Childhood Heroes

Childhood Heroes

Television was still new and watching it was a privilege for children of the 1950’s and ’60’s. It didn’t take a lot to fire imaginations that were used to doing all of the work anyway. Saturday mornings were great for heroes like Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger and Sky King. They taught us that good could triumph over evil and doing the right thing was our duty. They also showed us that good guys; got the girls, could ride a horse, play a guitar and sing, had a cool friend named Tonto, and could fly a plane. All admirable qualities to a kid.

There is a lot to be said for being inspired by good guys and it was even OK if you didn’t succeed at everything that they did. I found out that I couldn’t play a guitar and my singing sounded more like a cat in pain. I could ride a horse because I was raised around them and it was a common thing where I grew up. None of my friends were named Tonto, but several were real Indians, and they all wanted to be the Lone Ranger when we played. Unanimously they said that Tonto sounded funny and didn’t want that role, so I was Tonto. But we all liked and respected Jay Silverheels more than Clayton Moore because he was always loyal and trustworthy.

I grew up with a knowledge of aviation due to my father’s occupation as an Air Traffic Controller in Miami, so I was more interested in the Cessna 310 that Sky King flew than the plot. It was usually bad guy grabs girl, good guy has to fly airplane to rescue girl, all have a narrow escape and good guy wins. Do you remember the name of the niece? How about the airplane?

Even more dominate in my memories and by far my greatest hero, was a man that I had read about in books, and who didn’t appear in the Saturday morning lineup until much later. He was still a movie star and his name was Tarzan of the Apes!

Of those who portrayed the ape man since the Edgar Rice Burroughs books first came to film, my hero was number six and the undisputed king, Johnny Weismuller. The yell heard ’round the world! He was and is still, the only Tarzan for me.

He was an immigrant child, born in what is now Serbia, and suffered from polio at an early age, which lead to his swimming for health and strength. Johnny Weismuller was so good at swimming that he won five Olympic Gold medals and one Bronze medal, won 52 National swimming titles and set 67 world records.

I knew about the swimming accomplishments from reading about him, and hadn’t we ALL seen him swim in his films! He could swim faster than a crocodile and was so strong that he could swim upstream against raging torrents.

It wasn’t the swimming that inspired me as much as the decency, fairness and strength of character that Tarzan brought to the silver screen. He never allowed anyone or anything weaker to be mistreated. I could relate to that being smaller and weaker than nearly everyone that I knew at the time. The code of personal conduct that Tarzan lived by, and the respect that he earned from all who knew him was a model that I wanted.

That and to live in that really awesome tree house and have all of those animals as my friends. Forget mansions and fancy cars, I wanted to live in the jungles of Africa like Tarzan.

In December of 1965 Johnny Weismuller was to help officially open the Swimming Hall of Fame in Ft Lauderdale, FL., which he also helped to establish. Tarzan was going to be in one spot long enough for me to see and hear him. It was as kids today would say, an OMG moment.

Sure I was twelve years old and knew that Tarzan was a fictional character, but, this was TARZAN!

I tried to get a ride from family; Dad was working, so mother didn’t have a car, my older siblings would rather have swallowed worms than haul me anywhere. Even my few older friends were working.

I asked my mother if I could go anyway, if I could find a way. Her answer was, “Don’t be ridiculous” and went back to her magazine.  She didn’t SAY no, so I took that as a yes.

“Think!” I kept telling myself. “Tarzan wouldn’t give up!”

If we were urban dwellers like people in New York City, it would have been so much easier and less mentally painful to solve this, but I was a country kid, albeit ensconced in semi-surburbia. But I did eventually come to it.

The bus! I will take the bus. I had taken the bus to the beach and back hundreds of times. I even had to transfer from one bus to another, I was a pro, in my own twelve year old mind anyway. I could do this. Old ladies do this. Piece of cake!

I am going to shake hands with Tarzan and somehow become his friend and go to Africa and … oh wait, he lives in Ft Lauderdale now. Well, I’ll get him to do the yell, that will be good enough, but if he WANTS to go to Africa, I’m with him!

There were no computers in those days. No easy find it online solutions to which bus runs where and when. I tried calling the city bus office, but being a twelve year old kid who didn’t even know which department to ask for, I got the proverbial run around. I also made a big mistake when I stated up front that I was going to go see Tarzan. It became a joke and great sport for the employees to pass my call from one extension to another where they asked me if I knew Jane and could get them a date, or had I kissed Cheetah, or was I “Boy” looking for my ape loving daddy? Finally a supervisor put an end to the sport and rattled off a list of numbers and connections that by that time, I was not prepared to copy down. He hung up the telephone when I asked if he could repeat that, but slower. I was NOT going to call them back. The one part that I caught was go south from Sunrise Boulevard on Atlantic. But how to get there was a mystery.

I grabbed all of the money that I had, which wasn’t much and headed out the door towards a gas station near by. There I got a city map and finally found Sunrise Blvd. I was determined to follow the map and hop from bus to bus until I got where I wanted to be. My first leg would be to catch the bus on Hollywood Blvd to Young Circle. From there US1 or Federal Highway as it was called there, would take me all the way to Sunrise Blvd.

The ceremony was set for early afternoon sometime and I was starting out in the morning so in my mind I had extra time. The ride to Young Circle took quite a while and should have been a clue that I was in for a very long day.

I waited at the bus stop for a long time until I finally asked a man if this was the right place to catch a bus for Ft Lauderdale and he told me that he was catching the bus to Miami from there. Panicked, I went into a local business and asked the lady at the counter where the bus stop for Ft Lauderdale was. She looked at me like I was kidding her and said, “You been standing at it for 30 minutes.” I ran back outside just as the bus pulled up and the man I spoke to sat back down on the bench. 

When it was my turn in line to step up into the bus I stopped at the change box and asked the driver if he went to Sunrise Blvd. He said “no…,” and I nearly bolted out the door before he completed his statement, “… but I connect with the bus who does.” This was harder than I thought.

Not being a veteran city bus rider, other than my short jaunts to the beach, I had no idea how many stops a route bus makes each day. We stopped at every corner and it took forever for people to get on and off the bus. It was already noon by the time I caught the northbound bus from Young Circle and my concept of distance was pretty much limited to what I could see. How far something was on a map and how long it would take to traverse that distance was rocket science to me then.

It literally took hours for me to get to Sunrise Blvd and Atlantic Blvd, and then I had to go back south on Atlantic. I was down to my last few coins when I got to the spot on South Atlantic Boulevard that had signs pointing the way towards the big to-do. I walked in from the bus stop and that was good, I didn’t have to park a car that way. I couldn’t see any available parking spots anywhere anyway.

I had no idea that nearly 5,000 other people would also be there and all wanting to be photographed with Johnny Weismuller and the other Hall of Fame inductees, who ever they were. The ceremony for the ribbon cutting, etc., was over. The crowd was definitely in party mode and they were all dressed up and, adult.

The steam went completely out of me at that point and I was overcome with a “what have I done?” moment. It would have become an utter defeat for me had I not been sitting on a folding chair in the right spot, at precisely the right time.

Through a break in the mob of people I see the dark hair, white suit, and broad shoulders of Johnny Weismuller as he leads the crowd to a statue where he and two beautiful women pose for photos. I can hear a voice from the crowd saying that some reporter claims that the famous Tarzan yell is actually a fake, made up of sounds from several people and sound effects.

In response to many repeated requests, the real, true Tarzan tilted his head back and let loose with a yell that stopped every single person within earshot in their tracks. When he stopped, the entire crowd burst into applause, including me. OK, I’m good. The entire trip was officially worthwhile.

I wish that could say that I got to shake hands with Johnny and we were best of friends until he died in 1984. But that wasn’t the case. Even more people crowded around him than before and he was swallowed up in the moving throng of humanity.

As it was I was left with no money to get a bus back to West Hollywood and an almost certain beating for what I had done. But it was worth it. I did what I set out to do and I heard Tarzan yell with my own ears!

I called my uncle and asked him to call my house and ask for my oldest brother to come and get me. Which he did and I paid for my brother’s gas many times over due to his idea of interest charges. We also concocted a story that explained my absence from home and kept me from getting into trouble, which was a major bonus.

Would I advise twelve year kids to do what I did that day? No. Am I glad that I did it? Oh, Yeah!

