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.


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.


Tuesday, November 7, 2023

A Pit, a Pendulum, and a Dark Auditorium

I don’t have a favorite author; I have favorite authors. One of those authors is Edgar Allen Poe. Like most, I discovered horror books in fifth or sixth grade. Later on, I had a literature teacher who turned us on to more horror and Gothic horror stories, which is when I truly discovered the depth of Edgar Allen Poe’s work. His books are magnificent, of course. I’m not the only one who thinks so. In college, I eagerly enrolled in a literature class entitled An Examination of the Works of Edgar Allen Poe, but the actual content had little to do with its title.

Not only did we not examine the works of Poe, we barely examined anything at all. The professor had designed the class around the critiques Poe had written about other authors and their works. Apparently, criticism was Poe’s main income vehicle back in the day. To ensure that we knew what Poe was actually criticizing, we read dozens of other authors’ work before reading what Poe thought about them. This was not the class I thought I had signed up for. 

To make things worse, the professor had a very monotonous voice, and he’d insist on reading long passages from the book that I could not have given a damn about. Did I mention this class was my first of the day at the ungodly hour of 7:30 in the morning? Since I was still a freshman, I didn’t know I could drop a class simply because I wasn’t getting anything out of it, so I stuck it out. In the end, I got a B with the only lesson being learned that sometimes writers do things to make money when their time would’ve been better spent creating.

During my first year at Central Junior High School in Lawton, Oklahoma (Go Cougars!), I was introduced to the concept of school social activities. Once every other month, the school held a dance with a live band in the gym while they showed a movie in the auditorium. On later reflection, I think this was to please those with religious restrictions on dancing and to help shy teenagers who didn’t want to dance in public. It was an elegant solution, but I never ran into another school that followed that protocol. Like most seventh graders, dating was a foreign concept, so I arrived at the first dance and quickly met up with a group of my friends.

We stood around the fringes of the empty dance floor for quite a while before someone took a leap and danced. Soon, the floor was completely full. That included me, because my friend Mark’s girlfriend had several other friends and timing met opportunity. After one dance, across the gym floor I saw her. I’d seen her in class and thought she was cute. She had long dark hair flowing across her shoulders, and the darkest naturally red lips I’d ever seen in my life. Her bangs accented her eyes, which I found hypnotic. I guess that high contrast look and accent on the eyes this might've influenced my later attraction to Goth girls. 

As I stood watching other people dance, she quietly sauntered up beside me. We held a brief conversation that included that she didn’t dance. She then asked if I’d accompany her to the auditorium to watch the movie, which was about to start. I agreed and off we went.

The movie was The Pit and the Pendulum starring Vincent Price. I’d seen Vincent Price in several movies adapted from Edgar Allen Poe’s work before this and always enjoyed his performances. Price had the creepiest voice and aristocratic mannerisms that always seemed haunting. 

As we watched the movie, I gathered my courage and held her hand in the dark. The movie included themes that were perfect for our age group (adultery, murder, revenge, madness––the usual). She’d occasionally squeeze my hand during the scarier parts, but other than that we sat there silently - sweaty palm pressed to sweaty palm. 

I vividly remember two things from the movie. While walking down an abandoned passageway, Vincent Price walked into a wall of cobwebs face first. Years later, he mentioned this scene and how he asked the director if it was meant to scare the ladies. The director replied, “No. The men.”   Also indelibly etched into my mind was a scene that also gave me sleepless nights for the rest of that week. It was the very last one in the film. I won’t reveal it here, but I’ll say the director of Carrie and M. Night Shyamalan probably learned the concept of the glance back twist ending from this film. 

After the shock at the end, it was time for a shock of my own-- she leaned forward and kissed me as the credits scrolled. She wasn’t the first girl I ever kissed, but she was the first girl I was ever attracted to who I kissed. The shocking end of the movie and the subsequent kiss left me flabbergasted. Since it was Friday night and I would not see her again until Monday, I had to wait to see if I’d get a repeat opportunity––maybe somewhere in the halls of my school. But alas, it was not to be. 

She went home and told her mother about our evening, which resulted in her being up grounded. She was forbidden any sort of non-platonic relationship with anyone outside of her faith and until she was twenty-one. I was forbidden fruit at thirteen? It left me feeling a little Romeoesque. 

