Back in the day, when I was still actually flying for a living, (okay, may as well admit before Buzzard reminds me, it was more, sort of, back in the last century) I used to love flying at night. There is a beauty to the populated and artificially lighted world, seen from above, that people who live and work on the ground every day rarely get to behold. Really, night or day, one can do worse than earning a living five or six miles above the earth. That part of the Air Force, I miss.
And just so you know what caused this moment of nostalgia, you'll find some stunningly beautiful photographs of London at night, here.
Saturday, January 31, 2009
Friday, January 30, 2009
My dog is depressed. Too much moving from place to place. Georgia for most of the holidays, some with me, some without while I was in Colorado. Children there. Rabbit. Life in all its wonder. Gone somewhere every other weekend and more. Mid-week trip to NC for dinner with a daughter. I suspect she (the dog) is uncertain whether I live in this apartment or my Jeep or a variety of houses she calls home on any given weekend. Just as dogs have a way of cheering us when the world is at its worst, so there is nothing much more mood killing than a clinically depressed canine.
But Wednesday she met me at the door with wagging tail. And so we went for a short walk and a longer sit and contemplation.
Snapshot: Grey, low clouds scudding across the sky, driven up creek by a stiff, 19 mph breeze that makes brisk the unseasonable 66-degree, late January day. Low tide and sheets of algae lie exposed in the muddy bottom of the marsh, flapping like so many St Patrick's Day parade flags. Still in coat and tie from teaching, I turn a chair to face the wind and rest a glass of Gentleman Jack on the pier rail. The wind, not enough to force a squint, yet enough to fan a tie and jostle hair growing long enough finally to feel such a thing, drives down the marsh grass and rattles the leaves and empty branches of a winter creek bank. Repeatedly, a Husky buries her face in my lap and pushes in, her version of hug, and I rake long, firm, strokes of fingertips down the length of her back and up again, massaging a mass of too husky a Husky through fur thick for winter. She doesn't play fetch. She doesn't play tug of war. She's been canine long enough now to have forgotten her past life as a supermodel, but having early disdained the distractions that other dogs delight in and having started life too little loved before her initial rescue from a chain that had worn a raw ring round her neck, she doesn't know how to play. But she knows how to love, and knows that she prefers company to solitude, and knows her life holds too much of the latter and too little of the former of late. And so she nuzzles in with more Husky hugs while the wind bristles gray fur and clouds alike and algae flags flail.
What she really needs is some Puppy Uppers; life is Doggie Downer enough for her.
Saturday Night Live - Puppy Uppers
"Puppy Uppers pep up your pooch." "Doggie Downers: Mellows out your mutt."
Two phrases stuck in my mind for 30 years now--apt testimony to the staying power of alliteration.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Every now and then, comedians make more sense than politicians. I like Jon Stewart's idea in last night's interview segment (it comes at about the 5:20 point in the segment below). Don't give the stimulus money to the banks, he suggests, give it to the people solely for use in giving to the banks to pay off consumer debt. Start everyone with a clean slate. Now there's a stimulus package I can get behind.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
"That's policy for you. Policy is what the kingpins want. What the others want is juvenile delinquency."I would be remiss if I didn't at least acknowledge the passing, yesterday, of the man whose short story, "A&P," is my freshman lit survey class's introduction to the short story. I use it because it connects. May he rest in peace, in a heaven where grocery shopping in bikinis is encouraged--providing "residual self-image" makes the transition from construct to paradise.
You'll find a thorough obit here.
I would love to write a long post sometime soon. But I'm busy with the process of transition in a time when that's not really the best place to be. So it goes. That said though, I'll invite you to spend a little time today by joining me in some educational reading. I've never really doubted George Santayana's adage that, "Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it."
