you are thinking “well the credits of a movie usually run a couple of minutes, so just skip that.” 

Do you still not understand sequester?

I intentionally turned off the movie near the very end – before anyone could find out if Jimmy Chitwood hit the winning shot; before anyone would learn if little Hickory High School won the state title.   

Boy!  Was my family ever angry!  You guessed it, the kids all yelled at me.  “Dad!  What are you doing?!”  

I answered them calmly – “Sequester kids; had to cut the last two percent of the film.  When you grow up and learn about fairness; well, you’ll understand why it had to be this way.”

“It was the best part!” My son protested.

All the more reason to cut it, Son.”

You’re right.  No one is talking to me tonight.  I am winding down my personal sequester day alone in my living room.  I’m sitting here drinking beer and typing.

I decided to not cut beer the two percent.  That’s an entitlement program – and not subject to cuts.

But I am coming up on 1200 words in this little story.  So now I am going to have to cut 24 words from my conclusion.

A real pity because I am just getting to the best part.  The most important thing about the sequester, that you all need to know is….

-cj cheetham