Friday, October 31, 2014

Failed Ghost Hunter

Happy Halloween!

Why don't Ghosts Like Me? 

I believe in ghosts, but they don't like me
Why can’t we all get along?
What I want most
Is to see a real ghost
And then they can just move on

I'm a failed ghost hunter
I’m just no good
The spirits know that I’m a freak
I do what I should
To find them lurking
All I want is one little peek

From Williamsburg to the California shoreline
I’ve seen ghost shrines in a colonial town 
In San Diego
At the Coronado
I looked everywhere but they wouldn't come around

I watch the movies and I read the books
I take a look but I just don’t see
My spine won’t tingle
No bells will jingle
They must be hiding from the likes of me

(c) 2014 Renata Manzo

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

I believe in ghosts; why don't they believe in me?

When the shrill winds are screaming
And the evening is still
Lady Samantha glides over the hills
In a long satin dress that she wears every day
Her home is the hillside, her bed is the grave
Lady Samantha, lyrics by Bernie Taupin
(c) 1968 Dick James Music Limited 

 I’ll freely admit that I believe in ghosts.  I love reading ghost stories and visiting haunted places.  I’ve read many of Williamsburg author L.B. Taylor’s ghost books (Ghosts of Williamsburg, Ghosts of Richmond, etc. ) 

 I believe in ghosts, but they don’t seem to believe in me.  I don’t know why.  I thought ghosts were supposed to visit people who are open to them.   Even if ghosts don't exist, or perhaps especially if they don't exist, I should have seen one by now.   According to a recent article in The Richmond-Times Dispatch, a few people have "fantasy-prone personalities, meaning that such people are "imaginative and highly suggestible . . . Sometimes . . . people report seeing or hearing paranormal things in settings where they are expected to detect something."  Does Henrico Man really see ghosts?, Richmond-Times Dispatch, October 25, 2014. 

Really?  I've lived in, and visited, many places that are supposed to be haunted.  I am imaginative and highly suggestible, since I'm already a believer.  So why don't I see them?

Williamsburg, Virginia, where I went to college and law school, is supposed to be very haunted.  No wonder, given its age and history.  The Reverend Dr. W. A. R. Goodwin, the clergyman usually given credit for the idea of restoring Colonial Williamsburg, once told newspaper columnist Ernie Pyle “I wouldn’t give a hoot for anybody who doesn’t believe in ghosts.”  So I’m in good company.  If you want to read about Dr. Goodwin and his spectral friends, go here.  There's even a rather spooky picture of the Reverend himself.

I lived in Williamsburg for six years. I visited many of the historic buildings, including the Governor’s Palace, which is supposed to be haunted by the ghost of Ann Skipwith ,and I took an ethics course in the Wren Building.  I even helped a friend house sit in a restored house on Duke of Gloucester Street over Thanksgiving one year.  (The Williamsburg Foundation used to let its employees rent houses in the restored area; it may still do this.)   

In all that time, I never saw a single ghost. 

The Wren building, which is the oldest academic building in the U.S. in continuous use, is purported to be haunted by a Revolutionary War soldier and/or Christopher Wren, who supposedly either designed or "modeled" the building, whatever that means.

The Wren Building
Flanking the Wren Building are the two other original school buildings, both of which are also supposed to be haunted.   The Brafferton, which is now used as an administrative building, at one time housed a school for Indian boys.  The idea was to "civilize" the natives.  The project was a fiasco.  The Indians hated being taken away from their tribes, and the Colonists weren't about to accept them as members of their society.   Plus, many of them got sick because they were exposed to germs they weren't able to withstand.  Now the departed souls of these poor boys wander the halls, trying to escape.   Can you blame them?

Across from the Brafferton is the President's House.  When I was an undergraduate (back before indoor plumbing), the College President was a wonderful man named Thomas Graves.  Once during a reception, I got a chance to talk to him.  Naturally I asked him about ghosts in the President's House.  He kindly told me stories about his experiences with his home's previous residents, some of whom checked out but never left.  I was delighted. 

Two summers ago, on a very hot July day, Audrey and I visited Berkeley Plantation.  I had read all sorts of stories about the ghosts there.  Ghosts who are said to haunt the house include William Harrison IV (Benjamin V's father) and two daughters who were killed in 1744 by a freak lightning strike while they tried to close a window. The infant Benjamin, who was in one of his sister's arms at the time, survived, but his sister's ghost can nonetheless be seen carrying a baby when she appears.

