Monday, November 26, 2012

My Decade In Saudi Arabia, Part One


Some of you may be interested in what my life was like while living and working in Saudi Arabia from 1990 to 2001.  For me that life proved to be a series of vast dichotomies, many of them realized only years later.  In my work, I confronted some of the greatest challenges I've ever encountered in my professional career.  And, through my success in overcoming these professional challenges, and excelling in my work, I found a reservoir of ingenuity and talents I didn't know I had!

From a personal perspective I now know that I literally put my life on hold for an entire decade, and all in the name of "job security"!  You see, it is virtually impossible for a westerner to live a normal life in Saudi Arabia.  Every facet of American culture is diametrically opposite to that of the Muslim culture.  Personal preference and personal freedoms must be subjugated to accommodate a culture where many of our western customs are taboo in the Muslim culture.

Despite having served 22 years in the Air Force, and having previously lived and worked in foreign countries, I was totally unprepared for the vast gaps that exist between the Western and Muslim cultures. Such mundane things as going to a bookstore and having the choice of any book ever published cannot happen in Saudi Arabia.  While Saudi Arabia offers huge palatial bookstores you will find nothing that features the image of a woman on the book cover.  You will not find a book that mentions the act of sex, or drinking...and certainly no book that includes the mention of Christianity.  One then, is limited to Erle Stanley Gardner "Perry Mason" mysteries, or Zane Grey westerns.

The same is true for music discs or movies.  As a result of these restrictions one values the Kingdom's active "bootleg" supply of western books and movies that adventuresome Western Expats (short for Expatriates, as we were termed) managed to smuggle into the Kingdom in a secret pocket of a suitcase.

Too, Saudi Arabia is able to maintain their strict Muslim culture by carefully managing how Expats are controlled and segregated from Saudi society as much as possible.  Western housing compounds are built to house the expats while they live in Saudi.  Wisely so.  Were this not the case, life in Saudi would be unbearable.  Within those housing compounds Westerners enjoy living in modern and well equipped and some even palatial homes.  We had modern fitness centers, resort quality swimming pools and tennis courts, fine dining facilities, ballrooms, small compound convenience stores and yes, even a library where one might find a bootleg copy of an American bestseller.

Travel within the Kingdom, for westerners, is severely restricted.  When one arrives in Saudi Arabia, and reports to his employer, he surrenders his passport and is issued an "Iquama" an official Saudi document that one carries with them at all times.  The document shows your occupation, your employer, your vital stats, a pic, and an expiration date.  You never forget this document because, should you leave it at home and are stopped for any reason, you automatically are taken to jail until your employer can identify and rescue you.  Should you wish to travel within Saudi Arabia, you must submit an official request weeks in advance and must carry any potential travel approval papers with you wherever you go.

None of this was known to me when I arrived in Saudi Arabia during Desert Shield in September 1990.  I arrived in Riyadh one warm evening and was amazed at the ultra-modern airport.  A sponsor awaited me and saw me through the one or two hour immigration process, then whisked me out onto a modern, well lit freeway, the pavement new and as smooth as glass.

After a half hour drive I am driven into a western compound and to my villa which will be my home for the duration of my work tour in Saudi.  As I walk through the foyer I am pleasantly surprised to see that I have been assigned a luxurious home, with plush carpets and marble floors and premium western furniture.  The home is furnished with a ridiculous level of detail.  There is formal dinnerware in the buffet in the formal dining room and casual dinnerware in the bright modern kitchen.  Every kind of kitchen utensils and appliances fill the drawers and adorn the counters in this home.  Stacks of new linen and kitchen towels sit at the ready.  All manner of cleaning appliances are also on hand.  A large television and VCR are housed within a large console in the living room.  The draperies costs more than my entire wardrobe.



As I walk through the house I find four bedrooms with King sized beds, all made up with bright new linen, tall dressers and side tables and large mirrors everywhere.  Within the four bathrooms I find huge bathtubs and showers, a premium toilet and a bidet!

All I need do is stock my house with food and cleaning supplies and unpack my toothbrush!  And go to work!

For those of you who may be interested in what my house looked like, someone has filmed the house I lived in on U-Tube.  Here's the link:

I am employed under one of the most secure employment contracts available in Saudi Arabia.  I have been hired as a Supply Manager under the U.S. governments Foreign Military Sales Program.  I was assigned to the Saudi Air Force Headquarters and am being paid to assist the Saudi government in procuring aircraft supplies in support of the Saudi owned F-5 and F-15 fighters.  This is a multi-billion dollar program which enriches the pockets of Boeing and McDonnell Douglas and Northrop and Lockheed Martin and a host of other U.S. Defense companies.

The Saudi work week begins on Saturday and ends on Wednesday (Thursdays are the Saudi Saturday and Fridays are the holy day).  Because I have not been assigned a company car yet, I am driven to work on my first day.  As we drive into downtown Riyadh toward Air Force Headquarters I note hundreds of pickup trucks loaded with family possessions heading out of town.  When I query the driver about this he smiles and says "they are fleeing the Scuds".  Indeed they were.  Thousands of Saudis fled Riyadh for safer regions because Sadaam Hussein had vowed to level Riyadh after having successfully invading and taking over Kuwait.  I later learned that Stormin Norman Scwarzkopf had declared that Iraqi Scud missiles could not possible reach Riyadh.  Apparently the Saudis weren't buying it...and they proved to be right!

(To be continued)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Good Morning In America


America is hurting these days.  She's battered and bruised and her traditional values are under assault.  In our 236 year history we've seen similar challenges to our way of life, and somehow always managed to meet them.  Let's hope we can this time as well.

I worry a lot about America.  When I do it's usually about some large, seemingly insolvable problem.  I fear for my country, as much as I ever have before.  But something happened this morning that lightened my heart and I realized again just how wonderful we Americans are.

I was driving to the store this morning,  to pick up something that I needed.  At a red light at the corner I stopped and saw a little girl rush out of a youth fitness center, and jump into a car where her mother waited patiently to take her home.  The little girl could not have been over six years old, and was dressed in one of those little gymnast outfits they wear in the Olympics.  The joy on her face and the spring in her step brought a smile to my lips.

I drove on to the store and parked in the parking lot, and sat there in the car thinking about that little girl.  Could she be dreaming of someday mastering the balance bars in some far off Olympics?  It was so early in the morning I imagined she possessed no small amount of ambition to have risen so early in the morning to attend a gymnastics class.  How cool is that, I thought!

I then sat back in the driver's seat, sipped coffee from my commuter mug and my thoughts expanded to how many Americans, like that little girl, rise each morning, greet the day, then go out and do something hard and rewarding, and of great value!

I see a cop standing in front of his locker, throwing on the accouterments of the modern day gladiator, bullet proof vest, leather gear, then heading into a briefing room to hear all the "watch fors" before hitting the mean streets of the city.

I see a fireman, perhaps the first at the station to rise, start the coffee and begin breaking eggs for a crew's breakfast.  As he does so he's preparing to respond to a home fire, or a medical call, or manhandling the jaws of life to extract a driver from a crushed vehicle.

I see a soldier, who awakes from sleep on a rocky crag in Afghanistan, ready to patrol a Taliban-held stronghold, whose mission this day is successful if a school room full of little Afghani girls are safe from an enemy that punishes with death little girls who dare to learn math and science.

In my own little community I see a thousand volunteers heading out each morning to clean bed pans in hospitals, who ladle soup in soup kitchens, who serve as teachers aids in our school rooms, as they strive to continue to serve a purpose, even into their "golden years".

I see working moms and dads ferrying their children to school before they head out to a job that they fear might not be there tomorrow.  They pray that the now ten year old family car will not break down, or perhaps they're thinking about formulating  another culinary configuration of hamburger for the evening supper table.

It is often said that we can't see the forest for the trees.  Likewise, perhaps we need to look less at America as a "conglomeration" of political movements and insurmountable problems and look a little more often at "Americans".    These white and blue and green collar heroes get up each day and go out to make America just a little better than she was before, or try to.

Who knows what a morning will bring?  This morning my heart was a little lighter, and my love for America a little deeper, at the sight of a little girl in gym suit and leggings; she's my heroine this day.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Foregoing Fast Food Forever


It's taken me decades to get the message; With the exception of In N Out Burger most fast food is just disgusting.  I've studied the problem with fast food for years, thought and wrote about their flawed business model, and have finally decided to quit buying into those attractive TV commercials which always shows a 6-inch high Big Mac, with fresh crispy lettuce, a freshly baked bun and a hot tasty hamburger.  It ain't happening!

Now, I'm not a frequent customer of fast food joints.  I usually fall prey to fast food once a month or so, usually after watching one of those impossible images of the hamburger of my dreams.  But, even my infrequent visits to Mickey D's or Burger King or Jack always ends with a sense of disgust.  I loathe myself for having been suckered in yet again.  I find myself eating a luke-warm hamburg with stale bun, near rotted tomato, a sprinkling of yellowed onion and wilted brown lettuce.

But, I'm over it now.  I've given up and joined people I know who won't go near a fast food restaurant. These are the folks that still have a little dignity, that will pay a few extra bucks to go to Applebees or Chili's or Fuddruckers to get a freshly made burger and a hot platter of fries.  After years of "quiet desperation", living with the hope that I'll finally get a good meal at a fast food joint, I've joined the "culinary elite".  Go to hell Micky D!

During my career I was often called upon to come up with greater efficiencies in our operations and how to best serve the customer.  So I have a natural bent for evaluating businesses.  One of the first ironies that struck me about the fast food business model is the stark contrast that exists between corporate and franchise.  For example, McDonald's spends hundreds of millions of dollars on their McDonald's University up in Chicago.  They are constantly experimenting with food tasters and methods for delivering the product to the customer.  After expending those hundreds of millions they then short change the customer by hiring a teenager at minimum wage to prepare and deliver the product.  There's the rub!  You've got some hormonally-charged teen that would just as well spit on your burger as to care whether the hamburg and fries are hot.  After all, they get little respect from the bosses!

For a better model, look at In N Out Burger.  The kids are paid about a third more than other fast food franchises and are given other benefits as well.  Also, fortunately, if you want you can watch those kids preparing your food; it's all out in the open.  There's no sense that a rebellious troll somewhere deep in the bowels of the greasy kitchen just waiting to do perverted things to your meal, as you might find at Burger King or McDonalds.  And you know what?  Those In N Out burgers are fresh; they've never been through a Microwave!

So, McDonalds and Burger King and Jack; you've been put on notice.  I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take your soggy mass of a meal anymore!  If I can't find a burger at In N Out I'll pay a little extra to have a real live human ferry my meal to the table!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Mr. Hodges & The Magna Carta


I was an average high school student.  I did best in English and History.  Were I not "equation-challenged" in Math I would probably have been a "B" student.  I just could not grasp the concept that knowing the dimensions of an isosceles triangle would make my life easier nor did I see how theorems advanced the road of humanity.

I took four years of French, and to this day, can still understand French and can read a French newspaper.  I have no idea how this knowledge stayed with me for nearly half a century but I'm grateful for it.  In typing class I also developed a 50 words per minute typing skill that has served me well in both my personal and professional life.

Most of the rest of my high school life was spent over in the music room, learning breath control and developing a relationship between voice, lyric and melody and practicing and performing in plays, operettas and music festivals.

While I thought music and drama would be my life, the Big Fella was arranging "back up plans".  HE was planting a seed that would not fully develop until a few years later.  That "seed" came in the form of a balding, gap-toothed history teacher who always had pants covered in chalk and who was "no-nonsense" when it came to learning in his class.  His name was Gerald Hodges and he was my sophomore history teacher.

I have often read that, if a teacher is truly in love with his subject, it is quite impossible for one to sit in his class and not learn.  Mr. Hodges was like this.  He loved history and, for me at least, he succeeded in making me like it too.  Even then historical characters were beginning to leap off the page in full dimension and become "real" to me.  Mr. Hodges taught me that History was more than arbitrary dates and the exploits of ancient dead men.

George Washington was more than a frumpy white-haired gent with bad teeth.  When Mr. Hodges talked about him old George came galloping through the years, the smell of leather saddle distinct, the clop of horse hooves and labored breathing of his steed both exciting and real as he chased Cornwallis across an ancient field.

When Mr. Hodges spoke of Thomas Jefferson he quoted our then President John Kennedy who said to a group of Nobel Laureates gathered at a White House dinner; "Gentlemen, I don't believe I've witnessed a more impressive array of scholars gathered in one place...with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone".  That, to me, was a pretty impressive introduction of our third President.

Mr. Hodges taught us the U.S. Constitution.  He impressed upon us the importance of those first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights.  He gave examples in real terms of why those Rights were so very important and he challenged us to become good citizens and defend those rights, for everyone, be they rich or poor, weak or strong.

So, thanks to Mr. Hodges, I was smitten with History, but I was not yet in love with it.  That would not come for a few years.  The seed blossomed into growth one dark night in Vietnam.  I was in a group military formation awaiting my first night on security duty.  As we received our duty instructions the Flight Commander's words were halted by the screaming whine of North Vietnamese 122 rockets soaring over our heads and exploding in thundering crashes about us.  Like everyone else, I took cover, and, illogically, burying my arms beneath my body, as if I could preserve my arms everything would be okay.

The reality of war had finally come home to me.  All that night I thought about the guys on the other end of those rocket launches.  I wondered what would make them think they had any chance against the most powerful superpower in the world!  All of a sudden I wanted to know, that if I were to die in this place, what was I dying for and what were "they" fighting for.

The next day I went to the Tan Son Nhut base library.  I searched out the shelves on Vietnam history.  I started by reading of all the foreign powers who had tried to permanently colonize this small nation.  I read of the Portugese efforts, the French colonization, of the horrors the Vietnamese suffered at the hands of the Japanese and, finally, how America got settled in the quagmire of Vietnam.  I read every book on that shelf, then sought out the histories of men from other nations.

Those pursuits led to examinations of varied philosophies, religions, and the world's literature and the history of how each evolved.  I was blessed that I was later able to pursue those interests in the formal realm of college classroom, and degreed acceptance.  I am blessed still, that when I open a history book the characters leap up off the page and speak to me as if they were old friends.

And I owe it all to Mr. Hodges.  For caring enough about his subject that it would rub off on others.  For planting the small seed that would develop into a lovely thing indeed.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Hodges...may there be thousands more like you, spreading the word like a Johnny Appleseed...planting the seeds that will blossom and grow and make the world a more enlightened place to live.

Monday, November 19, 2012

"Warm Fuzzies"

I was listening to National Public Radio (NPR) this morning...the host was interviewing a neurologist who was explaining some dramatic new approaches to rehabilitating folks who have suffered muscle and skeletal injuries as a result of war injury and traffic accidents.   What the researchers found was that, by stimulating selective regions of the brain, they were able to restore muscle function and movement previously lost through trauma.

Ironically, they discovered these regions through experiments with how the brain responds to music!  It seems that when we hear music, especially music that we associate with a life experience, i.e. a nostalgic moment, music that was being played during your first kiss, your first dance, etc, is scored on the brain, just as it would be on a page of sheet music!  And that "cranial scoring", along with the memory of that moment,  is there for immediate recall!

Of course we all knew that, didn't we!  How many times have you heard a song that took you back to a time when you first heard it?  Many.  That's why music is such a magical thing!

Anyway, neurological researchers are now putting patients through medical scanners and observing brain activity as they listen to music!  They can then locate areas of the brain that are responsive to these experiential stimuli, then apply neurological therapy techniques, combine it with physical therapy, and achieve amazing rehab success in getting muscles to perform the way they did before injury!

I always love learning these little tidbits of knowledge.  No, I'll never be a neurologist, nor, God forbid, I should ever need to participate in rehab, but information such as this seems to fill up those little pockets of curiosity that I always seem to carry around with me.

And being me, I always seem to want to explore other avenues of a particular theory, so, not having had my breakfast this morning, I began thinking about how food, and the warm fuzzies associated with a good meal, might also be scored on our brain in some similar way.

For example, even now, I can smell my mom cooking supper.  The distinct smells of cornbread in the oven, a simmering pot of pinto beans, and the sizzle of crispy fried potatoes in an iron skillet are as real to me now as they were then.

Might researchers some day hook us all up to a "drool meter" and measure how profusely we slobber over the smells emanating from the kitchen?  "Okay, Dr. Smith.."drop that New York strip on the grill and let's see if we can't get this guy's salivary glands pumping real good!".  "Hey, Dr. Jones..have you got that batch of cinnamon rolls ready for the oven?"..."we really need to take the nasal dilation when patient x gets a whiff of those!"

Whoops!  Gotta go stomach's growling and I think I smell fresh coffee, toast and a couple of fried eggs....

Saturday, November 17, 2012

"The Grand Slam Surcharge Slam"

A fellow who owns 40 "Denny's" franchises announced this week that he's implementing a 5% surcharge on his customer's bills.   This surcharge is to cover the increased costs of providing Obamacare to his hundreds of employees.  The owner says, at $5,000 per employee, and total annual costs of $175,000 dollars per restaurant, he simply can't afford it, saying that his individual franchises do not even make a profit of $175,000 per year.

So, I guess customers who voted to re-elect the President won't be unhappy to pay the surcharge.  As they return from their local hip-hop club, and stop in to Denny's for an early morning breakfast, what's an additional 5% if it's going to a good cause, right?

The problem with all of this of course is that Michelle Obama has already said we shouldn't be eating at Denny's anyway.  That greasy bacon and sausage, those buttery pancakes and those two yellow globes of cholesterol are simply not good for you and, if you eat it it will surely drive up the costs of health care.

And please don't say denying you that Grand Slam is beyond government control.  You don't want that 15 member government medical death panel to find out you've been eating breakfast at Denny's.   I'm sure there's a government penalty looming right behind that meager Denny's surcharge.

Apparently other restaurants are sufficiently concerned about the costs of Obamacare as well.  Olive Garden announced that they're exploring shift changes that will reduce weekly employment hours for their workers so that no employee exceeds the 30 hours per week criteria that kicks in and mandates employee provided Obamacare.  Applebees and Darden Restaurants have similar plans in the works.

If I were the Denny's franchise owner I think I'd submit a request for waiver to Michelle Obama's Council on Nutrition; maybe if he agrees to stop selling Grand Slams and begins peddling oatmeal and granola he just might get included on those 960 Obamacare compliance waivers that the administration granted to favored interest groups, to include most of the unions.

Friday, November 16, 2012

"Goodbye Twinkies"

Say good bye to Twinkies.  Say so long to Ho-Ho's and Wonder Bread.  And say good bye to 18,000 unionized Hostess employees who said no to ownership of 25% of the company in exchanged for a temporary 8% reduction in wages and benefits.   Apparently the company going through bankruptcy court wasn't sufficient proof that the company could no longer afford the current compensation package.

Yesterday the employees mounted a union strike and, concurrently, Hostess announced the dissolution of the company, citing the lack of capital to survive an employee strike.

Personally, I won't miss them.  Ever since the government began levying mandates that Hostess cut out the lard and transfats in their recipes all of their sweet snacks taste gummy.  Ugh.  Same thing for their Wonder Bread.  That moist gumminess is one of the reasons I gave up eating white bread, and though I tried many times to tolerate the rubbery texture of their Ho-Ho's and cupcakes none of them tempt me now.

The same thing is true for Ritz Crackers, by the way.  About ten years ago Kraft Foods stop using lard in their Ritz crackers and they now have the taste and consistency of cardboard.   Just another of our favorite childhood snacks lost to government nannyism.

The Hostess company says they'll try to sell their products to another food maker.   Perhaps China will buy the product name and, as they did with baby formula, add some bizarre ingredient that cuts production costs.  They'll probably succeed since the brand name endures for kids from one to ninety years least until a herd of foodies die from "diesomephilosone" poisoning.  (I just made that name up).  What would be true irony would be China buying the company and integrating lard back into the recipe.  Since the FDA only rides herd over U.S. companies it just might work!

So now, thanks to the Teamsters Union, the government can add an additional 18,000 unemployed workers to those 78,000 additional unemployed that somehow didn't get reported on the Friday before  last Tuesday's election.  I'm sure that must have just been a government oversight.  When the latest unemployment numbers got reported late we saw a huge 430,000 additional workers who lost their jobs last week.

Oh well, when these Hostess employees get their Food Stamp cards next week they'll have the means to buy a gallon of milk and a box of Twinkies as they sit at their kitchen table and wonder how it all went wrong.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Christmas In September

The above picture shows me sitting at my desk just minutes after having been hosed down by a water tanker truck.  It requires a bit of explanation, as well as what it has to do with Christmas in September.

After attending Officer's Training School my first commissioned officer assignment was to Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota.  In North Dakota one freezes in the winter and, without air conditioning, steams in the summer.  I don't know how it is now but back in the early eighties, the Air Force authorized the use of work place air conditioning only in certain temperate zones.  The Air Force did not deem the air bases in the northern confines of America to need air conditioning.  So, often we sat in our offices on a hot and humid summer day and simply sweated through the heat and humidity.

One day everyone in my branch was complaining about the heat.  My secretary was known for being outspoken and spouted out her complaint about the heat in a colorful assembly of words.  To ease the tension I looked around at my staff and began singing "I"m Dreaming Of A White Christmas".  Everyone looked at me like I was daft, but it got every one's mind off of the heat.  So all that summer I would periodically break out into a few verses of "White Christmas".  I enjoyed the smiles and laughter.

Then, one summer night at the Officer's Club my wife and I sat with our Commander and his wife at a dance to celebrate the 4th of July.  We had a nice band and everyone was having a good time.  No doubt my boss had heard tales from the office of my "White Christmas" serenades, for he challenged me by saying "I hear you like to break out with "White Christmas" with your staff; I dare you to go up on the bandstand and sing it for the 500 or so of us here".

Since I had already had a couple of Long Island Ice Teas I was game.  I walked up to the bandleader after they finished a tune and asked if the band knew "White Christmas".  They did...and I startled a room full of officers and their wives with my rendition of Bing's favorite.  When I finished I got a lot of smiles and a huge ovation.

Then late in the summer I received my orders for my second tour of Korea.  It was a remote tour so my family would stay behind.  Within weeks I did all the out processing paperwork and completed arrangements to deploy.  Then one afternoon, after coming back from an appointment I pulled into my slot in the office parking lot and was immediately pulled out of my car and hosed down with a water truck from our Fuels Branch.  It was an old unit custom.

After they had soaked me good I retreated to my desk where the above photo was taken.  Then I was called back to a large room in the back of our building and found that my unit had prepared a cake and refreshments in honor of my leaving.  But most touching, my old friend, Chris Yeargan, had led the crew to decorating the area in Christmas decorations and booming out of a music system was "White Christmas".  During that party I listened to every rendition of "White Christmas" that has ever been recorded.  After the party they presented me with a cassette loaded with 90 minutes of "White Christmas" from Bing to Sinatra to Elvis.

That Christmas I spent alone in Korea.  But, I had that cassette tape to play back all those White Christmas tunes that left me with a smile on my face every time I played it.

I still have that cassette, and some warm memories of those who thought enough of me to give me a rousing and beautiful send-off.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

I'm Too Old To Shop? Really?

Well, today Yahoo News has posted an article that defines "too old" as that time when you're no longer in love with shopping!   Yes!  I said shopping!  So, we can now discount the idea that years, or physical deterioration may determine whether you are "too old".   It is when we Americans stop the worship of "the golden calf", when we stop the quest for materialism, that we are finally ready for the old glue factory, or a casket.

It seems that researchers at Oregon State University have just completed an exhaustive study of old folks and found that, as we get older, we lose our lust for the shopping mall!  As with so many studies from academia these days, the focus seems to be on drawing some rather bizarre conclusions from a severely limited line of data.

For example, did it ever occur to those researchers that maybe, just maybe we old folks might have reached a level of maturity that we now consider the game of "keeping up with the Joneses" to be a silly and expensive game that assuredly does not bring happiness?    That perhaps we humans don't need the latest model car every three years?  Did those same researchers not consider that it is certainly feasible that, with maturity, perhaps trying to impress our guests with the latest trend in home decor does not buy friendship?

And perhaps those yuppies at OSU, running around with their graphs and clipboards, just might consider that when folks retire there is less money available to participate in the orgasmic joy of shopping?  We are no longer working, trying mightily to live on a fixed pension, we're getting 1% on any savings we've been lucky enough to accrue, so how in hell do these research whippersnappers expect us to go out and shop?

I believe this academic study, purporting to condemn the elderly's lack of shopping prowess, says far more about the broader American society than it does about the "gray hairs".  America today has become so damn materialistic that our young now line up for blocks outside an Apple Store, to buy the latest iteration of the IPAD.  A week from Thursday night, Americans will not even have fully digested their Turkey dinner before they are lined up outside Walmart to buy a Chinese-made TV or a Japanese gaming system.    We will read of the annual stampedes and stomping over their fellows so that they might score the latest shiny toy of note!  I believe that's a much sadder commentary about our society than some old folks who have lost their lust for the "loot!"

And, by the way you OSU brilliantines!  I shop at Amazon and have it delivered to my door!  No long lines out in the cold night air, no stampedes and no frenetic fights with my fellow man for "shopping space" in the store aisle!

So if you don't see me pushing that red cart down the center of a Target store don't assume I'm ready to be put out to pasture!  Young whippersnappers!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

"Ode To The Top Shelf"

                       If the heart is the “home” to all of your fondest memories
I’ll settle for the top shelf in a bedroom closet
Just to be remembered; to know I touched your heart
On a day when, perhaps, my soul shined brightest

Perhaps, on some rainy day you’ll find nothing else to do
But take me down from that dusty shelf, and recall a time
When I made you laugh or cry, or...remember
A day when I helped you to feel “not alone”

Sometimes, when all the words are said
Maybe the only thing that matters is a smile, a gentle touch
Or even a pat on the back to let you know I care
That you delight me just by being you

One can never say “I love you” often enough
For we never know when it may be the last time we say it
So let me say “I love you” again this day
And pray I live to say it again on the morrow

And when I leave this world, and am no more
May the legacy of the love I offered, and voiced
Rest gently in some back room in your heart
To be taken out, and cherished, on some dark and rainy day

Monday, November 12, 2012

I Miss The 50's "Bullet Bras"

How many of you are old enough to remember those "bullet bras" that women wore back in the 40's and 50's?  Wow!  If you don't remember them just watch one of those old 50's rock n roll films; all the girlies are wearing those bullet bras underneath those teenage sweaters.  The bras were especially prevalent in those 50's Science Fiction movies too!  Somehow those B movie starlets and monsters just seem to get along so well!

Okay, I know that now a days you don't have to "imagine" as much...some ladies, and most of the screen stars pretty well like to just let it all hang out.  But back in the 50's it was different.  The moral codes just weren't lax enough to allow such a thing.

But the ladies back then had their own way!

They had these "bullet bras" that caused the breasts to stick way out there and say "here they are boys!'re probably not getting a peek unless we get married...or you break down my defenses with some very heavy petting, but here they are baby!"    The thing is, these things drove us crazy!...all the girl needed to do was turn and point one of those things at us and we'd double over and "monkey-walk" our way to the boy's restroom to give our "hard-on" a chance to recede, suitable for public company!

They also called them "cone bras".  Come to think of it, that's just about the time snow cones became so popular!  We walked around sucking on snow cones like nobody's business!  Was that some kind of Freudian thing?

I don't care what you call them, guys of that time loved them!  I still watch them today in those old black and white movies from the 50's!

I understand Madonna resurrected those cone bras and tried to take them to an all new level...but she failed.  I kinda think the reason Madonna failed is because we had already seen what she's got up there so what's the big mystery when she puts a bra on?  Right?  Sexy is something when you leave just enough to the imagination to spark curiosity and interest....and there's little room for that today.

That's why old fogies like me will always love the bullet bra.  It symbolized a time when women presented a challenge.  We were all like horny "knights" trying hard to "bridge the moat" and "capture the queen"...and boy did those bras challenge us!  I can still remember that some of the girls in high school were still wearing those cone bras back in the early 60's.  You'd ask for a slow dance, and those bullets would be poking you right in the chest all night...and you loved it!

Then you'd go home and apply an ice pack to the "appropriate" you suffered from those notorious "chest protectors".  


Political Hibernation

After watching last Tuesday night's election results I turned off the TV and went to bed.  On Wednesday morning I began entering a state of "political hibernation".  I skip all political news in the paper, ignore all political news on the Internet and refuse to watch any program that even remotely resembles politics.  This weekend I broke the old pattern of watching all the Sunday morning news shows and am now through my fifth day of "hibernation".

I am now part of the 50% of Americans who pay no attention to politics; yes, those 50% who never go out and cast a vote.  They are fat dumb and happy in their sublime ignorance and, so far, although not happy, I am doing much better these days.  Haven't taken a blood pressure reading but I suspect it's down a point or two.

Yes, I know that ignoring our problems will not make them go away.  If sequestration occurs come January the taxes on my pension will go up and the amount of my pension will either go down or will have the buying power of that meager pension be eaten up by inflation.

But I had to stop worrying about the direction our nation is taking; last Tuesday night, after the election results came in, I tried to figure out how the President gained the majority of the college vote when fully 50% of them will not find a job in Obama's economy.  I raged:  "how could they be so stupid as to vote against their own self interests?".   And why were they the only "interest group" that voted against their own best interests when those "47 per centers" sure voted for the succor of a government check!

Yes, Tuesday night I raged on and on, so that I actually became physically ill.  It was at that point that I resolved to embrace the "oh well, shit happens" philosophy.

The benefits of this new "laissez faire" philosophy are legion; I need not tune in to watch the other side gloat, I don't need to hear the false claim of a "victor's mandate" based on a 1% plurality of winning votes, I don't have to hear Republicans reassessing their political philosophies, or chewing on the notions that if they just begin ignoring certain immigration laws they might gain greater political favor, or ignoring the inevitable fact that entitlements as they are currently constructed are unsustainable.

Nope, all I need do is maintain a remote and uncaring approach and let the fates sort themselves out.  I intend on sleeping through all of this and deal with the consequences to the best of my abilities.  I'm taking a leave of absence from the real world and just resolve to smell the roses and not the moral decay that now permeates throughout our nation.

Will the last person that cares a whit about our nation's problems please turn out the lights when they leave....the light bothers me and I need to get to sleep.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veterans; Thank You For Your Service

As a military retiree I go over to Luke Air Force Base once a week or so, to use the commissary, or to pick up medicine from the base pharmacy.  As I pull up to the gate I'm greeted by a baby-faced 20 something who checks my I.D. card, renders a smile and a salute, and never fails to render me the greatest courtesies.

"My God", I think...these kids look so young!  Yet, unlike so many of our young today, these kids in uniform have clearly joined the long line of tradition that dearly respects the brotherhood of men who sacrifice so much in the service of our country.

That truth has always been so.  When I was attending Officer's Training School we were honored with weekly visits by heroes of the Pacific War, veterans from Pork Chop Hill in Korea and POW's who survived years of torture and starvation in North Vietnamese prison camps.  We regarded these heroes with awe as we listen to their stories of sacrifice.

In 2004 I attended a reunion of my old Vietnam unit.  It was held at the base that now is home to my old unit.  We old hands were delighted that the young troops from the new crop of airman wished to host us "old fogies".  I fully expected that we would be given a facility to have our dinner, that we would rub shoulders with our old comrades and would then go home, having had the opportunity to re-new old acquaintances.

So, I was taken aback by the warm reception we got from the "new generation" who now wore the colors of our old unit.  These kids seemed to hold us in awe.  They took us to a "museum" where, on display, were mementos of our weapons and equipment and old battle logs.   They took us to a training center where they showed us that our unit's performance under combat were used as "case studies" for their own weapons and tactics training.  Their current Commander spoke so graciously of us in a ceremony and used audio video and photos of us as we carried out our duties so long ago.

We "old folks" left the base after that week floating on clouds!  We were so gratified to be reminded that our service to the nation was important to those who came after!

So, as or nation stops to honor veterans through the land, it is important for veterans to know that those who now serve still regard you with great honor and pride.

So many of our Vietnam veterans never received the "Welcome Home" they so dearly deserved.  But, fear not; I can tell you that those in uniform today will always welcome you into the brotherhood of military service.

Happy Veterans Day!

"Lost And Homeless Hearts"

The last time I checked there were some 2 million homeless people in America, some 600,000 of them veterans.  Some of them are drug addicts, some alcoholics, some suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome from which they've never recovered.  Tragically, many of the homeless today are none of those...they simply got caught up in the housing collapse and lost their homes.

Thousands of families today are living out of their cars.  Many make their home on park benches or freeway underpasses, those lucky enough to have a space in a shelter are often shuffled out in the morning to make do for themselves, then wander back to the shelter in the evening, hoping to claim a hot meal and a bed.

If you have a home, no matter how small, no matter how old, no matter how modest, you are truly blessed.  You can't imagine the time a homeless person dedicates to each day just to survive.

Some homeless folks are "gamers", they play upon the tender hearts of folks to grab a dollar or two, just to support their drug or drinking habit.  They are victims of society as well as themselves.  Some have self esteem so low that they could never again contemplate the idea of re-joining mainstream society.

But probably many more are just lost and can find no way to climb out from the depths to which they have descended.  It is these that I pray for the most.  It is these that we most need to help.

If you have a home, and have never been homeless you cannot imagine the time a homeless person spends each day just trying to get a meal, to find a bathroom when needed, to find somewhere to clean yourself up.

I knew a homeless fellow once.  He wasn't a bad guy; he just took one of those wrong paths in life and strayed too far from the "right".  He had known poverty before but had never been totally homeless.  But now he was.

Fortunately he was homeless in San Diego where the weather is pretty mild.  This guy slept in his car in  a beach side park.  He would awake in the morning hungry and without money for breakfast.  He ended up going though the morning trash cans throughout the park, gather all the aluminum cans he could find, then walk across the road to a Von's Supermarket and push the cans into a re-cycling machine and earn enough for a one dollar Breakfast Jack at the nearest fast food joint.

So, after spending a good couple of hours just to manage breakfast he would go back to the park, spread a blanket under a tree and nap again, waiting for it to warm up enough for him to clean himself up at one of those outdoor beach showers.  He shaved and brushed his teeth in front of one of those metal mirrors in the park restroom, trying to avoid the looks the beach goers gave him as he tried to keep looking presentable.

The fellow had such low self esteem he rarely talked to anyone, always on his guard against every danger that exists when you're out there naked to the world, without the protection and security of "home".   He found he could never bring himself to "beg" for spare change as others did.  He was just a homeless person that was lost and could not find his way out.

But, as God often does when the lost wish to be "found", the fellow was saved.  After submitting hundreds of resumes for work, a good job turned up out of the blue.  He worked hard at his new job and very soon an even better one came along that, at last, got him back to a life of respectability and security.

Once "found", this once homeless fellow, from then on, always sought solid ground.  Having lived for a time on the razor's edge of life and loss, he became about as timid and cautious as one can imagine.  I'm happy to say the fellow is fine now.  He's re-united with family and the family of men, but is always aware of how quickly all that one has can be lost.

So, let's pray for the "lost" who, when you look in their eyes, still reflect that spark of humanity that cries out for rescue, whose heart has a yearning need to re-join the human race.

There but for the Grace of God go you and I.  Be thankful in this season of Thanksgiving for what you have and try not to be too hard on those who have lost their way.  Sometimes, just one blessing from God is all they need to be found again.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

"A Heroes' Keepsake; Memoirs Of Christmas At War"

Last summer I got an email from a lady who had come across a poem I had written and posted to my other blog.  It was titled "A Desert Storm Christmas" and spoke of the special magic of being in the Middle East at Christmas and of eyeing the heavens, and the very same star, that guided the Wise Men to a manger in Bethlehem.

The kind lady was DeeDee Wright and she asked if she might use my poem, to be included in an anthology of how how our military experiences Christmas while deployed in distant lands.

Shortly thereafter Ms. Wright followed up her email with a phone call.  She wanted to know what it's like to serve overseas, aways from family at Christmas.  I related my own personal experiences and Ms. Wright asked if she might include my poem in her anthology collection of Christmas for our troops in time of war.  I readily agreed.  Christmas has always been special to me and I've written numerous Christmas stories and poems as gifts to my children throughout the years.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I learned that the book is now in publication!  Ms. Wright wrote to thank me again for my permission to re-print my poem and this week she sent me an autographed complimentary copy (my poem is on page 33) of a wonderful little Christmas book that seems destined to lighten the hearts of our troops deployed overseas, and refresh the hearts of all of us now on the home front.

The book is available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble and where ever fine books are sold!  It's a wonderful compilation of poems and stories, beginning with Washington's crossing of the Delaware, through the Civil War, WWI, WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam, Desert Storm as well as our troops now serving in Afghanistan.

Thank you Ms. Wright.  In talking to you on the phone I understood clearly how much you love your country and how dearly you appreciate the sacrifices or our military.  God bless you for that..and for this wonderful little book.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A "Non-Political" Political Essay

Last year I staked my claim to a potential new blog.  I called it "The Good News Journal", wrote a blog entry or two, then left it fallow for months.  The new blog got a few hits but was largely ignored...because I was ignoring it.

I was so consumed with my other blog, the ones that dealt largely with political issues, that I had little time to come back to this one.  I was so very concerned about the direction our nation was heading that I was consumed with staking my political and philosophical ground and trying mightily to point out the foibles of "the other party".

Now that the election has come and gone my disappointment with the outcome is so acute that I found myself physically ill.  I literally had to tune out all the news on the internet and on TV just to maintain my equilibrium.  Were I to allow myself to watch the boasting and self satisfaction of the victors I don't know how I could bear, for now, I am in "political hibernation".  Perhaps someday I'll again mount the humpbacked steed and draw my sword and swing at windmills, but for now, for the sake of my own personal happiness, I choose to write about the dear, the silly and even the mundane.

I'm hoping that I'll gather a readership that is at least equal to my previous blog.  But, being unable to stop writing, I'll continue scribbling about family and friends and any and all aspects of the life experience.

And so, to the readers of my previous blog, if you've opted to join me here, welcome!  And welcome as well to those "googlers" who haphazardly came across my new blog through a keyword or subject search, and have opted to stay awhile.

I hope my new blog will stimulate thought, touch your heart, shake your soul once in awhile...or at the very least, make you curious.  If you choose to stay awhile you can expect me to take you to sundry regions of the world; places where I have worked and lived, places that perhaps you've never been but might get to know a bit better through my words.

Many of my essays from my previous blog had nothing to do with politics.  They speak of love and learning, they are about Thanksgiving and Christmas and Father's Day and Mother's Day.  To my old readers, do not be surprised if I re-print many of those earlier blogs on this one.  If you find one you've read in the past, do not care to read again, feel free to go and visit The Pioneer Lady or The Huffington Post and come back when I offer a fresh one.

And, through this blog, I hope to cause you to look at things just a bit differently, after having read of an observation or two that I might offer.

And I pledge to keep this blog "politically free"...if you want to read of government and politics feel free to read those 530 plus "Lost in America" blog entries when you're hungry for tougher "meat".

So, grab your coffee mug, find a comfortable seat (seat belts not usually required)..and sit me with me awhile.  "Oh the things you'll hear and see!".

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Terms of Endearment


I drove down to my local Walmart this morning to get the oil changed on my Honda van.  Drove around to the Lube Express and walked in to the service counter.  The 50'ish lady at the service counter greeted me with a smile and a "good morning, honey".  As she entered my order into the auto service computer she called me "honey" a couple more times.  Then she gave me my receipt and said if I have any shopping to do she would page me when the car was ready, again addressing me as "honey".

I then walked into the main store and drifted around, picking up a few things I had put on my shopping list and after a short time I was paged, paid for the items in my basket, then returned to the lube service counter.  The same lady ran my transaction through and handed me my keys, then said "have a great day, honey".

As I drove home I thought about why it feels so good to be called "honey".  I like it!  Oh, I know in these days of political and social "correctness" service people are not supposed to call folks "honey".  But I truly can't understand why anyone would be offended by it.  I guess it all started with the women's movement.  I guess feminists decidedly a few decades ago that the term "honey" somehow trivializes them.  Then, as the term became verboten for women, I guess it became forbidden to utter that term with men as well.

I think that's sad.  I've travelled often throughout the South and found calling folks "honey" is still prevalent down there.  I can't count the times waitresses and store clerks called me "honey" down that way.  And every time it brings a smile to my face.

Maybe, in this current environment, when folks can be so savagely hard with others, we ought to resurrect calling each other "honey" whenever given the chance.  How can one be angry with someone who calls you "honey?"

I don't know if that little term of endearment does anything to anyone else but the lady that dared to call me "honey" this morning has left me with a smile on my face all morning...and with a disposition as sweet as "honey".