Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for June, 2014

Sleeper

I abhor sports.  If you are a sports fan, the following adventure will not hold your interest for long…

I come by my distaste of the whole endeavor quite honestly.  As a kid, I played little league baseball.  Well, “played at” would be a more accurate description.  Playing for Sal’s Auto Parts and Nutley Electric for several years, I managed to get one home run one time.  Playing for Viola Brothers Garbage Collection, I got no hits and one walk the entire season.  It was definitely not fun.  A shred of evidence was offered when my fifth grade teacher called my parents one afternoon to ask the question “why hasn’t your son been doing any of his homework?”

When they questioned me, I responded “what homework?”

The homework she had written on the blackboard every day…the blackboard I could not read from my seat, apparently.  When they took me to the optometrist, he announced that my eyesight was an astoundingly poor 20/400.  Eyeglasses, though miserably unfashionable, opened up a brave new world for me.  But the nail was already in the sports coffin, as far as I was concerned.

It was not just little league, however.  It was Dad.  “Obsessed” does not do Dad’s level of commitment justice.  Dad stacked two to three televisions atop each other, to watch multiple games simultaneously.  If a game was blacked out in the New York area, we would drive to Connecticut or Pennsylvania, check into a motel, watch the game, and check out.  He would drag us to Yankees, Mets, Giants and Jets games, where we would sit in the cheapest seats in the stratosphere, sharing binoculars.  The peanuts and hotdogs were alright, but the games that actually appeared to infuriate him so much seemed like something to avoid…for the rest of my life. 

The only D I received in high school was in Phys Ed.  When I had to take something athletic in college, I managed to squeak by in tennis, which turns out to be fun.  I can bowl, and that is fun also.  I can hold my own when I have to play golf, which turns out to be more about talking than about playing.  But I otherwise avoid anything that keeps score, given the choice.

So I had no business whatsoever representing the United States of America in a soccer match.

Soon after being stationed in Germany, a few dozen or so of us American combat engineers were sent to the German Army Engineer School at Prinz Eugen Kaserne in Munich.  Lubricated by fantastic beer and excellent snacks, we got along famously with our German counterparts during the training program.  Right up until the day they announced “The Tradition.”

The Tradition was that just prior to graduation each year, the German Army students would pair off against the American Army students in a soccer match.  Somehow, in the poorest decision ever made in NATO, it was decided that I would be on this team.  We had only a few days to practice.  I had never held a soccer ball.  Actually, it turns out that you are not supposed to use your hands…so I was already on the right side of that rule, at least.  Besides, Woody Allen once stated that 99 percent of success is simply showing up.

The evening of the traditional match, our hosts pulled out all the stops.  We were in a large, well lit, indoor arena fit for a Lippizaner stallion showing. Faculty, other students and their families filled the stands, to witness some fine entertainment.

We stood on the field in our army-issued, “Army” emblazoned PT sweat suits.  The German Army team looked like they were dressed for the Olympics.  No matter, it would not be about fashion.  It would be about can-do-it-ness. 

We braced ourselves, as the German Army ran towards us.  Adrenaline coursed through our arms, which I had to remember NOT to use under any circumstances, and our legs and skulls, which were the tools of the trade.  The ball made its fickle way towards me, and I gave it a good swift kick, towards somewhere still on the field.  We went back and forth, for hours and hours that seemed like only minutes to the cheering maniacs in the stands.

It turns out that soccer is not about can-do-it-ness.  It is about skill.  Woody Allen was incorrect, also.  We came.  We saw.  We had our kopfs handed to us on a silver platter, with a score of 8-1.  Germany had the acht, and we had the eins, in case there is any confusion out there.

A few months after the big match, after graduation, NATO commenced the enormous REFORGER maneuvers.  As I rode atop my M113 armored personnel carrier past a column of German tanks headed the other direction, I noticed one of my German classmates in the hatch of his own Marder personnel carrier.

Prinz Eugen!” I yelled over the roar of the tank engines.  He grinned, yelled back “Gross Gott!” and made a pantomime with his fingers, as if his index finger was a leg kicking several times.

The squad leader in the larger hatch behind me saw this.

“You guys go to the Follies or something, sir?”

You could call it that…

Read Full Post »

 

 

Solstice triggers many little notions in me.  None are too deep, so if you would not have your time wasted, you may wish to stop reading this one about….now.

The first word “solstice” invokes for me is Stonehenge.  When I visited it years ago, you were allowed to walk up to the stark slabs and run you hands over them, quite unsupervised.  In what turned out to be a high profile case last year in Utah, some hikers were charged…criminally…with toppling precariously balanced boulders that had stood cartoonlike for eons.  I had mixed feelings about that case, as I do now for the “hands off” protection I understand is now in place at Stonehenge…

On the one hand, it is a shame when things are destroyed by a few dimwits in a moment of inspiration.  On the other hand, perhaps we should not reorder the entire world to sanitize against isolated incidents, so that we can actually enjoy the world.  I have stopped flying, because airports have gotten to be such a bureaucratic army physical.  I would start flying again, if we collectively decided that, yes, we’ll be losing a few planes each year to terrorists, but choose not to stand in long security lines or have our travel shampoo confiscated.  If they want to bring a plane down, they’ll bring a plane down.  I mean, come on–they have SAM’s; the real terrorists don’t rely on box cutters! 

So it is with Stonehenge.  True, someone may insist on spray painting it.  Should the possibility prevent the sensation of running your hand over those slabs, trying to imagine what the Druids may have had in mind?  To really appreciate history, you must be allowed to play with it, not just read about it.  Dress up and reenact a battle, if you are prepared to be surprised by the effort our predecessors endured.  My daughters hoisted the yardarm aboard the USS Constellation in Baltimore Harbor, in what was the finest guided tour I can recall.  Swing a blacksmith hammer, drink some mead, take a carriage ride.  And yes, climb on those teetering rocks.  The next earthquake may have sent the darn things to the desert floor anyway; we can let those remorseful hikers go free. 

The second notion “solstice” fills me with is that it is the most luxurious of times.  Everyone else in our house of five (this week…sometimes three, sometimes seven) is asleep…even the two purr/snoring kitties beside me.  I awaken with the internal clock of a 58 year old now, and finally understand why.  Weekend mornings are sacred.  I have seven winters remaining (at work–not in life…that I know of!) until we can retire and move to the beach.  I look forward to the spring like a Viking.  The world is a less daunting threat of cold and ice…I am once again in charge.  I can do great things.

Like assemble a new propane grill.

Because the solstice is a celebration that, once again, the world is also outside.

 

   

Read Full Post »

Saga

 

 

I don’t even need to lift an ounce, to carry a keepsake of home, all over the world. 

The other morning I walked out into the living room, to find a cat whisker on my coaster.  That whisker now brings a smile to my face several times each day, perched next to my phone on my desk at work.  To see the face if fell from, refer to my wife’s avatar. 

I could go on and on about it… 

 

Actually, that was the entire story. 

 

 

Read Full Post »

No Pain, No Gain

 

The celebrity I would be for a day may sound altruistic…but I chose him for a reason that is entirely selfish.  Plus it would be easy to be this guy…for just a day.  It would be quite another deal to be him for, say, a whole month.  I choose to be Gandhi for a day. 

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Was there ever a more powerful message captured in just a dozen one-syllable words?  What I envy is not only that he derived this life strategy that he went on to carry out, but that he knew what change he wanted.  I envy folks who have such clarity of purpose.  Actually, I envy folks who have anything that can be ranked an obsession. 

Without undergoing the sacrifice that probably aided his thought process, I would somehow, magically emerge from my own day as Gandhi armed with my very own, new Clarity Of Purpose.  I know what change I want, what I must embody and do every day to exemplify and make this happen, and then go on to achieve it.

In all seriousness, I know that I must dig down in enough appropriately quiet moments to develop all of this on my own, for it to have any meaning.  But hey, you did just offer the lottery winning version, to arrive at the same point in one day flat without any work!

I’ll get to work for real now.

 

 

Read Full Post »

Wildcat

One of my favorite mistakes was not at all evident at the time.

My parents had many good qualities.  So many perhaps, that in those areas that were not strengths, they seemed to make it a point to be spectacularly bad.  We were a family of four very poor communicators, for example.  We could talk, of course.  And we were always crammed together.  But our talks were seldom as meaningful as they might have been.  I can actually recall with clarity every single thing of substance my folks ever said to me.  Such would fill an entire novelty grocery pad, in which one third of the writing space has been taken up by a cartoon or logo.

My folks had a tendency to tell the very same stories over and over again, as if we had not heard them.  Or worse, as if we had not actually lived them…been an actual character of the story they were telling us about us…from several months prior.  My Dad’s more interesting stories seemed to be the few about his time in the Air Force.  This planted a seed…

In 1969, two news stories held my thirteen year old interest.  One was the moon landing, of course.  But of equal weight was the My Lai Massacre and court martial that followed.  It was a horrendous, shameful event.  Lieutenant William “Rusty” Calley had been a local boy of little wit.  He had once caused an immense traffic jam in Dade county to the south of us, when he worked for the Eastern Seaboard Railroad and chose to stop a freight train in the heart of Miami, during rush hour.  The army had actually declined his first attempt to enlist, and now he was an officer.  Dad had something to say about the story that struck a chord.

“That poor knucklehead should not have been leading that platoon,” Dad said.  “The man who should be leading that platoon is hiding on some college campus right now…”  He went on to explain such inequities as college deferments, and the fact that only poor kids seemed to be fighting this war; there were far more black soldiers than their percentage of the population, for example.

“I want to join the military,” I announced.  “I will become an officer, and I will lead those guys.”

Although Mom did not seem all that enthused, at least it was a better plan than my previous part time astronomer/part time rancher idea that was not progressing much under my current career of mowing lawns and holding traffic signs as a construction site “go-fer.”  Dad went so far as to take my brother and I on a trip to Colorado, where we toured the Air Force Academy.

I studied hard for the remainder of junior high school and high school, and applied to the Academy. With the helpful guidance of our neighbor, a retired colonel who knew all about the service academy process, I managed to win one of the coveted nominations allotted to our congressman.  Everything seemed to be going my way.

Then came the physical.

I was pretty scrawny, so Dad told me to hold a few rolls of quarters in my pocket for the weigh-in at nearby Williams Air Force Base (we had by now moved to Arizona).  That worked, but that wasn’t the problem.  My eyesight was the problem.  Not only were my eyes not good enough to be a pilot, they were not good enough to be an officer of any capacity in the Air Force.  In fact, I was told that I could not even enlist in the Air Force as a private.

I was devastated.  By now, we had a family business buying and renovating houses…”flipping” is the term in vogue now.  I walked the two miles to the job site from home with my letter of sad news from the Air Force.  Mom and Dad hardly broke their pace sanding cabinets, handing me some sandpaper also.

“I’m so sorry, son,” he said.  “Let’s talk later about it though….”

Later came a few days, or perhaps weeks later.  I was lethargic…thoroughly unmotivated.  I holed up in my room, playing my guitar along with my Alice Cooper, Bread and Chicago 8-track tapes and reading National Lampoon magazines.  I was due to graduate from high school in about a month.

“What exactly are you going to do, son?” Dad finally asked one evening.  I was rather hoping he would simply tell me what to do.

“Well,” I muttered, “my guidance counselor says I can get into the University of Arizona.  I can’t even enlist in the Air Force with my eyesight; but I can still be an officer….in the Army…by going through ROTC.”

“How on earth will you support yourself down in Tucson?” he asked.

Tucson?!  I had assumed U of A was somewhere in town, not over a hundred miles of open desert away from our refrigerator…

“I can always get a job down there,” I improvised, “and ROTC will pay me too.  Maybe I need to learn to live on my own…land on my feet more.”

I was wrong…then right…then even more right.

Another adventure was about to begin.

Read Full Post »

Holding a Full House

 

 

We are each of us a work of art.  Not a finished piece, mind you…we are a work in progress.  In her quest to regain her health, my wife has undergone a transformation of such magnitude that we her family and friends could not be more proud of her, nor more impressed.

In the past six months, the woman I have always known as “My Little Cutie” has gotten much, much littler.  She has lost an astounding fifty seven pounds, and gained a world of health and happiness.  She can buy clothes off the rack, for example.  That is something that we who take such a thing for granted would not consider as significant as it is.  But it is not a simple matter of availability:  the world of clothing is an unabashed bastion of discrimination.  The designs available to the lithe are not made available to the heavyset.  Furthermore, the designers of heavyset clothing display a shocking lack of imagination…there must not be enough competition in this arena.  In fact, there cannot possibly be the degree of competition that exists for every other market product.  Yet there are the customers, all so woefully underserved.

But this is about only one, former customer.  My wife coupled her immense self-discipline with a very strong tool.  It is a tool of which YOU should all be proud:  she went online to journal her progress, and in doing so, met all of you.  You are a loving community of support, of encouragement and even of enforcement.  She was fearful, her first post (weren’t we all?).  Would she be “flamed?”  Would a voice lash out to take the cheap shot?  Nothing of the sort occurred.  Words of hope, motivation and love flowed from you to her. 

I am proud of one person and many.  I am proud of My Even Littler Cutie.  And I am so very proud, so very thankful, for you her online friends.

Bless all of your hearts.

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Land of Confusion

 

 

Perhaps the most marvelous feature of our anonymous cyber-society is that it levels the playing field.  Everyone gets a fair shake without having first been judged by their appearance or demographic, unless we choose to divulge such elements in advance.  I marvel at the diversity and geographic range of my followers and those I follow, and humbly realize that such a miracle would never in history have been possible before these past two decades.

Humble.  There’s a word that should evoke some memories for everyone.  Doesn’t it seem that there are certain circumstances guaranteed to result in your describing a day as “humbling?”  Our children do something that demonstrates not only were they actually paying attention to our “ignored” lesson, but they go on to surpass our expectations on that count.  Or we may become stranded travelers, and sit back in awe as the universe picks up the tab via some kindhearted soul.  It may be more anonymous still…we may simply read the sort of news article with which they could exclusively fill the airwaves, about people helping people.  It is all so humbling…

“My name is Deputy West,” the uniformed figure said to me as he came into focus.  “When you want to remember my name, just look to the west and remember my name:  Deputy West.”

“Deputy West….where am I?” I managed.

“You are in Boynton Beach Hospital, son.  You were beaten unconscious a few hours ago.  Tell me, what do you remember?”

I remembered nothing.  I had amnesia.

It was not complete amnesia; it was only the event that landed me in a hospital gown that was elusive.  Deputy West told me to contact him if the details started to come back…if I could identify for him who had done this.  But it was 1972, and those details would not surface for many years.  In an obvious hurry to leave the hospital, the good deputy left me with the nurse and my weeping mother.  And where exactly was my father?

The previous year had been interesting though.  When the school bus picked my brother and I up the first day of class, it drove us to a different school close to the Everglades, Carver High School, rather than the school near the beach we normally attended, Seacrest High.  We were ushered from the bus straight to the auditorium, with the students from a few other buses.  There were only half a dozen buses; everyone else had walked to school.  Only the bus passengers were in the auditorium. 

“Welcome to Carver High,” the principal began.  “You may have noticed the barbed wire surrounding this school.  Let me assure you that you are not in jail–we are a great school.  That wire is here for your protection.  You are the first white students we have ever had, and we are glad you are here.  Now unfortunately, you do not have all of the classes for which you were registered at Seacrest.  Because we don’t have textbooks.  But we can fill in all of the classes that do not rely on books. I promise you will get just as much algebra, for example…”

We did have a great year, and could not understand what all the hype and argument on television was all about.  With great, caring teachers, I went on to win the regional math contest, for example.  It was quite true that we didn’t need no stinking textbooks.  My English class was phenomenal as well, and we were always doing more interesting, interactive things without official books and even beyond the piles of used paperbacks our teacher bought from her own pocket.  She had us prepare to put on the play “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” for example.

