Friday, April 29, 2011


One of my favorite movie scenes is in the Monty Python classic "The Life of Brian".  In this scene a multitude of followers have assembled outside of Brian's house waiting to hear from their leader.  Brian knows he is not the leader they are looking for and tries to disperse the crowd.  Every time he says something or asks a question though, the crowd answers in unison.  Finally Brian tells them "You are all individuals." to which the crowd responds in unison "We are all Individuals."  Brian then states "You are all different." and again the crowd answers in unison "We are all different."  Then there is a lone voice from back in the crowd somewhere and this voice states simply "I'm not".  By stating that he isn't different, he is being different.  That is what this post is about.  We have two examples of that split second in a crowd situation when everything is quiet and one voice raises out of the silence to make a proclamation.  It has happened a lot of times but I have chosen these two examples of a lonely voice in the crowd rising above all others.


The first example takes place in Talladega, Alabama.  Each year hundreds of thousands of people dressed in t-shirts and caps indicating who their favorite driver is get together to watch the big stock car weekend on the United States largest oval track.  They begin to arrive early in the week and up to fifty thousand people camp out at the race track.  It is a week of rising excitement as the big day, Sunday, gets closer and the big boys of stock car racing take to the track.

I had gone down to visit my sister one October to spend some time with her and the kids and to take in the Talledega race with my niece and nephew.  We left early in the morning to be sure to get there in plenty of time to park and get to our seats and be settled in when the race began.  It was a beautiful day with the temperature in the middle seventies and the sun shining in a clear blue sky.

The fellow race fans were very friendly and almost everyone you came across had a smile on their face and would greet you.  The beer had been flowing at the track for a week now and so there were some extremely happy people at the track.  We walked about a mile to the track from where we parked the car.  To get to the track we had to go through a few camp sites where the beer consumption was more than obvious.  As we crested over that last hill and the whole of Talladega came into view it took your breath away.  It was enormous.  I had been to tracks in Dallas and Kansas before but this track was the mother of all tracks.

We worked our way into the facility and then found our seats.  As the drivers were introduced there was a constant mixture of cheers and boos.  The pre-race activities took about an hour.  Introduction of the drivers, then the drivers being driven around the track in convertibles followed by some music from some group that I didn't know.  Parachuters were dropped from planes into the facility with smoke flares coming from their shoes as they descended onto the infield. 

The National anthem was sung with everyone taking off the hats that indicated their favorite driver and placing it over their hearts.  It is a somber time as the anthem is sung.  NASCAR fans are very patriotic and love their country, right or wrong.  When the Anthem is finished lots of whoops and hollering is let out from the crowd for about five minutes or so.  Then it is time for a local minister to give a prayer before the drivers start their engines.

The prayer is the kind you would expect at a place where men would be driving over two hundred miles per hour with less than a foot between the cars.  The minister prayed for everyone to be safe and for God to watch over each and every one not only the drivers, but the fans as well.  The minister was bringing his prayer to a close and it was a good thing.  People were starting to shift from leg to leg in anticipation of getting this ting started.  The minister finally ended his prayer and in closing said "Shalom and Amen".

A lone voice in the crowd about ten rows back from us yelled in a loud southern booming voice, "WHO THE HELL IS SHALOM?"

My nephew sheepishly looked at me and said matter of factly "Sometimes I am so proud to be from Alabama."


We have an all girls Roller Derby team in Kansas City.  They play their games down at the Municipal Auditorium in the heart of downtown.   I have watched roller derby on television ever since I was a young boy and I really enjoyed it.  It was rough and physical and it did not look fake to me like the professional wrestling did.  I had been wanting to go see a roller derby match in person for a long time and had threatened Barb to take her to a match one night.  She had no interest in going and just shrugged it off whenever I mentioned the possibility of going.

Then I started asking my son Brett if he would like to go.  Without hesitating he said "SURE" and so my quest began to keep an eye out for the next time the warriors would be in Kansas City and to get tickets for the two of us to go.

The opportunity came on a Friday night.  I ordered the tickets so we could pick them up at the box office.  As we arrived at the parking garage that night I noticed a few things that mirrored the people who go to car races.  They wore shirts with either the Warriors logo on it or pictures of their favorite player.  They were also very loud with the excitement they felt of going to the roller derby match.

The roller derby was almost frighteningly noisy.  There was loud music playing non-stop in the back ground.  An announcers voice rang out louder than the music promoting up coming events and introduction of the players.  The music never stopped.

I was thinking that surely they would stop the music before the match started but I was wrong.  All through the match the music was played loud, the announcer was calling the match play by play, so to speak, above the loud music and the crowd was cheering madly as the girls on the track beat each other up as hard and as fast as they could.  Girls would get hit and fall on their rear ends and go sliding off the track.  They would immediately get back up and back on the track for more beating.  It was probably the closest thing to total insanity in the sporting world that I have seen including Australian Rules Football.

About halfway through the second match something terrible happened.  One of the skaters got hit extremely hard and as she was falling twisted her leg up somehow.  She was hurting.  There was no doubt about the pain she was feeling as she rolled back and forth on her back holding her knee.  He face was grimaced with the pain and she could not open her mouth to scream in pain.  It looked bad.  It looked bad to everyone.  It even looked bad to the people who were running the match that night.

As the doctor came out on the track to attend to her the music went silent for the first time since we had arrived.  The crowd was hushed as they watched one of their favorite players being attended to by a doctor.  She did not appear to be able to walk.  It was almost complete silence for ten minutes as they worked on her.

I could hear other fans of the roller derby actually talk in whispers around me about what had happened and speculating on how bad she may be hurt.  Movement in and out of the arena for snacks stopped.  It was like the whole place was frozen in time as people watch intently each movement that the derby queen tried to make and each time her face scowled up in pain.  Finally it looked like they were going to carry her out on a stretcher.  Two young men brought a stretcher onto the track.  The star had been down almost fifteen minutes by now.

A lone voice in the crowd suddenly shouted out "GET UP!!"  The tension was eased as people laughed at the lone voice and the star was carried out.  The noise was cranked up again with the music and the announcer competing for the attention of your ears until the match was over.

A lone voice in a crowd, it turns out, can carry a lot of weight.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


I enjoy playing football sandlot style.  There is little chance of getting hurt because no one is wearing pads.  It seemed to me that if someone was coming up to hit me with a full set of pads on, they were more likely than not to really throw themselves at me to get me down while if a player was just wearing a t-shirt and jeans they would be a little more hesitant to hit as hard as they could.

I played a lot of pick up games here and there.  Most of them were up at the church where we had a nice strip of grass to play on.  At night we would play touch football in the church parking lot where the lights were, but on a sunny weekend afternoon we would go tackle out on the grass.

It was mostly the same group of kids that we played basketball with so much.  Every once in a while a change is good though and we would play baseball or football to break up the pattern.  I was fast and have big hands so I made a good receiver while Larry could throw a football on a dime most f the time.  We had trees planted in the middle of the grass track that served two purposes.  First off, the were more or less out first down markers.  Second thing that they served as were nice pick to run a defender into while you were running a pass pattern.  They worked equally well in either case.

I got a lot of scrapes on my elbows and knees playing sandlot tackle but I didn't get any concussions or broken bones.  My ribs did not hurt after an afternoon up at the church.  We played sandlot football with a little common sense and let ourselves be tackled a little easier nin exchange for not getting elbows thrown into your teeth.

I did play real tackle football for Mr. Allard a few years though.  I didn't mind defense so much because I usually played line backer and didn't get blocked that much or knocked on the ground.  Defense was fun.  The amount of energy put into a hit was up to me since the offensive player was trying to avoid me.  One day sticks out in my mind from a defensive point of view.  It was a raining muddy afternoon and we were having a scrimmage between ourselves.  I remember Bill Fish was quarterbacking the offense while I was playing middle linebacker.  Bill was a rather small kid.  He was very intelligent and was fairly fast but he also only came up to my shoulders and weighed about a third of what I weigh.

We had been playing awhile and I had spent most of the time doing what Mr. Allard expected me to do.  That was to sit back in a zone type defense and cover the middle of the field from passes or runners that would happen to get through the linemen.  It was a rather relaxing time and I was enjoying myself in the rain and the mud.  Then something popped into my head.  I am not sure when it happened but I remember Bill standing back in the tail back position waiting for the ball to be hiked.  I noticed the center had his head down and was looking through his legs to be sure he got it to Fish okay.  Suddenly when the ball was snapped I just put my hands on the centers shoulders and leaped frogged myself over him   one of my feet touched the ground launching me straight at Fish.  I still remember his eyes as my body cam crashing down on him putting him down for a substantial loss.

Even though in my mind it was a great blitz play, Mr. Allard did not agree.  I was chewed out because I wasn't following his directions of staying back and protecting the middle of the field.  You couldn't win with Mr. Allard.  It was his way or no way.  We were suppose to be working on a certain defensive formation and I had broken the formation by burying Bill Fish in the mud ten yards behind the line of scrimmage.  I knew better but something in me said to go after Fish and bury him.  Anyway, no accolades for what I considered a brilliant move.

Mr. Allard had me play wing back on offense.  This meant I was a wide receiver that played off the line of scrimmage.  Most of the time the plays that involved me were sliding over to the middle of the field to block for a runner or to run a crossing pattern across the middle for the quarterback to either fake a throw to me or to actually throw it to me.  Not many passes were thrown in that situation as a half back was running right behind me and usually would get the pass so I could run interference and block.  Another play was not used often but when it was used usually was successful.   The player in my position would simply run out about ten to fifteen yards and hook back to receive a pass.  I usually didn't mind this play because it kept me close to the sideline where I could step out of bounds before getting my body crunched or there would be a miss in the defense that allowed me to run for another ten yards or so before I stepped out of bounds before getting my body crushed.  I was okay with this play except for one time.

