Thursday, March 31, 2011

OTHERS HAVE GONE BEFORE ME

Lately I have been in a rather melancholy mood.  I am not sure why but then again I never know why I feel or think the way I do at times.  The thoughts that have been permeating my mind as of late are friends and relations that have gone before me.  There have been a lot of people that mattered in my life that have passed on.

I think of a few of my classmates from high school that are gone.  I remember seeing one my classmates little brother at the mall about two years after graduation.  After we said hello and asked about each other I asked about his older brother, Hugh.  Marvin looked at me and said "oh, Hugh died about a year ago in an auto accident."  It is news like this that comes out of nowhere and just gut punches you.  Hugh was gone and I hadn't even known it.  We had been good friends through our days at Ruskin. For some reason I felt like I should have known about Hugh.  My High School class web site has documented twenty four members of our class as being deceased.  That is like a classroom of people I went to school with that are no longer with us.

People I have worked with have gone on.  A few of them were my age and had worked at the company as long as I have.  Some of the people I work with have lost children to death.  The pain I see in their lives even several years after they lost their children is heart wrenching.

It is the family members that have gone before me that really hit home though.  I have been missing my grandfather and my uncle a lot lately.  Both of them were pillars of support for me when I would have start to have a slip in my thinking.  But then I think of all the others that I have known and were such great influences on me.  There are so many and all of them influenced me in different ways.

Aunt Mabel is one I think about once in awhile.   She was my dad's aunt and she was a lovely person.  Actually I can state right here that all of my dad's aunts were lovely people.  Those sisters were fun to be around.  Mabel lived in Blue Springs with her husband Dan.  They did not live far from the cemetery where most of the family is buried, including my grandpa Clark.  This made it a natural place to celebrate Memorial Day every year.  The family would all get together and have a marvelous dinner out under the shade tree in Mabel's yard.  A good game of catch would break out with a baseball amongst the men folk while the women fixed the dinner and sat under the shade tree and talked.  Then every once in a while a family would leave and drive over to the cemetery to pay their respects.  My grandmother is laid to rest there now next to Grandpa Clark.  It is the way it should be I think.

Aunt Irene was another of those sisters of my grandmothers.  She was a fun woman who was more tomboy than anything.  She loved to fish.  She would go fishing with our family on lots of occasions and even gave me a rod and reel one time.  She laughed all the time and seemed to find joy in anything and everything.

My Uncle Melvin has been gone for quite awhile now.  He was a preacher and he was my pastor for a part of my life.  I found out later that he had taken steps to be sure that Barb and I were able to adopt Brett.  Melvin was a strict disciplinarian but a wise man as well.  You can look at his children these days and see his influence on every one of them.  While he was my pastor he talked me through a few things and before long I came to trust him as an uncle, not a pastor.

My great grandmother, grandpa Hill's mother, was a saint.  She worked through a life that would have defeated almost anyone else.  She was also wise and a very spiritual and faithful lady.  I remember one time when I was about eight or nine years old I was sitting at her feet playing on the floor while she was writing her bills.  She called me up to her and showed me one of her checks.  "MAE D. HILL" is what was printed on it.  She said she hated her name.  It was that D in the middle of it and she would never use it.  She told me it was the name of the wickedest woman in the Bible and then told me the story of Samson and Delilah.

I learned so much from my Uncle Buster that it still baffles me at times.  He had a troubled youth and had made some mistakes in life.  He had paid his due to society though and had made a complete turnaround.  He was perhaps one of the most sincere men I have ever known.  He would literally give his shirt off his back if it would help somebody.  He looked out for other family members and f a need arose then Buster would be there.  He was brilliant as well.  He knew mathematics, science and history to a fault..  Well sometimes I questioned his take on history but for the most part he was right on.  He could also tell stories although there was no way any one could tell if they were true or not.

Then there is my Grandpa Clark..  I truly wish I had the opportunity to have known him.  I have seen pictures of him and he was a handsome man, much like my dad.  He was a self made man owning a bakery that did fairly good business from what I understand.  I would just like to have a few hours with that man, to hear his voice, to listen to his politics and philosophy.  I would have loved to have been able to spend a day in the bakery with him and watch his hands do a craft that is a lot more difficult than it looks.  I would like to know if he read books or not and what kind of books.  I want to know about his taste in music.  I would just like to have the chance to know him.  One day, when I go before others, I guess I will have a chance to meet him at last.

Centerfield - John Fogerty

Well, beat the drum and hold the phone - the sun came out today!
We’re born again, there’s new grass on the field.
A-roundin’ third, and headed for home, it’s a brown-eyed handsome man;
Anyone can understand the way I feel.

Oh, put me in, coach - I’m ready to play today;
Put me in, coach - I’m ready to play today;
Look at me, I can be centerfield.

Well, I spent some time in the Mudville Nine, watchin’ it from the bench;
You know I took some lumps when the mighty Casey struck out.
So say hey Willie, tell Ty Cobb and Joe Dimaggio;
Don’t say "it ain’t so", you know the time is now.

Oh, put me in, coach - I’m ready to play today;
Put me in, coach - I’m ready to play today;
Look at me, I can be centerfield.

Yeah! I got it, I got it!

Got a beat-up glove, a homemade bat, and brand-new pair of shoes;
You know I think it’s time to give this game a ride.
Just to hit the ball and touch ’em all - a moment in the sun;
(pop) it’s gone and you can tell that one goodbye!

Oh, put me in, coach - I’m ready to play today;
Put me in, coach - I’m ready to play today;
Look at me, I can be centerfield.

Oh, put me in, coach - I’m ready to play today;
Put me in, coach - I’m ready to play today;
Look at me, I can be centerfield.

Yeah!


Video of Fogerty's "Centerfield"
Video of Centerfield

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

TATTOO

I am not particularly fond of tattoos.  That doesn't mean I look down on anyone who sports on but I feel that a tattoo is as much of a commitment if not more of one than marriage is.  A tattoo is with you one hundred percent of the time while you can get in the car and get away from your wife for a while.   It is with you for your life once it manages to make it onto your body while you always have the option of separation or divorce from your wife.  Depending on what part of your body you put your tattoo on it can grow to be a saggy old thing that looks like it has been through the wringer.  Actually that is a way in which a tattoo is very much like a spouse.   If you put your lover's name on your body as a tattoo that name follows you wherever you go while if you change lovers during your lifetime, the name of your lover changes along with you.

It seems that when I was growing up the only time you saw tattoos were on ex-military personnel or criminals and gang members.  A good wholesome all american boy would not be caught with a tattoo.  I remember my uncle Buster had lots of tattoos but then he spent a little bit of time in the Missouri Correctional System so that was expected and fine by me.

My generation didn't seem to go for tattoos.  Some of my fellow boomers are getting into the tattoo scene now but for the most part they keep them small and not so very much in the open.  I am not sure why they have decided to get a tattoo this late in life unless it is to make them feel younger.

The generations that followed mine have had what has become almost a love affair with tattoos.  They have their arms covered, their ankles colored and who knows what other parts of their bodies are covered with the brightly displayed work of the tattoo artist.  I know that some of my nieces and nephews have tattoos.  Some of them are very obvious tattoos while others are not so out there.  I imagine I know a few of my nieces and nephews that have tattoos but they don't know that I know.  It is almost like a little game. Like they want to have a tattoo because it is a mark of their generation but they also have that feeling of permanence that a tattoo brings and this perhaps makes them a little uncomfortable.  The fact that they think I would tease them about it unmercifully probably also has a lot to do with the fact that they don't want me or others of my generation to know they have one.

Tattoos are suppose to tell a story about yourself.  That is my way of thinking anyway.  If you are going to go to all the trouble and expense of getting tattooed over fifty percent of your body, it had might as well say something about the person adorning themselves with them.  It should say where they are from, what they like, the music they listen to and whether or not they love their mom.  If anyone is going to get a tattoo the first one they get should say "MOM".  That is simple tradition.  The tattoo phenomenon has gone way past just pretty inked pictures burned into the skin and has advanced toward body modification in the form of piercings.  Earrings are fine but something in your nose that snot is going to be catching on all the time is not.  You wonder why today's kids can't hear very well?  For one thing the music they play is much louder than what I use to listen to and back then I was warned about losing my hearing..  They also have a problem in that they can't clean their ears out because there is too much metal stuck in them.  Q-tips would seem to shred fairly easily if you try to clean your ears while you have ten things of metal sticking in each ear.  That is just an off handed observation I have made over the last few years.

This piece isn't about piercings though.  It is about tattoos.  It is about one particular tattoo as a matter of fact.  It is about my tattoo.  Yes, I have a tattoo.  I gave it to myself one day in science class when I was in the seventh grade.  My teacher for science was Mrs. Denney.  As I remember her she was about five foot eight and weighed ninety pounds.  Her eyes were large and stuck out of her head more than they should have and her skin was drawn tight over her facial bones.  To put it mildly, she looked like a walking zombie or something out of "Night Of The Living Dead".

Mrs. Denney did not think too highly of me.  There were a couple of things that happened during that seventh grade year that gave her good cause to think I was not the smartest kid around.  First off, I didn't fair too well in her class.  My grades could have been a lot better but I hovered between the F category and the C category.   One mid term I found my self failing her class and so she gave me one of those terrible "F-SLIPS"  to take home to get signed by my parents so that she knew that they knew that I knew I wasn't doing very well.  F-SLIPS were not a very welcome thing in our house.  They often led to being grounded or having to do homework in classes even when homework wasn't assigned.  I made the decision that I could forge my mother's signature on the F-SLIP without taking it home and reaping the consequences.  I signed my mothers name and then looked at my handiwork.  It wasn't quite right.  So I erased the signature and tried again.  This time it came out much better.  When I gave the slip back to Mrs. Denney the next day she questioned me on whether I had even taken it home or not.  I assured her I had but then she pointed out a flaw in my system.  I had signed directly over where I had erased the first one.  After stammering around and assuring her I had taken it home she decided to give me a break but warned me that if she ever found out that I had not taken the F-SLIP home, I would have to pay dearly for it.  All this meant to me was that I had to buckle down and get the grade back up to a C by the end of the quarter, which I did without much trouble.

The other thing that I think made her think I wasn't too bright happened during one of her lectures one day.  I can't remember what she was lecturing about but I do know it was boring.  I had one of those old clicker pens with the spring in them and you push the button to click the cartridge out of the pen casing for writing and click it again to make the cartridge go back into the casing.  For some reason my curiosity was really high on how this pen clicker thing worked.  I began doing experiments with it.  Seeing how many pages in my text book it would mark before clicking back in.  Seeing of the table or the book was stronger when it came to the force of clicking the pen.

The last experiment I did was I put the pen with the cartridge withdrawn on the table, clicker side down and put the other side of the pen, the cartridge side, under the palm of my hand.  I was fairly certain that the forces would offset each other and nothing would happen.  I was wrong.  As soon as I pushed my hand down on the pen the cartridge shot up and into the palm of my hand.  I picked my hand up and looked as the pen hung from my hand dangling there.  It hurt a bit but then I began to wonder how long it would take for the pen to loosen from my palm and fall back to the table.

It was at this moment that Mrs. Denney walked by my desk.  She asked me what I was doing and I told her I stuck my pen in my hand.  She gave me a look that really is indescribable and asked me why would I do that?  I had no idea and so that was what I told her.  I simply didn't know.  She sent me up to the nurse where the would was cleaned out and a little bandage was put on to cover it before I was sent back to Mrs. Denney's classroom.  As I walked in she gave me that same look as she had earlier when she saw the pen dangling from my palm and told me to sit down before continuing her lecture.

The result of that little harmless experiment was my first and last tattoo.  It isn't easy to see but it is there.  In the middle of my palm if you look close enough there is a little blue dot.  It has been there since I was in the seventh grade.  It is permanent and is a part of me.  I carry it with me where ever I go.  That tattoo will be on my body when I die.  I have no need to get a tattoo now.  I was one of the first kids in my class, in my generation even to get a tattoo and be cool.

Forever Young (Dylan 1973) for Elaine

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young

Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young

Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
May you stay forever young

Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young

Bob Dylan Forever Young Video

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

DUTCH TRIES ADVANCED HOUSE TRAINING

Dutch is our almost two year old full bred Golden Retriever.  He is a good dog and is very intelligent.  I believe he gets his intelligence from being around us almost constantly.  He is an indoor dog about ninety percent of the time and so he observes things that happen around him and he learns from these observations very quickly.

He is very trainable as it only takes two or three walk through's on a new trick before he has it down pat.  He knows what is expected of him and he sincerely does his best to do what is right.  Sometimes he gets carried away playing and all we have to do is to send him to his kennel or simply tell him to calm down and he does.

He has a lot of energy and expends as much of it as he can before ten o'clock in the evening when his body gives out and he crashes into a deep sleep for the night.  He is a people dog and loves to be patted and given attention.  By far he is the most intelligent dog we have had in our house.

This makes sense because he was named for a republican president as were his predecessors.  The first dog we had was named Milhous after President Richard Milhous Nixon.  Milhous was followed by Rudy named for President Gerald Rudolph Ford.  Dutch was named using President Ronald Reagan's nickname while he was growing up.  He will be our last dog and I think it is appropriate to name him after President Reagan.

When we brought Dutch home it did not take but a day or so to house train him as far as his toilet habits were concerned.   He learned very quickly that the house was not the place to urinate or anything else.  He has become quite adept at holding his business until he has a chance to go outside.  When I take him for a walk at the lake he does a very good job of fertilizing the grass around the path with his natural waste material.  We have had absolutely no problem with Dutch in the house training department.  No trouble that is until last weekend when he took it upon himself to take it up a notch and try some advanced training.

Since Barb and I live in the house alone with Dutch there are plenty of times when I go to the bathroom and don't bother shutting the door.  There are many reasons for this.  If Barb wants to yell something at me I can hear her.  If a ball game or car race is on I can keep up with the action while relieving myself.  Dutch often follows me around the house and so he has seen me go to the bathroom plenty of times while I was listening to a ballgame.  As I said earlier this is one observant dog.

He must have observed me going to the bathroom in the house several dozen times during the course of the last winter.  He watches and he thinks then watches some some followed by more thinking.  Finally last weekend came about and something happened that neither barb nor myself ever expected to have to deal with.

I was sitting in my chair in the living room after arriving home from a grocery shopping trip.  I was waiting for the Nationwide Race to begin and was quietly biding my time.  Barb went off to clean up the bathroom and with in seconds was back in the living room.  Her eyes were ablaze and her face was red with something that resembled a cross between anger and frustration.  She walked in and looked at me and then pointed at me as she spoke in a voice that was not hard to hear.  "There is pee all over the stool and on the floor around it!"  I sat and looked at her and tried to take in what she was saying.  I had the feeling she thought I had gone into the bathroom and simply hosed the whole thing down with urine to amuse myself while waiting for the race to begin.

I thought it was best to nip this accusation in the bid and so I quickly defended myself.  "Why did you do that for?"  I asked innocently.

"I did NOT do that!" she said and then went on to describe to me what a mess it was in there.  There was urine on the toilet tank, the seat, the floor around it and the soft rug that she kept in front of the toilet to keep her feet from getting cold.

"Well, I certainly didn't do it," I said as innocently as I could which wasn't too difficult because I hadn't done it.  Then you could almost see the light bulb go on over each of our heads as we looked in the kennel and saw Dutch laying there peacefully sleeping.

Barb pointed at the dog.  "You don't think...." her voice faded off as she realized what she was thinking."

"I don't THINK so"  I said with the same wonderment that was in Barb's voice.

We both stared at the dog and then I decided to put him outside for awhile.  With only the three of us in the house and two of us obviously innocent it was becoming a strange reality that Dutch had tried to use the toilet.  He had seen me urinate there many times.  It was certainly warmer to urinate in the house than outside and as he had put his observations together he must have figured out that we did have a place for that activity in the house instead of in the back yard.

We talked about the possibility some more.  I have never heard of a dog doing that.  If it had been Dutch he had made the target a precise place in the bathroom, namely the toilet.  The lid had been down so there was no way for the urine to get into the bowl.  He would have to hike his leg up high enough to get over the rim which would explain the spraying on the tank and on down to the floor.  It became clear to us that Dutch was teaching himself to be house trained inside the house.

While Barb was grumbling cleaning up the mess I tried to look on the positive side.  "Look at it this way, " I said trying to use my wise voice, "We already have him half trained to use the toilet."  Barb was not amused.  Dogs do NOT go to the bathroom indoors.  She determined we had to take steps to put a stop to this.

From now on I was to close the door when I used the restroom.  The door was to be shut at ALL times whether there was anyone in there or not.  The lid would always be kept down and Dutch would not be allowed to even approach the bathroom door without being called back into the living room.  And so the rules were set into place and we have been following them since.

As for Dutch I can only imagine the confusion in his brain right now.  "I try to better myself,  I do the logical thing by wanting to pee in the warm house instead of the cold outside, I go in the correct place and I end up being banned from it and in a way punished by making me go outdoors to pee..... just doesn't seem right, I don't get it."

I have heard of people training their cats to use the toilet.  I have never heard of a dog owner trying to teach a dog to do that.  But most of all I have never heard of a dog taking it upon himself to train himself in advanced peeing.  I doubt if I ever will again.

Alive - Bee Gees (Barry and Maurice Gibb 1972)

Maybe you talk too high, man
Maybe I talk too slow
But you've got to live a little bit faster
'Cause you've got a little less time to go

I ain't lost and I ain't searching
But then you know me very well
And I can't change the wind and make it blow the other way
I'm a fool and I can tell

That I'm alive and that's all.
That I can get up just as fast as I fall
And I can walk and run but I'll never crawl
And in the end it doesn't matter at all
I don't know about the people that I read about in books
And the Kings and Queens around my room with their quiet dirty looks
I know I should be going somewhere, I just can't arrive
There's a reason for believing that I've never been alive, alive

I ain't lost and I ain't searching
But then you know me very well
And I can't change the world and make it go the other way
I'm a fool and I can tell.

That I'm alive and that's all
That I can get up just as fast as I fall
And I can walk and run but I'll never crawl
And in the end it doesn't matter at all
I don't know about those people that I read about in books
And the Kings and Queens around my room with their quiet dirty looks
I know I should be going somewhere, I just can't arrive
There's a reason for believing that I've never been alive
I know I should be going somewhere I just can't arrive.
There's a reason for believing that I've never been alive, alive, alive


Video of Bee Gees singing "Alive" in 1972

Monday, March 28, 2011

NARCOTICS ANONYMOUS

Narcotics Anonymous is based on the now famous twelve step program of Alcoholic Anonymous.  It is a support group that meets at regular intervals and anyone is invited.  When a member reaches certain miles stones in their recovery such as thirty days clean or sixty days clean they get a little something to remind them how far they have come in recovery.  Of course if a person is collecting too many thirty day clean rewards, something might not be working for them.

My introduction to the twelve step program was given to me when I was around ten years old.  My dad use to get the Readers Digest condensed books and one month the volume had a book in it entitled "Bill W".  Bill W was the man who set up the initial support groups that would lay the foundation for Alcoholic Anonymous and would later develop the twelve steps to help a person to a full recovery.  Fellow alcoholics sometimes refer to themselves when talking to other alcoholics as a "Friend of Bill".  As far as I knew at that age I did not know any alcoholics but the story told in that book brought some harsh reality to my understanding of the disease.  Lives wrecked, homes lost, jobs gone and a general sinking in the quality of life.  After reading this book I came to believe that the program may not able to help everyone but it was a worthy tool to be used in trying to sober up.  As a young man in my early twenties I had done my share of drinking alcohol but my consumption was more social and did not come near to the situations described in that book.  I am very grateful that I did not end up going down that road.

Several years later when illicit drug usage was becoming more the norm in society people began to see the same patterns that alcoholism brought to people.  Drugs were destroying lives, families and standard of living plus overdosing was bringing about deaths to those who were using the drugs.  The same pattern of denial was being used by the victims of the disease that they didn't have a problem and they had it under control.  To a person from the outside though, it was obvious that the usage was not under control. very much in the same manner as the alcoholics would deny having a problem.

As I grew into my forties it became abundantly clear that a friend of mine was having some serious drug usage problems and that the problems were getting worse.  I am not sure how it all started with him.  I knew he was on anti-depressants for awhile but he has dropped those for more serious and illicit drugs.  It was effecting his relationship with his family and he began having trouble holding a job down.  People would be coming looking for him to pay up on his drug purchases.

He was having trouble keeping any kind of relationship at all.  At best his relationships were rocky where things would be fine and dandy one day and the next day would find the relationship dropping in a free fall heading toward a crash at the bottom of a canyon only to turn around a few days later to a relationship that was back on it's feet.   I became concerned about him but wasn't sure what I could do.

I would receive phone calls every once in awhile from the people he was staying with asking me to come over and talk to him.  I would talk to him about taking his anti-depressants instead of the illicit drugs he was taking.  I helped him look for jobs every once in a great while.  The problem with helping him with a job was that I did not want my name associated with his name if the job fell through or if he was caught using on the job.  This association problem kept me from helping him with a lot of things.  I had a clean life, a good job and I was making it through life ok even though I was on a lot of the same anti-depressants that he was on.  The difference was I stayed on my medication and didn't combine them with other drugs that were meant to go with them.

He would develop a temper and lose it at the drop of a hat.  At times I was afraid to say anything to him for fear it might be the wrong thing and trigger even worse behavior than he was showing at the moment.  It was a very difficult situation to be trying to help him but always afraid of doing the wrong thing making things even worse.

Then one late summer and into fall we started to click a little better together.  He was getting straight once again only this time seemed different.  He seemed like he was finally fed up with the mess that drugs were leaving his life in.  I noticed that he began keeping jobs and eventually would return to school in an attempt to better himself.  His temperament was much better and it became easier to talk with him or even joke with him.  You could even joke a little about his past drug usage without ticking him off too much.  I really got the feeling that he was sincerely trying to clean up his act and get some sort of life put together so that he could live not only with himself but with friends as well.

He began going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings in a small suburb.  It seemed to be helping him and a few of his friends were going with him.  He was also making new friends at the Narcotics Anonymous meetings.  He went almost every week, just missing once in awhile because he was tired or had something else to do.  If he could be at the Narcotics Anonymous meeting though, you could find him there.

One week during this period he invited me to attend a Narcotics Anonymous meeting with him.  I had given him rides to the meetings in the past but had never gone in.  I hesitated a second then agreed to go in with him.  I was thinking it would be a good sign of support from me to him if I were to do this.  It felt right.

We walked up some stairs to a second story room.  there were about ten to twelve people there starting to sit down around the big table.  My friend and I sat down and he introduced me to a couple of his friends that were there.  When the leader stood up to talk and to begin the meeting the room got respectively quiet.

I looked around the table and saw people of both sexes, all ages, and all forms of dress.  They all seemed different from each other until they started telling their stories.  They would explain how they got into this mess, how they had been doing and how long they had been straight without using.  Sometimes they would admit to relapsing over the past week and the group would offer unqualified support for them in the coming weeks.  One after another the stories came out and they all had a similar ring to them.  Something had happened, they had been offered and tempted and then partook and found that their will was not strong enough to walk away from it.  Their lives seemed to be filled with so much confusion and pain that the drugs helped them escape from it all and make them feel that they were in control of something.  Everyone of them though admitted that deep down they knew the drug was in control not them.

Then it came my friend's turn.  He announced that he had been ninety days clean and everyone around the table applauded him.  I had no idea that he was going to make this announcement that night and I was proud of him.  I joined the group applause.  He then told his story including how difficult it had been over the past three months but he was feeling better about himself by the day.  The leader then gave him a colored key chain indicating ninety days of freedom.  He held onto that key chain tightly and ran his fingers over it.  I think it was a milestone he wasn't sure he would ever meet.

Then it got quiet and I looked to the person on the other side of me only to be met by their eyes. I then noticed that everyone at the table, including my friend and the leader were looking at me to hear my story.  In my mind I wanted to say "Hi my name is Bill (HI BILL) and I have been clean for forty seven years". and then listen to the applause and take a key chain of my own.  I could probably get seven or eight key chains for that but I realized that this was a serious group and it was important to them.  I was not about to make light of what they were going through or what they had accomplished.  I simply told them who I was and that my reason for being there was to offer support to my friend who was sitting next to me.

The leader looked at me a second and then thanked me for coming out.  Support is a very important thing for drug users and abusers.  He said my friend was lucky to have support like this and that it was a good thing I was there.

I felt very small all of a sudden.  All of these people sitting around that table in a fight every single day for their lives and their sanity and I was just there to listen and to let my friend know that I was proud of him for getting as far as he had in this process.  My friend really appreciated me attending the meeting that night.

After my experience with Narcotics Anonymous, I sincerely encourage you to attend a meeting of Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous .with a friend you know is having to fight everyday against substance abuse.  I think it is a way of telling them that you are not alone in this.  You give them a feeling of support that is all so important in recovering from substance abuse.  If you know someone who does suffer from abuse, probably one of the best ways you can help them is to support them and to let them know you do support them not only by words, but by actions.

Narcotics Anonymous Video

Friday, March 25, 2011

Disorder In The House - Warren Zevon

Disorder in the house
The tub runneth over
Plaster's falling down in pieces by the couch of pain

Disorder in the house
Time to duck and cover
Helicopters hover over rough terrain

Disorder in the house
Reptile wisdom
Zombies on the lawn staggering around

Disorder in the house
There's a flaw in the system
And the fly in the ointment's gonna bring the whole thing down

The floodgates are open
We've let the demons loose
The big guns have spoken
And we've fallen for the ruse

Disorder in the house
It's a fate worse than fame
Even the Lhasa Apso seems to be ashamed

Disorder in the house
The doors are coming off the hinges
Yeah the earth will open and swallow up the real estate

I just got my paycheck
I'm gonna paint the whole town grey
Whether it's a night in Paris or a Fresno matinee

It's the home of the brave and the land of the free
Where the less you know the better off you'll be

Disorder in the house
All bets are off
I'm sprawled across the davenport of despair

Disorder in the house
I'll live with the losses
And watch the sundown through the portiere

Video of Warren Zevon singing "Disorder In The House"
Video of Warren Zevon's ex-wife on writing his biography

Thursday, March 24, 2011

THE INCREDIBLE BO

My nephew Bo was like any other little boy growing up.  Of course he did have the disadvantage of being raised in Alabama instead of Missouri but he seems to have overcome that as he has grown into a man.

He grew up with his own set of heroes.  A lot of these heroes he took in from books that my sister would read to him or make him read.  Other heroes came from sporting icons or television characters.  This is the story of one of his television character heroes.

Bo was and is a fine looking boy.  He has a set of dimples on him that are so deep you would almost swear they used some ice tongs instead of forceps on him when he was born.  These dimples are ever present on him even when he isn't smiling a very big smile.  His eye are dark and have a sparkle to them.  He was a good sized kid that protected his older sister when ever she needed his protection or to be more precise when ever he felt like she needed his protection.

Bo grew up with a larger than life imagination.  He was and is very intelligent and sensitive.  He is also very trusting.  Still to this day if I try hard enough I can feed him a story where he is not sure whether to believe me or not.  He doesn't take things too seriously unless it is warranted.