My classmate, Melvin, was extremely popular.  The girls in class insisted Melvin was a prisoner of “soul jail.”  The teacher selected me to be Butch Cassidy.  I could see Melvin’s face deflate as she announced the roles.  He was selected as a sheriff or deputy.  I approached her after class.  “Can you please let Melvin be Butch Cassidy?” I asked.  “he really, really wants to be that part…”

She announced changes to the roles the next day, and Melvin was now Butch Cassidy.  He was brilliant in the role.  Our satisfaction was short lived, as the riots started.  Each spring in our town, troublemakers who were not students entered the school properties to somehow stir up race riots that lasted a day or two at the most.  In 1971, as a dozen angry “kids” who I did not recognize as classmates surrounded me, a figure burst into the circle to stand beside me.

“Nobody touch him,” Melvin commanded the much larger figures.  “He is my friend and a good guy!”  

Somehow, they melted away sheepishly, to wreak havoc elsewhere.  My brother was not as lucky, and was taken by ambulance to the hospital.  The school was the definition of pandemonium, as teachers and police tried to restore order, sort out who belonged from who didn’t, and as they tried in vain get the buses to come early, or at all.   Melvin found me wandering the chaotic school grounds, with his usual entourage of four girls. 

“Tell him,” he told his companions.

“We know who hurt your brother,” One of the girls said.  “We’ll go with you to the principal to help tell all this.”  After their brave journey with me to the principal, I walked home through streets that would not be seeing the school buses at all for several days.  After one of our typically half-assed family meetings, Mom and Dad decided that the best course of action would be for me to continue in public school, and my brother to be enrolled in the nearest Catholic school. 

They had misjudged my ability to handle myself.  The following year, arbitrarily back at Seacrest High, my luck ran out.  On schedule, the troublemakers of both races choreographed their groundless spring riots.  Years later, I recalled the details, of being trapped near the outdoor lockers by an angry mob, who slammed me against the metal doors.  I fell to the ground, and when two teachers and another classmate named Dwayne Blount found me and carried me away, my glasses were retrieved from the ground nearby, unbroken.  I recalled the face of the leader of the mob.  He was a former classmate from Carver who had dropped out of school, named Jesse.  As I fell, there was a look of torture on Jesse’s face.  He was in command of this mob, and in that instant, he was clearly concerned they had hurt me much more than they ever intended.  They had not kicked me on the ground, and had not trampled my glasses.

The details also came out a few days later that Deputy West left the hospital in a hurry to find Dad.  Dad was exactly where the good deputy predicted he might be found:  at the local gun shop.  As Dad bought a revolver, Deputy West stood beside him, calmly lecturing that if anything bad…anything predictable happened…Dad would be in jail.  Furthermore, not only would Dad have NOT made any difference, he would be making matters far worse in our already troubled town.

“Dad,” I insisted upon this latest revelation, “ever since we moved here, for every black kid who has even just wanted to hurt me, ten times as many black kids have immediately saved me.  And they’re my friends!  Don’t you know what a friend is?!”

Years later, I watched the Los Angeles riots.  I was by now a career-hardened, field grade army officer, watching my television screen through the wavy distortion of my own tears.  Among the rioters, I saw the same look among the rioters as I had seen on Jesse’s face as he played out the role he did not fully comprehend.  I saw the heroes so like Melvin, so like Dwayne, climb onto a semi tractor to pull its driver to safety.  I saw only angels and tortured souls so the products of our environment trapped in our habitual, lamentable passion play, once again.  And I wept.

Melvin, Dwayne and most especially Jesse:  if you are out there, bless all of your hearts.

Dad settled down during our next family meeting.  Mom and Dad were always such brash decision makers.  He had decided to keep the gun but not use it.  He had bought one other thing as well:  the Winnebago camper we were about to live in for the next year.

Our peculiar adventures, it turns out, were only just beginning.

But those are stories for another day…

 

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »