Monday, February 27, 2006

I Think I Hear My Cell Phone Vibrating!

I called my doctor’s office last week to make an appointment for an annual physical and blood work. The scheduler said there was a cancellation just before I called, so they were able to see me the very next day.

If you are a male beyond thirty years old, a physical is not such a big deal; except of course for the ‘bend over the table’ routine. For any of you not in the know, when you bend over the table it is also required that your pants and your underwear be around your ankles, head down, butt end facing the doc. It’s the type position made popular at Abu Grhaib.

The idea behind this positioning is that the good doc is going to have a feel of your prostate. The bad news is that the prostate is actually inside the male body. This will leaving you thinking that the good doc is not really so ‘good’ after all.

My doc is male and not really a small person. While he was making his way through the other parts of the exam I kept sneaking furtive and anxious looks at the size of his fingers. This is sort of like looking at the size of the club someone is going to beat you with. There is not anything particularly comforting about seeing a large club. You wish and hope it will be a small club instead.

Not in the case of my doc. Big hands and big fingers. I began to think up ways to avoid the ‘bend over’. Maybe I could feign my cell phone was vibrating and I needed to go into the reception room to take a personal call. Then I could flee and never return. But I didn’t have my shirt, shoes or socks on and the phone was in my jacket hanging on a hook on the wall. I guess it would be a little suspicious if I said I felt it vibrating. I could try a fainting spell, but what the hell, there was a doctor in the room and so that seemed impractical. So I worried and snuck anxious peeks at the size of his gorilla like fingers. Fingers that continued to grow. They were larger each time I looked at them.

My time came. It was not pleasant. It was every bit as painful as I imagined. It was a big club.
My male doc is not gentle. He may even be a sadist for all I could tell. I will leave it at that.

Now the good news. This doc no longer accepts my insurance. This gave me an excellent chance to find a new doc, having a perfectly plausible excuse.

I want a doc with small hands and therefore small fingers. I figured female docs offered me the best percentages for meeting that requirement. Not to mention that I figured a female doc would have a gentler nature, taking a gentle feel of my prostate rather than the destructive nazi style of the previously mentioned big fingered brute.

I got out the phone book and started calling female doc offices. The receptionist would ask if I wanted to come to an initial interview. I kept telling them no; just have the doc put her hand on a copy machine and fax the results to me. They didn’t want to do that. None of them. They asked why. I said it was something personal. They said I was peculiar. I told them they would have to get in line to share that opinion with many others. Their position prevailed and I received not one single fax.

Still looking. And sitting on cushions.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

You Want the Job?

One of the things about having a career in architecture is that it has provided me with the opportunity to meet people that are influential in the community.

Over the years the list of people I have met with to discuss architecture and buildings forms a list of the influential that sometimes surprises me.

I count this as a blessing in my life. And before you get the wrong impression about this post, it’s not going to be about me. In fact I suppose I do not have much influence in the world apart from providing a service that is instrumental to the influential. The influential among us build buildings. It is a part of the task that comes with influence and responsibility. I have had many opportunities to be the ‘voyeur’ or to live a ‘vicarious’ life of the influential and wealthy by being around them on professional and some social occasions.
This is beginning to sound like a ‘look at me’ post, but it is not my intention, nor is it where I am headed. As I said, I am truly blessed to learn life lessons from this fate and I consider it a fateful fortune in the positive; far more valuable than money.

However I needed to construct the groundwork for this post and so it was somewhat necessary to tell you the above.

Yesterday I was in a meeting with the Chief of Police of a large metropolitan city here in Texas. His responsibility is an area with millions of citizens. He sat on the right side of me at the conference table, the stars and stripes on his uniform literally gleaming under the ceiling lights. It was obvious that the assortment of police employees in the room were deferential and respectful to him in all ways possible. The architects and consultants, being less knowledgeable, used his first name to address him (except me) and we went on about the architectural issues without deference to his status. I have the experience of being both a police officer (different jurisdiction than his command) and an architect so I fully understood the dynamics and professional protocol in the room.

During the meeting the Chief sat quietly. He was respectful and attentive to the architects and engineers and gracefully excused himself as we dipped into more and more detail.

As I drove back to my office following the meeting I reflected on the large responsibilities that belong to him every day. I thought about the disaster in New Orleans. I thought about September 11th in NYC.

How many of us can really say we could do his job? How many of us can handle the constant pressure of a Condi Rice or Donald Rumsfeld? How well would we perform their jobs?

Bringing this personal perspective helps us see the lives of the responsible in a different manner. Would you want to be Harriet Myers, publicly excoriated by Congress? Would you want to be the mayor of New Orleans, whose city was visited by a level of disaster previously unknown in our country? How about Bill Clinton; whose personal indiscretion is practiced by millions of other men in our nation including many that publicly defiled him in impeachment hearings. Would you want to walk in any of those sets of shoes? It seems to me that we spend so much of our time in constant criticism of those that take on the mantle of responsibility and influence that we no longer see their good.

I have my own cynical streak and it is quite healthy at that, as my friends and family can quickly assure you. In fact I can be quite cynical of leadership at times.

However, I am also clearly struck with the idea that the press, whether print or electronic, has in the past two decades projected a great deal of negative judgment onto the responsible among us. When this summary judgment is expressed in a worldwide or nationwide venue it hypnotizes us and encourages us to adopt similar behavior. This phenomenon makes us all guilty.

Like a child, we can point at the press and say “Well, they started it”, but it takes all of us engaging in this negative habit to make it a trait of the society in everyday discourse.

While I am not wealthy or influential in my own right, I have learned something very important in my life by being around those that are. The list includes large city mayors, school superintendents, multi-billionaires, multi-billionaire heiresses, corporate CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies and many others. These are the people that donate, quite literally, millions upon millions of dollars to charity. In addition they make numerous personal appearances on behalf of worthy causes.

So what have I learned?

They are every bit as human as you or I. More often than not they are benevolent to and respectful of others. They might have more talent, or more financial blessing, or more of many things, but at the end of the day, they are every bit as feeling and as human as anyone else. They do not have a magical shield to throw off the negative bite of their fellow man. They do develop coping skills, but I know from talking with them that it truly hurts them, even as they work on, trying to do what is best for the larger public.

Every day I see openly hostile references by the left and the right in this country to our leaders. I see people drawing hateful cartoons. I see opinion pieces that quickly break down into personal attacks on a fellow human.