Anyone involved in education today can tell you that a general awareness of world history is anything but a strong point among today's youth. The arguable failure of our current school system to educate our populace in genuinely useful ways that have anything but immediate applicability will be the subject of another post, but in the meantime, I'll invite you to chew on this with me:
Yes, it is from Wikipedia, alternately lamented as the bane of serious research and yet linked and referred to without restraint by many of the same people who warn against it. I tell my students simply, "It's a beginning." This article is as heavily footnoted as any. If you're uncomfortable with Wikipedia as a source of information, then go buy any of the dozens of books in the "Further Reading" list for this article. But, as a primer on what we've been through already and what more and more people are coming to realize we are facing again, but in even more devastating breadth thanks to a world economy more "global" than ever, this is not a bad place to start.
The Great Depression was a worldwide economic downturn starting in most places in 1929 and ending at different times in the 1930s or early 1940s for different countries. It was the largest and most important economic depression in modern history, and is used in the 21st century as an example of how far the world's economy can fall. The Great Depression originated in the United States; historians most often use as a starting date the stock market crash on October 29, 1929, known as Black Tuesday. The end of the depression in the U.S is associated with the onset of the war economy of World War II, beginning around 1939.
The depression had devastating effects in virtually every country, rich or poor. International trade plunged by half to two-thirds, as did personal income, tax revenue, prices and profits. Cities all around the world were hit hard, especially those dependent on heavy industry. Construction was virtually halted in many countries. Farming and rural areas suffered as crop prices fell by roughly 60 percent. Facing plummeting demand with few alternate sources of jobs, areas dependent on primary sector industries such as farming, mining and logging suffered the most. However, even shortly after the Wall Street Crash of 1929, optimism persisted; John D. Rockefeller said that "These are days when many are discouraged. In the 93 years of my life, depressions have come and gone. Prosperity has always returned and will again."
The Great Depression ended at different times in different countries; for subsequent history see Home front during World War II. The majority of countries set up relief programs, and most underwent some sort of political upheaval, pushing them to the left or right. In some states, the desperate citizens turned toward nationalist demagogues—the most infamous being Adolf Hitler—setting the stage for World War II in 1939.
Wikipedia: The Great Depression
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
As the numbers continue to come in ugly, we get closer and closer to using the "D" word. No longer are the comparisons to more recent times. As the news sources search for benchmarks in other economically troubled times, more and more they are forced, when they say, "This is the sharpest decline since . . ." or "The last time unemployment reached these levels was . . . " to reach all the way back to, yes, the Great Depression.
The NY Times today, for instance, was not exactly a source of hope. In an article titled, "Layoffs Spread to More Sectors of the Economy," it stated, "After a dismal holiday shopping season, retailers are letting employees go in droves. More than 66,600 retailing jobs were lost in December, the worst period since the late 1930s." And concluded with the not encouraging news that we are hardly alone. "'There really isn’t any hiding place for companies anymore,' said Nigel Gault, chief United States economist at IHS Global Insight. 'The recent numbers coming in from the rest of the world are disastrous.'"
Funny how humor surfaces in our mind though. As I was pondering, this morning, the timing of my retirement from a nearly three-decade military career, I couldn't help but think, "Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue." Enjoy.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
The temptation to simply cause this post, from yesterday, to disappear is strong, but instead, I'll chalk it up to a lesson learned. Generally, I double check everything I get via the web to insure its authenticity. But I didn't do so with the one-winged landing video. That won't happen again.
From: Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion, by Pema Chödrön
#20 Slogan: 'All activities should be done with one intention'
Breathing in, breathing out, feeling resentful, feeling happy, being able to drop it, not being able to drop it, eating our food, brushing our teeth, walking, sitting--whatever we're doing could be done with one intention. That intention is that we want to wake up, we want to open our compassion and we want to ripen our ability to let go, we want to realize our connection with all beings. Everything in our lives has the potential to wake us up or to put us to sleep. Allowing it to awaken us is up to us.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Monday, January 19, 2009
Over at The Archer Pelican, Phil posted the results of a survey a few days ago that purported to display a person's affinity for the philosophies of the better known Western thinkers. I pointed Phil's post out to a few friends who had recently posted a video of a Monty Python gig about philosophers and beer (here and here). The three posts seemed to complement one another.
The result was yet another post over at Buck's place and one of those threads that surprises you with its longevity and enthusiasm.
