Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Best Meal I Ever Ate


Although I was born in a small town in Oklahoma I was raised as a "city boy" in a small town in California.  Happily, for me, my beautiful Okie mom brought her delicious country cooking with her out west and my siblings and I ate well at home.

But it was a meal I ate made by my Aunt Avy when I was fifteen years old that still lingers in the memory cells as the best I ever had.  And I must admit it was the "perfect storm" of circumstances that set the stage for my life's most wonderful meal.

When I was fifteen I joined my Grandmother, Uncle and Aunt and their three girls and set off for a road trip from California to Oklahoma.  We set out in an old early 50's Chevy with four bald tires and gallon wine jugs of water, for drinking and for a cranky radiator.

Every few hundred miles or so we would hit a rough patch in the road, a tire would blow, and my Uncle and I would emerge from the old Chevy and put on an equally bare spare.  At the next town we came to my Uncle would hit the junk yard and equip us with a couple of bald tires for future flats.  

Need I say that, if we couldn't afford decent tires, we certainly couldn't afford to eat in restaurants.  So our trip fare consisted of bulk baloney or those little ten cent tins of potted meat slathered on white bread.  

None the less, we okies were all on a grand adventure, a thirteen hundred mile trip back to "home country", land of our birth.  So one hot summer afternoon we crossed the border into Oklahoma.  One of our first stops was to our Aunt Avy's house in rural western Oklahoma.  Avy and her husband, Fate, lived on a farm out in the sticks.  Although it was no longer a working farm, my Aunt Avy still set aside a half acre or so and cultivated a huge truck garden.  As we pulled into a shaded back yard the chickens who roamed freely around the place scattered at the roar of the old Chevy.

My Aunt Avy came flying off the back porch and laughed with joy at our arrival and squeezed and hugged us joyfully.  We joined them in the house and sat under the cooling air of an old swamp cooler and sipped sweet tea and swapped news of family all around.

Soon my Aunt Avy declared she'd best get started on supper, so she corralled me and led me out to her huge garden.  Each of us took the handle of an old tin wash tub and walked about the garden picking fresh green beans, goobling new potatoes and picking huge juicy stalks of fresh corn.  Once we had filled the tub we hauled it into the kitchen where the women took over.  

As a huge pot of pinto beans steamed on the stove, the women snapped the beans, stripped the corn, trimmed and washed the new potatoes.  After three days of white bread and baloney my fifteen year old metabolism was crying out for real food and I had to force myself to leave the kitchen, my mouth slobbering and lusting for a good meal.

After running around outside for awhile, no doubt teasing and torturing my dear girl cousins, we were soon called for supper.  When I entered the kitchen I saw this huge dining table just laden with mouth watering food.  Let me equate the degree of my lust at that moment:  Being fifteen I had only recently discovered the Playboy centerfold and considered them wonderful!  Yet, had Miss June been spread on an adjoining table right there in the kitchen, I would have ignored her in favor of that country meal set out before me.

Huge bowls of pinto beans with hamhocks stood steaming on each end of the table.  A huge iron skillet cradled fresh cornbread nearly as big a a small wagon wheel.  Big platters of freshly cooked green beans added color to the feast and new potatoes swimming in country butter added to the kitchen glory.  A big platter of fresh shucked corn on the cob just awaiting a slab of butter added to the feast.  And there, as the grand centerpiece, was a huge tray of golden fried chicken.  My Aunt ordered everyone to sit down as she carried a plate of sliced beefsteak tomatoes and a platter of fried okra to the table.   



Set before each plate was a mason jar full of iced sweet tea.  And so we ate...and we ate...and we ate.  I had never eaten fresh vegetables from the garden before and the intense flavors just had parties on my taste buds as I mated these delights with crispy fried chicken so fresh that it was most probably pecking at corn nubs that very morning!  The fried okra mingled with the sweetness of sliced tomatoes and just added to the oohs and aahs of culinary pleasures.  



After a good hour of happy talk and happy eating we all finally leaned back in our chairs, semi-comatose from the mutual appreciation of a great meal, my Aunt Avy rose and grabbed a big old iron coffee pot from the stove and began filling coffee cups.  'Who's for Peach Cobbler?", she asked.  And who were we to say no?  You just unbuckle the belt, loosen it by one eyehole, and we were good to go!
In the half century since that wonderful meal I've eaten in fine New York restaurants, fancy steakhouses all over the west, seafood in Maryland, barbecue in North Carolina, great restaurants in Seoul, Korea, great food in Saigon, rib-stickin grub in the south.  I've been guest of honor in Bedoin tents in Saudi Arabia (and presented the goat's eyeball as honored guest).  But no meal has ever come up to the standards of that day at Aunt Avy's.

So, years later my Aunt Avy resides in heaven...for where else does one send someone capable of making heavenly meals!  Some fifty years later that meal remains the best I've ever eaten!

Friday, March 29, 2013

When The World Came To Us


When I was a kid our neighborhood was "pedestrian friendly".  The sidewalks were wide so they could accommodate a grownup walking and a child roller skating.  The walks were nestled beneath large elm trees which provided shaded comfort on a hot summer day.

And there were far less need for cars, because the world came to us back then.  Three days a week the dairy man would deliver farm fresh eggs and icy cold half gallon bottles of fresh milk.  Want bakery fresh bread?  The bakery truck would deliver fresh loaves of bread still warm from the oven.  The newsboy made $30 dollars a month delivering your morning newspaper.  

But my favorite was the old ice cream truck.  Each day around noon you'd be out tossing a baseball or climbing a tree and all of sudden you would hear the musical notes (my favorite was Pop Goes The Weasel) from the ice cream truck rolling down your street.  You dropped your mitt and ball, or shinned down the tree and ran into the house to beg for a nickel.  "Hurry Mom!..."we're gonna miss it!".  Then you ran barefoot to catch the truck, then danced in hot asphalt waiting for the ice cream man to get your raspberry pop cycle!  The truck would make a second run around three o'clock for those who missed him the first time around.

