Thursday, May 31, 2007
I like the contrast of the red motor boat!
I needed a few more clouds to make the sunset more interesting--at least more photographically pleasing.
This was one of those ulta-light flying machines--if he could have only been a little higher, I might could have gotten the "ET Photo" of him flying across the moon. The beautfy of flying around in one of these contraptions at dusk is probably worth the risk of crashing!
I love being on the water when the light is like this. It doesn't matter that I don't catch fish! I hope to be around and catch up on everyone's blog over the next day or two. Then, come next Monday, I'm going to be away from the computer a bit as I head down in the Southern Appalachians for a week. Ya'll take care now.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Today’s Sunday Scribbling challenge is to write on the one word prompt, “Simple.” I'm writing about a morning on the trail—using memories of hiking along the Housatonic River on the Appalachian Trail in Connecticut. The picture is from the Appalachian Trail in western Pennsylvania.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Okay, disclaimers out of the way, let me go on the record to say that the colonoscopy was fine. The only glitch was that after the nurse complimented me on my wonderful veins, she put in an IV that leaked and had to redo it. It bothered her a lot more than it bothered me, possibly because I adored this motherly nurse (she’s 2 years from retirement). She kept going on and on about how I don’t look 50. Heck, I’d let her give me half a dozen IVs. The only discomfort was what occurred in my brain when she told me, “for your size, they’ll go in about four and a half feet.” I said something like, “wow.” Then I was led into the exam room, leashed to an IV. There, they put a blood pressure cuff and heart monitors on. I must have been worried, for my blood pressure when sitting had been 118/76 and it jumped to 127/82 when I was lying on the exam table (I should have gone down). The doctor came in and was cracking some jokes as he pulled on his latex gloves. The nurse put something into the IV port and asked me to roll over onto my left side and that was it. The next think I knew, one of the nurses said something about it being done and all looking good (I’m sure that’s only a matter of comparison). There were no polyps so unless something unforeseen happens, I don’t have to have another colonoscopy for 10 years. They gave me some juice and a sandwich which only slightly satisfied my hunger. We stopped at Burger King (I normally wouldn’t have chosen fast food, but after nearly 40 hours of not eating, I didn’t care what it was, I wanted something to eat fast—I didn’t even want it my way). Then I came home and slept the afternoon away (sorry Murf, no posts while stoned). I now feel fine, but will be back in the bed soon. Thanks to all you who expressed concern. It really wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be; however, it’s still not a pleasant thought to have something stuck that far up your butt. End of story.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
I just had a thought. I have a 4 liter bottle of Nulytely something in the frig. What if, while I was out, somebody had gotten thirst and drank it for me? That could be a comic situation, except that nobody would have drunk more than a swallow or two.
Morning Update: Okay, that wasn't too bad--really it wasn't. I just had to make sure that for most of the night I stayed close to the porclein throne. I'm now weak (I'm glad I decided not to go to the gym yesterday afternoon while fasting from solid foods). I have to wait another 3 hours for my date at the hospital (it's not till 12:30), and see if I can avoid grabbing something to eat or drink until after than, but then I'll get that good drug everyone talks about and won't care what happens. You now know far more than you wanted to know!
Nervously, a woman walks up the sidewalk, stopping to turn into a restaurant. Looking at her reflection in the door, she sweeps her hair back, moistens her lips, and takes a deep breath as she straightens her shoulders and marches in. Once inside, in the dim light, she looks around and notices a single man sitting in the corner. He appears deep in through as he looks into his almost empty wine glass, swirling the last swallow around and around. She steps over to his tabled and asks, “Let me guess, you’re Rob?” He looks up, nods and asks, “What took you so long.”
“Sorry, parking is a real problem around here, you know.”
He nods again, holds out his hand while remaining seated, offering her the seat across from him. As she pulls out her chair and sits down, she hears a woman in the adjacent table whisper, “There’s a real gentleman.”
After a moment of awkward silence, she finally sticks her hand across the table and says, “I’m Raney.” He takes her hand, shaking it with the grip and strength Mr. Whipple expected his costumers when they handle Charmin. “I’m Rob.”
“So Rob,” she asks, hoping to break the ice, “I hear you’re a real golfer.”
Yeah,” he says, “just this afternoon I did a quick round of 18 at the Parkside Links.”
“I don’t think that I know that course,” Raney admits, “Is it difficult?”
“You betcha,” he said. Rubbing his right arm, he acknowledged how his tennis elbow played havoc with his game. “I had an especially difficult time on the 18th hole. You know, it’s one of those holes where you have to putt through the rotating arms of a windmill.”
After another period of silence, Raney motions for the waiter and orders a glass of pinot. Rob also asks for another glass of wine. When the wine comes, Rob tips his glass toward Raney, throws back his head and chugs. To the surprise to both Raney and the waitress, whose mouths are gapped open, he pounds the empty glass on the table and asks for another. “Let’s make it something cheap this time,” he tells the waitress. Turning to Raney, he recalls a Bible Story about how in the old days, they served the best wine first, then after their senses were dulled, brought out the Boone’s Farm. “Some people don’t think the Bible is relevant today,” Rob continues, “but what I’ve gleamed from that little parable has saved me hundreds of dollars.”
We’ll, what did you think about the Lakers?,” Raney asks as she wonders if this is just a bad dream and hopes she’ll soon wake up.
“Did you see Kobe’s slam dunk at the end of the game last night. He can really put it into the hoop,” Rob acknowledges. “Reminds me of my doctor, did I tell you I just had a colonoscopy?”
