Monday, December 19, 2022

The Fruit Cake Fell Off The Table and Almost Killed Him

Can we talk about fruit cake for a minute?  Every year, the traditional treat gets attacked and vilified by folks but yet it continues to exist.  I saw one survey that said 35.6% of Americans consider it essential. If you are unfamiliar, fruit cake is produced using raisins, cherries, and other fruit, flour, spices, and nuts.  The cake is dense and heavy due to all the ingredients but not overly sweet.

As a kid, I remember a two-by-two rectangle of Claxton fruit cake appearing at about the same time as a  box of Queen Anne cordial cherries in November.  My Dad felt both were necessary traditions to properly fuel proper holiday spirit. The cake was so dense a small half-inch slice was plenty for me.  As a kid I wanted to know how it could be cake with no chocolate. After a few tries, I began skipping it.

It wasn’t until college when I was given a tin of homemade fruit cake by a girlfriend that my appreciation of the sweet changed.  In addition to the normal ingredients, when the cake had cooled after coming out of the oven, she sprayed it with a goodly amount of rum – then let it soak in for a day.  This made every bite a treat of various fruit flavors all infused with a wonderful rum after-burn.  I treasured every slice of that fruit cake and refused to share it with my roommate. Thanks, Mathly.

Given his feelings toward the confection, I wasn’t surprised when my Dad began including a small fruit cake with other Christmas gifts he sent to me. I’d always pour a liberal amount of rum over it prior to digging in.  Since most commercial fruit cake is very heavy, my annual fruit cake consumption is at most three slices, but every bite was enjoyable.

With my Dad gone, I find myself buying a small box of cordial cherries every year.  Maybe it is time to start picking up a fruit cake too. By the way, a few years ago I went pirate and tried using Captain Morgan’s spiced rum.  Arrr, she be a serious Yuletide dessert now, mates!


Tuesday, December 13, 2022

A Chop, Chop Here & A Chop Chop There

I’ve never been big on sharing health news. I consider such things to be my private information until I have processed it ... and by then it is history, anyway. This time is different since I discussed its approach before it happened.

As you might’ve been able to tell, I survived my recent surgical adventure. Overall, it was a smooth experience. I showed up when I was supposed to, got checked in by a group of great professionals, got an assortment of drugs designed to make the experience pain-free, and then after being wheeled into an operating room that featured a table full of power tools, took a nap.

After waking up and getting dressed, I escaped the premises without feeling anything below my left knee thanks to an effective nerve block. A short while later, my phone notified me I had new implant information on my medical records app. How efficient — I checked the app and found the name, model, and serial number of an assortment of screws and wires that will probably be with me the rest of my life, along with the information on a graft injectable that was used. Odd feeling. The cyborg part of my life has begun. (Cue, power wrench sound from Devo's Are We Not Men?.

Over the last few days, the nerve block wore off and an assortment of pain pills I am taking in its place has ensured my anesthesiologist called a smooth landing. It has been, more or less. Getting around for the most basic things has required a little relearning and some mechanical help (crutches, a grabber, and a knee scooter). Per my ortho, it’ll be about two months before I am healed enough to use my newly rebuilt ankle to bear weight. That will be when I can figure out if this entire process was successful.

What started as an accident on the aft end of a C-141 that resulted in a fall out of the aircraft onto the tarmac in Guam has finally been fixed. Given that the fall occurred before most of the tech used to repair it existed, the delay was probably a good thing.

I didn’t run into any classmates from kindergarten this time, but Andrea was a much nicer nurse than any Army nurse I ever ran into. I guess there are tradeoffs.


Tuesday, December 6, 2022

All the King's Horses and One Immensely Talented Ortho Surgeon

When I was eight, I went into the hospital alone for the first time  — well, the first time I remember. I was there to have my tonsils out and while I don’t recall being afraid, at that age and situation I had to be. Luckily, the kid in the bed next to me (it was an Army hospital children’s ward) was talkative and. after talking for a few minutes, we discovered we had gone to kindergarten together. While this might be no big deal in the civilian kid world, for a military brat it meant that even though we had both lived in three different states since we last saw each other, we were together again. He was there for an operation on his eyes.

