Keeping up with The Jones

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Tape delay

I love the NBA’s annual slam dunk contest. I know some consider it outdated and boring, past the point of innovation and novelty. I don’t care; I look forward to it every year. Sure, some years offer less creativity, talent, and showmanship than others, but you still never know what these spectacular athletes will pull off. Despite the claims of some that it will never be as good as ‘Nique versus Jordan, it was just a few years ago that Vince Carter pulled off the greatest all around performance I’ve ever seen. And just last year Iguodala pulled off what might have been the most amazing dunk ever.

This year I had two problems. One, I was going to be away the Saturday the contest took place and might not be home in time to catch it. And two, I don’t have access to TNT, even if I made it home. So I asked Frannie to tape it for me. She’s one of the few people I know who still relies heavily on VHS, and she’s perhaps an even bigger NBA fan than I am, so I knew she wouldn’t miss it. Since Frannie doesn’t live near me, I just had to wait a while for the tape to arrive in the mail.

In the meantime, I was determined to avoid learning anything about what had transpired: who won, who flopped, what crazy dunks were busted out. First step, no sports internet sites. This was a bit of a sacrifice, but the beauty of the 24 hour sports news culture is that within a day or so it was all old news. Next step, no Monday sports recap shows (Horn, PTI). And finally, avoid the dreaded human element. This was a bit tricky, since I spend most afternoons with a bunch of teenage boys who thought it was hilarious to shout out the names of the contestants while acting out their dunks as I ran from the room.

By the end of the week I figured I was in the clear. The contest was ancient history in the sports world, even to my drop-in guys. Saturday, while I was hanging out with Pierre and Jackie, we went to her parents’ house. I love her dad because every time I walk in the door he has a game on. This time as I took my seat in the living room, I realized too late that the sports program he was watching was leading into a dunk contest recap. There was no escape. A week’s worth of dodging bullets and now all I could do was politely sit through ninety seconds of spoilers.

So congratulations Gerald Green, 2007 Dunk Champion. I still look forward to actually watching your victory.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


My friend Pierre is dating a girl who lives in Jersey City. He comes down from Framingham, Mass, every other weekend to see her and crashes at my place when he does. It’s a free place to stay and a good excuse to see an old friend.

Pierre and Jackie are Egyptian and they worship in the Coptic church. Yesterday the three of us were hanging out and last night we went to their church for a service that in English means “praises.” Once before I’ve had the opportunity to go with Pierre to a Coptic service, and it is quite an interesting experience for the English speaking protestant.

The last time I accompanied Pierre, it was during Holy week, the Tuesday before Easter. Consequently, the sanctuary was packed, and out of all the people in attendance, I may have been the only one that didn’t speak Arabic. Most of the liturgy was laid out side by side in Coptic, Arabic, and English. All in all, my biggest language barrier came from the priest who gave the lecture and would jump back and forth between Arabic and English, not always translating himself, but often in one stream of consciousness. At one point he hopped back into English and made a statement that by itself would amount to heresy; Pierre saw the look on my face and quickly explained the preceding Arabic.

This time my experience was vastly different. The Saturday evening praises are sparsely attended, mostly by young males. When we walked in (in typical Pierre fashion: late) to the nearly empty sanctuary, there were a handful of females on their side of the aisle, one man on the other, and several men standing on the platform singing and chanting. Pierre and I split from Jackie and slid between the pews a few rows back.

I tried to follow along, but again, I speak no Arabic and have forgotten most of the Coptic I picked up last time. Then I noticed one of the young men on the platform motioning in our direction. Naturally, I assumed he was signaling someone else and I focused on the screen where the words were posted. A moment later, I glanced behind me and realized there was no one there for the young man to have been signaling. Then I saw him say something to one of the others, who then walked off the platform. And right into our row. And right up to Pierre.

The next thing I know I’m kicking off my shoes and joining the others on the platform. Luckily, about half the singing was in English, so I wasn’t just standing there with my hands in my pocket the whole time. It was a bit surreal, but these experiences are always a blessing, both culturally and spiritually.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Sender Unknown

I am intrigued by spam. Not the “meat”; that’s just disgusting. I mean I am intrigued by the strategies and purposes of junk email. It seems as though there are a good number of people who waste a good deal of their time accomplishing nothing more than wasting a whole bunch of other people’s time.

Some are clearly pranks, with no real end-game other than a laugh. But most spam seems designed with the hope and intent of making a buck, whether by scam or legit product. To do this they must usually get you to visit their website. To do this they must get you to click on a link within the email they send. To do this, they must get you to open the email. This is where the process usually breaks down.

So what I am most intrigued by is spam subject lines. This is a 25 character audition to convince me to open an email. I have a friend (Maxon) who literally treats it as such: he will “reward” spammers by simply opening their email if the subject line is sufficiently intriguing and creative (I, on the other hand, like to play a little game where every email I send him has a subject line that I hope will be mistaken for spam, just to see if he’s paying attention).

