In God We Trust Our Catalytic Converters

On Friday, October 1 in the cover of dawn darkness, I launched the attack at the edge of the church’s Bicentennial Garden. 

A nest of in ground yellow jackets  had been making their presence known to  preschool students and other pedestrians who shuffled along the sidewalk that fronts the garden. 

On the previous afternoon, my reconnaissance had located the hideout for the swarming stingers. This morning, as I sprayed the fortress with the recommended insecticide—no yellow jackets emerged.

Next, I staged Trinity Hall for our weekly collection of food in support of two pantries. Then I went back home for breakfast. 

When I returned to church, I was focused on final preparations for a 2 p.m. funeral. 

Funerals do something to a church staff. In their own quiet way, funerals add a layer of stress in the pursuit of perfection for the grieving family. A checklist runs through the staff’s minds making sure that no details are overlooked.

By noon, I was ready to head back home to get cleaned up and make my attire more presentable. Just as I was leaving the Stuart Hall Road parking lot, I heard this loud rumbling roar coming from the Rock Creek Road parking lot.

I knew one of our members, Bob Argabright, was coming by to pickup the step van for a Saturday morning project at Oak Grove-Bellemeade Elementary School. I sensed that never heard before sound had come from the starting up of the van.

Sure enough, when I circled back around to the Rock Creek lot, Bob had returned and parked the van. Bob confirmed the sound had come from the van. He guessed something wasn’t right with the exhaust system. We surmised the van shouldn’t be driven until we could have a mechanic determine its ailment.

Our other church van was available, so Bob took it for Saturday.

Late on Friday afternoon, I checked with our neighborhood mechanic, David, at the Mobil station down the street from the church. He suggested that I crawl under the van to determine if the catalytic converter was still in place. David’s experiences told him that the loud roar might be attributed to a stolen catalytic converter.

So early Saturday morning, I crawled under the van. I found a gap in the exhaust system of about two feet. The catalytic converter had been cut out with the precision of a surgeon.

I gathered information about the van and reported the theft to our  community officer in our county’s police department. Officer Phillips filed the report, and then followed back up with me.

Officer Phillips communicated that the police department believes they need state legislative assistance to combat this epidemic increase in catalytic converter theft. 

Currently, metal salvagers are not required to report when a person shows up to sell a trunk load of stolen catalytic converters. This is unlike requirements for pawn shop operators who are required to report their purchases.

 Also, catalytic converters do not have a manufacturer’s serial number. This prevents law officers from effectively tracking the  stolen converter back to the rightful owner. You can wager your last penny that thieves know these loopholes, and every thief also knows the precious metals in the converters are very valuable.

During my ten years of work at our church, this is the third theft we have worked through related to metals. The first was copper gutters, followed by a large brass coupling cut out of the controls for the landscaping sprinkler system.

I wonder what type of person/s comes out under the cover of darkness and steals from a church? What pushes a person to steal in the first place? Is the individual desperate for cash? Does the individual have an addiction problem?  Is  a family member in distress?

In 1957, the words: “In God We Trust”  were printed on paper currency in America for the first time. I’d be curious to know if the gutters, coupling, and converter thieves have any concept of trusting God in their daily living? Additionally, I’d be interested to learn if attending church was ever a part of their lifestyle?

We have made arrangements for the van to be repaired. But, there are no preventative techniques that could keep the same theft from happening again.

I guess I’ll leave that for God to work on. Maybe he can wear down the conscience of the catalytic converter stealer.

One of the precise cuts made to remove the catalytic converter. Photo by Bill Pike

Need some chaos? Call a squirrel.

As I have written previously, during the pandemic once every two weeks, we have a Zoom call with a dear group of college friends. 

Generally, we gather on Sunday afternoons at five. Without too many absences, Steve, Dan, Steve, Doug, Butch, plus spouses and an occasional pet join the calls.

My wife and I have enjoyed our hour long calls. This is a good way for us to stay in touch and learn how we are doing in the madness of the pandemic. 

While we hear about ailments, house projects, travel, grandchildren, and children, for me I’m selfishly present for the mental health of laughter. No matter how serious the conversation can turn, we have an abundance of self-deprecating humor. I usually feel better after that Zoom call.

