Mingling with the Olympians

No, not those kind of winter Olympians. And no, not those that actually occupied the real Mount Olympus.

i’m talking about two who are just as impressive as any Olympians. And they have energized me to write a series i’ve been considering for some time.

In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t like the Olympics. It was just a golf round. It was on one of my favorite courses in the world, Singing Hills’ Willow Glen course (it is now Sycuan Golf Resort, bought by the native American Kumeyaay tribe a number of years ago: but man, i still love that descriptive name of Singing Hills). It was three older guys playing golf, one  a really, really good golfer; one another incredible athlete, and this older goofy guy who sort of kicks it around the course.

As this goofy guy looked more than his age whacking the ball like it was an old rug on a wash drying line in the back yard. But he was thinking.

You see, i’ve been thinking about writing about my heroes. Back, oh about a million years ago, Cyril Vaughn Fraser, V, and i were goofing around in Maple Manor, a college story that is damn near a book of its own, when i commented to him it seems to me my fate was to be around incredible people so i could write about them. i didn’t call Cy incredible, but i was thinking about him.

Before continuing on this line, i am also thinking about writing about heroines. But i put women on a different pedestal. So that is for later.

But playing golf today, i decided it was time to write about my heroes.

i will not elucidate on the two who played with me yesterday. They are special friends to me in many ways for many reasons. i will write about  them at length later (and perhaps have them worrying about what i might include later). But they are heroes to me as well as close friends. Both were world class athletes. They could play any sport they attempted although one got started a little late in golf and injuries have kept him from getting to the highest level like the other one.

But this round of golf was with two special people. Heroes. Got my blood a’pumping about this series of posts i’ve been contemplating. But Pete and Pete are not just great athletes, not just the highest performers in their chosen Navy regimens, not just really intelligent and caring, not just two guys who gave me inspiration about what to write and how to live. They are good men.

And they are my friends.

Thanks, Pete and Pete. You made my day.

Pete and Nancy Toennies in Kauai with us at Brenneke’s, 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peter Thomas with his grandchildren, 2018.

Rambling Thoughts of a Crazy Man on Trash Day

The Tuesday routine is set.

i get up early. i’m programmed that way. i believe, probably falsely, it’s the product of so many morning watches (0400-0800, but not really: i was awakened around 0315, got to the bridge and relieved the off-going watch by 0345, and because of breakfast and the morning routine was relieved by 0700, three and a quarter hours or watch standing; not bad, but man, did i need a NORP by the noon mess), but i suspect it’s more likely produced by going to bed early.

Regardless, i awake, get ready, make coffee, collect the trash and recycle receptacles from around the house and the garage. i take a up of coffee to the garage, get the supplies, come back in the house, replace the litter bags in the cats’ two litter boxes, then take the old bags out to the front. i retrieve the yard waste recycle bins and put them off the curb. i move the trash bin to the front of the garage and empty all of the smaller containers into the big black bin and set it alongside the waste bins. i collect the newspaper, sort it (all that ugly news stuff for Maureen, sports and comics for me), retrieve the recycle bin from the side yard and deposit all of the recycle stuff, and once again, move the bin along side the other three.

My day has begun and the normal daily routine of setting the table, putting away the clean dishes goes into effect.

This morning, it was cloudy with only a few holes of light blue emerging through the gray after first light. Cool…well, cool for here, 55. Need rain. The Southwest corner folks are like farmers back home, watching the weather. Reminds me of Commander Lou Aldana, my first Commanding Officer aboard USS Anchorage. When i first reported aboard March 1975, Lou informed me, “You are just like a farmer: any time it’s not raining, they are working in the field; when it’s not raining, you will have your deck department painting everything exterior. And we did until we got to Hong Kong and gave Mamazan Mary a bunch of brass for her crew to paint out the ship for us.

This morning, i was not thinking about Hong Kong. It seems a long, long way away in time and space. It is. i was thinking, of all things, about Abraham Mazlow. You remember him, don’t you? He’s the guy who came up with the theory about the hierarchy of needs. You see, the top level of that pyramid of needs is self-actualization where i am working at a level which gives me personal satisfaction of doing the job well…or something like that. i thought it strange i reached a level of self actualization by taking the garbage out. But i do enjoy it, the whole thing, although occasionally i wish Jake Hughes were still around.

A few folks in Lebanon may remember Jake Hughes. He was our garbage man long before the city’s brand new and shiny (for a very short time) garbage trucks put him out of business.

Seems like when Jim “Beetle” Harding and i began our summer work for Jessie Coe at the city’s public works department, it was a toss-up as to what work we would be assigned. This, of course, was after we took the mini-scooter with a bed on the back and drug the big dead dog  out from under the porch, took it to the dump, returned to where the driver, aka me, hit the railroad tracks just west of the square on West Main too hard, launching the vehicle and it’s two occupants, when there was only suppose to be one, into the air and down on the fire hydrant outside Henderson’s Florist shop, slamming Beetle’s head into the frame of the cab while somersaulting me through the plastic windshield knocking me out and coming to with a beautiful blonde nurse who had been buying flowers holding my head in her lap and i swear for a few seconds i was in heaven tended by an angel only to be loaded into an ambulance with Beetle and being given crap by one selfsame Beetle for driving like a maniac and both of us laughing hysterically thinking of how Wilson Denny (that was his name wasn’t it, Henry?) would be pissed when he learned the mini-pickup scooter he considered his own had been wrecked. Outcome: Beetle had quite a few stitches on his forehead, which the cab frame had gashed open; i had some clamps on my right eyelid, which you can still faintly detect, from the plastic or the parking lot gravel engaging my head after the somersault out of the front of the vehicle.