There were no TVs in the ward, so we spent the night talking and getting yelled at by the nurse for talking. The next morning, they wheeled all the beds in the ward out in a long line, and we were paraded down to the operating room to wait our turn. Sometime later, I woke up back in the ward with the worst sore throat of my young life. My friend had returned too, with patches over both eyes.

The most memorable thing that happened that day was when I puked in my bed and my friend was yelling his head off for a nurse to come help. When he could finally get one, she changed out the bedding while cursing me for not calling her sooner. Not sure how I was supposed to yell for her with a throat that had just had tonsils yanked out. By the way, not all Army nurses look like McMurphy.

Later that day, I went home. I never saw my classmate again, and I carried an aversion to nurses for a long while after. I got over it, even dedicating my book POMSILv2 to them.

Over the course of my life, I have had a few surgeries but never ran into another classmate.

Tomorrow, I am having my ankle repaired from an injury I suffered while in the Air Force. I guess after more than a few years it’s time to make my ankle work the way it should. According to what I’m told, I will enjoy a medically induced haze for a few days to mask the pain. So, if I take a few days to reply to an email, that is why.

Just didn’t want you to wonder if I fled the country to avoid being captured by some espionage agency I wrote about a little too realistically… then again, maybe I did.


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 and 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 heard the news much after they 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, and the onions  — and even though the bowl 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? Visibly missing from the moment the dish 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.


Tuesday, August 30, 2022

It Becomes Part of You, Even Though You Weren't Even There

Sometimes, you see an ad for an old movie or you come across one playing on TV, and even though you've never seen that movie you know what it is. For me, the most notable of those is The Last Picture Show

When my dad was assigned to Fort Sill, I hung out with a group of friends whose major source of entertainment was the base theater which was within walking distance of where we all lived. Actually, it was within biking distance but we were at the age when biking was no longer cool but walking as a group was. I wrote about this before, and pointed out that the real reason for going to the theater had nothing at all to do with the movie - it just served as a space for socializing.

We were always at the base theater for the late show on Friday, which was shown at 11 PM, and the really late show on Saturday night, which started at 1 AM Sunday morning. The admission was only a buck, popcorn another buck. We, as a group, would share a single soda since refills were free. I can't imagine any teenager now sharing a single soda between five or six people-- somehow we survived.

The base theater mostly showed films that were either B movies, like Chrome and Hot Leather, or anything by Bruce Lee.  But occasionally we would get a movie several years after release, like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Because all of us were seeing the movies together, it was a big part of our shared experience with lines from the movies making it into our conversations. It gave us a common history -- until I got strep throat. 

After spending Wednesday and Thursday at home sick, I wasn't allowed to go to the movies that weekend even though I had begun to feel better. I missed Billy Jack, which I caught on TV a couple of years later – – the other movie I missed was The Last Picture Show.

The Last Picture Show had won two Academy Awards after being nominated for eight to include Best Picture. Critics loved the artistry of a movie being released in the 70s that was filmed in black-and-white with a mono soundtrack. It's a story of people coming-of-age in a dying small town in North Texas. Lots of introspection and the angst at realizing that the blossom of youth was fading into the background and the need to be concerned about what is in front of you. A heavy movie for a group of eighth graders.

Among my male friends, the biggest takeaways from the movie was seeing Cybill Shepherd nude and the scenes where she loses her virginity to a guy she doesn't really care about because the guy she does care about doesn't date virgins. . Yes, it was rated R and junior high schoolers shouldn't have been allowed to buy tickets to begin with but that's the way it works sometimes.

As I said, I didn't get to go to the movie. TV standards being what they were for years after, I never had a chance to see it later either. Life went on, years passed -- then, thanks to things like HBO I was provided the opportunity to see The Last Picture Show in all his glory, unedited and uncensored. I just didn't. I was beyond it. My life had gone on and I put my adolescence in a box up on the shelf like most people. 

