Thursday, May 28, 2009

Compulsive Hoarding

I went out to throw something away last night and noticed a pile of books and envelopes sitting around the recycling bin. I poked through them to see if Rayda was throwing anything of true value away. We have been trying to rid ourselves of hundreds of books which will not be read again by us. If they might be read again by someone we donate them to the Library resale shop. If we think that no one would read them, we throw them away. This is something that should have been done many years ago and something most people do all the time, not waiting for the spare rooms to bulge with irrelevant reading material.


But in the stack of paperbacks and hard covers I found something I had not seen in awhile, a silkscreen portrait of myself which was done in 1973.There I was, a 20 year old staring out at myself, each of us wondering just what happened to that guy. I could not imagine parting with the picture, even though I had managed to live over a decade, and maybe much longer than that, without seeing (admiring) it  and was pretty sure that I could have lived the last years of my life without ever thinking about it again.


I am nostalgic by nature and a hoarder by compulsion. I have hundreds of 50 year old baseball cards in my house, despite the fact that they have almost no value and that I never look at them. I have the remnants of the stuffed animal I slept with when I was one year old. When I say remnants, I mean remnants, something that could only be identified by dental records, if they kept such things for stuffed lambs back in the 1950s. If I am not very careful I could end up one of those old guys who dies amid so many piles of newspapers that no one notices I’m gone for several weeks. Rayda and I once helped clean out a house like that (her widowed aunts) it makes a big impression on you. But that kind of hoarding is linked to dementia, my kind is simply a personality disorder, possibly a mild ocd. As long as I am married it will not get too far out of hand. I took a Compulsive Hoarding test on line and it indicated no more than a borderline problem (just a little crazy).


Putting personality disorders aside, was it wrong of me to rescue the silk screen ? My wife’s defense was shaky. First she said, “I did not know that was down there”, then she said, “you know you have two of them, why do you need that one ?” Well, I did not know that I had two of them, but what difference does that make ? I have two kidneys too and would object to one being dumped in the recycling. This was obviously an object she wanted out of the house, possibly because it looks just like I did when we got married, a tragic misstep in any woman’s life (and a lifesaver in any man’s). But how could I throw away all that hair and that dashing beard ? the cool 1970s glasses and the (probably) polyester shirt ?It looks like a cover of a record album of that era. I look ready, by God, to party like a rock star, or at the very least deliver a cogent philosophical paper at a colloquium on qualitative utilitarianism.


So I took the young me to work. I still have plenty of room down here and it will be good for a few days of “Is that you ?” before I put it aside and forget it completely for the next dozen years or so. In the mean time Rayda and I will  continue to throw out books and papers. I found it quite easy to throw out her college psychology texts. I do think that I should keep my old Astronomy texts, I doubt that anything has changed in that field in the last 35 years. You never know when you might want to see a fuzzy black and white picture of the crab nebulae, in a book that is, not some lousy “on line” color  version taken from the Hubble telescope.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

FW: Visions from Porter ancestral graveyard in Blum TX



From: Rayda porter []
Sent: Saturday, May 23, 2009 8:53 PM
To: Wade Porter; Clay Porter; Paul D. Frazier
Subject: Visions from Porter ancestral graveyard in Blum

Trying to Find Henry Hamilton in a Haystack

On Saturday at 10:30 a.m. I decided that I would drive to Hill County, Texas to find the cemetery which is said to contain the unmarked grave of my Great Great Great Grandfather, Henry Hamilton Porter, 1788-1850. Henry was born in Tennessee, moved to Alabama and then, after the Texas Revolution was safely won, took most of his family to the Republic of Texas. I may have mentioned before that I have no famous ancestors, nor do I believe that I have too many brave ones. The reason more people don’t have brave ancestors is that those type of ancestors tended to get killed in wars at a young age. This has the effect of  cutting off that particular part of the  family line. Most of us have ancestors who preferred to  hide out until the shooting was over. That’s the whole reason we are here to research them and we ought to properly thank them for their discretion (which, of course is the better part of valor, or at least that portion which keeps you alive.).


No one will ever know for sure why Henry and the rest moved to Texas or went to Hill County in what is now the area of Blum (pop. 399, 2000 census). There were Porters in that county already and several things named after the family so my guess is that they went there to freeload for awhile off of distant cousins when things got sticky in Alabama. The great thing about going to the Republic of Texas is that no American civil court could serve process on you and you could conveniently forget your debts, and most of your crimes. Not that I have any evidence that H.H.Porter was a reprobate or a deadbeat. I do, however, have my suspicions.


The cemetery I was looking for is called the Dodson Cemetery but, according to local lore, was once known as the Porter Graveyard, which has a nice ring to it, as long as the bell is not presently ringing for thee. I found a listing of people buried there and old Henry Hamilton was there, although his grave was listed as unmarked. Several of his kids, the brothers and sisters of my Great Great Grandfather, who moved on to Palo Pinto county after the building of a line of protective forts (no fool he) in that area, are buried there and actually are said to have headstones. I thought that it would be worth a three hour drive and a tramp through woods and underbrush to see the gravestone of a Great Great Uncle. My wife and daughter did not agree with me, and I set off by myself.


