Planes, trains (of thought) and automobiles

I missed my grandfather’s 102nd birthday celebration on Sunday because of mechanical problems on an airplane in Providence, R.I.

There was, in that, a fleeting shadow of the transcendental.

When my grandfather was born, there was no such thing as a commercial airplane flight. The Wright Brothers, in fact, were not only alive and kicking, but working for the U.S. military.

The first Wright Brothers’ airplanes did not need batteries once the ignition was triggered. Not so for the Embraer MD-88. The one scheduled to start my trip home had dead batteries at 6 a.m. And, apparently, it takes 5 hours for Delta to rectify such a situation.

In this case, we were informed, the delay came in needing to send to just outside Boston, near Concord, Mass., 60 miles away, for the replacement batteries. What they neglected to tell us was that word was sent to Boston via bicycle messenger, and the batteries transported to Providence by none other than Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz at a lilting walk.

Had Paul Revere taken so long, the British already would have come.

Unless they had booked on Delta.

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Footprints of a wandering mind

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. In fact, I don’t make them. I intended to make an exception this year when a local magazine asked me to submit a few, and I did take a thoughtful stab at it, but to no good purpose. I am, it seems, resolute, in my anti-resolution stance.

My recent resolve has nothing to do with New Year’s. I have been trying lately to pay attention to where my mind is going when it wanders, and to focus less on bringing it back to where I want it than in following to see where it goes. Often it goes back. Sometimes it goes nowhere. In the absence of other things, you will find some of its wanderings here. As in the following . . .

* * *

Something got loose in the dishwasher last night. It was beating in time with the machine, a deep thump against the waterproof wall, like a primitive rainforest drum pounding out a prayer.

No, I wasn’t under the influence when, for a flash, I pictured the dishes dancing inside, spoons splashing.

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Christmas recollection: Santa Scores

I usually try to post a little extra on here at Christmastime, but haven’t gotten around to it this year. So to kick things off, this column I wrote in the Christmas Eve, 2007, edition of The Courier-Journal

_________________

By ERIC CRAWFORD
Dec. 24, 2007

Dear Santa,

I’ve not written you for a long while, I know.

I’m only writing now because I should have written this long ago, but didn’t.

It’s been 30 years since you brought me the best Christmas gift I ever received. Maybe you remember it. It was the only thing I asked for that year a Dallas Cowboys football helmet.

You must get this a lot, Santa. Everybody has one gift they remember more than the others. We all have our own “Red Rider B.B. gun” stories.

I wish I could tell you what it felt like to see the helmet under the tree that Christmas morning, but I can’t. I don’t remember. That’s all right. It holds other memories that are far more important.

It couldn’t have been an easy gift to find. Back then, the NFL didn’t have replica merchandise. The only people wearing Cowboys football helmets were the Cowboys.

The year Santa worked overtime

But I didn’t know the real story behind it until another Christmas, 23 years ago, when in the pages of this newspaper my father wrote about how hard it had been for you to locate that gift. The long-distance phone calls to Chicago, and then Dallas. The fretting over finding it. The worrying over whether it could be found at all.

Way out where we lived, there weren’t many kids to play football with. In fact, about the only one my age was a couple of miles down the road, and she wasn’t really into football and was probably faster than me, anyway. But what I lacked in competition I made up for in room to roam.

On football fall days, I’d take off to yard or field and somehow manage to play all 22 positions plus special teams by myself. I’d save my biggest plays for when the wind would whip the turning leaves into a roar. They were my applause. I kicked the extra points over an electric wire attached to the house.

I didn’t want a real audience, but once in a while somebody would remark to my parents at seeing me diving and falling, making passes to myself in the yard.

When it was too cold, I’d line up under center above the family room couch, Roger Staubach about to hand off to Robert Newhouse for a short-yardage dive.

I played on real basketball and baseball teams, but football, Santa, was always a game in my head, a game of image and of words.

I don’t suppose I’d be writing this if I hadn’t been out in the garage yesterday looking for a place to hide a present. And there, in the floorboard of a battery-powered Hummer, sat the old helmet. There was a T-ball glove next to it, and up on the seats were a Wiffle Ball bat, a pair of roller skates and a tackle box that had been converted into a motor pool for a fleet of toy Army vehicles.