One of his favorite television shows when he was about five years old was The Incredible Hulk.  I don't think that my sister was too high on comic books seeing as she was an English/Literature teacher so Bo had to get his super heroes from the television or movie screen.  The Incredible Hulk was a short lived television series that played weekly and Bo never missed an episode as far as I know. It was based on the story of this ordinary man who had gotten his genes chemically changed somehow.  I can't go into details on the Hulk because I never really got into him.  This ordinary man would change much the same way Dr. Jeckle changed into Mr. Hyde.  If the hulk saw an injustice or if he was treated badly he would undergo a metamorphosis that would double his size, turn him green and give him super human strength.  While he was in the guise of the Hulk he would right the wrong than slowly turn back into the ordinary man that he started out to be.  This is all supposition on my part based on knowledge given to me about the Hulk from five year old Bo.

For a period of a couple of years if you angered Bo he would take on an imaginary Hulk like persona.  He would drop like a rock to the floor and curl up in a ball hiding his face under his arms.  He would lie there very still for a few minutes and then you would be able to spot a little movement.

He would slowly begin to unfold his body.  There would come a very quiet yet distinct growl from deep inside of him.  He would then raise his face and his eyebrows would be knotted together and his forehead wrinkled up as he tried to look mean, angry and scary.  Sadly even though he tried hard to look mean and scary he never quite pulled it off.  He was just too cute to come off like that.

He would then grit his teeth tightly together and the growl would get a little louder.  It was here that he began to arise from the depths of the floor as he slowly moved onto his knees.  His hands would stretch out the fingers to look like claws as he moved his arms slowly over his head.  The growl would again intensify and soon he was standing up right with his arms fully extended above his head.  His eyes would be flashing, his forehead all wrinkled up and in an attempt to be as big as he could be he would wind up standing on his tiptoes.  Then he would look at you and let out a big roar and lunge at you slightly.

It was really difficult to be scared instead of laughing at him.  If you did laugh at him it would be certain that the "Hulk" would attack you.  Bo would come walking like a robot from a bad fifties movie towards you, growling and roaring with his hands reaching out towards you.  Now that I think about it he looked more like a zombie than the Incredible Hulk.  He would then attack you and it was your responsibility to succumb to the ferocious attack of the Hulk.

After he finished giving you a short beating and business was taken care of he would slowly sink back into the floor and curl back up into a ball reversing the earlier metamorphosis that had taken place and he was sweet little Bo again and he would swear he didn't know what had just happened to him.

When Bo grew up and had a couple of boys of his own the Hulk television series was long gone.  They were not even showing it in syndication.  Then an event happened that would revive the hulk.  Hollywood came out with a movie about the Incredible Hulk.  Of course Bo absolutely had to take his boys to see it and his older son began to follow in his father's footsteps.  Hayden would recreate the Hulk almost esactly as his father had done.

The really good part about the movie being released though was the toys that were spawned by the movie.  Toys that a young Bo did not have at his disposal.  I took it upon myself to be sure that Hayden had as full of a hulk experience as he could have.  I bought Hayden a pair of Hulk arms.  The idea was that you would slide your arms into this massive green muscle ridden arms and when you would hit something or somebody it would make noises to make the sensation more of an experience.

Hayden received his Hulk arms and enjoyed them for a little bit.  He enjoyed them until his Uncle Shawne came over and Bo took one arm while Shawne took the other and the two thirty year old Hulks began to fight amongst themselves while Hayden sat by watching.  From the reports I got of the incident Hayden did not mind.  He enjoyed watching his dad and uncle play and have a good time.  Of course Hayden was not going to let them keep the arms too long and he quickly regained them and began attacking everyone in the house.  I really wish I had been there to see it on the first few days of Hulkdom in Alabama.

Bo is yet another proof that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.  He grew up a hulk and now his boys are hulks.  Conner, his youngest, can be Hulk like without even trying sometimes.

So that is the story about how my niece Kristi married one hulk and gave birth to two more.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

CLEAN POLITICS IN KANSAS CITY??

There have been lots of times that Kansas City has been dubbed "Little Chicago" because of the way this city usually works.  Politics in this city can be mean, rough, and downright dirty.  I have been aware of several mayors during my lifetime here in Kansas City.  Charles Wheeler, Richard Berkley, Emmanuel Cleaver, Kay Barnes were all great mayors as far as I am concerned.  They worked hard to improve the city and each of them left their own mark upon the city.

But getting to be mayor of Kansas City was not an easy thing for any of them.  The campaigns here in Kansas City are notorious for mudslinging and innuendos that put a cloud over a candidates  humanity.  When they ran for for re-election it was even worse because their opponents had a record to point to of what these mayors had achieved and how they had achieved it over the previous four years.

The modern era of political corruption in Kansas City dates back to the late twenties when the Pendergast machine virtually ran the city.  The machine picked out who would hold a variety of offices in and around Kansas City.  Not only did they run the city but they had a heavy hand in Jackson County politics as well and had substantial influence in the State of Missouri politics.   It was the Pendergast machine that first gave Jackson County a little known politician by the name of Harry Truman.  It was the machine that gave Harry Truman to the state as a US Senator from where he would become Vice-President and eventually President of the United States.

The machine was finally shut down in the fifties with Boss Tom going to prison for tax evasion.  That is the same thing they got Al Capone on.  It seems like whenever the feds can't pin what they want to pin on you, they end up with tax evasion.

Once the machine was dismembered the city went to a City Manager model of government.  The City Manager was hired by the city to help the mayor and city council run the city.  It is up to the city manager to keep an eye on costs and to basically be sure there aren't any back room deals going on.  I am not so sure it actually works that way.  When city managers haven't allowed the mayor and council to do what they wanted in the past, he was usually fired and the city went back to running the way it wanted to.

The campaign for Mayor and council in the past have been filled with allegations of a sort that would make Boss Tom proud if he were alive today.  There are some big civic organizations that now run the city in a manner of speaking depending on if their Candidate wins.  There is the Citizens Council, Freedom Incorporated, The Kansas City Star, The Call Newspaper and a few others that aren't quite as large.   It is the Candidates job to get endorsed by as many of these organizations as possible.  That is where the dirt starts to fly.  These men and women aren't campaigning to the voters of the city for these positions, they campaign to the organizations for endorsements.

Once endorsed by one of the major organizations they have a powerful source to gather information on their opponents during the campaign.  This brings the run for mayor and council into a mud pile that we haven't seen since day two of Woodstock.  It gets nasty.  It gets dirty.  It gets downright mean.  People reputations are put on the line as they try to serve the city.  Some men have been destroyed and humiliated by running in a city election.  That is the chance you take when taking on Kansas City politics.

Things changed this year however.  I am not sure anyone knows why things changed but it was a dramatic change.  My theory is that the incumbent mayor was so unpopular after his first term that there was no need to throw mud at him.  I don't think the candidates quite knew how to run in an election without a viable target for them. 

The current Mayor lost in the primary leaving two men that both seemed to be sincere and trustworthy.  They split the endorsements of the organizations but even when the organizations endorsement came down, they seemed to always have something nice to say about the man who didn't get the endorsement.

This carried on into the general election.  Each man running for mayor left open the idea that he wouldn't mind his opponent being a part of the government under his term as mayor.  This was unheard of.  You are suppose to be slamming that opponent, dragging him down to hell and yourself along with him.  There were supposed to be shouting matches and releasing of personal finances and bits and pieces of a candidates personal life.  A good hooker story was always fair game in the past it seemed.

This year wasn't like that.  This campaign was so quiet and polite outsiders would not have known a major election was taking place.  The debates were polite and the two men actually answered the questions posed to them instead of dodging a question to impune the other man's character.  It was like a breath of fresh air in a city where politics rule everything.

Who were these two men you ask?  Mike Burke and Sly James.  The pre election polls showed them running at 50-50.  People I talked to would decide to be for one or the other but in reality, it wouldn't bother them a lot if their candidate lost the election.  There was that much trust in each of the men.  The majority of the city just wanted the current administration gone and they ended up with two very decent men running for what history has shown to be one of the most political positions in the midwest, Mayor of Kansas City.

Sly James ended up wining the election.  It wasn't a landslide but he won by a fair margin.  Burke's concession speech was polite and gracious as were his supporters who listened to him.  James' victory speech had much the same tone as Burkes concession speech.  And the biggest miracle of all?  A campaign suggestion was kept.  Not a promise, but a suggestion and Sly James said he had a couple of positions in mind for Mike Burke in his administration.

For the people of Kansas City, let's hope this is a new era of politics that we are entering into.  Hopefully we can set an example for other large cities across the country as to how to run a clean and gracious campaign.  Let Kansas City become a model for the future.

I do love this city and today I am so very proud to be a citizen of it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

KELLY PLAYS A RECORD

As I was growing up it seemed my family really liked music a lot.  We had a huge mono record player with an automatic changer on it and dad would play records sometimes.  His record collection was not huge but it was carefully selected.  He had some Eddie Arnold, Jim Nabors, and Jim Reeves albums.  He tended to go for the contemporary country music.  As a family we would watch music based television shows every week.  I knew all of the Lennon sisters from watching Lawrence Welk and I could Sing along with Mitch every week not to mention a peek in at the Grand Ol Opry.

Mom had played the accordion when she was growing up but I never heard her play.  I am not sure why that is.  They thought enough about music to give all of us kids piano lessons and encouraged us to join in the school band or orchestra.  I think I was the only one that took them up on the school band when I took to playing the french horn my fifth grade year.  My sister Elaine sang in the school choir.  Music was enjoyed in our family except for my piano playing.  I think it was my selection of music I chose to play on the piano and the volume that I played it at.

Anyway, Dad had his record collection and mom had a smaller collection.  The only record I remember my mother listening to and enjoying was a Frankie Avalon album the included songs like "Venus, Bobbysocks to Stocking and songs like that.  It was good music and I enjoyed listening to it.  My sister bought a piano book of Frankie Avalon songs that I stole from her and still have in my piano bench.  They are fun songs to play.

My uncle Dan gave us a membership to the American Music Club for Christmas one year.  It was the kind of club where you were suppose to buy so many albums in a year.  We ended up with a Peter Paul and Mary album,  A Tennessee Ernie Ford Record and a Mormon Tabernacle Choir Album.

When Elaine became a teenager she joined the Columbia Record Club.  This was my first introduction to top forty music.  Her collection grew and soon she had recording artists such as Three Dog Night, Janis Joplin, James Taylor and Chicago sitting in her room.  I would go in to her room when she wasn't home and listen to some of these great albums.  She wasn't one to take proper care of her records and most of them ended up unplayable by the time she moved from home.  She left them at the house for me but when I went to check them out I discovered that the protective inner paper sleeve was absent on every one of her records leaving the cardboard cover to dig and scratch the record into an unplayable disc of plastic.

I then began my own record collection.  Elaine had left me her little stereo when she had moved out and so I had a decent piece of equipment to play my records on.    I began by getting some Three Dog Night and some 5th Dimension along with a Bobby Sherman album.  The purchase of the Bobby Sherman record was not a proud moment in my life of being an audiophile when I look back on it, still the album was not too bad.

I began replacing some of the records my sister had left me with new copies that would be taken proper care of.  Soon my collection began to grow as I put most of my spare money into the buying of records.  First I had ten and then twenty and thirty records.  The collection would end up with about 300 records before the music began to deteriorate and there wasn't any good music to buy anymore.  Not as much good music as there use to be anyway.

My collection was at about 25 records or so when my Aunt Sue bought an album by a group called Bread.  The title was Baby I'mA Want You and it was a stunning record.  The combination of David Gates and James Griffin  songwriting gave the album a diversion of styles and sound.  The songs were beautiful and the lyrics were wonderful.  I fell in love with this album and would listen to it with Sue when ever I went over to visit.  I made my decision that I wanted a Bread album as well.

I was going to take my time choosing an album by Bread.  I wanted to be sure to get the best one even though I knew that the best Bread album out there was the one in the possession of my Aunt Sue.  I held back though thinking they may come out with something new and excising   They did do that.  I remember looking in a copy of Rolling Stone and seeing a review of "The Best Of Bread".  This was what I had been waiting for.  It carried on it several songs from Baby I'ma Want You plus some of their older music as well as a few newer songs.  I decided this would be the record I would get.

I began saving my money to buy the record.  After about three weeks I had the funds to purchase the record and headed up to the local dime store to purchase it.  You don't see many five and ten stores anymore but they were kind of like Walgreens or CVS only without the pharmacy.  The day I bought that album was just before school was letting out for the summer.  I took it home and immediately played it and fell in love with it.  I cut the review of the record out of the Rolling Stone and taped it to the inside cover of the album.  This reacord and this group would became one of my all time favorites.  Bread's sound has held up over the years and I can still listen to them and their music still sounds fresh and new.  Another snubbed group from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but I won't go down that road.  It would only make me angry to think of some of the groups the HOF has snubbed while lesser groups seem to gt inducted.  Okay, steering away from the RRHOF.

I had a habit of never using the record changer on the stereo that my sister gave me.  I felt that the act of dropping records hard onto records rotating after just been played was not a very wise thing to do as far as record maintenance was concerned.   I was the kind of person who took extreme care in the handling of my recordings.  The records were always cleaned before playing and before being put back into it cover.  The paper sleeves were re introduced into the house as a protective measure for the records.  The paper sleeve had to be used in a very singular manner.  First you would put the record into the sleeve then slide the sleeve gently into the cardboard cover so that the opening of the paper sleeve was not exposed allowing a record to accidentally fall out of the cover and crash onto the floor.  This was one way in which I was able to detect when someone had been playing my records.

One day my niece Kelly was visiting at the house with my sister.  Kelly was not very old, I am guessing that she was probably around three years old.  I love Kelly and did not mind if she hung around with me when she wanted to.  On this particular day she was up in my bedroom with me while I was doing a chore of some kind.  She was sitting on the floor talking to herself while I went about what I was doing.  My room was fairly small and I kept my stereo on the floor next to the bed for easy access to it during the day or night.

I had been listening to my Bread album and when it finished I went to the restroom, leaving Kelly there for just a few seconds.  When I came back I heard a sound that sent chills down my spine.  I still get those chills when I think of that day.  It was a horrid scratching noise and it was coming from the stereo.  Kelly was balancing herself on two knees and her left hand while her right hand had a firm grip on the tonearm of the stereo.  She was sliding the tonearm with that diamond stylus on it back and forth across my Bread album.  She kept going as I stood there numb and in shock.  A white streak had already become visible on the record indicating the path that she was running the needle back and forth across the vinyl.   The scratch went from the label on the inside all the way to the outer reaches of the disc.  I call it a scratch but in reality it looked like a gouge.

It was one of the few times I got seriously angry with Kelly, but she was too young to understand why I would be angry.  She was just playing a record as far as she knew.  I yelled at her and pulled her away from the stereo and her little eyes began to water up.  You can't stay mad at a little girl like Kelly when she is looking at you like that.  My heart softened and I took her downstairs to her mother.  My face was still red I guess and I still wasn't breathing quite right but I held my temper.

Eventually I got up the nerve to try to play the record with the thick white line going in the wrong direction on it.  It played.  It didn't play as well as it had before mind you.  There were some new pops and clicks here and there but the record did not skip.  It was in much better shape than the records Elaine had left to me as when I was young as this record was still playable.

Kelly wasn't allowed to play or touch any of my records for a very long time after that but I eventually learned to trust her again as she grew up and learned the proper way to play a record and the proper way to maintain a record, something her Aunt Elaine never did learn.

Monday, March 21, 2011

REGISTERING FOR THE MILITARY DRAFT

At the beginning of World War Two, President Roosevelt implemented an active military draft.  The idea was that we needed far more troops in the military to carry out the war than an all volunteer army could sustain.  I believe it was a wise decision.  In order to be drafted the government had to know who you were and where you were and so the requirement to register for the draft on or about your eighteenth birthday was established.  It became law that you register for the draft.

The draft allowed our armed forces to grow to a point of being able to defeat the Axis powers along with our strong allies Great Britain and Russia.  I know there were more allies than those three but Great Britain, Russia and the United States were the bulk of the war machine against the Axis powers.

The draft also allowed a non-discriminatory population to be drafted.  The well off and better educated were put along side those not so lucky.  Soldiers became equals more or less in the fight for a free world that would not be run by a mad man in Austria or Berlin.  Young men with good minds were discovered and placed in positions where they could be most helpful to the military machine.

The draft continued after the world war was over as the United States began policing the world, first in Korea and then in Vietnam.  We are still policing Korea, but Vietnam fell long ago mainly because of lack of support from the American public.  President Johnson found himself fighting on two fronts as he increased the war effort in Vietnam.  He was of course fighting the war across the Pacific, but was also fighting a war on the mainland of the United States.

Young men were fleeing to neutral countries, Canada being the most popular choice.  Draftees were burning their draft cards in public squares as a gesture of defiance against the policy in Vietnam.  The American public was for the first time being given live reports from the battlefield as the new age of television grew up and came of age.  I remember watching the Evening news with Walter Cronkite every night with my dad as Cronkite would end each show with a death tally of Americans for the day and a death tally of North Vietnamese for the day.  The numbers were staggering and as you watched each and every day you begin not to be able to avoid silently adding up the numbers in your head.

There were legal ways to avoid the draft.  You could go to college after high school and avoid the draft.  Well, you could go to college if your grades were good enough and your parents had enough money to send you to college.  otherwise you could expect a letter in the mail one day with orders to report to be inducted into the military for service in Vietnam.

They use to hold a lottery.  They called it the Selective Service Lottery where each year three and sixty six capsules, each with a separate date inside them, were drawn one at a time.  That was your birth date being represented in that lottery.  If your birthday was one of the first hundred and fifty or so chosen, it was a pretty good chance you were going to go to Vietnam. 

I remember as I began to grow older thinking about how many years I had until my lottery would be held.  When I was fifteen and sixteen I remember a couple of guys that attended my church drew fairly high lottery numbers.  It was like a sentence passed on a convicted criminal.  There was no legal way out except for college or if you weren't healthy enough to go.

As I turned to the age of seventeen, I became more aware of politics then I ever had before.  President Nixon had promised to start to withdraw troops from Vietnam.  He called the process Vietmization.  It was the idea that as we trained the South Vietnamese armed forces to fight the battle themselves, we could bring more troops home and send less over.  The President was holding to his word and had been withdrawing forces for a couple of years.  Still the lottery and the draft edged ever closer to me as I neared that final year before I could be called into the military.

