A short time after the holidays I needed to buy some replacement blades for my Gillette Fusion razor. I don’t give you the brand name to promote the product but to give you an idea what kind of razor I had. And, if you know what kind of razor I had, then you have an idea how much replacement blades cost for this razor … a small fortune.

The safety razor

The safety razor

I decided to take the road seldom taken and get back to the basics. I started looking for a safety razor, the double-edge kind that our fathers used to use. The decision to do so came after going to Walgreen’s, Wal-Mart, Costco and just about any other retail place you might think you could find razors, only to discover you just can’t find a safety razor in a store. I could get a Schick 5-blade, or a number of other 5-blade brands, but could not find an old-fashioned safety razor. My dad would be shocked.

What happened next could be called a mission. Patti is probably more accurate when she says it became an obsession. I started researching online looking for the safety razor. I found loads of them on all kinds of sites. I found out about the differences in brands, costs, comments from other users, what company offered a razor at a fraction of the cost of the same razor at another site. Hey, I was a consumer. I saw just plain common safety razors for as much as $140 and some for $9. There was everything in between.

That’s when I succumbed to the cult.

As I went from site to site, I kept noticing comments from other buyers much more committed to safety razors than me, who were using terms like “wet shaving,” who used the acronym DE for “double edge” or the term “open comb” versus “closed comb” for the way the razor slid across your face and even how shave time each day was “individual” time to not be in any hurry, to celebrate slowness and accuracy and enjoy the personal time with your razor. Ok, so obsession may be more descriptive, after all. Once I checked out the websites and their offerings, I settled on a nondescript safety razor and some extra blades from Amazon.

I placed my order on January 27, 2014.  Just before I placed my order (for a whopping $11), the delivery information showed on the screen. “Delivery between February 27 and March 11.” Huh? Really? From Amazon? Again, really? I thought there must be a mistake, but it was just a razor and some blades. No big deal.

I started letting my beard grow, so I wouldn’t have to buy a Fusion blade ever again. I’ll just wait for the razor and blades to show up. Couldn’t really take too long. It’s just a razor.

On or around February 22, a small shipment from Thailand came in the mail. I got the blades, but no razor. Again, really?

And, March 11 came and went, still no razor.

I wrote a message to Amazon, warning other customers to be sure and check the shipping and delivery information before ordering a razor from Amazon, well, from a “provider” to Amazon, MMA Sales.

In my message, I told Amazon that I had to make some assumptions about the delivery of my razor. I said that MMA Sales must have had to build a gravel road to the most desolate area of Outer Mongolia to send a guy on a donkey, so he could use a shovel and dig some metal out of the ground with his hands. After traveling back with the metal, the donkey rider had to find a one-armed blacksmith to mold the metal into a razor and precision razor blades. Once the blacksmith completed his work, MMA Sales must have found a three-legged burro to take the razor/blades from Outer Mongolia to the eastern edge of the Pacific Ocean, somewhere in China. Once at the ocean, someone had to build a replica of Thor Heyerdahl’s 1947 Kon-Tiki raft, to carry the razor and blades, against the prevailing currents, to the West Coast of America.

Once at the West Coast, somewhere near San Francisco, someone put the razor and blades on the backs of several ants to make the journey from the West Coast, across the Rockies, the desert of New Mexico and west Texas to my home in Austin.

To this day, March 26, I still do not have the razor I ordered from Amazon.

However, just a week ago, I ordered an inexpensive  safety razor and blades from an online Canadian company called Fendrihan. They arrived today.

One man’s toiletries is another man’s obsession.

 

Mississippi River Bridge at Baton Rouge, La.

Mississippi River Bridge at Baton Rouge, La.

For 29 years I worked as a communications consultant with several human resource consulting firms. If you are not familiar with those firms, the bulk of the work is completed for companies by actuaries, health & welfare consultants, consultants specializing in other benefits and compensation, IT systems consultants and communicators.

Throughout my consulting career, there was ALWAYS this unwritten rule: Actuaries are revered like gods, don’t bother them with trivial requests.

At some time or other, my peers and I would come up with terrific questions that we would want to run by the actuaries, but didn’t because of the unwritten rule. But these were the folks that worked on questions similar to these. My favorite “odds” question has always been: “If I were to launch a rocket in my front yard that would escape the earth’s gravity, what would be the odds the rocket would hit Mars?”

And, I’ve heard other “odds” questions that my friends always wanted answered, but never approached the respected actuaries.

And what follows is related. Trust me.