From time to time through the year the helmet will come charging at me on the heads of one of my sons, and I will remember those afternoons when I was the only game in town.

But more than that, I will remember the Santa who loved me like a son.

The gift of lasting memories

It was a gift that gave both of us more than we ever suspected, and I’m not just talking about newspaper columns though those are no small things in themselves sometimes.

Sports has changed since then, Santa. You wouldn’t believe. But I’d like to thank you this Christmas Eve, and I know a lot of other folks would too, for similar gifts they remember. People like us are thankful that, despite it all, sports can still be about more than winning and losing and controversy.

They still can be about families and memories that burn long after the lights on scoreboards and Christmas trees have gone out.

After the flood

Floods come in different depths and types. This one came from the water heater.

The water rose maybe an inch, then receded into the carpet.

My office was the least-damaged of the basement rooms. Still, today my job on the first day of vacation was to empty it, which meant the evacuation of hundreds of books from their shelves to uncertain stacks in the hallway.

I wasn’t going to write anything on vacation, then I walked down tonight and saw them standing against the wall, waiting as if in a bus station or airport terminal.

What happens when you have to move your books is that you run into people you did not expect to run into. Paul Guest, a poet who is paralyzed, sits in my hands. I haven’t seen him in ages. But here he is with a long, lightning-rod of a sentence that halts the cleanup effort, at the beginning of a poem titled, “User’s Guide to Physical Debilitation.”

Should the painful condition of irreversible paralysis
last longer than forever or at least until
your death by bowling ball or illegal lawn dart
or the culture of death, which really has it out
for whoever has seen better days
but still enjoys bruising marathons of bird watching,
you, or your beleaguered caregiver
stirring dark witch’s brews of resentment
inside what had been her happy life,
should turn to page seven where you can learn,
assuming higher cognitive functions
were not pureed by your selfish misfortune,
how to leave the house for the first time in two years.

But I can’t go to page seven. I am amazed at how many of my notebooks stop when they are three-quarters full. What does that say about me? And then here’s Walt Whitman, “Specimen Days & Collect,” or F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Crack-Up,” and what business do they have writing better in their notebooks than most people do for show?

Whitman was a newspaperman first. So was Hemingway. That he went undamaged by the waters should be understood. And on another shelf, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  Somewhere on my desk is a newspaper lead he wrote for El Ecspectador, a Colombian newspaper, in a series about a disease-ridden part of the country. Yes, here it is, “Several years ago a ghostly, glassy-looking man, with a big stomach as taut as a drum, came to a doctor’s office in the city. He said, ‘Doctor, I have come to have you remove a monkey that was put in my belly.'”

That’s a lead.

My daughter, Katie, just the other night was looking at my high school yearbook and saying, “You look funny.” I pick it up now and flip over a few pages to my friend Bill Nelson, who is battling cancer in brain and lungs and God knows where else. Doctors told him his chances were less than ten percent a couple of weeks ago. Try anyway, he told them. He wants to live. I look at his picture and pray for him.

We all look so small in our little yearbook photos. I felt so small then. So many big rooms.

Now, in this small office, I do not feel small. I like little rooms. What does that mean?

I think of New York City hotel rooms, the tiny ones. The Mansfield Hotel, that’s the last one I stayed in. A beautiful place. It was a couple of doors down from the original New Yorker offices, and I liked to think about E.B. White and Co. walking down the sidewalk to work.

In the 1950s, an impeccably dressed man named Maz von Gurach lived in the hotel. Some people think he was the model for Jay Gatsby, used by the aforementioned F. Scott Fitzgerald. Also a painter visited there named John Butler Yeats, whose son, William Butler, was just about to start cranking out some of his best poetry in Ireland.

Yeats (W.B.) is here too, but I’ll be damned if I can find him.

The goal on vacation is not to think much about sports, and certainly not to write about them. But every Monday night at 8 o’clock or so, I go on a local radio sports talk program. Tonight we talked about Tiger Woods. Just a day ago, as a sports columnist, I wrote about Tiger, and said that he needs to adjust his game to his age, to evolve the way the great ones do, whatever that means (and only the great ones really can understand it). But tonight as I talked about him, not so much as a sports columnist but as a guy surrounded by all these impatient books, I felt a voice inside me saying, “Just leave him alone. Let him figure it out.”

Those voices don’t talk too loudly when deadline is approaching and you need a topic. The one thing that pops into my head as I hang up the phone and go back to cleaning the office is that the new home he’s building in Florida is 9,700 square feet. Who needs that much space? His kids could visit and need two days to find him. That’d be my advice to Tiger. Get yourself a smaller room.

The news on the radio says that BP has capped its gushing undersea oil well, but that now the fear is that oil could begin to seep up through the ocean floor. Which sounds about right. There’s always something else. I’ll probably pull up this carpet to find mold. And even once the mold is scrubbed, something will emerge. I’m pretty sure the water heater’s leaking again.

Paul Guest has written a great opening line in his poem, “Audio Commentary Track 2.” It begins: “As you can already see, everything is f- -ked.”

He may know something. His shelf was awfully close to the carpet.

Glenn Beck and his Preacher panel, what was missing?

This post is difficult and delicate. I don’t want to get into the usual back-and-forth on politics or religion. But I need to dive right into the middle of both as we race toward the Independence Day holiday.

I got a call a couple of days ago that a local pastor was on the Glenn Beck Program. I’ve never watched it before. Not  once. I’ve seen clips. But I turned it on because I wanted to see how the discussion went.

On this program, which aired July 2, Beck had invited nine religious leaders — pastors, writers, a professor. They came  from various Christian denominations. It was titled the “State of Religion in America,” and over the course of an hour Beck took this group through discussions of the role of religion in politics, the place of “social justice,” charity and taxation, the state of churches today, the stance of the U.S. toward Israel, whether religious expression in this country is being threatened and the role that preachers and religious leaders should play in the nation today.

It was an interesting discussion. It was, no surprise, full of plenty of assertions that would find agreement on the political right in this country, but that was to be expected.

What I didn’t expect was this:

In an hour-long discussion with nine of the most influential Christian leaders today, not one of them saw fit to quote the Bible in answer to any of Beck’s questions.

They quoted John Adams, but not John the apostle. They quoted Peter Marshall, but nothing from any of Peter’s Biblical books. They quoted Montesquieu and Frederick Tolles and George Washington.

But the closest any one of them got to a Biblical quotation was when Stephen Broden, senior pastor at Fair Park Bible Fellowship and a Republican Congressional candidate in Texas, said, “The Bible says that the Christians — that the gatekeepers, that the shepherds — have failed.”

It must be a version of the Bible that I do not have. I don’t doubt that some similar grouping of words might be found somewhere in its pages. But I know that the Bible does not include the term “Christian,” so I’m going to reject that as an actual Biblical quotation as applied.

Later, Princeton professor Robert George, a Roman Catholic, gave a twist to a famous utterance of Jesus when he claimed that those registering on a web site he was promoting would be serving to  “render ungrudgingly to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but to never give to Caesar what is God’s.”

I came away disappointed. For all of the talk of getting “back to the Book,” none of them found the book relevant enough to quote in answer to these fundamental questions.

Of course, it can be difficult. There’s nothing resembling a Democracy in the Bible. There’s plenty of taxation. Jesus himself lived under the government of King Herod, whose taxes Jews of the day opposed bitterly. Yet Jesus was criticized for being a friend to tax collectors. And when asked directly about taxation, he took the coin, asked whose picture was on it, then advised those who asked to “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and render to God what is God’s.”

And when Jesus advised those listening to what we have recorded as the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:41, “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles,” he was making a clear reference to the Roman practice of conscripting workmen. In that day, soldiers or officers of the king could simply force people to convey goods, carry gear, and sometimes even furnish horses or carriages or otherwise work to move their effort along — without compensation.  It is the worst kind of government job — unpaid and not by choice. But instead of denouncing the practice, Jesus told people if the government asked for one mile, they should give it two.

The host, however, declared this: “If Jesus tells you to go and take a shovel and build, you know, dig a ditch for somebody, go do it. If the government tells you that you need to dig it for somebody else on your own time, that isn’t — I have not found it in the Bible.”

