this stuff cast of characters

A bunch of regulars and a few irregulars

A quick word on why we’re doing this.

I’m not sure why the rest of you show up here whenever you show up here, but this has turned into an odd little corner of the universe for me (and I mean odd in a good way). As I’ve mentioned before, there’s some interesting diversity in the crowd of faces I see as I look out from the site. That diversity is not only reflected in the types of people who are reading and posting, but in how each of you is connected to my site and, more importantly, to my life.

Over the past year, this site has evolved into a place where an unusual assortment of people from different chapters of my life assemble, often having little in common other than the misfortune of knowing me in some way. Since I’m always looking for ways to make this less about thad (okay, not really, but play along), I thought it would be nice to sort of introduce you all to one another. Some of you know a few others here, but no one knows everyone. I think we’ve had some fun and interesting conversations over the past year, and I think the potential exists to have even more so long as Blogger keeps accidentally letting me do this entirely rent-free. Hopefully a little more enlightenment about the other kids in the sand box will make for more edifying and illuminating dialogue. If not, at least we’ll all have more ammunition to poke fun at each other, especially me.

I’ve decided to include everyone’s response as they sent it to me. Everyone should have the chance to speak for themselves, so I’ll preserve the integrity of your autobiographies. That said, it just wouldn’t be right if I didn’t insert some commentary, and I’ll do that using this font style so you can tell the difference.

There’s a lot here, but I think it’s worth reading, even if you can’t do it all in one sitting. These are in no particular order. I don’t rank my friends or family, so I’m doing this as arbitrarily as possible. So, let’s get to it.

Steven Manuel (aka Smanny) of Cincinnati, Ohio:

I will go to my grave with this information

I am Steven Manuel. I know you through Aggie circles, mostly via Marms. That’s my friend and former housemate Michael Armstrong, who was Steven’s co-conspirator in the short-lived experiment that was Flint. My wife is Dora. Dora has also been a friend of mine for several years, and she’s great. Unfortunately she’s either too good, too busy, or too smart to ever bother with us here. My last degree came from TAMU. I am less than 80 years old, but older than 30. I hang around for the thrill of the chat. Here’s something interesting: my urine often smells like butter. Or bacon. Mm!

Yeah, so Steven jumps out to an early lead in the too much information race. A few non-excretory facts about Smanny I’d like to contribute. First, he’s a stellar musician. In addition to the Flint. album you can buy his music here or here. Steven also has a nearly supernatural composition known simply as “The Show,” which he has yet to officially record. I’ll let you know when that one finally streets. The Manuels have also become good friends with Matt and Cary Moore, friends of ours in Cincinnati who are also either too good or too busy to bother with this site. I admire Steven and Dora for their uncommon zeal for God and for seeing others know Him fully. I’m glad they’re my friends.

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Todd Agold of Garland, Texas:

College roommate
Married to Sara, no kids, one dog, BS in Mechanical Engineering, still working on the career, and yes I’ve hit the big 30!!!
I hang around to see what’s up with you and to keep in touch. Sometimes email isn’t as easy.
Other interesting stuff? I’ve almost finished building my airplane.

Todd got through all of that so quickly that I didn’t have a chance to interrupt. This is classic Todd, understated and void of any wasted words. Todd and I shared a room in a two bedroom apartment with two other guys our senior year at A&M. He’s a really nice, conservative guy from Kerrville, and I had hair to my shoulders and holes in my jeans most of that year. He put up with me, but I heard him calling me “hippie” every night after he thought I was asleep. Todd can build or unbuild most anything, and he’s the reason I know how to remove and install an alternator, one of about four tasks I can actually accomplish under the hood of a car. I actually knew Todd’s wife, Sara, before I knew Todd, and we’ve all been friends for about ten years now. I admire Todd because we have (from time to time) discovered that we view the world differently, and he still listens to and considers my point of view. I suspect he’s thought I’m a little nuts more than once, but he’s never condescended me. I also admire Todd and Sara’s disinterest in frills and excess.

