Monday, February 26, 2024

Was She Reality or Just a Tune Stuck in My Head?

 

Ear Worms can drive you nuts, but fortunately most are songs you liked, except that damned song from the Jardiance commercial that everyone hates. While I am suffering through the repeated playing of my current song, the worst part is that absolutely no one is hearing the same tune or wants to. This is where my blog comes. I can share my current aural infection and find some relief.

The song in question is co-written by Artie Kornfeld and Steve Duboff in 1966. Since I was all of seven years old. It wasn’t one had a specific memory tied to it, at least not then. It is a song from the Happy Together period. During that time, bands like the Association, the Vouges, The Cowsills, Jay and the Americans and the Turtles were getting a lot of airplay. These bands became known for their catchy tunes, unique harmonies, and accessible lyrics about romance and love. 

Just minutes before this record was going to be pressed, there was a bit of drama. Someone thought the original title was a little too close to a song released by Scott McKenzie, even though the original title only contained one word that was the same. So, Kornfield changed the title from The Flower Girl to The Rain, the Park, and Other Things. Given my penchant for titles that only vaguely associate with the written word below it, it was a natural match between me and the song, but there is more. McKenzie’s hit song was San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair).

If you listen to the lyrics, they are about a man who sees a girl sitting in the rain and says hello. They take a walk together until the rain stops and the sun comes out. Then she disappears. Throughout the song, he knows she’ll make him happy, that he is happy with her, and even though she left, she has made him happy. But in the last verse, he reveals the whole thing may have just played out in his mind -- “Was she reality, or just a dream to me?” 

I think part of what makes me a storyteller and writer is that I can sit on a bench, see the girl, and imagine a similar storyline. It doesn’t have to happen for the love and happiness to feel real. It is a matter of capturing the moment and the feeling of euphoria that matters.

Aside from the lyrics, the song has some beautiful harmonies which are distinctive of The Cowsill’s sound. The specific recording stuck in my head is a live recording made in 2004. It has less production than the original, and more the feel of something that was performed just for the listener. Someone posted the video on social media and I happened across it. I share that version here, with the warning that if you listen to it, you may end up with this wonderful Ear Worm as well.


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Monday, February 19, 2024

Occum's Razor Gets an Update

 
One of the simplest theoretical theorems to understand is Occam’s Razor. Basically, instead of looking for the most complex solution when trying to determine the cause of an event – keep it simple. If you hear hoofbeats, think horse, not zebra. I propose a new codicil to the Razor: If you zebra stripes next to a parking spot, think No Parking instead of Hey, a stylishly painted parking spot for me

Most often, you’ll see the zebra-painted spaces in the handicap zone next to a regular handicap parking spot. The zebra space exists to allow wheelchair-capable vans with have side ramps with enough space to let the ramp down. This allows a person using a wheelchair to get in or out of the vehicle. It all seems very simple until you realize that some stores, to save money, put a single handicap sign on the open parking space and none for the zebra space. 

I’m guess they’re figuring that everybody knows what it means. You’d be amazed at the number of people who don’t or don’t care. When these uninformed people see an open, unmarked spot close to the door, even though it has zebra markings, they whip their car into the space. To me this is a crime far worse than someone just abusing a handicap spot.

I’ve witnessed a wheelchair user come out to discover some unthinking asshole has parked in the zebra spot blocking their access. Because they can’t let the ramp down, they are trapped until the asshole returns. It’s one thing for an adult to be trapped that way, but what about a child? One who needs to get home to take medication? Or has some other appointment they need to get to but now find themselves trapped for an unknown quantity of time? Asshole indeed.

People who abuse handicap spots irritate me. We’ve all seen that guy who pulls a car into a handicap spot without plates or a placard showing, jumps out, and runs into the store. What’s the handicap? Stupidity? I have a college friend who has permanent handicap plates but seldom uses the space unless available parking is just too distant for them to handle. They must think there are people worse off who need that closer spot more. But zebra spot abuse is more dire and heinous. 

Once, after parking and heading into the store, I walked past a woman who was pulling into the zebra spot. At first, I was just going to let it go, but I walked over to the car as she got out and told her she couldn’t park there because of the zebra stripes. The pushback over the lack of a handicap sign for the specific spot ensued. Fortunately, someone a few slots down started to pull out, and I offered to go stand in the empty spot so that she could move her car. She agreed. I felt good the rest of the day because I had saved the zebra.

Maybe it’s time that Occum go beyond his Razor and add a Zebra Strop. It can remain simple: If you see zebra stripes don’t park. It works for both the slot meant to help the handicap and actual zebras. You shouldn’t be parking on of them either.