I had directions, of sorts, or as one of my colleagues here called it, “a treasure map” and it was actually remarkably easy to find the spot I was looking for, despite the tiny shale covered and dusty roads that I had to drive down in order to reach it. I will say that Toyota Avalon’s are not really engineered for four wheeling but, for the most part, I held my own. Only once was I in actual physical danger when I crested a hill and noticed that rather than a continuation of the road, the locals had decided instead to go with a sheer drop off.


Once I found the spot though, I could not find the cemetery. I had been forewarned that it was unmarked. I had not known that it was either invisible or perfectly camouflaged. The thickness of the trees and the green spring brush made it almost impossible to see past or over the side of the road. I hunted for an hour or so and finally decided just to take in the scenery . The scenery was worth the trip. The cactus were in full bloom, the beautiful yellow cactus rose growing off of the prickly pear. From a ridge I could see the Nolan River flow into the Brazos as it continued its long slow trek down to Freeport and the Gulf of Mexico. I don’t know why those folks came here, but I know why they stayed. Crops were covering the fields. The corn was already chest high on a man of six foot three. The hay had been cut and lay in great rolls over the green, but now clipped, fields. The angus cattle looked so fat that you wondered how that could even get themselves down to the Nolan for a drink. Honey bees buzzed and circled everywhere. For maybe a minute and a half I envied the sturdy yeoman who still tills the fields. But then I noticed that it was kind of humid because of an early morning rain and I recalled how pleasant it is to work in the air conditioning.


The rain had followed me, on and off, all day. I tried my best to catch up with it when I could. I love the fact that you smell rain before you see it and  hear it before you feel it. I had not smelled rain like this in a long time and for a couple of miles it came down in sheets, beating hard against the roof of my car, but not so hard as to impair visibility. Nothing feels as fresh as rain in the country. After the rain stopped I turned onto a little farm to market road and a Chaparral came beeping by. I don’t know why the roadrunner never evolved to the point of flight. Then I saw a rusting sign of another flightless bird. On a fence was an old picture of an Emu. Even here, the scam artists had convinced Texans that the Emu was the next great food craze, and it is good stuff. But the Emu went the way of the Chinchilla ranch and the open fields of Texas are full of Emus which were turned out when it became apparent to ranchers that the smart money was still on beef.


I wish that I had found Henry, but I still found plenty to enjoy. When the winter comes and thins the brush I will return to Hill County and take another look. I bet that I find the cemetery. But something tells me that a desolate graveyard in mid-winter is not going to compare with the cactus in bloom, no matter who is buried there.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Boston Baked Beans

I was at the  Dry Cleaners this morning(don’t worry, I’m not writing about that again) and I saw one of those machines that generally dispense gumballs. They used to be a gumball for a penny, Now they are two for twenty five cents. This machine was not filled with gumballs, but rather a brown candy coated peanut called “Boston Baked Beans”.


I can’t eat these Boston Baked beans anymore. I have not been able to for over thirty years. When I was in college, I worked for the College Bookstore. I made about $100 a month which, after $42.50 a month rent, on top of electricity, phone gas and marijuana did not leave a lot for food. At this bookstore was a Boston Baked Bean machine. You’d get six or eight little “beans” for a penny, and I kind of liked them. One night I turned the handle to dispense my beans and just sort of kept turning after the beans came down. My extra turning somehow kept the slot on the inside of the machine, the one  which lets the beans out, stay wide open. The beans rushed out like nickels in a slot machine jackpot, quickly overrunning my hand, dozens of them bouncing crazily off of the floor.


The key to this discovery was that it took place at night. After five, all the adults who worked for the store went home and left a 25 years old assistant manager named Roy in charge of a group of college undergraduates. Little real work was ever accomplished at that store after five or on Saturdays. The discovery of the defective bean machine was one of the bigger things that ever happened. We knew that since the Bookstore got a cut of the bean pennies, discovery of it by an authority figure would mean that the machine company would come and fix it. So those of us who knew about it kept quiet.


Even when beans are free, it is amazing how slowly a bean machine will empty. Most people don’t like this particular candy. I did. By the end of a month, when I was out of money and had run out of Ritz crackers at home, I began to use the beans as a staple. Peanuts have a lot of protein so I could have done a lot worse. I would get a big book bag at the end of my shift and plop a penny into the machine, emptying a meal size portion of beans into the bag which I would take home and eat in front of the T.V. set. A few of my friends would empty the machine before a week end dope party. It was a useful item to know about.