We took the tour, and as the group left each room, I would hang back and look around, hoping to see or hear something strange.  Nothing.  I guess ghosts don’t like heat or humidity either.

I’ve been on ghost tours, including one in Ellicott City, Maryland, which is supposed to have a plethora of ghosts.  The tour started after dark on a creepy November night.  We heard lots of stories, but nope, nothing there either.

When I travel for work and get to stay at historic hotels, I research them online first to see if there are any ghosts associated with the hotel.  Then, while I’m there, I strike up a conversation with one of the housekeeping staff and ask them if they have ever experienced any strange occurrences.  I usually get some terrific stories.

The Hotel Monaco in Washington D.C.
Recently I stayed at the Hotel Monaco in Washington D.C.  The hotel is located in an old building that used to be the U.S. Post office.  I happened to see a maid outside my room and asked her about ghosts.  She said she had never experienced anything spooky, but she said several other staff had.  Then she pointed to the room next to us.  (416 or 418).  She said a famous celebrity (she didn’t say whom) stayed in the room and got up at 4 in the morning, left the hotel and said he would never come back.

I read several ghost stories about the Hotel Monaco at Historic Hotels of America, including this one:

One afternoon a construction worker was startled by the sight of a beautiful woman standing in the courtyard's entrance-an area off limits to the public. He was perplexed by her attire - she was dressed head to toe in clothing of the Civil War era. She stared longingly out towards the street, as if she were waiting for something or someone to arrive, and then disappeared into thin air.  Confused by what he saw, the construction worker sought an explanation. Why was she there, and what was she waiting for? He later found out that in the Civil War era, home delivery of mail did not exist, so it was common to see women pacing the courtyard of the General Post Office eagerly awaiting the delivery of the day's mail for news of loved ones. Paranormal experts believe the construction worker witnessed a ghost, awaiting a letter from her husband who was off at battle. Her anxious expression was likely due to her hopes that she would be receiving a love letter, rather than a letter informing her of his death in the line of duty. . . . Legend has it that Hotel Monaco's Paris Ballroom was used as a surgical room during the Civil War. Guests and employees of the hotel have reported hearing whispering in the ballroom thought to be the murmurings of doctors in surgery, and many have claimed to see the ghosts of doctors and nurses hurriedly walking the hotel's long corridors. 

The Union Station Hotel in Nashville
A couple of years ago, on a business trip to Nashville, I stayed at the Union Station Hotel.  It used to be a train station.   I really loved the ghost stories about this hotel, including this one, borrowed from the website gothic horror stories.  

The Union Station Hotel in Nashville is a non-smoking hotel, and the lady needed a smoke before bed. She stepped out on the old platform, saw the bellhops and valets busy at their station and lit up. At the end of the platform she notices a woman, looking anxiously about, and pays little attention. The woman appears to be wearing clothes more popular in the 1940’s than today, but that’s not so unusual on a Saturday night in Nashville. The mysterious woman turns the corner and starts down the platform at the back of the hotel, and curious, the lady follows her. Only to find that she’s disappeared. Curious, she goes to the valet and asks if he saw the woman. He replies no, makes some pleasantries about the weather, and the lady goes back onto the platform to finish her cigarette. As she approaches the woman again appears from around the corner, goes to the rail, climbs over and jumps. The lady, watching, runs to the rail and looks around, but there’s no sign of the woman. The valet, hearing her call for help comes running, and does his best to calm the woman down. The lady regains her composure, but by now needs another smoke, lights up and begins to ponder what just happened. Then out of the corner of her eye, at the end of the platform behind the station, she sees a man. He’s wearing a World War II uniform and appears to be looking for someone. As she begins to scream he becomes misty and disappears.

I walked around that same platform at 11 at night, hoping to catch something happen.  Nothing.

Interestingly, the hotel itself often denies any such doings.  The staff is apparently trained to say there are no ghosts.  When I asked about ghosts at the desk, I received a non-committal non-answer. I find that curious since many hotels use their ghosts as a marketing tool.  Not the Union Station Hotel.  One guest tried to book the haunted room and made the mistake of telling the staff why.  The room then became unavailable.  You can read his story here.

