Friday, February 27, 2015

Oh Mr. Blues, please go away

About 20 years ago, I self-diagnosed a condition caused by the lack of exposure to the sun.  I had no idea there was an actual name for it.  All I knew was when the sun didn’t brighten my eyes for a couple of days; everything took on a dull and gray appearance reflected in my attitude.

Way back in 1971 when I was stationed in Great Falls, Montana and serving the US Air Force, I went through two long winters.  That is when I first noticed this gloomy condition called S.A.D. now known as seasonal affective disorder and then the real kicker came; it usually affects women.  Can’t I get a break here?

With the continued absence of warm rays, I become sullen and unproductive.  All it takes to snap me back is for a bright ray of sunshine to poke through the clouds and I am instantly cheerful.  Simply knowing that the sun is out is enough to make me happy and I love to go out in the heat of the day and exercise.  “Good day sunshine!”

“I need to laugh and when the sun is out
I've got something I can laugh about
I feel good in a special way
I'm in love and it's a sunny day”

There are other triggers that boost my mental well being though, thank goodness.  The good Lord knows a warm church service can boost my spirit and it does.  We have an aspiring young minister named Tuan who delivered the message this past Sunday that is still bouncing around inside me.

About a week ago, right in the middle of some grayness, Mr. and Mrs. V of KPFT’s radio program “Blues on the move” came by the house.  They are a delightful couple to visit with and my friend Buddy “Love” Brewer recommended I repair their computer and I did.  That was a bright light in a dull week.  Mrs. V has a very infectious laugh.

The gym named after the clock remains my mainstay to fight the blues though.  Karate, running, and general exercise has always been a big part in my mental health.  If you believe you are too old to start working out, let me say this about senior citizens and the gym.  In the morning, it is quite possible that the bulk of the people there are over 40 and some near 80 or older.  Yea, that’s right.  Old people exercising to keep what they got.

It is a myth that you can go through life pain free and when you get old, you will suddenly rein in and die.  The truth is, you begin getting painful signals early on and they just get worse until you need surgery and a ton of pain meds.  Exercise does more than build muscle.  It gets the blood flowing.  It increases your lung capacity and if you do load bearing exercise, it thwarts osteoporosis.

All those years I put in at the Plant didn’t stop me from losing one inch of height and when I discovered I was no longer 5-11, I knew I must begin lifting weights or continue to lose bone mass.

“We take a walk, the sun is shining down
Burns my feet as they touch the ground”

Aside from the fact that the exercise releases a hormone akin to an opiate to stave off pain, there is an actual gym culture or mentality amongst the exercisers.  One of the best known people who visit there is a sunshine fellow named Joe.  Everyone knows Joe and Joe knows them.  Joe’s my friend and I jokingly tell him he needs at minimum a 3 hour workout just so he can make his rounds.  It’s actually true though.

One of my favorite people to talk to is a retired educator named Al.  Al’s a most interesting man and up in years.  Al comes in using a 4-footed cane and usually hits the stationary bike before using the resistance machines.  I dearly love chatting with him and like Joe, a ray of sunshine to me.

I get tips on working out from Michelle, who I call Michelle Fitness.  Her fitness blog is here:  I do believe she is one of the strongest people in that gym and I’ve seen her lift weight most men wouldn’t attempt.  As I’ve said before, don’t joke about women being the weaker sex, especially at the gym.  You will just let everyone know you are either ignorant, bigoted, or a jerk, or maybe all three.

The biggest mood booster I do every week, regardless of rain or shine is the Spin class.  It is 45 minutes of stationary cycling and burns 600-800 calories. Throw in the 15 minute pre-cycle we do to get ready to stand on the pedals or sprint and you have one plus hour of heavy cycling.  Must I say it is about 95% female dominated?  Most men take one look at the class, shake their head, and say, “Heck no!”

The subsequent effect of this exhausting exercise is a feeling of well-being that lasts the rest of the day.  Our instructor‘s name is Page and she is a drill sergeant with a smile and a pixie haircut.  When two people left the class early this past Wednesday, I jokingly told her she had killed them off.

