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A Monumental Effort

This started out as a personal quest to find something that my brother and sister got to experience, but not me - as I wasn't born yet.

A huge map of the United States in the middle of a park. My parents said it was near the town of Many, Louisiana. It stayed in the back of my mind for many years. Then, with the advent of Google Maps, I canvassed the area around Many for some kind of map-looking pixelation in the middle of a park.

The big map in 1970.

Eventually I found the elusive map... it was part of a Louisiana Purchase Memorial monument, built in 1969 on a small island named Nandina (which would also be called "Flag Island"), in a privately-owned park called Hodges Gardens. This park, founded by A.J. Hodges in 1956, would then be turned over to the state of Louisiana in 2007, and to this day it operates as a state park. But it's no ordinary state park... it's filled with lush, well-designed gardens and ponds, along with the usual hiking trails and picnic areas. Among the regular events held there are movie showings, painting sessions, church services, fun runs and night-time stargazing gatherings.

Reading about this place was fascinating... until I got to the current state of Flag Island.

It's closed to the public. Its deterioration got to the point where too much of it became a safety hazard. The terrazzo map is chipping and crumbling in places. Only the American flag flies there now, where the flagpoles used to be decorated with flags from other states. Depressing, to say the least.

Here was something I've always wanted to visit, maybe even bring the kids, and it's now blocked off and rotting away. I checked the internet for some sign of hope that someone was going to do something about it. I found one article, published a few years ago, about a group of military veterans that were looking into restoring and renovating the monument. But nothing was heard about this effort ever since.

I got in touch with the American Terrazzo Company, the contractor that originally designed and constructed the map part of the memorial (and as luck would have it, is currently based in Garland). While they no longer have the files on the original project, they did an assessment on the monument a few years ago. And the price tag for completely restoring the terrazzo map comes in at $525,000. Remodeling the surrounding structure would probably add another $50,000 or so to the bill. A steep price for a unique monument that not a lot of people really know about.

The cost isn't the only roadblock to restoring this memorial, however. The park itself may have to temporarily shut down, thanks to a state budget crunch. Complaining about who's to blame is irrelevant at this point, so here's the facts: $7.1 million has to be trimmed from the budget for Louisiana's Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. Twelve state parks are on the list to be temporarily closed to the public, all funding cut off except for a maintenance skeleton crew. And you guessed it, Hodges Gardens is on that list. It would be nice if the park could revert back to private ownership - maybe sold to the Friends of Hodges Gardens organization - and not have to be a burden on state finances (even if it means admission fees would go up). But the reality is, the budget deadline is July 1st, and restoration work on the memorial may have to hinge on whether or not Hodges Gardens gets to stay open. I understand a newly remodeled monument won't do much good in a park that's "closed until further notice".

Hopefully, that won't be the case. If things go right with the state, I'm more than willing to set up a crowdfunding effort, maybe on Kickstarter, to help with remodeling the memorial. Hodges Gardens State Park is one of those hidden treasures in the middle of western Louisiana, and the Louisiana Purchase Memorial is (or should be) its crown jewel, one that's presently chipped and tarnished. And I'm willing to do whatever I can to get it back to its former glory. It's a family thing for me, after all.

My Dissection of 2015

Another one of those rollercoaster type years... 2015 had a lot of highs and lows for me.

BEST MOMENT OF 2015: My class reunion. This was the big 25-year shindig, and literally no one saw it coming. So a few of us did what we could to put together a weekend of meet-ups. And a good number of us showed up for two evenings of partying between three venues... and a finishing touch of brunch on Sunday morning. I got to see a lot of old friends again, and a great time was had by all.

Runners-up: Destiny riding her first big-girl ride at Six Flags, Jaden getting his Arrow of Light, and... gerbils!

WORST MOMENT OF 2015: A bunch of car drama. Between a break-in that busted a side window, getting caught in a speed trap, and a fender-bender, it was a rough few months for my Camry.

Runners-up: A moment of worry as my wife's surgery took longer than usual, and a lot of family members dying.


1. "Downtown", Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, featuring Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, Grandmaster Caz & Eric Nally - Sure, "Can't Hold Us" kicked ass, "Same Love" was quite touching... but this was the TRUE follow-up to "Thrift Shop". A witty rap about buying a moped and taking a date for a ride on it, this plays out like a mini-rap-opera, a choice piece from a Broadway musical that never was.

2. "Roses", Chainsmokers featuring Rozes - A standout in the post-Lorde trippy-alternative environment.

3. "Dimes", Bloodhound Gang - Welcome back, guys, it's been way too long. With a tight disco beat and lines like "get it stuck in her head like porn star dick", this was irresistable.

4. "Get Ugly", Jason Derulo - I gotta admit, it's the "DIDDILYDIDDILYDIDDILYDIDDILY" that hooked me.

5. "Superhero", Faith No More - The best track from a great comeback album.

6. "Can't Feel My Face", The Weeknd - Mr. Tesfaye channels his inner Michael Jackson with excellent results.

7. "Exes and Ohs", Elle King - Wouldn't sound out of place in a classic Russ Meyer flick.