By contrast,  Berkeley Plantation touts on its website that it is part of a ghost tour of historic plantations on the James River in Charles City County.  Side note:  I could not get any pictures of the plantation to load up to this blog.  I thought this was because of copyright protections on the photos, but even the pictures I took myself would not load.  Creepy.

Back to L.B. Taylor.  He has written 25 books about ghosts in Virginia.  I’ve read most of them, and he even signed one for me.  In spite of his research and writing, however, Mr. Taylor (who died this past February at age ­­81), said he never saw a ghost:    

 “Let’s say this,” he said in a 1995 Richmond Times-Dispatch Henrico PLUS edition interview. “Nothing has ever happened to me. I haven’t experienced a ghost. I would like to.”  Exerpt from L.B. Taylor obituary, Richmond-Times Dispatch, March 1, 2014.

Crap.  I guess I’m not the only one.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Gay Marriage -- Why all the fuss?

I believe in love, it's all we got
Love has no boundaries, costs nothing to touch
Churches and dictators, politics and papers
Everything crumbles sooner or later
But love, I believe in love
"Believe," lyrics by Bernie Taupin
(c) 1995 William A. Bong Limited
With the recent news from the U.S. Supreme Court about gay marriage,  the religious right has come out in full force to condemn it.  

I don’t understand what all the fuss is about.  If people would just listen to me, we could put this issue to bed once and for all. 

Christians who oppose gay marriage often quote scripture from the Bible in support of their position.  Simply put, it "offends God":

 Whenever one violates the natural moral order established by God, one sins and offends God. Same-sex “marriage” does just this. Accordingly, anyone who professes to love God must be opposed to it.

Marriage is not the creature of any State. Rather, it was established by God in Paradise for our first parents, Adam and Eve. As we read in the Book of Genesis: “God created man in His image; in the Divine image he created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them, saying: ‘Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.’” (Gen. 1:28-29)
-- Excerpt from "10 Reasons why Homosexual Marriage is Harmful and Must be opposed."

Ok then, if you are going to follow—and seek to enforce-- the Bible’s commands, then you have to follow all of the Bible’s commands.  You don’t get to pick and choose the ones you want to enforce, and ignore the ones you would rather weren’t in the Bible.

Therefore, if gay marriage "violates the natural moral order established by God," then so does divorce:

By law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. So then, if she marries another while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress.  Romans 7:2-3

Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.  Luke 16:18
How many of the people who are against gay marriage are also against divorce?  An even better question—how many of them ARE divorced?   Why is divorce ok but gay marriage is not?

Here’s my take on all of this.  The Bible must be read in the context of its times, economic, social and scientific.  It was written before the age of scientific discovery.  So to explain things like how the world got started, we have the story in Genesis.  Was the earth really created in six days and then on the seventh God rested? Really?  If God is all powerful, why did he need a day of rest anyway?   

The Bible is full of parables, allegories and unscientific information that’s just plain wrong.   I don’t think the Bible was ever meant to be a scientific treatise.  Even Pope Francis agrees with this.   He recently declared that evolution and the Big Bang theory are right and that God is not magician with a magic wand.  Too bad fundamentalist Christians don't listen to the Pope. 

I can’t reconcile everything that’s in the Bible.  I’m not a biblical scholar.  But I am a Christian.  As a Christian, I disagree vehemently that "anyone who loves God" must oppose gay marriage.  I think it's just the opposite.  Anyone who loves God must not condemn gay marriage.

It’s the fundamental message that Jesus brought to the world that’s important, and that message is love, tolerance and respect for others:  This is my command: Love each other.  John 15:17.

That message has not changed.  It remains as relevant today as it did back when the Bible was written.  Maybe even more relevant.

The bottom line for me is this:  If (and that is a big, qualified If) gay marriage offends God,  then it is up to God, and only God, to judge. 

Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  Luke 6:37

Even Jesus said he was not the one to judge.

As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him.  For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it.  John 12:47

The rest of us should stop condemning others and endeavor to love even those with whom we don’t agree.  In fact, those are the most important people to love and tolerate.  As Jesus said, it’s easy to love your friends.  But a true Christian must strive for more than that.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? . . but love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting anything back. Luke 6:32, 35

I guess I should take a page out of my own book and forgive those who trespassed against me, shouldn’t I?  I’m trying, I really am.


