Saturday, November 30, 2013

Black and White isn't just a fashionable color scheme

                One of the after effects of a large meal like Thanksgiving is the propensity to discuss those issues that would normally be avoided by those not on the edge of a food coma.  Tryptophan apparently causes neural mis-firings as well as sleepiness.  As usually happens when someone discovers I am from the South, they immediately christen me as the "voice of my people" and begin the volley of questions.  I haven’t lived in the South for 11 years; apparently my accent is permanent.  Of course I do talk to my sister about every other day and her combination of Southern and East Texas accents could cause Siri to sound like Ellie May Clampett; that may be why figurative magnolias burst forth and surround the words that I speak. 

                The conversational topic that was broached was racism.  Quite naturally, they meant in the South.  As I am used to this specificity, I broadened it to include, if we were forced to delve into the topic, racism everywhere.  It seems odd to me that there is racism period.  In this day and age, most everybody is bi-racial, even those who don’t look like they are.  Take me for example.  To the untrained eye, I look whiter than most Canadians.  In my extreme preppy clothes, I could even be mistaken for someone from Connectichusetts.  Until I open my mouth, that is.  Then people automatically put me on a plantation with Scarlett, Rhett and the lot.

                No one would believe that there is Native American blood running through my veins.  Right along with the redneck blood, should that ever be considered a race.  My father’s mother’s mother was some sort of Native American, no one can remember what so no casino money for us.  However, if you looked at some of my relatives on the Thompson side you see there is something there that’s simply "not white”.  My Dad’s brother, my Uncle JM, may he rest in peace, had the coloring and hair of our Native ancestors.  He married my Aunt Barbara, who is some percentage Hispanic, so their children are very dark complexioned.  I say that to say this, there are very few people who are “all white” so to be uptight about someone’s race or nationality is, well, silly.  If you want to dislike them for their taste in clothing, music or mode of transport, be my guest.  At least I can understand that; whether or not I agree is irrelevant.  

                I also find that most non-Southern Americans, and many members of the media, haven’t updated their opinion about Mississippi since the 1960s.  I find it truly sad to think that much of the rest of the country still assumes that there are lynchings and protests and poor treatment of anyone “not white”.  Of course these are the same people that have kept “Two and a Half Men” on the air looooooong after it stopped being funny, which was halfway through the first episode.  If you like that show, I am also sad for you but in a much more judgmental fashion.  I’m gonna pray for you, heathen.

                What people need to realize, dear readers, is that while there might be people in the South who do not like someone because of the color of their skin, it is more likely that any actual hatred is related more to the color of their football jersey.  Talk about throwing around some prejudice.  If you want to see angry Southerners, just visit Facebook on college football Saturdays.  It is brutal, y’all. 

                As I am one of the Southerners who left the South, it has fallen to me to try to explain the realities, having lived in “God’s Country” from birth through the age of 32.  I have lived in many different locales in the last 11 years including Alaska, Ohio, New England and DC, and I have experienced stupidity and prejudice everywhere. 

                Por ejemplo (which is Spanish), Native Alaskans don’t like anyone that’s not from Alaska, including anyone who lives in Anchorage because “it’s NOT Alaska”.  There’s even a town called Unalaska, which is actually in Alaska, which doesn’t make sense, but you try telling that to an Inuit.  I dare you.

               I can personally attest to blatant racism in Cleveland, OH; the tiny enclave of blue in one of the reddest states on the electoral map.  You might think the blue is from Lake Erie, but you'd be wrong.  Cleveland, while filled with great restaurants and plentiful shopping, smells like freshly mowed dog poop.  Anyone who has ever pushed a lawn mower knows that smell; a subtle mix of heatstroke and indentured servitude. When I lived in Cleveland, there were areas of town I couldn’t frequent, including the famed BBQ Place, Hot Sauce Williams.  My assistant, Valerie (hey girl!) told me she’d have to go get me the rib tip basket, which I allowed her to do but only on special occasions…like Wednesdays.  It was the same for her.  She wouldn’t have felt welcome should she want to have dinner in Little Italy which could have doubled as a break room for extras from The Sopranos, y’all.  I was nervous but the food was too good to pass up.

                I explained to my holiday companions that I am sure there are Southerners who are racist but they typically keep their mouth shut in public.  And there are those whose dislike or distrust may run very near but still under the surface.  But that’s both blacks and whites; it’s not exclusive.  I can’t think off-hand of anyone I know that actually hates somebody.   At most it’s an aversion to spending time with rather than hatred of any particular group of people.  Southerners are ultimately too polite to outwardly display any negative emotion, not related to sporting events or alcohol consumption both pro and con.

