Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Barracuda

If the real thing don’t do the trick

You better make up something quick

You gonna burn, burn, burn it to the wick

Ohooooooooh, barracuda.   “Barracuda”, as sung by Fergie, “Shrek the Third Soundtrack”



Former beauty Queen and ex-mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, population, 6,000, Sarah “Barracuda” Palin was tapped by Senator John McCain yesterday to be his running mate . The announcement  disappointed small town mayors from coast to coast, all of whom felt that they had served their towns with more distinction. Mayor John Sprauge of Hawley –Noodle , Texas spoke for most of the disappointed office seekers when he said, “ My town has is 50% larger than Wasilla, I could govern Wasilla and still have time to do my shift at the refinery, make my kid’s lunch and make every date of my wife’s monthly book club. I know dozens of other mayors who could do the same. The fact that she has been Governor of Alaska for the last year and a half is irrelevant, she is  nothing but a pretty face and a good shot.”


Sources close to the McCain campaign denied that the surprise  anointment of the “Pistol Packin’ Mama” had anything to do with desperation. “It was a matter of pure process of elimination. McCain said to find him a former beauty Queen who was a lifetime member of the N.R.A. ,  and an evangelical who we could actually prove that she  turned down an opportunity to have an abortion. Who would have thought that the only person who met all three criteria was the Republican Governor of Alaska ? It was just a bonus when we found out the she is ready and willing to drill in the Alaskan Wildlife Preserve. She is right out of central casting.”


While admitting that 19 months as the Governor of a state with a population less than Austin, Texas was not a lot of experience, Republican strategists note that her two terms as Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska  turned that former sleepy Anchorage bedroom community into a thriving economic engine that has left its so called “twin city” of Palmer in the dust.”When the “Barracuda” took office” said one Wasillian, we were still demoralized from the election loss in ’96 which would have moved the state capitol here, getting a cute sportscaster with a husband who is the best damn snowmobiler in the” last frontier” was the key to our comeback, the town took off and never looked back. We are getting a Wendy’s here next month.”


Nicknamed “the Barracuda” because of her defensive prowess on the basketball court, Palin is best known in Alaska for firing the head of the Alaska Department of Public Safety who had refused to fire her brother in law from the state trooper’s office. Alaskan’s were disappointed in the action because it was felt that Palin’s prowess with an AK-47 would have provided  a more appropriate way to deal with that scum who tried to taser his 11 year old step son,threatened to kill the Governor's father as well as shot a moose out of season. All Republicans, Democrats and the author of this missive agree.


Palin’s husband, a handsome oilfield worker, sometimes commercial fisherman, is known around Alaska simply as “First Dude”. He was initially reported to be 25% Eskimo until the national media decided at about noon yesterday that “Eskimo” was a pejorative and racist term. He is now being referred to as 25% Yu’Pik, a native American Tribe in Alaska which supports itself with an all sports book casino, hence its unusual name. Both the Governor and her husband are said to be “crazy for the action” according to a Yu’Pik bookie.


The unusual strategy of picking Palin was said to have been initiated by former Bush henchman Carl Rove who used it when managing his first political election, the race for President of the 8th grade at his old middle school. “It is a tried and true method in public school elections, most people will just vote for the cutest candidate because they have got better things to do in life than research and learn  campaign issues. We are also going to have her propose a series of “National Gym Dances” and put a lot of glued on sparkles on all the campaign posters we are making for her.” Rove also announced that Palin was pulling out of the proposed debate with Democratic Veep choice Joe Biden. Said Palin, “he’s like gross, old with that silly hair comb over, I’d be embarrassed to be a Democrat with him running.” To replace the debate, Palin’s handlers have advocated a 1,500 mile dog sled race.





Thursday, August 28, 2008

Triumph of the Will ?

It appears as if the Democrats have mishandled their convention about as badly as it is possible to do. They had two jobs, let everyone understand who Obama is and remind everyone of the  historically miserable shape the country is in right now. Rather than focus on those, they have spent three days paying tribute to two people who are not even on the ballot. Bill and Hillary Clinton. They are now about to take their last day and put their candidate in front of 75,000 partisans, with Grecian pillars in the background, in a situation eerily similar to Hitler’s Nuremberg speeches. Talk about emphasizing the “cult of personality”. The Democrats are doing everything but carrying torches through the Colorado night and hiring Leni Riefenshtal to film the event.. This might be O.K. if the average American knew who the candidate was and what he stood for. As of now, all we really know is that it appears that his wife would make one hell of a First Lady.


Maybe it will all work out. JFK did something similar in Los Angeles in 1960 and it worked out all right. Obama has a history of rising to the occasion to give wonderful speeches. I think that he will have a problem tonight matching the speech he needs to give (who I am and where we need to go) with the venue which, seems to call for a Roman chariot race.


This is Obama’s race to lose, always has been. John McCain cannot defeat Barrack Obama, only Barrack Obama can do that. I still think that he is going to be the next President of the United States. You can bet on that with the same faith as when I told you last year that Hillary Clinton was going to be the next President of the United States (you get what you pay for in this blog).The Democrats are working very hard to snatch defeat out of the very jaws of victory. I still think that things are so fundamentally screwed up around here that people will vote for a big change. I wish we had it all to do over again. I really like that Governor from Montana, he’s a hoot.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Conventional Wisdom

The Choreographed charade taking place this week in Denver is no more of a convention than an acorn is an oak tree. There has not been a real political  convention in this country since 1980. A whole generation of Americans has attained voting age without seeing what real politics looks like. The true American misses the days of gavel to gavel coverage, where every state nominated a favorite son and every party plank was fought over tooth and nail. Alas, those days are gone, never to be seen again, replaced by the four day prime time commercials the political parties now run. In the interest of history, I give you my list of the ten greatest conventions. Many historians will disagree with my reasoning in some of the selections, but it’s my list, they can do their own.


1.       1896, Democrat convention-Bryan electrifies the delegates with his legendary “Cross of Gold” speech. For 90 days the country seems on the verge on Grange rule when Mark Hanna steps in and bribes enough worker/voters to save capitalism.

2.       1920-With Theodore Roosevelt dead, a group of cynical bosses and office holders lead by Henry Cabot Lodge meet in a smoke filled room at the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago and decide that skirt chasing drunk  Warren Gamail Harding is handsome enough to capture the hearts of the newly enfranchised women voters. Harding wins in a landslide and presides over the most corrupt administration in half a century before he goes on a poker playing train trip to Alaska and dies a year before his term ends.

3.       And 4.- Tie between 1976 Republican convention and 1980 Democratic convention. In the first, Gerald Ford chases Ronald Reagan all over the platform before finally cornering him and making him shake hands. In the second, Jimmy Carter chases Ted Kennedy all around the platform before finally cornering him and making him shake hands. Ford and Carter go on to floundering campaigns and election losses.

5.       1933 Sons of the Desert Convention- Ollie convinces Stan that they can go to the lodge convention in Chicago, and that the wives will be “none the wiser” ,by pretending that Ollie has had a nervous breakdown and that Stan must accompany him to Honolulu to recover. The plan is foiled when the wives see a Movietone News short at the movies showing Stan and Ollie mugging for the camera as the Sons of the Desert parade into Chicago. When confronted by the wives with the fact that the ship from Hawaii they were supposed to be traveling on had sunk, the boys claim that they had gotten back to California by “ship-hiking”.

6.       1968 Democratic Convention-Attempting only to nominate a pig (Pigasus) for President, several thousand Yippies camping in Lincoln Park are routed by Mayor Daily’s police force. Daily responds by screaming anti-Semitic epithets at Senator Abraham Ribicoff. In the confusion Dan Rather is arrested on the convention floor and Hubert Humphrey accepts the Democratic nomination calling for the “politics of joy”.

7.       1964 Republican Convention-Barry Goldwater is nominated as I listen to the proceedings over the radio with my grandfather who grins at me and nods sagely as he turns the page of his Wall Street Journal.

8.       1912 Republican Convention-T.R. is fairly denied the nomination by Taft’s forces and leads his followers out of the hall to start the Bull Moose party. In the greatest hyperbole of any speech at any convention, Roosevelt ends his acceptance speech by stating that he and his followers “Stand at Armageddon and battle for the Lord !”  Roosevelt, and presumably the Lord, go down to defeat in November in a campaign Roosevelt remembers thereafter as the one where he was shot in the chest.

9.       1924 Democratic Convention-Democrats go on for 103 ballots before settling on the charismatic John W. Davis as their nominee, denying the American voter the opportunity to show its anti-Catholic bigotry until 1928 when Governor Al Smith is finally nominated and soundly defeated. Davis  goes on to be the least remembered Democratic nominee of the century until Michael Dukakis emerges (briefly) in 1988.

10.   1972 Republican convention-Only convention ever to nominate an entire ticket which is forced to resign within two years. America is slow to recognize the candidates for the felons they are and gives them 49 of the 50 states in the election, finally almost putting an end to Lincoln’s adage that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. The new saying is that you can fool 49 out of 50 people all of the time.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

P.J. Problems

My daughter left for college six days ago and so far my wife and I have been able to hold it together. Until last night. We had a small spat when I came down stairs to watch a DVD of “Foyle’s War” in my nightshirt at 7:35. Rayda exploded. “What are you wearing ?” (she knew perfectly well). “You know that depresses me, go upstairs and change”. We have been down this road a number of times, my wife and I.


I hate that awkward time of the evening where I can no longer wear my work clothes, especially my suits and ties, but it is too early to put on bedroom attire. Usually this is solved by slipping into a pair of walking shorts and a t-shirt , a number of which similarly “depress” Rayda, but which she tolerates. The odd thing is that some nights I will just sleep in those shorts and t-shirts, giving them the functional equivalent of pajamas, so I don’t see why I can’t just skip this three hour time period I am forced to spend in my dog walking outfits.