I’ll always have great admiration for the stories of Edgar Allen Poe. I’ve since learned that a lot of the urban legend surrounding him… his madness, and drug abuse were just that—– urban legend. That’s okay. I think it adds to his stories. If you believed he produced some of the most amazing tales while mentally altered, you have to admire him more. 

After all, how could he craft such perfectly written tales while not being in full control of his faculties? He takes you along as a tormentor is permanently bricked into a wine cellar wall. You imagine hearing the cries of a cat and the beat of a heart, even though both are impossible. Then a bird — a Raven — who knows and repeats but one word. 

All that isn’t from one being tortured, but one who wants to torture the reader, leaving them enjoyably unsettled. 


Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Don't Dread the TBR, Everyone Needs One

Sitting on the corner of my desk, and a nice neat pile next to a miniature I call Tiny Lair, is my pile of books to be read (TBR). If these were homework assignments or part of a required reading list, the feeling might be less than positive. However, these are books are ones I’ve selected but just didn’t have time to read. So, they sit there in this nice neat pile waiting for time.

I admit some books have been there since last spring. Sometimes it is difficult to read a book during summer unless you’re relaxing in a beach chair next to a body of water. Now that we’re past Halloween, I expect I’ll begin working my way through this stack.

I typically read three books at the same time - one fiction, one nonfiction, and one on philosophy/self-improvement. It lets me flow back-and-forth depending on my mood when I find a few minutes to glance at a page or two. I also read one novel a month for my Zoom Reading Group. It might seem like a lot of reading, but it really isn’t.

Besides the pile that you see sitting on my desk, I’ve got another pile stacked in bits and bytes on my Kindle. Whereas most folks seem to gravitate towards one or the other reading media, I easily flow between the two. My typical rule of thumb is that if the title is something I think I might read again or at least want to have around for reference, I buy it in hard copy. If it is something I’m only reading once, it goes on my Kindle. It’s a simple division.

On my wish list for my next house, I hope for a spacious office with a wall-to-wall bookshelf and a hidden passage to a cozy reading room. The room would include an easy chair, some kind of music playing device, a lamp, and a few other accouterments that’d create a proper reading environment. I guess my desire for such a hidden room comes from all those Batman episodes I watched when I was a kid. I must not be the only one because there are several companies that produce the hardware to create my desired secret passageway through a bookcase.

Like most readers, I see no shame in having a TBR pile. In fact, I think it reflects the fact that my basic philosophy is that there is always something more to read. 

Oh, within that pile are several books bought as gifts from the various wish lists that I have online. The one recommendation I’d make: If you’re buying a book as a gift for someone else, take a moment to sign it. I know, I know some people say it reduces the value of the book. I’m not talking about a first edition Chaucer; I’m talking about modern publications. I can’t speak for everyone, but every time I open a book that was a gift, I’ll occasionally turn to the inscription and reflect on the one who gave it to me. In this way, the gift becomes a recurring memory of the gift giver.


Monday, October 23, 2023

A Demon, a Spaceman, a Cat and a Starchild Walk Into My Summer of Live Rock & Roll

That’s not actually correct. They didn’t walk; roadies lowered onto the stage on individual platforms. Also, it really wasn’t summer, being mid-October — it was more autumn. But the rock & roll was live. Kiss put on a great show, and since this was their third farewell tour that also aligned with their 50th anniversary, it was even more special. That it was in Detroit was an homage to their own roots, as that is where they started.

Kiss was just taking off as I reached adolescence. That takeoff was surrounded by massive hate and discontent from those who were already opposed to rock ‘n’ roll. I remember the first time I saw them in their full makeup and costumes, and that alone caused me to pause and listen to the music. The band faced opposition from church groups who believed that the name Kiss had sinister connotations. Looking back it was all a little silly: Knights in Satan’s ServiceKinder SS, Kids in Satan’s Service.  Well, to be honest, being a young teenager that only caused me to gravitate a bit more toward the group. 

