All posts by Jim

Saturday Morning Ramblings of a Curmudgeon

There was this feeling of…how do i describe it adequately?

Stillness, maybe. Peace is in there also. It was out there, but i also could feel it inside me innards. That’s not quite it, but maybe you understand. It was one of those times i’m not quite sure if i just thought of it or someone from my life no longer around is really speaking to me.

Peace and calm. Yeh, that may be it.

It was about 5:45 this morning. i had quietly left our bedroom to allow her to continue to sleep around five. She doesn’t sleep as hard as i do, nor does she, or very few people i know ordinarily arise between 4:30 and 5:00: just an old man who went to sea for quite a while, i guess. She would sleep for another ninety minutes or so. Good.

i performed my morning ablutions, fed the cats, organized the kitchen, checked the weather, email, and text messages. Somewhere in there, i began to realize the sun was rising later. i went out to retrieve the newspaper.

It was about 5:45 as i noted earlier, or about five minutes past first light, one of my favorite moments of the day. The day was announcing it presence in a red-orange hue, a shawl over the shoulders of Mount Miguel, my daily reminder of the Navajos’ hogan front doors facing east to worship the sun rising. i looked up at the lightening sky and was surprised to find Venus hanging there east, southeast, high up against the light blue gray. i turned to my right to find Sirius and Rigel holding out against succumbing to the dawn. Turning more,  i saw the moon still claiming its presence and above it,  Mars joining the resistance against the last gasp of summer clamoring to claim its space, clamoring a fierce denial of decline with 100 degree heat projected by mid-day. A couple of days of that last gasp facing us like a bear pontificating futilely, not a great prospect for those who rejected air conditioning.

But the bear had not roared yet. There was a cool quiet breeze. The neighborhood, like Maureen, was asleep. This peace, this stillness came over me like a white organza cloth. With all of the turbulence disturbing my world, it was a wonder to feel the calm in the middle of the storm, like in the eye of the hurricane but somehow above it.

i decided someone was talking to me. i wished it would continue, knowing it would not, for i had things to do.

Like make the breakfast run. Every week or so, i make a run to Donny’s Café, down the hill. The main purpose is to get my whole bean coffee to gratify my snobbish French press coffee fix

Columbian is preferred but Donny’s blend is almost as good: his coffee for Café Moto is roasted fresh each morning. But not today. Today is for Maureen’s sesame seed bagel with cream cheese, Sarah’s everything bagel with cream cheese, and my lox and bagel (onion bagel preferred, everything the norm since somehow onion bagels are dwindling in supply, and the lox is not really, but fresh salmon and with tomato, avocado, and capers). Donny is one of my favorite folks in Bonita. A local, he left for a while to be  a professional bike racer in Spain before coming home and opening a kiosk outside his parents’ bicycle shop. When his parents sold the business, part of the deal was to create a small cafe on the back side of the building where Donny and his wife Rosie have been operating to a large and appreciative group of locals ever since. i first met Donny at his kiosk in the middle 90’s when i would go to work early and get his coffee en route. Donny is a good man. He is friendly, always helpful and a good Christian in the best sense of the word.

i come home to Maureen rising and we eat outside before the bear roars. Maureen fills the birdbath, and the birds in a goodly number began flocking to the nearby coral tree, some already venturing to the birdbath while we eat and read the newspaper.

Sarah rises and finds her cold brew coffee and bagel. Last night, she went to Heather’s house to watch the Disney debut of “Mulan” in a sort of celebration. (Heather and Johnny are engated. Sarah and Heather have been close friends since high school). Sarah wore her grandmother’s kimono robe to play her part.

We perform our outside tasks before the bear really roars, preparing to hunker down with a closed, wonderfully insulated house (thank to Maureen). AC may not help anyone later today as rolling “brown outs” are more than likely throughout Southern California for the next several days.

And i contemplate, or contemplate as much as an old curmudgeon can contemplate. Yesterday was my nephew’s forty-first birthday. Tommy Duff is as close to a son as i have. i am proud of him. Maureen and i agree he has grown up to be a really good man. Of course, he is into sports journalism, and i did my share of that. This is Tommy and Sarah in 1992, our first Christmas on Signal Mountain, our go-to tradition.

The house is shuttered. Fans and the one portable air conditioner are heaving heartily. We will shut most of them down around three this afternoon to do our part in energy conversation. i have threatened to go shopping at Costco and just wander in the produce section, the coldest place on earth except for San Francisco in July. But it is an empty threat.

i have rambled. i am a curmudgeon. This morning, i had peace, calm.

That’s enough.

Mixed Me

Last night, i watched the San Diego Padres explode after seven innings to score eight runs in the eighth inning for an 11-4 win over the Los Angeles Angels. Watching four of the premier baseball players in the world (Machado, Tatis, Trout, Rendon) was exciting.