Sleeping clothes are odd.  It seems to me that you live in a pretty rich society if you can afford clothes in which all you do is sleep. I feel the same way about paper products. What kind of decadent society produces napkins, paper towels AND toilet paper, when just one would do for all three uses ? But back to the P.J. . Starting in the fall of 1971, and continuing down to the present day, I have worn old fashioned night shirts to bed. I love them. Their only shortcoming is when they start falling apart after a thousand or so washes and you walk around looking like that little urchin from “Les Mis”. Other than that, they are perfect. I used to have some that looked like a New York Yankee uniform. In defense of Rayda, the night shirt does look a bit odd sitting around the family room downstairs watching the nightly news. I blame that on society.


Back in the 1950s, people would put on smoking jackets after they got home, or at least after dinner. Some people put their pajamas on underneath, some people (Ricky Ricardo) wore a shirt and tie under them. But they were very comfortable and made a nice transition into pajamas. Well before everyone stopped smoking, the smoking jacket went the way of the dodo. I have seen Hugh Hefner in some robes that looked like smoking jackets, especially back when he smoked a pipe, but Hefner is in his pajamas all day long so that does not really count. Life has never been the same without the smoking jacket. I think that the reason most people don’t care about this issue is that people dress so casually at work now that they are comfortable just leaving on their work clothes. I can’t do that. I am not alone. Ronald Reagan, when he was President of the United States, was in his pajamas every night at 6:30. He and Nancy took their dinner on a tray in the White House family quarters and watched repeats of Bonanza. What a great life ! I bet Nancy never got “depressed”.



At any rate, Rayda let me keep on my nightshirt last night (I noticed she made me go upstairs) with the promise that I would not do it anymore. I am not quite sure when I can put on my nightshirt, but I think that anything after about 10:15 is fine, probably a bit  later on weekends, probably earlier if I have a cold. I am pretty sure that the rule will not apply in hotel rooms, but we shall see. Until then I’ll be singing the old Buffet song;


“I wish I had a pencil thin mustache,

 The Boston Blackie kind.

A two tone Ricky Ricardo jacket

And an autographed picture of Andy Devine.”



Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dad and the Duck

Not everything that happens during the course of a loved one’s passing is bad. For the last few weeks I have enjoyed time I have been able to spend with my brother and mother talking about my father and his life. It may be the first time that the three of us have spent a lot of time alone together in many years. I got to hear  stories about my dad that I had either forgotten or never heard. One involved the final days that Huey the Duck spent in our household.


Like other suburban families of the 1950s and 60s, our house had a continuous stream of pets. From my third birthday on there were dogs, cats, fish, birds a rabbit (briefly), and an occasional horned toad brought home from the Texas Panhandle in a match box. The most colorful of all of our pets was my brother’s duck Huey. My father was ambivalent about pets. Generally, he would argue to keep us from acquiring them. I found out later that the reason he did not particularly like them around is that he was so sentimental that he hated to see them go when their time came. Two of the three dogs that he brought home were dogs he had rescued from abandonment. One of them ( a Welsh Terrier named Skippy) was pulled off of a freeway where it had been dodging cars going 65 mph.My first dog was an oddly hairless black dauchsand named Dutch (who looked for all the world like a baby seal) presented to my when I was three. It was the only time that I ever saw Dutch on a leash. He spent the next 12 years following my father up and down the block to talk to neighbors (dad, not Dutch) or with his head out the window of the front seat of our 1956 Chevy station wagon, accompanying my father to the 7/11.


Skippy was more of my mother’s dog. Well groomed and well behaved (unless given a brief opening of a gate or door in which case he would run away, like the wind, for many miles). Skippy was eventually bred to a Welsh Terrier around the block owned by the wife of a local football coach. The offspring of that union (or at least the pick of the litter) was my brother’s dog Tigger. Tigger was the miscreant of our animal menagerie, distinguishing himself by spreading partially eaten tubes of my mother’s oil paint all around the house, as well coating  his own mouth in a bright red. He was just an all around screw up. My father, who favored the argument of nature over nurture, used to sigh and look at me after any particular Trigger issue arose and exclaim “his mother was trash”.


My brother had a series of three cats, one alley cat and two Siamese. My father argued hotly against admitting the last Siamese (purchased during the Viet Nam war and dubbed Mei Kong) because the previous one had died young of a kidney infection. After Clay and I left home, my dad developed a closeness with Mei Kong and my mother recently related that Dad “balled like a baby” when Mei Kong died. Clay’s first cat, Frisky, actually killed Clay’s Jack Rabbit (Jackie) one night during a rare business trip my father had taken to Chicago. The rest of the family had dined at El Patio Mexican restaurant that evening and came home to discover the partially eaten Jackie under one of the beds, Frisky having succeeded in knocking him out of his cage. My father had chosen that time to call home and found the house in an absolute uproar of tears, as well as indignation against the cat.


My father also built a small aviary and kept doves for a number of years, he was fascinated with birds. He always looked forward to the annual return of his Purple Martins. He also spent a good deal of his time feeding the neglected fish and parakeet that Clay and I had imposed on the family at different junctures.


