Monday, May 04, 2009

Gather ye sparkplugs, for tomorrow we drive

About a year and a half ago, I bought my car. It is a 2006 black, Honda Element and I love it. LOVE it. It's fun, gets decent gas mileage, and big enough for what I want to do. It is a REALLY well thought-out car. I had a friend's kid completely hark in the back seat. 30 minutes and a rest-stop hose later and we were vomit-free and wondering about what was for lunch...

But over the last 18 months, a little bit of the shine has worn off. I still love the car, but I don't baby it as I used to. A new scratch isn't met with fretting. If I go an extra week without washing the car, or an extra month without changing the oil, so be it.

I remember my old car, my 1996 Dodge Stratus. I LOVED that car. I still miss it some days. By the end, it was a real POS, but it was MY POS and as long as it lived, I still wanted it to be the thing that got me places. But there were things that were just straight-up broken on that car. The bumper never got 100% fixed after that time I got pulled out of a snow drift. The CD player would work sometimes... if the temperature was just right. And the cruise control, well, that was just a crap-shoot. But I'll be damned if I didn't shed a tear the day I traded it in for Ellie.

I've been wondering a lot about people being "broken." I hear it a lot, especially with the pappy cliche crap that gets thrown around, especially in my Baylor circle of friends. It's an idea that we're all "broken people" and imperfect, rought with sin and vice.

But no one ever talks about being "fixed." Christianity doesn't make us "fixed."

I think that if you live long enough, you're going to get some scratches and you're going to have some things about you that are "broken." But do you ever get them fixed?

I know some people who are pretty hard on themselves. They know they're broken and they judge and hurt and wallow in their brokeness. They cut themselves off because they don't want anyone else to have to sit through a drive with them without a CD Player. Or they don't want someone to make the trip from Waco to Galveston without a cruise-control.

But maybe they're wrong. Maybe being happy isn't getting "fixed" but rather understanding that some of the greatest conversations I've ever had, were in that Stratus because we had no music to distract us from talking and that there were nights where using the cruise control during the 2AM drive in the middle of nowhere would have gotten me killed. I would have fallen asleep.

I'm just saying that, in life, we have bruises and hurts and neuroses and problems. And some of them necessitate help, some of them necessitate time, and I honestly believe some of them necessitate forgiveness.

We're all broken. Some of us much more than others. But happiness isn't being "fixed." Maybe it's merely knowing your dents, scratches and faulty parts are part of who you are, your charm, what someone will love about you and learning to have a conversation instead of singing along to Beyonce.

I know that life is short and expensive. Who has time to sit in a driveway, wishing you were perfect, when you've got places to go and adventures to have? I've loved cars before, and I'll probably love more, but I know a good thing when I've got it. And I have it now.

Love the now, for yesterday is gone, and tomorrow may never come.

Love Now, broken pieces and all.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Stork neither Twitters nor Tweets.

"I didn't have kids to make friends!" is a quote my mother is very famous for saying to strangers as they gawked at a woman holding a screaming baby while simultaneously keeping my brother and me from killing each other (we had a thing for throwing cans) in the middle of a discount food store.

I often wonder if my mother would have Twittered if she could have while we were growing up. I feel like the thing about twittering that makes it so addictive to me is that it gives me a chance to express myself and what is going on in my life. Like screaming into a pillow, I need to tell someone, let someone know what's going on.

For instance, when I'm texting Sam, I don't really twitter.

And I can't imagine anyone more desperate for a release valve than a young parent.

I love kids. I LOVE them. They're precocious and funny and innocent and, most charmingly, simple. They have the simple blessing of being the emotional basic tool set from Wal-Mart. They don't need the socket-wrench when all you do is poop, eat, sleep and cry.

That being said, I'm not a huge fan of infants. They're cute, but the interaction is rather limited. They're basically a miniature great-grand-parent only they don't smell like cats/frustration and hide their racism better.

For my money, I like the 18-month olds and up. Right when they're talking and they're still a little fun to play with. They're walking and learning every curse you can slip out of your mouth. Kind of like writing in ink and hoping you don't sneeze. Its exciting!

We all hit that age where people start getting married and everyone comments: "Oh, they're rather young, aren't they?" And then, somewhere after undergrad and the end of grad school you hear the comments about upcoming nuptuals shift from "Oh that's so nice!!" to "Well, damn, its about time" to "Dang, I thought he was gay."

