Friday, April 19, 2013

Theater Of The Ear


They say our brain is uniquely wired for certain predilections.  That wiring often predicts a talent for art or music, or writing, or how to fix a kitchen faucet.  One of the more fascinating differences is how we perceive and enjoy either the visual or aural, or both!  I was reminded of that when, in the span of a single day, I was able to watch a TV adaption and a radio adaption of a chilling tale called "The Hitchhiker".  

"The Hitchhiker" tells the story of someone who sets out from New York, bound for California.  Upon crossing the Brooklyn Bridge the protagonist sees a seedy old guy by the side of the road, with his thumb out and looking for a ride.  Upon seeing the hitchhiker the driver gets a strange creepy feeling and quickly speeds up until well ahead of the hitchhiker.  Then (and the first goosebumps appear) further up the road the hitchhiker appears again.  Again, the driver guns the engine and flees from the fear!  As this happens again and again, hundreds of miles apart, our protagonist is slowly being driven mad.  As the story progresses there are presented numerous efforts for the driver to regain a sense of sanity, clever little maneuvers accompanied by a need to rationalize how the dark man on the side of the road always seems be ahead, just up the road.  In the final chilling moments of the story we learn the identity of the hitchhiker and are left with sadness and despair...and an acre of chills running down our collective spines.

The TV adaption, a Twilight Zone episode, features a woman in the driver role, and played well by the late beautiful Inger Stevens.  Having a woman in the role increases the fear factor, a sense of vulnerability that can only be achieved by a woman traveling alone.  In the radio adaption of "The Hitchhiker it is the melodious voice of the great Orson Welles who drives the road alone, bound not for California, but for the slow unwinding of his sanity.

I found Orson Welles in the radio show to be far more compelling.  The radio enhances the "theater of the mind", allowing your own imagination to roam the wilds of fear.   The radio listener finds himself attuned to each variation of voice pitch, to each intonation of word, as we are literally transported from radio side to the front seat of that car, trying desperately to overcome the fear and loneliness of a fearful solitary road trip.  At one point Welles stops in the middle of the desert, looks up and stares into the sky, gazes up at a million stars, and realizes how small he is in the vastness of the universe.  That single gesture, that one thought presages what is to come...and even before we know the ending, we know it won't be good!

So, yes!  I do watch TV, some of it.  Some of it I even enjoy.  But I have found it is the theater of the ear that I enjoy the most!  For the past twenty years or so I've been a huge fan of old time radio.  I have come to enjoy the mental tasks of building the sets, drawing the characters all on my own, then hanging on for every turn of the story!  I find that same delight in the reading of books.  The characters will look just like I imagine them.  The scene will play out in the tone and colors I design!  A well written story affords the reader the opportunity to do just that.  

So I don't pretend to understand just how my brain is wired.  I only know I greatly enjoy the freedom to imagine on my own; so I guess I'll always enjoy the luxury of allowing the mind to stage my own unique production!

By the way, if you have neither seen nor heard "The Hitchhiker", I highly recommend it to you!  Just be prepared to be scared...very scared!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Achieving "Old"

I turn 65 this week.  George Burns once said that he gets up in the morning, reads the obituary page, and if he's not in it, goes ahead and orders breakfast.

 I am paying more attention to the obituaries.  When I see that someone who has died lists a birthday later than mine, I feel like I"m cheating someone.  That feeling of guilt intensifies when I read that one of my high school classmates or one of my old war buddies has passed.

"Why me?", say I.  Why did she or he die and not me?  Surely they led better lives than mine!  That attitude is, of course, blasphemous.  It presumes that we have some insight into God's standards, that he who outlives another  is somehow more fortunate.  It also presumes that death is a bad thing and not equal to God's other rewards.