S.A.D. affects a lot of men and women and there are things we can turn to, to relieve the symptoms besides over-eating, which all of us do time to time.  When it comes to the Blues, the only ones I want in my life are the type that come from Mr. and Mrs. V’s radio program.

* Lyrics Good Day Sunshine – The Beatles

Friday, February 20, 2015

Give me a break!

 I am a news junkie.  There I said it.  I am positive I am not alone in my addiction and my compulsion is jading me against humanity.  I jump from the Drudge Report to Google News ten times a day unless I am at the gym, hiking in the woods, or geocaching.  I have to get away from “the news” to clear my head.

I can’t get mental escape in my Jeep driving anywhere within 30 miles of Houston or Baytown, as I want to survive the experience.  Navigating the congested traffic, aggressive drivers, distracted motorists, and the many inexperienced drivers is akin to watching the news as far as stress is concerned.

Now, thanks to a group of lemming idiots controlling what we get to see and read, I am going to be forced to watch Bruce Jenner go “all freaky” for the next (insert some long amount of time here).  It’s bad enough to watch yet another arch-villainous group try to take over the world (Mongols, Nazi’s, Commies, Al Qaeda – the list stretches back, back, back, like Charles Barkley pushing his way toward the basket).

Does anyone honestly believe that we are going to have a say over who runs for the next President of the United States?  Really (I think I see a hand being raised in the back of the room)?

On one side we have a government who is out to circumvent the bulk of the Constitution, giving the greatest share of our blessings to people who aren’t even citizens and came into this country illegally, while on the other, a second group who are going to supposedly fix it.  To be perfectly frank, I think there is only one group.  The Democrats bashed GWB ad nauseum, then continued to do the same thing his administration did AND spend even more money that we don’t have.

The Presidents approval rating is falling like a blind roofer and what does he and his bride do to lift it?  You got it.  They spent an estimated 2.5 million dollars so Michelle and girls could ski in Aspen like the rest of us folks and he could play 3 days of golf at an exclusive resort in California.  Oh, that must be Fox News reporting that, right?  No, it was our British friends who reported this extravagance.

Why can the elite in government take giant vacations fairly often and those of us who earn 6 figures can’t?  Easy.  They are totally subsidized by… us!  Oh wait a second!  When the Republicans get in charge, all of this will come to a halt!  Don’t wager on it.  Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

You know, it didn’t take me long in retirement to figure out that our government has a plan to strip you of every cent you earned to get here.  We are taught that easy street was where you went after years of saving and toiling and you will be home free.  Sorry, just like the notion that our government is by the people and for the people, it is an illusion.  The government is a cancer that has grown to the point that it IS the body and it feeds off of the rest that is left, namely us.  Feed me, Seymour!

We are bombarded with bad news, beheadings, mass stripping of our rights for the purpose of protecting us, dangerous robberies, extreme weather, shootings, rioting, and terror to the point that we accept being herded like cattle.  Now we learn the Jews are fleeing Europe, like rodents leaving a sinking ship.  The way the news presents it, the militant ISIS is swarming everywhere like locusts and the approaching cloud is just about unstoppable.

As I’ve said before, I am sick of it.  I am weary of hearing that the answer is to send troops to the Middle East to train troops to stand up and fight.  My God, how many times does this have to fail in my lifetime before we realize it won’t work this time?  How many times do we have to send Chuck Norris or Rambo over there?  Where the heck is George Patton?   

The only viable answer to this radical religious killing movement is for the non-radical Muslims to squash it.  Everyone else step back and let them deep-six the blood thirsty misguided murderers.  Otherwise, you are going to see the militarization of vigilantes and they won’t be discriminate.  You will have self-appointed terrorist-killers loose on the world’s streets killing anyone they think is a radical.  Germany is already headed this way and we all know Germany’s history.

I’ll continue to keep one eye glued on the news, but find my real pleasure in Spin class, or pushing and pulling weights at the gym named after the clock.  I find the endorphin release is my antidote for all the bad news.  For the last 3 weeks, I’ve been deep in the East Texas woods with others, racking up 12-14 mile hikes and I have another one Saturday.  Out there my only concern is a big feral hog and that is something tangible I am prepared to deal with.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The long path to responsibility

I was 8 years old and thought I knew just about anything about everything, or maybe vice versa.  I really didn’t know all that much, looking back.  I was an awful lot like most 8 year old kids today.  The only real difference is I started working for money at about this age.

Now, if your memory is good, you will remember I’ve written in the past about sacking groceries at the age of 14.  That’s true too, but at 8, I and another boy had a shoe shine business in Long Beach, California.  His name was David Bradshaw and both us had lost our 2 front teeth at the same time and could spit between them, like professional spitters.

David and I became blood brothers.  One day, David produced a pocket knife and we both cut our thumbs and mixed blood, marking us as kin from that day forward.  I can’t remember the logistics of it, but to make money we assembled a shoe shine kit of black and brown polish, a couple of brushes and rags.  The idea was to go door to door, shining shoes for 5 cents per leather.

We made a tidy sum the many times we did it and spent it all on big delicious candy bars, which were 5 cents a piece.  My favorite was a bar called a Hollywood.  It looked like a modern day Zero bar, but had a lot of nougat in it.  When you think of nougat, think of a white chocolate bar mixed with Bit-O-Honey… totally delicious.

Dad, Bert, & Mom
My mom was a stern accountant of allowances and she kept a Gestapo certified list inside the pantry of who did chores and who didn’t.  My 4 siblings and I were held accountable and by golly come Friday, we expected payment.  And we got it.  She was fair and honest and exact.  If one of those squares didn’t have a mark in it, whoever the offender was got docked.

By the time each of got old enough to be actually getting a paycheck - I was 14 and my younger brother 13 – she docked us one third of our bring home monies for room and board.  We didn’t know it, but she was teaching us to be responsible adults.  Did we resent it?  Yea, at first, but her reasoning was sound.  “Your dad toils and turns over his whole check.  You are not going to keep everything you make for yourself”.

What could we say to that?  Nothing, so we simply worked harder and more so we could make more for ourselves.  I wanted my own stereo, so I bought it.  I wanted my own black and white “portable” 13 inch TV, so I bought it.  I wanted a Schwinn Varsity 10-speed bike, so I worked more and paid for it.  My parents supplied my needs, not necessarily my wants.  My dad worked hard as a tool and die maker and often took a second job after hours to make ends meet.

We took adventure vacations in State parks, or looking for fossils and geodes.  We hiked, climbed, fished, hunted, but I don’t remember going to many amusement parks.  I don’t remember feeling neglected or abused though.  I learned to make my own adventures.  I learned about the woods and that I could eat grubs if I was in a starving situation.  I learned from my mom about values and ethics and how to treat a woman.

I learned my work ethic from both parents and that anything worth having is worth working for.  My parents didn’t award me for mundane achievements.  There wasn’t a whole lot of “love you’s” and sympathy when one of us fell or was hurt.  We were advised to “suck it up” and “it will feel better when it stops hurting” instead, but I never felt unloved or abused.  It was what it was.

One by one as we hit the age of 18, all of us pushed off to find our own way.  I left to serve my country right out of high school, as did my older sister and only stayed with my parents for a month when four years later I got back to Baytown.  I got my first and second check from Brown and Root working at Bayer and my mom collected one third of my check – just like before.

My wife and opted for a traditional American family, where the husband worked a job, and mom raised the kiddos and we have never regretted it.  When our expenses grew, I started cutting grass and working at the Plant.  I did that for over ten years, often cutting 15-18 yards a week.

Marty Goldman asked if I would watch over his carwash on Alexander Drive and once or twice a day, I would come by and empty the cans and wash out the bays.  Many a time I would do this after working a 12-hour shift at the Plant and continued to clean it for 12 years.

It wasn’t until I was about 50 years old that I realized my work ethic wasn’t shared with a lot of others in my peer group.  Oh well, I am a product of my parents teachings and it has brought me a good and comfortable life.  Looking back to my 8 short years of knowledge, I now realize I still don’t know a whole lot about a whole lot and I have more studying to do.  I am by far not even close to stopping though and of course, there’s work to do yet.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Beating a dead horse?