We were playing on Mr. Allard's field a team that we didn't know.  Mr. Allard had all kinds of connections throughout the city and often would schedule games for us in baseball or football.  These kids were big.  They were fast and they were hard hitters.  These kids played football like the rest of our team did only harder.  I was playing a decent game.  On defense I was doing a fairly good even though their running backs and receivers did not seem to care if they got hit or not.  While I was use to running backs running away from me to avoid getting tackle, these kids seemed okay with running right over me hoping not to get tackled.  As we entered the fourth quarter my body was starting to feel a little pain from more contact then I have ever been accustomed to.  I do not like pain.  I do not tolerate it very well.  I was absorbing a lot of pain during this game.

It was a tight game though and as the time began to wind down we found ourselves with the ball and moving towards what could be a game winning score.  We were running the ball throwing short passes and doing basic stuff that did not involve me too much.  I found myself waiting for the clock to finally run out and if we won it would fine and if we lost then I wouldn't have lost sleep over it.  All I knew was my body was starting to stiffen up and feel a little painful.

Then Mr. Allard sent in the play where I run down the sideline and hook back.  Ok, I thought, I can do this.  All I got to do is catch the ball and get out of bounds before anyone hit me too hard.  We went up to the line of scrimmage and I listened as the signals were called out.  The ball was snapped and I began running down the field,.  I did the little hook pattern and turned to see the ball was already in the air.  I also noticed that the ball was thrown a little high.  If I were to catch it I would have to jump.  As I left my feet to catch the ball, I saw a figure closing in on me fast out of the corner of my eye.  If I caught this ball I was going to be hit hard on my legs while they were not in contact with the ground which could very possibly cause my body to flip.

It only took a split second for me to make the decision that I did not want to get flipped in the air.  As the ball came to me it hit me right in the middle of my chest.  It was a ball that should have been caught and ordinarily would have been caught I I hadn't realized that I was about to get hit hard.  As soon as the ball bounced off my chest I felt my legs go out from under me and felt my body starting to turn in mid air.  I finally landed hard on my side but without the ball.  I had dropped the ball intentionally in order to prepare myself for a hard collision that there was no avoidance of.  Mr. Allard was not happy with me.

He pulled me out of the game and wanted to know how I could possibly drop such a well thrown pass.  I knew the answer but there was no way I was going to give it to him.  I think he pretty well knew the answer anyway, but I decided my best bet at that point was to keep my mouth shut.

We lost the game and although I suppose a few fingers could be pointed at my dropped ball, I figure we would have lost anyway even if I hadn't dropped the ball.  I didn't lose any sleep over it and Mr Allard seem to put it behind him as well.  Dropped balls happen once in awhile.  That is a fact of life.  Not all of them or intentionally dropped but sometimes you have to drop the ball to protect yourself a little better than you would be able to if you don't drop the ball.

I dropped the ball.  I am okay with it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


When the company grew to it's peak in the early eighties, it could no longer be housed in the corporate headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri.  They began spreading out into other buildings in the Byram's Ford Industrial Park.  The company eventually was spread out over five buildings and we still needed more room and so began the search for another building to house the engineering department that I was a member of.

The building that they leased was in downtown Kansas City , Kansas about twenty miles away from the corporate headquarters.  It would be six years of hard work and fun times spent away from corporate until the company shrank back to a size where they could pull all of us back into Byram's Ford.

We named the building the Gorup Facility because the owner of the building had a furniture and electronics store in half of the building.  This would come in handy having Mr. Gorup next to us when we needed a television for the first Shuttle launch among other historic events.

It was almost like a completely separate company.  We had our own purchasing department, our own documentation department, a machine shop and assembly area.  The Vice President in charge of our department, Leroy, was there and served as executive officer for all practical purposes.  The President of the company would come over from the headquarters once a year.  Every Christmas he would make the trek over to Kansas To shake our hands and wish us a Merry Christmas.  Other than that, we were pretty much on our own.

Leroy was a fun loving boss and as long as we were able to complete our jobs on time he pretty much left us alone.  Being left alone and being so far away from the big boss made for some fun opportunities and we decided to take advantage of the situation.

Dennis and I had the best imaginations when it came to keeping moral up than anyone else at Gorup.  We put our last names together and came up with Purdark Productions.  It was Purdark Productions whose job it was to keep the troops entertained while we were stuck driving in from the suburbs every day through all kinds of construction and weather into the downtown loop area.  It wasn't a bad neighborhood.  It was an old Russian/Polish area of Orthodox Jews called Strawberry Hill.  Lots of great little diners, mom and pop joints where the food was fantastic.  There were bars that dotted the downtown area of Kansas City, Kansas along with some strip joints that had ties to the mob.  If there was any doubt about the mob running the strip joints it was cleared up one day when a car blew up outside one of them.

It was in the darkest days of an extreme winter that Purdark Productions made it's biggest splash.  Dennis and I decided to hold a weekly golf tournament in the building.  The possibilities were endless.  We had two and a half floors to use, a freight elevator that would certainly come in handy not to mention all the cubicle and desk traps that were naturally laid out in the building.  We figured that we could get a few guys in the engineering department that we played golf with during the summer and hold three day tournaments that would encompass Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  All we needed was the right tools to hold the tournament.

We headed to the local thrift store one snowy afternoon and began to shop.  I found an old battered up putter for a dollar.  Dennis found an indoor practice golf hole that was electric and would pop the ball back out after you got the ball in the hole.  Now it was time to lay out the course.

We figured we had to have three different holes for each weekly tournament.  We laid out the first three holes deciding to keep it all on the upper floors since they were carpeted while the lower floors were concrete.  We didn't want to take the chance of someone having the ball roll forever on concrete and end up twenty yards from the elevator.

That first tournament was a success.  We had seven participants and it took us under an hour to run everyone through a hole a day.  Bob won the first tournament with some precision putting that we didn't think was possible on the old carpet that served as our fairway.

The next week we laid out three new holes and the entry list grew to ten.  We were still able to get everyone through each hole in an hour but it was running close.  During the second week Dennis had gone to the thrift store and picked up a trophy that we decided would be a traveling trophy and sit on the desk of the winner each week with their name stenciled on it.  So we stenciled Bob's name on the trophy and when Steve took the second tournament we stenciled his name upon it.

The trophy proved to be a huge attraction.  People suddenly wanted that trophy on their desk for a week and by the third week of the tournament we had over twenty entries.  We cut the course down to two holes so that we could still run everyone through without going too far over our lunch break.  Rocky won the third one and proudly displayed the trophy down in the assembly area.

Before long the office golf tournament had become the thing to do that winter.  It had gradually grown each week.  Soon we had cut the tournament down to just one hole.  It was a long hole and a par seven to help keep the scores spread out.  In case of a tie there would be Friday to hold the playoff to determine the winner.  With over forty participants int he tournament we were stretching our time to the max.  The three day, three hole tournament had grown to a four day one hole tournament and we found ourselves slightly going past the hour allotted for lunch each day.  It was slowly getting out of control but we failed to notice that it was.  Purdark Productions job was to keep the moral up in the building and the winter of the office golf the moral was extremely high.  We began working people in on break time to give everyone a chance at the trophy.

After nine tournaments it was completely out of control.  As we started the tenth tournament we knew it was more than we could do just on break times and lunch hours but it had to be done.  The tenth tournament was a great one, possibly the best one of the series.  Dennis and myself were taking close to an hour and a half for lunch each day working solely on golf.   We had to be sure everyone was ready to "tee off" without wasting any time.  The tenth tournament was to take longer than any other.  We ended up with a five way tie and quickly set up a play off hole.  The playoff hole was as simple as it got.  About fifteen feet straight line with no hazards.  The first player to miss a shot would be out and this would continue until just one player was left.

It eventually came down to Rocky and Stu on a Friday afternoon at two thirty.  Two thirty was an hour and a half past the end of lunch but some things you just have to get done.  Rocky shot first and put the ball straight into the hole.  Stu followed by doing the same  They would each make three shots before Rocky finally pushed one off to the left and missed and took a two on his final hole.  It was up to Stu now.  Stu took his time hanging over the ball and staring at it.  He would then stare at the hole than back to the ball.  Finally Stu tapped the ball.  It was a soft tap but it looked like it might make it all the way.  People were hanging off desks to watch the golf ball slowly make it's way down the carpet.  As it approached the hole you could feel the tension being let out of all the bodies,  Stu was going to do it.  As the ball slid into the hole then popped back out Stu held the putter over his head and ran down the aisle laughing and smiling.  Stu had won the tenth tournament that we had run.

We did not know it at the time but Leroy had been keeping an eye on our lunchtime events.  He had noticed that it was taking longer and longer to complete the rounds.  He was in the room at two thirty that gray cold afternoon when Stu held the club over his head and ran laughing to pick up his trophy.  Leroy called Kevan into his office as soon as Stu was done.

Kevan was our supervisor and Leroy told him in no uncertain terms that the golf was taking too much time out of the work days.  He understood what Purdark Productions was trying to do and did not necessarily disapprove of the idea.  The time had come however to shut it down and get back on schedule as far as work was concerned.

