Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Rachel and Nevada 375: Memories of a Place

This is a description of a favorite out of the way place. Maybe I’ll start a new feature of my log, writing about such places. The last time I was in Rachel was 2002. For more information on the town and for the source of the picture, click here.

I see the lights of Rachel a good ten miles away, soon after crossing Queen City Summit. “The bar will be open,” I say to myself, “I’ll get a cup of coffee and stretch my legs and take in some of the night air.” It’s after ten and I still have two hundred miles to drive to get home. In the hundred plus miles since Tonopah, I’ve only passed a couple of vehicles. I roll my windows down and stick my head outside, trying to stay awake and alert. Nobody’s likely to see if you run off the road in this country; furthermore since this is open range, I’m sharing the road with cows. They’re hard to see at night. “Thank God for Rachel,” I mumble, thinking about how this is one of three stops in the next two hundred miles where I can get coffee. I'd topped off my tank in Tonopah knowing that the few gas stations along this stretch are closed by this time of night.

Entering town, I pull off at the “Little A”le’Inn,” the center of Rachel’s night life. I’m shocked to see so many cars and people mulling around. Normally, there’d only be a car and maybe a pickup or two out in front. Tonight, I have to search to find a place to park. The line to the bar starts at the front door.

What’s going on?” I ask the guy in front of me.

“It’s Labor Day weekend,” he says, “people come from all over on Labor Day and Memorial Day weekends to check out the UFOs.” I’d noticed just outside the front door, mounted on a tripod, was a parabolic listening device. “These people are serious,” I think to myself. Many of them have cameras and binoculars dangling from their necks. At the booth closest to me a couple cleans the lens for their cameras. I consider telling them not to bother, as I’ve yet to see picture of a UFO taken through a clean lens, but I decide to hold my tongue.

“Do you think they’re really UFOs out here?” I ask

“I’m not sure, but you see some strange things,” he says, adding that he mostly comes up from Vegas to enjoy the party.

I look around at the eclectic crowd. There are guys with pencil protectors in their shirt pockets talking to guys with tie-died t-shirts. Some look to be college-aged, others probably have great-grandchildren. Many appear to have been strung out on drugs since the 60s, others look like they come straight from a desk job at IBM. It looks like a lot of fun and I imagine myself as a reporter for the Rolling Stones, getting to know these people and writing about their weekend shin-dig. Unfortunately, I have to get back home. I’d been gone for two weeks, hiking in the Sierras.

It takes me a while to get up to the bar and then I have to wait for the bartender to make another pot of coffee. Then he fills my insulated spill proof cup. I head outside, climb into the car and drive eastward into the darkness, over Coyote Summit and across Tikaboo Valley. It’s sad to leave the lights behind, for even if they don’t see a UFO, they’re going to have a good time.

In my travels between California and Utah, I’ve probably stopped at Rachel a dozen times. There are only two businesses in town. The gas station is on the east end. It includes a store that would make a 7-11 appear to be a supermarket. I’ve never seen it open after dark and their hours are irregular, another reason why to top off your tank before heading this direction. On the west end of town is the Little A’Le'Inn, a combo restaurant, bar, casino and motel. The motel rooms consist of refurbished trailers parked out back. I don’t think the place would make the Triple A Guide. But people come here because Rachel is the closest town to the supposedly secret Area 51, where some believe our government holds intergalactic aliens as POWs. Others think that the government has made a secret pack with some space race in order to dominate the world. I don’t believe it, but there is no doubt that strange things are seen in the skies along Nevada 435. Driving along this stretch, I’ve been scared out of my pants when a jet, flying maybe 50 feet off the ground, comes up behind me. Because of his speed, you don’t here him until he’s come and gone. Once, while checking out the mining sites in the Timpahute Range northeast of Rachel with Ralph, we watched several jets in apparent dogfight. I’ve never seen such aerial maneuvers, as they turned and swirled back and forth. One jet climbed almost straight up like a rocket, only to turn and come back to earth at supersonic speeds. When the jet went behind the mountain, we looked for a fireball, assuming it crashed, but was surprised to see it pull back up and climb again. Neither of us could believe that a place could do that.

This is barren country and all the land south of Rachel is controlled by the government. It’s a training ground for Nellis Air Force Base. The stealth fighters and bombers are tested in this area. It also contains the Nevada Test Site, where nuclear weapons were tested. Rachel is a relatively new town. In the 1860s, the town of Tempiute grew up around a vein of silver to the north east. That petered out. Later a tungsten deposit was discovered and until the 1980s, Union Carbide ran a mine there. Most of the miners lived in Rachel. There are also a few ranches scattered along 435, but it takes a lot of this poor arid soil to produce enough grass to feed a cow.

Every time I stop at the “Little A’Le’Inn” I meet interesting people. Once there was a family from Germany who came to see UFOs. Another time there were several young adults from the Netherlands. One evening, there was a couple at the bar who had driven up from Las Vegas. They were nearly out of gas and the gas station had already closed for the day (and the owners had headed to Vegas), so they’d rented a room at the motel and made the best of the evening by drinking hardly. They probably saw some good sights that night as well as some bugs on the wall in the morning. The bartender is always willing to offer advice as to the best places to supposedly see UFOs. And the walls of the place have pictures and clippings about UFOs and even a signed photograph of Spock from Star Trek. Recently, Nevada 375 was christened “The Extraterrestrial Highway,” a move that has helped bring the curious to town to support Rachel’s businesses.

I’m sure most people who drive across Nevada 375 think it’s the worst road to travel, but I find comfort in the desolation. A hundred or so miles to the north is US 50, dubbed the loneliness road in America by Life Magazine back in the 60s. Compared to Nevada 375, Highway 50 is a crowded freeway. Each end of the highway is located at a hot spring. The road begins at the site of Warm Springs along US 6. There use to be a gas station with a swimming pool, but that’s all been closed. You can still stop and soak your feet in the warm sulfur smelling water as it runs through a ditch. The other end of the highway, 98 miles to the southeast, is at the junction with US 93 at Crystal Springs. Crystal Springs are huge, with deep pools of warm water that creates a large wetland and bird sanctuary that never freezes. For those interested, there are other hot springs in the area. Just south on US 93 are the communities of Ash and Alamo, both of which have springs. Further to the east is Caliente, another with its developed springs. The traveler along this road needs to be prepared. It’s a long ways to help. There are limited services in Tonopah (108 miles west of Rachel) and Caliente (98 miles to the east of Rachel). The nearest city is Las Vegas, 140 miles south of Rachel.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Reflections on last night's dream and a review of "For One More Day"

This morning, sometime before 6 AM, I spent a day with B. It was a weird, but I was glad to have the opportunity. I drove down to Pittsburgh and arrived late in the morning. He was getting ready to go into a meeting and invited me to come along since I’d know a few of the people from when we worked together nearly 20 years ago. B introduced me to those who didn’t know me and then ran a smooth meeting. When it was over, an hour or so later, he passed around a wooden box with fine chocolates. B always liked the finer things in life. He invited me to follow him, as he had to run some errands. I followed in my truck and was surprised to see B driving a snooped up late 60s Chevy Chevelle that was undergoing renovation. When finished, it looked like it'll be a nice car. B’s vehicles had always been more utilitarian and conservative. Since I’ve known him, he’d mostly driven a series of Subaru station wagons. But then I remembered the time we meet at a conference in Denver. I’d rented the car and they assigned me a PT Cruiser. I wasn’t sure about it, but Brent thought it was great and we drove around town like a couple of gangsters. “Did he always like hot cars?” I wondered.

