Friday, December 12, 2014

I can’t breathe – or can I?



Fairly early on in the Ferguson protest debacle, some wise person projected that the ultimate goal of all of these protests would be to weaken America's many police departments.  It is becoming hip to march and show support for what?  It doesn't matter at all to many of the demonstrators.  Most of the people marching now are doing it because they want to be part of something they can't even relate to.  

It reminds me of 9-11 and the massive support that our country gave our fallen and the subsequent number of yellow ribbons and flags to show support for our troops.  To everyone who truly felt a part of it, it was wonderful – until it became cliché-ish and ‘hip” to be patriotic.

A negative side-effect was that if you didn’t slap a magnetic yellow ribbon (or one the hundreds of variations including a camouflaged version) you were almost viewed as unpatriotic by some.  “Hey doofus, where’s your yellow ribbon?”

“Hey mister, it’s a free country.  Besides, I may or not support every cause that comes down the pike, but whether I do or not is none of your danged business.”

Concerning the alleged unjustified violence by police against minority groups, I am sure some of the objection is justified, but all the footage and evidence points to the “victim” resisting the police, or worse, downright fighting the cops.  I learned possibly at the tender of age of whatever, that arguing with police will always escalate into something negative for me.  In fact, I think the current movement where people are holding their hands over their heads is probably what should be done to deescalate a confrontation with police and frankly, I find it almost humorous in its simplicity.


Our city once had the reputation of being cop-heavy on citizens, but I’ve lived here since 1974 and never had one single violent experience with our police, that a few verbal exchanges didn’t solve the problem.  In one case in particular, I drove my Jeep (not my current vehicle) out of my subdivision at 0330 with a cup of coffee in my hand.  I made a complete stop at Massey Tompkins and took a right. 

Instantly there was a cop right behind me with their lights flashing.  Now mind you, it was 3:30am and the roads were devoid of traffic and this cop almost caused me to drop my uppers AND spill hot coffee in my lap.  Of course I was angry.  When he walked up to my door, I asked him why I was being pulled over.

“You failed to use your turn signal sir.”  Now I know that cop wasn’t anywhere I could see, so I asked him where he was parked and when he told me, I spitted out these words: “You mean to tell me that you followed me all the way out on Chaparral Drive with your headlights out so you give me a ticket for not using my turn signal at a dead end?”

He admitted that there had been a number of burglaries in the neighborhood and I obviously wasn’t a suspect and let me go without a ticket.  Now let me say something here.  Yes, I was angry, but when the cop came up to my door, I had turned on the dome light and had both hands in plain sight on the steering wheel.  Even though my words were strong, I didn’t curse or use threatening words and I surely didn’t act like I was going to get out and fight.

Another time I was standing on the overpass at Loop 201 and Texas Avenue taking photographs.  This was about 4 years after 9-11 and I saw a Baytown cop car fly by headed north and the officer was looking straight at me.  I thought, “Oh boy, here goes.”  At one time there was an old dairy at Airhart Drive and Texas Avenue and I was documenting the area for ourbaytown.com, but I knew that I was going to be accused of taking photos of Exxon for terrorist purposes.  Such was the state of terror phobia in our country at the time.

Sure enough, here he came and sure enough, he had his hand on his gun and demanded I give him the camera.  I told him there is “no law preventing anyone from taking a photograph from a public road” and then what I was doing and handed him my card.  He said, “This better check out!” and went back to his patrol car.  He was a younger looking officer and after a minute, he drove off without even looking at me.

Again, I did not take an offensive posture or curse the officer, I simply defused the situation without showing anger and nothing negative happened.  I actually laughed as he drove off, thinking “hasn’t he seen Google Earth?”

I have a British friend who recently wrote and said the Brits are “a bit worried over the demonstrations in America”.  I told her to forget it.  When the hipness of it wears off, the majority of people will find some other cause to get excited about.  The bottom line here is that if you do not do anything illegal or provoke a cop, 99.99% of the time, you are going to have a positive experience with the police department.  If you fall into that .01%, good luck.  You’re going to need it.


Friday, December 05, 2014

The vanishing personal space conundrum solved!



 I am not entirely comfortable in large gatherings even though I occasionally attend them.  In fact, I don’t think you will ever spot me marching in any kind of mass assemblies, peaceful or not.

Don’t get me wrong when I say this.  I can sit comfortably in church, or an occasional sporting event and behave myself, it’s just that I would rather walk down a lonely trail in the woods, far away from any other human being or musical delivery device. In fact, I have walked for hours not hearing another human voice and was perfectly at peace and content.  Did you know that when you spend hours alone, you become very quiet?  My doggies sleep when my bride is away, because the house becomes silent, except for my constant pecking of the keyboard.

My dad once said he “enjoyed his own company” and I learned to understand this peculiar sounding confession. He would go off in his 18-foot boat and spend the day catching redfish and speckled trout and come back and clean them at his house in Aransas Pass.  He didn’t even listen to the radio.  I don’t think he was uncomfortable around other people; he just loved the freedom to make all his own choices and he got it in that boat out on the water.

As technology shrinks our privacy and let me say up front that I embrace much of it, the need to get away from it all amplifies exponentially.  Angie Middleton explained to me that a friend owns a car that spoke to her while driving.  It told her to “keep your eyes on the road”.  It’s scary on one hand and much needed by some on the other.  I do believe we are going to see a massive shift in technology very soon that will be overwhelming to most of us, me included.

The famed British theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking recently threw up the same red flag as the Unibomber Ted Kaczynski, in that "The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race." 

"Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn't compete and would be superseded" is another quote by him.  This, of course caught my eye, as I follow the (AI) artificial intelligence movement and have read a number of books by a leader in AI, Ray Kurzweil.  The real kicker here is this is happening right now.  We will see this in our lifetime and that once again brings us back to the original intent of this column: personal space.


Our personal space or comfort zone is shrinking, right along with our ability to control what little we still have.  Baytown is a good example of how little personal space we have.  Get in your car and drive onto any of our roads.  The only space you control is around you inside the car and that’s about it.  Everywhere you look are trucks and cars with lots and lots of people.  Inside almost any store you have to move out of someone’s way.  You stand in line.  You wait, due to the movement of people.  You are crowded and if you are like me, impatient.

Maybe that’s why I like to hike the trails or launch my kayak on one of our waterways.  Maybe I feel claustrophobic in the crowds or maybe I just don’t like to conform.  I don’t know and frankly, I don’t care; all I know is I don’t like the crowds.  Now, according to Angie, Ted, Ray, and Stephen, I won’t even be able to get away from technology, especially inside my own danged car.

I guess I could attempt to go off the grid, but I like my air conditioning and Food Town’s close proximity; besides gardening is danged hard work and rabbits are a poor substitute for prepared boudain, chicken fried steak, and gumbo.  I’m afraid I, we, us… are caught in an inescapable vortex of people and technology and like lumbering lemmings scurrying toward our own destruction; we’ll ultimately gallop to our own demise.

Of course we will not go empty-handed.  I wouldn’t suggest that.  In one hand we’ll have the latest 5G Smartphone or tablet and in the other a sack of rapidly prepared convenience food.  We won’t actually run either.  We’ll be driven to the cliff’s edge in our environmentally correct ‘smart” car or faux-SUV.  We won’t have to worry about criminals because all of us will be armed.  Drunk or distracted driving will be eliminated because our cars will go wherever we tell them, or just take us to the nearest de-tox center by law.  They’ll monitor our sugar levels and automatically send the results to our doctor.  A drone will deliver our meds when our house signals we are home and our universal insurance will deduct the credits from our account.

If by chance you can find a place to hike off the grid, an amber alert will automatically go out and a platoon of camera heavy quadcopters will home in on the last place you were known to be.  When you are located, your account will be billed for not securing a permit from Homeland Security to go off-grid.  It will be “for the good of the people” that everyone is accounted for and by golly, for safeties sake, we will agree to it.

Doom and gloom you say?  Nope, just acceptable social acclimation and the snuffing out of personal space – for the good of the people.
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Friday, November 28, 2014

Failure is strong, but good medicine


I flunked the 9th grade.

True.  I did.  It was the most humbling experience of my life at that point.  It was also the single best life-changing experience in my mental and personal development.  I could go on and explain what led up to my failure, citing moving all over the country which messed up my math skills, but that wouldn’t explain why I bombed 9th grade basic English, now would it?

Failure is good for the soul now and again and I was like every other kid on the block, past and present when it comes to being sensitive at the ripe age of 15.  It seems like we are scared to death that kids these days will be damaged irreparably if they don’t get patted on the back for every little thing they do and that is as much hogwash as some of the bizarre stuff as is presented on Jerry Springer.

I was, and still am in many respects, a go it alone type of learner.  I inherently distrust experts.  I can’t rightly say why this is so, but it has caused me to be the kind of person who will learn a subject in great depth until I have a very good understanding of it and that is putting it mildly.  My dad was the same way and maybe that is the reason I think and seek to learn the way I do.

Over the years, I’ve studied a subject to the point of figurative nausea and then moved on, dropping interest in it almost entirely.  I do not want to fail and the turning point in young life leading to my success was a retired school teacher in Canton, Georgia who taught summer school and the English class I paid for, so  that (horrors) I wouldn’t be held back.

My Mom, who ran our house, informed me that unless I planned on repeating the 9th grade, I would have to pay the $65.00 for 6 weeks of summer school.  I was working after school at the Tastee Freeze in Woodstock, Georgia for about a buck fifty an hour, so $65 was a lot of money.  My choice was simple.  I would work and pay.

My 9th grade English teacher, a Miss Kerr, was about 5 feet tall and I badgered the poor woman with witting remarks the whole school year, goofed off on my home and class work, and basically made life miserable for her with jokes and wisecracks and come final grade time, she dropped me by one point, effectively serving me notice that my shenanigans were just that and nothing more.  One stinking point.  She could have given me that one point and moved me up, but didn’t and I am thankful to this day that she had the courage to flunk me.

Algebra however had me perplexed from day one.  I hated it so much that a mental block developed that my mathematician father couldn’t penetrate.   My hard-working dad could do scientific notation on paper, but I couldn’t grasp simple algebra.  The truth is our moving around the country had disconnected me from math progression and to this day, I wish I would have understood it properly and became an engineer.  I have the right aptitude for it, no doubt.

The “old woman” whose name escapes me, taught our slacker class of about 50, laid down the rules the first day when she passed out a sheet of the 100 books college students were required to read for college entry and informed us we had to read 6 books in 6 weeks and do a report on each – to pass.

It was so quiet in that class; I could have conducted a funeral if I knew how.  6 whole books?   One a week and do a book report?  I can speak for everyone in the class when I say, why didn’t she ask us to bench press 500 pounds or eat a 12 pound hamburger?  We might be able to actually do one or the other, but a book a week?

I’ve met with failure off and on in my life and through perseverance, beat each and every challenge, but only through struggle have I overcome them.  I have a friend who recently had his leg amputated.  When I learned of it, it hurt my soul.  I can’t imagine a trial of this magnitude.  I can only imagine the hardship I would go through if it were me.  However, his life like our own is full of obstacles and his faith and experiences appear to be pulling him through.  He’s my generation of “get over it and move on” and I am proud of him.

We were taught to suck it up and move on and in 1966, I went to summer school and read books for 8 hours a day and at noon on each Friday, I spent the last 4 hours tuning my book report.  At the end of the 6 weeks, I passed with an A+ and have never stopped reading.  In the remaining years of high school I took 3 more years of English and Literature and turned A’s in my classes – and I passed Algebra.

I owe it all to Miss Kerr and the “old nameless teacher”, who had the wisdom to challenge us to read those 6 books.  Oh how many times I have dreamed of letting her know what she did for me.  The bottom line to all of this is simply that failure can be a stepping stone to success.
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Saturday, November 22, 2014

I support President Obama on immigration reform

After watching and listening to President Obama and ruminating on what he says, I agree with him.  This is the McCain/Kennedy package that was ripped apart by partisan politics.  I apologize for criticizing it without really listening.  Keep the good immigrants and boot the bad ones.  The good ones will have to come clean, apply for a green card, pay taxes, and this only applies to illegals who have been in the country more than 5 years. 

I was for this very legislation when John McCain and Ted Kennedy tried to push it through.  The Left screamed that the suggested fines the illegals would have to pay was too harsh, so it was decided to drop the fine and then the Right screamed it was amnesty and the whole bill tanked.  We were left with what we presently have and that is a system that does not work!

All I ask before you bash it, is listen carefully to his logic.  If you can still find fault, then so be it.  I have also written my congressman to show support for this bill.
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Friday, November 21, 2014

What is more fun than people?

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I met a guy in high school who left a very good indelible mark on my life.  I wish I had a long list of people who I could say the same thing about, but very few are like this guy.  What makes him so different is he “got it” as a teenager and it took me about 40 years to begin to “get it”.

I met him in Canton, Georgia back in the mid to late 60’s and still communicate with him, even though he lives in Georgia and I of course, live in Texas.  Alan Dempsey is a preacher’s son and like many preachers kids, he went a bit buck wild only to straighten out later.  However, he was the kindest, most friendly person I had met at that time and still ranks right at the top of my kindest people list.  I was a Yankee in redneck North Georgia and needed a friend and he was there for me.

Alan, despite the fact that he had unruly straw-like shaggy blonde hair and possibly the worst case of acne imaginable, was extremely popular with the young ladies.  I on the other hand, had fairly good hair and relatively few pimples and in the ladies category was as awkward acting as boots on a camel when it came to interaction with the fairer sex.

Alan’s secret was he was genuinely friendly and interested in other people – possibly other female people times 10.  Fat, skinny, homely, socially inept – it did not matter to Alan.  On many occasions I would see him in animated conversation with 3 or more chubby girls no one else bothered with and this was all the time.  Even the upwardly mobile girls liked Alan.  He knew the names of every girl and most the guys in school, but there was a dark side effect to his friendliness.

A lot of guys did not like the competition and thus, Alan was a fist fighter and a danged good one.  In fact the last time I saw Alan in Canton before we moved to St. Louis, he was running toward me and his face and fists were bloody. Of course he had a wide smile on his face and as he passed, he informed me that he had been victorious.  You see, back in the day if you were caught fighting, you got “licks” by Vince, the ex-Marine Vice Principle.

Vince Thompson was about 5-4 inches tall and wielded a 4 foot paddle with holes in it, made in wood shop and especially for him by the very boys he would most likely later paddle.  Vince would 2-hand the flat instrument of correction and lift your bum clean off the ground and this is why fist fights lasted about 3 seconds.  Both sides would throw 2-4 punches and then run.  It was understood that you did not want to get caught.

What is more fun than people?  This is Alan’s big question and one that defines him and the attitude I learn more about every day.  Here is an example and try it to see the results.  Carry one dollar bills in your purse or wallet.  The next time you go through a fast food place at odd hours, give the window person a buck and thank them for being there when everyone else is sleeping.  Watch their face light up.  It’s money well spent and an investment in your fellow human.

Give a buck to your grocery checker or sacker when they look tired, or down.  Tell them thanks and I like to say, “You just made an extra dollar an hour.”  Often, they will cheer up and say, “I sure did!”  When the checker thanks me for shopping, I read their name tag and thank them by name.  When you do this, it transforms them from a faceless servant to a fellow human being.  Dale Carnegie taught me the single most important word in a person’s vocabulary is their first name and when you remember a person’s name, you make an instant connection with them.  Try it.