And then finally, your peers begin to have babies.

I don't have any idea how to process that thought.

I love my parents. They are wonderful, beautiful, charming, loving, kind and good. But as I begin to pop the pills of perspective that life prescribes for me, I see through dilated eyes more than I have before who my parents are. My dad is awesome, but he has a temper and oftentimes lets it cloud his judgment. My mother is one of the most brilliant women on earth, but she forgets to put both socks on sometimes.

And they have four children.

I often wonder where people get off having children. I think it takes a special kind of arrogance/confidence (or both) to think you have the ability to raise children in a world rife with drugs and peer pressure and money problems and cancer and Enron and rapists and heartbreak and the Twilight books.

And that's assuming you are a good parent. My parents were a tag team and perhaps the biggest reason for any success I've had or ever will have.

Their unconditional love, wisdom and contumacious insistence on putting my needs before theirs are my biggest blessing in my life.

What about those of us not blessed so? In the course of my job and life I've met souls from homes I can't fathom. Angry split parents playing "gotcha" on the battlefield of their children's hearts. Parents who insist on being their child's best friend when they need someone to give them structure. Parents who say hurtful things and judge too harshly. Parents who try to live vicariously through their children. Or even worse, parents who treat their children as though they were new Fendi bag that goes out of style all too soon.


Growing up you think of parents as perfect shelters. It is quite the shock when you realize that parents are really a lot like people. Imperfect and broken. So where do we get off having children?

Are they the consumation of love between two people as I was raised to believe? Are we lonely and just want someone who has to depend on us? Are they your chance at finally achieving some sort of glory on the football field/golf course/chess team? Or are they the miraculous result of sugary drinks with exotic names hidden behind cute umbrellas and veil of deniability? Sometimes I just refer to them as "proof of sex."

Or maybe all or even none of the above?

I want children someday. Maybe. I think. But when I say that, its like me talking about the dog I've wanted for the last 3 years but, upon a moment's reflection realize that I have a hard enough time making it back to my own bathroom without crapping my pants (it comes on me quick, friends) without trying to manage something else's poop schedule.

It's one of those things in which the goodness sounded in theory doesn't echo so much in practice. Like wearing the "Green Man" suit to a bar in a hot Texas summer... especially when you sweat more in some areas than others.

But then again, Children are a fad with staying power. People have been doing it for a while and it is definitely not stopping anytime soon. One is born every 5 seconds and in every country in the world. Can't beat that for popularity.

Its a scary idea. But for every Hitler, Mozart, Curie, Einstein, Khan and Piccard, there's a million "normal" people. People raised by people raised by people. Loving, wanting, hurting and living.

Maybe children are what the cliche's say they are. Maybe they are a chance, a shot in the dark that they can be a little something better than we are. I love the idea of being so in love with someone that I want to place a bet that the potential bad in me could be mitigated by the good in her in our progeny. That, and there'd be proof I had sex at least once.

At the very least, I'd have an excuse to Twitter more often.

Monday, March 09, 2009

In Trust we God.

Everyone needs something. Fish need water. Birds need sky. Dogs need butts to sniff. People need people.

Sometimes the water is dirty. Sometimes the sky is cloudy. Sometimes the butts belong to mannequins, devoid of interesting scent. Sometimes people are assholes.

But people need people.

I am a trusting person. I am one of the most upbeat, positive and optimistic people you will ever meet. I am curious. I always want to see the other side of a thing. I am always thinking. I believe in love.

I have an awesome, but very demanding, job that allows me to talk to and get to know and invest in very interesting, questioning, young men and women in need of a hand-up or a little bit of perspective. I am needed every day. It is a great thing to be needed; to be respected and relied upon.

But one thing about the nature of my job, I run Residence Life for Texas A&M's campus in Galveston, is that I very often get called upon to manage the very best or worst things that happen on this campus. It's a game of minimum's and maximums. It's a series of hills and valleys.

I have my trust violated often, my hopes dashed regularly, and my love goes unrequited as often as not. I tend to live and die with the successes and failures of my students... which means I get hurt a lot.

When I love, I tend to go to the hilt, head over heels, unquestionably on tilt, like Quixote towards his Giants.

Why? Why do we do this? Why did God make me this way?