They stand in front of churches
They stand in front of crowds
They carry signs that tell us
God’s message from the clouds

God hates the constitution
He wants to pray in schools
The godly have solutions
The rest of us are fools

I guess they have a private line
Directly to the Lord
But the line must have some static
Perhaps a faulty mother board?

When I read the Bible
The message there is love
And tolerance for everyone--
That’s the dispatch from above

And if it is a sin
Whatever they decry
Jesus said, before you judge
Take that log out of your eye.

(c) 2014 Renata Manzo

Monday, October 27, 2014

Dresses for men are optional on all hikes

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful,
committed citizens can change the world;
indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead

 I met this guy recently.  Actually, I’ve never met him in person.  We are Facebook friends.  We post on the same hiking-related FB pages.  He’s a burley bear of a man, probably about my age.  No, there’s nothing weird going on between us.  He’s got a great sense of humor and posts some funny stuff.

We met when he posted that he would hike to the top of Mt. Washington (New Hampshire) in a dress if he raised $1,000 in contributions to a charity he helped found in 2011 called Hike for Mental Health.  I donated some money.  Then, when it got closer to the deadline, he posted that he was only about $200 short of his goal.  I really wanted to see this guy hike in a dress, so I donated some more money.  And I got a neat t-shirt.

He met his goal and hiked in a dress; he wasn't the only one, either.


What does hiking have to do with mental health?  Everything.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 1 in 4 adults suffers from depression, schizophrenia, or some other brain or behavior disorder in a given year.  HIKE for Mental Health wants to help.  As they say so eloquently on their website:

Hiking on backcountry trails helps many people re-connect with nature and with places within themselves that get obscured in the daily hustle and bustle. A few days in the solitude of the trail re-grounds them and helps preserve their mental health.

For people battling mental illness, however, the path to mental health is rarely so simple. Mental illness affects 1 out of 4 families in the United States, leaving those who suffer from it and their families searching for answers, cures and treatments that will allow them to experience the simple joy of living.

 HIKE for Mental Health is a registered 501(c)(3) charity.  Its mission is to:

 Increase public awareness of the challenges and suffering faced by those afflicted by mental illness and their families.

 Increase public appreciation for and responsible use of wilderness trails.

 Raise funds, principally by coordinating fundraising wilderness hikes, in order to prevent and alleviate the pain caused by mental illness and maintain and preserve wilderness trails

In distributing its net proceeds, HIKE for Mental Health directs 80% to scientific research to prevent, cure, or treat mental illness and 20% to preserve wilderness trails.   The group is operated entirely by volunteers; there are no paid positions.  All administrative costs are covered by the volunteers.

In 2012, which was only the second year it was in existence, HIKE for Mental Health attracted 26 hikers to seven hikes which, through the support of 110 sponsors and donors, raised a total of $7,734.00. They raised the money entirely through hikes.  80% of this money went to the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.  The other 20% went to the New York- New Jersey Trail Conference.

This year, they raised over $12,000 for one hike!

If you are interested in learning more about HIKE for Mental Health or would like to donate to this worthy organization, go to their website at: 

One of their goals for 2014 is to have hikes in 14 states.  When I looked on the map, I saw, much to my dismay, that there have been no hikes in Virginia!  How can that be?  Virginia has more miles of the Appalachian Trail than any other state.  This must be corrected.  Be on the lookout; I hope to sponsor a hike either later this fall or in the winter. 









Sunday, October 26, 2014

The not-so-secret secret to a happy marriage

I have to thank my friend Shirley for this.  She told me the secret many years ago, and it has made a difference in my marriage.  It’s really not a secret at all; I had heard this advice before, but somehow when she explained it, it made sense to me. 

Here’s what she said.  Sex is a physical need for men.    The desire builds up and must be released.  So, she advised me, have sex with your husband when he asks.  Even if you don’t feel like it.  That’s it.  That’s all she said.  She didn’t say it was my “wifely duty” or anything like that. 

Now, before I am accused of telling woman to be subservient to men, believe me I’m not.  I’m a card-carrying, Gloria Steinham, Ms. Magazine feminist.  I grew up in the era of burning bras and “I am Woman, hear me roar.”  I'm no doormat.

