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Thursday, November 30, 2017

When My Family Turned Into a Criminal Gang: Charleyne’s 70th Birthday

Charleyne Fitzgerald and her son Clayton Whaley

In this blog I’ve often written posts about my fascinating ex-wife Charleyne (see Recent Posts below).  We were married in 1971, had one son, Clayton Robert Whaley, and, sadly, divorced in 1976 when I finally faced the fact that I was gay.  We’ve always been great friends, and that is true to this day when she is married to her high school sweetheart, John Fitzgerald, with whom she reconnected at a reunion some five or six years ago.  Clayton is now married to Maria, and they live in a suburb of Seattle.

Clayton and Maria vacationing in Australia

Charleyne turned 70 on August 7th of this year (a Sunday) and Clayton and Maria decided to have a birthday party in her honor, so Charleyne and John flew there from Indianapolis, their home, and David and I made a couple of horrific connecting flights from our home in Columbus to be there for the whole weekend. 

Charleyne and her husband John at her party

The days that followed were a delight, and though the actual birthday was on Sunday, the party was held on Saturday at Clayton and Maria’s home.  At that party, of course, the “Big Birthday Song” was sung, and that tune has had quite a history (see Related Posts below).  The song was written decades ago with a lyric I jotted down while waiting for a plane in an airport, and it’s designed to be sung whenever someone hits a birthday ending in a zero.  Clayton, a talented composer, wrote the original music, but I deemed it too complicated for an untrained audience to sing, so I simplified his melody, and that’s the version that has now been sung a great deal (and is available for sale online;  Clayton, understandably, has always longed for a musical version of the song that is closer to his original melody, and so, he informed David and me prior to our visit, he would be sending us an updated rendition of the song that he expected us to perform with him at his mother’s party.  He also told us that when we arrived (the day before the event) he would rehearse with us.  We looked at the new version of the song he provided, gulped, and agreed.  Happily, we can both read music and we trusted Clayton to guide us through the new song.

The rehearsal was interesting.  We finally understood what Clayton was planning, and we went over it a couple of times.  He has inherited some of my genes all right.  When David and I were dragging at our entrances and tempo early on, he put us right immediately by saying, “No, no—it’s 6/8 time!  Pay attention to that.”  Properly chastised, we did as told and things immediately improved.  The original lyrics are pretty brutal (“Every year more people here are younger, friend, than you!”), and Clayton had massaged them into a more anodyne message.

There is a video of our performance, but the videographer failed to catch the beginning, so Clayton recorded that and I spliced the whole thing together.  Here is that video of the song as we sang it to Charleyne and the guests:  

Since the actual birthday was on Sunday we celebrated it by an evening on the town, going into Seattle, having a drink at an upscale bar, and then a memorable meal at Maximilien, a restaurant overlooking Puget Sound, where much merriment was exchanged, and a number of alcoholic beverages consumed with efficiency.

The view from the Maximilien

The trouble started when we returned to the downtown parking lot to retrieve the two cars that brought the six of us (Charleyne and John, Maria and Clayton, David and me) into the city. 

It was closed, Sunday being the problem.  Did the proprietors warn us that vehicles had to be retrieved by 8 pm on the Sabbath?  No.  Was it after 8 pm?  Yes; it was around 9:30.  Was there an explanation on signs or the parking ticket as to how to deal with this problem?  No.  Did we panic? 

Well, sort of.  There was no obvious way into the underground parking lot at all, but then Clayton remembered the entrance on the other side of the block which we had used to enter the building on arrival, and, suggesting that the older folks follow, he and Maria took off at a trot to see if they could get in there.  The four elders followed at a walking (fast walking albeit) pace.  When we arrived on the opposite side, Maria was standing waving to us from the entrance cars use to drive down a ramp into the lot.  She and Clayton had seen a car doing this just as they arrived, so they followed it, and when a barrier went up to allow the car to pass, they had stood beneath it so it wouldn’t come back down.  Clayton was there now, holding that position.  We all went down to him, and he announced that Maria would stay here to keep this barrier up while the rest of us would go get the cars.  Everyone except me followed Clayton, but I stayed with Maria, thinking it was a bad idea for a beautiful woman to be standing there alone almost on the street.  She said she’d be all right without me, but—what the hell—I stubbornly stayed.

There was an additional problem.  Cars could come back up this ramp, but there was a second barrier with a wooden barrier in the lower exit lane, and it was in the down position.  When Clayton, driving one car with David as his passenger (John following in the other with Charleyne) came to this barrier there was no obvious way to make the goddamn thing rise. 


But then David, channeling his hitherto hidden criminal side, jumped from the passenger seat and physically raised the barrier, holding it steady, like Hodor.  Delighted, Clayton gunned his engine and both his and John’s cars shot through.  David and I climbed in with Clayton as he passed, and Maria joined John and Char in the second car.  Homeward we raced, laughing like lottery winners.

As we drove, Clayton turned to David and me, and innocently held high his parking ticket.  “We got out without paying this,” he mused.  “Are we criminals?”

Lawyer that I am, I promptly informed him that the next day John, Charleyne, David, and I would promptly exit the jurisdiction, but he and Maria should get a good lawyer if and when the police came knocking.  That produced a nervous chuckle, but happily the Washington authorities so far have made nothing of our great parking lot caper, so the “Seattle Suburban Gang” is still at large and free to laugh at parking barriers once again.

Related Posts:

"Far Too High in Las Vegas," September 1, 2010;   

"Charleyne and the Giant Cookie," September 16, 2010;

"Bowling With Charleyne," February  13, 2011;

"The Cheesecake Incident in Williamsburg, Virginia," January 6, 2012;

 “The Evil Big Birthday Song November 5, 2010;

Friday, November 17, 2017

I've Published Another Article: "An Atheist Interviews God"

Free Inquiry Magazine, published the Center for Inquiry, is the leading Humanist publication in the United States.  I am pleased that this month’s issue (December 2017/January 2018) contains an essay I published on this blog in 2011.  It is the second piece I’ve published with Free Inquiry, the first being “Creating the Bible: Water Into Wine,”   A third article is scheduled for publication next year.  My latest article is below, with pictures added from the original 2011 post.

                                            AN ATHEIST INTERVIEWS GOD

Atheist:  I know you rarely do interviews, so thanks for sitting down for this one. Let me start by asking if there's really such a thing as a hell where sinners writhe in eternal damnation?
God:  (Laughs)  Oh, my heavens, no!  It’s been pointed out that no fair deity would send Gandhi to hell just because he wasn't a Christian, and that’s clearly right.  What sort of creator would condemn human beings to eternal torment because they happened to belong to the wrong faith or made some misstep in life?  Who on earth hasn't done something that in, the eyes of one religion or another, would have them flaming forever?  The idea of hell is something earthlings thought up all by themselves.  They think it helps keep people in line.

Atheist:  Do you pay a lot of attention to what is going on in human civilization?

God:  Hmm.  Well, only from time to time.  Sometimes I do amuse myself by watching the complicated mess down there, but then centuries will pass and I don't visit at all.  What humans do can be fascinating, but it also can be downright boring or too sad to watch.  Often, of course, it's funny.  There’s an amusing period going on right now.

Atheist:  Many people believe God always monitors their activities, or sends angels or such to check on them.

God:  They get that notion from the various ancient books they wrote, but it's used for the same purpose as hell.  Omnipresent surveillance makes people behave better, or at least that's the theory.  (Scoffs)  Angels!

Atheist:  So you didn't dictate those ancient books?
God:  (Laughs)  They contradict each other!  And, really, have you read them?  Take the Christian bible which clearly was written by many hands, each with different styles and ranging from typical myth stories (which can be entertaining though improbable) to lists of kings or begats which can put the most attentive reader right into a coma.  The New Testament can't even agree on the details of the opening of Jesus's tomb!  If I'd authored the bible the whole work would be tiny and have a consistent message.

Atheist:  What would your bible say?

God:  I’d shorten it down to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Atheist:  That's it?

God:  That's plenty!  If people concentrated on the Golden Rule the earth would be a much better place.  Men wouldn't subject women to rape or mutilation or hide their identities in massive clothing, nor would young children be sexually assaulted by men of the cloth, or thousands of other atrocities—from war to unthinking bigotry—hidden or even promoted by religions. It sickens me.

Atheist:  Why don't you stop these things? Why is there such misery in the world? That's always been the big question people ask about God?

God:  I don't micromanage, though many humans think I do.  When people are disappointed, others try to console them with meaningless slogans like “God works in mysterious ways”—as if that helped.  Look, the people who promote religion have an idea of God which is incapable of “falsification”—there's no way to prove it wrong.  That should make them suspicious, but it doesn't.  If good things happen, they thank God.  If they pray and their wish comes true, they truly believe God answered their prayer.  But if the opposite occurs and a tsunami wipes out half a million people or if a prayer doesn't work, do they ever condemn me?  No, that would be “blasphemy.”  I get the credit, but never the blame—a cushy reputation!  So bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad ones, but either way, I come out on top.  It's both quite silly and wonderful at the same time.  They don't seem to notice that the world goes on exactly as it would if all their religions were completely wrong and I had nothing to do with it.

Atheist:  Yes, that's how it seems to me.  Why don't they notice?

God:  Humans are so afraid of dying—of their existence being stuffed out and having no more significance than that of an ant—that they'll believe impossible things and especially about some sort of hazy afterlife.  They spend a lot of time thinking about something that won't occur: a destination that doesn't exist.  In the meantime they don't concentrate on the journey they take along the way, wasting precious time.  The ants are better at putting meaningful effort into life.

Atheist:  But aren't we somehow different from the ants?  Better in an important way?

God:  It's true that homo sapiens are the only creatures with a clear idea they're going to die someday (which is what leads to religion and all these afterlife speculations), but from the ant's point of view, no.

Atheist:  Atheists have no expectation of an afterlife.  What do you think of them?

God:  Well, at least they're thinking.

Atheist:  Why don't you just appear and make us all believers?

God:  Believers in what?  The universe clearly exists.  It’s quite wonderful.  That should be enough.  Beyond that, you're strictly on your own.  Some day you’ll all wake up and stop concentrating on needless ritual and religious books that frequently give bad advice.  The astounding hatred of others that has been done in my name should shame everyone on earth.  It's mindless.

Atheist:  So you don't interfere. The universe just is what it is.

God:  Yes.
Atheist:  Then do you exist at all?

God:  [No answer]

Douglas Whaley is an emeritus professor of law at The Ohio State University, a prolific blogger, and the author of the atheist thriller Imaginary Friend (2008).  This article is reprinted with permission from the author’s 2010 blog post, the most popular single essay in his blogging history.


Related Posts:

“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013;

“Explosion at Ohio Stadium” (Chapter One of “Imaginary Friend”), October 9, 2010;

“Escape From Ohio Stadium” (Chapter Two), November 2, 2010;

“Open Mike, Insert Foot,” (Chapter 3), November 9, 2010;