One of the big questions I hope I get answered in the big "day-after-crossword puzzle-check-to-see-how-many-you-got-right" session with St. Peter or God or Buddha or whomever when I die is "what does God mean when he said he created us in 'his own image'?" Did he make us sentient like him? Did me mean it literally? That there's some really old dude out in space somewhere, white robes and flowing white beard?

I think it makes most sense to look at the common things about us all. And I think the answer is obvious. We all need love. Even God, in his omnipotence and wisdom, wasn't complete without others to love and love him in return.

So maybe my trusting nature is a good thing. Maybe being a Pollyanna ain't so bad.

I trust that I will love. I trust that I will get hurt. I trust that I will have my heart broken. But I also trust that there are some lessons that only experience can teach me. I know that when the skin is cut or a bone is broken, scars form to strengthen the cut and the break, leaving the mend even stronger than it was previously.

So I trust that my heart, when broken, will heal stronger at the break.

When I hear about a student who doesn't like me, I usually just assume its because they really don't know me. I'm a pretty likable guy.

Though I am the only commonality in every failed relationship I've ever had, I've never once felt a break-up was my fault or any kind of judgment on me as a person or a being. It's not that I was too self-centered, or too fat, or too crazy or too Catholic, it was always that I wasn't what the person who passed on me wanted. Just like every time I've dumped someone wasn't because they were bad people. They just weren't what I wanted. And we all need to push for what we want.

Happy people aren't happy because they ended up with the best in show, but because they ended up with someone whose crazy matches their own crazy; whose baggage be it heavy or light, colorful or bland, expensive or cheap, worn or new, matched their own.

I think God has some baggage. I believe his heart is scarred a million times from all the hurt. But he trusts in us, whether we deserve it or not. Maybe that's what love really is.

I've been told I make "Pollyanna look like a sarcastic bitch." But that is something I really love about myself. Maybe being so trusting will wear me down, fade the colors in my soul and dull the point of my whit, til I am naught but the stubby end of a chewed #2 pencil. Or maybe my "you have to be in it, to win it" strategy towards life will pick me the lucky numbers in the lottery of Love and Life.

Either way, I'm going to figure it out.

Trust me.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Plus by Minus.

"Lent is a time for you to punch yourself in the crotch every time you get a boner." - SeaNomad

This was a quote one of my favorite people in the world, and you know, after a week of Lent, I don't think she is completely off base.

I love Lent. I feel it helps me, more than any season in the Church's calendar, to grow within my relationship with my God. Something I'll never completely understand.

But I love talking about Lent even more. Especially to non-believers, it's a crazy time of self-flagellation, self-denial and religious pratter. And I get that. Give up meat one day a week? WTF? With all the trendy vegan places everywhere, that's as arbitrary as it is sacrificial. Giving something up? "I give up giving stuff up... har-har-har." And abstaining? Don't even get me started on that.

But still, I love Lent. Why?

To me, Lent is Spring-Training for the year. Lent is when we clear the slate and start working on the basics. Giving up meat on Fridays is the spiritual equivalent of wind sprints. During this Spring Training, is when we work on our swing for the new year. It's when we take an honest look at our game film from the last year, look for holes in our swing and try, through repetition-repetition-repetition-repetition to work out the kinks.

Having trouble hitting that inside curve? Work on opening your stance.

Falling for the high heat? Work on shortening up your swing to give you more time to decide on the pitch.

So it goes with Lent.

There's a lot that more that goes into the season: increased prayer, maintaining a sense of introspection (did you know Catholics are not to say "hallelujah" during Lent?) and much more doctrinal minutiae. But I think my favorite part of Lent comes in the choosing one item or activity to remove from your life.

On its face it smacks of capricious self-flagellation. But me say its a device that renders the whole more than the sum of its parts. Let me explain.

What is it to be a Christian or a member of any other religion? When you really break it down from a purely objective standpoint, being a Christian means living your life as closely as you can to a sort of code of Christian code of conduct. There is a line to be walked. Things you do that you wouldn't normally, and things that you don't that you usually would.

Well giving up something during the Lenten season is sort of like that in a a 47 day period in preparation for the rest of the year. By removing something from your life that you would usually do and enjoy, you're supposed to examine the effect of the vacuum of that thing in your life.

Giving up coffee, getting past the headaches, twitchiness, irritability and grouchiness created by the absense of that, one is free to imagine what they will drink instead. What will they discuss things over? What will they spend $4 a day on? What will they get on their breaks?