So, Monday, my wife, Patti, and I were traveling from Austin, Texas to a little town north of Tampa, Florida to spend some time with family. We were traveling down the east/west/east racetrack called I10. Our car has XM/Sirius radio and we were listening to the channel called Prime Country.  Lots of Reba McIntyre, Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Trisha Yearwood and other country artists that don’t currently rank in the top 10.

Charley Pride

Charley Pride

We were traveling east and just at the moment we began crossing the huge bridge over the Mississippi River near downtown Baton Rouge, country artist Charley Pride began singing “Roll On Mississippi.” I kept staring straight ahead, but looked at Patti out of the corner of my eye. Unbeknownst to me, Patti was giving me the very same look.  So, what are the odds that just as we are traveling through the bridge over the river, Charley Pride would , at that moment, sing “Roll On Mississippi?” I haven’t a clue, nor would I know how to even try to calculate those odds.

We both knew right then that something unique was happening, but in the whole scheme of things, didn’t quite know how special that moment truly was. It’s not like that radio channel plays lots of Charley Pride music. Occasionally, but certainly not randomly. No doubt, Charley Pride has had his share of hits over the years. He’s the singer of “Kiss an Angel Good Morning,” “Just Between You and Me,” “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone?,” “Burgers and Fries,” and “Kaw-Liga.” But rarely do you hear these songs on the radio any more.

So, in conclusion, I am glad to be retired from consulting, because if I was returning to work after this trip, the temptation to “ask an actuary” about the odds of that moment would be outrageously phenomenal, and I am absolutely certain that I would break the unwritten rule.

This past Saturday, my daughter, Casey, and her fiancé, Rick, were united in marriage. My brother-in-law, Jim, presided over the ceremony, which took place at sundown in a rustic setting on a ranch in Dripping Springs, Texas.

Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters joined long-time friends in celebrating the union through dinner and drink, the cutting of the cake and dancing. There were more smiles in the room than the number of paparazzi stalking ALL the Kardashians.

Casey and Rick

Casey and Rick

Ok, those are pretty much the basics, but, in no way, does that capture the emotional side: the love, the passion and feeling that encompassed the entire event, from the months-long advance preparation, the setting up of the venue, the getting ready, the vows, the picture-taking and the celebration of friends and family united in encouraging and supporting the effort of both the bride and groom to include as many as possible in the event itself.

For example, simple statistics showed the likelihood that I would be able to attend the wedding was not high. I was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer over three years ago. Every day is a blessing. So, Casey fashioned the color purple (pancreatic cancer awareness) into just about every aspect of the event. Bridesmaids wore purple dresses. Casey wore purple shoes and carried a purple bouquet. Patti wore a lovely purple dress that accented her beauty and her smile.

Rick’s father, Bob, is a rice farmer, so, in preparation, the bride and her attendants made purple rice and included some in every lantern on every table and up and down the aisle where they exchanged vows.

Under a fold in Casey’s wedding dress, she fashioned two hearts — one blue from a business shirt of mine and one white lace from her mother’s wedding dress. The hearts were sewn into the dress and Casey included my father’s wedding band that I wore, and a wedding band from her grandmother. So, she had the something borrowed and something blue, but these were not visible for anyone to see.

When I was working, I liked wearing bow ties. Still do. For me, there is just something therapeutic in taking the time to tie them. Bow ties are just not easy to tie, but I enjoy it. Consequently, Rick and I wore purple bow ties. Groomsmen wore purple ties. And there were other purple accents as well.

Casey and Cancer Boy

Casey and Cancer Boy

We should have invited the author Dan Brown because there was so much symbolism taking place that Robert Langdon would have understood it.

On the wedding day, after all the last-minute details were complete, family and friends were seated and the groomsmen had walked to their place in front, I was standing in the barn before double doors. I had not seen Casey all day. The photographer and an attendant told me to turn around. I was not prepared at all for what I was to see.

Seeing my daughter in her wedding dress, everything immediately became slow motion. She was radiant, glowing, every Shakespearean sonnet’s definition of beauty. I kissed her on the cheek through my tears and I could hear her say what seemed to be slow motion, “Dad, are you ready?” But, as I stood there and looked at her, all I could hear were melodious sounds of small voices: “I will not wear diapers again! Dad, I’m learning to play softball, and it’s really fun. I didn’t think I would like learning to drive on snow, but I do. I did it — I gradumicated! Dad, there’s a guy I would like you to meet!” All these swirled around her like winged white doves perching on the cascading music notes of a scale. She was just beautiful and her smile was exhilarating and illuminating.