Then a magic thing happened.  As President Nixon continued to downsize the military presence in Vietnam, he came to the conclusion that we could end the draft.  In all honesty he was helped in this decision by the still sometimes violent protests going on here in the states.  Campuses across the country were high tension areas even as the President kept his promise to de-escalate the war.  The magic thing?  President Nixon announced an end to the Selective Service Draft in 1973.  I can not tell you or describe to you what it felt like inside of me when that announcement was made.  It looked like unless things took a tragic turn for the worse, I had escaped forced military service.

I spent that summer  a little more relaxed then I was expecting to spend it.  I was beginning my career in engineering design, I was dating my future wife and over all enjoying my last summer before I became a senior in high school.  Troops were still over there but they were coming home fast and the nightly news was not near as depressing as it used to be when I was younger.  We just wanted to get out of there with as little egg on our face as we could and President Nixon was doing it in spite of having to deal with a new battle front for him called Watergate.

As I began school my senior year I had all but put the draft out of my mind.  I didn't have to worry about the lottery.  I didn't have to worry about being sent to Mississippi or or the Carolinas to be inducted.  I was free to make plans for my future which at this time was looking fairly good.

Then came October 13, 1974.  It was my eighteenth birthday.  I had some plans to celebrate this big day in my life.  I was going to go register to vote because President Nixon had signed into law the right for eighteen year olds to vote.  I was going to go out with Barb and celebrate.  At last I would be a man in my grandpa's eyes as well as most of society.  I awoke that wonderful October morning with nothing but good things to look forward to and I headed off to school.

It was going to be a good day at school as well.  It was my senior year and I already had almost all of my credits for graduation.  My schedule that year was very light and it was just a matter of cruising through to the finish.  As I entered my home room class and took my seat I was in a very good mood.

Soon the morning announcements were being made over the speaker system.  This club and that club.  I wasn't paying much attention to anything that morning.  The announcements ended and we began the task of waiting for the bell to ring so we could go to our first class of the day.  Then I heard a voice come over the speaker asking the teacher send me up to the office.  Really?  It was way too early in the day for me to be in any kind of trouble.  I hadn't done anything for days to get me into trouble.  I began to sweat as I picked up my books and headed out into the hallway and towards the office.  The whole walk up to the office was spent going over any practical jokes or anything I had done over the last week or so.  Nothing came to mind.

As I turned into the office I caught the eye of the lady who worked there.  We knew each other fairly well from three years in the same school.  She motioned me over and walked up to the counter.  She slid a card across the counter towards me and told me to fill it out, it was the law.  I looked down and saw in big blue letters "SELECTIVE SERVICE REGISTRATION" printed across the top of it.  I looked at her with a question in my eyes and she explained that I was eighteen, I had to register.  I was stunned that the school would force me to do this.  Surely I could skip across the street, as I had dozens of times before over the last three years, and register at the Post Office.  No, they wanted to be SURE I registered.

So dear old Ruskin High wished me a happy birthday by starting my day off making me register for the draft.  It was the most somber happy birthday I ever got.

I want to make one thing clear here.  I support our military and all of those who serve in it.  I have a great respect for veterans from any part of history.  I know that if it were not for them we would not have the freedom's we have today.  Would I have gone to war if drafted?  I would have.  I would not turn my back on my country if it called.  Am I glad I didn't have to serve?  Well, I wouldn't say "glad" but I was relieved.  By the end of 1975 I would be in a full time job starting a career that would last me the rest of my life and would be getting married.  So relieved ... yes.

Arlo Guthrie singing his Classic about signing up for the draft "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" in 2005

Saturday, March 19, 2011

SISTER DECIDES TO CARRY ON

Since my sister moved to Alabama a few decades ago she has flown home several times.   Elaine is somewhat impatient but not so much as to cause a problem most of the time.  One thing she did learn is that when flying home to Kansas City there will be at least one layover that could last anywhere from five minutes to hours.  Add the layover situation to the fact that she arrives at the airport well before an hour prior to the plane actually starting boarding and she came to a conclusion.  She did not want to drag her luggage around for over an hour at the Birmingham Airport and did not want to have to drag the luggage off of a plane and onto another one during the layover.  It was well worth the time to check her luggage in Birmingham  and let the airlines handle it from there.

There were pros and cons to checking her luggage.  Of course the biggest pro was that she did not have to drag her bag around for most of the day.  There were cons as well.  Airlines are big and busy and they move fast.  No matter how many times you may have marked on your bag where it is supposed to go to, you are always taking the chance that it could end up in Fairbanks, Alaska or some South American city that you had no intention of ever going to visit in your entire life.  Your luggage could see more of the world than you ever dreamed of.

The other big con was in Kansas City.  I am usually the one who picks her up at the airport.  I try to get there as close to arrival time as I can because the terminal parking at Kansas City gives you free parking for the first half hour before the rates start to climb substantially.  I would arrive at the airport right on time and be there just as the plane arrived or within ten minutes of its arrival.  This should give us plenty of time to get back to the car and out of the parking lot before the thirty minute time limit had expired.  That is it would have given us plenty of time except for the fact that she would check her luggage and we would end up standing around a carousel watching other peoples luggage come crashing down onto the turntable while waiting for hers to arrive.  Usually this ended up costing me not only time but dollars as well since time in the parking lot equals dollars.

I have discussed this situation with Elaine several times over the years.  We just did not look at things the same way.  She usually had just one small bag and would be easy to carry onto the plane.  But from where she stood she would be dragging that little bag around airports all day long and it was worth a few dollars from my pocket for her not to have to worry about the luggage.

From my viewpoint of course was the fact the we were wasting a lot of time standing around in a crowd of people anxiously watching each bag that came up from the dark underworld which many passengers refer to as baggage hell.   We would stand in a big crowd of people always anticipating that hers would be the next one out but hers was never the next one out.  Not until the crowd of people had dwindled to the point where we all knew each others name and what kind of luggage each person was looking for.  Occasionally phone numbers would be exchanged with promises to get together sometime while they were in Kansas City.

When her bag did finally arrive I would insist on carry it for her.  This was not only because I am very nice gentleman who knows that it is more or less my responsibility to carry her luggage for her, but also due to the fact that I wanted to control the pace in which we walked to the car in hopes of saving a few dollars before the clocked rung up another half hours worth of charges on my ticket.

This pattern of traveling for Elaine and me trying to time it to save as much money as possible in parking fees went on for years upon years.  Each time Elaine would come into town and she would come off the plane the first thing I would ask is "Where is your bag?"  The first things she would say to me was"Oh, I checked it".  I would sigh and we would begin the long walk to the baggage claim area talking small talk along the way.

It was a case of where my logic would never sway her to do the obvious thing when it came to being efficient in her use of time.  I never gave up on her though.  I think that every time she flew in and was able to tell me that she had checked her bags it gave her a smile. She knew that I knew she would have checked her bags but in a way it was a small victory for her over my logic.  No matter how much I explained it to her there was not a thing I could do when she made the decision in Birmingham that morning to check her bags.  By the time I had a chance to explain it to her again the whole situation was already over with and we were standing amongst our new friends waiting for bags with them.

Then a miracle happened.  It was an extremely hot day in Kansas City and I had arrived about ten minutes before her flight did. They had been working on the airport over the last few weeks installing new passenger ramps that allowed the passengers to walk directly from the air conditioned plane into an enclosed air conditioned ramp and straight into the air conditioned terminal area.  Elaine's plane was due to arrive at one of the gates with the new ramp installed.

I stood there and watched her plane pull up to the gate.  It was the gate furthest from the baggage claim area so even of her bag was the first one out we would not be there to take advantage of the situation.  I began to notice the passenger ramp popping up and down.  It would never quite get over to the plane and wasn't even close to getting up to the height of the door on the plane.  This went on for quite a few minutes until I was getting a little agitated because I figured that this of all days would be the one where Elaine's baggage was off the plane first.  Had to be on this day because it was obvious that there would be no way we would beat the thirty minute time bomb because nobody was getting off of the plane.

Then I noticed the back of the plan open up.  It was one of those planes that has the stairs that fold down to the tarmac from the rear of the plane with steps to walk up to the plane or down from the plane.  I saw them coming down the stairs.  The passengers were coming off the plain from it's rear onto the extremely hot tarmac.  Then then would have to walk about thirty yards in the hot blazing sun to a door in the basement and then walk up two flights of stairs before entering the terminal.  The ramp had malfunctioned and so the airline was forced to ask their passengers to de-board in this peculiar and inconvenient way. 

I continued watching the line of passengers come down those stairs in the back of the plane when I saw my sister.  I was stunned for a second before the irony of the situation sank in and hit my sense of humor.  For the first time Elaine had decided to be nice and carry on her luggage.  So there she was struggling with her bag coming down the stairs of the plane into one hundred degree heat and stepping onto the shadeless tarmac.  She then began her hike across the tarmac to the shade of the basement where every one else's luggage was being loaded onto trams and taken down to the baggage claim.  I lost sight of her then but knew from comments made by other passengers before her that it was hot in the basement and they had to walk up two flights of stairs to get into the terminal.  I formed a picture of Elaine dragging her carry on luggage up two flights of stairs in heated shade.