Well, it turns out i went to the water treatment plant out by the river on Hunter’s Point Pike before becoming a grave digger for three summers. Beetle was assigned to a garbage truck for a short while.

Regardless, back to Jake. Jake had a wagon bed with car tires installed instead of wagon wheels. The contraption was pulled by Jake’s mule. Every Tuesday, Jake would pull his wagon up to the front of our house, walk around to the backyard, retrieve our trash can, take it out to the wagon and deposit the contents into the bed. Then, he would return the  trash can to its proper place. i’m told, and i believe, Jake got rich doing that before the city took his business away. His place was out on Hickory Ridge Road and as you drove around a bend, you could smell Jake’s pile of garbage. It’s a real nice house now. i don’t know who owns it, but there is no longer that aroma around the place. Good thing, too with it being so near the new high school.

Did i mention Jake had a darker skin tone than mine. i admired the man, his hard work, his ingenious wagon with car tires, and the mule. i’m glad his hard work was rewarded. i am sad i did not get to know his family.

But my whole point was not about Jake Hughes or Beetle’s and my wreck, or the garbage truck, but about ole Abe Mazlow and how i related this morning when i went out in the dark and gathered the bins and collected the trash and looked down the street and up into the sky where the sun slinging low on the Mexican border’s horizon could only give it’s morning’s soft glare from behind the gray clouds and how, somehow how everything seemed right with the world and ole Abe was right: that self-actualization stuff is real, no shit something we can all achieve even at routine daily tasks if we let it take us there, that top level of the pyramid.

♦     ♦     ♦

Yesterday afternoon, i was reminded of how close to the way it used to be. i am constantly reminded of this and recently had an exchange with my sister and brother about which location, Signal Mountain, Vermont, or the Southwest corner had the fiercest wildlife. i think it was a draw. Out here i talk of coyotes with whom my old lab loved to chase and scared the hell out of a whole bunch of them. But we have hunters out here in droves. Southwestern Rattlesnakes, Hawks, falcons, foxes. And just to prove my point, i was in the kitchen yesterday with Sarah’s dog Billie Holiday when i looked out the breakfast room window. There in the middle of the backyard, strutting around as if he owned it, was a bobcat. i would have taken a picture, but i was too busy trying to keep Billie from crashing through the window. So i hit the internet to come up with a photo of one. This one yesterday, except for the backyard green grass looked just like this. He was about average for bobcats, about two-fee tall and weighing about twenty pounds (We had one here about ten years ago who ruled the neighborhood; he was huge, more like three-feet tall, and i’m guessing about 35-40 pounds). This one yesterday looked up when Billie went beserk, shrugged his head as if to say, “Come on out here, dog; i’ve been needing to shred me some dog meat.” Then he casually strolled to the back of the yard and then cleared the six-foot fence with a graceful bound. Impressive.

He was a reminder we are not far from a harder existence than we have now. The Southwest corner was not a kind place to live for many years. Then, the weather, the bay, and lord knows what else, lured folks to move here, add water from mostly Arizona’s Colorado River, and grow and grow and grow, and  the development men built houses where houses weren’t intended to be but it met a demand and lined those development men’s pockets with silver and gold, la la, la la, la la, te da.

Now i am not so much of a romantic to wish we could go back to those earlier years. This place is a pretty damn nice place to live. But every once in a while, like when a bobcat strolls through the yard on his afternoon outing, i think of how beautifully wild it must have been.

Navy Chiefs, Part III

My personal introduction to chiefs came in 1963. It was on my third class midshipman cruise on the USS Lloyd Thomas (DD 764), a FRAM II destroyer out of Newport, Rhode Island. That is at least one, if not three or four stories in itself to be told later.

My next real recollection of a chief petty officer was the senior chief quartermaster who taught navigation at OCS. We learned quite a bit even though much of the course was movies the senior chief let us watch, nearly all as i recall being from the “Victory at Sea” series. But what i most recall was at the end of one class, the old senior chief tells the class, “Yeh, you guys are leaving here and going to the evening mess formation about the time i’ll be reaching over into the back seat of my car on the Jamestown bridge for the first of the six pack of Budweiser i have in the cooler.”

The Hawkins, nested outboard.

But then there was the Hawkins where my real lesson in chiefdom began. i have already written about Boatswainmate Chief Jones. He was my chief as First Lieutenant and first division officer from when i reported aboard until he retired in August 1968. His best buddy was also instrumental in teaching me how the Navy worked.

Unfortunately, i do not remember his name. i do remember his unique rating. Back in the late 1960’s for a short period of time, the Navy had created the rating of SP for chiefs at the E-8/E-9 level. Machinistmates and Boiler Tenders, when they reached the E-8 level became “Steam Propulsion Specialist.” Our man was an E-9 so his rating was “SPCM.” He was so good he was the Main Propulsion Assistant or in Navy lingo “MPA,” normally a junior officer’s billet, but Paul George, CHENG, didn’t want any JO between him and the SPCM when it came to running and maintaining the plant (until my good friend Rob Dewitt took over). He was still very much in charge before i moved from first lieutenant to ASW Officer.

He was a very a large, swarthy, black-headed chief who hung out in the engineering log room, the office and brains of the engineering plant off of the main deck passageway almost amidships. The first lieutenant and his first division were responsible for the maintenance and cleanliness of that passageway, which ran most of length of the main deck.