This year’s version of the Padres is exciting all of the time. They hit five grand slam home runs in six games. They run. They play great defense. Their offensive power is unlike any i’ve ever seen in San Diego, including the Caminiti, Finley, and Tony Gwynn years. Jurickson Profar, one of the lesser lights in the Friars’ starters, went two for three, a home run and two RBI’s last night.

Sure, that behemoth ninety miles north of here remains the creme de la creme  of the National League and perhaps the Major Leagues. Impressive. Winners and whiners all wrapped up in one (can you tell i’m a bit prejudice?).

This Padre going on is fun.

But as i watched last night, i find myself with mixed emotions.

For a number of years i have railed against the Yankees (since the 1950’s when the Kansas City A’s owner made big bucks by sending his best players to the Yanks), and the Dodgers (who i grew up loving when they were in Brooklyn, rooting for them against my father’s beloved Yankees), and then the Red Sox (when the guy who labeled them “the Evil Empire,” Larry Lucchino, turned around and acted just like them), the Cubs (i liked them and the Red Sox when they were the lovable losers) because of the money being exchanged.

Well, $300 Million for one player for ten years (Manny Machado) ain’t chump change, not to mention all of the other crazy money the Padres have spent on players and player development. So my Padres are in the same league (not baseball league, but money league) with all the other villains. And i fully expect the ticket prices (when fans can go) to rise precipitously, and will not be surprised if beer goes up to $20. This means, of course, that i ain’t going.

And there is another aspect i reconsidered. At the end of July, the Padres dealt 29 players one way or the other to acquire supposedly (according to the experts, of which i ain’t one) better players. And that doesn’t count the ones who left before the pandemic season began. Now i’m missing some of my favorites who left, Austin Hedges, Hunter Renfroe, Manuel Margot, Josh Naylor, Cal Quantrill, and Ty France. All gone. i find myself rooting for players i only know by reputation.

Flesh peddlers.

And the rich get rich and the poor get poorer. Why do owners spend megabucks buying championships to make more megabucks and why do players need $30 Million a year? If they continue to screw their fans monetarily, why aren’t they helping the less fortunate in the country? And why do players and their agents think they need several hundred million to PLAY baseball? And if they are going to demand those salaries, why don’t they put in back into helping others. And i am not talking about all of those wonderful foundations many of them form.

So essentially, the fans (me included) are rooting and spending for what? Money. Their money against everyone else’s money. Crazy.

Sadly, my rant is not going to change things. Today, the Padres new pitching star will be going against the Los Angeles (really, Anaheim) Angels (location change to attract more fans, i.e. more money). i will be watching.

And i love the way the Padres, new and old are playing. Excitement, incredible talent, laughing, having fun, playing the game the way it should be played.

And i’ll be rooting for them to win it all.

i’m just not sure why?

Please bring back college baseball soon.

salt spray

let me feel the spray
one more time,
the salt spray from a wave
breaking over the bow
for
i seek reconnection to the sea
when
the sea was me
and
i was the sea
and
the rest of the world didn’t exist
as my ship plowed through cresting waves
which threw it willy-nilly, up and down
to rise and plunge again
bringing green water crashing
to the pilot house
to slide down and aft and over the fantail
and
the metal groaned
but
did not give
and
the steam hissed, bellowing even,
shooting through the pipes
to the engine,
then the reduction gears,
turning the port and starboard shafts
and
the screws whacking the deep underneath,
propelling the ship as forward
as the sea would let her go
and
the men rode her
like a bronco with spume,
not brave, not fearful,
just matter of fact,
knowing they had little power
over the sea and the grey metal
on which they rode;
i do not know if
this dance of power
entranced the others
but
i was entranced
watching, feeling, even smelling
this battle between
the two ladies i had come to love
and
still love
but alas,
only in my memories
and
oh, how i wish
i could feel the spray,
the salt spray from a wave
breaking over the bow
one more time.

 

Kathie

It is a bit awkward for me. i’m not sure what the protocol is.

Kathie Marie Lynch Jewell passed away yesterday evening (August 29, 2020).

Kathie and Blythe aboard USS Hollister in Long Beach, 1974.

She is my former wife, or to paraphrase what her mother took to calling me when Kathie and i were divorced (“the father of my granddaughter”) the mother of my daughter.

The night after we met, she told Nannie Bettie, her mother, she had met the man she was going to marry. Just a bit over a year later, we became husband and wife.

We stuck together for six years. We had our good moments. We had our bad moments. She decided she didn’t love me. i eventually decided trying to continue to make the marriage work would be deleterious for her, especially for our daughter, and eventually i acknowledged to myself, for me as well.