Alan was drafted and sent to Vietnam as an infantryman and survived.  Later in life he was diagnosed with throat cancer and couldn’t talk for a long time and survived.  Is it possible he is still just as excited about people and life in general?  Yup.  He sure is.

Recently I’ve began making house calls to repair peoples computers and aside from the fact that I actually like to repair computers, I have met some absolutely awesome people.  So much so that I’ve been invited to sit and eat with them, drink coffee, and jaw about who knows what for lengthy amounts of time.  Maybe it’s because I am retired and don’t have to meter out every single minute, or maybe it’s because I have learned what Alan has known since he was a kid.

What is more fun than people?
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Friday, November 14, 2014

Womens. Don’t underestimate em!



I’m now into 5 straight months at the gym named after the clock and yes, I know the word womens is not grammatically correct, but in a sense, it is.  All women are not the same and my reference is in this vein.  Like fishes, women can be quite diverse and well, different, but in the end, they are still very female in nature, with a certain amount of tenacity that confounds men in general.

The older I get, the more I appreciate their persistence and individuality and I can say that and still basically retain my caveman man-card.  A man-card is a delicate thing at best I reluctantly admit.  Women instinctively know this and we buffoons who carry them, blindly believe we have womens buffaloed… well we don’t and they tolerate us with a generous amount of levity and leeway.

I got my man-card nearly revoked this past Tuesday when I sat my ample rear man parts on the skinny seat of a “spinner” exercise bike at the gym.  It was my second encounter with this heinous and ingeniously designed torture device and I foolishly thought “this time” would be easier.  It wasn’t and the reason is the Spinning instructor - a slim woman in every respect (except for her muscular thighs) is a danged-burned sadist.  Yea, I said it.

Now, this last statement is open for interpretation and probably not the consensus of the “weaker sex” in the class, but I’m telling the truth when I say that she yells out commands pretty much like R. Lee Ermey in the movie “Full Metal Jacket” and she does it with a sweet countenance and smile – which doesn’t fool me one durned bit.

“UP!” she screams and in the mirrors, I see all the womens rise up on their pedals and begin to pump with reckless agonizing abandon.  Hey!  I’m good for the first session of “10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-3-2-2-1!” and I plop down on the seat only to realize with emasculating  horror that the “1” is being held for 10 seconds and all the womens are still up and pumping with mindless zombie giggly enjoyment!

The instructor remains sweat-less and in what can only be described as super human estrogen exertion, pumping her muscular thighs like she is on effortless vacation.  I stare at the floor and I see a growing puddle of…water?  Why didn’t they clean this up before I came?  Who left all this salty water here?  It’s a total tapestry of injustice!

“UPPPP!  MORE!  YOU CAN DO IT! (and then the kicker)  I LOVE YOU!”  I love you?  What?  She doesn’t love me.  I don’t feel any love.  Nope; none at all.  Wait.  My fellow peddlers are all grinning.  Yeah, they feel the love.  I don’t.  I don’t get it.  “Why am I here?  Why did I come here today?  Did my Bride do this to me?   Yes, she’s also grinning.  Did she coerce me?  Am I still sane?  What is the meaning of life?  Am I a Democrat?”  So many confusing questions and all I see is the fog of estrogen rolling over me.

My mind is cloudy. I have “gym-brain”.  Gym-brain, that elusive narcotic state of induced endorphins, where a person truly believes they are rational and walk around in the gym like an extra on the Walking Dead TV show… and I keep peddling.  I cannot fail here.  After all, I am in the company of the weaker sex, right?  I need to man-up and I do, but my masculine backside doesn’t leave the seat, even though all the spandex in the room rises to the commands of the instructor.  Certain portions of my anatomy are now so numb I wonder if I am being skewered.

I close my eyes and pedal furiously.  I’ll catch up.  Yea, I am still in the race.  I have an ace in my pocket these womens don’t have.  I have bulging man-muscles and lots of them.  I’ll power past them and they know it and I know it.  Meanwhile the puddle of water is growing below my bike and I suddenly have an ugly epiphany and it’s not a happy one.

It’s not my fault that I am sweating more than everyone else.  It’s hotter over here.  For some stupid reason, the two fans are pointed more towards the womens than me.  If I had the cool wind they have, I could ride in the same easy comfort.  What, my 20 ounces of water is gone from my water bottle?  The danged weak bottle must have sprung a leak and that is why the floor is so wet.  Yes, that’s it and such a simple explanation!  Whew, that’s a relief and I gather comfort from this discovery!

“UPPPPP”!  What tha?  Again?  Doesn’t she realize we live on the Gulf Coast and there are no hills here?  Is she from Idaho or something?  There is a distinct smell of moldy potatoes in the gym.  What about coasting?  How come there is no coasting in this spin class?  I don’t get it.  My gym-brain is swinging all over the pace as I try to convince myself that I am still in the race.  I am, right?

You’re danged right I am and as the instructor tells us we are finished, I look around and smile.  I can do this and the ladies are gracious enough to not point out that I am as wet as a whale, as I mop the “spill” on the floor with my towel.  “I’ll show them next week what a real man can do.”
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Friday, November 07, 2014

The Fickle Finger of Fate


Fate; the predisposition or predetermination of our life, or what some say is inevitability in or on our path.  “It is what it is and you can’t change it Becky.” 

