Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Wisdom of St. Frances

St. FrancisThe western Saints tell us, what matters most is what we “Do” in the world.

To the eastern mystics, what’s most important is to mindfully “Be” in the world.

Frank Sinatra sang, “Do, Be, Do, Be, Do”, Very Wise.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Pop, Rock & Soul On PBS

I like watching the PBS music specials, especially when the artists are from the ‘50s and ‘60s. Last night the special was called “’60s Pop, Rock and Soul (My Music)”. When PBS puts these concerts on, it’s always during a pledge drive so we have to suffer through the very long segments when they beg, plead and cajole us for money. Usually they have one or more of the musicians being interviewed by the regular PBS folks, so that keeps me watching. The two musicians hosting the show were two Brits, Davey Jones and Peter Noon. Both looked amazingly good for their age, which has to be around 60. Both were young looking even back in the day, so they had un unfair advantage. Davey didn’t bring the other Monkeys with him and Peter was devoid of the Hermits. There were almost 20 different acts on the show and all of the groups had at least some of the original members. That’s probably a rule. The most noticeable absentees were, Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere and the Raiders, Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane/Starship and Smokey Robinson of the Miracles. I have to say the stand-ins were quite good at imitating the originals. The young blond woman who sang “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit” was quite a babe and even had Grace’s fast vibrato down. I recognized Paul Kantner and Marty Balin from the original Jefferson Airplane. I was hoping Marty would do a song, but he didn’t. The worst of the 3 stand-ins was the blond guy who sang lead for the Raiders. He was a good singer, but no Mark Lindsay. Other lead singers sans their groups were Mitch Ryder without the Detroit Wheels and Roger McGuine without The Byrds. I think Mitch sounds better today as an older man than when he was young. Eddy Floyd who sang “Knock on Wood” and Percy Sledge with “When a Man Loves a Woman” were amazingly good. Poor Percy had this huge hit,  most of it  sung in a high register. He’s doomed for the rest of his life to hit those high notes, but he did a good job. The strangest group was ? and the Mysterians. They sang their biggest hit “96 Tears”. A Mexican American garage band from Detroit and Flint, Michigan, today they are thought of as Proto-punk, a precursor to Punk Rock. I never liked the song, but it was obvious that they were still having fun playing music. The most notable one hit wonder band was the Kingsmen. They sang “Louie, Louie” just like it was recorded, the lead singer slurring his words so they were barely understandable. He even copied the mistake on the record where he comes in with the verse too early, stops and then starts again. The audience loved it. Most of us boomers know what the real lyrics are by now, but at the time it was popular, there was an FBI investigation of what the FBI thought were graphically explicit sexual lyrics. The song was originally written by Richard Berry in 1955 about a Jamaican sailor returning to his girl on the Island. It became a popular cover song around the Northwest. Paul Revere and the Raiders, another Northwest band, also came out with a version about the same time, but it wasn’t a hit.  There was a movement in Washington at one time to make “Louie, Louie” the official state song.  I ‘m not sure if it was all the original Kingsmen on the PBS special or not, but they must be damn tired of doing this song. For me the highlight was Chad and Jeremy singing “A Summer Song”. In a pledge break interview one of them said it’s been 40 years since they’d played together, but these aging Englishmen, each playing an acoustic guitar, sang the song  sweetly and with tight harmony. As a kid watching the Ink Spots, Rosemary Clooney and others of that era, I thought their music was old-fashioned and corny. Well now it’s our turn to be old and corny. I didn’t realize back then that rarely are the most popular artists on these kinds of shows. But I enjoyed seeing  them all and there are always enough of the ones I Used to like to keep me watching.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My Personal Profile

On the left hand side of this Blogspot  page there’s an “About Me” section. Under it is my picture and along side the picture a link that says “View my complete profile”. I need to let everyone know that this actually is not my complete profile. As I think over my 64 years of life, it’s apparent to me that I’ve left a few things out. This is the “facebook” section of the blog. I’ve never been comfortable with Facebook. I’ve been invited by “friends” to join , but always decline.
Social networking is a huge phenomenon. Mark Zuckerberg was an intelligent college guy, but awkward around girls. He discovered how to enhance the college dating atmosphere, creating a way for fellow students to put their profiles out there for other students to see. The blog profile feels to me like an extension of this mentality.
Right next to my picture is the category “gender”. I dutifully put “male” in there, but I suspect the mustache gives it away. If you need both a picture and label to help people identify your gender perhaps you should choose another medium for social interaction. The next most important thing it tells you about me is that I’m a Libra. Nobody ever asks me my astrological sign anymore. It happened a lot in the ‘60s and ‘70s. I take that back. When we’re vacationing in California sometimes someone will want to know. I’ve never put my sign on a resume though.
The other most important info about me according to the profile section are my favorite movies, music and books. There are no categories for politics or religion or for that matter my favorite car, my favorite food or psychologist. Katie has a favorite kind of garlic press. I think the “my interests” category is meant to cover all these other areas.
I suspect people put down only what they want others to know. Social networking then becomes an extension of our egos, or more specifically, our personas. The whole truth about ourselves is yet to be discovered. Few people are going to put down that they suffer from anxiety, have a bad temper, are addicted to prescription drugs, have hemorrhoids or hate their bodies. Those things are to be discovered later on in the relationship.
I like thinking and talking with others about favorite books, movies and music. I mostly choose favorites from the past, when things tended to have a greater impact on me. Having a favorite anything is an interesting concept. What I like changes over time. At one time in my life, my favorite book was Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine. It was a great book about a boy who invented a machine that did all his homework for him. I rarely have current favorites of anything. Actually I don’t think much in terms of favorites anymore, but I used to. I often have trouble choosing one thing over another. My favorite food tends to be whatever I’m eating at the time.
I’d like to add another category to my profile, “religion”. For my favorite, I choose Hinduism because it has something for everyone. It has plenty of Gods and Goddesses, and many different paths to God. In a sub-category of favorite Hindu Deity, it’s a tie between Krishna, the young good looking dude who played the flute and had groups of adoring young Gopis following him everywhere (not unlike my favorite rock ‘n’ roll star which would be in another category) and Hanuman, the monkey warrior, who was the devotee and protector of Rama. He was one fierce and devoted dude.
Under the sub-category of favorite style of Zen Buddhism, I would have to go with Soto Zen. Practitioners can just sit and mind their own business, whereas in Rinzai Zen the master silently creeps around in the background and then whacks you with a bamboo stick when you least expect it. I hate that.
Under the sub-category of favorite New Thought writer I would go with Joel Goldsmith. This New York Jew and renegade Christian Scientist created The Infinite Way. His teachings cut to the chase and can be summed up: Every moment of your life, practice the presence of the Christ within.
Under the sub-category of favorite  saying by a Guru that could be put on a bumper sticker I choose Meher Baba: Don’t worry, be Happy.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Briefly Marching With OWS

