Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Story From the USNS Jupiter

Bosun Browning and I were anything but friends. As a matter of fact, we had come to blows once, well, nearly to blows, one might say. I couch the episode in that light due to the fact that I had the presence of mind, and the swift footedness of youth to quickly repair myself to the Captain’s cabin for refuge.

The whole thing started innocently enough, with the Bosun, who is the man tasked with everything on deck aboard ship, and I, engaging in some trash talking of one another’s backgrounds. I was that bane in the side of all true Southerners, a Yankee, while he occupied in my young mind that special space reserved for the mouth breathing, knuckle dragging denizen of the Deep South. This “trash talk” had gotten somewhat out of hand, considering the fact that he weighed about 250 pounds and stood 6’4” in opposition to my 145 pounds and slender 6’ frame.

At the time, and remember I was in my mid 20’s when this story takes place, I knew little fear, and each evening after going ashore and running through the jungles of Diego Garcia, which are not very dense, the island itself being but 34 miles long and only ¼ of a mile wide at it’s widesest point, I would return to the ship and weigh myself, calling out to the Bosun that when I attained the unimaginable mass of 150 pounds, I was determined, actually hell bent upon, kicking his Cajun ass. This resulted in Bosun Browning awaiting the return of my boat each evening. He would then follow me to the scale and watching over my shoulder he would check my weight with me. This was a fight that was going to happen and he was planning on losing no time in getting the thing started.

The disappointment on his face each night as I hovered about 147 and 148 pounds was almost heartbreaking, even to myself, though I knew that should the battle ever occur, I was sure to come out on the short end. The Bosun, impatient for his chance at hastening my demise, always shook his head in disgust as I failed to attain the 150 pound mark. To this end he had begun handing me a candy bar, or a piece of cake, after each failed weigh in. As I said earlier, he was in earnest for the battle to begin.

As the months wore on and I continued to hold at 148 pounds, which is the most I have ever weighed, we developed a mutual respect for one another, but he was still looking forward to the impending battle with relish. Sometimes things don’t go quite as planned and there is often a valuable lesson to be learned, if you keep your eyes open and your wits about you. This was one of those cases.

One night, sometime around midnight, I slammed my hand in a hatch and the nail was throbbing and aching something fierce. I was roaming the deck, unable to sleep, when I chanced upon the Bosun, who inquired as to the nature of my trouble. Showing him my finger he looked pained and told me to follow him to his cabin. I was in such a state that I did just that, not knowing what to expect from my nemesis.

Arriving at his cabin he rummaged through some tools, and pulling out a drill bit proposed that he would drill through my finger nail, thus relieving the pressure of the blood beneath it and my pain. Such was my pain that, with a trusting and uncharacteristic willingness on my part, I agreed to this experiment.

With a surgeons gentle touch this large Cajun shrimp boater proceeded to drill through my finger nail, and did exactly as he said he would, with a gentleness belying our continued state of war.

This is the night in which I learned a most valuable lesson; that the person most likely to help you in times of distress, is often not your friend, but rather your enemy. I retired to my cabin to ruminate upon this philosophical discovery and what it really meant in practical terms, particularly aboard ship. What I came up with, in conclusion, startled me then, and I have often thought back to this event when faced with confusion by the actions of others over the next several decades.

Take, as an example, three people standing on deck in a storm at sea. Two are friends and the third hates the other two. One of the two is swept overboard. The friend stands there transfixed, unable to assist due to two reasons, the first being that he is so upset at the loss of his friend, he is effectively immobilized; the second being that he is conscious of the risk he would undertake should he choose to take some action.

The enemy, on the other hand, is not weighed down with all this. He only knows that should he not take some decisive action, he will be judged by a very different standard. The friend of the victim will be consoled for his loss, while the enemy will be reviled for doing nothing. His inactions will be dismissed as his having availed himself of the unexpected pleasure in seeing his enemy hurt. Due to this he will leap overboard in a maelstrom in an effort to avoid this perception. I have seen this type of behavior several times in my years at sea, as well as my many years ashore. I stored this lesson away and gradually, over the course of the next few months, the Bosun and I were able to mute our "cold war" until the whole argument had become pointless.

In November, after the monsoons had ended, we were both scheduled to fly home on a 21 hour flight from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, to Newark Airport in New Jersey. We had a pleasant flight, during which I learned his entire life’s story, as I am sure he learned some of mine. I found, much to my surprise, that I was actually beginning to like this guy.

We landed at Butler Aviation Terminal, which is located at the far end of Newark Airport and proceeded through Customs and then outside to the line of cabs waiting at the curb. The Bosun asked me to watch his bags while he went to the rest room and I assented.

As soon as he was out of sight I took his baggage, and tossing them in the back of the next available cab, handed the driver a $50 bill and told him, “Here’s $50, I don’t care where you take the bags.” I grabbed the next cab and hightailed it out of there in a flash.

There are probably many lessons to be learned from this story, but I will not assign myself to the task of pointing them out. My actions, at the airport that morning, would seem to call any judgments I might make on the matter, into question.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Marion G. Crandall - An Interesting Side Note

This is the parade of the 27th Division on Fifth Avenue in New York City on August 30th, 1917. Within the next month they would start leaving New York for training in South Carolina. From there they would be shipping out for France and combat. This was my Grandfather's Division. I have been researching his wartime experiences.

While looking for more information about him I did run across the story of a very interesting woman, Marion G. Crandall. She was the first American woman to die in the war as a result of enemy fire. Her journey from Iowa to France and then back again, is a very unusual story, particuliarly for a woman in the context of the times.

Fluent in French, she spent time in Paris teaching school there sometime prior to 1916, when she returned home. After the United States declared war on Germany in April of 1917, she enlisted as a nurse and returned to France where she was killed by an artillery explosion early in 1918. The link to her homepage appears to be broken, so I have not posted it here. But a quick Google of her name will take you to several sites about this fascinating and compassionate woman. She was one of those rare and brave souls who put her beliefs into action. And though that action led to her untimely death, it does not diminish what she did within the short space of her life.

Monday, June 28, 2010

World War One - My Grandfather's Story

Today marks the day in 1914 when Archduke Ferdinand, of Austria, and his wife Sophia, were assassinated in Sarajevo by a Serbian Nationalist, triggering the outbreak of the First World War. Coincidentally, it is also the anniversary of the Treaty of Versailles which formally ended the war five years later. The Armistice had been signed in November of 1918 but it took until June 28th, 1919 to iron out all the details.

Like millions of others all over the world, the assassination of the Archduke would have a lasting impact on the Williams family. Growing up in the 1950's and 1960's, my family never talked much about my Grandfather's experience in the War. As a matter of fact, I never even met the man. He passed away about 8 years before I made my entrance into the world. So, naturally, I have been fascinated by him my entire life.

Recently I began looking into his wartime service to see where he went when he joined the Army and the 27th Division in the spring of 1917. The story is still missing several pieces but this is a brief account of what I have discovered so far by using photos provided to me by my favorite Aunt Gloria.