Finally Elaine came through the doors.  When the coolness of the terminal hit her she stopped and let her whole body absorb the cool air.  Then she saw me.  It was not a smile she gave me although I was grinning a fairly large smile at her.  For the first time the first words out of my mouth were not "Where is your bag?" and her first words to me were not "Oh, I checked it."  No, instead my first words were "So, how was the flight?" and her first words to me were "grrrrr"

As we were driving from the airport to mom and dad's house she insisted that I thank her for doing carry on instead of checking her bag.  I did thank her.  I thanked her and told her I didn't even mind paying the extra fee for parking while she trudged across that hot tarmac.

It was worth the extra money.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

SURPRISE TRIP TO VEGAS

I am not much of a flyer.  Heights scare me almost to a phobia situation.  George Carlin use to say "I am not afraid of heights, I am afraid of falling."  I guess I was as well but in order to fall you had to get up there and I did not enjoy getting up there.

I learned how to deal with my fear of flying over a two year period in the mid eighties.  Our company was working with a company in Berkley and Oakland on developing a new test system.  I was flying out to the Bay Area every two weeks during that time to help document the progress of the project.  When you fly that much you have to learn to deal with it.  I try to sit on an aisle seat over the wings.  The aisle seat keeps me away from the windows and the wing blocks any view that may sneak through indicating how high off of the ground we were.  It worked for me and I soon could fly without giving it too much of a second thought.

During this time of flying to the bay area and back I got to know two airports very well.  The Denver airport and the airport in Salt Lake City.  They were the layover spots depending on which airline you took between Kansas City and Oakland.  Both the airports were nice and I soon became at ease in them as I waited for my flight to head on to Kansas City.  Occasionally you would run into someone at one of the airports from back in Kansas CIty and so you would have a little visit time.  This didn't happen often, only two or three times, but it was always a pleasant surprise when it did happen.

Both airports were nice.  Salt Lake City had a wonderful view of the mountains outside of it's glass terminals.  Denver was equally beautiful but busier than Salt Lake so I had to deal with crowds of people when I flew into Denver.  Occasionally weather would make flights late getting there.  Twice the flights out of Denver were diverted to Dallas because of bad weather in Kansas City and I ended up spending a few hours in Texas waiting for Kansas City to clear up.  Then there was the day of the great Salt Lake City Fog.

When we left Oakland that morning they had said that there was fog in Salt Lake but were expecting it to lift by the time we arrived there.  No one gave it much thought until a voice came over the speaker announcing that the fog in Salt Lake was getting denser and that we would be heading south to Las Vegas to wait for Salt Lake to clear up.  I had never been in Vegas before and I wasn't really excited about it.  We would not be on the ground long enough to really do anything so it would be just sitting and waiting in a strange terminal.

As the plane landed in Vegas and started to taxi to a terminal the stewardess came on the speaker and told us that they were requesting that we not leave the plane.  They wanted to leave as soon as there was a break in the fog in Salt Lake so we would be taking  a chance of missing the flight if we deboarded during  the short layover.  The was a "however" to her statement though.  She explained that even though they did want everyone to stay on the plane they did understand that there may be some phone calls that needed to be made to let loved ones or acquaintances who may be waiting for us or leaving their houses to head to an airport to pick us up.

That was all the passengers needed.  As soon as the plane came to a stop and the seatbelt light went off, everyone on the plane stood up to get off.  Since I was in an aisle seat I had to get up as well and pretty much was pushed out into the terminal.  I was traveling with Gus on this particular trip and we both found ourselves in the small terminal area with a crowd of people who seemed to be in a hurry all of a sudden.  Gus pulled out his wallet and headed for the news stand.  This terminal was not very large and the center of it was filled with a fairly good sized news stand.  Then all around the terminal where chairs could have been placed were slot machines.  I had never played a slot machine before.  I hadn't even seen a slot machine before.  I am not a gambler and I began to look for a rare seat in which to sit.

Gus finally broke out from the crowd at the news stand with a hand full of quarters and was stunned to see that I had not gone to get some change myself.  We were here.  We were in Vegas.  At that time gambling was not as widespread as it is these days and Vegas was one of just a handful of gambling oasis' in country.  I told Gus I had never played a slot machine before and really didn't feel the need to now.  He was insistent though.

  "You are HERE, why not play just once?" he asked while holding up a shiny quarter to me.  He said it would be on him, but he couldn't imagine someone just being thrown down in Vegas and not playing the slots while they were there.

I took the quarter out of Gus' hand and walked over to a machine with Gus following close behind me to be sure I did play the slot.  I walked up to a machine and looked it over.  I took a little time to observe other players from the plane so I would be able to do it correctly.    I placed the quarter into the slot and pulled down on the handle.  I pulled on it a lot harder than was required but it was okay.  It didn't break.  I watched the little window go spinning on the front of the machine until it stopped.  I stood there.  Nothing happened.  No jackpot or anything of the sort.  So I told Gus that the experience was one of the most exciting ones I had ever had and walked back to my seat which had been taken by another passenger at this point.

It took Salt Lake a long time to clear up from the fog.  We ended up being in the terminal almost two hours so it was the right decision to get off of the plane.  Still I was certainly ready to get back on a plane and get to Kansas City as soon as I could so when they announced they were boarding for Salt Lake I was one of the first in line.

I walked onto the plane and sat down in my aisle seat over the wing and started observing the other passengers boarding.  There began to be a rhythm starting as everyone boarded.  With each step a passenger took there was a little sound like "chink" and another little "chink" with the next step.  I suddenly realized that everyone getting back on this plane had replaced their light paper money with heavy silver coins.  My mind began trying to do some quick math on how much extra weight the plane would be carrying because of the difference between paper and silver.

My fear of flying returned for awhile that day as the plane taxied out to the runway and then began it's run to try to get air born.  I wasn't so sure it would be able to lift off the ground.  I was sweating thinking that at anytime the extra weight on this plane could drag us downward into the Nevada desert.  I calmed down once we reached cruising altitude and was able to relax a little even though when ever someone got up to use the facilities there would be that now familiar "chink" to their walk every time they took a step.  It was one of the noisiest flights I ever took.  When we landed in Kansas City it was easy to point out the other passengers that had been on the plane with you because of their "chinky" walks.  It would be another twenty five years before I stepped into anything resembling a casino again.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Army Corporal Frank W. Buckles - Very good Mr. President

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
A PROCLAMATION

     As a mark of respect for the memory of Army Corporal Frank W. Buckles, the last surviving American veteran of World War I, and in remembrance of the generation of American veterans of World War I, I hereby order, by the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, that, on the day of his interment, the flag of the United States shall be flown at half‑staff at the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions until sunset on such day.  I further direct that the flag shall be flown at half‑staff for the same period at all United States embassies, legations, consular offices, and other facilities abroad, including all military facilities and naval vessels and stations.
    
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty‑eighth day of February, in the year of our Lord two thousand eleven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fifth.

BARACK OBAMA

TURNING MY BACK ON BASEBALL

I was raised on baseball.  My dad loved the game and still does but he never discouraged any of his kids not to try other sports.  After eight to ten years of life being spent either in a baseball stadium or on a baseball field a person gets the urge to try something different or rebel against it.  I decided to rebel against baseball.  Still there was that seed deep inside of me that still loved the game but I decided to refuse to recognize it.

My savior in finding something besides baseball to occupy my time came in the unlikely package of one Jay D. Allard.  Mr. Allard was a man that loved kids and loved sports and he did everything he could to promote both.  He started his own Athletic Club in south Kansas City and began picking kids to play for him from the schools he taught in.  He ran a small league of baseball teams, had an older team that traveled to different rural areas to play baseball against the local kids.  He had a girls softball team that was actually pretty good even though my sister Elaine played on the team.  He put together a football team for the guys and had a basketball team for the girls.  It was this girls basketball team that allowed me to escape from baseball.

My sister Elaine played for Mr. Allards basketball team.  Apparently she either really loved it or she needed a lot of practice because it wasn't long before my dad had built a backboard and bought a rim and put it up over the garage at the house for Elaine to practice.  I am not sure how much Elaine liked basketball because she didn't seem to take advantage of the goal over the garage so I began to take the basketball out and teach myself how to play.  I would play imaginary games against myself shooting from around fifteen feet on the first shot and rushing to the ball if I missed to set it in from short range.

The learning to play basketball had its price for my parents however.  The garage door had three windows in it and those windows were directly under the basketball goal.  You can see where this is going I am sure.  It didn't take long to break out one of the windows by missing a shot.  After that window was replaced another window would fall victim to the orange meteor that took some wild projections at times.  My dad was no dummy and it didn't take him long to figure out a way to save his garage.  He would surrender.  He took the glass out of the garage windows and replaced them with sheets of aluminum.  This took the pressure off of his pocket book and took the pressure off of me from trying not to break any windows.  The living room windows were not far from from the hoop but far enough away not to get into the line of fire too often.

I started spending a lot of time out in the driveway learning to shoot and to dribble.  After my chores were done I would often go out to shoot the ball if dad was watching baseball on the television.  My summer Saturdays became a time to shoot and practice instead of watching the game of the week.  Pretty soon I began to get to be a fairly decent player.  Baseball was slowly drifting off into the back side of my mind and was being replaced by basketball.  I started watching the Big Eight college games on Saturday afternoon during the winter.  Then when spring would come, I would return to spending most of my time out in the driveway again.  Soon both sides of the driveway had turned from grass into dirt as I started to expand my angle of attack on the orange goal.