As divorces go, it was a pretty good one, if there is such a thing. The top priority for both of us was to do what was best for our daughter. i think my being a Naval officer made it more difficult for all three of us. i was usually far away. But we tried. She tried especially hard.

The parting was the right thing to do, but hard, and with a terrible sense of loss. But i was never bitter. i loved her enough to be wed with her. We both had traits and habits we didn’t like in each other, but we had enough we did like, and we vowed to be together for the rest of our lives. It didn’t quite work out that way. i cared for her during our marriage. i care for her now.

She was a wonderful human being in many ways.

Blythe and Kathie, 1975 in Paris, Texas, while i was deployed aboard the USS Anchorage (LSD-36).

Her most wonderful trait was she loved our daughter and our grandson more than anything else on earth. i will never, ever be able to thank her enough for that love she had for them.

i shall not expand here on my thoughts of her. That is treading on dangerous ground, and i have already gone beyond the limits she would have wanted.

Kathie was a wonderful, loving and caring mother and grandmother. i loved her then. i love her now.

And tonight once again, i will shed a tear for her.

Rest in peace, my love.

Fire and Water

While most of our country is obsessed with fear, hate and outright lies, i am reminded of a critical moment in my life.

Earlier this week, The New York Times picked up on the San Diego ABC affiliate television news story and reported an unnamed crew member of the USS Bon Homme Richard (LHD-6) is being investigated for arson in the disastrous fire that possibly put the capital ship out of commission forever.

The news took me back to my lone engineering tour. In 1973, i was assigned as the chief engineer of the USS Hollister (DD-788) home ported at Naval Station, Long Beach. The Hollister had just become a reserve destroyer in Destroyer Squadron 27. My engineering department had a master chief and two chief boiler tenders; two master chief, one senior chief and two chief machinist mates; and a full complement of the engineering crew. But because a reserve ship’s crew is to be augmented by reservists, i soon found myself with only one master chief, two first class boiler tenders, and one first class machinist mate. In addition, i had only a third of my deep hold engineers left. The other two-thirds were to filled by reservists one weekend each month and one two-week “active duty for training” or ACTDUTRA  each year. i quickly discovered that most reserve engineers don’t have the experience required to run a 600-pound steam plant effectively, and my department would essentially being trying to perform our duties while having only one-third of our personnel to do it.

i will not complain about that. It just wasn’t a real easy job.

Then came the incident that came to mind when i read the the new news about the Bon Homme Richard fire. We were in port getting ready to get underway in ten days for a week of exercises. The ship was cold iron, i.e. getting all of our services from the pier with no boilers or our own auxiliary power sources being used. i had gone home for the evening.

In the duty section was a malcontent. i do not remember his name. He had been in nuclear submarines and was promoted to third class nuclear machinist mate, but he had gotten in trouble and was reduced in rate to MMFN again. The submarine force did not put up with trouble, and the sailor was kicked out of submarines. With reasoning i never understood, the Navy decided the surface Navy should get the submariners problems. The sailor was transferred to the Hollister. Shortly after he came aboard, he went to captain’s mast again, reduced in rate to MMFA, was restricted to the ship for 45 days, had 60 days of extra duty, and lost half his pay for two months.

This did not improve his morale.

That evening, he was assigned to the mid-watch (00-04) as cold iron security watch in the main engineering spaces, the two fire rooms and two engine rooms. Shortly after he took over the watch, he opened the sea valves in main control, the forward engine room.

The command duty officer called me about 0415. It was a twenty-minute drive from our Navy officer housing in San Pedro. i put on my uniform and made it to the ship in less than fifteen minutes. The on-coming watch reported the flooding to the duty engineer as soon as his rounds took him to main control. The duty engineers and damage control personnel had closed the valves and began pumping the water out, but when my senior machinist mate, the lone first class remaining, and i got down to main control, the water level was almost below the lower level deck plates. The high point had been not quite to the upper level. About a dozen lower level pumps, some essential for the number one engine to operate, were under water, salt water.

We notified the chain of command. Shipyard personnel began almost immediately to work on the damaged equipment. but several of the electric powered pumps, the ones damaged the most by the salt water immersion, were sent out to local contractors, what we called “bicycle shops.” The first class and i began sixteen hour days running around Long Beach to these various shops overseeing the repair efforts.

Sometime before midnight before we were scheduled to get underway, the last pump was put back into place and proved operational. The Hollister made her underway commitment by the skin of her teeth.

The MMFN was charged and the captain assigned him a general court martial. It was time to turn my hat in the other direction. The sailor was still in my department, my responsibility, and his leading petty officer, division officer, and his department head, aka yours truly, had walked him through XOI (Executive Officer’s Screening Mast) and Captain’s Mast in the process to assign him the general court martial. Someone also had to counsel him on his rights and advise him on what choices he had. For some reason, his division officer was not available. So it was up to me.

i had him report to my stateroom/office/home. He sat in the extra chair as i sat in the one by the pull-down desk. i proceeded to counsel him. It was one of the strangest situations i have faced in my life. Here i was they guy who possibly would have gotten the worse from his criminal act, yet i was supposed to help him minimize what penalties he might receive.

I think i did that, give him the best chance he had in his dire situation.

Later when i was executive officer of the USS Yosemite, i recommended to the Captain we administratively discharge a sailor rather than assigning to a court martial. Captain Francis J. Boyle decided against my recommendation and assigned a summary court martial. Captain Boyle’s comment at the time was to the effect as CO he was responsible for ensuring justice be served. My reply was i understood and my job was to ensure good order and discipline.

That is when i remembered the Hollister’s  flooding, and i felt proud i had attempted to ensure justice was served  in that incident. i think it was another step in my understanding Navy leadership and how it was supposed to work.

The investigation of the Bon Homme Richard’s fire is far from being completed. It may be years before there is a conclusion. That arson was the cause for that calamitous fire makes a lot of sense to me. It will be interesting to watch this unfold.

As i learned on the Hollister in 1974, and the Yosemite in 1984, i hope justice is truly served.

The Dinosaur Concedes

When i grew up, children were to be seen and not heard. We, as Little Jimmy Dickens sang, got the “cold taters.” We vacuumed, mopped, stripped, and waxed floors, we washed, dried, and put away the dishes. We made our beds and our rooms were supposed to be and generally were neat and clean (after we got through messing them up). We gathered the wash off the line, folded clothes, washed the windows. We took the garbage out. As soon as able, we mowed and trimmed the yard, and around fourteen, Daddy had me in the basement crawl space cleaning out the clunkers (burnt coal) he had thrown there when we had a coal furnace. i’m sure i have left several things out.

Now, i’m not bragging or whining. It was just the way it was back then. And it was a whole lot easier than my parents had it. My father stoked the boiler with slag wood for my grandfather’s steam engine when he was six. At ten, he dug a storm shelter in their backyard, and when it was found the water table was too high for such, he dug a drainage ditch for about 100 feet to the street so they could convert that storm cellar into a root cellar.

Sounds tough? Well, i don’t recall being upset about any of it with the possible exception of clearing out the clunkers in the summer. From what Daddy told me, it sounds like he had about as much fun as i did growing up. It was just things we had to do and didn’t stop us from having fun.

i am not criticizing how we raise kids now. i’m not a child raising expert and it wouldn’t matter one whit if i was (unless, of course, i could make a couple of mill’ writing a book about it).

That’s just the way it was.

But what it did do for this dinosaur was to give him an appreciation, maybe even joy, at doing small tasks correctly. Between twenty and seventy-two years of age, all of my jobs required me to attack the big things, the alligators in the swamp, and many of the small jobs were left to subordinates. But i did my share when time afforded such.

Sometime after i retired (sic), er completed my Navy active duty service and had been mister mom for a while, i applied for a San Diego City job in HR training. i got to the final hurdle, an interview with three other trainers. Sitting in front of the three, i immediately sensed the male interrogator of the three was not a fan of folks with military backgrounds, especially officers, or perhaps he just didn’t like me.

i answered a bunch of questions easily and because of my Navy experience, especially my last tour as director of leadership, management, and equal opportunity training, my responses and record was acceptable.

Then the male interrogator casually asked (with what i took to be an antagonistic air), “Would you make coffee for the group?”

i got it. i knew his purpose. i explained i would be happy to make coffee and in my last job, although the boss and senior to everyone in my department, i made the coffee about ninety percent of the time, because unless i was facilitating a seminar, i was doing paperwork, administrivia, while my personnel were training.

i gather he didn’t like the answer. i didn’t get the job. Now and maybe even then, i’m glad.

In my old age, i have grown to appreciate the training i received growing up. The alligators are gone. There is no subordinate waiting for me to take care of the big stuff or make a decision. There is no boss (well, except for a wife) to expect me to do something. I pretty much decide what to do when i want to do stuff.

i’ve found a great sense of satisfaction in doing the little things, pretty much the same things i did growing up: washing the dishes, cleaning things, taking the garbage out. Yeh, we got a yard guy, a gardener and landscape artist who does all that yard work because he’s better than me and what he does pleases my wife. Yeh, we got two cleaning ladies who come every other week and clean the house thoroughly. And i am rather pleased there aren’t any clunkers to clean out of anywhere.

So i pride myself on doing the little things and claim doing such should be done by everyone to develop pride in themselves or something. Like the SEAL Admiral Bill McRaven pointed out in his retirement speech gone viral and in the book he’s written, Make Your Bed.

Then it showed up. Sarah confided in me about a week ago, she had found this great deal on the internet and had ordered a Robot Roomba for her mother.

i was aghast. First off, Maureen is the financial overlord of this place and spending money she believes is frivolous is at the top of her no-no list. Secondly, she had long proclaimed she didn’t like the things and wouldn’t have one in her house.

Wisely i kept out of it. Kept my mouth shut. But boy, i was one anxious person, sweating blood thinking of the upcoming chaos.

It arrived. As taught by Brer Fox, i laid low. Sarah set up the thing. Maureen was dubious. The next morning, the show was on.

Maureen loved it. Go figure. When it finished its mapping, its cleaning, it sent Maureen a message on her phone letting her know all was done and it was back in its nest.

i concede. No more vacuuming the floors. The dinosaur enjoys it too. Neat stuff.

Of course, i have to watch my step and it seems like its a blind puppy as it wanders around the house and bounces off the walls. i keep waiting for it to whimper. i almost talked to it the other day. i caught myself reaching down to pet it. If i was a true dinosaur, it would make a nice snack.

And i still have to wash the dishes.

The Sea

i remain in a place i do not like above and beyond all of the other stuff. So i tried to occupy myself with little things to do (and a few big ones too). One of the little things was to go through more old files to find a draft of a short story i wrote but now can only find the start. Of course, i didn’t find it. The search will continue tomorrow. But i did find something from several years ago, like the spring of 1968, late May i’m guessing, when i had yet to really experience the grown up world (even though moi never really grew up, i got my dose of dealing with grown up: still not too fond of it). It was aboard the USS Hawkins (DD-873), my first ship, in Newport, Rhode Island. i‘m also guessing i had the duty, probably stood a quarterdeck evening watch, and couldn’t sleep, so i wrote. i would like to think i wandered out to the weather decks, the forecastle, but i suspect that’s a stretch. Regardless, i read what i wrote that night just a while ago, and it gave me peace. The seas, the Atlantic, the Pacific, and all the others fitting every mood. Infinite. Humble, Peaceful, Stormy, Raging.

i am stopping for a while, languishing in the peace of the Atlantic, a long time ago and a long distance away from me tonight.

the Atlantic:
humble tonight,
sitting calm;
warships languidly rolling
moored to the piers in nests;
the Atlantic reflecting
light.

the sea:
fit for sentimentality,
recollection,
wishes for alterations are
pure futility
though wishes
can’t be erased.

the Atlantic:
raucous tomorrow perhaps;
i am entranced,
rolling happy in sometime
fit for two,
but tonight
humble.

i remain wishing.

Joy in Mudville

In these days of dark and drear and fires and political posturing so folks can claim some insane things and me railing against the pay of professional athletes while the country is in dire need of help for the less fortunate and the heat and the humidity, one can get a bit daffy, many are depressed. But it the midst of all of this bad, i found some joy in Mudville.

Of course, Ernest Thayer’s 1988 poem, “Casey at the Bat” declares there is no joy in Mudville. Mighty Casey, indeed, struck out. Another great poem with a sad ending.

But there was joy in the resurgence of the famed baseball poem. In 1979, Frank DeFord, the noted sports writer for Sports Illustrated published a short novel with a look into what happened to Casey. i reread it about two months ago. It boosted my spirits.

Now, San Diego is bringing back some joy as if it were Mudville. The Padres are setting records, good baseball records. The play-by-play man, Don Orsillo, following in the footsteps of his two great predecessors, Jerry Coleman and Dick Enberg, coined a new slogan in the middle of the arch of Eric Hosmer’s homer that broke the record for a team hitting grand slams in four consecutive games when he shouted “Slam Diego.”

We (man, i am a convert, using the collective first person) may not win. The Dodgers have a power house of whiners (okay, okay, i’m prejudice) up the road, and this pandemic season is crazy in so many ways. One just can’t predict the outcome. And after i have whined about the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Cubs, and the Dodgers buying championships, San Diego isn’t spending chump change anymore.

But boy, this is fun. And they are having fun. At the heart of all this is one incredible ball player. i have exhorted several real baseball fans to watch Padre games and digest this guy doing what he’s doing. Fernando Tatis, Jr. is something like i have never seen before. i’m thinking no one has impressed me with their joy of the best baseball possible since Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente and Roberto wasn’t all that joyful.

Below is the link to an ESPN feature story on the guy who takes this Mudville fan away from the drear and gives him joy.

https://www.espn.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/29510713/fernando-tatis-jr-bringing-joy-back-baseball

Been to Tijuana Lately?

i have been to Tijuana. Been going there for the last several weeks, or at least, i felt like i was making virtual visits close to home.