It’s my belief that these opinion pieces are often composed by people that are essentially unknowledgeable about what they are actually writing about. I had a comically entertaining conversation with a friend about the ‘ports management’ issue. She went on at great length about the incredible stupidity of our leadership and president. When I asked her questions about her position it became clear to me that she did not know or understand the facts of the issue. For example, she believed that the US Government was selling the ports to the UAE after the British bid was rejected by George Bush and UAE ships would have harboring preferences. Wrong on all accounts.
So for starters, if you don’t really know what is going on, why are you calling the president an idiot? After digesting all of the actual facts you may come to disagree with the president. Perhaps we could just state that we disagree and leave the name calling out?

Maybe we can all find a more positive view and a more respectful position if we can find the requisite compassion to understand these people we so readily attack just might be doing the best they can, and that they are human. I offer Judge Alito’s wife as evidence of a human victim of this insufferable lack of respectfulness, even within our Senate.

And oh by the way……..doing without them might mean that we have to step up to the task and do it ourselves.

That’s a sobering thought. It is for me anyway.

The floor is open…..


Thursday, February 23, 2006

How you say?

Have you ever had to go to speech therapy? I did. It happened in the second grade. My second grade teacher decided that it would be to my long term advantage to actually pronounce my “R’s” as though they were R’s instead of “W’s.” My contention is that I had learned this particular pronunciation from watching Bugs Bunny cartoons, in which Elmer Fudd shared my handicap.”Anybody seen that Wascaly Wabbit?”
Warner Brothers (thanks Grant) has a big law suit to fight if this happens in this decade, but alas I grew up in a decade where teachers were not questioned and Warner Brothers was not sued. In a display of conservative republican cruelty the schools expected me to do things correctly. So off to speech therapy I went.

The lessons consisted of the repetitive sounding out of sounds like this:
Ree, Riii, Row, Ruuu
My initial attempts went like this:
Wee, Wiii, Whoa, Wuuu

However there was a speech therapist right in front of my face with correction, and eventually I did learn to say my ‘R’s’. Given that both my first and last name begin with an R, this saved me many a playground beating I suppose.

A couple of days ago I posted about wanting to come back as a baseball radio announcer. Then, last night I was watching the Winter Olympics and was seized by the horror of having to pronounce all of those remarkable names if asked to announce the Olympics.

Here is a short list of the names in the Winter Olympics that would tangle even the skilled in the English language:

Elena Gedevanishvill
Irina Slutskaya
Shizuka Arakawa
Ville Peltonen
Tor Arn Hetland
Gilles Jacqueet
Teppe Numminnen
Shittenkrappe Dammuttuhelle

This makes saying your ‘R’s” correctly seem like child’s play.

Still I wonder if our skilled broadcasters are actually getting all of these names right.
I have the feeling some folks in Latvia, if they happen to be watching NBC, are laughing their Latvian fannies off at the pronouncing goofs.

Quick cut to a Russian broadcaster struggling with the mouthful of English “James Smith.”

Hahmeeeezz Smeeeeth ?

Close enough.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

If You See My Boys

Baseball spring training began last week. One of my friends that coaches in the Baltimore Orioles organization sent me an email that said ‘”See ya when the seasons over.”
Today I am looking out a fog enveloped window at a 35 degree Texas day. The day is gray, devoid of sunshine, one of those days that if you don’t purposively work at keeping your chin up, then the drabness of it all can drop your emotions into a red zone of ‘who cares about anything anyway’ sort of funk. It’s not baseball weather outside my window.

Those two emotions sit heavy on my mind today. I am 4 years removed from coaching my last select baseball team. I coached for many years and there are times I am glad its over and other times that I miss the coaching scene. Today I miss it. But truth being brought forward, I should say I miss the baseball players.

Isn’t that what life ends up teaching us? It’s the people that spin the world? Everything that happens on a baseball field is directly linked to the action of an individual. Every game winning home run I ever witnessed, the soar of the ball and the exultation of knowing victory was wrapped inside it’s disappearing arc, had a baseball student on the business end of the bat. Every remarkably pitched game, hitter after hitter being dispatched back to the dugout, had a baseball student at the delivery end of the pitch.

Can I miss the game? Maybe. But the game cannot play itself. And so I know down deep inside it’s not the game I miss.

The photo I attached is a picture of yours truly and three of my athletes. We are sitting in a hotel room during a road trip after a game some six years ago. The young man on my right is a recent graduate of Princeton, living and working in NYC. The boy on my left with his arm around me is also a recent graduate. University of Miami. He’s working in a televison station. The one behind me was a draft choice of the San Diego Padres.

So many kids and so many stories. One became a first round draft choice of the Houston Astros. Fourteen from that last year went on to play college baseball on scholarships.

They called me Coach; and they still do when they call or come by.

I think about them on days like this.

I search for a lesson to learn. Should I sit and miss them?

Or maybe I should learn to love more reverently those that surround me today; knowing today will be tomorrow’s memory?

I stood in the third base coaching box giving signals to the hitter.

Then I pulled my lineup card from my back pocket to plan my next move.

I glanced down to the bullpen to make sure my next pitcher was warming up.

Then I made a mistake.

I closed my eyes for only a second, and when I opened them again; they were gone.

All of them.

Today I miss them and I wish I had never closed my eyes.

Spring training started last week.

If you see my boys, please tell them I miss them.


Next Time

Have you burned any brain cells deciding what you would be if you could come back to earth a second time? I say burn brain cells because it may well be a useless enterprise to engage your brain in that thinking. Some belief systems say we do come back to earth again and again. Others of course talk about heaven and thrones and streets of gold.
Well....I'm gonna burn my brain cells here and yours too. If you want all of your remaining brain cells, stand down................

I have told my wife on several occasions that I would come back as a major leaugue baseball player. That decision is based on a life long love of the game. However, my second choice is more reasonable because I could keep doing it most of my life and that may make it better than being a player. Perhaps the coolest job on the planet is to be a baseball play by play radio announcer.

It would be even better if I could choose the time period. I would choose the 1950'- 1980's period.

Yesterday famed sports announcer Curt Gowdy died and caused me to realize he had actually lived what I would choose if I could come back and have a second 'do-over'. Maybe when Curt comes back he can take my place as an architect and he will hand over his headset and microphone to me!

How about your do-over? What would you be?

