Friday, December 30, 2016

The honeymoon is probably over



If you have been married for any real length of time, you have learned to live harmoniously for the most part, right? If you haven’t then, stop reading right now, as you have a lot to learn about long term relationships and this will not help you with that.

As a certified spouse, I probably would describe myself as handsome, fairly predictable, and not all that hard to live with and would get “that look” from my bride, especially if I rendered this buffoonish (baboonish?) depiction of myself in her favorite company, namely her BFF’s, known as her Yah yah’s.

They are a close knit group and once a quarter they meet for inspirational devotions and fellowship and to pray for their spouses and friends – her words, not mine.  I suspect their friends get a free pass (read Indulgences) and their mates the real scrutiny (again, I am simply speculating here).

I call it a surfeiting food fest with copious amounts of profoundly righteous gossip, but that I guess is open for interpretation (read downright objection). I reckon they tell their Yah yah’s everything about their husbands that needs correcting and after an intoxicating amount of fattening foods and homemade sweets; they get down to the serious business of interceding for their hell-bound spouse’s aberrant souls, especially me most likely. Now here’s the coup de grâce, they then exchange gifts, consisting of interesting junk none of them would personally buy. Like the kings visiting the baby Jesus, I presume, but I may be off on that aspect, like all my other observations of the married fairer sex.

Now I must assert that I have hundreds of good points, but usually am in the dog house over something and that may have happened three days ago or longer. Who knows? I surely don’t and that’s the truth. I generate fodder for the quarterly Sabbatical like a spewing wood chipper at the hands of the people who trim trees for the power company. The truth is it is because I am a man. There. I said it. Those of us that enter into a contract of blissful holy matrimony are doomed from that unspecified time following the honeymoon until death do us part or the wife finally has had enough and kicks us to the curb.

Thank the good Lord we may possibly be redeemed by our devote Yah yah’s through much caloric intersession and well-meaning scrutiny and exhaustive confession.

The intricate female brain’s upward spiral in matrimony starts shortly after the honeymoon with her barren wardrobe and it will never get truly stocked. The honey-do list is four leagues long and after each laborious task is checked off, two more are penciled in after it. This is not only one of the hidden and sacrosanct statutes buried in the sacred vows, but a heinous conundrum that after nearly 40 years of marriage, still perplexes me. Why is it women feel compelled to make lists of things for their husband to accomplish, but the husband never has a single item on their list for the wife? Not a single one.

The bathing area, tub, shower, and cabinets have forty-seven thousand little bottles of various solutions and scents and I have a bar of soap, a single container of shampoo and what us Southern boys call a warshrag. I can deal with it until my tiny space get buried by all that stuff she simply has to have! I was informed one day after making a mild and meek suggestion that there may just be a possibility that there could be a little bit too much there. “I am a woman and I need that stuff and besides, most of it was given to me by my Yah-yah’s and you wouldn’t understand!”

Blam! She threw down the Yah-yah trump card, which incidentally weighs close to an Armenian metric ton in reasoning and finality. Like I’ve said, I’ve been married long enough to know when to yell calf-rope and I backed away with both hands held high, but this brings us to the gist of this column. I also know (believe) when to draw the line and I’ll explain.

I always have insisted that I have a green toothbrush and she was free to explore the many colors of other teeth-cleaning color combinations, but what do I find when I open the drawer?  Two green toothbrushes and the second one is hers!  Blasphemy and by golly I threw up the red flag (not literally mind you).

I marched right into the living room and demanded an explanation.  I mean this is an open travesty of a written in stone rule that has been in place for almost 4 decades.  “Oh, I got that free at Doctor Platt’s office the other day, mine is in the other drawer.  Rats, out-foxed again. Oh Lord, is there still hope for us married men?



Friday, December 23, 2016

Brrrr to me is not Grrrreat!




When I came into existence we lived in what is now frigid Michigan and the nearest hospital was in northern Ohio, so the city of Toledo got to witness my entrance. It was the beginning of summer and sunny and to this day, that is how I prefer my weather.

In the past we have enjoyed two months of near-perfect weather; October and April. Our usual rain or high humidly has been negated by dry air from the north and facilitates outdoor activity unmatched the rest of the year. This year it didn’t play out like that and last year wasn’t much of a match either. This brings us around to the recent 38ish cool front and my intolerance for cold temperatures.

I have been cold a good number of times in my life and quite frankly, experienced life threatening plunges in my body temperature. Sounds melodramatic doesn’t it, but I’m not exaggerating. To those of us who have never experienced the inability to maintain our 98.6 degree body temperature, it is extremely painful and even worse when you try to warm back up. You will literally cry from the pain. This condition becomes life-threatening when your inner body goes below 95 degrees. On the other end of the scale, being hot is simply uncomfortable and like you, I have experienced my fair share of that.