As mentioned above, it was our Duck which was the most unusual pet we ever had. In those days, the local five and dime, improbably named Wackers, would put eggs in their window before Easter, under a sun lamp.. The eggs would hatch and Wackers would sell baby chicks and ducks to the neighborhood children. The chicks were painted unnatural colors and for weeks after Easter you would come upon mauled purple chickens in vacant lots. The life expectancy of one of these chickens, which from a distance resembled a bright feathered cotton candy, was not more than three weeks to a month. One family, the Beans, were alleged to buy several chicks and ducks every Easter only to have the youngest of the five Bean brothers (“”Boo” Bean) put the animals to death by decapitation or dropping them down a garbage disposal. These stories were never confirmed and since I was friend with Gary, one of the Bean twins, a gentle soul, I had a hard time believing them. Whether Boo went on to a career as a serial killer is quite doubtful as the neighborhood would have heard about it.


I have never understood how the Duck, christened as Huey after Donald’s nephew and a contemporary cartoon figure “Baby Huey” was able to get into the house. I have some dim memory of my mother and her buddy Martha Ogden succumbing to the pleas of Clay and Guy and making the purchases of two Easter fowl. Whatever the method, Huey came into our house a cute duckling and after a time emerged as a mature duck. The fastest and meanest duck God ever put on this earth.


As you might imagine, Birdwood Street was not the best place to raise a duck. Huey lived in the backyard behind a strand of chicken wire which he would regularly jump over if agitated by the site of a human being who found himself back  there. He spent a good deal of his time in a large silver metal tub which my father used on the Fourth of July to store iced beer. Huey would float around in the tub for part of the day, when he was not chasing humans.


No one ever knew what turned Huey so aggressive. Perhaps it was being born in a Wackers five and dime store, or being raised haphazardly by a six year old boy. Whichever it was, Huey became the best known “guard duck” anyone had ever seen. Huey’s success was related to two things, his speed and his bite. Huey was faster than most dogs. He would leap over the chicken wire and run his victims down in a matter of seconds. He would then proceed to bite his victims on whatever body part was available. During the summer, he was particularly adept at biting (pinching actually) the bare feet of children who strayed back to his lair. Since no child wore shoes in the summer, his targets of opportunity were endless. For some reason it never struck anyone to use their superior strength in Huey to shoe him away (or kill him for that matter). People just turned tail and ran. In one famous incident, Our neighbor from down the block, 40 something year old Elna Woodum was chased all the way home by Huey as she screamed and pled for assistance which never came.


I don’t know how long we had Huey, it seems to me two or three years. Unknown to my brother and I, after a couple of years, our parents were becoming less and less happy with being known as the owners of a particular neighborhood nuisance, and they conspired to get rid of him My father elected to be the trigger man of this escapade, during the annual trip to visit my Grandfather, which Dad always managed to miss.


In those days, Miller Pond in Herman Park was one of the bigger bodies of water any of us had seen around Houston. It was a large pond where many a child got his first fishing experience of standing in the Texas sun and not catching any fish. Miller Pond was also home to about a million ducks, wild and domestic, many of the white ones  which had been taken to the pond and unceremoniously dumped after Easter. This was where my parents resolved to leave Huey. It was the perfect plan. Clay and I secretly hated the damn duck anyway and wanted to reclaim our back yard, and the friends who would not go back there. As for Huey, he would finally get a real body of water to swim in, and possibly make friends. At any rate, he would not be biting us anymore.


As my mother later pieced together, and only recently told me, there was one hitch in the plan. My father’s sentimentality. I am told that he arose early one day and drove out to Herman Park where he turned the duck loose on the pond. He then drove to work, with his conscience starting to nag at him. By the end of the day, my father had decided that he had done the wrong thing. How could he have ditched the family duck ,whom we had raised since a duckling and which, for all his faults, had kept burglars out of the house and provided amusement as we watched it chase hapless children around our yard from safely behind our sliding glass door ? So as the sun began to set over Herman Park, my dad drove back to the Duck Pond.


Now on a pond,  One white duck looks quite a bit like any other white duck. Dad saw immediately that with darkness falling, his chances of spotting Huey were slim indeed. But he did not give up. He began walking around the pond crying HUEEEEY, HUEEEY, in hopes that the Duck would respond to his name, recognize dad and come running up for a ride home after his day at the park. The fact that Huey had never before responded to his name, and the fact that every duck acquired by a child in those days was named Huey, did not  cross my dad’s mind. He stayed out there until dark, crying HUEEEY, HUEEY and hoping for a miracle. Alas, it was not to be. Huey never returned and our family Homeowners Insurance Policy Premiums fell in half as we no longer had to report that we lived with a killer duck.


I have thought of this now many times since my dad began his final weeks. What must people have thought of this six foot three guy, wearing a suit and hat, walking through the mud at Miller’s Pond, in the dark, calling for his duck ? It was a side of himself that he seldom showed to anyone outside our family. But we saw it, and we remember it, and it will always be one of my favorite memories of my father.



Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Armour Allen Porter, September 16, 1924-August 18, 2008

Under the wide and starry sky,

Dig the grave and let me lie.

Glad did I live and gladly die,

And I laid me down with a will.


This be the verse you grave for me;

Here he lies where he longed to be,

Home is the sailor, home from the sea,

And the hunter, home from the hill.



Robert Louis Stevenson, “Requiem”

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

High pressure system over South Carolina

I saw more rain today that I have seen in the last six months in Austin. The high presure referred to in the title of this missive, however, has nothing to do with the weather. Today was the day for our "Owner's Meeting".Owner's meetings in the time share industry are known as 'CHUMP MEETINGS" by timeshare salesman. The theory being that if you can find someone dumb enough to buy a time in the first place, you have a reasonably good shot at selling him a second. The owners meeting brings together under one roof about 50 buyers of time shares and sets about 100 salesman loose on them.

Why would anyone go to such a meeting ? Pure greed. They offer yopu a $60 dollar meal gift certificate or (and this is mothers milk to the timeshare owner) 3000 free points. That is what hooked me. As I recall, it is what hooked me when I bought my second timeshare five years ago in Maui.Now the owners meeting is billed as just a session to make sure everyone knowss what their options are in using their timeshares.This is a good thing, most timeshare owners never bother to read anything after they make their purchase.As George, our first salesman explained to us, I could use my week in Maui and convert it to seven weeks here in Myrtle Beach. Anyone familair with the laws of supply and demand (or Myrtle Beach) will immediatly recognize why this is possible. Who the hell wants to spend seven weeks in Myrtle Beach ?

While there I asked George a few questions. What kind of people are buying your time shares in Myrtle Beach. Geeorge said that it qwas almost exclusively people from Georgia or the Carolinas. "Folks that drive in and don't have to fly in ? " I asked " None of the buyers here have ever been on an airplane." George replied. It turns out that he was not interested in selling me Myrtle Beach property, at least for the sake of visiting Myrtle beach. He wanted me to buy enough units of Myrtle Beach property so that I could trade them in every year for another week in Hawaii. In fact,both sales people we saw (over the two hour grilling) insisted that they were simply trying to show us ways to hoodwink their employers. The most brazen statement George made was when he showed me that I would only have to pay $27,000 for an extra week in Maui buying it from him, but that would cost me $34,000 if I bought it in Maui. "Now what do you think the stockholders want you to do ? They want you to spend thre $34,00. But I'm protecting you !" That's what George said.Friend of the little guy.The fact that he would get the commission if he sold it and not some suit wearing Polynesian out in Maui had never crossed his mind.

At this point I casually mentioned to George that I already owned two time shares.It was like standing eye to eye with a shark and reaching down and cutting my vein. If someone is dumb enough to own two time shares, the sky is the limit on how may they will buy. Out came all the "deals". Look, he said "I can fix it for you to where you only have to pay $300 a month. Can you believe it ? what do you pay for your second home ?" I don't have second home I admitted. "No second home ? You must not have a financial advisor. You need to jump on this deal." I had to tell him that I was adverse to making a large purchase right now as my daughter starts college this Friday. " I think that you are just adverse to saving money" He sneereed. I swear, that was his reply. I explained that I liked saving money but did not understand how it was to my advantage to sign a $27,000 note when the alternative was to spend no money. "Because, he exclaimed, the next time you want it, it will cost more. Your Maui property has increased in value by $7,000 (25%) in three years ! " Great" I replied. "Want to buy it from me ?" He pressed further, " I know there is a number that you have in mind to buy this timeshare. " . "Look", I replied "I'm not negotiating, I'm saying no thank you." His last gambit was humiliation. "So you are telling me that times are so tough for an Austin lawyer that he can't afford $300 lousy bucks a month? Well, I'm not going to arm wrestle you over $300." With that, he turned me over to a second salesman whose primary job was to sell some of the other products that Starwood offers, and to grade my feeling about the last salesman. I told her he was "thorough". "Good" she replied, "another ten for him."

It has been about eight hours since we crawled away from the meeting, clutching our voucher for 3,000 points. I have been thinking, $300 a month, that sounds like a hell of a deal !

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Pig Out

Q-What did the Governor of North Carolina say to the Governor of South Carolina ?

A-It has been a long time between drinks.

I straddled the boundary between North and South Carolina today. It is divided not by a river or a mountain but by the "State Line Fireworks" store which is the first thing to greet you as you enter the Palmetto state. Before liquor by the drink came to Texas, Louisiana had a string of bars at the state line so that a thirsty Texan could get loaded the minute he stepped into that state. That is, if he was not already loaded because it was perfectly legal in Texas, in those days, to drive around at 75 miles an hour taking pulls from a Wild Turkey bottle.

Largely through the largess of my daughter's boy friends's parents, my daughter and her boy friend chartered a fishing vessel for the morning, necessitating us to rise early and drop them off at a marina near the state line. They managed to catch over thirty Spanish Mackeral which, when you add on the gas and the tips and the coolers and the ice we purchased meant that each fish cost a little less than $19 a piece, or $38 a fillet. We will see how many we can eat tonight. My guesss is that we will average a couple of fillets apiece which will make the cost per dinner about $75 a plate. Actually, that's only about twice what we are paying for fish dinners out here, so that's not too bad.

While the kids were hauling in the big catch my wife and I drove up to Wilmington North Carolina, which you will remember from history was the most important port in the Confederacy, especially after the Yankees captured New Orleans, Galveston and Mobile.Wimington is a very historic city with a huge district of houses dating back to the 18th and 19th century.It is also the home of the USS North Carolina which I might have visited had I not read a flyer advising claustraphobics to stay away.

Of more importance to me was our tour of Wrightsville Beach. A town where my parents had lived circa 1951. My father and his erstwhile cousin J.J. had cooked up some plan to sell life insurance to G.I.s and did not make quite the money they were in hopes of making. My father went on to a serious career as a Texas sales man. As mentioned previously in these pages, J.J. went on to actually play "the big con". So I suppose my father is lucky that he got out of the partnership when he did.

It is weird driving around a place where your parents lived well over half a century ago.I kept looking for buildings which would have been there when they were there. There were precious few. Wrightsville beach, whatever it was during the later Truman years, is today a prosperous beach community with beautiful homes and boats.

I am, happy to report that I am now able to check Carolina BBQ off of my list of things to do out here. I tracked down a place called "Pig Out" in Two Rivers and did as the name advised.Pulled pork and ribs with vinegar based, mustard based and tomato based sauces. Each sauce more delicious than the last. Beautiful mounds of Carolina "red" cold slaw served up by a 400 pound, 28 year old man in a gimmie cap who could only have been named Tiny. I like to think that if my folks had stayed in Wrightsville all those years ago that I would have a place of my own ,like the Pig Out, today. I'd look a lot like Tiny, but with grayer hair. There is a lot less stress in the food serving business if, like Tiny, you don't much give a damn how long it takes to serve each customer. It is a niche that I could enjoy.

Probably the highlight of the day was pulling into a drive in to get some ice tea ( I was sleeping at the wheel). We stayed for about half an hour listening to the people order over the loud speaker in the drive through.Every single one of them began their order the same way, "gimmie sum a'that------(you fill in).The funny thing was, it never got old. I'd still be there right now if we had not had to pick the kids up and haul off the catch of the day. It was worth the whole trip.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Carolina daze

Most beach vacations start to blur into incoherence about day three. Over exposure to the sun, even with adequate screening leaves the mind mushy and, for the most part incapable of any thought more sophisticated than trying to figure out what chair you left your towel on.This one is no exception, except for the fact that everyone I meet here sounds like they stepped out of an old "Shake and Bake" commercial.

Let's say that as a resort, the Sheraton version ranks a bit lowerr than the Four Seasons. On the upside, I'm better looking than most of the people out here which is a huge change from Southern California (see my delightful blog on being the fattest guy on Melrose). Also,while you have to wait in a long line to use the internet at the Four Seasons, you can stroll right up to this one and sit here all day if you like. Other than updating their "My Space" most of the folks here stir clear of anything that does not involve the beach or NASCAR or fireworks. Very street in this town has a huge fireworks store, some open 24 hourrs a day ! Mom, we are short on bottle rockets, pick some up when you make the beer run will you ? I like to wear my Aviara and Troon North resort shirts around the pool here so that people can think I'm slumming (or feel bad as to have far I have fallen vacation wise)Carlsbad has no fireworks stores..

I found a great pair of Nikes for $34 last night, and I don't have to tip the consigner $50 for making a reservation for me. When I asked about a place for some good Carolina BBQ, the desk sent me to a chain place next to a Dillards at a mall.Fortunatly I found my own place, about 45 minutes out of town called "Pig Out".

My biggest disappointment in the place is the pool here, which would be considered small for almost any hotel, much less a 'resort" with 20 buildings packed to the gills with the Taledaga mafia. Most resorts try to maintain quiet and decorum at the pool. At Aviara there is a sign which outlaws any pool games which involve "raising your voice." Just in case no one understands that, it goes on to specifically name "Marco Polo"as being prohibited. Here the pool comes with full blastings of 60s tunes. You could not hear yourself scream Marco Polo. I was driven indoors earlier by the loudest rendition of Davey Jones singing "Cheer up Sleepy Jean" that I have ever heard.Around the pool sit several hundred families, each with at least four kids. They splash around for awhile and then announce to everyone that they are "goin't the beach".You see them drag in about 8:30 defalting all of their floating plastic objects.

All the while, a group of blonde (men and women) twenty somethings are peddling more timeshares to the gullable. Having purchased two such packages in the past from these slick salesmen, my wife banned me from attending any of the sales pitches, even though it means I have to give up 3,000 free points which , in a pinch,could have been used at a Four Points Sheraton in Lubbock.It's like walking away from $60 dollars I told her. No, she replied, it's like finding that you still have $20,000 in your bank account.

One odd thing out here is that every restaraunt is called a "pancake house". There is "Hot Stacks Pancake House, Grand Strand Pancake House, Uncle John's Calabash Seafood and Pamncake House" and any of a number of variations. I sat next to a table of young South Carolinians at a pancake house yesterday morning. They were all thin and ugly with haircuts which seemed to place them in the Army, although none would have passed the mental exam to get in. My favorite one had one a black shirt which said "I may not be Mr Right, but I'll fuck you until he comes along." Man, who writes this stuff ? Who knew that the Carolinas could produce such poetry ?

At any rate, tomorrow is the deep sea fishing trip. That's where we charter a boat and make Stacey and Paul go deep sea fishing while my wife and I get four hours free of being their taxi service. If we are lucky, they will catch dinner as the money is running short and I dread another dinner of Cocoa Puffs. Thank God for Food Lion !

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Myrtle Beach

"The Atlantic Ocean was really something in those days. " Burt Lancaster, "Atlantic City"

The east coast beach experience is different than the west coast. My family spends most of its beach time (loosly defined since we seldom set foot on the beach itself) in Southern California.We also spend a little time in Maui and so our ocean of choice is the blue Pacific. A real ocean ! The biggest and deepest ocean in the world.

Through a series of events and miscalculations, too numerous and embarrasing to explain herein, we find ourselves vactioning this week in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.A different ocean, a different world.We are supposed to be in Maui, then again, I am supposed to weigh 180 pounds and be quite handsome. Things don't always work out as they are supposed to.

I don't want to appear too uppity about this whole beach experience. The beach of my childhood was the Gulf of Mexico, not even an ocean. In Texas the beach experience is to drive your car right up to the high tide mark, pull out your cooler and drink beer until you get in the mood to dive into water, which is about the same temperature as a hot bath at your home. You dodge jelly fish and the red tide until you lose track of where your car is and then you go crawl out of the gulf and start the half mile walk back to the part of the beach where you started. If you are particularly flush, you might eat lunch a a local fish shack before driving home, covered in sand.

There is no "beach experience"n Texas. There is only the beach.This Myrtle Beach is the damndest thing that I have ever seen. From viewing sites on the web, I thought that it was going to be a sleepy town with a lot of the kind of crap that you see in Anaheim or San Antonio. I was wrong. This place is Anaheim on speed. You have never in your life seen the amount of schlock that can be packed into a town. There must be 50 seafood buffets under roofs covering about 10,000 square feet, and with (according to their billboards) 120 items to savor. There are enormous dinner experiences like " Medieval Times" with its two hour tournament spectacular and the Dolly Parton Dixie Stampede, a civil war version of the Medieval Times ("Now featuring minature horses !"). There is something called a Carolina Opry, which according to the billboard is rated "Must See" by the Ft Worth Star-Telegram (now there's an endorsement).But to top it all off there are the 36 different putt-putt golf courses.

Now I know aht you are thinking. who gives a damn about putt-putt golf ? Well let me tell you, someboday does. These are not the pitt-putt courses of yur youth, with the frustrating embankments and the gentle Dutch windmills. These are putt-putts built by Steve Winn and costing almost as much as one of his casinos. I am talking giant volcanoes spitting lava, enormous king kong type apes roaring at you, pirate ships firing broad sides at each other.All of this as you wind your way up the mountains that they have built up to place the greens on. It is intimidating just to look at a two hundred foot fire breathing dragon, much less to try to putt a little orange golf ball into its mouth and hope that it drops in a hole on the other side. These damn things honestly have to be seen to be believed. What possible business model they could find to make these things profitable escapes me,unless they are charging greens fees of about the same weight as those at Augusta National.

All of this is presided over by what appear to be half a million southern folks on their best behavior. Lots of little toe headed and buzz cut 8 year olds getting into the car to make a trip to the NASCAR theme park. No one here appears to have daughters. Or maybe they leave them at home.Or maybe they won't leave the hotel room. Yesterday we went to some enormous fishing/hunting supply place where they hand you a shopping cart on the way in and advise you that "the ammo is on aisle six".And we bought stuff ! My daughter is walking around town with a $2.95 gimmie cap on her head ("when in Rome").

This will be continued tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Gorillas in our midst

Out of Africa this morning comes the wonderful news that the Wildlife Conservation Society has found 125,000 Gorillas in the Republic of Congo. Left unreported was how 125,000 Gorillas had escaped our notice for all these years. That is almost exactly like discovering Waco, Texas one day and saying that the U.S. has found 125,000 new citizens, all of which weigh between 315-450 pounds, sleep on the ground and walk around dragging their knuckles. To be fair, there were probably no Burger Kings or “Visit the DR. Pepper Museum” signs on the outskirts of the new Gorilla enclave.


So we primates have 125,000 new beings to add to our order. I guess that means that it will take a few more years to kill off the gorilla. I had thought that I might live to see their extinction, but it appears that they will survive me. All who know me will realize how happy this makes me. I am quite fond of the Primate order, believing us to be the most interesting of all orders in the animal kingdom. Gorillas share about 98% of our DNA and can be taught sign language so as to communicate with us. Why they would want to is anybody’s guess. Once they learn sign language their first question must be, “Why do you keep shooting us ?”.

Friday, August 01, 2008

I'm just saying I understand

Chris Rock used to do a bit about O.J. Simpson murdering his ex-wife which ended, “I’m not saying that I agree with it, I’m just saying that I understand.” I thought about this when I read about the beheading of a passenger by his seatmate on a Greyhound Bus the other day .  The decapitation, performed with a butcher knife, happened while the victim was leaning against a window sleeping. I have a feeling that we may find out that the victim was snoring rather loudly and this, combined with the extreme stress any of us feel by riding a Greyhound bus makes the crime explainable (I’m not saying I agree with it….).


I have sat next to a number of people on buses, planes and trains that might not have deserved decapitation, but they deserved a lot more than a slap on the wrist. Buses are the worst, whether cross country or cross town, a crowded bus is included in Dante’s circles of hell (sixth circle I believe).There the sinner is required to ride forever standing in the aisle, all the seats taken, pinned in between two fat guys (both with bad breath) in Houston, Texas at 5:30 p.m. rush hour, in August, with the bus air conditioning  broken. If you don’t believe that is hell, then you ain’t been where I’ve been. Which is in that exact spot, more than once. I am very lucky that as a young man I did not carry butcher knives, or any other cutlery onto  the bus, or I might have succumbed to temptation. There is only so much a person can take.


 You start to “understand” in the words of Chris Rock when you are in the middle seat on an airplane, again with no a.c., sitting on a tarmac in Cincinnati, Ohio for more than two hours. Something that I once had the pleasure doing. Seated across the aisle were two short fat individuals who had brought tubs and ice chests on board. They were carrying the food for a big hunting trip they were going on, down in Louisiana. For two hours these guys held the plane hostage with loud sexual and racial humor, even going so far as to propose a “Jump up and fart” contest. It got so bad that the airline captain came back to try to calm them down, with no success at all. In fact , the one funny thing that they did say  was when the pilot (a dashing handsome man with a mustache ) walked back to see them. “Well, there he is, Captain Tom Selleck”, comparing him to a popular T.V. detective from those days. I laughed out loud at that. The pilot had everything but an ascot flying in the breeze and deserved the comment. But, despite that, I would have still been with the rest of the passengers in voting to throw them off the plane, after we got to 35,000 feet. I’m just saying that I understand…


Many of the more hellish travel moments are caused by the morally innocent. Babies screaming in your ear on an airplane is an example. The shrill sound of a baby crying (because its ear drums  are being pressurized at that altitude) is one of the more gut wrenching of all travel problems. You are not only helpless to complain (if you have any sympathy at all) but you are compelled to ask if there is anything that you can do to help, such as lance the little beggar’s ear drums with your ballpoint, or muffle him with duct tape, or try to stuff him in the overhead compartment, the one bulging with baggage. If you have been the parent of a miscreant in that situation, you just have to feel that it is your turn to suffer after all your own  child imposed on others. Karma, I think they call it.


My buddy Gary Marfin and I took a bus down to Brownsville one night to conduct an interview for a paper we were writing. A very old man sat behind us and fell into a deep sleep, punctuated by gasping and emphysemic sounds after every exhale. It made it impossible to sleep. Then after one VERY deep breath, the sound stopped. We waited for the exhale, answer came there none, and Gary and I stared at each other in wild surmise. The bus had killed the poor fellow. But at least the sound had stopped. This allowed us to drift off until the border guards stopped our bus and searched for illegals.Suddenly, the recently deceased was resurrected, at least enough to show a drivers license to the Federales of South Texas. As an aside, this was the same group of uniformed thugs who took me off the bus for questioning and a lecture after I had replied “Nuevo York” to the question of where my home town was. I was eventually let back on the bus after a stiff warning and treated to the harmonious sounds of a snoring,  punctured accordion for the rest of the trip. At least we had not had to report that the old man had died. I can say that if you had been there, you’d have understood…


As a child  I sat on a train in Wichita Falls staring at the bank temperature sign telling me that it was 110 degrees. The hottest I had ever seen it in my 10 years on the earth. A large teenager sitting next to me sweat through his shirt and in his stupor leaned over against me, snorting in my ear and dampening my arm. This kind of thing is horrifying to a child. I actually imagine that it was this type of issue which caused the recent beheading. That, or possibly the irritation of being seated next to some kind of Renaissance Fair guy (the deceased was reported as returning from a “fair” in Alberta). Those people have a tough time breaking out of character and it might have sent our murderer over the top (he is charged with only second degree murder, my guess is that when all the facts come out, it will be dropped to manslaughter).That is because while the law never condones this type of violence, in some cases, it sort of understands.