8. "Found You", Django Django - Out of a lot of great cuts from their new "Born Under Saturn" album, this one stands out due to it being reminiscent of the Madchester sound.

9. "Where Are U Now", Diplo, Skrillex & Justin Bieber - Enjoy this moment, you Beliebers... this may be the only time your hero shows up on my list. Skrillex did a great job backing him up.

10. "Real Life", Jake Owen - It's modern country with a touch of stoner-rock.

11. "Hotline Bling", Drake
12. "Here", Alessia Cara
13. "Mr. Misunderstood", Eric Church
14. "Hit The Quan", ILoveMemphis
15. "Cool For The Summer", Demi Lovato
16. "Buffalo", Tyler The Creator
17. "Love Me Like You Do", Ellie Goulding
18. "Lampshades On Fire", Modest Mouse
19. "Mess Around", Cage The Elephant
20. "Believe", Mumford & Sons


1. "Burning Desire", Lana Del Rey
2. "Geronimo", Sheppard
3. "Cheerleader", Omi
4. "GDFR", Flo Rida
5. "Shut Up And Dance", Walk The Moon

Profiles In Potential Greatness IV

It's been a LONG while since I've done one of these, hasn't it? My childhood friends haven't been fame-seekers, for the most part. And there's nothing wrong with that, actually... live your life however you want without harming others, that's my modus operandi. Still, it's fun to see someone you knew as a kid do something that gets a lot of attention. Here's the latest example:


I remember him and his brother Clinton from my Boy Scout troop. Pretty cool guys as I recall. And they grew up to become even cooler... for the past several years they've worked as DJs and producers.

But it was Jason in particular that recently made a couple of high-profile moves. The first being a collaboration with DJ Wes Wallace for a series of tracks, like "Sex Crave Boy", "The Light" and a wicked cover of Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer". The second one? Helping to produce a documentary film that could make waves in the Houston area, and potentially the alternative-music scene.

"Friday I'm In Love" is a film project chronicling the life of a long-running nightclub in Houston called Numbers. Straddling the Montrose and Midtown neighborhoods, Numbers in its present form started out in 1978, having taken over an old dinner theater building that subsequently housed a gay disco. Under the guidance of Robert "Robot" Burtenshaw, Numbers was an underground smash, attracting the goth/industrial crowd as well as fans of edgy alternative music. I first stepped foot inside Numbers back in January of 1992, and loved it. The atmosphere was minimalistic yet intriguing. A shattered disco ball hung over the main dance area, flanked by two huge projection screens playing random videos (some of which were not for the faint of heart/stomach - I'm looking at you, Skinny Puppy).

Numbers was a frequent destination of mine for the two-and-a-half years I called Houston home. And when I moved to Dallas after that, I never could find a club anywhere in the Metroplex that measured up to it. It's a rare anomaly in the fickle nightclub world... a dance club that has survived almost four decades, and without making much of any changes to its environment. It definitely deserves to be immortalized in a documentary film, and I hope Jason's profile gets a boost from its release.

Even if "Friday I'm In Love" doesn't get much exposure, Jason could still gain some fame as a recording artist. Never too late for that.

My Dissection Of 2014

The best way to sum up 2014 for me would be: The "Haven't Done That In A While" Year. There was a lot of stuff that happened to me this past year that I haven't experienced in years. I went to Austin (last time - 2010), Hurricane Harbor (last time - 2000), the Texas Pinball Festival (last time - 2010), a dance recital (last time - 1991, or 1984 with family involved), a family reunion (last time - 2003), a walk-a-thon (last time - 1996), the San Jacinto Monument (last time - hell if I know, but I know I went there at some point in my childhood), and I met up with some old friends that I haven't seen in years. I also got to see live (via satellite) a bunch of guys that haven't done anything as a group in decades - Monty Python, in their final set of performances from London.

There were also plenty of things that I experienced for the first time in 2014. I've never experienced a Medieval Times dinner show until this past April. I've never set foot in a fondue restaurant or a Korean-style spa until the fall. That trip to Austin? I've always passed that Inner Space Cavern on I-35 on the way there, but I've never been inside... until this year. (Awesome place, too.)

BEST MOMENT OF 2014: The return of a feline inhabitant to our household. After a failed attempt at taking in a cat a year ago, we gave it another go in April. And Kitkat has been with us ever since. She's very friendly (when Destiny's not all over her), very behaved and not much of a hassle... except when she decides to wake us up at 5 in the morning by meowing her ass off. Thanks to Operation Kindness for keeping her safe for us.

Runners-up: Watching Kristi get her Masters degree; getting a new iPad; the family reunion; the Monty Python live show.

WORST MOMENT OF 2014: The end of "Opie & Anthony". It was the reason I was waking up at 5 to begin with (but now I need a little extra sleep, stupid cat!), and I listened to it religiously for almost a decade. But after Anthony got canned by Sirius XM for ranting on Twitter about a woman that assaulted him, I had had enough of the two getting mistreated by their employer, and cancelled my entire satellite service. They couldn't do most of the outrageous stunts that they got away with in the past, they've been neglected in the promises that were made to them by Sirius (while no doubt giving golden boy Stern better treatment)... but hey, they could say "fuck" on the air! I'm sad to see it go, and I miss my dose of irreverent, edgy humor in the mornings... but it was getting painful to listen to a show that was a shadow of its former self.