I don’t buy it.  Not completely anyway.  I’m sorry if you do, but I just can’t; just like I don’t believe no matter what I do, I am going to step in that hot blob of grape bubble gum in the Ug-Lee’s Boudin parking lot.  For reasons I won’t bore you with, I simply believe a whole lot of my life is in my own hands.  If I put myself in harm’s way, why would I be surprised it that limb smacks me in the mouth? 

Sure, that fellow in the bright yellow lifted Ford F-250 running a red light is a very real threat, but does that mean I can’t avoid it, or that no matter where I am, I will get t-boned by one of many distracted guys because fate would make me drive to a particular intersection? 

Uh, no.  No. Nope.  However, when I am stopped by a train, or miss my turn-off, I have often thought it might just be the work of the Lord to keep me from harm’s way, so maybe I believe in fate more than I am willing to admit.

There is not a single day goes by that my macabre 6th sense of mortality doesn’t question me if this is THE day.  I blame it on my years of “Do” training - the way of the warrior.  You see, way back when, when I began learning how to defend myself, I began practicing a method to keep myself from harm’s way.  “What?  You didn’t train to stomp the innards out of people?”  That is partially correct, but the truth is the path I chose was one of self-defense and in martial arts, this, to me, is the most honorable.

I won’t please many MMA followers when I say that I view mixed martial arts contests the same way I view cock and pit-bull fights and with the same lack of admiration.  Mixed martial arts have turned martial arts training into a vulgar form of entertainment reminiscent of throwing Christians to the lions or gladiators hacking each other to death.

There is no “Do”; no way of the warrior.  The Do of martial arts is a balance, a Yin-Yang of good and bad.  Fighting and healing.  If you know how to hurt someone, you MUST know how to heal them.  Bruce Lee was and still is the consummate example of martial arts fighting, but there is so much more to the man, than the guy who does a flying side kick in the current commercial.

Bruce Lee was a calligrapher, had a keen knowledge of healing herbs, an expansive library of books…and was a champion ChaCha dancer.  He had balance in his physical and spiritual training and skills everyone envied, but suddenly died by misadventure when he took medicine for a headache.  Was it fate or an accident?  I don’t know and I don’t care.  He lived life to the fullest until something happened to end it.

I want to live like that and I’ll be danged if it is something stupid that I could have avoided ends it all and thus my method of self-preservation.  It’s why I actually stop at a red light before turning right, or look both ways 3 times before entering an intersection.  It may also be the reason I’ve never caused a car wreck.  I don’t rubber neck because I don’t want to wreck.

I was actually the back seat passenger in a car one time where the driver was so caught up in his own story-telling and looking over the back of seat that he hit a kid on a bicycle.  Of the 4 people in the car, I was the only one who saw the kid, who incidentally was bumped off the side of the road along with his bike and rolled to safety.  We stopped of course, after the driver loudly questioned, “What was that?”

“It was a kid on a bike and you just hit him,” I loudly exclaimed and his wife, who was also in the front seat, but not watching the road, began to scream.  “What should I do?” he cried out.  “Turn around and lets go help him,” I commanded.  In the driver’s defense, the kid had suddenly rode out into the lane, but he never saw the kid one way or the other.  Was it fate or just distracted driving?

In today’s relaxed take on everything a whole lot of people blame fate for their own miserable consequences.  Like one guy I know who got his 4th DWI and failed in his effort to buy off the judge (the first 3 times he was successful with $10,000).  His response in front of us was this:  “I don’t have a drinking problem, I am just unlucky.  Everyone else is doing it and I get caught.”  On any given day, his car looked like it had ran the Baja race.

Fate or bad luck or both?  Yea, sure.  I guess I do believe a little bit in fate, but in the meantime, I am going to continue on the path of my Do training to keep my body safe.  Note, this column does not include my spiritual training and that is a whole ‘nother level deserving it’s own 900 words.



Friday, October 31, 2014

Mutants, Creeps, and Monsters!



 At first glance, you may think this Halloween day column is about the White House and the current administration, but it is not.  It’s not for one reason and one reason only – although there is a direct correlation, it wouldn’t be fun.  Accurate yes, fun no.

There’s nothing funny about what is coming out of Washington, not that I can tell.

Way back in 1965 when I was 13 wonderful years old, there were two genres of movies very active on the television set.  Spies and monsters.  Of course there were westerns and family shows, but these two lines of thought were emerging and possibly peaking all within a space of about 5 years.  I Spy, Get Smart, The Avengers, Mission Impossible, The Saint, Danger Man, T.H.E. Cat and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. were hugely successful and in the dark shadows of the heinous Commies, everyone wanted our spies to outsmart their spies.

Boy has that changed.

Thanks to Edward Snowden, the good ol’ USA is now an open tome for every spy agency on earth, especially those who want to destroy our country.  My friend who retired from the Air Force’s secret intel organization, with tenure in the NSA and CIA told me what Snowden did was akin to blatant treason, hurting and crippling our country irreparably.  I guess that would brand Snowden as an extreme Hollywood creep.  Maybe we could talk Jane Fonda into playing his alter ego Chelsea Manning in his life story?  Now that is funny!  I told you this week’s column would be humorous.

When I was 13, I would watch those many monster movies, shivering in my dark room, scared senseless and love/hate every second of it.  Frankenstein’s monster, the werewolf, Dracula, The creature from the black lagoon, and the Mummy to name a few.

