Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Stephen Foster Song

I have a few music recordings in my collection that I don't listen to often, yet they're the ones I go to when I'm not in the mood to listen to music. Make sense? I don't blame ya.

Yo Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, and Mark O'Connor recorded Appalachia Waltz in just three days in 1995. I bought it, and I quickly became one of my "desert island" CD's. Then the three released Appalachian Journey in 2000, and I thought they topped themselves.

Here, Alison Krause joins the three to sing Stephen Foster's "Slumber My Darling" during a live performance of Appalachian Journey, first broadcast on PBS.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


It's a funny thing about being away on a holiday associated with gatherings of loved ones. Yeah, I wish I were home. I wish that I could later drive Rhonda and Dylan to my sister-in-law's house, where the family dinner will be held. I wish I could watch Dylan interact with his only surviving grandparent, Rhonda's mom. Yep, I wish I could be there.

But the funny thing about being away is how a tinge of heartache can put an accent on that for which I feel thankful. The homesickness brings forth a heightened capacity to cherish, and it shines a spotlight on what's really important.

Today, I'm thankful that I make my living doing what I dreamed about as a kid. Today, I'm thankful for my health. Today, I'm thankful for my friends. Today, I'm thankful for those coworkers who make being away just a little more bearable.

Most of all, I'm thankful for my wife and son, who together give my life its sunlight. Soon, I'll hold them both again, and I'll feel thankful for that, too.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Yesterday, I learned that a couple I knew when I lived in southern California is getting divorced. Even though I haven't kept in touch with them, even though it's been fifteen years since I've seen them, the news still shocked and dismayed me. Their marriage appeared bulletproof, and it seemed written in the stars that they'd adore each other forever. I wonder about the welfare of their son, who's now a teenager.

As in life, there are no guarantees in relationships. We have hope for ourselves and for others, and we cling to faith that we'll live happily ever after. It doesn't always happen.

I don't know what happened with my southern California friends. All that comes to me is that harmony in a relationship sometimes goes away, even while the love stays.

Singer-songwriter Hal Ketchum wrote lyrics that really struck me when I first heard them, and they still resonate every time I hear the song "Lonely Old Me."

Even love that is meant to be
is a garden that needs tending.

Even love that is for all time
cannot promise a happy ending.

On Annie's blog today, I clicked on one of her blog links to a Redding-area blogger by the name of Keith Stahr. Keith had a quote on his profile from novelist Tom Robbins that resonated much the same as "Lonely Old Me."

"When two people meet and fall in love, there's a sudden rush of magic. Magic is just naturally present then. We tend to feed on that gratuitous magic without striving to make any more. One day we wake up and find that the magic is gone. We hustle to get it back, but by then it's usually too late, we've used it up. What we have to do is work like hell at making additional magic right from the start. It's hard work, but if we can remember to do it, we greatly improve our chances of making love stay."

Maybe the message in those words hardly presents the whole answer. Is there a whole answer?

I dunno. If I figure that one out, I'll get back to you.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Remember Halloween?

Debby asked if I had any Halloween pics. I did, but I misplaced my card reader and the camera cable. Well, better late than never, I guess.

I found Dylan's werewolf costume a little disturbing, and I hope he'll want to be something else next year. He found Rhonda's appearance disturbing, and he doesn't want her to repeat it next year. Rhonda found my ghoul makeup disturbing, and she wants me to do something else next year.

We were one doggone disturbed family this Halloween.

Rhonda and I believe that parents should join in with the Halloween spirit, but should maintain a degree of parental decorum around the kids.

I asked Rhonda if she'd keep the wig around for, er, later. I asked her two or three times. She kept acting as if she didn't hear me.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Me Me Meme

Redlefty and Debby have both tagged me for this, so I guess it's about time I got off my duff. And, I mean golly, I just hate writing about myself.

Here are the rules.

  • Link to the person who tagged you, and post the rules on your blog.

  • Share 7 random and/or weird facts about yourself.

  • Tag 7 random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs.

  • Let people know they've been tagged by leaving comments on their blogs.
Okay, here goes.

1. I'm anti death penalty, but pro gun rights. If I were to go to a party populated equally by liberals and conservatives, I could antagonize most of the room in no time.

