American Reform

I like to poke a little fun at Americans even if I declare myself one. Partly because they were there, I was there, and it was an easy target. There are several ideas of America. Depending on how many times you ask the question determines how many ideas you will get. Nowhere is there to be found a single idea of America. Too many, America is what it should be, but never recognized for what it is. Americans often pretend to have much in common with a people that never existed long ago, who lived in an innocent and noble time that never was. This is all done in an attempt to bring, what they call, their Founding Fathers into a larger picture where, in fact, they don’t exist. So they fantasize about reforming, returning to a purer time in history—back to the independence of the past. They celebrate their tough, British fighting, Founding ancestors—pretending they have something in common with them. Lost to them is the certain reaction from any Founder, even the most tolerant one among the bunch, if such a fat, helpless excuse of a man, the kind that exist today, were to dare suggest they shared anything in common. The Founder, whether it be Jefferson, Washington, Adams, for it makes no difference who in this circumstance, all would be just as offended as the next and would demand his man choose the weapon of choice, and would kill such a pathetic character over the grievous insult to his sacred honor.

Very well then, every American has his own idea of America. However, that idea is seldom shared universally – outside of his particular enclave, which is his place of refuge. Its high walls and his fearsome neighbors protect him from thought; relieve him from the burdens of thinking alone. In America, every idea is repugnant to the one who did not think it first, and its form of grotesqueness changes according to the region the observer finds himself. If one enclave is socially, politically, and economically the polar opposite of the other, the more grotesque the idea is. In fact, if ten Americans, from different parts of the land, were corralled into the same room for a day and forced at gunpoint to agree on a common idea of America or die, the only thing they would have in common at the end of that day would be how they died. This would happen even if the fate of every man, woman, and child depended on just a majority agreement. Add 525 to the ten, make the room enormously larger, grandiosely more expensive, the men infinitely richer, shorten the day to a few hours of debate, and this is Congress.

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Happy Hour(s)

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I’d like to say I love to visit the place but I would be stretching the truth. I visit it because it is so close to my apartment. It’s mainly for that reason that I like to pull in there and enjoy a few. Sometimes the bartenders misjudge my mood. It’s not their fault that they can’t dissociate me from what I’m feeling. If I’m happy and friendly, it’s Jameson. If not, it’s Johnnie Walker Black on rocks.  They always assume Jameson when they see me and most of the time they’re right. However, there are other times when it is Black and I change the order.

I’m not being dramatic, here; it’s just the way it is. My Black days are just what you’d expect: the table against the wall, no conversation and no menu orders. The Jameson days I’m at the bar critiquing news coverage, elaborating on sports or helping out with cross world puzzles.

Which leads me to…

Mike has trembling hands. I never asked him why his hands shake. He does crossword puzzles and is a sports fanatic and is such a good fellow, well, I’d guess I’d nominate him for president. At any rate, I like to help him answer those up/down questions when I can.

Jerry is a lawyer, beard, long hair and seems to relish the dullness of the place. He’s not fussy or pretentious, but he’s vocal. He drinks IPA’s and solely focuses on sports. I think it’s an escape for him.

Then there’s Roger; now don’t go getting used to saying, “Roger”. He doesn’t like it. He’s a Brit but he lived more than thirty years in France. So he expects you to pronounce Roger with a very soft g; something Americans find trouble doing. He expects this even though he’s lived in America for twenty years!

He told me once, back in December, during the holidays he corrected a lady at the grocery store for wishing him a happy Thanks Giving. In short, he told her that he didn’t celebrate Thanks Giving and that not every one in this country does. Well, here I took exception. I imagined a simple server just being polite and here’s ol’ Roger setting a rube straight. I said, “Roger, it was easier for you to simply accept the kind gesture than to convince her she’d done something wrong. You live in America now. You are in her country, after all. Contrary to political correctness dogma, there are some expectations for all Americans. When in Rome,” I told him.

Roger’s an older gentleman, at least in his 70s,  so I don’t know if he liked my input. Too bad, he brought it up. Then, we don’t need to be too hard on Roger. He’s rich and has many surrogate children he’s sponsored and helped. He’s a good man.

George is a bartender/server there and he grew up in Ecuador and so is Max who speaks Portuguese as well as English, though I’m sure hew grew up here in  the USA. They both are fond of me and like me and I like them, too.