I can't believe I forgot about being a Playboy photographer in the 60's! Hmmm.......maybe I could do that in the off season!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Invisible Winds

Normally we would be playing baseball on a summer day, but the football had somehow fallen off the top of the closet shelf that morning and Pete had brought it to the breakfast table along with my replica Baltimore Colts helmet.

It was summer in Texas, sometime in July of 1959 is my memory and the temperature was hovering around its customary 100 degree mark. It didn’t really bother Pete and me though. We were outside most days in the summer and today was just the same as any other day, except for the fact that we were throwing a football around.
Pete, being 12 that summer, could throw long arcing spirals with the ball. I was only 9 and my hands were not really large enough to grip a football and make it spiral the way Pete could.

The helmet was a prize of mine. My Uncle Jay had taken us to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas to see an exhibition game between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts and I had come home with the helmet. Uncle Jay had told the man at the booth to find one that fit me and "Turn it over to me." Then he said, “There you go Repeat, don’t ever let me see you wearing a Giants helmet, now you are always a Colt.” He always called me Repeat because he said I was just like my big brother Pete. Uncle Jay had been the first to actually call me Repeat. Now it had become my name the same as if God had tattooed it on my butt end in the beginning.

So now, I was a Colts fan, going by the name of Repeat. And on this morning I was running sharp cutting pass patterns just like the Colts Raymond Berry would do it, the helmet dancing around loosely on my head, the face mask obscuring my vision as it went up and down across my eyes, reminding me of the windshield wipers on dad’s Ford as they passed up and then back down the windshield again. The helmet had no choice in doing its little 'cha-cha' on my head, its chin strap was lost long ago to my dog White Sox who had chewed on it all night long as though it were one of the jackrabbits he was forever chasing in the fields around the house.

I dove across the edge of our yard in a futile attempt at one of Pete’s beauties of a spiral, the dirt and grass imprinting my jeans with the green grass skid marks my mom hated so much. I knew I had also entered the ‘domain of the fat lady’ and I tried with all my energy to corral the pass as it skittered along the grass and dirt and at the same time trying to come to my feet and skee-daddle back to my yard. I knew I would be too late though. The fat lady kept constant watch from her bedroom window. My mom said she was always in bed and that was why she was so fat. In fact mom said she was so fat she could hardly even get out of bed.

No sooner than I could get to my knees she was screaming like always about ‘bastard neighbor kids and their damned noisy games’ ............ ‘ didn’t kids have any respect anymore,' and finally having saved her most ear piercing scream for a direct assault on little Raymond Berry himself she bellowed out “GET THE HELL OUT OF MY YARD YOU LITTLE HALF-BREED MEXICAN BASTARD!” Apparently she didn’t know about my new name being ‘Repeat’.

Pete and I made it to our porch the same time as our mom arrived. In what was now a ritual she told us to stay out of fat Mrs. Davenport’s yard and don’t be throwing balls over there. Then like always, she brought us both Kool Aid.

After mom went back inside Pete asked, “Repeat do you know how to get a fat lady into a bikini.” I thought about it for a minute but Pete got tired of waiting on me and said, “You take the ‘F’ out of way.”

I told him there "wasn’t any F in way," and then Pete started cackling like he was Red Skelton or somebody really funny like that. When he was all through laughing he told me dad told him that fat old Mrs. Davenport has so much hair in her arm pits that it looked like she had Bozo the Clown in a headlock. Then Pete started rolling around on the porch laughing again. I was still a little afraid of Mrs. Davenport so I didn’t laugh near as hard.

I asked Pete “What do you figure makes her just lay around in bed and holler at us for being in her yard?”

Pete didn’t answer right away. Then he looked at me like he had come up with another joke of some kind, but he didn’t tell one after all. He said “Repeat, dad says that she just doesn’t know God lives inside her. He says God lives inside everyone and that makes us all have the power of God and because its that way we all have to make a decision about how to use that power.”

As usual, dad's wisdom coming via Pete left me feeling a little blank at first, but Pete went on. “Well, see Repeat, its like the wind sort of; the wind is always blowing on the ocean. You can’t see it. But you can feel it and you can use it. If you set your sails one way the wind can blow you onto the rocks, but if you set your sails in the right way, the wind will blow you into the harbor. God lives inside you the same as the wind is always blowing at sea and we have to figure out how to use that power the right way.”

Pete could see the confusion in my face so he tried again. “OK Repeat, imagine it this way. You can’t see electricity can you?” I told Pete I couldn’t see it but I figured he already knew that was my answer because he went right on without listening to me. “But we can use electricity to do all kinds of things that are good. We just have to use the power of things we can’t see. Have faith they are really there and then learn to use them the right way. Like knowing God is in everyone but we have to use the invisible power just the right way, the same as electricity.”

“Pete, do you mean that dad says Mrs. Davenport just doesn’t have her sails set right?”

Pete started laughing again, then he pounded his open hand down on the top of the helmet, smushing my head into the padding at the top so that I could barely see out. He said, ”Yep Repeat, you little half-breed, now you get it.......maybe”

Copyright 2006 - Riddle

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Opening Doors

The following is a Chinese Taoist teaching that I have re-written into conventional english for you.
Imagine that there are a pair of doors on your house.
Now imagine that the house is actually your soul.
In your imagination there should now be two doors leading into your life.

Imagine the doors are labeled.
One door is labeled selfishness.
The other door is labeled ignorance.

The ignorant think they already know everything and so they refuse to open the door of ignorance to new ideas and the knowledge of the world. The door of ignorance remains closed and knowledge cannot enter.

The selfish cannot think beyond the border of themselves. Thus they feel no need to open the door of selfishness since nothing of value exists outside themselves.

Closed doors allow no fresh air, life, sunshine, experience or knowledge.

We must open our doors to the world in order to receive the gifts of life. First we must dismiss ignorance and selfishness from our lives.

Selfishness is easier to overcome than ignorance. Solving ignorance involves listening combined with silence.

It is only when the doors of the soul are open that the experience of life can be received.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Concessions Await

I wrote a post recently about race. In the post I made the statement that I believe race is a concept and not a reality. The post was dated February 2 if you would like to go back and review its content, and the logic under which I constructed the argument to support my beliefs.

I have been thinking about the post and realized that I did not make it clear that I believe culture is a very real entity. In my thinking these two words carry far different meanings.