He was in the 27th Division of the NY 107th US Infantry, under the command of Major General John F. O'Ryan. This was their insignia, composed of the letters NY in an arched fashion to closely resemble the constellation Orion, a play on the majors last name. It is also the brightest constellation and contains the brightest star in the sky, Orion. They became known as the "Orion Division."

The 27th trained at Camp Wadsworth in South Carolina through the winter of 1917-18. While there they published a weekly paper called "The Gas Attack" and later this name was changed to "The Gas Attack of the NY Division". The first issue was published in November of 1917 and the last was on May 4th, 1918 as they were about to transfer to Norfolk. Another issue was put out in France at Christmastime 1918, after the war was over. Another was issued right before the Division came home to a huge parade in NY in March 1919.

In Spartanburg there were two colleges and the one most favored for dances etc was the Converse College for Girls. There are quite a few photos on line of soldiers on leave in Spartanburg during that time. I keep looking for my Grandfather.

This is a photo of Major General John F. O'Ryan. He is shown standing on a snow bank at Camp Wadsworth in Spartanburg. My Grandfather must have recognized him and took the photo. They were at Spartanburg from Nov 1917 through May 4th 1918 when they shifted to Norfolk for deployment to England.

Interesting side note; Spartanburg was the only place in South Carolina that did not welcome the Northern Divisions. (See the NY Times Article dated August 31st, 1917.) It concerns the Mayor of Spartanburg and his venomous attack upon the presence of "Yankee" troops. Apparently, there was also an African-American Division there at the same time. Captain N.B. Marshall, an African American of the NY Bar Association was called a "dirty nigger" and thrown from a street car in one instance. When Frank De Broit, an African-American private, attempted to buy a newspaper in a hotel lobby, with the permission of his Lt., a man named Europe, he was knocked to the ground by the hotel clerk. About fifty members of the NY 27th Division jumped in, hell bent on murdering the hotel clerk when they heard the command, ""Attention!" called out by Lt. Europe, who then ordered the men to cease their action and file out peacefully two by two.(He was, apparently, an early version of Martin Luther King.)

Major O'Ryan wrote a book about the whole experience, from Spartanburg to France and then coming home again in 1919. It's called "The Story of the 27th Division" and can be found online and read for free. You can even download it as a PDF file.

Once in England they trained jointly with the British troops and appear to have crossed the Channel at Dover to France and marched down South towards Paris. On the way he would have taken the photo of the "Ponts de la Soissons" which is the Bridge at Soissons. From there they would likely have gone on South to Paris to group up before starting the final offensive of the war, referred to as the Muese-Argonne campaign and included the Second Battle of Verdun. Verdun is on the west bank of the Muese River. This is where he allegedly stole the keys to the city and a mandolin, which my step-mother, Alice, still has in her kitchen. The campaign lasted from September 1, 1918 through November 11th when the Armistice was called.

On Sept 29, 1918 the 27th Division, under command of Maj. General O'Ryan, along with the 30th Division, and the British units (under command of General Haig) jointly "cracked" the St. Quentin Tunnel Complex which ran parallel to the Hindenburg Line for a distance of about 4 miles North to South, and was used for resupply of the German forces there.

Forming a "pincher" and advancing eastward, the combined forces broke through the Hindenburg Line, which the combined French and British forces had been unable to do for 3 years. The 27th crossed through Guillemont and Quennemont Farms just West of the line. There were 227 officers and men of the 27th killed that day and another 688 wounded.

This means that they likely did not go to Paris upon arrival "in country", but rather, that after they cross trained with the British they headed to St. Quentin, which is North of both Paris and Verdun.

After the action at St. Quentin they continued on with the British 4th Army under the command of Major Rawlinson through most of October on their way to the Selle River south of the fighting at LeCateau.From there they would have moved on to the Second Battle of Verdun. He was wounded by artillery sometime during all of this, as a result of which he had a metal plate in his head for the rest of his life. He was also gassed. I am still, at this writing, trying to find out where and when he was wounded. It would appear, by the mere existence of the photograhs, that he was wounded late in the war, most likely right before the Armistice in November. After Verdun the 27th "hunkered down" through March of 1919 when they were sent home.

This is a photo of the entire 27th Division taken in March of 1919, composed of all 10,000 officers and enlisted men just prior to leaving France. My Grandfather is most likely in this photo, but it's kind of like "Where's Waldo." And war is like that, millions of men, whose names often go unrecorded in the greater annals of history, do the the heavy fighting, and pay the heavy price, while the select few garner the recognition of their sacrifices.

When he returned from the "Great War", as it was referred to at the time, he went on to become a Police Officer in New York City. When he died, at the all too young age of 43 years old, leaving a wife and 5 children behind, he became a belated casualty of that war.

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

Sunday, June 27, 2010

"Midnight Dreary" By John Evangelist Walsh

What could be more perfect than a mystery about the man who invented the genre? I read this book in 1998 when it first came out. Seeing it on the shelf at the library was like bumping into an old friend. We just had to get together again.

Poe was traveling from Richmond to New York by steamboat and landed in Baltimore when he disappeared for several days in late September and early October of 1849. He was found on the morning of October 4th badly in need of medical attention and dressed in old rags which were surely not his own.

What happened in the last days of his life is an eternal mystery. There are several versions, the most prevalent being that he was given drink and "cooped" with several of Baltimores lower inhabitants the night before Election Day in October, 1849. That he was found in the 4th Ward and outside Ryan's Tavern gives creedence to this version. It has always been the one that I have adhered to. He was stupified with drink and taken from polling place to polling place to vote the ticket he was instructed to.

But Mr. Walsh explores other avenues, while not entirely dismissing the Election night version. For instance, he has identified the mysterious "Reynolds" whom Poe called out for in his last hours. There was a Henry R. Reynolds present at Ryan's Fourth Ward in the Gunners Hall section of Baltimore in the days preceding the election and coinciding with Poes absence. But there was also a Jeremiah Reynolds, who was one of the leading characters in Poes longest work, the 180 page mini novel "The Strange Adventures of A. Gordon Pym, Late of Nantucket." Which Reynolds was Poe calling out to in his delerium? The fictious Reynolds, or the Ward Heeler?

A fascinating read no matter what your opinion is of Poes disappearance and subsequent death. The book captures the city in the mid 1800's flawlessy and delves into areas not usually associated with the great writers death. For fans of Poe this is the JFK of it's time. And like the mystery in Dallas, I hope they never solve it. The speculation is simply too much fun.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

"Mark Twain's Helpful Hints..." Edited by The Mark Twain Project

While awaiting publication of the third autobiography of Mark Twain, the one he directed to be released 100 years after his death, I have been hungering for some of his wry words of wisdom. To that end I journeyed to one of the local libraries and came home with this wonderful little book.