And when I am equally short-sighted I tend to arbitrarily group a number of years and project some frame of reference about what that term of years may mean.  For example, I consider myself a newcomer to Arizona, having moved here 9 years ago.  Then that magic "9" starts flashing in the forefront of my mind and I think "wow!"..nine years!"..."the time has gone by so fast and yet I will be extremely lucky to have nine years left!  It is then I begin to think I need to visit the crematorium and have a quiet conversation with the management there so that my family won't be burdened with "the details".

Ironically, I don't have the same fear of death that I had when I was eight years old!  I can still remember lying in bed and saying my prayers.  That "if I should die before I wake" scared the hell out of me!  Will that nasty trick I pulled on my little brother today seal my fate?  Will making fun of my sister guarantee my ticket to hell?

So, I approach my 65th birthday with appreciation for the bonus days; yet selfishly bemoan the little that is likely left of my life.  Then I feel small and mean when I read that someone far younger has been taken far too soon.

When I'm feeling especially feisty, I contemplate what fun it would be to "sting the moneychangers in the temple".  I live a pretty frugal life, own a FICO score of 800, have excellent credit, and could probably write $30,000 dollars of Credit Card Cash checks first thing Monday morning and fly off to Paris and Rome and Monte Carlo for a little high stakes roulette and let Visa and Master Card try and get any of it back.  I could re-finance my home at 2.5% on a 7 year term loan and leave the mortgage holder holding the bag when I croak in year six!

Instead, I guess I'll just keep plodding along, dealing with the aches and pains and stiff joints associated with aging.  I'll score senior discounts at my grocery store and order the "Senior Slam" at Denny's.  Age has brought me immense appreciation for our natural world.  It has given me time to bond with my doggies now that my children are grown.  I no longer go to sleep with "if I should die before I wake", but probably should.  I am surely no less grateful when I wake to the morning sun shining through my bedroom window.

And finally, yes I do consider the spiritual nature of my life..and and death at some unknown time.  When I see that someone I know has passed I try and comfort myself, and to resolve my "why", by believing that my creator believes I have more work to do, something meaningful to leave the world where once I dwelled.

So, in three weeks or so, my Medicare card will activate, I'll have reached full Social Security maturity, I'll get a tiny increase in my scheduled tax deduction and I'll keep an eye on the obituary page.  If I'm not listed I'll go ahead and scramble a couple of eggs.  :)

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Tiger Hating Golf Pansies


Last year I wrote a blog called "The Unwinding of Tiger Woods".  It was highly critical of Woods and expressed doubt that Tiger would overcome the psychological problems associated with his "life events breakdown".  Yes, I have been highly critical of Woods, especially in the manner he has managed his personal life.

But yesterdays' brouhaha over a minor rule interpretation seemed to bring out hordes of sports pansies, slimy sports talk minions and whimpers about unfairness from Tiger's golfing competitors.

First of all, I've read criticism of Woods from baseball and football players.  Are you kidding me?  Golf is a pristine "no cheating" game, carefully monitored and enforced largely by the players themselves.  Baseball has been ruined by huge wasted salaries that breed prima donnas and steroid users.  Football boasts a small army of retired players who are brain dead from excessive game violence or who have already died from excessive concussions.  Baseball and Football players, and their fans; just shut up.

Secondly, while Woods may have violated a golfing rule, the rule itself was so vague that neither he nor the on course officials nor the Masters officials nor PGA officials noticed the infraction.  Woods actually took a drop three feet behind the position of his last shot and was not trying to better his ball placement.

But cries of favoritism rang out from those golfers who don't possess Tiger's skills or game focus.  They were like jackals calling for Tiger's disqualification, mostly fuel by jealousy.  

I have no idea how Tiger will fare on this final day of the Masters...but it's clear that there are alot of folks who want to take Tiger down.  They can't do it on the golf course so they moan and whine on the Twitter boards. 

Sad.  Damned sad.

Friday, April 12, 2013

"On The Manner of Death"

I was just reading a strange news report yesterday about a Russian man, who had taken a vacation in a wilderness area, then decided to photograph a beaver, only to have the beaver attack, catch the femoral artery in the right place, and the poor guy bled to death.

Folks, I've got to tell you, when you die by beaver bite you're way overdue for a trip to the afterlife.  I couldn't help thinking that one of St. Peter's administrative assistants had blown a "death call" some time back...perhaps the guy had survived a severe bout of pneumonia, or a "hit" from the Russian mafia.  I mean you just don't die from a beaver attack!  It's just not done!

Conversely, sometimes, when you're surely meant to die, you somehow escape the grim reaper.  I, myself, had an auto accident that should have killed me, but didn't.  I was driving on an icy road just outside Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha Nebraska in the winter of 1981.  I came upon a group of cars that had piled into each other and, to avoid hitting any of them, I steered my compact car toward the roadside.  However, because of the icy conditions, I slid off the road as the car began rolling.  I rolled three times and ended up upside down in a deep irrigation ditch.  When the highway patrolman, already on hand for the group smashup, came over and descended into the ditch he found my car with the windshield smashed in and the top of the car flattened to the level of the dashboard.  When he came upon me he was shocked that I was alive and able to climb out of the wreck.  Other than some superficial cuts on my arms and facial lacerations I was not seriously hurt.

Perhaps my most bizarre escape from the Grim Reaper was as a young Air Force Security Policeman.  One stormy night on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base I was pulling guard duty on an alert nuclear loaded B-52 bomber.  Despite severe lightning in the area I was carrying my M-16 rifle "barrel up"..since it wasn't yet raining.  Suddenly lightening struck the tail of the B-52 and somehow ricocheted over to my upright rifle barrel.  I was struck unconscious.  Fortunately a security response patrol was in the area and happened to be looking my way when the lightning struck me.   I regained consciousness as I was being rushed to the base hospital.  After being thoroughly checked out by a military doctor I was treated for mild shock and released.  For the remainder of my tour my buddies abandoned my real name and simply called me "lightning".

One of my friends in Korea was not so lucky.  He was a young fella with a Korean bride and an infant son.  They lived two doors down from me in an apartment facility just off of Osan Air Base.  Anyone familiar with Asian custom knows that, upon the infant's first birthday, a huge party is called for.  Perhaps the tradition harkens back to ancient times when the one year survival of an infant was cause for celebration.  At any rate, my friend and his wife held a huge family and friend party at their second floor apartment.  Revelry and happiness was evident that day as the extended Korean family came and went after enjoying a sumptuous meal and some fine spirits.  About five o'clock in the afternoon everyone had apparently gone home.  The young father was helping his wife to clean up after the party.   All of a sudden from my apartment I heard a loud feminine scream.  I ran out of the apartment and ran down the hall to the balcony.  As I looked down from the balcony I saw my young friend lying prone on the concrete patio below, his head being cradled in his wife's lap.  

I ran down the stairs to see if I could help.  But a quick glance told me it was too late for this young man.  He had apparently been shaking out a small floor rug when he got his feet caught in the rug and plunged over the balcony to his death.  When I got to him his brains were pouring out his ears and he was bleeding from the mouth and no longer had a pulse.  We quickly got a base ambulance to respond and bring him to the base hospital where he was pronounced dead.  No better evidence of the fragility of life.  An hour before this young man was celebrating his son's first birthday and in this hour, was dead.  The tragedy haunted me for months.

Just as the seemingly harmless act of shaking out an area rug should bring death, sometimes the almost comically happenstance of survival when survival isn't expected can baffle the senses.  One of my buddies in Vietnam was coming on duty for his shift.  He drove an 50-caliber mounted Armored Personnel Carrier.  One step on his pre-duty checklist is to check and clear the 50-cal machine gun.  My friend stupidly climbed up the front of the APC and, standing in front of the 50 cal barrel, reached out to the charging handle and set off a round and shot himself through and through.  If you've never seen a 50 cal round, it's about five inches long and a good inch in diameter.  

We got the medics on scene and they ran our friend to 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon.  For the remainder of the night we all sat in bunkers or on patrol and mourned the death of our young friend.  The next morning after returning to our hootches we learned from his hootch mate that our friend not only survived but would most likely be released within a couple of days.  As it was explained to us, the .50 cal round passed through his body cleanly and hit no major organs.  And because the huge round, fired so close to the body, had not had time to tumble, thus making a nice clean hole at entry and exit. 

I guess the moral of all this is that we never know what manner of death will take us.  I guess if we all had a choice we'd want to go out in some blaze of heroic glory.  Sadly, most of us pass in more mundane manner.  I once asked a fella how he'd like to be "taken out".  He said he wants to be 65 years old and have a heart attack while between the legs of a twenty year old virgin.

As for me, I'll settle for not dying of a beaver attack.  (Whoops; that wasn't mean to be a pun!  :) ) 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Writing My Epitaph


The other night I was watching a video of Bob Hope visiting us in Vietnam for a Christmas show.  It brought back warm memories....of a large brotherhood, of the lighter moments of war time.  But, as I watched Bob flirt with Miss World, dance with Raquel Welch and sing duets with all the girl singers, I realized that I'm witnessing a history that will never come again, at least in any way familiar to me.

Bob Hope's flirting with Hollywood dollies, his sexual innuendo, his sexy growls simply do not fit the new America.  Bob would begin bantering about the G.I.'s Playboy centerfolds posted on latrine walls or in our hootches.  Bob would leer and say something like "well, I see you guys haven't forgotten what you're fighting for".  

That time has come and gone.  Just last year I read that the Air Force raided the barracks rooms of our bachelor Air Force quarters, confiscated suggestive covers of Maxim and Playboy, then generated thousands of letters of correction, citing sexual exploitation of the opposite sex.  Long feminine legs and deep cleavage is now considered offensive, not only to the female persuasion but to the openly gay troops who do not find the female sexually attractive.

At the conclusion of each Bob Hope Christmas show the entertainers always asked us to join them in singing "Silent Night".  The lights would dim and ten thousand G.I.'s would retreat from the hoops and hollers of seeing Raquel in a mini-skirt, and as they sang the childhood Christmas song, the tears would flow as the waves of loneliness rolled over them.  They sang a song of peace amidst the fury of war...and somehow achieved a few moments of peace in their hearts.  As the final notes of the song were sung Bob and Raquel and Johnny Bench and Chris Noel and Les Brown and Miss America would have tears in their eyes, sorry to leave such an enthusiastic audience...and sad because they knew many of those boys in green would never come home again.


Today, the singing of Silent Night in such a large and diverse gathering is no longer possible.  Atheists would be offended, Muslims would scoff at celebrating the birth of Jesus, who in their religion was no more than a minor prophet.  Most likely the civilian bosses at the Pentagon has advised that a "holiday" song is more appropriate.  Just as we have driven religion from our schools and boycott the Boy Scouts for valuing tradition, we must embrace liberalist principles and disregard 230 years of tradition in the new American military.

In watching that forty year old show I realized that we all write our epitaphs a day, a month, a year, a decade at a time.  What was right for us forty years ago is no longer right.  So we must bury those memories now because they are abhorrent to someone who is now offended by the rites of even the recent past.  The brief moment of spirit and unity derived from singing an ancient Christmas carol is no longer deemed acceptable.  Cleavage is now pornography.  And we must now "walk gently, as if on eggs" lest we exercise any form of humor that might be offensive to even one.

So, as the years go by, we write our epitaphs as we bury, and condemn the practices that once kept us going, things that stimulated us, things that inspired us, and things that once brought us all together, united in some common generational belief.  

The older generation must move along, and make room for the next one.  And scratch another cautionary note on our epitaphs.  

Sorry Bob Hope.