Friday, October 30, 2015

Boogie men, costumes, & candy!

Way back yonder in the 20th century, Halloween was second only to Christmas for most kids.  Easter was number 3 when it came to getting neato stuff, if you can call copious sugar… stuff.  Sugar was cheap and parents gave us more candy on those 3 days than we got the rest of the year.

My brothers and sister would grab over-sized pillow cases for booty sacks and rush from house to house for a trick or a treat. Very often the prize was a whole candy bar too and not the puny offerings we have these days either. Candy bars were big and heavy... and delicious. I once heard my mother tell someone that I could eat my weight in candy, as I loved the stuff. I was a candy consumer, while my brother Gordon was a hoarder and a saver.  He would have candy for months and having it secreted away kept the rest of us from partaking of his loot.

With pillow cases so full they couldn’t hold more, we would rush back to the house and dump the contents on our individual beds and head back out. We lived in a suburb of Toledo, Ohio and on any street; there might be one or maybe two houses that did not hand out candy. It was a monster, pirate, or hobo character’s dream come true.

I remember one time when a lady handed each of us one of those giant individually wrapped mints with the chocolate coating. We rushed off and swapped pieces of costume and came back for seconds. She looked us over and asked if we had just been there and we blatantly denied it, wanting more of the giant candy. She dropped a Tootsie roll in each of our loot bags and this prompted my hoarder brother to retort, “Whatsa matta lady?  You outta mints?”

It was ha-ha funny to all of us and we ran off laughing and as happy as kids can be.

I can’t remember ever wearing a store-bought costume either. We made our own and used make-up for our masks. It was innocent and mischievous times where a trick wasn’t destructive or malicious. We had imaginations as big as the nighttime’s unknowns. Boogiemen were headless horsemen or a cornfield’s scarecrow coming down off its anchor and chasing us. I was 11 the first time I read Robinson Crusoe and when he rescued Friday from the cannibals, the thought of a human eating another was so traumatic, I put the book down a week.  Kids didn’t know what they now know.

At the time I am referring to, monster craze was in full swing, with Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolfman, the Addams Family and the Munsters on TV. Friday night horror theater had a host named Morgus who would lead in a scary movie. I would watch through my fingers and pull something over my face each time the horrible whatever attacked.  It was both the worst and best of times. It was scary delicious times and I miss the innocence of it.

Today’s Halloween is a weak facsimile of the days 50 years ago when my siblings and I ran unescorted through Point Place, Ohio’s streets. We knew better than to get hit by a car. Sheesh. Any kid back then knew that. Today’s kids walk in front of cars and never know they are there. How could they? They have their eyes glued 18 inches in front of them.

We can blame one our own Texans from Pasadena for killing Halloween. Ronald Clark O’Bryan poisoned his own 8 year old son with a potassium cyanide-laced Pixy Stix for insurance money. Sadly, this Candy Man from Pasadena not only committed the worst kind of heinous crime against his own child, but he ultimately killed Halloween all across the country. Since November 1st, 1974, parents are scared to death on every level and rightly so. These times have indeed changed, like Old Bob said they were.

I haven’t participated in any Halloween celebrations in about 20 years, I guess. The fun has left it for me. Back then it was simply monsters and boogie men and that was before I realized there were real monsters and boogie men out there. One of our kids can fall prey to them and that is why many civic locations and church groups stage a safer version and again, rightly so. Some things change for the better, but the Halloween of my youth is gone for good.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Is couch sitting your plan for old age?

Dick Van Dyke is 90 years old, still dances and eats a pint of ice cream every day.  One of my buddies at the gym is Al and Al is 80 give or take. He comes in 5 times a week to work out and he told me it is the secret to his longevity (that and his wife is quite a bit younger and he has to keep up with her – if you know what I mean).

Jack LaLanne finally died at the ripe age of 97. If you didn’t follow this amazing fitness pioneer, you need to look him up. Back when kids wanted to look like Charles Atlas, Jack was doing it right. In his tight jump suit, he was doing things that worked and will still work. Look up the word Burpee (exercise) on the Internet and then ask yourself if you can do ONE.