Lest I be guilty of Buck's accusation of stirring the pot and running (though God knows I'm not above that), I am finally submitting my own results to one of the quizzes.
If you're interested, you can find the quiz above here.
I could not, however, bring myself to take the other quiz which my colleagues submitted to. That quiz opens with the following paragraph, riddled with such egregious spelling errors that I could barely proceed.
Great minds think diffrently. The history of western philosophy alone can prove this. I hope this quiz will intrest you in philosophy, possibly provoking you to read some of the philosophers in this quiz. If not, just have fun.I hope someone can "intrest" the author of the quiz in some spell check software soon. Thinking differently is one thing; spelling differently, "diffrently" . . . well, that's another subject entirely.
Nonetheless, I did at least begin the quiz, but I couldn't get past question 7:
|satisfies the human impulse for immitation and harmony.|
|unless it dipicts Truth, is harmfull and delusive.|
|stands on it's own as immortal and trancendent.|
|is the most noble goal of man.|
|is the idealized representation of fact.|
YGTBFKM! I can demonstrate the chances that the person who put this quiz together can even define "philosophy," let alone tell you which philosopher believes what, with a snowball in one hand and a propane torch in the other (which would explain why Phil's results from that quiz were at complete odds with the other two quizzes he took). I stopped there. I would like to take the quiz, just for curiosity's sake, but I kant bring myself to do it. (And yeah, the pronunciation is wrong in that slot, but do you really think the object of the jab is likely to know?)
Alexander Pope says, in "An Essay on Criticism":
Whoever thinks a faultless piece to see,Wise words, and words that Lawrence Toppman in particular needs to learn.
Thinks what ne'er was, nor is, nor e'er shall be.
In every work regard the writer's end,
Since none can compass more than they intend;
And if the means be just, the conduct true,
Applause, in spite of trivial faults is due.
Toppman's review of Gran Torino is a study in how to get most of the details all right, and yet, get it all wrong in the end. Someone should remind the man just what the purpose of any review he writes might be. The Academy isn't going to refer to his opinion in deciding its awards. The best he can hope for is to be relied upon by locals, by readers of the Charlotte Observer, when those readers are trying to decide whether or not to see a film.
So far, I've read two reviews by Toppman. One on Quantum of Solace, and one on Gran Torino. At least he's consistent. Twice now, for me, he's gotten it dead wrong.
Do the editors of the paper bother to read the comments posted about Toppman's reviews? Do you bother to compare Toppman's comments to your own opinions. Do you share his opinions? Judging from the commentary on your web, not many of your readers do.
Start paying attention. Have a conversation with the man. Someone explain to him that the bottom line readers are looking for is going to be, "Is this worth my ten bucks?" A film can be filled with all the flaws Toppman points out and still be worth our time and money.
Get a decent critic Charlotte. Find someone who's more interested in informing the public about the quality of a movie than the sophistication of his own personal taste. Toppman's reviews are largely useless. Spare us and save yourself some money.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Go see it.
It's a rare movie that can surprise me with its ending. This one did.
And while this movie was billed as a drama, and rightly so, there were more and better laughs than Marley and Me, by far, and Marley was billed as a comedy. In fact, at more than one point, I was laughing so hard I was crying. But don't get me wrong, it's still not a comedy. It's a movie about life, and life is funny. And sometimes very sad.
Go see the movie. You won't regret it.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Why is it that crashes into the water seem to happen only in the coldest month of the year? Any way you cut it, those are some lucky folks out there. Every one of them ought to be buying a lottery ticket before the day's over. (For anyone living under a rock, as I do most days, an Airbus A320 with 155 souls on board ditched in the Hudson today, shortly after take off from La Guardia for Charlotte, NC. All survived! A double bird strike was the suspected cause (double, as in both engines, likely multiple birds in either or both).
Aviation experts said that landing a commercial jet on water without the plane breaking apart was extraordinary.
"A water landing is typically even more destructive than a ground landing. It is amazing an Airbus jet was able to land in the river without breaking up," said Max Vermij, a plane accident investigator with Accident Cause Analysis of Ottawa, Canada.