First published in 1991 by the Mark Twain Foundation, this edition is edited by Lin Salamo, Victor Fischer and Michael B. Frank. Comprised of 8 distinct sections the writings range from Mr. Twains views on Etiquette, Complaints, Travel, Health and Manners to name only a few. Most of the material comes from the private papers of the author.

For fans of Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens for the purists amongst us) this book will delight you with some things which are familiar, as well as surprise you with the things you have not previously read. And for those folks who are unfamiliar with Mark Twain beyond "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn", the book will serve as an open door through which you will hopefully discover the delight and wit that made him one of America's greatest writers.

This book makes an excellent companion for a hot and lazy summers day. And a suitable resting place for those of us awaiting the Autobiography due this fall.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Reflections On the Written Word

This poem, or attempt at a poem, was inspired by something Suzy, of said in an e-mail about talking on the phone. Sometimes the little nuances of writing are missing as people attempt to talk over, and outdo one another in the conversations. They seem to get lost within themselves. I don't often write in this style, so bear with me.

Reflections On The Written Word

Words on paper-seem so clear.
Much clearer than the ones we hear
on telephones.

When 2 friends speak and words collide,
There’s nothing there,
the words aside.

Words on paper seem so real.
They have a texture and a feel,
all their own.

When two write down the things they think,
The meaning’s sure,
the words distinct.

But still, the lines, between, when read,
Sometimes contain
things unsaid.

And of these two, the one that lasts,
is the one you grasp
with two bare hands.

Picking up a scrap, to see,
words that once
were writ to me.

Concord, NC June 24th, 2010

An Open Letter to Harry Reid

Honorable Senator Reid,

I called your office today as a Veteran and a fellow American to ask about the future/ if any plans concerning Unemployment Extensions. I understand that the bill was voted down last night due to a Republican road block. To that end I have been calling Richard Burr of my home state, who is one of the obstructionist Republicans of whom I am speaking.

Your office staff has treated me so rudely and with such dismissal that I am now leaving the Democratic Party. To be treated this way, at such a volatile time amidst our present troubles, is quite beyond the pale. This is not the first time that this has happened when I call your office.

The people answering your phones are rude, ill informed and unaware of the fact that they work for the people, just as you do.

I would ask that you rebuke these employees and aides under your command for their lack of manners and empathy, even as they themselves, like you, feed at the Public Trough. 900,000 people will lose their Unemployment Benefits in the next few weeks while you continue to enjoy all the luxuries and perks of your position at the expense of the taxpayers.

A copy of this letter will be posted at Rooftop Reviews
as well as passed on to the Charlotte Observer.

Your failure as Majority Leader in the Senate will not pass unnoticed. The people will speak this fall, and Republican Obstructionism not withstanding, the Democratic Party will bear the full responsibility for it's own ineptness and lack of leadership.

Robert Williams

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Firing a General - Nothing New

Harry Truman summed it up best when he said that "the only thing new is the history you don't know." Apparently General McChrystal didn't get this memo. Neither did General MacArthur in 1950. Nor did General McClellan during the Civil War. (It's kind of hard to miss that all three Generals were Mc's or Mac's. Just one of those coincidences of history that probably have no meaning, but worth noting anyway.)

All this noise will pass rather quickly, as did the MacArthur incident. (For the best account of that affair see Chapter 24 of "Plain Speaking- The Oral Autobiography" by Harry Truman with Merle Miller.)

Our Government is based on Civilian Rule. The Commander in Chief is the last word in what the Generals do or don't do. It's that simple. And I find it a bit amusing that the biggest complaints about the President firing General McChrystal come from the Right, who are ever so "vigilant" about safe guarding our Constitution. They seem to be unconcerned by McChrystal's actions, which are, of course, in direct contravention to the laws contained within that "holy" document, not to mention the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

And "holy" is an apt description of the Constitution. I have several copies on hand. Two are in Almanacs, one is in my Heritage Foundation Pocket Edition, and the fourth is on my flashdrive, which is always with me. They represent, to me, who we are as a people and what we believe in as a Nation. We believe in Civilian Rule. We are a Nation of Laws. I hope that former General McChrystal understands that now.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"The Three Burials of Meliquiades Estrada" with Tommy Lee Jones, Melissa Leo and Dwight Yoakam

An illegal ranch hand, Meliquiades Estrada, is shot down by sadistic Border Patrol Agent Mike Norton (played by Barry Pepper)for pure sport, thinking he is an illegal and that no one will even know. But he has not counted on Pete Perkins (played by Tommy Lee Jones)who was the dead mans employer. He wants justice - but first he has to find out who did it. And in the volatile atmosphere of a small Texas border town this is no easy task. No one really cares. Except Pete, a grizzled ranch owner. The two men have formed a strong bond between them and Perkins has pledged that should something happen to Melquiades, he will carry his body back to Mexico and bury him in his home village.

The men have been friends for the entire 5 years in which Meliquiades has been employed by Perkins. They do everything together, including chasing a local waitress(played by Melissa Leo) and her friend. The girls are also "friends" of the local Sheriff (played by Dwight Yoakam) who doesn't really care about another dead Mexican.

When the girls overhear the Border Patrol telling the Sheriff what happened and not to follow up on it, the girls tell Parsons. Parsons then kidnaps the guilt ridden Agent and forces him to dig up Meliquiades decomposed body. He then forces Norton to accompany him across the border by horseback on a journey to fulfill his promise to the dead man. He even makes Agent Norton sleep with the body next to him each night, in an effort to teach him that he has killed more than just another Mexican, but rather another human being.

Along the way things are turned upside down as the Border Patrol seeks to capture Parsons, whom they believe is a Mexican smuggler that has kidnapped a fellow Agent, before he can achieve his goal. Watch for Levon Helms, who plays a blind rancher living out his last days alone in the desert. He plays a small, but not insignificant, part in the story.

By the time Parsons arrives in Mexico with the body, Agent Norton has gone insane from the guilt of what he has done. With the burial of Meliquiades, Parsons has fulfilled his promise, but now has to reckon with the crazed Norton and the Border Patrol as he makes his way back across the border to Texas.

Beautifully filmed in the desert along the US/Mexican border, the film is both timely in it's subject matter, as well as spot on in the message it delivers. No man has the right to take another mans life just for the sport of it. Life and death are closely woven, and one mans hatred cannot go unpunished without diminishing all of our lives as a whole.

At a time when the illegal immigration issue is such a hot topic, this film cannot be ignored. It is a close look into the forces that drive the cycles of corruption and exploitation. While Immigration Laws must be respected, sometimes there is a higher law that we cannot escape or ignore. For fans of Tommy Lee Jones, this film is yet another that showcases his superb ability to play any role he chooses.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

"The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler" with Anna Paquin and Marcia Gay Harden

Not since "Schindler's List" has a film dealt with the Holocaust, in particular the Warsaw Ghetto, in such a moving and realistic manner.

This story is true, taken from the book "The Mother of the Holocaust Children" by Anna Mieszkowska. It is the stuff of fiction, only this is real. A social worker in Warsaw, outside of the Ghetto, working under the noses of the Nazi's, smuggled out 2,500 Jewish children before the final destruction of the Ghetto.

Utilizing various means, including wheelbarrows, Ms. Sendler is able to place these children with Christian families, who will raise them until the end of "the madness." As an employee of the Warsaw Social Services, Ms. Sendler had unlimited access to the Ghetto in Warsaw. When rations in the Ghetto are slashed to 300 calories per day, per person, she recruits all of her fellow co-workers into a scheme to smuggle food into the Ghetto. When she decides to rescue the daughter of a friend, an idea is born.

Eventually suspected and then arrested, she is subjected to brutality and torture in an effort to locate the children she has smuggled out. These names have been carefully recorded along with the names of the families who took the children in. This information is kept in a Mason jar and hidden. The penalty for all parties to this crime is execution. No trial, just execution.

When Ms. Sendler is about to be executed, along with her co-workers, she is spared at the last minute and sent off on her own to hide. One of the men involved in the plot to save the children has her taken away from Warsaw and hidden. Before she goes into hiding she passes the jar along so that the children can be returned to their families.

The most moving part of the film comes at the end when Ms. Sendler, who passed away in 2007, is shown on camera commenting on the importance of returning these children to their families. She delivers, in Polish, the most beautiful statement about the pain of both sets of mothers. The birth mothers who were seperated from their chidren, some forever, as well as the Christian Mothers who raised these children for almost 5 years and then had to return them to their rightful families, both suffered enormously. And both groups displayed extraordinary courage.

A powerfully written and directed film, this story, much like "Schindler's List", is the story of human beings at their best, even in the midst of the worst. A stunning film.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Happy Birthday Jane Russell!

Happy Birthday to Hollywood legend Jane Russell. Born in Minnesota on June 21, 1921, she was an "Army Brat" and moved to California after her Dad retired from the Army sometime prior to 1940. She attended Van Nuys High School in Los Angeles before working as a receptionist in a dentist office. It was there that she was first noticed by one of the patients, Howard Hughes. She had been to drama school, and at the urging of her mother, as well as Howard Hughes, she was signed to make "The Outlaw" in 1941. The film would not be released until 1943 and launched her career in film.

It would be 5 more years until she made another film. Hughes had her under a 7 year contract and featured her only in films that showed off her body and not her talent as an actress. In 1952 she was starred opposite Robert Mitchum in the classic film "Macao." She plays a woman traveling from Hong Kong to Macao who does a little bit of "grifting" to get her through the lean times. When Robert Mitchum sees her in a violent altercation with another man, he steps in to help her and a reluctant alliance is formed.

The film, produced by Joseph Von Sternberg, also features legendary character actor William Bendix, who plays a police detective on the trail of some jewelry smugglers that have murdered a policeman in New York City. Robert Mitchum is mistakenly identified by the smugglers as the undercover detective and targeted for death. Feeling guilty about having picked his pocket, which leaves him with no proof of who he really is, Ms. Russell, now employed as a singer in the gambling club owned by the smuggler, is compelled to come to his aid. This puts both of their lives in jeopardy and forms the basis of their relationship, which turns romantic.

In this film, as well as the "Las Vegas Story", co-starring my favorite piano player/songwriter Hoagy Carmichael, Ms. Russell gets to show off her talent as a singer. This is a link to the two songs from the film "Macao", the first being "You Kill Me." Watch her as she moves to the music and check out those eyes! This is one of my all time favorite movie songs. I have it on my flash drive and listen to it frequently in the car.

In 1953 Ms. Russell forever cemented her name in show business history with her role opposite Marilyn Monroe in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." In 10 years she had made the transition from a $50 per wek contract player to a $400,000 fee playing a lead in one of the most famous movies of all time.

A "Born Again" Christian for decades, she lives today in Santa Maria, California. She is very vocal about her political views, which are Right Wing and Conservative. She describes herself as being "politically uncorrect." Her candor has not diminished with her age and she still finds herself viable in the field of entertainment. Both her political views and personal story are well chronicled in the self penned autobiography "My Path and My Detours." The book was released in 1986.

Married 3 times, Ms. Russell retired to Santa Maria, California in 1999 after the death of her third husband. This move also allowed her to remain close to her youngest son.

In 2004 she met with Leonardo DiCaprio, at his request, to learn more about the real Howard Hughes, whom he was about to portray in "The Aviator." And as late as 2006 she was still putting together local shows for the seinor citizens in Santa Maria.

Happy Birthday Ms. Russell. You have given us a whole lot of entertainment to look back upon and enjoy. And "Macao" is still one of my all time favorite movies.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day

This is a photo of me catching some sleep immediately after Sarah was born. It would be the most sleep that I would have for the next five years, as Sue and I struggled against Sarah's sleep apnea and all kinds of stuff related to raising a child. It comes with the territory. And though I wasn't always wise, and there were times in which I could have done better, I was always there. No one is ever really prepared for fatherhood. It isn't exactly thrust upon us, but suddenly you find yourself in it. And you do the best you can to balance yourself on the highwire of being a parent without falling off. And if you do fall, you have to get up, over and over again. It's just part of the territory.

Of course, being a step parent was equally, if not more perplexing. The rules with Keith and Shane (shown here in Chinatown, New York City, where I was trying to sell them in 1986) were even murkier and the lines mostly undrawn, but somehow we got through it okay. The jury may still be out on whose version of my parenting skills is more accurate, mine or theirs, but history will have to be the judge there. Currently though,I offer in my own defense, that they are both self supporting, live away from home and have given me the most beautiful grandchildren. All girls, but that's okay. It's the kind of crap shoot in which you just can't lose.

So if you get lucky and you do it right, or even a little bit right, you get to see them grow up and make you proud. This is, naturally, one of my favorite photos of Sarah. Her smile is so radiant and her eyes are alive with promise. So here's to me, Happy Father's Day! Being a father was the hardest, yet most rewarding thing I have ever done. With all thanks due to Sue, of course, and the kids, too.

Four Fathers - A Rogues Gallery

This is me, Robert S. Williams in 1987 when I was a new father.

This is my Dad, William L. Williams, when he was 17 years old.

This is my Grandfather, William Shone Williams in 1921. He had 6 kids!

And this is my Great Grandfather, Isaac Williams in the mid 1880's in Wales.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Note On Being Grandpa

Being a Grandfather is relatively easy. You just have to be there. You can be old and skinny, or hale and hearty. It doesn't matter. As a matter of fact, looking older and a bit frail can help with the Grandfather mystique. A little bit of five o'clock shadow or a beard is also an asset.

And attending every event is not necessary either. Too much over exposure can kill the effect. Sometimes, as a Grandfather, it's best to stay a bit in the background, it gives them someplace to turn to when the others have failed, or simply can't meet the impossible needs of a 3 or 6 year old kid who might just need a hug. That's my main job.