Last week I caught an ad for the film showing on a streaming service. Uncut, unedited, and uncensored. I passed. At this point, not seeing the movie has become part of my personal history left unexplored and I've decided to keep it that way. Sometimes, a movie left unseen is a better memory than one that was.

Besides Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? is on.


Monday, August 22, 2022

Who's There? A Memory

Memories are curious things. Scientists have been trying to figure out for years how and why people experience sudden bursts of memory. Some are traceable to triggers like smells, sounds, particular music, or even touch. Then there are those memories that burst in with no connection to the present and you relive something from years past with no reference to how you got there. I found myself there this morning when I suddenly remembered the joke envelopes.

I went to my first sleep-away camp when I was about ten. It was a YMCA camp held at Lake Arrowhead in California. It seemed like there must've been a thousand kids there, but it was probably more like two or three hundred. Ten kids were in my cabin, with our adult leadership being provided by a middle-aged man who was normally a police detective. It was an interesting mix of kids, and after the first few hours, we were ready for the week ahead.

The days were filled with canoeing, archery, making lanyards, hiking, and everything you'd expect of a summer camp–including a campfire every night that introduced me to the world of storytelling. Daily after a communal lunch, we'd head back to our cabin where purchases from the canteen were distributed ––you had to complete a request and give it to your counselor by breakfast to get anything that day. Then, mail was passed out. 

My dad was in Vietnam, so the only parent I had in the United States was my mom. I got a letter from her daily and she used envelopes preprinted with colorful cartoons and jokes for that correspondence. I'm not talking about a single joke or cartoon, but dozens of them covering the envelope. Most were visual puns and knock-knock jokes. After reading the envelope, and before I read the letter, I'd pass the envelope around my cabinmates so they could see the jokes as well.

Looking back, since the camp only lasted about a week, getting a letter every day meant she sent them before I left for camp. It was a planned daily treat.

There are lots of significant events that parents give their children over the course of their lifetime. Just getting to go to camp was a big one. But then there are those little things parents do that almost pass by unnoticed until years later. They are the things that round out the bigger things and make them so much sweeter. 

Now that I'm a grandfather, I make sure those little things surround the bigger things. After all, since we don't understand memory anyway, I want to make sure those little spaces are filled with something happy when they pop up later.


Thursday, August 11, 2022

A Trip to the Sacred Store


Long long time ago, I can still remember how that music used to make me smile

The first time I heard those lyrics was in the late spring of 1972. At thirteen years old, I was just becoming aware of music in a big way and my radio was constantly on, or I was playing the few 45s or LPs I had on a fold up record player. Then one day, along came this song. I would find out later that the genesis of the song of the death of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper. Those three people meant little or nothing to me at that point in my life. I don't mean to make it sound cruel, but the plane crash in Clear Lake and songs of those three musicians occurred before I was born. So what did I find in American Pie? A Story.

Even though I didn't know the background and the symbolism in the lyrics, I knew I was listening to a story. Besides that, the music was great. It started off slow––sped up––rocked for a while in the middle — then, with some somber words it faded out. Those types of shifts within the song are called hooks, and they did exactly what they were supposed to do: they hooked me. Even though it was a solitary voice for most of the song, it was a wonderful voice and one that demanded that you listen to it. Every time it played from the first time I heard it, I sat and allowed it to captivate me for the entire eight minutes and thirty-seven seconds. That is a long time for a thirteen-year-old.

After the first few times I heard it, I did what all teenagers do when they like a song––I memorized the lyrics. No small task back then. You'd have to wait until the radio station played the song again and because of the song's length, they'd only play it every few hours. There was a lot of luck involved to hear it more than once a day. But I did, and eventually I memorized the lyrics. All eight-hundred and sixty-eight of them. 

At about the same time, I read Erich von Däniken's Chariots of the Gods? If you're not familiar with it, the book is a hypothesis that the technologies and religions of many ancient civilizations came form by ancient alien astronauts who were welcomed as gods. Regardless of your feelings about the book's ideas, it was among the first that made me think. The author took various bits of history and wove them together to support his theories. It was like finding the holy Grail that explained everything. I'd recall that feeling of accepting a constructed truth when I wrote term papers about cults in high school and college.

