Thursday, December 3, 2009

We Be Crammin'

"Cruisin” was something we used to do around McDonald’s or maybe Krystal over in Warner Robins. “Not, anymore” as my wife likes to say. “Cruisin” has now embarked on a major eating/drinking tour of the islands or some other destination where the water is blue and you might be too, if you insist on eating your way south.
Eye fatigue set in early from watching folks chew. I now understand why a restaurant waiter might consider taking his/her own life. Have you ever watched cows over in “dairy country” (Putnam County)? Now you’ve got the picture.
My wife and I cruised last week on the “We Be Crammin’” (Marley) cruise line, and found ourselves bloated and in a country where everyone rides a scooter, speaks a different language, and either wears the same helmet or is related. I saw the same guy 20 times or 20 different guys carrying somebody’s wife and two kids on a Vespa scooter. He looked like a balancing act from the old Ed Sullivan show.
Upon embarkation (ship talk for leaving) I had to, of course, call mom and tell her all about the Dramamine. She laughed her head off, “Are you kidding, you won’t even know you’re moving!” Well, we were either moving or the passengers were having a Mai Tai moment.
The staggering continued throughout the cruise as many of the men went into their second trimester of “pregnancy” on board the good ship “Buffet,” courtesy of the “all you can eat ‘free’ food.”
Passengers were allowed to major in whatever their favorite food group happened to be, so I chose butter. I put it on everything but the ice cream. There were 40 year olds who majored in ice cream, but they had to wait in line. The butter was always available. No waiting.
We hit the sun deck early the next morning on what the “Buffet” calls “augmentation/line dance day” and I got to see some really interesting breast implants and tattoos doing the electric slide. The “blue card” they give you will buy anything on the ship, but I doubt those were on the menu.
After two days of eating/drinking and line dancing to burn it all off, we arrived on the island to the sound of mariachi bands and people with lots of clothes for sale.
Most of the folks on the ship had gone from one size to one size fits all and the dressing rooms were full of those trying to fit into the size they had before we embarked.
Tears followed, but the natives encouraged us to drown our sorrows in Tequila. Tequila gives me heartburn so I stayed depressed on day three.
Day four it’s back on the boat for more line dancing and karaoke. No one cares anymore so karaoke is a big hit. Most of the participants are wearing spandex tops and bottoms. The colors are magnificent. On the evening of day four and still hundreds of miles from port, cruising at 15 knots, my wife says, “I think I’ve had enough Diet Coke.” “Uh,” says I. “Did you bring any Rolaids?” Are we moving yet? How far are the bathrooms? Who finished my last drink? Where’s me spandex shorts be?
Will we go again? Of course. We saw some things and met some folks that made us feel really great. Like the mom spanking her mouthy 14 year old; the double lung transplant from Puerto Rico, on a trip she cherished with her relatives; the newlyweds who couldn’t wait to find their stateroom; the ruins (which are actually just that — ruined) and too much to tell here.
Who knows, we be Crammin’ to Hawaii one o’ des days, hopefully on de good ship “Buffet.”

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Black Bean

There she sat, eyeballing some Newman’s Own Salsa, the kind with the black beans and corn in it. Loves it on just about anything, which is what we were eating that evening. I saw her eyes move to the last one on her plate...A big bean he was, standing out among the corn and tomatoes and begging to be eaten. Her eyes got that glazed over look and I knew she was probably having one of those epiphanies that usually lead to me doing something around the house. “This color would look great on our shutters” she muttered, moving him around the plate. “Sure would, I said, save it.” She likes the stuff so much I knew there was no way big guy was going to make it into a plastic bag. I figured I’d be safe when she finally finished him off because as they say, “in the tummy, out of mind”. It makes me shutter to think about it because all our shutters are fifteen feet off the ground and the ladder I use every ten years to paint stops at ten. After that it’s me, a gallon of paint, and a brush, balancing on rung number one. Around the neighborhood they refer to me as “Mr. Wallenda”. Not that I mind painting understand, in fact I used to paint for money…now I just paint for love. It seems the sight of me holding a paint brush does wonders for the wife’s libido… that and the weedwacker. I try to weedwack once a day whether the place needs it or not. Our yard looks like the Sahara Desert but with gas at $4.00 a gallon, I may have to cut back to every other day. But I digress…again.

She ate him … but he had left one of those indelible marks on her brain, or maybe her taste buds, and so she still wanted to paint. So we developed the project sans bean, which was a real gamble, considering the value of our house is dropping like cow manure on its way to becoming a paddy. So I said, “You know, I think I remember that thing having a little red in it.” She picked her teeth and said, “Yep, I think you’re right”. “But that could have been the tomatoes in the salsa”, I said. “Could have” she nodded. I’m feeling like that little guy with the flower, “she’ll love me, she’ll love me not”, but we’re having the longest conversation we’ve had in days and I’m rather enjoying it. We finally settled on something that had the color of one of the dogs’ collars, reddish/black/maroon. The guy at the paint store didn’t like salsa but said “black bean is a color you know.” I thought I might find it somewhere near an illegal immigrant poster but went with the dog collar color.

Our shutters are currently green, so we’re looking at two coats for optimum coverage. I’m the idiot who put the green on there and I regret it. We could have gotten by with one coat, my painting philosophy being, if they can’t see it from the road, why bother. But ol’ “Beana Reena” wanted green so…So I called a good friend, who is a great painter and claims to be the guy who came up with the, “it ain’t the fall that hurts, it’s the sudden stop” adage and he convinced me we could get the shutters painted in record time if I would pay him a decent wage, buy him a ‘cuttin’ brush and put gas in his Lincoln, which he can drive to Myrtle Beach and half way back on a tank of gas. So I agreed to pay him something less than what is fair, being he’s my friend. We spent the next day painting shutters and talking basketball. He was just one shot short of the NBA in the eighties and I was thirty dollars short of being able to watch it on cable.

We finished the shutters with no mishaps and Mrs. “Mona Lisa” appears to be happy. Well, gotta get to the store for some gas. Time to fire up the ol’ weed wacker.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Current Issues in Deep Fat Frying

I had a conversation with a friend the other day. A man of integrity who I respect and am grateful came into my life. I call him Coach Green and he is one of those self made men, born in the south in 1942 who became a successful educator, coach and sometimes a philosopher. Coach Green, is still, at sixty seven, a powerful physical presence whose soft voice and genial personality put people at ease. His wife Linda is, well, beautiful in all respects and, more than happy to help you find the bones in the deep fried catfish when you forget to bring your reading glasses to dinner. Years ago, when we were growing up, Coach Green and I sat on opposite sides of the balcony at the local theatres; I went in through the front door and he entered through the side. Through it all (and all was a hell of a lot) we arrived at a few similar opinions. Today, when we can, we enjoy watching a good football game, sipping on a cold “soldier” or playing poker, where he beats me out of money I shouldn’t be gambling with anyway. My respect for this man comes from watching him work with children, listening to him talk about his family and something else. We both raised daughters. Can you imagine your daughter having to go in the side door? Green can and still welcomes this old relic of the sixties (me) into his home. We’re friends who realize our country is in a struggle right now…here and around the world but there’s going to be a serious fight if someone forgot the Crisco for the fryer. But that’s another story.

Our conversations wouldn’t make the Research Quarterly or the New York Times because they involve more important things. Like, what’s wrong with the Braves or haven’t we had enough rain? So when I read former President Jimmy Carter’s comment, "There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president"; I called my friend to get his perspective. (I don’t really know that much about our former president, to be honest, except I’m sure he entered the theater through the front) but his comments opened the wound and so we went there. I think both of us would rather have discussed methods we use to hide money from our wives. That’s the way most of us our age are now, realizing the horrible realities of the past but also understanding we’ve got some serious stuff out there in 2009 sitting side by side in the theatre, classroom and bus and we’d better be getting about the business of solving problems. As always my friend gave me some food for thought. “Sonny, it was politically incorrect and poor timing, he said. We can always find reasons to hate people rather than like them, magnify their faults not our weaknesses, but everyone has a right to their opinion, including President Carter. I’ve always chosen to treat people the way I want to be treated.” As always, with Coach Green, I found the guy who sat on the other side of the balcony to be a source of wisdom. And now I’m wondering if that buttered popcorn was something I shouldn’t have been eating all along. I’m not a politician, wealthy landowner, or even all that intelligent but I do know this. The racial issues in this country will not be solved until we find a way to get to know each other. Once that happens, color will disappear and what we will see is….just another person and most of the time a lot like us. You rarely see folks fighting when they’re eating deep fried catfish and I have the feeling that there are a lot of people out there like Coach Green and me…tired of the issue, opinions on the issue, words associated with the issue, and people making money off the issue. What we are concerned about is whether the last check we wrote is going to bounce because our wives bought People Magazine so they could read about somebody else’s issues.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Winning The Lottery

I stopped by a convenience store this morning with a pocket full of quarters and saw the headline in the newspaper box that read, “Prince Harry comes into his inheritance”. It seems he has inherited what would be to us a major win at Lotto. Two things usually happen to me when someone wins at Lotto. One, I get physically ill and mentally fatigued thinking of one hundred million ways to spend one hundred million dollars and two… I develop an intense dislike for the person who won in spite of the fact that I don’t know them. So the voice goes off, again, saying, “That dirty Harry, I’ll just bet he had a good day today.” This gave way to the urge to buy my own winning ticket and I listened as “Self” started this persuasive rant saying, “This was Harry’s day, maybe it’s your day too. Somebody has to win, why not you? “Who knows? This store probably hasn’t had a winner in awhile; the odds are probably only ten million to one today. What else are you going to do with all those quarters? You have enough gas in the tank, buy something else.” And on and on she rattled (my self is female when it wants me to buy something) until I gathered up four quarters and walked toward the store entrance. Reaching for the door my other self (the male self and fortunately or not, the one I consult most often) said, “Why not buy a ten million dollar cup of that good flavored, five hundred calorie cappuccino? You won the lottery sixty two years ago!” And in fact I had because that was when my mom and dad decided to have a child who became me. Now I’m not saying they won that day but I know I did and in fact have won several lotteries since. I won in June of 1962 when Mrs. Peacock was there with her car to take me to the hospital after a boating accident. I won again in 1980 when I got married and darned if I didn’t hit it again in 86’ when my daughter was born. There are those who would say the possibility of winning the lottery four times is, well, impossible but I have had other wins as well. I won the day Matt Author told me to go to school to be a teacher and coach. We were playing in a church softball league; I was eighteen and had not one clue as to how I was going to spend the next forty years. That was a Mega-million day for sure. Some of my wins are in the Megabucks category while others are what I consider Fantasy Fives. And when I stop to think about it, none of my wins actually involved money. Oh don’t get me wrong, money makes this ol’ world go round and round for sure and without it we are sometimes want to find “the good life”, but my lotteries have always involved winning in other ways. So while I can appreciate those who continue to support education in our State, I wonder if the idea of winning the monetary lottery is looking on the wrong side of the coin and just makes our lives bigger without making them any better. What would we do with a hundred million dollars? Probably buy something, that’s what money is generally used for. When it just sits in a drawer it becomes like a sock or shirt but can’t be worn. No, money has to be spent to be worth anything. So what would we buy? Something big, bigger than the one we currently own. Food, probably more than we need which would lead to buying bigger clothes, a larger dry cleaning bill and a large depression when we see ourselves in the larger mirror we purchased to accommodate our new large bodies. Or maybe we would just buy a larger view of something we like to look at. So actually, when you think about it, winning the monetary lottery can make things bigger but not necessarily better. I walked on through the door and bought a cup of coffee and two lotto tickets. Figured, well, you know what I figured, “somebody’s got to win the darn thing, Harry did.” Now I’m wondering if I’ll still like myself when I win.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Peanut Farmers

I’ve thought about physically enhancing myself ever since a student popped up in a high school hallway one day and referred to me as “old baldhead”. That was twenty years ago and I had no idea I was in fact follically (don’t bother, I made it up) challenged. I went home that very afternoon, looked into a silver backed mirror I knew would tell me the truth and discovered I was indeed, heir to the Sean Connery dynasty. What else could I do…my hair was gone. I suppose I could have had a Biden hair transplant and a little plastic surgery and while today’s innovative marketers have expanded it to mean additional stuff, I just wasn’t into enhancement. So, in an effort to stay positive with this situation, I began to watch 007’s movies, realizing he was not only able to drive really fast without having an accident but in fact spent a large amount of time with fashionable females who found him “acceptable”, so to speak, in spite of his shortcoming.
Years ago down in Statesboro, we had what we used to call peanut farmers, weather beaten old salts whose faces looked like roadmaps when they came in to drop off their peanuts at the Rushing peanut plant. The plant was a combination tobacco barn and peanut receiving plant, where farmers brought their crop in for weighing and shipping in big trucks to Virginia, who then claimed they were Virginia peanuts and sent them on to the factory in Never Never Land where they became Peter Pan peanut butter. The farmers who brought them in were an amazing bunch of Americans who had probably done more physical labor in one month than Peter Pan ever thought of but he could fly so that evens it up. Their faces reflected years in the sun and seemed to be an open book into the lives they were living to bring the peanuts to a country using peanuts for everything from brittle to fudge. They didn’t know what sunscreen was back then and plastic surgery was deemed an extreme measure used to disguise years on life’s “tractor” and taken only when the potential new wife was the daughter’s best friend. Something we would never stoop to today. But it is possible they just didn’t care that their faces looked like a hundred miles of bad road and were in fact satisfied with the woman who had born their children and been a helpmate for the years following the wedding vows. They were just not into enhancement, although a few may have tried their luck. After all, it’s like going to Vegas and rolling the dice. Will this make me look more beautiful or more intelligent or just give me more lips and fewer lines? So what you had coming into the peanut plant was the real deal…weather beaten, ornery, might drink a beer on Saturday afternoon and still make it to church on Sunday, peanut farmer. When they lined their trailers full of peanuts up on ol’ Zetterhower street you could see the look on those worn faces that seemed to be saying, “Don’t mess with me, this is my place in line and by god I’m getting these things weighed and on to Never Never Land before sundown.” The thought that Peter Pan, who, as we all know, was older than he appeared and may very well have had a plastic surgery moment, never occurred to these men of the fields. So what is it with the Bruce Jenner usetabees and Phyliss Diller neverwases that makes them want to erase a hundred years of bad road and replace it with three square inches of wax? After all, it’s the only road they’ll ever own, unless their driveway qualifies…and they may as well lay claim to the road they’ve traveled. I think it has a lot to do with how you view Peter Pan. The peanut farmer I knew was focused on one thing, getting the crop to the Peter Pan people for the peanut butter. These other folks are focused on their thing, getting the most out of a face in order to look like Peter Pan when they’re ninety. You really can’t fault either one; after all, it’s their road.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Learning A Lot From Dogs

From the day I picked him up over in Eufaula, Ala., 12 years ago to the day I laid him to rest in the woods out back he made a difference in my life. He never weighed more than six pounds, but he was the “big dog” where ever he happened to be.
He had this presence that demanded your attention and respect. With just a snort or a bark, he could let you know how he felt about a situation and usually get his way. He was, as they say, “the runt of the litter” and, as he matured, had no hair except that on his face. We had that in common.
He was a Yorkshire Terrier, but took no stock in that or his status in the community of dogs. He was a special little fellow whose name was Deuce (from the tied score in a tennis match), and he was a fair-minded guy who knew when the other “dog” needed to win. “All bark and no bite,” as they say.
He was content with having a contest with most anything that could be tugged at, and he spent many a day tugging socks with Daisy, his “wife.” Daisy left us two years ago, the victim of a hit and run. She’s also in the woods out back.
Deuce saw most of the Eastern half of the U.S., from south Florida to D.C., and had pictures to prove it. He toured D.C. on a bicycle, left his mark on most of the Smithsonian buildings and played on the tennis courts in Fort Myers. While he never made it to New York, he seemed to be content with Milledgeville and her people, wagging his tail and barking whenever a visitor came to his house.
He never asked for more food than offered nor saw a female dog he didn’t love. I guess he was what we call fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Of all the talks we had, we never talked politics so I don’t know how he would have voted in the recent presidential election, but he would have voted.
I never saw him take a life, lizard or bug, but he was a staunch defender of his home, barking whenever anyone came up the driveway. I guess he had one of those “live and let live” attitudes. He didn’t own a gun.
Deuce never fathered offspring. Females found him rather rough looking and maybe the timing was never just right. I remember taking him to the park one afternoon for tennis matches and introducing him to this “knock out” female lying in the grass over by the courts. Deuce had his visor on and I thought he looked his best, sort of sporty and all. Well, she gave him the “what ghetto you from” look, swished her tail and walked away. Not fazed by this behavior, the little guy simply walked over to her owner’s purse cocked his leg and left the impression that he just didn’t care.
It is amazing how one of these little guys can steal your heart, as he did mine, barking and excited to see someone they care about after a day’s work. We could learn a lot from dogs.
Near the end he had several medical problems as most aging dogs do and developed an ulcerated eye. I took him to an eye specialist in Athens who took the eye out and recommended a prosthetic eye for replacement. We opted for a patch. I don’t think he ever missed that eye.We had him for a few more months and then one day I came home. I knew he was ready to leave. The last words he heard from me were, “you were a good dog.” Yes, he was a good dog and I miss him.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Great Ear Ache of 09'

After finding out the cost of ear drops I decided to drop the President a note. It went something like this:
Dear Mr. President,
For seven days now I’ve been through the nightmare of an ear that can no longer hear and only ache. I’ve stuck everything I can think of in there to no avail and as a last resort must resort to appealing to a higher power for help. This all started with my irresponsible behavior at the lake, swimming with reckless abandon underwater with no ear plugs. After that it was first one thing and then another as I began the process of prodding my ear into hearing again. I’ve drained, flushed, pulled, blow dried and speared my ear with cue tips in an effort to get some relief but like the Katrina survivors, the water just won’t go away. I’ve spent seven days listening to my dentures rattling around in my mouth, my heart beating and echoes from noises I cannot describe but know are there. I’ve chewed food in a state of torture similar, I’m sure, to what the CIA must have done to numerous suspected terrorists, as I hear my teeth coming together with each bite, a grinding hollow sound followed by swallowing which I will not attempt to describe here for fear it would offend. Suffice to say, if your health care program can give me relief, count on my vote in the next election. The last time I heard, ear drops were running about a hundred seventy dollars without insurance and a hundred and six with it.
A potential supporter when you run for re-election

So, there it is, and I didn’t even mention the hemorrhoids, which I’m sure will be covered somewhere in that one thousand page bill. If they’re not, our political geniuses would be woefully neglectful voting “yes”. I wonder what hemorrhoid would come under. Probably hidden somewhere under “recoverable assets” or something like that. Well, we bailed out the banks, what’s the problem?

I don’t know beans about the healthcare debate. All I know is when I was growing up my dad made many a decision based on security for his family and that included health care. Any job he chose to take, after Air Force retirement, had to include health care for his wife and five children. Oh, he had many an opportunity to speculate on various employment opportunities, make no mistake. Ol’ Bill Slater would come by at least once a year and dangle a financial karat in dad’s face. “Harmon, he’d say, this cannot miss!” Whether it was trampolines at the beach or a goofy golf course in some remote area next to a Dairy Queen, ol’ Bill had it going on. Dad never bit. He always put his family ahead of the karat and made sure health care was in the package.
We all grow up looking at security, money and jobs in different ways. Some take chances, some find security with education, and some just work their tails off looking for a better life. Some of us are chance takers and some just aren’t and just like dad, I’ve always opted for the security of a job that carries good health insurance. I figure most of us are like that. But then we have others of us who, for whatever reasons, just can’t seem to get a handle on a job that carries health benefits. Oh I know those of us who have it pay a lot for it but it’s where we want to be with ourselves and our family’s wellbeing. A fundamental difference between a liberal and a conservative might be in their view of security and its source. I’ll leave the rest up to the voter. Now, as for that ear ache. I’d actually had it for so long the experience of hearing out of one ear was beginning to grow on me. It’s amazing what you can hear when you only have one ear working. Some call it selective hearing. With only one ear you’re very careful about what goes in the ear and what comes out your mouth. I suppose we all could use a little more of that.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Of Mice and Men

They said it was “the worst one we’ve ever seen”. And as I sit here now I still cannot believe there was more than just one. It’s called denial and we do it all the time around here. The car begins to sound funny when you start it up and you think after a while, well, it’s still starting, must be normal for this time of mileage. A mouse runs across the kitchen floor and you think, well, he’s probably just trying to beat the heat. Denials always start with the word, “well” for some reason. You see this dark little shadow scurrying along the baseboard in the living room and think, well, I must be seeing things, there’s no way that mouse could have made it in here. Well, he didn’t, they did and according to the “experts” we have a problem and they are partying in just about every room in this house. I thought we had just one, sort of a pet you might say, and even wondered why the dogs (who couldn’t catch a mouse) would, for no apparent reason, go into a barking frenzy right there in the living room but figured, well, they hear a lot better than I, maybe there’s a deer outside. Mouse pellets were found in the pantry on the third shelf and in my denial it became obvious to me that we had a gifted little fellow capable of climbing and squeezing between shelves until he found what he wanted. Well, I thought, he’s quite the circus mouse, this one is (so I named him Barnum). I thought of Steven King’s cute little fellow in The Green Mile. Well, there is no way I am going to risk harming our gifted little visitor who, after all, is only one and just trying to stay cool. Enter the daughter and a friend from Tennessee, who has had extensive training in mouse affairs and in fact may be considered a czar in these matters. She says, “Daddy, according to my friend here, who’s considered a czar where mice are concerned, we are experiencing an infestation.” “Really, I say, is he an exterminator?” “No, but he’s worked on oil pipelines”, she says. Well, then what could he possibly know about my circus mouse. “They’re stealing the dogs’ food, bringing in pine straw and paper and setting up house in the attic, for Pete’s sake! We could start a pellet farm in my old bedroom”, she says. Well, maybe he’s got a girlfriend like ol’ Mickey…wouldn’t want to deny him one of life’s necessities. We could handle two. “We’ve got to get a cat, she says, and it would have to be a wild one.” “That won’t work, says the pipeline exterminator trained mouse czar, there’s too many now for just one wild cat.” Well, I’ve never seen more than one. “Do you guys have insurance for this sort of thing?” he says. “Mouse insurance?” “We’ve always been more concerned about termites, if you want the truth, I lament, looks like we put our eggs in the wrong nest.” “You’d better call an expert”, he says. “Well, why do that, I seem to have two standing right here.” “We did put some poison out last night”, he says. Well, it appears these two are determined to kill Mr. Barnum Trapeze and his significant other by any means available. “You might see them acting weird, going in circles and looking for a drink.”, he says. Well, that’s pretty much normal behavior around here after five.
Tonight I found my Barnum and Bailey pride and joy lying on the kitchen floor. Got there just in time to see a tear in his eye and a look that seemed to say, “Thanks for a couple of months of leftovers in air conditioned comfort. Take care of the family (not sure if he meant his or mine) and for Pete’s sake, get some dogs with a sense of smell!” Little fellow had one hell of a vocabulary for a mouse.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Old School Logic

Juanita Harvey was her name, and she was my sixth grade teacher, but if she taught school today, she’d be looking for work as an ex-teacher. She was a wonderful teacher, and you always knew where you stood academically because at the end of each six week period you were seated according to your grade average. Those who worked hard and made the grade were assigned seats to the right of class beginning with the student with the top average. Those not performing well enough were assigned accordingly in seats to the left. I got off the last row to the left once with a seventy-seven average and was ecstatic. Mr. Cochran, our principal, who was years ahead of his peers and one of the most admirable school administrators I’ve ever known, visited on occasion and always found twenty-five students “on task”. That’s a term we use today to signify students are busy with academic work and not using cell phones to twitter and text or verbally assaulting another student.

Mrs. Harvey was a large woman, dark hair and tall, but not over weight, big enough to intimidate us sixth graders physically and intelligent enough to let us know she knew a whole lot more than we did intellectually. When you entered her room there was something in the air that said, “Do your work, pay attention and learn, and you will survive”. It wasn’t a slogan on the wall somewhere; it was a feeling she projected the moment you came under her umbrella of influence. I came within a “U” of not making it to seventh grade but it was the best year of my educational life.

Because of this seating arrangement and the fact that she would “get on to you” when you didn’t perform to your capabilities, Mrs. Harvey would probably not be employed in today’s market. She would actually say in a loud voice, “I know you can do better than this!” After that a report card would go home with the appropriate number of “unsatisfactory” or U’s on it, and if it were I, there would be accounting to be done at home with two people who were convinced I was normal but perhaps distracted and in fact could do better and it was probably either their fault or mine if I didn’t. Today there’s a different philosophy out there that seems to be saying, “Mrs. Harvey, what’s your problem and why is my “disadvantaged” son unable to read?” No, Mrs. Harvey would not have survived because she believed the responsibility for the education of the child fell first on the parent and second on Mrs. Harvey. So she would have said, “Your son can’t read because you didn’t read to him, preferring instead to watch reality television and soaps. We have math, science, English, and geography, among other subjects to teach your sixth grade child which means reading is a ways down on the list. What have you been doing for twelve years?” Or perhaps in a last ditch effort to reach the parent she might have used the soaps and done it this way.

“You need to be more of a Guiding Light for your child so they can see the way in which The World Turns. Remember, they only have One Life to Live and you need to be there in their Search For Tomorrow. Set the proper example by becoming a reader yourself and develop a Love of Life, not just a love of reality television, you can pass on to your child. As The World Turns, The Days of Our Lives run out and so must your time as a parent. Today’s children are Young and Restless and require commitment and guidance from you, the parent, or they will soon find themselves in Another World, a world of constantly being behind The Bold and Beautiful people, who learned how to read, study, and pursue excellence.” Yes, that’s what Mrs. Harvey would have said as she packed her books, pencils, and paper and bid a fond farewell to parents who didn’t deserve her in the first place.

She Was There

I suppose we all have a special place, a place where, when we visit, life’s memories can be called up by the simple act of standing quietly for a moment and waiting…waiting to hear from people, pets and times that made us who we became. Maybe you’d call it home. I took a trip back to Knoxville, Tennessee, this past week and visited with an old friend I consider to be home. She just happens to be a house, but she’s still standing and still giving off that biblical look that seems to say, “Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” And although my loved ones were no longer there, she gave up her memories as I stood in the old driveway and looked up at windows that had peered out on eighty years of dreams lost and found, loved ones in a Normandy grave, marriages lasting sixty years, children gone too soon, and Papa Jack, an old Kentuckian and my grandfather. She was his house, built on a hill, and surrounded by hundred year oak trees with acorns and leaves in the fall and plenty of shade for summers. She gave shelter and love for many years to those who lived there, which is why, I suppose, she’s still standing. Two stories with an attic full of bedtime stories waiting to be read by loving aunts, a staircase that creaked and moaned and a grandfather clock chiming the hour to signal the arrival of various “ghosts” heard late in the night. She heard the news December seventh, 1941 when one of her “sons” realized his life would never be the same. She was there on November 22, 1963 when our country “grew up” and again on April fourth, 1968 when we realized we had not grown enough. She saw pets and people come and go, like old Chipper, the sweet, golden cocker spaniel, whose ears shared the food bowl each time he ate and my cousin's dog Spike, who roamed the woods out back until a car caught up with him on Sharp’s Ridge. She heard Santa's bells on Christmas Eve as he drove his sleigh through her woods, and always stopped whether we were naughty or nice. And she watched as Aunt Jo beat the batter of chocolate into homemade fudge. We had quite a visit as she reminded me of those Fatima cigarettes Papa Jack would smoke. They were, “the most powerful draw of tobacco made and would take your head clean off” (Dirty Harry). He lit those Fatimas with a bona fide, long stick, strike anywhere, sulfur match, the smell of which never left the house and in fact is probably still there today, floating high in the rafters. We listened to baseball on the front porch by radio and Papa Jack could make you think you were behind the dugout with a bag of peanuts. I swear it was as real as going to Turner Field and not near as pricey. I have no idea how many more times I’ll be seeing my old friend. No doubt she will out live me and when she goes a century of memories go with her. But in her brick and mortar will lay the bits and pieces of who I am today, a grateful son for all the people who lived in that old house. I’m grateful for the morning devotionals, the unconditional love and charity shown each day by those who lived there and Papa Jack, my grandfather. Most of us have a place, someplace really special, where we can stand and wait …wait for the memories to come... the memories that tell us who we are. Dorothy was right you know, “There’s no place like home.” I hope you’ve found yours.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I Wonder About the Five

Five young men standing on the side of the road waiting on a school bus and holding nothing, not even a bookbag. Where were their books? We always carried books home when I rode the bus back in the “dark ages.” In fact not having a book on the bus could lead someone to believe you could neither read nor write.
Most of my schoolmates also carried something called a notebook, used to write down things learned at school. Then there was something called “homework” which was left over school work or assignments we had to do at home. Some kids’ parents made them do their homework before they could go out and play, and in fact, checked to see that it had been done. I suppose there’s no need for that today with most kids playing indoors with televisions and computers.

Carrying a book was a great way to meet girls and usually the ones that carried books were the ones you wanted to meet (you would carry theirs).
The ones not carrying books usually smoked, had bad breath, and sat in the back of the bus. I don’t know how today’s’ kids meet each other when no one seems to be carrying any books.
Taking a book home also meant that you might be prepared for the discussion the teacher expected from the class. I very seldom said anything in class.
The first thing the teacher would do when class began was go over your homework. If you were a fast writer you could do the homework as she went over the answers, but I wasn’t very fast with a pencil and often turned in what the teacher referred to as “substandard” work.
Pencils were very popular back then. I suppose they would still be used today, but having a pointed object would classify them as contraband and too dangerous to bring to school.
Using a pencil was a great way to learn how to write because it had an eraser in case you made a mistake. I made lots of mistakes.
I wondered about a lot of things when I saw those five young men waiting on the bus. I wondered if their parents felt it strange that they had brought home no books or if they even cared. Do teachers still give homework?
Most of the successful people I know who carried books home seemed to get more than just the written word out of the books. It may have been the discipline required to open the book, or maybe, just an opportunity to spend time with what someone called, “a good friend.”
We used to consider the ability to read very important. Reading required training and effort in the early grades and you also had to have someone with a lot of patience willing to teach you how to read. I still remember how excited I was to learn a new word from Mrs. Mott, my first grade teacher, as she put the word on a portable chalk board in front of our group and then pronounced it.
I would take that word home and repeat it to mom who would find it in a children’s book and read it again. What a special time that was and what a gift they both were to me. I wonder if anyone was home when those five were in the first grade to tell them about a “friend” waiting to be discovered in a book. Or show them a new exciting word that would help them understand other words. I wonder if those five can read. There is the possibility they can’t, and wouldn’t that be a shame?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Guilty Saturdays Lead to Potential Wasp Attacks

Dear Editor,

Do you ever wonder what happened to those lazy Saturdays when, as a kid, you probably spent time fishing, playing ball, or watching cartoons? On a recent Saturday morning I thought I’d do something really stupid so I ask my wife if she needed me to do anything around the house. I was going to be gone the next weekend and I suppose it was a case of the “guilts”. “Well, I need to clean out my closet, would you mind emptying it for me”? “And we’re getting ready to open the windows for fall, why don’t you clean them”? That old Kristopherson song played in my head. “Why me Lord, what have I ever done…” Would I mind? Why don’t I clean? An answer would not come and so... trancelike I found myself outside staring up at the kitchen window. The spiders had been partying for months and a smorgasbord of fine bugs had collected on the sill. Dirt dobbers were everywhere and you could write your name in the mildew. To make matters worse, these were storm windows placed there by the previous owners who were so cheap they had put only one electrical outlet in each of the bedrooms. These windows were to remain intact until “the second coming” as I found screws every six inches or so around the frame. No problem, I rush inside to get my trusty battery powered screwdriver and find it dead as a hammer lying beside the charger. Sensing I was going to throw something my hairless Yorkie, Deuce, crawled under the couch.

Clorox works wonders on mildew and the lining of your lungs. I got one of those cute little flower sprayers from the basement, put some clorox in it and began to fill it with water. An acidic like smell rose up in my face…the kind that seems to say…breathe and you’re dead…and so, with tears streaming down my cheeks, I quickly twisted the top on to the sprayer…then coughed my way to the window. We have this rickety ladder I like to use to make getting up high more exciting and just as I was mounting, I noticed a huge wasp nest in the window corner. I retrieve this can of wasp spray and climb up to get a really good shot. I love killing wasps but realize there’s probably some law protecting them from crazies like me. Three were on the nest and their heads swung around to see this crazed, guilt -ridden husband approaching with what, I’m sure to them, looked like a weapon of mass destruction. I placed my hand on the top of the can…being careful not to make any unnecessary moves that might tip them off and then, making a huge miscalculation as to the amount of spray left in the can, pressed the red button. A gob of spit spewed forth eliciting an angry, irritated look from the guys on the nest. They swung their heads around and looked down as if to say, “look, an old fool on a rickety ladder is trying to have an accident”. With that I did the only thing I could…I threw the can, fell off the ladder and went inside to safely clean out a closet. Saturdays just aren’t the same.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

America Deserves Better

I read an article in a “real man’s” magazine the other day suggesting things couples should think about when choosing a pet. Let her choose the size, it said, and then she might let you choose the breed.
The article didn’t mention the couples’ personalities and our dogs were not mentioned as preferred pets. Instead I read about the “recommended” Schnauzers and Pugs. After reading I figured “she” was probably going to choose both size and breed. Thankfully, our dogs didn’t read the article.

Hannah’s a small female dog whose idea of recreation is pulling the male, Hercules, through the house by his tail. This routine reminds me of taking trips years ago in the Ford station wagon’s reversed rear seat. Dad would be driving with mom up front and two of the five of us sitting in the rear seat.
Dad would say, “Look at that” when “that” was coming. Then we would get to see “that” as it was going. This was fun for about five miles of the 1,500-mile trip from Rapid City, S.D., to Knoxville, Tenn.
Dad sold that station wagon in Knoxville, because he was afraid we’d have a skewed view of the country if we rode in the rear seat on the return trip.

I must say, however, that particular Ford made it. As for Hercules, I don’t think he minds seeing things “out the rear window” as long as Hannah lets him eat first. He has other activities of which he’s fond, but I’m trying to get him to do those in private.
My wife’s a lot like Hannah and could be considered “gifted.” They both know what I’m going to do before I do it and they also know where my mind was when I did it.

The other day the wife said, “I can always tell when you’ve had a few libations, because you leave the toilet seat up.” If that’s not genius, I’m a wiener dog, and if she and Hannah were enrolled in public school today they would no doubt have access to textbooks.
Hannah no longer chases cars and can be trusted to be outside without a leash while my wife is content to sit and bark. My wife and I get along well because she sits to my right on the couch, next to my selective hearing ear. Sometimes she’s concerned with my not knowing whether I’m coming or she’s going but since we turned the couch around things have improved.

It would be interesting to me to know the types of dogs our “leaders” in Washington choose to have in their homes. They say people tend to pick dogs that are matched to their personalities, but if we look at some of these folks it’s clear that many dogs would prefer living at the pound.
One thing about a dog; you can tell it a lie and get away with it once or twice. After that, the dog doesn’t get mad — it simply ignores what you say.
And while dogs may not be concerned with social behavior, they do recognize fabrication (for lack of a better word) when they hear it.

Instead of getting upset with our policy makers when they seem to be seeing things in reverse, we should just ignore them at the polls. They may be seeing the world’s debris from the reversed rear seat, catching a glimpse as it roars by on the interstate of life and then deciding to decide. Or they may be like me, not knowing whether they’re coming or going. Either way, America deserves better than Schnauzers and Pugs.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Beat the Clock Car Wash

Just two dollars to wash my Explorer at the local car wash was a deal I could not pass up. So I’m in there dropping eight quarters in the slot before you can say, “Look at that dummy go!”
This particular car wash was designed as a concrete block “entertainment center” borrowing heavily from that old game show “Beat the Clock” because that’s exactly what you’re playing when that eighth quarter hits the slot.
I’m sure most people have no trouble getting their cars washed in eight quarters but for me it was a hard lesson in time management.
It starts with this dial feature that helps you see all the options available, as well as how much time you have left in which to do them. Without the dial I suppose you’d have no way of knowing what it is you’re supposed to be doing. Then you might have to put another eight quarters in the slot to get things right.

I should have read the dial first. The timer started with the eighth quarter and not with my finger on the sprayer. You hear this humming sound then look down at your flip flops, and the voice says, “You’re not going to make it.”
Having taken a speed reading course, I only spent a few seconds of my allotted three minutes surveying my shoes and the dial. Wash, wax, rinse, foaming brush, bugs, all these wonderful options were available for the mere two dollars. “Rinse” was near the 10 o’clock position so it took me a second to find it. You’d have thought “rinse” would be the first thing on the dial at the 1 o’clock position but… “Wash” was over that way too.
This anteater-beak-like apparatus is stuck in a tube and I grab it and begin to work my way around the truck. It has a long arm attached to a hose that manages to ensnarl itself around the rear view mirrors each time I pass and I have to make like Will Rogers doing a rope trick to get it off.
Time is of the essence here and by the time I perfect my first rope trick, 45 seconds runs off the clock. I go back to the dial and hit the “foaming brush” symbol, then run over to get the brush located on the far wall. Before all the foam runs down the drain this sucking sound greets me, sort of like the sound of money being sucked out of my pocket. The brush is loaded with nothing but air. It takes about 20 seconds to figure this out and then I streak back to the dial to find something, anything, that might work and make me feel better about those eight quarters.
I hit the “wash” symbol and the anteater jumps up like a fire hose gone awry in the street. Whipping this way and that it shoots hot soapy water all over the concrete blocks and I have become the thing being washed.
By now, the two dogs I left in the car are convinced it’s “bath time” and they’re so terrorized by the anteater the next “bath time” will require a visit from the “Dog Whisperer.” The windows are frothed with slobber, and the goo factory I brought in to be cleaned has yet to see soap.
This all takes about 20 seconds but finding the time to look at the time remaining requires time. I’ve got to get some soap on the truck before it’s too late.
I start at the hood and just when I think I might beat the clock with another rope trick, the beeper goes off and another voice says, “I’m sorry Mr. Harmon, you didn’t make it… but here’s a home version of the Beat the Clock Car Wash!” I drop the dogs off at “Barks and Bubbles” and rinse at the house.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Really, I'm Not Responsible

Why is it that we find being responsible for our actions so difficult today? The bailouts we’ve got going make us all feel like we’re on the Titanic, and with Uncle Sam bailing me out on most things, I just don’t feel responsible for much of anything.

Today I cannot be held responsible for my house payment and the two dogs who run the house, the politicians who run my life, the trash ruining the side of the road, a car I can’t afford to keep running, and the food I eat that gives me the “runs.”

I’m certainly not responsible for what I eat. I don’t need a personal trainer, I need a personal plumber to get me to think less about the size of my chest and more about what I ingest.
Take coffee for instance. This stuff runs through me like chocolate on a hot fudge sundae. And when nature calls I’ve got about five seconds to find a GPS system that will tell me the location of the nearest “relief center.” Who’s responsible for that? By the way, a “relief center” at my age could be just about anywhere.

And what about the hot fudge sundae? Who should be held responsible when the chocolate leaks out the cap and gets all over my clothes? Why, my personal plumber of course. I shouldn’t have been allowed the thing in the first place.Nope, the only thing I’m holding myself responsible for these days is finding someone else to blame for all my screw-ups. I’m going to hold my feet to the fire on that one.

I’m going to blame my mother and whatever political party’s in power for some of it. After all, she was responsible for me the first 18 years and they’ve had me off and on for the last 40.

My mother insisted on making my bed and now here’s Obama making another one in which I may lie. I think I’ll put the responsibility for me not being able to fix stuff (with the exception of my hair) on her head too. She made me play outside and not work on the car and vacuum cleaner when they went down. She said Dad could do it. Well, she let me play myself right into D’s and F’s so I might as well blame her for the fact I don’t read and write to good either. She never made me do homework and now the government is trying to work me to death. But I’m just getting started. I’m going to blame Mrs. Harvey for not making me diagram sentences and Ronnie Barns for seating me behind Sonny Perdue in history class.

That’s part of the reason I don’t feel too awful great about myself. How would you like to be thought of as the other Sonny? And I’m going to place the responsibility for the fact that I don’t get along well with others right where it belongs, at the feet of the preachers I’ve had over the years.

There I sat, sleeping through some darn good sermons and not a word from them about pew responsibility. Now I’ve got Al Gore trying to put me on a bicycle in order to keep the polar bears on ice. Don’t think so.
I’m not responsible for my mortgage discretion, pet supervision, dietary ingestions, 40 years of legislation, polluting car emissions, environmental degradations, lack of identification or my high school graduation. How in the world can I be responsible for ice cap liquefaction?

I don’t think I should even be held responsible for paying to have this printed at the library. I walked in free and you’d think everything else in here would be gratis, too.

But, there is good news. I have a wonderful daughter out in Utah, for whom, according to my wife, I was responsible. Wonder if that makes me a Republican or a Democrat?