In the dream, one of the places we stopped while running around the burghs on Pittsburgh’s Northside was a tire store. As he was having new tires installed, I asked about the car. “I always wanted one like this when I was growing up,” he said. I thought it was odd that he was getting new tires since he wasn’t going to be around much longer, but was impressed that he was living as if life was going to go on forever. It was like I knew what would happen, but couldn’t bring myself to ask him about it. Instead, we talked about skiing and fly fishing. We left the tire place and went to meet Mary, a mutual friend, for dinner. I kept thinking I couldn't stay long for I needed to get on the road home, and I woke up before we got to Mary's house.

The day had a surreal but comfortable feel about it. B treated people with kindness and respect, a trademark of his. And they responded to his warmth with an obvious love for him. Throughout it all, I wondered why no one was talking about the obvious, that B didn’t have much time left. In the dream I couldn’t bring myself to ask questions about his death and was wondering if I was the only one who knew.

B took his life in early November; it was nice to be able to spend another day with him and I wasn't ready to wake up this morning.

I’m pretty sure I know where this dream came from. I was so busy the last two months of the year that I pushed B’s death out of my mind. But every once in a while, something happens that brings it back into the forefront. A conversation I had yesterday triggered his memory. Furthermore, late last week I’d read Mitch Albom’s book, For One More Day. This was a book that I’d been given for Christmas and it’s time that I read Michigan’s own “chic-lit” author. It didn’t take me too long to read the book. I read most of it Friday night, while sitting in my truck in the freezing cold waiting for our exchange student to come back from an out of town volleyball game. The bus was an hour late and I got 3/4’s of the way through the book.

For One More Day is the story of Chick (a name that I thought ironic, since this is classic chic-lit). Chick’s parents divorced when he was young. It’s the story of how he kept trying to win his father’s approval (which was always linked to baseball) and how he never appreciated his mother who took on extra jobs so that he and his sister could go to college. Chick led a self-absorbed life. Probably his only redeeming feature is that he played part of a season for the Pittsburgh Pirates. But he was always so focused on earning his father’s love that he couldn’t be there for his mother or for his family. After losing everything, he tries to commit suicide, but even screws that up. He then dreams (or is it a dream?) about his mother and from this encounter, finds the will to go on with life, The book’s okay, but then again Albom isn’t just a chic-lit author, he’s also a sports writer for the Detroit Free Press. When you write about sports in Detroit, it pays to have a sideline like writing sappy books about the relationships between mothers and sons.

Friday, January 26, 2007

They Marched Into Sunlight: A Book Review

David Maraniss, They Marched into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002) 572 pages including notes, bibliography and index.

I was in Mr. Brigg's 5th grade class in the fall of 1967. At the same time, David Maraniss was a freshman at the University of Wisconsin, site of one of the first violent anti-war protests. I don't recall any of the anti-war protest in '67 and Maraniss recalls little of the protests, mostly just a whiff of tear gas he got while watching the chaos from a distance. After exhaustive research, he now knows more about it and after reading his book, I understand a bit about what was happening.

There had been numerous protests against the Vietnam War prior to October ‘67, but the Wisconsin protest marked a change in tactics on both sides. Unbeknownst to the protesting students, the day before and half a world away, the “Black Lions,” a highly decorated American battalion, was ambushed in the Long Nguyen Secret Zone northwest of Saigon. Using the Wisconsin protest and the battle as a backdrop, and based upon countless interviews, Maraniss weaves together a compelling story. This is a timely book, as we again find ourselves as a nation in a war that is raises a lot of questions.

The world was more innocent in ’67. Although thousands of soldiers had died in Vietnam, the battle of October 17, 1967 was especially troublesome. It was unheard of such a large force to be ambushed. There were many mistakes made on the American side in the battle. Some of the bad decisions were made by commanders on the ground, who even though they made mistakes, by all reports remained calm in the face of overwhelming odds. Other decisions were made by higher ups far removed from battle. One such decision at the beginning of the battle was to halt artillery fire to allow air strikes to move in. But the air support wasn’t forthcoming and the soldiers were left to their own resources for over thirty minutes. During this time they couldn’t even use mortars. Prior battles plans called for American soldiers to engage the enemy, and then withdraw allowing air strikes and artillery to be brought in on enemy positions. This time, with the battalion commander under pressure to engage the enemy, the Americans didn’t pull back and found themselves fighting for the lives against a hidden and much larger enemy force.

By the time the battle was over, there was plenty of blame to be passed around. In addition to poor decisions, equipment failure was also a problem. The equipment officer in going over the heavy machine guns found that of the eight abandoned on the battlefield, only two were functioning properly. Many M-16s jammed as well as the grenade launchers. Pinned down by a well hidden enemy, the failure of equipment only added to the chaos.

The dead from the October 17th battle included the battalion commander, Lt. Colonel Terry Allen, son of a World War II General and Major Donald Holleder, who had been a football standout at West Point. The Army couldn’t deny the battle occurred, so they tried their best to spin the events. With so many of the ground commanders and officers dead, this was easier than it might have been. They greatly inflated the number of enemy killed. They refused to call the battle an ambush and called it a victory even though survivors said otherwise. One of the most amazing “spins” of the battle was awarding Major General Hay, commander of the 1st Division, the Silver Star for his heroic actions that day. Maraniss found no evidence that he was even on site during the battle, yet the citation tells about how he brought his command helicopter in low to direct artillery fire on enemy positions. If it hadn’t been so deadly, some of the antics of the military would have been quite humorous. “What a funny war,” one soldier kept saying in his letter’s home.

If Vietnam was changing in ’67, so were things on American campuses. As protests replaced panty raids, police and university administrators found themselves in a new situation. In Wisconsin, what many assumed would be a peaceful protest, with many of the students having learned non-violent tactics in the civil rights movement, turned into a full scale riot. What started as a protest against Dow Chemical (makers of napalm) on October 18, ended up in a full scale riot. Neither students nor police were equipped to handle the situation. Only four officers in Madison had riot training. Many students, who had been ambivalent toward the war, became incensed at the police handling of the situation and became overnight radicals. A split began to occur between extremists who wanted to tear down the system and those who were just against the war. The radicals began to despise the liberals almost as much as they despised the conservatives. Maraniss provides detail into the lives of students and facility involved as well as background into the planning by both the students and the police.

The weekend after the protests in Madison, many of Wisconsin’s students boarded buses to Washington DC for a march against the war. In the city, a depressed President Johnson was trying to figure it all out. Maraniss provides a behind the scene looks at the collapsing Johnson administration.