I first played organized basketball in the fifth grade when I stayed to play intramural basketball at Symington School.  The games were not pretty as most of us were only four foot tall or so and the scores stayed low.  I played at Symington again my sixth grade year and it was here that I think my dad took the hint that maybe his eldest son wasn't so much a baseball player.  This is where I give dad credit.  He took me to the Big Eight holdiay tournament a few years and allowed me to see those huge college kids play ball.  He sat through it even though I am certain he really didn't care about basketball that much.

Then the Cincinnati Royals moved to Kansas City and became the Kings.  I tried to see the Kings every chance I could and even bought partial season tickets a couple of years.  One final gesture dad made to support my new love of basketball was to buy me a couple of tickets to go see Dr. J play the Kings one night.  I had never seen anyone jump the way the Dr could.  It was a wonderful night and one that if I never thanked dad for, I will thank him here.

I had played intramural basketball again in my seventh grade year and had made the Smith-Hale basketball team both my eighth and ninth grade years.  Most of the games were early afternoon so nobody really came to watch me play but I was okay with that.  I was falling in love with the game.

The years went by and I continued to love basketball and rebel against baseball.  I would go to a game once in a while at the stadium but for the most part my athletic focus was on basketball.  People at work would ask me about the Royals and I didn't have a clue as to how they were doing.  I really didn't care.  So I decided the best way to deflect questions about baseball was to pick another team and so I became a Chicago Cubs fan.  They never went to the playoffs and always lost more games then they won until the year I became one of their fans.  They started winning and I actually started watching the closing innings of weekday games when I got home from work.  Baseball was slipping back into my life.  Then Brett joined the family.

When Brett was two years old for some reason I went and bought him a wiffle ball and bat.  It wasn't the huge red bats with the softball size wiffle ball but rather the pro set which had a skinny little yellow bat and a wiffle ball the size of a baseball.  I think I was figuring that if I wanted him to develop good coordination then this would be the easiest and best way to do it. So my son and I began spending nice days in the back yard learning to hit that ball with that skinny bat.  He was a fast learner.  He learned to hit and to throw by the age of four.  He had such a level swing that when he joined a t-ball league he seldom hit the ball  into the outfield.  That was okay though.  That level swing would pay off as he grew older.

Pretty soon it became apparent that Brett was a natural baseball player.  He played second base consistently and had a good glove.  While he did not hit with a lot of power he always found a way to hit the ball into play.  He had a good eye as well and seldom struck out.  Yes, it appeared that I had raised myself a baseball player.  I had accomplished with Brett what my dad had wanted to accomplish with me.  Brett played baseball until he was seventeen.  He would play in a spring league, then play another season in two summer leagues then close out the year in a fall league.  I was spending more time at a baseball field then I ever dreamed I would.


Brett did play basketball his freshman and sophomore years of high school but I think he did that just to fill time until baseball season would roll around again.  He looked comfortable in a baseball uniform.  He looked relaxed at the plate and sure handed in the field.  And I sat at every game I could and discovered that I could not shake the love of the game that my dad had planted in me since I was just a tiny kid.

We began watching baseball together on Saturdays and watching the Royals during the week.  I found myself making trips out to the stadium several times a year again, just like I use to do with dad.  Slowly baseball had come to be a focus of my summers again and I found that even though I had tried to turn my back on baseball, my fathers game, it never left my soul.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

ARRESTED FOR DANCING

I had very few close friends in school but a lot of acquaintances that I wouldn't mind saying were friends.  I knew them and they knew of me without knowing me which is the way my life has mostly gone.  There were times that I did become close to a few of the people I went to school with.  I was not choosy about who I spent time with.  I was friends with every group depicted in the movie "The Breakfast Club".  They weren't close friendships not even on a social level.  There were a few that I let get to know me over the years though.  In eighth grade one of those was Mike.

Mike was on the cutting edge of the new youth movement of the late sixties and early seventies.  His hair was long and shaggy.  Clean but seldom combed.  He wore round eye glasses much in the style of John Lennon.  I know he smoked cigarettes but I am not sure about drug usage.  I can say that I never witnessed any drugs on Mike and that makes me feel that he did not use back in the eighth  grade.  The clothes he wore we classic hippie.  Big bell bottom jeans with the seam cut out to make them even larger.  Shirts with wild designs on them and tye dyed shirts as well.  He never wore tennis shoes but wore a pair of black boots that would get him in trouble more than once for walking in them on the basketball floor.

Mike was also extremely intelligent.  His math skills were out of this world.  He loved to learn but he would not truly ever admit to that.  It went against his social outcast facade that he was showing the world.  I had classes with him in science and math and he always aced the courses.  This is another reason why I doubt the drug use.

Mike loved music and along with Scott introduced me to some wild underground music.  It was music that would stick with me right up to today.  Music was going in so many different directions.  A lot of us would listen to music whenever we went over to some one's house on a Saturday.  We never came over to my house nor did we go to Mike's.  I am not sure why Mike didn't open his room to us but most of the time we were over at Scott's.

We never went to the school functions much.  It wasn't our style.  A lot of it could be that none of us could get a girl to go to a dance with us.  I was too shy, Mike was too cool and Scott was, well he was Scott and that meant he had a great sense of humor that would get him into trouble a lot.  After being our own little social outcast gang for most of the eighth grade year we decided to go to a dance together.  There were about five of us that decided we would go stag and just watch and maybe have some fun at the expense of some of our classmates trying to dance.  The dance started right after school and would be over in time for me to walk home so there wasn't a problem with me going at all.

We all arrived at the gym after school and some of the teachers that knew some of us by reputation told us they were going to be keeping an eye out.  Have fun, but don't get yourself in trouble.  No problem as far as we were concerned.  We walked into the darkened gym and found a place to sit on the bleachers to observe the entertainment.

What really drew us to this particular dance was that there was a live band there instead of someone playing records.  That meant the music had a chance of going in all different directions.  We sat and listened to the band and critiqued their style and ability.  Actually they were a pretty good band for playing at a junior high school.

The entertainment on the dance floor was fun to watch.  You could see girls trying to turn down guys for a dance but not being able to.  You could predict who would run to who when a slow number came up.  There were some people that clearly had no sense of rhythm.  They were just out there moving around and not really doing much.  Mike began to think that they didn't know how to dance.  They weren't creative enough in their chosen style.  The girls had a better dance routine than most of the guys.  We figured that they had learned most of their dance moves on Saturday morning television..

After about an hour of sitting and watching we all started to become a bit bored with the situation.  Suddenly Scott decided he would go out and dance and show them how it was done.  He went out onto the floor and started dancing with another couple until the boy in the group just walked away leaving Scott with the dance partner.  As far as we could tell Scott could dance no better than the others that were out there.  He would flail his arms a bit now and then and we got a fairly good laugh watching Scott do his routine.  When the song was over Scott cam back to the bleachers to sit down.  He was sweating and had obviously been doing his absolute best.

Scott became defensive when we started talking about his dancing and laughing at some of his moves that he thought were pretty ingenious.  Finally he challenged any of us to go out and try to dance.  We all kind of shook it off and continued to sit.  It began to get boring just sitting there so I decided to take a little walk.  I walked a lap or two around the basketball court then went outside for some fresh air.  One of my teachers was sitting out there so we talked a bit.  This dance thing wasn't so bad.  At least we were getting to hear some live music.

I went back into the school and to the restroom when it happened.  I am not sure how or when it happened but as I walked out of the restroom Scott came running up to me.  "THEY GOT MIKE!" he shouted.  Calming Scott down once he got revved up was not an easy thing to do but I tried.  Scott finally dragged me down to the cafeteria doors and through the windows I could see two policemen talking to  Mike.  They appeared to make him walk a straight line.  They were questioning him intently.  As I pushed open the door one of the policemen told me to wait outside.  I just wanted to know what was going on but he insisted again that I wait outside.

I walked with Scott over to the trophy case to get a read on what had happened.  Apparently Mike had decided to show the other kids how dancing was meant to be done.  From the way Scott described it Mike was doing something between an Indian tribal dance and some interpretive dance that took a lot of interpreting to figure out.  Scott had good information, which was always questionable, that the teachers thought that Mike was on drugs based on the way he was dancing.

After about twenty minutes the policemen walked out of the cafeteria with Mike between them.  Mike had his hands behind his back with some police jewelry on his wrists.  I tried to ask him what was up and he just told us not to worry.  HUGE misunderstanding he said.  We didn't see Mike all of the next week.   We weren't sure what had happened but I was more than a little concerned.

When Mike returned to school it turned out that Scotts information was correct.  They had seen Mike throwing himself around the dance floor to some music that really wasn't that loud or fast and they called the police in case Mike was on drugs.  Mike had passed all the sobriety tests but the police still believed him to be on drugs of some sort.  They had Mike figured for smoking some weed.  Mike had been suspended from school for one week because they had to call the police out to the school dance to watch Mike dance.  Since the police were already out there, they arrested Mike for dancing strangely.  Well, truth be told he wasn't technically arrested but taken to the station and talked to and his parents had been called to come pick him up at the police station.  When his parents arrived they promised the police that Mike would never dance strangely again I guess because they let Mike go home with his parents.

I imagine he got a good lecturing that night from his mom and dad on the proper way to dance and possibly they may have demonstrated proper dancing for him.  At any rate, it was the last dance I ever saw Mike attend.