Jack LaLanne
If the answer is no, then I have good news for you.  You CAN do it, but it will take a plan and some time and some pain of sorts. The old saying of how do you eat an entire elephant comes to mind here. One bite at a time is the answer. You start with as big of a bite as you can handle and just don’t stop eating.  I have another concept to impart. Eating this elephant is going to take you a lifetime.

Like Jack did and now Dick, and Al, they move to keep moving. My pal Ren Fitts is a gym rat now after being told he was heading for a wheel chair. Does it hurt to push yourself at the gym? You better believe it does. Arthritic knees and joints scream their displeasure and we just push through it. It’s going to happen one way or the other, so why not fight against it?

The simple truth is it’s not too late to start. Did that get through? It’s not too late to start. I know. You say you have no history of exercise and you would be lost at the gym. You don’t know how to use the equipment and you would feel like a sore thumb at a coin-flipping contest. Let me think. There’s about a hundred other reasons for not going, but let’s take a look at how to get started.

Ren Fitts
Roseland, Jenkins, Blue Heron, and Emmitt Hutto Drive have good walking trails and they are free. Get a comfortable pair of shoes and go to one of these places. Your goal is to walk a 15 minute mile. When you can do this, you are ready to join a gym. I go to the one named after the clock, but there are others. The mornings are full of seniors, so that should be your target time, if possible. The evenings have the testosterone/muscles group and the place is crowded, so try to do the mornings.

Almost any person exercising will answer a question and help you with a machine, so don’t be bashful. The treadmill is a good starting place. If you start there, aim at walking at a 3.5 mph pace for one hour. When you can do that without needing a crash cart, move on to the elliptical machines in front of you. During the transition time where you worked-out on the treadmill, observed how to use this particular machine.

When you can do 30 minutes on this piece of equipment, you are ready to use the machines in front of those. You have watched many people during this time operate all of these individual machines, so now all you have to do it imitate them. At any time, you can ask one of the personal trainers (free of charge) to explain how to safely operate any of the machines. They will happily accommodate you.

You are now ready to bump up your training to a whole new level and you have a couple of options. You can hire a personal trainer to train you and train you they will. It’s not cheap though, but we are talking about your future health and fitness. Another option is the Group X classes. Spin class is intensive stationary cycling. Boot camp is anything goes and you are probably not ready for that. Strength & Body Pump is organized and intensive high repetition weight lifting. Zumba is cardio dancing and Yoga is pretzel human body twisting (I don’t do it but should). Do not fear these classes. The instructors are great and will recognize and accommodate your fitness level.

Join a gym or don’t. Exercise is more fun in a group dynamic though and you will meet interesting people who share your desire for better fitness and health. It’s your body, so take care of it and maybe, just maybe when you are 90, you will eat your daily pint of ice cream and then get up and start dancing.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Brains versus brawn, you decide!

When I was a young man, I was athletic and I didn’t realize it. I just did athletic things better than a lot of other kids. I was unusually strong also. I was the oldest of 4 sons and when I was in the 6th grade; my Dad gave me a 6 pound shot put as a gift. Living on a Michigan corn farm, I had no idea what to do with it, but I threw it around the yard, like kids did back before video games and other senseless and lazy current activities.

Ford Motor Company was embracing a new program named Punt,Pass, and Kick and like the other kids, I signed up for it at school. Now mind you, my dad was what was commonly called, a job shopper and as a tool and die maker he went where the money was and this meant we moved a lot - a whole lot. This was another reason I had no idea where I was in the athletic pecking order.

Consequently, we were the new kids on the block everywhere we went. What this means is you have no real deep connection with the kids at school and feel like a misplaced alien at every school. When the day came for the competition, I naturally wanted to chicken out, feeling like I didn’t measure up to the local kids.