We began a major program of taking up the tile on that passageway, re-tiling, and repainting the passageway. It was a demanding work requirement, and i was constantly checking on how it was progressing. One workday, around mid-morning, i found my personnel not up to my standards in their work effort. i don’t remember what i did to address that, but i very clearly remember it was wrong.

The SPCM, hearing whatever it was i did or said, emerged from the log room, put his arm on shoulder, looked at me sternly, and said, “Son (not “Mister,” not “Ensign,” but “Son”), let’s have a talk.”

With that and his arm still around my shoulder, the SPCM led me out on the port side of the weather deck amidships. It was there, i got the best lecture on leadership i ever received. the SPCM talked to me about the world, about the Navy’s world, and how it all worked.  i think he gave me the best perspective i could ever had achieved on how to be a good leader.

Although i don’t remember his name, “SPCM” is a tribute to him, and i will never forget.

Navy Chiefs, part II

As noted earlier, BMC Jones was my entry into chiefs taking care of division officers. Ensigns and even Lieutenant Junior Grades (LTJG). BMC Jones was my chief when i was an ensign and first lieutenant on the good ship Hawkins.

We had a chiseled seaman apprentice in first division, who also thought he was a good sea lawyer.

The Navy was different back then. One difference was liberty cards. Normally the ship was in three duty sections, of which one  took the duty and remained on board every third day. When liberty call came, the two enlisted duty sections not on duty had been given their liberty cards, about the size of business cards, to show to the quarterdeck watch, a requirement before being allowed to leave the ship. These cards were usually passed out by the division’s leading petty officer at quarters each morning. If you didn’t get a liberty card, you didn’t go ashore.

Seaman Joe Shit the Ragman (a title we gave problem junior enlisted) had done something wrong and the LPO, BM2 Carrier, had not issued the sailor a liberty card even though he didn’t have the duty. To make it worse for Ragman — Back then, junior enlisted were addressed by their last name only. Petty Officers could be called “Petty Officer xxx,” but usually called by their last name only as well; Chiefs were called “chief,” “senior chief,” or “master chief.” Junior officers were called mister, like “Mister Jewell,” until they made commander, then they were called by their rank, as in “Commander Jewell” — it was Friday. That meant Ragman had to stay on board for the weekend. This was an unauthorized but common form of a sub-rosa justice system. Ragman, the sea lawyer, took offense.

Just before Friday liberty call, i had walked down to the first division berthing compartment in the after section of the ship. i was checking the material condition and the state of the berthing compartment. Ragman saw his chance to haul out his sea lawyer skills on a green ensign. He was ranting about the illegality of not allowing him to go on liberty. i was mulling over how to handle this situational ethics situation (even though i had no idea a term for this kind of thing even existed): i wanted to support my leading petty officer; i was sure Ragman had deserved having his liberty card “lost,” but i also was supposed to uphold justice, fairness, and adherence to regulations.

As i briefly pondered my quandary, Chief Jones, who had been looking for me, slid down the ladder to the compartment. This wiry, small man, with a cigarette hanging outside of his mouth, stopped Ragman’s rant by merely holding up his left hand toward him. Then he asked me what was going on. i responded.

BMC Jones turned, grabbed Ragman’s blue chambray shirt with his right hand, pushed the fabric he had grabbed up to Ragman’s throat, and pushed him up against the bulkhead. i swear Ragman, all 180 pounds and six feet of him was quivering.

“Listen, you little shit,” Chief Jones said evenly despite being red in the face with veins pulsing, “If you ever pull that kind of shit again, i’ll see to it you never leave this ship. Ever.”

“Got that,” the chief concluded.

Then he turned to me and said to me, “Sir, let’s go up to the main deck. i want to discuss when we are going to retile and paint the main passageway.”

He turned and quickly ascended the ladder out of the compartment.

This ensign meekly followed, shaking my head in amazement.

CPO’s, a Navy Thing

Of the three military branches, Army, Navy, Air Force (Sorry Marines, as good as you think you are and as good as you have been, you remain a subordinate part of the Navy and really have become an unnecessary part of the military force because you just duplicate the mission of the other services, even if you are good.), the Navy seems most unique to me.

One of my best friends, Marty Linville, an Army artillery wizard who received a well-deserved Silver Star for his heroic action in Vietnam as the commander of an artillery unit, and i have often discussed the difference between enlisted personnel and officers, Army and Navy.

The biggest difference, in which the Army’s side of this difference also includes the Navy’s Special Forces warriors, the SEALS is that the true, original Navy officers, now known as Surface Warfare officers (what a bunch of malarky) is their expertise in driving ships. Their other, equally important purpose is to lead or manage (or both) their subordinates, at least in rank. Officers in the Army and SEALS, especially the junior officers, are out in the field waging war while leading their subordinates.

Navy Chief Petty Officer insignia

Marty and i agree the differences in the historical structure comes from the differences in role. Obviously, there are some historical and tradition elements that foster the difference. The Navy, the surface warfare kind, seems to draw more distinction in the rank divisions of officer, chief petty officer, and other enlisted.

