Saturday, April 29, 2006

A Couple of Reviews (Suriyothai and 1968)

Last night I watched "The Legend of Suriyothai" (2001, Thai with English subtitles, 2 hours 20 minutes), an epic movie that’s every bit as grand as "The Ten Commandments." Actually, it may be more grand as 16th Century Thailand (Siam) is much more beautiful than 1400 BC Egypt. And the movie had all the grandeur and even more splendor than DeMille’s Egypt. Pharoah’s chariots don’t stand match up to battling elephants. The movie tells the story of Queen Suriyothai who sacrifices her life in Battle of Hantawaddy to save her husband and his army in a battle against the Burmese. As she falls off her elephant, having been impaled by a spear, the troops rally and kick Burmese butt. But before you get to the battle, you endure hours of twisting and confusing plots that overshadow the beautiful pageantry.

The movie is set in a time when members of the royal family conspire against each other. With so many characters, the movie is confusing. Suriyothai life is paralleled by Srisudachan’s, who is like an evil twin (they even look alike and when you’re reading subtitles, you have to really concentrate to keep them apart). While Suriyothai is looking after the good of the people of Ayothaya, Srisudachan is plotting to bring her family back into power. It’s a time when many concubines have perfected the skill of poisoning. And then there are the executions, surreal beheadings in which the body stands upright for a second as blood shoots out like a geyser. Even more troubling is the beating death of a two and a half-year-old king. His death troubles many, but Suriyothai (or was it Srisudachan) justifies it saying its "better for one to die and save the kingdom." (Caiaphas couldn’t have said it better.) At least we’re spared the horrors of watching the child’s death. He was placed in a bag and beaten since royal blood wasn’t supposed to be spilled upon the ground.

Making up for not seeing the child’s death, we’re given a front row view of one of the king’s death from small pox. It’s not pretty. And I should say something about the bowing. When around one of higher status, they would lie at their feet, and would approach and depart in a bowed, hunchback style. My back hurt out of empathy.

Even though it is a bloody movie, there is much beauty in it. The ancient cities, the places and the temples are something to behold. Their dress, especially the royalty, is exquisite. And both Suriyothai and Srisudachan, in their bare shoulder outfits, have a way of looking out of the corner of their eyes that melts the hearts of princes (along with mine). The movie is rated "R." Although there are a few brief topless scenes, the beheading scenes alone were enough to put it over the top and assure an "R" rating. Even though there were lots of blood, the scenery was wonderful. I wish I'd seen this on the big screen. I recommend the movie if you're not squeamish, especially if you have an interest in Thai or Southeast Asian history.

I also finished reading Mark Kurlansky’s book, 1968: The Year that Rocked the World, (New York: Ballantine Books, 2004) last week, a book that got me to put down my memories of the year in four recent posts. Although ’68 was a violent year, it now seems tame when comparing it to 16th Century Thailand. Although I don’t want to go into detail about the book, feeling that I’ve already written enough about that year let me say a few things about it. Kurlansky looks at the global perspective of the year. Although it was a violent year in much of the world, it was also a hopeful year as people spoke out against injustices. Kurlansky’ hero for the year is Dubcek, the leader of Czechoslovakia. Dubcek stood up against the Soviet Empire even though he refused to fight when they invaded his country in August.

It is often forgotten that in 1968 Alexander Dubcek was the one leader who was unshakably anti-war, who would not contemplate a military solution even to save himself—a leader who refused to be bullied or bought by either communism or capitalism, never broke a treaty or agreement or even his word—and he stayed in power, true power, for only 220 exciting days." (page 376)

As of Kurlanskey’s villains for ’68, several would be in contention. Charles DeGaulle is one, Lyndon Johnson might be another, and Spiro Agnew yet another. There were many more villains than there were heroes that year. 1968 was an important year and its impact can be felt on the modern world. Kurlanskey’s book provides a good foundation in what was happening in the world, not only in the United States, but also around the world.

Friday, April 28, 2006

An Interlude: Engineer Jokes

I've tried several times to post a picture here, one of mountain laurel blooming on the Appalachian Trail, but blogger just don't seem to like me and my pictures today.

It’s a nice spring day, but if it’s like the last couple it won’t stay this way. By the afternoon, my head will be pounding as my sinuses react to the pollen in the air. Sometimes spring can be a much more beautiful season in pictures than real life! I need to finish up some posts, but in the interlude, thought I’d post a few engineer jokes in honor of Ed Abbey who admitted in a comment on my previous post that he watches wrecks in stock car races to see how the cars hold up and, most of the time, keep the drivers safe. So enjoy…

A priest, a doctor, and an engineer were sentenced to be executed by the guillotine. The executioner asked who wanted to go first and the priest volunteered. Then he was asked if he wanted to be placed faced down toward the ground or faced up looking toward the knife. As a devout man who had done much good all his life and who had great faith, he said, I want to look up toward heaven. The executioner consented. He was placed in the machine and the lever pulled and the knife came slicing down only to get stuck right above his neck. Everyone thought it was a sign from God and they let the priest go.

The doctor volunteered to go next and said he too wanted to look toward heaven. Again, he was placed in the machine, the lever was pulled and the knife came slicing down only to get stuck right above his neck. Again, everyone assumed it was God’s intervention and he was set free.

The last person that day to face the guillotine was the engineer. He too said that he’d like to look up toward heaven and was placed in the machine in such a manner. Then, right before they pulled the lever he said, “Hey, I think I see your problem…”

Three engineers and three lawyers were taking a train to a convention. The engineers each brought a ticket, but only one of the lawyers brought a ticket. This shocked the engineers and they asked how they were going to get a seat without a ticket. "Don’t worry, we’ll show you," the lawyers said. As they got into their car, the three lawyers all piled into the same bathroom. When the conductor came by, he rapped on the door asking, “Ticket please.” One of the lawyers slipped his hand out and handed him the ticket. It was punched and after the conductor made his way through the car, they left the bathroom and two of the lawyers went up to the lounge car to ride out the trip.

Thinking this was pretty neat; the engineers decided they’d just buy one ticket between the three of them on their way home. But this time they were even more surprised when the lawyers didn’t buy any tickets. They all got on the train and immediately the three engineers got into one bathroom and the three lawyers into another. The one of the lawyers left the bathroom and knocked on the engineer’s bathroom door, saying, “Ticket please.”

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Memories of '69

At least for now, I’m only going to write one post about ’69. It was the year I finished out my elementary school days at Bradley Creek. This post takes off where my "68 posts ended. And yes, that's me in my soap box derby.

Although ‘69 started out with a host of funerals, the year eventually moderated and my memories are not all bad. I started the year in the sixth grade at Bradley Creek Elementary School in Mrs. Graham’s class. Sometime during this year I became interested in Cathy, a dark-haired Italian girl who had transferred from the Catholic School to the public schools. Cathy sat in front of me and her hair often draped down over my desk. By the end of the sixth grade, the two of us became an "item" and were inseparable. Inseparable, except for when her brothers were around. They were several years older and loved tormenting me. However, Cathy’s devotion was a gift that lifted my self-esteem. My thoughts of Diane had long faded and I knew Cathy and I would be together forever.

Cathy and her family often went to the beach the same place our family would go, and we would be there at the same time. I recall one particular summer day in which my grandparents were also down. We were all out at the beach, and I introduced Cathy to my grandmother. I may have even privately told my grandmother that Cathy was the girl I was going to marry. Later, after we were home and while everyone was taking showers to wash the salt off, I overheard a conversation in the kitchen between my grandmother and mother. My grandmother chastised my mother for my interest in this Catholic girl. She worried that this girl might pull me away from the faith and thought my mother should do something.

My mother defended me, although I did’t think that was what happened at the time. I was offended when my mother told my grandmother, "Don’t worry about it. They’re just kids." I certainly didn’t feel like a kid and overhearing this conversation felt like I was about six inches tall. My mother went on to prophesize that our little affair wouldn’t make it out of the seventh grade. But she was right. In May of 1970, at the end of our seventh year in school, I did something incredibly stupid. Trying to act big and bad, I got mad at Cathy and referred to her as a female dog. She took offense and broke up with me. I was devastated and drew upon all the literary skill I possessed as a 13 year old and wrote a letter to her to woo her back. I admitted I had made mistakes and promised her the moon. We talked a few times after that, but we never got back together. That summer, the school district realigned the boundaries once more and Cathy and I were in different schools and lost track of each other. By the way, a few years after my grandfather died, my grandmother married a Catholic man. Shortly thereafter, he joined the Presbyterian Church. This was the second man my Scot Presbyterian grandmother brought into the faith.

Sixty-nine may have been the year of the underdogs in sports as the New York Mets won the World Series, but I never got any lucky breaks. I didn’t even make the little league team in my last year of eligibility. The team was limited to five twelve years olds. I got traded to another team, and they cut me. It was painful, especially since I had hit two homers in practice. But my fielding continued to suck and even the American League didn’t have designed hitters’ back then. So instead of baseball, I looked into racing.

Although I grew up in the South, I came from a family that at best ignored NASCAR. Actually, I think my parents had great disdain for the sport. As a child, I only got to go to two races, both of them in Darlington, SC with the Boy Scouts. Even though my father often volunteered to camp with us, he was notably absence on these field trips. Racing seemed exciting, even though we scouts sat right next to the track and lost some of our hearing from the noise. I saw Richard Petty ‘s famous crash at one of these races. His car came off the turn before the grandstand (we were across the track in the bleachers), hit the wall and flipped several times. We were sober as the ambulance hauled him away. He was our hero and we were hoping he'd win.

That Spring I decided to try my hand at racing by building a soapbox derby car. David, another friend whose father had died the year before, and I both planned to build a cars and my dad served as the supervisor, shop foreman, and safety and quality engineer. Although we were suppose to do all the building ourselves, my father interpreted the rules a little loosely and insisted that anything cut with a circular saw didn’t count. We could use small jigsaws and drills and sanders, but he wasn’t going to let us use something that might cut off an arm or leg. He helped us cut out the parts and then turned us loose. David took his parts home while I continued to work on my car out in carport, where Dad continually told me it wasn’t yet good enough. I’d then turn the radio back on. "Dizzy," by Tommy Roe was popular, and would sand and plane and file to the music. Finally, the car was ready and painted it orange.

Belk Berry, a department store in town, sponsored my car. Belk Berry was a part of the vast Belk chain that spread across the South, whose founder, a pious Southern Presbyterian from Charlotte, gave children a dollar if they memorizing the youth catechism. I decided that I didn’t need a dollar that much, but I think my sister got one. Belk Berry’s name was proudly displayed on the side of my car and on race day, I was a proud driver as we got read on 16th Street, the only street in the county with enough elevation to provide mobility to a gravity powered car. I took the first heat, but lost in the second round.

In June, we ended our tenure at Bradley Creek Elementary. They had a banquet for us in the cafeteria. Some of us thought our parents were invited. We were embarrassed for our parents who came with us and found out the banquet was just for students. I don’t think my parents minded as they went out to the beach and enjoyed what I’m sure was much better meal than a slice of dried ham and lunch room mac and cheese.

Our keynote speaker that evening was Mr. Mason, the principal at Roland Grice Junior High. We'd all be in his school that fall. This was back in the day before there was too much discussion about religion and school, although I don’t ever remember us public prayers in school (I prayed a lot, generally before test in which I hadn’t studied). Mr. Mason told us there were two rules from the Bible that if we obeyed, we’d get along fine at Roland Grice. Then he asked us if we knew which one’s he was talking about. Some girl who always sat up front and knew all the answers was called on first. She said, "Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you." Mr. Mason smiled and congratulated her. First rule down. Then he asked for another volunteer for the second rule and Billy (this was not the Billy I ran around with, but a new guy who had moved into the area that year), waved his hand. Mr. Mason called on him and he stood up and in loud voice asked, "Thou shalt not commit adultery?’" Mr. Mason turned red and everyone laughed, even though most of us just had a vague idea about what adultery was about. However, we knew it wasn’t something we’d likely have to worry much about in Junior High. For those who are curious, the second rule was to honor our father and mother. Six years later, when we were graduting from High School, I recalled this event in Billy's yearbook.

The highlight of the summer of ’69 was watching the Apollo moon landing. We were glued to the TV most of the evening. It was way past my bedtime when we finally saw Neil Armstrong take those first steps. The next morning, Dad and I went fishing at dawn out by the jetty at Wrightsville Beach and I wrote in the sand, in huge five foot tall letters, "we have landed." After the turmoil of the past few years, it was something all of us could be proud in. That summer, in addition to going to the Washington area for my father’s company picnic, we took a vacation to Atlanta. For some reason, driving down to Georgia, I remember listening over and over to the song "25 or 6 to 4" by Chicago. My parents always liked country music, so there must have been some stretches in South Carolina where they could only get rock stations. I still think of that trip when I hear that song. In Atlanta, we visited Six Flags, our first "theme park" as a family. We also took in a Brave’s game. The Braves weren’t very good back then, they didn’t have Ted Turners dollars to buy the best team in the league, but we did get to see Henry Aaron belt a homer. Later that summer, I started school at Roland Grice Jr. High. We were the "Black Knights." It was more exciting than starting college.

Monday, April 24, 2006

What is it about drama that brings out the booze?

Ed Abbey wrote last week about his experiences of being involved in a high school drama and someone spiking the punch. It got me thinking about my experience involving drama and alcohol. I was never involved with drama in High School. I made my only on-stage debute during my year in Virginia City, Nevada. The Silver State, at least back then, had a program in which they brought the arts into the rural counties. In our case, a drama teacher was in the community to both teach in school as well as to do community productions. There were several of us whose roles in the play were only in the first and third act. So during our last performance, we decided to skip out and hit another party that was going a block away. I was told that the director wasn’t too happy with us when he found out. Below is an excerpt from an unpublished essay I wrote about the Virginia City experience:

I don't remember whose idea it was to skip out in the middle of the play’s first act and head for the Flapper Party at the Silver Stope. In a block, from the school on D Street to the bars up on C, the three of us migrated from Grover's Corner, a small town in New Hampshire, to the lower East Side. As Joe Stoddard, a turn-of-the-century undertaker, I wore a black frock coat with a string bow-tie. Penny and Christy, the two women I escorted, wore calico farm dresses. We didn't exactly look like Flappers, but then New Englander's don't have time for nonsense. And we weren't the only ones dressed inappropriately. In the crowd, sporting his usual double-knit leisure suit was Murry Mack pounding the rag-time blues on the piano. The Stope was filled with patrons that Saturday night, most of whom had seen the play earlier and thought it was wonderful that we'd come up during our break and sample a cup of their bathtub gin. Someone produced a camera and immortalized us behind the tub with cups raised, toasting the Mucker's production of "Our Town."