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Chad Edwards (aka Dr. Jayhawk) of somewhere in eastern Ohio:

Went to school with you in Crane and debated you at Lee. Just to clarify, Chad and I went to school together from 7th to 9th grade in the tiny town of Crane, Texas. Chad then moved about an hour away to Midland, and we continued to see one another regularly through competitive debate.

Married 8 eight years to Autumn Edwards, 1 daughter named America (7 years old) two cats -Anna Nicole and Sophia Lauren. You should see Chad’s cats. They’re hot.

I’m 29. Do the math!!!

Hartel Fellow and Visiting Professor of Communication at Marietta College

BA and MA at Texas Tech
Ph.D. – University of Kansas

Why you bother hanging around here: I like to argue with Paul Loyless! and read all the zany comments

Anything else interesting about you worth saying: I once got jiggy in a Burger King bathroom.

Assuming Chad isn’t talking about dancing to a Will Smith song, he darts to the front of the TMI pack. Smanny’s urinalysis suddenly seems like a bedtime story. I mean, seriously, I can’t stand Burger King. I’ve thankfully never spent much time with Chad at fast food joints, but I have seen him fight several times. We also spent a total of four weeks together at two different debate camps — Southwest Texas in 1990 and the University of Kansas in 1992. Those were good times. Chad was an excellent debater, and he and his partner did the impossible and slayed the Norvell-Boyd dragon in the final round of the Midland High tournament in ’92. In a small world connection, Chad’s partner was a guy named Shawn who ended up joining the same frat as my cousin, Clint (who visits here but has, so far, failed to send in his little story), at Sam Houston. I don’t think either Chad or Clint liked Shawn all that much. Chad tracked me down a little over a year ago, and it’s been nice to catch up after several years of being out of contact. I admire him for his thoughtful and open-minded approach to dialogue with people of differing passions and beliefs, and I think he’s an important part of what happens here.

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Ross King (aka rk) of Bryan, Texas:

Friends from college.

Married to Staci. Son is Samuel (sometimes Sam, never Sammy). Musician/Pastor of Community Church.

I hang out here because Thad needs me.

Ross and I have kind of a strange history, or maybe we just think it’s strange. We knew one another in college and had a few mutual friends, but we never spent much time together. We maintained sporadic contact over the years, then a little over a year ago suddenly began to communicate a lot. It’s been great to discover a connection and deep friendship after all these years of just sort of knowing each other. He’s also a rock star in Lancaster County, PA, just a couple of hours from where I live. That works out well for me since I get to wear my “I know Ross King” t-shirt, which makes girls want to touch me and guys want to be my friend. Did I mention his fans are mostly Amish? Anyway, despite their harried lives of fame, Ross and Staci are important friends to me and Amy. We share some pretty crucial common convictions about life, church, and stuff like adoption — which the Kings have done and we plan to do. Ross is one of the best songwriting Jesus followers I know of, both because he’s a gifted artist and because he writes the things no one else really has the guts to write. You can buy his music here and read about him here (check out the journal if you aren’t afraid to think a little). We admire Ross and Staci for, well, a lot.

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Paul Loyless (aka Danny Stafford) of Birmingham, Alabama:

How you know me: way back

Personal info: Married – Stacey Loyless; Crane High School, UMHB BS Theology, Baylor – MSEd. Institutional Advancement
Development; Details Direct [the company Paul is President of, who also used to pay me money]; 30

Why you bother hanging around here: wish that I knew.

Anything else interesting about you worth saying: very little.

Paul is another Crane boy and is a year older than me. Pretty much all of us on here with Crane connections went to church and school together for some period of time. Paul is a twin whose brother’s name is John and whose Dad’s name is John Paul and whose wife is a twin named Stacey (whose sister’s name is Casey). That’s all absolutely true. We randomly met Stacey (and her sister, Casey, and one or two of their twin-less friends) at an event in Dallas when we were in the 9th grade or so. I remember wandering around Six Flags with them all day, and I honestly don’t even remember Paul being around at that point. All I know is several years later they were getting married. I still don’t know quite how all that happened. Paul once dated the CHS mascot, but we’ve all made these sorts of mistakes (well, not exactly those sorts, but mistakes nonetheless). We weren’t that close in high school, but we did spend a college summer or two conducting an illegal string of mass murders that probably left hundreds of jack rabbits widowed and orphaned. Poor bunnies. Paul also gave me my first real paid writing job, and we worked together for a couple of years or so. I admire Paul because he’s honest, a loyal friend, a tenacious and dedicated worker, and he always asks me about my family when we talk.

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Chase Bowers (aka cmb) of Temple, Texas:

We met at Super Summer in ’98 at Howard Payne. It was actually ’99, but I know it’s a lot to remember the year you got married. You wore this cute red shirt… I think the “big ones” comment got our friendship off to a start. I honestly can’t remember what this is about, but it sounds like something I should deny. You taking the time to come to our wedding was an incredible blessing an encouragement to us. I count it a privilege to have befriended all of the norvell brothers! This is a rare trifecta that ensures you entrance to heaven as well as abundant life on earth.
– My wife is Laura, My daughter 3 & 1/2 is Maddie Grace. Nate AKA Nathaniel Luke is due in June.
– I graduated from Lamar University, better known as “Pecker Tech…home of the Cardinals” I personally feel like Texas Tech should be known as “Pecker Tech….home of the west Texas dirt monkeys.” Who’s with me?
– I am an itinerant preacher who lives in Temple, Texas. I’m 29. No really, I am.
– I hang around because I enjoy the dialogue. You ( and others on here) write funny stuff. And because the folks I am around much of the time are very religious and this is a place of authenticity and honesty. And sarcasm, who don’t love sarcasm? (You can edit this however you like, just don’t call me a tool) It’s a cool blog. I like golf. Cool idea Thad.

Chase and I hit it off pretty quickly, even if he does talk like some of my distant relatives in Southeast Texas who show up to family reunions shirtless, shoeless, and wearing overalls. I kid, I kid. If there’s one thing living in the northeast has taught me, it’s that dialect has no direct correlation to intelligence or inbreeding. Chase and Laura are as committed to doing what they feel is right as anyone I know. I admire Chase because, for a guy who reads and studies a lot, he’s remarkably open and teachable. How many preachers do you know like that?

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Amy (Lee) Gagnon of somewhere in the Kentucky countryside:

Thad, I knew you in high school and found you entertaining enough to follow along in your blog journey. So far so good. šŸ™‚
I am married to an Engineer and now living on 5 acres in Kentucky. We are devout practicing Catholics. We have 4 children and counting, our newest blessing is due on our son’s birthday June 5th. I am a stay-at-home and homeschooling Mom who wouldn’t change God’s calling even if I could! I will be 29 on Wednesday, March 31st. In my quiet time I enjoy spending time with hubby, reading, working on our family webpage for family and friends across the nation, as well as finding bargains for my children on ebay.

I used to say mean things to Amy in high school. She was disturbingly fond of Magic Johnson. No really, she wandered the halls in purple and gold high top Converse dishing off passes under her leg to unsuspecting bystanders. She also insisted that we all call her Earvin and had a “Bird sucks” tattoo on her left bicep. Magic was an easy target in the early ’90’s so I gave Amy a hard time. I guess not everyone feels this way (and I probably didn’t several years ago), but I enjoy reconnecting with people from the old days and seeing how they’ve grown and changed. Amy has always been one of the most sincere and kind people I’ve ever known, and I admire her deep love for God and her family. I have no doubt that her children will ever want for love.

