“Bucky Stone” Interview

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How’d you get into this Bucky Stone series?

As a kid living in Bangkok, I gobbled up tons of such books purchased by my parents. I remember a “Danny Orlis” who excelled in hockey and football, and was always sharing his faith. But the books back then smacked of legalism – and were woefully dated. “Say, Millie, let’s go have a soda at the drugstore! Then maybe I’ll hold your hand.” “Well, that would be keen!” So I prayed about a writing project the Lord could bathe with grace.

So who’s Bucky Stone?

He’s definitely a hero type. Nice kid, good-looking, excels on the basketball court. Obviously, that means some girlfriend issues.

Not based on your own life, then?

I wish.

What’s the spiritual aura of the stories?

Just solid generic Christianity. The original series was written to fit one particular denominational mindset, but now that we’re taking them to Amazon, I’ve done some editing and reshaping a few plot lines so Jesus freaks of all sizes and shapes can enjoy them.

And the target age group?

Well, the ten books take Bucky through four years of high school. Basically one book per semester plus two “summer specials” I really like, particularly since Book #5 involve a risky mission trip to Bangkok! But it’s aimed at kids ages 10-14. The tone is fairly light: lots of humor and teasing and high school banter. Bucky’s in a happy, intact family with a sister, Rachel Marie, who’s eight years younger. Mom’s a Christian; Dad isn’t . . . but that part’s all domestic harmony.

Safe to read?

Definitely. There are romantic temptations, and a particularly challenging moment in Book 9 where Bucky gets a real come-hither from Deirdre – and Mom and Dad out of town. But I think by then kids will be ready for that. Other recurring characters do struggle with booze, cheating, etc.

Does each book stand alone?

Yeah, each has its own unique story. Of course, I hope kids will begin with #1 and zoom right through the entire set. Making Waves at Hampton Beach High has a good lost-on-the-ski-slopes story to it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Call the Midwife (TV/Book Review)

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If you haven’t yet embraced this stirring PBS offering, there’s one more TV season to go . . . and it’s hugely worth your time to binge-watch all previous seasons and catch up. It’s easily the finest thing on television: telling weekly stories of midwives in the 1950s, serving pregnant moms in London’s poorest neighborhoods. There’s humor and pathos and wonderfully dramatic tales; the delivery scenes are astonishingly graphic. Trust me; you will often dab at your eyes.

The source books by Jennifer Worth are equally good. She writes in the first person about her experience as a secular and cynical young nurse drafted to work at Nonnatus House with the nuns. She arrives to the story as an agnostic, and admits to often rolling her eyes at the piety of the sisters. But let me share just a few paragraphs close to the book’s end. As a Christian, I am deeply touched by this.

“I had never met nuns before,” she confesses, “and regarded them at first as a bit of a joke; later, with astonishment bordering on incredulity. Finally this was replaced by respect, and then love. What had impelled Sister Monica Joan to abandon a privileged life for one of hardship, working in the slums of London’s Docklands? ‘Was it love of people?’ I asked her.

“‘Of course not,’ she snapped sharply. (That’s her character, a brittle eccentric.) ‘How can you love ignorant, brutish people whom you don’t even know? Can anyone love filth and squalor? Or lice and rats? Who can love aching weariness, and carry on working in spite of it? One cannot love these things. One can only love God, and through His grace come to love His people.’”

The closing line of the book: “That evening I started to read the Gospels.”

 

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The New Johnson (Trump?) Image

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It seems all Presidents, not just Donald Trump, are endlessly fixated on “How am I doing? Do the people worship me?” Early in his political career, Lyndon Johnson squeaked out a 1948 Senate primary victory with a scant 87 votes; Republicans scornfully dubbed him “Landslide Lyndon.” That so galled him he viciously ran up the Presidential vote against Goldwater, and spent four White House years obsessing over his polls. Humorist Art Buchwald took a cute jab at him with this 1966 column.

 

Now that President Johnson’s operation on his throat has been so successful, I can reveal the reason the President decided to have it done.

It has been no secret that the President’s popularity has been slipping. Despite the fact that he had got more legislation through than any other President and although the country was riding its greatest wave of prosperity, many people seemed to be voicing suspicions of their leader. The President, who rules by consensus, was smart enough to know that something had to be done. But what?

He called in all his advisors just before he left for Manila and laid it on the line. He wanted them to speak frankly and make any suggestions that they thought would make the people love him again.

One advisor said, “I think we should put more stress on presenting you as a statesman and less on the fact that you’re trying to think of new ways of spending the taxpayers’ money.”

Another advisor said, “Mr. President, your popularity was at its height when Luci got married. Couldn’t you arrange a Christmas wedding for Lynda?”

“Ah probably could,” the President said, “but that would give us all of 1967 with nothing to do.”

A third advisor said, “Mr. President, you asked us to speak frankly, and I will. A recent poll taken by Zlonk Brothers asked people what was the one thing that annoyed them the most about your television appearance, and seventy-three percent of those questioned said it was your Texas accent.”

“Well, what am Ah supposed to do about that?” the President said angrily.

“Now don’t get mad, Mr. President. I’m just quoting the poll. Perhaps if we could change your accent, we could change your image.”

“It’s a little late for that,” the President flushed.

“No, it isn’t, sir. There’s a doctor at Johns Hopkins who can perform a minor operation on your throat which could change your speech overnight. He can give you any accent you want.”

The President said, still angry, “And what accent do Ah want?”

“I was thinking of a New England accent, with perhaps a slight Harvard twang.”

“Never,” the President said, slamming his fist on the conference table. “Ah was born in Texas, raised in Texas, and Ah love Texas.”

Just then an advisor came in with the latest popularity polls. They revealed the President had slipped two percentage points.

The President studied the polls for several minutes and then said, “Will the operation hurt?”

“No, sir. It’s just like having a polyp removed. I assure you, sir, with your dynamism and a New England accent, you’ll be unbeatable.”

“What about Lady Bird?”

“People like her accent, so she won’t have to do a thing.”

“Of course,” another advisor said, “if you did have the operation, you’d have to sell the ranch.”

“Then where would Ah go on vacation?” the President shouted.

“They say Hyannis Port is very nice in the summertime.”

“All right, all right. But if it doesn’t work, there’s going to be some very sorry people around here.”

“Don’t worry, it will work, Mr. President, and I can’t wait to see the expression on Bobby and Teddy’s faces when you give your State of the Union Message to Congress in January of next year.”

 

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Happy Anniversary, Mom!

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Mom and Dad would have been married 66 years today. She has so courageously survived widowhood for the past fifteen years, and I am immensely proud of her. She has never once complained about the years spent alone; instead, she says often how thankful she was to have had a fine Christian friend and partner for over half a century.

When C. S. Lewis lost his mate to cancer, he wrote these poignant lines: “One flesh. Or, if you prefer, one ship. The starboard engine has gone. I, the port engine, must chug along somehow till we make harbor.”

I love you, Mom!

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THIS David Smith Is the True Hero!

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Here on Memorial Day, allow me to brag about David Smith . . . but definitely not me. President George W. Bush has taken to painting some American heroes, and this beautiful picture is of Corporal David Smith who conquered PTSD and is an authentic national hero. I once found out by accident that the 55,000 dead, there are SIXTEEN David Smiths carved on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. That’s 16 Mrs. Smiths who are widowed and still grieve nearly a half-century later. Sixteen homes where Mom and Dad won’t see their son David until Resurrection Morning. I have spent my entire life on the easy side of history, never having to hold a gun, tote a medic’s bag, or face an enemy across Normandy Beach or the Mekong Delta. So believe me when I say that I never once complain or utter a peep when I file my tax returns on April 15. These 17 David’s have earned my support and my undying respect.

Thanks to President Bush for a truly classy gift to our nation!

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BOOK REVIEW: HIDDEN FIGURES

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Hidden Figures is satisfying as a film, but provides even greater depth and reward as a reading experience. The hard-core math in the story is minimal but intriguing as these brilliant ladies literally spent weeks and reams of paper on a single equation. I’ve got a master’s degree and I teach Calculus I and II at a college, and there were multiple moments when I simply set the book down and went “Yikes!” Consider the Apollo 11 dilemma: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin zipping around on the moon doing NASA chores, while the lunar module continues to orbit. If the rendezvous doesn’t come off exactly as calculated, those two astronauts literally miss the bus!