Katie and I were in Tucson a few weeks ago for the Tucson Meet Yourself Folk Life Festival. After I performed with the Chinese Martial Arts Club, we walked around to take in the rest of the Festival. We ran across the “Occupy Wall Street” protesters who were marching through the streets of Tucson, so we joined them. I didn’t know much about the movement at the time. We thought it had something to do with the rich getting too rich and too powerful in this country and influencing our politicians too much. We agreed with that so we entered the slow moving stream of people.
I don’t like being part of any large movement or organization. There is always something I don’t agree with. I’m sure it’s related to my experience in the Army and more specifically in Vietnam. We wreaked havoc on that beautiful country and its people and I was part of that effort. When I got back and decided to join the protest against the war, I found out that to the protesters I symbolized what they were against. I didn’t feel welcomed by them and didn’t like many of the things they were saying.
I recently allowed my membership in the American Legion to lapse for that very reason. For example, I didn’t agree with their efforts to amend the constitution giving Congress the power to prohibit the desecration of the American flag. The Legion is very hung up on the flag. I don’t want to burn a flag, but I believe in my right to do so. If I can buy one and own one, then I can burn it. Strangely I supported the right of that wacko preacher who wanted to burn the Koran. I also have a right to burn a Bible, which I don’t especially want to do either, but I don’t think the preacher would have agreed with that. The issue is individual freedom of expression. The flag is a symbol of that freedom, not the freedom itself.
When Katie and I fell into step with the marchers, I felt slightly uncomfortable. There was a young man directly behind us yelling about the greed of the fascist capitalists etc. and he kept stepping on my heel, causing my shoe to come off. He did that twice. Finally I turned around and gave him a dirty look. He looked back at me, but didn’t seem to care. He was too busy yelling nasty remarks for the cause. I feel these demonstrations should be peaceful and not have any destructive behavior or aggressive words, at all. But my wanting to turn around and knock that asshole down on the ground and give him a memorable experience with my shoe, didn’t seem in harmony with my message. So instead we dropped out of the procession.
The Occupy Wall Street movement was started by a group out of Vancouver, BC called Adbusters. I’m not sure how it made the transition from Canada to the US, but on Jul 13, 2011 they put out a call to those who read their website and publications to: Occupy Wall Street!, and the following statement:
In Solidarity, and as a response to this call, a planning group was formed [], and an info sharing site established. The participation of every person, and every organization, that has an interest in returning the US back into the hands of its individual citizens is required.
Our nation, our species and our world are in crisis. The US has an important role to play in the solution, but we can no longer afford to let corporate greed and corrupt politics set the policies of our nation.
We, the people of the United States of America, considering the crisis at hand, now reassert our sovereign control of our land.
Solidarity Forever!
The first OWS protest was on September 17, 2011. Wikipedia says that within one month there were similar demonstrations in 70 major cities and 600 communities around the country. World wide protests similar to these have happened in over 900 cities.
This movement has obviously struck a chord with people and during the first month it grew very fast. The protestors call themselves the 99%ers. This alludes to the fact that 1% of the population has a disproportionate amount of the wealth. The 99%ers believe that because of the way our politicians are elected, they become beholden to those with the most money. This highly influences how these politicians govern and the laws they pass. We can’t trust the government to change this because they are the very ones perpetuating it.
Only time will tell whether this movement will continue to grow and affect some kind of change. Much of the third world is rapidly trying to become more capitalistic while the OWS movement is saying we all need to be less capitalistic. The western world has lived this wasteful consumer lifestyle for a long time now. We are in no place to tell the billions of people in the third world they can’t have it too. It seems pretty clear that if the billions of people in the third world do become affluent in the same way that we are, the earth will not be able to sustain all the waste and pollution and the energy demands will be astronomical. It’s apparent that we are heading for a big change.
With all these huge problems facing the world, do we want big business calling the shots? Capitalists are most concerned with making a profit and less concerned about the welfare of the people and the environment. So even though I support much of what the OWS movement stands for, I don’t think I’ll be marching with them again any time soon. Well maybe I will if they get rid of those angry, nasty, shoe destroying assholes.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Missing My Furry Friend

We had to have the Vet euthanize our cat, Felis, recently. He was with us for almost 17 years. It’s been several weeks now and I still look for him when I come home and then that sharp pain somewhere between my chest and throat reminds me, he’s gone. He wasn’t sick very long, but I suppose the cancerous tumor had been growing on his kidney for a long time. We just didn’t know it. It was only in the last few weeks of his life that we realized something was wrong.
My son, Ben, and I picked him out of the litter along with his long gone sister, Flower. It was at Christmastime in 1994. Flower was cute, white and black hair with a shy demeanor. Katie picked her out as the one, right away. We planned on taking just one kitten from the litter, but Felis had so much spunk and personality that Ben and I agreed we had to take him too.
We lived at the time in a two story Victorian home and the two kittens had the run of the place. Flower was a natural athlete and that seemed to bother Felis. He was tooFelis & Flower aggressive for her and their fights always ended with Flower squealing for mercy as Felis pinned her to the floor, biting her neck. There was a big wooden ball on the bannister at the bottom of our hall stairs. In self defense, Flower learned to jump from the bottom stair onto this varnished ball.  Felis couldn’t get to her. He tried many times to jump onto that ball, but always slid off, crash landing on the floor in a undignified manner.

Later we moved to a condo across town. The kittens got out one evening and I found Flower dead by the side of the road. She’d been hit by a car and the driver must have placed her up on the grass. I think I know what happened. Felis probably dashed across the street in front of the car with Flower following him. She always followed him. We buried Flower across the street in a field and Felis became our only pet. I was irrationally mad at him for a while for not taking care of his little sister.

He started doing string art shortly after that. Katie is a knitter and would make a small ball of yarn for him to bat around. He discovered that if he knocked it under the kitchen table, the yarn made interesting patterns, or perhaps he just enjoyed watching me untangle the mess when he was through. He sat patiently as I wound the yarn back up into a ball and then threw it for him so he could start the process all over again. Sometimes when he was finished, he put the string ball in one of my shoes, so I’d find it later and throw it out to him.
When we moved from Washington to New York, he got used to being on a harness and leash. On the trip across country we feared he might jump out of the truck when we opened the door. He became accustomed to my taking him over to the grassy areas at rest stops to sniff around. He became an old hand at traveling, because we moved from New York to Arizona, back to Washington and then back to Arizona. I can’t say that he enjoyed traveling, but as long as we were all together, he was content.
The best place we lived, from Felis’s perspective, was our friend Sally’s add-on apartment in Sequim, Wa. We stayed there for 4 or 5 months after we sold our house and just before moving back to Arizona. Her house is in the country and has an acre of lawn rimmed by thick trees. Sally had 3 cats at the time and we had adopted a stray named Farley. The cats ruled this acre of land. Felis loved to wander and explore the acreage. Sometimes the cats would sit around close to each other just watching and listening to the world around them.
Felis’s training on the harness came in handy when we moved to Green Valley. I didn’t dare let him out because of the many wild animals that roam the area. Maybe I was over protective, but we’ve seen bobcats, coyotes, huge owls, rattle snakes and herds of javelina on the grounds. So I started walking him on the leash. He loved it. “Walking him” is not the right term though, rolling on the sidewalk, sniffing bushes and chewing grass with a little bit of walking in between would be more accurate. We usually went out in the evening, when the light was starting to fade. The birds are very active at this time, but their chirping was engulfed by an expansive stillness as twilight approached. Felis and I spent many a sunset together on the sidewalks around the Villas. In the evenings now I feel sad that he’s not with me to enjoy it. Or maybe
he is, who knows?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Chinese Performance Group

Tucson Meet Yourself 10-2011

Saturday, I performed with the Tucson Sino Martial Arts Group. I only had two minutes of performance time, out of more than an hour. The performance was at the Tucson Meet Yourself Folklife Festival. This festival happens every year and brings together all the diverse cultural and ethnic groups of the Tucson area. Their website describes the festival as follows:

Tucson Meet Yourself is different from other large events: it is a “folklife” festival. This means that our focus is on presenting artists and communities that carry on living traditions rooted in a group’s own definition of identity, artistry and cultural significance. The festival has been held each year in Downtown Tucson, Arizona since 1974.
It’s a three day event and our performance took place on the morning of the second day. The weather has been hot recently in southern Arizona, and thankfully the performance was over before the heat reached its peak. I’ve been practicing and teaching Tai Chi for over 30 years and just recently joined this Martial Arts Club. My motivation for joining was to learn Chen style Tai Chi from a qualified teacher. As far as I can tell, all of the members of the club are Chinese except for me and another guy named Rob. We are referred to as the two “Americans” in the club. I assume that the Chinese members are Americans too, but they don’t refer to themselves that way. I’ve only been to one practice so far, but all of the members were very gracious and welcoming.

 I’ve belonged to numerous martial arts clubs over the years, but this one is unlike any of those. The focus of my previous clubs has always been the self-defense aspects of the Kung Fu and Tai Chi movements. This group’s orientation seems to be on performance. The forms I already know come out of southern China and Hong Kong, brought to the US by teachers who long ago left China. The forms that I’m being introduced to at TSMAG have been more recently standardized in China for performance purposes.