Its not the act of giving something up that matters, its what you with the space left by it that matters. It doesn't do you any good to let go of hating your father if you only replace it with hatred for your brother. Lent is a time for us to work out those kinks.

Lent is a time of addition by subraction. We grow by examining the space left by what we've lost.

So yeah maybe it's not exactly punching yourself in the crotch whenever you get a boner at all.

I just thought it was a funny quote.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Message in a bottle

What do we do when the lights are too bright and the sirens are too loud?

We close our eyes and plug our ears.

I've stopped writing over the last 6 months because I think I've been the guy struggling so hard down that last mile of a marathon he doesn't realize his running shorts split 100 yards ago, and... well... let's just say he'll bring a whole new definition to "flopping across the finish line."

Yeah, suck that image in...

I love my job. College can be such a transformative time for someone primed for learning. It truly is the crossroads in many of our lives. And I feel like I'm the guy whose job it is to hand out maps and put up the "dead end" signs. It's so fulfilling and I'm damn good at it.

It has its ups and downs, just like any job. I have to be the creepy old guy living on campus... on purpose. But I do get really really cheap rent. Most of the people I know are 18. But then again I never have to look far for someone to play a wicked game of Wii.

Worst thing about living on campus? Having to hear from every asshole douche I meet "heh-heh... I bet you tag all those 18 year-old girls... heh-heh." "No, [ya schmuck], I aim for older chicks. They're more desperate and less clingy."

But the best part of my job is feeling that what I'm doing is important. If it was always easy, they wouldn't have to pay me. -Which they technically do.

But the last 6 months...

The Wednesday before the storm, our campus closed at 5pm and evacuated up to College Station for Hurricaine Ike. They needed a staff member to move up there so I, being the young, single, unattached one, volunteered. I was happy to. I would have been insulted if they would have let anyone else. It was really cool to go up to College Station with its sprawling campus and enormous staff, navigate the beaurocracy and hand out my dusty business cards and arrange meal plans for our students evacuated up there.

But after we made the full move and the storm hit, things changed. We had to move 1200+ students into an already saturated college town bursting at the seams from its own 48,000 students. We had to do things that had only been talked about in theory, much less ever attempted anywhere in the history of the world.

Dealing with limited resources varying in quality to a greater number of people with limited guidance is something to see. It's heartbreaking. I watched normally rational, giving and generous people turn into starving Hyenas fighting over a fresh carcass, gorging themselves while others go hungry. Heartbreaking.

While in College Station, I was daily: lied to, mislead, chewed out, yelled at, demeaned, forced to see every weakness exposed, corrected constantly (thank-God), shut off from family and friends and all with little thanks. It was pretty emotionally bruising.

On top of it all, friends and new family left and right had lost their homes, nearly all their posessions, and dealing with loss. And I was shut off. We were all working 12-14 hour days, 5-6 days a week because if we didn't, someone might go without a meal plan or a warm bed or internet access required for homework.

And I was cut off from them. I shut off my emotions. I couldn't let myself feel hurt because I didn't lose anything. Not really. How dare I complain about loss or stress when my home is fine and I didn't lose a thing when Mikey and Addrienne got 4 feet of water, lost the deck they had just christened two months earlier and had the roof of their kick-ass shop cave in? How dare I complain about stress when Will lost thousands -literally- THOUSANDS of comic books when his storage unit was flooded?

No. I sucked it up.

But anyone who has ever tried to hold it in when you have to pee knows that if you let it out even a little, the dam will break. So I held it in.

I plugged my ears and I shut my eyes.

We were all going on adrenaline, keeping our smiles on, living for anything that can cheer us up. Rejoicing at every small victory. But you can only go on adrenline for so long. Eventually you have to pay the piper.

And that, gentle readers, is where I'm at. I've found my leaping out of bed to go to work in the mornings has turned to hitting the "snooze" for an hour and a half. Things that would have never have gotten to me before all of a sudden require "state of the union" -type adresses.

I'm quicker to anger that's slower and slower to recede. I get frustrated at the smallest things and I find it easier and easier to justify to myself that skipping work is okay. Its getting harder and harder to invest in anyone new. And that's what I've always done best.

And, perhaps scariest of all, its been harder and harder for me to get deep with myself and contemplate my thoughts, motiviations and feelings. My self-awareness has been slipping because its been neglected; a muscle atrophied.

So I'm turning a leaf. I'm pushing on. I'm letting go.

Can anyone spare a dime? Because I definitely can use some change.