Tall tales also fall under the domain of being a Grandfather. I just might be one of the greatest Grandfathers that ever lived when it comes to this category. I can spin a yarn faster than your Great Grandmother can knit. And the beauty there is that by the time they find out you aren't telling the truth, well, you'll probably be long gone. And then even this flaw becomes an endearing quality.

Grandkids are special, they represent a continuation. Not just of your lineage, but of the whole species. Some would say that is a bad thing, given the oil spills and other stupid stuff that we continually heap upon our planet. But I'm still hopeful every time I talk to my grandkids because it lets me see a bit into the future. And every smile, and every dream that they have let's me know that it's not as bleak as you'd think.

Friday, June 18, 2010

"700 Sundays" by Billy Crystal

I read this book a couple of years ago and I would've sworn that I had reviewed it here, but looking back through the archives I find that I am mistaken. The book was turned into an award winning Broadway show, which I have not seen. But the book was superb.

Mr. Crystal's father died when Billy was about 14 years old. This amounts to about 700 Sundays, which he recalls spending with his Dad, Jack, who owned Commodore Records in Times Square along with his brother, Milt. They specialized in jazz records that were hard to find. His Unle is credited with the jazz revival that swept Manhattan in the late 1940's.

Raised in a household of laughter and music, the book gives us a clear view of just where Mr. Crystal's talent and wit come from. Guests in his parents home often included Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong.

It was Mr. Crystal's Uncle who convinced Ms. Holiday to record "Bitter Fruit" which was written by a white, Jewish schoolteacher named Abel Meeropol, who lived in the Bronx. He wrote the song after seeing this photograph of a lynching. At the time she was under contract to the Columbia label, which refused to release the song. They did grant her a one recording leave of absence in order to record it. There are actually two recorded versions of the record, which eventually became, after her death, one of her most popular numbers. If you have never heard the record you have missed one of the most haunting and poignant songs ever written or recorded.

Strange Fruit

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh!

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

The book is, however, not all doom and gloom. The Sunday outings to Yankee Stadium with his father, which made Mr. Crystal a life long fan of the New York Yankees, is but one aspect of the book, which is filled with hysterical family stories and the observations of a sharp and talented young man.

The book is a wonderful snapshot into the daily life of New York in the 1950's as well as a wonderful portrait of the special bond which existed between Mr. Crystal and his father. I have read reviews of the show which state "The eponymous play met with considerable success on Broadway. The book is an adequate substitute for it."

I suppose it all depends upon which you experience first, but since I have not seen the play I can only judge it as a book. And that judgement is a very high one. This is one of the best books I have ever read concerning a young man's love for his father. With Fathers Day fast approaching, this just may be the gift you are looking for to give to that special Dad in your life.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

From the Vault - 1965 - White House Letter

I was a real patriotic little kid. I actually used to watch the Pesidential speeches and news conferences etc. And then I would critique them, in my own naive way. This often took the form of encouraging letters from me to the particular speaker. This response to me was written in 1965, by Bill Moyers, after I had written a comment to President Johnson concerning his War On Poverty. I had my own stationary and a typewriter, which made me as old as I wanted to be. I was actually 10 at the time. Sorry, Bill!

But as a result of this letter my parents took my brother and I on a trip into the Appalachian Region to show us the poverty that the President was alluding to in his speech. I had never seen such dire conditions before, and would not again, until on a family trip to Florida in 1969 down Routes 301 and 1 in North Carolina and Georgia. The sight of people living in tin can shacks by the side of the road is not one easily erased from my mind. I think the thought of it haunts me to this very day.

Those trips really made an impression upon me and I've always been grateful that my folks took the time and made the effort to make them.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"Nine Lives" by William Dalrymple

They say never judge a book by it's cover. They're wrong. This book is every bit as mesmerizing as the myriad of colors and images that comprise the jacket. The author has done a superb job in documenting the lives of nine different Indians and their struggle to find where they fit into the grand scheme of things. Not since last years "The Corpse Walker" have I run into such compelling personalities and stories.

Set in modern day India, the author explores the lives of nine different individuals. From the daily trials of a "temple prostitute" to the story of a Jain nun witnessing her friends ritual starvation, this book opens your eyes to things which you would probably never have even imagined.

The work abounds with irony, as in the story of a Buddhist monk who resorts to violence in an effort to keep Tibet autonomous. He then spends the rest of his life atoning for his sin. What price independence?

The most astonishing thing about this book is that there are still corners of the earth, in every country, where ancient tradition and superstition still survive. And the question called to mind is the age old one of which is right, and who is wrong? Is our modern world, with all it's marvels, really any better, spiritually, than the old one? Is there wisdom in the old ways? Are we deluded in our thinking that we have found all the answers?

By exploring these divergent lives the author forces us to confront our own intellects and learned perceptions. Several different religions are explored here and it is difficult to not contrast them with the reader's own belief systems. You are left with questions as well as great admiration and wonder over the differences we have all inherited in our lives. What do these differences mean in terms of who we are and what we will become?

Books state facts, really good books pose questions. This book meets the criteria of both.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sitting On An Island

Just a temporary bump in the road. Feeling a little lost today. I'll just do something extra special tomorrow and make up for it. See you then!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Flag Day 1959 - 49 Stars - The Forgotten Flag

Today is flag day, which always prompts me to recall a day toward the end of kindergarten when my teacher, Mrs. Gerber, unvieled a new flag in our classroom. We had been saluting the 48 star flag, even though Alaska had entered the Union as the 49th state on January 3rd, 1959. Here it was June and we still had the old 48 star flag hanging at the front of the classroom in Public School 197 in Brooklyn.

With all appropriate drama, Mrs. Gerber unrolled the new 50 star flag as she carefully explained that yet another state, Hawaii, would be joining the Union in August. This would be just before we returned to school. Since the City did not have the funds to replace the flags twice in one year, they had opted to wait until the next state was added to make that change. We were getting a preview of the 50 star flag that would become our new National Symbol in August.

It wasn't until many years later, while collecting stamps, that I actually saw a 49 star flag. The placement of the stars on the field of blue is somewhat of an art. It must be done in uniform rows to look right. The current 50 star flag relies on a pattern of two rows; 5 stars and 4 stars respectively, repeated 5 times and then the last row of 5 to make 50 stars. Very symmetrical.

The 49 star flag, which is seldom seen, has the same alternating pattern, only with 4 stars and 3 stars. The pattern, repeated 7 times, yields the 49 stars that represented the States in the Union at the time. The first row is 4 stars and by necessity, the last row is only 3 stars.

Flag Day was actually celebrated in the schools back then. Times have changed but history remains the same. So for those who have never seen it, here is the 49 star flag that reigned for a scant 8 months back in 1959.

"Get Capone" by Jonathan Eig

This is, simply put, the best true life crime saga since last year's "L.A. Noir." That book dealt with the crime syndicate and it's history in Los Angeles. It was known there as "the Combination." This one deals with the rise of Al Capone from his early years in Brooklyn to his heyday and eventual downfall in Chicago.