Of course, as we’ve just seen, it is in the Bible. And Jesus is the one who said it. For a secular host not to have studied the Sermon on the Mount is no big deal. For a bunch of preachers who repeatedly talked about going “back to the Book,” and who no doubt have read this passage and understood its meaning to not be willing to educate the host and the many watching on television, was disappointing.

John Hagee — who has made many statements I disagree with, which I won’t go into — himself wrote about that passage something I can go along with:

Don’t confuse duty with love.  Duty goes the first mile; love goes the extra mile.  The old saying about going the extra mile (or the second mile) comes from the Bible.  In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain (two)” (Matthew 5:41).  The Romans occupied Palestine in the days of Christ.  Under their law, a Roman soldier could compel a Jewish man to carry his pack one mile.  The Jews developed the custom of placing a marker, or milestone, one mile from the edge of their property.  So if a Roman soldier came by and told him to carry his pack, the Jewish man would carry the pack as far as the milestone and then drop it promptly.  He had grudgingly done his duty to the last inch.  Jesus was telling His disciples, “Duty carries that pack the first mile; but love joyfully carries it the second mile.”

This work, Hagee and Beck might argue, is in military service (though it also could be rendered in service to the king, or as a courier.) And Beck is arguing here that the government shouldn’t be asking you to do service for someone else. Yet many times, those conscripted to help Roman soldiers were, ultimately, performing work that would benefit others in the Empire and not themselves. It simply had to be. And Jesus’ words were clear. He could have spoken out against the Roman practice. Instead, he spoke to the responsibility of duty and love.

There wasn’t much of that talk among this panel of religious leaders.

In the one-hour show, do you know how many times the word “Love” was uttered? Zero.

And apparently for this group, prayer is not the answer, because it was not mentioned once during the entire show.

Now, I realize this was a secular program. And I realize this book, the Bible, is problematic for many of us. Certainly, for this group of religious leaders, all of its talk about healing the sick and feeding the hungry and care of the poor did not lend well to this particular discussion. Nor, frankly, did it quite fit the host’s financial views. Old Testament law, which comes, for those who follow the Bible, straight from the hand and mind of God, provides for all debts to be forgiven at the end of every seven years and even allows for more leniency when loans are made to the poor (Exodus 22:25): “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is poor and needy, do not be like a money-lender; charge him no interest.”

It fits no fiscal model in place on either side of the aisle today.

I understand that the Bible, like the Constitution, is open to interpretation.

But for a host to bring up all  these issues in a one-hour forum with that group, and for the Bible never to be used as a tool for answering questions, but only be held up as a symbol, leaves their calls to “get back to the book” ringing quite hollow.

The Four Chaplains, a remembrance

I’ve always been partial to the little guy in sports, probably because I was one. So today, I want to tell you about a little guy.

Clark Poling only weighed 135 pounds, but he loved football, and insisted on going out for the team at Oakwood Prep in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. And he did pretty well. He didn’t do it without some doubt. He’d survived an auto accident as a child, and still had the lingering effects of a broken hip from that.

But as a freshman his team went undefeated and he was a starting defensive back. He made a little bit of a name for himself as a halfback until he suffered a broken wrist and his football days were over.

It’s what he did after football, though, that needs to be remembered today.  Clark, like his father, went into the ministry, though not without some doubts. The day he was ordained, they asked him if he believed in the virgin birth. He paused, then said, “I do not disbelieve, but I am not convinced.” Then he quoted a passage of Paul’s about being ministers not of the letter, but of the spirit.

He graduated from Rutgers, and Yale Divinity School. He became a pastor in the Dutch Reformed Church, married, and settled with his wife Betty and son Corky in Schenectady, N.Y.

He was 30 years old at the outbreak of World War II, and he decided to enlist.  In the same way he threw himself into football, he wanted to throw himself into the middle of the action. His father had been a military chaplain in World War I, but Clark told him he didn’t want to “hide behind the church.” He wanted to fight.

When his father told him that chaplains suffered the highest mortality rate of any servicemen in World War I, Clark Poling reconsidered. At Chaplain’s School at Harvard University, he completed his military training and met three other chaplains, with whom he became close friends.

There was George Fox, a 42-year-old Methodist minister whose 18-year-old son was in the marines. Fox had run away as a 17-year-old to serve as a medic in World War I, winning the Silver Cross and Purple Heart.