One reader, LC Scotty commented on the post, “Ultimately, we are all human, we all come from some spot in West Africa where Homo Sapiens first arose. Our ancestors, scattered to the four corners of the Earth have been alternately changing as individual groups in response to evolutionary pressure and then co-mingling to redistribute all the goodies.”

I don’t pretend to be a scientist or expert on human evolution and offer no conclusions about where the first people originated, but I agree in earnest with the premise of his statement. The idea that we are all of one race, the human race, is what motivates me to tell you the world would be a kinder, and as my friend and reader Robert Shapiro would say, a ‘more benevolent” place if we understood skin color is only a concept.

This can become confusing due to the use of the word race rather than ‘skin color’. I tend to identify the common use of the word ‘race’ with skin color. Some of you may not.

However, culture is to me as real as anything can be. Ninety percent of my posts are essentially about culture. I can watch a German folk dance. I can listen to a Native Indian song. I can taste Italian food. Culture is real. My post seemed to confuse some readers as they appeared to believe I was saying all people on earth are a homogeneous blend and there is no speck of difference between us.

So today, I endeavor to make myself more clear. Watching the Winter Olympics I saw a German snowboarder compete in the half pipe. He had black skin. The commentators told the story of his birth in a tropical island nation and his subsequent adoption by a German couple. This young man grew up in the German culture learning to ‘snowboard’ a sport he was unlikely to master in a tropical island nation. Does this mean the German culture is his culture? Of course it does.

Can we inject people with other color skin into a completely different culture where their skin color is a minority and see them thrive and prosper? If you think not, I would advise you to become more aware of the people around you each day.

I do not have to look very far into the past to find the best and most significant wording to support my case. Those words belonged to Martin Luther King as he spoke in Washington DC on August 28, 1963:
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hand with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.”

I told you recently about a track meet that I competed in last Saturday. I run for the Houston Elite Track Club. It is a multi skin color club of teammates. I was sitting in the stands with some team member families Saturday. A couple of the kids, about 5 years old, playing in the bleachers asked their parents in they could go to the concession stand. Receiving an affirmative response I watched as a small black hand slipped into a small white hand and they descended the bleacher steps en route to a common destination.

This wasn’t Alabama, it was Texas. It has been 43 years since Dr. King’s words. But I remembered his words at that moment. If Dr. King were sitting beside me he may well have joined me as small tears formed at the corners of my eyes. I wiped them quickly; after all I am a strong male track athlete. Then a fresh set followed those that had been wiped away and I was busted.

This may seem a touch maudlin on my part. I know that the scene I described happens every single day across the US. But, this is really my point. We have come so far. Perhaps its only a day or a week away that we can finally quit discussing race. And Jesse Jackson and his mercenary ilk can slink into the background and simply disappear.

Yes, culture is real. But skin color my friends is a only a concept that we invented to separate us.

This has many ramifications for all our skin colors. It means that we need to embrace our sameness and reject our differences. It means it is time to stop talking about our respective skin colors as if their differences could define us. Celebrate our cultures, yet understand we can move in and out of culture with ease. We can be born on a tropical island and learn to snowboard in Germany.

It all seems simple enough to me.

"We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline."
Martin Luther King - 1963

Monday, February 13, 2006

Cleaning the Boat

Any good sailor knows that the bottom of the boat is as important as the side we normally observe. On occasion it is required to turn the boat over for inspection and remove calcium deposits and barnacles. Perhaps add a new coat of finish. Until the boat is turned the 180 degrees it remains a mystery what you will find.

This past Saturday I ran in a track meet that was dominated by college and professional track athletes. Mixed in with these racehorses were some of the best masters (30 - 70 years old) track athletes to be found in the US. Since I will turn 55 this August I obviously fit into the latter category.

Over the years of my life I have learned that my soul does not age. Each morning when I look in the mirror I might actually see the physical attributes of a 54 year old man, but if I squint the eyes that belong solely to my mind, I know that my soul on this day can be any age I decide.

What do these three disparate paragraphs have in common?

In my mind they became linked sometime Saturday during the track meet. I felt as though I was figuratively turning the boat over for inspection.

The top side of the boat in my mind is represented by conventional thinking that says young people around us are misguided and not nearly so clear on values as they need to be. How many times do we see phrases similar to this displayed on magazines, or talked about by the elders, and perhaps some of us have even engaged in this conversation ourselves.

So let’s turn this boat over for inspection. I threaded my way through the young athletes on the coliseum floor Saturday noticing the faces that would turn my way and smile. They weren’t smiles of amusement at a 54 year old track athlete. The smiles were simply acknowledging; benign in a way. Many of these athletes had not experienced being mixed with masters athletes. As the meet progressed they became aware that the faces might look older but the skills remain and a percentage of these energetic kids were defeated by men the age of their fathers.

At some point the smiles became wider and the college kids began to talk with us. They spoke respectfully. They said sir. They thanked us for being there and they wished us luck for our season.

When I turn the boat of conventional thinking over the 180 degrees for a real and thorough examination I see young college kids that are respectful and well mannered. Their athletic work ethic was without question. They smiled and they welcomed us into their ‘thing’; and then they cheered us.

I was seeded into a 200 meter heat with college runners that were destined to run the course in 22 seconds. I ran 26 seconds which meant as I rounded the last turn I was at least 3 seconds behind the college kids. Throughout the race college athletes were screaming at the top of their voices encouraging me. They weren’t teasing me or making fun, it was different than that. They sincerely acknowledged my effort to chase these marvelously trained young cheetahs down the track.

These kids were quality humans ready to pass down the cultural values that make us all better people. Turning the boat over is sometimes necessary in our lives. The vision of how sound we are sailing can be made clearer when we look more carefully.

I watched these kids run with abandon and remarkable skill, flying around the corners and shooting up the straightaways with amazing strength and commitment. In doing this they blessed my ageless soul with a very valuable gift. It refreshed my vision. Do you remember the vision I discussed earlier? The ability to see your soul as whatever age you wish? These athletes were offering me the visual reminder of how to run and think young. They were offering cold refreshing water to a thirsty man. They were re-teaching me, and I plan to honor the lesson.

In this fashion they became the teacher of the elder. The boat had been turned and cleaned.

I thank them.

Friday, February 10, 2006

When You Finally Have Nothing

I made the acquaintance of a Fort Worth, Texas oil baron at one point in my life. He rented office space in the building where I practiced architecture. It was basically a retirement office. His wife had told him he couldn’t hang around the house all day.