TOM'S TOP 20 OF 2014

1. "All The Rage Back Home", Interpol - A majestic masterpiece from New York's coolest band of the past decade. Starts out all quiet and mellow, but then hits a headlong rush.
2. "Uptown Funk", Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars - This came from out of nowhere in December and instantly hooked me. Bruno goes from channeling Michael Jackson (on "Treasure") to kicking the funk like classic Morris Day & The Time on this track.
3. "Chandelier", Sia - Loved the quirky video where an Abby Lee student dances around in an empty apartment.
4. "Fireball", Pitbull - So catchy I can't help muttering to myself "FIIARRRRBAWWWWL" when I see the word.
5. "Fancy", Iggy Azalea - An Australian white girl sounding like a Dirty South rapper? I'm down with that.
6. "The Writing's On The Wall", OK Go - An enchanting New Order vibe in the song, combined with a mind-blowing video full of crazy illusions.
7. "Don't", Ed Sheeran - Where a folksy-sounding alt-rocker from England manages to sound like 90s rapper Domino.
8. "All About That Bass", Meghan Trainor - Love the "big is beautiful" message, but this sounds better with a "Miami Bass" beat (think Gucci Crew II) behind it.
9. "Shake It Off", Taylor Swift - This would've charted higher if it weren't for that little unsettling rap break she does in the middle. Don't quit your day job, missy. (But hey, you'll "shake off" that criticism, right?)
10. "Word Crimes", "Weird Al" Yankovic - I'm not particularly anal on grammar myself, but I love this hysterical rant about misused words set to the tune of "Blurred Lines".
11. "The Hanging Tree", Jennifer Lawrence & James Newton Howard
12. "Greens and Blues", Pixies
13. "Believe Me", Lil Wayne & Drake
14. "Bang Bang", Jessie J, Ariana Grande & Nikki Minaj
15. "I Wanna Get Better", Bleachers
16. "Something From Nothing", Foo Fighters
17. "Fever", Black Keys
18. "Sky Full Of Stars", Coldplay
19. "Ask Yourself", Foster The People
20. "Come With Me Now", Kongos

TOP 5 NON-2014 SONGS OF 2014

1. "Take Me To Church", Hozier
2. "Habits", Tove Lo
3. "Turn Down For What", DJ Snake & Lil Jon
4. "Cool Kids", Echosmith
5. "Let It Go", Idina Menzel

Tom's WORST Songs Of All Time

I've been ranking my favorite songs of the years for quite some time now. I've always been a bit of a popular/alternative music geek, though lately I haven't been as focused on the scene as I used to. And while there's not much in today's pop world to my liking, I've still managed to find new music that I like a lot. But in this blog, I'm not gonna focus on my favorite music. Today, I've decided to switch things around and list my LEAST favorite songs of all time.

While there's plenty of tunes out there that I'm not fond of, there's only a handful that will actually make me want to outright change the channel or get the hell out of the place that plays it. There's quite a few songs that used to make the list, due to my station in life. When I was a kid and thought that beer tasted nasty, I didn't want to hear any rock or country songs that celebrated the stuff. When I was a teen and young adult that couldn't get a girlfriend or even a date, I got irritated by songs like "All By Myself", "Lonesome Loser" or "Somebody To Love" (either Queen or Jefferson Airplane versions). And when a radio station puts a song into heavy rotation, playing it almost every hour, it's easy for me to get sick of the song and want to immediately change the station once it starts playing.

But after a lot of time has passed, and I got married and had kids, most of those hated songs weren't as annoying anymore. And I'd endure them with no problem. Some songs, however, have stood the test of time in my hatred.

These are in no particular order. In fact, I'll group them into different categories of aggravation.

Songs that go against my personal morals:

"O.P.P.", Naughty by Nature - The beat's great, the structure is solid... but I just can't get into a song that's nothing but "Yay, infidelity! You down with cheating on your or someone else's loved one?" Lest you think I'm a total prude, however...

"Keep Your Hands To Yourself", Georgia Satellites - He wants her bad, but she's gonna deny him the poontang until that wedding ring's on her finger. If that was me, I would've dumped Miss Frigidaire a long time ago.

Songs that are just downright sad:

"Concrete Angel", Martina McBride - A little girl endures some brutal child abuse from her parents. But she'll make it out alive, right? WRONG. She ends up dying, and that "concrete angel" is what decorates her gravestone. Thanks a lot for ruining my day, Martina.

"Alyssa Lies", Jason Michael Carroll - Same premise as above. It goes from "Alyssa lies (as in fibbing)" to "Alyssa lies (as in six feet under) with Jesus". Thankfully, this guy ended up a one hit wonder.

"Ironic", Alanis Morrisette - A bunch of unfortunate incidents strung together. And while I like her voice in almost every other song, it's just grating combined with the theme of the song here. (Notice I didn't mention the semantics of "ironic", which I really just don't care about.)