By the way, we all make it back for the final scene where we buried Emily Gibbs a third and final time. And for the curious, bathtub gin is as bad as it sounds.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Catching up, Plus my favorite things

I’ve had about enough of lectures and decided to skip out on the late afternoon one and find a coffee shop and catch up on mail and blogging. Sometimes my attempts at humor get me in trouble. A month or so ago, I noted I only do those “meme” things for Southern women (at the time I made an exception for one “south of New York.” Seeing this, Daydream, who is both from the American South and now lives about as far south as one can without being a penguin (she’s on the down side of Down Under), made note of this and has now asked for my list of “10 favorite things.” I sort of feel like Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music… And since my daughter wants to grow up to be Julie Andrews, maybe one day she’ll put my “favorite things” to music. To those of you who are age-challenged, Julie Andrews sang about her favorite things in the movie.

But before I get to my ten things, I should note what my daughter said yesterday as I was dropping her off at school. I had NPR on the radio and they were discussing the Zacarias Moussaoui trial. When they mentioned execution, my daughter asked if that meant “off with his head,” obviously recalling the Red Queen in “Through the Looking Glass.” I explained that some countries do behead people, but that we’re more civilized and give them a drug to stop their heart. My daughter quickly shouted with all the indignation an eight-year-old can muster, which is quite a bit, “that’s just wrong.” I have never discussed with her my feelings on capital punishment (I’m against it), but I tried to play it straight. “He killed a lot of people,” I blurted out. But then found myself mumbling about how he himself didn’t really kill a lot of people, but how he could have saved a lot of people if he told what he knew. Of course, that’s assuming that whoever he told this told passed it on to another bureaucrat who passed it on to another bureaucrat until someone did something about it. “That’s just wrong,” she said. “If they’re that bad, they can just put them in jail for the rest of their life.” “I agree with you,” I said, as I helped her out of the truck and told her to run. I didn’t want her to be late for the second grade because she was discussing politics. As for Moussaoui, why do we want to make a martyr out of him, why don’t we just lock him up and throw away the key and forget about him?

In case my daughter forgoes a career as a human rights supporter or a lawyer for a singer, she can sing about these my favorite things…

1. Lazy afternoon naps in a hammock
2. The moon rising full over the sea, its rays glistering across the water
3. The crescent moon hanging low in the desert sky, just above the outline of distant mountains
4. The smell of sage in the desert after a surprise summer rain
5. The sharing of a meal with friends
6. The exhilaration of arriving at a summit
7. The savoring of a good book and good whiskey by a fireplace
8. The shears blowing in the wind announcing an approaching storm
9. Walking barefoot on the beach, hand in hand, at sunset
10. Big, Charlie Brown, snowflakes

One thing that didn’t make my list is a portrait of sage created by Murf. I think Murf enjoys mocking (originally I used "annoy') her “blog friends,” by creating a "South Park" picture of them. Sorry Murf, I don’t wear neckerchiefs, and although I know you think I’m good, I don’t have a halo or wings. Give them to Ed!

If I don't get around to reading and commenting today, I’ll try to get back to catch up on reading your all blogs on Sunday.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Odds ands Ends on Politics, Hockey & Baseball

Life’s pretty busy right now. In my spare time, instead of writing, I’ve been working on an index of my blogging posts. Stay tuned. I really was hoping Nevada Jack was going to feel up to satirizing the “Daddy remarks” that our President made yesterday. He sounded like a frustrated Dad tired of answering his children’s questions. Responding to queries about Rummie and crowd, he admitted he reads the front page of the newspaper (is that the only page he reads?) and that things are the way there are because he’s the boss… He also appointed Portman, the guy who did such a good job as our trade representative that he’s a Chinese national hero, as his new budget director. Boy do I feel that we’re in Allstate's hands… We can double the deficit again.

Okay, I’ve gotten that off my chest. I’m going to be in a conference for the next couple of days and not sure how much time I’ll have to blog, so here’s a piece I wrote back in 2002, when I had a newspaper column. Since the RedWings are hotter than auto sales, some of my readers—especially those from Michigan—might get a kick out of it. As for the Pirates, I’m rather blue. Maybe I should take up hockey.

Baseball is the Best Teacher
June 2002

The Carolina Hurricanes made it all the way to this year’s Stanley Cup finals. I don’t know which surprised me the most: playing hockey in June in a state where the only ice to be found is in tea, or playing the game that far south of Canada, the traditional home of the game. As a native North Carolinian, I didn’t know my home state had a team. But the Hurricanes lost and, as God intended, the oversized silver cup went to Detroit, a city north of both the frost line and a portion of Canada (look at a map).

Exposure to hockey wasn’t a part of the curriculum for growing up in the South. I had graduated from college before the game broke the Dixie TV barrier. The first game I remember televised was the 1980 Olympic finals, when our American team defeated our archrivals, the Soviets. Glued to the television set, we were at the mercy of the commentators. But we didn’t care as long as we heard our national anthem played during the medals ceremony.

It was another six years before I had an opportunity to watch hockey again. By then I had migrated across the Mason Dixon line and was living in Pittsburgh. In the mid 1980s, the only things less active than the steel mills were the Steelers and Pirates. So the town rallied around the Penguins and their star player, Canadian Mario Lemieux. Out of sympathy for someone obviously clueless, a number of hockey aficionados offered to tutor me in the sport. I wasn’t a good student and never became a fan. Instead, I was drawn to the baseball diamond and, even though they were terrible, became a loyal Pirate fan sitting in the cheap seats, high above right field in Three Rivers Stadium, amongst the stars marking Willie Stargell’s long balls.

The good book tells us that for everything under heaven there is a time and a season. To this I would add, there is also a place. The time and season for hockey is winter and its place is north of the 39th parallel.

I am concerned about the encroachment of hockey into our southern latitudes. The idea of hockey being played in Raleigh is almost but not quite as absurd as it being played in Anaheim and Tampa Bay, two other warm-weathered cities that have teams in the NHL. At least Raleigh occasionally experiences freezing temperatures.