Their uniforms announce that difference. But in the Navy, it is significant, although the new Navy seems intent on wiping out any differentiation, both symbolically with uniforms and literally with less separation between the ranks. With the advances in technology and many other things, this merging may be necessary. i wouldn’t know. i’m old school. As in old.

i have formed a long distance bond with a number of sailors on my first ship, the USS Hawkins (DD-873). i reported aboard in April 1968, flying from Rota to Malaga, Spain and coming aboard as she was on her way back from a nine-month Mediterranean deployment to her homeport of Newport, Rhode Island. i had completed OCS in early February, spent two months in Key West attending the Anti-Submarine Officer’s School before flying out of Charleston with my entire belongings:   my uniforms,  a small civilian wardrobe, and a grunch of books, all in a plywood 2 x 2 x 4 foot cruise box that weighed in the neighborhood of a ton.

Underway: a sailor enjoying a quiet moment on the fantail of the USS Hawkins (Thanks, Gary McCaughey)

i was slated to be the ASW officer, but the resident ASWO was not leaving until early October, so i was assigned the first lieutenant’s billet for the return, the summer of minimal local operations until the September beginning of a  six-month overhaul when i took over as ASW officer.

Those first six months were a crash learning course in how Navy ships at the time really worked. The “Navy way” was continually emblazoned in my head for the next twenty-two years. A great deal of that learning curve concerned the differences between the enlisted, the chiefs, and the officers. Actually, there was another division: the “leading petty officers” or “LPO’s.”

The system worked well even though the different groups made fun of the others. A great example of that is the cartoon taking a shot across the bow at officers, Norm O’Neal, a radarman (RD) at the time and now a close friend through email and social media, sent me last week:

    My immediate reply was:

Norm, this one wouldn’t let me “reply to all,” the officers said this about a lot of chiefs.

   To which, Norm replied, “Ouch.”

To which i added:

Actually, Norm, as it is with nearly all situations, there are good people and bad people in every level of every organization.

My first chief petty officer was the Hawkins’ BMC Jones. He saved my ass on several occasions. He was a small, thin, wiry, gnarly, old chain-smoking chief from Arkansas. After teaching this ensign the ropes, he retired the Monday after the change of command on the Hawk in August 1968 (speaking of good and bad, there was the CO who made the deployment, the screamer whose name i can’t recall right now being relieved by Max Lasell, who remains one of the top three of the CO’s under whom i served, and that’s another story).

But Chief Jones was relieved by a short, portly, old BMC with thick white hair whose name i also can’t remember. He was the first of many chiefs who worked for or with me officers called “ROADS Scholar” for Retired On Active Duty. You could tell them by the permanent crook they had in their pointer finger from holding on to their coffee cup they used while they spent about 95% of their time in the chiefs’ mess.

But that was only part of  my crash education about Chief Petty Officers on the Hawk. i learned why Chief Petty Officers, a unique position in the military services, were so important. Through my remaining twenty-two years, this idea of chiefs being different was continually emphasized. For good reason.

My initial realization of the difference was from the get-go. i had wondered since i first became connected to the Navy when i began my NROTC scholarship tragedy at Vanderbilt, why senior enlisted had uniforms more like officers than the other enlisted. Although i was slowly learning why through OCS in Newport, Rhode Island, ASW school in Key West, and two weeks in Rota waiting to join my new ship, the difference slowly was becoming apparent to me.

But on the Hawkins, it became quite clear.

 

 

A Long Forgotten Walk Revisited

It was different. Even the paths we took varied from my original routes.

She wasn’t my dog. She and her boss, Sarah, are staying with us temporarily. Sarah has gone to work. Maureen was out on many of her daily excursions. It was way too warm for an old man to take a walk: high 70’s. Way too hot and dry for a Southwest corner February. We need rain. Like last year, but that ain’t happening. It looks like i’ll only burn about a quarter cord of firewood this year. Last year, i burnt more than a half-cord.

So midday with a number of my tasks accomplished, i decided what the hell. The dog needs to get out. Our gardener was at work and his and the dog’s relationship is tenuous at best. She senses fear, i think. We also now have to be aware of the dog jumping our five-foot fence to play with the neighbor’s Samoyed. She steals his toys and brings them back here. Our neighbors aren’t particularly pleased.

So it was a walk.

When Cass, the old labrador owned me, he and i would take a short retreat before bedtime. It goes down a hiking, horseback riding path around a couple of houses and back up to the street. Short. There are trails off of this path, but that was my night walk with that crazy dog and my excuse for a walk with Lena, the rescue who followed Cass.

Back then, there were three basic routes. One was this short one, used more often as both Cass and Lena aged. Then bane of old dogs dictated short. But before the hip problems emerged, we would go down the short trail but take the second path further downward to a drainage trough around to the arroyo and then back up to the street about a half mile below our home. We would walk back up the street for training purposes, not his or hers but mine before arriving back home. Earlier this week, i took Billie down on that route. Billie Holiday, that is. Sarah has followed in naming our pets after some famous person from the past. Cass was named for Ike McCaslin in Faulkner’s novels. Lena was named for Lena Horne. Our black and white cat is named Bruce Willis. Maureen’s long-haired black cats when we married were Bogart and Bacall. Only Dakota, named by Sarah when she got her while living in an apartment near SDSU, escaped the famous personality name.

The third route was a bear. About a half hour. We would go to the top of our hill and then take the trail west down, down into the canyon, all open space. once at the bottom, there was a nice walk through the meadow in the canyon. But then, the path climbed up, steep up to a ridge about a third of a mile, just steep climbing. We would walk along the ridge, back down to a path winding around the meadow and then the last, steepest climb of them all back to our house. It was just less than an hour (if i didn’t stop to catch my breath). That was the walk Lena loved. She would wander all over but keeping tabs on where i was and returning often. Cass? Hell, he didn’t care where i was. He was off. He chased coyotes and played with them when he caught up. i think they were afraid of him. He would roll over possums. Once, before i took him off leash, he damn near yanked my arm out of its socket when a roadrunner ran out into the path just in front of us. He didn’t love that walk. He was part of it, a master.

