dogs, funny stories, lessons learned, love, technology

Something to live for… awkward conversations about life and death…

Yesterday was a pretty busy day. I wrote three fresh blog posts. Two were about Josh Duggar, and one was a review of Naomi Judd’s book, River of Time, which was about her struggles with depression and anxiety. Interspersed within all the writing, there was also the news about the people who died in Uvalde, Texas… nineteen children and two teachers. I read last night that Joe Garcia, the husband of Irma Garcia, who was killed during the school shooting massacre, died of a heart attack just a couple of days after losing his wife of 24 years. This morning, I read a ridiculous tin foil hat comment from someone who thought Garcia’s sudden heart attack was part of a conspiracy, since the police department in Uvalde were apparently unprepared to deal with a school shooting.

People are still arguing about COVID, abortion rights, gun rights, school safety, and all of the other political hot button issues that will probably never be settled in my lifetime. All I can do is shake my head. The world is really fucked… and yet, sometimes there are little flickers of beauty, humor, and wonder that make me think it’s worth trying to stick around for however much time I have left.

Last night, Bill came home with kind of a sheepish look on his face. He said, “Well, today got started on a rather ‘awkward’ note.”

I looked up at him, noticing that he looked a little mischievous. “Do tell.” I encouraged.

He said, “I was in the bathroom, taking a shit, and when I came out, I was confronted by my boss, who said he needed to talk to me. So we sat down and my boss said, ‘Bill, I have to ask you… are you alright?'”

And I said, “He was asking you this because he heard you taking a shit? Or he smelled the remnants of it?”

“No…” Bill said, laughing. “The shitting part becomes important later in the story.”

“My imagination is going wild.” I said.

Bill continued, “So my boss says, ‘The guys in the IT department noticed a questionable search string coming from your computer. It got flagged. And I have to ask you, are you okay? Are you considering suicide?'”

Bill said, “No! Of course not!” Taking a deep breath, Bill explained to his boss, “I Googled ‘when someone you know commits suicide’, because recently, two acquaintances committed suicide. One was a guy I knew in high school, years ago. He was a good friend in those days, but we weren’t close recently. We were just Facebook friends. And one day last month, he posted ‘Guys, it’s been a slice,’ on Facebook, and that was it. Next thing I knew, people were announcing that he’d killed himself.”

Bill went on, “The other was the woman who previously lived in the house my wife and I rented near Stuttgart, before we moved to Wiesbaden. She had worked for our company, and one day I noticed that her name wasn’t on the company roster anymore. And because she had kind of been ‘cyberstalking’ my wife, the fact that she wasn’t on the roster caught my attention.”

Bill paused, then continued, “I told my wife, so she Googled her name, and discovered that she’d died. It was a shock, since she was so young. So she did more investigation, and found out that the woman had committed suicide. We were both really surprised by the news. She seemed to have everything going for her. These two recent suicides were just really surreal, and suicide was on my mind only for that reason. So I did a quick Google search, but even as I did it, I realized that it might get me in trouble.”

Then Bill concluded, saying “I have everything to live for. I just took a wonderful trip, and I’m planning another for my wife’s birthday next month. And my daughter is about to have my grandson, any day now. So no, I’m not thinking of killing myself. But thanks for asking.”

Bill said his boss sighed with deep relief and said, “Okay… I feel much better now. Don’t worry. This is not going to be on your permanent record, or anything.”

Then Bill said that one of his work buddies had been looking for him before that conversation took place. The boss had asked where Bill was, and of course, at the time, he was taking a shit. His work buddy had said, “Oh, Bill is probably ‘hanging out’ somewhere…”, which seems like kind of an unfortunate choice of words, under the circumstances.

We talked about it a little more, marveling at how people are always watching what we’re doing, although they don’t always take action before it’s too late. I’m sure the IT guys at Bill’s company don’t monitor every search string, but when someone Googles something weird while on the clock, it gets flagged. Obviously they take any mention of suicide seriously, which is comforting, I guess. Why would someone in Bill’s line of work be searching for articles about suicide? It would make sense for me, since I have a background in public health and social work. But it doesn’t make sense for a guy who does what Bill does for a living. If anything, this serves as a reminder to watch one’s Googling while on the job.