 We are really in for it.  “It” being what Baytown is to become in our near future.

I think its time to remind folks that this sleepy little tri-settlement is no more.  Back in 1974 when I made Baytown my home, a person could exit the tunnel on this side of the ship channel and not see a single light until the Holiday Inn close to Texas Avenue came into sight.  Not a single light bulb was burning, because it was out in the country.

In this same area, there will soon be a flyover heading onto Highway 99 and a second bridge over Cedar Bayou.  Below the second bridge will be a large barge terminal that no one here wanted.  Thank you Sammy Mahan for setting me straight on this.   I saw it as jobs for Baytownians and not as something that would lower the standard of those who live nearby.

My answer then (after attempts failed to stop the building of the terminal) was to hold the city’s feet to the fire to force environmental, sound-abatement, and aesthetic concessions. 

I was against banning of cigarette smoking inside bars and food establishments after they were forced to put in mega-expensive ventilation systems to accommodate non-smokers.  I was against removing the red light cameras and still am, but other than getting a laugh out of smoking out the Madalyn Murray O’Hair of red light cameras, I accepted it.

The next big thing I didn’t vote for was the expansion of the Blue Heron Parkway.  I felt like my fellow citizens let us local folks down by voting for a useless road through our woods, just so people could drive to Sjolander Road.  What?  “Why would anyone want a shortcut there”, was my reasoning.

Turns out it was a lot of people, me included.  I was wrong – but, I hounded my councilman and the city to do the very thing I suggested they do with the barge terminal - force environmental, sound-abatement, and aesthetic concessions.  No luck on sound abatement, but wow!  It is beautiful and with the hike and bike trails and the awesome-looking detention/retention pond, it is a real eye pleaser.

We planted 55 trees and will probably plant 55 more when the money becomes available and the trails and road are heavily used.  So it turns out this giant negative was actually a positive.  Now I can’t say that the barge terminal will be a positive, but don’t give up on making it appear and sound acceptable.  Just don’t stop forcing those concessions.

When it comes to making our city leaders accountable, there is no such thing as beating a dead horse.  It’s been my personal experience that they listen.  I have had a fantastic response from our city officials and basically because they know I actually care about Baytown.  I even got a high-five from T-Bone Schaffer when I was involved in the Baytown Concerned Citizen’s movement and to me, that was something special.

This brings us to the present serious issue of the planned Transportation Center beside Gentry Junior School.  Seeing emissions are a very big part of the complaint, a simple exhaust header could be erected behind the many parked buses with flexible hoses.  When a bus is parked and before it is started, the hose could be attached to the tail pipe and while the bus is idling, the vapors are ran through a scrubber.  This is very common in all the chemical plants and allows almost zero emissions to go to the atmosphere.

When the bus is ready to leave, they simply drive away and the hose automatically disconnects, closing itself off.  At present, every bus at Stallworth Stadium discharges exhaust to the atmosphere, so this would be an ecological improvement.

Next is noise and light abatement and with proper landscaping and noise reducing vegetation and sound absorbing panels, this could be properly negated.  The vacant view across that field being viewed as pristine is somewhat a mystery to me, but maybe to the locals it is beautiful.

The main point of this column isn’t that we should build the Transportation Center on Archer Road, but that the city is growing and there will be terrible concessions to many people who still believe they are living in the country.  They are not.  Little Pelly-Baytown-Goose Creek is no more.  We are the biggest thing east of Houston and God help us if they ever try to absorb us.

I predict that one of the next projects will be to four-lane Sjolander Road all the way to I-10 and widen Archer all the way to Garth or further.  We will see many more Hunt roads cutting across fields with many more people displaced.  Twenty years ago I heard this was going to happen and now it is.  There ain’t no more “country” in Baytown and the sooner we accept that, the quicker we can start holding the city’s feet to the fire to make the improvements appealing and most importantly, safe for residents.

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