Checking it out.

Soon, i plan to take Billie on that one. But for now, we will stick to the tamer routes. Billie, by the way is a Catahoula mix, apparently there is some German Shepard in her. A Catahoula Leopard dog is also known as a Louisiana Swamp Dog, bred to hunt alligators. i believe it. Still Sarah has trained her to be the best obedient pet we have ever had.

The huntress.
Coming back on call (she knows the goofy guy has a treat).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up the trail.
Down the trail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

An aroma of interest.
She’s telling me she is ready to go home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The manzanita, growing wild in the Southwest corner, just add water

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a good walk. We’ll do a long one soon. It’s good to remember.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Dream; i Had a Dream

Since my daily “Writer’s Almanac” is gone, i have come to a new morning routine when i sit down in front of this infernal machine (oh, how i would love to return to the old Royal manual typewriter where the click of the keys and swoosh, that lovely mechanical swoosh of the return roller sounded like music, a percussion symphony to me, but although i admittedly am a romantic, i also am a relatively practical man as well — my parents and the Navy made me so — and this computer contraption allows easier, much easier editing, even though i am pretty careless about such things as grammar and editing; so i will continue to sit down each morning and stare at the magic light emanating from this addictive electronic wonder).

My new routine includes posting a “Murphy’s Law” item, which i pasted on to past calendars; checking my email and Facebook posts; and then reading Sean Dietrich’s email of his daily articles — i’m continually amazed at the amount of research he does to get good stories to report.

This morning, i read Sean’s article, and began to think about it:

Payday

It’s rather inspiring to think of good people with so little giving what they can and sometimes more than they can afford in helping others through acts of kindness or just some money. i would like to emulate the good folks in Sean’s stories, but i’m just a bit too lazy to go that far out of my way. After all, i have my own interests and my wife, my other loved relatives need security; so i don’t feel like i can afford it. Like most people i know, as my wife says, “paying yourself first.”

i’m also concerned about getting ripped off. i’ve had that happen in the past: Someone coming up to me, supposedly in dire straits, explaining their situation, and asking me to give them just a little bit of cash to help them fill their gas tanks to get to some place, provide a much needed meal, help them get a train ticket, convincing my gullible, wanting-to-help self to fork over the requested cash, only to realize, post scam, that i had been had, ripped off; even worse, fooled.

Then, i thought of my father. You see, back when the folks would come out every winter, long before south of the border became potentially deadly, we would cross the border at Tijuana for Mother to buy special things like glass animals, stained glass, and Mexican rugs for herself and others; and Daddy and i marvel at the thousands of shops, kiosks, tents, and street salesmen — once at a garden shop, he and i actually considered buy a ceramic, full-size replica of the creature from “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Our plan was to buy it and ship it to my brother with no return address. We would have done it, too, had not the shipping costs been about quadruple the cost of the statue.

But that’s another story. My recollection was from returning across the border on one of our adventures. We always parked on the U.S. side and walked across, returning the same way. Back then, the route to the border crossing for walkers was lined with all sorts of cheap goods sellers. Black velvet paintings of flamenco dancers and Elvis were very popular. Glass and stone jewelry and nicknacks were plentiful, and just about anything cheap and gaudy lined the path to the crossing. And near the end was a rather shocking number of beggars. Right before we entered the processing line, a mother, dirty and dressed in rags, pushed her daughter, probably around three-years old, toward my father. The little girl, wearing a soiled white dress and barefoot, had a sign asking for gum. Daddy reached into his pocket.

i admonished him to keep walking, explaining this was  just a means to get something from us, that actually giving them something would only encourage more beggars at the border. i knew. i knew because someone told me that. My father thought about my admonition, looked at the little girl with the big dark eyes and tear stains through the dirt on her face, dug into his pocket and gave her a quarter. The girl’s mother went super thankful and “Gracias” seemed to never stop as we proceeded to the border crossing. Me? i felt ashamed of my admonition and proud of my father.

But back to my thoughts on Sean’s article. As i read, i thought of my…what should i call it? philosophy? That sounds a bit too sophisticated for me. Okay, my ideas about life. i thought about my recent railings about pro sports. Tony Clarke, a San Diego native and a very good baseball player for the Arizona Diamondbacks who also had a cup of coffee with the Padres, is now the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association (you know: the union).

This week, Tony declared teams not paying the asking price for free agents this season suggested collusion by the owners and was detrimental to the integrity of the game. Tony was echoing Scott Boras intimation because Scott’s demand for his player, Eric Hosmer, had not been met, no one had signed for Scott’s asking price of $100 Million and a seven-year contract.

This is insane. No, no baseball player is worth one quarter of $100 Million, much less Scott’s asking price. This year’s minimum, MINIMUM salary for a major league baseball player through one season is $545,000. That’s not integrity. That’s sick. And of course, the owners are getting richer with crazy television revenue, seat prices escalating to absurdity, and so much more. The cheapest seats for two in the nosebleed sections of Petco Park run $46. Hot dogs are $4.00, peanuts are $2.00. The cheapest beer is $7.00. Even water is $2.50. Parking in decent places runs $20. It’s damn near impossible to go to a game with someone and come out spending less than $100, not counting the tickets.