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Tuesday, January 30, 2024

One Last Go-Round Followed by a Short Flight

 

There is a brief transition from being a kid playing on the playground to using the equipment as lounge furniture while stepping into tweenhood. It’s subtle; the swings go from being a thrill to simply a thing for you and your friends to sit while you talk. Oh sure, you occasionally swing back and forth, but mostly no movement is involved–you just sit. The importance of the words being spoken replacing the importance of the motion. It’s a natural evolution, but somehow it goes more or less unnoticed. For me, that memory is indelibly etched in my psyche, but for a different reason.

My family was on an extended camping vacation at the Lake Elmer Thomas Recreation Area on Ft Sill, Oklahoma. The campground had an expansive playground with many sets of swings, a couple of slides, and an old-fashioned metal merry-go-round. During the day, younger kids owned the place, but as sunset neared, those of us in those in-between years took it over.  

The merry-go-round was the center of activity for us. Luckily, the sunbaked metal would cool off by the time we arrived and we would sit or lie on it with one leg over the side to keep it spinning slowly. Many hours were spent there talking, telling jokes, and envisioning our future. When the streetlights came on, we’d all dash back to our campsites. This went on for weeks until that day.

In July (I only recall that because it was shortly after the fireworks of the 4th), we were all lazing on the merry-go-round when we heard a war cry and immediately sat up. In the distance, one kid’s older brother, Joey, who had just finished Green Beret school and was home on leave was running full speed toward us. He was huge, about ten feet tall, and three hundred pounds of muscle — well, that’s how it seemed. In unison, we all turned to look at his little brother for guidance, but he only gave us a confused look and a shrug–then came the jolt. Massive hands grabbed hold of the rail as Joey ran the tight dirt circle around the piece of equipment. 

I think five of us were there that day and as he completed the first lap, the first kid slid off the platform. Joey was picking up speed and the rest of us tried to secure ourselves to the surface. I was calm; I had a leg wrapped around an upright and thought there was no way for me to slide off. Then another war cry as our tormentor picked up speed. I felt a hand grab my leg momentarily before it vanished as another kid exited the ride. Then the g-forces kicked in and gravity truly worked against those of us still holding on.

My stomach felt queasy just as my leg pulled away from the upright. I grabbed two rails with my hands as my leg lost its hold and my body slid off the edge of the platform. From the outside, I must have looked like Superman as I held on to the rail with two hands with my body outstretched vertically. Glancing toward the center of the ride, I watched another kid slide off the opposite side and disappear. 

In shock and unsure of what to do, I was fairly sure if I let go I’d go flying into a tree trunk. Somehow, I held on, with no way of knowing when this would end. The heat rose in my body and I felt like I was about to puke, then my body was suddenly covered in sweat. My fear was compounded when I felt my now sweat-soaked fingers slipping. Another war cry echoed in my brain as I felt my body go weightless and I watched the merry-go-round fade into the distance as I went flying.  

Gravity caught up with me moments later and I was thrown onto the hard, rocky ground, sliding a few feet before coming to a stop. The world was quiet as I floated there in between the crash and the rapidly approaching reality. Then I heard the laughter. First from the beast who managed to beat all five of us, then we laughed along as well. Joey was probably laughing at the way we looked flying off; we laughed that nervous laughter that comes from surviving a near-death experience. None of us spoke and in the silence, we all heard the buzz as the streetlight came on and we quickly departed to our separate destinations. No one said anything. I arrived back at our campsite, even though I was covered in dirt and both my knees were scraped up.

The next day, we decided instead of going to the playground we’d hike to a spot we’d found previously on the back side of the hill that bordered one side of the campground. There we sat on the edge of a stream that fed the lake and told jokes and talked. I can’t speak for everyone, but it was the last time I went to a playground for years. Life had moved on by throwing me off at high speed.


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Monday, January 15, 2024

The Lasting Echo of the Marimba

 

Things happen over the course of a lifetime that lead to unexpected events -- memories you’ll never forget or that leave you with a scar you touch when its attached memory comes to mind. When I hear a particular song, sometimes it takes back in time. Once there, I get to enjoy that bit of history again.

It was 1976 and after washing my AMC Gremlin, I drove out to the Colonial Parkway so I could crank up my music as I waxed it. I was about halfway done when a Pinto full of girls pulled in to the same overlook to spend some time giggling at me before they laughed and pulled out. I kept my attention on the task at hand and a short while later, the driver of the Pinto returned without her friends. 