 In Chinese history, the years from 1912-1949 are known as the “Republican Period”. During this time the traditional Martial Arts were encouraged. They were taught and performed as a means to promote national pride.  All the various styles of Martial Arts flourished throughout China. At the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, a group of Chinese Martial artists demonstrated for the first time to an international audience. In 1949 the People’s Republic of China came to power and the Martial Arts were transformed. The PRC did not like the martial quality of the art and changed it to a regulated sport called Wushu. To quote an article in Wikipedia, “The new competition sport was disassociated from what was seen as the potentially subversive self-defense aspects and family lineages of the Chinese Martial Arts.” In 1958 the government established the All-China Wushu Association as the umbrella organization that regulates Martial Arts training. The traditional forms were standardized and regulated for performance and competition purposes.

My new Martial Arts club appears to be from this later period. I was the fifth act to perform at the Festival. During all the performances, music was played in the background. Some of the music sounded like revolutionary worker songs. Thankfully the music played  during my performance was more traditional stringed instrument Chinese music. I was asked by Shuping, the Sifu of the club, to perform a two minute version of Sun Tai Chi. Sun is the newest of the five main family styles of Tai Chi. It was created in the early 1900’s by Sun Lu Tang. He was a practitioner of all three internal styles of Chinese Martial Arts, Tai Chi, Bagua and Hsing Yi. The Sun form was patterned after the Tai Chi long form and contains elements of all three internal styles. I’ve been practicing this style for about 15 years. My main Tai Chi style is the Yang family style which the troupe already knows. The Sun style adds something new to this performance troupe, so that’s probably why I was asked to do it.

When I arrived at the festival Shuping handed me a white silk uniform she brought for me to wear for the performance. I had cleaned and pressed my more traditional black uniform the night before, and Shuping said I didn’t have to change if I didn’t want to. I tried it on and it felt very sheer and silky. So this is how Hugh Hefner must feel all the time. Most of the other men wore their black uniforms and looked quite macho. At least I didn’t have flowers on my jacket like the women. The others said I looked good in it and I felt pleased and honored to be accepted as part of this Martial Arts Troupe.
I think the performance went well. Shuping and a few of the other women performed the Yang 24 form behind me while I did my two minutes of Sun style. I am not a seasoned performer, but this new club will definitely force me to work to become a better practitioner of both Kung Fu and Tai Chi.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Playing in the Khoury League

It’s the end of the baseball season and I still feel excited about the upcoming playoffs and World Series, even though I don’t follow baseball very closely any more. I probably won’t watch many of the games. The Cardinals are still in it as of this writing. St. Louis has been a baseball town since the St. Louis Brown Stockings were formed in 1882. Being a Cardinals’ fan over the years pays off unlike being fans of other teams who are rarely contenders come October.
The 50s and 60s were good times to be a Cardinals fan. Like most boys back then I collected baseball cards. On the back of each card was a wealth of information about the player. My favorite Cardinal was “Stan the Man” Musial. He played for the Cardinals from 1941-1963, a 22-year career, with one year out to fight in WWII. He was a consistently good player and set many records that are still on the books. He loved his fans and treated them with respect. Stan had a career batting average of .331. He was the Cardinals yearly batting champion 7 times, the most of any Cardinal,  one more than Rogers Hornsby who played in the 20s. Stan had a very distinctive way of batting, keeping his feet close together while moving his body and his bat around in small circles.
One of the great missed opportunities of my life was the night some friends went downtown to Stan’s restaurant to meet him. I got sick and couldn’t go and felt extremely disappointed. My buddies did bring me back an autographed picture of Stan, which, of course, is long gone. I think my friend, Paul, still has his. In February of this year, Stan received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama. It couldn’t have gone to a more deserving guy. Watch him receive it on the following link. (Cut & Paste)
As a kid I played baseball every summer. Little league baseball in the St. Louis area was called the Khoury League. It was founded in 1934 by George M. Khoury. The motto was, “The Khoury League is interested in the child that nobody else wants.” It rapidly spread throughout the St. Louis area and included spoiled county suburbanites like me. Participation was not on a try-out basis, but Mr. Khoury wanted all kids of various skill levels to get a chance to play.
There were six divisions, Atom, Bantam, Midget, Juvenile and Senior. The baseball diamonds were smaller than regulation size and even the ball sizes were adjusted for the age of the players.  There was an all star game at the end of each season. This game was played at the major league ball park, Sportsman Field, which later became the first Busch Stadium.
I started out in the Bantam league on a very good team sponsored by Van Zant Realty. In the Atom division many of the players picked weeds in the outfield while fly balls dropped around them or ran the wrong way as their parents and fellow players screamed. But in the Bantam league the kids were more skilled and started to take the game seriously.  I was totally intimidated by the skills of the other players. The best pitcher on my team was a boy named Jimmy. He could throw a variety of pitches including a wicked curve ball. If the pitch was a little to the outside, Billy Bob, the catcher, would quickly move his glove back to the center of the strike zone, attempting to fool the umpire. It never worked, but I thought it was extremely sophisticated and crafty.
Our manager forgot about Mr. Khoury’s dictum that all kids get to play, because that first year, I spent most games sitting on the bench. My dad must have felt sorry for me, because he decided to manage his own team. The sponsor was Barbay's Market. Unlike most other managers, DBarbay's Market Khoury League Teamad stayed true to the Khoury League spirit and let all the kids have a chance to play.Consequently, we didn't win many games. His other rule was, whether we won or lost, we all went out for ice cream. For the other teams, ice cream was a reward for winning. We often ran into our old teammates at North Hills Dairy Creamery and I wondered if they thought we were winning as many games as they were, probably not. Even though my dad knew near to nothing about managing a baseball team, he did know something about kids and ice cream.
I got better as a ball player and one year I even got a chance to play in the All Star Game at Busch stadium. I was definitely outclassed by the other players. My goal was not to screw up too badly and I didn’t. I usually played 3rd base and fancied myself a junior Ken Boyer, the Cardinals fantastic 3rd baseman, but in that game I was placed in the outfield. I didn’t get a chance to catch a fly ball, but fielded a few successfully and I was up to bat two times. I walked once and hit a single.
I’ll try to catch some of the post season games this year, but I always liked playing baseball better than watching it. I’d take more interest in the sport if I knew more of the players. Each season it seems I have to learn a whole bunch of new players. Very few stay with the same team for very long, unlike “Stan the Man” who spent his entire career with the Cardinals. I am familiar with Albert Pujols and it will be worth it just watching him play. Go Cardinals!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