I was never a big fan of the music, at the time I was leaning more towards Linda Ronstadt in the Eagles. But I was familiar with the music and there were several songs I liked. Most of that was because of the eight-track tape player I had in my car. The device was a hand-me-down from my dad’s pickup truck, and I owned four tapes: Johnny Cash - San Quentin, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Soundtrack, That’s the Way of the World Live by Earth, Wind and Fire, and Alive! by Kiss. Looking back at that collection, it is interesting that three of the four are live collections. There was also a tremendous difference in the genres of each compared with any of the others.

So how did I wind up at this concert? I bought the tickets as a birthday present for my younger brother as he was a fan of the band back in the day.

Overall, it was a great evening, and the music was good. The number of songs I was familiar with surprised me. It never occurred at the time which band was performing it. 

From the very first song, Paul Stanley (Starchild), the band’s frontman, made it clear that every song we heard was being performed in Detroit for the very last time. A constant reminder that this was their farewell tour.

You can debate the quality of the music, vocals, and actual performances. But what you cannot debate is the quality of the show itself. It was entertaining and kept you waiting for the next surprise around the corner. Gene Simmons (Demon) stuck out his tongue and at one point blew a huge fireball into the air then spat blood. You know, the usual. Eric Singer (Cat) performed an exceptional drum solo that started with a showy bit of prep while he kept dual bass drums rhythmically pounding away without pause. Tommy Thayer (Spaceman) offered up several guitar solos that are now among my favorites.

One of the bigger highlights of the show is when Paul Stanley climbed onto an aerial zipline that went from the stage to the back of the arena. Once there, he climbed off onto another stage and performed several songs. Since our seats were right next to the second stage, it was a big highlight for us. While he was singing, he was also doing a bit of soft shoe in the tall platform shoes that they all wore. Considering the man is now 71 years old, performing much as he did when Kiss started five decades prior added to the impressiveness of the performance.

I’ve always been a people watcher, but it seemed as if the uniqueness of the band brought out a fan base just as unique. I mentioned earlier all the problems that grown-ups seem to have with the band when they arrived on the scene in the 70s. It was interesting to see entire families showing up for this concert and all in makeup; in the last 50 years, a Kiss concert had become a family event. 

Of course, there were also adults who dressed up like the band, and it was fun talking with them before the music started. I even got a picture.

During the third or fourth song, my attention was drawn to two ladies who were sitting across from us. One of them, with Starchild makeup, was filming the entire concert with her phone. While she was doing it, she was watching the concert over the top of the camera and dancing. I can’t help but wonder what the video looked like since she was putting quite a bit of effort into her dance moves. Standing behind her was another lady who was very into the music. 

It took me a while to figure out exactly what she was doing, but when I did, I realized why she was having more fun than anyone else in the venue. Somehow, at least from how she acted, she had directly connected with the band on stage and they were performing solely for her. As she sang the songs back to them, she was oblivious to everything else around her. At various times, it looked like she was flirting with the members of the band even though there was no way they could see her from the distance between them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a connection that deep or eclectic between a fan and a performer.

The first time I saw Alice Cooper it surprised me how exceptional the show was. This was at the same level. The show was visual and auditory. It brought back memories and gave me a lot of new ones to walk away with.

There are several more shows left both here in Canada before the tour wraps up in December. Buy the damn tickets and go.


Thursday, September 28, 2023

Casey’s Coast to Coast — and a Few Fly Overs In-between

When I’m cruising around, because of my love for music, my radio is always on. However, is not always music I’m listening to. I also programmed in some comedy and news channels. I also listen to a couple of different podcasts as well. But mostly it’s music.

On the weekends, if I get lucky, I catch an episode of American Top 40 with Casey Kasem. Of course, these episodes aren’t current, I don’t even think AT40 is still broadcast. But way back in those magical days, when I was in my adolescent and young adult years, it was part of my weekly routine. I’d listen to Casey as he counted down Billboard magazine’s Top 40 hits for the week.

A confession: Except for getting to hear a few songs I would record for later mix tape creation; I really didn’t care about the countdown. What I enjoyed most was Casey’s way of telling a story through long-distance dedications, trivia, and some of the back stories he provided on older music. Casey hosted the show from 1970 to 1988 and then after a ten-year absence, returned in 1998 until he and AT40 permanently parted ways in 2004. 