                And as per usual, the conversation always veers to the KKK, as if, again, I am the resident authority on all things Southern.  There is a resident authority.  Shelley Rushing Tomlinson is my fake cousin and the actual ‘Belle of All Things Southern’.  Since she’s not here, let me just say that I love me some John Grisham, but I don’t know anywhere I’ve lived in the South where there is a KKK chapter as active as those in his books “A Time to Kill” and “Sycamore Row”.   And I have lived in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama.  I also lived in Texas and Oklahoma but only some people consider them Southern states, I suspect only because they’ve had so many Miss Americas.

                I don’t personally know nor am I kin to anyone who is or has been active in the KKK.  It’s not an actual club, like the Junior League.  I mean, those who would have that much hate aren’t ones who tend to actually possess event planning skills.  They couldn’t/wouldn’t have a bake sale or run a thrift shop.    These are not the people you turn to when you need energetic assistance to implement your great idea.  Those who I know that might be racist to the extent they would take action are not actually capable of keeping their focus on anything longer than it takes to smoke a Marlboro Light 100. 

                These people are theoretically powerless.  They aren’t on Facebook, other than unknowingly starring in a photo montage of “People of Wal-Mart”.  They are not computer literate.   I daresay they are barely literate.  The Southerners I know are part of the literate South.  The South of Faulkner, Williams, Welty and, yes, Grisham.  The arts and letters of the south don’t spell HATE.  What they sometimes spell is not always fit to print but quite likely amuse while tailgating, sitting in a deer stand or floating down the river.  I have done all three with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

                I said much of this to my guests with my patented look which is a mixture of condescension and pity with a dash of Christian charity. I’ve been practicing, dear readers.  And I did remind them that this new generation, the Millenials, seemed poised to be the first post-racial society.  They don’t seem to be bothered by anything not displayed on their iPads or iPhones and even then it’s mostly met with duck lips and tongue wagging selfies.  This latest trend lays squarely on the shoulders of Mr. Achy-Breaky Heart, father of Destiny Hope Cyrus.  Yep, I did it.  I called out Billy Ray.  It's time to assign blame.

                I just hope that the Millenials remain otherwise occupied with Kimye and skinny jeans and don’t ever feel compelled to actually listen to Uncle Bo Jimmy Jack and absorb the hatred that he may be spouting in the privacy of his 1966 Chevy truck up on blocks in the front yard because Lord help us all if someone that backward gets the skills to utilize an iAnything or figures out how Meetup works. 

                All we can do is pray hard and pass the Fritos, bean dip and everything from the left side of the Hardee’s menu.  We’ll keep ‘em so full of grease and protein that if they ever get a mind to wreak havoc, the gout will keep them stationary.  Gout hurts, y’all.

                And I think I’ve said more than enough for now.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Uncle Dusty's Guide to Literature

                I recently attended a Q&A session/book signing for James Franco’s book, Actors Anonymous with my friend Teresa (Hi Teresa!).  I’m not quite sure if I'm a fan, and I'm also not really sure the genre and I haven’t actually read it yet but something he said during his talk I found interesting.  When asked how he is able to portray such a wide variety of people on screen, he said he finally learned how to “relax into (his) character.”  And I think that is what I have done with this blog; relax into my voice.

                When my friend Liz Shellman (Hey Liz!) suggested I chronicle the life I would lead once my Dad moved in with me, I tried to figure out just how I would say what I wanted to say.  She suggested that I “write like you talk, dude; it’ll be all good.”  That right there is some sage advice from one of my favorite Texans. 

People ask me if I’ve always been a writer and the answer is…sorta, kinda, not really.  I have always been a story teller but I haven’t always excelled putting pen to paper.  While I may have entertained at telling stories, I have found it difficult to have that same kind of connection when writing.  A writer has an edge because they can stop and think of the perfect thing to say or to formulate a brilliant quip.  Storytellers just say what they are going to say, for better or for worse. 

                And my “voice” when telling stories has remained pretty consistent; my “voice” while writing has definitely improved with age and practice.  Anyone who read anything I wrote in high school knows I was a very dramatic writer.  And not in the good way.  Were Nola Faye Boyd alive, she could attest that my first foray into short stories, the ludicrously titled “Forever, Meredith”, was a painful exercise for both writer and reader.  I can’t remember the specifics but I do know there was a jilted blind girl and, well, do I need to go on?

                Although I considered my first book A Gone Pecan (and if you haven’t purchased it, why not?) as a way to capture the essence of my mother, I have summarily been informed by innumerable people whomever’s voice is (the narrator) Cady McIntyre, it is most definitely not my mother’s.  I guess it’s mine were I to be a middle-aged woman.  When I sat down to chronicle my relationship with my father, I finally felt, at age 41, that I could just be myself, warts (or should I say, farts) and all. 