Hockey is too fast paced for me and, in that, mirrors our society. Life is fast enough. I like a game that forces me to slow down, not one that gives me whiplash as I try to keep up with a puck skimming across ice. Contract negotiations aside, our national pastime provides us an opportunity to take a breather. We watch pitchers dueling, runners stealing bases, and coaches scheming up sophisticated strategies while awaiting the occasional long ball to sail over the outfield wall. In this hectic world of ours, we need to relax. Baseball is a good teacher. Now if the Pirates can just get back above 500…

Monday, April 17, 2006

Something to think about the day after Easter

I try not to talk too much about my faith and beliefs in this blog. I tend to cringe when people wear their faith on their sleeves, 'cause you never know what is going on inside. But I’ve occasionally confessed here to being a follower of Jesus. However, I also confess that if I’m buying a car (or a pack of gum) and the sales person starts talking religion, I tend to hold on to my wallet and run. That’s why I like what Karlanee, Scribe’s sidekick over at Independent Christian Voice, said this morning in her post "Christians Make the Worst Customers." Here is a committed Christian critical of how Christians treat each other (Christians and non-Christians). She gives something for us all, regardless of our beliefs, to chew on. Check it out. Here is an excerpt:

Christians are continually complaining about the world, about how we need a change in the hearts of America. Maybe the change needs to begin in the "Church" first. What if Christians started truly living out Christ’s message and using His Love as an action verb and a command, rather than a noun that describes a blessing only for His children? What if we began truly allowing Jesus to be our Lord, and we began loving Him with all our hearts? How many people’s lives would be changed if, as His disciples, we were to begin treating each other with brotherly love and then loving our neighbors and our enemies as ourselves? How would the world react? We might be surprised to find that people would begin to notice Christ in us because suddenly we truly look different.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Memories of '68, Part 4 (Parting Shots)

1968 was the year I came to know first hand the meaning of the term cliché. I don’t think I knew the word, but I knew its meaning all to well. At the end of the year I’d grown tired of those cliché’s about winning and losing not being as important as how you play the game. By December, I’d had enough of losing and had not tasted winning nearly enough.

During the Spring of ’68, while the rest of the world was embroiled in riots, I spent my first season playing organized baseball. Our team could have been the original Bad News Bears (except that we were still all guys back then). I could hit, but my fielding sucked. We lost all our games except for the very last one when a team much better than us found out that a bunch of misfits who are mad can play with passion.

As summer came to a close, I entered the sixth grade at Bradley Creek Elementary. It was my last year at the school I’d attended since we moved to the area the summer before I began fourth grade. The two story brick building had been built in the early 1900s to serve kids whose parents made their living on the water as fishermen or in the small farms that sat inland. This was all changing by the time I came along. The school had expanded with an annex to the school that included the cafeteria and lower grades. It was surrounded by large live oaks draped in Spanish Moss. The trees provided shade and the moss gave the school an eerie feeling. Mrs. Graham, who didn’t have the colorful past of Mr. Briggs, or at least had never been a POW, was my teacher.

That fall, our attention turned to professional baseball. The St. Louis Cardinals were playing in the World Series and since their radio network covered the South, we were all fans. Billy wanted to pitch like Bob Gibson, Carl and I wanted to be as good in the field and at the plate as Curt Flood and Lou Block. Mark wanted to be as solid in the infield as Mike Shannon. All or at least many of the games were played in the afternoon. Several of us hid our nine-volt transistor radios in our school stuff so we could follow the action. We tried putting the earphones in, telling our teacher that we had hearing aides, which didn’t fly at all. Then we tried tricks like going to the coatroom or bathroom, catching up on the score and passing the information around. That tactic worked once, I think. But when Mark and I got on bus #6 to go home, we’d tune in and listen to the game.

The series went the full seven games. We got home right before the bottom of the ninth on the last game and quickly turned on the Black and White TV to watch the ending. The Detroit Tigers were up by four runs. St. Louis needed a miracle that they didn’t get. If my memory serves me well, the first two batters were quickly retired. Then Mike Shannon, the third baseman, got up. Not known as a power hitter, he slammed a ball over the outfield wall. It was the Cardinal’s only score, but a defiant slap. Detroit retired the next batter and the city that had more than enough bad news in 68, was the World Champions in baseball.

Since the baseball diamond wasn’t good to me, I decided that I’d try out for football. It was the first year they had little-league football in the county and that fall, I wore a Holsum Bakery uniform which, I didn’t know then, wouldn’t be the only time I’d wear their uniform as I’d work through college in the bakery. The Holsum football team was about as soft as white bread. Our first game we had a total of –14 offensive yardage! We went on to lose every game. Not only did we lose, I didn’t play that much and seldom had grass stains on my pants at the end of the game. I was just a runt and when your team is that bad and you don’t play much, it’s a killer for your confidence. I got to hate football and decided that I would skip the last game of the year and go instead with my scout troop to a camporee where we took the blue ribbon. At least with scouting, I felt like I was successful. Without my assistance, the team tied their last game, ending the season with seven losses and no wins and one tie.

As Christmas ’68 approached, I remember being glued to the TV watching the reports from Apollo Eight as they became the first from our planet to leave the earth’s gravitational pull and circle the moon. I don’t remember what I received for Christmas that year, but I know that after opening presents, we piled in the car for the three-hour drive to Moore County where my grandparents and aunts and uncles lived. After visiting them all and having dinner with my father’s parents, who gave me a Boy Scout hatchet, we stopped by the nursing home to see my great-grandmother Maples. She wasn’t doing well. There was talk about flu from Hong Kong going around. We drove back home that night, kind of sad. Christmas was often that way, you looked forward to it so much, but after it was over with, having the gifts just didn’t create the same excitement as wanting them. But there was something else that made this Christmas sad. We all sensed it.

We wound our way through the back roads of Eastern North Carolina, driving through Raeford and St. Pauls and Elizabethtown, all seemingly abandoned on Christmas night, except for the decorations. I peered into homes by the road and occasionally got Norman Rockwell glimpse of families sitting down for dinner or enjoying each other’s company. Christmas was coming to mean more than presents too me. I leaned back and looked out the rear mirror at the stars. Taurus the bull rose high overhead. Then I fell asleep and woke up the next morning in my own bed, my father having carried us in from the car the night before. I woke up to find my mother crying. My great-grandma Maples, the only grandmother she’d ever known, had passed away in the early morning hours. In the next few weeks, we’d make that drive back to Moore Country three times, for her funeral, for the funeral of one of her uncles and then for a great-grandfather on my dad’s side.

’68 ended on sad note and ’69 wasn’t starting any better.

Memories of '68. Part 3
Memories of '68, Part 2
Memories of '68, Part 1

Check it out...

I encourage you to go over and wish Kismet a happy anniversary. And when you do, take a look at her husband's tux in the wedding picture. I wore that same light blue tux for my senior prom! (Of course, this was also the era of lesiure suits.)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Need a laugh?

I'm falling behind on blogging. I got more memories of '68 to write, a book review of the book I've just about finished on '68 to write, several other planned stories to write down, etc. etc. I'll get around to them all in time. I think Nevada Jack as been hibernating--he'll wake up soon as we've been talking about this cousins, and have something sarcastic to say. In the meantime, if you need a laugh, check out this comic over at Scribe (Independent Christian Voice). He posts daily a conscience cartoon. This one takes on both the popularity of the new book by Judas and Bush's low poll numbers. If I could draw, I'd love to do newspaper comics.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Recalling encounters with bears...

Photo taken in Evolution Basin,along the John Muir Trail in the High Sierras, California

"Bear! There’s a bear behind you," Ben yelled.