When I worked as a disc jockey during my college years, I got to play Casey’s show every week. It’d arrive at the station on custom-made vinyl albums that included all the songs, commercials, and other material ready to go. I played them one at a time. Then flipped them over and played the backsides. Because of legalities, we were required to return the records every week after playing them or pay a hefty fine. I stopped listening to the show regularly when I finished one of my tours in Germany in 1983. Armed Forces Network Europe made sure we got the show every week.  

I’ve been listening to AT40 for a long time, but I only realized recently that the bottom fifteen songs on the chart usually don’t move up. This is because of the way the charts mix of famous and lesser-known music. Either less than stellar songs solely occupied the lower part of the countdown by famous artists or new songs by people you’d never heard of. Upon that realization, it forced me to ask myself, should he have even bothered?

While on a recent trip, I was trapped with Casey’s show from start to finish. The show was from October 1979. Rather than flipping stations, I let it play uninterrupted from beginning to end. Since the show’s a countdown, he started with song number forty and worked his way up to song number one. This meant my first hour of listening were these barely known songs. At least to me.

Were they bad songs? No, not really --  they just lacked that commercial hook that would’ve made them eventually rise to the top. A few of them I recognized and at least one I could remember dancing to, but they weren’t those stellar songs that climbed to the top.  

Were they worth listening to? Yes. Most definitely. They provided me with entertainment for at least an hour and at least one of them was significant enough to me I could match it against a life event. So, if those songs did not exist, things would’ve been a little less than. Personally, I like it when my life is more than.

Without realizing it, Casey made sure those songs gained ears even though they wouldn’t gain massive fame and fortune. Most songwriters, like writers, feel happiest when they entertain and share their words with an audience, not only when they earn money.

Here’s Casey’s final sign off.


Tuesday, September 19, 2023

September -- When Celebrate Ends with an Arrr!

This is a busy part of September with many things that I consider important being commemorated: Batman Day, US Constitution Day, Birthday of the Air Force, Oktoberfest begins, International Talk Like a Pirate Day, and somewhere in there my birthday.

16 September — The day commemorating the world’s greatest detective: Batman. Starting with Adam West’s portrayal and followed by all the players who have put on the cowl since, he’s been my favorite. Why? His only real superpower, aside from unlimited funds, is his intellect.  

17 September—US Constitution Day, a day celebrating the most brilliant government document ever written. Freedoms for the people, and a framework for how the people control the government. The Constitution rocks.

18 September—US Air Force Birthday. I am and will always be proud of my service in this branch of America’s military. WWII showed the Air Force was truly something different from what came before and therefore needed to stand as an independent force. Yep.

19 September—International Talk Like a Pirate Day. This is my favorite holiday, with rum, booty and talking funny. It should be yours too. It is easy to take part, just go Pirate Speak–you even get to keep both eyes, both legs, and you don’t need a hook or parrot. Check out the facts here.

Mid September -- Oktoberfest Begins -- This is the time when everyone gets to be German. Beer, singing, dancing, and more. I only got to go to Munich once so far. I will never forget it. Hey Baby -- indeed.

Note: For those who think I forgot, I didn’t.  

20 September—Storm Area 51 Day, a meme-driven event that turned a mass uprising into a humor creation exercise. As information regarding UFOs is now being released, please take a moment to realize nothing references Area 51.


Monday, September 11, 2023

A Rememberance

Note:  I wrote this after experiencing 9/11 while stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany capturing the experience of being outside the United States during that day.  Never forget.

A lot of folks have asked me to share what it is like being outside the US during recent events.  After giving it some thought, I have pieced together the following, and I am sending it on to friends and family.  I hope this lets you know that the world is still a caring place, for the most part, and that we are all safe and secure.

On 11 September, I was in class when the announcement was made about the first crash. None of us could believe it.  I grabbed my cell phone and dashed to our security office from the classroom.  I arrived in time to watch the second plane hit - I was dumbfounded.  My brain could not digest that this was real and not some special effect. 

I left the security office to head upstairs to the situation room to notify them that I was locking down the network to prevent any problems.  After about 15 minutes there I walked into the Colonel's office to brief him.  As I walked into the room, I heard the announcement about the Pentagon.  This was so unreal.  I was in a daze.

I had no fear for my youngest son, he was on the base and secure.  My older son was at work,  just around the corner from his brother.  The only real fear I felt was for you folks in the US and those folks in uniform I had worked with for 20 years. I also had a very odd feeling because this was the first time in 20 years I was in no way connected to what would be the "military reaction."