Actually, it is more likely i was virtually in the Philippines like Maureen was earlier in the week when she dealt with the pest control, aka termite control corporation which bought the corporation which bought the local company and then moved the call center to the Philippines because the customer service rep revealed her location to Maureen,  and i immediately suspected she was in Olongapo on Luzon because all of those bar girls had to find a different line of work when the U.S. Navy closed the base and the closest version to “Fiddlers Green” died.

And i don’t think “Erik’s” accent was Mexican. It was reminiscent of many folks i know who have the native language of Tagalog and speak English as a second language. But even though it was a long distance call from Luzan to Baja, i felt like i was back South of the Border down Mexico way.

Years ago, my first couple of visits across the border were pretty much that of a wandering child. i did not know where to go, what to do, or how to act. Since then, there have been many, many trips South of the Border down Mexico way, as Gene Autry once intoned. Yeh, yeh, i know, but even though Shep Fields sang it first and Patsy Cline did a great job, this is Gene’s song from Gene’s 1939 movie “South of the Border,” and re-sung in Gene’s 1942 movie “Down Mexico Way,” and Willie did a good job too, and i wonder if Chris Isaak has ever been to Tijuana, but it’s still Gene’s song: after all he caught the bad guys fairly and squarely although they didn’t fight fairly and Gene did have the help of Frog…er, Smiley Burnett) — now, i gotta watch those two movies again: the plots alone makes me smile.

After those first sojourns across that line in the sand, which is becoming a wall only about eight miles from our house as the crow flies, trips to Tijuana were still along the lines of the image as portrayed in “Lucky Lady,” as well as further south to Califia, Puerto Nuevo, Rosarita, and Ensenada, the stuff of legends (which you will undoubtedly get wind of if i last long enough).

The majority of the trips were bargain hunting, and hence, why i connected Erik to Tijuana.

i first went down for bargain hunting with a wise old chief petty officer when i was on Amphibious Five Squadron staff. i was amazed as he hemmed and hawed and got mad and insulting and made fun of the sellers and threatened to walk out of store after store until he got goods of all sorts for what couldn’t have made a profit for the store. And they all loved it! When i commented on a stone chess set with matching stone board, he walked me through the game they played South of the Border down Mexico way until i walked away with the set, a couple of rugs, and a tequila decanter for about three bucks.

And damn if i didn’t enjoy it as well.

Then, my parents came to visit at the beginning of their annual treks to the Southwest corner, and my mother mentioned she wanted to go to Tijuana for she had heard they had those little glass animals and the glass cases used to show of the little animals. She did not need to prod me, and we were off to the border.

We walked through the gate and there was a sight to behold. Somewhere around three million, seven thousand, two hundred, and sixty-six paintings on black velvet with about three million, six thousand, one hundred and forty-two being paintings of Elvis in cheap wood frames lining the road into the shopping area. There were other bangles of all sorts, and gum, gum, gum being sold everywhere, ceramic pots, straw sombreros, felt sombreros, and serapes, serapes. Mother, Daddy, Maureen, and i worked our way through to the small shops, and we found one with the little animals and the cases. Soon we left with about a half-dozen of the little figurines for a couple of dollars with my mother and father startled by their son’s great talent  — After she and my father learned the tricks, they would go each year and buy some things for family and friends as well as a couple of those glass cases for her and my Aunt Bettye Kate — when Mother saw some rugs she liked in the shop next to the glass shop. i began my wheeling and dealing in earnest again. Mother and Daddy had about a dozen rugs for folks back in Tennessee and i wheedled down. the salesman to less than ten dollars. As we were closing the deal, Maureen who had been wandering around the shop changed her mind and called me with the news she wanted two rugs she had found.

Blew the deal, the package of her and mother’s goods went for just less than twenty bucks.

While on this track, i should point out my favorite moment on these family outings was later when we had wandered down toward the end of the shopping area to a large open-air shop with mostly ceramic pots for plants and chimineas. At the bitter end of this place was a bigger than life-sized Creature from the Black Lagoon, if the real creature stood or swam at about eight-feet tall. My father and i went into plotting mode. We figured we could buy the thing for about twenty bucks. We decided it would be the perfect thing to ship to my brother Joe in Vermont with no labels noting who had sent it. We were reeling and rocking laughing all over that shop lot thinking of Joe when he opened the box.

However, Maureen and Mother pointed out the magnificent statue might not cost much but getting it across the border and shipping it to Vermont would likely run more than a brand new Porsche.

So it didn’t happen. But every year afterwards and just about anytime we were together, Jimmy Jewell and i would revisit that story and laugh all over again.