It took me until the ripe old age of 40 to stop being concerned with people’s opinion of me.  I would like to think it’s because I have become much more at ease with myself and have settled into a comfortable maturity.  Although, full disclosure, it may be because I think I am fancy enough to pass muster with anyone, should they be so inclined to ponder the wonder that is me.  Let’s go with the maturity thing.  It sounds better.

                I have recently been gifted with the newest novel from one of my favorite writers, Donna Tartt.  My best friend Christopher knows the connection I have with her first novel The Secret History and he very thoughtfully sent me a copy.  It has been sitting on my bedside table taunting me and I am, frankly, a bit nervous to start as I was disappointed with her second tome, The Little Friend.  Pondering that got me to thinking about other books or authors that have excited, illuminated, saddened or affected me profoundly and I thought I would share with you Uncle Dusty’s Guide to Literature.

1.       Candide by Voltaire.  The book that helped develop my cynical view of “classics”.  Seriously, overrated as is most of William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  The only positive outcome of publishing The Great Gatsby was the Brooks Brother’s Gatsby Collection. 

2.       In Cold Blood by Truman Capote was the book that caused a fundamental shift in my reading habits to heavily non-fiction.  Other non-fiction favorites include Isaac’s Storm and The Devil in the White City by Eric Larson; although, I did not like his In the Garden of Beasts.  Two other interesting reads are Fingerprints by Colin Beavan and Jeffrey Toobin’s The Nine.  Kim Powers’ Capote in Kansas is a fictional take on Truman Capote while visiting Kansas writing ICB.  It is excellent.  Demonstrating how hysterical non-fiction can be is Will Cuppy’s The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody.

3.       A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.  The first book to make me actually laugh out loud.  The second book that caused a lot of LOLing was Yeah, I Said It by Wanda Sykes.  The book that made me scream and throw it across the room was The Amityville Horror.  I don’t care who wrote it.

4.        Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich was the book that caused me to re-think my views on the working poor.  It also made me able to admit without embarrassment that my family has, at different times, been on food stamps and lived in a motel.  The working poor, whose number increases daily, is a shameful reality in this country.

5.        The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett and 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff are the two reasons I appreciate the novella.

6.       The memoir that helped me realize that although I am a product of my family, I am fully in control of the outcome of my life was The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.  Other surprisingly good but not life-altering memoirs are My Life in France by Julia Child and Vicki! by Vicki Lawrence.  One that was absolutely hilarious but vulgar in parts was Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson.  The memoir I wanted to like but didn’t was Ali in Wonderland by Ali Wentworth.  I only kept my copy because it’s autographed.

7.        Andy Warhol’s Diaries edited by Pat Hackett was the book that started my weird fascination with New York Society.  Interesting, funny and surprisingly down-to-earth, Andy Warhol was the master of observation.  Other Society-based non-fiction I’ve enjoyed is Philistines at the Hedgerow by Steven Gaines, The Last Mrs. Astor by Frances Kiernan and Empty Mansions by.

8.       The best book that made me uncomfortable was The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.  Difficult subject; beautifully handled.

9.        Microserfs is the book that introduced me to the genius of Douglas Coupland.  The book that made me his lifelong fan was Miss Wyoming.  The book that he signed when I met him in Alaska was Hey, Nostradamus!  He brilliantly did a reading…of John Grisham’s The Client and found a haiku about a hushpuppy!

10.   The best John Grisham book is A Time to Kill.  The next best is A Painted House followed by Skipping Christmas.  Yes, I know it was a terrible movie; the book is excellent!  Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt is one of my all-time favorites.  Clint Eastwood’s massacre of the movie is repugnant.  You can’t blame the source material, people.  On that note, I think the Harry Potter movies are the best example of my liking both the book and the movie; all eleventy-hundred of them.

11.   The books that made me want to befriend TV stars were Bossypants by Tina Fey and Is Everyone Hanging out without me and Other Concerns by Mindy Kaling.

12.   The book that began my devotion to all things British and mysterious was The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley.  All 5 entries in his Flavia De Luce series are exceptionally good.  The book that started my anglophilia was Gone With the Windsors by Laurie Graham.  Other books that have fueled my obsession are Royal Sisters by Anne Edwards, Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn and The Windsor Knot by Sharyn McCrumb, although the last one is only remotely British.

13.   My appreciation of peeks at other writer’s journals was sustained by Bill Bryson’s I’m a Stranger Here Myself, The Know-it-all by A.J. Jacobs, Reading the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) by Ammon Shea and The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose.