Like most of you, we all spent that night and the next few glued to the TV set to see what new information was forthcoming.  Armed Forces Network (AFN) was giving us a live CNN feed.  We, like you, were looking for something --  anything that would lend a bit of hope to the darkness.   I found some of that hope in the German people of our city.

The night of the 11th I was taking the trash out when two of our neighbors, who I had not even met yet (we had been in the house 11 days), came by to express their condolences and to tell me that their prayers were with America.   While walking downtown,  a man of apparent Middle Eastern descent comes up to apologize for the acts of the "insane and evil" among his people.  Most of all he wanted me to understand that it did not represent his people and that I should not hold it against them.

The base went into lockdown mode.  As some of you know, I do not work on the base itself but in the American Arms Officer Tower downtown.  Within a few days, we all got used to the ID checks, car searches, and other obstacles in place to keep us safe.   About two days after the crash I started to notice the flowers appearing at the main gate,  which had been totally locked down.  I started making it a point to go by there, and as days passed flowers, candles, cards of encouragement, and flags (American and German) all appeared.  I took time to read several, and most said the same thing "We are with you,  we are one."  I had found some hope, a bright spot that made it all a little easier. Several huge silent candle-lit marches went through the city, ending in services at the various cathedrals in town.

We went on a Volksmarch (sort of an organized stroll through the forest) the next weekend, and IVV was collecting money for American Red Cross and signatures for a card to be sent to New York.  I think this is the first time I can ever remember hearing about or seeing a foreign country giving to America instead of the other way around.

In recent weeks there have been two other events here in Wiesbaden that connect to the WTC tragedy.   I am telling you about them so that if you hear about them later, you do not feel any worry.  The person thought to be the "money man" for al Qaeda was arrested here.  Keep in mind that Frankfurt (20 miles up the road) is the financial capital of Europe, so it is not out of line for this guy to be living here.  It is about the same as finding a stockbroker living in Newark.    One item of comfort:  since this was a money laundering operation, the business end was kept far away from it to keep it looking legitimate.

The other incident was an Anthrax scare at a local Shell gas station. The substance was tested and found to be plain old cocaine.  How's that for relativity - feeling relieved because it was cocaine?  

The worst part of being here during something like this is not feeling insecure or fearful.  The worst part is feeling disconnected from your people - those that share the experience and feel the pain.   It feels that way here to a small degree.  For the most part, the sincerity of the words "We are with you,  we are one" from the German people provides that comfort to us.  From what I hear similar experiences are being had by Americans in England and Italy as well -- too bad it takes a disaster to bring us all a little closer together.

That's all the news from Deutschland for the moment.  Everyone is fine and well and doing great.


Wiesbaden, Germany

Monday, August 21, 2023

When Lyrics Start To Matter, Keep Singing

In my last entry, I mentioned singing a song to my youngest granddaughter at bedtime. I think aside from reading, it’s one of the most important things that adults can do during a child’s upbringing. Reading teaches children storytelling and takes them to a different world. Each tale has its own way of teaching a lesson. Music, while more ethereal, serves the same purpose. Also, since with very few exceptions we no longer sing as part of daily life, it provides a unique personal connection that is usually unshared.

The older sister of the one I mentioned, who is a kindergartner now, lived with us for an extended period while her dad was deployed. This allowed me to be part of her nightly bedtime ritual of bath, stories, songs, and tuck-in. With the adults each taking one step, I ended up singing to her almost every night. Of course, I was not much for lullabies, and instead introduced her to the music I enjoyed. After all, I knew the lyrics to those.

At first, I gleaned songs from my memory she might find easy to understand. She loved it when Puff the Magic Dragon was sung including her name. Then, of course, tunes like Rollover where she was the little one and the Ants Go Marching where her name was used for the ant doing the action elicited giggles. Granted, even though the objective was to get her fall asleep I didn’t mind hearing her laugh a bit before she did. She also liked The Marvelous Toy and The Unicorn Song.

As time went on, I started pulling songs from lots of sources. Rocky Top and Fox on the Run from my bluegrass repertoire, Leaving on a Jet Plane, Blue Bayou, Car Wash Blues, and Operator from my folk-rock history. Double Feature/Science Fiction* and The Rainbow Connection from my soundtrack memories. Lots of other songs made a brief appearance, and then vanished. The idea behind this was to get her to relax and fall asleep.

Even though she’s a kindergartner now, I still get to do this occasionally when I am around for her bedtime. She’s still not very good with titles. One night she asked me to sing the song about ‘your hill and my hill’. It took me a minute to realize she meant This Land Is Your Land. Most of the time, I sing what she asks for but when she can’t decide I’ve been introducing Eagles songs. Then the other night it happened.

I had sung Best of My Love and when I finished, she asked: “Grandpa, what’s that song about?” It took me a minute. I fondly remember the song as semi-romantic, but when I started running through the lyrics in my head, there was no doubt it was a breakup song. Worse, I couldn’t think of a way of explaining a song: Two people who loved each other very much but just couldn’t make it work out. How do you explain that to a five-year-old in such a way she might understand? In the end, I kept it simple: it was about two people who had to say goodbye. She let me get away with that, not asking another question. I was thankful I hadn't sung Hotel California.

It’s a wondrous and wonderful thing to watch her grow up. It’s still at the point where the new discoveries are joyful enough to distract from the fact these days are also disappearing one by one. I’ll continue to sing for her every chance I get, but I’ll be more careful about the songs I pick. Might be time to dust off Puff again.

*-Whereas the movie that the song Double Feature/Science Fiction is intended for adults, the song itself is about 50s era Science Fiction movies and is harmless. 


Monday, August 14, 2023

Grief Is Momentary, But the Good Memories Last Forever


On Friday, I read the news of a lifelong friend's passing. Losing a friend is harder if you haven’t kept in touch then the news hits harder as you are flooded with memories. Tom Arnold was a good man and probably the best example of how lifelong friendship works among military brats.

In the mid to late seventies, Tom, Phil, and I made up the self-named Busboy Triumvirate at the Fort Eustis Officers Club in Virginia. One evening, when we had completed our shift, we adjourned to an unused game room at the back of the club. There were a few pinball machines and a pool table in the center of the room. Off to one side sat the remains of a keg of beer we had absconded with earlier. On this particular evening, as we played Eightball, smoked cigarettes, and drank beer, the topic for discussion was how the world had changed. It’s funny to think that three teenagers found any change in our brief lives significant enough to complain about. Somehow, we did.

We’d talked about this subject before, but this time we compared events from when we were in elementary school. It was the first time any of us had spoken about those years. As military brats, you wash over deep history and instead, just exchange a quick list of bases where you’d once lived. So, it was a surprise to discover that for the first few years of elementary school Tom and I had both been at Fort Ord, California. Beyond the basic information, we didn’t delve into it further because there were more important things to do like drink beer and shoot pool. 

The next time we showed up for work, Tom was eager to share a photo he’d dug up. It was his second-grade class picture, and he pointed to himself in the front row, and then to me two rows behind him. Amazing, all these years later and now on the opposite coast of the United States we were about to graduate high school together. It wasn’t until a few nights later when we compared birthplaces we found both of us were born in Germany. I was born five days before him, and just fifty miles down the road from Frankfurt.

For three years, we lived in the same neighborhood and developed a casual friendship that skipped important details until now. That’s not unusual for military brats. We form significant relationships with only a cursory comparison of histories. It was more about the here and now, and who is in front of you than where they came from or were born. Junior year, we sat next to each other in a health class we shared. We spent most class periods talking and joking since our health teacher was often absent because of his side job as a wrestling coach.  

At the club, because there was time between setting up parties and taking them down, we had a lot of time to talk. When Phil’s romance with a co-worker made him duck out, so Tom and I conversed about deep stuff. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all serious discussions. We also discussed girls, cars, and our plans after graduation. Looking back, it was during this time I learned the basic critical thinking skills that I’ve used over a lifetime. We were bouncing ideas off of each other which helped us develop that skill. Tom was smart and also had a great sense of humor, so our discussions were very enjoyable.

One night, while we were putting away linens, Tom saw an old piano stored in the room’s corner. He made a remark that he always wanted to walk into a room containing a piano, walk over to it, and play a semi-complicated song without fanfare or introduction. When the song was complete, he’d just stand up and walk away, leaving everyone to wonder if he knew far more than that one song. At that point, he walked over to the piano and sat down. First, he cracked his knuckles and played the intro of Whiter Shade of Pale then sang the first half of the song as he played.

When he was done the room fell silent. I looked over at Phil, who had a puzzled look on his face. Tom closed the cover of the keyboard, stood up, and exited the room without saying a word. It was probably the most Tom-like thing I ever saw him do. Whenever I talk about him, I recant this tale.

When Prom time came, the three of us and our dates went as a group. The evening included dinner at a Polynesian restaurant that was known for selling booze to underage kids more than for their food. Then we went to the prom. When it was over, we headed out to the Colonial Parkway. It was also the last time I spent any time with Tom. A few weeks later, we graduated and then blasted off in separate directions.

In all the time that I knew Tom, he always had a quick wit, and often unique insights about whatever subject was being discussed. Even if we disagreed, I can’t recall a time when either of us got angry but sought a more logical argument to convince the other person to come over to our side. It was Tom who taught me a lot about what it means to have a good friend.

It’s been many years since we graduated high school, and I lost touch with a lot of folks but the one I regret most was Tom. Whenever I hear A White Shade of Pale I am flooded with memories of the times we spent together. I’ll always pause to reflect on them, at the moment with tears in my eyes.

My careers, both in the military and out, have taken me around the world, so saying goodbye to people then not remaining in touch is normal. A few years ago, when prepping to go to my Class Reunion, I asked if anyone knew if Tom was coming. His sister reached out to me and provided his mailing address but warned me he might not write back. She explained it wasn’t an insult, just who he was now. I immediately wrote a letter, and several more over the course of the year. After not hearing anything back, I gave up hope of hearing anything about him again, until this morning when I saw his obituary.

Tonight, I was reading a book to my two-year-old granddaughter before tucking her into bed; I took a moment to tell her about my friend Tom. Then, while holding her tight, I sang her to sleep with an a cappella rendition of A Whiter Shade of Pale.


Tom is one of about a dozen friends who also played guitar, but he is the only one I never jammed with. I was into folk rock and learning banjo during the time I knew him, he was into something more electric. But aside from being a great friend who left a significant impact on my life Tom introduced me to the music of Eric Clapton. Awesome stuff.


Monday, July 24, 2023

Grandkids Can Give You The Blues

I consider myself blessed I get to spend part of my time hanging out with my grandkids. Along with the expected joys that come from hanging out with these terrific small humans, I get to share things they are excited about. Recently, it was a cartoon called Bluey.

Bluey is a cartoon out of Australia that centers on a family of Blue Heelers. The family consists of Mum, Dad, Bluey (six-year-old daughter) and Bingo (four-year-old daughter). Besides those characters, there are also uncles, grandmothers, friends, neighbors, and more. Most stories focus on games played by the children with their parents, and occasionally with relatives.

It is a lot of fun to watch how the parents react to being included in the games. Of course, this is fantasy, so they can always drop everything to take part with the girls and they always participate wholeheartedly. The Dad, Bandit, has a keen perception what's going on and immediately jumps into the fantasy the girls have concocted. He gives characters made-up names while playing the game. For instance, Bert Handsome for the hair salon, Romeo McFlourish for the fancy restaurant, and Telemachus for the hospital.

Some examples of the games include the floor is lava, the pizza shop, going shopping, robot Dad, Dad is a newborn, and statues. They also have event episodes like when the girls fixed Dad's birthday breakfast, and going to the hardware store with Mum. There are lessons to be learned as well, and if a parent does something wrong, they figure it out with the help of the girls. Eventually, everything is made right. In a small way, I guess, each episode is it's own lesson if you pay attention closely enough to find it. No problem with that -- they are also entertaining.

I like the artwork of the show. There are things in the background that make the world of Bluey more believable and more like your home. Minor details like outlets, window cranks, and the miscellaneous stuff on a bookshelf all make the program more immersive. The best part is that I get to enjoy watching most episodes with my granddaughters on my lap, as we laugh together at the funny parts.

The show has been around for three seasons, and is catching on in America thanks to a streaming service picking it up. As more and more people are familiar with it in the United States, you can occasionally get away with slipping a reference from the show into a conversation. I had such an experience during a recent coffee shop visit.