“I think I missed that shot,” Raney admits, shaking her head.
“He got this long snake like thing, part camera and part rotor-rooter, and he puts it right through the hoop,” Rob continues, with hand illustrations to the horror of everyone in the establishment.
The waitress comes over with another glass. This time, he drinks it a little slower as he continues to talk about his recent medical problems.
They both finished their glass about the same time. “You know, Raney, one thing I can’t stand is for a woman to be a lush, you should nurse your alcohol more.”
“Another glass,” the waitress asked as she removed the empty glasses. “How about a glass of water for the little lady, and I’ll take a double,” Rob quickly orders. “Can I at least have a slice of lemon in my water?” Raney asks the bewildered waitress. “I hope you didn’t mind,” Rob says as he turns back to Raney, “I ordered for your convenience.”
“The Angels are hot this year,” Raney says out of desperation. “Did you see that Kotchman’s hit another triple yesterday afternoon? He was really moving when he rounded second.”
“Speaking of rounding the bases, do you know how that rotor-rooter thing makes those tight turns in your stomach? It just slides right around…”
Raney sat in stunned silence as Rob continues to share his experiences, adding every filthy detail and slurring more and more words as downs another couple glasses of wine.
When he finally pauses, gulping down the last of his wine, Raney seizes the moment. “Oh, I almost forgotten,” she says. “Thanks for reminding me. I’ve scheduled my dogs for a colonoscopy this evening. The vet’s changing overtime; I can’t be late, gotta save every dollar I can.” She excuses herself and walks quickly toward the door. Once safe in her car, she puts on sunglasses and a hat and slides down in the seat and waits. A few minutes later, Rob waddles out the door and heads toward a lime green 1970s-something Pinto. He gets in and fires it up. A belch of smoke is released as he swerves out onto the street.
Raney flips open her cell phone and dials. “I’d like to report a drunk driver heading south on…”
Monday, May 21, 2007
I was recently asked to make suggestions for the Southern Summer Reading Challenge and I thought about two of my favorite books by Cape Fear Country authors. Both of these guys, Robert Ruark and Guy Owen, are members in the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame and if you click on their links, you can read an excerpt of their writings. Warning: be careful where you read it. People might look at you strangely as you descend into a fit of hysterical laughter.
Robert Ruark, the author of the Old Man and the Boy, was born in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1915. He grew up in Southport, a small town at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. At the age of 15, he attended the University of North Carolina. Upon graduating with a degree in journalism, he worked as a newspaper reporter and did a stint in the Navy during World War Two. Following the war, his career took off. In addition to writing for newspapers, he also wrote for periodicals. This book, The Old Man and the Boy was taken from his column in Field and Streams. It’s a collection of short stories about growing up in the lower Cape Fear region under the guidance of his grandfather who taught the boy lessons in how to hunt and fish as well as larger lessons about life. Ruark fills his writing with wit and humor, making him a pleasure to read.
When I was a student at Roland Grice Junior High, every boy I knew read this book. A few years ago, when visiting my parents, I saw a copy of this book in a local bookstore. I snatched it up, knowing that I had to reread it. Unfortunately, I lent it out when I was in Utah and it never came home so I don’t have the book, annotated with my notes, to make a more thorough review of the book. Ruark later wrote a sequel, the Old Man’s Boy Grows Up. It tells stories about Ruark’s experiences at sea as well as a big game hunter in Africa. Ruark also wrote several novels. He died in 1965.
A Personal Interlude: Guy Owen was born in Clarkton, a town about sixty miles east of Wilmington on the Seaboard Coastline’s main tracks running from Lumberton to Wilmington. When I started working with the Boy Scouts, Clarkton was in my district and I have both fond and not so fond memories of the hamlet. On the positive side, it had a great restaurant for pork barbeque and catfish. In the fall, when spot were running along the coast, they had an all you can eat lunch special of fried spot; you just had to be able to pick out the bones. However, twice in Clarkton, my life flashed before my eyes as I narrowly escaped death. Once was early in the morning at the railroad crossings. I was heading north to Elizabethtown for a 7 AM meeting and had stopped for a train. Coming south was a loaded logging truck. I’d stopped just as the gates lowered, but then noticed the logging truck wasn’t slowing down. He crashed through the gates, narrowly missing the speeding locomotive pulling a 100 or more cars of freight. I had visions of dying underneath those logs as the train rolled the truck over my car. Someone was looking out for me for the end of those logs missed the locomotive by just a few feet. The second occasion I escaped death occurred on my last day working there. I’d stopped by to say goodbye to DeWitt, the town’s scoutmaster and we were talking out in his front yard. I’d said good bye and was heading across the street where I’d parked when I turned to say something else as I kept walking. I stepped out into the street, right in front of a pickup heading down the road. That old truck must have had new Midas brakes as the old farmer screeched to a stop just in the nick of time.
I first came across the writings of Guy Owen shortly after I graduated from college through a copy of The Flim-Flam Man and other Stories. The book contained stories of Mordecai Jones and Curley as they drive through the Cape Fear Country in an old hearse, pulling off one escapade after another. After reading that book, I kept my eye out for a copy of the Ballard of the Flim-Flam Man. It was out of print at the time and I had to get it out of the library, but I later brought my own copy after it was reprinted in 2000 by Coastal Carolina Press. The Ballard of the Flim-Flam Man tells the story of Mordecai Jones and Curley’s meeting. Curley had had enough of the army. As he tells it, “I’d tangled butts with this Yankee sergeant that keep riding me about Jefferson Davis and chitlin’s and such.” The two of them hook up and head off on a wild ride throughout Bladen County during tobacco season. They have their run-ins with farmers, farmer’s daughters, shop owners, the sheriff, moonshiners, evangelists and tobacco auctioneers.