He speculated the plane would have hit the water at a speed of about 140 knots. "Typically the wings and engines would break off on impact, water would plow into the jet and tear apart the fuselage."
Get the full article here.
And here is video, from the cockpit of a "lawn dart" encountering much the same thing. Thank God for ejection seats.I love how calm the IP remains throughout.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Ayn Rand is one of the few authors whose works can make something by Leon Uris look like a quick read. On my bookshelf, few works other than Boswell's, Life of Johnson can compete with hers for the breadth of their spine. I was, until sometime in 2003, what Stephen Moore calls below, a "virgin." That was the year that a friend recommended Rand to me. He would have been one of those who responded to the Library of Congress survey that her work had changed his life. He is, unless I'm mistaken, a subscriber to this blog, though he has never left a comment.
I must confess though, that my reaction to her work was likely colored by the lenses of an English professor. Her characters are all types. So much so that she almost may as well have given them names like those of Bunyan and just made it an allegory outright. As I remember it, the absolute purity with which each character represented his or her philosophical ideal frequently made the willing suspension of disbelief more challenging than necessary.
And yet, I also remember agreeing with the philosophy itself, with the ideas that Rand set out to expound. But I had forgotten how apt they were to our current times. It took Stephen Moore, writing in The Wall Street Journal, to remind me of that:
Some years ago when I worked at the libertarian Cato Institute, we used to label any new hire who had not yet read "Atlas Shrugged" a "virgin." Being conversant in Ayn Rand's classic novel about the economic carnage caused by big government run amok was practically a job requirement. If only "Atlas" were required reading for every member of Congress and political appointee in the Obama administration. I'm confident that we'd get out of the current financial mess a lot faster.As always, the whole essay by Moore ("Atlas Shrugged: From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years") is worth the read.
Many of us who know Rand's work have noticed that with each passing week, and with each successive bailout plan and economic-stimulus scheme out of Washington, our current politicians are committing the very acts of economic lunacy that "Atlas Shrugged" parodied in 1957, when this 1,000-page novel was first published and became an instant hit.
Rand, who had come to America from Soviet Russia with striking insights into totalitarianism and the destructiveness of socialism, was already a celebrity. The left, naturally, hated her. But as recently as 1991, a survey by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club found that readers rated "Atlas" as the second-most influential book in their lives, behind only the Bible.
For the uninitiated, the moral of the story is simply this: Politicians invariably respond to crises -- that in most cases they themselves created -- by spawning new government programs, laws and regulations. These, in turn, generate more havoc and poverty, which inspires the politicians to create more programs . . . and the downward spiral repeats itself until the productive sectors of the economy collapse under the collective weight of taxes and other burdens imposed in the name of fairness, equality and do-goodism.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
David Kelley, the president of the Atlas Society, which is dedicated to promoting Rand's ideas, explains that "the older the book gets, the more timely its message." He tells me that there are plans to make "Atlas Shrugged" into a major motion picture -- it is the only classic novel of recent decades that was never made into a movie. "We don't need to make a movie out of the book," Mr. Kelley jokes. "We are living it right now."
One cannot but wonder who will be our John Galt.
Hat tip: JPL
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
This list is years old now, I think, but still fun to review. I take no responsibility for the accuracy or lack thereof of the introductory explanations, I just think the words are fun.
The Washington Post has published the winning submissions to its yearly contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternative meanings for common words. The winners :
1. Coffee (n.) the person upon whom one coughs.
2. Flabbergasted (adj.) appalled over how much weight you have gained.
3. Abdicate (v.) to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
4. Esplanade (v.) to attempt an explanation while drunk.
5. Willy-nilly (adj.) impotent.
6. Negligent (adj.) describes a condition in which you absent-mindedly answer the door in your nightgown.
7. Lymph (v.) to walk with a lisp.
8. Gargoyle (n.) olive-flavored mouthwash.
9. Flatulence (n.) emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.
10. Balderdash (n.) a rapidly receding hairline.
11. Testicle (n.) a humorous question on an exam.
12. Rectitude (n.) the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.
13. Pokemon (n) a Rastafarian proctologist.
14. Oyster (n.) a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.
15. Frisbeetarianism (n.) (back by popular demand): The belief that, when you die, your Soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.
