Car Fever: Worse Than the Flu

Encarphalitis.  This disease, more common among men, is known colloquially as “car fever.”  There’s no known cure for either of the two major strains—newitis and useditis–except to spend a ton of money. Both variations of encarphalitis are dangerous, but the symptoms of useditis are particularly virulent.

Since Bruce Bleat is all about truth and transparency, I will admit to being a non-infectious carrier of useditis.  I probably have newitis, too, but I don’t have a high enough credit score to inflame the virus.

A re-occurrence of the disease is imminent when I find myself staring at a particular brand/model of car.  The early symptoms resemble what afflicts an eighth grade boy asked to judge a cheerleader camp (the technical term for that malady is lotsa-infatuation).  When I see the car, a dampness moistens the brow, the heart pounds, and I am drawn trance-like to and car lots.  In time the dream vehicle is identified and the symptoms of diminished eyesight and confused thinking appear.

On the hazy frontier of my consciousness, a man with large, yellowed teeth enters my space.  This would be a good time to run, but my feet have grown roots.  I am now a prisoner of war.  The used car salesman speaks:

“Greetings, my friend!  My name is Bob.  And to whom do I speaketh on this fine day?”  (Why do they always seem to talk in a King James dialect?)

I’m smitten but trying to act disinterested, so to keep him off balance I only give him my name and social security number. ( Okay, that was a mistake, but I know he’s going to need both eventually to secure financing.)

“So I see you looking at this beautiful 1977 Pinto,” says Bob.  “What a sweet set of wheels, eh?  Just came on the lot this morning.  What’s your time frame on buying a car?”

“Oh, I don’t know.  Just out looking, today.”  (Does he notice that I just wiped sweat off my forehead with a beach towel?) 

“If you’re interested, I can grab the keys and we could take this little beast for a test drive?”

“Well, maybe.  Do you know how many miles it has?”

Not so sure, but I’m guessing around 300,000–but all driven on smooth pavement on sunny days by a retired mechanic–treated this car like his only child!”  (Salesmen don’t use that “little old lady” bit anymore—so lame!  I mean, who could possibly believe that line anyway?)

Bob gets the keys and ushers me behind the wheel.  We drive the city streets, and then I wind the little metal love-child up on the Interstate.  (This car is everything I’ve ever dreamed of, but I have to not let Bob know that I’m interested.) 

Back at the lot, Bob extracts the keys from my clenched fingers, and with that amazing denture-powered smile asks, “So Bruce, can we do a deal on the Pinto today?”

“Well, I don’t know.  Could I take a look at the engine?”  This is a telltale sign of useditis—wanting to see the motor.  Inexplicably, Bob opens the trunk first, and I stand staring into the cavity.  My mind is mush.  I forget where I am.  All I can think is…I want her.  “Is this a four cylinder or six cylinder?” I ask.

Toothy-smile Bob chuckles and says:  “Well, Bruce Buddy, let’s go up to the front of the car and see what’s under the hood!”

I’m toast—with butter and jam.

Turns out it’s a four cylinder.  I point and count, “One, two, three, four.”  I sound like Lawrence Welk striking up the band.

The next thing I know I’m sitting in a Bob’s small office, sipping a delicious and free Folgers latte from a small Styrofoam cup.  I notice that Bob has a large King James Bible on his desk.  (I love this guy—he’s obviously a Christian.)

“So Bruce, what’s your budget—can I send you home in the little pony–HAH, HAH?”

(I’ve done my homework; these Pintos are selling for about $4k.  Max.)  “Well, maybe with my trade-in, I would like to stay at about $4000, Bob.”

Bob’s demeanor collapses.  A look resembling fear or terror rises like a storm on his face.  I have definitely disappointed him—Bob looks hurt, even offended.  “Bruce, that Pinto is in really good shape.  We have a price of $9500 on it.  I can go try to squeeze the boss, but I don’t think we can give more than $750 for your vehicle.  That leaves us pretty far apart, I’m afraid.”  He sighs, shakes his head, and taps the cover of the Bible.

I’m devastated.  All I can think about is the little old lady mechanic who loved that Pinto so much she only drove on sunny days.  I can’t let her down.  What am I to do?  [To be continued.]

 Next: “The Fever Breaks”



A Prayer for “Mr. Revenge Porn”

Sometimes I hate love. 