Me: I'd like a large nonfat cappuccino with whipped cream and one Splenda.

Barista: Absolutely name for the order? 

Me: (after a moment's thought) Telemachus.

Barista: Uh, could you say that again, please?

As I was about to speak, the barista standing next to the first one, took the cup from her.

Barista 2: It's okay (as she wrote on the cup) I got this. 

I thanked them both and then stepped aside to wait for my order to be prepared. After a few moments, Barista 2 nodded toward me as she extended the cup in my direction. Taking the cup from her, I spun it around in my hand to get the mouth hole in the right place. Then I noticed what name she had written upon it... Bluey's Dad.

I guess it could've been different, the Barista could've written Son of Odysseus and Penelope instead.


Monday, July 17, 2023

The Legend of Chris Towel

Almost everyone has a tale about that person who hung out at your house so much they became part of their family. It’s usually due to a friendship between them and someone in the family or maybe it was a boy/girlfriend situation that morphed into a whole family thing due to personalities. Of course, dogs, cats, and other animals often become family as well. This story is different, it’s about a towel that became if not part of the family at least part of the family lore and legend.

When one of my sons was working as a lifeguard at a community pool in Missouri he discovered after arriving for his shift that he’d forgotten to bring a towel. Rather than going without, he searched through a bin of Lost and Found items that had been there for over a month and pulled out a towel. As towels go, it was what you’d expect it to be. It was well made and larger than a bath, but smaller than a beach towel. It was medium gray with the name Chris and the silhouette of a fish embroidered on it in red.

When he brought it home that evening, he threw it in the laundry basket and explained how he came by the towel. I thought because of the fish emblem on it that Chris was probably part of the swim team or some other aquatic collective. The towel was washed and put away with our other towels and without fanfare Chris Towel, as it became known, started its journey with the family. 

The rest of the time we lived in Missouri, Chris Towel became the go-to tog. We’d take him with us when the destination was less than stellar, more nature than civilized, or when there was a possibility, a good towel might get stolen. It was the expendable towel. It was also the towel used to mop up things off the garage floor or elsewhere in the house when dry was needed, but you didn’t want to risk a high-dollar towel. Looking back, I have to say that Chris Towel always performed well and after going through the wash it returned spot and stain-free every single time. It was never lost. I guess monogrammed things have less of a propensity for being ripped off unless someone named Chris is walking by. 

Chris Towel could’ve lived out his days in Missouri, serving its intended purpose until worn out, but fate had other plans. When we moved to Germany, he made the trip with us. From there, Chris Towel traveled to the Netherlands, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and all over Germany. As the expendable towel, it was always understood that if space was needed, Chris Towel would be left behind. He never was. Chris Towel also went along on Boy Scout camping trips at Camp Freedom and Kandersteg International Scout Camp in Switzerland. When my youngest son went to an Outward-Bound style camp in Austria, Chris Towel went along. 

There were times he faced extinction as closets were cleaned out and decisions were made about what might get disposed of or donated. Chris Towel always made the cut. He came back to the United States where he went to various water parks and a few more Scout camps before he was relegated to the back of the closet. 

When I deployed to Kuwait as a reservist, Chris Towel went along. Later, when I deployed to Kuwait as a civilian, Chris Towel once again packed his bag and went with me. At the end of my tour in Kuwait, I once again looked at Chris Towel and thought about leaving him behind, but thought better of it and he returned to the US with me. 

When my youngest son was putting together his own household, after getting married, Chris Towel went with him. I suppose explained Chris Towel’s family legacy to his wife, as she also refers to him by name. Since that time, he’s been blessed with two awesome daughters who’ve been dried off by Chris Towel. He continues to serve as the solution for a wet body coming out of a lake, a pond, a bathtub, or a sprinkler. 

Like most folks, over the years, I’ve picked up a little of this and a little of that from everywhere I’ve ever been. But I have to say that one of the most constantly familiar objects has been Chris Towel. 

Now and then, I think about wanting to return the towel to its original owner, but I have no way of locating them now any more than when he first arrived decades ago. Chris Towel had been with us so long I’m seriously considering adding them to the family tree. I wonder how the ancestry sites will feel about that.