I’m just saying that sex is a big part of a successful marriage.  It’s not the only thing of course. Having good sex does not guarantee  a good marriage.  If there are other issues, sex won't fix them.  No, good sex does not guarantee a good marriage, but I’ll bet every happy marriage includes a good sex life.  

But there’s another side to this coin.  Men, if you want your woman to enjoy sex, you have to do it right.  It’s not all about you.  She needs to have a good time.  And that means one thing, and it starts with a “C”.  If you don’t know how to do it, learn.  Google it or buy a book.  Don’t try to learn from porn; they don’t do it right.  Don't slap the kitty.  If you can learn to keep the kitty purring, your wife will chase you into the bedroom, I promise you.

Why is this so important?  Because men love sex.   As Shirley told me, it’s a physical thing for them.  So,  if you are not having sex with your spouse, someone else probably is. 

I understand that when the kids come along, we get tired and don't feel like it.  A marriage goes through peaks and valleys in this way.   It doesn't take very long, however, and if done correctly, both parties feel better afterwards. 

If you think this does not apply to your marriage, then you are wearing blinders.  I can hear the excuses and rationalizations.  No, your marriage is not an exception. 

I had a good friend who pretty much stopped having regular sex with her husband after her daughter was born. (Her daughter is now 20).   She said her husband didn't mind.  Perhaps he didn't.  Every Sunday he went to the club to get a steam.

I do not mean to say that I condone adultery; not at all.  I'm just saying that you should not neglect this part of your marriage.

Years ago I worked with a young, attractive blonde woman, who was probably in her twenties at the time.  She had married her high school sweetheart.  She seemed pretty confident that she had a good marriage.  I had no reason to doubt her until she made an off-hand comment that sent a red flag shooting up the flagpole.   

She was talking about her husband’s upcoming birthday and was describing the plans she had made to celebrate.  Then she said: 
“Of course, there’s the obligatory birthday sex.”

What?  Obligatory sex?  There’s something wrong in this marriage.  And indeed there was.  He left her for another woman just a couple of years later.  I ran into her ex and his new wife.  He was beaming and she looked at him with the most adoring eyes.  You could tell she thought he hung the moon. (No pun intended.)

If you are not willing to have sex with your spouse, someone else probably is.  And it’s not just the sex—it’s the intimacy that grows from it that’s important too.  Sex brings you closer together, both literally and figuratively. 
Another time,  I was talking to a different friend.  She had been married a long time.  She was telling me about her recent vacation and how great it was.  And then she said:
“X was bugging me so I had sex first thing to get it out of the way so I could enjoy myself.” 

Another red flag.  A couple of years later I ran into her after not having seen her for about a year.  She told me she was divorced.  She said her husband just up and served her with divorce papers right out of the blue.

“Were you surprised?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said.

I wasn’t.   And sure enough, he had another woman waiting in the wings.

This is all just my opinion, mind you.  I'm not an expert on marriage.  But I do know a thing or two about happiness, if you get my drift.


Friday, October 24, 2014

Salvation: Jesus did not die on the cross so you could lie your way to a promotion

I have to say my friends
 This road goes a long, long way
 And if we're gonna find the end
 We're gonna need a helping hand
I have to say my friends
 We're looking for a light ahead
 In the distance a candle burns
 Salvation keeps the hungry children fed
It's gonna take a lot of salvation
What we need are willing hands
You must feel the sweat in your eyes
You must understand salvation
A chance to put the devil down
Without the fear of hell
Salvation spreads the gospel 'round
And frees you from yourself
Salvation, lyrics by Bernie Taupin
© 1972 Dick James Music Limited

          It’s no wonder that so many people hate organized religion.  Religion has been used to justify war, genocide, imperialism, segregation and all sorts of discrimination.  Remember studying “Manifest Destiny” in the eighth grade?  No?  Well I do.  It was a widely held belief in the 19th century that it was God’s will that American settlers expand throughout the continent.  It was used by politicians to justify the war with Mexico in 1840 and the genocide of native Americans so the country could expand all the way to the west coast. 

           In 1959, religion was used to try to justify segregation and laws against interracial marriage:

“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents.  And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages.  The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

 – Judge Leon M. Bazile, January 6, 1959

Then on a personal level, there’s the “I’m not perfect, just forgiven” mentality, which argues that it’s ok to lie, cheat and generally be an asshole because Jesus forgives us for our sins.  I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind when he said:  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  Matthew 26:28, NIV. 

