Monday, December 26, 2011

God and Santa Claus

Is it just me, or do a lot of people confuse God and Santa? Of course we did as children, big fat guy with white curly hair and a big beard, who wanted us to be good little girls and boys. He dressed up for Christmas, but he was the same guy.

Early on I learned that no matter how good I was, I would get a ratty little mesh stocking full of stale candy, a wooden paddle with a ball attached with a rubber band that broke right away, maybe a kazoo. My friend who always told fibs, sassed the teacher and said bad words, got beautiful dolls, skates, more and better stuff. I learned that life was simpler if I was good, and people were nicer to me. It just wasn't working to make God or Santa happy. God wouldn't stop at cheap presents, he would kill off your relatives. Whether they were good or not.

Now that I'm fairly well as grown up as it gets, I'm still uncomfortable at too much "Keeping Christ in Christmas." Keep Santa at the mall, keep Christ and his Dad in church. I'll be good if I feel like it, and give myself a nice piece of expensive chocolate, and play some soft carols, and hug friends and family. Because I want to. Not in hope of a reward.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Facts or Factoids

We all know that our fears do not match our facts. Many people fear flying, but I never heard of anyone afraid of a cheeseburger. I never heard of anyone afraid to drive to the cheeseburger store (leaving aside the mentally ill who can't leave their house) but we all know that most auto accidents happen less than a mile from home. Moving doesn't help, either. The facts follow you.
What's got me worried now is neither irrational fears nor scary facts. It's scary non-facts, or factoids, as I call them. Factoids sound like facts, but they're not. We read that Social security is out of money. Factoid. Taxes are higher than ever, and are going up every year. Factoid. The USA is turning into a Socialist country. Factoid. Politicians tell the truth. Factoid. These should frighten us, but they don't.
That's what frightens me. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Little Old Man

Now that we have reached "a certain age' some of our friends and relatives are facing serious physical and mental health issues. We are fortunate to live in a time when many of these are treatable, and for that we are grateful. Still, we know that no one gets out of this world alive. 
For most of our lives, we had never heard the word "Alzheimer's", and today it pops up almost daily. It's used as a catchall phrase for what we used to call "senility." Senility is a much gentler term. 

One morning, about 7:00 AM, I came home from walking the dog. An elderly man was sitting in my chair in the living room, watching TV, in his stocking feet.. He smiled and waved at me. I went through to the bedroom and asked my husband who he was. I thought maybe he was waiting for him. He assured me that he had no idea, and began to get dressed. I called 911 and waited outside. The yard man came, and he sat on the steps with me to wait for help. Just then we heard a lot of shouting, and l we could see husband and stranger tussling. My husband uses a cane to walk, which must have seemed threatening. The stranger yelled “Don’t hit me with that stick!” The yard man and I went in and broke it up before the emergency crew got there. When they did, they called him by name, and led him to the police car for a ride home. He was an Alzheimer’s patient who lived a few blocks away, and they had taken him home before. He told the police that he came over every day to rock in one of the porch chairs. He really didn’t want to go home.

When they left, I found the man's little shoes on the back porch. It made me cry.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

fibbers unite!

What do we do when an internet nut keeps sending us big fibs? If we ignore them, will the sender think we agree, making us complicit in the lie? There are several choices.
One, we can blast them to hell, with great gusto. Call them out, make fun of them, cast big aspersions on their character.Two, ignore them, but privately send them a link to Snopes or Politifact, or another site that shows they are damn fools.
Well, whatever you do you are not going to change their mind. Nor is it your job. Changing minds is a lot harder than changing your underwear, and not nearly as sarisfying. How about changing other people's bad habits? I yell at rude drivers, but with the windows up. I speak to line-breakers at the grocery, quietly but firmly. "I was here first." How about other rude behoavior?
If someone is talking while chewing at the next table, I try to avert my eyes. If someone is ignoring a shrill, screeching child, I try to ignore it. I want to give them advice on this child thing, but I don't. If this person in my view is reaching inside his pants to scratch his butt, or picking his nose or teeth, I have a solution
Take a picture. Show it to him/ her. Or don't. Whip out that little phone, snap, your're , done. No encounter, no road rage, just smugness. Show it, or not.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Fibber's Festival

The more a lie is repeated, and the more adamant are those spreading it that it is truth...the more likely is it to be accepted as the truth. This statement is of uncertain origins, but it needs to be in our minds when we read the paper, watch news or opinions on TV, and especially when internet “factoids” come our way.
We are heading into a fibber’s festival as the presidential primaries begin next month. What is the source for the statement that the wealthy are the job creators? We have a huge number of wealthy individuals right now, so we should have a huge number of jobs being created. Right? 
Another favorite fib right now is that illegal immigrants pay no taxes, but draw Social Security. Today’s paper tells us that most of our illegal immigrants have been in this country for 10 years or more. That’s plenty of time for someone to notice that their employers aren’t withholding taxes and Social Security from their paychecks. Do you know anyone who receives Social Security that hasn’t paid into it? 
It’s not just the politicians who are spreading these fibs. Every time I get an e-mail that repeats them, the sender loses credibility on everything he says. If you can’t verify, don’t spread.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Too Big to Fail?

Does anyone remember the political satire strip featuring a possum named Pogo? Well, one of his quotables was “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
I just finished reading an article in Bloomberg ( that  exceeds my ability to grasp. When I see a sum like 7.7 trillion dollars, I have to stop and count the zeros on my fingers. And toes. That is the amount parceled out to six banks, with no strings attached, in 2009. That sum is also more than half the value of goods produced in this country that year. 
Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know about this. Neither did members of Congress. Whose money is being strewn about? Ours. Who’s doing the strewing? The Federal Reserve, or course. They were “rescuing the financial system,” and fought in the courts for two years to keep this little secret from us. While much has been criticized about the TARP handouts, those funds were intended for “healthy institutions” so they could resume lending money to get the economy rolling. These “healthy” institutions were backing their armored cars to the back of the Federal Reserve, accepting loans and guarantees, while accepting TARP funds at the front door. TARP only handed out $700 billion (11 zeros?) and has been mostly repaid.  Where is the 7.7 trillion?
Remember the phrase “too big to fail?” How did they get that way? Pogo knows. Maybe OWS and TP can find a common ground here. That could form a group too big to fail.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Life Reports

Along with thousands of others, I sent off a short autobiography to David Brooks, the columnist for the New York Times. The only qualification was that you had to be over  70. I made that cut.

He has started publishing them on his blog, feed:// and hope he publishes them as a book. They are stories of survival,  of overcoming obstacles, of joy, of grief. I can identify with every one. So many saw their parents as loving but distant, even dysfunctional, as negative examples.

I wonder if they are typical of all 70-somethings, or just those who chose to write to David Brooks about their lives? I wonder if our children will write their autobiographies. I wonder how they will remember us?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pepper Spray to Bullets

Some of you readers are too young to remember the Kent State Massacre. It should not be forgotten, so maybe the pepper spraying of the UC Davis students is a time for remembering. 
On May 4, 1970, students at Kent State University, in Ohio, were protesting the American invasion of Cambodia. Other students were just walking by to see what was going on. None of the students were armed. The school administration called on the National Guard to put an end to the demonstration. The Guard did this by shooting 13 students, 4 of whom died. One other suffered permanent paralysis. 
To put this event in perspective, demonstrations were popping up all over in the ’60’s. Protesters were cordoned off and clubbed at the Republican Convention in Chicago in 1968.  Many of the protesters were objecting to the Vietnam War. Students expressed their opinions with natural exuberance; at some schools they “occupied” campus administrative offices. 
Pepper spray, or mace, or batons, or fire hoses showed increasing  violence by police against protesters. It also led to increased news coverage of the demonstrations. This arguably led to the end of the Vietnam war, as the government was forced to acknowledge the depth of public sentiment against it. The Kent State Massacre was a watershed event. The loss of respect for authority in general, and law enforcement in particular was the price paid for unnecessary violence. The Kent State lesson has not been learned.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

That old house

When we moved to our last house in 1969,  it was twenty years old. Actually, the main part of the house was that old, but the family room and the two back bedrooms had been carved out of the old garage and tool shed in 1968. No heat or air conditioning. These renovations were the personal work of the dentist who sold us the house. The dentist knew nothing about home improvements, but it took us a while to figure this out. There was nothing behind the paneling, just boards at the top and bottom to nail it to. Oh, and a fuse box that controlled the heater.
The back bathroom was so small I couldn’t go all the way in it until I had a baby, which is why we needed a bigger house. It smelled very odd.
The first time the plumber came, he was amazed to find that the sink had no trap. That’s when we learned that the trap is not just to accumulate debris until it stops up, it’s to trap deadly sewer gas. It hadn’t exploded yet, but we had it changed anyway. We did not yet know how frequent the visits by the plumbers, electricians, and other repairmen would be. We once heard two of them comparing notes about service calls to our house. They would sit around at their offices and pick a number or flip a coin to see who had to come.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Memory Games

A magazine article I was reading shed some light on memory. It is not a little vault in your brain where memories are stored, like I thought. It is an assortment of those little pink spongy things that make up our brain. Memory is flexible, and it changes every time we visit it. The act of visiting your memory carries bits of your present along with it.

It takes me back to "A Gift From the Sea," by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. She realizes that your point of view alters your past, present and future. Your attitude shapes your perception of all three. That is one book to read at different stages of your life.

This also makes me think of science fiction, and why I get uncomfortable with books about time travel. You can't go into the future because it's not there. You can't change the past, because it would change the future, and that's not allowed. I will not read Stephen King's new book about preventing JFK's assassination.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

What Were They Thinking?

Interesting double murder trial here this week. Guy is charged with shooting his ex and her boyfriend. He takes the stand, a very unusual move. A very unfortunate move. Someone called 911 and left the line open, and there is a recording of screams, a command by a male to "Get on the bed!" and then shots rang out. The prosecutor played it for the jury.

When the accused testified that he didn't do it, didn't know anything about it, wasn't there, etc. his voice sounded just like the voice on the tape. However, when his lawyer asked him to say "Get on the bed!" he spoke in a foreign accent. "Geet on zee bed?" The jury was out for about an hour.

The other trial was of a County Commissioner caught on videotape taking money from an undercover cop, counting out the cash, stuffing it in his pocket. His defense was that it was not a bribe, but a campaign contribution.  Of course, such contributions must be reported, and he forgot to report this one. Didn't take that jury long, either.

Moral: if you're caught on tape you'd better have a really good story. And can the accent.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

eulogy and a funeral

This idea of writing a brief autobiography is getting spooky. I feel like I’m writing a modest eulogy. If my kids crib from this when the time comes for the real thing, remember I want “Joy to the World” played at the service.  Not the Christmas Carol, the Three Dog Night version that opens with “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog,” played loud, and please rise when you hear Jeremiah.
Funerals are peculiar, because the guest of honor is long gone. When Mama died, she got lost on the way to the funeral. They flew her casket from Jacksonville to Atlanta for the hearse to pick her up and go to the Sparta, Georgia cemetery and family plot. When we got to the cemetery, there was no Mama, no grave, no hearse, no nothing. We called the funeral home and they said it was the 4th of July. So we all went next door to Aunt Louise’s and ate peach cobbler. They found the hearse and told them to try again the next day to find Sparta, and by then they might be able to round up some grave diggers.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Herman, you aren't ready for prime time politics. Every silly thing, every little oopsie, every hasty remark, each and every one will come up and bite you in the butt when you go into politics. Didn't anybody tell you that?

They should have told you, warned you, coached you, so you didn't get blindsided. If they didn't, you need a better group of "they." I'm not very politically savvy, but even I could have coached you better. The weakest response is "I didn't do it." Even if true, it's what you would say if you did it.

Right up there with that dumb statement is "I forgot all about it." Maybe you did, or wish you had, but everybody didn't forget. Even if you didn't do it. Do what?

Come on, Herman. How about "I'm just a big flirt."  Hey, it worked for Clarence Thomas. This "I didn't do it, and I forgot, and they asked for it, and my opponents made it up" are right up there with "The dog ate my homework." Used up, tired  old cliches.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Life Stories

David Brooks, one of my favorite columnists, is inviting us over-70 types to send him our life stories. He is desperate for column ideas. He suggests categories, such as career, family, and others, and asks us to grade ourselves on each. Wow!

I have tried writing biographical bits and pieces before. The first time I tried, I got stuck in 1944 and wrote a novelette about it. Well, David, one year down, 73 to go. How much time you got? Even if I had to pick the most memorable years, it's a formidable task. Maybe the most forgettable years? I forgot them. There must be a better way to organize my thinking, other than chronological. How about "The Size Twelve Years?" "The Year of No Dogs?"or "The Year of Five Jobs?"

Once organized, then I simply have to fill in the details. Twenty-five words, or twenty-five pages. Maybe twenty-five chapters? No one would read that, not even me. Certainly not David Brooks, because he's going to get a bunch of these. He plans to write about them. Will he name names? of family and friends?

The really hardest part will be to grade myself in each category. On a curve? Based on my life against that of another, or category against category? I get an "A" in family but a "C-" in self-actualization, maybe. If comparing myself to others, I intend to leave out Mother Theresa and Lindsay Lohan, David.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Happened upon this picture, and it always takes my breath away. I marvel at how effortlessly they glide around our ponds here, leaving a lovely wake. But when they leave the water to walk around, or cross the road to visit another pond, they are a clumsy mass of waddling bird. Sort of like a teenage boy who steps off his skateboard.

We have two resident swans, both female. Every spring they build a nest by going into someone's yard and rounding up their mulch. the first year we moved here, in "02, the nest was as big as a Volkswagon. They lay a bunch of big eggs, over a dozen,  They take turns sitting on the nest for about a month. then lose interest. There must not have had sex ed in swan school. Over the years they have become less enthusiastic about this next building business, but they still lay the eggs in great quantities. You can almost hear them talking, something like "Why do we do this every year? Whose idea is it? Next year, the one who brings it up has to do the work. It's boring, I tell you." This life lesson tells us not to trust hormones. Just enjoy being beautiful.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Men's brains

Remember the brasciola we used to eat at the Italian restaurant around the corner and downstairs from the Tampa Maas Brothers department store? No, that was fifty years ago, and I don't remember lunch. Men's brains are wired to remember food and sports, and it lets them talk to strangers with ease. "Try the brasciola." "How 'bout Carlos Zimbawatty's double play?" This man I am married to can tell you the starting lineups of both World Series teams from 1958. But he can't remember from one day to another how to work the toaster.

I've been trying to toaster train him this week while battling a strain of flu that ignores flu shots. I must just not be a good trainer. I, on the other hand, have a perfect, female brain. It lets me down on occasion, such as this last week. Do not jump to conclusions when your refrigerator doesn't seem to be as cool as you think it ought. You may have just added a lot of foods that needed cooling. Do not crank it up to 9. There was an old, unloved, bottle of beer that had been resting way back in there for at least a year, maybe two. When beer explodes it sends millions of sticky slivers into every nook and cranny of your refrigerator and makes you take out every drawer and shelf including some you didn't know were removable.

As I surveyed the sorry mess all over the counter, I said "Remember that brasciola doggie bag?"

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Stick to singing, Hank

So Hank Williams, Jr. is comparing Obama to Hitler. That tells us a lot more about Hank than Barack. He's supposed to be called a socialist, not a fascist, but you wouldn't know the difference. They're both bad, and un-American, y'know.

It's not a well-kept secret that most of this country's essential services are socialized. Nobody minds when we chip in to pay for services for the common good, which is the essence of socialism. It has been said that one reason the states united in the first place was to fund a navy, too pricey for a single state. It's impractical for most of us to hire our own police or firefighters. We have our own well and septic system in the country, but try that in your condo. Nobody refuses to use our roads and highways because they are purely socialist. Public schools, Godless socialism. You can refuse to use them and home-school or pay private schools, but you still have to pay for public schools. We do want the great unwashed to be an educated electorate, don't we?

Hank, make your Daddy proud and stick to singing. Your political oratory is off-key and a bit strident.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I pledge allegiance to Grover Norquist

Would somebody explain that to me?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Call Me Uninformed

The other night, during a heated game of Dominoes, a friend mentioned something he had heard on Bill O'Reilly's TV show. I said I had never watched it. He looked appalled, and stated that I didn't know what was going on in the world. I may not understand what's going on in the world, but I try to stay informed. I don't watch Oprah, either, so it's not a personal aversion to O'Reilly. More of an aversion to TV, since we grew up without it and I never got the habit.