An article in a local paper tells the story of a young man who runs a website devoted to “revenge porn.”  The way this works is that if a person becomes disgruntled in a relationship (usually the guy), and he has nude still or video pictures of his ex-girlfriend, the “revenge porn” website will publicly post these photos, along with other pertinent information.  This means that the girl not only has the shame of gawking-stranger eyes, but also the danger of her identity and contact information revealed.

How humiliating…and disgusting?  I want people who so viciously hurt others in jail.

And my next thought is:  In this time of easy dissemination of words and images, who would ever give anyone such skin-suit photos?  No nude pictures=no revenge porn.

But this “bleat” is not about how heinous some sins are.  It’s about the disturbing but non-negotiable requirement of followers of Christ to love rather than hate people they detest.   At times it would be a relief to let your outrage against unlikable people flow as an angry river.  You know, the “thems” of our world deserve it, right?

Why does Jesus have to show up with some annoying advice like, “’You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you”’ (Matthew 5:43-44).

Oh, man, Jesus, what are you thinking?  Have you not heard about “revenge porn”?

Actually, Jesus knows all about revenge porn–and all the other open and hidden sins.  So this requires that if I happen to bump into “Mr. Revenge Porn Website Entrepreneur,” I have to find a way to—gulp–love the jerk.  That could mean a number of things, including pleading with him to stop this outrageous offense against women—and men.  Loving him might mean sending money to the attorneys who are trying to legally shut down this Internet crud.   And I can pray for him—not to be eaten alive by worms, but to find a new way of life that causes him to exchange hate for love.

For sure, though, it means that if we meet, I need to be gracious and respectful of Mr. RPWE.  No “you jerk” talk.  Maybe I should buy him a cup of coffee?  Because the truth is, Jesus loves him far more than I can imagine and died for his sins, just like he died for mine.

Such love doesn’t come naturally.  Kind of like hanging on a cross didn’t come naturally.  This loving calls for some unnatural—let’s say, super-unnatural help.


The White Walleye Gift Exchange

The Comb-Over Brotherhood’s (COB) annual Christmas party and White Walleye gift exchange, as always, was held at Charley Doot’s house in Pequot Lakes.  Truth is, most members of the COB really enjoy this non-official gathering, because Charley is not allowed to unveil any of his terrorist plots against hair product manufacturers, wig makers, or big-hair wives of TV evangelists.

Wives and girlfriends are invited to the party, but not “significant others.”  Two winters ago, some wannabe trend-setter inserted “significant other” on the invitation, which resulted in Bernie Mustad bringing his mother, Bernice, who temporarily entertained the crowd with a jazzy rendition of “Jingle Bells” on her harmonica.  Her gig wore thin after an hour, though, when the par-tiers realized this was the only Christmas song she knew.  As guests stuffed tree tinsel into their ears, Charley lured Bernice to the garage for “a peek at the lutefisk barrel,” and when she turned her back, quickly locked the door.

Such disharmony is rare at a White Walleye party, which usually is a benign evening of snacking on Scandinavian delicacies like lefse, pineapple chunk jello, spiked coffee, and–if Harley Fog’s wife, Dawn, can get her weird baking appliance to work—krumkake. (Think this is a joke?  Google  “krumkake” or check Wikipedia.)

The highlight of the evening comes around 8 p.m. with the White Walleye gift exchange.  Since this is the COB after all, hair or “hair-not” is the gift theme.  For ten years running—this year was no exception–the coup de grâce gift has been a raccoon tail, affectionately labeled the Triumphant Trump Rug.  Every winner of the gift exchange takes home this prize–handsomely displayed under a glass dome–to a prime spot of honor for the next 11 ½ months.

Other exchange gifts drawing chortles this year included a giant styrofoam comb the size of a chain saw, a five gallon jug of Dep gel, a gift certificate for hair straightening at Emily’s Beauty Salon, and a t-shirt reading “Don’t Stare at My Head.”

The reluctant host, Charley, could not wait until, in his muttered terms, “the whole foolishness was over and we can get back to plotting.”  Charley did slip in an announcement that at the next COB meeting he would divulge details on the group’s summer bus tour to Mt. Rushmore for, how shall we say without parting (wink) with any secrets, “short-range reconnaissance.”

After everyone had left, the yard sculptures were deflated, and all lights dimmed, Charley rolled over in bed and asked Mrs. Doot:  “Do you hear a harmonica somewhere…playing ‘Jingle Bells’?”

The Killer in the Mirror

There’s no shortage of well- expressed sympathy, frustration, evaluation, and anger over the recent shooting massacre at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut.