The book is painstakingly researched and covers not only the activities of Capone and his henchmen, including the notorious "St. Valentine's Day Massacre," but goes on to connect the dots of the criminal enterprise that was Chicago during the "roaring twenties." Every cop, alderman, delegate, the mayor himself and anyone in between was on the payroll of "the mob."

Surprisingly, Capones "mob" was composed of many nationalities; from Jewish to Irish to Italian, all the ethnic groups were represented. Sometimes they had disagreements over turf, and these disagreements usually took the form of what is today known as the "drive by shooting." The Thompson machine gun made it's criminal debut in the early 1920's after having been perfected too late for inclusion in the First World War.

But the real intersting part of this book deals with the Federal Governments efforts to curtail the criminal activity that grew out of the Nineteenth Amendment. When the Volstead Act was put into place to combat the flagrant violations stemming from that Amendment, the government still had no "teeth" with which to enforce the law. With Treasury Agents making less than a good bribe could bring them, there was little incentive to enforce the law and risk your life in doing so. Some new and better way to control the gangsters was clearly needed. Enter Income Tax Violations.

The common perception holds that Capone's was the first prosecution of a mobster for tax evasion. This is not quite true. But first, as I always say, a little background on Income Taxes in general. Initially begun during the Civil War under President Lincoln as a way to finance the Union Army, the rate was set at 3% of annual income above $600. This included any income from "property, rents,interest, dividends,salaries or from any profession, trade, employment or vocation carried on in the United States or elsewhere, or from any source whatever." There was no distinction made for illegal income. As far as Uncle Sam was concerned, if it came in, you owed them 3 percent.

The law was very unpopular and was overturned in 1872, re-instated in 1894, and ruled Unconstitutional in 1895. In 1913 Wyoming ratified the 16th Amendment creating the 3/4 majority necesssary to make it law. An additional 1% was levied on those who made more than $3,000 per year and an additional 6% surtax was added to incomes higher than $500,000. Death or fraud were the only 2 ways to avoid the tax, causing Will Rogers to remark in the 1920's that "The Income Tax has made liars out of more Americans than golf."

At first, in an effort to collect these taxes, 6 Post Offices Inspectors were tasked with this responsibility. Now came the tricky part. What was income? Were criminals responsible to report income gained illegally? Would this not fall under the protections of the 5th Amendment? Wasn't it up to the government to prove that you were cheating? All valid questions at the time, when there was no settled law relating to the issue.

In 1921 the first challenge to the law by a criminal took place in the trial of a bootlegger named Manley Sullivan. He would take his case all the way to the Supreme Court, arguing that disclosure of his illegal activities for tax purposes violated his 5th Amendment Rights. The Court decided against him and he was forced to pay back taxes on all his income. This was the opening of the door that would eventually bring Capone down.

Beginning with Al Capone's brother Ralph "Bottles" Capone, the Special Intelligence Unit in Chicago began to pester "Bottles" so much that he finally filed a return listing his income of $20,000 per year as a "gambler." When played out over a 4 year period he owed $11,000 in back taxes and the government began to seize some of his assets. This was the beginning of the close watch on Al Capone's finances that would finally bring to a close his career as a criminal.

The book is quite extensive, delving into Herbert Hoover's role in starting a war on organized criminals and the establishment of Federal Agents tasked with the responsibility to catch them.

A fascinating book that looks into the formation of the FBI as a crime fighting organization, as well as the utilization and enforcement of tax law, to break the hold of one of America's most notorious gangsters over an entire city and part of a nation.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

"Skills Like This" with Spencer Bergen and Brian D. Phelan

When would be plawright Max's grandfather suffers a stroke at the premeir of Max's play, he decides that a career change might be in order. On a whim he robs a bank without any planning or premeditation. Realizing that he has at last found something he can do well, he sets out to make his mark in this newly chosen profession.

He is accompanied willingly by one of his two friends Tommy (Brian D. Phelan), while his sanity is seriously questioned by the other, Fred (Gabriel Tigerman). This provides for some hilarious adventure and fun as the trio try to make sense of what is happening to them. Throw in sexy and sympathetic bank teller Lucy (Kerry Knuppe) and the adventure only gets better.

Directed in a quick but quite coherent way adds to the charm of this film. The music is representative of todays alternative music scene in Denver, which I found very listenable. This movie is worth your time to watch.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Slavery - A Picture Worth A Thousand Words

This rare photo, taken by Matthew Brady assistant photographer Timothy O'Sullivan, is the penultimate face of slavery. Over 1 million children were enslaved in the United States during the days before Emancipation.

Recently discovered in a Charlotte attic, it was accompanied by a bill of sale for the older boy, John. The price paid for him in 1854 was $1,150. That slavery ever existed, and still exists today has always made me cringe. The thought of "owning" another human being is so foreign to my way of thinking that I cannot even wrap my mind around it.

Look at the faces of these boys. The listless, annihilated look of knowing that you are, and can only ever be, a commodity, a goods, a service. The knowledge of the lack of hope inherent in their futures; that they would never make a decision on their own, no matter how personally it might affect them.

This photograph affected me deeply. I find myself wondering whether these boys were brothers or not, or were they two strangers met only through the inhumanity and randomness of the system that controlled them. In short, I wonder about them as fellow human beings.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Written On A Bag Of Chicken In Cornelius


This is for you- I wrote it on a white paper bag from the chicken place in Cornelius.

Written On A Bag of Chicken

There will come a time when I can no longer hear
your voice,or
my favorite music.

And a time, concurrently,when I will no longer see
your face, or
my favorite views.

And there will come a time when I realize
that the two are,
but one and the same.

A Rare Editorial

I try hard to keep this blog politics free. I have often referred to it as an "oasis" in a cyber world of turmoil and misinformation. But this morning I read something that made me angry enough to take the rare step of writing an editorial.

This weekend President Obama will meet with British Prime Minister David Cameron in an effort to get President Obama to "tone down" his criticism of BP, the British oil company that owns and operates the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The meeting comes amid reports that the extent of this disaster has driven down the stock prices of BP and is affecting thousands of retirees who own that stock. With President Obama about to demand billions more to pay for the cleanup, there is a fear that BP could become the target of a "takeover." And that would not bode well for Britain.

My belief is that BP should pay for every cent of the cleanup. If the Queen needs to sell her Rolls and the Crown Jewels, as well as a couple of palaces, that's just too bad.

The fact that this meeting will take place over the weekend is also troublesome. Rather than take her case to the American people, who are, for the most part a compassionate group, Britain's Prime Minister Cameron has chosen to sneak in for a meeting with the President in an apparent attempt to sidestep Britain's fiduciary responsibility to the American people. If the Crown is so concerned about the loss of the retiree's income, then she would be better served by helping the British victims of BP's greed by further forcing BP to make up for those losses. It should be noted that, at this time, BP claims to have "strong finances" to weather the storm.

