Nothing To Get Hung About

“Let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields, nothing is real.  And nothing to get hung about…”  – Beatles, 1967.  Composers:  Lennon/McCartney

As he rose above the bubble he found himself in, clarity rebooted his mind.  He shouted, with enormous struggle, compacted by a broken heart, “You just stay away, Molly!  Just stay away!  (singing the next line)  For I could never say goodbye to you again.”  This ended his soliloquy.  Yet, some things aren’t always what they seem.

Molly - Me & money cropped

Allow me to revel in the cover photo at the top of this post, just for a moment.  It represents mounds of wonderful memories and life-long friendships I hold dear to this very day.  It was February of 1978.  Certainly a launching pad for the beginning of many things for me, including my very first leading man role that ushered in decades of various roles acting, directing, producing and lots of make-up jobs on the face.  It was a highly celebrated performance of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”  I was honored to be awarded the role of Johnny Brown, Molly’s hubby.  (The actress who played Molly, on the left, hasn’t aged a bit in 40 years.  I, on the other hand…well… I’ll move on.)  If you’ve ever seen the show, or movie, then you already know he goes through a living hell in trying to be the husband she wanted, but failing to “live-up” to her bar of approval.  They had separate visions of what marriage would be like, while in the throws of passion, goals, new life and new money.  All of the latter perspectives were very different for each person.  In the end, a divorce occurs.  Here, in this promo shot, Molly and Johnny are meeting Mrs. Gladys McGraw, a socialite who lived next door to the Brown mansion.  Mrs. McGraw, being the stuck-up, highbrow, blue-blood that she was, couldn’t be more displeased to have these, now wealthy, country bumpkins residing in her royal flush neighborhood.  Her priest had urged her to do the Christian thing and welcome them into her home to break the self-applied ice.  Johnny Brown is doing his best to greet her in the newly polished way he assumed would meet expectations, although alien to him.  As you can see, Mrs. McGraw barely tolerates the meet-n-greet.  Her face and body language say it all.  She can hardly stand his touch, even through two formal tux and gown gloves.  A bit of irony here.  As well as the scene was played, and as talented as the actress who took the role of Mrs. McGraw was and is, we were actually a dating couple at the time, spending lots of time with each other.  Some things aren’t always what they seem.

22 OMA Lorne Greene Aug 1962

A few years before the Molly Brown production, my grandparents had a unique theater experience themselves.  Martin and Opal Atherton were western fans.  Most of the television shows and movies they watched were “saddle-up and drive-’em out” westerns.  From John Wayne to Clint Eastwood, their minds (mostly my granddad) lived in the 1800s, set in the western United States, which had yet to be tamed and settled.  One of their must-see TV shows was the long running “Bonanza” series with Lorne Greene, seen with my grandmother above.  (She looks like a movie star there, as well.)  One year the Athertons planned a vacation road trip that would take them to the Ponderosa ranch house from the TV show.  It was built with huge timbers in a scenic mountainous region. It’s a sight to behold.

Ponderosa House Ext


In those days, as is true today no doubt, they gave tours of the exterior and interior of the famous ranch house.  My grandparents were in hog-heaven.  When they walked through the interior with its wide wooden floorboards and enormous fireplace, they asked to see the second floor where the bedrooms were.  They were told that the door at the top of the staircase was fake, as well as the second floor.  All the second floor scenes were shot on ground level sets.  They were beside themselves.  So much for theater-of-the-mind.  I can still hear my granddad’s soft voice saying in astonishment, “Gooood-night.”

Ponderosa House Int


Some things aren’t always what they seem.

While watching the original “Star Trek” TV series from the late 1960s, often when a character leans on a boulder, or a wall of a cave in a scene, you can see a slight give in the sponge-like foam that’s been painted to look like stone.  William Shatner could tell you all about it.  It’s fun to catch these gaffs in scenes, but it also displaces you from the theater-of-the-mind the writer intended for the viewer.

“Alan,” you might be saying, “There’s a point to this tour of mothballs, right?  Where are you going with this?”

I think I’ll let the first line of the second verse of Strawberry Fields help to answer the question.

“Living is easy with your eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see…”

It’s been 40 years since I played Johnny Brown.  Lots of water has gone under the bridge, much of it troubled.  How often, in retrospect, do we say to ourselves, “I can’t believe I fell for that.”  Or, “Why did I believe him/her?”  Or, “How could I not see the truth behind the wizard’s curtain?”  Or, “I will never trust again, now.”  Ouch!  Face it, in a world where fake news is not only the norm, but well accepted, along with general misdirection and sleight-of-hand, it’s no wonder trust is dashed all the time.  Trust matters.  Often we rest in what someone tells us, wanting to believe them, only to be dropped by the sledge hammer of truth after the fact.  It’s so difficult to get back up.  Frankly, the ugliness of it all leads to soaring divorce rates, surging court cases and the handshake no longer being the norm for deal-making.  Some things aren’t always what they seem.

From Hollywood to the stage, frontage framed walls without interiors are created to be misleading.  False breakaway tables, chairs and banisters help the writer seduce us into a scene to make us feel like we’re there.  CGI animals and extras, fake doorways, fake windows, fake food and painted backdrops are visual vacuums assisting to suck us into a world of pretend.  We say it often, but rarely do we see it spelled out with an emphasis on the word “MAKE-believe”.  You don’t have to search long to find someone who understands these props, to manipulate the viewer, when the name of one of Hollywood’s favorite sons, Harvey Weinstein pops up.  Better yet, Washington D.C.

When a victim of illusion, where does one start to snap out of it?

Rise above the Ponderosa of your personal existence.  Lift off the shifting sand with the drone of your eternal goggles firmly strapped on, and orbit with a satellite.  When you fly over the minefield, you will see it is only a tiny bubble you are living in, with an entire unexplored universe all around.  Ultimately, this is the view the Creator of your next breath desires for you: see past the façade. Our responsibility is remembering to do it, day in and day out.

Wait a minute!  Hold on!  I think I smell freshly cut hay.  Are those cows I’m hearing in my backyard — dun, duddle-un, duddle-un duddle-un duddle-un dun — in your best Bonanza theme!!   Nah.  Some things aren’t always what they seem.

In the scope of eternity, there’s nothing to get hung about when hooked to fuel for the race.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You believe in God; believe also in me.” – Jesus – John 14:1 (NIV)



Artwork:  Michelle (my wife).

“I’m so tired but I can’t sleep.  Standing on the edge of something much too deep.  It’s funny how we feel so much but we cannot say a word.  We are screaming inside, but we can’t be heard.  I will remember you.  Will you remember me?  Don’t let your life pass you by.  Weep not for the memories.” – (1993)  Recorded By:  Sarah McLachlan, Composers:  Sarah McLachlan, Seamus Michael Egan, L. Merenda David.

Try to wrap your arms around this hypothetical.  You come home, greeted by your family, from a long hard day at work.  Suddenly, without warning, several armed soldiers knock down your front door, carrying you and your family away as they torch your house.  You march down the street under armed threat, with a bayonet at your back, to a dark path ahead.  Why?  Because you are of a certain ethnic community.  Soon, your spouse, your grandmother, your son and daughters are torn away from you by force, at a train depot, as your loved ones scream your name, reaching out into the air for you.  You see your family shoved like cattle into a crammed train car.  The large sliding door slamming shut with an ominous clang that seems to echo for decades to come.  They are never heard from again.  If you’re like me, it is almost impossible to imagine.

Train Tracks 2014

How can one say, “Happy Yom Hashoah!”?  How does one go to a Holocaust museum in the United States this past week and shout out, “Happy Holocaust Remembrance Day!”?  The short answer is, you don’t.  As soon as the words are released from your mouth into the air, you tend to get chills.  If not, you may be one of the ones listed below.

A new survey was released, by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, showing a troubling truth in our society.  The poll shows 41% (One statistic says 66%) of Americans don’t know what Auschwitz was about, including two-thirds of Millennials which had not even heard of the Holocaust.  Furthermore, 41% of Millennials thought only 2 million, or fewer, Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.

Some might not recall who the Maccabees were before the first century, and that is understandable to the average Gentile.  Even so, if you ask Siri to show you info on the Maccabees, she first brings up the British rock band, which formed in 2004, with the same title, NOT the Maccabee revolt resulting in the celebration of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.  How sad.  My point is, the Holocaust was ONLY 74-79 years ago.  What a travesty for today’s culture, university curriculum and public education system.  The sheer ignorance of the Holocaust tells the tale.  It seems the world and its manipulators have a gigantic eraser and are willing to use it.  (And they wonder why home schooling and private schools are gaining ground.)

The first children’s book my mom allowed me to choose and purchase (I believe I was in 4th grade) was about a French schoolhouse full of Jewish children, who hid in a cave when a Nazi patrol raided the school.  It was a stirring true story where the author drew the young reader into knowing the Jewish kids by name, their favorite toys and personalities.  Like a great wordsmith, the author helped me understand these Jewish kids were just like me in so many ways, with similar interests, with the love of school, recess and playtime.  That was my very first introduction to the insanity of Nazi Germany.

The second week of April is a solemn week set aside to remember the 6 million Jews who were mercilessly slaughtered by the Nazis in WWII.  Make no mistake, these were not Jewish soldiers with tanks, jets and platoons.  The 6 million Jews were women, children, babies, men, poor, rich, young and old, healthy, unhealthy, all with Jewish DNA.

I am a Gentile with many Jewish friends.  Some can tell you the names of relatives they lost in the Holocaust.  One of my best friends lost an entire branch of his family in Europe at the hands of the misguided Nazis.  My ex-wife’s German mother lived in Nazi Germany as a little girl.  She lived near a death camp just on the outskirts of her village.  Her parents, as well as the other adults in this village, lived with the stench of death in the air.  They saw the ashes, ashes that once were store owners, musicians, artists, bakers, nurses, doctors, 1st graders and teachers, floating down from the camp smokestacks, resting like snow on the car windshields and rooftops.  Yet, most citizens claim they knew nothing.  Most claim they had no idea what was happening to all their Jewish neighbors behind the camp gates.  Certainly, it very well could’ve been true for some, but not all.  Shame is heavy.  Guilt is even heavier.  Most testify they were following the Fuhrer’s lead for a coming euphoric Germany.  In my ex-wife’s case, her great-uncle served in the SS as an interpreter.  Yet, the family stated they knew nothing.


As I remembered the world’s loss from the 1940s, I also wept for joy for the scores of courageous accounts the Holocaust survivors have told the nations.  Certain Jewish individuals, as well as selective Gentiles, exercised nothing short of heroic acts that made a difference in saving countless lives.  Their accounts are worth the research with many being the subjects of award-winning books and movies.  To mention one, Janusz Korczak, the Polish-Jewish educator and orphanage director, who protected the Jewish children in his care from the Nazi invasion.  He shielded them at every turn with wit, creativity, humor and misdirection.  At the orphanage’s highest population, 150 children were under his umbrella.  He kept their spirits up in the deadly face of the brutality around them.  In fact, as he and the orphans under his wing were marched to the loaded train cars for transportation to the death camp, he was given the choice to safely stay in Poland, if he would sign a document claiming himself to be Gentile.  But, when he was told, by the German officer in charge, the children were to be exterminated, he refused to sign, staying with the orphans all the way to the gas chambers.  There’s also the pockets of brave Jewish resistance scattered throughout Europe: Anne Frank’s family and their Gentile caregivers, Schindler and his list, Corrie Ten Boom and so many more to remember, to cherish.  Of course, hard to watch documentaries on the years of the Holocaust, with authentic horrific film footage, are also highly recommended.  But, be prepared for the senseless, cruel executions, putrid piles of bodies and mass graves.

Today, there is a raging danger being ignored by our own society.  Hitler began by using fake news to demonize a community of people.  He began to paint a false picture of who they were and what they were.  It was repeated, this twisted disgusting false view, over and over again, complete with distorted tales, photos and artwork, until the masses began to believe the Nazi narrative.  A mass delusion took hold, growing like cancer.  Soon, Germans were hating their Jewish neighbors, resulting in harsh words and slurs, as a beginning.  The Jewish voice was suddenly silenced in the public square, along with free Jewish press being destroyed. Businesses, owned by Jewish families, were marked on the windows with the Star of David, identifying them as a sub-human race.  Armbands and sown patches of a yellow Star of David were forced on their clothing for easy identification.  Abandonment, robbery, torture, starvation and death followed the craze.  It takes a strong stomach to hear the details of what was done to these innocent citizens.  All that to say, when a group of people decide they are superior to another group of people, that is the launch of nightmares to come, if left to fester.  In fact, it is the genesis of becoming inhuman.  It’s truly a lack of humanity to turn a blind eye to suffering and brutality.  We are not immune to this pattern.  I fear we have yet to learn.

Lest we forget.

“…We remember what happens when hate takes hold of the human heart and turns it to stone; what happens when victims cry for help and there is no one listening; what happens when humanity fails to recognize that those who are not in our image are none the less in God’s image…” – Yom Hashoah Prayer – Rabbi Lord Sacks – April 4, 2013

While running on fuel for the race, you can’t help but shout….Never again!

Ezekiel didn’t understand what the valley full of bones meant, but God knew we would, thousands of years after the writings below.

“The hand of the Lord was on me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.  He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry.  He asked me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’  I said, ‘Sovereign Lord, you alone know.'” – Ezekiel 37:1-3 (NIV)   

Now, 5 Million Jews live in Israel.  In anticipation of May 14, 2018, Israel Independence Day, the friends of Israel look forward to the 70th anniversary of Israel of becoming a nation on their ancient soil.  A feat no other nation that has been scattered, shredded, enslaved, beaten and almost annihilated over the last 2,000 years can claim.  




Short Fuses

Photo: Shutterstock

“Stop draggin’, stop draggin’, stop draggin’ my heart around…”  Recorded by: Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (1981).  Composers: Michael W. Campbell and Tom Petty.

He said, “NO!  This is my band, it’s my song catalog!  BYE!”



Recently, I interviewed a well-known Grammy-winning lead singer of a rock band you would recognize, for a three-hour radio special.  This man is now a solo recording artist who has about 50 years of a rewarding rock career.  He and his band once opened for Janis Joplin, Chicago, B.B. King and others.  Off air, he told me an inside story, which I couldn’t share, concerning a major riff between band members in talks of a reunion tour, as well as a new CD of their reworked hits.  The founder and band-mate, of this famous band, had some health issues and wouldn’t give his nod on multiple topics related to the reunion efforts.  It became a huge political squabble behind the scenes.  It grew into the founder refusing to take part of any reunion efforts.  Soon, the word “lawsuit” was mentioned.  This, after 40 years of being part of a tightly knit musical family.  Ouch!

44 OMA MRA, Swindell side and B, D&C

Photo:  Ella Swindell (Far left)

Rewinding back to 1971, my great-grandmother Ella Swindell passed away.  She was one of the most selfless, sweet, servant-type person you could ever meet.  Her mother was an invalid with many children.  Somewhere around 1910, when it got to the point where she was unable take care of her children, along with the household in general, my great grandmother dropped out of school (3rd grade) to take over, instantly becoming an 8 year old mother, nanny, cook and bottle-washer.  At that young age, she raised her siblings as well as taking care of her parents.  All her life she played the role of the humble servant, the giving of herself.  In 1971, after her funeral, there was a gathering of her siblings and children (my grandmother and great uncle).  They met in my great grandmother’s house to discuss the property and possessions, tiny as it was.  In the meeting a knockdown-drag out occurred among these individuals she helped to raise (now elderly themselves) over the smallest personal affects.  Greed took control, even though she was a poor woman with very little.  What she did have was not valuable.  Still, they wrestled one another, making total fools of themselves.  A family split ensued.  Ouch!

Shorty At Attention July 2014

My dog, Shorty and I, moved into the house where we currently live, right at a year ago.  My wife and I were newlyweds and we moved into her house.  Next door, there are three dogs.  One looks to be a Dingo mix, the other two are Chihuahuas.  The two little bosses, with a little Caesar syndrome attitude, have real names, but I call them Yipper and Yapper.  They didn’t like Shorty from the very start and they made it clear, loud and clear.  Shorty is a kind, sweet dog who loves everyone he sees.  He has a firm belief that everyone he sees wants to play.  From the first moment he saw them at the adjacent fence, he ran over to initiate playtime.  NOTHIN’ DOIN’.  They nipped, yipped and snipped at his friendliness.  A few weeks later, after many attempts to become pals, to no avail, he slowly walked over to the barking pack, got close to the fence, lifted his leg and peed in their direction, running off afterwards like a celebrated conquering king of the neighborhood.  I laughed, but I was also quietly proud.  (I’m his dad.  What can I say?)  Ouch!

How quickly we burn our fuses and usually for small, insignificant reasons.  You say one thing that I may misunderstand, followed by my knee-jerk reaction, followed by your shock of my tone and then you raise it another level, etc.  Isn’t that the way it goes?  While in heavy traffic, someone rolls down their window as you hear “Hey, your car needs to be smashed!”  You love your car, and of course without thinking, the reaction comes quickly as you roll down your window to shout, “Well, how about I smash in your ugly grill?  Oh, sorry, that’s your teeth!”  The tragedy is, the actual words spoken were from a British chap, “Hey, your car is super smashing!”  Oh, the lessons learned.

Candle 2014

Unlike the band-mates of the rock star, my great grandmother’s siblings, along with Yipper and Yapper, we can, and we have, the ability to lengthen our fuses a great deal, allowing peace to rule the day.  It’s what love does.  Love denies self.  In fact, if we see our short fuses as short wicks, we can find the light diminishes as the dark side takes over like a long black cloak.  The longer the wick, the brighter the true view.  The shorter the wick, the darker the mask which shades the actual subject, distorting the view.

Who said it was easy?  Yet, there’s power in fuel for the race.

“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” – Paul – Romans 14:19 (NIV)
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