Finding Joy

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It’s Easter, generally my favorite holiday, and I should be in a celebration mode, but I’m falling a bit short of that this year.  It’s a conglomeration of a lot of things.  We suffered a loss just a week ago and the recovery is taking a surprisingly long time this time, for both of us.  The week at work left me daily checking on my retirement prospects (and consequently getting even more depressed).  Then I ran a 10K on Saturday.  I’m doing a pretty good job of staying in shape these days and I got through the first half of the race feeling good.  About mile four, I discovered that I really wasn’t in that good a shape.  The rest of the run is sort of a blur.  I also discovered that my shoes might need replacing, or so the blisters on my feet were telling me.

So it’s Easter and I’m bummed out and my legs are sore (at least the blisters didn’t hang around) and I’m working hard to get into something approaching a festive mode before I grace my family with my presence at Easter dinner.  I’m simultaneously feeling like I don’t want to write today and feeling like I have to write today for therapeutic reasons.

Then again, it’s not a requirement that I be in a good mood for this.  It’s Easter and it’s all about God choosing to be with us no matter what mood we’re in.  God’s perfectly willing to meet me wherever I’m at.  I relate it to the difference between happiness and joy. In my Thesaurus, those words are listed as synonyms, but in the thesaurus that exists in the vast and empty recesses inside my skull, there’s a difference.  Happiness is about the external stuff in our lives that make us feel good.  Joy is internal and is about recognizing God when he’s with you.  And he’s always with you.  It’s just the recognizing it part of the equation that requires a little work.

I just don’t think I can muster the happy thing at dinner this year.  I do think I can manage the joy thing.

Hope y’all can too.  Happy Easter.


The Cat Died

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Before you read this, you should know that this post is going to be part obituary and part advice column.  I wanted to mention that at the start because some people don’t like to read obituaries and some people don’t like to read advice columns and some people hate to read both.  If you’re in one of those categories you’ve been warned.

The cat died yesterday.  Chula was fifteen when we made the vet trip one last time.  Some weeks ago, she got whacked with a powerful kidney infection that destroyed one of her kidneys and left the other somewhat damaged.  It was almost four weeks ago that we took her into the vet when her weight loss became disturbingly bad and found out about the infection.  Once we got the infection taken care of, she hung on for another couple of weeks, far longer than the vet thought she would, and I think she’d have made another few weeks except that in the last couple of days it was clear she was beginning to hurt.

Over the years, we’ve had many, many cats, which is an interesting story but I’ve already told it, so follow the link if you are really interested (spoiler alert: it started with a dog).  It always amazes me how the little carnivores manage to wrap themselves around your heart.  You know that if they go long enough without food, they wouldn’t mind helping themselves to your exposed toes and it wouldn’t matter that you were still alive.  You develop an affection for them anyway.

Chula was different and it wasn’t just that she was probably the prettiest cat we ever had or one of the most athletic (her capacity to jump six feet in the air without a running start was a thing to behold) or that she had a ghostly quality of appearing in a room when you thought you’d locked her out.  Chula was smart and spent much of her life using that intellect to develop a language that my wife and I could understand. She connected with us on our level.  We knew what it meant when she slanted her eyes and cocked her head at the same time or when she chattered at us instead of meowed.  Simultaneously, she knew what we meant when we talked to her and she knew all of our nonverbal cues as well.  It was like having a tiny human being in the house, who also specialized in tact and compassion.  When you have multiple children, societal norms prevent you from selecting one child as your favorite.  Fortunately, societal norms don’t extend to pets.  Chula was our favorite, or very nearly our favorite.

Seconds after the vet put the needle into her, I felt like a part of me had died too.

Which brings us to the advice column portion of this blog post.  I’ve had a couple of other friends that have had pets put down recently and it’s a tough decision to make from a timing standpoint.  One friend had a big dog that had all sorts of problems.  Cancer, hip problems, respiratory problems, diabetes, etc.  The dude kept that dog alive practically on life support for months after it was clear that the dog wasn’t going to make it and was in a lot of pain.  I wouldn’t dare criticize anyone’s decision in that circumstance, because the decision is always unique.  There are a lot of inputs that have to be considered in each situation.  What is the prognosis?  Is my pet in pain and what is my pet’s threshold for pain?  Will our finances support extreme care measures?  I know that last one sounds cold, but when you reach a point where the decision is spending thousands of dollars which might or might not save your pet or putting food on the table, then the decision seems a little less cold.  There’s a lot that goes into that decision and unfortunately, the pet can’t communicate its opinion.