This books gives insight into lives and training of the officers and soldiers in Vietnam, takes you into the boardroom of Dow Chemical, into the halls of academia and into the White House. Maraniss does an outstanding job weaving together all these threads as he recalls the events in the fall of ’67. Although I recommend this book, it’s only a start in understanding the complexity of the Vietnam War.

On a totally irrelevant topic, THIS IS MY 300th POST!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Answering Machine Blues

“Earth to Sage, Earth to Sage, you got a call down here on line four, over.”

“Earth, this is Sage, I can’t take it right now, how about have them leave a name and number and I’ll call them back when I swing in on a lower orbit, over.”

Roger Sage, we’ll take care of it.

“Will the party calling Sage please leave your name and number after the beep and he’ll get back to you, thank you.”

This dialogue was on my answering machine back in late 1985 and early 1986. Playing in the background was a recording of Richard Strauss’ “Thus Spake Zarathustra”(that’s also the theme for “2001: A Space Odyssey”). I recorded my parts of the dialogue through a paper towel roll to give it a distant sound. It was great.

Of course, my boss at the time didn’t think it was too great. The messages didn’t sound professional enough for him, and since my office was in my house, he thought they were inappropriate. Since I was paying for the phone line and the answering machine, and my messages weren’t vulgar, I didn’t think he had the right to complain. But he did. I was working for the Boy Scouts at this time. One of the richest men in the region, who was also running one of my fundraising campaigns, called my house one day. He laughed so hard I could hardly make out his name. Then he called back several times, so that his secretary and others could listen. When we were discussing the message on my machine later, I quietly suggested he tell my boss how funny he thought they were. I don’t think my boss appreciated his humor nor did he care to be set up by me.

When the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up, all a sudden I found my answering machine sounding disrespectful. I erased it and tried another tack.

“This is Sage. I can’t talk to you at the moment because I have laryngitis,” I mumbled weakly. “If you leave your name and number, I’ll call you back when I can talk.” About a week later, I came down with the worst case of laryngitis in my life. I’d call people back and they’d say, “I thought you were kidding, you really do have it.”

It should have bothered me that I was getting a strong track record as a prophet, but I didn’t let it get to me. Instead, after I got my voice back, I got even bolder and recorded another message. “This is Sage. I am sorry that I am not able to come to the phone. At this moment, I am incarcerated. If you leave your name and number and a brief message, I’ll call you back as soon as I make bail or bust out. If you would like to contribute to the Sage Legal Defense Fund, you may send your checks to PO Box XYZ.”

I knew this one was pushing the envelope a bit. Shortly afterwards, someone called the council office to complain. The next time I was in town (the council office was in Gastonia), my boss called me into his office and gave me an ultimatum. I had to remove the silly recordings because someone had complained to him. I argued back, but to no avail and went home and changed the message to “I’m not here: you can leave a message if you like.” The good Lord must have been on my side, for a day or two later a thunderstorm came through and a lightning bolt struck a neighbor’s tree and fried my answering machine. As I knew I was going to be resigning soon to go to grad school, I kept making excuses for not getting an answering machine until after I’d given my notice. By then, no one cared.

Before I left, my boss’ secretary pulled me aside to tell me that that lady who complained about my answering machine probably had every bit of a fifth grade education. She called yelling, “I know what incarcerated means, why do you have someone working for the scouts in jail?” I suppose she assumed that I set up my answering machine with the one call they let me make before slamming the cell door.

After I left the ranks of Professional Scouts in the late summer of ’86, I never bothered to get creative with my answering machine. Today, if you call my house, you’ll get the computer telling you to leave a message. That’s appropriate, since most messages left are from other computers telling me about some kind of great deal they have to offer. I’d say, let the computers talk, but then wasn’t taking computers where humans got in trouble in “2001: A Space Odyssey”?

The only other option for my answering machine would be Karl Kastle’s voice (I’m not sure of the spelling, it may be Carl Castle or some variation thereof, but it doesn’t matter because he’s on radio and no one can read the credits). If you win one of the silly games on the NPR show “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” one of the prizes is to get his voice recording on your home answering machine. Karl reads the morning NPR news. Having his voice on my machine would be cool, or would that be kool?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

5 Random Facts

Photo of a friend skiing this past Saturday.

I haven’t had much time nor the motivation to write much lately. I was tagged by Kevin Stilley, one his few select blog-friends, with the “5 Random Facts” meme. I was also tagged by Gautami Sujata Tripathy. Here I go breaking my rule of only doing meme’s for southern women, as Kevin is a southern man and Gautami a woman from northern India. But that’s okay, it gives me something to take my mind off of what I’m supposed to be doing. And it keeps me from having to be creative in my blog! Here are five random facts about me:

1. If I was in the comics, I'd be Dennis the Meance.
2. If I could quit my day job and do anything, I’d become a train engineer.
2. Some people think I’m a Calvinist, but I’m more Zwinglian. (in response to Kevin's 5 things)
4. I use to make up funny things for my answering machine. (I’ll have to blog about this sometime).
5. I was a bald baby and folks called me Ike.

Bonus random fact: I'm only two posts away from 300!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Catching up, Quotes,and a photo

We had almost a whole week of winter. On Friday, I headed up north and spent all day Saturday skiing with a bunch of high schoolers. It’s good to know that I can still hold my own (actually, I do even better than that which means I seldom see the kids as they don't spend much time of the most difficult-which aren't that challenging-slopes). My ego was boosted when a ski patrol guy put a sales job on a friend and me, suggesting we consider signing up. If it wasn’t so far! Before I left Friday, I got my daughter out in the backyard on cross-country skis. That’s her in the picture (No, I’m not going to show her face, I'm going to protect her privacy). She and I will have to get out on skis some this week, she’s pretty good, if I could just get her to hold her poles correctly. That'll come in time.

The fire is warm, my drink is cold, I've had a long afternoon nap, the dog is having his nap at my feet, heaven must be near.

I've been delinquent in keeping up my index, but this evening I've caught my book and movie review index up to date. Check it out here.

I’ve been rather delinquent in posting quotes of my readings, here’s some from this past week:

On having an “Economist’s Version” of American Idol, from my favorite economist: “someone explaining why picking your nose is like predatory pricing because you're reducing your air flow in the short-run to increase it in the long-run.” (you just thought economic profs were boring, if we could just get them to write in complete sentences…) fromVoluntaryXchange

"Some of them died. Some of them were not allowed to."
-David Maraniss, They Marched into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967 (my review is coming soon)

In only a few years the world of pavement, speed and universal dissatisfaction had extended itself into nearly every place and nearly every mind, and the old world of the mule team and wagon was simply gone, leaving behind it a scatter of less and less intelligible relics.”
Wendell Berry, “A Return to Port William” in the Christian Century, January 9, 2007. This is an excerpt from his new book, Andy Catlett: Early Travels. (I'll have to get this book!)