As we were laughing about that, Bill noticed a message from his daughter. He clicked on it, and we were introduced to Bill’s new grandson, who was born a couple of days ago… At the time the message was sent, he was just 13 hours old. He’s tiny and adorable, and he serves as another good reminder that life goes on, even when there’s crazy and terrible shit going on everywhere. Bill’s daughter looked so beautiful, too, as she held her little son. I managed to snap a photo of Bill looking at the video, so happy to be “Papa” to another soul. Yes, I would say he’s got plenty to live for…

Priceless boys…

As I write this, a gorgeous song by Janet Jackson is playing. Her song, “Together Again”, is special to us, because we kind of see it as a message from Heaven. In December 2012, our beloved “bagel”, MacGregor, died of spinal cancer. MacGregor was a very special dog, and Bill adored him. He was especially devastated when we lost him. Then a month later, we adopted our beloved Arran, who immediately bonded with Bill. Arran even did something MacGregor always did to show affection to Bill… you can see him on his hind legs in the photo below. MacGregor used to do the very same thing, putting his paws on us while standing on his hind legs. And as Arran was doing that for the first of many times, “Together Again” was playing. It meant something to us… like MacGregor was sending us a message through Arran. And now, as I write about life and death, here it is again… and it’s followed by “Psalm 23” by Eden’s Bridge, which I would love played at my funeral someday.

I’m not a huge Janet Jackson fan, but I love this song. It’s very special.
That organ… it just moves me.
January 13, 2013, the day we brought Arran home in North Carolina, and he made Bill his favorite person… Janet Jackson’s song was playing.
And last week… they are still extremely bonded. Arran would be DEVASTATED if Bill died.

We have been very fortunate to live a very good life together. Even when things seem absolutely bonkers in the world, we still have some happy news to share. I don’t know what life is going to be like for the newest grandchild, but I know he’s already much beloved by many people. And he has the most wonderful “Papa”, too. So no one should worry about Bill… “Papa” isn’t going to do anything drastic anytime soon. But thanks for asking!

Standard
book reviews, celebrities

Repost: What’s it like to be Arnold Jackson’s best friend? Shavar Ross gives us the scoop on being “Dudley”!

Here’s a reposted book review from March 6, 2018. It appears here as/is, as I consider what the subject of today’s fresh content will be. Lately, I’ve been watching tons of 80s era sitcoms. I find them oddly comforting.

Today’s title probably only means something if you were around in the late 70s and early to mid 80s and watched TV.  That period of time happened to be during the prime years of my childhood, when we had no Internet and TV was the thing rotting everyone’s minds.  I was a big fan of the sitcom Diff’rent Strokes, which was an enormously popular and successful show during that time period.  It’s been really sad for me, and for a lot of my peers, to watch the cast of that beloved show die off, one by one.

As of 2018, Conrad Bain, Dana Plato, and Gary Coleman are all dead.  So are Mary Ann Mobley, Nedra Volz, and Dixie Carter.  But we still have Todd Bridges, Janet Jackson, Danny Cooksey, and Shavar Ross, who played Arnold Jackson’s (Gary Coleman’s character) best friend, Dudley Johnson.  To this day, the only other Dudley I know of is Dudley Moore.  I don’t think “Dudley” is a very popular name these days.  According to Shavar Ross, his character “Dudley” was named after someone on the Diff’rent Strokesproduction crew.  I learned that little tidbit and a handful more when I read Ross’s book, On The Set of Diff’rent Strokes.

The theme song for the famous sitcom that Gary Coleman so hated…

Ross published his book in 2007, when Gary Coleman and Conrad Bain were still alive.  Nevertheless, the cast of Diff’rent Strokes did seem to have a bit of a curse.  Dana Plato died of a drug overdose in 1999, having previously fallen into an abyss of drug addiction, porn, and crime.  Nedra Volz, who played housekeeper Adelaide, had died years earlier of old age.  Todd Bridges is still living, but he had some serious problems with drugs and was even tried for the attempted murder of Kenneth “Tex” Clay, a Los Angeles area drug dealer.  And Gary Coleman just plain seemed pissed off at the world.