Things have got to change.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

If I don't have time for my own words, maybe I can find the time for others?

I'm blatantly stealing this post from someone else. But I thought it was pretty cute. Maybe if I give Jessica from props she won't mind it. Check it out.


24. Yellow Pages This year will be pivotal for the global Yellow Pages industry. Much like newspapers, print Yellow Pages will continue to bleed dollars to their various digital counterparts, from Internet Yellow Pages (IYPs), to local search engines and combination search/listing services like Reach Local and Yodle Factors like an acceleration of the print 'fade rate' and the looming recession will contribute to the onslaught. One research firm predicts the falloff in usage of newspapers and print Yellow Pages could even reach 10% this year -- much higher than the 2%-3% fade rate seen in past years.

23. Classified Ads The Internet has made so many things obsolete that newspaper classified ads might sound like just another trivial item on a long list. But this is one of those harbingers of the future that could signal the end of civilization as we know it. The argument is that if newspaper classifieds are replaced by free online listings at sites like and Google Base, then newspapers are not far behind them.

22. Movie Rental Stores While Netflix is looking up at the moment, Blockbuster keeps closing store locations by the hundreds. It still has about 6,000 left across the world, but those keep dwindling and the stock is down considerably in 2008, especially since the company gave up a quest of Circuit City . Movie Gallery, which owned the Hollywood Video brand, closed up shop earlier this year. Countless small video chains and mom-and-po p stores have given up th e ghost already.

21. Dial-up Internet Access Dial-up connections have fallen from 40% in 2001 to 10% in 2008. The combination of an infrastructure to accommodate affordable high speed Internet connections and the disappearing home phone have all but pounded the final nail in the coffin of dial-up Internet access.

20. Phone Landlines According to a survey from the National Center for Health Statistics, at the end of 2007, nearly one in six homes was cell-only and, of those homes that had landlines, one in eight only received calls on their cells.

19. Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs Maryland 's icon, the blue crab, has been fading away in Chesapeake Bay . Last year Maryland saw the lowest harvest (22 million pounds) since 1945. Just four decades ago the bay produced 96 million pounds. The population is down 70% since 1990, when they first did a formal count. There are only about 120 million crabs in the bay and they think they need 200 million for a sustainable population. Overfishing, pollution, invasive species and global warming get the blame.

18. VCRs For the better part of three decades, the VCR was a best-seller and staple in every American household until being completely decimated by the DVD, and now the Digital Video Recorder (DVR). In fact, the only remnants of the VHS age at your local Wal-Mart or Radio Shack are blank VHS tapes these days. Pre-recorded VHS tapes are largely gone and VHS decks are practically nowhere to be found. They served us so well.

17. Ash Trees In the late 1990s, a pretty, iridescent green species of beetle, now known as the emerald ash borer, hitched a ride to North America with ash wood products imported from eastern Asia . In less than a decade, i ts larvae have killed millions of trees in the Midwest, and continue to spread. They've killed more than 30 million ash trees in southeastern Michigan alone, with tens of millions more lost in Ohio and Indiana . More than 7.5 billion ash trees are currently at risk.

16. Ham Radio Amateur radio operators enjoy personal (and often worldwide) wireless communications with each other and are able to support their communities with emergency and disaster communications if necessary, while increasing their personal knowledge of electronics and radio theory. However, proliferation of the Internet and its popularity among youth has caused the decline of amateur radio. In the past five years alone, the number of people holding active ham radio licenses has dropped by 50,000, even though Morse Code is no longer a requirement.

15. The Swimming Hole Thanks to our litigious society, swimming holes are becoming a thing of the past. '20/20' reports that swimming hole owners, like Robert Every in High Falls, N.Y., are shutting them down out of worry that if someone gets hurt they'll sue. And that's exactly what happened in Seattle . The city of Bellingham was sued by Katie Hofstetter who was paralyzed in a fall at a popular swimming hole in Whatcom Falls Park . As injuries occur and lawsuits follow, expect more swimming holes to post 'Keep out!' signs.

14. Answering Machines The increasing disappearance of answering machines is directly tied to No 20 our list -- the decline of landlines. According to USA Today, the number of homes that only use cell phones jumped 159% between 2004 and 2007. It has been particularly bad in New York ; since 2000, landline usage has dropped 55%. It's logical that as cell phones rise, many of them replacing traditional landlines, that there will be fewer answering machines.