Integrity? Everyone in MLB (and NFL, NBA, and NHL) lives in an insane world.

And just what if, what if, everyone of those financial clowns (after all, it has to be funny or i’ll cry), not just in sports, but in entertainment, corporate gluttony, political parties, and politicians themselves, quit trying to amass fortunes which should only be in cartoons and comic strips, and actually give some to individuals. And i’m not talking about Sean’s part-time truck driver and a night-shift security guard, a dad with two daughters, or John D. Rockefeller passing out dimes to the needy who passed his way. i’m talking about giving to the less fortunate till it hurts a little bit. Not through their appointed charity organizations where the CEO of the non-profits get salaries in the millions, but them making the effort to actually give someone something, face to face.

Won’t happen.

But maybe, just maybe after i have been thinking about it, i’ll start giving just a little bit more, face-to-face to someone in need.

 

The Old Sports Writer Succumbs…no, not like that: i know what you’re thinking

Well, i wrote this diatribe last week about the “stupid bowl.” i vowed i would not watch. It was a most excellent rant, even if i do say so myself.

My intentions were not just good, but superb.

i had decided i would do home projects in the morning and then go for a round of golf, figuring there would be no one on the course. i decided i would record the game because i knew Maureen wanted to watch the halftime show and the commercials. i liked the idea of being on the golf course during most of the game.

Mistake one. Then i asked Maureen if she would like to join me for golf, explaining my intention of recording the game for her. Surprisingly, she said yes.

Mistake two. Then, since we were playing and knowing my buddy Pete Toennies was not a big football fan, i called to see if he and Nancy would like to join us. To do that, i felt it necessary to get a tee time and got a 10:30 time. Subsequently, i found out Pete and Nancy were returning from Santa Monica after a visit with Pete’s mother. They couldn’t play as they wouldn’t get home until midday.

Mistake three. Then Nancy asked us if we would like to join them to watch the game, adding she had made chili and cornbread. Maureen loved the idea.

So i, this old curmudgeon of a former sports writer, succumbed, as in gave in, broke my vow not to watch.

i was not impressed…except for three things.

The commercials were okay, but i thought confusing and, except for a couple, not too funny. The halftime was all glitter, and i don’t think i understood one word of the lip sync. Maureen liked the dancing, but i would rather have seen it in a theater. Chris Collingsworth, whom i had come to appreciate as a color commentator, was absolutely awful, detracting from the game with his predictions of replay calls, and just being…well, like nearly all of the color commentators in professional sports. Unhappily for me, Al Michaels, one of the best play by play announcers in sport for the last half century just went along. Radio communication from coaches to players on the field is counter to all i love about sports. In short, i didn’t like any of the side shows to the game.

But, as i commented to Pete several plays into the first quarter, watching some incredible athletes perform at the highest level is always an enjoyable thing, like watching a ballet with the dancers doing awesome moves, like going to a symphony and absorbing incredible musicians create beautiful music, like going to a museum and standing in front of a piece of artwork and finding yourself breathless with awe at the talent. Yep. Incredible athletes.

And i must say watching on numerous occasions after a great play an Eagle or a Patriot player help an opponent up or patting the opposing player on the back was what i consider one of the most important examples of what sport should be.

And three? Well, it was one hell of a game.

Next year, i plan to make the tee time a bit later so i can miss the whole thing.

 

Random Thoughts Before the Stupid Bowl

Hear ye, hear ye. We have all come to the altar to worship the idols of what they call super on what used to be a holy day, but the whole concept, the playoffs extending the season beyond healthy for athletes, the hype, the hype, and oh, did i mention the hype, and what really isn’t all that super but really sort of stupid.

My wife says she will watch primarily to see the commercials.

i don’t like commercials. i like funny bits but not when there selling something. Just like i don’t like all of those product logos all over golfers and race cars because they are selling something, and i have yet to meet a product marketer who has offered to pay me anything for wearing their logo, and oh by the way, charge me more because they are paying the golfers, the race car drivers, and their agents so much they have to raise the price of the product i would buy if it wasn’t for the golfers and race cars wearing those logos.

So ain’t watching.

Don’t like six hour ball games…of any kind except maybe cricket, but i don’t understand that one so i don’t watch it either.

And halftime show? Razz ma tazz and all that ain’t jazz, just glitter and fireworks and besides that i don’t know one song ever sung by Justin Wooden Swamp…oh, Timberlake. Out of touch and glad of it.

i’m old. Don’t need such foolishness. Don’t like replays either, of which there will be a gump stump of in that six hour marathon of horse derves, beer, wine and other booze.

Football? February. Give me a break. The last football game every year should be on January 1. Period.

♦   ♦  ♦

Now if you have read much here, you know i have soured on pro not sports. It’s entertainment; it’s business; it’s even careers. But it ain’t sports. That doesn’t mean i don’t watch when they run under six hours and the hype doesn’t last two weeks.

Especially baseball. And this week, i watched a program that might tell you why. It was on the MLB Network. i don’t watch that either, but being in San Diego, i caught the news announcing it would be on the air. “MLB Presents: Mr. Padre.” It was a documentary about Tony Gwynn, his Baseball Hall of Fame career, his family, his warmth, and his allegiance to San Diego, refusing higher salaries even with pressure from the players’ union because he wanted to play in San Diego.