To Be Brave

When I was in the 6th grade and began having trouble keeping up with my school work in public school, my parents sent me to a private Christian school. The kids were nice at the new school and the classes were small. I didn’t have any trouble making friends. David was one of them. He didn't look like the other kids. His hair was short, cut close to the scalp. He wore flannel shirts with the sleeves rolled up past his elbows, tight jeans and tan suede combat boots. Hanging out of his back pocket was a red bandanna that swayed like a horse's tail when he walked.
On my first day, he came right up to me and put his fist close to my face. I thought he was threatening to beat me up.
"Do you know how I got these marks?" He pointed with his other hand to the back part of his fist. I had to look closely, but then I saw what he was referring to, four tiny holes lined up in a row and evenly spaced.
"No." I replied, relieved he wasn't going to hit me.
"A high school kid stabbed me with a fork." He explained.
Sure enough that's what the little holes looked like.
"Why did he do that?" He had definitely gotten my interest.
"I squirted him with catsup."
I could tell he was enjoying telling me about this, but he kept becoming quiet, waiting for me to ask him questions.
"Why did you squirt him with catsup?"
He continued. "I was sitting on a stool at the counter in the drug store right next to this guy. He was eating a piece of apple pie and Frank, the guy that worked the counter, had just brought me my hot dog.  I asked the guy if he could pass me the catsup, which was sitting right there in front of him. But he just kept on eating his pie like he hadn't heard me. I know he had, so I asked him again. I said, ‘Hey buddy pass me that catsup would you?’"
There was another long pause, which was my cue to ask another question. "Did he?"
"Nope, he just kept shoving pie in his mouth. So I said, ‘What’s the matter, are you deaf?’ and this got his attention. He looked over at me and said 'Get it yourself jerk'. But the catsup was all the way on the other side of him where I couldn't reach." Again David stopped and waited.
"What did you do next?"
"I got up, walked all the way behind him, grabbed the catsup and then around again to where I was sitting."
"Is that when you squirted him?" I asked this time without waiting for him to pause.
"No, not yet, first I slowly put catsup on my hot dog. Then I turned to him and in my nicest voice said, 'Hey buddy, here's some catsup for you,' and I squirted it all over his shirt." He smiled and kept looking right at me, I guess to see my reaction.
"Is that when he stabbed you with his fork?"
"Yep.He grabbed my arm while I was squirting him, slammed it down on the counter and jabbed the fork right there." He again pointed to the tiny holes on the back of his hand. I must have made a face because he laughed.
"Then what happened?"
It took him a while to answer. He was admiring his battle wound, moving his hand around until the light captured it at just the right angle. "I pushed him hard and he fell backwards off the stool and I ran like hell out of the drug store. By the time he picked his butt up off the floor, I was long gone."
I liked his story. I was amazed that after being stabbed by this big high school guy, he still had enough presence of mind to push him off the stool.
"Have you ever been in a fight?” David asked me.
I could only think of one incident. It wasn't really a fight. "One time, a kid at public school had a jar crammed full of grasshoppers. He was taking it around, showing it to everybody. I felt sorry for the grasshoppers. They could barely move in there. I asked him to let them go, but he refused, so I pushed him down, grabbed the jar, opened it and let the grasshoppers out."
David liked my story and told me that like him, I too was a warrior. But I didn’t really believe I was a warrior. I didn't mention that the kid was small and in the grade below me. I also didn’t tell him about the time a bigger kid punched me in the face at the public swimming pool and I was scared and spent the rest of the day hiding out to avoid him.
David said he was excited about a book he was reading. It was all about Vikings. They sailed around conquering other lands, fighting their enemies with axes and swords. “Can you imagine fighting some guy with a razor sharp axe or a sword?”
He looked at me as if I should respond, but then quickly added. “Now that is brave.”
David and I became good friends. We hung out together during recess for the rest of the school year. I loved listening to his exploits. When I was around him, I felt I could be brave too.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Faces in the Yearbook

I’ve never gone to one of my high school class reunions. The last one would have been the 46th. I find this hard to believe. McClure was a big high school in north St. Louis County, with over 3000 students, grades ten through twelve. Sometime in the 1980s, the planning committee for our 20th or 25th class reunion tracked me down in Washington state. Ever since then I’ve been receiving yearly reunion notifications. In recent years these emails have also contained death notifications of some of my former classmates.
I didn’t know a lot of my classmates and many of the names in these emails sounded familiar, but I had trouble putting a face to the name. I saved the emails thinking that one day I would look these people up in the yearbook, which has been stashed away at my sister Karen’s house for the past umpteen years. On our recent trip to Seattle, I found the box containing yearbooks at the bottom of a stack of boxes in her basement and I threw it in the car for the trip home to Arizona.
The other day I looked up all my now deceased former classmates. To my surprise, I recognized most of them. Not only did I recognize them, but I could hear their voices and see some of their mannerisms. I’m sure I haven’t thought about these people since we were in high school, but now they have come back to life in my mind.
When I look at their pictures, my thoughts and feelings about them are frozen in time. I’m 63 years old, yet I’m looking through the eyes of a 17-year-old. That girl was really cute and what a body! That guy was tough, I wouldn’t have wanted to get on his wrong side.That girl was really sweet to me, why didn’t I talk to her more? That guy was  cool but that one was a real nerd.
I found myself feeling compassion for all these students. We were together in high school at the very beginning of our adult lives and at a time in history, just before our society radically changed. I’m sure many of them married and divorced, lost spouses or children along the way, had multiple ups and downs and now those of us who have survived are in the last part of our lives.
One guy from my class never got a chance to be a hippy, go to college, have a career or a family. His name was Mike and he died in Vietnam in 1967, just two years after we graduated. He was one of the cool guys, tall with blond hair and good looking. I didn’t know him well, but we had a mutual girlfriend. To be more precise, she was my friend and his girlfriend. Her name was Marley and she went to a nearby Catholic school. I first met her out cruising the burger stands with some of the guys. This was an activity she never did, but on this one occasion the car she was riding in ended up right next to our car at the Jennings’ Steak & Shake.
That night we all ended up over at her friend Birdy’s house. Birdy’s parents’ weren’t home for some reason, so we raided their liquor cabinet, drank mixed drinks and listened to music. At some point, Marley and I paired off and found we had a mutual passion for a lot of the same music. It was 1964 and the Beatles had opened up America to the British invasion. She didn’t like some of the British groups, but she did like The Animals, The Kinks and The Zombies. We also shared a love for the early ‘60s girl groups like The Shirelles, The Chiffons and The Ronettes as well as Mary Wells. But our musical tastes parted company in several areas. She didn’t care for the “Stones” and she liked jazz and folk music, which I wasn’t into.
Marley was excited to share an album with me that she’d recently bought. It was “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”. I had never heard of the guy. At first I didn’t like it. I thought he had a terrible voice and was an even worse harmonica player. But she convinced me to hang in there with him, which I’m glad I did. Marley and I became friends after that night. She called me Yeager and I felt I could talk to her about anything. We got together periodically, just to talk and listen to music.
After graduating from high school, I went on a week long trip to Florida with my friends Petie and Jeff. We drove non-stop from St. Louis to Fort Lauderdale in Petie’s Corvair, Monza, with the top down. When we got there, after considerable effort, we found a motel room to share. The rule was, if any one of us hooked up with a girl, the other two would stay clear of the motel room.
I spent most nights sleeping in the car or sitting on a bench on the board walk looking out at the ocean. Luckily I had the motel room all to myself to sleep in during the day. On one of the nights, I remember hearing the familiar nasal voice of Dylan coming from the arcade nearby. But it wasn’t one of the folk songs Marley and I had become familiar with. It was rock ‘n’ roll. The song was “Like a Rolling Stone”. I found the jukebox in the back of the arcade and played it over and over again that night. I was anxious to get back home to ask Marley what she thought about Dylan going electric. I thought about her a lot during that trip and decided I wanted to tell her my true feelings and that I thought our relationship should be more than just friends.
But I never told her my feelings and shortly after that I went into the Army. When I was home on leave after completing my training and prior to going to Vietnam, I went over to her house. She was surprised and happy to see me, but when I entered her living room, there sat Mike on the couch. I could tell they had a romantic thing going on and it made the visit awkward. Mike asked me about the Army. I told him I had signed up for 3 years which allowed me to choose my MOS(Army job). I felt my choice of Intelligence would be interesting and a lot safer. Mike was 1-A at the time and said he was going to allow himself to be drafted. I mentioned that he’d probably get stuck in the Infantry and he replied, “I’ll take my chances.”
I got a letter from Marley when I was in Vietnam. I had about 2 months left on my tour. She said that Mike had stepped on a landmine and was instantly killed. I had trouble feeling bad about it at the time. I had already experienced so much death and destruction. I knew Marley was devastated, so I wrote a letter back with what I thought were comforting words. I told her I would see her when I got back.
Mike looks happy in his yearbook picture. He wasn’t dating Marley yet, but I think he had a lot of different girlfriends in high school. I found his name on a replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Truth or Consequences, Mew Mexico a couple years ago.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Who Am I To Judge?

I only broke down and cried twice in Vietnam. The second and last time was after my fellow interrogator, Jim, was wheeled out of the ER at the hospital in Chu Lai, briefly came to and said, “Yeager, I’m glad it was me who went instead of you.” He had been shot in the gut and it wasn’t the kind of wound that one surgery could fix. As he drifted back out of consciousness, I hurried outside, sat down on a wooden bench, put my head in my hands and sobbed. It should have been me lying on that gurney all shot up. It was my mission.
Earlier that day I was interrogating a young VC (Viet Cong) woman. She told me the location of a large weapons cache and I reported it to my superiors. It just so happened that one of our battalions was launching a mission into the exact same area that evening. I was told by “L.T.” (our lieutenant) to get my interpreter and the VC woman and mount up, battalion was sending over a helicopter to pick us up in less than an hour.
At the time, I was getting “short”. I had less than a month before going home. And as my time “in country” shortened, I was becoming increasingly paranoid. I was one of the seasoned interrogators. Part of the job was accompanying the infantry on their mission if we found out any vital information from a detainee, such as the location of a weapons cache. We also screened villagers in the field, if we suspected there was  enemy activity in the area. Evidently someone higher up in the ranks liked the idea of us interrogators working directly with the units in the field. Rumors were circulating that our Interrogation team might be broken up and each of us assigned to a different battalion in the field. In other words they would turn us into grunts(Infantrymen). This whole prospect worried the hell out of me. I had heard of too many guys getting killed on their last days in country. I wanted to go home alive and with all my working parts.
Our unit put together the latest intelligence maps, so I knew this mission would drop me right smack in the middle of a big NVA (North Vietnamese Army) buildup. It was starting to get dark outside. I thought it would be suicide to attempt to lead the soldiers to this weapons cache in the dark and in the middle of hostile territory. I flat out didn’t want to go, but I had to. It was my job.
As I was suiting up, Jim approached me and asked if he could go in my place. Without a moment’s hesitation I said, “It’s all right with me, as long as you run it by L.T.” Jim and Steve had come into our unit at the same time. They were new replacements for some of the guys who’d already gone home. Both were smart and capable, but they were “newbies” and hadn’t been tested by fire yet. L.T. gave Jim the OK.  I watched as the chopper briefly touched down on the heli-pad and Jim, the VC detainee and my interpreter, Chang, climbed into the Huey and flew off to NVA country.
Jim was excited about going out on his first mission. I remembered that feeling, it was exhilarating. I too was full of it when I first got in country. But it was totally gone within a few months. This was a seriously dangerous mission. An FNG like Jim shouldn’t have been the one going. But I didn’t allow any of these thoughts to occupy much space in my mind. My thoughts at the time followed a different path, more along the lines of: He wants to go on this mission and I don’t, so why shouldn’t he. He’s got to learn sometime and it might as well be now. Besides, I’m too short to give a rat’s ass.
That evening we were sitting on our bunks, having a few beers, probably passing around a joint. OD was playing his guitar and as we sang along to some popular song, I heard a jeep drive up to the entrance of our hooch. The brakes squealed and it stopped right in front of the door. The driver yelled, “Is Yeager in there?” My heart sank. I knew it had to be bad news. I opened the hooch door and an MP, not bothering to get out of the jeep, simply said. “Your guy’s up in the hospital, he’s been shot.”
I grabbed my rifle and helmet and hurried down to the motor pool to get a jeep. I drove alone up Highway 1 to the Americal Division Headquarters hospital. Thinking back, that was a crazy thing to do, but at the time, if I had been ambushed, I would have thought, I’m just getting what I deserve. I was an expert at pushing away my feelings. We all were, but as I followed the headlights up the dirt highway in the black of night, I was consumed with a sense of dread and guilt. God please don’t let him die.
Sitting outside the operating room on the wooden bench with my back against the wall, the guilt turned to shame. I can vividly recall how humid the night was. Above my head swung a bare light bulb on a wire, causing shadows to circle around my feet. I composed myself and walked back into the recovery area. Jim was awake and recounted for me what had happened. “I was walking point.” He said with some effort.
Those fucking grunts should not have allowed him to walk point. But, who was I to judge?
“II rounded a bend and thought I saw someone lying on the trail up ahead. Suddenly I recognized it was an NVA soldier, but before I could lift my rifle, he sat up and shot me, then all hell broke loose. I lay there feeling like I was going to pass out. Somebody dragged me off the trail and I stayed there in the brush listening to the others fighting for their lives.” He was eager to tell me everything that happened. I stood at the side of the gurney listening, trying not to pass out myself.
Jim told me he had to crawl to an area where a soldier hoisted him over his shoulder and carried him to a small open field. He said he lay in the field for what seemed like only seconds but it was probably longer, “My mind was going in and out ”, when a medivac chopper arrived.
Jim survived. I saw him that next year in Texas . I was still in the Army stationed at Fort Hood where he looked me up. We met in Temple, Tx. at a Mexican restaurant. He walked in with the help of a cane. I thought maybe he wanted to forgive me, let me off the hook, like he did the night he was shot, but that didn’t happen. Instead he told me in great detail about his many operations and how much of a struggle everyday things were  for him now. I felt sorry for him. Then he looked me right in the eyes as we munched on our chips and salsa, and said, “You know Yeager, you’re the reason I’m all fucked up. It should have been you on that mission not me.”.
That was the last time I saw him, but I’ve thought about him a lot over the years. I’d like to think I’d do things differently if I got the chance, but the hard reality is, I probably wouldn’t.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Our Vacation From Retirement

We spent 6 weeks traveling to and being in the Northwest. It was a chance to get away from the heat of the desert and visit family and friends. Now we’re back and having to adjust to the heat all over again. Highs here in Green Valley are in the 90’s, which is still damned hot, but at least it’s not over 100. We Southwesterners universally dread triple digit temperatures. The extreme heat does seriously impair one’s motivation to go outside.
I only wrote two blog entries during the month of August. I had trouble keeping any sort of routine going while traveling. Before we left, I promised myself that I would continue to write, exercise regularly and eat good, healthy food. After several days on the road, I realized that promise blew out the car window.  I surrendered to the reality of being self- disciplined, on occasion. Our trip turned out to be a vacation from our usual retirement routine.
Katie and I were surprised by how much we enjoyed being in the city of Seattle. We stayed in a basement apartment of a friend’s house in the Greenwood area. We could walk to restaurants, coffee shops and grocery stores. Prior to this trip, Seattle had been a place to visit for short periods of time, usually on weekends; after a few days we were eager to get away from the crowds, the noise and the fast pace. Now that we’re retired we discovered that during the middle of a weekday Seattle is a very pleasant city to be in. And there was always somewhere to go, something interesting to do and somebody to do it with. We just needed to remember to get back home by 3:30 in the afternoon.
It was good to see young people and young families out and about. Living in a retirement area for the past couple years, we’ve become accustomed to everyone around us being old. We enjoyed watching these young families. I could appreciate their energy and aliveness, yet at the same time, I was often struck by the thought, I’m glad I’m not in that stage of life anymore. The young adults seem so driven and rushed. As we leisurely walked around Green Lake, they would whiz past us either running (often pushing a stroller), roller skating or walking and talking fast and seriously with a friend. I hoped they were figuring out how to change the world for the better. I’ve certainly given up.
Another thought that came to me on these strolls was, We have to be whatever age we are. It just wouldn’t work to skip a stage of life. All the striving, worrying and disillusionment along life’s way seem necessary in order for us to be comfortable with our present age. From my current perspective, these young up-and-comers’ attempts  to get ahead in the world mostly look like a big waste of time. I guess they have to do something with all that energy.
In Vietnam we had a saying that came in handy right before my buddies and I did something unauthorized, “What are they going to do, send us to Nam?” We felt we were already in the worst situation possible.  Approaching old age puts us in a similar position. Most young people stop seeing older people, unless, of course, we’re in their way. And hardly anyone is interested in what we did in the past or what we’re doing currently. This realization could lead to depressing thoughts about oneself, or to a new sense of freedom. That woman who wants to wear purple and eat more ice cream seems to have figured it out. The hard part is letting go of old thoughts that instruct us to follow patterns of behavior that aren’t relevant anymore. To embrace this new sense of freedom, one has to stop caring so much about what others think. When I viewed the young people hustling around me as one giant ant colony, I felt like I was close to the correct perspective. .
I noticed I spent a lot of time doing the same things I do at home, only in a different environment:                                 
                                       Here I am in Talent, Oregon, outside a coffee shop reading.
Seattle Trip 2011 009

And here I am on our friend’s back deck, reading. Every once in a while, I looked up and remembered, Oh yeah, I’m not at home.

The best part about the trip was reconnecting with friends and family. There is nothing better in this life than being with people you care about and who have known you from years past. It’s good to be back in Green Valley, even though it’s still too hot. Traveling is a great adventure, but there’s nothing like home. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Familiar Burden of War Veterans

We’re enjoying being in Seattle again. I am more familiar with and more comfortable in Seattle than any other large city. I’ve only actually lived here a few times. The first time was in 1975. I had graduated from the University of Oregon the year before with a BA in General Social Science. This was a wonderful program that allowed me to take a wide variety of courses, but provided me with absolutely no specific skills or knowledge directly applicable to the job market. So after graduating, I accepted a job in a factory that produced irrigation systems. I did a variety of bone weary menial tasks, but after about 6 months, I wanted out. I quit and moved from Eugene to Seattle. By this time I had been out of the Army for 5 years. College had provided a sanctuary away from the everyday world that I was having trouble relating to. Vietnam had changed me. I was confused, angry and traumatized by what I had experienced there. But this side was hidden way down deep under a “normal, nice guy” persona. In Seattle I got a job as a taxi driver for Yellow Cab on the evening shift. Through map reading and much trial and error, I learned my way around the city. I enjoyed driving a cab most of the time and fell right into the roll. My hair was long and my uniform was a tee-shirt, jeans and leather jacket. I worked off the “extra-board”. I’d go in well before the shift started, sign my name on the board and wait my turn for the next available taxi. This allowed me to work when I needed money and take time off whenever I wanted. I bought a 500cc Honda and rode it into work. On days off, and when the weather permitted, I took long rides up into the mountains. As a cabbie I became familiar with the underbelly of Seattle. In the dark of night, I transported well dressed, middle aged men to seedy hotels and apartment buildings where they found drugs and prostitutes. Sometimes they paid me to wait outside. I felt more comfortable in this world than the daylight social world of relationships and commerce. I needed an element of danger in my life to feel alive. I was part of the city and drove my cab fast and with aggression. I picked up a fare in White Center, south of Seattle. I took the young man to an address on Capital Hill. He said he didn’t have any money and quickly got out of the cab. I got out too, went around the big car and stood in his way. “You knew you didn’t have any money and still let me drive you all this way?” “That’s right man, now get the fuck out of my way.” I grabbed his coat and slammed him up against the cab. I didn’t say anything. Looking into his eyes, I saw fear. He could tell I wanted to kill him and he was getting ready to die. With adrenalin strength, I held him this way for what seemed like a long time, but finally backed away. “Get the hell out of here.” And he shuffled off. This was the first time I’d experienced a part of me that I now call “the angry vet”. I would have many opportunities to get familiar with this part over the next 40 years. I got a second job at The Fish & Chip Company in Leschi on the western shore of Lake Washington. One day as I was starting my cab shift, I drove to the restaurant to pick up my first pay check. While walking back to the cab, a car slowed down and a guy thrust a pistol out the passenger side window and yelled, “Hey asshole” and fired directly at me. I hit the ground. I wasn’t hit. Before taking the time to think, I jumped up, slid into the cab and took out after the car. They realized I was after them and tried to lose me. It was a high speed chase along the lake and then back into the residential area. My cab was a huge Plymouth Fury. It drove and handled like a barge. In pursuit, I side swiped a parked car. They were in a black Mercedes, much quicker and more agile. They ditched me in the maze of suburban streets, so I pulled over to the side of the road and turned off the engine. My hands were shaking uncontrollably. I sat there for the longest time until finally breaking down into tears, huge guttural sobs. What was I going to do if I caught up with them? I didn’t have a weapon. The “angry vet” doesn’t think very clearly before acting. I would have charged right at them, even if their guns were blazing away. Many of the Vietnam veterans I worked with as a counselor avoided a variety of everyday social situations. They would tell me that these situations made them uncomfortable. A big part  of that  uncomfortable  feeling  was their fear that the hidden “angry vet” would be triggered by someone and if it was, they were afraid of what it might do. It’s a familiar and disabling burden of war veterans. Being in Seattle this time is about visiting with friends and relatives, enjoying the August weather and taking in the beauty of the surrounding water and mountains. Some of those seedy areas I used to be familiar with, like Belltown, have been transformed into upscale condos and shops. I’ve noticed  cab drivers around town and wonder what their lives are like.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

We Stopped in Palm Springs Before Heading North to Family, Friends and Cooler Weather

Katie and I are on vacation. Being on vacation is not that different from our regular retired life, except that we’re sitting in different places, surrounded by different scenery and talking with different people. We’re in Seattle now and the most notable difference is the weather. We have successfully escaped the Arizona heat and there is nowhere more beautiful than the Pacific Northwest in August.
We drove here and our first stop was Palm Springs. We’ve been to Palm Springs several times before, but never in the summer. July is not the time to visit. The temperature was easily over the 100 mark. After putting our bags in the room, we decided to walk downtown to a Mexican restaurant recommended by the Concierge. The name of the restaurant was Las Casuelas and she said it was on the left hand side of the street in the middle of downtown. “The food is good, reasonably priced and the atmosphere is great with outdoor dining and live music.”
We were extremely hot on our walk downtown. Not only was the temperature over 100 degrees, but the humidity was high as well. Many of the restaurants along the way had water misters for their outside tables. The cool water vapor hung in the air over the outdoor tables and the sidewalks. We slowed our pace while passing through these cool spots. A few times we stood still in the mist for several refreshing minutes.
We noticed the merchandise in many of the stores was straight out of the 1950s. Some of it was actual ‘50s stuff and some retro; colorful plastic drinking glasses, rattan furniture, aluminum and vinyl tables and chairs, Polynesian artifacts and lots more. I don’t know if this is a national trend or just a Palm Springs thing. The heyday of this town was probably the‘50s, so the period stuff didn’t look out of place.
As we drew near the center of town, we began tromping on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars area. It’s similar to the one in Hollywood. Some of the names on the sidewalk were familiar, but many were not. We recognized famous actors, musicians, and authors, but who were these other people? I wondered what the criteria were for getting your name on one of these stars. You can find out just about anything on the internet, so I looked.
To be considered for a star, the individual has to have actually lived in the greater Palm Springs area with some regularity (the length of time is not specified) and his/her presence must  contribute to “the charm, worldwide prominence and name recognition of Palm Springs.” (subjective criteria, to say the least). The categories drawn from are: show business, literature, pioneers/civic, humanitarian, sports and military.
The first people whose names were immortalized on these stars in 1992 were: Earle C. Strebe, William Powell, Ruby Keeler, Charlie Farrell and Ralph Bellamy. All of these people had been prominent and influential residents of Palm Springs. I was familiar with the actors William Powell (Nick Charles in the Thin Man movie series), Ruby Keeler (actress, dancer and once married to Al Jolson) and Ralph Bellamy (one of the old rich guys along with Don Ameche in “Trading Places”), but had never heard of Earle Strebe or Charlie Farrell. I discovered that Charlie Farrell was a silent movie actor. He and Ralph Bellemy, started the Palm Springs Racket Club. I can imagine the stars needing some healthy recreation and exercise between bouts of drinking, smoking and carousing. Earl C. Strebe was the owner of The Plaza Theater that opened in 1936. In its day, it put on live theatrical plays. Today it’s the home of “The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies”.
Katie and I found Las Casuelas restaurant which appeared quite plain, old and run down. In the front was a small hot looking seating area with no misters, so we went in and sat at a well used booth in the air conditioned interior. The food was good and the staff was friendly, but it seriously lacked atmosphere. After dinner we continued our walk downtown. We remembered the lights on the palm trees at Christmas during a previous visit and Thursdays when the street was closed for the arts & crafts and food vendors. The town was bustling with people at those times, but now, near the end of July, it was nearly deserted.
In the ‘90s Katie and I and my sister, Karen, flew to Palm Springs for a spiritual retreat. It was the annual New Year’s retreat with Gurumayi, the guru of Siddha Yoga. We didn’t actually attend the retreat, but went to a workshop just prior to it. The retreat, typical of Siddha Yoga functions, was too expensive for us. Our workshop was led by one of the monks, but unexpectedly Gurumayi showed up and led the large group in meditation. She was petite and quite beautiful. Some of the people around me were weeping in her presence. I wasn’t feeling much of anything, maybe just a little irritated at all the weeping going on around me. After the meditation was over, Gurumayi slowly walked down the aisle, stopping to talk with a number of people. She talked for a long time to a guy right in front of me. I have to admit, I would have liked her to look my way, just a little glance of recognition, but she didn’t. She walked right by me and I still didn’t feel anything. When she exited the large hall, everyone followed her with expectant looks on their faces. I’m sure it’s just my unenlightened ego, but I was embarrassed to be part of it. I absolutely did not want to chase after her like all the others.
The best thing about that trip to Palm Springs was the guided bus tour. Our tour guide and van driver was very informative and quite animated telling us about the history of the area and showing us the current and former homes of various stars. We couldn’t go to Bob Hope’s huge house on the hill, where, we were told, he entertained guests. But the guide did show us a small modest house in a normal looking neighborhood, where he said Bob and Dorothy actually lived. I strained to look in the windows as the van crept by hoping to see someone stirring inside, but no luck. I like thinking about Palm Springs in the ‘50s. It must have been a great time to live there and hobnob with the stars.
As Katie and I continued our walk downtown, we came upon another Las Casuelas restaurant. The old mission style building had a large courtyard crowded with people drinking margaritas, talking, laughing and listening to a live band playing infectious, compelling Reggae tunes. Water misters hung in trees above their heads, fountains bubbled everywhere and everyone looked cool and happy. The concierge was right; this would have been a great place to eat, oh well.
On the walk back to our room we paused at the sculpture of Lucy lounging on a bench. I heard on the news, she would have turned 100 years old the other day. I don’t know why there is a statue of her there, but she deserves it for making us all laugh for so many years. Tomorrow we head north to friends, relatives and cooler weather.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The ‘60s Store

Fourth Avenue in Tucson near the University of Arizona is filled with shops that cater to the student population. There are import stores, funky coffee shops, a bookstore and a Food Co-op to name a few. I like going up there, sitting in one of the coffee shops, having a latte and writing or reading. A store that got my attention recently is called the Hippie Gypsy. The outside of the building is hand painted with rock ‘n’ roll musicians from the ‘60s. I assumed it was a record/CD store, but it’s not.
The other day after finishing my Latte and needing to get off my sore butt and move around, I walked over and checked the store out. I thought maybe I could find some old music, but the store sells everything but music--posters, tapestries, clothing, jewelry, buttons, eastern religious icons, lots of doodads with the peace sign and love written on them and those strings of beads you hang in the doorway. Every item was meant to look like it came out of the ‘60s, but none of it did. It was all new stuff.
I surrendered my backpack to the young man behind the counter and immediately a sales girl came up and asked if she could be of help. I told her I was just looking. She continued to stand there, so I asked her who was into all this ‘60s stuff. She said a lot of young people and she was one of them. “That’s why I work at this store.”  I asked her what she liked about the ‘60s and she said she loved the music and the look and everything. “Even my little sister is getting into it. She loves The Who.” She said her sister’s birthday was coming up and she wanted to get her something related to The Who. I suggested the CD and DVD of Tommy. She hadn’t heard of it, so I launched into a lengthy description about it; the first Rock Opera in the 70’s later made into a movie, how all the band members of The Who had parts in the film with Roger Daltry as Tommy, the deaf, dumb and blind Pinball Wizard. Elton John played his rival the pinball champ, Jack Nicholson was the Doctor. I told her I thought Ann Margaret won some kind of award, but she didn’t know who Ann Margaret was and anyway I think I lost her somewhere near the beginning. She was standing there being polite, but her eyes told me she was actually somewhere else. When I stopped talking she said, “Cool”. I began to browse around the store.
She showed up again as I was staring at a giant picture puzzle. The picture was a view of John Sebastian from the back of the stage as he looked out over the sea of people at Woodstock. 
John Sebastian at Woodstock
He was wearing tie-dyed clothes with an acoustic guitar hanging from a shoulder strap. She said, “Isn’t that a cool puzzle?” I agreed and asked her if she knew who the guy in the picture was. No, she didn’t? Well I couldn’t help myself. I launched into another informational lecture. Did she know that John Sebastian was not even scheduled to play at Woodstock? After Country Joe & The Fish finished their electric set, it had started to rain and the organizers feared the musicians might get electrocuted. They needed somebody to play an acoustic set, someone who could hold the crowds’ attention until it stopped drizzling. John was hanging out in the back with the other musicians. He hadn’t even brought a guitar with him, so he borrowed one from Tim Hardin, went onstage and played an unrehearsed set for half a million people. I realized I’d lost the sales girl again, but I felt this was such important information that maybe some of it would get through. Besides, I was on a roll. There was a little spark of interest in her eyes when I mentioned that John tie-dyed all his own clothes. I could have told her about the time I met him in Seattle, but I didn’t. It just so happened it was time for her break. She said goodbye, yelled to the guy behind the counter that she was going on break, and quickly left the building.
In a separate part of the store were shelves of hookahs, pipes and tobacco, a modern version of what we used to call a “Head Shop”. I recognized the small marijuana pipes, but none of the various shiny aluminum appliances with protruding hoses. The young man behind the counter explained that these machines added moisture to the smoke and made it real smooth, above us hung numerous posters of Bob Marley.
It was interesting to see which musicians were represented in this store. The main ones were Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, both sans their bands. The Beatles were all over the place, Mick Jagger, mostly without the other Stones, Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia and lots of Grateful Dead skeleton stuff, Frank Zappa, Stevie Nicks, who didn’t become popular until the late ‘70s and Janis Joplin. Bob Marley was heavily represented, but no other reggae musicians. Most of the merchandise represented the psychedelic era, but I saw no evidence of Grace Slick or the Jefferson Airplane and no Iron Butterfly, Vanilla Fudge or Pink Floyd. I saw no evidence of the folk scene except for Dylan, no R&B artists and no British invasion groups except the Beatles.
My conclusion is that the store is promoting a lifestyle and a look all about peace and love and smoking marijuana from an apparatus that makes it moist and smooth while listening to ‘60s music and reggae and maybe some late Fleetwood Mac, while putting a puzzle together of a cool looking guy in tie-dyed clothes at a really big concert and all while looking really cool wearing some colorful clothes with lots of anti-war/peace/love buttons on them.
It could be worse. Remember when they were all wearing spiked dog collars with shaved heads and body piercings and singing about violence, destruction and hos?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Latest Media Crime/Trial Extravaganza

I don’t know how many horrendous crimes there are in the US each year, but periodically the media picks out one and this becomes the big story. We all can’t help but follow it because it catches fire, making its way into all  media outlets. The latest one is the Caylee Anthony murder trial. This case proved to be typical of the cases that are played out in the media. It turned out to be frustratingly dissatisfying because we never find out what really happened.

This case is over now and but more  questions were left unanswered than were answered. I heard three different theories as to how little Caylee died. One originally told by her mother Casey, then the one presented by the prosecution and a different one presented by Casey’s defense lawyers. None of them were substantiated by hard evidence. None of them explained why Casey’s trunk smelled like a dead body, how the body got out to the woods and why  there was duct tape on the skeletal remains. These seem like pretty important questions that need to be answered. But getting down to the truth of what really happened did not seem to be a priority with either side in this trial.

Who investigated this case anyway? It certainly wasn’t Lt. Colombo. He would have kept showing up  asking questions and being such a nuisance that the murderer would confess just to get rid of him. And if Perry Mason were prosecuting the case, of course he would have had to switch from being a defense lawyer, he would have made sure that Casey Anthony took the stand so that he could verbally break her down until she blurted out a confession. During the trial, Perry would have sent Della Street out of the court room only  to return later with a critical piece of evidence that PI Paul Drake dug up somewhere. Don’t  Casey Anthony’s lawyers watch TV?