My three brothers and I ice skated with our backs to the wind up the Little Raisin river in the early 60’s until we were miles from home. We skated so far that we ran out of river and when we tried to turn back, the wind was too fierce. We were frozen and disoriented and crying. We finally abandoned the sliver of iced-over river and got up on the farm road where a passing motorist loaded the four of us and drove for about 30 minutes to get us home.

My mom, having no idea where we got off too, was too relieved to be angry, but wisely ran a tub of tepid water and began the process of thawing us out. Now before you judge her, understand that back in those days, farm kids played outdoors all day unsupervised and only came home to eat. The water felt scalding hot and we suffered through the process of getting our body temperatures back to normal.

Roll forward a few years and this was repeated when we lived in Morgan, Utah and the temp dropped below zero while we went off owl hunting with a neighbor boy. I vividly remember screaming in pain and crying as I thawed out. I also remember how angry my mom was at that neighbor boy. Another thing to note is that any kid growing up in snow country can tell their own horror stories about being cold.

Moving back to Ohio, the 4 of us skated far out on the frozen Ottawa River and once again the wind blew us so far away that my third brother just gave up and lay down on the ice to die. Again this sounds melodramatic, but I assure you under those conditions of hypothermia, you do not think straight. My other brothers and I struggled with him to get to shore and then walked in our skates the 5 blocks to our street with our skates on.  We were too cold to change into our shoes and the painful warming up process was repeated.

While serving in the US Air Force in Great Falls, Montana I was subjected to 5 twelve-hour nights of shoveling snow around the missile silos under the night sky, only to repeat it one day after returning. Understand that there are no trees to stop the constant wind on the Great Plains. We were under blizzard conditions and the fear of a sudden thaw meant water could drain down around the hundreds of Intercontinental Missiles and possibly flood them.  The decision was made to load up airmen and give them snow shovels and remove the snow that had drifted around the giant cement pads that covered each and every missile silo. Each pad covered 1 missile and each pad was miles from the next.

Now I had seen the map on the commanding General’s office wall and there were about 1500 Minuteman missiles under his command and by golly, I think we got every one of them. Initially we flew out in the middle of the night in helicopters and were dropped off on the Great Plains and it was so cold, we all thought we would die before morning. We would dig one out and low and behold, a stake bed deuce and a half truck would roll up and load us like cattle to drive to another silo. We were shoulder to shoulder in the back of that freezing open air truck bed only to dismount and dig out another.

My geocaching/kayaking friends make fun of me when I don’t want to go out on the water if the temp drops below 70 degrees, but I simply do not like being cold.  I have been elk hunting and fallen asleep in my mummy bag, only to awaken and the entire sleeping bag would be under an inch of snow. The goose down inside the bag kept me fairly warm, but that is one sight I don’t care to see again.

The word is that this Christmas, our temperature will be around 70 degrees and most likely sunny and I couldn’t be happier.  I think it was right after Christmas in 1976 that 2 of my 3 brothers and I worked a shutdown in Pasadena and it was 14 degrees. I would have burned a Yule log for warmth if I could have. Merry Christmas my friends, remember the reason for the season, and stay toasty and comfy.
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Friday, December 16, 2016

I ain’t giving you a dollar



 At least once a week I am reminded by a news story or online video about a subject that has become a daily occurrence in every city, school, or neighborhood in the US of A. It’s one that parents fear, kids hate, and no one seems to be able to get a grip on what exactly we need to do to stop it. Yup, its violent coercion and we simplify it by calling it bullying.

The cruelty of harassment has been around since the Garden of Eden and it would be a fantasy to believe it will ever stop. Intimidation is a deviant art form that is developed by trial and error and finally success until the perpetrator has it down pat. Like the professional football player, by the time they come into their twenties, they’ve been playing this game for many years. There is only one action that can put an abrupt kink it its development and it is a most effective tool. Resistance.

“Sorry I ain’t got no money.
I’m not trying to be funny, but I left it all at home today.
You can call me what you wanna I ain’t giving you a dollar.
This time I ain’t gonna run away.”

According to the King James Bible, it even works on Lucifer. “…Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” I’ve written on this subject before, but please bear with me, as this is a subject that screams to be repeated and the intended audience is every person reading this column. Bullying goes on in every country and every stratum of the social world; from powerful politicians and world leaders to the street urchins living in the sewers of a Third World country.

Children learn at a very young age to force their will upon others and most of us learn along the way, that there might just be a better method of getting what we want – some don’t. They continue to hone their compulsive skills throughout adolescence and enter adulthood seasoned veterans of maltreatment of those they believe are weak. Often they carry this philosophy into the workplace and through deceit and subtlety, arrive in prime positions to practice their skill. You know exactly what I am talking about and know many instances of people just like this.

“You might knock me down, you might knock me down.
But I will get back up again.
You can call it how you wanna, I ain’t giving you a dollar.
This time I ain’t gonna run away, run away, run away.”

This perception of weakness draws them out like a vulture to carrion. It is as irresistible to them as a delicious treat to a child. They lust and feed on it and this is the same behavior criminals feed on when they rob a clerk or an unsuspecting person at an ATM or a parking lot. When a person appears unaware or timid, it sparks this deviant fire inside them and they compulsively attack to feed.