There was Alexander Goode, who had become a rabbi after graduating from the University of Cincinnati and Hebrew Union College, and had earned a doctorate from John’s Hopkins.

And there was John P. Washington, a Catholic priest from New Jersey who signed up as soon as Pearl Harbor was bombed.

The four became inseparable, and could be found having animated discussions often at Chaplain’s school, and later on the ship USAT Dorchester, an Army transport.

One soldier described watching them as, “Just like a football huddle.”

On Feb. 3, 1943, the Dorchester was sailing in the North Atlantic when it was hit by a torpedo from the German submarine U-223.

In the chaos that followed, the four chaplains helped to calm the men. They talked frantic and frightened soldiers onto lifeboats. They handed out life jackets.

And when the life preservers ran out, each of the four took off his own, and handed it to a soldier.

And they prayed. Each his own prayers, some Latin, some Hebrew, some English.

I don’t know what goes through a man’s mind when he makes the decision to remove that life vest, to literally remove his life like a piece of clothing and lay it over another man’s shoulders.

It certainly was a day that Clark Poling, one of the little guys who was born in Canton, Ohio, where now resides the Football Hall of Fame, earned an honor as high as any man can earn. (His daughter, Susan, was born three months after his death.)

Grady Clark, a survivor of that day, described the scene.

“As I swam away from the ship, I looked back. The flares had lighted everything. The bow came up and she slid under. The last thing I saw, the Four Chaplains were up there praying for the safety of the men. They had done everything they could. I did not see them again. They themselves did not have a chance without their life jackets.”

Others described the Four Chaplains as praying arm in arm as the ship went down.

A postcard with the pictures of The Four Chaplains, issued in 1948. (Click picture to enlarge).

All four were posthumously honored with the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross. The Four Chaplains Medal was was established by an act of Congress in 1960 and presented to their families in 1961.  They appeared on a postage stamp, and Feb. 3 was declared “Four Chaplains Day” in 1948.

A chapel in their honor was dedicated by President Harry Truman in Philadelphia in 1951.

You can read more about them at fourchaplains.org. Thanks to Don Roth of Louisville for his hard work in keeping their memory alive. He was faithful in contacting my dad every year about this time to remind him of the Four Chaplains, and got in touch with me this year.

The background information for this entry came from Dan Kurzman’s No Greater Glory: The Four Immortal Chaplains and the Sinking of the Dorchester in World War IIBuy the book here.

A restaurant tale

The boys ordered pancakes and sausage patties for dinner tonight when I took them to a restaurant that I won’t name, except to say that the name of its mascot can be found in the sentence, “Boy, they were really big jerks.”

For 20 minutes we waited, without drinks, without a check-back from the waitress. It was busy. I wondered if they were snubbing us because I’d already gotten into a debate over why I couldn’t get the add-on price for the salad bar instead of the stand-alone price even if I were ordering with a coupon. But I digress.

The point is that the food came with bacon instead of sausage, which was no big deal, even though it came late and cold. I told our server (now a different person) that they’d ordered sausage, and on her way to go get our drinks, she said she’d fix it.

About 10 minutes later, meals eaten, bacon nibbled at, the original server returns and says they want their bacon back!

Katie, age 11, says immediately, “Haven’t they heard of swine flu?”

All the way home the boys sang, “I want my baconback backonback baconback, I want my baconback baconback baconback.”

I know the economy is bad, but has it come to this? Repossessing bacon that people didn’t order in the first place?

Another love story

cakeOccasionally I’ll see one of these and want to share it, because we all can use a good love story once in a while.

I went to a wedding this weekend and saw something I’d never seen.

When my younger brother Joe married Cynthia, their entire wedding party was made up of children (all right, some teenagers, too), including his two sons, and her daughter and son.

It gave an unmistakable charm to the proceeding. I got to wondering why that was — other than that they all looked so good in their formal clothes, and that they all managed to stand still for the duration of the ceremony.

But there also was something of a joy-after-hardship kind of message. It wasn’t the first marriage for bride or groom, and that means that the kids certainly have had trials, too.

But here were all these — new (step) brothers and sisters, and more than that, new cousins for my children, and they smiled and stood and later ripped around the reception and played together. They were living examples of the cliche, “life of the party.”