Many spammers try hooking me with something they’re sure I’ll want: male enhancement, ED medication, naked ladies. I’m sure someone must open those at some point, but it’s not me. So their other tried and true tactic is masquerading as the old personal email from a friend non-spam. In my case, their strategy is half-done for them: my name is the primary part of my email address. Throw in an innocuous greeting (hey, hi, what’s up) and a common sender name and you might just get me.

For some reason, most spam subject lines are still miserable failures, with misspellings and numbers in the middle of words rampant throughout. I really enjoyed one I got today. The subject started out “For Josh.” Hey, that’s me. So far, so good. The very next word: fraud. Uh huh. And then a bunch of misspelled words.

Delete forever?

I wish.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Be Mine

I was single this Valentine’s Day, as I have been for 27 of the 29 Valentine’s Days I have encountered. For one of the two times this day fell during a period of time when I was romantically entangled, my significant other was out of town at a conference, relieving me of my Valentine duties. For the other, my performance as a Valentine would be self-rated as sub-par, but hey, I was a rookie.

The point is, for me, Valentine’s Day is a holiday still nearly wholly defined by childhood memories, with no significant later experiences to reprogram my view. This day still makes me think of a time when everybody loved everybody, at least according to the mass-produced cards we were required to give to everyone in the class. And while some may think these cards too vapid and repetitive to communicate anything more substantial than the givers preference of Garfield over Snoopy, I disagree. Even though the boxes came with the same six to eight cards repeated several times over, I would carefully consider which one fit each of my classmate’s personality best. So if anyone reading ever received a Valentine from me, the way Scooby was winking comes straight from the heart.

And if you’ve never gotten a Valentine from me, I’m sorry. Next time I’ll bring enough for the whole class.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Translation, please

We have an Albanian ESL class that meets in our building several nights a week. I’m often hanging around in the evenings while they’re here. I’ll chat with the leaders and help them with the tricky back door and lock up for them if I’m still here when they leave.

Tonight as I walked past the room where the class was in session, I heard the instructor say,



A student repeated after him. As the instructor explained a bit in Albanian, I glanced at the board and saw the word written out. It struck me as a bit odd; insult doesn’t seem like one of the more commonly used words, certainly not imperative for learning the basics of a language. I took six years of Spanish, and although I’ve forgotten a fair bit of what I learned, I don’t think I ever knew the word for insult.

Then as I walked back I heard the instructor explaining a related phrase:

“Don’t make fun of me.”

And then I realized: For an immigrant with a noticeable accent, limited vocabulary and streaky grammar, trying to learn the language on the go, these are regrettably words he may need to know early and often.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Locks of love

I haven’t paid for a haircut in over 5 ½ years. The last actual professional haircut I received was in June of 2001, just before Steve Carroll’s wedding. I was actually taking a Nazirite vow for the summer, but started it off clean since I was standing in the wedding. Over these past five plus years, there have been three different occasions where I have simply let my hair grow for ten to eleven months at a time. The rest of the time I’ve had various amateurs take clippers and just buzz it down.

Why? Well, it’s not just to save a dime, although even a conservative estimate would put my savings at hundreds of dollars by this time. There’s also the matter of comfort: I moved away from my barber of several years (the Clipper Ship) right about that time, and haven’t been able to motivate myself to hunt for a suitable replacement. And one should never overlook the entertainment value of an amateur haircut.

The first time was after one of my ten month hiatuses from cutting my hair. I let two of the teens from my church sculpt it into a fantastic mullet, complete with racing stripes, for one day. I’ve never felt so alive as I did walking around with that on my head. A couple years later, after another ten month grow-out, I actually made cutting my hair the teen group program for the week. It did not disappoint.

Over the past year or so I’ve settled into a pattern of having my sister cut my hair. I only see her every couple months at irregular intervals, but whenever I’m going to see her is when it’s time for a haircut. It takes all the subjective thinking out of the equation: just pack the clippers whenever I’m going where she’ll be.

This past week in North Carolina was one of those times. We were at my grandmother’s house, and she is very particular about her housekeeping, so there was no way we were dropping my hair inside. Luckily it was a nice enough day, so I took off my shirt and went out into the backyard. Granny told me not to worry about the hair in the yard, since the birds used to take Granddad’s hair for their nests when she would trim his hair out there. But Granny’s yard is as immaculate as her house. And I didn’t want to get hair on myself, either. So I grabbed a garbage can and put my head over it and Shannon began cutting my hair in our usual fashion.

A couple minutes later there was a knock on the back door and I heard Granny’s muffled voice from inside,

“You don’t need that garbage can. The birds will take your hair. They like it for their nests.”

I assured her that we were alright and continued on as we were. A moment later, Shannon saw what appeared to be a white ball falling off the roof. In actuality, it had fallen from a much greater height, and wasn’t exactly a ball.