Of course, i’m biased, but if you want to see a documentary based on a good human playing the game he loved, then you should check this one out. The network is showing it several times a week over the next two or three weeks. i’m sure there are others, at least in the past, like Tony. But he truly was “Mr. Padre.” He identified with San Diego and with baseball, and all San Diegans, not just baseball fans, loved him. He was the way baseball should be.

It is a very well done, heartwarming documentary, not a local thing but done by Major League Baseball. i recommend it if you want to feel good…and just a bit sad Tony’s gone. i drink Alesmith’s  “.394” pale ale every time it’s available.

And if you don’t have the MLB network or care not to watch, here;s a great read from Jon Heyman of CBS right after Tony passed away: https://www.cbssports.com/mlb/news/the-great-tony-gwynn-will-be-remembered-for-two-amazing-talents/. Good read.

♦   ♦  ♦

But today, Saturday, i’m trying to figure out if i should tackle some of the innumerable tasks around the house, write, or maybe, just maybe play golf…i’m pretty sure tee times will be available anywhere.

Returning to Somewhere

i wrote this several evenings ago after completing William Faulkner’s “The Bear” again after a long time. i wrestled with posting it here, but i’m trying to be completely honest when i post, and this is me. When those special moments hit, i just write. It’s like getting up on waterskis for the first time, or getting to the point where you become confident snow skiing. A wonderful feeling. i don’t understand it, know it doesn’t happen to everyone. i think it’s close to Maslow’s level of self-actualization in his hierarchy of needs theory. But it doesn’t matter.

i thought a few of you might like it.

I am a renegade, a vagabond, a wanderer, a mariner.

Don’t know why, but i know such pursuits can play hell when one ages and becomes more sedentary. Still trying to figure it out. Plays with my mind when i still want to get up and go, but my get up has went. So i wrestle with that.

Recently, i’ve been away. Not down, just sort of reassessing where i am, what’s going on around me, thinking about what i am going to do the rest of my life. It’s something that seems to be occurring more frequently for me. I think it’s from what i’ve been since i left home about a half century ago: a renegade, a vagabond, a wanderer, a mariner.

That’s not bad. I’m 74 now, and i don’t have a job, which means i’ve got time to reassess and realign and change…well, maybe not change too much. But i keep writing, always come back to writing.

i don’t know why. Grammatically and editorially, i’m a mess. i’ve sort of lost the need for correctness. i find most “correctness” evasive. So i write. Gotta couple of books out there still in the works. Gonna get ’em done, and then i’ll probably quit. i like working around the house, playing golf, spending time with friends.

i am getting back to reading. There’s this bookshelf behind me full of books, i mean really full. i’ve read the majority of them, but those need to be reread, and there’s a whole bunch of classics i’ve promised myself to read before i go.

i’ve just been having a hard time staying with one. When i was a teenager until sometime around my second and career Navy period, i would read into the night, way into the night. At 127 Castle Heights Avenue, i would read under the covers in my bed with a flashlight until two or three in the morning. Read The Hobbit in one night (i think Joe gave it to me). Started around 7:30 and didn’t stop. Couldn’t stop. Read most of Faulkner and Warren in a fury. Their novels became my priority, and fit into every nook and corner of my life not filled with such trivial things as working, studying, even carousing. But i’ve sort of lost that and need to get it back.

Then about five months ago, our friends Pete and Nancy Toennies over a dinner decided we should start an exclusive book club, just the four of us, figured we wouldn’t get anyone trying to strut their stuff, just us and the books. We liked the idea. i thought it possibly could get me going on reading again. So i suggested William Faulkner’s “The Bear,” about a third of Faulkner’s book Go Down Moses. Most folks thought of it as a long short story, but ole Willie Boy told someone it was a seven-part novel.

Never figured that out. But i wanted to read “The Bear” again. Over about fifty years, i figure i’ve read it about ten times. But i confess, i was most entwined with the story of the bear hunt. Ike McCaslin, the primary figure in the story and the teenage boy in the hunt was my hero. In fact, my dog, or rather the dog for whom i was his human, the wild and magical Labrador was named Cass, short for McCaslin, Faulkner’s Ike.

But Maureen, Nancy, and Pete were more diligent than me, finishing before me. They weren’t enthralled. They spoke of the boring part of the family history intertwined with the tale of the hunt. It pretty much killed the idea of our exclusive book club.

So i put Go Down Moses on the coffee table and there it sat for about three months. i had read the good part, or rather the part about the hunt. I mean that is really cool stuff, and i haven’t been a real hunter since i shot that small bird with my Red Ryder BB rifle through the barbed wire fence on my great uncle’s farm around ’54, and sat there and cried as the bird, unreachable through the fence and the bramble, flapped furiously, then fluttered, then died. The great woodsman, ten years old, cried for a long time. But while reading past the hunt, i felt the magnificence, the connection with the earth and time eternal in that hunt. But when i got to the connections of a Mississippi family from a time long forgotten, i was a bit hesitant to resume. After all, i had other things to do.

But in my period of old age reflections, i actually picked up Go Down Moses sat in my “reading” place by the fire (where the infernal, dominating, glazed-eye producing flat screen could not be seen except by a contortionist, which i have never been and am absolutely the opposite now, whatever the opposite of a contortionist actually is).