Imagine a world without the Internet, where rumors and urban legend traveled by word-of-mouth. You'd be amazed at how quickly it occurred. That's what happened with American Pie, lacking a full explanation from Don McLean, people put together various events that seemed to match the lyrics. The Jester in the song must've been Bob Dylan, the reference to moss growing fat?––it was about the Rolling Stones, and the sergeant's playing the marching tune? Of course, it was a reference to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Over time, I picked up explanations for every single lyric in the song. All of them seem to match the words to people and events in history.

Last week, I caught the documentary The Day the Music Died/American Pie and in addition to people talking about the significance of the song in their life, Don McLean finally shared how the song was written, the construction of the music on the record, and the meaning of those mysterious lyrics. I don't want to give out any spoilers, but I will tell you everything I heard about the song growing up was wrong, except the reference to the plane crash on 3 February 1959. 

Maybe it's because I'm older now, but rather than feeling lied to, I appreciated his words on the subject. As I've often said, when an author writes "the curtains were blue", sometimes it has nothing to do with the fact he was depressed when he wrote the words, it usually means he looked around and noticed––the damn curtains were blue.

After watching the documentary, American Pie made it back into rotation for my daily music breaks. One afternoon, while out running some errands, I was stopped at a stoplight with the windows of my car down and the song playing at near full blast. I was daydreaming, but then something caught my attention and I looked at the cars on either side of me. They too had their windows down and the driver of one car, and all the occupants of the other were singing along with the song. Amazing how universal this piece of music still is.

Note: Don McLean figures into another entry in this blog, he's the inspiration for the song Killing Me Softly  As for plane crashes, the crash that took the lives of Buddy, Ritchie, and the Bopper was just the beginning of tragedy for rock, these two entries are about other musicians who met similar fates: Lynyrd Skynyrd  and Jim Croce 


Monday, August 1, 2022

An Escape Into My Tiny Writer's Garret

When I think about writing, I see it as a purely creative process. Because of that, it is something that can neither be rushed nor done on a specific schedule. I don't mean that the deadlines for editing and such, but the basic writing has to come when it comes. Usually, there comes a point in writing a story when my mind is filled with the characters and the action of my story. I refer to this as being in the zone, and once I'm there, I have a tendency to close out the outside world is much as possible and let those words flow as freely as their coming to me. Until then, I feel that I'm wandering about like a bumblebee, bumping into everything that might be in my way as I try to fly towards the flowers I am seeking.

Thanks to Katrin, a wonderful lady that I've never met who lives in Hamburg, Germany I no longer bumble my way onto the path I need to be on, her creations allow me to concentrate on only a small part of the physical world in front of me. The first time I did this, back in January, the result was a small library that seemed turned the corner and go on forever when you peered into it.  It was the perfect project at the perfect time; allowing me to be creative and but also having guard rails to keep me from running off the path. As I built that library, I ventured into its hallway and explored the shelves, the ladder, and even the lights. It took me from here to there.

Recently, Katrin moved into a space beyond Etsy that gives her more freedom and control over what she markets. When I first looked through her new offerings, I was immediately drawn to one she called the Antique Office, which featured a large window at the end rather than an infinite hallway. At the end of the nook, sit a desk and chair where its occupant could peer through a large window at a large full moon. 

After a few days of looking at the kit, I ordered it. It seemed to arrive much faster than the last package I had come from Germany, but it may have just been my imagination. Unlike my last kit, this one seemed to have less finished and more decisions to be made by me. I pieced it together several times, trying to observe it from different angles to come up with a painting scheme for an office that I might like to occupy myself. As I did this, the name shifted to Tiny Writer's Garret.

This time, rather than lining the books up on the shelves in neat rows, I made it more like my office and allowed the books to be in piles and even stacked on top of the bookcase. Katrin had suggested a few add-ons, so on the desk sits not only a quill and inkwell but also a bust. Another minor prop included of miniature mailed envelopes, which are appropriately scattered across the floor near the chair.