Our daughter, June, pointed out that most people don't know the difference in news and opinion. Sometimes it's hard to tell, but we need to make an effort. Our local paper is liberal, as is the New York Times. Duh. Notice what goes above the fold on the front page. Notice what gets buried at the bottom of page four. Notice what opinions it prints. Lots of clues here, so I read papers and magazines with a grain or two of salt. CJ reads a lot of history books, while I read mostly novels. Neither genre has a lock on the truth. Why write a book if you don't have an opinion?

We do watch baseball, because it's so slow we can read at the same time. I'm always asking C. J. if that play was live or a replay. I think they should run a banner for replay. Maybe TV should run a banner for "opinion." But then we might not spot the opinions that pass for news.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Call Me Simple

The Sunday morning talk shows are still arguing whether taxing the wealthy is punishing the "job creators." Put an end to that issue by giving tax breaks to the job creators, whether they are wealthy or not. If they create unnecessary jobs to qualify, their businesses will suffer or fail. Incentive to act smart. I guess I think in such simple terms I don't understand the problem.

What sticks in my craw is the idea of giving tax breaks to the corporate executives who steal from the shareholders to finance their own extravagant lifestyles. Examples abound, from Enron to the financial institutions. Million dollar bonuses are being handed out to executives whose companies lose millions. The only jobs created are for makers of gold plumbing fixtures and teak decks for the yachts.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


I just read another lame article grouping those of us who believe in global warming with those who hate the constitution and guns and are conspiring to create unemployment, poor school performance, and starvation by Guinea worm. Now I truly don’t believe that hair spray is killing the ozone layer, but something is going on for sure. Glaciers have always shed chunks into the sea from time to time, but this time it seems a bit excessive.
Another author has implied that if I believe in evolution I must be a Godless heathen liberal Gore-hugger. I’m reaching for a connection, but it is eluding me. Neither God nor the forces of evolution or global warming gives a rat’s ass what I believe.
One thing I do believe is that if one more smarty-pants tries to pigeonhole me because of my age, my gender, my voting record, my religion, my race, or any other category, you don’t know what you’re talking about. None of those factors can predict what leaders I support. Show me someone who has character, integrity, and shows courtesy and a goal of public service and that person will get my vote.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Straight shooting

Well, Mr. Perry, now that you know that Obama didn't give two billion dollars to Brazil, what are you going to do? You can't call it an exaggeration, because he didn't even give them two cents. You need to track down your source for that statement, and make a note to never trust it again. If it's an aide, fire him.

You see, trustworthiness is one of our favorite attributes in a leader. If we can't trust you to get your facts straight, how are we supposed to believe mere promises? Now you need to own up, apologize, and promise to be more careful next time. Apologies are an endearing thing. They don't make you look weak. They make you look like a straight shooter, which is a good thing for a Texan to be.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Bird wisdom

You know, this old pelican sitting on a log looks wise, comfortable, and content. This is the image I want for myself. I thought that by the time I got to be 74 I would have more answers instead of more questions. I wanted to project an air of quiet dignity, wisdom, and patience. Well, it ain't happened yet.

We used to say that nobody knows more than a college sophomore. Our parents were idiots, we just knew better than anybody about anything. Maybe that was true, because I've never been so sure of anything since.

If I can't get the wisdom of an old bird on a log, could we find leaders who have it? I'm hearing too much mudslinging, name-calling snarkiness from the folks who want my vote. Calling your opponents weasels, traitors or shits doesn't make you more attractive, Mr. Politician. If you want my vote, act like a grown-up.

Monday, August 29, 2011


This is a picture of Wally and CJ, taken about 10 years ago. Wally's the hairy one. He's our nephew, and if you see anyone who looks like that, tell him to call us now and then. Every ten years should be a minimum.

We don't see all of our family as often as we would like, but we call, and e-mail, and pray sometimes. It seemed like the right thing to do to pray for Cousin Sue who was right in the path of Hurricane Irene. The storm moved a little bit easterly, so maybe prayer works. However, that move put a lot of other folks in danger. Does God say "Sure were a lot of prayers for Cousin Sue, so II'll give Irene a little nudge." Or maybe "Not much praying for for Tidewater Virginia so let's wet 'em down some."

So God, if you're not too busy steering storms and earthquakes and all, would you poke Wally and get him to phone? Thanks.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pinocchios & Fibs

 I am borrowing Pinocchio from Fact Checker, the Washington Post’s column that investigates statements made by politicians and others. Their fibs are graded on a scale of one to five Pinocchios, on a sliding scale of egregiousness. I began wondering how this ranking works. 
Some fibs are simply innocuous. Falsely attributing statements to Yogi Berra or Mark Twain fits here. Well, they would have said that if they’d thought of it. It makes a better story than to attribute something to, say, Wendell Wilkie. These get no Pinocchios.
Other fibs are fairly harmless, usually meant to puff the teller’s ego a bit. “This is my natural hair color,” or “I still wear a size 10” fit here. These are so obviously false they don’t need a Pinocchio. I have a friend who lies about her zip code, to make her friends think she lives in a better neighborhood, I guess.
Some fibs are better than others. “The dog ate my homework” is better than “I’m not talking with my mouth full,” because the former is harder to verify. Telling your doctor that nothing hurts (when something does) is as dumb as exaggerating your income to the I.R.S, self-defeating. Poor fibbers get no respect, which is what politicians can’t understand. These merit at least one Pinocchio, even if no one believes them.
Crank it up a notch to “There is no such thing as evolution, (global warming, hard-working poor people, etc.)” and Pinocchios stack up. Even if the speaker thinks they are true, he hasn’t bothered to check available sources. He is speaking out of ignorance to influence people to trust him to tell the truth. 
The worst are the real mean fibs, which deserve to be elevated to lies. They are meant to mislead others about something important. This class of whoppers is called fraud, and gets into the category of crime, not just “Oops, I must of misspoke.” Politicians who step over this line deserve to be tarred and feathered, not applauded or elected. Even Pinocchio would be appalled at what we’re hearing in the run-up to elections.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Memory tags