My mom, in all her wonderful wisdom wouldn’t have that and forced me to go to the Dundee Michigan high school and compete. Now mind you, I was in the 6th grade and although they had categories, the grand champ would get the prized varsity jacket which truth be told would fit a 16-18 year old athlete. Well, when the scores were finalized, I beat them all and walked away with a jacket that wouldn’t fit me for 4 years.

I was shocked, but this re-enforced the idea that the way to success was to be a very good athlete. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The way to success is making very good grades in school. We moved all over the place and I never played football, but found out that I was also very good at baseball.  In Woodstock Georgia, I made the All-star roster as a shortstop. Back then kid’s dad’s coached the team and although I could catch anything that was hit my way, and throw like Ken Caminiti, my accuracy was less than what it could have been.  I simply needed better coaching and didn’t get it.

Unbelievably, I flunked the 9th grade. My acting up in English class allowed the teacher to flunk me by one point and our constant traveling made Algebra a foreign language. Well, I was of the mind that nothing really mattered except doing athletics and smoking cigarettes and being cool. Stupid times 100. The single best thing that happened to me was flunking and my decision to go to summer school. Back in 1967, it was something like $68 for the summer course and my Mom told me I had to pay for it and I did by working at the local Tastee Freeze every evening.  I think it took my paycheck for the entire summer too.

6 weeks later, I came out of the class with an A and a whole new understanding on school. 6 books on the must ready to enter college list and 6 book reports later, I realized that school was a whole lot more fun when you did your homework and actually knew the answers on the pop-tests. School is fun when you have learned to study and know the answers! What a revelation for a jock! What a revelation for any student.

I never stopped reading books after failing the 9th grade. Those kids we made fun of who were terrible at sports became our bosses. Joking and skipping classes by jocks was simply making a path that later on put us in the lowest of low jobs. That fat nerdish kid with glasses runs the bank that we borrow from. That is probably a poor example, but you get the idea.
Jocks don’t run things, it’s the nerds. It’s the Steve Job’s, Mark Zuckerberg’s, Bill Gates’, Warren Buffet’s, and Donald Trumps’ that do. The only chance an athlete has is to be an Emmitt Smith or JJ Watt – or to have the brains to get a degree along the way that can make them money when their bodies fail and they do fail more times than not.

Think about this when you are pushing your kid to excel in sports over everything else. Nerds rule. They always have; they always will. Teach your kids to read.  Teach your kids to love books. Books and their imagination will take them places no ball could ever possibly emulate.

Friday, October 09, 2015

A Texas-Sized Adventure

Back last Memorial Day, when the city of Austin was being pounded with rain and Lake Travis rose 7 feet, we had reservations to do Texas’ longest zip-line.  We decided at the last minute that it might not be the best idea to drive up there and rescheduled. It wasn’t too many days and all that water that fell in the Hill country and the Fort Worth area began to make its way down here and then we were hit by Tropical Storm Bill.

One thing has led to another and we finally called and set last Monday as our high-flying date at Lake Travis Zipline Adventures, in Volente, Texas.  They call it of all things, a 3 hour tour and it takes that amount of time to complete and fortunately you are not stranded on an island with a couple sailors, a farmer’s daughter, a millionaire… well, lets just say you are not stranded.
My Bride is fearless.

My bride has an adventurer’s spirit and at 56 she can pretty much keep up with the folks in their 20’s.  I can too, but I may show up a bit later.  Like Chuck Norris once said, “I can still run 5 miles; it just takes me a bit longer.”  She also has a bucket list.  I just have a list of geocaches I want to find.  It turns out there are geocaches at Enchanted Rock State Park and we arrived a day early.  The tricky part is each one of them is a hike or a climb, or in one case, crawling 50 feet up a crevasse in the dark.

On top of Enchanted Rock
Now we have become gym-rats and exercise with giddy abandon, so walking to the top of Enchanted Rock was nothing more than accelerated breathing for the 2 of us, but the view?  Oh my goodness.  No wonder Native Americans felt like this was hallowed ground. The air is so clean and with the low humidity you can see for miles. The big plus was there are no skyscrapers or businesses on the horizon.