On Sunday, September fifth, Dan and his wife, Judy, gave us a blow by blow account of dealing with an unwanted guest in their basement—a squirrel.

It seems to me that many people have stories about squirrel intrusions.

During Christmas celebrations where my wife’s parents lived in Connecticut, I remember multiple times my father-in-law furiously banging on the kitchen window. He was attempting to chase off an acrobatic squirrel that landed on a bird feeder.

Sometimes, in the drought of a hot summer, squirrels have ravaged our tomatoes for the moisture in them.

One spring, two squirrels found their way into our attic. Our son and I put on pants, long sleeved shirts, gloves, hats, and declared war. We were armed with pump action super soaker water guns. I had filled their holding tanks with ammonia. 

We were closed up in the attic. We made lots of noise and poking with long poles to rouse up the squirrels. Sure enough, they didn’t like the disturbance. Without any hesitation, we soaked the squirrels with the ammonia. They didn’t like our hospitality. 

Another time when I was out of town, a squirrel fell down the chimney into our fireplace. Luckily, the wire mesh and glass doors contained him. He croaked a couple of days later.

Once I saw firsthand the damage a squirrel can do in a house. A squirrel entered an elderly neighbor’s home via the chimney. She was away visiting family. That squirrel tore the place up.

For our college friends, they were lucky. Dan had gone into the workout room of their basement. As he entered the room, Dan caught a glimpse of something gray moving. 

At first, Dan thought it was their cat, Omar. But, he reasoned the door was closed, no way Omar could have entered the workout room, and next that gray flash was not Omar’s coloring. 

Dan has his private pilot’s license, plus he is certified to train people to fly, so his eyes were not playing tricks on him. As he surveyed the room again, Dan saw the head of a squirrel pop up from behind a pillow on the couch. 

Now the fun started.

Like all good husbands, he quickly called in reinforcements—his wife, Judy. Not wanting the squirrel to scamper up one of her legs, Judy came down wearing a dress and knee high rain boots.

All they had to do was shoo the squirrel through a door that empties into the backyard. Of course, the squirrel was having none of this. He countered every containment move with a more clever move. 

Perspiring and frustrated, Dan put out an SOS call for two of his neighbors to assist. They showed up with a fishing net, another type of netting, and adolescent humor. Noticing Judy’s attire, one neighbor commented she looked like a stripper. Luckily,  Judy didn’t clobber him.

So, now four frazzled adults are after this wacky squirrel whose nervous digestive track is dropping poop balls around the room. After more sweaty minutes and possibly lots of swearing, the squirrel makes the wrong move. Dan with help is able to pin him so that a thin board can be slid behind him for containment.

With more luck, they get him out of the basement into the backyard. The panting and the perspiration slow down.

The next day, the carpet and upholstery cleaners arrive. Dan determines that his chimney cap was worn and failed. The squirrel fell down the chimney into the basement where a wood stove had once connected to the chimney. The squirrel had chewed through the plastic lid covering the connection hole.

The chimney cap has been replaced, and with sheet metal, Dan formed a stronger cover for the previous stove connection in the wall.

Nothing like the chaos of a squirrel to turn a house upside down.

Perhaps, you know the Tom Hanks’ movie Castaway. Early in the film, Hanks portraying FedEx employee, Chuck Noland, is a passenger on one of the company’s huge cargo planes. On this trip, the plane encounters a monstrous storm over the ocean. The plane despite the crew’s efforts can’t handle the stress of the weather. Chaos ensues as the plane crashes into the ocean. Chuck Noland is the only survivor. His life is turned upside down. No one knows he survived the crash.

In our world, people experience chaos everyday, their lives are turned upside down.

Recent examples are Afghanistan, Haitian earthquake, Hurricane Ida, wildfires out West, and of course our on-going saga with COVID-19. 

At times, I wonder how much more chaos can people withstand?

And then I think, historically, chaos has existed in this old world since it was hurled together. 

Perhaps, we have become numb to chaos. We think it is normal for lives to be turned upside, lost forever, or wearied to the point that they can’t muster a comeback.

Think about how many people feel like that squirrel— trapped by their own regrettable split second decisions, or caught in vicious societal cycles that we as a country have failed to change.