16. Circumvent (n.) an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.
The Washington Post once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. This year's winners:
1. Bozone (n.) The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
2. Cashtration (n.) The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.
3. Giraffiti (n) Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
4. Sarchasm (n) The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.
5. Inoculatte (v) To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
6. Hipatitis (n) Terminal coolness.
7. Osteopornosis (n) A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)
8. Karmageddon (n) It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.
9.Decafalon (n.) The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.
10. Glibido (v) All talk and no action.
11. Dopeler effect (n) The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
12. Arachnoleptic fit (n.) The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.
14. Caterpallor (n.) The color you turn after finding half a grub in the fruit you're eating.
And the pick of the literature:
Ignoranus (n): A person who's both stupid and an asshole.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Don't expect God's protection in places beyond God's dominion. It will only make you feel punished. I'm warning you. When things go badly you will blame yourself. . . . Don't try to make life a mathematics problem with yourself in the center and everything coming out equal. When you are good, bad things can still happen; and if you are bad, you can still be lucky. --Barbara Kingsolver
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Saturday, January 10, 2009
And for a little more on that topic of things that aren't easy. Going to war ranks up there. And waiting for someone to return from same ranks even higher.
I've thought for some time that whatever else we may be getting right or wrong in the current "Global War on Terror," I couldn't wish for better in the American public's treatment of the troops who are busy fighting it. And that new attitude has fringe benefits as well. A whole generation of veterans have been waiting forty years or more for their due, and in many ways, their finally getting it is a by-product of the current war.
In that vein, here's a link a friend sent me recently. Enjoy. (And note that the subject of the song is wearing a Deadwood t-shirt. I like him already.)
Friday, January 9, 2009
An emerging thought:
In America it seems to me that we often give too little respect to how hard things can be: whether the length of time it takes to mourn a lost relative, or how difficult it is to find the courage to apologize, or how scary it is to leave a job or a relationship.
That said, it also seems that we have to little faith in how strong we can be: whether in the ability to keep functioning while taking the time to cry, or the resolve to push our way through to saying what needs to be said, or the will to walk out a door and to keep walking while everything tries to pull you back.
I could be wrong, but that's the way it seems to me.
To which, a couple days later, I mustered the following response:
Phil, I'm gonna object to just one thing here. Well, not "object" so much as "recast." Among the things you think people don't credit the difficulty of is how scary it is to leave a job or a relationship. You're right, those things are scary, and sometimes one needs to summon the courage to do just that: leave. However . . .
A worse thing, I think (and recent experience of course makes this personal) is the corollary of that failure to respect the difficulty of a thing, i.e., the expectation people have that something should require little effort in the first place. This applies especially to relationships. If I understand you, you are saying that, in this country, we expect everything to come easily. And worse yet, we expect those things to be perfect. A good relationship is almost always the result of hard work, and even the best relationship is never perfect. Some relationships need to end, and the worst ones often take the most courage to leave. But our failure to respect the difficulty and complexity of human relationships sometimes means that people bail without really trying.
And trying to endure is not the same as trying to make a thing better. Better to bail than throw up one's hands and embrace martyrdom. But that false expectation of ease, I think, too often leads people to the martyr label before they have made an effort to make a thing better. Be it job or relationship. Again, some things are unfixable. I know that. But a corollary of your observation is that too many people don't think they should need to try.
I offer both here as an example of the reason I write or read blogs at all. They are, the ones I treasure most, like an ongoing seminar with people who are not only smart, they're my friends. When Susan Jacoby indicts blogs on the whole as anonymous venting by semi-literate, anti-rationalists in her book The Age of American Unreason (which I finished over the holidays and will have more to say about later and elsewhere), I can't help but think she lives in a different blogosphere than I.