When a shopper returns to their car with their keys in their hand and are visually scanning the parking lot, the bully dismisses them for wont of an easier target. The same goes in the school hall when they butt up against someone and that person straightens their back and loudly confronts them. The difference here is the school bully hasn’t developed their skill enough to know when to stop and this is why you may just take a beating when you resist – the first time. If you continue to resist, they will find someone who they believe won’t and leave you alone and that is the gist of the song I am quoting.

Resistance to bullying is the only answer and compliance to their wishes more times than not will only result in something negative for you. Am I saying if a person sticks a gun in your face you should fight them? No, I am not, but try and put yourself in a position where this scenario doesn’t happen. Don’t be caught unaware due to your cell phone, or blindly putting yourself at risk. Remember, the school bully philosophy is the same as the gun-toting criminal; it has just violently evolved to this level.

“This time, this time.
This time, this time I ain’t gonna run, run, run, run, run.
Not this time, not this time.
Not this time.
Not this time.”

With the Christmas season upon us, be a smart shopper and if at any time you feel like you have been targeted, turn around and go back to your car or into the store and call for assistance. Educate your children, as they are more distracted than at any time in our history. Don’t be a target and if you are, by all means resist.

Lyrics No money - Galantis
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Friday, December 09, 2016

Buying American will not be an easy path



 American consumers have both poor memories and the ability to quickly adapt to inferior “improved” products. We express our displeasure to each other, but continue to purchase the less than improved items and before long, they become the new standard. We adapt and move on. A good example is the plastic bag inside a box of cereal. At one time it was easy open wax paper or a plastic product that came apart with an ease a 5 year old could accomplish.

Try to open one of these bags now without a pair of scissors and you will need a broom and dustpan. A personal trainer friend of mine recently posted on Facebook a perfect example of this phenomenon. “Evidently my muscles are only good for lifting weights, as I cannot get the wrapper open on my protein bar.”

Aside from a boycott, competition is the best way to keep any one company or country from making too much money. The biggest richest company in the world right now is the Communist government of China. They finance, oversee, control, subsidize, and back everything made in China.  Like Disneyworld in Orlando, all roads lead to their coffers. They dump their goods on the USA while taking very little back except maybe our cigarettes. We do have the best tobacco and they haven’t yet learned how devastating smoking is to their health. Another truth is a lot of the products brought here do not translate well from their perspective to ours.

Here is what I think will happen if Donald Trump effectively levels the trade playing field with foreign countries and forces American companies to build American only and be warned, it will get very ugly. I say ugly not because I think it is the wrong thing to do, but because our country lives on instant gratification and perceived deals. I’ve already pointed out that quality can be compromised, as it interferes with our gluttonous need for instant gratification. “We want what we want and we want it now”, said Jim Morrison and he couldn’t have been more right.

Initially we will see a sharp rise in prices on imported goods, which will generate a lot of negative feelings with the press and the consumer. The replacement American produced products will cost more for basically the same stuff as we were getting from China and other mass-producing countries as American companies scrabble to meet the customer demands.  There may be quality issues involved, which will be eliminated when competitors enter the fray. There will be 3-4 year period of time where almost anything we bought from these countries costs more. As we agonizingly adjust, Trump’s policies will be hammered ad nauseum, but there is a silver lining awaiting us.

The first business to collapse will be the dollar stores. Wal-Mart, the once all American store will take a giant hit, as will other import-heavy businesses.

Competing American companies will be the logical answer to prices dropping and this could take every bit of 4-5 years. In the meantime, we will see a more balanced distribution of monies to the workers and company profits will peak, and then level out as the world market adjusts. It goes without saying that countries like China will scream foul as the elephant riding the bicycle can no longer keep moving forward. Heck, they’ve already started crying foul. They may even threaten to go to war with us.

American entrepeneurialship and creativity will result in innovative products we long forgot were even available, like an actual vent on a gas can, so it doesn't burp out all over the place when fueling the lawn mower. Instead of cheap junk that only adds to the other substandard stuff we accept as quality, we will see pioneered and competitive products offered and if they can’t live up to expectations, another company will build a better one.

I once again go back to the current Chinese-made gas can. The spout is not built to pour. It is a flexible piece of tubing that degrades in about a year and spills gas all over everything when pouring. The crux of the matter is, this is all that is available, because all of them come from China. American companies don’t even try to compete, because you can just go buy another cheaply made one.

Now mind you, this American innovative change will not happen overnight and there will be a lot of perceived pain, suffering, and sacrifice as we adjust to not getting our cheaply-made baubles when we want them. In some areas we will see a price reduction as we become less dependent on foreign products, namely fossil fuel derivatives. Possibly agricultural products will also see a reduction in prices as farmer’s markets will compete with grocery stores. We have made other countries and governments rich beyond all reason by purchasing or outsourcing so many products and I do believe Donald Trump is on the right track. I may have to cinch up my belt a notch or two while it all comes about, but I understand the need for it.