At the beginning of Ross’s book, he explains that the book isn’t about all of the scandals that plagued the cast of Diff’rent Strokes.  Instead, he focuses on his experience getting cast in the role of Dudley.  He also explains that he likes to write the way he speaks, so the book won’t be as grammatically correct as it could be.  That made me twitch a little, but it’s fair enough, I guess.  I only spent about $3 on the book, anyway.

I managed to read Ross’s book in a couple of hours.  The only reason it took longer than an hour or so, is because I had to take a brief nap while I was reading.  This book is only 36 pages and contains no pictures.  It starts off with a brief history of Ross’s family of origin.  He was born in the Bronx and his parents separated when he was six years old.  His dad was an actor who decided to move to Los Angeles.  His mom took Ross and his half sister to Macon, Georgia so they could be close to family while his mother went to college. 

Ross went on a vacation to California to see his father at Christmas time.  During that visit, he was discovered by a top children’s talent agent named Evelyn Shultz.  Shultz noticed him when he was watching a play starring Kim Fields, who later became famous in her role as “Tootie” on The Facts of Life, which was a highly successful spinoff of Diff’rent Strokes.  Ross writes that he was a fan of Diff’rent Strokes and had watched it in Georgia on a black and white portable TV.  When the opportunity came up for him to audition for a part playing Arnold’s best friend, Dudley, he jumped at it, beating out about 250 kids.

Ross’s first appearance on Diff’rent Strokes was on a 1980 episode called “Teacher’s Pet”.  His father was one of the extras on that episode, which was about Arnold’s dad, Phillip Drummond, asking out Arnold’s teacher after meeting her at a parent/teacher conference.  The teacher began to dote on Arnold, causing his friends to tease him.  The chemistry was good enough on that episode that Ross was asked to be a recurring character.

Basically, that’s about it for Ross’s story, which I think is a real shame.  I appreciate that he didn’t want to share any dirt on the series.  I imagine it would have been tempting to do that, since the show was so popular.  He does offer a few superficial insights about Gary Coleman and the rest of the cast, but a lot of what he wrote was stuff I already knew.  Like, for instance, Coleman loved trains.  If you watched the show, you’d know that.  He basically says Dana Plato was “nice” and Todd Bridges was “cool”.  Janet Jackson was very “sweet and shy”.  I think he could have gone into more detail without stooping to spreading gossip.

Also, while I think the book is basically well-written, especially for someone who flat out writes that he isn’t concerned with proper grammar, there are a lot of typos and some misspellings.  I understand that editing is a chore, but it really wouldn’t have taken much to polish this book a bit more and give it a more professional air.

A funny rehash of Diff’rent Strokes’ most special episode, ever.

Finally, I can’t believe Ross didn’t write more about the episodes themselves.  Anyone who watched Diff’rent Strokes knows that Ross was featured in a very special two part episode called “The Bicycle Man”.  That episode, in which the late LDS character actor Gordon Jump starred, was about child molestation.  The show handled the subject in a rather G-rated fashion, but it was still pretty shocking material at the time.  It would have been interesting if Ross had dished a bit about that episode.  But maybe it was too traumatic for him. 

I do know that Ross eventually became a pastor, so maybe some subjects are taboo.  He’s also been married for a long time and has two kids.  It would have been nice if he’d written more about his family and his life beyond his acting career.  That would have been interesting reading and he wouldn’t have been guilty of spreading dirt.  He could have written more about how he broke into acting.  The way the book reads now, it sounds like he went on vacation, lucked into meeting an agent, and *poof*, he was an actor.  I think he could have offered more details and a more accurate accounting of his time.  What did his family think of his success?  Did his mom stay in Georgia with his sister?  Did Shavar Ross live with his dad?  He addresses none of this in his very brief book.

Although I appreciate that Shavar Ross took the time to write his book, I think On The Set of Diff’rent Strokes could have been a whole lot better.  I don’t think it’s terrible as much as it is incomplete.  It’s just a very short book and doesn’t reveal much at all.  I think if a person is going to go to the trouble of publishing a book, he or she should make the book worth reading.  This book probably doesn’t reveal anything that a determined researcher can’t find online.  But, on the positive side, it’s cheap, and Ross straight up says he’s not going to dish much.  At least I didn’t spring for the paperback version, which sells for $7.95.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

Standard