Let us all hope that President Obama will stick to his guns on this issue and tell Prime Minister Cameron to head to the nearest pawn shop with the Queen's crown.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

"Rascal" by Sterling North

I had never heard of the Newberry Award until I was 10 and saw this book in the school library at PS 255 in Brooklyn, New York. I was in the 4th grade at the time. Now I'm 55 and I just read this 189 page book for the first time in decades. But it still has that indefineable something that holds you fast to each page.

The author, Sterling North, was raised in Wisconsin in the early part of the 20th Century. His mother passed away when he was about 7 and his father raised him alone in a large house near a lake. The authors father was always on the verge of writing his great novel, which was never published. The two lived alone and did pretty much as they pleased. Young Sterling even built a canoe in the living room.

Mr. North had a managerie of pets. But his main companion was his St. Bernard, Woowser. Together they roamed the woods and streams near the authors home. One day they came upon a surprise. A mother raccoon and her 4 babies were nestled near a tree stump. Woowser senses them and digs them out. The mother raccoon manages to escape with 3 of the 4, leaving the last one behind.

With the aid of his best freinds mother, and much to the disdain of his grown sister Theo, Sterling raises the raccoon, which he has named Rascal. The story unfolds over a one year period between 1918 and 1919, when young Sterling comes to understand that he must return Rascal to the wild.

Filled with amazing, but true, characters, both human and animal, this is the perfect summer book for the young reader. I only wish Mr. North were still alive today so that I could thank him twice for this truly wonderful story.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

"A Twisted Faith" by Gregg Olsen

Religion is a controversial topic, especially when it involves multiple affairs disguised as counseling, and then goes on to include arson and murder as well. This is what happened in Bremerton, Washington in December of 1997 when all three of these things came together in a perfect storm. The resultant trial is filled with fascinating details of what happens when too many people think they have the "answer" through the calling of God.

The story mainly concerns Nick Hacheney and his wife Dawn, who move to the area in the 1990's and join a church. There, Nick becomes a Youth Minister and self proclaimed Prophet. Everyone wants to have his opinion. He is that close to God. So close, in fact, that he virtually usurps the authority of the church and makes it his own.

Branching out to counseling married couples comes at the suggestion of the congregants, and Nick readily accepts. Only he seems more interested in the wives than in saving marraiges.

The church doctrine is unusual as well, calling upon the congregation to spend freely using credit cards. After all, according to Nick, God wants them to have it all, in the here and now. Why wait for the next world when all of Gods treaures can be yours today?

With a doctrine like this you just know that disaster waits in the wings. And when it arrives on December 26, 1997 in the form of a deadly arson that takes the life of the minister's wife, things begin to surface that eventually encompass most of the town. Questions arise as to how a town could become so easily subverted by so few.

An intriquing read that brings more questions than answers, this book exemplifies the culture in which we live. It is a culture of want and greed that allows us all to fall victim to the self proclaimed "truths" that others are willing to sell us, and we are all too ready to buy into.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Frogs Are Back In Town

It's that time of year again when you can listen to the song of the frog. This little fellow was on my porch with some friends last night when I surprised him. An old poem, or short rhyme that I used to know says a lot about these little guys. Let's see if I can remember it;

The frog he sits, almost.
When he hops, he flies, almost.
And when he sits,
he sits on what he ain't got, almost.

It's no secret that I love amphibious creatures. They are pretty gentle, with the exception of crocodiles and alligators, of course. But frogs and turtles have long been my freinds. Hardly a year goes by that I don't grab a turtle off the centerline of the road. Not knowing which way they are headed I usually take them home, where I release them after playing a bit. I also like to show them to any kids in the neighborhood that might be interested. So far this year, no turtles, just frogs.

It's also the time of year for that time honored sport of "gigging" frogs. For those who are unfamiliar with this sport, it simply involves going out and grabbing some frogs as they try to leap away. When you catch some you put them in a croker sack, if you're playing strictly by the rules. But even a simple handkerchief will suffice for this fun, catch and release game of wits between a human and an amphibian.

We did that today at my son's place with my grandaughters. Another family tradition, I suppose. No pictures because the game is just too fast paced and packed with action. We did got one for them to hold, but not too tightly. Hopefully the lesson is not lost, that in life, sometimes you have to be prepared to let go. As I teach them I am learning so much from my grandkids, and that amazes me.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Kites - A Family Tradition

This is me on November 11th, 1957 taking my first solo kite flight at Riis Park in Queens, New York. My Dad had the day off, back then it was a holiday that really meant something. The whole family went down to the beach, and though it was freezing, it is one of the warmest and earliest memories of my life. As you get older you want to pass on some of these memories, sometimes without success. But with kite flying it's just about a sure thing that you are going to capture the heart and mind of the one you're with.

Here I am, over 3 decades later, with my own daughter, an experienced kite flier by age 10, setting up on Myrtle Beach in 1998. The winds there are fantastic in the evenings. It was one of the most gratifying feelings to pass on my love of kiting to my daughter. She still kites, periodically, today. She still feels that connection to the earth as it whirls around and the wind as it whistles eerily through the string.

This is me yesterday, with my grandaughter Aliyah, showing her the ropes on a nylon rip stop box kite that hauls 80 MPH winds. We were only bucking gusts of 15 MPH or so. The look on her face changed from concern to joy as the kite took off and stayed aloft. This is the way the world feels when it turns, The kite helps you feel that connection. The drag on the line is surely caused by the spinning of the earth. I know this to be true because my Dad told me so, as his dad had told him.

So here she is, my grandaughter Aliyah, flying solo. Another tradition passed on. Hopefully she will remember the moment and pass it on to her children some day. Then her children will feel the turning of the earth through the pull of the wind on the kite and hear the sound of the wind whistling through the string. And maybe, just maybe, she will tell them of the moment we first flew together. I'd really like that.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Forty Two

It has been 42 years since Robert Kennedy was killed in Los Angeles. He was 42 years old. So much has been written about that night and his subsequent death that there is little to add.

I was 13 and a half when Kennedy was shot. Coming, as it did, on the heels of Martin Luther King's murder, 8 weeks earlier, it was one of those events that leaves you changed in some measure. There is a loss of confidence and security in all that surrounds you.

In the years between 1962, when I received my first transistor radio, and the end of the decade, I got most of my news and music through a flesh colored apparatus known then as the "earphone." They came with the radio. And every night when I went to bed I put the radio beneath my pillow and the "earphone" in my ear. With the lights out and the music on I traveled far and wide in search of that indefineable "something." And sometimes I'd get it. The night of June 4th was one of those nights.

Just past 3 AM in the early morning hours of June 5th, I was listening to WMCA Radio 56 (560 on the AM dial) when the news broke that Robert Kennedy had been shot at the Ambassador Hotel in L.A. No one was awake. Even back then I was a lousy sleeper, frequently keeping the radio turned on beneath my pillow all night, waking at intervals to check on the news, or search for a favorite song.