Songs that just plain rub me the wrong way:

"Parents Just Don't Understand", DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince - This one shouldn't affect me anymore because I'm in my forties and a parent of two kids myself, right? Nah, this still gives me uncomfortable flashbacks. Will ends up getting smacked around at the end, and that's not something I like to hear in a lot of songs... like the next one...

"Down With The Sickness", Disturbed - This nu-metal track would kick all sorts of ass, if it wasn't for the break in the middle where the lead singer seems to be reenacting a vicious beatdown from his mother. At least the video version deletes this part.

"I Got A Man", Positive K - In addition to the attempted adultery afoot, the lady doing her rapping part just sounds annoying.

"Jimi", Butthole Surfers - There's a part in the middle of the song that sounds like a sexual abuse episode. Very unsettling.

Now, let's welcome the latest addition to the "shit list"...

"Rude", Magic! - Sheesh, what century are we in? Why are guys still asking the girl's dad for permission to marry his daughter? (I'm not gonna expect that from any of Destiny's potential suitors, and I would hope she'll be educated enough to be aware of any abusive tendencies in her romantic interests. But I digress.) Anyway, on top of the subject matter, the guy sounds like the worst whinybutt little boy in the chorus. "Why you gotta be so RUUUUUUDE??!! I'm gonna marry her anyway!" Whatever. Go back to your Ninja Turtles toys, Junior. Suffice it to say that this one WON'T be anywhere on my "Best of 2014" list.

Honorable Mentions:

"The Stripper", David Rose - You know, that classic burlesque stripping fanfare with the sassy horns and drums. It usually plays at a wedding reception when the groom is removing the garter from the bride's leg to throw to his groomsmen in the male version of the "bouquet toss". In my single years, I was perfectly comfortable going to gentlemen's clubs and hearing any kind of song that the dancers were gyrating to. But this is the ONE song that makes me feel all dirty and want a cold shower.

And now all the way back across the spectrum, from the ungodly to the godly... music I hate to hear at church:

"Here I Am, Lord", David Haas - The chorus sounds so much like the "Brady Bunch" theme that I'm wondering why Sherwood Schwartz (or his estate) hadn't sued his butt off yet. (Then again, Haas IS a Christian-music composer, so that would probably look bad.) It's still irritating to the point that I'm willing to temporarily leave Mass just to avoid hearing it.

"Mass Of Creation", Marty Haugen - From the late 80s to 2011, this service music seemed to be EVERYWHERE. As in probably 75% of the English-language Catholic Masses in America. And it left a bad taste in my mouth from the get go. The mostly minor-key melody sounds like it belongs in a haunted house, and the way it's structured just added to the dischord. Fortunately, after the Great Liturgical Shift of 2011 happened, most of the churches discarded "Creation" and went with new service music. And "Creation" itself actually doesn't seem too bad now after being retooled to fit the new liturgy verbage. But yeah, for a couple decades it got to the point where I tried to sneak a look at the music director's rundown to see if the hated music set was in there... and if it was, off I went to a different church.

So there you have it. Try not to end up in between me and the volume control or the exit door whenever any of those start playing.


My Dissection of 2013

This was a crazy year for me, to put it succinctly. Time to break it down...

BEST MOMENT OF 2013: Making it to 10 years of Kristi and I being husband and wife. Sometimes it was blissful, sometimes it was a fierce rollercoaster ride, but we managed to reach June 7, 2013 still married. And there's lots of blessings to show for it... our own house, two cars, two kids and a relatively solid financial footing. I don't know how Kristi puts up with me sometimes... but I'm glad that she does. And I still love her immensely.

RUNNERS-UP: Taking Destiny to Grapevine for Day Out With Thomas (the train) ...or as she likes to put it, "to ride Thomas and eat nachos!"; camping out for the first time in over 25 years, with Jaden and his Cub Scout pack; finally getting the chance to drive a Corvette; upgrading my phone to the latest iPhone (well, the latest until this past fall).

WORST MOMENT OF 2013: Getting a new cat... only to have to give her away in just a month's time. We figured it was a good time to try having a cat live with us again. But Lily, a calico that looked almost exactly like a cat our family had during my teenage years, was a bit too aggressive towards Destiny (when she wasn't being a distraction to her). When you see a kitty trying to pounce on your daughter and bite her, you know there's a problem. So we had to make the (reeeallly tough) decision to get rid of the cat. And that day I had to stuff her in a box and drive her somewhere was no fun at all. At least I managed to find a no-kill animal shelter that would take her in.

RUNNER-UP: A patio roof-rot debacle that cost us a lot and took forever to complete.