 Jesus did not die on the cross so you could throw a colleague under the bus in order to get a promotion.
 Which brings us to today’s song parody, entitled “Good Christian Woman,” to be sung to the tune of the Rolling Stone’s “Honky Tonk Women.”
I met a Yale-bred lawyer down in Richmond
She tried to throw me underneath a bus
She told me that she’d pray for me on Sunday
Because she didn’t smoke or drink or cuss

She’s a good Christian woman
Gimme, gimme,  gimme the hypocrite blues

The girl in HR said she couldn’t help me
The nemesis, she said, was here to stay
She offered me advice that I should follow
“If you see her coming, you should pray.”

The nemesis she sings in her church choir
But honesty don’t bother her too much
I wonder when she runs her colleagues over
Does she ever even feel the slightest bump?

She smiles like a giant Cheshire tabby
Her mouth is full of lies as well as gums
And when she stabs the minions in the backside
Onward Christian Soldiers she does hum

When she meets the GC she brings good news
"I solved another problem; it’s no more"
Of course she fails to mention to the GC
There really weren’t no problem there before
(c) 2014 Renata Manzo-- this is a work of my imagination.  Any resemblance to an actual person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. 


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Why am I doing this?

I tell you the truth can be painful
 And the mainstream of life can be cruel
 If you believe in your chances today
 you could be a fool, don't you be a fool, oh no
Revenge is mine, oh no
 A case of do or die
 Gather round if you want to be free
 Sing the words to this song
 We go up the revolution, go down to what you mean to me
 When achieving the impossible is a possibility
 It's a time for any loser to win, it's how you play the game
 Don't you start the revolution without me in another name
Up the Revolution, by Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb, Maurice Gibb, David English
© 1986 (unknown)
Right after (by that I mean, the same day)  I revived the blog, a dear friend sent me an e-mail.  After admitting she had not read the blog, she warned me that if I was going to look for employment in the future I should not say anything negative that could be seen, because this stuff gets seen.

Well, that’s kind of the idea of the blog.  I want these things to be seen.  No one is paying attention to what’s going on in corporate America; maybe if enough people like me keep talking about it, someone might finally pay attention.

I’m not worried about my future in corporate America.  That ship has sailed.  I’ll go work in McDonalds if I have to.  

Besides, this is not just about me.   Yes, I’m still angry about how I was treated, but I’m even more angry about how some of the people I worked with—the most dedicated, honest and hardworking people I have ever met—were treated.  I watched people get promoted not because they had the right skill set, but because they were friends with the right people.  Or, as my always graphic husband puts it:  “it’s not who you know, it’s who you blow.” 

I was always the one who spoke out about something that seemed to be bothering the collective.  But most people are afraid to speak out because that might be "a career limiting move”.   I don’t blame them at all.  Self-preservation is very important, especially when you have a family to support.  We all have to do that.  I should keep my mouth shut, swallow hard and mind my own business.

But I can’t, and usually it is to my own detriment.    I got kicked out of my seventh grade science class permanently because I told the teacher, in class, in front of everyone, that he spent too much time lecturing us about failing, when most of us were working hard in class.  By most of us, I meant me, because I had no way of knowing how many kids in the class were in fact failing.  So I became the self-selected spokesman for all of us maligned and bored kids.  I spent the rest of the semester in the library researching evolution.   Funny, I didn’t mind.  I wrote a hell of a report on the subject. 

Yup, the die is cast for me.   These are important issues and they are worth speaking out about.   Even if no one but the choir is listening. 

On that heavy note, let’s lighten things up.   Today I offer you my takeoff  of  “Benny and the Jets.”    My version is “Penny, Place your Bets.”  If you can guess what show I was watching right before I wrote it, please leave me a comment with your answer. 

And please share this blog.  This  week I've made 27 cents in ad revenue!

Hey girls, let’s all go to Vegas
Penny left her boyfriend
And she wants to make him jealous
We’ll see a show or two
So come along
She’s gonna spend his hard-earned money
Until it’s all gone.