"What the disorderly crave above everything is order, what the dislocated aspire to is location. Reading my way out of disaster in the Berkeley library, I had run into Henry Adams. “Chaos,” he told me, “is the law of nature, order is the dream of man.” No one had ever put my life to me with such precision."
-Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety

"How lovely it is to be chosen…"
-Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety

"Recollection, I have found, is usually about half invention…"
-Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety (keep that in mine when reading my recollections)

"Poetry ought to be a by-product of living, and you can’t have a by-product unless you had a product first. It’s immoral not to get in and work and get your hands dirty."
-Charity, in Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety

"The two terms, “spiritual” and “theology” keep good company with one another. “Theology” is the attention that we give to God, the effort we give to knowing God as revealed in the Holy Scriptures and in Jesus Christ. “Spiritual” is the insistence that everything that God reveals of himself and his works is capable of being lived by ordinary men and women in their homes and workplaces. “Spiritual” keeps “theology” from degenerating into merely thinking and talking and writing about God at a distance. “Theology” keeps “spiritual” from becoming merely thinking and talking and writing about the feelings and thoughts one has about God. The two words need each other, for we know how easy it is to let our study of God (theology) get separated from the way we live; we also know how easy it is for us to let our desires to live whole and satisfying lives (spiritual lives) get disconnected from who God actually is and the ways he works among us."
-Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology

Friday, January 19, 2007

What's Important

Sage overlooking Liberty Lake, Ruby Mountains in Nevada, 2001

As I am no longer 49 years old, and therefore on the down hill run, maybe it’s time I get around to formalizing what is important to me. Without being too “religious” and hopefully without sounding too self-righteous (believe me, my closets ain’t that clean) here’s a start.

Sage’s goal in life is to:

-To leave the path he travels a little better than he found it
-To realize that everyone is special and valuable
-To help those who can’t fend for themselves
-To understand that beauty and looks, needs and desires are often different things
-To be thankful for what I have, for those who have helped me along the way, and for the Creator
-To never be too busy that he can’t take a moment to appreciate a sunrise or sunset, to stand in awe and watch a thunderstorm, to be amazed at a snowfall or to value the serenity of a fire
-To savor good food and drink and entertainment, but all in moderation knowing that both hoarding and indulging cheapens the experience

This is a start. What do you think?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Earth: A movie review

Lahore, the city of gardens and cosmopolitan capital of Punjab, was once the diverse home of Muslims, Hindus, Sikh, Christians and a few Parsees. With the partition of India in 1947, Lahore became a part of Pakistan and the city erupted into chaos. Deepa Mehta’s film Earth explores the turmoil through the eyes of Lenny (Mai Sethna), a young girl who hobbles around with her handicap legs. The movie is based on Bapsi Sidhwa's novel, Cracking India.

Lenny’s family are Parsees (a Zoroastrianism sect). As a minority within the subcontinent, they remain neutral in the partition between the Muslims of Pakistan and the Sikhs and Hindu’s of India. As a family, they are wealthy with many servants and they entertain leading members of the community from all religious backgrounds. Lenny’s nanny is the lovely Shanta (Nandita Das), a young Hindu woman who is courted by a group of young men: Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. As the movie begins, you can feel the rising tension between religious groups. Eventually this breaks out into open violence. A trainload of massacred Muslims fleeing India pulls into Lahore, Muslim men burn Hindu businesses and mobs of Sikhs riot, beating Muslims. Confused, Lenny watches this escalation in fear.

Against the backdrop of the rising violence, two of Shanta’s suitors, both Muslims, propose marriage. She rejects the Ice Candy Man proposal (Aamin Khan) and the young Lenny tries to sooth his feelings telling him she’ll marry him. Shanta accepts the hand of Hassan (Rahul Khanna), also a Muslim. Hassan promises Shanta he’ll flee with her to India and convert to the Hindu faith. Before they can leave for safety, Hassan is killed (I assume his death came from the hands or the friends of the Ice Cream Man. As a more of a fanatic Muslim than Hassan, he's upset to learn that Shanta has accepted Hassan's proposal. Perhaps he even knows Hassan is leaving the faith). Shortly after the discovery of Hassan's death, a mob of Muslim men approach Lenny’s home and demand Shanta and the gardener be handed over. The gardener was Hindu, but with the violence against the Hindu by the Muslims, has recently converted. Embarrassingly, he has to prove that he has converted (although nudity is avoided in this scene, it’s understood that he does this by showing he’s been circumcised). The family has hidden Shanta, but the Ice Candy Man tricks Lenny into telling him where she is hiding. Then the Ice Candy Man tells the mob where Shanta is at and the nanny is dragged out of the house and carted off as the family pleas and begs for her return. You're left with feeling that Shanta fate is doomed in the hands of the Muslim men.

The conclusion of the scene, with Santa being led away, is similar to the ending of Mehta's movie Water. The exception being, in Water, that the girl being taken away represents hope. Here, the scene depicts the helplessness of Lenny’s family to save her nanny and the hopelessness of peace in Lahore.

The last scene is of Lenny as an older woman, thinking back to the trouble of her youth. She never saw Shanta again after her “betrayal,” even though her family continued to search for her among the refugees.

Earth is a powerful movie that deals with difficult religious and political issues. Through the eyes of Lenny, we see how a religiously pluralistic society breaks down as fear and rumors abound. You’re left with a feeling of sadness, but also a hope that things could have happened differently. For once Lahore was a place where those of many faiths lived together in harmony.

Click here for my review of Deepa Mehta's movie "Water"
Click here for a book review of Freedom at Midnight, a book about the partition of India.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Happy Birthday to Me

Sage, with a farmer's tan, taking a break while fishing and canoeing the Fox River, July 2006.

Sometime today I’ll begin my downhill run. At an hour that escapes me (I forgot to look at the clock in the hospital), the engine that’s my body will have crested a major hill and begin chugging ever closer to the century mark and ever further from my birth. I can’t believe I’m 50! Most days I don’t feel 35. The only marker of my age is in my musical taste. I enjoy classic rock which wasn’t classic when I started listening to it. Oh yeah, then there is the issue of the receding hair line. Where did all the years go? I’m not so sure, but I have had fun and may even reach retirement age with enough of a pension that I won’t have to greet at Walmart. Of course, that might all change if social security goes belly up, but it looks like that’s one program Georgie Boy won’t get to screw up during his reign. It’s hard to think that in just 14 years, my daughter will be through high school and college. Maybe then I can retire. I’m not sure I can ever completely give up working; once I decide to cash in the day job, I might decide to do something fun like tend bar at a ski resort and write in my blog when I’m either pour drinks and listening to sad tales or shooting down black diamonds.

Not much planned for the birthday. Tonight I’m teaching. My employees are taking me out to lunch. Today is my day to swim in the gym; I’m not ready to punch in 5-0 on the machines they have there.

When I turned 25, my parents were living in Japan and I wrote to my mother, telling her how old I felt. Her response was natural as she wrote back telling me just how old I made her feel. I don’t think I’ll do that this year, although she’d probably quickly forget.

