Friday, September 28, 2007

Thought for Food

I heard today that this year, for the first time in the history of the earth, as many people live in urban areas as live in rural areas. What does that mean ? Well for one thing, it means that the human population of the earth is being fed by 50% or less of that population. That's pretty meaningful.For most of the history of our particular species it took about 100% ot the world's population to feed itself. Indeed, most years it took about 100% of the population to feed 95% of that population, because a lot of folks starved to death or died of malnutrition.Indeed there is still some of that around today.



What has caused this migration from farm life to the city ? Boredom. If you have ever spent any amount of time on a farm, you know that your excitement is pretty limited.I was watching some T.V. show about ancient warriors, wondering what could possess someone to take a sword and hack someone else with it, at the very real risk of they themselves becoming a hackee. I think it was boredom. These people all lived on farms ,which were so boring that they made a concious decision that the risk of dying in battle was worth not having to do the same mundane chores every day from sun up to sun down.



My own family appear to have been subsistence farmers for well over 300 years until the turn of the last century. At that point, my Grandfather moved to town, but always kept rural land and thereby still qualified as a farmer to some extent,. My brother anbd I are the first Porters in our direct line who did not have to do morning farm chores.Even my father had to milk a cow each morning while he was growing up. The children of my brother and I are the first Porters EVER not to have to spend signifigant time on a farm, as Clay and I put in a couple of weeks every summer at our mother's father's place outside of beautiful Shamrock, Texas. And what a delight it was.



We'd board a train for an 8-10 hour train ride from Houston's Union Station, now a ball park, up to Childress, Texas, with it's seperate waiting rooms for "whites and colored". We often sat in the colored waiting room because no one was ever in there and it got us away from the adults.From Childress, my Grandfather would drive us to Shamrock, past the Red River, which I never saw any water in (My mother said that it was a mile wide and an inch deep). My Grandfather would drive us along in his 1959 green Chevy station wagon, his left elbow dangling out of the window,his right hand constantly hitting the cigarette lighter to light up one of his endless streams of Camels. He seldom talked, and then it was only to complain about things or berate Democrats.I always thought that the reason he was so cranky was because he lived on a farm. He and my Grandmother had bought the place to retire and so that my Uncle Gaston could raise cattle and have a legacy.I never saw my Grandfather pick up any kind of a farming implement in his life, with the exception of a hoe which he used to kill the rattlesnake that almost bit me, as I chased down a softball under some cactus. he had been an Oil Field supervisor for Standard Oil and was as out of place on that farm as a Presbyterian in Hell.



My introduction to farming was tough because ,unlike the previous 300 years of Porters, I had known somehing better, or at least more exciting. My house had air onditioning, it had a television set. when I got bored I could hop on my bike and ride up to the store and hang out, or ride over to see a friend.My days on my Grandfather's farm were made up mostly of sitting on his screened in front porch, trying to catch a breeze and watching my Grandfather listen to the radio and read the Wall Street Journal, stopping every now and then to damn someone or other or drop a cigarette butt in the large Orange High-C can that he kept next to his easy chair. If I really got bored, I'd take a walk. I'd walk up the hill past the old abandoned car and house and into the fields where I could pick plums and apricots. Sometimes I'd try to walk around the whole farm which was 640 acres.I had to walk on dirt roads that neved ended, or at least I never got to the end. The place was a mile square. Traffic was so light that you could see my fotprints in the road for a couple of days, until the Panhandle winds shifted the red sands.



At least at night I could sit by the old family radio in the living room and tune in baseball games from all over the Midwest.That really was fun.The radios in Houston only seemed to get Houston stations. Up there, I got stations from Tennesse to Colorado.It was pretty cool. My father indulged my love of baseball by getting my grandfather a month's subscription to the Houston Post, brought by the mailman (RFD) a couple of days late, but much appreciated. Once during the trip my mother would go grocery shopping and let my brother and I go into the news stand downtown and get a dollar's worth of stuff each (in those days comic books were only .12 or, at most .25 for the annuals so a buck went a long way). This would keep us entertained for one afternoon and then the boredom would set back in.

My grandfather had a Jack Russell Terrier named Skipper.We lived inside the fence that went around the house. He had lots of room to run, still, he could not go out the front gate. He probably would have eaten the chickens.People on farms are sensitive about such things. But if Skipper had not been the world's dumbest dog, he could have easily gotten out. That dog could jump higher from a standstill than any mammal that has ever lived on this earth. From a standing position the dog could spring well over six feet into the air. The fence was maybe four feet tall, but it never crossed Skipper's mind to jump the fence. He would just bound up and down, for hours at a time, looking over the fence and yipping. Then again, maybe he was scared of the chickens, I was, nasty little things.