Say, Amy and Bernie have you seen her yet?
What’s taking her so long?
P-P-P-P Penny place your bets
Oh but her hair’s not perfect yet
Oh girl won’t you please come down
She’s got a sparkly dress
She likes to look her best
We’ll miss the free drinks when they come around
P-P-P-P Penny place your bets

Now we’re ready to get started
Maybe it’s useless
But Penny throws dice farther
We’ll play some craps until our favorite show
Then we’ll listen to the red piano
Until it’s time to go . . .

(c)  2014 Renata Manzo

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Turns out, you CAN walk away the blues

And while I'm away
Dust out the demons inside
And it won't be long before you and me run
To the place in our hearts where we hide
And I guess that's why they call it the blues
Time on my hands could be time spent with you
Laughing like children, living like lovers
Rolling like thunder under the covers
And I guess that's why they call it the blues
I Guess that's why they call it the Blues, lyrics by Bernie Taupin
(c) 1983 Big Pig Music Limited
        I think that "the blues" is not a fair term for depression.  It seems to minimize the illness somehow, as if all you need is a great song or for your lover to come back to get rid of them.
        It's not so easy in the real world. 
        Even though I feel great right now, I know better than to think I've been "cured" of depression.  If it's like diabetes or high blood pressure, you can only manage the symptoms; but you can't be freed from it entirely.   Just like cancer, you take the treatment and then hopefully it doesn't come back.  Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't.   
       So that's why I have to take the meds even when I feel good.  Depression is not a mood that I can change with the right "cognitive" therapy.  Depression is a medical condition with the source being something not quite right in the body.   Something to do with nerve endings not having the right something in between them?  I can't quite remember, and it doesn't matter that I don't understand it because I still have to take my meds.  I'd rather know stuff that makes me feel good. 
        Which gets me to the point of this blog.   The good news is that you can do something that will make you feel much better, and it is not a medicine.  It's that thing that makes you feel better both physically and emotionally, and sometimes you get to see great scenery too. (That means it's not sex, unless you like to do it in scenic places or you consider your partner's body to be great scenery.)
         Yes, I mean hiking, but more generally, walking.  Walking is the best medicine.  It can be as simple as walking around your neighborhood or in a nearby park, or walking on a treadmill inside (although I prefer the former to the latter).  I've always like to walk outside, and hiking in the woods is the nirvana of walking. 
      The trees are somehow soothing to me.  The circle of life and all that.  Who am I kidding?  I don't really care much for that side of it; I just like being in the woods.
   Recently I came across something that affirmed for me that walking is good for you; even better, it says walking provides the inspiration for creativity.    
    If you are a Breaking Bad fan, then you will appreciate this little factoid. "The full significance of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle only struck British physicist Paul Dirac when the latter was out for a long walk."   I assume this is the same Heisenberg; I could never tell if Walter was saying "Heisenberg" or "Eisenberg."  
      Seriously, though, go here:  It's an article from the BBC Magazine that talks about famous walkers and how walking helped their creativity.  For example, Charles Dickens walked 20 miles a day!  That's a lot of walking.  
           Although the following view point is not supported by scientific study, author Geoff Nicholson explains in layman's terms how walking improves creativity:
"There is something about the pace of walking and the pace of thinking that goes together. Walking requires a certain amount of attention but it leaves great parts of the time open to thinking. I do believe once you get the blood flowing through the brain it does start working more creatively," says Geoff Nicholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking. Your senses are sharpened. As a writer, I also use it as a form of problem solving. I'm far more likely to find a solution by going for a walk than sitting at my desk and 'thinking'."
       My thoughts exactly.  When I have an issue at work that needs a creative solution, I walk around the office, or to the ladies room.  And now that it has gotten cooler I've been walking around the lake behind my office building in Innsbrook.  It has a paved path that follows the lake's contours, plus adds a few turns and twists that mean a full loop equals 1.25 miles.  Twice around and I have my activity points for the day!
     So go take a walk.  You'll feel better, I promise.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Watch out, Weird Al Yankovich