Owen captures life down east as it was before I was born. He laments in the book that automatic tobacco curers (as opposed to the hand fed-wood fired barns like my granddaddy used) have destroyed the next generation of storytellers. He captures the atmosphere of a tent revival. Jones and Curley took over the preaching one evening for a sick evangelist. That was okay, but when they took over the collecting of offerings, that was pushing things a bit far and they found themselves again on the run. There are also morals in this book. Mordecai Jones, the old grifter, teaches his young apprentices three rules for the life of flim-flam, one of which is that “you can’t beat an honest man in the skin trade.”
Owens had a gift of capturing the language of the South and his writings are peppered with wonderful phrases and metaphors. A few years ago I jotted down several pages of these that came from his collection of short stories. Here are a few samples:
“falling in the outhouse and coming up smelling of roses,”
“that tanglefoot [moonshine] was so strong you could smell the feet of the boys who’d plowed the corn,”
“sober as a Quaker,”
“when the Lord passed out brains he was down in the canebrake,”
“there’s larceny in his veins,”
(he also speaks of vinegar in the veins)
“I was so lazy that I wouldn’t lift a fork if I was working in a pie factory.”
“as slick as eel manure”
I recommend both of these authors and in many ways I feel their words and stories are in my veins as I too grew up down east in Cape Fear Country.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Maybe I'll get the mini-reviews of two of my favorite southern books, The Ballard of the Flim-Flam Man annd The Old Man and the Boy, posted tomorrow or later this week.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
Friday, May 18, 2007
I can’t remember who suggested this movie to me. It may have been V. Anyway, it finally came to the top of my Netflix’s queue and I watched earlier this week. The film is set in South America during the 16th Century. An army of conquistadors set out to find El Dorado. They traverse the Andes Mountains. The ruggedness of the peaks and the fog creates a mystical element in their journey. Upon coming to a river, and with rations running out, they split up. One group is sent down the river to search for the city of gold. The other will wait, and if they hear no word from the first group after seven days, they plan to cross back over the mountains. The film then follows the group as they travel down the river in four rafts. There’s a combination of conquistadors and native Indians and a member of the Spanish royalty, two women (Aguirre's daughter and the mistress to the trip's leader), and a priest. The story is told from the priest’s journal.
The journey downriver is laden with disasters. One raft is trapped in an whirlpool. Unable to free themselves before a rescue party can be arranged, they are all mysteriously killed. Darts and arrows fly out of the jungle with deadly accuracy, taking out a member here and there, creating uncertainty among the group. When they finally make contact with a friendly native, the gold nugget around his neck seems to prove the existence of El Dorado, encouraging them to continue the search. When they get to the point that they must turn back to reunite with the other party, Aguirre (Klaus Kinski), the second in command and military officer, leads a mutiny. He then offers up Don Fernando de Guzman, a lazy member of the group but from Spanish royalty, as king for their new country of El Dorado. From then on, the movie becomes almost comic. The king feasts while the rest of the crew starves, until he too is killed by an arrow while in the “outhouse” (a thatched hut on the raft). In the end, it’s only Aguirre. In a delusional state, he continues to proclaim the new country he’s going to establish as the raft slowly floats downstream.
I have mixed feelings about the movie. On the one hand I enjoyed it, but then I’d enjoy a homemade Super-8 movie shot in that lush setting. In some ways, this movie wasn’t much different from a home movie as it was primarily shot with one camera and on a very limited budget. However, the dialogue in the movie is limited. The story is mostly told by a narrator reading from the dead priest’s journals. Furthermore, the cast almost makes the movie a comedy. Aguirre, with this piercing blue eyes and stringy blond hair, looks more like a Germanic or Viking warrior than a Spanish Conquistador. The idea of the actors speaking German instead of Spanish is also quite funny. (Werner Hertzog, the director is German). The sight of conquistadors with their heavy armor, standing on a raft in a raging river, is quite a sight. Aguirre and the rest of the company certainly suffered from an epidemic of gold fever that causes them to abandon caution. I almost wondered if Aguirre was a Hitler like figure when he, at the end, proclaims his goal to take his daughter as his wife and establish a pure race. Certainly Hitler wanted to a “pure race” and in the end like Aguirre, he brought everyone down with him as he self-destructed.
I recommend the move for its scenery and as a parable about how our desires can consume us.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
As a young man David Sedaris had problems making the “S” sound. By cruel fate or perhaps just because God has a wrapped sense of humor, he was born into a family whose last name includes two S’s. Then, at the age of seven, his father who was an engineer with IBM, was transferred from New York to Raleigh, North Carolina. There can’t be anything more humiliating for a New York Yankee than to move to North Carolina while in elementary school and be told that you have a speech impediment.
Diane recently proclaimed this book as the funniest ever written. I hadn’t read any of his books, which is odd since he’s an author who has lived in North Carolina. Perhaps the reason is I’ve never got around to reading him is that he disses both UNC and NC State with his proclamation that “Tar Heel powder blue and Wolf Pack red are two colors that manage to look good on no one.” While I don’t know if he’s the funniest author ever, and don't think the above comment was humorous, he certainly ranks up there with some of Twain’s best along with Patrick McManus, Clyde Edgerton, Roy Blount, Dave Barry and Mad Magazine. On many occasions I found myself laughing so hard that people checked to make sure I wasn’t having some kind of hysterical fit. When some of my staff saw the title of the book of my desk, they wondered if I’d written it since I often have problems with R’s and S’s, either leaving them out or putting them where they don’t belong leading to the butchering of certain words. I still think is should be Chicargo, Illinoises. But enough about me, this is suppose to be about this book.