For the purposes of my story his name will be Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones was one of the people in the world blessed with money. His father and grandfather had been oil men and he had carried their oil and gas knowledge, producing properties and considerably deep pockets into his life as well.

I liked Mr. Jones. He was unfailingly polite to me, the young struggling architect anxious to make his claim on the world. On walks that took me past his office door he would call for me to come inside and visit.

Because I had grown up with more or less nothing, his life and attitudes intrigued me. Two things stand out in my mind from those visits.

I once asked him what he thought of poverty. He smiled and said simply “Well, I try very hard not to think of poverty at all.”

On another occasion I asked Mr. Jones what it was like to have accumulated so much that you really never have to worry about things anymore. I got the same ‘isn’t he cute’ smile from Mr. Jones. His answer surprised me. He said you don’t quit worrying. He added, “Once you have accumulated all, and indeed much more than you will ever need, then you worry if and how you might lose it all.”

The great spiritual teachers tell us that wealth should not be our quest.

This is a difficult lesson for all of us.

Can we find our happiness in life once we begin to remove ourselves from the need to have all things?

For me, it is peace of mind that brings happiness. I have also discovered that my peace of mind appears to be tightly bound with the idea of having enough money that I do not need to worry about it any longer.

If we are to follow the logic of the spiritual teachers then it seems we must purge ourselves of the need to marry peace with plenty.

How then to be at peace while possessing little? That is the large question most of us face.

As for Mr. Jones, it remains in my memory that he was not free from worry even while being wealthy beyond what 99% of us will ever accumulate. Mr. Jones left earth last year, a victim of lung cancer. And, as the Country Western song goes, 'I’ve never seen a hearse with a luggage rack.'

Which way then are we to travel? Which bus makes its way to peace of mind with nothing hitched to its bumper or stored underneath?

When you finally have nothing, will you share it with me?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Which way to run?

I am leaving tomorrow to compete in an indoor track meet at the University of Houston.

I was discussing the same with a fellow track athlete the other day and we also discussed the idea of competing versus running in a different mind set. Most of you don’t care a flip about my track adventures I know, but the idea we discussed has application for many things in our lives.

My friend and I were discussing the competitive field this Saturday and also the competitors in the upcoming Indoor World Championships in Linz, Austria.

As is the custom with athletes we discussed the idea of those we will have to compete against and how we might fare against the field. In a different translation; who can we defeat and who might beat us in any particular event.

I mentioned to the friend that there are two possible concepts available.

I can place my positive energies in imaging myself defeating other runners, or I can place negative energy in believing I can’t beat them.


I can run with true spirit, mentally separating myself from the competition and move down the track without notice of them, running in the sense of simply arriving at the finish through the art of running swiftly within my capabilities, no regard to competition, simply running fast for the joy of running fast. Feeling the track disappear behind me and the joy of knowing there is more track in front to be placed behind.

I like it the second way though it is sometimes hard to bring myself to that perception before the starter pistol sounds.

I believe for all of us, whatever we do, when we find this different way of practicing our individual skills or crafts we experience a level of satisfaction that exceeds and lasts beyond the mere vanquishing of a competitor.

Performing with the simple joy of doing the thing I do; rather than "how many people can I do this better than?"

I know it is a simple thought. Sometimes those are the best thoughts.

Now I Get It.......maybe

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Wanna see my breasts, or would you prefer I kill you instead?

Like many millions I was watching the Super Bowl last Sunday and watching the ‘in-between the action’ commercials also. As we all know the commercials are now as much a part of the show as the game.

Prior to the game the air time was filled with the history of Super Bowls and even the history of the best commercials.

There was also much talk about the now infamous Janet Jackson show of her breast during the halftime show (I think it was two years ago?)

In the US this wardrobe malfunction incident was met with a great deal of hand wringing and many people worrying over the demise of our society as well as a great grieving over the never to be recovered innocence of the American child.
OK, fine.
I don’t have a big problem with telling Janet Jackson that no one is actually interested in her breasts at halftime. From my viewpoint, a breast is just a breast, they are not loaded (except perhaps with silicone) and they are not really dangerous. I have never had one explode in my face or pierce my flesh or create paralyzing nightmares; and I have seen a lot of them, so I am qualified to speculate on their danger level. Still, like most people I’m not necessarily interested in Janet’s, though it appeared she mistakenly felt this was a very nice gift to all of us. I viewed the whole incident as silly and remarkably egocentric on her part.

So, like I said, I was watching the game and the commercials Sunday when the movie trailer for
Mission Impossible III was set loose on millions of living rooms.

Time for another disclaimer. I have no quarrel with the movie Mission Impossible III.

I am perplexed however by this; these are the words of dialogue actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman spoke to goodness knows how many children ears and minds on Sunday:

“You have a wife or girlfriend? Whoever she is I’m going to find her. I’m gonna hurt her.....and I’m gonna kill YOU right in front of her....”

Here is a link to the Super Bowl trailer.

I spent a part of my life in law enforcement, often working crime scenes where the products of murder were in front of my eyes, and you never forget these scenes. I tell you this to let you know I am not easily spooked by bad people or evil actions; only saddened.

I do believe our children can be scared by these things. In fact I not only believe they can be, I believe they are. Mr. Hoffman, who is an excellent actor was speaking these words in an matter of fact and threatening manner. Quick cut to Tom Cruise off to save the day.

Can a small child discern and separate all this?

Is this scarier to a child than the sight of Janet Jackson’s breast? I’m betting any common ignoramus can work that question through.

When I opened the newspapers and internet news on Monday morning I did not see one single solitary word of concern or protest about this movie dialogue, yet when Janet showed us her harmless breast in a display of ego and poor judgement the US went off it’s collective rocker in a fit of social apoplexy.

But then we get this, we tell the children menacingly “I am going to find your wife and hurt her...and I am going to kill YOU in front of her”....and not a peep of questioning as to whether this was an appropriate decision by ABC?

For me, I think it is ABC’s responsibility to think on a higher plane, but also a larger sign of a collective culture’s lost consciousness about the difference between a harmless body part and the act of murder.

I repeat that I have no quarrel with Mission Impossible III or Mr. Hoffman, his acting is an art and a gift to be shared. I do have a quarrel with our collective culture’s level of awareness.

What do you think?