2. I believe in ghosts, because I lived with one for a time in the eighties.

3. I'm a Christian. Some people from the fundamentalist fold might argue that, should we share a conversation about belief, and that's okay. I'm a Christian, but I very much believe in reincarnation. Can you say "heresy"? Oh yeah, plus that ghost thing.

4. I fly helicopters. I have eleven thousand hours of flight time. But, I can't snap my fingers. My son could snap his fingers when he was five. More evidence that life ain't fair.

5. I've had good times, and I've had bad times, but I don't ever remember seriously considering killing myself. I've always had the capacity to remember that bad times would pass. It's been written that 92 percent of people who jumped off of the Golden Gate Bridge and survived changed their minds on the way down. Good thing to remember when times get tough.

6. I think it's quite likely that Moses, Jesus, Buddha, and Muhammad all worked for the same boss. Sorry if I left out your personal favorite.

7. I like exchanging emails, but I'd almost rather take a beating than chat online.

Special bonus: I'm one of the heirs to the Johnson & Johnson fortune.

Not really, and I stole that off Uncle E's blog anyway.

Okay, here are my tags:

Bob, the IABFNY Bob.
Bob, the Bob from Tennessee.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Second Sunday in November

I usually stay home as much as possible on the weekends. Weekends are our time to be together as a family. So, I do most errands during the weekdays, while Dylan is in school.

This morning, though, I felt like I just had to go to the gym. I'm working at getting a workout station set up in our garage, but it's not there yet. As I was backing up, Dylan came running out the front door. He asked me to stay. I told him I would be back soon, leaned out the window to hug him, and left anyway.

It's about a mile and a half to the "real" road into town, the first half being dirt. When I got to the road, I stopped. I thought about Dylan being eight, and about how things are changing. I thought about the real possibility that in a scant few years, he would no longer ask me to stay home. I thought about the day when he would move away, and I wondered if one particular morning would haunt me late in life: that morning when I decided to go to the gym instead of hang with my son.

I turned around to go home. I was a few hundred yards from our gate when our former neighbor and his son came up behind me in their car. They've recently bought a house in town, and will be renting the "old" one out. They'd come to burn some brush piles and do general cleanup outside. Brian, the son, asked if Dylan would be available to play. I knew Dylan would be overjoyed, both to see Brian again and to watch brush burning.

I told Brian that Dylan would love to come over. I smiled. Dylan wouldn't miss me in the least while he was hanging with Brian. I turned around and headed to the gym again. I pondered the passing of time. I thought of the day Dylan was born, and how, when I first set my eyes upon my son, it felt as if God had put a spotlight on him.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Sweetness and Light

My eight-year old is showing signs that he's leaving behind the last vestiges of his early-childhood sweetness.

I volunteered at his school yesterday. When I first showed up in his class, the teacher was showing the class how to properly fill out a check. (In third grade?) After she finished the teaching segment, she asked if I had any comments.

"Yep," I responded. "All of you need to do well in school, go on to college, and find good-paying careers so you can later write checks like these to your parents."

Dylan, my sweet eight year-old son, let go with a loud, dramatic faux-sneeze, expelling the words "NOTGONNAHAPPEN!" with it. His teacher looked shocked for a moment, but then started laughing. She looked at me with what I took to be a mixture of amusement and sympathy.

Last weekend, I stepped out of the shower, and found no towels in the bathroom. I stepped out of the bathroom to the linen closet, naked. Dylan happened to walk into the hallway at the same time. He let go with a blood-curdling scream: "OH MY EYES! OH MY EYES!" He staggered in place with his hands over his face. Oh yeah, some heavy drama going on there.

But that wasn't enough. No. He then collapsed, and began writhing on the floor. Yep, he was writhing on the floor, still screaming "OH MY EYES! OH MY EYES!"

Sheesh. Eight years-old, and the little rascal has the makings of a first-class wiseguy.

He got it from his mom, obviously.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Sometimes, the Real Sign of Hope Comes from Losers

Obama's victory speech was inspiring. I think he's the most charismatic politician to come upon the national scene since JFK.

But sometimes, the real sign of hope comes from the losing side. John McCain, George Bush, and Condoleezza Rice all impressed me when I heard them speak this morning. They all showed class, and they all showed themselves capable of rising to the occasion. They all acknowledged the historical importance of this election: for the first time, the United States has elected a man of color to the highest office in the land.

In 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. The opening sentence is perhaps the best-known of any American political document: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . .

I can remember reading those words in junior high, and thinking that the beliefs and actions of so many made those words ring hollow. The words "all men are created equal" seemed tantamount to a cruel joke.

But not today. No, not today.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

My Evening with the Wino Posse

I lived in Austin, Texas for part of 1981 and 1982. Man, I loved it there. I've always loved live music, even mediocre live music, and Austin offered an amazing level of live entertainment for a town its size. Even on a Sunday or Monday night, a good band was easy to find.

One of the great sorrows of my life is that I didn't move to Austin in time to visit Armadillo World Headquarters, the focal point of Austin's Redneck Rock/Progressive Country/Texas Troubadour scene of the 1970's. I never made it to an Austin City Limits show either, but that's a secondary tragedy.

Sixth Street found the highest concentration of live music venues in the Hill Country. During my breaks away from working as an offshore helicopter pilot in the Gulf of Mexico, I spent many nights wandering about Sixth Street, drinking beer, listening to music, and avoiding anything resembling a productive life.

One night I exited a place called Steamboat Springs on Sixth Street, only to come upon a fight getting started. They were two big guys, and from their dress and age I guessed them to be University of Texas students.

Back in those days, when I hung out in bars and taverns a lot, I was what you'd call a happy drinker. Never once did I get in a bar fight. Stupidly, though, I seemed to feel that it was my mission in life to break up fights.

So there I was, standing on a sidewalk on Sixth Street, watching two guys fight, making mental transition from Mr. Good Times to doing something. I wasn't feeling at my most physically capable: I'd severely sprained an ankle and was encumbered with a walking cast. The guy with his back to me clocked the other one solidly. I yelled, "Yo man, hold on there," and lunged forward to restrain him. As I did, the guy drew back to punch his "friend" again, and his elbow caught me right between the eyes. Boom.

That stunned me, yeah. But what really got things going south for your would-be honky-tonk hero was tripping as I stumbled backward. Damn walking cast. I avoided falling down, which was good. However, I avoided falling down by smashing against the brick wall behind me with the back of my skull. That was bad.

Things went kind of gray, and I found my knees buckling. I slid down the wall to a sitting position.

The guy who'd kicked my ass with his elbow hit his friend again, and the friend went down. Then Elbow Guy kicked the other guy in the face.

"Hey!" I yelled. "HEY!" Elbow Guy paid me no mind. I told myself to stand up, but my legs weren't obeying me. Elbow Guy kicked the prone guy on the back of the head. "NO!" I yelled.

That's when things got a little surreal.

Five middle-aged men seemed to come out of nowhere. They swarmed Elbow Guy. "C'mon man, you got him down. He's all done," said one of the rescuers. "GET THE F*CK AWAY FROM ME," shouted Elbow Guy. He then hurled a series of racial epithets at the men. Seemingly unfazed, the five black men, slight and underfed looking, all began talking at once. "He's your friend, ain't he? Why you wanna hurt him more? C'mon, it's time to let him be and go home."

I continued to sit on the sidewalk, transfixed. The five men didn't need any help from me.

Anger fled the scene. Elbow Guy's face went slack, as if a certain realization had washed over him: he'd been about to seriously injure a friend. He muttered something to the men, then  simply wandered away. The men turned to the guy on the ground, now sitting up. "Hey man, you okay?" Kicked Guy's lip was bleeding, but he looked okay, considering. He answered, "Yeah. Got a loose tooth, but I'm okay. Thanks. You guys saved my ass." They all shook hands, and Kicked Guy wandered away too.

It was over. I was still sitting on my butt on the sidewalk, no doubt with mouth agape. The five guys turned to me. Two of them lifted me by the arms, struggling. My legs were working again, but still shaky.

"Thanks guys," I said. "Man, what you guys did was really something." One of them, the guy who seemed the spokesman, replied, "Ain't no thing, Cracker." The rest of the guys laughed. "We're the Wino Posse, out to rescue honky college students." They all laughed again. I laughed too. Mr. Spokesman had a comic's delivery. He had kind eyes. They all did.

I shook hands with the five of them. Since they looked impoverished, I expected them to ask me for money. They didn't. I started walking toward the all-night deli restaurant at the a few blocks away, as was my habit at the end of a night on Sixth Street. I turned back toward the guys. "Hey, can I buy you guys breakfast at the deli?" Mr. Spokesman, who looked a lot like Scatman Crothers, answered, "Thanks Brother Cracker, but we ain't exactly dressed for the place."

One of the other men spoke up. "But you know, if you wanted to thank us, you could buy us a couple bottles of Mad Dog." I smiled. "What, no Thunderbird?" There were snorts of derision, and comments like "that stuff'll rot your brain." "Okay," I said, "you guys gonna be here when I get back?" Mr. Spokesman answered, "Naw, Brother Cracker, we get too much attention around these high-class places. Look for us a few blocks east. And hey: if you go to that place a few blocks west, ask for some paper cups. These winos may be my brothers, but I ain't into sharin' spit with them." The guys laughed again.

I got in my car, drove to the nearest liquor store, and bought a few bottles of Mogen David 20/20, the low-end fortified wine of discriminating winos. I drove to the east on Sixth Street, and found the guys on one of the darker corners.

I jumped out and delivered the bottles. Only then did it strike me that they might need some food. "Hey guys, could I go get some burgers or something?" Mr. Spokesman piped up. "Naw, Brother Cracker, we've already had dinner. We're winos, but we ain't homeless." The other guys laughed. One of them asked, "Care to join us?"

So, for about an hour, I became a wino. I normally avoided mixing beer and wine, since that would usually lead to a volcanic stomach situation, but that night, the Mad Dog went down just fine. I decided then and there that if I ever became a wino, I'd stick to Mogen David.

Damn, those guys were funny. Stories flew about, as well as jokes and good-natured insults. I tried to find out more about the pasts of the five men, but they seemed kind of evasive. In fact, they gave me the impression that I was being rude. All I remember learning was that Mr. Spokesman had once been a teacher, and one of the other guys had once been a truck driver.

An hour or so went by, and it dawned on me that I was wearing out my welcome. I shook hands with the five of them, and they all joined in to promise that they wouldn't spread it around that I'd had my ass kicked by a wall. We all laughed one last time. I walked to my car while they all called out for me to be careful and to watch out for those ass-kicking walls on Sixth Street. I started the car and noticed Mr. Spokesman walking to the curb. I rolled down the passenger window, and he leaned down to speak to me. "Hal, steer your life. Don't let life steer you." I shook hands with him again, and drove away. When I got near the all-night deli, it suddenly hit me that I probably shouldn't be driving. I pulled over and went inside to have breakfast.

After eating, I called a cab to go home. It was only then that it hit me: Mr. Spokesman had called me "Hal," and I was almost sure that I'd never said my name. I'd been "Brother Cracker" to those guys. In fact, the etiquette of the evening seemed to involve avoiding the use of given names.

Over the following weeks, I looked for the five men while frequenting Sixth Street. I asked bartenders if they'd ever noticed them or heard from them. None of them had, until one evening, at a place called the Paradise Cafe, one bartender acted like he'd been slapped when I brought them up.

"The Wino Posse? Yeah, they got me out of a jam one night."

It would make a better story if I could tell you that the bartender guy related a detailed account of his encounter with those five men. But, he did no such thing. In fact, when I pressed him, he seemed irritated, and snorted, "Some things are better left unsaid."

I never saw the Wino Posse again. I never heard of them, either, except from that one bartender, who made it plain that he didn't want to elaborate.

I think about them often. I think about their kindness, their bravery, and about how they seemed to have a common desire to be winos with class. I think about how so many people in more fortunate circumstances could learn a lot about life from those five alcoholic street denizens.

I think it's likely that they're no longer walking upon this earth.

Funny thing: it's early morning, and I seldom drink at home, but I'd like to have a glass of Mogen David right now. I'd toast bravery, kindness, and the Wino Posse, as the words from the song "Midnight Choir" coursed through my head: "Will they have Mogen David in heaven?"