TOM'S TOP 20 OF 2013

1. "Berzerk", Eminem
- A perfect storm of a roaring comeback, Rick Rubin production, slammin' lyrics (with a touch of wicked humor) and a cool reworking of Billy Squier's "The Stroke". Slim Shady owns it this year.
2. "Royals", Lorde - The only serious competition for Mr. Mathers was, in music and tone, the polar opposite. Just a minimalist accompaniment and the lovely voice of a 16-year-old New Zealander singing about being happy with what little she and her friends have, as opposed to the opulent possessions of rap stars.
3. "Tamale", Tyler The Creator - A crazy mind-trip that sounds like Rakim impersonating Busta Rhymes. Hopefully we'll be able to see the entire uncensored video (that's even more crazy as it is).
4. "Boys Round Here", Blake Shelton - I never thought I'd hear "shit" in a mainstream country hit. A rousing half-rapped party song from Coach Blake.
5. "Came Back Haunted", Nine Inch Nails - Nice to hear Academy Award winner Trent Reznor again.
6. "Should Be Higher", Depeche Mode - It's not often that you hear Dave Gahan hitting the high notes.
7. "Popular By Design", Polyphonic Spree - I love how this outfit channels the eighties in this tune, with hints of A Flock Of Seagulls and a beat straight outta Book Of Love.
8. "Follow Your Arrow", Kacey Musgraves - An uplifting, positive message about being yourself, however unconventional that may be.
9. "Happy", Pharrell Williams - A peppy tune reminiscent of Motown. And what a cool video concept for that... 24 hours worth of on-the-street footage shot around L.A.
10. "Bound 2", Kanye West - This would've charted higher if it just had a good drum beat.
11. "Blurred Lines", Robin Thicke
12. "I Won't Be Long", Beck
13. "Sirens", Pearl Jam
14. "Come a Little Closer", Cage The Elephant
15. "Goodbye Town", Lady Antebellum
16. "Reflektor", Arcade Fire
17. "God Is Dead", Black Sabbath
18. "The Fox", Ylvis
19. "Get Lucky", Daft Punk & Pharrell Williams
20. "We Can't Stop", Miley Cyrus

TOP 5 NON-2013 SONGS OF 2013
1. "Thrift Shop", Macklemore - Almost made Goodwill & Velcro sneakers hip again.
2. "Elephant", Tame Impala
3. "Scream & Shout", Will.i.am & Britney Spears
4. "Radioactive", Imagine Dragons
5. "Dirty Bass", Far East Movement

Ten Years After

September 2001 (just after Labor Day, by the way) was a tough time for me. I had just gotten back from a chatroom meetup in Austin, which was not as fun as the previous year's. My latest dating prospect had stopped returning my calls. I was in a lonely place, seriously contemplating whether or not I should just move far away and try to make a fresh start somewhere else.

As part of my internet routine, I scanned some online personal ads. For once, there were quite a few hopeful prospects in my search. I left some responses and hoped for the best.

Then the next day, I checked back to find that there were a couple of replies to my messages. One - well, I forget her name, but that's definitely not important now. The other was from a girl named Kristi. I kept in touch with both of them, seeing some promise in their profiles.

A couple days later... THAT event happened. Yeah, the tragic one with the towers. I was planning to E-mail my phone number to Kristi so that we could talk later, but just my luck, my internet wasn't working at the apartment. I rushed to the nearby library - which was fairly crowded given the circumstances - and once a computer was available, I fired off that E-mail and hoped she would call back.

And that night, the phone rang. It was her. She had a pleasant, friendly voice about her. We talked about each other, where we came from, what we liked to do, and oh yeah, what an insanely horrible tragedy that just happened. We decided to meet up in a few days at a mall in Fort Worth.

That day, I showed up at the mall, hoping she would turn up as well. And sure enough, there she was, sitting on one of the benches. We walked around, talked some more about our backgrounds, our likes and so on. We must've spent an hour in that mall. Finally, in the parking lot near my car, we kissed for the first time... and at that point, what started out as just another meeting with a prospective date turned into something much more. Suddenly, we decided that we didn't want the date to end quite yet, so we grabbed a bite to eat at a nearby Don Pablo's. After we finally said good night to each other, I was hoping this would be the start of a wonderful and lasting relationship.

I had already promised to meet up with my other dating prospect a couple days later, so just to be nice, I went and did that. It definitely wasn't as magical as that first meeting with Kristi, though. So after that was over, I was completely convinced that Kristi was the one for me. (She still playfully gives me a hard time over that "other woman".)

The days passed. I met her parents. I told her "I love you" for the first time. She met my parents. She helped me move into my new apartment. We celebrated my 30th birthday together. We celebrated our first Christmas together. We got into a few small arguments. We even broke up for about a week or so. But we got over that and our love was stronger than ever.

Finally I decided that this indeed was the woman I wanted to marry. I didn't enter into this lightly... after all, I fell in love and eventually married someone else before, only for that to end in disaster less than a year later. But this time, I was convinced that this would work out a lot better. So one evening in June of 2002, at an Italian restaurant in her hometown of Mineral Wells, I popped that question. She said yes. The next level of the relationship had begun.

And after a year of preparation and planning, on June 7th, 2003 - exactly ten years ago today - we exchanged rings, said our vows, and became husband and wife.

Over the past decade of being a married couple and a family, we've had our ups and downs, our unforgettable memories and our rough times. Through it all, I've never lost faith, I've never wanted to leave her. And why should I? Kristi's the best wife I've ever had.