The moon is back-lit through the window, and its shine fills the office with fantasy beams of lunar magic. Unfortunately, the photo does not really do it justice as the camera does not adjust lighting as well as the human eye. 

As with my last project, it is now ensconced in a bookshelf with lights that turn on automatically when someone enters the room, allowing them a brief glimpse before it goes dark and disappears into the stack of books.

My Tiny Writer's Garret served his purpose and cleared my mind of a lot of extraneous things so I could get to work on my latest work in progress. Now and then, I go down where that new project sits and allow myself to transport into it so I consider that desk and put words on a piece paper.


Monday, July 25, 2022

Razor Sharp? No, Sharper

When my dad was preparing to leave for Vietnam, he invited me to watch him pack his suitcase. Even though I was only about eight, I remember watching and making note of one particular item that went into his bag — a brand-new six-inch Buck hunting knife in a matte black leather sheath. When he came back, a year later, I watched him remove that knife from his bag and lay it on the bed as he unpacked. Without asking, I picked it up and examined it. 

The sheath was now worn but still smooth but shiny from wear, and the handle of the knife had several deep scratches that marred what used to be a smooth surface. He took it out of my hand and set it on his dresser without a word. I never asked my dad if he used the knife in combat. Given my age, it was something I never really thought about. 

A few years later, on Christmas, he gave me a brand-new Buck knife of my own to use when camping with the Boy Scouts. The knife was the perfect tool; it was extremely sharp, and just the right size for every purpose I used it for. Unfortunately, it was stolen. I never replaced it, as I was aging out of Boy Scouts, anyway.

Years later, my dad began telling me about his experiences in Vietnam. I never asked about his knife. I was old enough to realize it was better to let him tell the tale than for me to pry it from him. All I knew was that the knife remained special to him for the balance of his life.

It was the memory of that knife, the lead me to place one in the hands of Evan Davis in Three Paperclips & a Grey Scarf. It also appears in each of the other books of the Evan Davis tales series. 

As I was in Kuwait when I started writing that story, I had very few options for obtaining a Buck knife to use as a prop while writing. Most of the knives for sale at the Base Exchange were folding style and none of them were made by Buck. The knife became one of the first items I ever bought from Amazon. However, the knife I ordered was not the same as the one my father carried. Mine was a 75th Anniversary version of the blade. 

The Buck knife lay next to my keyboard, as I sat alone at night writing the story of Evan and the troops he was embedded with in Afghanistan. Whenever I was stuck or thinking out the next part of the story, I would take the knife from the sheath and fidget with it. Since it had never been used will a piece of wood, field strip prey, or even cut through a length of parachute cord, it was every bit as sharp as the day Buck created it. This resulted in me finishing the book of several fresh cuts on my fingers and hands from my fidgeting. Hazards of being a novelist, I guess. 

Through the next two books, the knife has appeared and is used in different ways. The knife also served as an exemplar for the cover of Blood Upon the Sands. As I plan out the last two books in the series, I have a sub story about the knife’s origin that will appear in one of them. It explains how Evan got the knife originally, and the meaning he attached to it over the years.

For now, it lives on a display shelf with my other props.

370, 551

Monday, July 18, 2022

One That Is Heartbreaking

Dogs give you thousands of really great days and then one that is heartbreaking.

17 Dec 2008-18 July 2022


Monday, July 11, 2022

Remembering Red Dawn on a Red Planet


Recently a lightbulb burned out in the kitchen. It was one of those ceiling spotlights I’d already upgraded to an LED bulb. This meant I couldn’t one of the incandescent or CFLs that I had laying around-- I was going to need an LED light bulb with matching temperature and wattage. Supply chains are still playing havoc with local hardware stores, so none of them had one in stock and I ended up ordering one online.