The University of North Carolina Wilmington is one of the nation's 50 "Best Value" public colleges and universities according to The Princeton Review, one of America's most widely-known education service companies.That's what I'm talking about, Vern! I need one of those bumper stickers that say, "My Daughter and My Money Go To . . . "
Stole this from Buck. Some overlap in our readers, but enough unique to merit reposting here on a slow day. >-)
And if you found that fun and need a year-in-review laugh, check out the other video that Buck included in the same post that day.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
From: Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion, by Pema Chödrön; from #104 "Reversing the Wheel of Samsara":
Every act counts. Every thought and emotion counts too. This moment is all the path we have. This moment is where we apply the teachings. Life is short. Even if we live to be 108, life will still be too short for witnessing all its wonders. The dharma is each act, each thought, each word we speak.From: Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy:
The smallest crumb can devour us.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
I titled yesterday's post "The Slingshot Man," and that ain't right, as we say where I'm from. He was, as Barry's cousin Chip Womick points out in a detailed story about him from 2001, the Beanshooter man. There's no predicting what posts will generate the most attention here, but since this one is working on breaking records, here's just the beginning of Chip's article, offered to whet your appetite:
From: "H-e-e-e-e-re's Beanshooter Man," by Chip Womick. Worth the read. The account of Hussey on the Carson show is even more fun than the video of him shootin' June bugs off plant leaves, especially if you ever saw enough Carson to be able to imagine the exchange. Enjoy.
Some area residents and most younger folks do not know the story of how an overall-clad Randolph County farmer named Rufus Hussey introduced Johnny Carson to a bit of downhome wit and wisdom.
Newcomers may have never heard of Hussey.
Some youth may have never heard of Carson.
But the two giants in their respective fields met on Jan. 23, 1986. When the on-the-air encounter was over, Carson smiled, grasped one of Hussey's huge hands in his and said, "You're a remarkable man. Pleasure to have you."
Carson, of course, was the king of late-night TV until his retirement.
And Hussey, well, he was the king of slingshots, though he was known far and wide as, and called himself, The Beanshooter Man.Hussey died in February 1994 at the age of 74. When he suffered the heart attack that felled him, he was doing what he loved best - sitting at his dining room table, listening to the radio, and carving a slingshot from a piece of oak.
Hat tip: Barry
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
I was asked recently where did I see myself in another 15 years. It's a good question. One thing's for sure though--if I start practicing today, I'm still not likely to be this good with a slingshot by the time I'm this man's age.
Hat tip: JPL, who titled the e-mail, aptly enough, "some down home NC talent."
Monday, January 5, 2009
The older we get, the shorter the time between notices of the passing of people who have touched our lives. And when we or they have traveled far and wide and settled in places far removed from the homes of our youth, such notices always bring a tinge of regret that we didn't get to visit one more time, to sit and chat under a cottonwood, or to make one last circle around the pattern in one of only two tail-draggers I've ever had the pleasure of piloting. Of course, Tommy Hyde's health in recent years wouldn't have allowed for that anyway, but I've no doubt that simply talking about it would have brought a twinkle to his eye.
I would have been a very young lad the first time I ever met Tommy during one of his visits "back home." He was a classmate of my mother, born only five days behind her in 1936, but if you read his obituary or biography, you'll see that while he was born in the same town as my parents and I, he moved away long ago, trading life as a Tar Heel for life as a Texan. And if you ever asked him about that, he had a fairly simple explanation: "I met Ruth. Those Texas women rope fast and tie hard." I've never forgotten that phrase.
I remember (or at least believe that I do, which is the same thing) several things from that initial meeting. He is, I'm pretty sure, the first man I remember clearly in a cowboy hat and pointy-toed cowboy boots ("Great for killing roaches in the corner," he'd said). I remember him explaining the word "gringo." And though he may only have been a decade-long resident of Texas at that point, he had already acquired the peculiar squint that I've since learned to associate with men who live and work under the bright, unrelenting sun of the Texas plain.
