Author Archive: bjaybrooks

Good News!

Do you enjoy good news?  I do, and I like it in all varieties.  For instance, I read just now that a new movie company is going to come to our University Mall in Carbondale.

‘VIP Cinemas will open its doors inside the University Mall this Spring.   The theatre will take over the same place as the AMC  Theatre which shut down in 2018.    WSIlTV.com

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Perhaps I have not mentioned it, but I am a movie aficionado.  One of my goals, when I retired, was to see as many movies as I desired!  The news is that VIP will be open from 10  A:M: – 10 P:M: and will screen first run movies and that the admission price, before noon, will be $5.49 with a free small popcorn.

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I have released the movies ever since I watched Lady and the Tramp in Chicago when I was 4 years old.  During my grade school years I visited our theatre, the Orpheum in Eldorado, Illinois, each Sunday and watched the same movie…three or four times…for the one time admission cost of 35 cents.  The darkened auditorium was a bit like church for me…until I began attending a church.  I find movies totally relaxing and refreshing and intellect stimulating.

I was around when our mall was first built in the 1970s.  At that time it had four theatre, and that seemed so forward thinking and modern…as I had been used to one theatre at the Orpheum.  A few years later, the four theaters, contained in one area, shut down and it was several years before a marvelous, stadium seating, complex was added to the University Mall during its remodeling.  Now, a new company is taking over the, perfectly fine space, and movie attending options have returned to our town.   Good news comes in many forms.  It is said of the former comedian, Jack Benny, that he relished and took great joy in the simple things of life.  A colleague said of Benny that he met him for lunch and that Jack was ecstatic regrading a piece of white fish that he had enjoyed at the restaurant that they were at.

Have you ever noticed the spontaneous joy of dogs?  If you have been away for an hour of less…your dog will greet you as if you have been gone for a month!  I have a hand clapping routine that, when I perform it, Brody and Parker begin to dance and sing.  They are not looking for a new automobile or a finer home or recognition of their profound accomplishments…they are excited about the simple joy of living!

I read that Vodka is good for your blood flow and cholesterol and weight loss.  A smile crossed my face…and I said as our quiet friends uttered, in the early 1990s when Michael Jordan performed one of his countless athletic feats…in a whisper voice…’yes.’

Each day is a unique gift.  I was rooting for the 49er’s in the Super Bowl, but when I understood that the Kansas City Chiefs had not won for 50 years…I was happy for them.

A good friend of mine asked me to read something that she had prepared for a course that she is taking…and I considered what an honor that it was for her to value my opinion.

Aaron and Jonathon and MJ and I watched the Super Bowl last evening and had fun and laughs and Quatros Pizza and Brownies…and it was family and fun and happiness.

There is a popular saying that admonishes us, ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff…and it is all small stuff!’

Let it be said that all of life is composed of small stuff…and it is the narrative of our stories…and it is us.

‘All We Are, Is Our Stories’

I was listening to NPR this afternoon and heard a woman make the statement that, all we are, is our stories.’  What a truly encapsulating sentence regarding the human experience.

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It is 66 degrees in Southern Illinois…on Groundhog Day.  People are cycling and hiking and jogging as it feels like spring has sprung.  The sky is an azure blue and all is right with the world.  We love stories.  If you think about it the most compelling orators…tell us a story.  We christians are compelled to be followers of Christ due to the stories of his life that we read in the Bible.

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From the moment of our birth to the moment of our death…our life story is being written.  I remember my life from my, almost, infancy and can observe my time on Terra Firma and the connections that have happened in it… that connect the dots.  I have always been fascinated by a ‘Horatio Alger’ story.

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‘Horatio Alger Jr., an American writer of young adult novels about impoverished boys, and their rise from humble backgrounds to live lives of middle class security and comfort through hard work, determination, courage, and honesty.  His writings were characterized by the ‘rags-to-riches’ narrative, which had a formative effect on the United States during the Gilded Age.’    Wikipedia

The story where the little gal or the little guy beats the system and achieves success beyond the class that they were born into, or confound the naysayers opinions of them by rising above the mean and hurtful circumstances that accosted them in their young and early years…is inspiring!