Yet, as dismal as the results of the chaos appear, I will continue to hold on to hope.

Here’s why.

In our  Sunday Zoom gathering, I heard two examples of love that gave hope.

Butch, who was my college roommate, is also by training a pastor. He shared how a difficult conversation with a church member helped the individual to change. Over a period of time, and with help, this person made needed adjustments in a number of daily routines. Life is now better for this individual.

Dan, the squirrel chaser, talked about his role on a foundation that secures used musical instruments for school students. The work of the foundation reduces the financial burdens for families in trying to provide the instrument.

I’ll take those rays of hope in the chaos of daily troubling headlines.

When the world is really bad, I will confess I am quick to wonder where is God in this mess?  

Well, God is in the hearts of the people who will respond or have responded to Afghanistan, Haiti, Ida, wildfires, and COVID-19.

God is in the hearts of individuals who work to help those who made terrible life altering decisions, as well as those who are working to breakdown our malignant societal cycles.

And in a crazy way, God was at work with the squirrel trapped in the basement room. Dan and Judy have built relationships with neighbors. Dan knew he could make a call and help would arrive.

Maybe, that is how God thinks. 

Maybe, he knows in chaos, he can make some calls, and nudge some hearts into action.

Maybe, the real question is this—will you, me, we, take his call to assist when chaos overwhelms a person?  

Thanks to Mike at Pextels for the photo.

“ah oom dop didit” thanks Stephen Desper and Jack Rieley

Ok, I’ll make the confession early. 

I have been a fan of the Beach Boys for a long, long, long, time.

Writer Dave Barry talks about “brain sludge.” Mr. Barry defines “brain sludge” as useless information that accumulates in the brains of men. 

For many, many, many years, I have stored lots of “brain sludge” in my old noggin about the Beach Boys. That is why my Beach Boys’ “brain sludge” was excited to learn that Capitol Records on August 27, 2021 released the box set of recordings:  The Beach Boys Feel Flows The Sunflower and Surf’s Up Sessions 1969-1971.

In 1961, the Beach Boys started their fire. Their early sound was unmistakeable—harmonies influenced by the Four Freshmen and guitar licks like Chuck Berry. Plus, they had a secret weapon—Brian Wilson. Brian was the chief crafter of their songs, their sound, their production. 

People in the know have called Brian a genius, but I have always loved his insight about that label:  “I’m not a genius, I’m just a hardworking guy.”

From 1961-1967, Brian was a hard worker. He could not be stopped. The Beach Boys records landed in the top ten on record charts, and they filled concert halls around the world. 

But, by 1967, that success on the record charts came to an end. Surfer girls, woodies, and surfboards from sunny California and the Pacific coastline were dead in the water, lost to the undertow in a shift of the pop music paradigm.

Yes, the Beach Boys continued to meet their recording obligations for Capitol Records, but there were no huge hits. The group survived by touring in England and Europe where they were still held in high esteem.

From 1967-1969, Brian’s involvement with the band in recording sessions dropped a bit. 

Interestingly during this time for the other members of the Beach Boys, hanging around Brian all those years in recording sessions had rubbed off. Brothers Carl and Dennis Wilson, Alan Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and the Wilson’s cousin, Mike Love started to show their songwriting and production capabilities.

By 1969, their recording obligations with Capitol records were over. The band signed a new contract with Reprise Records part of Warner Brothers. This deal would allow the band to carry the group’s own Brother Records logo. With this new agreement, the band started to work on their first album for Reprise.

That album was titled Sunflower, and this recording captured a band in harmony working as brothers and friends. Sunflower features song contributions from every member including drummer Dennis Wilson who delivers four compelling songs. 

On Sunflower, the range of diversity in the compositions is staggering.  The pure lead vocals, the stunning harmonies are intact, but a song like “It’s About Time” might leave a listener thinking—wow I had no idea that the Beach Boys could write and play a song like this. 

Sunflower was critically acclaimed, but it flopped on the charts. I would think in some ways the group might have been crushed. But, they kept pushing, and despite this set back, an unknown catalyst, a visionary, Jack Rieley entered their world. 