14.   The book that tells you it’s awesome?  The Book of Awesome by Neil Pasricha, of course.

15.   The impetus for my lifelong relationship with music trivia was The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits by Fred Bronson.

 All this book talk has me itching to read “The Goldfinch” now.  I’ll let you know what I think.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Uncle Dusty's Guide to Music Trivia

               Anyone who knows me knows I love trivia.  My mind is filled with useless information.  I like to think it makes me devastatingly interesting.  I could be wrong, but I’m not.  Wrong, that is, on most things.  My trivia team out here in the wilds of California is pretty successful in the various pubs and other locales that host trivia on week nights.  Our team name (Unicorn Sanchez and the fill-in-the-blank) strikes fear into the hearts of all the tech nerd pretenders to the throne.   The fill-in-the-blank is as esoteric as the knowledge packed into three government manager’s minds; everything from fanny pack full of rainbows to Doris Day and the Time.

                One of the things that people always want to know when they find out I play trivia is what is the most interesting piece of trivia I know.  And that, dear readers, is a difficult thing to decide.  I know lots of things about lots of things that no one truly cares about, so to ask me to pinpoint one particular piece of minutiae is very difficult.

                Some things are easy, like real chili doesn’t have beans.  That one is for my friend Neal (Hey, Neal.  How’s Syracuse?)  Some things are far more arcane like a group of unicorns is called a blessing.  So I decided to compile a list of things I find interesting and maybe you will too.  As I have much to share I will start with my favorite category, music.  Herewith I give you Uncle Dusty’s Guide to Music Trivia:

1.       Charles Gates Dawes was Calvin Coolidge’s Vice President during his second term.  He is also the only US VP to co-write a #1 pop song, when he penned the music to “It’s All in the Game” a hit for Tommy Edwards in 1958.  On another interesting note, Mr. Dawes also won Nobel Peace Prize in Economics.  This bit of trivia allowed my inclusion in the Trivial Pursuit All American Edition when I was in college.

2.       Liquid Paper was invented by Bette Nesmith Graham, mother of Mike Nesmith, of the 1960s rock group, the Monkees.

3.       Musicians who have surprisingly never had a #1 song on Billboard’s Hot 100:  Led Zeppelin, James Brown and Creedence Clearwater Revival.  Artists who have actually had a #1 song on the Hot 100:  Rick Dees, Lorne Green and Clay Aiken.

4.       Bette Midler beat Barry White and Marie Osmond for Best New Artist at the 1974 Grammys. 

5.       Anderson Cooper’s mother was socialite and designer, Gloria Vanderbilt.  Admittedly not musical, but still awesome.

6.       Daryl Hannah (she of "Splash" fame) sang backing vocals on Jackson Browne’s hit “You’re a Friend of Mine”.  They were dating at the time.

7.       Bob Newhart won the Best New Artist and Album of the Year at the Grammys in 1961.  Back then, comedy albums were so popular that they competed in all major categories.

8.       Politicians/Civic Leaders who have won Grammys include Jimmy Carter, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesse Jackson, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Al Franken.  All won in the "Spoken Word Album" category.

9.       Lenny Kravitz’s mother is Roxie Roker who played Helen Willis on “The Jeffersons”.

10.   Janet Jackson starred in “Good Times” as Penny, “Diff’rent Strokes” as Charlene and “Fame”.

11.   Robin Thicke is the son of Gloria Loring and Alan Thicke, who were not only actors, but songwriters, having penned and performed the theme songs to “The Facts of Life” and “Diff’rent Strokes” as well as the late 80s hit “Friends and Lovers”, also known as “Both to Each Other” to country music fans.

12.   More examples of the oddity of the Hot 100.  No #1 song:  Bruce Springsteen.  Actual #1 song:  Rick Springfield.  Rick Astley has had TWO #1 songs in the US.

13.   In an interesting bit of karma, Madonna’s hit “Material Girl” was kept from the #1 slot by USA for Africa’s “We Are the World”.  Dan Ackroyd performed backing vocals on that record. Why?  You'll have to ask Quincy Jones, father of Rashida Jones of "The Office" and "Parks and Recreation".

14.   The most popular song since the rock era began in 1955 (based solely on the number of weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100)?  One Sweet Day, by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men.  Included in the top 10 songs of all time is “Macarena” by Los Del Rio, having spent 14 weeks at #1.  Yes, you read that correctly.

15.   The first #1 song of the rock era was fittingly “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and his Comets.

 That is not all I know about music, but that is all I’m saying...for now.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Have catheter, will remove it

                We celebrated our second anniversary last month, the Dad and I.  I can’t believe it it’s been two years since he came plowing into my life and home with his noises, smells and various old man accoutrement.  I was scanning the traffic for this blog and the most popular of my blog posts is the one from his second week here entitled ‘Suspenders and a Hospital Gown”.  And it’s an unhappy coincidence that he is again back in the hospital this past week.  He has had four different outpatient procedures on his, well, butt, if you must know.  And the three re-surgeries (if that is in fact a word) are due to his refusal to believe that a doctor would know more than he about post-surgery care.  You know, because the Dad has 4 whole hours of college credit and the MD has a measly 16 years of schooling.  Tomato-tomahto, right?

                The biggest problem is that my Dad is a man of extremes.  He is either not interested or all-in.  There is no gray area for this one.  He either wants a 32 pound steak or none.  He wants a vat of ice cream as big as his recliner or none.  He asked if I would bring him some gum as the medicine he takes makes his mouth taste ‘funny’.  I took him a double pack of Freedent, the gum preferred by denture wearers, and he chewed 32 pieces of gum in less than 32 hours!  When he called and asked for more and I questioned how one would decimate a pack of gum that large in that small amount of time, he got mad, called me a "butt" and hung up on me.  Quelle Surprise?  Then you haven’t been paying attention.

                His vacation, which is what we normally call the time when a relative is housed in a state-run facility from which they aren’t allowed to leave when the mood strikes them, has been in the hospital for the past week.  They are observing him and trying to figure out the cause of the infection at the surgery site.  I personally think they are observing the only patient who removed their catheter with a crochet needle.  Yes, I told on him.  I know the reasons behind the infection but nurses don't seem to want to believe that he would ignore doctor's orders and lie about it, so they're getting to spend some quality time with the "Wildebeest in the Hospital Gown", which is what he looks and sounds like when dozing, which is often. 
               He is unsurprisingly unhappy about being "locked up" and has reverted to creating prison stories concerning their attempts to "starve me” and “poke me to death”.  Although I will say that when I snuck a chicken nugget happy meal past the nurses, he was the happiest boy on the floor, do you hear me?  He almost hugged me.  Almost.  But he caught himself and instead shook my hand with more emotion that I expected seeing as how the nuggets only numbered 4, not 6.

                He doesn’t like visitors, he says, but what he really means is he doesn’t like to ask anyone to visit.  Fortunately, he is housed at the hospital where I work so I can see him more often than normal, although I try to limit my visits as he doesn’t want to be awakened when slumbering and the clinical staff get nervous when they see me coming as my previous visits to the wards were when I was Acting Associate Director and we were in the midst of our accreditation review.  Your cherished Dustin in his three –piece suit with coordinating tie and pocket square doesn’t bring out their joy, as it does with you, dear readers.

                I have delivered puzzle books, electronic solitaire, peanuts, mystery novels and contraband Coke Zero.  I have regaled him with tales of my birthday weekend to Hearst Castle and  Carmel, where he was more impressed with the fact that Clint Eastwood lives there than the pictures of William Randolph’s gauche interiors or the designer duds I got for 70% off in the bargain basement of J. Alexander Khaki’s.  Seriously, Mr. Hearst was Donald Trump before Donald Trump was Donald Trump.  Everything was silk damasked, gold inlaid and ivory-carved to within an inch of its life.  The roman pool was pretty but ridiculous.  I mean, who wants to exit an overly tiled lagoon up a wet marble ladder?

                So, here we are two years later and he is again in the hospital and if geriatrics tells us anything, he will only get worse.  That he has improved in his outlook is noticeable to me, but not him.  He is still somewhat depressed just perkier about it (thank you Zoloft).  He is still afraid of leaving the house without me, but is still too proud to ask me to go with him; instead he demands.  And I pretend I don’t notice the false bravado and I don’t see evidence of the scared man who is truly without his own home and uneasy about having to depend on the one child he has admitted he didn’t treat very well.

                And as much as I complain, I have missed him this week and not just because I don’t like making my own coffee in the morning.  I miss the fact that someone is waiting for me when I get home who is truly glad to see me and to talk, even if for a few minutes, over something as mundane as a funny video or a show about ancient aliens.  I never thought I would actually miss that old grouch but I do and the thought that he might one day be gone is something that I just can’t process right now.  That I am crying as I type this is as surprising to me as it would be to him.