If any of you have ever had to “put down” or "put to sleep" a pet, you should read the chapter on “Youth in Asia.” Who would have thought that such dark topic could be so funny? Sedaris’ parents adopted a Great Dane to fill their empty nest after their kids had left home. This dog gave them the sense of accomplishment they never had with their kids, which baffled the Sedaris children. “Melina’s diploma from obedient school was the biggest joke since our brother’s graduation.” The dog was so big she would greet David when he visited his parents by jumping up on him and hugging his neck with her paws. With her head towering over David’s, she “resembled a dance partner scouting the room for a better offer.”
I learned a new word (at least I think it is a word as I haven’t looked it up in a dictionary to makes sure that Sedaris didn’t make the word up). Pogonophobia is the fear of beards, a disease my mother suffered from for years (My current beard, which is the third I’ve grown, will be 19 years old this summer, old enough to vote!). Only in the last few years has Mom stopped telling me how much younger I’d look without my beard. Maybe this is because my top 40 no longer grows a good crop of hair and it’s hard to look young when you’re nearly bald. But then, this book isn’t about me. Yet, I’ve been to the North Hills Mall in Raleigh as well as have eaten at the Sanitary Fish Market in Morehead City, both places he talks about in the book.
I should warn you about David Sedaris’ sexual preference. This may be the second reason I’ve not gotten around to reading him and why he’s not received more fame in North Carolina. He’s gay and writes openly about his partner, with whom he moved to France which gave opportunity for some humorous reflections on learning the language. Being only able to manage the plural form of words, David becomes a pack rat as everything he purchases, he does in multiples. In one of his last chapters, he humorously places himself in several characters. He’s Monica Lewinsky and shows how she should have handled the Clinton affair. She laments how, sixty years from now, some doctor will be telling his friends that “he’s just performed a hip surgery on the girl who slept with the president.” Another character he imagines himself as is a heavyweight boxer. He’s the “great white hope” to beat the African-American who hold’s the title, but five days before the fight, it comes out that white boxer is gay, throwing white America into a tailspin as they can’t decide which is more important, race or sexual preference.
This book is funny as the author pokes fun at his family, the South, Chicago, New York, the French, the Greeks, his boyfriend and just about everyone else in between. No one is safe from the sting of his pen.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Jadedprimadonna (Angie/SC) has a trivial quiz contest going and invited me to play. When I went to sign up I was given the following options:
"Create an Account" or "I already exist"
I felt it was obvious that I already existed, but according to the quiz site, I didn’t. If I ponder this too long, I'm liable to end up an existentialist. On the good news, I got all but one question right. How am I to know what Boston Red Sock player let a ball slip through his leg in a playoff game back in the 80s. Why do I care? They could have asked who, in the bottom of the 9th, in the seventh game of the 1960s World Series, slapped a homer against the Yankees. I’d known that one! I'll give you a hint, it was at Forbes Field. I'm sure Mistress of the Dark knows the answer. By the way, I need to get me a mouse for these contests—it takes too long to take the test when you’re using a finger pointer on a laptop.
Ed has an interesting first hand look at what’s going on in Iowa. Right now, in addition to planting corn, potential presidential candidates are stepping on each other as they try to shake hands with potential voters. Ed showed us what kind of jerk candidates can be (this time it’s Rudy, but he’s not alone, I’m sure)
The Appalachianist (AI, Iraq/NC) is just about done with his tour of duty in Iraq. His recent post assures him that the Chamber of Commerce in Taji, Iraq won’t be asking him to write travel brochures for them. I’ve also scratched Taji off the list of places I need to visit before I die.
Murf is trying to come up with a book cover for my autobiography. She already decided that the backcover should be the picture I posted last Friday of a two-track road running along the Kalamazoo River. I’m looking for help writing the autobiography—I’ll offer a small percent of the royalties (I figure you got to be hot stuff to have someone else to write your autobiography)
Kevin (our recent birthday boy) just posted a review on a book about mining history. Why should we care, you may ask? Well, as one who devoted a number of years studying and writing about mining history, I care. Thanks Kevin. Diane (our recent birthday girl) is going to Hawaii in a few days. Anyone envious? I would be, except that Tim and I have been promised tickets to Tahiti (Murf, we’re still waiting, my passport expires in 2010). PS: I JUST REALIZED WHY MURF DELETED HER FORMER BLOG--SHE ERASED THE EVIDENCE OF HER PROMISE TO TIM AND ME.
Speaking of book reviews, Seawyf is back in the blogging business with a site devoted to books. Her first review is of a Umberto Eco novel of which I’m not familiar. Eco is known for his novel The Name of the Rose.
Continuing to speak of books, Maggie, another book review blogger and a librarian in Mississippi (hold the jokes about that being an easy job), has a summer reading challenge. It' s easy. Just read three books from southern authors and post reviews between June 1 and August 30. I’m up for the challenge and also encourage you (especially you Yankees, you know who you are) to join in the fun. My three books will be:
Terry Kay, The Year the Lights Came On
Ted Ownby, Subduing Satan, Religion, Recreation and Manhood in the Rural South, 1865-1920
Ernest Gaines, A Gathering of Old Man
I am also planning on reading the next book of Taylor Branch’s “America in the King Years” trilogy, A Pillar of Fire, 1963-1965. Click here for my review of the first book in the trilogy, The Parting of the Waters
Now I'm getting tired and can't get around to everyone, so be sure to check out the rest of the folks in my bloglist!