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Kaline and The Innocent

This is a second part short story of the wisdom of Pete and Repeats dad told through the eyes of 11 year old Repeat. If you missed Part One you can find it here.

My best buddy Glenn Ford sat beside Pete on the ground, perilously close to the Kaline’s repetitive path. As was Glenn’s habit he merely sat, content to watch and listen to Pete and me, content with this sunny day’s freedom to use his fingers for interior nose exploration rather than for any baseball industry. We always figured Glenn would become a nose doctor of some fashion given his fascination and dedication to the subject. Not a smart doctor, but maybe making it on diligent application of craft alone.

Pete was on the wooden end of our little sports business deal. The bat in his hand was a genuine Al Kaline Louisville Slugger. The name of the Tigers great was emblazoned in the standard ‘burned in wood’ fashion that was the custom of Louisville Sluggers and as far as my 11 year old mind knew it was hand ‘burned-in’ by big Al himself.
I was bent over in my best imitation of the Yanks Tony Kubek, gobbling up Pete’s Kaline propelled grounders with the grace and craft of Kubek; looking runners back to third and then firing to an imaginary Moose Skowron at first base.
This was our deal; my big brother Pete hit em and I caught em. Later on Pete would be known for his hitting and I was selected earlier than other kids for most teams just to patrol shortstop; the just and predictable reward of our ceaseless hours of role playing in the steaming Texas summers.

Glenn’s little brother Darrell, who had already managed to survive four whole years in the screwball Ford family, was roaming around the front door of the Ford’s small three bedroom family enclave wearing a Roy Rogers outfit. From time to time he got the tan fringe on the red vest stuck in the screen door and one of his two Ford sisters, diligently attempting to bake imaginary cookies on a fake plastic oven that set next to a fake plastic refrigerator at the dead center of the Ford driveway, would be required to extricate him so he could get stuck again five minutes later. He could have played with the toy guns in the little patent leather holster lashed around his round belly but they had long ago joined ranks with a thousand other lost Ford children toys. Toward the end of the screen door play with too many acts, the two Ford sisters, slamming down their plastic tea cups and being somewhat brighter than the Ford boys, had moved their entire cooking and tea operation to the porch, using the screen door as a backrest blocking Mr. ‘Roy Darrell Rogers’ from his previous incarcerations. His older sister Kay, with practiced patience but using the trademark Ford family way with words, had told Darrell “you little testicle sack, why don’t you go see if Glenn needs help picking his nose;” which she knew herself to be merely a ruse attempted on an unsuspecting four year old as Glenn was already well beyond the point of being amateurish or needing help.

That was about the time the wail known thereafter around our neighborhood as the ‘shriek of the big breasted Ford’ had occurred. Mrs. Ford, the maternal genesis of the previously described bakers and booger pickers had come running from around the side of the family house, her big Jayne Mansfield-like milk jugs flying up and down in a remarkable dance of togetherness as though they had actually worked out the choreography for this very moment, her mouth wide open and her arms raised in the fashion of a hallelujah choir member in God-seeking climax, her fingers clawing at the air and the most god awful screech that I had yet been privileged to witness in my 11 years of confusion was running from her open mouth in a continuous wail of fear or tragedy. I wasn’t sure which until I heard the word ‘snake’ intermingled with other traditional and colorful Ford family vocabulary as she disappeared around the other side of the house intent on saving herself, the children be damned. Best that I could tell however she was on a panic driven course to make a complete circle around the house, thereby ending up once again at the original point of what appeared to be a significantly terrifying snake sighting. This, I predicted, was going to be even scarier for the snake the second time around.

As is the human custom, all us kids took off running toward the back yard following the terror befuddled Mrs. Ford. Years later I wondered why humans tend to run toward the source of trouble instead of away and decided I still didn’t know; though my best excuse for this action on that day is that I was somehow caught up in the ‘Ford-ness’ of the moment.

Rufus beat us all there. Rufus was Mr. Ford’s first name but my folks always insisted that Pete and I refer to him as Mr. Ford. We only did that when the folks or the Ford family were around though. In the night, sharing a common bedroom, we would form the name Rufus into a dog bark. Pete would bellow out “Roof Roof Roooooofuuss” and both of us would collapse in fits of rufus laughter until my dad would yell out he was “coming with the belt” unless we piped down and went to sleep.

Rufus worked at the GM plant down the street and was also famous for telling Pete and I that Ford built cars were for ‘shittin-in’. Pete and I howled, but Rufus didn’t even bust a smile indicating this ‘shittin in a Ford’ business was more like a serious living philosophy of his than a joke of any kind. He drove GM station wagons filled with little Fords was mine and Pete’s ignorant everyday joke. Then of course after the joke we would bark out “Rooooofuuus… Roof Roof Roooofuuss !” We also started locking the doors on my dad's 1959 Ford at night.

Rufus pointed out what appeared to be a very jittery grass snake. It slithered a short distance away looking like it hoped Mrs. Ford wouldn’t continue to scream at it. She was now cowering on the high ground of the back porch steps holding a bleeding shin, which she busted on the steps when the big boobs lost their common beat and her heaven-seeking hands didn’t reach the steps prior to the shins introduction to concrete. The snake underestimated her though; she was still screaming in what was now a curious mixture of pain and fright.

Rufus turned slowly to Mrs. Ford and shouted firmly. “Shut up woman, it’s a ignorant ol grass snake!” She did too. Just like she was gonna get beat or something if she didn’t. She got quite as a baptism and bowed her head the same as if she was at one too.

Rufus followed the snake and then looking sideways at Pete reached out his hand like he wanted Pete to hand off the Kaline, which had made the adventure seeking trip to the backyard with Pete.

Pete was figuring Rufus was gonna use it to shoo the snake deeper into the grass toward the railroad tracks behind the house.

The heavy end of the Kaline however was destined for a killing fate. Rufus brought the end of the Kaline down on the snake with the full fury of a man disgusted with his wife, and Pete and all the rest of us watched Rufus bring the snake to a standstill, a small glob of red/black blood spilling from its abdomen.

He handed the Kaline back to Pete and stomped off to his garage to finish rotating the tires on his decrepit ‘little Ford haulin’ GM station wagon, ordering Mrs. Ford to get up off her sorry ass and get him a cold Falstaff.

The children circled around the snake in the curious manner that children have, squatting down close, sensing that Mr. Ford may have missed something important in not staring for a while at a real live dead snake.