                Luckily his four hours of college were not studying computer science so the odds of him accidentally finding this blog post are about as remote as him admitting he likes living with his “weird” son in the land of the heathen.  And that is all we are both saying.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Uncle Dusty's Guide to Unicorn Sanchez's Guide to the "Right Way to Shop"

Those of you who know me know I will shop any sort of sale, be it clearance, pop-up, garage, estate or yard.  However, I know many of my brethren and even some of my sistrethen (yes, it’s a word that I just invented) would rather be poked with a spoon by a badger than accompany someone on a shopping adventure.  This past weekend I was headed to the Haight section of San Francisco for a full day of thrift store/vintage shop wandering with two of my friends, Matt and Laura.  We ate and shopped and walked and ate and shopped and walked.  It was a great day.  However, Matt (who is Unicorn Sanchez in my trivia team of Unicorn Sanchez and the Fanny Pack Full of Rainbows) added a fun element to our day which was a scavenger hunt. 
                While I didn’t need to be otherwise occupied whilst I ferreted out vintage bargain cuff links, I thought this might be something that could be shared to amuse and/or distract your unwilling shopping companions be they toddler or adult.  So herewith is Unicorn Sanchez’s Guide to the ‘Right Way to Shop’.
                To win, you must locate:
1.  Wooden eyewear or necktie (6 points)

2.  A Hipster (actual or inadvertent) (3.14159 points, because they’re just like that)

3.  Anyone with a mullet (20,000 confederate points)

4.  Anyone with a Handlebar Moustache (one million points).  Extra points if they have rope or a Lillian Gish impersonator and are near train tracks

5.  Someone who looks like George Clinton (not a relative of Bill but he of Parliament Funkadelic fame) (40 ounces)

6.  Step 1: Baggy Pants, Step 2: Hammer time! (Does anyone this awesome really need points?)

7.  Anything polka-dotted (5 points).  Anything polka-dotted if you work in an elementary school, sorority house or the state of Mississippi (-43 points for being too easy).

8.  Convince someone to do the Worm (10 points, 20 bonus points if they have a mullet; photographic evidence required)

9.  Find someone wearing a Hawaiian shirt and do the hula with them (26.5 points)

10.Any commercial product that is an example of alliteration, such as Silly String, Lincoln Logs or Chinese Checkers. Can’t be candy because that’s way too easy. Kit Kat, Tart ‘n Tinys, Candy Corn? C’mon! (5 points)
11.A Spork (1 point), a Fnife (5 points) or a Knoon (10 points)

12.A business card from anyone who sells anything bought or processed; or buys anything sold or processed; or processes anything sold or bought; or repairs anything sold, bought, or processed (a gold Porsche…from Hot Wheels)

13.An autograph. It doesn’t have to be anyone famous, but it must be a complete stranger, and it has to be signed “To my biggest fan” (10 points)

14.Half a bowling ball (100 points)

15.An adult wearing a onsie or a snuggie (-5 points because that’s just weird, y’all)

16.Tupac Shakur, because you know he is still alive.  Biggie’s dead, y’all, but ‘Pac is alive and well (200 pts plus lots of cash for the subsequent publishing rights to tabloid photos)

17.A panhandler with an actual pan (yellow points because I’m like that)

Have fun and happy shopping.  I am not responsible if you are detained by authorities for your hyper-observant behavior or interactions with unwilling “finds”.  And that is all I’m saying.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Uncle Dusty's Guide to Leadership

I recently graduate from an excellent leadership program called the Excellence in Government Fellowship with the Partnership for Public Service.  This program brought together 200 current and future leaders from across the federal government from Departments of State, Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, Defense, Education and many others including the White House and even the Architect of the Capitol's Office.  This program was based on the Executive Core Qualifications for the Senior Executive Service, which I refer to as the muckety-shmucks of the federal system.  As one of my career goals is to become one of these illustrious muckety-schmucks, being one of the ten VA employees selected to attend is a definite feather in my cap, so to speak.  
We graduated last month and I submitted a speech in hopes to be selected to represent my classmates at the ceremony.  While I was one of the top three finalists, another classmate from the Department of Education was chosen and her speech was truly inspiring.  However, I thought it might be fun to share the words I would have spoken.  Maybe they'll resonate with you.  So herewith are my (not-quite) immortal words.