One in particular took place in snow country where a woman scientist was taking injections of wasp venom to preserve her youth and as a 13 year old; I never saw it coming when she disappeared only to attack people looking for her, mutated as a human-size waspish insect.  Horrors!

Today’s equivalent of a real life monster  is when you have your taxes did and realize you owe $1100 or that mutant sprinkler head in your yard jumped your water bill to $452.79!  Aside from real criminals and deviants, life’s hardships are the real monsters we face.  Of course they are and like the wasp woman I experienced as a 13 year old, we never saw them coming.

Life’s hardships are the opposite of fun, funny, or anything involving a smile, unless it is Joe Biden’s glorious mug.  Old Joe can light up a dark room like a jack-o'-lantern!  His grin brings me Halloween hope in fact.

My siblings and I on Halloween night would venture out into the neighborhoods - unchaperoned mind you - carrying doubled brown paper grocery sacks, or a pillowcase and return within an hour to dump out our full sacks of ghoulish candy, only to rush out for a second go.  There were no cars on the streets because people knew kids would be dashing back and forth and back then, common sense ruled.  The real danger wasn’t pedophiles, it was cars and it still is today.

We wore homemade costumes using whatever we could come up with and it was the happiest of times.  We were monsters, mutants, creeps, pirates – or maybe a combination of all of them and ate every bit of candy we were given without parent intervention or second thought.  Sugar was cheap and many people handed out candy bars or whole handfuls of sweet deliciousness.

In today’s world of creepy ultra-phobias, it is a much wiser choice to take your kids to your local church or friends only houses for their safe Halloween fun, then run the risk of them being ran over by someone in their car worrying a pedophile is going to get their kids.  There are so many cars parked on neighborhood streets at night that they are reduced to one lane of traffic only and with kids darting back and forth, it’s a recipe for a disaster.

I would love to return to that one day in time I anxiously waited for, beat out only by Christmas, but that time has come and went.  Back then the mutants, creeps, and monsters were portrayed by Vincent Price and Bela Lugosi.  Now all I have to do is watch the news.  Happy Halloween folks and this year get out and walk with your kids.  It will do you both good.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Songbird Meadows Bed & Breakfast review



I have little experience with Bed & Breakfast abodes.  I want to say that from the onset.  I do however know when I am being pampered - and pampered I like.  Back 4 months ago I retired from a job that had me working 60 to 80 hours a week for the last 37 years. 

We arrived on a typical Tuesday afternoon, driving in from Baytown, Texas, fighting the Houston traffic and all wired up.  In fact, I was still internally wired up from all those years of working overtime on a chemical plant.

This is the perfect place to take your Bride and baby her and this readily apparent from the moment we arrived.  There are three quaint cabins and each are situated in such a manner as to give the occupants privacy and the feeling they are alone in a most peaceful setting.  My beautiful Bride of 37 years and I wasted no time after arriving in the afternoon, to hike the trails on the property, discovering all the unique bird watching stations and places of prayer.  We needed to get the blood flowing after all that driving.


It is very obvious that a tremendous amount of effort has gone into making this bed and breakfast a sanctuary for weary souls.  They even have a place in the woods where you can throw old china against a backstop to relieve stress.  We relieve stress by hiking.

Our cabin was the Hummingbird Hideaway and of course, I ordered the Romance package!  The interior of the cabin is beautifully and efficiently laid out with every possible amenity and although we used it sparingly, as we are geocachers – spending every waking moment hiking in Pedernales Falls State Park, or scouring the countryside for geocaches, it was comfy and very much welcomed at the end of the day.

In fact, when you stay there, you will fall in love with the cabin and dream of owning one like it.


Breakfast is delivered each morning by the hostess in a large basket and placed on the front porch and even I can see that the presentation is top shelf.  In fact, I can’t say I’ve eaten a more delicious breakfast in a long time.  Each morning we relaxed on the front porch, drinking coffee, and watching the deer browse around in the lower meadow.  Each evening I sat by the large campfire and read my email on my laptop.

Let me say something about the owners.  They are non-intrusive, but available at the drop of a hat.  Unlike many places you could stay, they really want you to unwind and recover, especially if you have experienced grief in your life.

The host and hostess and my wife and I share the losses of our sons due to the Iraq/Afghanistan war and when I arrived, I brought them a copy of the portrait of their son, painted by famed Baytown artist, Ken “the Dauber” Pridgeon.  The original hangs in his the portrait of a warrior art gallery in Baytown, Texas.  http://www.portraitofawarrior.org/

The 3 days flew by so fast, it was as if we took a micro vacation, but with magnum results.  My fast-pace life could use a dose of this place once a month and then maybe, just maybe, I could slow down a bit.  I rate this wonderful experience excellent on every level.

Songbird Meadows Bed & Breakfast is located 1022 Stanton Ranch Loop, P.O. Box 1532
Johnson City, TX, 78636, United States  GPS coordinates: N30 14.001  W098 22.193  info@songbirdmeadowsbb.net  830.868.2468   http://www.songbirdmeadowsbb.net/



Saturday, October 25, 2014

Don’t Mess With… Baytown?




 When our esteemed Mayor DonCarlos said Baytown has a litter problem, I took it with a grain of empty plastic water bottle.  Its not like I didn’t believe him, I just didn’t think it was the mentality of many people to litter in 2014.  Not in Baytown anyway.  Didn’t we stop doing that, like, 30 years ago?

Well.  Shut the front door; he was right.  It’s not like I don’t trust his judgment; I do.  Heck, I voted for him as Mayor at least 10 times so far, maybe more now that I think about it.  It’s just that until I experienced it first hand, I had no idea it was anything more than stuff blowing out of the back of a pick-em-up truck, or maybe a shopping cart.

I remember when he said it I saw a bunch of trash in the field south of Home Depot and told myself trash and litter was relegated to places like this – and why didn’t the store owners clean it up?  I can say this and not be self-righteous and that statement right there stinks of self-righteousness doesn’t it – but it’s true just the same.

This year alone, I’ve participated is 7 trash bashes.  The city had a big one at Bergeron Park on the 18th, but I was at an event in Livingston (and yes, we picked up trash) and missed it and the Baytown Photo club has about 4 a year out on Tri-City Beach Road.  By the way, I need to attend the next one.  Heck, I even went over to Beaumont to attend what Geocachers call a CITO, or Cache In Trash Out event and picked up trash on 2 miles of highway there.  So am I being self righteous when I get miffed over tossed garbage?

I can’t say for sure if that giggly happy fellow in the Facebook photos at the Bergeron Park clean-up was Scott Sheley, but it probably was.  I didn’t see any donuts though, so maybe not.  Picking up other peoples trash is hard work and requires stamina and thus the donuts, kolaches, and of course – Gatorade or some other high-powered salty drink.  I’m a BRAWNDO man myself, because it has electrolytes, so an army of trash picker uppers deserve their food.

I’ve come to the conclusion that trashy people with no conscience or ecological awareness are those who unroll their car or truck window and throw out that great big bag of fast food refuse.  They might also belong to the same group who chug a bottle of Thunderbird or a half-pint of Old Granny and toss it onto the spanking new Blue Heron Parkway median.

Because I walk it with one or two empty grocery bags and pick up the constant resupply of litter, I know for a certainty that it is NOT the many people texting as they drive that I observe, as they simply don’t have enough hands to toss trash while they mindlessly peck away on their Smartphones that often are as large as a Whataburger samich was 30 years ago.

Until I saw the daily water bottles, food wrappers, beer cans and (gasp) a used condom on the trail around the detention pond at Blue Heron Park and the long trail running behind Chaparral Village, I thought it was only refuse blowing out of cars.  Now I know otherwise.  What perplexes me the most is that health conscious rational thinking people, walking for exercise, would casually drop their water bottles, only to see them the next day and drop more.

Kathy Nelson is a Board member of Keep Baytown Beautiful and has contacted me.  Their mission is to work within our community to strive for excellence in making Baytown a cleaner, brighter place to live and play.  I like this and there is hardly a day goes by that I don’t pick up trash in this town, so I fit in with this philosophy real good.

The bottom line is trashy people dump their trash on the ground everywhere they go and those of us that don’t like to live in filth, pick it up.  If you are a person who throws everything out the window of your car, please stop it.  Thank you.
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Friday, October 17, 2014

Baytown Walks. Wait! What?




I grew up playing outdoors, unlike what is commonly accepted as normal child activity  today.  Being hyper was unheard of; we were boys.  Baseball, football, whiffleball, Army – we played Army almost every day.  We were the baby boomers, being born after World War Two and the Korean conflict.  Of course we had toy guns and a lot of times, we had sticks that in our vivid imaginations were machine guns.  We shot a lot of imaginary enemies of our country and many times, were wounded or killed.

My 3 brothers and I spent untold hours on long hikes in the woods, often staying gone from my Mom’s scrutiny for hours – or we rode our bicycles and would many times chalk up 10 mile adventures.  We would climb trees and when our body weight over-powered the tall plant, we would hang on and ride the tree to the ground before letting go.  This was our entertainment.  Its what we did to entertain ourselves.

We would find a brick wall and one would bat, while the other threw a rubber ball at the strike zone or we would find a circular track and ride our bikes around it 100 times or more simulating a race track competition.  One summer in Woodstock, Georgia, we camped out in the wooded section behind our house for over a month, only using the house for the toilet, a meal, or the occasional shower.  We loved staying outdoors and it was plenty hot, wet, or cold all of the time.

I’ve lived in my present house for 22 years and with a large track of woods behind it, I’ve never seen kids playing there, so yes, times have changed from the ancient times of my childhood.  Thank the big man in the sky, that is about to change again.  Boomers are once again coming out of their houses and… walking.  Maybe, just maybe, it will include kids and teens.  The Blue Heron Park Trail has about 2.5 miles (estimate) of 10-foot wide sidewalk for us to bang our feet upon and it has a lot of activity and it is just one of the many trails our city has built for us Baytownians.

Thanks to Scott Johnson’s strong leadership and Sonja Payne, we now have a Baytown Walks program and I am pleased to say we had a good turn-out on its first day.  Baytown for many years was a very hostile place for hikers, bikers, and walkers, lacking even a modest number of sidewalks, let alone walking trails.  This has changed, but there is more work to be done and more wide sidewalks are needed.