She got out of the car, walked over, and apologized for her friend’s rudeness then took a seat on the grass and started asking me questions until I opened up a bit. She listened to my life story, then I listened to hers as we got to know each other. At some point, I pulled a blanket out and spread it on the grass so she'd be a bit more comfortable. I was allowing myself to go with the flow of events, as this encounter was unexpected.

With the waxing complete, I closed the car’s doors after rolling down the windows so we could still hear the music then I joined her on the blanket. As evening came upon us, the sunset gave us a beautiful tapestry to enjoy as we kissed. We’d gone from people who didn’t know each other to something more. I remember the song playing when we kissed for the first time, Moonlight Feels Right. She had wonderful strawberry blonde hair and as I caressed her face, I’d run my fingers through it.. so soft. We stayed there for another few hours, enjoying our time bathed in the starlight, until a cop came up and informed us, we weren’t supposed to be there after dark.

It was a different world then; she gave me her phone number, which I promptly lost, but then she had given me something to remember whenever I hear this song. That’s probably better in the long run, anyway.


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Monday, January 8, 2024

Oh, I Gallivanted

As a military brat, you learn and use a combination of jargon, acronyms, foreign languages, and militarisms daily. Soon after learning how to tell time based on the position of Mickey’s hands, I learned that the hours after noon had twelve added to them. Instead of it being two in the afternoon it was 1400. If they expected you to do something in a hurry, you did it ASAP — as soon as possible. Also, being the son of a Vietnam veteran, I was familiar with di di mau - go quickly.

Aside from all of that, certain archaic terms were still used on every base I was ever stationed at - as a dependent or serviceman. One that recently came to mind was gallivant. My first memory of this term was when I was old enough to have a backyard sleepover with a group of friends. We used that opportunity to roam the neighborhood. Of course, when you have a father who is used to dealing with troops who wandered off, we should’ve expected to get caught during our wanderings. It was upon getting caught that I was told in no uncertain terms that I was not to gallivant all over God’s creation when I was supposed to be in the backyard.

Unlike many other terms that were used during my childhood, the usage of the term gallivant and the formal Oxford definition (to go around from one place to another in the pursuit of pleasure or entertainment) is more or less the same. I’ll admit I did a lot of gallivanting while growing up, and even as I got older. Of course, most gallivanting ended without reaching a specific goal or objective. As with all great odysseys, the journey was the destination. Wandering around for wandering’s sake.

Civilian kids did this as well. They were just roaming, kicking around, cruising, or just looking for something to do. On the whole, gallivanting is something that everybody is does at some point during their life. However, as a third culture (military brat) we were given a specific term used by few others. I’m okay with that. It also sounds a little classier than the other terms.

When I mentioned this recently on a military brat discussion board, the recognition of the term was almost universal. It led to an outpouring of different stories of gallivanting on and off base. One person even related that the term was expanded to a single-word phrase: Quichyergallivanting. I think I remember hearing that a time or two, I kept on gallivanting every chance I got.


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Monday, December 18, 2023

Un Tracteur Grillé Au Four Avec Une Pomme De Terre Au Four, S’il Vous Plaît


One of the best things about traveling is getting to try different local foods everywhere you go. I’ve never been one to play the Accidental Tourist sticking to only chain restaurants. Instead, I ask the locals I’m there to see or the staff at the hotel what tastes good in the local area. On a recent trip to San Antonio, my son found a couple of fantastic places to eat at. Mina & Dimi’s Greek House  offered a fantastic selection of various Greek specialties. They also featured a dessert I’d never heard of before: baklava cheesecake. Ginza Ramen, Poke, and Boba (5539 W Loop 1604 N #104) allows you to name the ingredients for your bowl of ramen then make it for you. Delicious! Both places have a casual environment and are reasonably priced.

When on vacation in Rome, we strolled into a gelato shop near the Pantheon for a quick treat. Rather than ordering in English, I did so in Italian, but instead of getting what I thought I ordered, I got a cone with a scoop of chocolate and one of lemon. The place was crowded, and we were in a bit of a hurry, so I decided to just deal with it rather than trying to get it corrected. By doing so, I discovered a combination of flavors I probably would’ve not tried otherwise. It was actually delicious. The chocolate was sweet and the lemon sour, but somehow they worked together and I enjoyed it. From that point on, if I can get that combination of flavors. In ice cream or gelato. I order it, then deal with the stares

