John Y. Brown, III: How to Survive a Winter Storm

jyb_musingsHow to survive a major storm –and (maybe) find your inner hero

As we hunker down tonight for Kentucky’s Blizzard-Palooza, I am reminded of an even bigger storm I endured over 20 years ago and, as awful as it was, I actually remember in a weirdly endearing way.

I was a newlywed and recent law school grad and had just moved to Tamarac, Florida, to start a new job in Ft Lauderdale. I chose Tamarac because I was able to get a great deal on a condo rental and had rented it sight unseen.

As we drove into Tamarac we noticed it wasn’t the young hip town we had hoped it would be but was a retirement community. The first restaurants we saw were all buffet restaurants and each block was dotted with prosthetic stores. I admitted to Rebecca
I probably should have researched Tamarac better (this was pre-Internet days; there was such a time) but encouraged her to look on the bright side: it was a great deal, we wouldn’t have rowdy neighbors, and hey, it was Florida.

We found our pink pastel retirement condo, unpacked, picked up some toiletries, rented some movies at Blockbuster and got dressed-up and headed out for our first big date night in Florida.

We got home late and as we got ready for bed, Rebecca flipped on the television and yelled for me to come quickly.

“What is it?” I asked.

Rebecca pointed to the TV, “Look! They are warning that a major hurricane is coming tomorrow and saying we should evacuate”

“Nah.” I muttered reassuringly. “It’s Florida. They have hurricanes all the time. We’ll be fine.”

We turned off the TV went to bed and didn’t wake up until noon the next day.

We leisurely headed to grocery to stock our new home but noticed the grocery was busy–crazily busy– and much of the shelves had been cleared.

We bought a few items and headed home to find out more about this hurricane. It was called Hurricane Andrew.

I still wasn’t overly concerned. I’d been through hurricanes before. But Rebecca hadn’t and was getting worried.

I decided to snap into action as the strong protective husband I sensed my wife and our small shih-tzu dog, Julep, were yearning for me to be. Since the grocery stores had limited choices, I went to Miami Subs and bought half dozen sub sandwiches. I proudly
showed Rebecca how I’d outsmarted our bleak circumstances and made sure we wouldn’t be without food.

But instead of being relieved, Rebecca looked more nervous than before and told me she thought we should evacuate like everyone else. She had been watching the news and miles of streaming cars were south Florida in a mass exodus.

“Look,” I implored. “How many times will we get to say we lived through one of the worst storms in modern history —and survived it?” I paused. “Think about it.” I paused again. “This is an historic opportunity.”

It was my way of coping. I was trying to appear brave and considered Mother Nature throwing down the gauntlet to us. The movie Forrest Gump hadn’t been released yet but I was already channeling Lt Dan defiantly trying to take on a vicious storm on a sinking
shrimp boat. Of course, in my version, I wouldn’t be outside on a sinking ship but inside a air-conditioned pink condo eating a gourmet sub sandwich. But it’s the same basic idea.

As I jabbered on, I noticed fearful tears welling up in Rebecca’s eyes.

“What about Julep?” She asked. “What if we all die?”

I felt a lump welling in my throat and despite my brilliant sub sandwich maneuver, I was beginning to second guess the wisdom of my plan to stare down Hurricane Andrew.

We looked again at the TV and now it was eerily quite outside—the chilling calm before the storm.

Reporters were telling us the roads were now clear; that the city had been evacuated and those who stayed behind were hunkering down to brave the storm.

“Get the dog.” I said resignedly. “We’re leaving.”

Rebecca hugged and thanked me, got Julep and a change of clothes, and we hopped in the car and were off.

We had a clear shot —hardly any traffic –all the way to north Florida as we outran Hurricane Andrew. It was a bizarre consolation prize for our (my) foolhardy delay.

We were nearing the Georgia border and now were exhausted and ready to find a hotel room for the night. But tens of thousands of others had the exact same thought and started hours before us. Hotel after hotel told us they were full. About 5am we were
nearing Valdosta, GA and found a La Quinta Inn. There was a single room available someone had reserved but they hadn’t shown and the manager graciously gave it to us. We didn’t dare tell the manager about Julep in case they had a “no pet” policy. I tucked
Julep under my arm and smuggled her by the manager and she thankfully didn’t yelp.

The next day we took it easy and reflected on how grateful we were that we fled and were safe and dry in a nice hotel with electricity. We stayed a second night and the next morning I called UK law school to see if final grades had been posted. I called
from the phone in the hotel room (we didn’t have a cell phone; there was such a time) and gave the administrator my social security number while still on my knees, where I had just prayed fervently for good grades allowing me to graduate.

“Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!” I yelled into a pillow to muffle the sound of my ecstatic scream when I received the merciful news I had graduated from law school.

As an aside, I have always had an affection for LaQuinta Inns ever since.

We decided it was time to head home to survey the damage and face the consequences. We pulled in just before nightfall and to our amazement our condo building hadn’t been hit at all. We even had electricity. We had remarkably been spared.

Other towns nearby, like Kendall and Homestead were nearly decimated. 25,000 homes were destroyed and 100,000 more damaged. Over a million homes were without electricity –many for weeks. 26 people died and property damage totaled over $26 billion. Hurricane
Andrew was the most destructive hurricane in American history.

We went inside and threw away the four extra sub sandwiches, unpacked and turned on the TV just as if nothing had happened since we turned it off two days earlier.

It’s truly amazing how quickly we can return to our petty normalcy even after just being spared major devastation.

A few days later I returned the movies we had rented from Blockbuster and was charged a late fee. I argued that Blockbuster should waive the late fee because the hurricane was an “Act of God” that caused me to flee the city for several days and return
the movies late. I tried explaining in a lawyerly fashion that these clauses were in all contracts and called a force majeure clause. The teenaged clerk looked at me like I was a babbling ass, which I was. But that didn’t stop me.

“Look, I’m a lawyer.” I explained. “Trust me. This is not something you want to fight me on.” I didn’t threaten to sue Blockbuster over the $2 late charge but tried to insinuate that was a distinct possibility.

The clerk told me he’d have to talk to his manager the next day but had to charge me the late fee for now. I shrugged and paid the late fee and strutted out of Blockbuster as dauntingly as I could in a T-shirt.

I probably hadn’t impressed my teen accuser, but told myself I had grown a lot the week of the storm. I was now a law grad and just had my first legal run-in over a movie rental late charge and, despite losing, had made some forceful legal points.

And, of course, I now was a fearless survivor of a major storm.

I got into my car and headed back to my pink pastel condo where I was sure my wife and shih tzu were waiting eagerly for their hero to return home.

Maybe tonight in Kentucky there are some young insecure newly married young men awaiting the avalanche of snow and fearful they won’t know how to handle it. Fear not. This may be the night you find your hero’s voice. Or maybe it won’t be and you’ll end
up like me with only a silly story about how you survived Kentucky’s winter storm in 2016. Either is fine as long as you are lucky enough to come out unscathed.

My advice? Do what they say on the news and don’t get hung up on ideas involving sub sandwiches. And most importantly, realize your wife really knows best and if you trust her instincts, you’ll both be fine — and she’ll still love you and pretend you’re
her hero.

And, finally, if you decide to pick a fight with a teenage clerk, don’t. Just pay and walk away. Trust me on this. I’m a lawyer, you know.

Good luck!

Josh Bowen: The Rules of the Gym

joshOK lets have some fun. As I sit down to write you today, I can’t help but want to write something that will make you laugh and make your day a little easier. For the serious, educational content click here . To laugh your ass off, continue reading.
So I went to workout today, I couldn’t help but find some humor. The gym is usually serious time for me but today I just took a look around and had fun with and decided today’s piece should lighten our spirits a bit. So, in great humor and fun, here are MY 10 rules of the gym. Have fun! Here we go (print these off and take them with you!):

  1. No one is staring at you…they are staring at themselves.

Not really a “rule” but a statement! Believe it or not, people are not staring at you working out, in fact they are staring at themselves. Why do you think they put mirrors up? To check our form? No! To check if we are showing definition in the triceps. Duh!

  1. Re-rack Your Weights

One of the first rules we learn as a child; if you bring your toys out, you have to put them back where they came from. You take the 5lbs dumbbells across the gym to do hammer curls, take ’em back Jack!

  1. No Grunting Unless you are Lifting Something Heavy

Squat 500lbs, grunt all you want, curling 55lbs, not necessary.

  1. Get Off the Cell Phone

You are here to workout not talk. Ditch the phone Paco!

  1. Proper Workout Required

Shorts, pants, t-shirts etc. Not a full leotard with open front. Could get drafty and appalling.

  1. Don’t Do This…

or that..

or that..

  1. No Curling in the Squat Rack

Just don’t do it!

  1. Dancing on the Treadmill Could be Dangerous and Otherwise Silly Exercise
  2. Use a Towel in the Locker Room
  3. Don’t Join Here

Lauren Mayer: Useful New Words

Many people (including yours truly) have mocked Sarah Palin for mangling the English language and perhaps inadvertently coming up with new words.  But a few of her creations have caught on, such as ‘refudiate,’ and it turns out creating words is also bipartisan – although perhaps more intentionally, and certainly more ironically, on the left.  Gay rights activist Dan Savage sent out a tweet last week suggesting ‘Duggary’ and asking for definitions. So in the spirit of the generation that grew up on Schoolhouse Rock, here’s a musical explanation:

Lauren Mayer: Wait, The US Is Less Hip Than Ireland?

I mean to cast no aspersions on the Irish – some of my best friends really ARE Irish – but when it comes to marriage equality, I figured Ireland had quite a ways to go.  This is an overwhelmingly Catholic country, quite conservative on social issues, and they only decriminalized homosexuality in 1993.  But not only did they pass full marriage equality way before the US, they did it by a huge landslide, with only one out of 43 districts voting against it.  (Which would be like every single state in the US voting for it, except for maybe Alabama.)

News this historic deserves not only a song, but dancing (and even some outtakes) –

Lauren Mayer: Viral For Old People

When I started posting weekly political comedy songs on youTube, my teenage son tried to caution me against unrealistic expectations.  “You know, Mom, anything over 100 views is viral for old people.”  But it turns out there are more fans of political comedy out there than he thought, and even some of us ‘old people’ know how to use computers to check out videos.  Not that I’ve rivaled Gangnam Style, or even most funny cat videos, but most of mine get into the mid 3-digits, and some go quite a bit higher.

So far I haven’t been able to draw too many conclusions about what makes one of my videos hit higher numbers – I’ve gotten into 4 figures with ones I really worked on, ones I threw together, some are parodies of recognizeable songs but other recogizeable parodies don’t seem to hit.  But there are certain hot button issues I can count on, and none more reliably than gun control.

Of course, most of the increased number of views come from people who really, really, REALLY disagree with me, and let me know in the comments.  The first time I did a gun control song, the comments were quite disturbing – tons of horrible language, vile insults and even threats.  But then I realized that if the spelling and grammar were any indication, these folks were not going to be able to figure out where I lived.  (More importantly, I also realized that they were showing off for each other more than anything else.)

The Waco shooting last week only made Texas loosen gun restrictions even more, but it did inspire me to tackle the subject once again, so let’s see what it does to my views (and my comments!):

Lauren Mayer: Cherry-Picking The Bible

The latest arguments against marriage equality remind me of a scene from the Mel Brooks’ classic “Blazing Saddles,” where Sherriff Bart is trying to keep the citizens of Rock Ridge from caving into Hedly Lamarr’s efforts to get them to leave and says, “Can’t you see this is the last act of a desperate man?”  Howard Johnson’s response is, “We don’t care if it’s the first act of Henry V, we’re leaving!”   The tide has turned so quickly and definitively, opponents of same-sex marriage are running out of usable tactics. “This is how marriage has been for millenia” is easily countered by the fact that for most of those millenia, marriage involved men owning women, and “It will hurt traditional marriage” doesn’t hold up against the evidence from all the states where marriage equality hasn’t produced higher divorce rates, polygamy, or people marrying their pets.

Some opponents cite Biblical passages (as though the Bible were in fact the US Constitution), but even those arguments only expose more hypocrisy, given that they ignore all sorts of other Biblical edicts.  (The one on ‘gluttonous children should be put to death’ sure raised my eyebrows when I  heard about it in Hebrew School. Fortunately, even the most observant Jews let that one slip . . . )   So here’s a musical response, in the hopes that gospel-style music might help marriage equality opponents finally see the light:

John Y. Brown, III: The Perils and Power of Praying with your Partner

jybderby_1During a recent routine physical, my doctor found some concerning results in my blood work and asked me to come in for some follow up tests which indicated I needed to see a specialist for still further tests to rule out anything serious.

I felt like I would probably be OK but was concerned and that night after I told Rebecca about it asked if we could pray together and she said, “Yes. Of course.”

I felt comforted by my wife joining me in prayer. I believe in the power of prayer and couldn’t imagine anything but good coming from it. Rebecca and I had done this before at the suggestion of a friend who told us praying together can be a great habit for couples if you can not worry about “sounding eloquent” and stay focused on your own praying and not your partner’s.

We knelt down, held hands and I prayed first. I asked God to please help me be free of the health problems that were concerning me and then added some “filler” prayer about other people and things so it wouldn’t seem to Rebecca (or God) like I was being overly self-centered and praying only for myself.

Then it was Rebecca’s turn. She asked God to please give her a “fuller heart” and then something else I couldn’t quite make out. I asked her to repeat it. I figured if I couldn’t hear it, God may not have been able to either. Rebecca again prayed for God give her a fuller heart and then followed with a more detailed way of saying what she had already said. Frankly, I didn’t feel the second part of her prayer added  much at all. But I was trying to focus on my praying and not Rebecca’s.

We both said “Amen” and then stood up and hugged. As hard as I tried not to think about Rebecca’s prayer, I couldn’t help notice she never asked God for me to be free of any health problems. I figured it was just an oversight on her part. I couldn’t imagine Rebecca purposely not praying for my health because she felt like she would give up an important chit with God that she was saving for something more important. So, I just let it go.

The next morning Rebecca and I got coffee and saw a good friend from church who had gone through some serious health challenges a few years ago and now was doing well. I shared with him my recent health concerns and he kindly assured me, “John, I’ll be praying for you to get a good medical report.” I made sure Rebecca was listening and responded, “Thank you. I’ll be doing the exact same thing myself!” I paused and looked over at Rebecca to see if she had anything to add. But she didn’t. Rebecca just smiled and hugged our friend goodbye and wished him a happy Derby weekend.

This was Rebecca’s second prayer snub for me in 24 hours and was obviously much harder for me to dismiss as just an oversight on her part. I didn’t say anything but was definitely bothered by it.

That night Rebecca and I were at dinner and she asked how I was doing. I told her I was a little anxious about the follow up blood tests being done the next day and hoped everything was OK. I tried to resist saying anything more but couldn’t resist. “Do you remember when we prayed last night?”

“Sure.” Rebecca answered lovingly.

“Well, I kinda noticed when we were praying that you didn’t pray for me for my tests to come back clear.”

“What? Yes, I did!” Rebecca shot back defensively.

“No. You really didn’t. Because I was listening closely for it and it just didn’t happen..” I paused to let it sink in and added, “At first, I thought it was an oversight. But when you had a second chance to pray for me this morning  at coffee and didn’t take it, it bothered me.”

Rebecca explained, “The reason I didn’t ask God for you tests to be clear is because I have been taught only to pray for ‘God’s will to be done’ instead of asking for specific things that I want Him to do for me.”

“What?” I responded incredulously.  “You’re saying you didn’t pray for my health because of some new prayer orthodoxy you just learned?”

“Yes.  I’m serious. ” Rebecca defended herself.

I sighed and shook my head. “I’m sorry. I just don’t think I can buy that.  If you were praying for our children —or even our dogs for that matter —- I suspect you would ask God to ‘please help them be in good health (or whatever you wee wanting for them) and then maybe after that add ‘If it be Thy will.’ But I can’t see you just praying, ‘Thy will be done’ without offering God other suggestions if it involved our kids or our dogs.”

Rebecca looked both perplexed and exasperated.

I continued, “Look, I’m not mad. I can’t tell you how you should pray. That’s between you and God. All I know is that if you were the one having medical tests tomorrow, I would ask God for your tests to be clear”

“OK. OK. OK! “ Rebecca interrupted, “I’ll be sure to ask God for your tests to be clear the next time we pray.”

“Don’t do that.” I said defensively. “I’m not even sure I want you now.”

“What?” Rebecca blurted in confusion.

“I sure don’t want you to pray for my health if it’s just to make me feel better. I want you to really mean it.”

“Of course, I’ll mean it,” Rebecca said . “I’m just not very eloquent at praying and wasn’t thinking. I want nothing more than for you to be well. I just forgot to say it.”

“Really?” I asked. “Do you mean that?” Rebecca assured me she did and I began to feel better about things and changed our conversation to a lighter topic.

Later that night before bed, Rebecca and I knelt down again and held hands in prayer. Rebecca went first this time and asked God for a “Fuller and more loving heart” but this time added, “And please help with John’s health”

I have to admit I was a little disappointed. “Please help with John’s health?” seemed weak and vague to me –and unlikely to have much of an impact at all. But I didn’t say anything. I was just glad Rebecca was trying. I bowed my heard and took my turn, I asked God to please help me to get “A clean bill of health with my medical tests” and before I could finish my prayer, Rebecca interrupted and added, “And please God help John to get a clean bill of health with his upcoming medical tests.”