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Matt Book (aka Bookie) of Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania:

I’ve been married to Stephanie for almost 9 years. I have two children: Ryan (6) and Makenna (13 months). I graduated from college in ’96 and got my master’s degree (ahem, whatever) in ’02. I’m the web site guy at my place of employment. I turned 30 at the beginning of this year. I hang around because I like reading what people have to say and getting a glimpse into someone’s life. Plus, Thad is an interesting guy and communicates well. Also, I feel like I have to give him some attention since he comes to church to watch my skills on the bass. šŸ™‚
Here’s something interesting and personal: I’ve been working myself out of a five-year funk when I was pretty much an unfriendly, unemotional introvert. I’m starting to feel like myself again. Other things: I still listen to music from the 80’s when I can regardless of the emotional abuse I get from my friends. I got my first tattoo a little over a year ago and I want some more. My favorite quote is from George Carlin, “May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your home.”

Matt and I work at the same place and attend the same church. He’s really the only guy locally (that I know of) who reads my blog. Despite my status as an international phenomenon, I’m rejected by those in my own town. I guess that makes me a prophet. Right? Anyway, I admire Matt because he’s quick to listen and slow to speak, and because he’s brave enough to think about some challenging ideas that may end up wrecking his life as he knows it (in a really good way).

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Dusty Vaughn (aka DV) of San Antonio, Texas:

Age 29 (30 in May)
Married to Mindy with a kid due on July 21st.

Mindy is a ’99 grad of TCU and is from Kansas (Overland Park).

I am a ’96 grad of A&M with a degree in Industrial Engineering. I went to Athens High School in Athens, TX.

I have an older sister and a niece.

I live in San Antonio.

I work for Harcourt Assessment (we do testing for students – Stanford Achievement Test and the like).

I know Thad from mutual friends that we both had at A&M (Bao Hoang and Michael Armstrong and other such bums).

I stick around b/c (and I promise I am not kissing up to you Thad) I really enjoy reading what Thad has to say. Seriously. Everyone can stop laughing now. I’m serious.

Dusty and I were at A&M at the same time and had mutual acquaintances, but didn’t know one another. Somehow I ended up a subscriber to his erstwhile email newsletter, The Spam Letter. As these things go, I annoyed him enough that he actually began publishing some of my contributions as part of the letter, and then he temporarily handed me the reins (or at least one of them) of the thing and made me a co-publisher. My first official act was to unwittingly send a piece of Kangaroo porn to the whole list. “What’s kangaroo porn?” you ask. Exactly. I was as much a victim in that episode as anyone. I slowly killed The Spam Letter, which I theorize was a result of my failure to consistently make jokes about farts and such. It was a high-brow audience. We once had dinner with Dusty and Mindy, but most of our connection is electronic. I admire Dusty because, even from a distance, I can see his loyalty as a friend and his love for his wife. Ask him about his proposal story sometime. Girls will cry and guys will hate him.

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Chris Morris of Denton, Texas:

I’ll actually do my little note on Chris as a preface rather than an epilogue. First, he was the only person to footnote his entry, which has to be worth some kind of public commendation. Second, I don’t really know Chris, and I honestly had no idea that he was still around. He’ll explain how he found me below, but we had a couple of exchanges almost a year ago and that was it (or so I assumed). I know there isn’t a silent mass out there reading this thing, but Chris is a good reminder that ghosts who don’t post lurk among us. Since I don’t know him well, it’s hard to know how to admire him. He seems like a talented, thoughtful guy and a committed husband and father. Good enough for me…

I know Michael Armstrong from DBC (played on his last CD[1]), he forced me (I had no choice) in reading his online journal to read your blog. I liked it and I pay a visit from time to time. I like one of your posts so much, I bought the company– I mean, re-blogged it.[2] The rest of them are purty great as well. Married 11 years to my super-cosmic wife Tracy, raising 5 boys. I’m a programmer by day [3], family man by night, and musician [4] in the cracks. I’ve got a collection of original solo piano stuff I’ve released [5] under the Open Audio License [6], which means have it at in anyway you can imagine so long as the original attribution is retained.

[1] http://www.cministries.org/blogki/blogki.cgi?page=/TheArts/WhatYouMakeIt
[2] http://www.cministries.org/blogki/blogki.cgi?page=/ChristianFaith/HowDoWeFollowADeadGuy
[3] http://www.clabs.org
[4] http://www.cministries.org/cstudios/music.htm
[5] http://www.cministries.org/cstudios/blackandwhite.htm
[6] http://www.cministries.org/blogki/blogki.cgi?page=/TheArts/EffOpenAudioLicense

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Rebekah (Lowery) Hinkle of Burleson, Texas:

Age: 27
Husband: Wade
June 3rd: due date for first baby
Nursery: the room our 2 labs think is being decorated for them

I know Thad from life in Crane, Texas. His mom is my mom’s best friend, and his youngest brother is my little brother’s best friend. I realized today when thinking about it that my earliest memory of Thad might be a non-memory. When his dad came “In View of a Call” to our church, some of us kids spent the evening jumping on the trampoline at the Stinson’s house, and I think Thad and Andy must have been much too mature for that, because I don’t remember them being out there. For the record, it wasn’t just me and Andy. I’m pretty sure others were there too, like Eaton and Chad…maybe even Loyless. And yes, we were too mature for that. Geez, everyone knows you don’t jump on a trampoline with fifth graders when you’re in seventh grade.

Wade and I are both Aggies, Class of ’99. We both went to Central (I was Tim Skaggs’ intern), Upstream, Breakaway for a while, and the BSM on occasion, so in addition to recognizing lots of former Crane-ites, I also recognize lots of you Aggies.

Wade’s degree is in Finance, and he works as an accountant for the school district in Burleson, where we live.

My degree is in English, with more or less a minor in education & Spanish, and I teach elementary Spanish and art in Burleson.

I stick around because it’s nice to read grown-up conversations during my oh-so-elementary day. This is the first time we’ve been accused of something this outrageous!

Interesting Fact: Thad’s 8th grade class was my mom’s favorite class she ever taught–she loved you guys because sometimes you were smarter than her. I was also apparently smarter than Arturo Franco, because he always wanted to see my answers. Sadly, I “helped” him more than I probably should have. At least he never forgot my charity. About once a year in high school he’d come up to me and say, “Hey Thad, remember how you passed me through Mrs. Lowery’s science class? You’re a cool guy, Thad.” Now she teaches h.s. chemistry. Just think, you could have missed Mr. Griffin. Loyless loved that guy.

Interesting Fact #2: Wade makes fun of me because I’m long-winded when I type. (See above.) Wade is right, which is why you got bumped to the end of the line with Stinson. But it’s not like I have any room to criticize on this point.

Rebekah wasn’t my favorite person at one point in time. As she said, our mothers are good friends, and there was a phase of life where it was mandatory for me, as a high school male, to be annoyed by junior high girls, especially junior high girls who were the daughters of my Mom’s friends. None of that was Rebekah’s fault, of course, but I like to be honest about these things. At some point all of that changed, although she and I never quite hit it off like she and my little brother did for a period of time (as they both blush, I’ll let them address any questions about that). It was a real joy for me to get to see Rebekah grow from annoying girl to amazing, godly young woman. I admire her for never deciding she’s too good for Crane (which will make sense to small town people, if not everyone) and for long being a reminder of what pure and sincere love for God looks like.

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Andy Stinson (commonly aka Bill Key, among others) of Tyler, Texas:

You may know me by host of aliases, but my real name is Andy Stinson.

I lived in Crane, Texas, from 1st through 7th grade. During my 7th grade year, Thad moved to town. Because my dad was chairman of the search committee that lured his dad to First Baptist Church, Crane, Thad and I were introduced immediately. And for much the same reason, I was under strict orders to be friends with him–which, to be honest, wasn’t easy. So, for the remainder of my 7th grade year, we spent quite a bit of time together. Not because I liked him, but because I had to.