"You’re kidding," I thought. We’d seen bears the night before. Our food was safely stored between trees, so they just sniffed around and moved on. It was now morning, about 7:30. Tending the stove, boiling water for oatmeal and tea, I heard something move behind me and turned. Sure enough, there was a bear looking over my shoulder as if he was checking the pot. Foregoing his nocturnal ways, this old guy found that if he waited for breakfast, he could have hikers serving him. I quickly jumped up and moved out of the way as the bear stepped into our makeshift kitchen, sniffing around the stove. I worried he might catch himself on fire or step on the stove, ruining it and doing his paw no good, but his movements were graceful. He went for the food, ripping into a bag of oatmeal and another of powder milk. He wasn’t impressed and walked down the trail to the next campsite where he ripped open a guy’s pack, pulling out his food. I was eighteen; it was the last morning of my first backpacking trip in the mountains. This close encounter with a bear was not to be my last.

Over the years I’ve seen many bears in the wilds. I expected everyone who has hiked the Appalachian Trail through the Smoky’s or the Shenandoahh’s have seen a bear. In the Smoky's, the shelters have heavy fences on the front in order to keep the bears out. You feel a little like an animal in the zoo, with the bears as sightseers, as if you’re trapped in a Far Side comic. I’ve heard stories of guys going out to relieve themselves in the middle of the night, forgetting to latch the door. When they return, they find those sharing their shelter to be extremely upset as they had to chase a bear, whose like a kid in a candy store, out of the shelter. Most bears are satisfied to grab a promising bag of food and flee. Luckily, I never had such experiences. I saw a few bears around campsites and shelters, but they were never a bother. I also get to see a few more while hiking early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

My best view of a bear along the Appalachian Trail was in New Hampshire. I was alone and heard something quickly scamper up a tree. I looked up thinking it might have been a raccoon, and was surprised to see a cub just above my head, peering down. It would have been a great photograph, but my camera was safely stored in my pack. I started to take the pack off, when it dawned on me to look around. I’m glad I did. Probably 25 feet away, in heavy brush, stood the mother, up on her hind feet. She was dead-eyeing me with a look that meant I better keep on trucking. For a while, I keep hearing things behind me that sounded like a twig breaking, but it was my mind playing tricks on me.

I’ve seen more bears in California than any other of the states and providence’s I’ve hiked or canoed. Onion Valley, a popular camping spot west of Kearsarge Pass and Independence, CA, seemed to be over populated with the beasts. As we came into the valley late in the day, we saw several bears running ahead of us along the trail. We made sure our food was safely stored, well away from where we camped. We got through dinner and after a hard day of climbing with heavy packs (we were out for 14 days), we crashed as soon as the sun went down.

I woke up about an hour before sunrise. I zipped the screen of my bivy tent open and, in the cool morning air, watched a faint pink haze on the eastern horizon replace the stars. Then I fell back asleep. A few minutes later (it couldn’t have been too long as it was still not yet light), I felt something against the back of my neck. Since there was no one sleeping in my bivy to cuddle up with me, I immediately sat up screaming. "Why am I yelling," I thought. "Was it a dream?" Then I looked around and saw a bear on all fours, slowly backing up. I look at her and shouted, "get out of here." She grunts, turns around and headed down the trail, a cub in tow. Although I don’t think I was in danger, as the bear was just sniffing around trying to find food, it’s still unnerving to be nuzzled out of bed by a beast that weighs three or four times more than me.

On another trip, in the backcountry of Yosemite National Park I head off one evening to watch the sun set from the top of a cliff a short hike from camp. Afterwards, I slowly make my way back to camp in the dark, without the aid of a flashlight. Just outside camp, I came face to face with a bear on the trail. Sensing me, the bear immediately stood up. He or she was as tall as me. I quickly moved off the trail in one direction, he took the other. As scared as I was, the bear must have been more frightened as he left one large pile of poop. For those of you who have seen the movie "Grizzly Man," let me be very clear here: I did not wax eloquently about the poop having just been inside the bear.

Also in the backcountry of Yosemite, while camping near Cathedral Lake, two bears came into our campsite about three in the morning. Our food was safely stored, way up in a tree, the bags counter-balanced in a way that it would take us ten minutes or so to retrieve them in the morning. One of the bears found where it was hanging and climbed the tree and began shaking the limb. I got up and threw a couple rocks at it, trying to chase it away when I saw the second bear looking at me. I decided that I’d go back to bed, as they didn’t appear too pleased with my interference. For fifteen minutes, Eric and I both stayed awake, our tents only 25 feet or so from the bears. We should have put the food further from camp. One bear one jumped on the branch, causing the food bags to swing back and forth. The other bear stood underneath, on hind legs, with his or her arms outreached as if in prayer, waiting for the food bags to drop. They finally gave up and left in a run. A few minutes later, we heard shooting and the banging of pots and pans from the other side of the lake.

All my bear experiences have been with black bears (even though the California bears are brown in color, they’re still black bears). I’ve hiked several times in Grizzly country, but have yet to see one in the wild. And to this day, the only time I’ve lost food to one of these beasts was on that first backpacking trip when Ben and I hosted a bear for breakfast.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Appalachian Splendor

Long before I fell in love with the arid and sage-covered mountains of the American West, I spent as much time as possible exploring the Appalachian chain. This photo was shot one evening along the Appalachian Trail, at a place called Max Patch, located on the North Carolina/Tennessee border north of the Smokey Mountains (If memory serves me well, it’s just south of Hot Springs, NC). It was late summer. The sun was dropping low on the horizon when I came upon this barren ridge. I stayed there, shooting a roll of kodrachrome, enchanted by the light and the shadows of the ridges. When it was finally dark and the stars of the great scorpion were popping out in the southern sky, I stumbled on down the trail until I was under a canopy of leaves, where I bivouac for the night. I post this picture in honor of Appalachian Intellectual. As a member of the National Guard, he's being called up and deployed to Iraq. He’ll have to leave these beautiful mountains behind. Stay safe AI!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Grizzly Man: A Movie Review

Picture borrowed from Netflix from whom I rented the movie...

I finally got around to watching this movie last night. A number of folks have suggested I see the documentary "Grizzly Man." After watching it, I hope they don’t think I’m anything like Tim Treadwell. Sure, I’ve had many encounters with bears in the wilderness (I’ll try to get a post together about some of those this week), and I too have a collection of Teddy Bears (all gifts) including my alter-ego Nevada Jack. I hope that’s where the similarities end.

Tim Treadwell spent thirteen summers with mosquitoes and Grizzlies in Alaska. He ignored the bugs although they can be seen swarming in much of the 100 hours of video he shot. He was obsessed with bears. This documentary is based upon the video Treadwell shot and augmented with interviews from bear experts, his friends and family and coroner. Hopefully, if someone does a documentary on my life, after my demise, a coroner will not be a part of the cast.