— signed: Still a Tarzan fan!

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Emancipation

Emancipation

I probably would not have been seen as a model child by any stretch of the imagination in my youth, and I was OK with that. I didn’t care what other kids were doing, or what the “proper” behavior for someone my age was, I did what I felt was right.

It was the summer of 1961 and I had been ordered to get a haircut, which was a weekly thing during the school year, but I hardly felt that it mattered in the summer. Of course I did NOT have a vote in the matter, no kid did in those days. Dad said get a haircut, and off to the barbershop I went. There were consequences for not doing as I was told and I knew them well.

The barber we used was the same guy that had been cutting my hair since before I started first grade, which granted wasn’t all that long, but we had a “history.” The guy was two-faced and hated kids, but kept his smiley face on when adults were there.

When I was five years old I had to sit on a board that the barber put across the arms of his chair, so that I would be above the back of the chair and he could get to my neck, etc. One side of the board had a red padded leather cushion on it, the other, bare board. He made a show of placing the cushion side up for the adults to see, but flipped the board over once the child blocked their view.

Jack did subtle things like that, things that he could get away with and the adults would not see. He would do things like; wipe cut hair inside the cloth he tied around your neck (it itched like crazy), or put the hot clippers against your neck to make you flinch. Anything that he could do to make you squirm on that seat which he could then call attention to and he felt supported his point of view that kids were brats and needed more “razor strap discipline”.

When I was six he nicked my ear with his razor while doing my “white walls” around the ear, you guys will know what I mean. That was bad and made me angry, I had already had over a year of his tormenting. His comment (directed towards my father), was “that’s what you get when you squirm around!” I promise you that I never move a muscle when someone has a razor next to my skin. My dad gave me the “look” and told me to keep still or else.

Jack grinned at his success and then put alcohol on the cut. It must have upset him when I didn’t move or make sound from the burning pain of the alcohol, because he made a funny grunt sound and switched sides. The creep cut me again on the other side! I knew that he had shaved lots of people without cutting them, I had watched him, so I figured that it had to be on purpose and I lost my six year old cool.

When I yelled in pain he forgot himself, or at least his phony act, and got in front of me and taunted me with, “What’s a matter, is the baby gonna cry?”

That was another mistake, because he put himself within reach. Without thinking about what I was doing, I nailed him on his big nose with a right fist full of rage. Jack went backwards into the lap of a lady waiting for her husband to get his turn, bleeding between his fingers and cussing like a sailor. My dad jumped just as fast and had me off of the chair and his belt in his hand before I could even focus my eyes I was so mad. He hit me a couple of times on the legs before the big man sitting next to him (the lady’s husband) blocked his arm and said, “I think the barber cut him on purpose.”

In a testimony to the way things were back then, no law suits were filed. It was declared a “misunderstanding” (on my part) and an “accident” (on Jack’s part) and we apologized to each other and life went on. Dad tipped him something ridiculous and he was happy. I would rather have drunk poison than apologize but I had two cut ears and my legs were on fire from my dad’s belt and didn’t want any more, so I did as I was told.

Jack did stop tormenting me with his subtle tricks. I am not sure if it was the punch in the nose, or the whispered comments from the big man in his ear that changed him. He was not a nice man.

In 1961 it cost $1.50 for an adult and $.75 for a kid to get a haircut and I was sent with a dollar to cover it. I always hated giving Jack that extra quarter for his tip. If I had tried to “forget” and skip his tip he would tell my father for sure, because he was in there every week.

This barbershop was in a row of businesses which include the convenience store (like a 7-11), the drugstore where I got my comic books, and the barbershop on the end. Cars pulled up to the front shared sidewalk and behind the building was a dirt alley and residential property facing a street on the other side, so it was their backyard property line.

So here I was, sitting in the shop waiting for my turn, which without my dad along, was always after every adult man who came in. It didn’t matter if I was first, I ended up last. If I went outside I lost my turn.

It was a typical hot and muggy south Florida day and the shop had no air conditioning, just a poor excuse for a fan running, so the back door of the shop was open. I was restless and had read both of the magazines already. Jack didn’t waste money on such things, preferring to talk relentlessly about whatever he had on his mind. Children however, were not allowed to have opinions, or even speak unless spoken to in his shop. So unable to leave, read, or speak, I walked around.

Looking out the back door I spotted the first cool thing that I ever associated with that barbershop. A cage with a spider monkey peering back at me sat just across the dirt alley. Since the plywood top said “ack’s B”, I figured that it was his old sign, and with his two metal trash cans sitting next to it with “JB” painted on them, it was a pretty sure bet that it was his.

Briefly, very briefly, I thought “how cool of Jack to have a spider monkey.”

But the more I looked and watched the monkey, the worse his conditions appeared to be. He was full grown and was in a wire cage that was about 4 feet wide and 4 feet high and maybe 3 feet deep. When he stood up he had his hands and feet at all four corners at the same time. The ground around him was picked clean of everything that he could reach through the wire and he had a bucket in the bottom corner of his cage for water that I couldn’t see any water in. There was a wooden box next to the cage with a hasp and padlock on it, and the cage door also had a padlock on it.

I was yelled at by Jack that it was my turn, and I had to get in the chair or miss my turn, just that quick. I thought that was funny, as there were grown men in the seats waiting. Why didn’t I get bumped?

I debated whether or not to ask Jack about the monkey as he was always so grouchy when I asked him anything. My curiosity won out and I asked him if that was his Geoffroy’s spider monkey in the cage out behind the shop. You could have heard a pin drop in that barber shop. I was not sure if it was because I spoke, or what I said. Jack said, “That’s none of your business boy” and started running his clippers up my neck. The discussion was obviously closed on the matter.

The men were discussing Kennedy, Castro and Cuba and the opinions were heated and loud and I didn’t dare try to speak again.

After I begrudgingly gave up my dollar bill I tried to leave through the back door and was stopped as soon as I started moving in that direction. Jack said, “customers must use the front door”, so I did an about-face and walked out the front door. Instead of turning right towards home, I turned left and went around the end of the building to the back alley.

The monkey started to hoot and bark when he saw me coming and moved his face muscles all up and down showing his nervousness. I had read a lot of information about monkeys and was again sure in my categorization of this cute fellow as a Geoffroy’s Spider monkey. They had been in the news about a relocation effort in Panama and I saw photos of them.

The cage smelled bad due to the pile of poop and rotted fruit under the floor and it was obvious to me that the creature had been there a while. I found a hose behind the cage and filled the water bucket until it overflowed, which made the monkey squeal. (I was just beginning to hear a long list of noises this boy could make.) I attempted to blast the debris under the cage away but it was very difficult with the small diameter garden hose with no metal end or nozzle on it. I got some of it out of there, but it agitated the monkey until he screamed every time that I squirted the hose towards the cage. He was bouncing off the sides like he was losing his mind, so I stopped and shut the water off.

Spider monkeys have very long arms and legs and an even longer tail. They are arboreal and cover a large amount of territory as they feed during the day. This poor monkey could barely even stretch his body to full range. I was upset and sickened by the poor conditions this creature was in. I don’t think that I was so much in “environmentalist” mode as I was distressed by his living conditions. I didn’t feel that it was wrong for anyone to have a pet monkey, I just hated to see it badly treated.

I marched myself back around the building and inside the barbershop to confront Jack. I should have expected the reception I got. “Mind your own business boy!” Jack snarled at me, and the men in the shop all nodded in agreement with him. I was a troublemaker he explained to the men who again nodded their heads. So I left. I was not going to get anywhere with him.

I made it my business to watch that monkey and check on him every single day, including in the evening when Jack would close up his shop. You can learn all kinds of things by observing and listening.

Jack had won the monkey in a bet with a guy who went back and forth to Central America with an import business and brought the little guy back to Florida with him. I also learned why we never saw a car parked there for the barber. He lived the house directly behind his shop and his wife had the car to go to church every day. She was as religious, as he was mean. And he was afraid of her. She barked at him and he said, “Yes Dear” and he never barked back.

The monkey was afraid of the water because Jack regularly blasted him with the hose and made the poor frightened creature scream. The food that the creature got was what fruit the store at the other end of the building threw out, mostly bananas that had already turned brown or black. I thought that Jack kept food in that locked box next to the cage but he never got any out of it, even though he opened the box every time he went out there and stood there for a long time looking inside.