Stuff that's happening on Martin Luther King's birthday

I haven’t been able to focus much on blog writing lately. And it may get worse before it gets better, but I hope not. I haven’t posted a set of quotes in nearly a month; got to get back into the habit of doing that again. Anyway, I picked up this quote from another blogger. I’m not sure where Twain said it (I could look it up, but probably won’t). I wish I knew the address to my tenth grade English teacher who made us read Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice:

I could read his prose on salary, but not Jane’s. Jane is entirely impossible. It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death…. Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.” –Mark Twain

I did a couple of miles of hiking on Saturday. The ground wasn’t even good and frozen which meant my boots got muddy. The photo is of Cedar Creek. What little snow we had last week had melted by Saturday. It was nice hiking weather, around freezing, but it was warm enough that I mostly went without gloves. It's a funny winter we're having up here.

Last night I went to sleep to the sound of sleet and freezing rain blowing against the windows. This morning, I had one heck of a job getting the doors open and the windows cleared on my truck. Although I have a two car garage, it wasn’t designed for trucks and I’d have to put in the mirrors to get it into the garage and trying to back it without side mirrors (and with only an inch to spare, means that I have to scrape and chip away at ice. It’s suppose to snow a lot this week which is good as I’m heading north Friday and Saturday to ski.

Today is Martin Luther King’s birthday. In honor of him, I’ll direct you back to my book review of Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963. One of my goals for this year is to read the other two books in this major trilogy by Taylor Branch on the life of King. I have a few other posts I’m working on—a few memories of the past, a review of the movie Earth, and for tomorrow, a post about starting the “down hill run.”

Friday, January 12, 2007

Overheard Conversations and other stuff

Yesterday I was hiding in the back of the coffee shop trying to get some writing done when one of the girls who works there (she can’t be more than a year or two out of high school), came into the back corner talking on her cell phone. I couldn’t help but be intrigued and drawn into the conversation.

Girl: “Grandma, I wanted to call and tell you that I’m doing something really exciting tonight.”

Me (thinking), “If she’s telling Grandma, this can’t be too exciting,”

Grandma: (conjecture something up here since I have no idea what she said)

Girl: I’m going with (insert name) and (insert name) to (insert city) tonight. We’re going to protest sending more troops over to Iraq.

Me (thinking): “You’re calling your grandma to tell her you’re going to a protest? Who’s your grandma, ‘Mother Jones’?”

Grandma: (you’ll have to conjecture something else up here)

Girl: “This is so exciting and important and I thought you’d want to know.”

Me (thinking): “My family about disowned me when they saw me on TV, directing the picketing at the North Carolina Republican Convention where James Watt (who makes Georgie Boy almost look like an environmentalist) was giving the keynote address. I’m pretty sure this girl wasn’t born then! Gee, I am an Old Fart.

Ever since Bone told us about his new girlfriend Nan, I’ve been noticing how many other folks are also involved with her. This girl gets around! This is my Nan, clad in leather, getting a recharge. In an attempt to act younger than my age, I’ll let you into some of the secrets Nan and I share:

Audiobooks: David Maranis, They Marched into Sunlight: War and Peace in Vietnam and America, October 1967. I also still have Moby Dick and In the Heart of the Sea loaded, but have already listened to them (parts of them more than once)

Music: Bob Dylan, "Blood on the Tracks"
Brahms, "Requiem"
"The Best of Leonard Cohen"
Eric Clapton: "The Cream of Clapton"
Cowboy Junkies, "The Trinity Session"
Pink Floyd, "Wishing You Were Here"
Steely Dan, "Aja"
The Very Best of Sheryl Crow
(I need to update these, but since I seldom listen to music on Nan, it don’t matter)

Podcasts: BBC “All Things Considered”
“Grammar Girls Quick Guide and Dirty Tips for Better Writing”
Coffee Break Spanish
NPR Satire, “The Unger Report”
Renewing Your Mind with R.C. Sproul
Peachtree Presbyterian Church Sermons
The Philosophy Podcast
(now if I just had time to listen to them all)

Pictures: She has lots of pictures of the kids (since I don’t carry photos in my wallet, this comes in handy)

Calendar: I use to have Nan keep my calendar too, but I haven't been able to download it from Outlook since her recent update (have I ever said anything about how I’m always leery of updates and am no longer fooled by the “new and improved” slogan?)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Hiking the Appalachian Trail: A Memory

Slim Jim looking toward Mt. Katadhin, August 1987

It’s a treat to wander through the north woods of Maine. The Appalachian Trail cuts through these forests, wanders around as many lakes as possible, and goes over as many of the mountains summits as possible. It’s the most isolated country in the Eastern United States with one stretch of over a hundred miles where you have don’t cross a paved highway. This is no place to get sick. But one afternoon, a bug hit me. Maybe I forgot to treat some water, I’m not sure, but for a couple of days I was glad there were plenty of bushes to hide behind.

At the time, I was hiking with several friends I’d made along the trail. There was Slim Jim from Florida, he’d just turned 21. “Off-shore Steve,” was a commercial fisherman who’d hiked the entire length of the trail the year before and had come back to hike Maine with his sidekick, an old guy named with a snoring problem named Chainsaw. If you were camping near Chainsaw, you didn’t have to worry about bears at night; he scared them away. And then there were the two Brits, good old boys from Merry Ole England. Dave was a serious hiker. His side kick, Paul, would often find a way to hitchhike ahead and be waiting in camp for us with a few cans of beer. As we got further into Maine, it was becoming harder for him to hitchhike, for even when there were roads, there were few cars.

On the afternoon in question, several of us had eaten lunch together. When everyone else headed out, I decided to hang back and spend some time in my favorite recliner (leaning up against my pack) reading Frederick Buechner's Treasure Hunt. After an hour or so, I headed off, knowing I’d catch them at camp which was planned for a shelter and spring on the north side of Sugarloaf Mountain.

The bug struck as I reached the first switchback up Sugarloaf Mountain. I quickly dropped my pack and trotted off the trail and behind some bushes. Afterwards, I felt faint and chilled. I found a large flat rock, place my pack on it, pulled a sweater on and lay down with the pack as a pillow and slept. An hour or so later, I woke up. Slowly standing, I felt both tired and unsteady, but knew I needed to make it to camp, a mile or so on the other side of the summit. The mountain appeared daunting, but I had no choice but to go forward. I prayed for God to give me the strength, to let me get to my friends where I could die with dignity.

I carried a small portable radio in my pack. It ran off a single double-A battery and had a lightweight ear piece. I had mainly used the radio to check weather, but this afternoon, felt it might take my mind off my troubles. As I hiked, I searched for a station and finally came upon one in Bangor Maine that was playing classic rock. “The police in New York City shot a boy right through the heart, in a case of mistaken identity…” I started humming to “Heartbreaker” by the Rolling Stones. They went on to play a set that ended with “Satisfaction.” Listening and humming, I picked up my pace and in no time was across the mountain and heading downhill toward camp.

That evening after a dinner of Mac and Cheese, I took out my journal and wrote that Mick Jagger and the Stone’s had helped me get over the mountain. I went to bed early. In the wee hours of the next morning, with my stomach still churning, I woke up to a horrible realization. I remembered my prayer of the precious afternoon, where I asked God to help me get over the mountain. I’d given the credit due God to a rock band. Then I headed out into the dark of the night, to find a bush.