Her sense of humor is a perfect complement to mine. She's a loving mother to our two kids. She'll deny it, but she's a beautiful lady.

And while I still have a few flaws that - bless her heart - she continues to put up with... she has helped me become a better person.

I love you, Kristi. Happy 10th anniversary.

My Dissection Of 2012

Everybody still here? No cataclysmic reckoning? No huge global disaster (Sandy notwithstanding)? Good, let's get on with it...

BEST MOMENT OF 2012: In the immortal words of the late great Johnny Olson... "A NEW CAR!!!" And we're talking fresh-off-the-assembly-line, single-digit-odometer new car, not just a new purchase of a used car. For the first time in my life, I'm the first to own a particular vehicle. And it's a beauty, too... a 2012 Toyota Camry with a phenomenal audio system. Runners-up: Getting Destiny toilet-trained (almost, anyway - we're still working on numero dos); taking Destiny to Six Flags for the first time; watching my Houston Texans make the playoffs for the first time (and winning their first playoff game, too - this is after the 2011 season, by the way).

WORST MOMENT OF 2012: The dreaded red-light cameras finally got me. And I didn't even run a red light in the traditional sense... they caught me not stopping good enough for a right turn. Ah well, at least I know what I'm up against now. (Yes, this really was the worst thing to happen to me this year... it WAS a pretty good year for once.)

TOM'S TOP 20 OF 2012:

1. Gangnam Style - Psy: The first time a foreign-language song tops my chart. So what if we don't know what the hell he's saying? The beat's energetic, the video's downright crazy, and despite the guy looking like a Vegas-suburb lounge act, he succeeds in showing the world that South Korea's got swagger. (Gangnam's like the Beverly Hills of Seoul, if you weren't aware.)

2. Default - Django Django: What an addictive trance of a beat. It's Byrds meets Beck, a modern-day Stone Roses, if you will. And that video must've taken a month to make.

3. Some Nights - fun.: Great vocal harmonies here, reminiscent of early seventies folk-rock.

4. I Will Wait - Mumford & Sons: Gotta love that bluegrass-tinged rock sound.

5. Love Interruption - Jack White: At first I thought Loretta Lynn was singing backup (as a return favor for producing her latest album), but that's actually an amazing-sounding Ruby Amanfu.

6. I Love It - Icona Pop: Just a fun kind of reckless-abandon pop tune.

7. Too Close - Alex Clare: It was only a matter of time before someone decided to integrate the "dubstep" sound into a pop hit.

8. Simple Song - The Shins: Superb song, very twisted video.

9. I Gotsta Get Paid - ZZ Top: Also known as the "25 lighters on my dresser, yessir" rap originally done by DJ DMD. Excellent remake.

10. Wreck It, Wreck-It Ralph - Buckner & Garcia: What better way to illustrate the popularity of a fictional video game than to bring this outfit out of obscurity and have them do a song for it? (Great song, too!)

11. Let Yourself Go - Green Day

12. The Celestials - Smashing Pumpkins

13. We Come Running - Youngblood Hawke

14. Pontoon - Little Big Town

15. Enjoy Yourself - Dandy Warhols

16. Do It Anyway - Ben Folds Five

17. Let's Ride - Kid Rock

18. Starships - Nicki Minaj

19. I Like Girls That Drink Beer - Toby Keith

20. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together - Taylor Swift


1. Tongue Tied - Grouplove: One of those "sounds like a party goin' on" type songs. And with lyrics like "Take me to your best friend's house, marmalade, we're makin' out", it must be one hell of a party.

2. Somebody That I Used To Know - Gotye: The tune that launched a thousand memes. I made a few of them as well.

3. Heavy Cross - The Gossip: It's not every day that I'm intrigued by a song in a perfume commercial.

4. Little Talks - Of Monsters & Men

5. Titanium - David Guetta & Sia

My Own Unsolved Mysteries Revisited

It seems like EVERYONE's on Facebook these days. But at least that's helped me find out what happened to a lot of my long-lost classmates and other people from my past. Before Facebook was even a twinkle in Mark Zuckerberg's eye, I put up a blog listing people whose whereabouts I still wondered about. I updated the status of some of them between 2007 and 2009, but mostly left the list alone after that, since I seemed to discover the Facebook page of one of the listees every other month. Now let's see who's left:

Willie Ferrino (I think I heard somewhere that he died. Hopefully reports of that are greatly exaggerated.)
Cleveland Martin
Charmaine... something. Oh wait, thanks to an ancient artifact found in my parents' attic, her last name is Cain. (And she's still unaccounted for.)
Nicole "Nikki" Lopez (This is quite a common name, so it may be impossible to pinpoint her.)
Melanie Rasmussen (This girl vanished after the 10th grade.)
Leticia (Sablan) Rios's cousins Elias and Jasmine
Ervin Hayes
Carolyn Hall (the first girl I ever had a real crush on - yet she was around for only 5th and 6th grade)
Sam Decker (Another fairly common name.)
Paulina Sedgewick
Mike Mabe (Another common name.)
Claudia Estrada (Ditto.)