As I felt the sticky splat on my bare back, all I could do was concede: you win, birds. I’ll leave my hair for your nest.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

I'm back from North Carolina

This past Wednesday we laid my Grandfather to rest. It was a beautiful service. I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but it truly was. Funerals often make me uncomfortable; not so much because of the death and grieving, although it’s often a factor. I’m often more troubled by the tendency of some to laud deceased individuals they thought so little of in life, and to speak of a better place for those whose eternal destination is at best ambiguous. I understand why it happens; I’m just thankful that phoniness and embellishment were unnecessary here.

Later that afternoon we went with Granny to buy a new TV. Hers had recently broken down and she wanted family help picking it out and getting it set up. Later that night it was rather appropriately christened with a Duke/UNC game. My mom is a UNC graduate. I’ve been raised to root Carolina blue since birth. Every time UNC plays Duke I watch not just for the game, but for the comfort of knowing that somewhere my family is watching along with me.

This rivalry is considered by many to be one of the best in sports, the most hyped in college basketball. No other team brings out the emotion in these two that they bring out in each other. Every time they play, they have a thousand reasons to do everything in their power to beat the other.

Still, I choose to believe our Tarheels won this one for Granddad.

I’m a Tarheel born,
And I’m a Tarheel bred,
And when I die I’ll be a Tarheel dead.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Graham Barnes Mills, October 10, 1916 - February 4, 2007

My earliest and most enduring memory of Granddaddy comes from my childhood family vacations to the beach. The whole family would wade out into the surf and do what we called “jumping waves.” Everyone had their own style for this activity. When I was very small and the waves seemed mountainous, my strategy was having my mighty Granddad toss me up over the top. I would sail through the air, always amazed at his seeming superhuman strength, always clearing the crest of the wave. When I would land on the other side, buoyed by my lifejacket, for a moment I would look around and be all alone. Then Granddad would pop up from under the passing wave, accompanied by everyone else, and we’d do it all over again.

Granddad would wake you each morning with a slice of freshly cooked bacon. He would make gallon after gallon of his homemade ice tea: equal parts tea and sugar. He would laugh time and again at his doppelganger, Matlock. He would tickle your feet whenever your guard was down. He would turn off his whistling ears and settle in for his beloved afternoon siesta. He would greet you with one of his world famous belly bumps.

He would tell you how much he loved you.

Granddaddy was patient. He was honest. He was generous. He was a man of unshakable faith. Other than my own father, there has been no one who has more defined for me how to be a man, how to love your family, how to love the Lord.

So it is with as much joy as grief that I face his passing. Granddad was ninety years old, and although it often seemed he would live forever, his time on this earth had come. My only disappointment comes from this disproving of Granddad’s oft professed belief that he was going with the uppertaker, not the undertaker. I’m not entirely convinced that Christ didn’t return sometime early this afternoon and I missed it.

Then again, the undertaker isn’t really taking him.

Godspeed, Granddad. I’ll see you on the other side.

Who is this Mr. Josh anyway

This morning I glanced at the bulletin and saw words I haven’t seen in the seven months I’ve worked here:

**All children 6 years and younger can meet Mr. Josh now to go upstairs**

I had forgotten that I agreed to be added to the nursery rotation, but it was no big deal because I’m pretty much a kid magnet. I took the four of them upstairs and watched them play.

I found myself trying to reason with them, “Let’s not make too much of a mess. We’ll have to pick it all up in a few minutes, so only pull out what you’ll use,” even though I knew it would be in vain. I thought back to my own childhood, when I would intentionally and strategically begin every play session by pulling every single toy off the shelves onto the floor and then wade through my playroom grabbing whatever caught my fancy and conveniently dropping it when I was done.

I remembered the philosophical battle my parents would wage each evening: teach my brother and me responsibility and accountability by making us pick everything up ourselves, or help us so we’d actually finish sometime that week. This usually didn’t turn out in their favor.

Knowing all this, when I heard the closing song playing downstairs I sprang into action. I used the old, “who can pick up the most toys the fastest” clean-up game. It worked to near perfection, with three of the four flying around the room picking up toys, while the fourth stood mesmerized saying, “that’s not a game.”

Luckily the rest were undeterred. Based on the information below, can you guess which child didn’t buy into my game:

A) a 2 year old boy, the pastor’s son
B) a 3 year old boy, sporadic attendance
C) a 4 year old girl, regular attendance
D) a 5 year old boy, the older brother of “C”

Friday, February 02, 2007


Yesterday I went back to Commerce with another chunk of change. A couple more weeks of this and we’re home free. As I approached the machine I felt someone come up behind me.

“Excuse me sir, are you familiar with how to operate our Penny Arcade?”

Yeah, I’m all set, so…

“Oh, I’m not sure we can take this money with all that debris.”

Um, well…

“Did this money come from a fountain?”


“Let me just check. No we can’t accept this.”

Well, we’ve done it before. We just kind of sift through. It works okay…

“Eventually this could cause damage to our machines.”

(That's more or less why we're looking for someone else's machine to count it)

“You’ll have to hose it off, or something. My apologies.”


Back to the drawing board. Or a Commerce Bank location finder.