After I had a moment to compose myself, and brush away the tears, the doors opened and we walked down the aisle to the song Over the Rainbow. Beside my own wedding to Patti, this was the most beautiful day of my life, and I am so grateful to God for allowing me to be there.

After the vows, we all moved into the barn for dinner and dancing. Rick and his mother, Debbie, had a dance, which was glorious. Then, Casey and I had a dance to Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World. I kissed her on the cheek several times, told her how proud I was of her and how beautiful she was on her special day.

Then, a very special part of the evening occurred. Patti and I danced to Diamond Rio’s One More Day. Most of the people in the room knew about the cancer, so there was not a dry eye in the house. Sorry, folks! But I so enjoyed dancing with my wife, it just made me think of our wedding date 29 years ago and how much our love has grown over the years. Patti is truly the best thing that ever happened to me. I can only hope to give her half as much joy as she has given me.

After the initial dances, dinner was served, followed by people visiting with each other and more dancing. Rick and Casey cut their wedding cake, and after everyone had their dessert, there was more dancing. Well, I think it was dancing. Shortly before the wedding, Casey asked me to siphon through my iTunes account and come up with some songs that would be good for dancing and the event. So, I did. Came up with three pages, single-spaced list of songs for her to consider and discuss with the DJ. Van Morrison’s Have I Told You Lately That I Love You, Frank Sinatra’s I Get a Kick Outta You, several Alan Jackson songs, just a myriad of romantic songs. When the night was over, I think that I had heard only about three that I had recommended. I believe what played was more a decision by the DJ than anyone.

When I think back to the wedding and reception, there is one paramount feature that surrounds and triumphs all others: the room was just filled with smiles of lovely people all around, everyone positive, enjoying themselves, smiling, touching and encouraging each other to embrace the love in the room. I found that to be so overwhelming, it was incredible.

And, I danced. I had my cowboy hat on and truly felt like dancing as if no one was watching. I danced with my niece, Ciara, my former neighbors Kelli and Hallie, Patti and as many people as I could. I wish I could have danced with everyone. It was thrilling.

Now that the event is over, I want to thank Rick and Casey. For as our children learn from us, we can also learn from them. On most occasions of big groups or meetings and such, I tend to watch and listen. I interact, but sparingly. Casey, like her mother, is more social, more engaging. But on Saturday, I felt like i stepped into their circle and realized there is plenty of room in that circle to be not only who we are, but who we want to be. I enjoyed being more social, I enjoyed engaging others and listening to their stories and catching up with them about their kids and latest doings. I like being more personable and want to experience this more on a larger scale as I move forward.

So, to reaffirm my toast to the new husband and wife, may you live long together in each other’s arms. As for me, I will never forget this day and look forward to experiencing more of an extroverted self.

God bless you all.

Our every day language is a gift. It shows who we are as individuals, how we fit into a culture, who we want to be like, and who we don’t want to be like. Our pronunciations, word choice, dialect and expressions, again, say a lot about who we are as a people.

the_wolf_of_wall_street_minimalist_poster_by_dcomp-d6ie0crThe best authors of every generation reflect the vocal nuances of the settings of their books, as well as the plot lines their characters follow to make the books exciting for us to read — and to tell the story they want to share. For example, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird does not let a page go by that you do not know the action takes place in the deep South. And, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch helped me to feel like I was a long-time resident of Manhattan — more so than anything Woody Allen has produced.

But we may be in the midst of a sea change in the way we use language. The other day I saw a story that appeared on several news aggregators on the Internet: Characters in the movie The Wolf of Wall Street dropped the f-bomb 508 times in the movie. Really? 508 times? Who counted and why?

From the very basics that I know about moviemaking, these f-bombs were written into a screenplay that the actors used for their lines. It was planned. It was purposeful. The f-bombs were not improvisational, which, to me, is even more disturbing. I’m not a prude by any means and I’ve dropped my f-bombs, too, BUT the f-bombs are not part of the routine language of anyone I know. Even with the books I’ve read and the movies I’ve seen, the use of the inflammatory f-bomb is occasional, usually to illustrate and raise the level of intensity for a scene or plot line.  Plus, there was no tolerance for the f-bomb in the house where I was raised. And, that seems pretty common among my friends, acquaintances and family.

And, it is somewhat comforting to see the reactions of other Americans to the story about the 508 f-bombs. Many of these news aggregators allow readers to register comments about the news story. It would appear that people had strong opinions about the 508 story — many saying that the story helped them decide NOT to see the movie.