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Sunday afternoon I got to catch the last half of the Pittsburgh Pirates/Atlanta Braves ballgame. Although I would love to see the Pirates back over .500, a nice consolation was to watch them whip up on the Braves 13 to 2. Closer to home, it’s good to see the Detroit Tigers back in control of their division. Once again their Skipper Jim Leyland (the Pirate coach when I lived in Pittsburgh) is showing that he knows baseball.
Who’s working for Fido’s Vote: Have I missed it? I haven’t heard any of these talking heads running for President say anything about the contaminated gluten from China that has corrupted our pet foods and made many pets sick and causing the death of a few. Certainly, one of them has to be a pet lover? All politicians need a dog named Checkers that they can work into a speech when they are in need of sympathy from the votes!
The contaminated gluten incident shows just how vulnerable we in America are to have dangerous products brought into our country without being check. When I read that only a small percentage of shipping containers are checked by security, I wonder what is going on. It seems to me that they all should be checked for bombs or contraband. Furthermore, food products including that which goes into animal feed should be tested. The cost should be bore by the seller or shipper. Certainly this will mean that retail prices will rise a bit, as the price gets passed along, but it’s a small price to pay for security. I know some will see this “security tax” as a tariff. But I think they are wrong, it’s just good economics to make sure that all cost are accounted for. Otherwise, we subsidize the product, borrowing from our future. If there is a massive poisoning or an attack, the cost will be great and the destruction will not just include the physical damage but also damage to the world economy. By paying to have a bit more prevention in the short-run, all of us, the consumer and the supplier, will be more secure in the long run.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
The below piece is my entry for "Sunday Scribblings." I wanted to do something about my mother while staying in todays theme of "second chances." Sadly, the story is true.
My brother and I took our parents and younger brother to the airport. I don’t remember why my sister wasn’t with us, maybe she had to work. It was a few days after Christmas 1978. The air was cold and the goodbyes were tearful. Mom kept hugging us both as we waited for their plane, the first of several that would take them half way across the world. When it was time to board, we hugged one last time and then shook our dad’s and younger brother’s hand. They walked out to the plane and we waited as the door closed and the plane took off and banked toward Atlanta.
Before the age of the internet and back when the discounted phones rates to Japan was over a dollar a minute, we’d mostly communicated by letter for the next four years. Each summer, they’d come home. All three of us older kids would take trips over there, where they’d show us around the country. My parents seemed happy and the time they spent overseas was precious, but also hard. They were away for both my brother and my college graduations and only my mother would be present for his wedding. Although this was a time in life when it’s normal for children to become independent, and I’d been living on my own for over a year, their move facilitated our freedom. By the time they moved back stateside, we’d all be involved in careers and my sister and I would be living in new cities far from home.
My mother often lamented having been gone and how she wished things was still like it was before they moved overseas. What she didn’t realize, or at least didn’t admit, is that their move had little to do with the changes that were occurring. We were in college, we were getting older, and she knew that, sometimes she couldn’t help but wonder if things would have been different if they’d stayed in the states. Perhaps she’d have a second chance to have us all at home again. She longed for the past, when we were all living under the same roof. For years, she’d try every trick possible to get us all home at the same time. This was quite a feat after my sister and I moved to different corners of the country.
Before my dad retired, my parents would take another stint overseas for a couple of years. I’d move back and forth across the country a few times. We got into a routine of talking by phone nearly every Sunday and seeing each other once a year, sometimes twice. As when they were in Japan, my mother continued to be a letter writer. At some point, she switched to email, but still wrote long flowing letters about what they and the extended family including folks I’m not ever sure I’d recognize were doing. I should have known something was up with the letters stopped and when my mother’s calls became shorter. By the time she was diagnosed, the illness had progressed further than anyone had realized. I begin to realize a little how my mother felt, wanting a second chance to have everyone back at home and knowing it was never going to happen. We’d get no second chances of having our old mom back as her memory continued to fade.
A couple weeks ago, I was talking to my dad. I could hear him choke up as he told me about how, the night before, when he was checking the doors and making sure things were locked up for the evening, mom asked if we were all in for the night. Maybe, in her scrambled mind, she’s getting a second chance. Even though I still love her dearly and will always love her, I miss my old mom.
Friday, May 11, 2007
Thursday, May 10, 2007
This week I'm combining Bone's 3-word Wednesday with a personal story I've been meaning to write. The three words to use are "Packed, Cozy, Anticipation." The storyline is mostly true.
“So now sweet sixteen turns thirty-one.”
Six actors and actresses swirl on and off stage, playing a host of characters. “The Dining Room” was produced by the drama department at Lenior Rhyne College, who provided hundreds of laughs as fun was made by poking at many of the customs and habits surrounding this room. After the play, Paula and I discussed the dining customs of the homes in which we had grown up. It was a week before she was going to travel with me for a weekend visit with my parents. She was all excited about going to the coast and I, feeling a bit more feisty than usual, described my family’s rather formal dining habits. Diner, I assured her, required me to wear at least a tie and sports coat. My mother, and sister when at home, wore dresses. No one could eat until everyone sat down and we folded out hands and my father said grace. I could tell she was getting nervous, so I continued telling her about the about the various folks and what they were for and what was appropriate topics to be discussed and how to ask to be excused from the table, curtsying as permission is granted. Of course, I reassured her, for her first visit there would grace shown if she made a mistake. For the next week, anticipation built and our conversations always came back to how we dined in my parent’s home. I could tell we were going to be in for an enlightening weekend.