A friend sent me a neat video of movie stars all on stage in 1974. They all look so young and glamorous. June Allyson, Jimmy Stewart, Liz Taylor. Watch this and see if you can remember that year. All I can remember is that I must have been young and glamorous, too. Memory is kind, you know.

movie stars

I looked back for pictures, and I must have been behind the camera, because I can't find many. This one was taken for publicity for a summer humanities course I taught at the Museum of Fine Arts. Where was the glamour? No plunging neckline with a stunning diamond lavalier like Liz? I wore bow blouses? No makeup, even then?

Thursday, June 23, 2011


For the last few weeks, CJ and I have been glued to the TV, watching the Casey Anthony trial in Orlando. We are trying to give advice by shouting. Hasn’t worked.  She is accused of murdering her little kid, stowing her body in the car trunk, and eventually dumping the body in the woods. The “smell of death” has been one of the most controversial issues.
The state’s experts and Casey’s own parents have described a distinctive odor of decomposing flesh in and around her car. The scientists even collected it and canned it. So far no one has been brave enough to open this can of stink. The defense witnesses have not been able to detect a single whiff of death from the car.
Maybe smells are entirely subjective, and both sides are right. If you have ever been trapped in an elevator with a perfumed lady, a smoker, or one of the great unwashed, did you wonder if only you noticed? Wonder if they thought they smelled sexy or manly? Wonder if they thought you smelled funny?
I heard that rubbing your dog down with dryer sheets would make him less afraid of thunder, by reducing the static electricity. Romeo turns into a shaking, whining mess when a storm is still way off, so he got the magic rubdown. It did make him smell more like Bounce than dead squirrel when he threw his shaking, whining self into our bed during the night. This morning he found the dead squirrel again, first thing. Of course, he rolled in it to get the Bounce smell off. He and I have a subjective difference of opinion about good and bad smells.
If you are a wearer of perfume, you may just think you smell good. Don’t ever look up the ingredients. Ambergris is a favorite, along with substances found in the musk glands of the civet cat. Ambergris, I still remember from junior high biology, is found in the poop and vomit of whales. If you’re wearing this stuff, don’t get on my elevator.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


FAQ’s for married people
Our newly-wed grandson, Daniel, and his lovely wife, Emily, will not understand this post. Let’s hope it will be years before they quit having genuine conversations. For the rest, however, you can use this as a wall chart to save breath. Instead of repeating the same questions and answers forever, simply use a number.
  1. 1. Where are my (socks) (library books) (teeth)?
  1. I dunno.
  1. 2. Why don’t we ever have (gravy) (chocolate cake) (barbecue ribs)?
  1. Have you seen the clothes in the Fat as a Pig department?
  1. 3. Why do you lock the doors when I go put out the garbage?
  1. I didn’t do it.
  1. 4. Why don’t you call (your sister) (my nephew) (my old fraternity brother) and see how they’re doing?
  1. Why don’t you?
  1. 5. Where do you keep the ice water?
  1. In the microwave.
  1. 6. What is that dark stuff (around the doorknob) (on my shirt) (on the dog)?
  1. Schmutz.
  1. 7. When are you going to (clean the ceiling) (plant a big garden) (wax the car)?
  1. Right after I get a tattoo on my rear end.
Notice that there are many more possible questions than answers. I didn’t even list the popular “Yes,” “No,” “Maybe,” and “Soon,” which deserve their own numbers. They may all mean the same thing, depending on context and mood. For example, in response to “Are you done yet?” or “Are you ready to go?” They are polite and handy euphemisms for “When pigs fly out of my ______,” or “You’ll know when I’m damn well ready to say so.”
This  list can be tailored to your individual lives. Hope you will share your favorites.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Fletcher High School

This novelette was collected for our 50th high school reunion in 2004, using memories from Corky, Mike, Mayo, added to my own.

Sorry if you get five of these; I’ve been getting bounce-backs. Our fiftieth Fletcher High School class reunion is this weekend, 
and I collected some stories for a handout. Thought you might enjoy.
Thanks to Corky, Mike, Mayo, June and others who have helped piece together some memories to share. Some are short, some a little longer, but each one triggers another. Hope it does that for you, too.
Crinoline petticoats, poodle skirts, and ballet slippers were everywhere in the Fifties. Some fads, though, were ours alone. Keychains chained together, dangling from purse to pavement. Penny loafers with heels removed were a local preference, and our mothers shook their heads. Were we the only ones who bleached their bangs with peroxide and ammonia, then dyed them purple or green for special occasions? Our mothers banged their fists against their heads.
Who remembers “Starlight Theater” in the Gator Bowl, where many of us sang and danced in the chorus while real show-biz people sang things like “Rose Marie, I love you!”  Elsie Behnum’s Little Theater at the old U.S.O. on First Street? The plays were all about gypsies and woodland fairies.
Remember sneaking into the old dinner theater off Atlantic Boulevard, and climbing through the holes in the floor to get to the roof? Who remembers climbing into some of the houses where no one seemed to live, just to see what was there? Now we know they were vacation houses for people who never took vacations.
Remember Piggy Mullis jumping out of an upstairs window onto the roof of the covered walkway to the portables? Remember why?
Mayo remembers using "F" Club meetings to get out of the house on a school night and afterward sneaking into the Atlantic Beach pool and jumping off the Atlantic Beach Pier. Carol remembers the cheerleaders skinny-dipping in the University of Florida pool after a late night basketball tournament, and hiding under a float in the middle when the guard passed by.  