Looking back on it, twenty year later, I realize that God does work in mysterious ways, even through a rock singer with ugly lips.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Bird Feeder Bandits

All along I have been blaming the squirrels for eating me out of house and home. Squirrels are nothing compared to these bird feeder bandits. I watch these three deer clean out two bird feeders in ten minutes. They weren't even bothered by me standing in the dining room, fifteen feet away, snapping pictures through the window the dog keeps smeared up by peering out of it with his nose on the glass.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Please Mr. Postman

I got the dreaded letter today. I knew it was coming, but didn't want to believe it. I was hoping it would be proponed for another few months if not years or decades. But it arrived today. My hands trembled as I stuck a finger behind the envelope flap and ripped it open. It’s now official. As of next week, I’ll be an Old Fart. And the letter invited me to partake in all the benefits such status has to offer, a bimonthly magazine “packed with fascinating features on health & fitness, food, work, money, travel and more.” I can save while traveling with other Old Farts, And if I decide to take them up on the offer, I’ll help the fight to strengthen social security (I may even see some of it). I can even have my own hassle-free, no-fee Old Fart Credit Card (I suppose that means I’ll have to pay in cash if I’m to have any thought of picking up younger women). I can even get Old Fart’s insurance or supplemental insurance. I’ll be eligible for it all next week. Yes, happy days may be here once again.

Now can anybody tell me how AARP, a private organization, knows all this info about me and sends me this registration packet a week before my jubilee birthday? This is even more mind-boggling because our government’s selective service has been sending harassing mail to the house for an exchange student that was here two years ago. They’re demanding that he register for the non-existent draft. Of course, he is a she, and she is in Korea, but since she’s got a Korean name, I suppose they can be forgiven for that part of the confusion. But they haven’t learned the truth because they send a return envelope that requires a stamp and I’m cheap. AARP has a self-addressed/stamped envelope for my convenience. I just have to send them $12.50 and I’m officially an Old Fart (or will be officially one come next week, I’m guarantee admission as long as I’m beyond the 5-0 mark).

FYI: Looks like Blogger is going to have a down time for us old bloggers (those of us who are rebelling against the beta-blogger movement) tomorrow morning, so if you're not reading this tomorrow morning, you'll know why!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

In the Heart of the Sea: A Book Review

Nathaniel Philbrick, In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex (New York: Penguin, 2000)

At the suggestion of Ed Abbey, after listening to an unabridged audio version of Herman Melville’s classic Moby Dick, I decided to pick up one of the books on the whaling ship Essex. (I also listened to this book, but checked a copy of the book out of the library to reread sections.) Melville mentions the tragedy of the Essex in his novel. Having gone through both books, back to back, I agree with Ed that one should probably start with a non-fiction account of the Essex and then move on to the larger novel. Philbrick’s history provides detail understanding into the Nantucket whaling enterprise and the whaling occupation as well as a detailed description of the fated voyage of the Essex and its aftermath. From Philbrick’s descriptions, a number of things in Melville’s classic becomes clearer. You learn how Nantucket became a Quaker outpost and how these peaceful and austere people dominated the whaling industry in the early part of the 19th Century. He also tells of the importance whale oil played in the pre-petroleum economy, the life aboard ship, and the roles and “pecking order” of each sailor, as well information about the effect of starvation upon those going through an ordeal such as the men of the Essex.

The Essex was an older ship, under the command of Captain Pollard. It was his first command and he had a hard time gathering enough crew to make the three year voyage to the Pacific hunting grounds. Finally securing a rather inexperienced crew, they set sail on August 12, 1819. From the beginning bad luck haunted them. They almost lost the ship in a storm in the Atlantic, losing several whaleboats which they replaced with inferior boats. It took them a while to get knack of whaling. On November 20, 1820, with the ship’s hold beginning to fill with oil, they were attacked by a large sperm whale that knocked the ship on its side. This occurred when most of the men were in the whale boats chasing another whale. Seeing their ship capsize was disheartening. Rowing back to the ship, they took in all the provisions they could salvage and made masks and sails for the boats and started for South America.

Much of the story is about the men’s struggle to survive the open ocean in three small whaling boats. They were at sea for three months. Of the crew of twenty-one, eight survived. It was a chilling account of survival as the living ate the dead. At first, it was just the dead who died naturally, but in one of the boats, lots were drawn and one sailor executed to provide food for the rest. The boats never made it to shore. Two were discovered by whaling ships and the third was later found washed up on the beach, with the skeletons of four men inside. Three other men survived on an island that had little food and water.

The story is a tragedy. Several times in the journey Captain Pollard allowed himself to be overruled by his younger officers. He had wanted to turn back while still in the Atlantic to secure more whaleboats and to repair the ship, but had been encouraged to go on. These inferior boats would later become problematic. After the sinking of the Essex, Pollard’s instincts told them to try for some Pacific Islands, but he again allowing his officers to persuade him otherwise, more of them may have survived. They didn’t sail to them because they were afraid of cannibals. This later proved to be both an unfounded and an ironic fear.

In the Heart of the Sea is more than a story. It's solid history. Philbrick draws on other accounts of whaling tragedies as well as other accounts of cannibalism among those in similar situations as well as studies on the physical and psychological affects of starvation. The Essex tragedy would become the model for Moby Dick, a novel that didn’t do well in the 19th Century (only in the early 20th Century was it rediscovered and became a classic). However, most Americans in the 19th Century heard of the disaster as the McGuffey Readers had an account of the story.

I recommend this book. Philbrick tells a good story while providing interesting details that make the reader appreciate what the men of the Essex endured while at sea. He also gives an account of the life of the sailors after the tragedy. Chase, the first mate would become a experienced sea captain. Pollard, the captain, would lose another ship when he sailed upon a offshore reef. He ended out his life as a night watchman on Nantucket.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Bad Moon Rising

It’s nice to know that Murf, the one who is so concerned over my history, is a part of the after New Year “resoluters”crowding the gym this time of the year. Reading her account of being in the gym caused me to recall yesterday evening. To understand this story, I’ll have to lay out the design of the gym that I work out at. On one side are rows of cardio-type machines. The back row contains the elliptical machines, then there’s a row of treadmills, then a row of bicycles, then a mixed row of cross-country and rowing machines.

Yesterday, I was in the back on an elliptical machine. There was a good crowd and people were on machines to both my right and left. Most of the treadmills were in use, except for the one in front of me. Then one of those “Ponytail Girls” (who raises Murf’s ire) came in and began running on the treadmill in front of me. It was a nice diversion, but I was into my book. I’m listening to David Maraniss’, They Marched into Sunlight: War and Peace in Vietnam and America, 1967. I was learning about the players in the Dow Chemical protests at the University of Wisconsin in 1967, a topic that was keeping my mind off the swinging ponytail. (And if you can believe that…)

About that time, this guy who I see quite often in the gym came in. He’s way over-weight, always looks dirty, doesn’t talk to anyone but himself and acts as if he might not be all there, if you know what I mean. He took the bike right in front of the ponytail girl that was in front of me. All a sudden, everyone started laughing. I couldn’t see, but Ms. Ponytail was having hard time staying upright on the treadmill. She had one hand over her mouth and was holding herself up with her other hand. Then, to keep from being pulled under the threadmill as in the comics, she stepped off the machine, providing me with a view that I didn’t need to see. At least six inches of the crack of the guy on the bike was exposed. It was gross! I was glad when Ms. Ponytail regained composure and resumed exercising, allowing me to finish my workout.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Banking, Blog-touring, and a photo

I shot the photo this afternoon. This is January and this is in Michigan and the river really should be frozen at this time...