The best part of the Bean Machine was when the vending company who stocked it and collected the money came around . The same guy came in every Wednesday and emptied all the machines of their cash and restocked the candy. Each Wednesday, several of us would hide behind one of the tall book shelves and peek over to watch the vendor dude makes his rounds. He’d start out at the gumballs and work his way down. At each machine he would pull out a respectable amount of money and put a few more gum or candy items in the machine to top it off. Then he got to the bean machine. He’d empty out two to three pennies at most out  and then take out a bag of Boston Baked Beans and refill the entire jar. He never blinked, never  complained, never gave it a second thought and what was most important, never fixed that machine. I used to wonder what kind of inventory system this company had ,where each week an entire machine would be refilled in exchange for a couple of pennies. I could understand the guy not reporting it. The odds of him caring were about it were  same as the of the odds of him actually thinking about it, that is to say zero. A gumball stocker is not paid for his wisdom.


For two years I ate a lot of those beans. I got so sick of them that I just stopped eating them. As far as I know the machine could still be broken and still feeding undergraduates. Even today I can’t eat the things, but I am always thankful that this candy coated manna was provided for me for so long. I often do wonder what happened to the guy who used to stock the machine. He probably works in the U.S. Treasury Department today designing bailout plans or , perhaps is even a United States Congressman. None of those guys are paid for their wisdom either.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Review of " I Need a Man"

Austin singer/songwriter and popular blogger Jannie Funster has released her new C.D. entitled “ I Need a Man”. The title of the collection in part refers to her song “I Need Man ( with a chainsaw ) and, in part is a comment on what some would see as the post feminist nature of her work. The term post feminism is an ambiguous one and can even be considered pejorative. Here I define post feminism as artistic comment on the role of women following the success of the feminist movement. In my opinion, post feminist writers (again, as defined here) are able to focus on what some would consider more traditional female issues, not despite of, but because of the gender revolution of the 1970s and 1980s.


Funster has been described by one record producer as getting close to the line between clever songs and novelty songs, without passing over. This was meant as a compliment. Think Randy Newman, although I am not comparing Funster to him (no one could be so compared). Some of her work elicits laughter, but it is more a laughter of understanding and empathy than one of pure comedy. The title song, “I Need a Man” describes the sexual and emotional needs of an independent rural woman who has the realization that most of us have, that while we can get by on our own, life is certainly more complete with a significant other and that  indeed there is often a  genuine and painful need for that other. One who ,in Funster’s words,  will “trim my hedges” and “milk my favorite cow”. Funster then turns the everywoman “need” onto its head by celebrating the woman’s role in pure sexuality in “Sugar Lady” changing from “I need a man” to “ men need me”. Finally, in the well crafted tune, “Motorcycle Cop” Funster uses the vibrations of early to mid 60s female pop records, such as “Leader of the Pack”, to portray the emotions of the shy girl who has fallen in love with a motorcycle cop she passes daily on her way to work, wondering if she should commit a crime to get his attention. The short role of the cop is played by Funster’s husband. The insecure girl in Motorcycle cop could very easily be the insecure bride in Wedgie Wedding where the protagonist frets that on the biggest day of her life, the presence of an underwear wedgie, the most minor of irritants, may destroy the occasion.


There are other strong efforts in the album, my favorite being a look at spirituality in “Bob’s Coffee Shop”. In this song, the protagonist prays to God ,not only in Thanksgiving, but in genuine sympathy for the Almighty. Concerned that God is tired and lonely (at the top) she suggests that they get together for cheesecake at Bob’s Coffee Shop. The cheesecake and coffee acting as a metaphor for the Eucharist with the singer alluding to John 4:14.


In three strongly biographical, but still universal songs, the singer looks at the slight melancholy of the ageing process in “Kissing 39 Goodbye” and the frustrations faced in life while seeking to find your proper place (“What’ll I do with Me”) . Finally she looks with perhaps some bemusement and a little regret at where she has been in trying to get to that proper place (“Hurricane Jane”). In the final cut, written and  sung by her young daughter, Funster foreshadows the passing of the torch as it were, to the next generation of women.


Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the penultimate cut and the most beautiful piece on the album, the wonderful  musical work “Mystery Song”. One of the most interesting songs, and the one with the most commercial appeal, is “Bones”. I predict that someday you will be watching a mystery on television and suddenly hear  “Bones “as a terrified actor walks through a scary house. It will play right before the discovery of a dead body (or perhaps half a dozen). While among the most interesting, my one quibble with the album is that I don’t feel that “Bones “fits the motif" of the overall work, but then again, reviewers are often wrong about motifs.


All in all, this is a wonderful effort which can be purchased at Waterloo Records here in Austin, or on line at the singer’s website at”. I could not recommend it more highly.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Walking Humbly

What doth the Lord require of thee ?

To seek justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God. Micah 6.8


 Micah thought that God required three things of us. Most of us can agree that the first two probably sum up just about everything we consider to be worthwhile. Most of us think that it sums up the life worth living, the life which everyone should strive for. But then Micah adds a third requirement, or at least passes on what God told him was a third requirement. Walk humbly.


If you look on the internet you will find about 5,000 theologians giving us the benefit  of what they think “walking humbly” means. One fellow says that if you are already seeking justice and loving mercy ,then you are walking humbly as a result. So Micah’s last requirement would seem redundant. I don’t believe that, but then I have no doctorate of divinity. I don’t claim to  know  for sure what walking humbly (especially with God) is. I have some idea what Jesus thought it meant. Jesus was big on humble, although when it came down to passing out kudos in the Sermon on the Mount, he chose to give the big prize not to humbleness, but to the meek. Saying that they would inherit the earth. This lead to the ancient joke, probably started by one of the Apostles. that it is O.K. for the meek to inherit the earth, but it still leaves the question of whether they will remain meek after they inherit.


Jesus himself did not walk humbly, although perhaps he did ”with God”. With his fellow man, especially the dense and evil or the ones he had legitimate disagreements with , he could be quite caustic. He never gently told a Pharisee that the Pharisee “might be mistaken”. He was very direct, he used descriptions of those who displeased him that were hurtful, even if accurate. Whatever they were, they were not humble, nor meek for that matter.


I think that the consumer and wealth driven society we live in places the humble in an awkward position. To maintain humbleness in western society, you have to have a different definition of the successful life than most people do. All of us actually pay lip service to the different definition, but very few follow it. Most of us follow the prescription  of Glen Campbell “There’s been a load of compromising, on the road to my horizon, but I want to be where the lights are shining on me.” It is the “lights shining on me” that we all strive for when all we really should be quietly struggling toward is the light itself. I suppose that that is one  simple definition of humbleness.


I grew up in the last generation in the south where boys were raised to emulate Robert E. Lee, or at least the character Robert E. Lee was thought to have had. That character was humble. You always did your duty in a way which did not (at least intentionally) lead to direct credit or praise. You always put others before you, you opened the door for women, you called every man, no matter what his station in life “sir”. You did not speak until you were spoken to. You talked in a quiet, somewhat self-effacing, manner. The end of World War II and the advent of air conditioning changed the South forever. Folks from the North moved in by the bus loads, most of these folks were less humble than the natives. In their defense, most of them did not believe that African Americans should be degraded and segregated and helped to do something about it. Despite their humbleness, the original southerners were, for the most part not only not helpful in that regard, but were downright hurtful to the effort. So I am not claiming any moral superiority.


What I am claiming is that life here was gentler and sweeter in some ways (again, if you happened to be white). I miss the gentle people of my youth. At my first legal job, I once pulled back and let a female colleague from the North enter an elevator before me (as all of us were taught to do) and she looked shocked. Then said, “Oh yeah, I’m in Texas”. Well, even in Texas, that habit is fading fast. Humbleness is on life support here, and everywhere else. It is a bad thing. Unlike the minister I mentioned above, I don’t believe that Justice and Mercy promote humbleness. I think that it is just the opposite. It is humbleness that promotes the other two. Micah had the order wrong, but he was correct about the mix.



Tuesday, May 12, 2009

At the Dry Cleaners

I was greeted by name at the Dry Cleaners this morning, as I always am at this Dry Cleaners. My last two Dry cleaners, both of which I went to for years, and saw the same folks year in year out, always had a different greeting “name please ?” they would ask sourly. One does not have too much animosity toward bad attitudes when the person behind the attitude is forced to work at a Dry Cleaner for eight hours a day.


I don’t like going to the Dry Cleaners. They are usually hot and you often have to wait in line behind a complainer. I have had run ins myself with Dry Cleaners over the years. One Dry Cleaner lost a pair of suit pants of mine. They would never return my calls so I eventually drove over to their headquarters and had one of my little “Airport moments” usually reserved for those who work with airlines. My fit impressed no one and I had to file the first and only lawsuit I have  ever filed on my own behalf in my life. I sued a Dry cleaner in small claims court. After they were served with the suit, they paid me for the suit.


I am well known at my Dry cleaners because I am one of only two of their customers who get shirts folded instead of returned on hangers. If I made a list of the ten most irritating things in my life, wire coat hangers would be on that list. I have hated them since childhood, I seem to recall being spanked with one once, but I may be wrong. My mother usually grabbed whatever was handy. Nothing looks worse than a closet full of wire coat hangers, and nothing is harder to get rid of. I guess I also like the shirts folded because that is the way my dad got them when I was young. I used the cardboard backings to draw on and have a lot of pleasant memories about that. In those days, all wire hangers came with a piece of removable cardboard on the base of the triangle. These were used by my brother and I in mock sword fights. So in those days, the Dry cleaners could provide a lot of amusement. Nostalgia aside, I just like folded shirts. At other Cleaners this has made me a hated figure, I have been sneered at for asking for folded shirts, despite the fact that they make more money off of folding.


The big deal at the cleaners today was my daughter’s dress. They had to charge extra for pleats. Twenty five cents a pleat ,with a ceiling of ten dollars per item. I got hit with a  four buck pleat charge (twenty pleats) and they were very apologetic about it, so I guess someone must complain about a pleat charge. I know so little about it that it never crossed my mind to be upset. I would not iron a pleat for a quarter. I don’t begrudge paying a quarter to whoever does it. I’ll just add the four bucks to my daughter’s rent for the summer.


I must say, that when you start blogging about your morning at the Dry Cleaner’s, you have probably come close to scraping the bottom of the blogging  barrel. I doubt that I will look back with a great deal of fondness over my pleat story in the years to come. But most of life is a trip to the Dry cleaners, filled with both the mundane and the irritating, spiced only occasionally by a memorable story. It may be that writing about the dry cleaner means that I am getting close to running out of stories. I’ll get back to you as soon as I think of something interesting. Starch ?







Friday, May 08, 2009

Manny to Miss 50 Games, But Have Quintuplets

Manny Ramirez, star outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers had his sudden weight gain and morning nausea explained today at a news conference. For some period of time, the All Star has been taking a female fertility drug in  an attempt to induce pregnancy . “I’m 36 years old and my biological clock is ticking.” said a distraught Ramirez, “ I did what I felt that I had to do in order to experience the joys of motherhood, having quints is going to be the greatest thing that ever happened to me.”


Ramirez admitted to being “caught by surprise” when he learned that the fertility drug he took is a banned substance under the rules of Organized Ball  blaming his gynecologist for not cross checking the prescription with baseball’s rules. Ramirez gynecologist, who works out of a panel truck in East L.A., was not immediately available for comment. Ramirez was emphatic that if he had known that the substance was banned he would have gone “in vitro in a minute.” “What kind of a business makes it illegal for an employee to get pregnant ?  They say that I cannot  have five children, play the outfield and hit forty homeruns. This is like the dark ages !” Manny sobbed, comforted by the future Godfather of his quints, Tommy Lasorda.  Lasorda, cradling the crying Manny in his arms, called the fifty day suspension given to Ramirez the “height of hypocrisy and a black eye for the sport.””We are going back to the old days in baseball where you had to have your baby in secret, maybe get sent down to the minors for a few months and do it quietly. Ever seen any old newsreels of Babe Ruth  ? Notice how fat he was ? He had four kids during his career and still was the greatest player of all time. The newspapers knew about it, but considered it too personal to  report to the public. Those days are gone “


Dodger management was less sympathetic, although clearly embarrassed by their own failures. Before Manny had signed a $26 million contract in March, he was required to take a complete physical. For reasons now yet known, the simple pregnancy test, usually given to Major Leaguers, was omitted by the team doctor. Only the random drug test for banned substances administered by the league kept Manny from keeping the pregnancy secret for awhile longer, although several of the Dodgers were said to be aware of the situation. Dodger second baseman Orlando Hudson is reported to have accompanied Manny to his first ultrasound where it was revealed that Manny would be the mother of five. Manager Joe Torre is reported to have become enraged earlier when he found out that the entire Dodger bullpen staff had thrown Manny a surprise shower on a road trip to Cincinnati.


Ramirez is going to use his fifty day suspension to prepare for motherhood and, according to him “do some nesting.”. He says that following the birth he will invoke the maternity leave clause which the union has now made standard in each player’s contract. This will keep him from returning to the Dodgers this season. He is currently negotiating for a reality show in which he and the quints will be followed around next season. The show is expected to show the viewing public how tough it is to care for five infants in a clubhouse environment, as well as provide warm hearted humor so associated with child rearing. The new show, “Bases Loaded”, will premiere in February next year as a mid season replacement on CBS, just in time for Spring Training.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Remembering The Last Crash

A local high tech company sold today for about $300 million. That sounds like a lot, but back in the go-go days of the 1990s the company, Vignette claimed to have a worth of $15 billion. That was before the famous bubble burst sending everyone’s 401 k spiraling back to earth. I had built mine back up to levels when the ‘derivative” crash hit last year, sending my stock investments down to 2001 levels. Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in just eight years. Easy come, easy go. The American economy has this was of tricking  the average investor into thinking that he knows something and then hitting him over the head (repeatedly) with the plain  fact that the dumbest people are not those who know nothing, but rather those who think they know something and really know nothing. Guys like me should put what little savings they have into a mattress and hope it’s still there when they are kicked out into the streets.


The epicenter of the days was Austin, Texas. Let me tell you, there was never a more despicable group than the millionaires. It turned out, of course, that all of them were charlatans of the highest degree who had somehow flimflammed investors into believing that revenues were the same as profits. We all temporarily forgot the old adage that you could “gross your way” right into bankruptcy. It is the “net” that is important, and a net is what was needed for those who believed otherwise.


Most of the guys were geeky, skinny, bearded pseudo-intellectuals. They came in two varieties, those who knew a lot about science, but nothing about business and those who knew a lot about the old “okie-doke”and nothing about science. When they worked together, they were an incomparable team. A lot of them managed to sell out and avoid the really big losses themselves. These guys were the most arrogant, greedy, self-congratulatory, self-absorbed, hypocritical, stingy, habitual liars that ever temporarily seized control of the American economy (until the derivative gurus came along). They strutted around the streets of Austin, building their show palaces and their private rock climbing walls. They discovered

 expensive wine and private jets and acted like they had discovered capitalism, instead of actually perverting it. They also managed to turn everyday business dress into something that would have been inappropriate to wear to a Goodwill store. They wanted all business conducted at “internet speed” which was another way of saying slipshod and sloppy. This nonchalance with  legal formalities left things even harder to unwind once they had all screwed the collective pooch. I am POSITIVE that they will have their own circle of hell when the time comes for their departure from this veil of tears, which , frankly cannot come too soon for them as far as I’m concerned.


I see also today that one of the guys ( a game inventor) is suing a company for $27 million for saying that he quit and was not fired. Apparently, he had to exercise his stock options immediately which meant, like the rest of us, he lost his shirt in the current market. He did this while flying around in a Russian spaceship, something that he claims he spent “most of his fortune on”. Well, too bad. I have no doubt that he was screwed around. But my guess is that he has enough money left to last several lifetimes and maybe even fly to Mars if he lives long enough. You won’t see him eating at the Salvation Army anytime soon. Well, at least he’s keeping some lawyers busy. Hope he gets what’s coming to him.


If all of this diatribe leaves you with the general impression that I live a jealous and often bitter life, well you would be right. There is no excuse for it, but deep within me rages the heart of a petty and ultrasensitive man. I am the first to think that I deserve everything that everyone else is getting and more. My belief is that it is all luck and timing which sets me apart from the elite. I am the embodiment of what Twain meant when he said that  every parallel of latitude thinks that it would have been the equator it if had just gotten what was rightfully coming to him. Although I would have settled for the Prime Meridian, I have never been greedy.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Soaring Rhetoric

“Let me be blunt-Pakistan’s pants are on fire.” Congressman Gary Ackerman (D) New York.


I heard the above quote on the way to work today. My first thought was that Congressman Ackerman had caught the entire population (or government) of Pakistan in a big lie, “liar, liar….” and this was his cute way of reporting it. But no, turns out he was just sounding an alarm against the Taliban. While not as eloquent, or as understandable as Paul Revere’s concise, “The British are coming”, I suppose that most people will eventually figure out what the congressman means.


Is this what rhetoric is coming to in the land of the free ? Silly allusions to childish playground taunts. No wonder we are no longer respected around the globe. Can you imagine what the  Pakistanis thought about this statement after it was translated ? “Our pants are on fire ?” That is helpful support to a troubled ally. Remember when Churchill rushed over to Washington after the bombing of Pearl Harbor to show solidarity by speaking to Congress ? “What kind of a people do they think we are ? “ he thundered. He did not look that joint session of the House and Senate in their collective eyes and announce in that great Churchillian rumble, “Gentlemen….your pants are on fire.” Remember the great letter from the Alamo, authored by the sainted Colonel William B. Travis in which he wrote to “The people of Texas and all Americans in the world” ? “I am besieged” he began “by a thousand or more Mexicans under Santa Anna. I have sustained a continual bombardment and cannonade for twenty four hours and have not lost a man.”Would 20% of all public schools in Texas be named “Travis” today if he had beseeched, “Ladies and Gentlemen, our pants are on fire.”? What if Lincoln had said that at Gettysburg ? King, at the Selma Bridge ? Words make a difference.


When e-mail was introduced, there was some thought that the elegant art of letter writing would come back, in an electronic form. But in stepped text messaging with its BFF and LOL and all of the other abbreviations I do not understand. Then along came this Twitter thing which resembles nothing so much as people sending Morse code out into space hoping someone will pick it up, although nothing said is worth being picked up. I hope Ackerman tweeted his statement yesterday. The world puts a premium on brevity, primarily because most of us are much more interested in what we have to say than in hearing from others.  Then when we do say something, we are too lazy to say it in any other than the shortest possible way. For all I know, Ackerman’s statement is even now being broadcast around the world as,” Pakistan  P.O.F.” Well, I say Ackerman, P.O.S.


Perhaps I am wrong, perhaps I am out of step. Perhaps the next time I see Ackerman’s statement it will be In Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations under Ackeman,Gary, along with all of his other pithy statements. I hope  not, brevity for its own sake is as great a sin as loquaciousness ever is. Of course Ackerman’s statement is not just brief, it is stupid. The only possible conclusion you can draw from such a statement is that Ackerman is a stupid, stupid man. In this political system of ours, he will probably go far.


Monday, May 04, 2009

A Mile in My Shoes

Like Prufrock, I turned to descend the stair this morning and saw at the bottom of the banister a pair of my shoes. My shoes are a frequent site at the bottom of that banister, one pair or another. They were left there by the wife who was too irritated to carry them upstairs, but not irritated enough to scream out that I had “left my shoes downstairs”. No question haunts the sacred bonds between men and women as the mystery of why men leave their shoes where they remove them and do not store them properly. Despite years and years of negative reinforcement, starting in childhood, I have this burden to carry.


My father, God bless him, used to throw my shoe the length of the hall where they would bounce off of my bedroom door, disturbing my meditation over the latest issue of the Fantastic Four. Yet, at night I would wander into the living room and find his black wingtips placed between the sofa and the coffee table. Let he who is without sin cast the first shoe.


I think that the problem is the shoe itself. The human was not born wearing shoes, sometime along the evolutionary trail, someone got the idea that if you placed something on the soles of your feet, walking and running would not hurt as much. It also gave protection from serpents lying in wait. It was an all around good idea, except for one thing. When you got home, the first thing that you wanted to do was take them off.


I thought about it this morning. I have spent the majority of my life with my shoes off, I bet you have too. It is the natural state, of course, so is nakedness, but most of my life has been spent clothed. But back to shoes. Apparently, men are so anxious to cast off shoes that it is done unconsciously. A reflex action. This temporarily induced state of amnesia keeps us from moving the shoes when we go off to do something important. Like sleep. Hence the problem. The best way, and perhaps the only way to solve this problem is to get rid of shoes all together. We have the means as a society to get along without shoes. Some will claim that they are needed for warmth, but that is not the case. Thick socks would work just as well, and no one minds keeping their socks on when they get home.


I have been thinking about  the Flintstones. While cave dwellers, they were in every sense, “a modern stone age famileeee”. They never wore shoes and yet  they drove cars which locomoted only “through the courtesy of Fred’s two feet”. Despite this, their lives were one big “Yabadabadoo time”. How did Fred and Wilma stay together  despite all the idiotic things that Fred did week after week ? It was because the straw never broke the camel’s back. Wilma never had to fret over Fred leaving his shoes in front of the television set.


And yet, we must admit, that the chances of a shoeless society are slim, at least until that distant day when we all have big bald heads and walk around in futuristic garb. Until that day, as come it may, as come it will for a’ that, we must face up to the reality of the shoe issue and muddle through as best we can. With tolerance as our watchword, or at least that of our wives, we all must bear up under this curse of Eve . The one which started when she made Adam eat from the tree of knowledge and they  discovered that they were naked. They immediately sewed together fig leaves and put on topsiders. I personally  believe what that we are dealing with is  the unrecorded punishment in Genesis. Since Eve was responsible for the shoes, Eve and her descendents would be forced to pick up the shoes forever. It may seem unfair, but the more I think about it, the more I believe that I am unwilling to challenge the will of the Almighty.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Why They Run the Race

The only thing better than seeing a 50 to 1 shot win the Kentucky Derby would be having a bet on that 50 to 1 shot. I sat stunned yesterday watching Mine the Bird take the rail and blow everyone away to win by a mile (or at least 6 and ½ lengths). The only one more shocked than me was the NBC announcer who almost forgot to mention the gelding’s name as it roared down the stretch. It should go without saying that I had not bet on the horse.


No event on sports is more exciting than a thoroughbred race, especially a Triple Crown Race, especially a Kentucky Derby. If I was not so old I know that I would find my way out to Churchill Downs some time for Derby Day, but at 56, I think the race has passed me by. It is too crowded and too expensive, so this is one event I will have to miss. Besides, they probably won’t have another 50 to 1 winner in my lifetime.


I was watching the trainer of Mine the Bird who had just driven a pickup in from Arizona to watch the race. He was walking on crutches as he had managed to shatter his foot in a motorcycle accident. To his credit, he came to see his horse and walked out with him to the field.. They asked him on television how the horse would do. I thought that  was kind of a cruel question, but he said something like “competing” was what was important, then he limped away on his crutches and I assumed that I would never see him again.


But I was wrong. This is why they actually run the race, why they play  any game. Sometimes the impossible seems to happen. If it did not, no one would ever attend a sporting event. What would be the point ? Those are the events you remember, Clay over Liston, the Jets over the Colts, Sea Biscuit over War Admiral, David over Goliath, Truman over Dewey. I don’t know if Mine the Bird will be remembered 50 years from now, but I hope so.


The truth of the matter is that no one should be a 50 to 1 shot in anything. The great writer Damon Runyon once wrote a story about the annual  Harvard/Yale boat race in which one of the crews was listed at 7 to 2. The protagonist of the story shook his head, “Nothing involving humans is 7 to 2, in fact,” he said, “the longer I live the more I realize that all of life is 6 to 5 against.” Actually, Runyon’s character was probably unduly optimistic, my experience is that it is closer to 9 to 5. But it is not 50 to 1. That’s because there are humans on both sides of the equation. No matter how smart, strong or fast a person is, he/she is still a human and human beings screw up. Horses may not, but they don’t let a horse run the race without a human riding, a human training, and a human preparing the race track.


If you ever think about it, go to YouTube and watch the two minute video of the 1973 Belmont Stakes, the greatest athletic achievement I ever saw and, I submit,  that anyone ever saw. In that race, Secretariat, the greatest horse of all time, won the final leg of his Triple Crown by 25 lengths. Here we are, more than 35 years later, and it is breathtaking to watch. You cannot believe what you are seeing, even if you know what is coming. That day was Secretariat’s day. But there is no one who can tell you for sure that the next day would have been Secretariat’s day, or the next week, the next month or the next year. That’s why they run the race. Not everything runs according to form. If it did, no one would ever  make bet in Las Vegas or bet  against the Yankees, although as my father used to say, it’s wise to bet on a winner until he loses. I’d bet Mine the Bird at the Preakness.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Pig Anti Defamation Group Protests Name of Virus

Many  of the nation’s better known pigs met with the press in Los Angeles today to protest the use of the term “Swine Flu” for the current pandemic . Pointing out that not one pig has yet been shown to have been infected by the virus, pig advocate and well know cartoon star Porky Pig stuttered. “ a be and a be and a be this is outragouth,uh, outrageouth, uh, unfair !” Porky went on to accuse “Publicaaah, Publicaaaah, Publicaaaah….P.R firms “ in the employ of Smithfield Farms, the Virginia pork conglomerate, of masterminding the deception to draw attention from what he referred to as that company’s “death camp” for pigs outside of La Gloria, Mexico.


The allegation by the porcine group, distributed to journalists on muddy and disgusting leaflets, states that Smithfield Farms, in an effort to “save their bacon” has used the traditional prejudice most humans have for pigs to turn  a story about a “criminally run feedlot” into a story about influenza. The leaflets  claims that Mexican doctors, paid by Smithfield, have falsified records claiming that everyone who has died, or even had a cold, in Mexico over the last three weeks was suffering from an influenza that started in  La Gloria. The  P.R.  consortium labeled the disease  ‘Swine Flu” before the World Health  Organization had a chance to investigate. Once a flu was identified, it was named “2009 H1N1 Influenza” but, by then it was too late to change the brand which had been imprinted into the public mind. The swine moniker was liberally sown by Smithfield among news agencies ,along with prepackaged stories regarding the history of pigs as “hosts” of various  historic influenzas, even linking the 1918 Spanish Flu which killed 45 million people worldwide to an Iowan pig farm.


“We are easy targets” said Practical Pig, wearing his traditional overalls and painter hat from the 1933 Walt Disney Classic, The Three Little Pigs. “People always use our names in a derogatory sense, ‘don’t make a pig of yourself , that woman is a pig, would you rather be a pig ?’. No one remembers that we do good things too.” Practical acknowledged that “some pigs”, just like “some humans” are “shiftless and frivolous”, pointing out a window at his brothers who were avoiding work at the conference by playing a fiddle and dancing a merry jig on the lawn. Practical went onto say, “But for every little pig that goes ‘wee, wee, wee, all the way home’, there is a pig like me who stood up for this country and fought off the Big Bad Wolf During the Depression.” Practical, who made enormous sums of money in the 1930s building wind resistant  brick houses during the wolf crisis. pointed out that all flu is “really aviary in origin ” and that pigs suffer as much as humans from the diease,possibly more since the very rumor of an epidemic results in the slaughter of entire swine herds.


“We’ve got a long way to go” said one unidentified little piggy, unaccountably  munching on a roast beef sandwich, “Two major monotheistic religions consider us unclean, although at least they don’t eat us, so we got that going for us. But go to breakfast sometime with a human, they order bacon and eggs right in front of you and then tell off color jokes about how they hope they are not eating one of your relatives. Up until now, all we have done is grin and bear it. I think those days are over..”


The call for porcine respect was best exemplified by Porky Pigs stirring statement at the end of the conference. WAWAWAWinnnston Churchill said that a pig was the only animal that could look a human in the eye with equal dignity. Well, I’ll take the word of Sir  WAWAWAWinnnston Churchill over some Agribusiness P.R. HoHoHowhore.. We have come too far as a spspspspseeecies to go back to living in the mud and eating slop,  no matter how much most of us enjoy that kind of life. The only reason that I did not end up with  my innards ground and stuffed into casing so that Earl Campbell and Jimmy Dean could make a living, is because of my endearing speech impediment and the fact that Jack Warner thought that I had classic comic timeing.BBBBBBut the day is coming when  every pig will be treated as well as me or  as Practical or Babe or Gub-Gub or Arnold “, pointing at just a few of the glittering array of stars flanking him.”From now on our motto is that no matter how much dirt is on our face or how disgraceful our shoes are, YES ! we’d rather be  pigs ! Screw You BaabbabBAAABing Crosby. Porky then  snorted and refused to take questions, finally ended the conference with his signature, “That’s all folks !”