"Leadership, like education, should be focused on developing the next generation. It’s the whole “pay it forward” concept without the schmaltzy movie with the kid who saw dead people in the only other movie he made that anyone remembers.
My time in the Excellence in Government Fellowship, taught me a number of lessons, five of which I’ll focus on today.  Customers are anyone who isn’t you.  And your focus should be on the customer; however, you have to first know who you are in order to be effective.  This reflection will force you to be honest with yourself about who you are and why you think the way you do.  The best leaders are aware of their limitations and work to strengthen them by focusing on what they do well and trying to emulate their successes.  Reading the “Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry” was an important step in remembering to focus on the positives, learn from your successes and to use those lessons to address your failures or “areas" of "improvement” (with actual air quotes).
I have a passion for teaching, but not in a traditional setting.  One of the ways I am able to transfer training from short to long term memory is to immediately teach those lessons to my managers and other staff upon my return from each session.  The one group of people for whom I can easily translate each principle to specific work should be the staff in my own department.  And this introduces staff at all levels to principles and philosophies that they otherwise might not have access.  To withhold leadership training until someone is placed into a leadership position is not setting those people up for success.  Everyone can benefit from leadership training, if for no other reason than to have a frame of reference for their leader’s expectations.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, but an important lesson was one I received long ago from my mother and most of my elementary and high school teachers; to “hush” every now and then and actually listen to those within your sphere of influence.  If you’re always talking, Dustin Terryll, how are you going to know what people think? 
Combining listening with authenticity is integral to success.  You can’t simply understand leadership principles but you must live them every day.  I know I am not Abraham Lincoln (I am far too stylish to wear that whole ‘beard with no moustache’ thing); however, I can take his lessons and merge them with my leadership style and put them to work every day.  And these are ideals that are still relevant today.  Lincoln’s “Circulating among the troops”?  It’s the same principle as a Lean’s Gemba Walks, just without the Toyotas.  Fair warning, these interactions with your front-line staff will take a thick skin.  Letting your employees offer candid feedback, without fear of reprisal, makes sense.  Where do you think you should get ideas on how to improve a process if not from those who actually use the process every day?  If you function in a vacuum, you function alone.  If you aren’t sure you’re in a vacuum, you probably are. 
I know opening yourself up to scrutiny takes courage but you should never be afraid to make a mistake.  No one is perfect but Jesus and he doesn’t work for the federal government, y’all.  Can I get an ‘Amen’?  Empowerment comes from employees feeling supported in taking calculated risks.  One way to foster that environment is to be honest about your struggles, failures and triumphs.  This way, your employees know that you don’t think you’re perfect and you don’t expect them to be either.  If we stopped trying to be perfect, we could all focus on being awesome!  And empowering your employees is the key to success.  Not to get all Dilbert cartoony, but if you have to tell your employees they are empowered, they’re not.
The final lesson is one I learned from my esteemed coach, Feli Sola-Carter.  She showed me that to be a great leader you have to believe you have a message to be heard; a vision to be shared; a style to be copied…to a point.  Not everyone can pull off pastel chinos, am I right?  Followers are the reason for leading.  If you don’t think you and your vision are admirable, why should anyone follow you?   
I applied to EIG to become a more thoughtful leader, to be a better support system for those with whom I interact.  I tell my staff that I don’t come to work focused on customers.  I come to work focused on my staff and they, in turn, focus on the customer.  The significance of the Excellence in Government Fellowship is it allowed me to grow as a leader by arming me with an exceptional set of tools.  If I use every available tool to create an environment where my staff have everything they need to succeed (space, equipment, training, empowerment), our customers, and in my case, our nation’s Veterans, receive all that they deserve."
And that is all I'm saying.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Uncle Dusty's Guide to Miss America

                I have been involved with the Miss America system since 1991 and I in that period of time I have educated more people than probably wanted to know about the great things the Miss America Scholarship Program can offer young women.  Outside of being the largest provider of scholarships for young women in the world, any young lady can increase her confidence, involve herself in social causes and get wonderful interview tips simply by competing.  As the 92nd Miss America will be chosen this week, I thought it only appropriate that I give you Uncle Dusty’s Guide to Miss America. 

 1.       Miss America was started in 1921 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  The first winner was 16 year-old Margaret Gorman from Washington, DC.  Originally, the pageant was a traditional beauty pageant highlighting the women wearing swimsuits.

2.       The only person to every win the pageant twice (that practice was stopped soon after) was Mary Katherine Campbell from Ohio.  She was Miss America 1922 and 1923 and was 1st Alternate in 1924.

3.       The pageant was stopped in 1928 due to a few scandals and waning interest.  It was revived in 1933 and 15 year-old Marian Bergeron (Connecticut’s only winner) was crowned.  The contest wasn’t held in 1934 so Ms. Bergeron unofficially held her title for two years.