My friend, Jeff Lestz, is an example of a Horatio Alger story.  I have know Jeff for 48 years.  When I met him he was part of a hippie commune, off of the Royalton blacktop between Elkville and Royalton.  The group contained  many Jewish young people from Chicago.  About 40 of these wonderful hippies came to our little church in Elkville.  This was an earth shattering event for a non-denominational church of less than 100 congregants.

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Jeff had lived as a homeless orphan in Chicago.  His life as a teenager was more than shaky.  He became a Christian, a Jew for Jesus, and turned his life around.  As time went by, another of the Jewish hippies, Michael Toppel, became Jeff’s foster father, and provided a good home and mentoring for Jeff.

Today Jeff is the successful owner of his own business in the United Kingdom.  I was privileged to visit one of his Opportunity Meetings that he held, near York, England, where the audience of 100 people were mesmerized by his story and the outreach that he extended to each of them, to better themselves.

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During Jeff’s beginnings in Southern Illinois there was a lovely christian lady who selflessly assisted him, who passed away yesterday.  Pat P. was a great example of what God can do through a willing servant.

Our stories are us.

Writing Outside In The Winter

It is February 1, 2020, and I am writing in my favorite writing space, our screened in porch.  Where did January go?  I have just returned from my barber…and the shop was full.  Do you suppose everyone is wanting a new hairstyle or a haircut for the, Super Bowl?

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I believe that our porch, which was at one time an open deck, has aided my inspiration to write.  I said, when the porch was first constructed, way back in the fall of 2011, that it caused me to think of Maine…when I sat in its pleasant confines or when I wrote.  Maine is such a lovely state and the allure of the deep green grass and the rocky coast line and the pleasant temperatures, in the spring and summer, are compelling reasons to return again and again.  The comparison to siting on my porch is analogous to our enjoying the porch of the Bed and Breakfast that we stayed in during our first two visits in 2009 and 2010.  The calming influence of the large victorian porch with very comfortable seats, and the complimentary wine to sip on as we enjoyed the pleasant Maine breezes, in July, were something that I was amazed to find replicated at our Southern Illinois home.  Our logding was on Mount Dessert Island, and just a short drive from Bar Harbor and Arcadia National Park.  Mount Dessert Island is the location that Stephen King’s movie, The Storm of the Century, was filmed.

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There is a crispness in the air and a peace contained in the surroundings in my writing nook.  I have become a fan of Apple laptop computers.  My first one I purchased in 2013, and I have used it daily since that time.  I thought that it was on its last legs, and so I bought a MacBook Air in October, 2019.  Now I have two…due to the first taking on a second life!

It is a myth that no one cares about others in need.  Our town, Carbondale, has a custom of collecting money for our homeless shelter, Good Samaritan House, the Saturday and Sunday of the Super Bowl.  One of the first memories that I have of the church that I attend, First Presbyterian, was the young people in our congregation holding large soup kettles to collect donations for the needy.  The project is called, Souper Bowl.  I noticed as I entered Kroger today that there were members of the SIUC football team holding large soup urns, outside the entrances.  When I left my donation I was struck with how friendly that they were and their heartfelt gratitude for my contributing.

Yesterday a woman fell in Aldi’s Grocery Store…there was a horrendous noise and then the terrified screaming of her daughter as she pled for her mother to keep breathing.  Almost all the shoppers in the store rallied to her to help in any way that they could.  Everything stopped.  Suddenly we were not in a grocery store going about the mundane duties of procuring provinder  for the upcoming days….We were in the painful reality that a fellow human being needed our assistance.

So it is February 1st and 2020 is 1/12 completed.  Life beckons us to take part in its wonders and glories.  The newness of each day is a mystery and a riddle and a wonder.  We seek excitement and intrigue and adventure.  All of the possibilities of 2020 await us if we desire growth and positive change.

‘You gotta start talking like you’re blessed and thinking like you’re blessed.  That’s what activates the blessings.’    YESIMADIVA.COM

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I wonder if we could see through the fog of despair and the woods of unfulfilled dreams…and visualize what God had planned for us… if we were simply willing to accept the plan…would we awaken each morning with expectations of the ordinary…or would we open our eyes as if we were on the first day of our favorite vacation?

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Practical Miracles

Miracles still happen.

The Jazz Man

I think that we are infatuated with the idea of miracles?  We certainly need them.  We read of, Alice in Wonderland, and we are captivated by, Jack and the Beanstalk.  Television and movies show us the most fantastic happenings.  The television show, Lost, illustrated members of a plane crash being marooned on an island that could not be be found.  In the last episode of the long running series we discovered that the characters had all died, an undetermined amount of time ago, and that although their story lines had changed…they did not realize the change.

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The scripture tells us of the blind receiving their sight and the dead being brought back to life.  Jesus healed all manner of illness and disability and seemed to do so with little struggle or strain.

‘When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and…

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A Love of Photography

For the past, nearly 10 years, I have been retired and enjoying the ‘Life of Riley.’  I spent over 32 years of enjoyable service to Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale, and I have continued to visit my campus on a daily basis.  SIUC never ceases to amaze me and I find something new each day that I visit the majesty of the Jewel of Little Egypt.  I know I must appear unique to those who see me snapping photos across the campus on such a regular basis.  I have noticed my satisfaction when I take a photo that I am pleased with.

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I can recall, so many years ago, being intrigued with the university.  As a youngster in Eldorado, Illinois, the annual visits of the SIUC students who were studying theatre and their performance in my little school…mesmerized me.  As I watched the expertise of the actors, I was transported to another place and possibilities and hopes and dreams…for a boy from Chicago who was raised in Southern Illinois.

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When I began at SIUC in October, 1978, I could not believe my good fortune at having become affiliated with such an institution for good.  One of my first impressions was the amazing diversity that I was able to interact with on a nightly basis.  In those halcyon days there were students from over 70 nations that attend Southern.

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My first university class, ‘An introduction to computers,’ was a revelation to me in that I earned an, A, for the course and the professor encouraged me to continue my education.

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The combination of enjoying success in Building Services, and being a member of a community that had no end to the vistas that it opened for those who chose to partake of them…was inspiring.  SIUC is a university that is a working persons school.  Planted amidst the farm land and coal fields of Southern Illinois, it is a place that welcomes the first generation college student.  Yet, it is an international university.

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The opportunity and hope that SIUC brings to the city of Carbondale and the surrounding Southern Illinois region is tremendous.  Being the largest employer in the area, its economic impact is significant.

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I mentioned to MJ soon after I began working at SIU that there was a different culture at the university.  I had been accustomed to being rather myopic in my views…and I was surrounded by others who thought in a similar vein.  When I became a member of the University Community. my eyes were opened to the much wider and diverse and ‘coat of many colors,’ of humanity that God had created.  I found that many people thought differently than me and spoke differently than me and worshiped differently than me.  I was enlightened to discover that the world was not contained, under a glass globe, but was rather much more interesting and lovely and encompassing…than I had imagined!

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Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale gave me something to strive for and anticipation for not only what tomorrow will bring but what a thousand tomorrows will bring.

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I reminisce about my former colleagues mentoring their student co-workers.  How they brought food for the student members of their housekeeping crews on a nightly basis.  How they took many of them into their homes on holidays…when they had no where to go.  How they listened to their problems…and were surrogate moms and dads to young people who were lonely.  I can still feel the happiness and the feeling of home, at our annual Thanksgiving Dinner @ SIU.  For many years we fed 200 or more, smiling students, from all over our planet.

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I can still see the little, thin, wide eyed boy as he sat in the darkened auditorium while the SIU’s theatre students performed on the stage…and his subsequent life in the land of his dreams.

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‘Beware of Those Who Smile at You But Wish You Evil’

Beware of what lies behind, some, smiles.

The Jazz Man

It is another cold day in Little Egypt.  Snow may be coming tomorrow.  I, longingly, recall the balmy Gulf breezes of Miramar Beach, Florida, two weeks ago.  I remember telling my friend, Peter, who is a internationally respected historian, that Populism is a good thing.  Peter, kindly, responded that it depended what type of Populism I was speaking about.

‘Populism – A political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups.’    Google Dictionary

‘Winning over masses has been at the heart of politics since antiquity.  It is referred to as populism if done so by delivering extremely simplified answers to citizens.  The German born political thinker Hannah Arendt (1906 – 1975) examined this issue in her world famous book Totalitarianism.  She wanted to understand what had turned the democratic Republic of Weimar and the communist USSR into extremist-totalitarian…

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‘Poor Dumb Bastards’

Now, lest you think that I have forgotten my manners or taken to coarse language, more than usual, the title of this blog is attributed  to the mother and father of one of our good friends.  MJ and I spent several years socializing  with a married couple who were professors at SIUC.  One evening as we were enjoying our cocktails and reminiscing regarding experiences that we had partaken of and travels that we had enjoyed, they told us of the gentleman’s parents saying when they passed someone who had broken down on the side of the road, ‘poor dumb bastards.’  I must admit that I was taken aback by what appeared to be an insensitive and compassionless comment regarding another misfortune.  In reality we learned that the parents were extremely civic minded and had risen high in political life and academia.  The statement was more of an acknowledgement of the vacillating vicissitudes of life.  One day we are up and flying high without a care in the world…and the next…we are poor dumb bastards!

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As I was getting petrol, this afternoon, when I saw a man attempting to change a flat tire on his Mercedes Benz automobile.

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We all receive our, ‘turn in the barrel.’  Or as pastor Kerry spoke yesterday of the Buddhist belief that life is predicated on suffering.  When we are at the top of the mountain it is difficult to recall how it felt to be in the valley.  When the health prognosis is good and the debts are paid and we are on our way to an exotic destination…our kaleidoscope is full of bright and happy colors.  But…nothing lasts.

It is a gift to be able to recall being so poor that you had to save your pennies until you had a dime, in order to purchase a glass of milk at the local restaurant.  Or to recall standing in a commodity line for government cheese and dried milk and potted meat.  Or to remember how you felt when you saw the workers throw the food at the hungry people…of which you and your mom were a part of.

Empathy is a beautiful emotion…and it comes in many forms.

We were talking the other day about people and families who are financially secure, and we agreed that most have had a ‘hand-up’ or a fortunate break in their lives.  You may not want company when you are on top of the world…but when you are in the garden of Gethsemane…nothing is more lonely.

Have you ever been in the ecstasy of happiness and good times and all is right with the world…and wondering when the other shoe was going to drop?  When I first retired many of my former colleagues inquired of me as to what I was going to do.  When I said that I was going to enjoy life…they looked at me as if I was from Mars.  I also heard that I was retiring much too young, to which I replied that would not be true if I only lived five years.  None of us have a guarantee or an end date stamped on the heel of our left foot.

So, in truth…we are all poor dumb bastards on a roller coaster journey through this ever changing life….and we all need a friend and a confidant and a person to assist us on the road back to Jerusalem.

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The Joy of a Full Parking Lot! — The Jazz Man

I could not help but notice that our church parking lot was full and overflowing this morning. I recalled when that was the norm, every Sunday. This was the Sunday where the congregation voted to accept the slate of candidates for deacon and elder, for three year terms. MJ and I were pleased to see […]

via The Joy of a Full Parking Lot! — The Jazz Man

Is Winter Colder When You Get Older?

I was walking into the movies, this morning, and I considered how cold and damp and dark that it was.  It seemed that the cold cut me to the bone.  I looked around me to see the sullen and frozen faces of my fellow movie goers and I knew that…winter is colder as you get older!  In fact, according to Fahrenheit temperature, I believe that the winters in Southern Illinois are somewhat warmer than when I was a boy.  I remember trudging through two feet of snow and negotiating icy paths while being bundled against 0 degree temperatures.  Did I mention that this was while I was hiking over a mile to school and in the afternoon…back home? Ice sickles hung from our roof, that if they fell on your head they had the potential to end your life.

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My buddy, Steve, and I drove through blizzards in 1978 and 1979, and got stuck in snow drifts and basically lived in a replica of the Arctic Circle.  I not only did not know the meaning of the word, quit, I did not understand the wisdom of turning around and going back home…when your life was in danger!

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Not long after I was hired at Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale…a blizzard struck our region.  Our good friend, Faye, told us that she had heard on the radio that SIUC was closed, but that was not good enough for me.  I thought as a new employee that if I failed to show up for work, in the event that Building Services was open for business, I would be fired.  So, I set off and began driving through what appeared to be a snow covered field…with no sign of a road or path.  I looked to my left and there were automobiles and trucks and semis…off in the ditch or encased in a herculean snow drift.  I looked on my right…and it was worse than my left.  Finally, I arrived at the Building Services office and proceeded to walk, slowly, to the front door and attempt entry.  The door was locked and the lights were out, accept for one incandescent light bulb burning in the window.  About that time, my colleague Elbert Covington, drove up and attempted entry through the locked front door…and then began to yell…Brooks and Covington are reporting for work…let us in!  When Elbert and I decided that our department must be closed…Elbert said for me to return to Elkville, which is 15 miles from Building Services and then drive back to his home in DeSoto, which is 7 miles from Building Services…for the purpose of enjoying some hot chocolate. I assured my friend that if I was able to make it home…home is where I was going to stay!

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My susceptibility to cold may be in conjunction with MJ and my recent visit to Miramar Beach, Florida.  The temperatures fluctuated between throughout the 60’s to the low 70’s.  It was very nice.  As I sat on the balcony of my dear friends and family, Ira Kaye and Ron, I was reminded about how exquisite the location was.  There is a picture perfect view of the ocean.  The ocean has captivated me for many years.  Its changing colors and appearance and beauty is indescribable.  I remember, as if it were yesterday…and it almost was, the sound of MJ and Ron and Ira Kaye laughing uproariously as they played a card game that had something to do with a hand and a foot?  I read, at length, and I typically read when I am in the Destin area.  Life is captured, as if in a watercolor painting, and I slow down and consider where I have been and where I am going.  I was reminded of the wonderful visits that we experienced with our friends, Mechem and Carson, when we visited on earlier occasions.  Our sons, Aaron and Jonathon, accompanied us and the familial dynamic and bonds of collegiality were memorable.

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We often take in a movie a the IMAX theatre located in Destin Commons.  We did so again on our recent visit earlier this month.  MJ wanted to see ‘1917’ and I am pleased that she did.  The theatre is so much larger than the one that we have in Carbondale.  We took seats in the back of the auditorium and it was quite a hike to the top.  The flick was captivating with little dialog.  It was much like watching a theater piece that had been filmed.  Afterward we chose to take our dinner at the Red Brick Oven Pizza House.  The pizza was good and the beer was cheap.  As we were enjoying the delectable repast…it began to rain in the monsoon fashion.  Luckily we had our raincoats and we exited into the deluge…and splashed the puddles dry.

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I can see why many of my friends take a month or two or more…to enjoy the winter in Florida.  There is a lot of wisdom in the philosophy of the Snow Birds.  I think we need to do the same in the future!

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‘What Is Truth’

Please enjoy a new blog by the Jazz Man.

The Jazz Man

Of late, we are hearing an abundance of discussion regarding the subject of truth.  I recall my youth, more and more…it seems, where my teachers slowly and systematically taught me about truth.  I learned that 2+2=4.  Later came the multiplication tables and learning cursive, yes I am old, and my first forays into history.

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‘Plymouth Rock is the traditional site of disembarkation of William Bradford and the Mayflower Pilgrims who founded Plymouth Colony in December 1620.’    Wikipedia

We were taught about our Presidents, from our first, George Washington, to the president in office when I began school, John F. Kennedy.  I remember hearing, on numerous occasions, that anyone could be elected President of the United States.  I wondered how this could be possible.

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As I grew and matured I could not help but notice that many of my elders expounded what they assured me was truth…when in reality it…

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