The Second Third, Week 19: A More Visible Faith

Some of you might know that I have a peculiar love for ancient or seemingly outmoded codes of honor. It’s the reason I love Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog, in which Forest Whitaker waxes philosophical as a pigeon-keeping urban assassin who lives atop an abandoned building, listens to hip-hop, works for a mid-level mobster in a dysfunctional crime family on the verge of bankruptcy, and strictly follows the Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai. Two old, impractical (and completely implacable) codes of conduct crash headlong, and the result is a weird, violent, foul-mouthed, and (to me, at least) strangely compelling movie.

Film critic Roger Ebert opened his review of the film with, “It helps to understand that the hero of ‘Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai’ is crazy. Well, of course he is.” I, unlike Ebert, am not so sure. Here’s a man who grew up alone on the streets, with nothing to believe in and no one to look up to; who is nearly killed as a boy and is saved by a generally cowardly criminal in a moment of sudden grace; who finds a way (or in this case, a Way) to survive, to rise above his weaknesses, to earn respect, and to pay back the man to whom he, in a very real sense, owes his life. The way of the samurai is not easy, but I don’t see it as irrational. Self-sacrifice is difficult, but it can be beautiful, can’t it? Perhaps his obedience to this ancient Way is what passes for beauty in his broken world.

When I launched my old blog, Yield and Overcome, I was actually reading books like Hagakure and The Art of War. I was doing a fair amount of “kung-fu writing” and adopted the web handle “werdfu” to underscore my freelance avocation. But in the years since, I’ve watched our government and economy go dark, even as my own family and faith have grown bright as a beacon in the black. “Yield and overcome” seems too soft and passive a philosophy for tough times, too gray for this cold twilight. So in my Second Third (as promised), I’m unveiling a new look and name for my blog: Archangel Stomp. Sound like a dance, and it is, in a way: imagine a mosh pit with the Devil lying prostrate at the bottom. Most of the old posts are there, and I’ll still be fighting the Good Fight as best I can. Only this time, I’ll be doing so more intentionally as a Catholic and a believer.

Perhaps obedience to this ancient Way still passes for beauty in this broken world.

The Second Third, Week 16 (Belated): In One Ear…

First, let me say that, obviously, the idea of posting these Second Third entries on Wednesdays has fallen by the wayside. This is primarily because this winter has been crazy busy, especially since three Wednesdays a month, I teach Confirmation classes. So I’m settling for weekly, roughly. If I end on or about November 10th with The Second Third, Week 52, I shall declare victory.


I had an Alien Abduction moment last week. I woke at about 5:20 a.m., rolled over, and in the pre-dawn gloom, discovered my wife was not beside me. This struck me as curious enough that I mustered the wind to croak, “Jodi…” and listen, half-asleep, for a response.


My eyes opened a bit wider. “Jodi?”

Nothing. I sat up and rubbed my eyes. No noise from the bathroom. No lights visible anywhere. Probably on the couch with a sick kid, I thought. But I usually hear sick kids.

I rose, stepped carefully past the snoring Schnauzer in the darkness, walked down the short hallway and into the living room.



I turned my head from the side to side, dumbly, in the darkness. No signs of a struggle. (Yes, I actually thought that.) Where could she be?

Perhaps I only stood there for a few seconds, perhaps longer. Eventually I occurred to me that she had told me something before bed, something relevant. What was it?

She had told me she was getting up and going walking at the indoor track at our high school early in the morning. I had heard her say it, and no doubt it registered subconsciously, because I had slept soundly through her rising and leaving. But it took awhile to recall it consciously.

I have a knack for hearing but not listening. This is not selective hearing, per se, which all people cultivate to a certain extent. This is a problem in which I hear everything you are saying, and mere seconds later, it’s gone.

It’s not a matter of simple distraction, although if I’m engrossed in something, it’s almost a given that I’m hearing you but not computing. (On the other hand, I can doodle my way through a meeting and catch all of it.)