I tried reporting the neglect and abuse to a police officer who stopped at the drugstore for a coffee or a coke sometimes, but he said that it wasn’t illegal for the barber to own the monkey and as long as it was in a cage he couldn’t do anything about it. I tried to get permission to call the Crandon Park Zoo and ask them to help but it was long distance and neither my mother or father would allow it. They told me that it was not my business, and to stay out of it. My brother said, “Shoot the monkey, it will be better off.” Well, I didn’t think so, I thought that it was too drastic, but it did give me an idea.

If no one would help me force Jack to take better care of the spider monkey, and it wasn’t illegal for him to have it, then I had no other choice but to take drastic action.

Sunday morning, while Jack and his wife were gone to church, I took some tools from home and went to the cage. I had tried cutting the hasp with wire cutting pliers previously and that wasn’t ever going to work. So I took a hammer and pounded a big screwdriver under the latch and ripped the hasp and all off of the wooden framework.

I did something that I have since learned better than to do, but I was desperate. I set that Geoffroy’s Spider monkey loose into the Florida environment. I also ripped the hasp off of the box next to the cage thinking that I could provide some food for it to survive on while it got used to where to forage.

But there was no monkey food in that locked box. Some monkey “shines” as an old saying goes, but no food. It had a whole stack of porno magazines hidden inside. Naked women of all shapes and sizes in living color and not Playboys, these were raunchy. Even at that young age I knew that I had Jack by his tender boy parts.

I recruited an older friend to see what was in the box, (so I wouldn’t be on my own in this) and he told Jack that if he made a fuss about the monkey we would tell his wife what he was up to in the backyard. We also told Jack that he had to keep getting fruit from the store and putting it on top of the cage for the monkey to get if he needed it. That was a wasted effort, understandably the creature never got near that cage again.

That spider monkey lived in the neighborhood trees and ate fruit from the trees (hey, it’s Florida) and raided the trash behind the convenience store when he wanted more. He was also seen sneaking dog and cat food out of dishes and occasionally raiding bird feeders. The neighbors all knew where it came from and never complained to the police, so it was not chased or shot at. Even when it would sit on a window sill and stare at people in their houses. They were all older in that area and they didn’t mind, they had compassion for it. In the winter he would be seen on the roof of a house next to vent pipes or sunning himself on the tiles.

When I left Florida nine years later it was still living in the neighborhood as far as I knew. And the barber was still a jerk and still cutting hair. Him, I would like to put in a cage.

I do not recommend, nor do I condone turning animals loose. It was the wrong thing to do then, and even more so today. But it was all I had left in my arsenal and I had to do something.

There are other, better ways to deal with such problems and what I lacked then was a concerned adult who would help me make this right. Remember this story and when your time comes, BE that concerned adult, help some kid make a difference, and prevent them from having to do the wrong thing to solve an injustice.

Dating can be difficult

Dating can be difficult 

 

I met a young girl named Rebecca who was a poster child for natural beauty, with flowing light brown hair that went well past her waist and pale blue eyes. She didn’t wear makeup or even lipstick or lip gloss. She dressed like an Amish girl, only with different colors each day, not the bland uniform of that group. I once made the mistake of calling her Becky and was gently corrected that it was Rebecca, like in the Bible. It didn’t take a neon sign flashing for me to pick up on her lifestyle. She was a “church girl.”

 

Rebecca had two brothers going to the same school as we did; Mark who was a senior like myself, and Luke who was younger than Rebecca. They had the same hair color and features as their sister, but with a haircut that would make a Marine proud. Unlike the other students of that time they wore plain clothes and always, as in every day, wore long sleeve shirts that were buttoned up to the top.

 

Coming from the drug crazed world of South Florida, when I saw long sleeves in warm weather I immediately suspected arms with needle tracks. Not so with these kids. They were anti drugs, anti alcohol, anti tobacco in all forms, and didn’t even cuss. They were as “church” as their sister, if not more so. Which was cool, and they weren’t out to convert anyone or hold a revival in the school cafeteria. They were harmless, right?

 

I was getting along great with Rebecca and worked hard on not cussing, or being too obvious with my admiration of her smoking hot girl shape which was hidden by the “plain jane” clothing, (but not too well.) Her brothers kept their eyes on me and made hushed comments to Rebecca at times, no doubt explaining the evil intentions that they felt I had for her. I wouldn’t call them evil, exactly.

 

A dance at the school came and went, but Rebecca was not allowed to attend such functions. I was at a loss for how to get some more time with this girl. We talked every day at school and the subject of animals was a frequent topic of discussion. She was surprisingly well informed about reptiles and wanted to hear all of my snake chasing stories. This girl lit up like a Christmas tree when I told her about knowing Dr. Bill Haast from the Miami Serpentarium (which made me grin from ear to ear.) Imagine, a gorgeous girl who likes snakes and knows who one of my heroes was… Incredible!

 

It wasn’t long after that very conversation that Mark and Luke warmed up to me and quit looking like angry, protective brothers. I still had the problem of getting some time with Rebecca to deal with and was at a loss about how to resolve it, given her restricted freedom.

 

Then like Divine intervention, the solution appeared. Rebecca invited me to go church with her family. I could do that! I had sat through all kinds of church services and bible studies and figured that if I could handle the Hellfire and brimstones of the First Southern Baptist Church, I could handle any of them.

 

Their church was one that I had never heard of before, “The Church of Lord Jesus with Signs Following.” I hadn’t lived in the area for very long and told her that I didn’t know where that church was, but I would look it up in the telephone book and meet her there. “Oh no,” she said, “It moves around a lot. We will have to pick you up and take you to the location.”

 

That should have alerted me that something was different with this church, but my eyes were on the girl. If they had said that we were meeting Satan at 666 Hell Canyon Road, I would have said “Cool, I’ll be there.”

 

Rebecca said that sometimes they met at people’s homes, or in the back room of a business. When I asked if it was a big church, she said, No, there are only about 70 true believers in this area.” She said that sometimes people did come from other places like Sand Mountain, Alabama where they (her family) lived before, if the minister speaking was a big name.

 

The meeting place for this Sunday service was not revealed to me before hand and when all three siblings showed up in an old faded red Ford pickup truck (with Mark driving) to pick me up, I just blindly got in the cab with them. Naturally Luke sat between Rebecca and me, so there would be no accidental touching of legs. I sincerely hoped that this “separationist” chaperoning would not go on all day.

 

When we had driven every back road in the county and even doubled back on a few, we arrived at what appeared to me to be a barn. It was really an old wooden church made out of weathered grey barn lumber. The exterior was as plain as the dress code of the church members … humble and decent in every way.

 

I noted right away that every woman had long, plain dresses on, and no makeup or hair coloring. The men all had the Marine hair style and to the last male person they had on long sleeved shirts buttoned up to their cleanly shaved chins. I had seen pious and plain before, but these people put the ‘nilla in vanilla!

 

OK, all good. I had been briefed by Luke on the dress code and had complied, mostly. My hair wouldn’t pass inspection and my shirt was a Western style long sleeve, but with pearl snaps. A little flashy, but not one to get me excommunicated right away I thought.

 

I kept my hands in my pockets and off of Rebecca, not even daring to touch her arm with every set of eyes in the place on me. The reception out front was friendly and I saw musical instruments being carried in, which I liked. It showed promise of being better than many services I had attended. I was pleased when we were all called to come inside and Rebecca took my arm and held onto me as we went in. We found a seat on one of the long benches a couple of rows from the back wall.

 

The church wasn’t as bad as it looked from the outside. It even had electric lights and indoor plumbing, and she pointed out the door to the bathroom should I need it. That was the sweetest thing a girl could do at a church meeting!

 

Services began with the reading of two bible verses:

 

And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover (Mark 16:17-18)   

Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. (Luke 10:19)

 

This should have been enough for any prudent and aware man to hear and make a wise choice from. The fact that Rebecca’s brothers were named Mark and Luke still escaped me, as did the importance of the statement that the minister standing at the pulpit was Rebecca’s father. It was all just so much trivia going past my hormonally challenged ears.

 

The greetings to the congregation seemed normal and full of “churchy” stuff, quoting of yet more bible verses and proclamations of true belief. I did wonder when the “true believer” and “protection of those who truly believe” became frequently repeated items. That seemed a bit boring, but the warmth of the leg that I was up against and the smell of her shampoo did have me distracted, I’ll admit.

 

The music kicked in all of a sudden and that woke me up from my daydreaming and made me pay attention. Then one of the women got up in the aisle and started jabbering in a language that I could not for the life of me figure out. I was pretty good at recognizing languages having grown up in an international community, but this had me stumped.

 

I turned to Rebecca to ask what language was being spoken, and her eyes were rolled back in her head a little bit. She seemed to be caught up in this act too. Unsure of what to do, I decided to get up and stand along the back wall where I could see. The people in front of my seat were all getting up and dancing around and it blocked my view. Moving turned out to be a good move.

 

The doors we came in through were now barred and blocked by two huge gentlemen standing with their arms crossed in the classic guard pose. So I just found myself a spot along the wall and leaned there while watching the “show.”

 

I could see from my new vantage point that there were bottles sitting on the pulpit with the tell-tale skull and crossbones logo of poison substances prominently displayed on them. “Oh sh*t I thought, this can NOT be good!”

 

The minister then called for the “pure and moral true believers” to come forward and take up the serpents. When Rebecca got up to go to the front of the room, I was inclined to go with her. I liked snakes, and if they were going to play with snakes I was in!

 

It was a good thing that I was all the way at the back of the room and not up front. There would have been many more people to have to wade through to retreat.

 

The first serpent out of the boxes (that I thought were full of musical instruments), was a five foot long Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake. The second was a very heavy four foot long Water Moccasin, and the third was a Copperhead that didn’t seem happy to be there. I don’t know what they pulled out next because I felt the call of nature and decided it was time to use that bathroom that Rebecca had so kindly pointed out when we came in.

 

I am certainly not afraid of any snakes, including venomous ones. I had grown up handling them, and always with respect. But I have a real allergy to crazy people. Especially ones who drink poison and play kissy-face with angry death-dealing rattlesnakes. They are the dangerous animals, not the snakes they yank around like sock puppets.

 

I was able to make my way to the bathroom and locked the door behind me. The window was too small and heavily framed to get through, but looking at the wall on one side I could see that it was that same old, weathered barn wood I noticed coming in. I did stop to go to the bathroom before I started getting all energetic, figuring that I might be sorry if I didn’t when I threw my body against the wall.

 

Throwing one’s body against things like doors is never like it looks on the TV when the good guy bashes the door in with his shoulder. Feeling the weight of the door when I came into the bathroom I was fairly certain that it could withstand a “religious assault” should my hosts decide that I was being ungrateful, and come to get me to complete my indoctrination or whatever.

 

It was while “zipping up” that I heard the person rattling the door and calling my name. I wasn’t too worried until I heard the male voice say, “go get the key to the bathroom.” Rats! They were supposed to bash their bodies against the door and give me lots of time to figure this out. I was out of time that quick!

 

I grabbed up the plunger to use as a weapon, (hey, use what you got, right?) and instead decided to stab the wall with it to see how tough the wood was. The hard oak handle went right through the board like paper. I quickly sat down facing the wall and kicked it with both legs. They went right through the wall!

 

Hearing the key in the door lock, I reversed direction and hit the wall with my head and hands in a rush that would have made my linebacker coach from Florida very proud of me. I went about ten feet past the wall before I got up off my hands and feet scrambling like I was going for a fumble.

 

Around the building on a dead run I went, straight to the red Ford truck that we arrived in, because I knew that the keys were still in the ignition. I did glance back as I yanked open the door of the truck and no one was following me, yet.

 

I did not think twice about taking that truck, as I was purely in survival mode. I cranked it up and twisted and turned my way through the parked vehicles like a snake; a departing snake. I swore that I could still hear those rattles as I hit the gas and swerved into the country lane and headed for the city.

 

The way back was not as bad as I feared it would be, because I caught a break with a wrong turn and found a paved road with a highway sign on it. I was only twelve miles from town and didn’t waste any time heading for it.

 

Fearing that I would be charged with stealing the truck, (because I kind of did), I had a bright idea; I would drive the truck to the police station and leave it there with the keys in it. It couldn’t be stolen if the police had it, right? And the owners would report it stolen and the cops would say, “oh no, it is right here, come and get it.”

 

It was a good plan and my end of it worked out well enough… the rest, not so much. The police did take note of the truck parked outside their door and investigated it. They were a bit upset with the burlap bag with four rattlesnakes in it they found under the seat. No wonder I could still hear the rattling when I peeled out and bounced the truck around.

 

I didn’t know that religious snake handling had been a felony in Georgia until two years earlier (1968) when that law was repealed. The minister knew that the snakes were in the truck and likely figured that I would have told the police a story about being kidnapped and forced to participate in the rituals. They had a rough time of it with law enforcement in Alabama when people died during snake handling services there.

 

Rebecca and her brothers never returned to our school and I was told by another girl that they had moved to West Virginia where their church and religious practices had always been legal.

 

Their old red Ford truck was never claimed and was put up for auction as is the custom there. No one would bid on it due to stories and rumors about snakes inhabiting the truck and crawling out to bite you if you drove it. It was finally sent to the scrap heap. Rumor has it that as it was being smashed in the crusher a rattlesnake was seen by the operator crawling out just before the crush was completed.

 

I am glad to be a Buddhist. We don’t speak in tongues, or drink poison, or dance around waving unhappy serpents in the air. I do still handle snakes, but always with respect and never, ever, in a church. Amen.

Second Chance Cafe

Second Chance Cafe 

It should be noted that life continues to march regardless of who we are, what we have done, or how much money we have. 

In most towns you can find a dining establishment that serves a good meal for a decent price. The often repeated advice given by experienced travelers is to, “Find the spot frequented by the locals, and follow them in.” As a kid I had heard the want-to-be wise men spouting, “Eat where the truckers eat, they always know the best spots.” Although I have found that last one had a bit more to do with where a driver could park his rig, than the quality of the food. 

Our town has many fast food establishments as well as what we refer to as “sit down restaurants” where wait staff take your order and bring your food to you. The former is perhaps cheaper, but to me the second choice is far more satisfying. 

As people get older and have less demand on them to provide for others, (which might be referred to as the “empty nest years”) they find that spending time slaving over a hot stove for two people no longer seems reasonable. It does still happen occasionally, just not often. 

Some people become full time “nibblers” and snack themselves out of wanting meals. Others eat fewer meals and exist on coffee or tea.Then there are those of us who combine all of that with a daily trip, (sometimes two) to a local eatery for both food and a certain amount of socialization. 

Many empty nesters say that something is missing since the house got so quiet. The simple fact is that two older adults do not make as much noise as even one child and most of the time there is quiet. 

What seems to drive many of the retired folks that we know to restaurants is not just freedom from cooking and cleaning up afterwards, but the chance to interact with other people. 

Our diner of choice I will call “The Second Chance Café,” which is not its real name, but it is safer that way. 

If you frequent the same establishment repeatedly over a period of time you get to be known as “regulars” and achieve a reputation with the staff as either good customers or “PITA” types with the first word of the acronym being “pain.” I’m sure that you can figure out the rest of it. 

Those who are students of human behavior or just good observers can have a lot of fun watching the antics of both customers and staff on any given day. There truly is a plethora of free entertainment to be had while you dine. 

People in the food industry have hard, physically demanding jobs. Add to that the aggravation of dealing with the public and the stress score climbs pretty high. There is a trait common to all of the restaurant workers that I have observed doing well in their jobs, and that is a good sense of humor. From manager to dishwasher and especially the servers (as waitresses and waiters are now called), it is a vital quality if you are  to make it longer than one week. 

Anyone who has ever worked with the public can tell you that interacting with customers is far harder than being isolated with just co-workers or solo jobs. 

When you throw in the attitude of many customers who have never had to deal with demanding individuals (like themselves) into the mix, it just gets crazy. 

Say what? 

The following examples were just a few of the things overheard in our local diner. 

“I am paying for this so whatever I want, it is your duty to provide it.” 

“Do you have vegan fish sticks instead of the all you can eat fish special? Oh, I don’t want them; I just wanted to know what kind of establishment you were running.” 

“Can you take 50% off of my bill, because I only ate half of my  hamburger?” 

“Why can’t you send the bus girl across the street to get me a beer? They have a liquor license.” 

“Can I have three large go-boxes and fill them up with more of the all-you-can-eat spaghetti? Well I can’t eat it now, but I can eat more, later. No, you can’t charge me for four meals, it is just one order.” 

“Why did you butter my toast? I wanted to butter it. No, I don’t want more butter, you have ruined my toast. I want you to take my entire meal off of the bill. You have wrecked my dining experience.” 

“What kinds of tomatoes were used in the making of this soup? You don’t know what kind of tomatoes Campbell’s uses in their soup? I should call the health inspector. What kind of joint are you running here?” 

I am really surprised that more bowls of soup aren’t dumped on people’s heads. 

We are evidently on the “good” list as we are greeted like family and hugged by waitresses and bus girls both upon arrival and departure. We were also the only non-employees (or their families) invited to the closed door Christmas party held at the restaurant. The staff all knows us by name and treat us like family all of the time. 

If I were being cynical I could say that it is because we probably spend more money there than any other customers and they like the financial support. But the truth is that the place is one big family. 

Many of the employees are related and those who aren’t have known each other for years. I have known many of them for years myself, having met them delivering their mail. Some of them knew Anna at the high school. For whatever small town reason, there is familiarity and closeness. 

The work environment is a happy one, with laughter being a near constant sound and very, very rarely is an angry sound heard from anyone. On the odd times that discord erupts, it is nearly always a customer fussing with someone that they came in with. 

The current manager was the lead waitress for several years and when the existing manager got fed up with her corporate bosses and the commute to work and quit, she stepped in without a hiccup in the operation as far as the general public could see. 

Within the first few days I could see the mood improving and the quality of the entire operation stepping up to a new level. A person with “from the ground up” knowledge was at the helm and respect was now a two-way street in the building. People tend to react positively to being shown respect. 

This restaurant is a special kind of place where everyone is made to feel welcome, the service is good, and the food is worth the money you pay for it. That combination is not as easily found as one might hope. 

So why do I call it the Second Chance Café? 

Like so many people working in low paying, demanding jobs, most of the staff have had rough spots in their lives and didn’t have the opportunity or good fortune to make it to (or through) college. Some have seen the  inside of the “barred hotel” and others have burned up eight of their nine lives with personal problems that that would have killed a weaker person. No one spends their youth dreaming of being a waitress in a small town café. At this establishment everyone is respected and equal. They are judged solely upon the effort they put in and how they conduct themselves now. The past is over. 

Another reason for the name would be the giving and supportive attitude of the entire group. When misfortune strikes, whether it be death, or house fire, or any number of calamities that can and do happen, whatever needs to be done, will be done. Money is raised, comfort is given, hours are covered, and places to live are found. They exhibit the finest qualities of humanity without hesitation. 

All waitresses are not (thankfully) created equal 

There are endearing qualities present in all of the servers and staff — some of it just won’t stay inside of them. 

The staff plays jokes on each other and keeps up a running banter of jibes and faux insults that you would have to be blind to not see through. To those of us who know them well it is easy to see that they love each other more than most blood-related families. 

One star of the floor show is empowered with an over abundance of awesomeness. She knows it, and we all know it. I have known this woman for more than twenty years and I can truly appreciate the difference between her former aggressive, obnoxious self and who she has become in the last few years. There is no one who can handle a full house like she does, and make you like it while you wait for your order to hit the window. Your meal comes out right, the food is hot, the drinks get refilled and she keeps you laughing the entire time you are there. It is no wonder that she is the top tip earner and the most requested server in the house. 

Another of the wait-staff warriors is a woman who is generous and giving to the extreme, often turning over her daily tips to a family member or a bus person who mentioned a need for something without a moment’s hesitation. She knows what it is like to have nothing and be hungry and I have seen her pay for a stranger’s meal out of her own pocket. She laughs so much that if she stops, we look to see what’s wrong. To say that she is a character is like saying that the Pope is a Catholic. 

One of the veteran servers is an accomplished horsewoman who not only can handle cranky horses, but can put an unruly customer into the back of a booth with a single glare. I am fortunate that she likes me and uses her powers for good and braids my beard for me. Nothing can get the plaits to lay flat and tight like her experienced hands. She also makes the cook fix my /quesadilla/ the right way and finds jalapenos for me when they have some. 

Another long time hash slinger is closer to our age and is raising a grandson which means that retirement is not an option and like it or not, she has to roll out early in the a.m. to put on the coffee for a few hundred folks. I have seen her in the place on her day off, popping up out of her booth to get coffee or tea for customers in her civilian clothes. She is always ready with a laugh and smile. 

Cooks are a tough crew 

Cooks at most restaurants are scary people. Many are given to angry outbursts and mood swings that make you think that they are all bipolar. Wait staff and managers alike have cautioned me against upsetting a chef or cook when I needed something out of the ordinary. I consciously look for the location of all knives and the available exits whenever I enter a professional kitchen, just as a habit. 

The Second Chance Café cooks labor for long hours trying to make every meal come out right and quickly, facing constant pressure to perform.They get oddball requests and last minute changes tossed at them by servers who are trying to give their customers what they want. To their credit I have not seen a meat cleaver thrown into a wall or a steak burned to a lump of charcoal in this restaurant like I did another eatery in this very town. It is a rare occasion that they even get upset to where the customers notice. I must lead a charmed life because I have never had an order request turned down in this restaurant. These cooks care about what they produce and it shows. 

Young people get into the profession for different reasons. Sometimes it is purely a lack of experience at any job and getting hired to wash dishes or bus tables is a doable entry level job. 

The latest hire into the floor staff tells me frequently that she is so happy to work at this restaurant and even though it is hard work and long hours she can’t wait to get there each day to see her coworkers. She has friends and a life, but knows the value of employment and feels fortunate that she has such a good work environment. 

One young shining star of the local eatery has lived far too fast and hard for her years and nearly ended before she began. Today she is living, learning, earning, and gaining respect for herself and from others who gave her the chance to act like the adult that she can be. Life is still one day at a time for her, but I have every confidence that the woman she is becoming will make her proud. She has an infectious laugh and a smile that melts bad moods on contact. She has gone from a bus girl who spilled everything that she touched, to handling (as the waitress) a full-on lunch rush solo with a prep cook chasing refills for her. 

There are young people who work at the diner because they have family members already there and it did give them a chance to get a foot in the door. Those folks have to perform twice as hard to meet the scrutiny of both boss and the relative who spoke up for them. It is not a cake walk for them as they soon learn. 

I am very pleased to be a part of a learning environment where we get to practice Spanish while helping others perfect their grasp on their second language at the same time. Several of the employees speak Spanish as their native tongue but must speak English to the customers and fellow staff members who do not know their language. Their progress is an inspiration and their patience with me as I mangle their language is a great lesson in how to behave. 

The work ethics shown by the least well paid employees at this restaurant is another lesson in how people should behave. They never do as little as possible to get by, which I have seen in many higher paid vocations. From the dishwashers to the food prep crews they bust their butts supporting the staff out front. They are willing (to the last person), to come out of the back and do whatever is necessary to make the operation work. On many occasions we have seen dishwashers acting as hosts, seating customers, taking their drink orders, carrying plates of food to tables, and then cleaning tables on the run so more people could be seated. They know that their tasks are still waiting and no one will be washing the dishes while they are doing the extra work, but they never hesitate. We should all be that willing to step up when needed. 

There are families that have three generations employed at this diner and it is a joy to be around them. The work ethic and enthusiasm is consistent from grandmother to granddaughter. They are a joy to be around and always earning their wages. 

It is both amazing and amusing to realize that I have known some of the people waiting on me since they were little children. 

One of the waitresses, who was a little girl when I delivered her grandmother and mother’s mail, now has kids of her own and takes care of me. A hostess/bus girl used to drive her mother crazy at work asking questions until she got parked in a corner with a coloring book. Now she hugs me when I walk in the door of the restaurant and before I leave. That doesn’t happen at Mickey D’s. 

Customers 

The customers who frequent our chosen oasis are even more varied than the staff and span the age range from newborn to over one hundred years young. The place has been open since 1966 and some of the original customers still get their morning coffee there. 

Some diners I have been in have a particular clientele made up of locals with the same opinions who seem to run off anyone who doesn’t agree with them. Since one of the commonly heard nicknames for our town is  “Fal-abama” you can probably guess how conservative and redneck things might be here. 

I am happy to report that while the “Good Ole White Boy” (Tea Party) contingent is still present, and still wanting things to go back to 1950, they have no control over this restaurant. 

The presence of the navy base brings a delightful mixture of humanity to add to our Native American and Hispanic cultures, and the influence of Burning Man is felt in a very positive way. The clientele is as diverse as the United Nations, and are better behaved (no diplomatic immunity.) 

I used to get harassed and called names because of my beard braids, and people with ink and/or piercings were rudely stared at until they left. That is no longer the case. Gay couples or mixed race couples were made to feel uncomfortable and in some cases refused service in this community as late as the late 1980’s. That is no longer openly true (you can’t fix everyone) here and most certainly not at the Second Chance Café. 

There are characters that make the world unique and like them or not, they do add color to the mixture. 

One such person is a very large man with a burning need to be the center of attention. Not just the focus of his captive group seated with him, but everyone within earshot of his always too-loud voice. He will often wear a top hat to the diner and sometimes rides up on his Harley and revs the motor loudly before shutting it off, to let everyone know that he has arrived. The man says whatever he can to cause the most controversy, upset the most people, and agitate the largest group. He lives for argument. 

There are people who are referred to in diner language as “campers,” meaning that they “camp out” (usually in a booth) and spend hours drinking coffee or tea and don’t order anything else. This ties up the seating and  cuts into the profit made from “turning” tables quickly. The real money is made from turning tables as often as possible, not from which meal customers order. This is why the most successful restaurants have bus people cleaning tables as quickly as customers get up, and frequently come by and take the “finished” dishes out of your way. It isn’t “to give you more room” as they are trained to say, but to cut down the reset time when you leave. 

The Second Chance Café has its share of campers, some of whom are senior citizens who will generally take a table and hold court for several hours in the middle of the day between lunch and dinner. They are not too much of a problem and do order a meal or two among the group. 

A far more problematic group comes around in the evening hours and is usually young people who will attempt to camp out in a prime corner booth where they can put their legs up and stretch out. They usually order water to drink and share large orders of French fries, making a mess all over the table with salt and ketchup and if left unchecked will get loud and rowdy. This is the group that unscrews the lids on the salt and pepper containers and spills water “accidentally” into the artificial sweetener holder. By the time they leave their tab will be five dollars or less, they leave no tip, and the booth looks like a group of toddlers had a confetti party. The cleanup efforts take forever and it adversely affects all of the tables around them. As you might guess they are very unpopular with the understaffed and overworked swing shift crew. 

The toughest campers to deal with are on the midnight shift. These are frequently people who have had too much to drink and/or have nowhere to go. People under the influence of whatever, are unpredictable at best.  They hang out for hours and vent their frustrations on the staff. This can make the graveyard shift a scary shift to work with only three people on duty. To make it worse sometimes if it is slow the supervisor lets one person go home early. 

In recent years we have seen homeless people use their panhandling money to buy a cup of coffee (and free refills,) spending all night inside where it is warm and there is a bathroom. If they behave themselves and stay  awake (no sleeping allowed) they are usually tolerated at the Second Chance Café. People who work there understand what being down on your luck is like and aren’t as quick to toss people to the curb. 

We are part of the growing group of “I don’t want to cook” customers who have enough disposable income to exercise the option of paying someone else to handle the kitchen duties. We trade the grocery bill and entertainment allowance (we don’t drink or gamble) for a restaurant bill. 

The Second Chance Café gives us another chance to interact with people and have a sort of second family to pick up the slack where our own busy family has departed. Life is good and every day is another adventure with old friends. I’ll drink (iced tea) to that! 

Life in the half-fast lane

Life in the half-fast laneLife as I see it from the middle lane, where we no longer scream along like a runaway rocket, nor are we looking to exit.

Situations

On the road

We all know the scenario: the guy in front of us is going slower than the speed limit, while the guy behind us is trying to set a new land speed record. Frustration, anger and a rebirth of all of the bad language that ever got our mouths washed out with soap, surfaces without restriction. We are pissed off and feel completely justified for being that way. How can they let that idiot drive when he can’t even maintain the speed limit! What is that nut trying to do behind me, cause an accident? You slow down and keep to the right, letting rocket man do whatever he is going to do.

You can’t know the what or why of their situation, only what you have control over. Somehow we get through the predicament and move along to the next one.

In the store

Sometimes you get behind a person in the express lane at the grocery store (you know, the one with the 10 or 20 item limit) and it is obvious that they have many more things in their cart than the limit. Now what? Do you make a fuss? Does the checker make a fuss and risk delaying the whole process even longer? If the checker stands up to the numerically-challenged individual she risks bringing down the wrath of the young punk assistant manager on her head, because “the customer is always right” (as per the management handbook). You both (you and the checker) give the miscreant “the look” and just let it slide. To do otherwise would just add grief to your life and one more nut, more or less, won’t matter in the long run.

Choose your battles wisely. Is it life or death? Will an innocent person suffer because you failed to act? Is it necessary? Is it wiser to let things go and keep your blood pressure down?

At the drive-through

I recently witnessed a strange act of impatience and anger. An undecided person was at the ordering station of a drive-through fast food place, you know the kind; no idea what they want or even IF they want what is on the menu. It would seem logical or sensible to us that they would figure that out before they got in line, but they didn’t. Behind this person was also someone that we can identify with, the hurried worker who only has a thirty minute lunch break and half of that is used up driving to the restaurant. Stress was rearing its ugly head as Mr. Impatient began to yell at Ms. Undecided and bang on the outside of his own car door. This only served to fluster the young lady and she couldn’t get her order right. The angry man yelled obscenities and attempted to pass the car in his way and depart. He gunned the motor and managed to drive up and over the concrete curbing and promptly hung his car up on the bushes planted in that divider. The young lady got scared and drove through the lane, right past the delivery window and out of there. Mr. Impatient now had to wait for Mr. Policeman AND a tow truck. I’m pretty sure that his boss won’t be amused. I know that the restaurant manager wasn’t.

Someone else does a silly or unthinking action, or possibly a selfish one, and we react by getting angry and losing control. Have we gained anything? I would say no.

It all comes down to us

We get angry at young people because they do things without thinking, acting on impulse and living life faster than their brains can keep up with. I think that perhaps we are just resentful that we no longer are able to live without care, having learned responsibility and being accountable for our actions. There is also the physical restrictions that age places on us, a little at a time.

Sometimes we get frustrated at elderly folks for being so slow and forgetful, making us repeat everything that we say, and often for not caring about what is important to us. The real reason is that we are afraid that we are becoming just like them and we don’t want it. We are still trying to hold onto the youth that we no longer have and fear being less than we once were.

I can tell you that image is NOT everything, regardless of what the advertising says. Who you are remains the same.

Let me leave you with this challenge:

Strive to be at least as nice to others, as your dog is to you.

The world will be a better place and we will all be happier, together.

Dumb Blonde

Dumb Blonde

Once, when I was coming down the flexible tunnel from the gate and about to board an airliner to fly somewhere, the line was stopped for some reason. When it was OK to go forward again the stewardess said to me, “You may get on the plane now.” 


Remembering a George Carlin line from one of his stand up routines, I cleaned it up a little and said, “No Thanks, I think I’ll get inside instead.” 

 

The young blonde stewardess put her hand on my arm, and stood there with her face twitching and going through a range of emotions and grimaces, obviously not knowing what to make of what I had said. She turned around with her hand over her mouth and another stewardess stepped up and took over the doorway greeting job. 

 

I made my way to my seat thinking to myself, “Well, THAT went over like a lead balloon.”

 

A little while later that same stewardess walked by, then stopped, backed up and looked me in the eye… then punched me in the arm. Hard! She said, “You rat, you cost me five bucks!” Then went on down the aisle. 

 

I was racking my brain trying to think of what FAA regulation I had broken, or caused her to break. Nothing was coming to mind and believe me, being an air traffic controller I had a pretty good working knowledge of regulations, it was my business to know them. 

 

After the flight got airborne and I was at least sure that I wasn’t going to be asked to leave the plane, I settled down a bit, but still wondered why a little joke had gotten me in such hot water. The stew with the mean right hand came along serving drinks, accompanied by her relief pitcher. It was the second, brunette stewardess who finally explained it to me.

 

Stew # 2 (the brunette) had bet Stew #1 (blonde) that she could not board the entire passenger list without laughing, as she is easily tickled and gets consumed with the giggles constantly. Stew #1 had rallied to her own defense and bet $5.00 that she could do it. Stew #2 said that it was looking like the girl was going to succeed, as I was among the last half dozen to board. 

 

She also said that Stew #1 is so tight with her money that she “does long division” on the back of her ticket to figure out the tip to the penny at lunch. So she really HATES to lose a bet involving money.

 

My little joke got to Stew #1 and made her crack up, which is why all of the facial gymnastics as she tried valiantly not to laugh. And explained why I got the shot in the arm; and the silent treatment for the rest of the flight.

 

On the way out I stopped in front of this blonde sore loser and extended my hand in a parting gesture of, no-hard-feelings. The girl reluctantly took my hand, and then hugged me to her like a long lost relative.

 

As I walked down the concourse, the brunette stewardess chased and caught up with me and asked, “You palmed a fiver to her didn’t you?” 

 

I admitted that I had. I felt bad about costing her the bet and just wanted to ease my own conscience. 

 

The second girl shook her head and said, “Damn her, I felt bad about her losing the money and told her to forget the bet. Now SHE’s up five bucks and she lost the bet.”

 

Yeah, blondes are all dumb alright…

Simpler Times

Daily we attempt to navigate our complex world of instant messages and nanosecond computing, juggling our smart phones and tablets, never being separated from our cell or the world will surely end… And you wonder why we have migraines and anxiety attacks? Stress lives here. Slow your world down!

 

I am as guilty as anyone else, I MUST respond immediately to text messages or email. This is not because anything will be critically affected by a few minutes delay, but simply because internally, I am driven to respond as surely as if it were a ringing telephone in a movie theater.

 

This has not always been so, I was an adult long before the internet age, and even before cell phone days if you young people can believe that. So far back that we had a single rotary dial telephone unit hooked by a wire to the wall. Somehow we not only survived, but we were happy. Our lives were much simpler then.

 

Just yesterday I chanced to overhear a comment from a child that gave me pause. A young girl, about five I would guess, got very excited when asked if she wanted an “apple”, clapping her hands and bouncing like she just got a pony. When the piece of fruit was brought to her she asked what it was. To shorten the story, she thought that she was to receive an iPad like they have in school and was extremely upset.

 

Even our vocabulary has gone into hyper-drive, as evidenced by the fact that you understand what hyper-drive is. An apple isn’t a piece of fruit, a cell isn’t a very tiny division of an organism like your body, although there are those who will argue about a cell (phone) being a part of some people’s bodies.

 

Here is a fun link for you: http://www.beloit.edu/mindset/

 

So let’s set Peabody’s “wayback machine” (just Google it) and pop back to simpler times when I was a boy in search of entertainment.

 

When there was no computer, no video games, no cell phones, you were not permitted to talk on the telephone for amusement, and the television viewing was strictly controlled, what did a young boy do?

 

You went outside and found entertainment. If I was lucky and beat the other kids to them, I would collect empty bottles and haul them to the store to cash in on the deposit of two cents each. Just ten bottles and you had twenty cents! Before you scoff at the amount, read on.

 

With my hard earned cash in my pocket I went next door to Johnson Street Drugs and felt large, because I was a “paying customer”, as opposed to just a kid there to hang out for free.

 

At the soda counter you could order a glass of coca cola for five cents and if you had the cash, for two cents more you could get flavor added like vanilla or cherry. The older boys always splurged the extra money when they were there trying to impress a girl and paid for them to have cherry or vanilla added, while the boys drank water.

 

For those of us too young to worry about impressing the ladies, our biggest quandary was did we spend the next ten cents on an ice cream sundae or purchase the latest DC or Marvel comic book calling to us from the rack strategically placed between the door and the soda fountain.

 

There were ways around the dilemma, to have your ice cream and your comic book too. One could spend more time collecting bottles and thus bring a larger cash reserve. Or the usual tactic of eating the ice cream and then selecting the latest Superman from the rack and sitting down on the floor between the book rack and the front window, out of view of the proprietor, and read as fast as you could.

 

I could consume a comic book well before the druggist was forced to notice me by some grumpy adult who told him that a vagrant child was stealing books. Others didn’t read as fast and took two trips to finish.

 

I will forever remember the “coolness” of the owner, who was also the druggist, and at times the soda jerk (again Google it) when needed.

 

He once told a particularly grumpy and smelly (too much perfume) lady who was complaining about me reading a comic book after my ice cream sundae, that I was “merely a customer perusing literature to aid digestion”.

 

The lady responded loudly with “Well, I never!” To which my hero replied, “Well, you should!” The customers behind her laughed, including a young woman who was later to be one of my teachers.

 

The woman left in a storm cloud and the druggist went back to work whistling a happy tune. I had been trying to make myself invisible, or at least as small as I could get during the encounter but soon realized that I was not in danger of being tossed out on my ear.

 

After that I put in the extra work and collected enough bottles to have my coca cola, plain mind you, I wasn’t trying to impress anyone, my ice cream, and walk out the door with my very own Fantastic Four in a paper bag under my arm.

 

We can identify that as the beginning of my downfall. Had I just been content to be a vagrant reader, I wouldn’t have been consumed by the habit of book ownership which afflicts me to this day.

 

Those were simpler times, uncluttered by the demands of “instant life.”

 

Every once in a while we need to remind ourselves that it is OK to not respond, to slow down, to think for a while without consequence. The earth will continue to revolve, the sun will rise and set, and whatever whoever that is making the electronic noises wants, will still be there awaiting an answer.

 

Eat some ice cream, read a comic book. It can all wait.

A Time of Sands

A Time of Sands

 
Greetings friends,

I am recovering really well from the medical procedure I had done yesterday and decided to take this opportunity to post this story from the late 1970’s. I hope that you enjoy my tale of life in a far away place and time.

A Time of Sands
 
Thirty plus years ago in a place where time means nothing, I had the distinct pleasure of traveling with members of a nomadic tribe called the “Blue People” by many, although they are more properly known as the Tuareg.
 
Theirs is a truly ancient culture that has endured many, many attempts to assimilate or swallow it up. The Tuareg have been doing things their way for at least ten thousand years according to the words of the old chief, who lead the talks around the nightly campfire (or inside of the main tent if the wind was blowing or the air too chilled for his liking.)
 
Their unique turban, or “talgemust” in their language, was still indigo blue in those days and the dye color would often transfer to their skin, (thus the “Blue People” label). This piece of headwear was often ten to twelve meters (or thirty to forty feet) in length and was worn by every male age sixteen and older. Men who were marrying age, (twenty-five) had to wear their talgemust twenty-four hours a day.
 
In a curious twist to what we have learned to expect, in the Tuareg culture the men must cover their faces, but the women don’t have to. Women are allowed a lot of freedom and can have relationships before marriage and own possessions. The families are matrilineal, meaning that ancestry is followed through the women. The men are the tribal leaders, which is to be expected in a warrior type of society.
 
The boys are trained to handle the sword and knife from an early age and by sixteen are as skilled as any soldier in hand to hand combat. They are also expert riders of horse and camel, and can survive in conditions that would kill a desert scorpion. The young girls can handle livestock, skin a goat or camel with such skill and precision as would impress any master butcher, and make a meal out of thin air and sand, or so it seemed to me all those years ago.
 
There is no one physical description of the Blue People. They have accepted many ethnicities into their camp over their long history, some willingly, some captured. They may have blonde hair, or red, or coal black. Their skin under the suntan may be fair, olive or brown. There is one thing that is always present, and that is the fierce pride and passion of the desert tribes. They value honor and loyalty above all else.
 
Why I was with them, wearing the robes and sandals of a Sahara citizen is a story that may never be told. I will say that while I was not running away to join the French Foreign Legion, I was in their neighborhood. I am pleased to say that I was accepted and enjoyed full equal status with their men, while enjoying a level of hospitality that does them proud in the laws of the land.
 
In this part of the world tents and clothes are made from camel skin and/or goat skin, or sometimes things are woven from the hair of these two creatures. They are beasts which support the nomads in many varied ways, from providing milk, cheese, and meat, to carrying people and goods, to finally providing their skins to give shelter. There are horses, sometimes sheep, even cows, but the goats and camels are the real life sustainers of the desert people.
 
Some of the Tuareg settle down and farm, some are tradesmen, some even try working for others, but it just doesn’t seem to work out for them. They are the caravan operators and warriors of the Sahara, they have to follow the stars and wander the unmarked sands. It is deeply ingrained in who they are.
 
Many cities and routes in northern Africa are there because of the Tuareg; a case in point is the often mentioned city of Timbuktu. When I was a child this city was thought to be a myth, not to be believed, just a joke place that described the farthest place from anywhere on earth. The truth is, the city does exist in modern day Mali. I have been there. The Tuareg founded the city in the eleventh century at the crossroads where their Sahara caravans met the Niger River trade route. Actually from what I have heard, they backed off from the river a ways because of the hordes of mosquitoes that lived in the backwaters of the river.
 
This camp was maintained and a Tuareg outpost was established to hold their spot against others who would poach their good location. Over the centuries Timbuktu became much more than just a trading crossroads. It was well known as a bastion of higher learning and cultural exchange. There were more highly educated people in this town, than any place on the African continent for much of its history.
 
So it was explained to me as I sat on a rug under the most magnificent skies anywhere on earth, drinking the best chai (made with camel milk), listening to a mixture of English, French and Tamashek being spoken. I learned that these were not an ignorant people as some westerners thought. Their abilities with languages, mathematics, celestial navigation and deep knowledge of history humbled me.
 
I have been asked to recount a story (which I have told to a few people,) of an event which transpired during my time with the Blue People. I shall attempt to put it into print here.
 
The Sand
 
As we trekked across the sands of the western Sahara, where everything looks the same for miles and the camels complain at least as much as the young men, I tried to be observant and aware. I watched the older men and followed their lead of when to drink and when to cover my face. Invisibility by sameness was my goal. That and learning as much as possible to survive like a native son.
 
This particular journey was a “men only” foray and the young men and boys had to take up the duties of the girls and women. Herbivore droppings were gathered as we traveled as there was no firewood and meals had to be prepared for the group. It did do wonders for the appreciation of the very hard working female members and may actually have been part of the education process that was ever ongoing. The Tuareg do nothing without a reason for it, even if the young don’t understand why.
 
Not everyone rides during a trek, although the horsemen were always mounted. Those of us who rode the camels walked sometimes and rode sometimes, but usually only changed at midday. Just like a railroad train, a camel train (caravan) works best when it moves and takes a lot of time and energy to restart once stopped. Surprise stops made the caravan master cranky as it upset his timetable, which based survival upon how many days it took between waterholes.
 
So you could well imagine my surprise when the chief called for an unscheduled stop and my own camel dropped without a command from me. I was pretty much in trance from the rhythmic movement and did not expect that to happen.
 
Camels drop on their front legs first, then their hindquarters, so I was nearly catapulted into the rear end of the camel in front of me. I made a good recovery from my unceremonious unseating, and walked (ran) a few steps like I was stretching my legs, while actually trying to keep from falling on my face.
 
The young boys near my camel noticed but hid their grins behind their hands, at least until they saw me grinning and they knew it was OK. I think I made a couple of friends by being willing to laugh at myself, and it was funny, no denying that.
 
The men were all busy pulling rugs off of the loads the camels carried, which was really weird, it was hours until time to make camp and we were not in a suitable spot. Not knowing what to do, or what was going on, I stayed with my camel and watched for some sign from the elders that would help me understand.
 
A young man named Ben came to me with a rug which he unceremoniously tossed me the end of, and indicated that we should unroll it. Ben doesn’t say a lot, but not because he can’t, the guy was more talented with languages than anyone I knew at the time. I just followed his lead and we unrolled the rug and then pulled it up against the camel.
 
Since we had stopped working and were just standing there, I finally did ask, “What are we doing?”
 
Ben just shrugged his shoulders and said “sandstorm”. A shrug of the shoulders in the USA would mean “I don’t know”, but here it just meant that the subject was so unimportant that I should have already known. In a way that was flattering, that he felt that I was such a part of the group that I would already know. But I was too busy trying to figure out what sandstorm to think about the nuances very much.
 
I looked in all directions and could not see even a dust devil, but I did notice that we all had our rugs on the same side of our camels, and that the precious horses were all on the rug side too. So I knew which direction to look based on that. There was nothing to see or hear that I could discern, but there was no doubting the credibility of the chief and his experience in these matters, so I waited and watched. There were a bunch of men preparing as if for a long wait and like them, I made sure that I had my water bag with me.
 
Ben seeing my confusion said “Look there” and pointed to the horizon where all I could see was a dark line. I stared at it until my eyes hurt from the glare and I looked away. When I looked back the line was a bit bigger, or taller, and there was a hissing sound.
 
We were joined by a horseman and his wild-eyed mount and words were exchanged between Ben and the veiled man. I was advised that the man and his horse would be sharing our rug, which was cool, if a little odd. Why were we setting up miniature party groups around rugs, and why was the horse invited?
 
I looked back at the horizon and the dark line was now a visible dark mass several times the height it had been when I looked last. The hissing noise was now a buzzing like a whole swarm of angry bees.
 
Ben and the horseman were rolling the rug up from the far side and telling me to pull the opposite edge up to the top of my camel’s hump. Since I was the new guy here, I just did what they said and went around to the opposite side of my camel and leaned over and pulled the rug to me. For my efforts I got bit on the butt by my unhappy beast and laughed at too.
 
As I rubbed my sore butt and moved back into place with the others, I could hear a much louder sound and glanced towards the horizon. To my amazement the dark line was now a wall of sand, growing taller and more defined as it barreled towards us. The sound was more like the howl of wind during a hurricane and there was indeed some wind, but not of the seventy-five mile per hour variety, at least not yet.
 
You could easily be mesmerized by the sound and vision of a Sahara Desert sandstorm, and it would be the last entertainment you had, if you were not prepared. The wall of sand was moving a lot faster than I had thought and growing taller at a rate that mimicked a tsunami. This vision was something that was quite overwhelming from a front row seat.
 
All around us people were scooping out hollows and getting comfortable on the leeward side of the camels and preparing for the sand onslaught. The use of the rug was no longer a mystery to me and I was actively helping to dig out our spot in the sand.
 
The horseman made his precious animal drop to the ground and then roll onto his side with his back to us. Ben spoke to him and he got the horse back on his feet and moved closer and repeated the procedure. I learned a greater respect for the bond between the little Arab horse and its rider that day.
 
While the man comforted his horse, Ben and I pulled the rug over them and checked the progress of those near us. It was of no use to try to talk as the roar of the approaching storm was too loud to hear over. It was kind of exciting in a strange way to be the last ones taking cover. Almost like tempting fate.
 
We were the last that is except for the camels. Of all the life forms in our caravan, the camel was best equipped by nature to deal with sandstorms. They have triple eyelids and nostrils that they can close at will. Their hide is covered with hair that provides a barrier for their very tough hide. I would guess that it still is not pleasant for them, but they just wait it out and do not try to run away.
 
It took a very loud and long thirty minutes for the storm to pass, which indicates to me that it was miles in depth. When Ben said it was OK we pushed the now sand covered rug up and off of us and continued to pull it away from the complaining camel until the horse and rider were free. They came up out of the sand as one with the rider in the saddle and took off at a gallop. The young man did an awesome job keeping his horse calm and on his side under that rug, especially with all of the noise.
 
All around us there were people emerging from the sand and they were happy and joking. Nobody complained about the storm, but we did have to make haste to get the rug shook out and re-rolled so it could be loaded onto the camel which carried it. The chief was urging us to hurry so we could make it to a good place to camp. His was the great responsibility of caring for us all and we respected that.
 
That night as we camped in a nice sheltered valley the songs were more raucous, the music louder and the dancing went on for hours. The Tuareg enjoy life and respect the forces of nature, so when they had faced the great storm and didn’t lose anyone, or any livestock, they felt very fortunate and wanted to rejoice.
 
I was sad to leave my friends when the time came, but they were turning south into Mali and I needed to exit through Morocco and return to my life in the western world.
 
It is my hope that these beautiful people whom I lived and traveled with, remember me as fondly as I do them. They were truly unique and amazing hosts and excellent life teachers.