Rebecca nailed it that time. Sure, she was just repeating my prayer verbatim, but I felt like Rebecca finally “got it” and was fully on board with doing all she could, prayer-wise, to help me out.

We said, “Amen,” and stood up and I thanked Rebecca.

The next day at the doctor’s office Rebecca and I held hands waiting for my results to come back. It was a long wait. I apologized to her for being so silly about how she prayed for me. I told her I was scared and wanted all the help I could get. She kissed me on the forehead and I said, “Thank you for being hear with me today. As always.”

Rebecca said, “Of course. That’s what I do. I’m always here for you and the kids. That’s my life.”

I smiled and said, “Well, I guess ‘being there for the ones you love,’ is about the most important job a person can have in this world.” Rebecca kissed me again on the forehead and we continued to wait.

Eventually the doctor came in and told us that the new tests didn’t indicate anything that we should be concerned about. It was a huge relief. There would be some follow up tests but I was essentially getting a “clean bill of health.” I hugged Rebecca tightly and thanked her for being such a good and supportive partner.

That night Rebecca and I knelt again to pray. We thanked God for all our blessings —with a special mention for my good test results. There were no special requests this time for either Rebecca or me. I was willing to pray for something for Rebecca if she wanted me to but she said she couldn’t think of anything. I did throw in a special thanks to God for providing me with such a loving an supportive spouse.  I felt like it was the least I could do.

Praying together as a couple is a very good thing. But not as simple as it sounds.

I know we aren’t supposed to focus on each other’s prayers, but Rebecca noticed my special thanks to God for her and thanked me afterwards. There was nothing more I had wanted from Rebecca prayer that night.

It felt feally good and I was already looking forward to praying together with Rebecca tomorrow night.

And secretly hoped Rebecca would thank God for giving her such a “loving and supportive husband.” But decided I probably wasn’t going to say anything if she didn’t.

Lauren Mayer: First Name Celebrity

One indication of super-sized celebrity is being so famous that your first name alone is enough to identify you.  Think of such iconic performers as Madonna, Cher, or . . . actually, those are the only clear examples I can think of (okay, maybe ‘Giselle,’ as in the super model, but that’s stretching it).  But now they can welcome a new member to this very small club.  Hillary Rodham Clinton is starting her campaign much more humbly than in ’08, doing small events, featuring mostly other people in her announcement video, and encouraging everyone to call her Hillary instead of Senator or Secretary Clinton.  And because she is such an iconic and polarizing figure, just her first name is more than enough to identify her and to elicit a huge range of responses, from outrage & conspiracy theories on the right, to ‘I’m for Hillary’ cheers on the center/left, to ‘Well, she’s our best hope since Elizabeth Warren won’t run’ on the farther left.

So I thought it would be appropriate to commemorate her announcement by parodying an iconic showtune all about a character’s first name.  (Hint, this is from a musical taking place in Iowa, appropriately enough!)

Lauren Mayer: Rand Paul Isn’t Sexist (He’s A Jerk To Everyone)

Senator Paul’s presidential campaign got off to a rocky start last week, with his constant issues with the media (and reminding everyone of the episode several weeks ago where he patronizingly ‘shushhed’ a female journalist).  He may not have been quite so patronizing to male reporters, but at least he managed to prove that his obnoxious behavior wasn’t limited to women.

I’m far more offended by his actual policies than his behavior – for a supposedly libertarian renegade, he hews quite closely to the far-right agenda of trampling on reproductive choice, gay rights, etc. – but as a satirist, I have to acknowledge him for said behavior, since it is what we in the business call ‘comedy gold’.

Lauren Mayer: Comedians’ Dreams Sometimes Do Come True

Frequently, in political satire truth is so much stranger than fiction that it makes my job a simple matter of setting reality to music.  If I were to write a fictional character who was so clueless, he didn’t bother to secure basic variations of his domain name, and so egotistical that he compared his science denial to the principled stance of Galileo (and then completely mis-represent Galileo’s breakthroughs), no one would take me seriously.  Which is why satire is almost always the best response to political shenanigans.

Ted Cruz’s first week as a declared candidate was like something out of a Monty Python routine.  So here’s a fitting musical tribute:

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