Had Treadwell stayed in mainstream society, he’d be a therapist’s gold mine. He lived his life vicariously through the bears. He saw himself their Messiah, a Christ-figure, and as with other Messiahs, those he loved killed him. Needless to say, mental stability wasn’t his forte. During one particularly dry summer, in which the salmon were unable to run upriver and the bears were beginning to eat each other and their cubs, Tim went out and removed rocks in a set of rapids so that salmon could get upstream. His lane looked like a seafood aisle for the bears. We were never told if any of the salmon tried to make it up his suicide run. Later, as the drought continued on for two months, he filmed himself in a profane triad against God and the gods, from Christ to Allah to Hindu deities and other gods in between, demanding rain to relieve the suffering of his bears. When it started to rain, his Messiah complex mushroomed. He credited himself with saving the bears.

Of course, one so immersed with nature has a hard time making it with humans. But this didn’t mean that the Grizzly guy didn’t try. He liked women and couldn’t understand why more women didn’t like him. "Why don’t they like me," he asked the camera, "cause I think I’m pretty good in the…" Then he said a guy isn’t supposed to talk about things like that. He also discussed how it would be easier for him to be gay, for he could just go to a truck stop and get his fix. Of course, if this was how he understood relationships, it’s no wonder he had a hard time getting along with people, men and women. Treadwell obviously had a need to connect to people as evident by the hours and hours of video he shot in which he hammed it up for the camera. It’s also interesting that his last two years in Alaska was spent with a girlfriend who became dessert for the bear who ate Treadwell. Treadwell hogged the camera and she is seen only a couple of times in the vast amount of video he shot. This is unfortunate for she was beautiful.

The movie depicts Treadwell as a man who had an idealistic view of nature and doesn't understand the stark realities that the world of bears (and foxes and all animals for that matter). Their world is harsh. Each animal is a part of the food chain. Even though a Grizzly may be on the top, when they get old, they too became targets. But Treadwell romanticized the bear’s world. He got upset at natural things, such as a male grizzly killing a cub so the mother will stop lactating and be once again be interested in sex.

Early in the movie, Grizzly Man reminded me of what might have happened to Mr. Rogers or Captain Kanagroo if they had been burned out on drugs. And sure enough, as the movie continued to explore past Treadwell’s life, it becomes apparent he had bad experiences with both drugs and alcohol. He credits the bears with "saving him," recalling this weird covenant he made with them. Treadwell promised to watch over the bears if they helped him avoid alcohol. If it’s possible to be co-dependent with part of the animal kingdom, this guy was.

My favorite scene in the movie was shot just a few days before his death. It shows a bear diving into a deep pool of water in search of salmon. Like a skin diver, the bear drops her head down and kicks up her back paws as she slowly sink downward. It’s incredible footage.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Memories of '68, Part 3

"Who was the presidential candidate shot last night in California?" Mr. Briggs asked the class as we leaned over our paper taking a "pop-quiz."

Billy immediately shouted, "Is Bobby Kennedy dead?"

Mr. Briggs turned red and walked over to Billy’s desk, taking his test and writing a big ZERO across it. I really don’t think Billy meant to give us the answer. He was concerned for Kennedy and our teacher’s pop quiz on news events reminded Billy of the terrible truth. America had just experienced its second assassination of the year.

Billy and his family were the only supporters of Robert Kennedy I knew and this event is my first memory of the ’68 election year. I don’t remember the New Hampshire primaries although I do remember hearing of Eugene McCarthy, he didn’t become real to me until 8 years later when I met him while in college. I don’t even remember LBJ bowing out of the elections. But I remember Robert Kennedy's assassination mainly because Billy and his parents were diehard supporters.

And I do remember the summer of ’68. We took our required summer trip to Baltimore. My father’s company’s regional office was there and we often made the trip for the company picnic followed by sightseeing in Washington DC and surrounding area. By the time I quit going on family vacations, I’d been through the Smithsonian a dozen times, and still enjoyed the trips. We stayed outside of DC and I remember my father questioning people where it was safe to go and not to go. I’m not sure what we saw in the city, for these summer trips are all mixed up. That summer I also remember watching parts of the political conventions, the Republicans in Miami and the Democratic Convention in Chicago. Who could forget Chicago?

At the end of the summer, I started my last year at Bradley Creek Elementary School in Mrs. Graham’s sixth grade class. Interestingly, the same gang of us guys was together again, the only difference this year is that Mark, and Carl and I were made members of the "safety patrol." This meant that we got to wear badges on webbing that stretched over our shoulder and patrol the playground and take our turn helping people cross the intersection near the school. We weren’t surprised that Carl was picked, but Mark and I were both shocked, along with everyone else. After all, we’d been partly responsible for Mr. Briggs downfall as a teacher (see part 1). Yet we assumed our position of authority with an attitude that would soon come back and bite us. I don’t remember if it happened in ’68 or ’69, but at the end of one of the sixth week reporting periods, when both Mark and I received unsatisfactory conduct grades, we were called into the principal’s office. He started telling how disappointed he was in us. He said we needed to set an example for the other students. I really think he was going to give us another chance, but we got smart with him and he asked us for our badges. We were no longer members of the elite safety patrol; we were now martyrs.

About this time there was a TV show about the life of a US Calvary Soldier out west who was court-martialed. The show didn't last long, but I think it was titled "Branded." And that’s what we said happened to us. We were branded and although we’d lost some privileges and didn’t get to go on the end of the year beach picnic for safety patrol boys from all over the county, we had new respect upon the playground.

If the ’68 election depended upon the kids at Bradley Creek Elementary School, George Wallace would have won hands down. Most of us were voting like our parents and even parents like mine who wouldn’t allow the N word to be used in our home were lining up behind this third party candidate that assured Nixon, the Republican who was considered unelectable, would inherit the White House. I don’t really remember much about the campaigning that took place in the fall. What I do remember is that after the elections, sitting with my maternal grandmother at her kitchen table, listening to her lament over voting for Wallace. She realized that she had helped elect a Republican. Even with my little knowledge about politics, I knew Wallace was a lot closer to Nixon than to Hubert H. Humphrey, the Democratic candidate. When I questioned my grandmother why she would have voted for Humphrey instead of Nixon, she told me about the depression and Roosevelt. As a Democrat, she regretted abandoning the party. After our little chat, I started asking around and found that a part of my dad’s family were Republicans also due to Roosevelt. They hated Roosevelt because they’d lost money in one of the banks that "he closed." None of this "yellow-dog" politics made much sense to me at the time.

Stay tuned. I have to write more. Christmas and New Years were bittersweet, as the Hong Kong flu contributed to the death of two of my great-grandparents.

Memories of '68, Part 2
Memories of '68, Part 1

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Double Dating

I had a double date last night: my daughter and one of her friends. We went bowling; their choice!

I didn’t grow up bowling. Bowling was what beer drinkers did. And beer drinkers were guys liked the Dukes of Hazards. In my Southern upbringing you were either a teetotaler (like my mom) or you sipped fine whiskey. I feel into the later category. I always felt guilty drinking beer, until I went to Pittsburgh as a graduate student. In the Steel City, beer was cheap. But I digress. I bowled twice as a kid, both times at birthday parties. In younger and wilder adult years, I bowled a few games. I never understood the attraction. And besides, to bowl seriously, I would have to give up some deeply held assumptions, so I never took up the game.

But my daughter thinks bowling is fun even if she has to use two hands, and roll the ball from under her legs, to get it down the aisle. She’s young. But a neighbor and his wife have taken her bowling a couple of times, so she’s got the routine down. She knows enough to give me pointers. Not exactly the way to endear me to the game.