Luther left us first light Friday morning
Little Dan and Becky waved goodbye
They're gonna have to share the weight together
Idle hands will see a good farm slowly die
Gone to Shiloh for the Union
Shoulder to shoulder, side by side
Gone to Shiloh, hope springs eternal
When flags and bullets start to fly
April's come and the air smells fresh with rain
They watched his shadow fade around the bend
He's headed for a different kind of thunder
And the stunned surprise in the eyes of dying men
Gone to Shiloh for the Union
Shoulder to shoulder, side by side
Gone to Shiloh, time passes slowly
When flags and bullets start to fly
The old black rooster sang him down that dirt road
His step seemed bold, his manner fancy-free
I pray we see him alive and well in the fall here
Than that God-forsaken place in Tennessee
Gone to Shiloh for the Union
Shoulder to shoulder, side by side
Gone to Shiloh, men stand united
When flags and bullets start to fly
After all of this
If we should prevail
Heaven help the South
When Sherman comes their way
Gone to Shiloh, lyrics by Bernie Taupin
(c) 2010 Mercury Records

 Obviously, I like to write.   It's cathartic and it amuses me.   I got this wild idea recently to write song parodies.  Don't ask me why.  I can only say it amuses me.
    Unfortunately, I can't sing anymore and I don't play any musical instruments an more, so I can only post the lyrics.  You'll have to add the music yourself in your head.  If anyone out there wants to record them, let me know.  I'll handle getting the appropriate copyright licenses.
    The first one I'm going to share with you is, unfortunately, not from a popular song.  It's from the album (do we still call them albums?) The Union, by Elton John (who else?) and Leon Russell.  If you were born before 1970  you'll probably remember him.  He liked to wear top hats back then.  He's about 70 now and lives in Nashville.  Elton John is a big fan.  Apparently a couple of years ago, Elton was listening to Leon and decided to do an album with him. That's Leon on the right.

     The original song is called "Gone to Shiloh". It's a lugubrious song about a soldier who leaves Tennessee to fight for the Union.  Not for the Confederacy, but for the North.  
    Tennessee had split loyalties at the start of the "War of Northern Aggression" (the Civil War to anyone living anywhere but the South.)   The landowners in the western part of the state, many of whom owned slaves, wanted to secede.   Many of the folks living in the mountains wanted to stay with the Union.  Tennessee as a state eventually sided with the Confederates, but some people who lived in the mountains did fight for the Union.  Hence the song.
      I discovered an unusual connection with this particular song.   The first time I heard it, I was in a car travelling to the Smokies to do a section hike on the A.T.   This section of the A.T. runs back and forth across the Tennessee and North Carolina borders.
     While we were hiking one day, we came across a small gravesite.  The AT guide explained that the graves belonged to several soldiers who lived in the area and went to fight for the Union.  On a trip back home during the war, they were ambushed by Confederate sympathizers and killed.  The event is called the Shelton Laurel Massacre. The soldiers in this gravesite were actually from North Carolina, not Tennessee.  Like Tennessee, some people living in the mountains of western North Carolina sided with the Union.

The Shelton Gravesite just off the Appalachian Trail

When we saw the gravesite, it was surrounded by a low white fence, and the graves were decorated with flags.  The site is located near a fire road, which makes it accessible.   Someone cares for this site very much.
     With that serious and tragic background, we get to the song and the parody.  It seemed to me that a serious song called for a light-hearted parody to brighten the mood.  Hence, "Gone to Shiloh for the Union" became "Gone to Macy's for the Weekend."   Here's a link to youtube if you want to watch Elton and Leon perform the song: Gone to Shiloh

Gone to Macy's

Marcie left them whining in the morning
Jordan and the two kids waved goodbye
They're gonna have to make their lunch together
Grubby hands will see a clean wall quickly dye

Gone to Macy's for the weekend
Looking for bargains, in the right size
Gone to Macy's, hope springs eternal
When sales and coupons start to fly.

The weekend's come and the sale has just begun
They watched her Tahoe head out toward the sun
She's headed for a different type of playdate
And her credit card will melt when she is done.

Gone to Macy's for the weekend
Looking for bargains, in the right size
Gone to Macy's, the parking deck is busy
When sales and coupons start to fly

The silver sneakers eyed her with suspicision
Their steps were slow, their faces rather droll
They can't wait for the friggin' sale to be over
A quiet mall is how they like to roll

Gone to Macy's for the weekend
looking for bargains, in the right size
Gone to Macy's, time passes quickly
When sales and coupons start to fly.

After all of this
If she shops the sales
Heaven help the mall
When Marcie sees percale

(c) 2014 Renata Manzo