Friday, November 30, 2007

Evel Knievel: R.I.P.

You know you're getting old when the icons of your youth start dying on you. Take the death of Evel Knievel for instance. For a man who broke every bone in his body and courted death with every stunt jump he performed, the fact that he lived to be sixty-nine and died of natural causes speaks volumes about the man.

Even though by today's standards sixty-nine doesn't seem so long, Knievel packed more living into those sixty-nine years than most centenarians.

If you are forty-something and were a regular watcher of ABC's Wide World of Sports then the endless replays of Knievel's thrills and spills are branded permanently in your brain. If you were a fan of Evel then you probably had a favorite spill. My two were the famous Caesar's Palace jump and another jump where Evel landed almost sideways.

I didn't see the Snake Canyon jump live (one of the greatest anti-climaxes in media history).

But still....

Evel Knievel entertained. How many kids bought the Evel Knievel action doll figure with the motorcycle? (One of my neighbors did and he and I used to play with it all the time).

How many kids rigged wooden ramps and rode their bicycles like daredevils?

I did with a bunch of other neighborhood kids at a wooden ramp rigged up at the local creek. After several successful jumps, my last jump culminated in me skinning my elbows and kneecaps.

No more stunt jumps for me after that.

In the 1990s when there was a 1970s revival, nostalgic documentaries on Knievel's career recaptured the magic of those heady days.

His son Robbie's daredevil career also helped revive the memory of his illustrious father.

Even in his elder years, Evel never lost his sense of dash and elan.

He was an American original--never to be duplicated or surpassed.

Rest in Peace.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Travels with Matt: Meeting a Man of God

Two years ago, I was in El Paso, Texas, spending what was to be my last night in Texas before going home after spending ten days in the Lone Star State visiting Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park (and climbing Guadalupe Peak--the highest mountain in Texas). It had been a long but very worthwhile vacation. Now, in El Paso, I was contemplating the journey's end and struggling with feelings of emptiness and depression which had always accompanied the end of my vacations.

I was struggling with a lot of personal demons. I had had one romantic relationship end months before and I was dealing with the emotional turmoil generated by my family. (I realize now that the reason why I was experiencing post vacation depression was the fact that I had to return to the hatred and contempt directed at me by my parents and brothers. There was no escaping it. Ever since I've divorced my parents and brothers, I haven't had these depressive spells--which should suggest something there).

I wanted to attend Mass before I left for home the next day so I made my way to the Catholic Church nearest my hotel--St. Pius X located at 1050 North Clark St.

I went early because I also wanted to do confession (which I don't do at home. I only do confession when I'm on the road. I open up better that way).

I remember speaking to one of the priests at the parish. I told him my feelings of anger and resentment about my brothers and my in-laws. I remember the priest was very kind and understanding. I knew my anger was wrong but at the same time I couldn't tolerate the hatred that was directed at me by my brothers and in-laws.

I received absolution and said the prayers the priest directed me to say. Soon afterwards it was time for Mass to begin and the rest of the night would never be the same.

Little did I know that I would soon encounter an extraordinary man--Monsignor Arturo Banuelas who ran this parish. The Mass he celebrated that evening will live forever in my memory. It was the vigil of Christ the King and Advent was right around the corner. The church was packed with people and the church itself was quite vast in size. There was a festive joy in the congregation and that joy was fueled by the passion of the lectors, the members of the choir, and by Monsignor Arturo himself. Little did I know that St. Pius X was listed by the Vatican as being one of the finest parishes in America in terms of serving it parishioners and helping the poor and disadvantaged in the community.

When Monsignor Arturo spoke I knew then I was in the presence of a man of God. He spoke with fire, passion, duty, devotion, committment, and most supreme of all: love; lots of love; enormous amounts of love. It was cold outside the church but everyone inside was warmed by the expressions of love pouring forth from Monsignor Arturo.

He reminded us of our Christian duty not only to love one another but to help the poor. He spoke about building hope, promoting literacy, feeding and clothing the poor, and cried out for peace and an end to war. It was liberation theology and it lit a fire in me.

Before I had felt cold and sorry for myself but listening to Monsignor Arturo woke me up. He lit a fire inside of me. I felt healed, purged, and renewed. When it was over, I shook Monsignor Arturo' hand vigorously and praised his homily. I had a lovely dinner and relaxed in my hotel but couldn't sleep because Monsignor Arturo's sermon was echoing inside of my head. I remember waking up at 3:00AM to write a song based on what he had preached that night.

I went home later that morning and the first thing I did was to donate all the excess clothing in my wardrobe to charity and then I mailed a $100 donation (along with a letter of thanks to Monsignore Banuelas) to St. Pius X in order to help that parish continue the good work it does for the people of El Paso, Texas.

This coming Christmas will mark my third annual donation to the Colonia and Parral missions of St. Pius X. These two missions are devoted to ending illiteracy among children and helping the poor in the city of El Paso.

If anyone reading this wants to help further, you can contact the parish at the following address:

St. Pius X
1050 North Clark
El Paso, TX, 79905

You can make a difference like Monsignor Arturo Banuelas does.

Amen and thank you.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Dog Chapman: Does the Punishment fit the Crime?

"Where Mercy is Shown, Mercy is Given."--Duane "Dog" Chapman

A & E suspended my favorite TV show Dog the Bounty Hunter because of an audiotape of a private conversation where Duane "Dog" Chapman uses the n-word in describing the lady friend of one his sons.

My question is this: does the punishment fit the crime?

I'm no respecter of the n-word. It's a bloody foul, disgusting word to begin with and its good that there is opprobrium whenever someone uses it in public.

The question is though the tape of Duane "Dog" Chapman wasn't a public speech or broadcast but a clandestine tape of a private conversation,

Does the punishment fit the crime?

The suspension of Dog the Bounty Hunter leaves a vacancy for me in my TV watching. Before, nothing on TV interested me (except for The Sopranos). Somehow Dog the Bounty Hunter made for fascinating TV viewing. Here was a modern bounty hunter (backed by an 1872 U.S. Supreme Court ruling) going after fugitives who jumped bail. Most of the time Duane "Dog" Chapman operated out of Hawaii but he and his family work in the continental U.S. as well (mostly in Colorado).

During the past three years we have seen the Chapman family operation (Not only does Duane and his wife Beth work as bounty hunters but also Duane's sons: Leland, Duane Lee, and his daughter Lisa). During those three years the Chapman family has made the reality show Dog the Bounty Hunter one of A & E's flagship series.

One of the show's many fascinating aspects is how it shows the reality of a life of crime. You see the faces of real drug addicts, wife-beaters, petty thieves, hustlers, prostitutes, and drug dealers. You see the effects of crime on the families of the perpetrators who risked their money and property in putting up bail for their loved ones who got arrested. Like Dog the Bounty Hunter says, "there is no pot of gold when you live a life of crime. Just an 8 X 10 foot cage." He ought to know because he himself had done a stint in prison, emerged reformed, and dedicated himself to bounty hunting like the old Western adage: it takes a crook to catch a crook.

There are no nice edges in Duane "Dog" Chapman. He uses mule skinner language often, smokes like a chimney (and has a bad smoker's hack to show for it), and has been forced to endure his share of heartbreaks and tragedies (at least of two of his twelve children have gone to jail and another was killed in a car crash the day he married his wife Beth).

And now his show is suspended because he used the n-word in a private conversation.

Does the punishment fit the crime?

It's deeply ironic (to me at least) that the person who sold the audiotape of Dog Chapman's rant was his son Tucker. My favorite Dog the Bounty Hunter episode of all time is the one titled Dog Meets the Godfather. It involves Chapman having to pick up one of Hawaii's leading criminals: a a Samoan gangster named Lilo. For once Chapman is reluctant to haul in the the gangster because something the gangster did for him in the past. Chapman's son Tucker had become an ice addict (ice is a form of amphetamine that is instantly addictive when ingested) and was arrested and convicted for committing armed robbery. Chapman wanted vengeance on the drug dealer who sold the ice to his son and went looking for him. Before he could find the dope dealer, Chapman ran into Lilo. Lilo, although a hardened criminal himself, counseled Chapman not to seek vengeance on the dealer (and possibly risk going to jail himself). Chapman, telling the story, said that Lilo told him, "let God handle it." And Chapman did. (The drug dealer was later arrested and jailed for thirty years for dope dealing).

Chapman later did arrest Lilo but he did it tactfully and was retain Lilo's friendship.

If such a plot line was used on the usual police shows you see on TV a lot of people would scoff at it (I know I would) but in the case of Dog the Bounty Hunter it's completely true.

What's even more ironic is that his son Tucker was released from prison a year ago and the reason why he was released was because of his father's TV show was such a smash hit. His father's celebrity certainly had to have been a factor in him getting an early parole.

(In another episode, on Tucker's first birthday after his release from jail, Dog took Tucker back to his prison cell to have a heart-to-heart talk with him about not returning to a life of crime. It was a powerful heartfelt moment and a humbling reminder of what crime can do to a person. Both father and son have first-hand knowledge of what crime can do).

And now the show has been suspended because his son Tucker sold the audio tape to the news media.

Does the punishment fit the crime?

As Dog Chapman always like to say 'where mercy is shown, mercy is given."

I'd like to see some mercy shown to the Dog.