Then there is a girl who is very cute, too skinny, but cute. I never remember her name. She’s from the Ukraine and has a very long pony tail. I’m talking below-the-waste-long. She likes Vladimir Putin, too. She’s a darling. She has that east European slavic look; wide cheek bones, proportionately set almond colored eyes, perfectly placed above a cute nose and sexy lips.

Well just last week Max was late. Turns out he’d overslept. How you over sleep past 5 pm is a question I never bothered to ask him. At any rate, she was mad. I’d never seen this side of her, though I should I have known she was capable because women, no matter where they are from, possess naturally that special feminine prerogative. When it’s revealed, it’s a helluva thing. Well, she broke character and revealed it.

Anyhow, she’s going on and on about Max. He’s not answering his phone, he’s late too often, etc. So there we sit, lined across the bar, and she informs us that she has a place to be in an hour. Max being late put her in a very tight crutch. She’d have to get home and change and fix-up and do–as women will attest–all the things needed for her to beautiful.

Here’s the point I want to make out of all of this; and that is: Men-folk can be funny. First of all, we don’t care. Max could have been another hour late as far as we are concerned. However, when she remarked there might not be enough time for her to look pretty, every man in the joint fought over the chance to correct her. It’s an involuntary reaction for men.

It went like this.

“I have to go home and get ready. We have reservations. I can’t go looking like this. I need enough time to at least look pretty, it’s hard enough as it is.”

Well, that was it. No man, and certainly no group of men, would ever let that pass. Our response was.

“Well, that’ll take about 5 minutes, as pretty as you are.”

“You can go like you are if pretty is what you are after” (that was my line, thank you).

“Well, lucky for you it won’t take you no time at all.”

I don’t know. Men as a race are simple; peculiar, but simple.

Here’s me smoking a cigar while wearing a sweater vest. (No one made me do either).

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Happy Valentines Day

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There isn’t much to write about on my end. So I decided to try an exercise where you take an opening sentence from a story and run with it.

So I grabbed an opening line from one of William Faulkner’s stories and wrote about a couple I saw on a recent retreat with my wife.

Through the [concrete noun], between the [adjective] [concrete noun], I could see them [verb ending in
“ing”].

Through the mirror, between the soft kisses, I could see them touching. She looked to be twenty years his junior. He enjoyed her company. He liked the way she made him feel. He was on vacation, even if only for a weekend. She was slightly more reserved than him, but not enough to see without studying her actions. His chair turned so that he faced her, and he could not keep his hands off her. Gently he would rub her arm or her thigh. He spoke low and often leaned in to whisper to her. She could not defend herself from being flattered.

Only one seat separated me from him. He asked the bartender for a menu. I said, “You can have mine. I’m through looking.” A thirty dollar salad was not appetizing. I slid it over toward him. He took it without as much as a glance to me. He said something to the effect as “very good” or “very nice.” Not a thank you, nor an acknowledgment. He swiveled his chair to face her again, and they both hovered over it, heads inches apart.

I saw them again the next morning at the pool. In the middle of the water, they bobbed together, head and shoulders sticking out of the water, like two solitary islands in an ocean. He held her close. He thought the pool hid his hands, but they were visible, magnified by the water as they both rested and moved over the curves of her buttocks. Again and again they would kiss. Again he would whisper to her. And yet again, like the evening before, he could not keep his hands off her. And yet again, like the evening before, she could not defend herself from being flattered.

I am sure he was married, only not to her.

‘Why Don’t You Crawl Back Under the Bridge You Came From’

That sounds like an ugly thing to say doesn’t it? Yeah, I think so too but it was said yesterday. Let me explain.

I stopped off at Dick’s Sporting Good to pick up a few things I needed for my gym. Specifically, a new jump rope and a cushioned pad so that the hard cement doesn’t continue to wreck my knees and ankles. If you want to stay conditioned enough to move around the ring, jump roping is a must. But I’ve digressed.

I walk into the place and immediately hear yelling from a man with a gruff voice using every profanity he could recall; and made up other ones to use in place when his recollection failed. This isn’t something you see every day. Unfortunately — or fortunately, I haven’t decided yet, I had to swing a right at the door in order to get back to the area I needed to shop. This man was going on and on about a damaged sleeping bag and how “they” sold him a “shitty product” and plenty more of those kind of things. He dropped f-bombs at least a dozen times that I heard, and I had not been in there longer than just 30 seconds.

As I get to the front of the counters, I notice that he is saying all of this to a woman. This lady’s voice was cracking whenever he gave her a moment for a response, her chin was quivering, and she was visibly nervous. Well, that set me off some kind of good. If I can speak plainly, it pissed me off. So I slowed my pace just in case. She told the bum that she had to go speak with her manager. As she was walking off he continued his rant and even called her a f—— b—-.

He pissed me off. The way he looked pissed me off. The way he dressed pissed me off. The way his gruff, throaty, ruined voice sounded pissed me off. The way he was standing there pissed me off. He saw me watching, and propped his elbow on the counter and took to staring at me with a pair of walleyes.

I asked if I could help him. He said, “I don’t know, can you?”

I told him that depends, I reckon. He said, “on what?”

“If  you want a real fixing or not.” I told him I thought he had a loud obnoxious mouth and I thought he was a coward for talking to a woman like that.

He responded that he didn’t give a f—- and would cuss whoever he f—— wanted.

I told him he wouldn’t cuss me like that. And he didn’t. He just continued to stare at me with those large marbles of his.

I told him when he got his sleeping bag back to do everyone a favor and crawl back under the bridge he came from. That’s when the manager came and he asked us to stop. So I did.

But it got me to thinking. Let’s say he would have cussed me or gotten aggressive with me. There is little doubt in my mind that I would have whipped circles around his tubby butt. I mean I could have wrecked him inside of two seconds. I would have enjoyed it too. But I probably would have been arrested along with him, booked along with him, and fined along with him. Would all of that had been worth it? Probably not.

Sometimes I wish I still lived back in that country town where I would have been given a medal and day off from work for whipping such a man as that.

Profound Wisdom Found in a Parking Lot

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I don’t normally do news items but I’ll have to make an exception for this one. A Walmart worker in California was doing his usual sweep through the parking lot while on the clock, when he stumbled across a notebook. I’m assuming he finds usual items such as this every day, but curiosity got the better of him – and what good favors curiosity gives! –, and so opened it to see what it contained. Quickly he noticed the handwriting was that of a child’s but the personal reminders and maxims were of profound wisdom and decency that only one with a deep understanding of character could produce.

When we think of children, we usually imagine a complete disregard for the rules and endless discipline that we wonder if it will ever sink in. One child, however, has embraced the rules of life and has been writing them down as he learns them.

Inside this little notebook was a list of rules this child used in his life. And God love this little fellow because even though his spelling was incorrect in places — hey so is mine, and sometimes I pretend I’m smart — his guiding principles were spot-on.

  • Don’t get into other people’s business.
  • Don’t call each other names.
  • Clean up your messes.
  • No eating other people’s food.
  • One hundred eighteen is don’t keep saying please if someone says no

It was about this time that the worker, whose name is Raymond Flores, realized he found the writing and thoughts of a young scholar, whose decency surpassed all the people he probably comes in contact with on a daily basis.

He said of the notebook’s words of wisdom: “I like that. They put a lot of hard work into it. These rules mean a lot to them and probably to the parents, as well.”

Some of other notable rules:

“Ware [sic] your seatbelt,”
“Resicle [sic],”
“Put your shoes by the front door when you take them off.”
“Rule number 154 was to protect this book.”

Mr. Flores was so moved after reading that he has made it a personal mission to make sure this notebook gets back to its rightful owner. But that’s not all. He was also influenced by the decency of this creature, and the simplicity of its goodness, that he has made it a point to emulate the example.

In my previous life, I may have been inclined to draft this kid into Congress or the White House. Now I know that it would be a waste of time for the child and unfair to the politicians. This child would have as much in common with politicians as a mud turtle would have with a soaring hawk. Moreover, it’s unlikely that our politicians would want to associate with such human refuse. His very presence would be a grievous insult to those Hallowed Halls. All in all, a good thing; the kid would probably grow bored and depressed being constantly surrounded by the soulless and mentally unqualified.

No, I hope the child gets his notebook back and I hope he continues to live his life according to his principles. That he continues to influence those around him and lives long enough to have a hundred kids and grand-kids. That, more anything else, is what we need. We have entirely too much of the former.

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I saw these little nuggets on the interstate and grabbed a quick shot once traffic slowed or stopped, which fortunately in this case was every few feet.

*Having an issue rotating the pics in WordPress. The first image is of a hearse.

Reads: “Dead End Cemetery.” The guy was eating a McDonalds breakfast burrito but I couldn’t get a shot of that. At least not while he was shoving it in his mouth.

Doesn’t leave a lot to figure out does it. Kind of gets straight to the point.

My Forgetful Neighbor

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I’ve mentioned my neighbor briefly. If you recall, he is the one who likes to drink vodka all day. As a result of his unquenchable thirst, he is often forgetful of our encounters and conversations. It amuses me because when we meet, it is like the meeting before and the one before that never occurred. So we start with a clean slate nearly every time we bump into each other. If you think about it in the right way, it’s almost refreshing. I mean, there has to be some advantage to being an alcoholic.

At any rate, I was standing out in front of the pharmacy, which is just down the road from my house, waiting to get filled my daughter’s prescription for her sore throat and earache. As I’m out front looking at mouthwash for the 11teenth time, up strolls my neighbor.

“What’s up dude?” I hear someone say to my left.

I look over and there stands my forgetful neighbor pushing an empty buggy (buggy is shopping cart for us Southern folk). I’m sure he was drunk but I can’t tell — mainly because I’ve never seen him sober.

“Man, I texted you to let you know I had the fight on! You never texted me back.”

“I know man. I remember getting your text but I can’t remember why I didn’t text back. I think I may have fallen asleep.”

“But you remember getting my text?” Prying for more information.

“Yes, but I’m not sure what I was doing when I got it or why I didn’t respond.”

The back story is that I told him a week before that I planned to order the Pacquiao/Marquez fight on pay per view. I distinctly recall him being excited about the fight and he told me he would come to my house and join me. He even offered to bring a dish. Actually, the guy can cook and since the fight costs $65, I didn’t object. I said, “Good. Looking forward to it. I’ll text you a little before the fight after we put the kids down for bed.”

“Sounds good. Can’t wait.”

I considered it a done deal. But I should have known better. That was at least four or five days before the actual fight. Considering how many vodkas and cranberry juice cocktails he had over the span in between, the conversation might as well have never happened.

Strangers in Airport Lounges

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I’ve been known to meet some interesting folks by accident. I sometimes share these encounters with my wife. She’ll respond “how do you get in these kinds of conversations with people you just met?”

I tell her I don’t know. It isn’t planned. It just happens. I’ll share one for an example.

A few years ago, I had a layover at some major airport. Maybe it was in Charlotte or Atlanta. I’m not sure. At any rate, I was sitting at the bar enjoying some casadias and a lager. There was a story of man (though that would be stretching the definition) who turned himself in after being on the run with a three year old girl he had abducted and sexually abused.

My disgust for this man and sorrow for this little girl led me to shake my fist at the television screen.

“You know, a little street justice is okay sometimes.”

This man sitting next to me, an older gentlemen, I estimate in his early sixties, replied in kind.

Quickly our conversation picked up on the horrors in the world and the crummy politics we have to endure. I could tell this man had a kind heart. I can’t recall the sequence of our topics but he inquired about my family, what I did for a living, where I was from, et cetera. Unfortunately, this story cannot do justice in describing our encounter.

I learned he didn’t have kids of his own despite being married for over 30 years. He told me he had a daughter who died shortly after birth. Her death was caused by breathing in embryonic fluid during birth. This apparently caused the little girl to develop pneumonia and she died in the hospital. Had she lived, she would have been older than me.

The dear old gentlemen fought back tears as he was telling me this story. Right there in an airport lounge, not caring at all that the place was crowded. He had me tearing up a bit.

If I remember correctly, he and his wife tried a few more times but without any luck. Do you know what this gentleman decided to do with his life? He adopted children and became benefactor to a dozen others. He kept mentioning children from South America. How he sent this one or that one through law school, business school, or medical school. At the time, he was sending a girl from Brazil to law school in America.

“South America? How did that happen?

“I do a lot of business down there.” He handed me his business card, which I still have to this day. His name is Michael but goes by Mike.

He is a vice president to a major helicopter manufacturer based out of Oregon. He sells commercial and military helicopters to governments all around the world. Over the years, many South American governments became his main clients. So naturally he spent a lot of time down there. One of the kids he helped educate now works for him. He seemed particularly proud of him.

He told me had his daughter not died, and he and his wife were unable to produce a child of their own, he may never have been led to take care of other children. The sting over the loss of daughter, the absence of his own precious flesh and bone allowed him the ability to embrace other children – children from South America – as his own, to care for them and invest in them. Who knows how much he spent. From what I gathered, I bet he doesn’t know either and probably could not care less.

He told me if I ever find myself in Oregon, to give him a call. This man meant it. I learned very quickly from our short encounter, this man meant everything he said.

He had to leave first, his flight ahead of mine. We shook hands and said goodbye. He told me he had not met many young men like me and enjoyed our conversation. I took that as great compliment coming from him and said thanks. However, I was thinking to myself, “I haven’t met any man like you.”

As he was leaving I turned to get one more glance of him. When he exited the lounge, I thought to myself, “Now there goes one heck of a man.”

You don’t forget people like that.

A View From Napoleon’s House

Emperor Napoleon is one of my favorite historical characters and personalities. I read a book earlier this year that covered Napoleon’s exile on the island of Saint Helena. It was written by a French guy and mercifully translated for us English readers. I remember the book as being pretty good and interesting enough.

I especially liked the personal stories and learning about a man who found himself in exile after reaching nearly the very height of power during his time as French Emperor. While on the tiny island, he found all sorts of ways to stay busy. He would take the generals, those who chose to accompany their emperor into exile, and reorganize armies, design uniforms, and refight battles on large table maps. Additionally, he would work with administrators and go over different tax policies, explore more efficient ways to raise revenue, increase domestic productivity, reform government and the education system.

These things were hardly enough to entertain the kind of mind and physical energy Napoleon had. The island slowly ate away at him.

For a personal note, Napoleon hated that he could not be addressed as Emperor while on the island. After his defeat, and according to the rules of his exile, he was demoted to general. In addition to this, he also found the British protocol off-putting. For example, when the British governor or any diplomat came to the Longwood to speak with him, he always stood. He never took a seat. By him standing it forced his visitor to remain standing according to manners. It saved him the embarrassment and insult of having to watch a member of the British government take a seat without first asking permission. He found it beneath his dignity and rank. So to try and prevent the insult to his honor from happening, he stood while in discussion for however long he needed.

At any rate, I was poking around GoogleEarth and got a 3D animated shot of the Longwood House, which was Napoleon’s official residence until his death.

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Here are some real life shots of Longwood House. Not much for a former emperor.

Did I Ever Tell You I Met Donald Rumsfeld?

I did. That’s  me standing there with him. I don’t really look like that. I have a normal face in real life. I met him at a party through an author I know. I met some other folks you’ve seen on TV but meeting Mr. Rumsfeld stood out our for a couple of reasons. I’ll share with you why I said that.

First, the old cliche never judge a book by its cover (or the character of a person according to someone else) applies here. I expected a much different man. I wish I could elaborate more what I mean by that but I’m failing to come up with an explanation. I just expected something different. Perhaps more along the lines of my idea of him based on what I read and was told. You know, authoritative, distant, maybe even a little cold. The technocrat Washington lifer.

Well, he thoroughly upset those assumptions. The person I met was very sweet, small, warm and a friendly elderly gentlemen. He was so happy to make my acquaintance and to know a little about me. I told him I served under him when he was Sec. of Defense and shared briefly with him a little about my military career. He took my hand and clasped it in both of his and told me thank you. “I’m glad you made it home safely. I asked a lot of you and others like you. ” He sounded and acted just like a proud grandfather.

There were a few other nice exchanges but none of which come to my mind. I asked for a picture and he was more than willing to do it. Later in the evening I tracked him down to say good bye. He demanded to see the picture. After he was satisfied with the quality, he gave me back my camera. I honestly think if the picture wasn’t good enough, he would have taken another one with me.

I’m pretty good at judging people. I know when I’m meeting the real you or not. I’m certain I met Donald Rumsfeld that night.