The next time I remember seeing Tommy (which seemed a long time later to me, young as I still was) would have been in the summer of 1978. I was a rising sophomore at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, sent for three weeks to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, for a program we called "Operation Non-Com." The idea was to find out how the non-commissioned officers lived and what sorts of work they did in the big Air Force. My first weekend down there, Tommy drove over 200 miles from his and Ruth's home near San Angelo and picked me up. From there, we drove over to the border, Del Rio I expect, and I made what may still remain, thirty years later, my only cross-border foray into Mexico. I honestly don't recall whether we made the drive north to his and Ruth's home that time or not (it would have meant an awful lot of driving for Tommy), but I did stop in there one other time, back when I was crossing the country one direction or another in my Triumph Spitfire. I spent the night, we went flying in Tommy's Cessna 140, and I went to dinner with them at the Lowake Steak House (as I remember it, circa 1980, this place in the middle of nowhere where cars congregated from all points like people flocking to Devil's Tower in the movie Close Encounters). Great food, but the company was the main thing.
I last saw Tommy on another visit back to NC. He and Ruth were making the rounds and I seem to recall this time it was not my front yard where I saw him, but the airfield of another local flying enthusiast. How long ago that was I couldn't even say. Time passes far too quickly these days. I've often thought that sometime down the road I'd have another chance to pay Tommy and Ruth a second visit in their Texas home. I'm sad that can't come to pass now. But I'm glad to have known him and to know his family still. I did at least get the happy chance, sometime between 1999 and 2002, during my second assignment as a professor in Colorado Springs, to return a little of that Texas hospitality when their oldest daughter and son-in-law came through town with their own little ones. And that is how life goes on.
One last story. Tommy was fond of aviation jokes, and though I'm sure he told me more than a few over the years, the only one I remember is the most telling. I suspect I remember it partly because it never seemed all that funny. But I suspect it never seemed all that funny because it contained more than a little bit of truth about how Tommy had always felt about the world of airplanes. It had to do with some fellow whose job it was to clean out the toilet reservoir from big commercial airliners. Somehow, a connection comes loose and he ends up soiled from head to foot, which inspires a friend or co-worker to ask in disgust why the heck he didn't look for a better job. I can still remember the squint of Tommy's eyes when he said, "So the guy looks at his friend and says, 'You've got to be kidding! And get out of aviation? No way, Jose!'"
I always suspected that particular story was a whole lot more metaphor than joke.
Godspeed, amigo. You'll be missed.
Friday, January 2, 2009
Yesterday's post about dogs and about a good book and a good movie on the same topic brought a comment from Barry that I'm going to move at least an element of to the front page. Barry linked his comment to a Gene Weingarten story about the pleasures inherent in owning an old dog. And that article is what I want to tout today.
A good friend of mine who teaches creative writing likes to say that the clearest indication we're in the presence of truly good writing is when we think, as we're reading, "I wish I'd written that." There are a lot of those moments in the piece linked to above--passages that I paused to read aloud to . . . well . . . that's another post, but here's a sample I could particularly identify with:
I believe I know exactly when Harry became an old dog. He was about 9 years old. It happened at 10:15 on the evening of June 21, 2001, the day my family moved from the suburbs to the city. The move took longer than we'd anticipated. Inexcusably, Harry had been left alone in the vacated house -- eerie, echoing, empty of furniture and of all belongings except Harry and his bed-- for eight hours. When I arrived to pick him up, he was beyond frantic.
He met me at the door and embraced me around the waist in a way that is not immediately reconcilable with the musculature and skeleton of a dog's front legs. I could not extricate myself from his grasp. We walked out of that house like a slow-dancing couple, and Harry did not let go until I opened the car door.