One geocache in particular was on my list and it is called, “To Boldly Go.....GC1BNMP”.  It had the highest difficulty rating and a near-highest terrain rating and we crawled over car sized boulders and trails for about 4 miles or so before finding an ingress trail – of sorts.  We were nearly out of water and the sun was taking a toll on us, but up, up, up we went until my bride simply sat down.

Now this is where things can get out of hand – but didn’t.  If you’ve seen movies where hikers chew their arm off, this is the kind of place it happens. We had a communication error due to us both being tired and me assuming she understood my intentions.  I told her to just sit there until she was ready and then come up and I pointed.  I meant for her to wait up there for my return and as soon as I crossed the granite summit, I headed off 1400 feet away toward ground zero.

Would you crawl under this crack?
It was steep and dangerous and I walked with great care, finally arriving at a sheer cliff face with narrow cracks running both vertical and horizontal.  I have a phobia about suffocating and it appears it is getting worse as I age and I got down on my hands and knees and peered up into the darkness in a couple of places hoping I could simply reach in and find what I knew to be an ammo can.  Looking at the notes, the cache owner plainly states that you can only get to within 20 feet of the container.  I walked along the wall until I was 20 feet away, but there was no crevasse.

It was 30 feet away behind me.  “That’s 50 feet under the rocks, Bert,” I said aloud and noticed I was sweating.  I went back to the crack and crawled in on my belly into the dark.  Never mind that neither my bride or I had brought our cell phones, or that she didn’t know where I was and was screaming my name in near panic.  I didn’t or couldn’t hear her.

The geocache was 50 feet into the rocks.
The light is back where I came in.
Never mind that rattlesnakes love places like this or that I have a claustrophobic fear of being buried alive. I wasn’t about to be denied after coming all this way and in the darkness I used my camera’s infrared light to look around and after going the 50 feet, I found the container and signed the log book.  Needless to say, my bride scolded me for 30 minutes when I returned.  That was enough adventure for the day, but we still had about an hour of strenuous hiking to go to get back to the Jeep. We crawled over boulders on that trail the size of Honda Civics.

To shorten up this tale, the next day we did all 5 “zip-lines” they had to offer and the first 2 are short and sweet and break you in to the idea of gliding by wire. Number 3 is a “Leap of faith” and takes you 1800 feet across the water to a deck.  Everyone seemed to mark this as their favorite.  Number 4 was 1600 feet and all of us went off backwards. The final is named double barrel shotgun and there are two zip lines side by side and it is 2800 feet long and also crosses water.  Our group was of 12 and intimate enough that everyone chatted. Our 2 guides Lizzy and Chris were a giant bonus and we tipped them both.

Baytown Bert screaming like a ninny!
You see, you don’t have to go to Cancun or Maui to have fun.  You can do it right here in good old Texas, but for goodness sake, don’t be stupid like I was.

Friday, October 02, 2015

The seasons, they are a changin’

Bob Dylan - The times they are a changin'

It was 68 degrees outside this morning when I stepped out to let my doggies do their morning ablutions. I looked at the stars and breathed in the cool nostril pleasing air. I guess Summer is finally over and it’s been a hot one. Hunting season is right around the corner and in times past I would already have my license.

October is one of my favorite months here on the Gulf Coast. I love the sunny dry days where I can go outside and not be covered in sweat. Come Springtime, May is like that.  There is a correlation between the changing seasons and the social environment which has devolved. Yea, I said devolved, because that is the way I see it and I can safely say others feel the same. In many ways our social interaction with strangers has taken a step backwards.

Whereas I welcome the changing of the seasons and the cooler air, I don’t necessarily feel the same way about some trends in our country. One of them is the erroneous sense of privilege that seems to be cancerously growing. Rude manners or no manners at all are becoming so common; no one even expects anything else. When someone waits to hold a door, 15 strangers rush through like rabid linebackers. I witnessed this at El Toro’s, not too long ago. 
In fact, I was the one holding the door.