I recall asking my father, who VERY seldom joined us on our "vacation" to the Panhandle, what it was that was so damned unattractive about farm life. It was the monotony he said, as well as the genuinely hard work. My father had grown up in cotton country in west Texas, where he assured me that cotton grew very low to the ground. Picking it or chopping it was back breaking work, in a boiling hot son. The most famous cotton story of our family involved my Uncle Earl. By the time I knew my Uncle Earl he was a very short, stout middle aged man. He looked like Fred Mertz would have looked if Fred had had black hair combed sttraight back.I never saw him without a cigarette and only rarely saw him without a beer. He lived with my Aunt Evelyn, whom he had married twice and divorced once.She was almost a duplicate of him, except that her voice was much deeper. The kind of voice my father always referred to as "whiskey tenor". Earl and Evelyn were childless and lived in a small house over on the southesat side of Houston with a blind canary named Chico.Chico may have some Guiness record as the world's longest surviving canary.

Uncle Earl was a restless soul, as anyone married to Aunt Evelyn would have been.He could not sleep on weekends and always ate breakfast at the Dot Coffee Shop. After breakfast, at about 6:30, he would sometimes drive out to our house with a giant sack of graperfruit or a case of Pepsi. I always thought that was odd. He'd come in for awhile and smoke while we tried to wake up.He was a pretty funny guy, second only to my Uncle Mike in the story telling department, and actually unparraleled when it came ot telling stories about the Porter brother childhood days in Colorado City. Which, according to the stories, were made up mostly of dice games and moonshine runs. This particular story was not told by him though,it was told about him.

Having run into a dry spell, gambling wise, My Uncle Earl, in his middle to later teen years decided to reform and make money through honest labor. He went to my Grandfather, a former Judge and pillar of the Disciples of Christ Church, and confessed that he had not done what had been expected of him, and wanted to do better. My grandfather, knowing only to well the story of the Prodigal Son, since he had seven of them himself, decided to buy my Uncle Earl a cotton sack and take him out to a farm where he knew that Earl could get on as a cotton picker.Earl was thrilled, and one imagines the pride and hope of that drive out to the cotton fields, with my Grandfather thinking that all his work and prayer over Earl had not been in vain.

As it happened, my Graandfather had a couple of rental properties, that he subsequently lost during the depression,and he had to check on them before driving into town to his Insurance office. So after running his errands, he steered back to town and was going down the main thoroughfare when he noticed someone who looked like Earl wandering down Main Street, with a big smile on his face. Sure enough, it was Earl. He'd managed to sell his sack to another picker and catch a ride in time to beat the old man back into town. When confronted with the fact that he had said he needed money, Earl was able to reply that he had some now, from the sack he'd sold.

Earl never laughed very hard at that story. All of the Porter brothers lived with a secret collective shame that they had let their parents down from a behavioral stand point. My mother always blamed it on the strictness with which they were raised. Things were so tight that when each boy got just a little freedom, he would run wild. My Aunt Ella always blamed it on their hometown, which she once described to me as containing more reprobates per square mile than anyplace west of the Mississippi.My dad always downplayed it, explaing that all of these things happened ove a thirty year period, it was not like they were all in trouble on a daily basis. Tellingly, no one ever suggested that any of the stories were an exageration.

Looking back, I know what I blamed it on. They were the first generation to fully break away from the farm. They found other things in life to do that were interesting and wild. Just like the Prodigal did, when he went away to the "Far country" and spent all he had on women and wine.In Roman times they'd have forged a sword and gone off to war.In west Texas, they just made do with what was available, which happened to be dice and gin.I never blamed the Prodigal, and I don't blame them. You would not either, if you'd had to summer in Shamrock, Texas every August.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Smarter than the Average Yogi ?

Yogesh " Yogi" Patel, convenience store cashier, was hypnotized by a turbaned patron of "Doody's General Store" in New Hampshire yesterday, and, while under the spell, handed over about $1,000 to the Svenjolly who put him under. This story would be somewhat hard to swallow if the store did not have a security camera which recorded the whole event.The tape of the robbery shows a turbaned man and two accomplices entering the store and coming up to the counter to talk to Yogi.They ask him various questions, everything is very calm and pleasant, then Yogi hands over $1,000 to Hoodini and the trio leave the store. Huh ?

Yogi claims, and the store owner and the Police are buying it, that he was the victim of a scam used often in India, but not heretofore unveiled here in the west.Apparently, Yogi not only handed over the money, but gave the Swamies quite a bit of personal information about himself and his unnamed girlfriend (I note here for trivia lovers that Yogi Bear's girl friend was named Cindy Bear and that Yogi Berra's wife is named Carmine). What are we to make of all of this ?

Does it not strike you as peculiar that everyone in New Hampshire is suddenly from India. I was just in New Hampshire last year and did not notice this demographic change. I saw no one relaxing on a bed of nails or charming snakes out of a basket.I ate no Samozas, I met no one named Yogi. Does it not also strike you as strange that Yogi was aware ofthis scam taking place in India and yet he fell for it over here hook line and turban ? If Yogi can get robbed, what chance is there for my favorite teller ,Linda, over at the Washington Mutual ? She will be handing out thousands.

Another thing that seemed odd to me was that Yogi seemed to be scammed by "a Yogi". Isn't that what they call mystery men from the east like Karanak the Mgnificent ? I looked up Yogi on the internet and found a fully online book called, and I swear this is true, "How to Be a Yogi", written in 1902 by Swami Abhendana (look it up). Well there was nothing in the table of contents about the robbery/hypnotist scam, so I did not spend much time with the book. I did find out that, according to the Swami, a Yogi is someone who was reached an exalted state in Yoga. The sixth stage, or "the spiritual eye". Normally, I would have thought that maybe our convenience store robber was a Yogi, but no, no Yogi would do anything that evil. The Swami says that they are on a different "Soul Plane"than we are. A Soul Plane ? That was one bad movie. Not the kind of thing you'd expect a Yogi, or a Swami for that matter, to be renting.

Well, as far as I'm concerned, Yogi Patel has still got some splainin' to do about all of this. It reminded me of how much the United States has changed over the last 40 years. There was a Sihk that lived in my neighborhood when I was growing up, beard, turban, everything but the sword. I considered him the most exotic person on God's planet. My friends Jeff Franks, Dan Harrison and I were stopped(indirectly) by him in our quest to illegally procure beer from a 7/11 one time. We turned a corner in the store and ran into him. The surprise and the guilt combined to give us all the giggles and made it impossible to try to bluff our way past the red neck 7/11 cashier (who today might well be an Indian, the job, not the red neck, I'm pretty sure that the red neck is dead). Three 17 year olds just could not approach a 7/11 cashier ,with two six packs, in a state of falling down euphoria.

These days, a day never goes by when I don't see a turbaned or robed person of some kind or another.All here, deep in the heart of Texas.It is a cosmopolitan society we live in, and we are all the better for it. Or we were until the hypnotic robberies started anyway. "Look into my eyes, hand over that picanik basket Boo-Boo."

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Albondigas, no te dije ?

When I was in Junior High, half of my day was made up of Spanish, Math & Science. I have talked about my weakness in math and science in these pages, but I have stayed away from forgien languages.The subject is very painful.

In those days, Spanish was taught using the dialouge method.You were given big red book(Spanish, ALM,Level One) with a series of dialouges in it that you had to memorize. Each person would spit out the dialouge in front of the class on a given day. sometimes, you would be assigned a part of a dialouge. This was much easier. "Wade, you will play the part of Isabel today." (four lines at worst). The dialouges all revolved around school and the problems of Jr. High children, assuming that the biggest problems that Jr High students had, took place in the "biblioteca" or involved toca discos descompuesto. I once told a cab driver in Mazatlan that my hotel was "no muy lejos de aqui, enfrente de la Iglesia. " It was the only sentence from the dialouges which I was every able to use. Even in school I never found a use for "que lastima, se me olvido el cuaderno". Oh, now and then, as a joke, someone might see a cute girl and say "quien es este chica?", but not very often. reminding someone of the Spanish class was in bad taste.

My teacher was a Chilean, Mrs Pybus, who could not stand me. I had her in 7th grade, and again as a Senior in High School, when she advised me to join the Army now, because I was sure to flunk out of college and get drafted. I was tempted to tell her not to worry, my Counselor had already told me that "there is not a college in this country that I would recommend you for." Gee, thanks.I got even with Mrs Pybus by publishing both the Englsih and Spanish versions of my classic poem "La Publica Playa" in the student literary magazine at the end of the year. Since I did not know any Spanish, I mangled the translation. She thought that I had mistranslated from the English. This was not true, The poem was written by me in Spanish, so not only was the Spanish mangled, but the English Translation as well. I reprint both translations herein.

La Publica Playa

Me gusto el agua
en la publica playa.
Pero el agua es frio,
en los pies con mio."

The Public Beach

I like the water at the public beach.
But it's cold on my feet.

The poem was placed in the literary magazine over strenuous objections from the editor, one Tom Brune, who felt that it was a joke. He was angry because he wanted my page for another of his "masterpieces", he had only seven or eight in the journal already. My buddy Jeff Franks, however, insisted that my piece was going in and commissioned a student from the art department to draw dangling "Christ feet" for the background of the piece. It looked beautiful and, because of the gravitas lent by the feet of our redeememer, people actually took the poem seriously.Some people that is, not those who knew me, and not Mrs Pybus. She was furious when shown the magazine by a fellow Spanish teacher. As I recall, I had published the poem under my nom de plume "Paco". This had been my nane in Spanish Class since the third grade. Mrs Pybus had a pretty damn good idea just who "Paco" was.

The problem of course was that I had made her look bad.I had put together the Spanish poem for an assignment because it sort of rhymed and I thought that the juxtaposition of likeing the water, but it being painful at the same time, was a nice touch. Of course the Spanish I used was not done properly and so the English Translation was wrong. Mrs Pybus properly felt that I was humiliating her after all these years, and doing so in front of her peers. Actually, it was her fault. I had turned the poem into her as an assignment earlier in the year. It had come back with an ambiguous check mark on it, which could have meant either "good job" or "you did the assignment". Come to find out that it was the later.Too bad. Too bad for Pybus, but Paco was famous.The only other person who complained about the translation was my English teacher who actually felt that I was a good poet and did not understand why I had not entered any of the poems I had done for her. She spoke fluent Spanish and spent an unconscionable amount of time in front of my English class trying to ungarble the translation. She finally had to give up.

In 1975, my Spanish days ended at last as I finally struggled through Spanish II in college. I got a B. To this day, I am prouder of that grade than any other grade I ever received at any level of education.After 14 years of on and off struggle with the lanuage, I had succeded, and could graduate college !Many years later, the internet introduced translation services for msot any language. I ran my poem through, and here, at last, are the computer translations of my classic.

I like the water in the public beach.
But the water is cold in the feet with mine.

Me gusta el agua en la playa publica.
Pero a mis frio a mies pies.

It loses something in the translation. - Paco-

Friday, September 21, 2007

The death of Mandela

In a news conference yesterday, President Bush mentioned that the reason Iraq has no Mandelas is because "Mandela is dead." This must have come as a surprise to Nelson Mandela, but then again, he has suffered through seven years of the Bush administration like the rest of us, so maybe not. Unlike with most of his gaffes, I have some degree of sympathy for the President on this one. Once someone has dropped out of the public eye for awhile, you tend to lose track of their status, breathing wise. I thought Mandela was alive, but if someone had insisted to me that he was dead, I would not have argued the point.There is even a web site called, I think, dead or alive, which you can turn to to help you out on these delicate questions.That , or you can call my friend Bruce Bennett who has an encyclopedic knowledge of everyone's death, no matter how obscure.Bruce is from a small East Texas town, and that kind of thing just flows naturally to him. None the less, he is a great assett.

Back in the 80s there was a game show on MTV called Remote Control. The playes sat in Lazy Boy Recliners and each had a large remote control which would turn the T.V. monitor they were watching to a category for a question they had to answer. My favorite category was called "Dead or Canadian". A name would be flashed and you had ten seconds to decide whether that person was dead or Canadian. I often wondered if they would accept either answer as correct for Lorne Green, or whether death overrode nationality.I miss that show.

My ownmost recent brush with ambiguous death came last year at a funeral. My first legal boss,Judge Charles Barrow, had died.I knew he had been alive, although many of my friends did not. At any rate, at the funeral I saw Judge Onion who had once been the Presiding Judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals. I had not seen him in at least fifteen years. I walked over to a friend that I knew had also known him also and told him that I was shocked that Judge Onion was not only still alive, but that he looked exactly as he had the last time I saw him. Frankly, I had thought that he was dead.

I urged my friend to come with me and tell him that he looked just as he had back in 1979. Fortunately for me, my friend stopped me just in time. It turned out that Judge Onion had been dead since the 90s and that the person I was looking at was the late Judge Onion's twin brother who also had been a Judge. I was saved from a particularly humiliating moment in the middle of a funeral reception. Still, I have played the "what might have been" scenario over in my mind a dozen times since then. What if I had walked over and said that.Sure it would have been awkward, but I would have gotten a blog to remember out of it.

At any rate, Mandela is alive. The current President of South Africa assured everyone of that last night.The report I read mentioned the fact that "South Africans are sensitive about Mandela being referred to as dead."Like it happens all the time. Maybe it does. All anyone has to do is call Bruce Bennett before they open their mouths. Are you listening Mr President ?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

wrongful life

A Canberra, Australia lesbian couple is suing a clinic who sold them their test tube baby, because it turned out to be test tube twins. They claim to have only asked for one baby. Normally,common law countries don't allow a cause of action for "wrongful life", but this one seems to me to be actually a contract case. I contracted with you to sell me an embryo and you gave me an extra one. The problem with looking at it as a contract case is that the Plaintff lesbians would have to mitigate their damges. They could have always turned the extra baby in to some welfare group, or sold it on the black market here in America.

So the case seemes to be being approached as a tort, with the gravaman of the complaint being the mental anguish of the extra stress it takes raising twins. The lesbians say that it has almost destroyed their relationship. Hell, I've got news for them, the stress of raising one child has destroyed many a relationship.Come by my house right before a big math test and see if you think child raising is fun.

Now, I agree that two children are twice as tough as one. I am not denigrating in any way the difficulty of raising twins, and I am sure that, unless Cabnerra is a lot different than Texas, that being a gay couple adds to that stress.I am not identifying the couple by name because the Australian press is not, they are also only showing the womenonly from from the back, which, unfortunately, is neither's best side. The theory behind the secrecy is that the couple does not want their three year olds to know that they are the twins in question. I have news for them. If there is one other Australian lesbian couple in Canberra raising twins, I can promise you that they are thinner than these two.They can take all the walking away pictures of the Canberra Lesbian couple they want to, but I'm pretty sure that the kids are going to figure out that the Rosie O'Donnell backside look alikes, are mom and mom.

Before this blog takes on homophobic aspects, I should mention that I applaud gay adoption and gay test tube babies.I think that it is wonderul that these loving couples have the same opportunities that their straight brothers and sisters have.There is never enough love in the world. What I don't like is the sense of entitlement here. Lots of people have multiple births, it is tough on them, but they don't sue anyone over it. I did not sue our OB when it turned out that my child was born with an inability to sleep more than six hours a day and a refusal for the first five years of its life to eat anything. I did not complain to the OB when she turned out to be the most stubborn child that God ever put on this earth, not did I complain when she insisted on picking colleges based on the highest possible cost. I love my daugheter and have treasured very minute we have had her.But I'll say this, if Canberra law compensates this couple, I think our OB ought to have to kick in on at least the first year's tuition.Fair is fair.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

All the news that's fit

Today is my wife's birthday. The one thing she hates is for me to blog about inane events that are reported on CNN. There are so many today that I could not possibly choose. I did not read any of these stories, or I would have been tempted to write on each of them. Believe it or not, here are some headlines I just pulled from CNN, the best financed and most sophisticated of the American news agencies.As God is my witness, each one is currently a headline story.

1. Woman throws baby at Police- well, we've all been there, right ? You get hacked off at some cop and you just want to throw your child at him. This seems like more of a dog bites man story, who cares.

2. man gets stuck in chimney-Actually, that kind of thing probably used to happen all the time. It is much rarer now, but whether it deserves to be a headline story is debateable.Now "man's skeleton found in chimney", that's a story !

3. Students stunned over taser incident-This must be a follow up to a story about some idiot that got himself tasered at a John Kerry speech the other day. He was on the internet screaming 'don't taser me !" As I recall the last election, lots of people would have prefered to be taserd to listening to anything that blow hard had to say.

4. Jackson blasts Obama for acting white-How does one act white ? why would one act white ?

5. Toddler shoots self to death-no fucking comment

6.Are you drinking yourself fat ? I don't have time, I'm too busy eating myself fat, I am drinking myself to liver failure though.

7. Escaped Zebra shocks woman - with a taser ?

8.SWAT team called after alleged Amish threat- I really should have read this one, what do you suppose happened, a bunch of bearded Amish guys threatened somone with their butter churns ?

9. 12 foot alligator brings drivers to a screach-This one does not even make sense. You could bring drivers to a "screaching halt" but do you really think that each driver was brought to a screach, what were they, Parrots ?

10.Bloodied 70 year old woman cuffed for having brown lawn-I would have read this one, but I'm afraid that my mother is somewhere behind the incident.

11.Simpson pays bail-Wait a minute, this is where I came in.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Immunizations Down

The Texas Department of Health announced that immunizations were down this year. They seemed somewhat surprised. I can only imagine that they have forgotten what it feels like to be six years old and have a needle intentionaly stuck into your arm. The best argument ever divised against Libratarianism is immunization. If the government did not demand that all children be vccinated before attending school, polio, diptheria,whooping cough, measles, and all manner of dangerous and disfiguring diseaes would still run rampany through the country.It would sort of be like disbanding the IRS and still telling people that they needed them to pay taxes to run the government. Good luck with that.

The reason that no one would get immunized unless forced to by an evil axis of government, parents and drug companies, is that it hurts like hell. I know for a fact that it does not hurt as much as it used to, but it still hurts. My childhood, the 1950s and 60s was the hey day of the immunization movement. Now those of you unfamilair with the history of American Public Health may not know this, but it is true. Shots in those days really did hurt a lot more than they do now. I have checked the internet, and can't find any empirical proof for this, but I swear to you that it's true. The needles were longer, more jagged (I think that because of the sheer numbers of baby boomers, they had to reuse needles a dozen times) and the injection administrators much more callous and or/incompetent. "Roll up your sleeve you sniveling little bastard" was how my brother and I were often spoken to at Dr Bloxom's office. As we would try to twist away they would hang on to the arm and plunge in the needle, pretty much wherever they could get it in.

Because of the extreme pain, which often amounted to child abuse, it was not easy for my parents to "pursuade us" to get our yearly shots. Their strategy changed from year to year. Sometimes it was a head on "get in the car, you are getting your shots". My father was mostly involved in that strategy because if they had two adults, they were guaranteed to be able to drag us both to the car, and in the case of my brother, I mean dragged. I saw Clay physically dragged by the legs and thrown into the back of a 1956 black and white Chevrolet station wagon and "taken for a ride".I see him now, face presed against the window wailing away as my mother did her best to remove clumps of dirt and grass from his pants and from under his finger nails.
By this time in life, I had developed a more adult like resignation to the whole procedure. I was lead away, sobbing quietly to myself.

The other, more invidious strategy was my mother's alone. If she had no other adult support, she would resort to stealth. "Boys, I have to go to the store, come with me ?" That's how it started.Then we'd drive past the A&P and stare at each other uncomprehendingly. "Oh, not the grocery store" my mother would say. As we proceeded down Bissonet, we began to see landmarks that made us nervous.Certain apartment buldings, some pink cement decorations at the entry to a neighborhood This route seemed familair. Wait a minute.....My mother's trickery had managed to help her avoid the initial car loading specatcle, but as we forced her to fess up. "Well, yes, we are going to run by the doctor's office." , "yes, I guess it's possible that you will get a shot." The howling started.In the pre seatbelt days, my brother and I eschewed the back seat in order to ride in what is now, I suppose, the luggage area of the station wagon (if they still make station wagons). When we realized what was up, I always thought that we looked like a couple of howling dogs being hauled off to the pound, which is just what we felt like. The betrayal !! By our own mother.

Dr Bloxom's office was a two story red brick house across from Sears on South Main. If the Russians ever bombed Houston, I prayed that it would be ground zero. Bloxom was an tiny bald fellow of indeterminate old age. My mother held him in higher esteem than any other person, living or dead, on the planet earth.He was her Jesus, her Buddah, her Mohammed, all rolled together.He could walk on water and bend steel with his bare hands.What he said was gospel and his orders were never varied by her in any respect. But the shots did not call for Bloxom.He had henchpersons to do his bidding on that.Two normally polite nurses, one blonde, one brunette, who once a year dropped their pediatrician office smile and took on the look of Dr Mengler. They would drag, yes really drag, screaming children through a waiting room and down a hall where a steaming covered hot plate of some kind awaited. They would open the cover and steam would pour forth into your face as they removed the sterilized insturments of torture. The fact that the needle was sterile did not make it feel any better. You had the sensation that it would burn hot, and sear into your flesh as the viscous and incredibly slow moving and painful serum entered your veins. No shot of my childhood ever lasted under five minutes. The needle was always in my arm for that long, often moved around a little to hit different bones.Even the withdrawing of the needle was painfil. It made a sound like a knife being pulled out of your gut.

As your crying tappered off, you then had to witness the horror of your brother undergoing the same torture. Although, I will say that this was surprisingly easy to watch once you were out of danger. And what did you get for this ? money ? a Purple Heart ? No, Dr Bloxom would swing by and offer you a single stick of Dentyne. A sugarless gum that burned your tounge.It was like the torture never stopped. On the way home, our mother was so worn out and distraught and probably felt so guilty over what she had just participated in, that she would often stop and let us buy a toy.This was a nice diversion from your arm throbbing like it was going to fall off for the next three days.

About 1963, child welfare organizations pressured the public health agenies to hence forth administer the polio vaccine orally, by sugar cube of all things ! Slowly after that, injections became more humane. I noticed as I got older and older that they hurt less and less. I attribute all of this to advances in technology and better training of those incharged with the injections.
No child suffers today like the baby boomer did during my childhood. Frankly, no dog suffers today from its shots like the baby boomers suffered during that black period. The PETA people wold not put up with it. Even so, I can't say that I'm surprised that immunizations are down. There is just something about that needle.......

Monday, September 10, 2007

Boy's bathroom

"Senator Craig stepped into that bathroom to perform a perfectly legal function." Billy Martin, counsel to Senator Craig.

If you count washing your hands, and I hope that you do, there are three perfectly legal functions which are performed daily at any public restroom. As mentioned last week, Senator Craig got caught up in some ambiguities pursuant to his performance of one of those functions, which landed him in some hot water.

All of this brought back to my mind the terror of the boy's restroom at my elementary school. Very few of the normal functions went on in that boy's room. It was a place to let off steam and to run wild a little bit while out of adult presence. Bathroom breaks at Richmond Elementary School were allowed in the mornings and afternoons and took maybe five minutes. It was amazing the amount of trouble that could be instigated in five minutes.The trouble often ended with a teacher screaming in through the door, "I'm coming in there if you don't settle down." The threat was almost never carried out as no teacher in her right mind would have willingly walked into that restroom. Fights would break out, games were played, including urination games, cheat notes were written on your hands and arms, or washed off.Now and then a firecracker was set off. The best bathroom break I ever took involved a Fizzy.

Fizzies were little round tablets that, when dropped in water, turned your simple glass of water into a soda pop treat. Sort of. The fizzies were bland, when not bitter. It was a bit like drinking flavored Alka Seltzer. It had the same fizz. So bad were the Fizzy drinks, that many kids took to saving them and sucking on them during class. The problem with this was that the little pill would interact with your saliva, turning your lips the color of whichever flavored tablet you happened to be sucking on. It was a dead give away, especially if you had chosen cherry.

One day at lunch, my friend Mark Roland hit on the brillant idea of stopping up the large urinal in the boy's bathroom, filling it with water, and dropping Fizzies into it.The idea being, to turn a large filled urinal bright red. We planned this escapade for some days before we had the nerve to pull it off. It was not hard. The poorly maintained urinal seldom drained well anyway and once we had covered the drain with about half a dozen paper towels, it began to back up almost immediatly. Still, it takes a lot of flushing to backfill a urinalwhich was designed for six fifth graders to use simultaneously. We had to use the whole bathroom break doing the filling, and were getting pressure from the teacher to get out (and allow the next class in) before we were ready.

Despite the pressure, Mark Roland and most of the rest of the boys, everyone, probably, except Tracy Davenport, the little snitch, stood their ground until the urinal was full. At this point Roland removed two red Fizzy tablets from their plastic packaging and tossed them in. The immediate fizzing set off such howls of laughter that the teacher burst in to see what was going on. She found maybe fifteen boys standing around what was starting to look like a blood soaked urinal, each of us in a state of high hilarity.

Unfortunatly for us, the caper lead into a general investigation of boy's bathroom practices. and landed us all, even Tracy Davenport, in front of the Principal to explain ourselves. I'd like to say that we all toughed it out, but the truth of the matter is that under the withering gaze of our Principal, Mrs Macnamara (who had buried at least three husbands) most of us cracked. We told stories and pointed fingers and, in general acted about how you would expect a bunch of ten year olds to act in the presence of such evil. Collective punishment was quite severe and amounted to great losses of playground time over the next two weeks.In certain cases (Mark Roland) specific fact findings were made and notes were sent home.

All of this was a long time ago. 1963 to be exact. Still, to this day I recall the supreme moment of seeing those two Fizzies, bubbling at the surface of that urinal, floating aimlessly around and spreading their red dye throughout, until we witnessed an entire tub of red liquid. I never had a moment where something which was really so ineveitable seemed so surprising. Five or six years later, Fizzies were remved from the market for causing cancer in rats.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Uncle JJ

My brother sent me some pictures of our mother, taken in her college days. In the group of pictures was one of my Uncle JJ, sitting with his soon to be wife Jean, my mother's roommate.I had not thought of uncle JJ in awhile. The family has not mentioned him much since my father hired a private detective to try to track him down. It was strange to see his picture, as he was years before I ever knew him, a handsome college kid.But JJ always was a handsome fellow, even later in life, it was part of his charm.

Some people have relatives that they refer to, in jest, as con men.JJ really was a con man.Not always, he just sort of inevetiably slipped into it over time. It was simply meant to be. Anyone who spent five minutes with him would realize that that is where his talents lay. I'm sure he'd have been a good legitimate salesman, but that would have bored him. He was just meant for the con.

My first memories of JJ are at his home in Dallas, he had a whole passle of kids, five I think, but I knew only three of them well. The three boys.J Lindsey, Bubba and Pete. J. was probably 6 or 7 years older than me, Bubba, 2 or 3, Pete was my age. During one visit my father took us all down to a 7/11 and let us pick any toy we wanted off of the spinning metal toy rack. These things are not found much anymore, but they were a staple at every convenience store (ice house) while I was growing up. They were right next to the spinning comic book stand where you loitered at your own peril. Most 7/11 owners spent the majority of their working lives in those days yelling at kids not to read the comic books.

Back to the toys. I recall I picked out some plastic army men, or cowboys and Indians. Those were my standard toys.You could not walk through my room without stepping on dozens of plastic men, most of whom were lying down, having been killed in one battle or another.Back to the story, I don't recall what J. and Pete picked out. I do recall Bubba's toy. It was a set of Zorro toys which included a Zorro mask, a Zorro pistol, and a Zorro rope.It was a nice set and probably set my dad back the better part of a dollar.As I sat in JJ's living room, playing with my army men, I noticed that Bubba was talking quietly to J. Bubba was wearing the zorro mask, and a black cowboy hat, which he had retrieved from his room in an attempt to match the accessorizing he was doing.Bubba was nodding quietly and, much to my surprise, fell to the floor, face down. J. then took the Zorro rope and "hog tied " Bubba, the rope extending from around Bubba's neck to his feet, where it was attached to his legs, which were bent at the knee at 90 degree angles. In my eyes, the genius of the rope job was that as Bubba moved his legs, the rope pulled tighter on his neck, eventually turning his face quite red, as he thrashed around the room, to the uproarious laughter of the rest of the children in the audience.

I don't recall Bubba ever being let out of this predicament until it was bed time. I may be wrong. This kind of thing would have horrofied my parents, my mother especially ,who spent a good deal of her spare time at junck yards, prying the hinges off of old refrigirators, so some child would not get stuck in one. She was a very careful mother.At any rate, that was the kind of thing that passed for good fun at JJ's house.

As I got older, I began to realize that my father, who had roomed with JJ in college, and was his cousin (hence my honorary Uncle) looked upon JJ with a little less respect in certian areas. He told me of a particularly hair raising experience he had had while visiting JJ's house in Arizona. Some IRS goons had come into the house and were actually taking pictures off of the wall when my father, somewhat unnerved, asked JJ what was going on. "Oh, don't worry about this", he said, "it is just a matter of money."I also began to perceive that my mother had little respect for JJ. He apparently had quite a roving eye and perhaps (actaully for sure) other parts of him were known to roam as well. My mother, who dearly loved his wife, would grieve over this.

JJ dropped out of sight for a coupleof years and ended up in Houston, where he started showing up at our house to talk over his schemes .He was constantly sweet talking my mother into doing art work for his "businesses" which he swore that he was going to pay for. Alas, he never did, and after a few more years JJ dropped out of site again. By then his family at home had given up on ever seeing much of him .After awhile, my Uncle Hilton, who was another card in his own right, and whom we shall deal with later, came to town.Hilton and his wife, my dad's sister Fanny Fay,along with my folks and JJ and Jean had painted most of Dallas red in their college days. Fanny Fay tells stories of Hilton having to let JJ and my dad into the house at all hours and putting them to bed when they "could not make it home." At any rate, we got to talking about JJ, and Hilton said, "I saw him". Where ? At a Holiday Inn in Tampa, he and a partner had passed out flyers around town about some investment scheme and Hilton, spotting JJ, went down to the Holiday Inn to see him. As Hilton told it, he asked, "this what I think it is ?" The answer was a good natured affirmative, followed by my favorite J.J. line. "I'm glad you came down tonight, as you might imagine, we don't stay in one place for very long."JJ had finally graduated to the big con. No member of the family ever saw him again after that. All efforts to find him were futile. Whether JJ ended up in jail, or killed, according to the family the two most likely scenarios, no one ever knew. The trail just became cold.

But I think of JJ every now and then. He was a fellow worth knowing, as most con men are, as long as you don't invest with them. He was slick and funny, fast on his feet, and the life of every party.He had tremendous potential, which he chose to use in a way that was not necessarily to his credit, but he was one hell of a guy.