Roaming the dial from one end to the next at nighttime brought in some extraordinary places. I would jot down the names of the cities and the names of the stations. Addressing the postcards to the stations in such faraway places as Colorado, I would inform them that I had received their signals in New York City and at what time. I usually got back a postcard thanking me for listening. I had dozens of these and considered myself somewhat akin to the early radio listeners and the crystal headsets they wore.

But this event was so astounding, so mesmerizing. In the dark everything is magnified, senses are enlarged and the mind's eye gives sharp focus to the words being spoken. It was that way this night as I lay there listening to the reports coming in.

All through the next day I watched and waited with the rest of the world to see if Robert Kennedy would pull through. There was no way I was going to sleep that next night. This was a drama that had to be seen through until the end. And that end came sometime around 4:30 AM when Joeseph Mankiewicz tearfully announced the death of Robert Kennedy. The rest is history.

The world has changed in dramatic ways since those days. The ways in which we receive our news 24/7 has brought the world closer in some measure. But I will always remember, and even long for, the days when I got my news through the "office" beneath my pillow, flesh colored "earphones" in place, searching for the next "big thing."

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Girls Are Back In Town

Two of our grandaughters are in town for the next five weeks. They're staying with their Dad, our son, Shane at his place near here. That's Trinity on the left and Aliyah on the right. So don't be surprised if you see them on here.

Grandchildren are a wonderful treat. They just give you love, for the simple reason that you are a Grandparent. They accept you as you are and never question whether you love them, even after not seeing them for a year, though in this case it's only been six months. But at their age, that's a lifetime. So we're looking forward to taking them on some adventures while they're here and maybe spoiling them just a little bit. No telling where we might turn up.

Grandparenting gives you that second chance to do it right, and pick the fights worth fighting, while letting all the unimportant things go. Every parent has made mistakes, and we whip ourselves for those mistakes. Grandchildren are natures way of letting you ease up on some of that guilt. When you realize that you have learned something after all these years it can be very gratifying.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Stand By - Albert Is Working On It

My computer has caught the cyber version of AIDS. So we're busy working on it. Hopefully things will be up and running shortly. This is being posted from my wife's virus free computer. Albert is working on the other one.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"Casey at the Bat" by Ernest Lawrence Thayer

It was 122 years ago today that Ernest Lawrence Thayer published his immortal poem "Casey at the Bat" in the San Francisco Daily Examiner. Baseball had been around since the days of Cooperstown, New York but had recently been catching on like wildfire all across the country. By the 1890's it was recognized as our National Sport. So in the interest of anyone who has not read this poem, or for those of you with kids who have never heard it before, I thought I'd reprint it here. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did when I was about 8 years old and heard it for the first time. There is also some fun history associated with the poem.

Thayer was a rich kid, went to Harvard, joined the Hasty Pudding Club and edited the Harvard Lampoon. He also became interested in baseball along with his best freinds, Sam Winslow and William Randolph Hearst. After college he was presented with a choice, work in the family mill business back East, or take a job managing the San Francisco Daily Examiner for William Hearst's father. He packed his bags and headed West.

He soon began writing columns and some verse for the paper and on June 3rd, 1888"Casey at the Bat" made it's appearance to little fanfare. A writer named Archibald Gunter clipped it from the paper and placed it in his wallet. There it would remain until August 14th, 1888. A strange confluence of events occured that day. Gunter was in New York to visit two friends, William DeWolf Hopper and Digby Bell, who were both actors and baseball fans. They convinced their boss, a Colonel McCaull to accompany them to the Polo Grounds for a game between the New York Giants and the Chicago White Stockings. They hoped to do a little advertising at the game for their show and invited the players to attend it that night.

The game was won by the visiting Chicago White Stockings with a score of 4-2. When the game ended Mr. Gunter pulled out the tattered poem from his wallet and DeWolf Hopper strode out onto the field and read the poem in his deep, thundering voice. The crowd went wild. DeWolf Hopper made the poem famous and the poem made him a star. It was also Ernest Lawrence Thayer's 25th birthday.

"Casey at the Bat"

It looked extremely rocky for the Mudville nine
that day,
The score stood four to six with but an inning left
to play.
And so, when Cooney died at first, and Burrows
did the same,
A pallor wreathed the features of the patrons of the

A straggling few got up to go, leaving there the
With that hope which springs eternal within the
human breast.
For they thought if only Casey could get a whack
at that,
They’d put up even money with Casey at the bat.

But Flynn preceded Casey, and likewise so did
And the former was a pudding and the latter was a
So on that stricken multitude a death-like silence
For there seemed but little chance of Casey’s
getting to the bat.

But Flynn let drive a single to the wonderment of
And the much despised Blakey tore the cover off
the ball,
And when the dust had lifted and they saw what
had occurred,
There was Blakey safe on second, and Flynn a
hugging third.

Then from the gladdened multitude went up a
joyous yell,
It bounded from the mountain top and rattled in the
It struck upon the hillside, and rebounded on the
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the

There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped
into his place,
There was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile on
Casey’s face,
And when responding to the cheers he lightly
doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt, ‘twas Casey
at the bat.

Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his
hands with dirt,
Five thousand tongues applauded as he wiped them
on his shirt;
And while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into
his hip —
Defiance gleamed from Casey’s eye — a sneer
curled Casey’s lip.

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling
through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded
sped —
“That hain’t my style,” said Casey — “Strike one,”
the Umpire said.

From the bleachers black with people there rose a
sullen roar,
Like the beating of the storm waves on a stern and
distant shore,
“Kill him! kill the Umpire!” shouted some one
from the stand —
And it’s likely they’d have done it had not Casey
raised his hand.

With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s
visage shone,
He stilled the rising tumult and he bade the game
go on;
He signalled to the pitcher and again the spheroid
But Casey still ignored it and the Umpire said
“Strike two.”

“Fraud!” yelled the maddened thousands, and the
echo answered “Fraud,”
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience
was awed;
They saw his face grow stern and cold; they saw
his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey would not let that ball
go by again.

The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip; his teeth are
clenched with hate,
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he
lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of
Casey’s blow.

Oh! somewhere in this favored land the sun is
shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere
hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere
children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has
“Struck Out.”

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Local Zoological Garden

There's a place near us that Sue and I visited last Sunday in preparation for the Invasion Of the Grandkids next weekend. We're lining up stuff for them to do. So we took a look at this place up in Troutman, about 15 miles from us, that has a petting zoo and a Western type exhibit. That's me negotiating a family rate with one of the owners. He didn't commit himself to a deal however, being more of the silent type. I wonder if that was a pistol in his pocket or if he was just glad to see me?

Now this little baby is one of the things I like about the place. You get to play with the tigers. This little fellow has paws the size of my head. He's all tuckered out from the last group of kids that came through and played with him. Man, what a job! So we'll be taking a trip there soon with the grandkids. I'll let you know how it goes. And we'll have to remember and ask the kids to take it easy on that poor tiger cub.