Many years later, when I was in Vietnam, my wife and little girl would sit on the front curb of our house in Saigon in the early evening.  And as they sat, street vendors would come strolling by with a variety of foods.  They simply raised their hand and the vendor would come over, pull little saucers out and serve little balls of sweet rice, or minced beef wrapped in small brown rolls.  The next vendor would come along and serve little cold mango jello treats, then move on.   Then a coffee wagon would come along and serve sweet, creamy french coffee in little demitasse cups.   These little evening food fests were as much about socializing and entertainment as it was about the food.  

I usually had one night off a week.  On my morning off my wife would go out to the market and buy me fresh eggs that were just off the farm that morning.  She would then come home and wait for the "ban me" (french bread) man to sing out "ban me" outside our window.  She would then go out and take from him a fresh warm baguette, bring it in and cook my eggs, butter my fresh warm baguette, and I would dine like a king.  That night we would be watching old Sherlock Holmes mysteries on Armed Forces television when the "Pho" (Beef noodle soup) man would stroll by singing "Pho!".  We would run out and get two huge bowls of Pho soup with all the fresh noodles and veggies, then hurry back in to eat soup and watch a great old movie.

Now the world has "fast food" and microwave ovens and you go to them and hope your microwaved food is not too cold by the time you get home.

How I miss when the world once came to us!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Vietnam Veterans Day


Try to imagine this.  You go out to the airport this afternoon to pick up the wife or the mom or the child, and as you're waiting you notice a contingent of young men in uniform, just back from Afghanistan, trying to exit the airport.  

But they can't.  Hundreds of "occupiers" are standing out front, armed with rotten fruit and buckets of red paint and spewing hate on these homecoming troops.  The occupiers kick at them and spit in the faces of our young men who have just been on the most frightful journey of their lives.

Couldn't happen?  It did happen!  It happened to our Vietnam vets as they came home through airports and bus stations across America.  "Baby killers", they shouted as you walked down that street toward home.  While we shower our troops with praise and love and respect today as they come home from the Middle East, there was no welcome home for Vietnam vets.  No ticker tape parades either.

While politicians, who declared the war, hid behind granite walls at our nation's capitol, our troops were the most visible means for anti-war protesters to demonstrate their hate for a war they opposed.

It did not matter that 65,000 of our young men never came back.  It did not matter that over half a million came back without arms and legs; the sacrifice didn't count for those who professed to "love peace".  "Make love, not war" was their rally cry.  And no, unlike today's voluntary force, Vietnam veterans had no choice except to serve because a mandatory draft was in effect.

Between 1965 and 1975 millions of our best young men rotated in and out of Vietnam.  There was no "welcome home" from America.  So a million of them, suffering from Agent Orange or Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, or just because America broke their hearts, dropped out.  They found cardboard boxes to sleep in on the streets of Chicago and Detroit.  They slept under highway bridges in California and Arizona.  Tens of thousands still do!

And so, this weekend (some on Friday, some on Saturday) America has declared the day to be Vietnam Veterans Day.  If you run into one you need not pay them any more honor than any other veteran.  Just say two words; "welcome home".  For thirty years now we Vietnam Vets greet each other with three simple words "welcome home brother".  For three decades it was the only "welcome" we would ever receive.

"Welcome Home".

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Most "Bought", Least Read Book On Amazon

How many times have we seen a book released or re-released about the same time a much anticipated movie is released?  I've seen dozens of them.  Most of the time it's because a popular movie was based on an earlier book and the moviegoers want to dwell a little longer in the world the movie helped create.  When no book is available the big entertainment conglomerates like Time Warner will "create" a companion book from the movie screenplay.

Generally I see no problem with this, even though the screenplay to book concept is usually a bad one. It is certainly a smart marketing ploy though.

But since I live in the land of books, and not movies, I've noticed Amazon does a brisk business marketing books if they are in any way connected to the subject of a recent movie.

So, I was amused to see a century old biography of Lincoln begin to climb the charts as soon as Spielberg began promoting his movie of the same name.  Most of my book buys these days are via the E-books in the Amazon Kindle store.  In an age where Americans devote so little time for reading, when folks lean so hard on "instant gratification" I wondered just how the old Lincoln biography fared.  Without the "pretty luminosity" of a Spielberg film and the intensely talented Daniel Day Lewis, how well does a bio written in 19th century prose hold the movie fan's attention?

I'll venture a guess that many of these free, or low priced, Kindle books go unread.  And no, I can't say that with any authority....with the exception of the latest Kindle book ordering craze showing up on Amazon's Top 100.  It seems that quite a lot of folks went out and watched Les Miserables, a three and a half hour film just oozing human misery.

Well folks, I've read the Victor Hugo novel Les Miserables.  And if you think the movie was long, try the 2,000 plus pages of the book.  I slogged through those 2,000 plus pages in college many years ago. It was not an easy task, even for a voracious reader like me.

So when I see those thousands of folks wading through the Amazon "free book" list and coming across Les Miserables, I suspect most have bit off more than they can chew.  So I'm betting Les Miserables, the book, is setting records for the most book orders placed and the least read.

Pardon my snobbery.  For those rare creatures who give attention to books and movies equally, enjoy the read.  To the "casual reader", my condolences.

Excuse me.  I have to go now.  I'm half way through War and Peace and expect to finish it sometime in the year 2016...just in time for the release of the movie version.  :)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Why Apple Must Change...Or Die

I own two Apple iPods.  They are my favorite toys.  I listen to music on them.  I download Harvard and Stanford university lectures on them.  I listen to old time radio shows on them.  I listen to audiobooks on them.  I'm still old fashioned enough to consider the Ipod a little miracle, bringing me digital education and entertainment with the push of a button.

After 20 years of frustrated ownership of a Windows based PC I finally trashed Windows and bought an Apple IMAC.  It is a beautiful computer.  It reacts instantly to any command, I do not have to wait long minutes for a boot-up, I have never been confronted with "fatal errors or blue screens.  My Mac is the best computer I've ever owned.