The night after the play, I called my mother and asked her if she and my dad would be willing to dress up for diner. I started off trying to tell her about how Paula was from some high flaunt-in Yankee family from New Jersey and how I really wanted to impress her. My mother would have none of it. She didn’t feel the need to impress anybody. Seeing that there was no way to trick them to play along, I decided to take a novel track and tell the truth. I told my mom that although Paula was from New Jersey, she was definitely blue collar background. This didn’t surprise anyone; my whole family assumed everyone from New Jersey was blue collared. Then I told her about the play and how Paula was intrigued by dining customs and I how I’d told her about our family’s formal customs at the evening table.
“You did what?” my mother shouted as I yanked the phone from my ringing ear. “That poor girl! You are not going to bring her down here to make fools out of her and us.” I knew I was in trouble. Although she hadn’t even met Paula, my mother was already feeling empathy for her. Knowing the day of reckoning was at hand, I allowed Paula to pack a couple of dresses for the weekend trip. She’d need one for church anyway. I kept quiet about the real nature of our family’s dining habits. There was, however, some truth to what I’d said. We did always say grace before the meal. But we didn't fold our hands and the only dress requirement was that we couldn’t wear wet swimming trunks to the table. My mother would have beaten us if we sat in her hardwood chairs with wet pants. And us guys also had to put on at least a t-shirt. Things are pretty relaxed along the coast. Bare feet were even preferred, as you left your shoes and flip-flops at the door to keep sand out of the house.
I decided to clue Paula in on the secret only after we crossed the Cape Fear River Bridge. We’d then be about 20 minutes from my parents home and five hours from where we lived. I assumed that by this point, she’d be less likely to want to turn around drive back west. I was wrong. She went ballistic and before we could go to my parent’s home, we went out to the beach and where I paid my penance, sitting on a bench out on the pier, listening to an hour or so diatribe about how I was an inconsiderate ass. But the sound of the surf has a calming effect and soon we were holding hands and driving over to my parents where my mother greeted her like a long lost daughter. Mom made Paula feel a bit too cozy, for the next afternoon, much to the ire of my mother, Paula came into the dining room and plopped herself down in my lap. My mother’s empathy dried up quicker than a puddle in sand and for once I think she was relieved on Sunday afternoon when I packed the car for the trip back across the state. From that day on, until she finally forgot about it like everything else, Paula was referred to as “that girl who had the audacity to sit in your lap in my dining room.”
Paula was thirty-one, four years older than me. I remember her age because I identified her with Bob Seger’s song, “Rock and Roll Never Forgets,” which although being out for six or seven years by this point was still being played on the radio. We met at a dance for members of the Explorer program, a Boy Scout program for older youth. She was a volunteer leader for a post in a neighboring county and, as this was in my scouting days, I was paid to be there. Thinking it might not be a good idea to hit on the female Explorer members (most were under age), I asked Paula to dance. A week after the dance I invited her over for dinner. I was looking for an excuse to try a recipe I’d found for duck. That was all it took, she assumed that by roasting a duck for her, I was a romantic. For the next six months, we had a rocky “on again, off again” relationship. We were different, but we had fun. I’d blush when she’d employ her sailor’s vocabulary or over indulge with alcohol, but was always touched by her generous heart that was filled with good intentions and what she did as a single mom to make a good life for her son.
For more of Sage's memories, click here.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Stanley Karnow, Vietnam: A History (Peguin, 1997, 2nd edition), 784 pages
Stanley Karnow spent much of his career covering Vietnam and was uniquely prepared for writing this book. He was there in the early 50s, when the French were still in power; he was there through the United State era and in the final years of the war. In the early 80s, he traveled back to Vietnam, seeking and being granted interviews with key leaders from North Vietnam and the Vietcong, allowing him to draw on perspectives from the leaders of the North, South, the Vietcong and America.
With Karnow’s background as a journalist, it should not be surprising that this book reads like a series of journalistic dispatches instead of a detailed history of the country. Since he focuses on the narrative, often telling personal stories, the book reads somewhat like a novel. I found it enjoyable (I listened to it on an ipod, but did check the book out of the library and reread certain sections). However, Karnow’s focus on narrative means there are in places chronological gaps in the history as he jumps around following the story line, at times requiring him to catch up important pieces of history later in the narrative. Although Karnow mostly focuses on Vietnam’s history since the French involvement in the 19th Century, he does provide background information to the nation’s long struggle against Chinese domination.
Vietnam: A History does not deal with all the battles of the war. There are many other fine books that deal with particular campaigns and with the soldier’s life in the jungle. Karnow focuses most on the political side of the struggle, from the scheming of South Vietnamese officers for power, to reasons behind some of the decisions being made American politicians, to the strategy of the North and the role of the Chinese and Russians. Karnow reminds his readers the role of Johnson’s struggle with those on the right within the American government played in his leading the nation into Vietnam. Not wanting to be seen as “soft” on communism, especially during the ’64 election, as well as a desire to get his Great Society and Civil Rights policies passed, forced Johnson to take a harder stand on Vietnam. Likewise, Nixon also used the war to draw attention away from his domestic problems at home, especially with the Christmas bombings of 1972. Karnow also showed positive outcome of policies such as the role Nixon’s China’s visit and the warming of relations with the Soviet Union had with us getting out of the war. In addition he provides information such as the role the Chinese Cultural Revolution played, especially in the American invasion of Cambodia.