This may all be true, but there are two sides to every story. Andy spent those few months educating me in the intricacies of the social structure of Crane Middle School. From his point of view, there was a hierarchy of girls, and my goal was to reach the top. I was to accomplish this by dating my way up the pyramid. He helped arrange my first girlfriend in Crane (Elizabeth, who has actually visited the site before) in an effort to jumpstart my acclimation to this strange new world. Sadly, that relationship consisted of about three conversations and one bus ride with my arm uncomfortably draped around Elizabeth’s shoulder. Once our deeply emotional relationship ended, I rejected Andy’s strategy and decided to find my own girlfriends from then on. I’m also pretty sure that the last time we saw one another before he moved away from Crane (which he explains next), was when we brawled in his garage over something having to do with the proper way to attach my overnight bag to my bike for my quarter mile ride home. The only person who ended up crying about that scene was his little sister, who I assume was terrified that I was about to reconfigure her brother’s body. Anyway, back to Stinson’s story.

I’m kidding. In all honesty, Thad and I became close friends shortly after his move to Crane. We often met-up after dinner that year and engaged in all sorts of recreational mischief – the kind your parents might get an angry or concerned call about, but nothing you could get in “real” trouble for (not yet, anyway). Toilet-papering was a staple sport. We did our share of shoe-polishing too. [Ask Thad about the front door incident.] The short story is it involved Andy abandoning me at a time when my life could have ended -loyalty. But above all, we loved to knock on doors and run. I don’t know why. We just did. [To this date, Thad accuses me of being the instigator to our episodes of mischief, but I’m a patsy in that regard–just ask Dusty.] Andy’s right – I continue to maintain that he led me into all sorts of delinquency and monkey business. Just ask our friend Scott’s mom. She’ll still tell you that Andy was a little stinker. Indeed.

After 7th grade, I moved to McCamey, Texas, which is about 20 miles south of Crane. Although Thad and I did not see each other as frequently, we still managed to get together on a pretty regular basis. More importantly, we managed to stay close friends.

After graduation from high school, we both attended Texas A&M University. Fortunately, we had mostly outgrown our propensities for mischief by then. Well, I had anyway. But we still managed to have a lot of fun there in Aggieland.

Following graduation from A&M in 1997, I went on to Baylor Law School. I graduated from there in 2000 and moved to Tyler, Texas, where I went to work for a law firm specializing in civil defense litigation. In December of 2003, I married a wonderful girl named Christine, who is a native of South Africa. As a matter of fact, Thad’s dad performed the ceremony–which was a tremendous honor and blessing to me. Christine and I just bought a house and plan to remain here in Tyler… God willing.

Even though Thad is one of my very best friends, our busy lives and the distance between us makes it difficult to talk and hang out as often as we would like. This is one of the reasons I visit the blog site. It helps me keep up with him and his family and the things going on in their world. Moreover, I simply enjoy reading Thad’s rantings and the ensuing dialogue. It’s all very insightful–or at least entertaining. I don’t post often, but I am a loyal reader and fan. So for all of you out there, especially you, Thad, keep on keep’n on.

I’ve known Andy longer than anyone on this list (so far). We’ve been friends for sixteen years, but we’ve only lived in the same city for about three of them. Our senior year at A&M, we lived about fifty yards apart in the same apartment complex, but we usually only saw each other about once a week. Even as we’ve traveled in different circles and lived far apart, we’ve managed to maintain a close relationship. In many ways, I think we understand one another better and have more in common now than ever. I’m ending with Andy because he was “too busy” to send in his response until after everyone else…and because he sort of represents what makes this site, and my life, so interesting in some ways. As I said before, it’s this weird, wonderful collision of people from different chapters of my life. I admire Andy because he’s been one of my truest and most important friends for so many years (and I’m not always the “funnest” person to be friends with) and because I see him become more of the man God made him to be all the time.

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Neither of my brothers submitted autobiographies in this little exercise, and I’m taking this opportunity to publicly chastise them for it. I have lots of beautiful things to say about them, but not until they play along like everyone else.

Anyone else who missed out on this round of introductions is free to chime in at any point. Just email me your data and we’ll graft you into the vine.

Thanks to all of you who took the time to introduce yourselves and to learn more about everyone else.

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