When I stopped laughing, I remembered back to 2002, when we moved from Colorado to North Carolina. The movers had come and taken away everything we owned except for the small trailer load of things we would be moving ourselves the next day. That evening, we had one last event to attend: my daughter's dance recital. Normally, we would have left my dog, Sydni, in the back yard, but there were two things keeping that from being an option. First, I had already taken down the electric fence. (Yes, electric fence. Sydni was an escape artist. Shortly after I'd gotten her--a rescue dog I acquired when she was already two and a half--we'd looked out the back door to see her walking back and forth on the two-by-four top rail of our six-foot-high privacy fence. When we stepped out the door to call her, she immediately jumped down . . . on the other side, from which neighbor's yard she promptly escaped into the world at large. This was back in the day when she could run. Fast. For a long time. It was a Keystone Cops chase scene at its best. Every moment of which was a thoroughly enjoyable game to her. She wasn't running away. She was just running. She couldn't get enough.) The second reason was that an entire section of fence was down while new concrete set around the post I'd replaced that day. For some reason, "inexcusably," as Weingarten points out, we thought Sydni would be okay in the basement. Right. As with Weingarten's house, the basement, though finished and as much a part of the house as the upstairs, had been completely emptied of everything we owned. Bad idea.
We were only gone about three hours. But the next day we were a good six hours late hitting the road. I had to replace the basement door. And the carpet on the top step. And the board under the carpet. My poor dog. I guess she'd decided we'd emptied the house and then locked her in the basement for good. Hard to believe that was the same dog who now sleeps ninety percent of the day away. But she still prefers to be around people and disdains to eat alone. I can put her food down almost any time, but she'll not eat it until I or we sit down to dinner as well. And she gives the most awesome hugs. She doesn't wrap forearms around the waist like Harry above, but she buries her head into your legs, or your lap, or your chest and pushes as if she would burrow straight into your heart if she could. And, in her own way, she does.
One last thing: if you go to the link to read the Weingarten piece, be sure to click on the photo gallery as well. The photos of old dogs are worth it. My favorite is Kobi, photo number six. Sure, try to convince yourself that animals don't have souls. Good luck with that.
Thursday, January 1, 2009
Back in August, when I was making the trip across the country to my new post at the Citadel, I was reading The Art of Racing in the Rain, on the trip. Consequently, I associate the book and passages in it with portions of the landscape between Colorado Springs, CO, and Charleston, SC. It was a beautiful book. It was recommended by a good friend. I enjoyed it, and I recommend it to any of you who share your lives with a dog or dogs.
This afternoon, I went to a movie, Marley and Me. As the movie is based on a book I've never read, I can't comment on it with respect to how well or poorly it captures the spirit of its print precursor. But I can tell you I enjoyed the movie. I did make the mistake of going expecting a comedy though. And while the movie has funny moments, I don't think it can really be called a comedy at heart. What it is, is a movie about life, and especially about married life, and about the choices that we make when we agree to share life with other souls, be they a dog, a spouse, or children. I think the thing I liked best about this movie, is that, like the movie Once, this is a movie in which people make the right choices in hard circumstances. Or better yet, they make the right choices in circumstances that can't even be called hard--they are simply the normal circumstances that most of us find ourselves in, in the ordinary course of living our lives.
So, I recommend the movie. I can especially recommend it as one to see with the children. I'll warn you though, take tissue. We couldn't help but wonder today if perhaps the two young children behind us, around seven or eight I'm guessing, hadn't lost a beloved dog at some point. They were quietly sobbing by the time it was over. I have to confess, I came near to joining them.
My own dog is over ten years old now. She came into my life eight years ago this week. She was and remains an astonishingly beautiful dog with a luxurious coat and piercing blue eyes. And like Marley, she began her first night with my family alone in the garage of friends we were visiting in Oceanside, CA. Her howling didn't earn her a ticket into the house, but it did result in my spending the night on a couch in the garage, with her on the carpet by my side, snuggled up with a tee I'd worn most of the day. Once upon a time, she would go on runs with me and pull me along for a couple of miles before she would tire enough to merely keep up. These days, she can just keep up, and that for less than half a mile. Beyond that, I wouldn't even ask her to do more than walk. In people years, she is, after all, over 70.
If you share your life with a dog or dogs, go enjoy the movie. I don't think you'll regret it. And here's a tip: swallow and blink--it'll staunch those tears. Just try it sometime.
And by the way, Happy New Year.