Today, while making a deposit at the bank, I couldn’t help but notice the artwork displayed by the teller. On an 8 ½ by 11 sheet of paper, a round shaped object was drawn with chicken legs and what appeared to be green feathers to one side. It had the perfect likeness of a turkey. I assumed it had been a left-over from Thanksgiving, or maybe her family had turkey for Christmas. Also by her window was a small frame with a photograph of a cute girl about three or four. This is the dialogue that ensued.

Me (pointing to portrait of young girl and the drawing): "Is that your daughter and did she draw this picture?"

Teller: "Yes, she’s four."

Me: "That’s a nice looking turkey, did she have help?"

Teller: "That’s me, that’s my face (pointing to the body of the turkey), that’s my hair (pointing to the green feathers) and those are my legs (pointing to the chicken legs)."

Me (fidgeting): "I’m sorry for unintentionally calling you a turkey. It must have been those legs; I can’t see your chicken legs from behind the counter." Actually, I didn’t say she had chicken legs, but I thought it, even while I was feeling like a jerk.

Murf, my very own personal stalker, is creating a time line of all my “women.” She would really like to have the dates of all the women I dated, something I’m not sure I have straight in my head, but even if I did, I wouldn't offer it freely. Just so that she can sleep tonight, I decided to give her a little help. Now she can fill out that long blank spot in her timeline, from my birth to the time I became a teenager.

1962 Noreen (the cute little redhead who lived next door)
1963 Ellen (my first older woman, the teenager next door who took me to the pool)
1966 Denise (another next door neighbor)
1968 Diane (I’ve already written about her)
1969-70 Cathy (I’ve also written about her)

While I’m onto what other bloggers are writing, let me steer you to these sites:

The Appalachianist (in my list of blogs, he’s AI from NC/Iraq) provides some good New Year advice in his recent entry from the war zone. I was reminded of the good advice in the movie “Secondhand Lions.” Here’s what Sarge has to say:
Some of you know this, I ain’t telling you your business, some of you don’t… Because you’re human. Stand up for your beliefs. Don’t impose yours on others. Do what’s right, even if it’s not convenient to. Don’t let nobody take advantage of you or push you around. Love somebody. Even if it’s just your Dog.
And just in case you have questions about the state of the world, Gautami from Dehli, India, has a poem about dozens of children from her city who have come up missing. Being poor, no police report was filed. Now they’ve discovered a huge pile of bones. It’s heart-wrenching; the parents need our thoughts and prayer. We do live in a depraved world.

On a lighter note, Judy (aka Kenju, a fellow Tarheel) is renewing her friendships for another year. She wishes that her friend’s jeans become magnet for $200 bills. That’s all nice and good, but I’d prefer 100 or 500 bills, and would be happy with even 20s and 50s, real legal tender.

Secondhand Lions: A Movie Review

Cover from IMDb

I haven’t reviewed an American movie lately. Last night I watched “Secondhand Lions,” a fun movie. I’m not sure how I missed this when it came out. I enjoyed the even though it is part fairy tale, part soap opera. Regardless, how can you go wrong with Michael Caine and Robert Duvall?

The story is about Garth and Hub, two eccentric wealthy bachelor brothers, who spend their days drinking ice tea in front porch of their rundown home, shooting shotguns over the head of traveling salesmen who happen by. Everyone is hoping to help themselves to some of their money. The uncle’s lives are shook up when Mae drops off Walter. She tells Garth and Hub she needs someone to watch her son for the summer so she can go back to school, but has prepared Walter to find out where the money is hid. Slowly Garth and Hub take to the boy, especially when they find him an unusual ally in keeping away other relatives trying to get into the fortune they supposedly have. Piece by piece, Walter learns about his uncle’s grand adventures in Africa at the beginning of the First World War and on into the Second. He’s enchanted by Jasmine, Hub’s exotic wife from the Sahara, who he later learns had died in childbirth, a woman that Hub hasn’t forgotten. The stories of Hub’s bravery, mostly told by Garth, are mythic in nature. Are they true? When he asks Hub, he doesn’t get a direct answer. Instead, he receives part of his uncle’s “growing up” speech.

Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love... true love never dies. You remember that, boy. You remember that. Doesn't matter if it's true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in.
Yeah, I want to believe in those things. I recommend the movie.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Dating Terri: A memory from the past

Reading about Dawn's date with a smoker, I recalled a "fling" from my past. Obviously, there were more problems here than just cigarettes.

Terri was hot. We were having dinner at the restaurant on the top of the First Union building in Charlotte. Her tall slender body dressed in a black and silver dress with strappy heels made her look as if she’d been designed for this establishment with its chrome and glass and 360 degree views of the city. From the glances of my co-workers and the whispers of their wives and girlfriends, I could tell everyone was impressed. Terri immediately struck up a friendship with my boss’ wife and together they went to the bathroom. It was our second date.

A few days later my boss commented on my elegant date. He said he was awestruck, until his wife came back from the bathroom and whispered to him about how quickly Terri lit up and took a drag on a cigarette, as soon as they’d gotten into the lady’s room. As would become an annoying habit of his, he told me he didn't think she was the one for me.

I met Terri in a bowling alley. We were both volunteers in the Big Brother/Big Sister program. One Sunday afternoon they had arranged a special time for bowling for all the adults and kids in the program. I saw her as soon as Teddy and I entered the alley. She was almost a tall as me and her smile lit up the room. She could have been a model or a movie star. I couldn’t believe my luck when we were paired off for lanes and Terri and her little sister joined Teddy and me. Bowling wasn’t either of our games, but we laughed and had fun and encouraged each other. Before the afternoon was over, we’d exchanged business cards and tentatively arranged lunch later that week, without my little brother or her little sister tagging along.

I don’t remember much about that date, except that she smoked a cigarette after the meal. That would have normally been the relationship’s death nail, but she was just too good looking and very intelligent. In addition, I was just coming out of a depression. My teenage marriage to my high school sweetheart had recently ended and my ex, who was pregnant with another man’s child, immediately remarried. Terri boosted my confidence. At lunch, I knew that the next few weeks were going to be hectic. I had a training seminar in Florida and when it was over, I was going to be moving to a Boy Scout camp, where I would be the director for the summer. Knowing I had a dinner with all the regional scouting professionals coming up in Charlotte in a few weeks, I invited Terri to be my date and was elated when she accepted.