We are fat, folks.  There is no sense in denying it.  We need to get off our rumps and walk.  What, you’re not fat?  Good for you.  No go outside and start walking.  Sweat all you want, but walk anyway and while you’re at it, bring a plastic garbage bag and pick up a little trash while you’re sweating.  All that bending over will work wonders for that soon to develop six-pack and make the city look cleaner at the same time.

Speaking of making the city look better, I confirmed with a city employee that the proliferation of signs being stuck at every intersection advertising “Repairing credit for $250” and another that “Buys Homes Fast” are illegal signs, so feel free to remove and recycle them in your green can.  They are litter, nothing more.

The city has an OAP (overall plan) to connect all of our trails together in the future and I for one applaud it.  The sooner the better and every dime spent on it is an investment in our city’s future and our personal health.  I am anxiously awaiting the trail expansion and fourth bridge across Cary Bayou in Walter Jenkins Park.  I’ve put a bug in Dustin Schubert’s ear to certify the trail at 5000 meters so people will come to Baytown to train for long distance running.  The area behind the dog park could be a spaghetti trail with elevation changes in that would make a runner’s mouth water.

And speaking of water, let’s get that kayak launch point on Cary Bayou at JC Holloway Park!  The new launch point at the Baytown Nature Center is awesome!


Friday, October 10, 2014

Our Wonder-filled Sky



This is Baytown Bert in Baytown, Texas and this is Podcast 017

As far back as I can remember, I’ve turned my eyes toward the heavens, both literally and spiritually and I guess that’s one reason I got up this past Wednesday to watch the lunar eclipse and the awesome phenomenon known as the blood moon.  I saw it at full eclipse and it was indeed reddish in color.
 
Baytown photographer Carl Schier
I remember being 11 years old and living in Dundee Michigan like it was yesterday.  We lived on a farm with tall corn growing out around us for miles.  Much like in the movie:  Signs”.  The only real view besides the corn was straight up and I would lay in a small depression in the grassy front yard and stare at the giant cumulonimbus cloud formations.  They would move and transform into identifiable shapes of peoples faces and animals.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I was developing my imagination skills, which later in life have helped me write about my experiences.

I owned a refractive telescope and I would try in vain to keep it focused on the moon.  Over the years I’ve spent hours watching the sky at work, or looking at the stars while camping.  On the desktop of my computer is a vivid photograph of the moon in all its glory taken by Baytown photographer Carl Schier.  He posted it on Facebook and I just knew I wanted to see it often.  I find the heavens… fascinating. 

Every so often a comet will appear, never to be seen again in our lifetime and most folks I talk to, including family members have no interest in it.  I remember watching the comet Hale-Bopp in 1995 and Hyakutake a year later and each night, binoculars in cupped fists, I would stare at them in wonder.  My family came out the first night at my insistence, yawned, and went back in the house, apparently bored by the whole thing.

The 2 years I spent in the Big SkyCountry of Montana rewarded me one night with a reflective display of the Northern Lights and each night with the Milky Way.  Incidentally, if you haven’t seen the MilkyWay, it is terribly majestic and truly amazing – not amazing like seeing a squirrel ride a skateboard, but awesome in the truest sense of the word.  At first observation, it looks like high clouds, but on closer examination, it is, what it is, trillions of stars – trillions.
 
Baytown photographer Carl Schier mars moon
My brother, son, and his two boys were camping out near Austin a number of years ago and it was very late.  We laid under the stars on sleeping bags and watched the satellites orbit the earth… then one turned and went the other direction.  The unidentified object literally stopped and went another direction.  It was a celestial phenomenon – like all the others.

For some time before I retired, I would watch the International Space Station orbit pattern on the Internet and announce to my coworkers when it would pass over us, usually around 0415 in the morning.  On occasion, a few guys would join me in the back of the Plant where it was quite dark and using the projected data, I would point in the sky as the clock ticked down.  As if by magic, it would appear and logic would dictate you could watch it, horizon to horizon, but that is not the case.

Sometimes it would appear almost over our heads and be visible for only 15 seconds, traveling at 17,500 miles per hour, give or take.  Everyone would remark how amazing it was, but most would only make the trip once.  Other times, I would walk into the control room and ask if anyone has seen the planet Jupiter.  “No?  Well, follow me; it’s in plain sight just outside, right besides Mars and the moon.”  Often, no one would bother to go outside.

My friend and fellow sky gazer Ruthie Ames sums it up best.  She loves the outdoors and often posts photos on Facebook of her kayaking in some remote place.


“I've always felt closer to the earth than the things we manufacture from it. When I was four or five years old I remember my grandparents dragging our mattress out and laying it in the middle of the backyard out by the clothesline. We would lie there in the dark looking up at the stars. I remember us quietly talking, sometimes giggling or laughing about a joke that was shared. But mostly just getting lost in that black sky with all those stars. My grandmother would tell me stories; some of them true some of them fanciful, Some of them in between. I remember noticing as the warm night began to turn chill and my little nightgown started to get damp from the creeping dew. It smelled so wonderful being close to the grass and my grandmother's garden of vegetables and herbs. There were lemon trees and fig tree's and peach trees that made a wonderful perfume that swirled around and made a kind of potion with the oil and grease smell of the nearby train. ... And like magic, every morning I awoke safe and warm in my bed.”
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