And yet I can't help but believe Apple is bound for a slow death spiral.  First, Apple is far too greedy in their pricing.  When Steve Jobs was around and innovating the hell out of the Apple product line the company was able to command premium prices for their products, despite product flaws that would have put other companies out of business.  Anyone still remember the early antenna and battery life problems with the early I-Phone?  But Apple was able to overcome these challenges because they just kept producing finely engineered, pretty devices.

So customers overlooked the flaws and lined up for I-phones and I-pads and kept paying Apple profit margins more than triple that of other smart phone and tablet makers.

Times change...and they change rapidly in the tech world.  Samsung and LG and other tablet and phone makers are catching up, both in quality and in design.  And they'll price their products to undercut Apple.

And even now Apple's software and operating systems are under attack.  Many, many techies now say Android is the future.  I'm not smart enough to say that but here are a few things I do see.

Apple draws far too tight a circle around it's audio, video and book offerings.  Apple insists that if you buy movies or tv or music that you route it through their I-Tunes program.  Consumers hate to be told where to go for their entertainment.  I hate it too.  I see no reason why I have to download a special program that will allow me to get around Apple restrictions in order to load a movie I want to watch but isn't sourced through I-Tunes.

And I"m thinking hard of giving up cable television and streaming my media through the internet.  My first thought was to buy an Apple TV unit to do this.  Then I began reading about what I can and cannot stream through my Apple device.  I then looked at what a Roku unit has to offer (at half the price of Apple TV) and decided when I cut the cable TV cord it will be with a Roku.

And just this week reports were out that Amazon is getting ready to lower their HD Fire to $99 bucks!  Jeff Bezos over at Amazon is bound and determined to sell his well regarded tablets at costs, just so consumers continue to buy music, movies, books...hell, even toilet paper, made convenient through the touch of a Fire tablet button.

So I can see a time when I have to bid farewell to Apple.  And I suspect millions of consumers just like me are thinking the same.  Apple is reporting lower I-phone and i-pad sales these days as the Apple buzz and Apple dazzle has begun to fade.  If it looks like an Apple, and works like an Apple, why pay three times more for an Apple?

It's still far too early to figure out Apple's future.  Will they cut prices on their products?  Will they begin a temporary price war in an effort to destroy their competitors?  Will they lower their price points to allow them a fair, but not onerous profit?  Will they open up their operating system to allow Apple product users to use more open sources for their entertainment dollar?

Let's hope Apple is smarter than the once internet behemoth America On Line.  AOL owned the internet for years...and they failed to innovate, preferring to rake in huge profits and reside in the sloth of "monopoly".  Now, half of America do not even remember who AOL was.  Let's hope Apple has smarter managers.  Let's hope they realize they had a great lead in innovation, that they enjoyed a head start on everyone else, but that the race ain't over and that they can no longer call the shots on how we choose our entertainment sources.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

"Here's Johnny!"

Just reading this week that NBC is looking to dump the Tonight Show's Jay Leno when his contract is up next year.  The pointy heads at NBC programming, yeah those guys that sleep with those demographic numbers, have decided they can draw a younger, more affluent and suggestible audience, by placing Jimmy Fallon into Leno's Tonight Show chair.

NBC is worried about Jimmy Kimmel and Letterman capturing the very audience they pursue each late weeknight.

I have news for those pointy head demographers.  I know a guy that could whip the ratings ass of all them..and he's been dead for a good eight years or so.  Yeah,  Johnny Carson.

If I were running CBS I'd buy out Ms. Carson's ownership of all of Johnny's show tapes from the 70's, 80's and 90's.  I would synch those old shows to correspond to the day of the week of current broadcast and just start showing them in "re-run" mode, just as if Johnny was still around.

Doc Severinson and the band would start playing "Johnny's Theme", Johnny would come out of those rainbow colored curtains and offer up that timeless and topical monologue that poked fun at everyone equally.  Smiles, smirks and a tapping of the overhead microphone when a joke bombed would play as well today as it did back then.

Gone would be all the snark and snigger of today's late night hosts, replaced by a highly intelligent, well read man who hosted Carl Sagan as often as the hottest movie star.  Far more amusing than a drugged up starlet of today flashing her boobs, would be the fellow from the midwest that encased cow poop in plastic and sold it as jewelry...or the potato chip lady who collected potato chips with the profile of a dog, or Elvis Presley.

While today's hosts are more comfortable leering at Kate Upton's cleavage, Carson would elicit oohs and ahhs by having miniature monkeys peeing on his head...or kung fooing a tiger cub.

One time Federal Communication Chief Newton Minnow called television "the great wasteland" for TV's failure to bring education and culture, and yes, entertainment, to the masses.

Today's television program is far worse, headlined by reality shows, trailer trash talk shows and a gang of "little smirking boys" occupying the late night talk show chairs.

Johnny Carson was known as King of Late Night from 1965 right into the 1990's.  The other networks trotted out Joey Bishop and Merv Griffin and Jerry Lewis and a stable of other comedians and Johnny trounced them all in the ratings.

Bring back Johnny.  Just start showing all of those old great Carson shows in the same time slot as the current pretenders.  Johnny, in the grave for years now, would kick ass and take names.  Might even get me to stay up late and watch!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

My Worst Military Assignment

During my 22 years in the Air Force I've had some great assignments and some real stinkers.  I enjoyed serving nearly eight years in Hawaii offset by five years in frigid North Dakota, two tours in South Korea and three tours in Vietnam.

But before I name my worst assignment, a little background is required.  By the time I finished Air Force basic training in Texas President Lyndon Johnson had ordered a massive "surge" in troop levels to Vietnam.  As a part of that surge was the need to massively re-enforce the number of Combat Security troops deployed to protect air bases in Vietnam.  I became part of that contingent.  However, pressed for time, half of us were not sent to technical school, but were, instead, assigned directly to our first military base, bare of stripes and "1" skill level.  My "technical training" to that point was firing the M-16 rifle in basic training.  This is not an ideal situation, either for my gaining unit, or for me.