From late 1970 until 1973, Jack Rieley managed the Beach Boys. He changed their image, their direction. Jack Rieley was a risk taker, and this makeover worked. Gone were the late 60s matching stage attire suits, their hair was longer, and beards covered their once boyish faces. 

Jack Rieley most likely had some P.T. Barnum in his blood booking the group to play at unheard of places like the Big Sur Folk Festival, Carnegie Hall, peace rallies,  Bill Graham’s Fillmore East, and college campuses. Rieley and representatives from Reprise Records found an audience for the band’s evolving new sound on progressive FM radio stations.

This Jack Rieley energy created traction. People started to take notice again, and the band readied their second album for Reprise— Surf’s Up. If hopeful fans believed the title signaled a return to the group’s early foundation, they were to be disappointed. 

Surf’s Up had themes of ecology, health, love, social injustice, and more. If Sunflower quietly showcased Dennis Wilson, then Surf’s Up unveiled the the skills of the youngest Wilson brother, Carl.

On the sales charts, Surf’s Up had momentum reaching #29 at the peak of its activity. In comparison, the slighted Sunflower charted no higher than #151.

While Jack Rieley worked to thrust the band back into the public eye, there was another critical person working in the background with the Beach Boys— recording engineer, Stephen Desper. 

Mr. Desper must have had the patience of Job working with band members. Along with that patience, I sense Mr. Desper was blessed with keen hearing. Additionally, in combination with his skills sets as an engineer, he used the technology of the day to capture these recording sessions with an unsurpassed quality and richness.

 It is a credit to Mr. Desper that he was able to mix down Sunflower and Surf’s Up into their final editions. Because as the Feel Flows box set reveals, the Beach Boys worked through many different versions and takes of these songs. 

This box set might not be for the average fan. It is built upon five cds worth of music. The project was painstakingly compiled by the superb work of recording engineer Mark Linett and archivist Alan Boyd. 

 They had the responsibility of going back into the Beach Boys’ vaults and listening to miles and miles of tape. Mr. Linett and Mr. Boyd are a good team as they capture with this set of recordings a very special time in the history of the Beach Boys.

At the very least, if you love music, you owe it to your ears to listen to the original Sunflower and Surf’s Up albums. I believe your ears will be touched for lots of different reasons. But, I also hope that your ears might just think—whoa, these Beach Boys were really good at their craft.

And for me in that good, I always fall back to one Beach Boy, Carl Wilson. I’m sure you had your favorite Beatle, by comparison Carl Wilson was my favorite Beach Boy.

The box set is named after his stunning song, “Feel Flows” from the Surf’s Up album. Not only did Jack Rieley help to steer the band back to survival, he also was a lyric writer. He provided the lyrics for an assortment of songs during this era including “Feel Flows.” 

But, if you look at the history of the Beach Boys from Brian’s first breakdown and everything good and bad that the band lived through there was always the youngest band member, Carl holding them together.

Carl’s voice was a gift from God. Many times in my life his angelic  voice has made my eyes tear up. 

A masterful guitarist,  Carl lead the band with their concert performances, and he often was the final decision maker in the mix downs and inclusion of songs for each album. Both Sunflower and Surf’s Up are blessed by his work with his bandmates and Stephen Desper.

To cite a favorite recording or moment from this boxed set is impossible for me. But, for one minute and fifty eight seconds, I have never heard a song like Sunflower’s “This Whole World” with its “ah oom dop didits” and lead vocals shared by Carl and Brian.

And here is another fact worth considering, during this time frame, the Beach Boys were very good in concert. Numerous live recordings are contained here, but a 1973 performance of the Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks’ song “Surf’s Up” is remarkable.

By now, you know me to be a low pressure writer.  But, I’ll make one more gentle plea, a good-natured nudge on behalf of your your soul—go listen to Sunflower and Surf’s Up, or even the entire box set.

Here’s why you should consider a listen—despite my biased Beach Boys’ “brain sludge,” my old soul believes your soul will feel the love in these songs.

And right now in this old world, we all need to feel some love.

“ah oom dop didit”

Cover of the Beach Boys’ boxed set Feel Flows provided by Bill Pike recording purchased 8/27/2021