13 . Cameras That Use Film It doesn't require a statistician to prove the rapid disappearance of the film camera in America . Just look to companies like Nikon, the professional's choice for quality camera equipment. In 2006, it announced that it would stop making film cameras, pointing to the shrinking market -- only 3% of its sales in 2005, compared to 75% of sales from digital cameras and equipment.

12. Incandescent Bulbs Before a few years ago, the standard 60-watt (or, yikes, 100-watt) bulb was the mainstay of every U.S. home. With the green movement and all-things-sustainable-energy crowd, the Compact Fluorescent Lightbulb (CFL) is largely replacing the older, Edison-era incandescent bulb. The EPA reports that 2007 sales for Energy Star CFLs nearly doubled from 2006, and these sales accounted for approximately 20 percent of the U.S. light bulb market. And according to USA Toda y, a new energy bill plans to phase out incandescent bulbs in the next four to 12 years.

11. Stand-Alone Bowling Alleys BowlingBalls.US claims there are still 60 million Americans who bowl at least once a year, but many are not bowling in stand-alone bowling alleys. Today most new bowling alleys are part of facilities for all types or recreation including laser tag, go-karts, bumper cars, video game arcades, climbing walls and glow miniature golf. Bowling lanes also have been added to many non-traditional venues such as adult communities, hotels and resorts, and gambling casinos.

10. The Milkman According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 1950, over half of the milk delivered was to the home in quart bottles, by 1963, it was about a third and by 2001, it represented only 0 .4% percent. Nowadays most milk is sold th rough supermarkets in gallon jugs. The steady decline in home-delivered milk is blamed, of course, on the rise of the supermarket, better home refrigeration and longer-lasting milk. Although some milkmen still make the rounds in pockets of the U.S. , they are certainly a dying breed.

9 Hand-Written Letters In 2006, the Radicati Group estimated that, worldwide, 183 billion e-mails were sent each day. Two million each second. By November of 2007, an estimated 3.3 billion Earthlings owned cell phones, and 80% of the world's population had access to cell phone coverage. In 2004, half-a-trillion text messages were sent, and the number has no doubt increased exponentially since then. So where amongst this gorge of gabble is there room for the elegant, polite hand-written letter?

8. Wild Horses ; It is estimated that 100 years ago, as many as two million horses were roaming free within the United States . In 2001, National Geographic News estimated that the wild horse population had decreased to about 50,000 head. Currently, the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory board states that there are 32,000 free roaming horses in ten Western states, with half of them residing in Nevada . The Bureau of Land Management is seeking to reduce the total number of free range horses to 27,000, possibly by selective euthanasia.

7. Personal Checks According to an American Bankers Assoc. report, a net 23% of consumers plan to decrease their use of checks over the next two years, while a net 14% plan to increase their use of PIN debit. Bill payment remains the last stronghold of paper-based pa yments -- for the time being. Checks continue to be the most commonly used bill payment method, with 71% of c onsumers paying at least one recurring bill per month by writing a check. However, on a bill-by-bill basis, checks account for only 49% of consumers' recurring bill payments (down from 72% in 2001 and 60% in 2003).

6. Drive-in Theaters During the peak in 1958, there were more than 4,000 drive-in theaters in this country, but in 2007 only 405 drive-ins were still operating. Exactly zero new drive-ins have been built since 2005. Only one reopened in 2005 and five reopened in 2006, so there isn't much of a movement toward reviving the closed ones.

5 Mumps & Measles Despite what's been in the news lately, the measles and mumps actually, truly are disappearing from the United States . In 1964, 212,000 cases of mumps were reported in the U.S. By 1983, this figure had dropped to 3,000, thanks to a vigorous vaccination program. Prior to the introduction of the measles vaccine, approximately half a million cases of measles were reported in the U.S. annually, resulting in 450 deaths. In 2005, only 66 cases were recorded.

4. Honey Bees Perhaps nothing on our list of disappearing America is so dire; plummeting so enormously; and so necessary to the survival of our food supply as the honey bee. Very scary. 'Colony Collapse Disorder,' or CCD, has spread throughout the U.S and Europe over the past few years, wiping out 50% to 90% of the c olonies of many beekeepers -- and along with it, their livelihood.