We’ve put down a number of pets over the years and it’s always difficult.  Chula’s was the worst because she wasn’t giving us any cues.  With our other cats, there was always a line.  Sometimes the line was obscure, but at least we had some guidance.  The only guideline we had with Chula was what we were hearing from the vet that she really should be in worse shape than she was.  She continued to act like everything was completely normal, even as she continued to drop weight.  She continued to eat a little, continued to use the litter box, continued to talk to us.  We waited until the weight loss became scary and her activity level began to slow.  As I said, every situation is different and difficult in it’s own way.

My next bit of advise is more theoretical and theological than practical.  Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of arguments about whether pets go to heaven.  (On a side note, my vet is a wonderful doctor and human being, but she has that stupid Rainbow Bridge poem posted on the wall in the room she uses to put cats down. I’m sorry, but that poem DOES NOT HELP.  Or maybe it does for some people, but it does nothing for me.  Every time I see it, I want to burn her clinic down.)  I’ve got a friend who teaches a number of college Bible classes and on one occasion, I heard someone ask him that question.  His first response was immediate.  There is nowhere in the Bible that discusses this question, so from a Christian standpoint, we don’t know.  Then he thought for a while and said, “Heaven is a place of perfect love and contentment.  If there is something that will make that love and contentment even more perfect, then it will be there.  If that something is a pet you used to have, then it will be there.”  That makes about as much sense as anything else I’ve heard.  So if thinking this way gives you some peace, then go with it.

Finally, understand this.  People react to their pets differently and they react to their demise differently.  For some people it’s not a big deal.  The emotional connection is pretty tenuous or even non-existent.  It doesn’t mean these people are bad people, any more than it means that people that overreact to the death of a pet are emotionally unstable.  There are a number of actions that people take that I really don’t have a problem with being a little judgmental about.  Murder, human trafficking, etc.  Unless that person intentionally harmed the pet, how they react to the pet’s death isn’t a statement on their character.  If they are feeling emotional pain over the loss, I’ll give them all the emotional support I can.  But I get the other side of the coin as well.  Chula’s death isn’t the same as losing my son or wife would be or the same as losing my father was.

It still stinks.  And losing her still hurts.  It just does.

We miss you, Chu.


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A couple of weeks ago, we finished up a sermon series at church about Jonah.  This was fun for me because there probably isn’t a book in the Bible that’s more fun to read than Jonah and that’s not only because it’s really short.  Madeleine L’Engle said that it was the only book in the Bible that could be described as a comedy.  In the more literary sense of the word that’s certainly true, although Ruth and Esther have comedy elements and, if you really want to stretch the definition of comedy to the breaking point, so does Job if you can ignore that whole “having your family killed in a freak storm” thing.  Unlike Job (or Esther or Ruth, for that matter), no one dies in Jonah except the plant, although I’m pretty sure the fish wasn’t real happy about puking up a human.

Jonah is a fun read because he’s just a lot like us, or at least like people we know.  God delivers a message to Jonah and then gives him marching orders.  Jonah reacts to this like a teenager that’s just been told he has to wash the dishes instead of go on a date.  He gets mad and then tries to sneak out.

There’s lots of great lessons to be gleaned from Jonah, but one of the overriding themes is anger, or more specifically, Jonah’s anger toward God.  If you’ve been a Christian longer than a couple of weeks, you know how that feels.  Bad things happen all around us and it often seems that they don’t really have a point.  When confronted with this situation, I usually think I’d be a little less angry if only I knew a little more about what God’s plan really was.  Unfortunately, that information is classified and my security clearance isn’t high enough.  Mostly, I’m stuck with stewing in my anger and/or despair until God throws me a lifeline.