Then Pete, since he was the oldest one there helped us put it all in some sort of understanding. Pete was good at that. He has always been that way. He said to me “Repeat, you know what dad would tell you this means don’t you?” I told Pete that I really didn’t cause all I could see was just a dead snake. Glenn even took his finger from his nose, I think because he knew Pete was pretty good at explaining things and he wanted to concentrate real hard.

“Dad says fear can kill and hurt things that don’t need killing or hurting. He says when people are afraid of things it keeps them from figuring out if that thing can really hurt them before they just haul off and attack it or kill it. Looks like this here snake was just too scary for Mrs. Ford and Mr. Ford didn’t want to hear any more yelling on her part, but I don’t think this ol snake meant any harm to her.”

Pete said he wanted to go “wash the Kaline” and put it away for a while.

Darrell pointed his finger in imitation of the long missing toy guns and fired imaginary Roy Rogers bullets into the body of the no longer terrifying grass snake.

Copyright 2006 Riddle

Sunday, February 05, 2006

For the Queen of Peanuts

Dang dang dang the Peanut Queen reached out and tagged me all the way from Disneyworld. Very long arms on that girl!

The tagged victim lists 8 different points of their perfect lover/mate, mentioning the sex of said mate.

And, here I go!

Gender: I dig girls!

1. Common interests - I don’t think this is important or unimportant, but rather just depends on the individuals involved. Some personalities are so one-dimensional (not a judgment, just an observation) that they may not be able to share their lives unless their mate has the same interests. Others that are less one-dimensional have an easier time of understanding and relating to someone that has a set of different interests. I like it that my wife has her own set of joys and interests, but is also perfectly fine with allowing me to be me. That's perfection in my mind.

2. Physical/Mental Attraction - This is a great opportunity to be shallow, a trait in which I am well practiced; and therefore apt. I look first at a woman’s face. Then I run quickly around the back side and check out her beeee-hind. This of course startles women, but for inexplicable reasons they seem pleased if I approve and I state out loud “beautiful fanny my dear”; they smile every time, never seen a frown yet.
From a mental standpoint you would need to be consistent and not vacillating in your view of what you believe in and how you feel about things. Inconsistency and confusing abrupt turns in the cerebral road are a big turn-off for me.

3. Morals - I will parrot my friend Stacy - “gotta have good ones.” My wife wins here big time.

4. Sense of humor and adventure- I am thinking about the wife of a very good friend. (that does not read my blog) His wife is totally humorless and stuck in a no adventure allowed mind set. When I see my friend I try to set up situations where she is uninvited and I wince when she is around him; need I say more?

5. Smarts - You better be cuz I am very impatient with explaining simple concepts. I mean it. And if you don't understand then too bad.

6. Faithful - I think this was intended to cover marital or partner sexual fidelity (I think) maybe not though. In any case being faithful to another person or to yourself or to your ideals is a no-brainer affirmative if I’m picking a mate from the litter. On the other hand, now that I think about it; faithfulness is a proven trait so I guess the litter analogy is kinda non-applicable. My wife wins on this one magna cum laude.

7. Honesty - Life is confusing and time is wasted without your best friend being honest with you. Unfortunately, people don’t come with tags so you have to figure out this one along the way too. My wife has been appropriately tagged in the affirmative.

8. Romantic - I think romance is situational for me. If a woman ( and my wife does not) were to demand the feminine definition of romance 24/7 I think it would be a huge obstacle to my every day comfort level. Romance has its place and its time and is very important; but the proper application is the key. I also think women generally think men aren’t interested in romance. We are; we just carry a different definition in our head. If you rent the comedy movie Neighbors (1981, Belushi and Akroyd) and study the lines and over the top sultry ‘Ramona’ portrayed by Cathy Moriarty you will have our definition.

In closing....dammmit Lady Stacy that musta killed a couple thousand brain cells which I coulda done much easier with my buddy Jack Daniels.

You know I love ya anyhoooo.............

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Searching Hard in Pursuit of Nothing

Recently one of my favorite actors, Morgan Freeman, said Black History Month is “ridiculous”.
His reasoning was that the idea of black people in the US having a single month where their history is discussed is demeaning and that all black history is significant and forms a part of a larger and comprehensive history worthy of discussion year round. At least this ‘interpretation of what he meant’ is what I gathered from all of the news accounts I found to read. I applaud his intellect and his courage.

He also said this:
“The more you talk about race, the more it is an issue that doesn’t resolve.”

This quote lit up my interior and put a smile on my face. The reason it did so is that I have promulgated this theory as my own for some time now and I will tell you that I have had people tell me I am insensitive, and they came close to branding me a social ignoramus.

The conventional and liberally popular theory is that race must be talked about in order to ‘sort it out’ and create a positive line of communication for change. And in what now may seem a complete reversal in tone I see this point as well and it has been productive, in a manner, over the passage of time.

I also believe we could have gone faster if everyone understood that race is merely a concept.

I have told the people willing to discuss this opinion with me that it is my idea race is a mental construct only and therefore not actually real. It is a concept, with no foothold in reality. The idea that a human with different color skin is somehow different from those with another color skin, has no intellectual or scientific merit, and therefore renders the point moot; thus creating a default position of equality in humanness; which by additional rational extension creates a conceptual position, not a reality position, that skin color differences separate us in any meaningful way.

I am saying that we have quite literally invented the idea that race matters. We have willfully manufactured its artificial reality. This is a daring statement, however I believe it to be true. It is all just a concept you see. A pure human invention. The reality of skin color differences can be dismissed in this way. Yes it requires some intellectual exercise, but I believe the idea to be accurate. When the reality of race can be intellectually dismissed then the idea of racial difference is left wearing only its ‘conceptual’ clothes. And then you see, we can just quit talking about it and we have simultaneously created a higher and more positive ground to work from.

How did we change a concept into an ugly reality? It is achieved through fear. Fear of things different. Fear of cultures different and ideas not our own; ideas held by people with incoherent languages and cultures that might shock us. All of this leads to trying to capture our fears; and often the literal capturing of humans and their enslavement such as occurred between the US and the inhabitants of Africa. Greed certainly played a role as well.

I think Mr. Freeman is voicing a clarion signal. He was born in 1937 in the deep south of Memphis, Tennessee. Do you think he has not seen racial intolerance? Yet today he says:
“The more you talk about race, the more it is an issue that doesn’t resolve.”