The hotel where I stayed at in Angeles City, Philippines had a dynamite staff that took great care of me. Every time I walked in to the lobby to head to my room, they would have a fresh glass of iced tea delivered to my room before I got there. The tea was a blend of local tea leaves, and the tray included a bowl of sugar. What made it different was the small round lime (think Key lime) that adorned the edge of the glass. Being one who always tried local flavors, I squeezed the small fruit into my tea before I took the first sip and was pleasantly surprised at the flavor the little lime added. I was lucky  the hotel did this every time I came back after being out shopping and taking care of other business. Now, if I order iced tea and I’m in a restaurant that has a bar (which means they have limes) I always order my tea with lime instead of lemon. Occasionally, I'll get a funny look from the waiter or waitress, and I explain by simply telling them to try it. It’s something I discovered by being willing to try it when the opportunity presented itself.

Most people who have lived in Germany have found that Germans are quite hospitable, and like to socialize. In Wiesbaden, the family that lived next door invited us over for dinner shortly after our arrival. At the end of the meal, they served fresh strawberries with whipped cream and coffee. After pouring a cup of coffee, my host, Eberhardt, spooned a dollop of whipped cream into it along with  sugar. 

I’ve had coffee with whipped cream before but it was usually when I was drinking something like cappuccino or a mocha/java blend. not for just a simple cup of coffee. I tried it and from that day, if it is available, when enjoying a cup of coffee I always have whipped cream instead of any other dairy. Of course, some people like Kalanta put a little whipped cream on top after getting extremely complicated with their coffee. But then, she always declares it “Perfect!”

I am sure if I sat and thought about it there are more than these three examples of great tasting things I discovered on my travels that I still enjoy today. But I guess that’s just part of the trip. It expands who you are, what you know, and what you enjoy. Then, of course, are the memories… anytime I have tea with lime I remember my visit to the Philippines, and the minute the blend of chocolate and lemon ice cream hits my tongue I am taken back to Rome. Of course, when I sip my coffee I also enjoy the occasional memory of my neighbor Eberhardt.

I invite you to try any of these three, and the two restaurants I mentioned at the beginning of this missive. Why was I in San Antonio? To watch my grandson, Max, graduated from Air Force basic training. He was one of 318 of America’s best graduated on that day, and I’m very proud of him.


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Monday, November 13, 2023

Some Offices Are Built To Be Playgrounds

 


When I was stationed in Wiesbaden, I worked at the American Arms Office Towers (AAOT). The building was dual use with one side having offices and the other side a military hotel. When I first arrived, I stayed in the hotel with two of my sons and walked to work, which was convenient. Originally, the entire thing had been a hotel, so most of the offices had their own shower and bathroom. Except for the offices being small, they were among the best I had in my entire career.

The building was six stories tall and in the shape of a hub and spoke, with a large circular center on each side that was open from the ground floor to the roof. Ringing the center rotunda was a walkway that looked down over the center. As a result, if you were on the sixth floor you could glance over the railing and see all the way to the bottom. At the bottom was a circular desk where security guards sat monitoring cameras and the entrances and exits. Overall, and aesthetically pleasing layout. 

Then came the day I was at the store and saw some of those little plastic parachute guys I had when I was a kid. If you are not familiar with them, they consist of a plastic soldier attached to a plastic parachute with strings.  You would fold with parachute up and then throw it into the air (some came with a slingshot to facilitate this).  If you got it up high enough, the chute would unfold and open and the solder would float gently to the ground.

As I picked one up, pondering getting one for my son, I had an idea. I could drop the parachute guy from the top of the rotunda at the AAOT and it would float all the way to the ground floor, as long as it didn't veer off course. Just that germ of a thought convinced me to pick up a couple of these toys and bring them home. 

One evening, after work, I put the parachute guys my pocket and headed back to the AAOT with my son. We strolled in, took the elevator to the sixth floor, and I handed him one the parachute guys and told him to throw it over the ledge. He did and we leaned over the rail and watched as it floated down six floors. I took the elevator back to the ground floor, retrieved the toy and put it on the elevator for the ride up. When it got there and the doors opened, my son retrieved the parachute guy and threw him over the ledge again. We did this numerous times that evening.

Before we left Wiesbaden, we would play like this from time to time. Sometimes if I had to run back to the building to check on something or retrieve a hot message, I would take my son along and we’d play the parachute game.

When my tour was finished, and as I was preparing to leave. I picked up a couple of dozen of these parachute guys and at my departure lunch I gave all of my staff one with an explanation of what I had been doing after hours. I can just imagine if all of them went up to the sixth floor at one time and through all of the parachute guys over the edge. It probably looked like a plastic army guy invasion.


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