Lop-sided trade deals that favor every country but ours, needs to stop and the sooner we renegotiate these contracts the better. To sum up one logical person, “This ain’t no way to run a business.”
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Friday, December 02, 2016

The Wild Wild West



My Bride and I were on our way to the gym the other day and had stopped behind a car in the center lane at North Main and Massey Tompkins. The car in the right lane was evidently going to go straight and when the green arrow came on signaling opposing lanes could turn, the car in front of us blasted off and turned right in front of the stopped car beside it.

Now mind you, a car was making the turn from the opposing lane and they nearly collided. My Bride and I both made loud exclamations of disbelief, not having seen such reckless driving in recent times. The very next day, I am on the opposite side of the road, wanting to drive north and get a sub sandwich. I had missed the green arrow and came to halt as the cars beside me crossed North Main and moved onto Massey Tompkins.

The light turned yellow, then red and about 5 seconds later, a small blue car blew through the intersection at about 40 miles per hour, stopping the flow of traffic from both directions. In the Chemical Plant vernacular, this would be cited as a “near miss” incident. The reality of both acts of careless driving is at the very least there would have been a terrific accident with major vehicle damage.

I’ve written about the obvious distracted driver issue before, but both of these incidents involved impatience and most likely really crappy driving decisions some idiots are making. I could use better words than crappy and idiots here, but they cover both sentiments quite well. On my way back from teaching a 0530 Spin class in Meyerland the other morning, I witnessed a wreck on the 610 Loop.

The road was heavily congested heading into town and I was in the free-flowing east bound side, when a car tapped their brakes on the west bound side. This started a chain-reaction, as all of the cars were tail-gating each other, until one slammed into the back of the one in front of it.  They were out in front of me a bit and I watched in amazement as the whole west bound side began to come to a stop and I am talking about every lane. Of course we all slowed down, because people have to rubber neck, but before we got back up to full speed the amount of stopped cars began to expand.

This careless act of tail-gaiting most likely stopped or slowed traffic for over an hour. Months ago, I did quite a bit of research on this phenomenon and posted 2 videos on my web page: www.baytownbert.us with the hopes that drivers would watch them and learn how they can help stop this aberrant and dangerous behavior. Back in the day when pushing the brake peddle may or may not stop you, drivers didn’t rely so heavily on them and I often think that people don’t connect the dots on the fact that they are hurtling down the road in a 2 ton missile.

One of my brothers asked me if I had changed out my brake pads, as he planned to repair his own Jeep Wrangler’s brakes. I told him I had no need, “as I don’t use my brakes very often”. I coast a lot, keep my distance, and allow the Jeep’s drive train to auto-slow me down. I am also old school enough to actually watch the road a quarter of a mile ahead as I drive. Am I perfect?  Nope, but I’ve never caused a wreck in 49 years of driving. To take this one step further, I watched another video, which is also on my website, about how one driver can decongest a traffic jam on the freeway.

I was skeptical at first, but low and behold, it actually works. I made it part of my driving strategy and I no longer feel the angst that is common in these situations. I maintain my distance between me and the vehicle in front of me. If someone wants in, I let them in and adjust my distance. It doesn’t sound like it works, but it does. People wait until the last second to get over to their turn-off and no one will let them in and this starts the chain reaction of braking. I let them in and there are no brake lights flashing.

The simplest way to describe the solution is for people to follow the basic rules of the road. If everyone kept their proper distance, actually paid attention, and kept the speed limit, there would be few traffic accidents and road congestion. The whole speed up and stop scenario we see on Garth Road and our freeways would all but disappear. The need to constantly change lanes to move up one car mentality would be gone also.

Stay safe out there folks. I have a feeling it is only going to get worse. People just won’t take time to do a little research and then there is the me, me, me mentality that would prevent them from changing anyway. Oh!  One more thing.  That green light doesn’t mean that you don’t need to look both ways.
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Friday, November 25, 2016

The smallest amount of kindness



Recently I was helping another Group X fitness instructor add an entry into the work order system at the gym.  For the longest time when a piece of equipment was in need of repair, it was pushed to the side, only to be discovered later that it was broken. The reason for this was word of mouth simply wasn’t getting the equipment repaired. The solution was to write a work request and create a digital paper trail and the instructors were unaware they were the first cog in this process.

I hired in as an instructor at the beginning of the year and with my background in logistics and computers, I rapidly latched on to this maintenance system and decided to share this knowledge. Along the way, we saw a marked improvement in functioning equipment. As I pointed at the computer screen, I told the other instructor what went where and then “in this box, write exactly what is wrong and then add the words thank you.”

“Why do I need to do that?” they asked, referring to the last two words.