After the dinner in Charlotte, Terri and I began to get serious. At first, she’d come up to camp on the weekends, after the scouts and most of the staff had left. We spend Saturday canoeing or sailing. One Saturday we headed up to the Highland Games at Grandfather Mountain. Another we took in a performance at the Flat Rock Playhouse. She also began coming up during the week after work. We’d spend the evening walking around camp, fishing or canoeing. Sometimes we’d go to the campfire before she headed back home.

On one of these evening visits, we ran into the Rev. Dunn, a Lutheran pastor who was the chaplain for the week. Dunn was fishing along the cattails at the head of the lake. We stopped and talked for a while and he seemed suitably impressed with Terri. The next morning at breakfast, he sat across from me and began the inquisition. Finding out that we’d meet through the Big Brother/Big Sister program, he sarcastically chided me, reminding me the program was about kids, it wasn't to be a dating service.

Raising his cup of coffee to his lips, he asked what happened with a Big Brother and Big Sister got together.

Without missing a beat, I said, “incest.”

He busted his gut and I ended up wearing his coffee.

One Saturday night, toward the end of camp, Terri and I stopped by Lake Lure and sat on a picnic table, holding hands and looking at the reflections in the lake as we talked late into the night. We discussed our relationship. Things had been going well. I didn’t even notice her smoking anymore, even though I’d become aware that it wasn’t a casual habit as she was puffing a between a pack and a half and two packs a day. But then, somewhere during the night, she used the “N” word (Not nuptials, for we had briefly mentioned marriage, but “niggers”). I was shocked. This was 1984 and I didn’t think anyone, at least anyone who was somewhat enlightened, used that word anymore. Throwing caution to the wind, I expressed my outrage and we had our first fight. Before the evening was over, we’d dropped it and things seemed to be back to normal.

When the camping season ended, I threw the traditional camp director’s banquet for my staff. Sitting there beside me was Terri. I was on top of the world. The next day I took off for a two week backpacking trip in Southern Virginia. When I finished at a prearranged place, Terri met me and gave me a ride home. On the ride home, she extended an invitation from her parents for the two of us to come over for dinner later that week.

Her parents lived in the rural foothills. We arrived at her home about five o’clock and even Terri seemed surprised that all of her siblings were present. Everyone was checking me out. Before dinner, Terri’s Dad showed me his shop. He owned and serviced pinball-type machines. He also would occasionally drive his truck out to Vegas and buy old slot-machines, taking advantage of a loophole in the law that allowed “antique slot machines,” those over 25 years old, to be owned and operated within the state. These machines he’d sell or lease to various fraternal organizations.

I began to notice, from her father’s comments, there were a few things about me he didn’t like. Mainly, he didn’t like the fact that I wasn’t a Baptist and that I wasn’t a Republican.

Before things could get too heated, Terri’s mom called us in for dinner. I was placed in the middle of a long table, with the eight of them sitting around me. Her father, instead of sitting at the head of the table, sat across from me. Strange, I thought, but paid no more attention to it. We ate and chatted friendly. Then Terri and her mother removed our plates and began to serve desert. When they sat back down, things got quiet.

Terri’s dad looked me in the eye and said, “Son, my daughter tells me you don’t like the use of the word Nigger.”

All eyes at the table were focused on me. I was about to explode, but took a deep breath and said as calmly as I could, “You’re right, I don’t like it.”

He then proceeded to tell me why he felt it was a good word to describe a particular race, a race that he obviously had no use for. Then he asked what I had against the word.

“Such an attitude isn’t Christian,” I told him with a flair of self-righteousness, “and I don’t think Jesus is too happy to hear us belittle others.”

I knew I’d stuck a nerve. All evening he had been high and mighty. I continued to chided him about his slot machines and how he was skirting the law and how racism might be okay in his church, but I was sure gambling wasn’t.

His face glowed red and he began to cuss, wanting to know just who I thought I was to be lecturing him about religion. I’m not sure how long we argued, it all became a haze about this time. I was furious. As soon as possible, we left. I thanked Terri’s Mom for the dinner. She’d remained quiet throughout it all and seemed rather shell-shocked. Then, in silence, Terri and I drove back to town. It was our last date.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A midweek tour around my blogworld

Okay, I’ve written enough stuff for work this morning, let me file a quick post as I review what I’ve been reading around the Blog world and see if I can’t upset a few folks along the way…

Every since she first appeared in my blog, a month of so ago, I’ve enjoyed Moogirl’s (Joan of Shark) biting satire on politics and life in general. As an Oklahoman, she’s filling the void created when Scribe and his cronies at “Independent Christian Voice” (who were also Okies), signed off from their blog last summer. Yesterday Moogirl wrote about a university study in Oregon on gay sheep. Her take on it is pretty funny and I encourage you to check it out. With a name like Moogirl, I can’t help but wonder if she’s kind of like the Chick-fil-A cow, encouraging the consumption of meat of the non-beef variety. My own take on gay sheep, having known several sheepherders when I lived out in Utah, is that as a general rule, herders are homophobic and not sympathic. A gay ewe will quickly wind up as mutton and a gay ram will be auctioned off to a dog food company.

A few weeks ago, I reviewed Patrick McManus’ book, A Deer on a Bicycle. Kevin, down in Texas, who’s on pace to read every book published in the last decade during the next 12 months, has a more favorable review of the book. Check it out!

On other fronts, the Wendy guy Murf stalks has made a life changing decision. Ed is up to his elbows in drywall mud. Tim has a girlfriend which is cutting into his blogging time. Pia will probably get the first entry in for Bone’s contest, Bone’s is also Kevin in Alabama. Kontan, who is also from Alabama but lives in Mississippi, is the only person I know (or know of) who saw Ford’s casket in the capitol (I know a lot of people around here who will go up to Grand Rapids to see it). Dawn, who is reading George Orwell's essays out in Arizona, has discovered that when dating a fireman, smoke is an occupational hazard. The folks at Assimilatedpress are offering sure-fired solutions to fix Iraq.

One of the most interesting statistical analyses I’ve seen lately was done by Kevin (at Transmillennial). Kevin offers an interesting glimpse at the percentage of folks thinking that Jesus will return in 2007. Ten percent of non-religious people think it’s somewhat likely that Jesus will return. What’s wrong with these folks? Why are they non-religious when they think Jesus is coming back soon. As for the rest of those who think Jesus is on his way, I want to know how many of them are behind on their bills. It seems that the one thing Jesus made clear about his return is that no one knows the when it’ll be. On another unrelated topic, why is it that I’m reading three blogs of guys named Kevin?

That's enough of a tour, it's now time for lunch! Check out other blogs listen in the sidebar.

As for me, having been inspired by Dawn’s story of the smoking fireman, I’m working on a memory of summer fling some 2 decades ago with a smoker. Diane's story about stuffed animals has also conjured up memories of the worst class ever-in my long years of schooling—taxidermy. Ever since, I’ve been a compulsive hand-washer.

Have a good day!

Since the London Times retracted the sheep story, which caused Moogirl to retract the sheep story, I suppose I need to tell folks it ain't true. However, it's still pretty funny!