When I worked as a Sex Offender Therapist for a few years, we routinely subjected our clients to lie detector tests. It was an excellent way to keep them on the straight and narrow.One lie detector test was not conclusive proof however, but a series of them over time had a high rate of validity. We know that Caylee’s mother, Casey is a chronic liar so she doesn’t need to be tested. But if they gave the trial lawyers lie detector tests, this would help keep them focused on the actual facts of the case instead of wandering off into their own fabricated stories.

The other big media case that comes to mind is the OJ Simpson trial. OJ’s lawyer, Johnny Cochran, became so famous because of this case that he was the inspiration for a character on Seinfeld.  At the time of the OJ trial, I was teaching classes for perpetrators of domestic violence. One of my teaching tools was The Violence Continuum. On one end of the chart is verbal and emotional abuse and on the other is death. The theory being, if nothing changed in the relationship and there was no therapeutic intervention, the likelihood was that the violence would escalate over time and end with one of the partners killing the other. Statistically it was more likely that the man killed the woman, but sometimes it was the other way around. The OJ case was a perfect illustration of how the chart worked and I used it as an example in my classes. But the case didn’t end up like it was supposed to. Johnny ruined my teaching tool. The glove didn’t fit.

In his “tell all” book, “If I Did It”, OJ tried to cash in on the brutal murder by writing his version of the crime, but because of public outcry, it was never officially published. It was however  leaked to the media.  I read a synopsis on line and OJ portrays himself as sort of an innocent bystander at the at the death of his wife Nicole and Ron Goldman. He just happened to be standing over the bodies, holding a knife with blood all over him. Go figure, But like Johnny Cochran said “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.

I don’t think we’ll ever find out for sure what really happened to Caylee Anthony. If Casey Anthony ever writes a book, how could we believe it? Psychiatric experts have suggested that Casey probably has Anti Social Personality Disorder and/or Narcissistic Personality disorder. These diagnoses are similar in that the individuals do not have empathy for others. They live their lives like actors playing different roles as the situation changes. Without a stable integrating ego, they are totally self centered, motivated by unresolved childhood conflicts and trauma. The mistake many people make is judging others from their own frame of reference. If Casey is antisocial and narcissistic, she has an entirely different way of viewing the world.

After watching all the outraged people standing outside the courtroom screaming and holding up signs, I decided that Casey represents a side of ourselves that is repressed and resides in the shadow side of our psyches. Why else would we get so angry and want to see her punished. I’m not saying we all secretly want to kill our kids and go party, but there is a selfish side to our natures that at times surfaces when a child pushes our limits. Anyone who’s raised a teenager knows what I’m talking about. The majority of us are able to keep this dark side at bay, so in spite of how we sometimes feel, we continue to do the right thing and what’s best for our child.

Concerning the feeling of utter frustration these trials leave us with, maybe the answer is to withdraw from the real world into the fictional one. Even though Robert Parker died last year, I was pleased to learn that another writer will continue to write his Jesse Stone novels. I can count on Jesse to figure it all out and wrap up the case neatly by the end of the book. Peter Falk is also gone now, but I think watching some Colombo reruns might help as well, at least until the media decides what its next crime/trial extravaganza will be.

I still think Clarence Thomas sexually harassed Anita Hill?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Old Drivers in Arizona

In this morning’s paper is a picture of a big beautiful Lincoln ContSaturday Crashinental sitting in the produce aisle of our local Safeway. Somebody put the gear shift lever on D instead of R and stepped on the gas. A few people had minor injuries, but no one was seriously hurt. This is not an uncommon occurrence here in Green Valley. Not long ago a car leapt over the parking curb and destroyed the Red Box video machine in front of Walgreens--no first run movies for a few weeks.
Last month I got a ticket in Tucson for running a red light on my motorcycle. I had no idea I had broken the law until a few days later when I received pictures of myself in the mail. One of the many cameras planted around the city had captured me on video. There I was out in the middle of the intersection turning left with the traffic light above my head shining bright red.
Traffic violation pictureIn Tucson, most of the green arrows come on after the green light instead of before it. So those of us waiting to turn left against the traffic can be assured we will have an opportunity to turn left when the oncoming traffic is halted. Some lights however have a sign by them that informs “leading left turn signal” which means the left turn arrow is before the green. I’m not sure which one this particular light was and that was the problem,  hence the ticket. When the light turned red, the car ahead of me took off and the car to my side took off, so I took off as well. I wonder if they got tickets too?
I was informed that I had three options to rectify this ticket. I could pay a fine of $322, I could go to court and contest it, or I could take a defensive drivers class costing $218. By taking the class, the ticket is wiped off my record and I don’t pay the fine. There were two options for taking the class. The first, I could drive to Tucson and attend a half day session with other law breakers or I could take it on-line at my own pace and in the privacy of my own home. I chose the on-line option--big mistake.
The information in general is repetitive and boring and does not have the older driver in mind. It specifically targets younger drivers who talk on cell phones, carry babies around the wrong way in car seats and ingest lots of legal and illegal substances while driving. I did learn a few things from the course like not pumping the brakes in a skid with an Anti-lock Braking System. It took me the better part of a week to get through all the material. I could have been done in half a day.
My strategy for taking the course was to carefully read all the material with the hope of recognizing the correct answer on the multiple choice test at the end. The course had 5 sections and after each one was a 5 question quiz. Throughout the text were randomly planted pictures of objects that were totally unrelated to the defensive driving course material.The quizzes contained detailed questions about these pictures.I think the testers were making sure I was actually reading the material and not cheating somehow. 
I flunked the first 3 quizzes, all for the same reason, I ran out of time. While I was in the middle of reading question 4, time ran out. Thankfully these tests didn’t count towards passing the course, but I was beginning to feel anxious as to whether I’d have enough time to pass the final test, which did count.
To ease my anxiety, I called the contact number for the course and talked with one of the technical “experts”. She sounded like she was about 12 years old and didn’t have a firm grip on the English language. I told her my concerns about not having enough time to pass the final test. I asked her in a variety of ways whether the final was arranged and timed in the same way as the quizzes, but she either did not understand my question or didn’t know the answer or didn’t care. I assume it was a combination of all three. She repeatedly told me all the things I would have to do if I failed to pass, including attending the class in Tucson and paying additional fees. I thought that I would get some kind of reassurance by calling for assistance, but instead my anxiety level shot way up. I really didn’t want to have to attend the class and pay additional money.
I pushed ahead with the course. I needed to speed up on the quizzes and I came up with a few of shaving off a little time. I used a mouse instead of the two finger method on my laptop pad and I increased the size of the text for ease of reading. I did some deep breathing exercises before taking the 4th quiz and to my delight, I passed,  a glimmer of hope. But on the 5th quiz the unexpected happened. My cat jumped up on the table getting in my way and breaking my concentration.. I flung him on the floor, felt bad for doing it, and flunked the quiz.
For the final test, I made sure the cat was sleeping in the other room with the door closed. I had been warned several times that once I started the final, I could not get out of it until it was over. Before starting, I was asked to verify that I was really who I said I was by answering 5 personal questions. Oh and by the way, this additional process would cost me another $15. This personal identification part happened after I clicked on, the final has started. One question was about my current bank. I couldn’t remember the answer and had to go into the bedroom and look it up. The time was ticking. In the process I woke up the cat who was sleeping in there and left the door to the room open. I found the answer, completed the personal questions and was ready to take the final, but I wasn’t sure where the cat was. But the final questions were totally easy and I had plenty of time to finish. The cat appeared on the rug in front of me where I was working and gave me this look like, what was the big deal?
These testing outfits need to design courses with us older folks in mind. There should be questions about how to avoid running down pedestrians in parking lots and how to safely back out of a parking space without having to turn your head around. And questions about golf carts and maybe one or two about what type of cushion to sit on so that you can see over the top of the steering wheel. And if you happen to smash through the front of Safeway, are you allowed a discount on the fruits and vegetables that are strewn all over the floor?