“Because you want them to know their work is appreciated?” I queried and I saw the light go on. Now mind you, this person is smart, a quick thinker, a devoted parent, and an overall good person with real values, but for some reason, they missed a simple common courtesy that would turn a demand into a request. The repair person will surely notice and look to see who wrote the request and it will add up in that person’s favor.

I am an aggressive alpha personality who sometimes feels like a coiled spring – well, pretty much all of the time. At red lights, I watch the light and am ready to explode out of the gate and have to slow myself down to the normal response time of people around me. At times it is agonizing and only my advanced age helps me cope with how slowly people react. If I were in ten cars at a left turn lane and the light turned green, on any given day I could most likely get all of them through it before it turned a good yellow. By good, I mean it hasn’t turned red mid-intersection.

But as a victim of other people’s sluggish reaction, I risk running the red light after 3 cars. This is life in a world with so many distractions, it’s a danged wonder we can safely drive at all.  There is nothing I can do to change this behavior, so this is how I give back. I allow traffic to keep moving.

I routinely drive on Massey Tompkins Road and often turn left onto Barkuloo Road. By turning deep into the turn lane, it will trigger the magnetic strip under the road and stop westbound traffic. I doubt if oncoming traffic realizes what I am doing, but if no one is behind me, I’ll deliberately hang back and let all those cars pass before I trigger the light. It’s my way of giving back. Knowing I do it is reward enough for me. I feel good about myself afterward.

I like to shop at Food Town on North Main Street. I routinely push a shopping cart into the store instead of walking past the many that litter the parking lot. I usually pick up a little trash on my way in too and drop it in the cans at the door. Sometimes I push in 2 or more carts. When I push my cart out to my Jeep, I leave it there. I could push it across the lot I guess and put it in one of the spots dedicated for temporary storage, but because I pushed one in, I don’t feel bad about leaving it where I parked. And then there is the trash I picked up as an extra bonus to the store. This also makes me feel good.

What does the Bible say about the little foxes?  Aren’t they the ones who spoil the vines? Yup and inversely, it’s the little acts of kindness that reap the largest overall rewards. Implementing them is the hardest or easiest part. It takes a plan for those of us who are flying through life at a breakneck speed. For others who are so naturally inclined to be a nice person, it is the way they ease through life that makes everything they do a blessing to those around them. I wish I was one of those people, but I’m not. I have to be very deliberate to be mister nice guy. I have to have a plan and make it part of my life to be considerate. One way or the other, we all need to think about our fellow citizens and attempt to stem the tide of anxiety, fear, and hatred.

I think it all starts with being thankful and considerate. If we can keep those two attitudes in front of us, we simply cannot go wrong.

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Friday, November 18, 2016

Being generous should be your decision.



Years ago I watched a black and white movie about a very rich man who took compassion for the homeless in his town. Back then they were simply called bums, but that would be insensitive of me to point that fact out, so maybe I won’t. It implies they don’t or didn’t want to earn something and hence the term “bum something” came about. “Hey, buddy, can I bum a smoke?” or “May I bum a ride?” The implication of the term meant it was a temporary situation, while most times it was perpetual and everyone knew it.

“What do you want to do today?” was a common catchphrase and usually answered like this: “Let’s just bum around.” Or maybe this variation, “I’m just going to sit on my bum all day.” Anyway, back to the movie. It was close to Thanksgiving or maybe Christmas and very cold with snow on the ground. The rich man had a pocket full of hundred dollar bills and began circulating among the downtrodden transients and handing each one, one Benjamin. Now back in the 1920’s, this was a lot of money, enough to get these people off the streets for maybe a couple of months.

This went well for a few moments until they attacked him and after beating him senseless, they relieved him of not only his money, but most of his warm clothing. Were they inherently criminal? Nope; greed took them over and they became a school of sharks and instead of simply feeding, they devoured their savior. Now imagine if this happened once a week. They would never have to work, because a good Samaritan would always rescue them.

Now imagine this scenario; you’ve been working all your life to get ahead and better your family’s well being. You pay taxes and make the monthly mortgage note on your 2-story house with 4 bedrooms. You struggle at times to have 2 extra cents for entertainment, but manage to pay your insurance, utility bills, and the myriad of other charges that come with owning a home and keeping groceries on the table.

Seeing that you and your mate both work and the kids are busy with extra curricular activities, you don’t realize an uninvited family has moved into your spare bedroom. They live off your lavish abundance, consume your groceries, and pay no utilities or taxes and come to find out; they are getting a stipend each month from your bank account! The sad thing is, you probably would have helped them if it would have been your choice to make.

So, you call a family meeting and bring in your parents and brothers and sisters and their spouses, to help you “rid yourself of these parasites”, as you call them. Imagine your surprise and disgust when half of your family decides the problem is too big and as a solution actually side with the intruders. The other half wants to physically remove them regardless if there is a fight or not. So, a stalemate is reached and you are forced to do nothing and let them stay for the time being. However, the side effect of this is a deep division in your family and you are stuck with the bill as the intruding family keeps growing. On top of everything else, one of the women has a baby and claims it is now part of your family and has legal rights to be there.