3. News Magazines and TV News While the TV evening newscasts haven't gone anywhere over the last several decades, their audiences have. In 1984, in a story about the diminishing returns of the evening news, the New York Times reported that all three network evening-news programs combined had only 40.9 million viewers. Fast forward to 2008, and what they have today is half that.

2. Analog TV According to the Consumer Electronics Association, 85% of homes in the U.S. get their television programming through cable or satellite providers. For the remaining 15% -- or 13 million individuals -- who are using rabbit ears or a large outdoor antenna to get their local stations, change is in the air. If you are one of these people you'l l need to get a new TV or a converter box in order to get the new stations which will only be broadcast in digital.

1. The Family Farm Since the 1930s, the number of family farms has been declining rapidly. According to the USDA, 5.3 million farms dotted the nation in 1950, but this number had declined to 2.1 million by the 2003 farm census (data from the 2007 census hasn't yet been published). Ninety-one percent of the U.S.farms are small family farms.

Pack rats win the race?

Found this and thought it was incredible.

H's & K's,
Neil Edward Golemo,0,2557404.story

Surprise Find: A 139-Year-Old Baseball Card

By Mike Osegueda

McClatchy Newspapers

January 7, 2009

FRESNO, Calif.

She dug into a box and pulled out a baseball card. She stopped for a moment and admired the picture. "Red Stocking B.B. Club of Cincinnati," the card said, under a sepia tone photo of 10 men with their socks pulled up to their knees. The card itself was dirty and wrinkled in a few places.

It was definitely old, Gallego thought. As a collector and seller, it's her job to spot old items that might have value today, to find the gems among the junk.

It's what Bernice, 72, and her husband Al Gallego, 80, have been doing since 1974 at Collectique, their antiques store in the Fresno, Calif., Tower District full of old jukeboxes, slot machines and records.

This card, she figured, was worth selling on eBay.

She did what she does with most items: Took a picture, wrote a description and put it up for auction. She put a $10 price tag on it, deciding against $15 because it would have cost her an extra 20 cents.

Later that night she got a few odd inquiries — someone wanting to know whether the card was authentic, someone wanting her to end the auction and sell him the card immediately.

Hmm, she thought, this could be something special. It could be worth $50, or even $100.

Or, as Bernice Gallego came to find out in the following weeks, it could be worth a lot more.

The card is actually 139 years old. It, and a handful of others like it, are considered the first baseball cards. Sports card collectors call the find "extremely rare" and estimate the card could fetch five, or perhaps, six figures at auction.

And Bernice was worried about 20 cents.

Instead, just like that, she is the least likely protagonist ever for a rare-baseball card story.

"I didn't even know baseball existed that far back," Gallego says, between puffs on her cigarette. "I don't think that I've ever been to a baseball game."

Spooked with all the questions she was getting on eBay, she picked up the phone at 9:30 p.m. that night and called her good friend, George Huddleston, and asked his opinion.

"I never make phone calls after 8 o'clock at night," Gallego says. "My mother taught me never to do things like that."

Huddleston's answer was simple: End the auction now. Figure out what you have and what it's worth before selling it. Her husband Al agreed: "Get this thing off the Internet."

So the next morning — with no bids yet on the card — she canceled the auction. She wanted to find out more about the card.

Huddleston directed Gallego to a friend who would know what to do: Rick Mirigian, a local concert promoter and card trader who sold a rare basketball card in 2004 for $62,100.

In the meantime, Gallego didn't want the card to get lost, so she put it in a sandwich bag and push-pinned it to her laundry room wall.

"If it fell off the wall, the cat would have ate it," Gallego says. "Well, or the dog."

When she met with Mirigian she found out what the card was — an 1869 advertisement with a picture of the first professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings.

"When I came to meet her and she took it out of a sandwich Baggie and she was smoking a cigarette, I almost fainted," Mirigian says.

"They've uncovered a piece of history that few people will ever be able to imagine or comprehend. And it comes out of Fresno," Mirigian says. "That card is history. It's like unearthing a Mona Lisa or a Picasso."

Mirigian's first question to Bernice was what you might expect: Where did you get this?

To this day, the details are sketchy.

"We really don't know where we got it," Gallego says. "We don't even know how long we owned this thing."

Makes sense when you consider the Gallegos are a couple of pack-rats who have been married 45 years and whose antique store overflows into their house.

The theory is that the card came out of a storage space they bought a few years back. It's not uncommon in their line of work to buy the entire contents of storage units, usually from a relative of a recently deceased person, for around $200.