I’m sure that much of what Karnow says in this book is offensive to someone. He shows the ugly side of the war—covering not only American atrocities, but also those committed by South Vietnamese, the North, and the Vietcong. He also gives insight into the role religion played in the war. South Vietnam had both Buddhist and Catholics who generally were at odds, but there were also some small religious groups that played important roles at particular junctures in the war. Finally, Karnow does a great job covering the corruption that existed and probably more than anything led to the downfall of the South. I recommend this book as a way of understanding the larger picture of what happened in Vietnam as well as a way to help us understand more about our current war.
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
The good life! I just wish I had more time to enjoy it.
My view from the hammock—a front row seat to watch the leaves unfurl into a full canopy.
The hammocks. The colorful two are from Honduras. The white rope one, an “Outer Banks Hammock, was made on Wrightsville Beach, NC
Sunday, May 06, 2007
I’d been sleeping and woke up to the rumble of the old Northeast Cape Fear River Bridge. We were coming into Wilmington for my first time. I could taste salt in the air. Looking back, it seems a bit strange to have detected salt there, ten miles from the ocean. Maybe it was all in my mind. From the day I’d learned we were moving near the ocean, my psyche had been consumed with visions of jellyfish and sharks and stingrays and hurricanes. I wasn’t particularly happy. I was nine years old and sitting in the back seat with my brother and sister and all my friends were all 200 miles away. It was August 1966.
We spent that night in a motel but it’s all a fog. I’m sure my mother wiped the bathroom down with Lysol before she allowed us to use it. I remember that it was too late to swim in the pool and we were told we had to be at our new house first thing in the morning in order to meet the moving van. There’d be no time for swimming then either.
For the past several weeks we kids had stayed with our grandparents. My brother and I shared a bedroom with my uncle L, a teenager. I think he was going into the tenth grade. For what seemed to be hours on end, he played and replayed the Rolling Stone’s “Satisfaction,” off a 45 record with scratches. Each time, he’d sing loud and off key as he strummed his make-believe guitar, otherwise known as my grandmother’s broom. During this of Rock and Roll immersion (its amazing my brother and I grew up to like rock music) my parents brought a house near Wilmington and packed up our stuff in Petersburg. I was a little incensed at the time for being cut out of the action, but having had the experience of moving back and forth across the country as an adult, I think maybe I should send my parents a thank you note for sparing us the details.
I don’t remember much about the next morning. Where did we eat breakfast? Did we have to wait for the moving van? All I remember was that we were moving into what was suppose to be a neighborhood, which contained very few houses. In another year, that would change. But at this time we were surrounded with woods and swamps, but when things were quiet and the conditions right, you could hear the surf breaking in the distance. My other memory is that there were plenty of boxes and lots of unpacking to do. Dad said if we got everything done, we could go to the beach late that the afternoon. I wasn’t too excited since I was sure I’d be eaten by a shark or stung by a jellyfish or a stingray. I felt it was best to put off such experiences, but that wasn’t to be the case. That afternoon, around five, we headed out to the beach. I decided to take the plunge. I was either going to get whatever disaster that awaited me over with, or the water was going to wake up from my bad dream so that I’d find myself in our house in Petersburg with Bubba and Denise yelling for me to come play. So I ran right into the surf. I got wet, my eyes burned from the salt, but nothing bad happened. A few hours later when we returned home, my skinned itched from the salt, but otherwise I was unscathed.
Over time, the fear of the sea waned and I began to cherish living so close to the ocean. Although I no longer tasted the salt in the air, when conditions were right, I could hear the roll of the surf from our yard. When I go back, one of the first things I do is to head out to the beach for a walk. I don’t care if its day or night, rain or shine, summer or winter, there’s something special about being on the sand and listening to the sound of the surf. And now that I’m once again a visitor, I again taste the salt when I arrive home.
Saturday, May 05, 2007
I went on a wildflower hike this morning in a ravine area that’s located a few miles south of town. It was interesting, being in the company of several experts—academics who had to tell you the Latin name of a plant before they could recall the common name. I didn’t see any morels, but ramps (a strong onion like plant) were abundant.
Roses are red,
violets are blue...
A couple weeks back Kenju interviewed me. Two people then invited me to interview them. Click on their names to check out Murf's and Trailady's interview.
Last night I spent some time updating the links to my blog. I finally got Murf’s and Kenju’s and several other URLs updated as well as some others working. It also took me a while to figure out how to get my new profile picture. It’s a collage made up of small snapshots of my library and I posted it in the blog last month. If you want to go back and see if you can read any of the titles, click here.
Friday, May 04, 2007
I took the morning off and was doing some work in the garage and out in the back year. This included putting up my hammocks for the summer season. Right now, since the leaves haven’t completely unfurled, I could get a tan while sleeping on the hammocks, but that’ll change in a week or so when the leaves are out and the hammocks are shady. I digress. I’ll talk about hammocks later, now I want to talk about this dog whose neck I want to wring.