So that's more than half of the unsolved mysteries wiped out thanks to the Zuckmeister's social network. Not bad. Well, if any of these remaining folks have surfaced, let me know.

Fear Of A Gay Planet

We're in the second decade of the 21st century, and we're STILL having this debate???

All this homophobia that still has the social conservatives raising a ruckus seems way overblown to me. First off, I am indeed NOT gay. (And to quote Jerry Seinfeld, "Not that there's anything WRONG with that"... and NO, there's not.) But I have no problem with two guys getting it on. And I know injustice when I see it. Why would this concern me as a heterosexual? Because I truly believe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he says "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere". If the nanny-state conservatives* can successfully write anti-gay discrimination into American law - at the federal, state or local level - who's to stop them from seeking to ban certain movies, video games or websites from the general public? Remember, their faith is what drive them, First Amendment be damned.

And that’s what it always comes down to, doesn’t it? The Founding Fathers’ view of religion, spirituality and Christianity, and how much all that should have influence on the law of the land. The debates usually end up sounding like this:

Joe Biblethumper: You two men can’t marry each other!
Jack & Gil Gaycouple: Why not?
Joe Biblethumper: It’s against the will of God!
Jack & Gil Gaycouple: Hey, it’s a free country!
Joe Biblethumper: But America is a Christian nation!
Jack & Gil Gaycouple: Um, what was that in the Constitution? Oh yeah, freedom of religion!
Joe Biblethumper: Well, the Founding Fathers meant for American citizens to live according to Christian values, blah blah blah…
Jack & Gil Gaycouple: The Founding Fathers were overall Deists, and they didn’t want state control of religion or vice versa, blah blah blah…

And repeat ad nauseum.

Look, I don't have a problem with religions having strict moral codes, as long as you're not infringing on anyone's life or liberty. (That means you can't kill anyone for having premarital sex or lock someone in a basement for showing too much skin in public... capiche, Taliban?) That's the beauty of religious freedom in America... if you don't like the restrictions on one faith, you can find another faith more compatible with your beliefs, or you can even start your own! There's plenty of gay-friendly religions out there, and they have just as much right to exist in America as the "gays-are-bad-mmmkay" denominations. If we could just butt out of each other's lives and let everyone live peacefully according to their own beliefs, this world would be a much better place, right?

Unfortunately, we're still stuck in our politically divisive environment, dominated by two political parties that both have each something desirable and something deplorable in their platforms. I like the Republicans' financial game-plan, but I hate the stranglehold the religious nuts have on their social doctrine. The Democrats are more open to marriage equality and legalized cannabis, but they also want to tax the hell out of us and overspend the government into junk-bond status and hyperinflation. Also, they've got way too many regulations and fees choking the life out of small business. The Libertarian Party seems to have the best of both worlds, but as long as we have all those political gatekeepers in place (such as popularity qualifiers for debates - I don't see Gary Johnson in the fray with Obama and Romney), the donkey-and-elephant duopoly is going to be well-entrenched in American society.

Anyway, back to the homosexual folks. I had my reservations about the gay community in my childhood, just like any white-bread kid who would be grossed out at the sight of black leather straps canvassing hairy chests. The usual stereotypes bestowed upon gays by the media contributed to that. But as I matured, I found out that the vast majority of homosexuals are civilized folks, who do all their same-sex business in private and just want to live free of discrimination and fear of getting murdered for kicks. Having a gay co-worker, and an activist one at that, in a cubicle next to mine didn't hurt either. (Jack Valinski, I hope you're doing well.)

So now that the Defense Of Marriage Act is about to have its moment in the Supreme Court spotlight, let's take a look at all the common excuses that the evangelical elitists throw at us:

The Bible clearly states homosexuality is wrong, an abomination, etc.

Brushing aside the religious freedom stuff that I mentioned earlier, yes, there ARE some mentions of gay condemnation. Leviticus 18:22 is a popular one among the right-wingers: "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; such a thing is an abomination." Here's one in Deuteronomy, 22:5, against transvestites: "A woman shall not wear an article proper to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman's dress; for anyone who does such things is an abomination (there's that word again) to the Lord your God."

These two examples were decrees of Moses, as laws for behavior among the Jewish people. These weren't on the original Ten Commandments. The only references to sex in God's Top Ten List are "Thou shalt not commit adultery" and "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife". And what is defined as "adultery"? "Unfaithfulness to one's spouse." (Courtesy of Webster's Dictionary) Nothing about premarital sex or homosexuals.

Elsewhere, in the New Testament, the fervent apostle named Paul warns against the "pleasures of the flesh" and tells us to "shun lewd conduct". He makes observations of the "ungodly" acts of some of the regional folk, in Romans 1:26-27... "Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and the men gave up natural intercourse with women and burned with lust for one another. Men did shameful things with men, and thus received in their own persons the penalty for their perversity."

So we should follow EVERYTHING in the Bible, right? Even THESE passages?...

Leviticus 18:19..."You shall not approach a woman to have intercourse with her while she is unclean from menstruation." So we should arrest men for "crime-scene sex"?