That's what the Gallegos think happened here.

Before this, the Gallegos' biggest eBay sale was a John F. Kennedy autograph from 1939 that brought in $1,000.

Because baseball cards were new to them, Mirigian laid out a plan for the Gallegos. They had to get the card authenticated, store it in something better than a plastic bag and put it in a safe place.

So the Gallegos headed south to Los Angeles, bound for the headquarters of PSA, the leading sports card grading and authenticating company, which has graded 12 million items since 1991.

Most people mail their cards off to PSA. The Gallegos decided that for their almost 140-year-old card, they'd rather drive it down. They picked the one day a month that PSA opens its doors to the public, dropped the card off at 9 a.m. and picked it up at 3 p.m., encapsulated and authenticated.

It was all a little much for a dumbstruck Bernice who still says, "It's a little card I found in a bunch of stuff."

They chose not to have the card graded, the process of judging the mintness on a 1-10 scale. It's PSA's most popular service, but in the case of this card, being real and in one piece is the most important thing.

"It does have some pretty significant discoloration and creasing," says Joe Orlando, the president of PSA. "The good news is that the sepia tone photo that is mounted on the front is, relatively speaking, unscathed. The clarity of the photo is still there. If this were graded, it would be near the bottom. But even for a card that low on the grading scale, it does have some eye appeal to it. It still presents fairly well and that's the more important thing."

And perhaps even more important is the story it tells.

Before the Cincinnati Red Stockings there were no professional baseball teams.

Formed in 1868, the team set the foundation for what we know today as Major League Baseball.

"To borrow a term from rock 'n' roll, they were a kind of supergroup," says Tim Wiles, the director of research at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

"They brought in some of the best baseball players from around the country. They went around and challenged all comers. They barnstormed around the country and were undefeated."

The Red Stockings won games by as many as 30, 40 and 50 runs, Wiles says.

"They were kind of an all-star team before that concept really existed," he says. "In 1871, what the Red Stockings started would evolve into the first baseball league and the first sports league."

In 1869, the team's picture ended up on the front of a card advertising Peck & Snyder, a company that sold baseball equipment. Unlike modern baseball cards, the Peck & Snyder card was larger and focused on the whole team, not individual players.

"It really provides a time capsule for the game," says Orlando of PSA. "You look at the picture and the guys are wearing boots. They don't use gloves at that point. The classic uniforms. It was a completely different game at that time."

To Bernice — who, let's remember, has never been to a baseball game — it was the history, not the sport that meant something.

"Because I love history, the thing that really got to me was that it's a photo, a real photo of real people, basically taken right after the Civil War," Gallego says. "That's what got to me. I don't know much about them. Who are they? What are they thinking? Those kind of question go through my mind."

Next is the big question: How much is this card worth?

Mirigian says he expects six figures.

The Gallegos are content to put it on eBay and "let it fly."

Orlando offers: "The last one that I'm aware, it sold about a year to a year and a half ago and it sold for well into five figures. You have to let the market decide what it's worth when you're dealing with something this scarce, because there's just not the market history to determine it."

But who would pay that kind of money for a baseball card?

"A lot of people use sports memorabilia and sports cards as conversation pieces," Orlando says. "And what a conversation piece this is."

That could mean anybody from a businessman who's a baseball fan to a baseball executive. That's the kind of stuff that Mirigian and Gallego sit around talking about.

"You might have George Steinbrenner wanting to buy this," Mirigian told her one day, referring to the long time New York Yankees owner.

"Who's George Steinberg?" she asked.

Plans are to put the card back on eBay, though the auction is expected to draw a little more attention this time, thanks to Mirigian, who is already plotting marketing schemes and sales tactics. He'll get a percentage of the sale for his part.

"I find it so hard to believe that this little card is worth so much," Bernice says. "Neither one of us count chickens before they hatch. We don't want to expect the world out of this find. It's good enough that we've found it, and have been able to enjoy it and share it with a few of our friends. That for us is more of where it's at."

It's not the first time Bernice has unexpectedly walked into a windfall. She hit a $250,000 jackpot playing quarter slots at Harrah's in Lake Tahoe.

"She's a very lucky lady," Al Gallego says.

That was 10 years ago. Now this. Next? Who knows.

"We gotta live at least another 10 years for the next one," Bernice says.

Bernice Gallego sat down one day this summer, as she does pretty much every day, and began listing items on eBay.