4.       Resurrected in 1935, they added Talent as a mandatory category and Henrietta Leaver of Pennsylvania took the title with a song and dance routine.  Some of the more interesting talents that have snagged a crown include Vibraharp (Bebe Shopp, 1948), poem recital (Evelyn Ay, 1954), an original fashion design exhibition (Nancy Fleming, 1961), ventriloquism (Vonda Van Dyke, 1965), conducting the Miss America orchestra (Jane Jayroe, 1967), trampoline (Judith Ford, 1969), Flute (Shirley Cothran, 1975), Gymanstics (Kylene Barker, 1979), Tahitian Dance (Kaye Lani Rae Rafko, 1988) and Marimba (Debbye Turner, 1990).  These days most every winner sings, dances or plays the piano.  I long for roller ballet or clogging.

5.       In 1941, when the first runner-up from 1940 (Rosemary LaPlanche of California) came back to effortlessly win the pageant, the rule that a young woman could only compete once was instituted.   Jo-Carroll Dennison from Texas won that year.  I'm going to assume she deserved it over Roselle Marie Hannon of Pennsylvania who first runner-up in 1941.  Since she's from Texas, I'm giving Ms. Dennison a pass.

6.       In 1945, Bess Myerson became the first Jewish winner and the first Pageant scholarship recipient.  This scholarship came at the suggestion of Jean Bartel, Miss America 1943, who was the first college student to win the title.  For those who are curious, she was a Kappa Kappa Gamma at UCLA.  I was fortunate enough to meet her in 2011, a few months before she passed away; every bit as elegant as you'd expect royalty to be. 

7.       The pageant began post-dating the year for the winners, leaving 1950 without a representative.  Miss America 1951 (crowned in 1950) was Yolanda Betbeze, an opera singer from Alabama, who refused to tour the country as a swimsuit model for Catalina swimwear, the Pageant’s major sponsor.  The subsequent comment at a new conference by Miss America 1949, Jacquie Mercer of Arizona, “Why don’t you go start your own pageant,” led to the beginning of the Miss USA Pageant.  This is why there is no talent category in Miss USA.  As a note, the beauty queens you see on YouTube who have embarrassed themselves answering questions are Miss USA contestants.

8.       In 1955, Lee Meriwether became the first winner to be crowned on television.  I offered to carry her to her room when she said her feet hurt after the Miss America Shoe Parade in 2011.  She politely declined, but did ask if she could use my shoulder to help keep her balance to change out of her heels.  I do believe I’m still smitten.

9.       The first back-to-back Miss Americas from the same state are crowned; Mary Ann Mobley and Lynda Mead Shea, Misses America 1959 and 1960 respectively.  As a note, they were also Chi Omega sorority sisters at Ole Miss, giving that particular house more Miss America titles than 28 states.  Hotty Toddy!

10.   The only other state with back-to-back winners is Oklahoma, bringing their total to six.  This places them in a tie with California for the state with the most Miss Americas.  Ohio has had six titles, but only 5 winners (see #2 above).  The other states with five winners include Pennsylvania, Illinois and Michigan.  Mississippi and New York have four each; Texas, Minnesota, Arkansas, Alabama, Colorado, Kansas and Virginia have had three each.  The only southern state to not have a Miss America is Louisiana, although they’ve had several first runners-up.  Why the focus on the South, you ask?  As Suzanne Sugarbaker said, "You will never see an ugly Miss Mississippi!"

11.   There have been 86 young women who have held the title of Miss America.  I have met 35 of them.  Yes, I am bragging.  Most impressive was Bebe Shopp, Miss America 1948.  I met her in 2011 and she walked the Shoe Parade route for in 3-inch heels.  That, my friends, is a real woman.  It was after this parade that I also formed an alliance with Miss America 1982’s (Tawny Godin) husband to pilfer her parade sign as a souvenir.  I feel my knowledge of and dedication to this program should give me immunity from any punishment.

12.   The first African-American Miss America contestant was Cheryl Browne, Miss Iowa in 1970.  The first African-American winner was Vanessa Williams of New York.  When she resigned her crown 11 months later she was succeeded by another African-American woman, Suzette Charles, of neighboring New Jersey.

13.   Sharlene Wells, Miss America 1985, is the only winner born in another country.  Her parents were Mormon missionaries in Paraguay.

14.   Social platforms were added in 1989 at the suggestion of Miss America 1988; Kaye Lani Rae Rafko (by far, the best named Miss America).  Ms. Rafko was a Nurse who spent her year talking about AIDS hospices.  There is a requirement for each contestant to have spent many hours volunteering with the social cause of her choice.  Miss America 2000 and my fabulous friend, Heather French Henry, spent her year as an advocate for Veterans and she has written and illustrated children’s books with a patriotic theme. 

15.   I haven’t always agreed with the winners (Missy Hurdle was robbed in 1992!) but I will always love the Miss America program and the great things that it does for the participants.  Good Luck, ladies! 
And that is all I’m saying.