And so Kevan came and told us the news.  The tenth tournament would be the last.  We were to put the putter away and hide the golf hole in one of our desk drawers.  It was time to come up with a new idea, which we would of course.  It is what we were good at.

The trophy sat on Stu's desk for a couple of years.  Soon the company began to shrink and layoffs began to happen.  Stu was one of the casualties of the layoffs and when he left, he took the trophy with him.  Dennis and I set about coming up with new ideas to entertain our fellow workers until Dennis became one of the casualties of the lay offs.  When that happened, Purdark Productions died.  I still had a folder of ideas, but I couldn't run with them without Dennis there with me.  That and the fact that layoffs were happening every week almost it didn't seem like a good idea to me to keep Purdark Productions too active or visible.

In both mine and Dennis' mind though, the definition of what Purdark Productions was all about was written on that raised golf club and huge smile on Stu's face in the middle of a very cold winter.

Monday, April 25, 2011


I approach this topic, this writing, with trepidation.  I am not a scholar, especially of divinity, but I feel like I know enough of what I believe to share it with you.  This is just a small testimony, that is all.  I have thought about this writing for a few days before attempting to write it down.  I could be wrong on many of my thoughts that I have and if I am , I am sure that some of you who are better versed in such things will let me know.  I welcome any constructive criticisms  that may be coming my way.  I am always on a search to learn things of any topic.  What I am about to write here is simply what I have learned so far in my life.  It isn't a lot.

Easter is the cornerstone of my religious and spiritual beliefs.  The virgin birth that we celebrate at Christmas is very important and a cornerstone as well, but it means absolutely nothing without the resurrection  of Christ in human and bodily form and function followed by the ascension into Heaven.

"Blessed are those who believe without seeing".  I don't have a Bible with me but if I remember correctly that is what Jesus said after Thomas touched the wounds and came to believe that Christ was risen.  Thomas was a scientist, more or less.  Scientist ask questions and they doubt everything until they have proof.  Often even having the proof at their fingertips there is still room for doubt in a scientist thinking.  To me faith is being able to overcome the natural need to question things without needing the any physical proof.  This is a lot easier said then done.  I know that I have lapses in my faith a lot.  I can not imagine a human being that would be able to hold onto to the faith it takes to believe in a supernatural event such as the Resurrection and Ascension without having a small lapse once in a while.  Just a small question that might pop into your head.  During times of hardship and frustration it is especially easy to let your faith slip.

Add to that all of the shows that cable and satellite television broadcast that attempt to prove what our faith is based on.  The tests that they have done on the Shroud of Turin to try to prove that it was part of the Resurrection have come of course to questionable conclusions.  This has a tendency of placing doubt in the minds of those searching or even those who have already expressed their belief in the Scripture.  Faith is believing without doubt and without proof the tenets of  the Christian belief.  While I do admit that my faith slips every now and again, I can honestly say that these shows and their attempt to prove or cast doubt do not effect my beliefs.  It is during times of stress and mental confusion, frustration and pain that tends to make my faith slip.  I have enough faith to re gather it together and continue on though.

Historians spend lifetimes looking for relics that either prove or disprove what I believe.  I have seen shows where they have searched for the bones of Christ.  They have searched for remnants of the cross.  They have been searching for Noah's ark and the Ark of the Covenant for years but have come up empty.  There are churches in Europe that claim to have pieces of the cross.  Jerusalem and Israel  is filled with places that are marked as holy sites.  The place where Jesus was born.  The place where the tomb was.  None of these places have any proof to justify what they claim.  The problem with historians claiming that a little bit of wood is part of the cross is that the relic becomes the object of worship rather than God.

We should be careful about relics as they can sway us from the path and cause a break in your faith without us realizing that the faith has been broken.  Our faith becomes faith in the piece of wood rather than where our faith would be placed.

Is it faith if we have to have something to look at or to touch to believe?  No, that is not faith at all.  Faith is believing with out doubt and with out the need for  some sort of proof in what we are professing to believe in.

Here is what I think may be going on.  The story of Christ and the whole Christian religion flies in the face of all logic according to the rules of physics that we have all grown up with.  Scientists try to prove something that does not follow the rules of logic by trying to place the rules of logic to event.  I have come to a belief of sorts that possibly God does not want these mysteries solved.  He said that man would never enter the Garden of Eden again, yet scientist and historians continue to search for it.  I think that possibly God has decided to remove anything that could lead to proof so that we are forced to rely on our faith.

They think they have found the remains of Sodom and Gomorrah but even that they can not be sure of.  Even if those two cities have been found there is no way of proving what happened to them.  I have seen three shows finding three different Mount Sinai's.  I have seen shows where they fly over mountains and see the outline of a large boat on the side of a mountain..  They have found indicators in rock strata that indicate a possible flood here and there.  Nothing says the different floods that happened around the world happened at the same time.

Do we really think that we can outsmart God?  I believe a lot of people think that yes, they can.  I don't think we can.  I believe that anything God wanted to reveal has already been revealed.  I believe that He has given us plenty of information to build a strong faith without proof from man to bolster our individual faith.

I watch these shows with interest.  I must admit that from a scientific and historical point of view the shows are fascinating.  But I do not rest my Faith on the history channel.  When I slip in my faith, it is because of myself, not because of a television show.  My faith is not perfect and far from strong enough.  Far from where it should be after spending my whole life in the church and being raised with in it's walls.  I know what I am supposed to believe.  I got the whole story line down to every detail all most.  Then again I have almost every detail in Steinbeck's novels down to almost every detail.  The Steinbeck novels are logical and follow the rules of logic yet I know that they never happened.  They are characters that resided in Steinbeck's mind until he placed them on paper.

I do wish I were stronger in my faith and I realize that I should be stronger.  It is something I struggle with a lot though.  I can't say why I struggle so badly but I do.  I probably will until I finally die.  But even when I do die, that faith will still be inside of me, deep inside my mind and my beliefs.

So let the scientists and the historians continue on their searches.  It makes for interesting entertainment.  The important thing to remember is that they are wasting their time.  You cannot prove something that happened without following the rules of logic or physics with the rules of  logic and physics..

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Debbie and I were considered a couple during my Freshman and Sophomore years of high school.  I wouldn't look at it as a full blown romance where one or the other of us felt like we were madly in love with each other but rather an intense very close friendship that crossed a couple of friendship lines.  We would hold hands and share a kiss every once in a while.

The best way to describe it I guess is that we were best friends who acted like we were a couple and possibly believed that we actually were a couple.  She was my preacher's daughter.  She was petite and very skinny.  She had a great sense of humor but it did not match my sense of humor.  Every now and then I she would think maybe I had gone a little far with a practical joke.  She had braces and a smile that the braces could not distract from.  Her eyes always had a sparkle to them and she laughed a lot.

We went to rival schools whose districts backed up to one another.  Still while I was seeing her I spent more time at her school games than I did at my school.  She played flute in the marching band and I would be at her house in time to walk over to the school with her.  I would watch the game and at halftime would watch her march and play her flute.  Then we would walk back to her house and spend some time playing ping pong or cards and generally just have a good time.

She had one sister who liked me and did not give me or Debbie any trouble.  We went to a couple of dances together and went out to the movies pretty frequently.  We both loved movies and we would spend time talking about  movies we had just seen.

Looking back on it, I followed her likes and dislikes more than she followed mine.  We would spend most of our time together over at her house rather than actually going out.  That was fine with me because I didn't have a lot of money to spend.  When my sense of humor would cross the line of what she considered appropriate she would call me a silly goose, which was a signal for me to back it down a bit.

Her parents liked me and I was welcome in their home almost anytime.  Everything seemed perfect with Debbie except for that deep feeling of affection and love that neither of us had felt yet.  We did not know if we were a couple because we hadn't been hit by the emotions that constitute a real romantic relationship.  We had a friendship that couldn't be beat but the romance was absent.

Debbie was the one who figured out that the romantic affection was missing between us.  It was getting towards the end of our sophomore year and I was over at her house spending time with her.  We had been in the basement playing ping pong with her sister and one of her friends.  Debbie and I won the games as usual.  Then her sister went upstairs and so Debbie and I sat down to talk.

That night has faded a little but how it went hasn't left my mind.  We sat down on a couch in the basement next to each other, my arm around her shoulder and her hand on my knee.  We talked about topics that I can't remember but probably had something to do with movies or books or music.  I remember the talk lasted about an hour and it was getting close to time for me to go home.  I leaned over to give her a kiss good night and I felt her hand on my chest.

She stopped the goodnight kiss and then said that she wanted to talk about something.  She explained how during the whole of the school year she had been thinking about us and our future.  She had been looking for that special feeling and in the end, that night, she decided she could not find it.  The feelings, the romance the love wasn't there.  What was there was a friendship that could last a lifetime but there was not that romantic love.  I sat back and listened to her thoughtfully.  As she talked I knew that she was right.  I had never felt anything but a fun close friendship with her.  A close enough friendship that made it seem like there had to be something else but something else was absent.

It was probably the nicest breakup in history.  She didn't want to play me and I sure didn't want to play her.  We both decided that night that what we did have was a great friendship and there was no reason why it couldn't continue.  We hugged and walked up the stairs.  I told her mother goodbye and I left Debbie's house for the first time as a very close friend instead of a boyfriend.  I felt good about our decision.  We had been honest with each other and I feel had done the right thing.  So as my sophomore year entered it's final months I became free to see and date who I wanted.  The trouble was there was nobody I really wanted to see or date.  I had grown accustomed to spending all that time with Debbie.  I decided to lay low and learn how to be me alone instead of half of Bill and Debbie.

While Debbie and I were spending a last few months as a couple, a girl in her senior year had been keeping an eye on me apparently.  My friend Val was my locker partner at school.  she knew this girl very well.  Val had a circle of girlfriends that she use to hang out with at school and at church.  Her friends were generally older than me because Val was a senior while I was only a sophomore.  According to Barbara she had seen me and thought I was okay.  Val and the other girls explained to her that I was not Bill but half of Bill and Debbie and that she would Never see either me or Debbie without the other.  Still Barb decided to keep an eye on me.

To be honest I had not really noticed Barb except when Val would point her out  to me which wasn't very often.  I think Barbara held a hidden affection fro me, or at least a curiosity about me during that whole school year.  When Debbie and I decided to call it quits, Val began questioning me on a lot of different things.  Was I interested in anyone else?  (no, not really) had I thought about taking anyone else out on a date? (no, not really)  If she introduced me to one of her friends would I be interested in a date? (probably)  This went on for a few weeks after Val had learned the fate of Bill and Debbie.

Then one day in school Val pointed Barb out to me and asked me what I thought of her?  Well, she was cute.  She was short but she was cute and looked to have a nice smile.  Val began to push me for answers on whether I would go out with Barb.  I really had no idea.  I didn't want to go out right now and I really just didn't feel like asking a girl out.  Part of the reason was that I was shy but truth be told, I felt like some time was still needed to establish who Bill was.

Val began to get slightly irritated with my lack of commitment on whether I liked Barb or not and so one day the question came tumbling out of her mouth.  If Barb, that cute senior, asked me to go to the SENIOR PARTY with her after GRADUATION would I go?  This made me stop and think.  Me, a mere sophomore going to the all night senior party with a senior who wanted me to go out with her?  If ever anything would make the guys envious it would be this.  I was sure that my mom and dad would not allow me to go out with a senior on an all nighter, but if I could pull this off, what a coup.  I spent the day at school catching glimpses of Barb.  She was cute.  She had a wonderful smile.  She was short.  VERY short.  But then again she was cute.  She apparently liked me a little bit at least.

I decided to check to see if I even had a chance of going by approaching mom and dad on the situation.  They were all for it.  I think they would agree to anything that would get me out of the house since Debbie and I split.  Go for it was the message I got from them and I decided to follow that advice.

I went to her graduation and then piled in a car with some of her friends and went to the senior party.  We had a good time and I decided that I definitely wanted to see her again.  I won't go into detail of that first date as I plan on writing about it later, but let me say this about it.  It was fun.  All the guys were indeed envious.  And as I got to know Barb better, it became apparent that she had held a hidden affection for me from a distance for little while because I was part of Bill and Debbie instead of just Bill.  Now I was just Bill and she could bring her affection out of hiding.  I am so glad she did.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Mid morning had turned into a bright and sunny day.  It had started out to be overcast and cold but the sunshine was slowly raising the temperature to a comfortable level.  Still cruising at this height was a little more nippy than Harold would have preferred.

As Harold Hawk glided in a large circular motion high above the wooded area he could see his brother Henry gliding a little lower but in the same pattern.  The thing that would take the chill off his wings would be a nice small snack to hold him the rest of the day until dinner time.  Harold called over to Henry asking if he had spotted anything that might be good for a snack.

"Don't bother me now," Henry said, "I think I got my eye on some finches down there somewhere.  I saw some movement."

Harold switched his pattern to get a little closer to that of Henry's.  He was about twenty feet above Henry and started to focus his eyes down into the woods.  He studied the trees as he swung around in an arc trying to see what Henry was thinking was a nest.  He couldn't see anything moving at all within the trees.

"Where at?  What kind of tree?" Harold inquired continuing to gaze down into the thicket of green leaves that often protected sources of food from the brothers.

"I think, "Henry said then hesitated a moment.  "Yes, there is movement in that maple tree over there.  About halfway down on it.  I think it is a nest with some new birds in it."

Harold focused sharply in on the tree that Henry had point out.  No movement.  He took another lap around his flight pattern and on the other side of the tree he finally saw it.  It was a nest for sure and there were little birds in it.  From where he was so high up it looked like maybe three of them were waiting for their dinner to arrive.

"I am going to move in closer" Henry called out, "I think we found breakfast and it looks good."

"I'll follow you down and maybe we can both get a little something."

"Okay Harold, but I get first pick." Henry demanded.

That was okay with Harold.  It was only right that Henry get first choice of the birds since he had been the one to spot the nest.

Francine Finch was out looking for food for her newborns.  They were a week old now and were requiring a lot of food each day.  The father, Fred, was somewhere on the other side of the nest looking for food as well.  Fred had a bad habit of eating some for himself while flying on his way back to the nest and not having much food for the children when he arrived.  It was a habit that irritated Fran tremendously.  She could not count the number of times she had scolded Fred and told him that the Kids eat first and THEN we eat.  Fred had no self control when it came to food though.

Fran had spotted a couple of hawks circling over the forested area.  They did not seem to be focused in the area where her home was though.  She realized that she had to keep an eye on them because they could spot a nest from extreme heights.  She kept one eye on the ground looking for food but kept track of how the hawks were flying at the same time.  When the hawks were in the air there was no time to be lazy.  You had to be alert and at the ready to protect to children of the hawks found them.

Suddenly she saw one of the hawks drift down to just above the tree tops.  Right after the first hawk was a second hawk that was descending at the same rate.  This did not look good and she dropped the worm that was in her mouth as she rushed to the nest as fast as she could.

"FRED!!!!" Fran yelled with urgency.  "FRED!!! HAWKS ARE COMING DOWN ON THE NEST!"

Fred heard Fran and looked up.  He was just finishing a snack when Fran had yelled out her warning.  He looked up and sure enough, two hawks were silently gliding down towards their tree.  He tried to gauge their proximity to the nest.  From where he stood it look like they were heading over towards the Robins nest instead of theirs.  Still if he didn't come and check it out, he would never hear the end of it, even if it were the Robins who were under attack instead of them.  Fred shook his body a little and slowly lifted up and swirled around a tall tree before heading to the nest.  He had eaten too much.  He was feeling tired but still, he decided it was best to make his way to the nest.

Henry was getting close to the nest and sure enough, there were four little birds just waiting to be dinner.  He circled around a couple of more times trying to figure out which one he wanted.  That second one looked pretty good and so his mind had decided the fate of one of the finch babies.

Suddenly he heard a screeching noise and felt one of his wings get hit from behind.  The mother had spotted him and had come to protect the family.  Henry always hated it when the parents got involved in his business.  All it did was make him have to work a little harder for his meal.  Occasionally he would decide it was not worth the effort and fly away to find food elsewhere, but not today.  Henry had his mind made up.  As long as the father didn't show up for a couple of minutes both of the Hawk brothers should have a tasty little snack.

Again he heard the screech and felt a nip on his wing.  It hurt a little but still he had his mind made up..

"Harold," Henry called out, "We got a mother here, let's do the slip and glide and get this over with."

"Right behind you brother" Harold called out and he immediately swooped down towards the nest cutting in front of Henry.  The idea was to draw the mother's attention away from Henry for a split second and pull her away from from the nest so Henry could have a clean shot at the nest.  Then Harold would swoop down very quickly as the mother would no doubt start chasing Henry to save her child as Harold took another one.

Fran Finch was in a panic.  She wondered where that husband of hers was but there was no time to wait for him.  She started harassing the hawk that was closest to the nest.  She yelled and screeched and tried to bite at his wings to keep him away from the nest.  Finally it seemed to be working.  The hawk started to drift away.  Just as she was starting to feel relief she saw the other hawk swoop down towards the nest.  Fran went into protection mode immediately and tried to push the second hawk away.  as she did this, she saw the first hawk dive down on the nest and in horror she watched as on of the children cried as it was lifted into the air in the talons of the invading hawk.  She flew as fast as she could to try to save the child but as she started chase she heard the cry of another of her offspring.  The second hawk had glided down and taken a second one of her children and was flying off in the opposite direction.  With a heavy heart, Fran came to realize that she had lost two of her babies and she flew back to the nest to calm down the two remaining ones wondering the whole time where Fred had been.

Harold caught up to Henry as the made their way back to an old sycamore tree they liked to hang out at.  The maneuver had worked perfectly.  They would have a nice little brunch in a few minutes when they arrived at the tree.

"Good call Henry." Harold said to his brother as they flew sided by side, the little bird wiggling in the talons as it slowly died from loss of blood.

"Couldn't have done it without you." said Henry as he landed on a branch of the sycamore tree.  The two hawks then toasted each other and began their meal.  Tender and fresh.  Harold figured this was going to be a very good day considering how it had started out.  The sun was out.  It was warm and he was having a fresh breakfast.  Yes, this was a pretty good day.

Fran sat on the edge of the nest trying to calm the two remaining children.  Suddenly Fred appeared on the edge of the nest.  He looked around and noticed that two of the kids were gone.  His heart sank.  The hawks were after his nest after all.  He tried to comfort Fran and to tell her he was sorry.

"Where were you?" cried Fran. "I was fighting off two of them by myself.  There just wasn't enough of me to be able to protect them."

Fred muttered trying to find the right words but no words would come out.  All he could muster up was a weak "I'm sorry" and try to think of something else to say.

"Fran," he finally started to say but she turned on him with hateful eyes.

"Leave Fred.  Just leave." Fran demanded.

Fred sat and looked at his wife and he knew that he had made a terrible mistake.

"Leave now Fred" Fran said sadly.  "There is nothing left for you here.  I can protect the last two by myself. I don't need you anymore."

Fred looked at Fran trying to catch her eye but she ignored him.  He sat for awhile longer hoping that she was just speaking out of her emotions.

"NOW" said Fran. "LEAVE NOW"

Fred looked at his wife with sadness and start to fly off to the other side of the woods in exile.  He had had it all but lost it all just because he was a little selfish and hungry.  He would never see Fran again.  As Fred was flying along he noticed a building with lots of windows.  HE thought of all he had failed at.  He had lost two children and his wife.  He was exiled to the other side of the woods where he knew no one.  Fred made a sharp turn and started flying as fast and as hard as he could towards the window in the building.  He hit it so hard he never felt a thing.  His body fell to the ground amongst some pine needles.  It was the price he felt he had to pay.

Monday, April 18, 2011


As an artist in many fields My Uncle always had his mind thinking about his next project.  He had gone through many phases of his artwork.  He had many sketches.  He had painted on almost every medium you can think of, including one watercolor on silk.  He was a sculpture of tremendous  talent and had sculpted his art from many different types of material.  He was always looking for new ideas.

One night he was watching a documentary on the National Geographic channel about the hippopotamus. The Hippo fascinated him as he watched the show closely.  He realized that These animals are fiercely strong and fast.  He also noticed that they are more colorful than people realize.  They have a slightly pink coloration around their jaws.  Most people think that a hippo is just gray but he noticed a variety of colors.  That night he decided that he wanted to sculpt a hippo.

This would be no ordinary sculpture.  It would be almost life size and sit in his front yard for all to see.  It was a daunting task before him as he began to plan out how he could accomplish this project.  He immediately decided to cut down on the size of the hippo by making just the upper half of the head.  The sculpture would be a hippo in water with the top of his head and nostrils being visible from above the water.

Dan began to make clay models of what he wanted the sculpture to look like.  The models were about six inches long and he would be able to make the final sculpture by scaling off of the model.  The first three or four models he attempted did not go well.  They looked more like an alligator sneaking up out of the water to make an attack than a hippo relaxing in the water.  After getting opinions about what was wrong with his models he finally came up with one that looked like a hippo.

The next chore was even tougher to accomplish.  Dan had to decide what to material to use to make the hippo.  It had to be weather resistant and had to be fairly solid.  It had to be able to be large without breaking and so it could not be too heavy.  We talked about many different materials before Dan decided on a material he had never tried before and would never use again before he died.  The material that the hippo would be made from would be concrete.  Heavy quick set concrete.  Obviously making the hippo out of solid concrete would be time consuming and weigh far too much to keep from cracking.  There was also the possibility that it would simply sink into the front yard.  Dan had to find a way to lighten the concrete.

The idea he came up with was brilliant.  He took three sheet of six inch thick Styrofoam and glued them together.  This would be the inner core of the sculpture.  He then painstakingly began to carve the shape of a hippo head out of the foam.  It did not have to be exact just close enough to the shape he wanted to end up with using the concrete.  Still this took him two weeks of carving.  The foam hippo did not have nostrils or ears.  Those items would be formed on the concrete itself.  When he finally finished carving the foam he had to think of a way to get the concrete to stay over the foam and re-enforce the concrete to avoid breakage or cracking.

His solution for this was chicken wire.  He worked out how much chicken wire he would need and made a general cover over the foam that looked a little more hippo like.  The ears appeared on the chicken wire and the hippo bulked out a bit in size.

Dan decided that since the hippo was going to be in the front yard anyway, he would invite friends and neighbors to come by and watch him work on it.  The day was set for a Saturday for the hippo to be created.  Dan enlisted me to help with this ordeal and on the Friday before the sculpting we went and rented a concrete mixer and bought about twenty bags of concrete.  We then discussed how we would go about the chore ahead of us.

Saturday came on bright and sunny and we were out in the front yard mixing cement by mid morning.  Neighbors and friends brought lawn chairs and drinks over to the house to watch the construction take place.  The first step was of vital importance.  We formed to layers of chicken wire over the foam to give us a guideline on how to make the hippo.  The foam and chicken were placed on a board and set in the middle of the front yard.

The cement finally became ready to use.  It was my job to get the concrete over to the form and Dan would place the concrete and form it into the shape of a hippo.  Meanwhile I would be mixing up another batch of concrete to be used.  It was intense work and very hard work.  The concrete was heavy and it was difficult to form as it began to set up quickly.  Dan pushed concrete through all the chicken wire and down to the foam before making the final figure. The day began to drag along.

We worked non-stop, mixing concrete, moving concrete and then placing and forming the concrete.  By mid afternoon most of the crowd had left but we continued on.  Once we were started there was no stopping.  It had to be done in one take.  As the sun started to slide down to the horizon family members began to leave wishing us luck on being able to finish it.

Soon it was dark.  We got flashlights and started using them for light as we began to come to the end of the project.  I was going over the sculpture smoothing out rough areas when I noticed by feel that one of the ears wasn't right.  Dan went back to fix it by flashlight.  Finally in total darkness, Dan declared the sculpture finished.  He had placed two little redbirds on the hippo's back as they they were resting.  It was done.

When morning came Dan walked out to check his work.  It was wonderful.  It looked just like a hippo.  He began to put some subtle coloring on the hippo that he had noticed on the documentary.  Now he had to truly finish it off.  He took some big rocks and set it in a circle around the hippo.  He filled in this area with little river rock.  Then in a move of pure genius, he put clear glass marbles in with the little river rock that made up the water.  As the sun would shine down on the sculpture the light would glitter off of these marbles making it look like shimmering water.  Jeffery was born and named that morning.

A few years later as my uncle was diagnosed with cancer and his life began to fade away, he decided he wanted to donate it to his medical clinic.  Barb's boss sent a crew over to the house and they very gently picked up the three hundred pound structure and put it on a flat bed truck.  They took Jeffery down to the clinic and with tenderness and precision set him down in the designated place.  Jeffery had made the move without a crack or any pieces falling off.  He arrived at his new home in mint condition.

A month later at a fundraiser at the clinic they dedicated two of my uncle's sculptures at the clinic.  One was an earlier sculpture Dan had done and it was placed inside the clinic.  The other dedication was that of Jeffery the hippo.

Jeffery looks comfortable there.  People driving by can see the head of a hippo coming up out of the water at the side of the clinic.  Jeffery will be there for many years I hope.  It was the largest and most difficult sculpture Dan ever did.

Now that Dan is gone, Jeffery lives on as a reminder of a man who supported and loved the clinic that tried to keep him healthy for many years.

Long live Jeffery the hippo.

Friday, April 15, 2011


Summer nights at grandmas were so restful.   I don't mean to say it was comfortable necessarily.  During the summer it was hot.  The bedroom you slept in was upstairs which double the heat factor immediately.  There was only one window in the room so air flow did not exist.

There were distractions to keep your mind off the heat on those summer nights.  Grandma put a small fan in the room that blew directly on you to keep the air moving in the room.  Clean sheets were always on the bed and it seemed that when grandma cleaned sheets they came out nice and cool.with the fan blowing on you , you would almost have to cover with a top sheet to keep yourself from being too cool.

There were books in the room and we could stay up an read during the summer nights as long as we were quiet.  My favorite book during those times was a copy of Pinnochio.  It was the original version and wasn't necessarily the whimsical children's book that it evolved into in later years.  There were parts of it that were actually scary.  It was a fascinating read though and I must have read that book a dozen times over the years.  One time I looked at the inside cover and made a very interesting discovery.  It had my Uncles name written in it as "Danny Hill".  Later after Grandma and Grandpa had passed on I discovered a box of books my mother was going to give away.  Many of the books were from my childhood and so I saved them.  The one very special book I found was Uncle Dan's copy of Pinnochio.  I quickly snatched it and took it home.  The next time Dan was in town, I gave him his book back.  He was extremely excited and took it with all the thankfulness he could muster.  Later as Dan was diagnosed with cancer, he gave me the book back and so now it sits on my bookshelf.  I still open it and read portions of it now and then.  Books, along with the fan and the cool sheets made it seem not quite as hot in the room as it really was.

After you turned the lights out and the reading was done the sounds of the night became the distraction.  The cicadas were always at full volume at grandma's house.  They made their sounds in unison with a steady rhythm that would occasionally quiet for a few minutes.  When the cicada went quiet you would be able to hear the less noisy crickets who still made their noises in almost perfect unison and every once in a while a frog or two would throw in to add some bass to the concerto.

The sound that would finally put you to sleep though was the distant sound of the Union Pacific.  The tracks were through the woods and down a hill about a mile away.  In the summer air with the windows open it sounded as if the train may have been just a ways into the back yard.  You could hear the rhythm of the wheels rolling down the tracks and then that train whistle that would pierce the night as it came up onto road crossings.  The trains would come through about every forty minutes or so and you could almost tell time by how many trains went by while you were laying there fighting off sleep.

From these trains during the depression and afterwards, hobos would get off the trains and climb the hill to ask grandma for a bite to eat before the next train came along that had to be jumped to continue their journey.  From the stories I have heard she always had at least a sandwich for the men and they were very grateful,  After eating their food they would disappear back into the woods and down the hill to await the next train that would be coming through.

Eventually after spending an hour or two listening to the trains and counting how many were going by you slowly fell asleep.  Many times the last sound you could remember the next morning from the night before was that whistle of a train rolling all through the night.

I never walked down the hill to see the tracks and had no idea how far off they were.  I just knew that every season of the year at grandma's house the one constant was the sound of the trains moving past in the night.  You never really noticed hearing them during the day and I am not sure if it was because you were to busy to listen for the trains or if it was just noisier during the day and the sounds drowned out that of the train.

I began working at the company in the winter of seventy nine.  It was a nice place to work.  The building had some railroad tracks that ran behind the building about twenty yards from the building.  The trains come by the building fairly often mostly carrying coal to the power plants but there are occasional freight trains as well.

When the freight trains roll through you see a lot of empty box cars with the doors open about halfway to a lot of them.  I could imagine men like Woody Guthrie riding these rails and writing songs about the trains and the men who rode them.  You could almost see the ghosts of the old hobos sitting in the box cars heading to any town that was on the line and could provide work for them.

Grandma and Grandpa lived up the hill from my office and I would often go and visit them over the lunch hour or after work.  It was a good time getting to see them more often since I worked so close to them.  Every time I would leave the office I would drive over the Union Pacific tracks and up the hill towards their house.  I drove over those tracks hundreds of times before the thought crossed my mind.

These tracks I was driving over carried the same trains that I use to listen to at night as a boy while spending the night at grandma's house.  It was one of those moments where you just hit yourself upside the head when you realize how much those tracks were a part of your life.

Now as I sit in my office and hear a train whistle blow as they roll through the business park my mind is often taken back to those summer and winter nights at Grandma's, trying to fall asleep and letting the train whistles drift me off to sleep.

Everyday at work now, I have a good a good memory from my childhood that will always be with me.  It is a good feeling.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Since I have started writing this blog on a regular basis I have come to realize how difficult writing can be. First I have to let my mind wander through the many memories of days past.  Those memories are sometimes easy to write about and sometimes it takes awhile to form how it will be written.

I mostly write during my lunch hour at the office and occasionally at home.  Both of these locations are filled with memories of events that have happened in the past.  It takes awhile to form what the story will be like and sitting in a familiar place relaxed and just looking around often trigger a story long forgotten in my memory.

Since I live in the same neighborhood that I grew up in a lot of those memories come as I look out onto the streets or drive around doing errands while in the neighborhood.  I have come to realize how important that neighborhood and the office has impacted my life over these many years.

Now I am sitting in my sisters living room in Alabama where there are a few memories.  I have memories of past trips down here and some of the things that happened while I was here.  Memories come back of times spent not only with my sisters but with my nieces and nephews as well.  The trouble is that I am not in a constant reminder of my surroundings like I am when I am at home.

I have written some stories about Georgia and Alabama in the past but they seemed more real coming from my surroundings in Kansas City then they do here, where the memories were formed.  I think that possibly the reason for this is that all those stories from down here eventually ended up with finding myself back in Kansas City when all was said and done.

I love it down here in the south.  Alabama is a wonderfully beautiful state.  The trees are completely different than those found in Missouri.  The lay of the land is totally different.  In my mind though, Alabama can not compare with Missouri.  No offense meant to my friends in Alabama, I think it is just a case of what I am use to and what I have come to be comfortable living in.

I am writing about my life and my life is not in Alabama.  I am thinking that when I get home to Kansas City suddenly I will find stories that are from the south flooding my mind and will find it easier to write about.

Tonight was a good night with the kids.  Conner wasn't here because he is running a fever and so he stayed home with his mother Kristi.  I missed the both of them.  But there was some drama that happened tonight as Hayden recounted the complexities of having girlfriends while your friends are competing for the same girls.  Apparently a group of four boys have created an alliance that is designed to keep the girls under control.  Unfortunately, a couple of the guys broke the alliance rules by talking to the girls and being caught in the girls trap to become boyfriends.  The other members of the alliance had to sit them down and have a talk with them on why the alliance was in existence in the first place and bring them back into the fold.  Very dramatic.

Mei seems to be a little shy and possibly a little low on her social skills.  She is learning though and is getting better as she grows.  I have noticed a big difference in how she interacts with me since I saw he last October in Kansas City.  Then again, at that time it was her that found herself away from comfortable surroundings while I was feeling totally at home.  She has developed some good coping mechanisms that she turns to when she needs to make herself fell more comfortable.

Joshua spent the whole time being extremely active both physically and mentally.  Joshua has a gift for thinking and putting into practice what he thinks.  He also has developed the ability not to let his thinking get in the way of his playing with his cousins.  Joshua is one of the most interesting kids I have ever had the joy of knowing.  He is very outgoing and communicates extremely well.  He has a great sense of humor that is very quick.  He doesn't let all of that get in his way of having rowdy kid fun though.

The adults will be having a conversation and suddenly you will hear Joshua make a comment in the conversation before heading back to his puzzle on the computer or back to playing with Hayden.  He seems ti keep half an eye on his sister and I think if something really went wrong with Mei, Joshua would be there to help her or protect her.

All of these kids the parents as well as the children are people I am proud to not only know, but be able to call my family.

I have made friends with my sister's dog Tillie.  I took her for a walk this afternoon that pretty much wore her and me out.  She reminds me of Mine and Barb's first dog, Babs.  She is the same color, about the same size and has the same facial features that Babs had.  She is totally puppy though where Babs never really was.  She is a fun dog that craves non stop attention and petting, much as Dutch does.  The difference is that Tillie weighs about ten pounds climbing up on you to get petted while Dutch weighs sixty five pounds trying to climb up on you and get petted.  Still I would take Dutch in a heartbeat over Tillie.  He seems more like a dog somehow.

Tomorrow I am going over to Kimberly's house for dinner.  This will be interesting because Joshua will be wanted to show me everything he can think of.  The reallyu interesting part in my mind though will be if there is much of a change in how Mei interacts with me when she is in her own house.  Hopefully she will feel more at ease around me over there than she did tonight here at Elaines.

So the first full day in Alabama was relaxing.  The weather was wonderful.  I got to watch my sister work her magic on a cake.  I had a great visit with the kids.  I also found out how hard it is to write away from home, which makes me have still more respect for the real writers out there.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Barbara Ann - Fred Fassert

Uh bah bah bah bah Barbara Ann
Bah bah bah bah Barbara Ann
(Oh Barbara Ann)
Oh, bah bah bah bah Barbara Ann
(Take my hand)
Bah bah bah bah Barbara Ann
(Barbara Ann)

Bah bah bah bah Barbara Ann
You got me rockin' and a rollin'
Rockin' and a reelin' Barbara Ann
Bah bah bah bah Barbara Ann

Went to a dance looking for romance
Saw Barbara Ann so I thought I'd take a chance with Barbara Ann

(Barbara Ann)
Bah bah bah bah Barbara Ann
(Take my hand)
Bah bah bah bah Barbara Ann
You got me rockin' and a rollin'
Rockin' and a reelin' Barbara Ann
Bah bah bah bah Barbara Ann

Bah bah bah bah Barbara Ann
Bah bah bah bah Barbara Ann
(Barbara Ann)
Bah bah bah bah Barbara Ann
(Take my hand)
Bah bah bah bah Barbara Ann
(Barbara Ann)

Bah bah bah bah Barbara Ann
You got me rockin' and a rollin'
Rockin' and a reelin' Barbara Ann
Bah bah bah bah Barbara Ann

Tried Betty Sue
Tried Peggy Sue
Tried Betty Lou but I knew she wouldn't do
Barbara Ann, Barbara Ann

Bah bah bah bah Barbara Ann
(Take my hand)
Bah bah bah bah Barbara Ann
(Take my hand)
You got me rockin' and a rollin'
Rockin' and a reelin' Barbara Ann
Bah bah bah bah Barbara Ann

Bah bah bah bah Barbara Ann
Bah bah bah bah Barbara Ann
(Barbara Ann)
Bah bah bah bah Barbara Ann
(Take my hand)
Bah bah bah bah Barbara Ann
(Barbara Ann)

Bah bah bah bah Barbara Ann
You got me rockin' and a rollin'
Rockin' and a reelin' Barbara Ann
Bah bah bah bah Barbara Ann

Barbara Ann
Barbara Ann
Barbara Ann

Video of The Beach Boys "Barbara Ann"


The next few days may find the blog a little thin and weak.  I am taking a quick trip down to Alabama to visit with Elaine, her kids, and her grandkids.  I'll be back in Kansas City on Sunday night so on Monday the blog should be back up at full speed once again.

I'll have some opportunities to pick up on some new stories.  People watching will abound on this trip.  First I will have a people watching session at Kansas City International as I await to board the plane that will take me to Memphis, Tennessee.  A fairly long layover in Memphis will give me another people watching session before I head on to Birmingham.

I plan on attending a couple of baseball games that my great nephew will be playing in and trust me, people watching does not get much better than when it is at a little league baseball game.

I'll come back with stories of the kids and what they say and do and how they act.  This is what makes up this blog.  It is a blog of life.  Stories of life.  I never thought I would be keeping this blog going this long or that I had as many stories in me as I have come up with.  Like Elaine says though, I got fifty four years worth of stories in my head.  The problem is getting them dug out and written down.  A lot of those life stories over the last fifty four years have been erased out of a need for survival.

I also plan on writing about some of my darkest days on this earth.  Those days have taken up about the last ten years or so of my life.  I am getting to the point where I think some of my readers should know who I am and what has happened over those days.  Perhaps I'll have enough time to do a series on those days while I am at Elaine's house.

More people watching will be available as Elaine and I drive back to Kansas City on Sunday.  The open road is full of stories if you just look around you.

We'll be making a stop in St Louis to visit my Uncle Jack and Aunt June for a bit.  I really want to stop there and visit with them.  I haven't had a real visit with them since Uncle Dan died almost two years ago.  During Dan's illness, Jack and June came across the state every two weeks or so to help take care of Dan.  It was a huge help and they will never know how grateful all of us in Kansas City were when they would come over to help.

I do appreciate all of the people who read this blog.  It makes it worthwhile.  I started writing it as a tool for myself and now it has become a part of my life.  I feel like something is missing if I miss a day putting something on the blog and I feel like I am cheating the reader's if I post a song or a poem instead of a writing.  Sometimes my head gets stuck in park and I can't write on certain days.  Those days are becoming fewer though as I come to terms with a lot of things in my past, in things I had to deal with and now in things I am dealing with or will deal with in the future.

So this short trip to Alabama should be good for me.  It should give my brain a little rest.  All I am asking is that anyone who is a regular reader of this blog, be assured it will be back to full speed in just a few days.

Meanwhile I am going to be visiting and relaxing..  I'll be watching some baseball and watching kids and how they grow up.

Alabama, while being no Missouri at all, is still a beautiful state with very good people living there.

I am truly thinking though that the time is getting close to get really serious about some of the things in my life on this blog.  That is what I will be thinking about part of the time I am down there.

Is it time to just open up the true real me for the world?  I don't know.  I feel like it may be time.  I feel like it would do me good.  I feel like I want to open myself up to a degree.

I also feel really scared in doing so.

Monday, April 11, 2011


When I was around the age of ten or eleven one of my favorite television shows would be shown late at night on weeknights.  It was called "The Untouchables" and followed the adventures of the number one FBI agent Elliot Ness chasing the outlaw Frank Nitty day after day after day.  I am not sure if Ness ever caught Nitty in the television series but it was fun to watch.  It was filmed in black and white but that was okay with me.  A lot of shows were still being broadcast in black and white in those days.

The television station would broadcast back to back episodes of the unending chase starting at eleven o'clock at night with the second one starting at midnight.  I was not allowed to stay up and watch the episodes Monday through Thursday because it made me stay up to late.  During the school year the Monday through Thursday ban made sense to me but I always thought that Friday nights during the school year should have been fair game to watch Ness chase Nitty all over the Chicago area.

One of the most popular burger joints in South Kansas City was Paul's Pizza and Hamburgers.  Their pizzas were not so great but their burgers and tenderloins were to die for.  They were tasty and greasy and all that taste of the grease made them a fine meal.  The side orders were even better.  They had onion rings that still have a reputation to this day as being some of the best in Kansas City.  Every now and then I will still stop at Paul's on my way home from work and pick up a couple of tenderloins and two large orders of onion rings for Barb and I to have for dinner.  Whenever I can think of it I call my sister Elaine just to let her know I am having Paul's food for dinner that night.  I can imagine her starting to drool over the phone and onto her spotless kitchen floor as I describe how great these onion rings are.

Elaine use to work at Paul's when she was in high school.  A lot of her friends worked there as well.  It was kind of a hot spot for job getting for both my sisters and their friends.  My older sister Carol worked there during my Elliot Ness days.  She and her best friend Karen, who I consider just as much a sister as Elaine or Carol worked with Carol during those years.

Friday nights would usually find Carol and Karen working until closing which was at midnight.  Even though mom would insist on waiting up for Carol on those Friday nights she had might as well been in bed.  Every Friday night was the same story.  Mom would lay on the couch or sit in a chair while I sprawled out on the floor of the living room watching Elliot Ness solve a puzzle every week.  Mom would usually be soundly asleep by eleven fifteen and so I had the house more or less to myself while I was watching the show.

While I was watching the first episode of the Untouchables, Carol and Karen would be in the process of getting Paul's ready to shut down for the night.  This involved not only taking last minute orders made by late night teenagers on their way home from dates, but also involved cleaning up the whole place and getting rid of extra food that would not be consumed that night.

There never were any burgers left over at closing time and the onion rings would be eaten by the guys working the late shift with Carol.  But then there were the tator tots and the french fries.  Although they were not as good as the onion rings, they were cooked in the same grease as the rings so they came out with a little hint of that onion ring taste to them.  They were just as greasy as everything else cooked in the place so it was almost certain that it would be some good eating.

On Friday nights Carol knew I would be laying down on the living room floor watching my favorite show just as much as I knew when to expect her to walk through the front door.  Sometimes Karen would come home with her but most of the time Carol came home by herself after a long evening of working.

Every Friday night began to become very special to me and allowed Carol and myself to have a special bond between us.  Carol would come in at about twelve thirty and I would be laying on the floor with my chin in my hands watching that great show.  She would walk in and say "hi" to me and then drop a white sack on the floor next to me.  The bottom third of the sack was soaked in grease every time. I would immediately give her an enthusiastic "THANKS" as the sack plopped onto the floor.  She would then go over to wherever mom was sleeping and shake her lightly and let her know that she was home from work.  Carol would then go upstairs and on her way up the stairs tell me good night.  Then mom would stir a little and clumsily make her way up stairs to go to bed now that all of her children were home safe.  That left me and the white paper bag alone in the living room to watch the end of the show for the next thirty minutes or so.

I would open the bag and peak inside.  There were always french fries.  There were enough french fries to make up two large order of fries ordinarily.  Usually under the french fries were the tator tots.  If I was extremely lucky there might be two or three onion rings in the bag, but that did not happen very often.

I would get up and go get a small glass of coke or water and sit down to my night ending banquet while the show came to a close.  The food was always ice cold.  The grease would be layered on it in a very thin film so you couldn't actually see the grease but you sure could taste it and it was good.  I would work my way through the food in order of importance.  If there were any onion rings, they would go first.  The tator tots were next in line and finally the french fries would be eaten until the show was over or I was full, whichever came first.  The cold french fries were not that good and so I remember throwing away quite a few of them over the course of Carol's employment at Paul's but the tator tots and rings were always completely taken care of alone at night.

Carol hardly ever forgot her little brother on Friday nights.  It was something that I could count on.  She didn't make a big deal out of it, she would just walk past and drop the sack on the floor next to me.  I am not sure my mom ever knew I was eating all that greasy food right before I went to bed.

Carol and I developed a bond that I never had with my other sister or my brother because of those tator tots and Elliot Ness.  We didn't talk about them much, it was just a little something she did for me.  It was something she did for me that was appreciated greatly and showed me that she thought about me at least some of the time and made me think of her.  I especially thought of her on Friday nights more than the other nights of the week.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


A few years before our family moved into what would become the family home a tornado had ripped through the Ruskin Heights area.  The tornado was listed, I believe, as a F-5 meaning it was big.  It started out in southeast Kansas somewhere and continued on up to the south side of Kansas City.  By the time it got to Ruskin it was close to a mile wide and ripping up everything within reach of it's mighty winds.  Many people were killed in that tornado.  It was before the tools for tracking tornadic activity had been developed very well.  Ruskin had not been incorporated by Kansas City at that time and so they were on their own.  Martial Law was implemented as the people of the middle class suburb began to clean up and rebuild.

They made a park that still stands today.  They took a block of land and dug a huge hole.  It was here that they dumped the remains of old Ruskin.  The hole was then covered up and buried and grass grew on top of it.  It is a huge park and if you stand and let your imagination drift back to 1957 you can almost see the bulldozers digging and dumping trash and rubbish into the hole instead of the nice green grassed park that it is today.

I have a vague memory of walking into our house for the first time.  Maybe most of it is false remembrances.  The tornado happened in 1957 and the family moved into the house in 1960 I think.  It would have to be 1960 to go along with my faded memory.  I remember walking into the house behind my father but ahead of my two sisters.  Mom brought up the rear holding my little brother in her arms.  I remember her saying something like "They have had a tornado here".  At that point, and this is where my memory really goes strange, I remember looking down through the openings in the living room to the basement.  In that darkened basement I could swear I saw an animal like creature tip-toeing across the basement floor.  It looked like a five foot tall owl.  (Told you it was strange).  For many years after that and sometimes even today when I hear the word "tornado" a flash of that owl walking across the basement floor enters my mind.

The whole area was effected by the 1957 tornado for years to come.  Everytime a siren went off the streets cleared as people rushed into their houses and down to their basements.  Ruskin would become like a ghost town if an actual tornado warning was issued for anywhere near the area.  For the tornado watches it was almost as bad.  We would be brought into the houses or at the least brought home to our own yards where we would have quick access to the house if the watch became a tornado warning or an actual tornado.

Every spring flashlights were checked for batteries.  Transistor radios were installed with fresh batteries because if you lost electricity during a storm, that AM band on the radio was your only link to the outside world.  It was a poor link too.  Every time lighting would flash it would disrupt the broadcast of the Am radio with loud static.

The local paper in southern Jackson County, the Advocate, would publish a tornado map every spring.  It would be a map of the Kansas City area with circles radiating out from the center and all the little suburbs labeled on the map.  You could tell how far off a reported tornado was from the circles on this map and how close the area where the tornado was hitting was from you by comparing suburb names.  This map was hung someplace in the house every spring.  As I grew older I began posting it in my bedroom so I would have easy access to it.

They say the wind suddenly becomes really still and the sky turns an eerie green when a tornado is about to strike.  Again t could be my overactive imagination but it seems to me like I saw a lot of windless green skies while I was growing up.

After the tornado of 1957, the Ruskin Heights area was set in paranoid mode.  For years the descriptions that I gave earlier of the streets turning quiet and becoming empty continued.  For years, an AM Radio was always at easy reach in case of emergency.  And for years I spent a lot of my springs in the basement of house.

I was out getting my hearing checked or going to speech lessons, not sure which, when a tornado was spotted up the block from where the offices mom and I were visiting.  I remember being terrified as people came through telling us we had to make our way to a certain spot in the building because of a tornado.  We were pushed out into a hallway were it seemed like there were people wall to wall all heading in the same direction to escape the tornado that never came.  It might not have made it to the office or it may have been a false alarm but it was on that day that I fully realized how truly scared I was of tornadoes.

Other parts of the city didn't seem to have the same concern about tornadoes that we had in the Ruskin Area.  I remember visiting my Aunt Norva one spring day in Overland Park, Kansas.  There was a tornado watch posted and I was scared.  I stood on the top step of her root cellar waiting for everyone to come rushing in to avoid the monster that was surely on its way.  Instead, my dad and Uncle Dale and Uncle Jim along with a couple of cousins stood out in the middle of the back yard looking up at the clouds trying to determine if any of them were funnel clouds.  I was terrified that one of those clouds would drop down right on top of us and take my dad away forever.  I just wanted everyone to get in that root cellar and be safe, but I was the only person close to the cellar.  It was one of the most terrifying two hours I can remember.

Since I have grown I have become a little more tolerant of tornadoes.  The technology has improved so much that it is hard for a tornado to sneak up on us anymore.  The streets of Ruskin do not clear out like they use to.  People go about their business until real threat is broadcast.  I have learned how to look at weather maps and determine weather there is a chance for violent weather.  I have learned what to look for in the skies when the threat of tornadoes is around and I can stand in my front yard and look at the clouds the way my dad and uncles did on that day so very long ago.

A few years ago in 2007, Ruskin Heights marked the 50th anniversary of that terrible day.  Barb and I attended the event and saw a lot of people that were living in Ruskin at the same time that my family was and had the same memories of terror that tornadoes can bring.  They had some video shot of the aftermath of the tornado and all the strong brave citizens of Ruskin cleaning up and rebuilding.  The video also showed the massive destruction that the storm left in its wake.  I saw the tractors and bulldozers filling up the park with debris from houses that were no more.  It was an eerie feeling watching those videos.

I won't try to pull one over on you.  I still get scared a bit when I hear that a storm with tornadic activity may be heading our way.  My stomach gets a little queasy but I keep my cool and I don't go running off to the basement at the mention of the word anymore.  Still there is a special horror that the word tornado can bring to the minds of people in the midwest.

And sometimes I still see that owl walking across the basement floor.

Video of Ruskin Tornado

Friday, April 8, 2011

Sam Hill - Leonard Sipes (Tommy Collins)

There's a certain hill outside of town called Sam Hill
And a certain guy used to go there every day
They said a certain girl lived up in Sam Hill
Aw, a pretty girl, not hep to city ways

This certain guy would come down the hill a smilin'
Headed back to town at the crack of dawn
And he had 'em all a wonderin' what he was doin'
Yeah, wonderin' what in Sam Hill's goin' on

We knew this certain guy was not a goldminer
Cause he never took a shovel or a pick
He only took a little box of candy
And disappeared in Sam Hill mighty quick

We tried to follow him to his destination
But he had a secret path and soon he was gone
And he had us all a wonderin' what he was doin'
Yeah, wonderin' what in Sam Hill's goin' on

I know that you have wondered too about Sam Hill
You've probably asked "What in Sam Hill's goin' on?"
All I can say in answer to your question
Is the goin's on are still goin' on

This certain guy's still takin' up his candy
He's 99 and all his youth is gone
But he climbs that hill and still comes down a smilin'
And we're wonderin' what in Sam Hill's goin' on
Wish I knew
What in Sam Hill's goin' on
He won't tell us'
What in Sam Hill's goin' on
He just snickers
What in Sam Hill's goin' on

Merle Haggard version of Sam Hill

Thursday, April 7, 2011


I suppose that there comes a time in most teenager's lives with any musical ability a fantasy of playing in a rock and roll band.  I certainly had this fantasy and learned to play rock songs on the piano instead of practicing the lavish classical pieces of music that were my piano lessons with Mrs. Allard.  Seldom would I arrive at my lessons as prepared as I could have been because I had been buying sheet music or music book and learning to play the popular songs of the day.  It was much more invigorating playing pop songs than classical although my mother would disagree with that statement from a listening standpoint.   Several times I would be told not to play so loud or not to play certain music at all.

I had a distinct disadvantage in trying to get by playing pop songs because my sister turned out to be such an excellent piano player and she played songs that my parents liked.  She was playing Bobby Goldsboro and Frankie Avalon while I was playing Three Dog Night and Iron Butterfly.  I would prefer to learn how to play the Beatles while Elaine played classics such as the Missouri Waltz and Love Is Blue and songs of that sort.  My parents would love to listen to Elaine play and would encourage her to play when guest came over to the house.  Not so with my piano playing.  Soon I would quit taking the lessons because it was just too frustrating for both Mrs. Allard as well as myself.  After I quit taking lessons I concentrated all of my time on the piano to rock songs which wasn't appreciated.  Slowly I started to withdraw from playing the piano except when I was alone so that I could really enjoy it without getting the speech about breaking the piano because I was playing it too loud and what about playing some of these other nice songs like Elaine played.

My sophomore year in High School gave me a chance at the rock and roll fantasy.  One of my class mates, Steve, was forming a band and needed a keyboard player.  I offered my services immediately and it was arranged for him to stop by my house one day after school to give me a listen.  Mom was home the day Steve stopped by and I played some of my better tunes for him.  He liked what he heard and said we were going to do this thing.  Steve went and got Kenny to play guitar, emlisted Howard to play bass, and then got Allen to play the drums.  Steve didn't play an instrument except for his voice and it wasn't too shabby.  I started to think that this just might work.

We met over at Steve's house that first night and decided on a name for the band.  I have no idea how we came up with it or what it meant but we called ourselves "Redweld".  No idea what it means.  Sometimes it is best just to accept a fact whether it makes sense or not and try not to over analyze it.  We then went out to Steve's garage and set up the instruments.  I was playing on a little electric keyboard with no amplification to it.  We laid to microphones over the top of it to pick up the sound.  We just had these little amplifiers and really couldn't get very loud but that wasn't important anyway.  First we had to find out if we could play together.

The first song that Redweld played was a Three Dog Night classic "Family Of Man".  We were standing around and I started to play the opening chords to the song.  Kenny started matching me with his guitar and before we knew it, we were performing the song like a true amateur band would.  It was sloppy and didn't sound real good.  We decided to concentrate on that one song the first night and then see where it took us.

The second practice was again in Steve's garage.  Steve had borrowed some big amplifiers from his friend Byron who had a really good band.  Byron's band was well known through south Kansas City and their signature song was Joe Walsh's "Rocky Mountain Way"  Byrons group sounded professional.  Maybe using the borrowed amps would improve our sound as well.

The borrowed amplifiers did not contain the magic we were hoping for.  All it did was make us louder which made the sloppiness that much more pronounced.  Still Steve got it in his head that we were sounding pretty good and so he opened up the garage door.  He walked around and cranked up the volume on everything and we played a little for the neighborhood.  Soon we saw doors starting to open across the street as irritated neighbors came out to hear our festive music making.

We did two songs that night.  I can't remember what they were.  Surely one of them was Family of Man but I am not sure.  I remember in between songs Steve took the microphone and announced to the world the arrival of Redweld.  They would be hearing of us for a long time to come.  I really think Steve believed that but I looked over at Kenny and the look in his eyes was one of amusement.  We both knew at this point that this band was going nowhere.

Over the next couple of weeks whenever Steve would run into one of us he would talk up the band and how great it was and what we were going to accomplish.  Kenny and I both just listened and while not totally disagreeing, didn't really agree with Steve either.  I think Steve was getting the feeling that his dream band was falling apart before it would get started.

When Steve tried to get a third practice together I backed out.  I told Steve that I just didn't have the time to devote to such a project.  School came first with me which was a total lie.  School hadn't come first with me for years.  I told Kenny the next day that I had backed out of the band and he informed me that he as well was not going to take it any further.  It was a fun thing to mess with but he just didn't feel the desire to really devote time to it.

Redweld must have ended that day because Steve was really upset with not only me, but the rest of the guys as well.  He wasn't talking to us and pretty soon we found out he was trying to get another group of guys together.  He eventually succeeded in getting a band together and they were not all that bad.  They weren't close to the quality of Byron's band but they would do for a cheap birthday party or something.  The name of his new band wasn't Redweld and I can't remember what it was called.  Steve was able to hold that band together for that summer between sophomore and junior years of school before it faded off into forgotten history.

I had my chance and I enjoyed the two times that Redweld played together.  Two times was enough for me though.  I had started dating my future wife in May of that summer and I wanted to spend a lot of time with her.  As for my piano playing, I faded back off into the background doing most of my piano playing when I was alone.  I didn't need anyone to hear me play.  I began playing for myself and I enjoyed that.  It would be a few years before Barb would get me to play piano in public again.  These days, I don't play much at all and when I do it is when I am totally by myself.  It feels like a nice fit to me.  My fingers playing piano for my ears.  I don't hear a lot of complaints from my audience anymore.