It wasn’t an accident. When Joe proposed, he didn’t do it at a Valentine’s Day dinner as Cynthia had expected, but in the living room of his home, with all four of their children in the room.

Roger Angell is a favorite writer of mine, and he’s never better than when he’s just talking about his life, from childhood to senior status. Looking back at the remarriages in his extended family — his own step-father was E.B. White — he acknowledged that the way things played out is “not what its members would have invented for themselves as children. But we cannot now unimagine the new fathers and step-aunts and half-brothers or sisters and half-grandnieces that sit around the family tables on a Thanksgiving, or wish for a life for ourselves that did not include unexpected attachments.”

I guess seeing all those new relations up there was an unexpected pleasure.

My brother, Joe, is known as Joe Johnson in Salt Lake City, where he co-hosts a popular morning radio program. He’s never had a straight answer for anything. On one of those interview videos that couples now do — answering questions about their past to be played during the reception time on video screens around the hall — Joe described asking Cynthia out for their first date this way: “I had climbed up on a Ferris Wheel she was on and was just there, hanging onto the bar, and I said I wouldn’t let go until she said she would go out with me.”

So it was moving to hear the sincere vows he wrote, because those of us who know him well know what it took for him to say them. And in Cynthia, we saw a flash of writing talent that maybe we hadn’t expected when she promised to be faithful for better or for worse, “in good ratings and in bad.”

Love stories take all shapes. And perhaps they’re the one kind of story in which fiction cannot outdo fact.

A WORD ABOUT A LOVE SONG

Chilton Price wrote a love song that is burned into the memory of fans from the 1950s and beyond: “You Belong to Me.”

See the pyramids along the Nile
Watch the sunrise on a tropic isle
Just remember darlin’ all the while
You belong to me

Mrs. Price is a native of Louisville, lived here in Fern Creek, played violin for the Louisville Orchestra and worked in the music library and WAVE radio.

And she did something that many of us would kill to do. She created a song that captured hearts. It was a No. 1 song in both the U.S. and the U.K. in 1953. Five years later, it resurfaced on Billboard’s rock charts when a cover version by The Duprees went to No. 7.

Since then, it has been covered by such diverse singers as Patsy Cline, Bing Crosby, Bob Dylan and Tori Amos.

In October, Mrs. Price will receive the long overdue honor of the Governor’s Awards in the Arts for writing.

I met Mrs. Price just once, at my sister Andrea’s wedding. There she shook my hand and was kind enough to encourage me on a bit of verse of mine that she had seen. It meant a great deal, coming from someone who achieved every writer’s dream — a piece so memorable, it will live forever.

Want more? Here’s the last love story I told here.

Purebred insanity

For Linda Brown, life is a bitch. Literally.

Brown breeds dogs. Expensive, purebred types. It’s a living. You sell puppies to affluent homes for a lifetime of love and, most likely, over-indulgent companionship. What could be more harmless?

Except that Brown made a tragic mistake, a potentially life-threatening error.

She sold one of her puppies to the Vice President of the United States.

And then the dog poop hit the fan.

The animal rights crowd came down on Brown like a Jack Russell on a chew toy. They say Vice President Joe Biden should have gotten a dog from a shelter instead of the purebred German Shepherd he bought from Brown. They say that breeders like Brown are responsible for the deaths of many homeless dogs every year.

Brown says she’s received death threats. She says the same threats have been aimed at Biden. The Secret Service won’t say anything.

I’ve got something to say.

Since when does a person, even a dog lover, read a news account like this one in the Delaware County Daily Times and think, immediately, “This woman has got to DIE”?

Anger, sure. Passion, fine. But death? Come on. PETA, I’m sure, doesn’t agree with death threats. But what are the chances that these threats aren’t coming from among its membership? Regardless, for a group that supposedly loves animals, PETA has become expert at jumping the shark. (And doesn’t that demean the shark?)

I deserve to be heard on this, because for 13 years I owned a pet rescued off the streets — a Cocker Spaniel puppy scooped up off a sidewalk in front of a Northern Kentucky funeral home, less than a year old.