In my front yard are thousands of little pine cone chips scattered on the sidewalk and street. In case you haven’t noticed, we have a bumper crop of tree rats. Our only hope of keeping these litterbugs in control is their bizarre propensity to run under a moving car. At one time I would sit in the woods and try to harvest as many of these tasty animals as I could. Now, I only clean up after them. They don’t even notice the mess they are making or the work it takes to make the ground clean.

A month or so ago, I was parked on the side of Sjolander Road repairing a geocache I have there close to the historic marker. There is no road shoulder, so I was very close to the edge of the road at the back of my Jeep. A car came by slowly and stopped in front of my vehicle. Hanging out the window on a leash was a white pit-bull weighing about 40 pounds.

A man came around the front of the car and angrily threw the dog back inside, cursing in Spanish at the jaw-snapping carnivore. “Your dog jumped out the window?” I beckoned. He looked at me and said something that made my short hair stand up.

“No, he was jumping to get you!” He didn’t apologize, but drove off and I stood in shock.  I would have had no chance against this dog, as my handgun was in my Jeep. Never mind that the guy didn’t care about my safety. Never mind that he didn’t roll up the window. Never mind that I was that close to being mauled or killed. I doubt he even thought about it.

On a regular basis I pick up trash. As a geocacher, it is something most all of us do in this high-tech game. We visit a sight where a geocache is hidden and we pick up trash as we leave. Collectively, this is tens of thousands of tons of trash picked up all over the world. Yes, uncaring people throw stuff out the windows of their cars and trucks and it doesn’t matter to them who sees it. Prior to about 1970, this was a common practice. What has happened that people feel free to do it again?

I often wonder what their reaction would be if a couple bags of trash were scattered across their property on a weekly basis. It would probably be the same reaction a thief gets when someone steals from them, which of course is anger. I watch how people drive every time I get in my Jeep and my bride tells me I should simply ignore their poor driving habits. Maybe so, but it appears that anyone can get a license these days. The only people I see who have an excuse of sorts are the elderly.

I am looking forward to those cool nights when camping is enjoyable and plan to camp in about a week. Like last year, I’ll most likely deer hunt in the Hill Country and like last year, I’ll most likely watch many deer pass in front of me, aim, and not shoot. I’ve killed enough animals for a lifetime and I have enough money to buy processed food. I’ll leave these animals to those who still enjoy taking game.

The changing of the seasons is a good thing, but when it comes to society, we need to proceed with extreme caution. Unlike the predictability of our seasons, too many changes too quickly cannot possibly be a good thing. I’m fearful many of the changes we’ve experienced in the last 6-7 years will be our undoing.

People killing people

In light of the recent campus shooting in Oregon, I am reminded what a Russian truck driver told me when I asked about the many guns in America and if it bothered him seeing they can't have guns in Russia. "In Russia, when we want to kill someone, we use a hammer."
If someone is bent on killing people, they will find a way. This mass shooting in Oregon happened in a gun-free zone. No one except law officers were allowed to carry a firearm on campus and the college had voted one cop was enough.  A 30.06 sign banning everyone else from carrying a firearm insured the shooter would not be immediately stopped. All the sign does is make concealed handgun license owners as vulnerable as those that hate guns and just as helpless.

Chris Harper-Mercer
Our own police department views CHL carriers as augmentees and force multipliers in the event that the police department or an officer is overwhelmed. Look around your social group as an example. Many people you associate with carry a weapon, but you never see it and often times enjoy your own safety knowing Uncle Bob has his gun. I have carried a firearm for over ten years and I’ve never shot anyone.

When you live in a society where deranged or ideologically motivated people commit these types of crimes, putting up a sign is about as effective as swinging a feather at a cannon ball. Our President can issue a statement on his frustration over and over again and it will continue to propel the idea that guns kill people instead of people kill people.

Changing the second amendment of the Constitution and removing the inalienable right to protect yourself, is not going to stop a single deranged or misguided criminal from shooting up any place where people congregate. Here in an area where 6 million people rub shoulders, we are seeing more and more examples of CHL holders fighting back and that sure beats the alternative.

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