So, I'm ferried off to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Goldsboro, North Carolina.  The base was unique in that it hosted both fighters for the Tactical Fighter Command and B-52 bombers and KC-135 refueling tankers for the Strategic Air Command.  I was assigned to SAC.

Now if anyone has seen Jimmy Stewart (Lt Gen, USAF Retired), in "Strategic Air Command" you'll understand how gung-ho SAC was.  General Curtis E. LeMay had recently retired but the Command was still run with rigid and highly demanding duty requirements far above that of other Air Force commands.  I imagine that was so; I had heard numerous times from the old hands that once you're assigned to a SAC unit, it is hard as hell to ever get out of SAC duty unless you went overseas.

So, I was assigned a room with another fellow in the barracks, was processed in to the base, donned my starched fatigue uniform and spit shined boots and stood at attention at my first "guard mount".  I stood attention and watched and listened as one after another snapped to attention, stepped out one pace, recited one of the "duty instructions", then fell back in line.  Then another troop would step forward one pace and recite the specs and capabilities of an M-1 or M-16 rifle, or .38 caliber revolver.  Once guardmount was over I jumped into a truck and was taken to a KC-135 Tanker alert area.  That would be my home until I achieve a 3-level skill status, the training ministered to me by a Buck Sergeant  (E-4)

After months of training I would eventually secure 3-level status and could join the "big boys" in guarding the nuclear uploaded B-52's.  A B-52 alert area demanded the tightest security one can imagine.  One guard was assigned per aircraft, guards assigned to access gates, and backed up by an alert patrol on top of that.  When you were assigned point guard for a  nuked up B-52 you kept on the move around the red line around that aircraft and no one crossed that line except for maintenance or air crews.

Our SAC duty shifts rotated every 72 hours.  We worked three swing shifts, three midnight shifts, followed by three day shifts, then three days off.  Your body clock simply cannot adjust to these ever-changing shift assignments.  It was tough for an 18 year old but worse for the mid-level supervisors.  When they were 30 they looked like 45 after many years in SAC.  We worked through rain and snow and temps that ranged from 0 in the winter to 100 degrees in the summer.

My three days off in SAC involved lots of sleep recovery, followed by a day of room maintenance.  Our rooms had to be inspection ready whenever we weren't in it, and it had to pass a stiff weekly inspection once a week as well.

My SAC assignment was brutal, promotion was slow and I was eager to get out.  So I walked my two stripes (E-3) over to the Personnel Office and volunteered for Vietnam.   When I finally got to Vietnam it was like a totally new Air Force.  My Vietnam unit, the 377th Security Police Squadron had that year received huge accolades and unit awards for holding off a massive enemy ground attack, despite being undermanned and outgunned.  I was part of the "surge" that would dramatically expand the size of the unit.  From a unit equipped with small arms and M-16's our unit became more like a fully equipped army unit.  More machine gunners, more 50-caliber gunners, Heavy Weapons Armored Units, beefed up bunkers and better trained troops.

And I thrived in that environment.  Initially assigned to guarding photo recon F-4's and C-130 aircraft, I quickly received assignments to Rocket Tower observation duty responsible for detecting rocket or mortar launches against the base, alerting our Central Security Control for activation of the base sirens, then using mill-scopes and alidates to pin-point launch sites.

A second benefit of the Vietnam duty was the massive turnover in Air Force personnel.  There's nothing like a good war to get the old enlisted guys to retire and make way for advancement of the younger guys.  I quickly made E-4, Buck Sergeant, then flew higher.  I received a promotion line number to E-5, Staff Sergeant with only 2 years and 8 months of military service.  I was told that was one of the fastest route to E-5 in Air Force history.

Now, I finally come to "my worst Air Force assignment".  After my first year in Vietnam was over I packed my four stripes and prepared to be assigned to (yes, another SAC base) March Air Force Base, California.  I had mixed feelings about leaving Vietnam but was looking forward to never again "walking the line" around a B-52 bomber.

So, after a leisurely 30 day leave I arrived at March Air Force Base in Riverside, California in late January, 1970.  As I processed into the base and into my new security unit I sensed something was off. I had never seen so much tension and frowning faces.  So, I reported to my first guard mount, only to be confronted with the most bizarre experience I have yet encountered.  As we stood in formation, a Chief Master Sergeant from the "back office" came out to address the Flight.  Before he could get a dozen words out of his mouth he broke down and began to cry.  And I paraphrase what he said next.."I may go down but I'm going to take some of you bastards down with me!"  I stood slack jawed and after guardmount was over I quickly asked what was going on.

It seems that a few days ago some 15 year old military dependent kid had somehow managed to get through all of the base security, over a fence, into the alert nuke-loaded B-52 area, and into a fully loaded nuked B-52 bomber!  As a result, the Wing Commander and the Base Commander had been fired, our Squadron Commander had been fired and the shit was flowing rapidly down hill.

I found out that night that, because of the security breach, airmen would be confined to secondaries on patrol, Staff Sergeants would be "humping" the alert birds, Master Sergeants would be area supervisors.
So there I was, back in SAC, humping a B-52.

The next morning I went back down to the personnel office and volunteered to go back to Vietnam.  The clerk said "no way, you just got here".  However, fortunately the Air Force had no minimum time on station requirements so he had to take my volunteer statement.  I followed that up by returning to my barracks and writing seven letters to various members of Congress, citing the idiocy of sending a family man to Vietnam when a perfectly good single guy was volunteering to take his place.

Ten days later I had my assignment back to Vietnam, and back to my old unit.  As I was packing my bags to leave March Air Force Base I heard the base siren activated.  Within minutes a SAC Headquarters plane out of Offutt had landed at March to conduct a  Organizational Readiness Inspection.  An ORI is the most rigid and demanding military inspections known to man.  They test operational readiness and security and all facets of emergency, simulated war operations.  Months later, back in Vietnam, while experiencing a few rocket and sapper attacks, I couldn't help but breathe a sigh of relief, because I heard SAC was still hammering March Air Force Base and those Staff Sergeants were still "humping" alert B-52's.

My "worst assignment" proved to be so terrifying that it would be two more years for me in Vietnam before I would once again be willing to risk another SAC assignment in good old "stateside"

Note:  In preparing for this blog I "googled" the March AFB security breach I referred to.  I found only one source after several tries and that was just comments from someone who was there commenting on a personal military forum.  Since the news of that day was so widely reported at the time it is quite amazing how the government can quash a story....and suppress it so deeply that seven or eight rounds of googling finds only one minor source.  As bizarre as it sounds it happened folks!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Quiet Heroism

He's buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Section 34, Grave 479A.  Everyone who knew him said he was the most quiet child they had ever known.  He only spoke to respond to a question.  Shy and quiet, he lost himself in the fantasy world of books.  He could read and write by the time he was four and was clearly very bright.

He grew no more outgoing as he grew up.  Though handsome enough he shied away from girls and kept to himself.  He and his family were extremely poor, trying to eke out a living by farming cotton in the hard scrape of desert.  But the family was a proud one.  His father had served in World War I and took great pride in his service.

Some of the paternal pride must have rubbed off on the shy and quiet boy.  When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, in an unusual revelry of words, he told a friend "I want to be a Marine and serve my country".

And so he did.  He underwent recruit training in San Diego and eventually became a Marine paratrooper.  In 1943 he sailed into the Pacific just in time for Bougainville.   A few months later his unit was disbanded and he was transferred to the 5th Marine Division.  He volunteered to return to the Pacific for more island hopping battlefronts.

On the 19th of February, 1945, his marine division landed on Iwo Jima.  His unit was one of the units who fought bloody battle after bloody battle to take a mountain occupied by Japanese and used to mow down his comrades.  On the fifth day he was one of some 250 men who executed a desperate assault to take that mountain.  Less than two dozen would survive to come back down.  But he was one of them...and he was one of six who raised the American flag on that mountain, a photo captured by a photographer who flashed it to the world a few days later.

And America somehow fell in love with those six soldiers who raised the flag on Mount Suribachi.  So they brought the six back to America.  The politicians welcomed them to Washington and pinned medals on their tunics.  And they sent them around the country, put them up in beautiful hotel rooms and paraded them onto stage after stage to sell War Bonds.

But all "he" wanted was to go home.  He wanted no part of hero worship.  Finally they did send him home, back to his hard scrapple adobe home.  Although he didn't like to talk, he had no problem redressing a wrong...and he spoke up when he learned one of the boys in the famous pic had been misidentified. He went on up to Route 66 and he hitchhiked 1400 miles to Texas to tell the family of the forgotten boy that their son, and not another, who was indeed one of the "six".  And they finally got it all straightened out.

Then "he" drifted back home.  Sadly, he got home, but his mind was still at war...and being someone who had never been able to express his thoughts, he suffered it alone.  He carried around a massive guilt that he should be honored and called "hero" when so many of his comrades never made it back.

And sadly, they didn't know what P.T.S.D was back there was no help to be had for a gentle and quiet soul who had seen so much violence and so much death.  And so, in a last desperate effort to quiet the war in his mind, and the hurt in his heart, he turned to the bottle.

And one cold January morning they found him lying dead in two inches of water in front of an abandoned adobe hut.  The Pima Indian named Ira Hayes, 32 years old,  he of the big deeds and the few words, would speak no more.

Sometimes deeds speak far more eloquently than words in any case.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

John D. MacDonald; A Review

To all you readers out there:  Have you ever come across a fine writer who, when the supply of his books run out, you wish there were more?  I've known a few.  Robert B. Parker, and his Spenser series comes to mind.  But my favorite all time is mystery writer John D. MacDonald.

Fortunately for MacDonald fans he was prolific.  He wrote 78 novels, including 21 of the Travis McGee novels, and over 500 short stories.    Even so, over the last 30 years I've read MacDonald's novels over and over until their dog-eared.

John D. MacDonald was serving in the OSS during World War II, stationed in India and Ceylon.  Because mail was censored he began writing short stories and sending them home for his wife's amusement.  His wife, Dorothy, sent the first one to a mystery magazine publisher and they accepted it for publication.  That first $25 dollar check was encouragement enough for MacDonald, so that when he came home from the war he began churning out short stories for the pulps.

As the pulp magazines began going out of business MacDonald transitioned to novels.  Some were mysteries, others were period pieces, chronicling the America of the 50's.  He was so good at writing of the human condition, love, greed, lust and envy, he began to pick up a large readership.  With MacDonald, don't confuse "quantity" over "quality".   His novels are so well crafted as to lead Kurt Vonnegut to say "To diggers a thousand years from now, a discovery of MacDonald's books would be on the level of finding the remains of King Tutankhamen".

When the 60's rolled around MacDonald created his first series character, a Florida "boat bum" named Travis McGee.  McGee lived on a houseboat at Bahia Mar, Slip F-18, Fort Lauderdale.  His means of support was playing "errant knight", slaying the criminal dragons and recovering loot stolen from the good guys from the bad guys.  For which Travis McGee took half, then reverted to his life of pleasurable sloth.  The Travis McGee series rocketed MacDonald to the top of the best sellers list where he remained until his death in 1986.

Fans loved Travis McGee, the character.  They loved MacDonald's tight mystery plots and his humor.  But it was MacDonald's "asides" that captivated the reader, as he wrote of environmental pollution decades before Earth Day.  He wrote about greedy businessmen long before the Wall Street disaster of 2008.  He wrote about the value of "character" and he wrote about the rewards of valuing human relationships and the corruption of the soul when we value each other too cheaply.

Humor me as I cite a rather long excerpt from MacDonald's "A Tan And Sandy Silence":

McGee has just experienced a very humid and intense attempt at seduction by a vile and nasty murderess whom he knows is an accomplice in the murder of a dear friend.  He is lying low in the bushes, trying to rope the culprits in for their ultimate punishment.  After getting "heated up" through this seduction attempt he sends the lass on her way, but is now trying to drive away the lust for such a delicious but corrupt morsel:

"The buttons tripped certain relays.  I had to go back into the mind, into central control, and reset those relays, compensate for the overload, switch the current back to those channels designed for it.

I went searching through the past for the right memory, the one which would most easily turn growing desire to indifference.

I thought a memory of Miss Mary Dillon long ago aboard The Busted Flush would do it.  There were more than a few, but they would not come through vividly enough to achieve turnoff.

Lisa made it so damned easy, so completely available, there was not more importance to it.  And with no importance to an act, why did it matter whether or not it happened?  Why did McGee need some cachet of importance in this world of wall-to-wall flesh in the weekend living room where the swingers courteously, diligently, skillfully considerately hump one another to the big acid beat of the hi-fi installation, good from 20 to 20,000 cycles per second?

Is McGee still impaled upon some kind of weird Puritan dilemma, writhing and thrashing around, wrestling with an outdated, old-time, inhibiting and artificial sense of sin, guilt, and damnation?  Is that why he couldn't accept the lifetime gift of Lady Jillian offers?  Is that why he has this sickly, sentimental idea that there has to be a productive and meaningful relationship first, or sex degrades?  So bang the doxy, because easing the ball-pressure is reason enough.

Who needs magic and mystery?  Well, maybe it is magic and mystery that an Antarctic penguin will hunt all over hell and gone to find the right pebble to carry in his beak and lay between the funny feet  of his intended, hoping for her favor.  Maybe sex is a simple bodily function, akin to chewing, sneezing and defecation.  But bald eagles fly as high as they possibly can, up into the thinnest air, making the elegant flight patterns of intended mating all the way, then cleave to each other and fall, fall, fall, mating as they fall fluttering, plummeting down toward the great rock mountains.

The way it is supposed to work nowadays, if you want to copulate with the lady, you politely suggest it to her, and are not offended if she says no, and you are mannerly, considerate and satisfying if she says yes.

But the Tibetan bar-headed goose and her gander have a very strange ceremony they perform AFTER they have mated.  They rise high in the water, wings spread wide, beaks aimed straight up at the sky, time and time again making great bugle sounds of honking.  The behaviorists think it is unprofessional to use subjective terms about animal patterns.  So they don't call this ceremony joy.  They don't know what to call it.   These geese live for up to fifty years, and they mate for life.  They celebrate the mating the same way year after year.  If one dies, the other never mates again.

So penguins, eagles, geese, wolves and many other creatures of land and sea and air are stuck with all this obsolete magic and mystery because they can't read and they can't listen to lectures.  All they have is instinct.  Man feels alienated from all feeling, so he sets up interrelationships.  But the basic group of two, of male and female, is being desensitized as fast as we can manage it...

It is these kind of "asides", this kind of reflection, that makes MacDonald such a valued read.  You might learn more about gyros and servomechanisms from Tom Clancy, and you might enjoy the cold and hard violence of a Spillane or Crais, but if you want to learn more about the human condition, told sometimes with pathos and sometimes with humor, you could do no better than to find yourself a good John D. MacDonald novel.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Subliminal Academia

Pardon me if I indulge in a little "navel contemplation" this morning.  It's just that last night I had such a rich and lengthy dream and want to get it down in words.  Everyone dreams each night and some of them we even remember.  But last night was a sub-liminal spectacular, nurtured by what I was listening to as I drifted off to sleep.

Before I turned into bed last night I fired up my iPod, opened a folder that held dozens of C-Span interviews of authors and historians, and settled back to listen.

Before long I found my self standing under an elm tree on a residential street with Brian Lamb, C-Span's CEO and multipurpose interviewer of the "smart and famous".  Soon Lamb had hailed down a car and began interviewing a young Black man about a book on 21st Century technology.  I remember trying to interject in order to ask the young writer what publishing program he was using to put his book together.  Both Lamb and the young writer were ignoring me completely.  After several minutes there were cars behind backed up for five or six blocks and I was telling Lamb that this was a hell of a wrong place to be conducting a writer's interview.

Frustrated I left the scene and ducked into a bakery.  All along the right wall of the bakery were trays of donuts and other pastries scattered haphazardly on trays, a coffee tray holding a coffee urn, with discarded cream and sugar packs scattered about.  The bakery had no service counter.  Instead, standing in the middle of the bakery was none other than popular historian David McCullough, surrounded by a couple of dozen adoring listeners.  McCullough was giving a talk on the importance of today's students learning history and the liberal arts.  As the silver headed, cotton ball eye-browed McCullough transitioned to the rich heritage of 18th century scholarship a middle age lady entered the shop.  She seemed to be very shy and confused about how to secure assistance in getting a donut and coffee.  It was then I noticed a sign above the baked goods; "McCullough's Bakery".  It was then I noticed there were no cups available for the coffee.  I looked over at "famous author" in subtle plea for his assistance.
But McCullough just continued his lecture, wry smile in place, and seemingly not concerned that was selling no donuts or coffee.

Just as McCullough was transitioning for a discussion of Thomas Jefferson's classic education and his academic brilliance I left the shop and headed across the green commons of a university.  I began walking toward what appeared to be an administration building when I looked down to see I was carrying several syllabuses and a class schedule.  After consulting my schedule I headed for my assigned class in an adjacent building.

As I entered the classroom I was jostled a bit by young men in their mid-twenties, looked again at my schedule and found I was attending a Masters level liberal arts class.  The tone and attitude of the students was a bit more rowdy here, the students more confrontational with a multiply talented and diverse faculty panel, two of which were historian Douglas Brinkley and the broad who played Charlie Sheen's mom on "Two And A Half Men".

Brinkley was discussing Theodore Roosevelt's role in expanding the national park system and reflecting on the deep friendship between naturist John Muir and Roosevelt.  While I found the lecture quite stimulating my attention was diverted somewhat by my wondering what a "60 something" man like me is doing on a college campus some thirty years since I last occupied a seat in academia.

Brinkley must have noted my mind wandering from his brilliant lecture.  He stopped mid-sentence and asked me a question.  But he spoke so softly I couldn't hear the question.  When I did not respond the noted professor pulled a sheet of paper from a stack before him and said I was to prepare an essay by tomorrow's class on why my fellow students might appreciate the reading of "Sonnets of the Portuguese"by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Just then a bell somewhere signaled an end to the lecture and I wandered out into a bright afternoon sun, trying to remember what I knew about Sonnets Of the Portuguese.  I remembered that it was a somewhat long, sensual poem that spoke of love of both the intimate as well as love for her fellow man.  I then remembered that it was the last stanza that is most remembered by those who have read it, or used it in some long ago romantic interlude:

HOW do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.       
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use        5
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seem’d to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of ally my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

P.S.  Strange dreams folks.  A subliminal spectacular
brought about by modern technology and an iPod.
But I can think of worse things to wake up to than
the sweet cooings of Ms. Browning.  :)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Escargot, Caviar Non!, Coffee Oui!


I've never had a sophisticated palate.  I tried caviar once and did a "Tom Hanks" with it.  I was offered escargot once but couldn't get past the image of those pests in the garden.  I care not a whit for Prime Rib and will choose a hamburger steak or meatloaf over a T-Bone any day of the week.

But I've always been a devoted coffee lover.  And for 30 years that coffee was Folgers.  Maybe it was those warm and inviting Folgers commercials that played well for the holidays.  The guy or girl comes home from some far off place, delights in the morning quiet throughout old familiar "home", walks into the kitchen and makes a steaming pot of Folgers.

Whenever I returned home from overseas the first night was always a night of "catching up" with family, over pot after pot of Folgers.  Whether served from a fancy drip coffeemaker or my mom's old electric percolator, the coffee was wonderful.

Alas, my devotion to Folgers was not to last.  About 20 years ago I wondered into a Costco store, took a peek at their Kirkland brand coffee (sourced from Seattle's Best) , carried it home for a tryout, and was lost to Folgers forever.  The rich bold taste of that first pot of Kirkland coffee was so wonderful I immediately wondered how I could have enjoyed the "watered down" taste of Folgers.

For the next decade I drank the Kirkland Roast in the morning and their decaffeinated roast in the evening.  It was always a coffee with a "bite", a flavor that finely finished off a good meal or a dessert.

Then a few years ago my daughter began sending me a monthly shipment of Peet's Coffee, Goruda Blend and I fell in love all over again.  I have a Bunn coffemaker that will push through five cups of Peet's Goruda Blend in 90 seconds flat, and even that is too long for me while waiting for that first sip.

Somehow Peet's has managed to blend a deeply rich and robust coffee without the slightest hint of bitterness.  It is wonderfully aromatic as you dip into your first sip and the flavor just dances across the tongue and yells "wake the hell up!".

So I am admittedly now a "coffee snob".  I've joined the ranks of those millions of Starbuck aficionados that insist on kick ass flavor, and simply cannot tolerate the weak-kneed off the shelf commercial brands.  (My apologies to those who, either by choice, or budget restriction still cling to Folgers or Maxwell House or Yuban).

When I was a young guy in Vietnam I drank gallons of those little Korean War era instant coffee packs straight from a canteen cup.  I've drank coffee from 50 gallon vats from the chow hall; coffee that will either put hair on your chest, or burn it off.  But now I'm one of those soft, snide, spoiled "sophisticates" who finds the old coffee brands to be bland, watered down, tasteless.  Don't offer me colored hot water.

No, I must now have a big busted coffee that struts up to me and says "can you handle this , big boy!"

..."the best part of waking up is .....".   :)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Oscar "Boobs" Broughaha

So, let me see if I got this straight.  During last week's Oscar telecast, Seth Mcfarlane and company did a dancing and singing spoof called "I saw your boobs".  It was all about the actresses who've revealed their breasts all for the noble gesture to "advance the art of cinema".

Then the same actresses took great offense at his bit of puffery!  Blond coiffered heads where shaking in disgust as the camera panned around the auditorium.  The blond Theron looked really pissed!

Then, in a hail of "there is not scorn like a woman scorned" a bevy of actresses have voiced their disgust with this two minute comic skit.  First Jamie Lee Curtis, then Jane Fonda, then Geena Davis joined in the skewing of a skit about women showing their boobs.

Which leaves me a bit perplexed!  Did I not see about 2,000 acres of naked boobs coming down that red carpet before the Oscar ceremony?  Jane Fonda is 75 years old and has made an army of plastic surgeons enormously rich in that 3/4 of a century, has shown her boobs more often than an Elsie The Cow milk commercial, cuddled up to Ho Chi Minh during the Vietnam War and called our prisoners of war "war criminals", and the bitch is insulted about a little two minute boob skit?  Give me a friggin break!

Now to Jamie Lee Curtiss!  Didn't her boobs win an Oscar for Best Supporting Role in "Trading Places?"  Was that a stand-in when she paraded that set of knockers in front of Dan Ackroid?  How much did she get paid for that movie?

Did Geena Davis think it was her acting ability that got her the prime role in "Earth Girls Are Easy?"

Please ladies!  Give us a break!  George Bush has taken far more abuse during Oscar telecasts from the Hollywood libtards than you can even imagine!

So stop it with all the phony crap about how insulted you all are.

Okay, just had to "get that off my chest".

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Starbucks Anti Military?

Today I came across a Rant and Rave posting on Craig's list that was blasting Starbucks for not sending some requested coffee samples to a group of Marines serving in Afghanistan.   Seems the Marines not only didn't get their coffee samples but received a Starbucks corporate letter that said "we don't support the war, or anyone participating in it and won't be sending you any free coffee".  The poster even took the time to provide a link to  I guess the poster figured no one would follow the link, and he would then be free to stir up hate for Starbucks among those who support our military.

I however followed the link and it was regarding a totally different issue.  Seems a Starbucks employee in Manhattan refused to donate three cases of water to an ambulance company treating 9/11 victims.  That story was true; they made the ambulance employees shell out $130 bucks for those cases of water.
It seems also that, although Starbucks Corporate was made aware of this grievous lack of compassion for 9/11 victims, they took a long time to offer a refund to those ambulance workers, and only after the story went viral on the internet.

Okay, back to the Starbucks and Marines story;

It seems the Marine Sergeant that reported this coffee request story on the internet had to back off and say that he had heard it from another Marine whom he was never able to identify or locate for verification.

However, Starbucks corporate, rather than being satisfied that the story was doubtful at best, had to embroider their own nobility by saying that they do donate coffee, and funds to the USO, but would never send any Starbucks coffee directly to the troops serving in Afghanistan.

Which only causes me to get my dander up against Starbucks all anew!  Why the hell wouldn't Starbucks fork over a few cases of coffee to our troops serving in the vast wastelands of Afghanistan?  I can tell you from my own military experience that, while you may get a free coffee and donut in a USO in some major military base, you're not going to come close to a "donut dolly" from the USO out in the jungles of Vietnam or the mountain passes of Afghanistan!  So, a little Starbucks coffee sent directly to the troops would be most welcome!

Anybody watch MSNBC's Morning Joe?  Everyone of those simpering libtards have got a bag of Starbucks and a hot or cold Starbucks sitting in front of them there in the studio, all provided free of charge by Starbucks!  Oh, I'm sure Starbucks reaps big business profits from having their coffee front and center on everyone's TV set each morning, and I'm equally sure the TV cameras won't be rolling over in Kandahar province as our troops are drinking their MRE coffee out of metal canteen cups..but still!

When I was stationed in Hawaii our unit used to sponsor an old folks home.  Every three months we held pancake breakfasts and gave the profits to the home to buy the folks a TV or Stereo or to buy turkeys at Thanksgiving.   We served three hotcakes and a glass of Dole Pineapple Juice to every customer.  The Dole Pineapple Juice came free of charge from the local Dole plant.  Anytime we needed a dozen cases of pineapple juice we called Dole and they always said bring a truck down and take as much as you need.  This was back when Dole was more than likely run by a CEO who had served in World War II or Korea.  So when the military asked for something they gave and didn't ask for publicity.  Too many companies today are run by business gurus who wouldn't stoop to serve in the military and any donation must be largely publicized in order to boost the corporate profile...and profits!

Moral of this story?  Stop with the hating folks!  Quit looking for ways to falsely demonize others.  But, damn it Starbucks!  Send some coffee over to Kandahar, even if you have to confiscate those free bags off of those Morning Joe desks!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sunday Morning "Johnnycakes"

If you're thinking about what to make for Sunday morning breakfast you couldn't go wrong with trying Johnnycakes, one of America's oldest "walking breakfasts".  Anyone who's watched Andy Griffith would know that Aunt Bee will set the breakfast table and serve Johnnycakes.  And on Little House On The Prairie, little Laura will be toting rolled up Johnnycakes with applesauce in her school lunch bucket.

But Johnnycakes, or hoe cakes, have been around far longer than that.  When the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth they found their barrels of flour had gone bad.  It is said that Squanto, the Indian friend who befriended the pilgrims, helped them to find a cache of corn meal buried by local Indian tribes.  The Pilgrims used that cornmeal to make Johnnycakes.  In fact, the name Johnnycakes itself may be derived from an old Shawnee Indian word "janikan" which were small corn pancakes that could be rolled up and put in a pocket as a meal for the road.

My mother called them hoe cakes.  I suspect that's because you could whip up a stack of these little corn cakes, roll them up and take them out to the fields to snack on while hoeing cotton.  Mom said they were a staple in lunch boxes when she was a kid.  Cheap and easy to make, they were a filling lunch when nothing else was available.

Troops from both sides of the Civil War often survived on hoe cakes or Johnnycakes when nothing else was available.  The troops simply mixed together bacon grease and corn meal and fried them over an open fire.  If a pan was not available you simple wrapped a wad of dough around a stick and held them over the fire.

But no section of America can lay claim to originating Johnnycakes.  Be they hoe cakes in the south, or Johnnycakes in the Northeast, they remain one of America's oldest breakfast fare.  Johnnycake festivals are still held in the Northeast and they serve as a warm and filling breakfast on a cold winter day.

There are many different recipes for Johnnycakes; some include flour and sugar and some believe in sticking to the old original recipe.  Here's one of the oldest, most basic recipes for Johnnycakes:

One Cup White Cornmeal
3/4 tea spoon salt
1/4 cup lard or bacon drippings.
1/2 cup milk

Mix all ingredients then spoon drop mixture into a greased hot skillet.  Use the back of the spoon to flatten out the cakes.  Brown on each side.  Serve hot with butter and jelly or butter and maple syrup.

Happy Weekend!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Transparent Dresses When "Aroused"

Okay, so yesterday I was scanning Yahoo News and got jerked into one of those Yahoo Shine fluff pieces.  It was about some ladies dress designers in the Netherlands who are bringing out a line of dresses that become transparent when the woman is "aroused".   Seems there's a microchip built into the dress that responds to the wearer's heart rate.  As the heart rate increases the dress becomes transparent.

Well hell!  What will they come up with next!  Of course I can see a few problems with this design concept.  What kind of an impression is a lady to make as she sprints to catch the bus and steps in, only to be presenting herself in all her glory to twenty or thirty urban commuters munching on a donut for sausage Mcmuffin?  What if she was late for the board meeting and had to scale a couple of flights of stairs enroute?  Talk about a Powerpoint presentation!

Will men's trousers be the next line out?  And if they are, would you like to place bets on how much sooner a male "in his glory" is arrested for indecent exposure?

And really, what's the big deal about a transparent dress?  Anyone who caught the Red Carpet at the Oscar show probably saw every bit as much for two solid hours of Oscar telecast "foreplay!"

No, I can't see these arousal-transparent technology going too far.  Now, if you could outfit politicians with clothes that turn transparent every time they told a big fat lie you'll have something!