Being generous should be a choice we make, not something that should be taken for granted.  The rich man had no idea he was walking into the jaws of a tiger and the homeowner was equally oblivious that his apparent abundance would be taken advantage of. I think both examples are quite obvious that generosity and accumulation can be misconstrued to be a pot of gold there for the taking. However, is it? Of course it is not. How many times have we said that we will give the shirt off our back to those in need, but danged if I will let them steal, rob, or take it without my permission? Generosity is a one way street with a fortunate soul at the end. It is not a slippery slope where those of us with a few pleasures are stripped as we slide past those who don’t.

On the other hand, trolling people for a handout when you can work simply makes you, yes, a bum and in the old sense of the word. We cannot save the world and I’m not saying we shouldn’t have programs to help the down trodden or people seeking a better way of life. They need to come to the front door instead of the back entrance and stand in line. Civilized people stand in lines. Then at this time, we can decide just how generous we can afford to be. There is no other way.
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Friday, November 11, 2016

For those who served



 
Sgt. Bert Marshall  6280th CSG/366th Gunfighter Squadron, Takhli RTAFB
I graduated high school in late May of 1970 and the Vietnam War was still very much in the news. 1968 was the year of the most killed in action, but 1970 recorded over 6000 servicemen KIA. Like most students, Vietnam was as close as Jupiter and I knew about the same amount about both places. It was a time when if you wanted to know anything about anything, you pretty much went to the library to learn about it. At 17 years of age, I was more interested in living day to day then worrying about Vietnam.

I moved down to Pasadena with a friend from St. Louis until my family could relocate here and stayed in an apartment near Southmore Street. A few months later, my parents relocated on Red Bluff and I floated around a bit, like flotsam in the bay. That pretty much describes me too. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t have a job and was basically extra baggage for my parents. I decided I had better enlist in the Air Force, but I would check out the other branches before I signed my life away.  Did you know the military is the one job that they can ask you to sacrifice your life?

The recruiters were pretty busy back in those days, as the war was raging and they needed new talent. I walked right past the Navy recruiters, even though my dad was a sailor and we have a history of the sea in our bloodline. I just couldn’t see the shore from a boat and that made me uneasy. The Army was going to make me what was called a ground-pounder and even I knew that, so why enlist for 3 years when I could simply be drafted for 2? Well, I did not want to be drafted, that is for sure. That was a guaranteed ticket to Vietnam.

Then I saw it!  The standing full-sized Marine display and they were looking for a few good men. Well, I smoked cigarettes and talked like a man, so I stepped inside. There before me were two Marines; a huge black man and a smaller white one and both of them looked at me like they were cannibals and I was a pot-roast. “What do you want?” the shorter one bellowed.

“I, I, uh, I was thinking of joining the Marines and I wondered what they had to offer…sir?” Wrong question, as they both started screaming, foaming at the mouth, and clenching their fists while saying something about what I had to offer the Marine Corps. I barely made it out the door alive.

I pushed open the door of the Air Force recruiter in a cold sweat, which in itself was amazing as it was August and about 100 degrees outside.  “Back here!” I heard a friendly voice call out. The room was empty and I walked down to the first office and there behind the desk, eating a donut and drinking coffee was an Air Force Staff Sergeant in what I would later learn was a 1505 Tropical grade uniform. “Have a seat fella, what can we do for you?” he said and offered me the same fare as he was enjoying. It was love at first sight!

There was a made for TV movie called “Tribes” that I watched and it was informative in one area that I was totally ignorant about. It is or was known as “Recycling” or “getting set back”. In the movie, the main character never assimilates into the Marine Corps mentality and is not graduated with his class.  He is recycled to a motivational platoon to do it all over again. In Boot Camp, this became our greatest fear and one that none of us knew anything about prior to entering the service, despite the movie.

Out of 60 airman basics, or “Rainbows” as we were called, we lost an easy 1/3 to this practice. We picked up that third from other squadrons that were set back. The funny thing is, in the remaining 4 years I was in the Air Force, no one ever admitted to being set back. Now our TI’s or Technical Instructors as the Air Force called them were meaner than rabid Tasmanian Devils and most of them had been to war in the Army or Marine Corps. They were preparing us for war and dangnabit, they were serious as cancer about it. Somehow I graduated to join the war. I do not regret my time in the armed forces and these men helped mold me to the man I am today.

Some of my brothers and sisters went from boot camp to a lifetime of pain and suffering, while I walked away unscathed. The excellent VA hospital in Houston is a testament to their physical and mental suffering and that old demon Agent Orange is still working its poisonous treachery. I was around the stuff for almost 2 years and yet?  Nothing so far.