While I was browsing the hundreds of LED light bulb choices, I came across a bulb I hadn't seen in a long time. (Stay with me a moment, I promise this entry is not really about light bulbs.) These look like regular spotlight bulbs, but they are red in color and meant to produce heat. Of course, incandescent bulbs produce a lot of heat on their own but these were meant to be used in bathrooms and such As I stared at the bulb, I was taken back to a time when I was in ninth grade and our home's main bathroom was just off the kitchen. It had three of these bulbs mounted in the ceiling.

When I was in ninth grade, just like everybody else, I was going through a lot of changes not only physically but mentally as well as I started to Band, I was attracted to her.  She had an unforgettable smile accented by long dark hair and beautiful eyes. But rather than the romantic twist, I first hoped for, somewhere in the middle we spent so much time together we became friends and found ourselves talking about a lot of things. It was great to have a female sounding board during that confusing stretch of life, as it gave me a viewpoint that a lot of guys never get.

Every afternoon, I would come in from school, spend an obligatory ten minutes doing my homework, and then I’d grab the phone out of the kitchen (which had an extremely long cord), and drag it around the corner into the bathroom.  Once inside, I would shut the door and lay on the cool tile after turning on the red heat lamps in the room. I wasn't really cold, per se, I just thought the red glow that they gave the room was kind of cool.

For the next hour or so, Rosetta and I would talk. Sometimes about stupid things classmates said at school, other times talking about what was on TV or how we were feeling about stuff going on in our families. By the end, usually forced by her parents or mine, we were both drained of whatever tension-filled us and a little more firm in the things we were thinking.

I didn't realize how much I appreciated having her as a friend until I moved away that year before summer vacation. Our conversations had dwindled by then-- I’d made the mistake of introducing her to a friend of mine, and they had a rather nasty breakup. She’d advised me to go out with a girl who ended up being my first psycho ex-girlfriend. Hard feelings both ways, I guess. In the end, maybe we should’ve been going out with each other.

I lost all contact with her when we moved to our next base. Once I arrived there, I spent the standard few weeks not knowing anyone at the new location, but I was able to treasure the memory of the conversations Rosetta and I shared. The private thoughts and musings of two adolescents trying to figure out life and how to be cool at a time when nobody is -- an experience I enjoyed while lying under the red glow of heat lamps.


Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Some Storytellers Get To Keep Telling Stories


Earlier this year, friend and Brother Roger E Gregory passed on. He was one of those people you meet whom you look forward to speaking with during every encounter. It wasn't just that he was friendly and usually very positive—– every time you met him he was ready to tell you a story.

Some stories were humorous, some about his wife and his family, some about his time in the Navy. It was a wide variety of tales that spanned a life that was full of wonderful experiences. Every story brought you into his history, way of thinking, and worldview. That made each story precious.

As I considered the passing of this memorable person, I decided I wanted to honor the man I'd gotten to know. Something that would not only last but contributed to the community rather than just a simple memorial. At about the same time, I'd become aware of the neighborhood free library exchange boxes. My mind quickly connected the two things. I'ld create a small lending library that would stand as an ongoing way of sharing stories with anyone who opened its door and selected a book - just like Roger.

A few weeks ago, the Little Free Library (LFL) organization granted Charter #144174 to the WB Roger E. Gregory Little Free Library. This past weekend, it was filled with books and officially became available to the public.

If you are not familiar with the free library concept: In its simplest terms, the library is a small collection of books, available to everyone 24X7X365. People are encouraged to find a book they like, then take it with them to read. After they've completed the book, they may return it in a timeframe of their choosing. Patrons of the library are also invited to keep the book permanently, if they choose, with the hope they might donate a book to replace it. There is a wide variety of literary genres and the collection includes children's books as well.

For the details about my first LFL encounter, click here. For more detailed information about how to start your own LFL, click here.    

There is a very helpful mobile app to help let you locate nearby LFL's:


Or you can use the map on the LFL website by clicking here 

Last Friday, after I finished filling the shelves of the LFL with a fresh selection of books for the first time, I reflected on how this library of two dozen tomes came to be and what it was supposed to represent. I think Roger would be pleased; of course, he wouldn't say it directly he'd do so by telling you a story.