Much more will be written and debated about guns and possible preventative steps to curtail such slaughter.  Some of these ideas, in particular about the need to devote more comprehensive attention to mental health in America, certainly are valid.  I also wonder, since the vast majority of the killers are men–and in particular younger men, does this demographic segment merit concentrated attention?

The problem, of course, is that murder is ingrained in the human race.  In the Bible, just eight verses after Adam and Eve exited the Garden of Eden, one of two fine sons killed his brother—the first murder (Genesis 4:8). Cain’s assault weapon was not identified, but for sure it wasn’t a gun.

When a horrific outrage like Sandy Hook occurs, most of us feel helpless.  What can any of us possibly do to face down the evil in the world?  Some of humanity’s ills, like racism, world hunger, trafficking, and random violence, seem so monumental and complicated that we throw up our hands and retreat to our email and another cup of coffee.

There is one thing all us can do, however, that will make a difference:  We can stop killing people ourselves.

Say what?

Here’s a famous quote:   “’You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, “Do not murder.” I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder.  Carelessly call a brother “idiot!” and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell “stupid!” at a sister and you are on the brink of hell fire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.’”

Martin Luther King or Mother Teresa didn’t say that.  Jesus said that.  (Matthew 5:21-22, The Message)

Oh. No!  I see a killer in my mirror. I’ve been angry like that many times.  And I would have welcomed the chance to shoot any one of these mass murderers…

Among many of Jesus’ tasks on earth was to present a seminar on the kingdom of God, which consists in large part of small, seemingly random attitudes, actions, events.  The primary setting of the kingdom is the human heart, where decisions are made about what to do or not to do.  In other words, it’s the “small,” often unseen things that have major consequences in the “real world.”

At last your faithful “bleater” arrives at today’s point:  All of us have a choice about how we will treat the people we live, work, and interact with.  In my heart and yours are those competing dispositions to be either the Cain who murders or the Cain who brings life.

Our world is full of people hungry for love, desperate for even a crumb of attention and encouragement.  When you don’t feel loved or noticed, you hurt.  And hurt leads to anger.  And fear.   The devil’s playpen is a mind and heart polluted with such anguish.

When we see the empty eyes, the sagging cheeks, the drooping shoulders—in those we know and in strangers—there’s a choice given us:  we can choose to murder with our indifference or give life with the smallest smile or briefest recognition.  These are the tiny, mighty seeds of love and peace that advance God’s good plans on earth.

All the murders won’t be stopped by such kind, kingdom deeds.  But they are something we can do.


Lily’s New “Do”

What’s a girl to do when the guy doesn’t notice her new hair”do”?

Lily got a haircut and wanted Sam to notice it and say something affirming.  The problem with Sam is that he never notices adjustments in Lily’s appearance until it’s too late.  And he particularly is not creative in describing hair.  Now, ask Sam to describe a hot dog, and that’s when the prose flows like a swollen river.

Anyway, Lily pranced into Sam’s world view all coifed and combed.  Her first walk-by involved moving back and forth in front of him, tossing her head in that “check this out, big boy” way.

Sam’s unfortunate first comment:  “Are you having a problem with your neck?”

Plan B:  Lily sat down next to him and asked, coyly, “Sam, what do you find most attractive in a female—her personality or her hair?”  To make sure he got it, she shook her curls—twice.

Stumped and losing composure, Sam replied, “What really means the most to me is the scent of her, agh, urine.”

What?” Lily sniffed.  “That’s disgusting!”

“There’s nothing quite like a fresh, warm puddle in falling snow under cedars, the vapors rising to the sky…,” Sam rhapsodized.

“Oh, shut up, Cat-breath!  What about a lady’s hair?  Does that mean nothing to you?”

Totally flustered, Sam could only mutter, “Whoosh.”

“Sam!  It’s my hair I’m talking about!  Do you notice anything?”

This question, which has confounded the greatest men and philosophers of the ages, pushed Sam over the edge.  From his jumbled thoughts came the words, “Your haircut makes your head look small and your body kind of big.  But it’s, arr, cute!”

Sighing, Lily walked from the room.  In a private place, she vented her tangled feelings by making several large tooth marks in Sam’s TV remote.  After regaining her “center,” she returned and sat next to him.

You want to take a nap?” Sam asked, his drool spattering the floor.

“Whatever,” she said stretching out nearby—far enough away to maintain dignity, but close enough to feel the warm draft from Sam’s snores.

Leftover Love

Hunger is a serious problem…in America.  Could leftovers be the answer?

Jesus said that we will always have the “poor with us,” which is disconcerting but a reality.  He also said that we should feed the hungry.

As a well-fed American who loves his country but knows of our resources, I am offended by the fact that about 1 in 6 children in the U.S. will go to bed tonight in a “food insecure” home.  In other words—“hungry.”   How can this be?

Like most people I have political leanings but this transcends politics.  I don’t really care who needs to do what or gets the credit:  can we as a nation figure out how to feed our children?

I know there are many organizations working on this problem.  Any of us can find a local food bank or care agency and help.  But I have something more personal to suggest:  eat our leftovers.

You may be thinking—“Okay, so if I eat my leftover pizza—including the crust, how is that going to feed all these hungry kids?” I’m not sure–I have no answer.  However, if millions of us (actually, even the half dozen reading this bleat) started cutting down on the food we throw out, is it possible somehow that more food would be available for distribution?  I don’t know how, but smart people willing to do the work of God could figure it out.

So, join me as I stick this rather disgusting bowl of last weekend’s wiener-bean-potato casserole in the microwave.  If somehow one less kid goes hungry tonight, I’m loving my leftover.

Next:  Lily’s New “Do”

Flapping Cheeks

Sky diving indoors?

I did fly, but my cheeks flapped.  No, not those!  I mean on my face.

This bucket-list item goes in the “What will they think of next?” bin.

I have no desire to jump out of an airplane.  Not going to bungee jump and wet my pants.  Won’t dive into the sea off those high cliffs in Acapulco.  Heights don’t bother me per se; I do mind falling off of them, though.

But I did skydive indoors.

My son and daughter-in-law gave their respective dads this opportunity as a Father’s Day gift.  We finally made it to the big indoor sky on Thanksgiving weekend.   If you have any farm roots, this facility resembles a corn silo with an enormous fan at the base–a vertical wind tunnel.  On about the third floor of the silo, there’s a steel platform with holes in it that the air rushes through at 120 miles an hour.  With an instructor holding on, the sky diver leans out over the blasting wind, assumes the proper prone body position, and attempts to float on air.  If you do it right and someone uses the right camera angle, the photo-op looks like you are sky diving—three feet above the ground!  No parachute required.

This is when the problem with flapping cheeks rears on your ugly head.  (Maybe there was some flapping on that rear, too?  I digress.)  When a 120 mph wind hits your face, anything that isn’t Botox-tight wiggles.  And if you put your hands on your cheeks, trying to stop the vibration, the adjustment of your body shape may cause you to shoot to the top of the wind tunnel—followed by a precipitous three-story drop into the arms of a terrified instructor who is yelling, “Holy c–p, look out!”  This now is real sky diving, free falling without a chute!  And, come to think of it, the owners of the big indoor sky did make us sign some waivers.

Actually, no one seems in too much danger in the silo.  And you wear a helmet, goggles, knee and elbow pads, and a cool sky diving suit that makes you look like a zany mechanic.

But if I dive again, I’m duct taping my cheeks.  All of them.

Next:  Left Over Love

The Comb-Over Brotherhood

There is the Muslim Brotherhood of the middle east and the Comb-Over Brotherhood (COB) of central Minnesota.

Before I tell some of the COB story, I offer this revealing definition of a “comb over”:

“A rearrangement of surrounding hair to cover a bald spot as completely as possible. Usually accomplished by flattening strands of hair in widely-spaced parallel stripes across the afflicted region. Rarely successful, often calls attention to the follically-challenged zone in question.”  (Urban Dictionary)

Unreliable sources trace the beginning of the radical wing of the COB to an unfortunate trash-talk incident at Jerry’s Café in Pequot Lakes, Minnesota.  In winter of 2004, several hair-challenged, middle-aged white men were having their morning coffee and donuts when their waitress, Phyllis Bottomly–a woman with stringy hair issues of her own–yelled at the comb-over guys, “All you baldies don’t have enough hair combined to cover the butt on a wiener dog!”  With Phyllis still snorting with mirth behind the counter, other patrons in the café laughed uproariously and rained catcalls on the COB group, their thinly-concealed scalps turning red as stoplights.

Shamed to their core, the COB guys grabbed their coats, carefully donned fur-lined ball caps, and huffed away, muttering threats of revenge.  That night they met in Frank Block’s basement, and after an hour of unproductive swearing and shouting, decided to draw some uncomplimentary graffiti of Phyllis Bottomly on the  town’s railroad overpass.

That might have been the end of it, but Charley Doot, a repeat troublemaker since second grade when he’d designed an exploding spit-wad made from chalk, continued to provoke other COB members.  After sniffing one too many tubes of Bed Head, Charley sold the group on what came to be known as the Rushmore Plan.  A hair-brained idea for sure, the group began gathering explosives to use in blowing a comb-over part in George Washington’s granite skull on the famous monument in South Dakota.

Important fact:  The “part” is the key component in a successful comb-over, and members of the COB are particularly sensitive about their parts and where they are located.  You will save yourself some serious personal harm by never staring slack-eyed, mouth open at anyone’s comb over part.

Many years have passed but the Rushmore Plan is not abandoned by certain elements of the Comb-Over Brotherhood.  Will these scheming baldies ever execute their audacious plot?

Next:  Flapping Cheeks

Unrequited Love

 Sam loves Lily, but she doesn’t see him in “that way.”

                I ache for the guy.   Sam’s never known a female like her.  She comes in the room and he slobbers.  Yes, he has it bad.   He tries to speak, some clever line found on the Internet, the genesis of a hoped-for romantic dialogue.  But the words just won’t come.  So he slobbers.

                Sam is about as regular as a dude can get.  Low key.  Blue collar tastes:  Meat for dinner.  A quiet evening dozing off the couch.  Mumbles and grunts for conversation.  Firm grip on the remote.  A quick walk to get the kinks out.  Early to bed…memorable snoring. 

                The next day—more of the same.

                Why did he fall for Lily?  Opposites attract?  Lily is a diva.  Who knows what she’ll do next—one surprise after another.  She’s salad and tofu quiche for dinner.  Mamba dancing at the club.  Screeching laughter.  Kickboxing class.  “Sleep when you die.” 

                The next day—paint the town blue! 

                Oh, and when it comes to male company, Lily flits and flops.  A recent antic:  During the vice presidential campaign debate, she fell head-over tail for Joe Biden, concluding that his bark was “thrilling” and his teeth were “so cute.” 

                “He’s so hot I want to lick his face,” Lily panted (really, she did—she panted)!

                Lily has shared privately that she might consider settling down with Sam, but she’s troubled by their religious differences.  Lily’s a Bible-wagging Baptist.  Sam converted to Islam during his first prison term.  This faith thing’s a problem, especially if any litter ones came along.

                There’s a whole lot more to this story than meets the eye.  (To be continued.)

Next:  The Comb-Over Brotherhood

Encounter with a Hero

This happens to us all:  you meet and know people, maybe even feel connected to them, then for various reasons your worlds separate.  In time, even their names are forgotten, and then in a surprising moment you bump into each other.

                A chance encounter?  Don’t think so…

                “Oh, hi, how are you?”  I say.  (I wish I remembered her name.  I doubt she’s exactly sure who I am either.)

                “Oh, just doing fine—busy of course,” she replies.  (This is called “safe talk,” allowing a few moments for the brain’s search engine to maybe pull up the face, the place, the name?)

                “Well, I am, too.”  So, whatcha been up to?”  (Round two of mindless chatter…Aha! I do remember her…from that coffee shop.)  

                “Oh, lotsa family things.  I think maybe since I last saw you, we took in three boys.”  (Was that a hint of recognition in her eyes?)

                “Wow!  What’s the story behind that?”  (This encounter is improving.  The conversation is gasping for air and may survive.)

                “We wanted to enlarge our family. At first it was supposed to be only two boys.  But there was a third brother, so we took them all.”

                “That’s amazing.  I imagine this has been challenging.”  (Duh—borderline stupid comment?  I give myself a C- on that one—profound it’s not.  I can do better.)

                “Oh, for sure.  It’s been pretty hard.”

                “How old are the boys.  (I say B+ for that reply?)

                “They were 3, 8, and 10 when we got them.”

                “Wow, good for you.” (Hope I’m being graded on the curve?)

                “Are you still writing?”  (She does remember me!)

                “Yes, trying!   Are you going to adopt the boys?”  (A-.)

                “Yes, for sure.”

                “That’s awesome. So nice to see you again!” (Gotta go.  I’ve exhausted my small talk bin.)

                “You, too! Bye.”

                What I didn’t say but should have:  “You are unbelievable!  Probably no TV celebrity camera will ever frame your face, but three boys–brothers abandoned–have a mom, a dad, other siblings.  A family!  You have given a treasure!

                “And one more thing,” (I’m so sorry I don’t even remember your name.) “You are a hero.”  (A.)

 Next:  Unrequited Love