But even more compelling than the mind-boggling calculating is this tale of triumph over entrenched racism and bigotry. Back in the era of this story, the state of Virginia was so dedicated to the ugly heritage of segregation they would literally give African-American students scholarships, making sure they were “out-of-state” grants. As in: “Just get the hell out of here.” “In Prince Edward County, segregationists would not be moved: they defunded the entire county school system rather than integrate. . . . Virginia, a state with one of the highest concentrations of scientific talent in the world, led the nation in denying education to its youth.”

I was especially stirred by the endless details of how African-American communities literally rose up in a spirit of excellence to make sure their own black young people had the chance to excel. They ran their own proms, had cotillion societies, scraped together field trips, and a million other projects, in order to defeat the pernicious lie of “separate but equal.”

The book is poetic in many places, and fascinating throughout. The story literally reaches for the stars, and giving it back five of Amazon’s doesn’t even come close.

 

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Grandpa Persecuted by Corrupt Cop Duo

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NOTE: Don’t be deceived by the benign demeanor in this photo. All grandchildren are affable when touring a jelly bean factory.

I’ve tumbled into a sort of weird legal limbo. I was visiting my twin grandkids for the weekend when their imaginations got rather carried away. I was “driving” in my typical safe, old-geezer manner (52 mph, Lawrence Welk on the stereo, sipping a Big Gulp prune juice, polyester pants pulled up beyond my belly button) when they roared up behind me, sirens blazing.

“Papa, you have to go to jail!”

“No! What’d I do, Mr. Policeman?”

Officer Miles was so indignant he began babbling. “You um . . . um . . . um . . . you ran into a cow!”

“No, I didn’t. No way!”

“Uh huh. You have to go to jail.” Deputy Audrey concurred and flashed handcuffs in my face. “You have to go to jail right this minute!”

“That’s no fair,” I moaned. “For how long?”

“Eighty hundred days,” Officer Miles ordered, disdaining the California Vehicle Code and plucking a vengeful number out of thin air.

“That’s 21.9 years!” I moaned. “Such a long time just for hitting a cow.”

My pleas for clemency fell on deaf ears and I was dragged off to the clink. Fortunately, security was rather lax and as soon as they looked the other way I was out on the highway again. Not twenty seconds later the same crime-fighting duo struck again.

“You have to go to jail!” One officer on each side, they clutched my arms and dragged me out of the car.

“No!!! What this time?”

Officer Miles searched his data bank for another trumped-up charge. “You . . . um . . . um . . . you ran over a sheep!”

“I never did.”

“Uh huh.”

“Well, where is it? Where’s this alleged corpse of a sheep?”

“Right there.” He pointed vaguely at absolutely nothing.

“This is totalitarianism! Manufactured evidence,” I grumbled. “I’m driving really good and now look.”

“No, Papa. You keep hitting sheep.”

Off I went to the hoosegow, again for the dreaded eighty hundred days.

No sooner were the bars of justice lifted and I was apprehended yet again. I noticed that Officers Miles and Audrey were targeting only certain types of motorists; no one else was being challenged. It’s the latest disturbing sociological trend: “Driving While Being a Grandpa.”

“I was driving really slow,” I blubbered. “And I didn’t hit anything at all. Not one nick.”

“Yes, you did,” Miles corrected. “You um . . . um . . . you hit a chicken.”

“That’s all? Can’t I just pay five dollars for the chicken? Chicken crashes aren’t a jailable offense in California, are they? You kidding me?”

But they had no sense whatever of criminal proportionality. I was hauled yet again to the slammer; I howled for some sympathy or legal aid and must say that the twins’ grandma watched from the sidelines with benign amusement, not lifting a finger in my defense.

Over the next half hour, I was endlessly persecuted and charged with vehicular manslaughter of a pig, a dog, and a kitty. “The unfairness!” I howled to no avail. “No Miranda warnings! No judicial restraint!” And when Miles ran out of animal victims, he pulled me over yet again and handcuffed me, chortling in a tone almost gleeful: “Papa, you’re very, very, very bad.”

“No,” I whimpered. “Now what?”

“You . . . um . . . um . . . you ran over a house!”

It’s been lucky up till now that the jails in Fairfield offer a rather porous security. Because by my own count I’ve been convicted thirteen times, each time for sentences of “Eighty Hundred Days,” and Judge Audrey informs me the sentences must be served consecutively.

 

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