No, distractions and “multi-tasking” (in which we do several things poorly at the same time) are different evils altogether. What I’m describing is “in-one-ear-and-out-the-other” in it’s worst form. Jodi can do everything right: she can get my attention, get me to put down the book I’m reading or shut off the TV and look at her, tell me what she’s going to tell me, tell me, then tell me she told me…and I can blink and lose all of it. Sometimes I realize immediately that my memories been wiped clean, and will ask, sheepishly, for her to repeat herself. I’m sure that, more often, I have no idea it’s happened. One can’t remember what one has forgotten.

And it’s not just Jodi, though she has so many more opportunities per day to be the victim (or perpetrator?) that she is the person most frequently connected to it. Lucky gal.

In my Second Third, I need to figure out this little glitch in my software. Unfortunately, they say the memory is the first thing to go.

The Second Third, Week 15 (Belated): Boot Love

Blogger’s Note: The whole idea behind these “Second Third” posts can be found here.

Most regular readers (like, two out of the three) know that I met my bride while selling western boots one summer at Wall Drug. You might not know that I actually worked three summers at Wall Drug in an effort to be near my bride, and that each summer, I bought a new pair of boots.

Up until a few moments ago I was convinced that I had written at length on this site about my once-and-future obsession with boots. Apparently not. I know I wrote about it in a newspaper column at one time; I’ll try to round that up and post it shortly. In the meantime, suffice it to say there was a time when I knew more than was healthy for a boy my age about boots and boot makers, leathers and stitching, fit and finish. I could convey that knowledge to cowboys, bikers, and foreign tourists, using only my hands if I had to, and I lived in boots, at least in the summer months.

My three pairs of boots are pictured below. In my Second Third, I intend to wear the soles off them again and again. Why? Pfft. Just look at them!

My first pair (also pictured at the top of this post). Summer 1994. Nocona size 12 1/2D (the perfect fit from day one). Chocolate oiled bull shoulder with black tops. Soft as moccasins; tough as nails. I’m on my third set of soles and heels.

My second pair. Summer 1995. Blucher Boot Company, custom-made for someone else, but didn’t fit them; fit me like a second skin. Black French calf tops and bottoms. Soft and smooth and takes a nice polish. Great for dancin’ if they didn’t look so wicked. And if I danced. Still on the first set of soles and heels.

My third pair. Summer 1996. Nocona size 12 1/2D. I special-ordered these for rougher use: oiled cowhide foot; high green goatskin tops, and a bit higher and more underslung heel, just for kicks. I also put a black rubber half-sole on them for extra durability in the wet or on pavement. Scratched, gouged, salted, and paint-spattered. Second set of soles and heels.

The Second Third, Week 10: The Big Payback

Blogger’s Note: The whole idea behind these “Second Third” posts can be found here.

When I left home for Yale, my folks left a cushion of money in my checking account. I’m thinking there was $150 of their money, hidden beneath the zero balance, in case I ever was in trouble and needed to come home. I never counted it as mine, so there was always $150 difference between my balance and the bank’s. My folks trusted me not to piddle it away, and I didn’t let them down.

Instead, I collected my suitemates’ empties and turned them in for the deposit, cleaned our bathroom (shared by seven of us) in exchange for pizza at Yorkside, and worked 20 hours a week to pay my bills. When one of my suitemates ran out of spending money and called his mother to yell at her, I was shocked. And when my roommate bought a new stereo, I set my little Sony dual cassette player aside and listened to his music. Even synthpop and show tunes.

I think it was my sophomore year that I “graduated” to a Visa with a strict credit limit — $500, I think, just for emergencies, my folks said. Again, I walked the line: at Thanksgiving, I got a hand-me-down Apple IIsi computer from my sister, and when I needed to crank up the Soundgarden, I could always go next door to our common room. The rest of the time, the little Sony would suffice.