So i sat down and read beyond Boon and Sam Feathers and Ike, the youth, and Lion, the cur dog, and Major de Spain and Ike’s older McCaslin cousin and the woods…no, the forest now long gone from a state we can no longer comprehend, and the land, like mine had been in my mind growing up, where the native ancestors lived and hunted, not as some have claimed in nobility but in human quest for survival until they corrupted the hunt into some ritual like we all eventually do and then the men from across the sea and over the Cumberland Gap came and brought their roaring sticks of killing fire and took the land, not because they were more or less noble, but because they had more firepower than bows and hatchets and then they brought people from Africa in bondage and the world changed forever and then the war of brothers again altered the state of that world and first, cotton began to take the land and the mixture of the old tribes, the slaves with darker skin, the plantation owners who had become rich and powerful, and the poor folk of fairer skin who did not fare as well as the plantation masters and those who cared for all humans had to deal with this strange liaison between these four elements of people and the intricate, complicated, and troubled relationships to reach a  reasonable compromise in their minds and in their action which was as close to right as they could get, knowing they could never reach really right but abrogated their charge to keep seeking that right, gave up.

And ole Willie, sitting up in that stable loft with the haymow under and around him with his bottle of Lem Motlow’s uncle Jack to be sipped out of that self-same square bottle during contemplation, caught me again. He seemed to have captured, maybe even originated my thoughts about living, the land, the South.

I realized my wife and my friends could not be enamored of the whole of “The Bear.” Their worlds were not embroiled with the noble land in that Southern corner. For me, there is this Southern thing holding sway; Willie captivating me as no other, not even Robert Penn, driving me away from my writings, holding my soul in his custody like a jail keeper.

And in echo of a long, long time ago, i could not put it down: the very part i had skipped before, not recalled as i recommended the reading, loving the story of the hunt but enchanted, enraptured by the flow, the complexity, even the boredom of the twists and turns of family heritage, the history of those four elements of human struggling to be…well, be human, not just human but the appointed part of human separating us from the others. Humanity struggling to be at its finest but failing, always falling a bit short so that trying, establishing routines, traditions to not be broken, not bowing to change or newfangled disruption, no, not disruption, destruction of the land from which we came, maybe not originally but which had grabbed us and fostered roots to that very land, which is gone, long gone, soon to be in only written recollection of folks, even me, long gone.

And so i will read again. Willie once more: The Fable; Sanctuary; The Unvanquished; As I Lay Dying; The Snopes trilogy, The Hamlet, The Town, The Mansion; Light In August; Absalom, Absalom; maybe not all, but the very sound of the titles drive me toward him now.

And then, ther reading will follow. Since my Navy days, i have had difficulty sticking to one thing: too many things to do and not enough time. Trying to get all done. Just like the Navy. Tours too short to get things done. Operations, crises, orders from on high. A curse. My father, a product of the very thing ole Willie was capturing on that pad of paper up in that stable loft: a Southern thing; folks driven by their fate of being born and raised on the Southern land ruling their lives, their own fate with an undeniable surety, the will of that self-same land that refused to give in, but now splattered with fields, then manufacturing plants, and even more recently houses of the development men has given way, only existing in designated, appointed parks, like wild animals in zoo cages, regardless of what they call them, regardless of the noble intent to save that wildness, to nurture the nature of the wild even as it disappears before our onslaught of “civilization,” cities, and edifices of steel and concrete and ribbons of roads with exits where no roads, yay verily even no sign of man used to be, seemed to have gotten most of his things done, near a hundred he lived finishing things, following the creed of the land turned mechanical while i start only to be confronted with another change, another requirement to meet someone’s need, perhaps mine, but not quite getting there, moving on.

But now, i have accepted sedentary even though i am not yet branded. Still moving about, still seeking things although most of those “things” are elusive, never to see completion. But now corners of sedentary are sneaking in with the stiffness in the morning, the wobbling feeling of imbalance as i try to steady myself on the path. And i have carved out a time to quit writing my five books and never-ending posts, and putting the yard, the house maintenance, projects in a state of lower priority. To give up trying to find something worthy in our government systems or some semblance of what i termed good journalism long ago no longer existing on that flat screen monster dominating the lived-in room or a show or series or movie that does not curry attention with violence, sex, macabre, or even athletic events now more titillating entertainment than sport.

And i turned that chair away from the flat screen invader of my tranquility, and faced the fire in the hearth, oh that the chair was of the rocking variety, and i will read. Perhaps a half hour, perhaps all night if the next page keeps calling, but it will take my soul for a while.

I don’t think i’ll get to the new stuff, so superbly marketed and refined to attract the audience by the publishers, editors, even agents who serve to sell for their clients and the industry rather than curiosity of the written word, which i believe every real writer desires.

Oh, i’ll read my kin’s stuff, and perhaps some reads about things i hold dear like back home or the Navy. My sister-in-law’s novels are always a good read. Really don’t have any problem with what’s being written. But most of my reading will be from those shelves in my office holding old, tried and true stuff like Faulkner, like Warren, like Hemmingway, like Graham Greene, like Doctorow, like Wordsworth.

Perhaps, just perhaps, this prism of time going back to my youth and my quest to read will even take me back to that land and the people, those four elements of entwined humanity in the South, the land that claimed us, and gave us more humanity folks nowadays cannot understand as they try to make all perfect, at least from their very narrow, slanted point of view, rather than to seek understanding and humanity among men: that’s inclusive before some gnat of a tender soul finds it misogynist when no intent to exclude, defame, or place anyone of any gender or preference on a lower status exists.

Yeh, put that all behind. Read. Old stuff. Good stuff. Literary. And fill my destiny with a routine, which probably should have been my pursuit all along.

Thanks, Mr. Faulkner.