Friends, November 11th is a day set aside to thank Veterans for their service. The best you can say is a simple, "Thank you for your service," and remember there are thousands of women who served in the armed forces too. Fly your American flag and if you can, attend a Veteran's Day service. As a Veteran, I know that behind each Vet is a whole multitude of people who were affected by their time away while serving and for that, I say thank you!
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Friday, November 04, 2016

Riding the waves



 Back in 1974, after coming back to the USA from the unpleasant conflict in Southeast Asia, I was stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc, California. Vandenberg has 20 miles of coastline that is basically closed to the public and people in residence, regardless if you are in the military or not. This rule didn’t seem to affect my fellow airmen and I from going body surfing on a lonely stretch of beach, far from controlling authorities.
 
There was a submerged shelf that ran out a couple three hundred yards from the beach that was flat and about 6 feet deep.  You could swim way out there and as the ocean waves came in, they would hit that shelf and make 5 feet high waves that white-capped all the way in. Now mind you, this was pre-Jaws and none of us had ever heard of a Great White shark. Year later I read where this stretch of beach was prime habitat and a couple years ago, an airman was killed right there.

We had been in the 65 degree water for about an hour and I was turning blue, but I caught a terrific wave and all but washed up on the shore.  It was amazing and the best ride of the day.  It was akin to catching a big fish after not catching anything for hours. I immediately swam back out, even though we had all decided to come in. Needless to say, I found myself 300 yards off the beach and alone. In between waves, the ocean is very calm and I could see my buddies as they swam in and they were a long way off.

Suddenly, in the calm, I heard a splashing sound and because the salt water had made my vision a bit blurry, I thought it might be a SCUBA diver. It wasn’t.  It was a very large elephant seal and it was about 20 feet from me. I remember looking at it and then at my friends way off in the distance and then swimming for my life. Now, I’m not what you would classify as an elegant swimmer. What I did, looked more like a spastic person imitating a meth head in 6 inches of water. I pretty much attracted everything for 10 miles with my flailing, but made it to shore unscathed.

My buddies, who were all drinking beer by this time thought my exhibition was for them and were laughing when I all but cut a furrow in the beach with my fingers and toes. Now here is the ignorance of people in 1974 concerning Great White sharks.

“Oh, it was a seal? Don’t worry, cause if there are seals present, they scare away the sharks!” To this day I can see that big seal staring at me and now I know the truth. Sharks eat seals.  A few short months later, I was out of the service and the war and I tied my horse in Baytown. My brothers and I went to Galveston to swim in the Gulf and 2 weeks after that? We saw Jaws! I got to relive my experience all over again and one of the fellows in that movie was named Bert of all things! Remember him? He was on the dock that got pulled out and had to swim back! “Swim Bert!”

People forget what this movie did to us in 1975. It was traumatic to put it mildly. I remember a couple of airmen and I went to Universal Studios before I departed the Air Force and there was a mock-up of the Jaws shark hanging from a big structure and we looked at it and laughed.  I think it was about 25 feet long and 6 feet thick. We put it in the same category as King Kong and just as likely. It turns out, according to the record books the record stands at 36 feet.  What?

There’s no moral to this story that I can tell and just a memory that surfaced like that seal did. I know one thing. After watching the movie Jaws, I was so scared of water that for 6 months, I had trouble sitting on the throne!

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Friday, October 28, 2016

Camp fires, wood smoke, and burning leaves.



 When I was a kid, everyone burned leaves in the fall. I always enjoyed it so much.  It was a happy time. Man, that smell was amazing and you couldn’t go anywhere without smelling it. Of course now I know that it is a major source of air pollution and those of us that live inside the city limits are restricted from doing it. I don’t think I would burn them anyway, choosing to compost instead.

The whole family would engage in raking the yard and the reward was burning the leaves. The thick gray smoke would pour out like liquid clouds and we would run through it. Afterward, we smelled like smoke, but we didn’t care. I would wager that most people under the age of 30 have never even raked leaves into a pile, let alone burn them.

Growing up in north Georgia in the late 60’s, my 3 brothers and I would camp out most of the summer and burn anything and everything on our campfire. At the end of summer there wouldn’t be a stick, pine cone, or needle on the ground. We smelled like mountain men and didn’t even notice it. Of course we showered every third day or so and put on clean clothes, but we pretty much lived in our outdoor summer campsite. It was a grand time of adventure and primitive living. I guess you could say we were happy.

The other night when it fell into the 50’s, I beckoned my bride to step outside, as someone was burning wood. I’m not sure if she was impressed like I was, but I stayed out front for sometime and my memories were refreshed. It is the simple things in life that sometimes bring the most pleasure. Someone asked me one time what brings true happiness and I told them it is when you fulfill your duties, or a job well done. Peace and contentment bring real joy also.

Disneyworld is nothing more than entertainment. It doesn’t induce lasting happiness. Standing in front of my house smelling that wood smoke made me happy, as I was living in the past and in the moment and days later I still feel good about it. I was content. Doing good deeds and accomplishing things also bring a sense of well being. In a time when everything is pushed as entertainment, we almost forget that none of it really makes us happy.  People go on cruises and vacations and never talk about them afterward.