Trisket is pretty good about staying with you. When someone is out working or playing in the yard, the dog is free to roam. With his herding instincts, he never gets very far away. This is okay, except that the yard backs up to some woods and the corner of a pasture and somewhere out there the dog has found something dead and stinky to roll in. And this isn’t the first time. He did it last week. He’s done it his whole life. Once in Utah, when he was probably only six months old, we were hiking in a canyon in the winter and found something dead to roll in and the dog and came back to me wagging his tail and stinking to high heaven. I grabbed him by the collar and dragged him into the nearly frozen creek, getting us both wet, as I tried to get him as clean as possible before the trip home (I didn’t have the truck then, and I wasn’t going to let him inside the car smelling like a dead rat). Trisket rolls himself in dead stinky stuff at least twice a summer. Its not even summer and he’s already reached his quota for this year. For some reason, far beyond my ability to understand, the dog gets great pleasure out of this disgusting habit. And he knows it drives me crazy. A few minutes ago, he came running out of the strip of woods with a smile on his face, only to stop as soon as I looked up. His tail had been wagging, but it quickly dropped between his legs. He knew he’d been caught doing something that brought him great happiness (in some perverse sense) while angering me. Now he’ll have to get a bath, which he loves.
There is an old Appalachian folksong titled “Don’t You Hear Jerusalem Moan.” One of the verses goes:
Well a Cambellite preacher his soul is saved
Well he has to be baptized every other day
That’s my dog. He loves sinning and bathing and I suppose there are a lot of us like that. We know we shouldn’t do it, but it’s just so much fun, and afterwards we feel guilty until we realize that God still loves and forgives us. I’m also sure there are been times God has wanted to wring my neck just like I want to wring my dog’s neck.
Okay, enough ranting. God has been graceful and I should do the same. I’ve now cooled off enough that I can go out and perform a canine baptism without being tempted to drown the mutt.
Thursday, May 03, 2007
Another "reflection" photo. I took this photograph of the courthouse clock tower reflecting in a pool of water along a side street this Tuesday.
That last hour
caught in a whirlwind
the rumble of past and present
swirled in my head.
Walking the streets of San Francisco
up Telegraph Hill, I think of Sharon.
“Let’s call her,” Nancy encourages,
joining my steps as she reads my mind.
“I want to meet her, we can go for a beer.”
“But it’s been twenty years,” I retort,
as I walked through the cars to my seat.
With a drink in hand, I sit alone,
and watch the towns zoom by,
the train racing toward Seoul.
Why this is my destination, I’m not sure,
except that she has been here too.
Suddenly birds flock to the dogwoods
outside my window.
Breaking into a spring chorus,
thirty minutes before sunrise,
and I find myself safely in bed,
tired from having traveled the world,
my soul bare
and sinuses congested.
This is an attempt to put into a poem (using Bone’s “Three Word Wednesday”) a dream that I had early this morning. I always find it interesting how dreams bring dissimilar people together. I also know that I dream more vividly when my sinuses are congested (thanks to the spring allergy season). Nancy is someone I know here. Although a friend, she not someone I have confided in about past relationships. Sharon was a girlfriend back in the mid-80s. It’s been nearly 20 years since we talked. When we were dating, I once met her in San Francisco and both of us have been to Korea, but at different times.
for more of Sage's attempts at poetry, click here.
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
“My mother asked if he had lived in Sabbath Creek all his life. ‘Not yet.’” Stroud’s answers were often allusive. Over the days Lewis and his mother Charlene were stranded in the town, they came to know the old black man who ran the ran-down motel. It was a memorable week at the end of a trip through Georgia as Lewis’ mother fled an abusive marriage. Over a few days, Lewis experiences disappointments and tragedies while learning about baseball, other people’s tragedies, love and grace. Stroud, who is 93, tells him about playing baseball with Satchel Paige and becomes a stable father figure to a boy whose father has been at best a paradox.
“I already knew what a paradox was, long before Miss Young tried to explain it to me: a father who loved you and whose love you needed so much it was like deep thirst; a father who made you sick with his drinking, made you hate him, but who tossed the ball back and forth with you for hour s in the backyard, each lob or hard throw like a sentence passed between you, almost as good as words.” (page 131)
In the final part of the book, Lewis runs away. He’d overheard his mother confide to Stroud that she never wanted a child and wanted to do away with her pregnancy. The old man chastised her, saying the boy was a precious gift. But the sting of his mother’s comments hurt Lewis and the boy takes off. During his three day trip, he experiences grace from a disabled Vietnam veteran who can’t do much for him except fix peanut butter sandwiches. He gets into a fight and is rescued by Eva, a girl a year older who he’s come to know. With her son missing, Charlene calls her husband, Lewis’ father, who immediately sets out to help search for the boy. Driving way too fast, he’s killed in an auto accident. Stroud was the only one honest enough to tell the boy that it was partly his fault, but the old man insisted that he couldn’t let his father’s death drag him down as he shared his tragedies with the boy. Thinking of all the tragedies, Lewis asks Stroud why God lets such things happen. “Be still,” Stroud says. Obviously Mitcham wants his readers to recall the words Lewis had read several days earlier from the Gideon Bible he’d found in the hotel room, “Be still and know that I am God.” (p. 90, from Psalm 46) It’s may not seem to be the answer he’s seeking, but it might be the only answer available.
I enjoyed this book and read it in two sittings. With words, Mitcham paints pictures of life through the eyes of a boy about to turn 14. Interestingly, there seems to be less tension between the races that I’d expect, but throughout the story, Lewis learns about a parallel world that had once existed and was enforced with Jim Crow laws and segregation. There are other interesting twists in the book. I was almost expecting the mother to kill the father (she’d purchased a pistol and had been practicing shooting it), and was in a weird sense relieved when he died in another fashion. The emotions shown by both parents are honest. We all have a tendency to care deeply and hurt those we love at the same time, and it is through the kindness experienced during tragedies that we get a taste of grace.