When I attended creative writing classes in college, the subject of using f-bombs took up a number of classes. The most universal feeling from the instructors was that because the f-bomb is so incendiary, that it should be used in rare occasions, and only when truly, truly warranted. The teachers cautioned that when they see a lot of f-bombs, it is usually from young writers who lack creativity and imagination. The use of the f-bomb, they said, is not really a strength, but a weakness.

And, language is changing on TV, too. A couple years ago, Patti and I changed cable providers from Time Warner to Verizon FIOS. As part of the deal, we got Showtime channels. We started watching Dexter one evening, and the female forensic pathologist on this show started spewing the f-bomb and kept it up every time she was on screen. It did not add anything to the show. We switched channels and have never watched another episode. Nor have we missed it, either.

And that gets to the cynical solution — money. The Wolf of Wall Street is not doing well at the box office. Can’t imagine why, it has Leonardo DiCaprio. The more people endorse/vote/deny with their pocketbooks and wallets, the greater likelihood that people in TV, movies and publishing will have to pay attention. I’m completely in favor of the first amendment, but I am also in favor of creative artists using judgment not shock. Shock is cheap, good judgment is celebratory and divine.

The following is an interactive survey/quiz that says a lot about our talking patterns. It was in today’s NYTimes. Patti and I had a real blast with it. Apparently, after I took the quiz, it showed that my talking patterns are more in common with folks who live in Amarillo, Lubbock and Ft. Worth.

Take the test and LET ME KNOW what part of the country reflect your talking patterns. This will be fun.

Merry Christmas to you all.

INTERACTIVE GRAPHIC: How Y’all, Youse and You Guys Talk
What does the way you speak say about where you’re from? Answer the questions to see your personal dialect map.

The other day, Patti had to run some errands. I went along, but as is pretty customary, she let me off at Half-Price Books while she took care of things.

Half-Price Books will sell you used books at discounted prices, and they will buy your used books, too.

I noticed when I entered the store there was wonderful music playing overhead. Thank goodness, no hip-op or rap music, but lots of 60s and 70s album music. So, not necessarily the top-selling song from the album way back when, but another popular song or two from the album. I loved it.

It was a very diverse set of customers that day: moms with children; older couples; teenagers; a couple of guys dressed like they just got off the construction crew; and, a guy in a suit. Still a pretty good, random set of folks all looking to read. Excellent.

I wandered the aisles for a while, picking up a book here and there that I wanted to look at, and listened to the music. After about 45 minutes, I had two-three books and I found a chair that could afford me a view of most of the store. The chair was against the outside window, between two large twirling racks of calendars. There was another chair on the other side of the calendar rack on my right.

As I sat there looking at the books and the customers, I heard the Beatles’ song I Will from the White Album playing overhead. Wow! Incredible song. Not the best one on the album, but, hell, all of them from the White Album were wonderful.

As the song played, a Hispanic father holding two little girls sat down in the chair on the other side of calendar rack. Who knows how long I’ve loved you. You know I love you still. He began humming to I Will and I could hear him. Straight ahead in the aisle of books directly in front of me (the fantasy section), a thin man with gray hair and T-shirt, began singing the song in a fairly low voice. His voice coincided directly with the man’s sitting next to me. He patted his hand in rhythm to the song on his jeans. For if I ever saw you, I didn’t catch your name.

At that moment, two older folks came in — about my age. He had gray hair, with shirt tucked in and leather shoes. She had closely cropped hair and was shorter than him. The two started looking at the first display table inside the door, and I could see them from my perch. The man started moving his right hand as if he were a conductor directing an orchestra to play the song while looking at the books. But it never really mattered, I will always feel the same. Then, he started humming the song, too.

So, as I am sitting there, there were three people who did not know each other, each with their own agenda, connecting through a song that was popular in the 60s. For a few moments, I watched all of them. They kept up their humming and low singing until the Beatles finished the song. And, I just smiled through all of it.

Love you forever and forever
Love you with all my heart
Love you whenever we’re together
Love you when we’re apart.

That’s what makes for thrilling days.

Today I visited the oncologist for chemo and a review of the results of a CT scan I had this last week.

Continued good news: the active tumors in my lungs, liver and pancreas are shrinking. Everything else in the chest and abdomen and pelvis are normal. As an example of the kind of shrinkage, a tumor in my pancreas was 3.9 x 2.2 cm. That was my last CT scan six months ago. Last week’s scan showed the new size is 3.1 x 1.7 cm. Not a tremendous amount of shrinkage, but, hey, no growth!

Thank you, Lord, for your presence. And, thanks to all of you for your prayers and well wishes. I love you all.

To help us all celebrate the good things that  happen in our lives, take a listen: