Thursday, December 1, 2022

What It Is, Ain't What It Was

While my dad was in Vietnam, we lived near Ft. Ord, in the town of Seaside. Next door to another military family whose father was also deployed to Vietnam. Those kids were a little older than me, but we shared one very important aspect in life — we both went to the same orthodontist in Salinas. Because it was a long drive, the mothers took turns driving all of us for our appointments, which were coordinated to occur one right after the other. Because of the distance, after the last appointment, we would grab lunch before traveling back to Seaside. It was on one of these trips that I walked into my first Taco Bell.

Taco Bell had only been around for about five years when I was introduced to something beyond a hamburger––a taco. Before anybody else says it, I will: Yes, this was an Americanized version of a Mexican taco, but it made no difference to me. I liked it. I also like the little tubs of hot sauce that came with them. 

Over the course of the year, I remained a dedicated fan of tacos until the one time I tried something, at the suggestion of my fellow dental patients, called an Enchirito. If you’ve never had or seen one, it is basically a beef and bean burrito with onions served in a shallow oblong bowl covered with cheese and red sauce then topped with three black olive slices. It was delicious, and I love the fact that everybody was bathed in that spicy red sauce.

As life went on, whenever I stopped into a Taco Bell, I would usually get one Enchirito and a taco or two, depending on how hungry I was. Over the years, the Enchirito got removed from the menu and I’d forgotten about them completely until I was in Germany. 

I was standing in line at the Taco Bell on Wiesbaden Airbase when the guy in front of me ordered one. I quickly scanned the menu to see if I had somehow missed the delicacy returning to the menu, but it was nowhere to be seen. Before I placed my order, they delivered his, and sure enough it was that familiar bowl containing the burrito covered in sauce and cheese topped with three sliced black olives. Even though it was not on the menu, I ordered it, and the person behind the register took the order and moments later delivered one to me. 

For the next few years, I’d continue to order the Enchirito even though it wasn’t formally on the menu. It was always delivered, properly prepared and as delicious as every Enchirito I’d eaten before. Then a couple of years ago, it became completely unavailable — along with a lot of other things that used to be on the menu, like Mexican pizza.

In the interim, I found the best taco in town, Torti Taco and completely dropped going to Taco Bell. Then, a few weeks ago, Taco Bell announced the return of the Enchirito.

I actually heard the news much after they actually began serving it again, and only a few days before they were due to stop serving it. I’m not sure what their logic was, and I really didn’t care. It’d been years since I had one and I wanted one now. I pulled into the drive thru and ordered a pair of them and rushed home to enjoy the resurrected delicacy. Then I found out the truth.

This was not the original Enchirito, this was the 2022 Enchirito. The part that was lacking might seem trivial, but to me it was part of the original they should not have been overlooked. It had the beef, the beans, the soft tortilla shell, the onions  — and even though the ball was smaller than the original, it contained enough red sauce to satisfy. What it lacked were the three slices of black olive. How do you do that? It was something visibly missing from the moment the food was served. It was that unique bite of flavor that added something to the entire dish and made it special.

So, my dear friends, if you’ve happened by a Taco Bell recently and you’ve never had one before in your life, what you are being served is some sort of cost-saving un-garnished 2022 Enchirito, not the original served as intended.

Taco Bell is not the first restaurant to bring back a classic dish as a promotion, but they have failed. Don’t even get me started on the cheese Danish that McDonald’s is trying to push as the same one they served decades ago. Not even close.


Tuesday, November 1, 2022

If You Don't Do It, How Will You Know?

On Tuesday of next week, in the United States, we'll have another election. We've been doing this for a long time and despite some issues here and there we do it pretty well. Before you panic, I'll tell upfront that this is not a political post – – it is a post about citizenship.

During the last national election, and in the middle of COVID, my state was having issues getting enough people to work at the polls and was continually pleading on all media for volunteers to come and help. After a few days of listening to that, my internal volunteerism kicked him and I called the local Clerk of the Court (they handle our elections) and volunteered. 

Prior to the election I went through various training online, again this was the age of COVID. I also somehow moved from being a poll worker to being the chairperson for the precinct I was going to work in. To be honest, this was far more involved than I thought I would ever be. But to me once you volunteer for something, you are obligated to see things through no matter where it leads.

Election day started at six in the morning and went until eight that evening. Then. it took about an hour to break everything down and pack it away for the next election. During that time, we also prepared the ballot tabulating machines for transfer back to City Hall. I then went to City Hall, and after a few hours sat through an audit of all my precinct’s documentation, turned over the ballots to the Election Commission. The actual procedure is more detail than I am talking about here.

As I drove home at two in the morning, I felt two things: exhausted and proud. Exhausted is easy. It was an incredibly long day. My pride was a little more complicated. I wasn’t proud of anything I did; I was proud of the way democracy works in my country. I was also proud of the people who came in to vote — most of them were excited and were informed about choices they were making. (This would be a great place to go off and talk about the politics of elections, but that isn't what this post is about.) 

I’ll be working in the polls again this year. Once you volunteer, you get put on a special mailing list of people that are not only trained but willing to do this job. I’m in good company. But I wonder why there are people out there who are curious or who have questions/concerns about how all this works but who haven’t yet volunteered. Even if you only do it once, it’s a worthwhile venture for self-education. The way I see it, this is just as much a responsibility of citizenship as it is to pay taxes, serve on a jury when called, and voting itself. 

Without all of us, it doesn’t work.


Monday, October 24, 2022

Missing Berkerley

In September of last year, I lost a close friend I'd known since college to cancer. Even though there was considerable space between each of our encounters, it always felt like our contact was constant. He was one of those people you could have a conversation with and if it got interrupted, you could resume  right where you left off-- even if years had passed. He was also one of the most positive people I’ve ever known in my life. Even when things were going askew, he always seemed to find a better way of looking at things and to smile his way through rather than getting angry.

After he passed, I began a short story based on my friendship with him and using several real-life incidents in the tale. It's not a secret that most writers mine their own experiences when writing. For me, this was different, as I emotionally relived each of the adventures as I wrote them. For that reason, I found it necessary to put the story down after completing each individual section to allow for my recovery.

When I finished, I read the story and then rearranged things into a better sequence several times to make the story flow smoother and better explain what a great human being my friend was. Rewrites are not unusual either, but in this case, I spent months rewriting, wanting to get it just right and to honor my friend with my best effort. 

Earlier this month, I took a road trip, part of which was to visit another college friend. Because of that, I felt compelled to finish the story, which now was over a year in work. I completed it a week before my trip and shared the first draft of The Last Time I Saw Godfrey. Even though it hadn’t been to my editor yet, the response was quite positive and it’ll be published as part of the last volume of my short story anthology.

Losing a friend is difficult, but being able to turn that emotionally traumatic time into something positive is a good thing. While I was creating, I was reliving the best parts of our friendship that lasted almost four decades. I could also ponder the admiration I had for someone I consider a great human and celebrate his immortality because of all the positive vibes he left behind.

Just after I started writing, someone told me that being a friend with an author guaranteed your own immortality because at some point they would include you in something they wrote. Having spent a lot of time creating the written word, I am in full agreement with that sentiment. I only hope I did my friend justice.


Wednesday, October 5, 2022

The Broken White Line


I love to travel. Anyone who has ever read more than a few entries of this blog knows that. After being raised as a military brat traveling coast-to-coast and all over Europe, I went into the Air Force and hit some of the same places in the states and Europe before heading to the Pacific. From there, I moved on to a DOD civilian job, which also kept me exploring new lands. To me, it is one of the most mind and heart-expanding things a person can ever do and we are lucky that being citizens of the United States we can almost travel at will anywhere around the world.

My favorite form of travel is the road trip. Jumping in the car or on a motorcycle with my backpack and a small suitcase, I'm ready to go almost anywhere. It isn't just the destination I enjoy; it is the miles on the road. Even if I travel the same road many times, I always discover something new. It is amazing the things that are out there to see and do and even better, the unique and interesting people you meet along the way.

Right now, I'm preparing to make a quick road trip to see some family and friends. At the tail end of the trip is a goodbye to a friend who passed last year and whose funeral I could not get to because of prior commitments. I'll also be picking up a few bottles of bourbon that have been sitting in a charred wooden keg aging for the last seven years. As you can, tell, the trip is a hodgepodge of things and people that will all be enjoyable and one somber moment that will allow me to take a moment to let someone know how much I appreciated them in my life. Oh, did I mention I was also getting some bodywork done on my car while on the road? When I fill a trip up with things, I fill it.

The saddest part of this trip is that my usual traveling companion, MacBeth, will not be going with me. It's the first time in a long time I'll be crossing multiple state lines without him in the backseat reminding me to stop now and then to stretch my legs or letting me know when it's time to find a field so we can play fetch. That part I'm not looking forward to but, it reminds me of how special a puppy he truly was.

In the words of Gil Favor... Head 'em up, move them out.


Monday, September 26, 2022

Buried in a Closet

When we moved from Oklahoma to Virginia, I encountered the first school that had a guitar class as an elective, and I jumped on it. I’ve talked about that class before in this blog, and once again today I’ll talk about it without ever giving the class its due. Sorry, Ms. Wagner. Someday.

As part of our lessons, we were provided with handwritten mimeographed sheets of lyrics and chords. When they were passed out everyone in the class would take a quick sniff of that unforgettable mimeograph smell before looking at what we were about to learn. Some of the music introduced new chords or picking styles, others were collections of music by a particular composer or band that we were learning for one of our school concerts. 

Early on, I’d stuff these sheets into a pocket folder. When the sheer volume of sheets became unwieldy, I got a four-subject spiral notebook and glued all the sheets into it. Of course, our teacher was never kind enough to hand the songs out alphabetically during the three years I was in her class, so the pages were in a very random order. Add to that, the Xerox copies of sheet music, lyrics for songs I was working on, and songs I figured out by ear -- the songbook grew quickly. By the end of high school, the book was thick and had become a priceless possession since it contained almost my entire repertoire.

Being a military brat, I know how to hang onto things through a move and I held onto that songbook while moving in and out of several dormitories during college, and apartments thereafter. Then the songbook went with me to Germany and on every temporary duty trip I went on as well. While I was in Germany, I noticed the mimeographed pages had begun to fade so I started to transfer everything from the book. When my shifts were quiet, I’d type out a few songs at a time. While I made a serious dent in the contents of the songbook, I didn't finish it.  

While in Guam, I began typing out the songs again – then I made a mistake -- I let a friend who I used to jam with borrow the songbook. Pat was a customs cop and someone I trusted. I trusted him until he returned to the US and took my book with him. The only solace I had was that between what I had typed out in Germany and the further work I did in Guam I lost very little.

Fast forward a dozen years. I was in the final year of my career with the Air Force and working as a reservist in headquarters at Scott Air Force Base. One day, I was heading down a crowded stairwell when felt a tap on the shoulder. I turned around, and there was Pat. After a few minutes of catching up, he brings mentioned that he still had my songbook and wanted to get it back to me. Being eager to get it back, I offered to go over to his house that afternoon and pick it up. Sure enough, I went to his house and was presented with the songbook along with a few beers and a couple of hours of reminiscing about our time in Guam. We even played a few songs together before I left.

Okay, so how is this relevant today? I was looking for something in a closet and came across my songbook. I pulled it out and thumbed through it for an hour or so, remembering all the songs, folks I had played them with, and of course, Ms. Wagner, my high school guitar teacher who was responsible for most of the songbook’s content. It was a great escape.


Monday, September 19, 2022

Thirteen Years without Slumbering


On September 9th 2009 at 1342, I posted the first entry to this blog. It was a relatively short missive that included a quick story from my adolescence. No pictures or video, but it was a start and something I’d been meaning to do. I wanted to capture and share things I was thinking about and doing. The whole concept started when I came across an abandoned blog while surfing the net written by Old Guy

In the thirteen years since posting the first entry, I have posted 355 more. That’s a lot of words, it would’ve been even more if I religiously wrote in the blog every two weeks like I originally planned. But life got in the way, which is okay -- it gave me something to write about. Over the years, almost half a million people have dropped by to read what I’ve written. Thanks to improved counting utilities, I now know a couple of thousand people from all over the world read my new entries every week. I like the thought of being read; I think most people like to be heard.

As I move forward, I note positively that most of this year I’ve been publishing an entry every week. Some of them are poignant, others are just kinda silly, but that’s okay that is what a blog is all about. I’m not publishing a newspaper here (although I included something I wrote for the Rolling Stone). Either way, I hope you have found at least some of my words make you go Hmm.



Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Submitted for Your Approval


Whenever I talk about my favorite authors, there is one person I invariably leave out who is without a doubt at the top of my favorite list: Rod Serling. I think it is because I have him pigeonholed off to the side as the narrator of TV show and it is only when I am giving the subject full attention that the fact he wrote most of the TV shows he narrated comes to mind. Long before M. Night Shyamalan created his first ending with a twist, Rod not only brought the style to the screen brilliantly—–many of the episodes he wrote are the Master Class of how it's done.
Rod Serling popped into the front of my consciousness recently after I caught a rerun of one of his brilliant Twilight Zone episodes while flipping through channels. Some situations in the episode did not age well because the science in the episode was obviously dated. However, the nature of human behavior remained constant and therefore the episode still had relevance. I'd seen that episode a few times before, so the ending did not catch me by surprise, but even though I knew the ending I tried to find hints he might've inserted leading to the very non Hollywood ending. For me, it was a lesson in good storytelling.
I will often wander through the Internet after being reminded of something from my past, for new information that wasn't available earlier in my life. In doing so, I came across an interview that Mike Wallace did with him prior to the premier of the Twilight Zone. Previously, I'd never seen Rod Serling outside of the shows he produced, so this was also the first time I had ever seen him speak about something other than an introduction to his show or a preview of the next episode.
What makes this interview extremely worthwhile were the comments he made about censorship and creative control of content on television. Even back then, shows were being manipulated by sponsors and a select group of people who decided it was their business what would be available. This interview gave me a deeper admiration for the man, beyond the words he put on a piece of paper.

"It has forever been thus: So long as we write what we think, then all the other freedoms - all of them - may remain intact. And it is then that writing becomes a weapon of truth, an article of faith, an act of courage." Rod Serling
I freely admit several of the stories in Pimping Out My Sister-In-Law were written using techniques I picked up from Rod Serling. Just like every other writer, I blend the styles I observe and enjoy while reading into the things I compose.
I am waiting now for a copy of his biography to arrive. Since this was written by his daughter, it probably gives a better insight than anything written by someone outside of his family. It'll be interesting to learn more about this brilliant writer and the convictions that made him create a TV show that is still entertaining and meaningful over fifty years later.