Leviticus 19:19..."Do not breed any of your domestic animals with others of a different species; do not sow a field of yours with two different kinds of seed; and do not put on a garment woven with two different kinds of thread." Whoa. Why are we butting into the farming and fashion industries?

Leviticus 19:28..."Do not lacerate your bodies for the dead, and do not tattoo yourselves." There go all the tattoo parlors.

And here's where it gets good... who deserves to DIE.

Leviticus 20:9..."Anyone who curses his mother or father shall be put to death; since he has cursed his father or mother, he has forfeited his life."

Leviticus 20:13..."If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them shall be put to death for their abominable deed; they have forfeited their lives."

Leviticus 20:27..."A man or woman who acts as a medium or fortune-teller shall be put to death by stoning; they have no one but themselves to blame for their death."

Deuteronomy 21:18..."If a man has a stubborn and unruly son who will not listen to his father or mother, and will not obey them even though they chastise him, his father and mother shall have him apprehended and brought out to the elders at the gate of his home city, where they shall say to those city elders, 'This son of ours is a stubborn and unruly fellow who will not listen to us; he is a glutton and a drunkard.' Then all his fellow citizens shall stone him to death."

Deuteronomy 22:22..."If a man is discovered having relations with a woman who is married to another, both the man and woman with whom he has had relations shall die. Thus shall you purge the evil from your midst."

So... that's the death penalty for adulterers, homosexuals, rebellious children, and the entire Psychic Friends Network. Even if you only said "Fuck you" to Mom, you've committed a capital offense punishable by death. It says so in the Holy Bible, I'm not kidding. Is this what America should be like, according to the right-wingers? I didn't think so, either. Next...

If the entire world was homosexual, humanity would die off in a matter of decades.

Apparently you've never heard of adoption or artificial insemination. And nobody, except for a few deranged people, wants to turn the entire world gay. There's no "gay ray" that'll alter everyone's brains once switched on.

You can't change the definition of marriage. It's always been, and always will be, one man and one woman.

Unfortunately for you, it's possible in American law to change the definition of ANY word. That's what "legal definition" means. Besides, if we hold the definition of marriage so sacred, why is no one getting in trouble for saying "it's a great idea, but I'm not married to it" or "the perfect marriage of form and function"?

If one state wants to change "one man and one woman" to "two adults of legal age", they have that right. Which leads to the next excuse...

If we allow same-sex marriage now, that'll open the door to polygamous marriage, or incestuous marriage, or people legally marrying their houseplants, etc.

Okay, what is marriage in the legal sense? A contract of legally binding terms between adults. Who can legally enter into a contract? Only adults of legal age. So yes, there may still be debates over plural marriages or two adults marrying each other that are related to each other. But the slipperiness of the slope stops right at children, animals and inanimate objects.

This concerns only 2-5 percent of the American population, so it's not that important to our country.

Um, remember my MLK quote? A great many of us - over half polled at last count - care about fairness, accessability and the rule of law (not to mention equal protection under the law). And extending marriage, or at least all the benefits of marriage, to same-sex couples won't hurt the nation one bit.

If we allow gay marriage, the gay activists will continue to force the rest of their "gay agenda" on us.

That's like saying if we give blacks the right to vote, the New Black Panthers will take over our government. The vast majority of homosexuals just want to live quiet, productive lives... and while a good many of them don't want committed relationships, there's plenty of same-sex couples that only want the same marriage perks as the others.

Gay sex in the streets? Bondage gear/nudity in public? We already have laws on the books against lewd conduct. Indoctrination in public schools? There's an abundance of safeguards in place to prevent children from seeing stuff they shouldn't be seeing. If anything, the schools should be teaching that all people are deserving of respect no matter what their lifestyle, and that neither homosexuals nor children of homosexuals deserve to be ridiculed or bullied. Yes, do the sex education, but keep it age-appropriate and non-judgmental.

And finally, there's that universal vague excuse...
Homosexuality and/or gay marriage will destroy our families.

Gee, my wife and I would love to start a family, but my next-door neighbor is gay. Just by being there, he's the cause of my wife's low egg count.

Look, there is nothing that gays and lesbians do to directly destroy families. The destruction comes from unfaithfulness, lack of communication, lack of respect, abuse, and other "irreconciliable differences". Not the sudden announcement that one's daughter found out she's a lesbian. As long as two people love each other, and want to raise kids, there will be families. All kinds of families. Deal with it.

This madness has gone on far enough. Homosexuals are law-abiding citizens, just like you and me. The gay community has made many positive contributions to our society, from fashion to films to music. When it comes down to it, gay people know how to have fun. So let them have their fun. And let's get ourselves firmly into the 21st century already.

* Let the record show that I do make a distinction between "social conservatives" and what I call "nanny-state conservatives". I have no problem with social conservatives as I define them... as people who have high standards in their moral values, and practice them faithfully in their family, community and church, encouraging others to follow their example. However, when they seek to use the rule of law to force others to follow the moral guidelines they follow (outside of basic protections of life, liberty and property), that's when they become "nanny-state conservatives"... and as far as I'm concerned, enemies of individual liberty.

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