Junior year, however, I roomed with two new guys, both fairly private, with no common room and no common stereo. They were out a lot, and I wasn’t…so the stereo bug bit. I’d been listening to the same little Sony since the Christmas after Ghostbusters II came out — I remember because I got the boombox (I use the term loosely) and Bobby Brown’s Dance!…Ya Know It on cassette, together, as it were. (And as everybody knows, that cassette had remixes of, among other things, the GBII soundtrack single “All On Our Own”…) I had worn out two Soundgarden Badmotorfinger cassettes, and couldn’t get enough volume to startle the squirrels outside my window.

It was an audio emergency. I needed a stereo. I deserved a stereo. And I’d totally pay it off in a matter of a couple of months. J&R Audio catalog and a Visa. Done deal.

I loved that stereo. I still have it, actually — it serves as a makeshift “theater” system in our basement family room. Did I pay it off in a couple months? Probably. Did I demote the Visa back to emergency-only duties? Nope.

The love bug bit next. I met Jodi at Wall Drug one summer, and decided to get engaged the next. Did I have money the ring? Nope. Did I have money for a down payment? A little…

I drove the length of the state to Sioux Falls to buy the ring I knew she liked — and they looked sideways at the fact that I had no permanent address (a student P.O. Box in Connecticut or Wall Drug?) and only seasonal employment. Finally they relented and said they would finance, but I’d need to put more money down.

This was my one shot. I called Citibank. They bumped my credit limit. I left with the ring.

We may still be paying for that ring. We’ve been in debt of some form or another ever since, and although we’re slowly digging out, it’s hard. Our furnace is dying, and it makes sense to replace the A/C at the same time — but that’s a few thousand dollars we don’t have in hand, plus my car’s acting up. What to do, what to do…

When I bought my first car from my dad, I got a loan. It wasn’t a big loan, but it was big enough for me at the time. I remember Dad saying, “They’ll make it easy for you. They want to loan you the money — it’s how they make money. And they want to loan as much as you can possibly pay back, even if it takes awhile.”

Especially if it takes awhile.

We’re trying to be smarter, and we keep chip-chip-chipping away at our debt. I’m looking forward to the big payback here in my Second Third: eliminating bills, saving our money, paying cash whenever possible as we move forward, and letting the kids know in no uncertain terms that there is no such thing as an audio emergency…even if your roommate is rocking to Erasure.

The Second Third, Week 9: Books Books Books

Blogger’s Note: The whole idea behind these “Second Third” posts can be found here.

I love books. Though I’ve been known to ingest audiobooks on long road trips, I’m not an ebooks guy…there’s no Kindle in my future. I like big, beautiful volumes that look like heirlooms; musty hardcovers with yellowed pages; beater paperbacks with the cracks of years in their spines. I like poetry, fiction, and non-fiction…and even leather-bound French translations of the masterworks of Catholic saints, apparently, despite the fact that I neither read nor speak French. When I see books, I browse. When I see great books, beautiful books, cheap books, or neglected books, I tend to buy them.

I also tend to re-read favorite books. Again and again. The five books pictured above (my paperback set of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, plus The Hobbit and The Guide to Middle Earth) were my constant companions from roughly sixth through eighth grade, and I’ve taped them back together more than once. And when I love a book, I read it slowly. Re-read parts I like until I’ve absorbed them. Re-read them again until I can share them with others.

As a result, it takes time for me to finish a book and start a new one. My famous friend Jacqui of Jacqui’s Room challenged me and others to read 15 classics and 15 weeks way back in May of 2008. I used it as an excuse to buy books. I’m better than halfway through my list of 15 (in no particular order here…and Blood Meridian may not make the final cut), and I’ve loved them all. East of Eden is still my favorite book ever, and it took nearly 6 months to properly savor. The verse translation of The Odyssey was wonderful, but a journey in itself that seemed unending and took 11 months. And I’ve now entered my 12th month reading The Brothers Karamazov, which is dark, absurd, brilliant, and beautiful. I can’t wait to finish…and yet I will not rush. (I hope to finish this weekend, but don’t hold me to it.)

As a result, I have shelves of unread books. They call to me sometimes, begging to be opened and allowed to speak. In my Second Third, I’m going to have to cut back on books…

Nah. In my Second Third, I’m making more time to read. TV stinks anyway.