Murphy’s hind legs shook from the moment I first saw him until the day he died. For the next decade, I did not answer a telephone without having my pants legs chewed or my ankles bitten. He once punctured a pair of my leather tennis shoes and drew blood. My house still bears scratch marks from his paws on various doors. He bit all of my children, and a boy scout hawking popcorn. More than once, in retaliation for not being fed off the dinner table, he looked me in the eyes and peed on my rug.

And that rug did tie the room together.

I daresay, then, that I have sacrificed more for homeless dogs than most PETA activists. I’ve donated chewed up books and children’s toys, shoes, socks and pants and, of course, the aforementioned rug to the cause. And I’ll not be judged or muzzled by any animal rights loudmouth until he has walked a mile on my urine-stained carpet. I’d suggest, in fact, that if they’re so concerned about the issue, they buy themselves some land and rescue some of these dogs en masse, give them a kind of mixed-breed utopia.

But leave this poor woman in Delaware alone.

They even sicced the state’s dog wardens on Brown. These slack-jawed, lap-dog bureaucrats showed up at Brown’s kennel with digital cameras and wound up citing her for such offenses as a piece of dog food on the floor and some stray dog hairs. The charges were later thrown out.

Unfortunately, the wardens were not.

A year ago, after the tragic death of filly Eight Belles in the Kentucky Derby, a woman wrote me to say that if I didn’t immediately call for an end to horse racing, the blood of every thoroughbred that dies in the sport from now on would be on my hands.

“These horses don’t deserve to die,” she wrote. “Humans who can prevent it but refuse to, however, I’m not so sure about. How would you like it if you were forced to run for two miles, carrying a heavy rider and being whipped all to make some rich owner more money? Do you have any idea what torture that must be?”

I responded the only way I could. “I work for a newspaper, Ma’am. I think I do.”

Here’s where we are today. Mike Vick, and no, I’m not defending him, is getting ready to be released from jail after running a heinous dog-fighting ring. In July, he’ll complete a 23-month stint in Federal prison. He’s been out of the NFL for two years, and faces a stiff climb to get back into the league.

St. Louis Rams defensive lineman Leonard Little, in October of 1998, got drunk in a bar while celebrating his 24th birthday. He climbed into his Lincoln Navigator, then ran a red light in a downtown intersection and plowed into 47-year-old Susan Gutweiler in her sub-compact car. He killed her. She left behind a husband and a teenage son.

Little got a 90-day shock sentence in a state work house. He was suspended for 8 games by the NFL. Within 18 months, he was playing in the Super Bowl. He’s still playing today.

Used to be, when someone was getting a raw deal we’d say he was being “treated like a dog.”

More and more, it’s starting to feel like we humans are the ones who are getting our noses rubbed in it.

A love story

I was at a Memorial Service last weekend.

It was a different kind of service. For a different kind of man. Tim Dunn, the brother of my father-in-law, John Dunn, fell into a pool and bumped his head at age 24, and was a quadriplegic for the rest of his life.

He died at the age of 58 of a stroke.

Usually, at a person’s memorial service, you might hear friends speak, or a minister, or one of the children, and this service had all that. It also had two people you don’t usually hear from — two doctors. Neurosurgeons.

And both of these men stood up and said something remarkable. For all their sophisticated science, both attributed the fact that this man had been able to live 34 quality years — to work from his bed, to author a book, to devise and market a board game, to put a son through college — not to anything medical, but to the love of his wife.

Poetry, literature and music are full of testament to the power of love. Here is a demonstration of it.

Barb Dunn had been married to Tim for a year and a half when he was paralyzed. Their son was 10 months old. After the accident, Tim was despondent, and told Barb that if she wanted to leave, he would understand.

She was insulted. She stayed. She became his caretaker, but did not stop being his wife. In a short biographical piece written about him for the memorial, she is quoted as saying, “I never treated him like a paralyzed person. If I want to tell him to shut up, I tell him to shut up.”

Said Tim: “She treats me like a man.”

And this man, recipient of bad fortune that many of us cannot imagine, was also the recipient of a quality of love that few of us will know.

The life expectancy of someone in Tim Dunn’s condition is not long. But he lived 34 productive years, saw his son graduate college, knew his grandchildren.

And even his doctors acknowledged, while medicine helped him, it was love that sustained him.