So we went bowling. Since this isn’t anything I do regularly, I had no idea Wednesday night was "guy night." There were only a few women in the place, mostly those who worked there. My two girls were the only ones not smoking... Most of the lane was taken up with an all-men league. There men overweight; there were men drinking cheap beer; there were men smoking, there was even one man nearby on oxygen, who was bowling, smoking and drinking cheap beer. And he did pretty good. There were a lot more "x's" on his scorecard than mine. But that was okay, for I was the guy with two dates. The three of us were assigned the last aisle, where the air wasn’t quite as smoky, just stale.

One of the advantages of bowling with kids is that they put gutter guards down, which means that you don’t have any gutter balls. These guards can even give your ball a good bounce. My daughter got a strike on her first frame, the ball having bounced three times off the guard. One several occasions I even avoid the embarrassment of a gutter ball as my ball stayed in play. I made it into triple digits one and nearly there a second time. If my bowling score compared to my IQ, I’d be at the top of the bell curve, nothing special enough to write home about. My top score was 109. My daughter and her friend both had a game in the 80s.

We bowled two games. The other guys were reminded how good they had it, not having women with them, as they watched me untie the knots in my daughter’s friend’s shoes… As we walked outside, my daughter threw up her hands and exclaimed, "Fresh air smells so good." We headed to Dairy Queen, dropped her friend off at her house, and were home by nine.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Memories of '68, Part 2

I turned eleven barely two weeks into 1968. It was a big deal as I was finally eligible to join the Boy Scouts and go camping with someone other than my family. I wasted no time and was at the troop meeting the Thursday after my birthday. It’s amazing I stayed with scouting. There was more hazing in those first two meetings than the sum total of the rest of my life. Brian and I were both new to Troop 206 and they put us in the Rattlesnake Patrol with a bunch of older guys (probably all of 13 or 14 years old). When the adult leaders weren’t nearby, they arrange things like belt-lines for us to run. But it didn’t last. I’m not sure what all when on behind the scene, but by the third week, we were put into a new patrol and Gerald, an older scout, was put in charge of us. We named ourselves the Cobra Patrol, consciously picking a snake more deadly than a rattlesnake. Gerald put an end to the hazing and was quite protective of us.

A week or two later I made my first campout as a Boy Scout. We headed up to Holly Shelter Swamp and camped along the bank of the Northeast Cape Fear River and Gerald had us put our tents in a line. Brian and I ended in a slight depression. I argued that we should move our tent, having done enough camping prior to scouting to know we were in the best location. But Gerald was all for neatness and order and so we stayed in a neat line and when the rains came that night, we got flooded. I now had a second reason to quit scouting. Thinking back on my experiences, I can’t recall a camping trip that I’ve gotten soaked at night except for when I was a scout. However, Gerald made everything better, offering us his semi-dry tent. We assumed Gerald was going to sleep in our pool, but found him in the morning asleep in the back of the equipment trailer, the only really dry place around. The storm cleared and we dried out our bags and had a grand time in the woods, even though we kept having run-ins with our nemeses in the Rattlesnake Patrol.

We’ve come along ways since 1968. There were no I-pods, laptops, game-boys or other forms of amusements in our packs. All I had for fun was a nine-volt transistor radio and we listened to it that first night, as we tried to ignore or forget the moisture seeping into our sleeping bags. I could get the powerful 50 kilowatt station out of Cincinnati and a few local stations. And that night, laying in a sleeping bag on a bluff overlooking the slow waters of the Northeast Cape Fear River, between the music of the Beatles, Stones and Supremes, we heard news reports about the Chinese New Year and the Tet Offensive. For the first time Vietnam seemed real.

Our second night included a game of capture the flag, played pitting the Cobras against the Rattlesnakes. We didn’t win, but we went down honorably and it would only be a matter of time. After the game, we had a big campfire, which concluded when our scoutmaster, Johnny R. told us the story of "the Hand." He made it come alive and although I’d hear this story a dozen times over the next couple of years, he was always adding new twist so that you were never sure when he make you jump. That night we didn’t listen to the radio; we wanted things to be quiet so that we’d hear "the Hand," in case it was about doing its dastardly deeds.

Our second camping trip with the scouts was at a camporee on the grounds around Sunny Point, on the Brunswick County side of the Cape Fear River. This gathering involved troops from all over the council and the theme was getting along with one another, with a special emphasis on racial harmony. All the scouts who participated in the event received a badge showing a handshake. One hand was light colored and the other darker, symbolizing getting along between the races. It was a lesson we’d all need to hear for soon all hell would be breaking loose. But that weekend, we didn’t know that. Instead, we worked hard and Cobra Patrol earned a red ribbon (next to the highest) while the Rattlesnake Patrol only received a yellow (participation) ribbon. I became a hero during the camporee in the signaling event. Few of the patrols had anyone who could read semaphore and I shocked everyone with my newly acquired skill.

My self-instruction in semaphore came as a result of what was happening in Mr. Briggs classroom. My mother told me a few years ago about how she heard me talking about these things we were doing in his class and assumed I had a wild imagination until one night, Mr. Briggs called. And did my mother reward me for my honesty? NO! Instead, I was doubly grounded. Not only could I not leave our yard, I was stuck in my room except to go to the bathroom or to eat dinner. This sentence was to last a few years, my mother thinking that by then they’d sell the house and I’d go with the house and not them, but she relented after I brought my citizenship grade up a notch. In such tight confinement (and there were no TVs in my room, now a solitary confinement cell), I was stuck with reading. And my choices were meager. I could read schoolbooks, but I had a natural allergy to them. I could read the Bible, but figured that if Mom saw me reading the good book, she might keep me grounded for my own edification. The only book of interest was the Boy Scout handbook and I quickly set down to the task of learning semaphore (which I long since forgotten) and the constellations (which I still remember).

My third Scout camping trip was back to Holly Shelter Swamp. It was early April. We left home with the knowledge that Martin Luther King was dead, shot by an assassin in Memphis. Things went along well during the camping trip, but my nine-volt transistor radio brought in the news that violence was erupting across our nation. Somehow (after all, this was before cell phones), our Scoutmaster Johnny R., who was a detective with the Sheriff’s Dept., got word that he had to report for duty. But there were enough other men along that we camped two nights. Sunday morning, we packed up and headed back into town. Since our troop met in a church, we’d always come back from camping trips in the early afternoon, so as not to disturb the worshippers. But this Sunday, things were eerie. There were no cars on the road. All you saw were police and a few military jeeps. Rioting erupted in Wilmington, as it had in many cities, and the city was under a 24 hour curfew.