There is so much hassle and logistics involved to go and do things anymore that when it is all said and done, I’m not sure we got anything more out of it than seeing and doing things – and spent a bunch of money we don’t really have and why? Because we are chasing the illusion of happiness. My dad could sit in one spot and fish all by himself from sunrise to sunset and be as happy as a frog eating a June bug.  The scenery never changed and all he might have seen around his boat was water and sky, but he was more content, than if he would have traveled and climbed up to Machu Picchu.

Wood smoke and camp fires. How long has it been since you hunkered down by a campfire and let the world fly by without you? Of course, you cannot haul in a lowboy of modern conveniences on this trip, or you just complicate it. No, just some meat on a stick; coffee in the morning, and maybe a cooler with beverages is all you need. Get a pocket knife and whittle a stick, just frittering the day away. I promise, it will do you more good than a trip to a crowded stadium, where you have a 50/50 chance of leaving disgusted.

My little doggies make me happy on a daily basis. They demand nothing, chase each other in mock fights and dadgumit, they just are great companions. I feel good caring for them, by taking them for walks, making sure they have plenty of food and water, and great veterinary care. It’s these simple everyday things that enrich my life and the best part of it all is I recognize it. I don’t have to book a flight to Belize to have a great time or to be content.

Like the burning leaves, wood smoke, and campfires, what has truly made me satisfied in life - is life itself.
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Friday, October 21, 2016

Who wants the good old days?



We have an amazing source of near constant free energy in our Sun, so why don’t every home have a solar panel array in place? It is 2016 after all.  Think about it.  The first internal combustion engine automobile became generally available to the public in 1908, just 22 years after its invention. It was made by ford and named the Model T.

The invention of solar panels predates automobiles by over 30 years. Although rudimentary and inefficient, it wasn’t until 1941 that the solar cell came along. That was 55 years ago and yet, I don’t have a solar array and a bank of batteries powering my house.  Why? It is still too expensive. Again I ask why. Why is it so expensive for us to get off fossil fuel generated electricity and onto solar energy cells?

We are risking a future nightmare if we lose power. Heckfire, if we lose juice for just 24 hours, most of us are utterly miserable and anxiously ready to revolt. (Get it?) Never mind. The idea of living off the grid for most of us is just a fantasy and the good old days of no electricity and outhouse toilets, is not something I don’t want to experience again.

John Wells, a New York photographer liquidated his assets and bought a plot of desert land near Terlingua, Texas about 10 years ago.  His homestead is called the Field Lab and he blogs about it daily. It is an experiment in off the grid living and yes, he has solar panels to provide electricity. He runs the Southwest Texas Alternative Energy and Sustainable Living Field Laboratory, a personal experiment in green living.

In his own words, he writes, “I was paying $1,000 a month in taxes. I decided I would try a debt-free lifestyle. I knew a couple, Abe and Josie Connally, who were practicing sustainable living in West Texas, so in October 2007 I packed up and moved. Now I own 40 acres in the desert, and my property taxes are $100 a year.”

He has a huge scientific following and I guess I can say my attention also, as I have followed him since the inception of the experiment. Don’t get me wrong, I want a simpler life as do most of us, if we think about it. I remember a time when things were not as complicated and yearn for them occasionally. One of my fantasies is sitting in front of a log cabin on the side of a mountain and drinking coffee over a small campfire. At the end of the day, I would turn on the lights inside and cook on my gas stove and get a beverage out of the refrigerator, just like I do here in Baytown.

“As soon as I got here, I built the basic box of my house in ten days and moved right in. I used four-by-eight-foot panels of oriented strand board, which is like plywood but cheaper. There are seven little windows and a big glass door.”

In my fantasy, I would have the best of both worlds.  Solitude, peace, great scenery and modern conveniences at my fingertips. With proper landscaping, I could have all of them right here in Baytown with a solar panel array and batteries with no need to buy propane, butane, or gasoline to run my house and vehicles. So why hasn’t the price and knowledge of solar energy become cheap and common? It works and is clean and I think everyone would switch to it if they could.  Can you imagine how quiet our world would be if we weren’t propelling ours vehicles with gasoline and diesel?

Back to the Field Lab, John writes, “I’m building a greenhouse out of shipping containers and cinder block, to create a garden that will be my little oasis of food and wean me from canned goods. I’m going to try hydroponics and aquaponics, which is when you grow fish and vegetables at the same time.” Do we have to be in starvation mode to plant a Victory Garden? Wouldn’t it be amazing if people all across this country took to planting their own crops in their yards, verandas, or patios? I imagine we would all be happier than we are now. Talk about a farmer’s market!

People would be friendlier too and guess what?  You could actually enjoy talking to people again. The good old days had a certain charm, I will grant you that, but we need electricity and the way to insure we keep it, is for solar panel technology to become affordable.


Customer service is not what it used to be

I was called by a local business today to pay for a maintenance service on my in-ground pool. My debit card on file had expired. ...