There was a special poignant moment on one bargaining trip. When leaving and crossing back over the border crossing before the walking bridge, a long line of folks lined the road up to the small gate that was a demarcation of sorts before the checkpoint. These folks were making a last ditch effort to sell you something worthless for anything they could get. Sometimes. they would get right up in your face, trying to convince you to buy. The most tragic were toddlers hawking small goodies as their mothers sat nearby.

On one trip coming back, i had warned my parents about how giving in and buying something would only encourage such activity and not really help anyone. As we neared the small gate, a small Mexican lass who couldn’t have been more than three walked up to my father as she held out a piece of gum. She was pretty. Her face was streaked with dirt and there were traces of tears down her cheeks. She had on a white taffeta dress and was barefooted. The dress, her legs, and feet were equally soiled.

i was going to say something to my father, but as he looked down at the little girl, i realized my saying anything would do no good. He reached down into his pocket, gave her a quarter, and gently tousled her hair.

He didn’t give a damn about the rules, about the games being played on the border. He loved that little girl. i could tell he was hurting for her and, if allowed, would have taken her home with him. This deal was just between him and that little child just like all of his relationships with children.

i admit i did get choked up a bit, but i didn’t cry and didn’t show i was choked up.

But sometimes when i remember that crossing, a tear does escape.

We don’t go South of the Border down Mexico way anymore. We have neighbors and friends who do go. Many frequently travel there. Many have relatives living there and some even live there and cross over to this side for work, shopping, or entertainment.

But not us. i told my cousin Nancy who was visiting from Florida a number of years ago when she inquired about how to go South of the Border, that she and husband shouldn’t go. i told her she could get most of the things she would want to buy right here in the Southwest corner. They could find the same cuisine on this side. It might cost a bit more. The chance of something happening like robbery, kidnapping, or being killed by the gangs was low, but it still existed.

To me, it’s not worth it. Sad, so sad because Tijuana is a great place to go. Great food. Fun places, and i’ve bragged about the shopping. And the margaritas taste superb when looking over the cliffs to the Pacific in Califia. Rosarita is just simply beautiful and delightful. Ensenada is a wonderful big city further south, and the lobster, er, longusta, in Puerto Nuevo with fries and a Modelo on picnic tables can’t be beat for the price. And there are some wonderful people there, just like here. Yet folks have been killed and kidnapped. Just not worth it.

But i need to get back to Erik and the reason i began this tome.

You see, this game began a couple of months ago when we decided to quit getting our daily delivery of a newspaper, and i wrote a post about losing a part of me. Maureen, actually more the reader than i, thought i should reconsider. Well, i will never get this saga straight, but i’ll try. Our renewal fee for eight weeks of daily delivery and internet access had been $64 for eight weeks, crazy to me and what had already given me the pause in  considering renewal.

Then they raised our eight-week fee to $124. i called to protest and was connected to someone with a foreign accent and more than likely in Olongapo or Nigeria or Tasmania or Uzbekistan. Each time i called the foreigner found a lower rate. The internet response offered a great. deal for a fee greater than the last two i got over the phone. i kept calling.

You see as i noted in a previous post, for me, losing a daily newspaper would be like losing an arm or a leg, maybe both. It’s been in my blood for almost three score years. We had decided to ditch the Union-Tribune. Even at the reduced prices, it’s really not worth it, but it is part of my life.

And finally, i connected to Erik, put on my South of the Border bargaining sombrero and got the price down to seven bucks a week, a reduction well less than half of what they tried to charge us at the renewal about two months ago.

i caved, at least for another 8 weeks.

It still bums me out. In fact, the way we do business in general now bums me out. Lost leaders aren’t losses anymore. Whoever attracts customers with bargains is still making money. Price gouging is now a way of life, not an exception looked upon as a scam. Almost no one sells a product or service for what it’s worth. They want to make more. Everybody seems to want something for nothing. It seems we have quit worrying about how useful, how effective a product or service is except in our marketing and advertising where good looking women and handsome men and cute children are doing wonderful things because they bought the product and i’m sorry but i don’t think buying a Chevrolet or a a Lexus or a drug for a malady is going to let me live in some lala land and live happily ever after with visits to enchanting places surrounded by happiness. And customer service is more than likely an eternal trip in a phone tree into lala land.

Maybe it’s the politics (both sides) that have me on a rant. Maybe it’s the pandemic. Maybe because i’m old and perfecting my role as a curmudgeon. Maybe it’s because my golf sucks. Maybe it’s because i can’t go to sea anymore. Hell, i can’t go see my grandson in Texas or my family and friends in Tennessee and elsewhere. Maybe that’s it.

But i caved and we will get our newspaper to read tomorrow morning. The Padres are breaking records and for the first time i can remember the records are for doing good baseball things, not bad. Erik is alive and well in someplace a long way away but not likely Olongapo, and he made a sell. Tijuana is still there and maybe before i reach 90, it will be safe enough to go do some bargaining and having a margarita atop Califia’s cliffs and eating longusta on the beach of Puerto Nuevo.

i think i’ll see what i can get a little glass animal for, and i will buy some gum for a quarter from a poor little girl.