After winning the state track meet our senior year, most of the team celebrated by going down on the beach (tide was out) and drinking beer out of a quart bottle.  Mayo, Mike, Claude, Tommy, Ray and Dean shared. This was a big night on the town, Fletcher Style. . Mayo hopes no one will present him with the baton he dropped in the relay.  
When Fletcher played Leesburg in football, the team would spend the night with players from their team or others who had volunteered to open their homes. Our junior year, Gene Coenen just mauled the tackle across the line from him, over and over.  The guy was beat up and bloody and turned out to be from Gene’s host family.
We were just beach kids. Not surfers, just kids who had the beach for a big back yard. We didn’t worry about skin cancer, undertows, sharks. In fact, the lifeguards raced from pier to pier one week before the annual Pier Shark Fishing Tournament. Go figure, Bob Clark. We would find blue crabs in the little tide pools behind the sandbars and take them home for our mamas to cook. (Recipe tip: don’t put too many in the pot or they climb out and run all over the kitchen, very unhappy.)
At the north end of the beaches were dunes and jetties; at the south end, bigger dunes, all the way to Saint Augustine. It never occurred to us that these were not ours to roam and explore, and to find the artesian wells that smelled like rotten eggs but did the job if you were thirsty. In between, the beaches had bulkheads,  pitiful attempts to keep the Atlantic from swallowing houses. It didn’t even take a hurricane, just a good Northeaster, to knock down a section of bulkhead, suck out the sand behind it, and eat up the little houses there. The bulkheads at Atlantic Beach were bigger and curved, to turn the waves upon themselves. They lasted longer than the flat ones, but are gone today. The jetties are off limits today. Driving on the beach is off limits.  Both are probably good ideas. Sunscreen is a good idea. A dab of zinc oxide was probably not enough.
Mayo and Claude made a fairly good living, for teenagers, pulling cars off the beach. Folks would drive out from Jacksonville, drive down onto the beach at, say, the 20th Avenue south ramp, at low tide, then bob around on tubes, lay out on the sand, go to sleep, and be amazed that the tide came in. They never knew they had a problem until Mayo and Claude, or perhaps Joe and Bobby, showed up to help them out.
Mayo and Claude would arrive in Mayo’s Ford, which he didn’t want to get all salty, so they would start by letting the air out of the stuckee’s tires. They would rock the car to break the suction, give it a big heave, and try to move it.  Sometimes they would put cardboard or towels under the tires to get traction. Usually the car’s owner would get into the action, as the tide rose higher. If all else failed, Mayo would hook up a rope from his Ford and give a yank, but this was the last resort. Usually a whole afternoon’s work would net four or five dollars, but that was a lot of Coke money.
One Sunday, after church and before MYF, there was a beach party up at the jetties. It was a big one, and there were even some Baptists and Episcopalians along with the Methodists. After lunch, a small group decided to climb the jetties out to the end. It was only about a mile, an easy walk. Some of the girls followed some of the older guys (older, surely wiser) and didn’t turn back when the others did. They climbed and climbed, sure that the end was in sight.
They noticed that the rocks seemed to be getting slipperier, and the waves coming higher, even splashing clear over the jetties. About that time they noticed that the sun was getting lower, and the beach party would be breaking up. The way back was completely under foamy water. They sat close together and thought they would be missed, and surely a search party, maybe a helicopter, would come. They were wrong. Everyone thought they had gotten a ride with someone else.
It was nearly dark, and the guys were just as scared as the girls, but wouldn’t admit it. A lone shrimp boat slowed on the St. Johns side, and shone lights on the group. The shrimpers yelled for them to stay put. They went back out around the end of the jetties, came in where the water was rushing south, threw out nets and shouted for them to jump. They literally pulled them in with the shrimp nets.
Back at the beach, the party was over and everyone had gone home. One of the shrimpers  took the group back to town in the back of his pickup. The parents were glad to see them, but ready to kill them.
Corky and Jane were walking down the hall from the cafeteria to Mr. Doggett’s office in the fall of 1953. They had been working on ideas for the National Honor Society’s annual project. One idea was a tutoring program for the members to help the junior high kids who needed a little special attention. Another idea was to send members to either Jacksonville Beach or Atlantic Beach elementary. This would combine good deeds with a half-day or so out of school, and maybe parents would loan the kids their cars for such a worthy cause. Certainly a stop by the drive-in for shakes and fries would be a worthy reward as well. They needed to get the principal’s approval, first of all.
“You’d better stop that,” said Jane, as Corky brushed his hand against hers.
“You’d better stop that!” said Corky, as Jane elbowed him in the ribs.
“You’d both better cut that lovey-dovey stuff out!” said Coach Hoye. “Next thing you know, we’ll have kids holding hands and smooching in the classroom. Borders, see me after school! King, any more of this and I call your mother.”
The pair didn’t need to be told twice. To break the unwritten rule against unseemly displays of affection was one thing. The far worse thing was to have Coach Jarrett, Hoye, or Brant humiliate the guys in front of the other guys. It was just a much better idea to save displays of affection for the later hours, after choir practice or M.Y.F., or at the drive-in movie, steaming up the windows. Corky and Jane were still blushing as they entered Mr. Doggett’s office. His secretary sent them into his private office to wait. 
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t Corky and Jane. What brings you to my office on this fine September day? Hope we don’t get a hurricane this year. How are your classes going? Are your folks alright?” Mr. Doggett seemed to be chatting on to divert attention from the fact that he had been spending some time in his little private bathroom reading a Wallace Stevens book. He wasn’t embarrassed about revealing the fact that he did, indeed, use a toilet occasionally. He only wished he had emerged from his private room carrying Chaucer.
It was 9th grade, and Mrs Duncan's Science class was about to start.  Students would go into the classroom right after the previous class and drop their stuff where they wanted to sit. Then they would hang out in the hall.  Frank and Mayo went in and put their books down. Lo and behold, some young lady had put her purse down in the seat of a desk and it was slightly open.  "Eagle Eye Frank" spied a portion of a Kotex inside.  For entertainment, he took it out and placed it on top of the desk. They waited to see the reaction.  Billy Jo walked into the classroom, spied her desk from a few feet away, burst into tears and ran from the room.
“Who is responsible for this?” asked Mrs. Duncan. 
There was total silence. The rest of the class filed in, and the talking stopped the minute they entered the room. They all sat as far as possible from the offending object and the desk on which it sat. No one even giggled.
“It will be much better for you to come forward now,” said Mrs. Duncan. “I may not know who did this, but you know who you are. And I will find out who you are.”  The silence continued.
There was a hay ride to Mickler’s pier that weekend.  When a nice fire got going and everyone was mingling around, Mrs. Duncan asked Frank and Mayo to accompany her for a walk. “You know you were responsible for embarrassing Billie Jo, and I hope you are as ashamed of yourselves as I am for you,” she began. This went on for eight or ten minutes, but seemed like an eternity. 
Mayo chewed his lower lip and thought, “She’s bluffing. She can’t know who did it. There wasn’t anyone else in the room. She can’t make me confess, but if I did maybe she’d stop. I’m not ratting Frank out, even if it would shut her up.”
Frank stared at the sand, moon, ocean, thinking, “She’s bluffing. She can’t know who did it. There wasn’t anyone else in the room. If I confess, she might stop chewing us out. But then she might call my parents. Or Billie Jo’s! Now she’s telling us how sensitive girls are to this subject, like of course, that was the point!”
 After the longest ten minutes the two had ever experienced, she excused them with strong warnings about future behavior. The two red faced boys rejoined the group.
“Today we will dismiss after our regular classes at the end of fifth period. You will not leave the campus, but proceed directly to the football field. The Gideon Society will present an inspiring program during the sixth period hour. You will be expected to attend and participate in this annual event,” said Mr. Doggett over the loudspeakers.
The entire student body filed onto the football field, climbed onto the bleachers row by row, in a most orderly way. None of the usual pushing and shoving, shouting and waving happened on Gideon Day.  The little guys, the seventh graders, did a little nudging, of course, because they had never been to a Gideon assembly before.

The P. A. system warmed up and Mr. Doggett announced, “I (crackle) want to (crackle) introduce our friend and neighbor Mr. Elmer Applecheek, who will lead you in prayer and praise,” 
After a lengthy sermon that no one heard, Mr. Applecheek said, “You will see that my assistants are passing out pocket-sized New Testaments up and down the rows of the bleachers. These are being given to you at no cost. You will be allowed to make your donations to cover the cost of these little Bibles by dropping your offerings in the baskets containing the Bibles.” 
Mr. Doggett and Mr. Applecheek took the center of the stage and led the assembled student body in a rousing rendition of “Onward Christian Soldiers.” They led the group out of the bleachers, onto the track, and into a full lap around the track, singing the hymn and holding their little Bibles over their heads. If there were any Jews, Agnostics, or Atheists in the school, no one said a word, or failed to march and sing. They must have been uncomfortable.
 Dr. Akridge arrived on the Fletcher campus as a mathematics teacher sometime in the early 50’s.  Having tired of a career teaching in some college or other, he was prepared to slow down, enjoy life, join the faculty at Fletcher, pass on knowledge of mathematics to eager high school students and move toward retirement.  Thinking back, he was a serious man, not given to frivolity, hoping for a few enthusiastic students and not that happy to see the sort of carefree attitude that his students exhibited as he lectured on the subtleties of geometry or college algebra.  He strived mightily to help us learn and, in a few cases, was successful.  
Despite his efforts in the classroom and serious demeanor (or perhaps because of this demeanor) we were always looking for ways to pester the poor man.  Mostly innocent and sort of childish pranks but they all succeeded in causing his face to redden and, very likely, his blood pressure to rise. For example, lunch period fell in the middle of his class.  Dr. Akridge was most careful to always lock his room as the class left for lunch.  At the end of lunch, his eager students would be gathered at the door waiting for him to finish lunch, arrive, unlock the door and proceed in to continue the class.  
One day it occurred to Mike Veal and other students that it would be a great trick if, instead of waiting for the good Dr. in front of his door, that they might climb in through the windows and be in their seats when he returned from lunch and unlocked the door. His classroom was on the first floor, just down the hall from the cafeteria, with large windows that faced the passageway behind the school, between the school and the portables.  It was perfect.  A group, mostly boys, left lunch a bit early, went down the walkway behind his classroom, opened the windows, climbed in and waited.  On schedule Dr. Akridge unlocked his room after lunch and proceeded in followed by the rest of the class that were in the hall.  He did a classic “double take,” blinked, blurted out “What’s going on?” fumed for a few minutes, maybe even threatened some discipline because of the breach of security.  In the end he was OK, and attempted to proceed with the class despite muffled laughter and too much talking.  They were all quite proud of themselves, having again disrupted class, freaked out the teacher and generated another Fletcher High School memory.
Ish Brant stood at the side of the football field on a late Spring afternoon in 1953, wearing his pith helmet, low-cut cleats, and low-riding khaki shorts. As he watched the varsity finish the second practice of the day, he scratched his head. “Jarrett,” he asked, “do you think we ought to be letting them have some water?”
“Naw,” answered Don, Ish’s assistant coach. “It’ll just make ‘em puke. Sure, they’re all cotton-mouthed now, but it just toughens ‘em up.”
Coach walked out on the field. “Alright, Candy-asses, break it up and give me a couple of laps. Move it, Choo-choo, Dickenstein. Weston, you pissant, got lead in your britches? Drop down and give me twenty. Yo, Ubangi Grimes, show some hustle. If you sorry so-and-so’s raced the cheerleaders in a 440 right now, you’d lose by a mile.”
These were among the memories that Mayo shared, along with Mrs. Brant’s lemonade, on the Brants’ front porch many years later. “Coach,” asked Mayo, “when you were swinging the paddle you called the ‘board of education’ against our backsides, did you think you’d be heading up some real boards one day?”
“No, Gabriel, but some of my employees could have benefited by a whack or two. Of course, I’d get sued or put in jail for paddling these days.”
“You quit coaching soon after our class graduated. Did our lousy last season have anything to do with that? I don’t mean any disrespect, sir, and it was all our fault, not yours, and please don’t give me one of those big noogies, but. . .”
“No, hard as it is to believe, it wasn’t long before I was County School Superintendent, Mayor, City Manager, founded Florida Community College, was Chairman of the Board of Baptist Hospital, and after about forty years nobody asked me about that losing season. I must say, though, that my favorite title was the ‘Silver Fox’. You don’t get tags like that often.”
“Nothing I did over the years gave me as much pride as seeing how you boys grew into fine men. I tried to teach you respect for authority, but also for your selves and each other. I wanted you to learn fairness, so I tried to be fair. I wanted you to learn discipline, so I had to show you some. I wanted you to be proud of hard work, so I had to show you how to work hard.”
“Well, Coach, you’ve had an incredible and long life. I consider you a really great man and great friend. Do you have any regrets?” asked Mayo.
Coach sat for a minute, looking off the porch at his azaleas. “Well, son, if I treated my flowers as rough as I treated you guys, they’d all be dead. I should have let you have a sip of water during two-a-days.”

Monday, April 11, 2011

Dust yourself off

Just read an article by Mark Lachs from NPR, posted by Don Mabry on Facebook. Thanks, Don. His subject is how people live to be 100. He calls the secret "adaptive competence." That $50 phrase almost stopped me from reading it. However, now I can tie that title to one of my recurring thoughts along that line. Just another way of saying to dance with the one who brung you, or play the cards you're dealt. That doesn't mean lowering your expectations. It means, simply, deal with it.

I once worked with a secretary who seemed to be as pleasant as you'd ever want. However, scratch the surface and you found a miserable, angry, woman She kept an index card file on her desk. She made notes about every real or perceived slight, insult, or bad thing that came along, and filed them alphabetically by the name of the offending person. She explained it to me one day,  and I asked her why she saved them. She looked amazed that I didn't understand that she didn't want to forget one. It made me shudder.

If you plan on living to be 100, as I do, you sure don't want all that baggage. After a few decades, you could have a lot of it. If you expect perfection in friends, success, skills, children, pets, cars, or the weather, then life is just one disappointment after another. Who would want to live so long with so much misery? No, life is not fair. Some people seem to catch all the breaks. The good die young. Crime does pay, sometimes. Get over it.

Adaptive competence is just a fancy term best said in an old song: "Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again."

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Hospitals, airports, and other places have added valet parking services in the last few years. I am a big fan. If the sign says "Free Valet Parking," it doesn't mean you shouldn't tip.  I have seen many prosperous-looking people give the valet a big "Thank You" and drive away.

To really appreciate the valet service, you must have wandered around several floors of garage ramps and stairs in the sweltering summer heat, wondering where you parked. Try it on a walker. Try it pushing a wheelchair. Try it if you're sick of upset, or both.

My late friend Sally had rheumatoid arthritis for about 40 years, and had replaced most of her joints at least once. She still loved to travel. Her husband dropped her off at the airport curb one day. I guess he  assumed that the baggage handler would push her wheelchair along with the luggage. She rolled down the ramp and turned over before anyone could help. Bleeding freely, she somehow caught the plane to Atlanta before stopping off an an ER to get patched up. A valet would have helped, but I'll bet her husband would have stiffed him.

My favorite valet was one at the cancer center where I went for regular chemo through 2009. When I left after my last visit, I told him I wouldn't be back for awhile. He said "Let's make a clean break of it, then. It never works to be just friends." Yes, I'm a good tipper.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Every time someone tells me what I should have done or ought to do, my inner monster arises. His name is "Mongo" and I can usually keep him on a short leash. Sometimes Mongo escapes and I have to put him back in his cage. Then I put my fingers in my ears and sing "La, la, lala," to drown out the provoking words.

Last week I tried out something new. CJ had to be rushed to the nearest ER with acute heart failure. The paramedics, the ER staff, and the intensive care people performed with peak efficiency and saved his life. Today he is in rehab, walking down the hall with a cane, flirting with his therapist.

Yesterday, one of his friends told me that I should have insisted on taking him to a different hospital. That I ought to have known which was the better heart facility, etc. I simply agreed with him. He didn't know what in the world to say next. Mongo was jumping up and down, wanting a fight. He urged me to tell the idiot friend that he didn't know what he was talking about. I should have defended the chosen hospital and raved about the wonderful care they provided. I told Mongo he should mind his own business, and the next time he told me what I "should" do I would slap him up side the head.