Except that’s not Jonah’s problem.  Jonah knows exactly what’s God’s plan is.  Jonah wants God to wipe out the evil Ninevites and he knows God plan includes sparing them.  He prays to God, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home?  That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish.  I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”  Then Jonah does his teenage drama queen act.  “Now, LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

So maybe knowing God’s plan doesn’t really help when you’re angry at God, and I suppose sometimes it might make things worse.  Maybe we’re better off just not knowing.  There’s a Christian legend that when we go to heaven and see all of God’s plan spread out before us, we’ll feel a sense of awe and utter something profound like, “Oh, wow!”  I think I’ve got enough of Jonah in my soul that my reaction might be, “Really?”

Yeah, probably not.  The greater point about Jonah’s anger is that even at its most terrible, Jonah never stops praying to God and even when his life his nearly lost, he finds reason to praise God.  Anger directed at God is not a sin.  Like any of our human relationships, anger can be good, or at least not bad, if it’s expressed in a healthy way.  Jonah doesn’t close the door on God when he’s angry.  He opens it wide and exposes his anger for God to see.

Turns out, God is big enough to handle it.  And we can trust in that, if we choose to.

Just Marvelous

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Went to see Captain Marvel last night.  It’s pretty good, not great.  It’s hard not to compare it to the other woman superhero movie that was released in the last few years, that being Wonder Woman, and by that standard, it falls a little flat, but as I said, it’s still pretty good.  It’s a good diversion for a couple of hours and it didn’t feel like a waste of eight and a half bucks.  In the ever growing list of Marvel Comics movies, it’s somewhere in the middle.

This afternoon, I was having lunch with my sister and nephew and we were discussing and trying to rate the Marvel movies.  It’s just gotten pretty danged hard.  Just by themselves, there’s been 53 Spiderman movies and maybe 20 different guys playing Spiderman, or so it seems.  That doesn’t include Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse, which I understand adds several more Spiderpeople or spiderrobots or whatever just by itself.  I haven’t seen that one.  In fact, when we started going down the list, I realized I haven’t seen a lot of Marvel movies and it feels like I’ve seen one every couple of weeks or so for the last 20 years.  This revelation could be a good thing.  Perhaps I’m not as much of a nerd as I feared.  But going through all these movies does bring up some issues that I find really bothersome.

(This is the point in this missive where I am contractually obligated to issue a spoiler alert, so here goes.  I am about to give out spoilers to a couple of Marvel movies, so if there are Marvel movies that you want to see and haven’t yet seen, go away.  GO AWAY.  This fulfills my contractual obligation.)

Dealing with Captain Marvel first, because it’s still on my mind, did my eyes deceive me or did they just spend an entire movie turning Carol Danvers into Superman?  I mean, by the end of the movie, she’s grabbing missiles shot at earth from outer space and shooting them back into space.  That’s pretty much what Superman does, isn’t it?  I guess there’s nothing wrong with that, except that Superman is the most boring character in the DC universe.  Invincibility tends to do that to a character.  After a while, writers have to figure out how to make Superman more vincible (hey, I guess that’s actually a word! who’da thunk it!), because nothing is more boring than watching some guy that can do anything he wants at any time he wants without consequence.  I don’t think making that character a woman makes it any less boring, but maybe they’ll figure out some way to make her interesting in the next movie.

Speaking of which, the trailers for the next Marvel movie are out which I guess gets released in April.  That’s a sequel to last year’s Avengers: Infinite War.  If you haven’t seen it, the plot for Infinite War revolves around an uber bad guy and raging Malthusian named Thanos, who devises to kill half of all the living creatures in the universe.  He succeeds, and suddenly 50% of everything living creature starts turning to dust like vampires killed by Buffy.  Humans, superheroes, chipmunks, possibly John Wick’s dog, which would make a great sequel although I’m expecting the writers to go a different direction.  By the way, that John Wick thing isn’t my idea. Just plug it into a search engine sometime and check out the memes.

Which gets me to another bothersome point.  Let’s suppose that half of everything suddenly did die off here on earth.  Do you really think that would be the end of the carnage?  The trailer for Avengers: Endgame shows the remaining superheroes sulking around at headquarters before actually trying to do something, but wouldn’t they be really busy trying to stop the chaos.  I’d think crops would start dying for lack of workers and governments would topple and medical care would be in short supply and we’d suddenly be ruled by some dude named Lord Humongous.  Okay, that’s a different movie, but you get the idea.  Just finding enough trained people to run the local sewage treatment plant would be nearly impossible.  I would imagine that by the time the Superheroes helped Mad Max defeat Humongous, we humans would be down to about 25% of what we were and it would be centuries before we achieved anything resembling cultural stability.

Anyway, that’s just a couple of my thoughts and this is already getting way too long.  Try not to think about any of this before you go to bed tonight.  It might end up causing insomnia.  Trust me, I’ve tried it.

Maybe my nerd creds are stronger than I thought.

2019 NCAA Tournament – The Revenge of the Mid-Majors

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So, the brackets are out and we’re back with some more tournament thoughts.  Some Q&A:

What do you make of this year’s tournament?  It looks… different.  Lots of mid-major teams and they really deserve to be there (more on that later).  I’ve got a couple of quibbles with some of the selections, but nothing major.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  Both St. John’s and Arizona St. are a joke, but at least they have to play each other to get to the field of 64.

Who are the top teams this year?  Two weeks ago it was clear who the top three teams in the country were and the consensus was that there was a gap between those three teams and everyone else.  Since then, a number of events have occurred that have shaken that consensus.

1.  Duke was the favorite to win it this year because they have, by quite a bit actually, the best starting lineup of any team in the country.  They’ve got the best player in the country in Zion Williamson, a once in a generation guy that’s got NBA superstar written all over him.  What they don’t have is any depth.  When Williamson got hurt a few weeks ago, Duke struggled.  In fact, they’ve struggled when any of their starters have gotten hurt.  Williamson is back now, and Duke is back to being the favorite, but another injury or one bad game with one of the starters in foul trouble and Duke gets pulled back to the pack talent-wise pretty quickly.

2.  Gonzaga has also got a nice starting lineup and they’re the only team in the country to beat Duke at full strength this season.  I think most people had them penciled into the Final Four.  That was before their bizarre effort in the West Coast Conference tournament championship game against Saint Mary’s.  The Gaels pretty much embarrassed Gonzaga about every way you possibly could and left you wondering if something may be a bit off with the Zags.

3.  Virginia, in past years, has been one of the most boring teams in the country to watch, an incredibly talented team that plays at a very slow pace.  Well, after last year’s embarrassing first round tournament loss, it looks like the Virginia coaching staff decided to mix it up a little as far as strategery goes.  They’re just a little more up-tempo and a lot more fun to watch.  That being said, they got handled pretty good by Florida State in the ACC tournament semifinals.

All that aside, all of these hiccups are explainable and not particularly relevant to the discussion now.  Duke is healthy and Gonzaga and Virginia were probably both due for one bad game.  Better to get that game out of the way before the NCAA tournament starts.  Ultimately, what all this really means is that there are three really good teams at the top, but the gap between them and the rest of the field isn’t nearly as much as was initially thought.

What about that fourth number one seed?  North Carolina’s very good.  They beat Duke twice when Zion Williamson was hurt, but they almost beat them a third time in the ACC tournament when Williamson was healthy.  They also have a win over Gonzaga.  I don’t think they’re at quite the same level as the top three teams, but if those top teams rate 100, UNC is probably about 98.5, or even closer.

So who do you see as a threat to those teams?  Kentucky is clearly loaded with a lot of young guys that will likely be playing in the NBA someday.  Michigan St. could have been a number one seed, although I really think they aren’t quite at that same level as those other guys.  I suppose Purdue is a bad matchup for any of those top teams.  Texas Tech is similar to Purdue.  I guess Houston, although they’ve got to be the toughest team in the tournament to root for.

You got a dark horse pick?  Why don’t I pick a team that no one else is going to mention. IF (and this is a big if) Kansas State is healthy, they are a tough matchup for any team in the tournament.  They’re experienced, they’ve got a great guard tandem, and they almost made the Final Four last year.  One of their best players, Dean Wade, has been injured for much of the season.  If he can’t go, that first game matchup against California-Irvine suddenly looks really iffy.

So is this the year that a 16 seed beats a… Wait, what?  I guess I’d better retire this question.  A couple of the sixteen seeds (Gardner-Webb and Iona) should probably be seeded high than they are.  Neither stands a prayer in the first round.

What about teams from the mid-major conferences?  This is a GREAT season for teams outside the big conferences.  Wofford, Liberty, Nevada, Utah St. New Mexico St., Murray St., Buffalo, and Belmont all could make deep runs in this tournament.  Yale and Northeastern are capable of getting a win or two.  I’m sure I’m forgetting a few other teams that are good enough to win some games this year.

If I had to pick one of them that might be the best threat to make a Final Four, I guess I’d go with Nevada.

Deep into this article and you still haven’t mentioned either of your alma maters?  That’s not quite true.  I mentioned Saint Mary’s in passing.  Nice team.  Might take out Villanova in the first round.  They’ve got no shot if they have to play Purdue in the next round.

As for Kansas, well, your guess is as good as mine.  They’ve got wins this year against Tennessee, Wofford, Michigan State, and Villanova.  They’ve also got some really embarrassing losses.  They start four freshmen and most of the time, they just can’t seem to pull it together.  If they get that far (which is unlikely, I think), they don’t match up terribly against North Carolina and they weren’t that far off from beating Kentucky earlier in the year, so a Final Four appearance isn’t completely out of the question.  I suppose I’m telling you there’s a chance.

Apart from the the Gaels and Jayhawks, who else are you rooting for?  Wofford, I suppose, because I like the way the name rolls off of my tongue.  Buffalo is a high scoring team that’s fun to watch.

Anybody you rooting against?  The usuals, Duke, Kentucky, etc.  I’ve got no reason to hate on Houston, but their coach is kind of a crook.

Who are you picking to win it?  I hate to say it, but Duke is just a better team than everyone else when they’re healthy.  I will laugh very hard if they lose.


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So I was visiting some friends of mine in Nepal…

Oh, you say you want a little context this story?  Well, the year was 1990, or was it 1989?  I guess it’s not important.  What is important was I had these friends, Ron and Karen, who decided to sell a lot of their stuff, pack up their kids and head off to Nepal to be missionaries.  I took them to the airport on the day they left and as we were saying our good-byes, Karen said to me, “You should come out to visit us sometime.”  And I said, “You never know, maybe I will.”  Well, over the years I kept in touch through means of this ancient communication device commonly used at the time known as “the letter,” and every time they’d write to me, they’d act like I’d made some kind of promise or something.  “When you coming out?” they’d say.  “You told us you’d come out to visit.”  I thought it over and I was pretty sure I didn’t make any promises, but I wasn’t 100% sure, so it sort of became a point of honor.  So in the fall of 1994 (I’m pretty sure about that date), I got all my shots and got my passport and hopped on a plane to Nepal.

Now, where was I before I was so rudely interrupted?

Oh, that’s right.  I was visiting these friends of mine in Nepal and I got to the house they were living in and as I crossed their threshold, I noticed their welcome mat.  Except the welcome mat didn’t say “WELCOME,” it said “MELCOWE.”  Now I confess I was a little confused.  I was a bit jet-lagged from the flight and it was an eight hour bus trip to get to their place, so I thought I was seeing things.  I picked up the rug and turned it several angles and then I flipped it upside down.  There wasn’t anything I could do to make it look right.  Ron and Karen were laughing.  Apparently, my reaction was pretty common from visiting English-speakers.  That’s when I heard the story.

Not long after they moved to Nepal, Ron and Karen decided they needed a welcome mat so they did a little research and found a local rug-maker that came with some decent recommendations and gave him the assignment.  Ron explained what he wanted and wrote it down on a piece of paper in big letters, so that it wouldn’t be too confusing.  The guy said he could do it and told Ron it would be ready in a week.

So Ron came back in a week and the guy showed him the mat and it said in big red letters “MELCOWE.”  Ron looked at the mat and twisted it around and turned it upside down and it still spelled “MELCOWE.”  So he said to the guy, “This isn’t what I ordered” and the weaver said, “Yes, it is.”  There ensued something of a Monty Python skit (“Yes, it is.” No, it isn’t.”) and finally Ron said, “Look at the order I placed.”  The guy pulled out the piece of paper that Ron had written “WELCOME” on and looked at it.  Then he looked at the mat.  Then he looked and the piece of paper.  Then he looked at the mat.  Then he looked at Ron and said, “I’m sorry.  There’s nothing I can do.”  And Ron held up the mat and said, “But that’s not how welcome is spelled.”  And the man looked at him with a very serious look and said, “That’s how we spell it in Nepal.”

Ron kept the mat.  It was just too interesting to pass up.

I confess I lost track of Ron and Karen, except for what I found out about them today on the internet.  They are still working for the same organization that they were back when I last saw them, although they’ve long since moved on from Nepal and moved into more managerial careers.  I feel a little bad about losing track of them.  It’s an unfortunate character flaw of mine that I don’t always keep up with old friends after I’ve moved on.

I don’t feel bad at all about “stealing” this story.  Back when I knew them, I encouraged them to write a book about their exploits and I thought they would.  I suppose it wasn’t a promise, but I’m still waiting.  Maybe this is unethical, maybe not.  I’m guessing there’s a Nepali rug maker somewhere that agrees with me.


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Random thoughts on a cold winter’s day.

1.  We finally made it to March, which is the time of year you hope to get a little hint of spring in the air.  Instead all I’m getting a hint of is cold and maybe even a vague stench of death and despair.  At least we missed out on the forecasted six inches of snow we were supposed get and only got about two.  The temperature is all of fifteen degrees Fahrenheit.  You can add to that the nice cool breeze blowing over us when we risk our lives by going outside.  The wind chill is around minus ten.  The average high temperature around here this time of year is 52.  Looking at the long range forecast, it looks like we’ll be breaking 52 sometime in July.

I’m not a big fan of winter, but for the first month or so I get why people feel attracted to it.  There’s the beauty and magic of watching the first snowfall of the season, the warm feeling of huddling up next to a loved one with a warm fire in the fireplace while sipping a hot cocoa or even the sense of comfort you get curling up under a blanket with a good book.  Then there’s the magic and romance of a white Christmas.

For me, the romance starts to die around mid-January.  By the end of February, I want a divorce.

2.  Back in 2017, I put out a list of my favorite science fiction television series.  It included The Expanse, a show on the Syfy channel that’s base on a series of stories by James S.A. Corey.  At the time we had only seen the first two seasons, which left us pining for season three.  This was a problem because we cut way back on our cable access and no longer got Syfy.  Well, we just borrowed season three from the library and it is still REALLY good.  I would highly recommend it.  It got canceled by the Syfy Channel after season three (Syfy has a history of canceling decent television series too soon), but was picked up by Amazon Prime for a fourth season, so if you’ve got Amazon you should have access to it soon, perhaps next summer.  Amazon also has all the episodes from the first three seasons.  If you like the science fiction genre, I think you’ll really like this.

3.  In that same post, I mentioned The Orville, which had just started showing on Fox a few weeks earlier.  We kinda, sorta liked it when it first came out.  Now we’re in the second season and, even if you hadn’t read anything about the weird happenings that were going on behind the scenes, it would be clear that some kind of major upheaval happened to the show between seasons one and two.  Season two has less humor, without adding much in the way of action.  It seems like the writers are focusing a lot more on character development and trying to make the captain less of a doofus.  That being said, it’s still kinda, sorta good.  I give Seth MacFarlane a ton of credit for sticking with it.  I guess I’m not exactly recommending it, but it’s probably better than anything else in its time slot.

4.  Social media is daily becoming an ever more malodorous cesspool, but every now and then something pops up that’s more on the fun side.  Someone on Twitter, I can’t remember who, put out a challenge that went something along the lines of “Name the most famous person with your first name and whether you could beat them in a fight.”  It sounded like fun, so I gave it some thought.  From a historical standpoint, clearly the most famous person named David was, um, David, King of the Israelites back around 1000 B.C.  Giving it some thought, I’m pretty sure I could take him.  After all, he has been dead for 3000 years.  If we were both in our prime, I think I’d be in a lot trouble.  I mean, apart from killing the nine foot tall guy with a stone and a sling, he also fought and killed a bear and a lion.  I don’t like my chances in that matchup.

Just plucking a name out of the current crop of Davids out there, I think I’d have a decent shot against David Hasselhoff.  He’s three inches taller than I am and he had a physique that he showed off every week in Baywatch 25 years ago.  As I recall, he was pretty ripped.  On the other hand, I am six years younger than he is and it sounds like he’s had a pretty taxing life.  And I’ve been working out a lot since January.  I think I could take him.  Maybe.

Yeah, probably not.

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