In candor I say the following with some pride; Mr. Freeman said what I have known for a while. Then again, perhaps he has also known this for a long time as well. Race is a concept. When we reach a point that Mr. Freeman suggests, where it is no longer necessary to discuss the idea, we have come to a refined understanding of what skin color is and more profoundly, what it is not.

Can we all just be silent for a while? Jesse Jackson are you listening? Race is a concept, not a reality. The more you promote differences rather than our essential human sameness, the more you promote race as a reality, then deeper is dug the hole from which we all strain to catch a glimpse of a more dignified and worthy racial and spiritual peace.

This is a difficult mental wrestling match, this idea that race is a concept. To state that it is a concept immediately dismisses the real visual observation that skin colors differ and offers you up to the free-wheeling ‘non-thinking’ race liberals as a bigot.

My wife and I, who are considered white, adopted an infant ‘child of color’ 23 years ago. He is a recent graduate of the University of Texas and we are immensely proud of him. If he carries any racial divide scars they are invisible to me.

During his childhood the only discussion about his ancestry or skin color was limited to allowing him the truth of his adoption and his origin, but never any more than the starkness of truth alone. This might sound like an uncaring parental attitude. Perhaps we should have hovered over him, asking daily if he was treated differently because of his skin color. We took a different approach. We treated race as concept, unworthy of daily discussion or concern. It was treated as a concept devoid of any reality that could craft a real difference between us.

I asked our son recently, “How much prejudice have you experienced in your life”? (The first time he had ever been asked this by his mother or father) He said, “What do you mean? Why would anyone care or bother me about that?” He has lived his first 23 years without the idea that there was any issue for him to deal with; a sort of ‘blind and conceptual’ approach if you will. Ours was a mute response to the world’s raging discussions over color.

I offer this as some small proof that if you can understand my point of race being a concept, then you can learn to see people of a different color through a uniquely filtered and spiritual lens. And I affirm to you that unless you understand race is a concept not a reality, you will continue to be confused and noisy about it. When we all understand this, then we can grow quiet, and peaceful.

If you have been patient and read all the way to this point and I have simply confused you, then I will offer you a simpler borrowed styling from the late John Lennon.

'Imagine there are no races, it's easy if you try.'

And Morgan Freeman, a 69 year old man; a child of the segregationist south agrees with me.

Thank you Mr. Freeman, you made my day.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Acute nonsense

I went to a family reunion last fall.

My grandfather rode out with my wife and myself to the State Park where everyone gathered to swap lies.

This side of my family is a rowdy bunch. The other side of my family is the intellectual side with lawyers and docs and influential chiefs of industry and all that. I half expect them to begin family reunions with ‘great books’ discussions; but like I said that is the OTHER side.

This recent reunion was the fun loving grab-ass side of loud mouths and blowhards, and I think they are more fun, but also far more likely to be your jail cell mate for the night.

So I sat my grand-dad down at one of the tables where my Aunt Edna was blasting on about one thing and then another. She had just been to a doctor’s appointment and been tested for some heart difficulties and she was making loud announcements about the diagnosis of “acute angina’ to anyone that continued to listen and those that did not. I noticed my grand-dad fiddling with his hearing aid, which is normal, so I just left him to the task without interruption.

Later as we rode home there was more silence than usual. Then grand-dad chimed out the following: “That dang Edna, she’s such a motor mouth, always has been, why she thinks anyone would be interested in her durned vagina is beyond me. And besides that I don’t believe I’ve ever seen one I could call ‘a cute vagina’ anyhow.”

We rode on in more silence. We figured Edna deserved it. The wife and I just nodded up and down in the “that’s exactly right grand-dad” affirmative signal.

Pastor Jones and the coffee

Best news from the weekend: I am going to see Van Morrison in person on March 6th in Dallas. WoooHooo...good for me.


On occasion part of my career is serving as an expert witness in construction legal cases. I had a ‘bloggable’ experience a few weeks ago, but have never really tried to place it into any sort of cultural context.
I’ll just lay it on you in its raw form and maybe some discussion by wise readers might help me sort it through. I was engaged by a large Baptist church (hired gunslinger on their behalf) and showed up at one of the many ‘litigation discussion’ meetings where the pastor of this rather prominent church was presiding.

After an opening prayer the pastor launched into a critical monologue regarding a story in the newspaper about a large methamphetamine lab that had been ‘busted’ the day before in the church’s city. He ranted and raved some time about ‘drug users’ and their damning activities in the community. Having spent time in law enforcement I don’t disagree at all with the premise of his thinking or the need for eradication of culturally damaging drug use, but as he raved on he was chugging coffee like he needed a much larger cup, then turning to his assistant for more coffee when he did reach the bottom of the ‘too little’ cup. He also made certain she had more pots of coffee brewing as the meeting proceeded.

It seems easy enough to brand him as a hypocrite, but then I think he might just represent the easiest target since so many of us drink coffee or use Nyquil or other depressants in the course of our day. A lot of us have also given the conversational ‘thumbs down’ to drug addicts and drug law breakers.

It makes me wonder, and I know you could see this coming, just exactly what happens if we took the money and ‘illegality’out of illegal drugs. Starbucks seems to be fine with the US government while making a profit selling its acceptable form of ‘stimulant’.

I know this is a dark and confusing area to explore, but it seems obvious that except for an occasional ‘oddball puritan’ we all use some type of substance to alter our basic chemistry every day, just as this pastor was doing; though he remained oblivious to the awkwardly obvious coffee consuming cultural connection to the drug lab he was raving about.

Have you used illegal drugs? What leads a person there rather than just ...oh, say drinking 10 cups of coffee like Pastor Jones?

Here is my thought for what it might be worth. I think there is a connection to ‘breaking the law’ that works in concert with the pharmaceutical effect of the illegal drug.

Another way of saying the same thing: Perhaps some people would choose ‘illegal’ drugs that render the same biological effect as ‘legal’ drugs simply because the act of breaking the law is an added bonus?

A third way to say it; the reward of the drug is intensified by the measure of the risk in arriving at its reward?

Maybe if society were to remove the ‘bonus effect’ ?
Postscript: I spend a lot of my energy training as a track athlete, running in masters track competitions. Recently Ken Stone, a fellow blogger, wrote an inspirational story about a masters track athlete recovering from alcohol and heroin addiction. It may interest you for its 'human' component alone. You can find it here.