Saturday Morning Ramblings of a Goofy Guy When the Southwest Corner Seems Like Back Home

Perhaps it’s because of this Covid thing. Don’t know. But i do know i have been longing for home, the one where i grew up…well, it wasn’t up very much and there is some question as to whether i really grew up at all.

Just don’t know why the longing is occurring  now. Especially since mid-August is about the last part of the year i would really want to be back there. i mean 95/95, temperature and humidity rolling in every day with grave digging on my weekday schedule until two-a-day football practice over on Hill Street came to beat me up even more.

And i sit here under the ceiling fan in my office. You see, we have never felt the need for air-conditioning and use our heating system to knock off the chill for an hour or so in the winter mornings. We prefer the fresh air. And this is really the first time i wished we had AC. Not because of the heat. We’ve had Santa Ana’s running through here  before that would melt the soles off of your flip flops — hmm, i ‘ve got a pair but only for beach days, yet today, i’m flopping around like a penguin — but Santa Ana’s are dry: pools and the ocean can fix that, and buttoning up the house with the insulation Maureen decided to spray in our attic several years ago keeps us comfortable. But this stuff is Tennessee hot, hot and humid. i knew the signal when i retrieved the paper this morning, and looked at the sky just before dawn: cirrus, stratus, and up over the mountains to the east, cumulonimbus and nimbostratus were building: thunderstorm kind of stuff in the mountains, but the pink to reds and the spotty blue sky overhead likely meant no rain here, just hot and humid. See, all those Navy years pay off.

Considering we don’t have AC, i start listing friends to visit who just happen to have such in their homes. Then i realize that social distancing frowns on such. So, i start searching for something cool, like shade or underneath this ceiling fan. There is a gin and tonic in my future tonight. As i searched, it dawned on me the call back home was seated in the deep past.

August on Castle Heights Avenue in Lebanon, Tennessee, circa 1950’s and 1960’s. i searched for cool there and then also…in vain. Oh, the nights were almost bearable (if you didn’t mind the mosquitoes) even though at Baird Park ball fields in my catching gear, my green and white Texas Boot Company ball shirt would be soaked by the second inning, and you didn’t have but one jersey back then. And at 127 Castle Heights Avenue before we had air conditioning, i searched. There was one huge (and loud) window fan in the window above the stairs to upstairs. This was to provide moving air — still warm, mind you — for the two bedrooms, hall, and  bath. i would clear off my bed, strip down to my underwear and sleep at the end of the bed in a position to maximize air coverage. Didn’t work.

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Now, it’s getting personal. i have a number of friends who are dealing with health issues. i know. i know: As you get older, things happen, and damn near all of them aren’t good. Bodies wear out in different ways. It doesn’t make any difference. Still hurts. Losing people for whom you care is even worse. We ain’t likely to stop it.

Yet there’s this other thing going on right now. Our cleaning lady who has been around us for about a quarter of a century is as much a friend as a service provider. She and her partner have missed the last two cleaning days. Marde is from Mexico. Her aunt and niece just died, one from the coronavirus. Worse, she now has eight family members who have contracted this pestilence. And Marde can’t go to see them. Sad.

i have several family and friends who have been unable to see loved ones suffering from various ills. They aren’t allowed to be with their loved ones. COVID.

It is just flat not right.

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With our cleaning up to us for the next several weeks and being the bright boy i am, i took on the kitchen this morning. i cleaned and siliconed a window sill for smoother operation. i vacuumed and then i mopped, Spic & Span of course. Like i said: bright boy.

So tonight, fans will be whirring in the Southwest corner if they don’t pull the plug on electricity for an hour or so like they did last night — it’s a roving plan they call “brown outs.” Seemed like a black out to me last night, although i did smile just a bit when it happened thinking about all of those cool people with AC who suddenly found themselves in our boat.

Tonight, i will have sashimi from my favorite Japanese restaurant, take out only, mind you. And a white wine, chilled. Problem is this crazy Tennessee weather is supposed to carry on in the Southwest corner, even get a bit worse for another four days or so.

But there is also happiness around. A grunch of birthdays today.

Siena, our niece with her brother Sebastiani,  is  one.

 

Then, there is cousin Kinsley with her mother Renee.

And of course, there are grand nephews Max and Culley.

i probably got the relationships a bit mixed up, but it’s okay. i’m pretty much considered “crazy uncle jim” to all of them.

Hot here. Yeh. Got up to 86. Humidity is at 47%.

Well, maybe it ain’t all that bad.