Since we lived way out of town, down in Myrtle Grove Sound, far from where the rioting occurred, we weren’t really affected, except that we got a week vacation from school. With everyone being forced to stay at home, my parents cooked out that Sunday afternoon and invited our next door neighbors. This was a rarity as I knew my parents didn’t like the man (I later learned that he was very abusive, but as an 11 year old, I just thought he was a jerk). I don’t even remember his name now, but I recall sitting in a lounge chair in the yard as he told my dad (along with my brother and I) about the Wilmington Race Riots of 1898. "The Cape Fear River ran red with n----- blood" he said, suggesting a similar situation out of the problem Wilmington was currently facing. My parents, who didn’t allow us to use the "N" word, weren’t too happy with this conversation and that was the only cookout we ever had with them and shortly thereafter they moved. Interestingly, this was the first and only time as a kid that I heard about the 1898 riots (later I’d learn they were more of a massacre as the whites had a gattling gun while the African-American community mostly defended themselves with squirrel guns). I’d also learn later that the guy whose park we played little league ball in, Hugh McCrae, was the one who acquired the gattling gun and he, along with several other well known names in town, was somewhat responsible for the "riot." But that story needs to wait or if you’re interested, I can suggest some books on the subject.

I am not sure just how calm was restored to the city, as we lived far outside its boundaries. The riots just gave us a reason not to venture downtown. After a week holiday, in which we played sandlot ball with kids in the neighborhood, we went back to Bradley Creek Elementary School where everything was normal.

Okay, I’m tired. I may come back tomorrow and edit this. I still have much more to write about 68, especially the elections of that year. But that’ll have to wait for another post.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Seven songs I've been listening to lately

Bhakti tagged me for a meme last week… I had a rule that I only do meme’s that are requested by southern women (since they were the only ones who "tagged" me until last week), but I’m going to make an exception here (who knows, maybe she lives on the south side of the city). I’m suppose to write about the seven songs I’ve been listening to lately. This is a hard one. At the office, I generally listen to classical or turn on Yahoo Radio (folk, rock or jazz stations). I only have audio books on my ipod. In the truck, I’m often listening to NPR, but occasionally I need a break and I slip in a CD. So here are the top seven CDs as found in my truck’s console. By the way, the truck is now home from body surgery and looks good as new!

1. Steely Dan, "Aja" Steely Dan is probably my all time favorite group. I remember listening to them in High School and College on FM (back when the AM played top 40 junk). The smoothing sounds of the song Aja and the biting lyrics of Deacon Blues (drink scotch whiskey all night long…) make this one of my favorite albums. Debuting in the late 70s, Aja was a welcome respite from Disco.

2. Sufjan Stevens, "Seven Swans" This is the "newest" CD in the stack. I love the folksy sounds, especially on track, "Transfiguration." It’s interesting that a guy’s whose "hippie parents" named him after a Sufi poet is now he’s writing "Christian" (maybe better defined as Alternative Christian) music. He better stay out of Afghanistan. With a name like that, they might think he’s a Muslim apostate.

3. George Winston, "Night Divides the Day: The Music of the Doors" Jim, a friend of mine, when he saw this disk remarked: "You know you’re middle aged when you have a instrumental rendition of the Doors." I brought this CD at a Winston concert; it was incredible to watch him play the music of the Doors. I love the way he draws the blues on a piano when he plays "People are Strange" or "Summer’s Almost Gone." As for the Doors, I can’t imagine my daughter listening to "The End." I suppose I have grown up and become my father (well, not quite, I don’t listen to country music).

4. Leonard Cohen, "The Best of Leonard Cohen" "Suzanne" is just wonderful.

5. Bob Dylan, "Blood on the Tracks" I’ve been "Tangled up in Blue" a few times in my life. As this album came out toward the end of my high school "experience," it brings back memories.

6. Eric Clapton "The Cream of Clapton" All the good Clapton tunes are here, from his time with Cream to his more recent. "Bell Bottom Blues" is one of my favorite Clapton tunes and I hear bell bottoms are making a comeback!

7. Pink Floyd, "Wish You Were Here" This album came out the year I graduated High School and brings back a flood of memories whenever I hear it.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Memories of '68, Part 1

1968 is a memorable year, as a book I’m currently reading attest (Kurlansky’s 1968: The Year that Rocked the World). The whole world seemed to be in flux. And neither my middle class neighborhood in Myrtle Grove Sound nor my fifth grade class at Bradley Creek Elementary School were spared.

Mr. Briggs was my fifth grade teacher. Tall and lanky, he looked a lot like the actor who played Mr. Chips in the movie by the same name. He was my first male teacher and the only man teaching at Bradley Creek, the only other men at the school being our principal Mr. Moore and the custodian. Mr. Briggs had his hand full with a group of us who had been put together in the fourth grade and moved up into his classroom. I think they kept us together, thinking that a male teacher could make up behave, but we challenged that proposition. This was back in the days when paddling was an approved form of punishment and Mr. Briggs weapons were yardsticks from Cape Fear Ford. They were cheap and broke easily and by mid-year several of us had a contest going as to who would have the most yardsticks broken over their bums. If my memory is correct, Billy won with six, Bobby had three and Mark, Stacy and I all had two broken on us. Carl came through unscathed.

As a young man, our teacher had been in the Marine Corp. From what I recall he ran away in from home and joined up when he was 16 or 17 and at boot camp found himself stationed in the Philippines. It was a pretty good assignment, but then the Second World War began. When the Philippines fell, he along with the rest of the soldiers from American and the Philippines became Japanese Prisoners of War and endured three years of hell. It didn’t help matters that Hogan’s Heroes was popular at the time. We didn’t really understand what he went through. I remember several of us asking him why he didn’t escape and he told us the story of what the Japanese did to some who were caught. Although sobering, it didn’t sink in and he really didn’t talk much about his experiences as a POW. With images of a POW camp being ran by the likes of Col. Klink, we all bragged the following year when he left teaching elementary school for a Junior College, that the Japanese couldn’t beat him, but we could. Although I never thought of myself as a child in the fifth grade, thinking back on my memories, I’m reminded that children can be cruel.

I really don’t remember much about his class except for a few snippets. I wrote a report on the Pony Express, my first real "research paper." This was a beginning. Little did I know that I’d grow up to write a dissertation focusing on Western American history.

Another memory is being forced to play volleyball, which us guys thought was sissy. When the ball came my way, I kicked it out across the playground, not knowing that Mr. Briggs with his stick was standing behind me. He whacked his yardstick across my thighs, breaking it.

The fifth grade was also when I feel in love for the first time. Diane wore her hair up in a beehive, which seemed so mature for an eleven-year-old (and so hideous now). One day we were whispering back and forth in class when she said, "watch it." I jumped up just as Mr. Briggs yardstick came swinging my way. I landed on top of his stick and made sure it was broken before he pulled it out from under me. Diane moved at the end of the year and our relationship didn’t continue.

Diane moved back five years later and was in my 10th grade English class. Her beehive was gone and she wore unkempt hair and dressed in ratty clothes. I didn’t recognize her at first, which was okay as I had long gotten over our crush. One of our assignments was to write and present a paper to the class about how to deal with the world’s population problems. We all gasped and she nearly gave the English teacher a heart attack when she suggested same sex relationships should be encouraged as a fool-proof way to cut down on population growth. That was pretty radical for a school in the South in 1972 or 73. I was relieved that no one remembered the two of us had been an item back in the fifth grade.

I’ve written enough for this post, but have plenty more as I recall camping with the Boy Scouts, Vietnam, the deaths of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the riots that spring, the ‘68 elections, my transistor radio and other memories. Stay tuned.