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Monthly Archives: June 2009

U. S. Customs vs Axl Rose, circa 1990 . . .

Prologue:

Less than six months after I retired—for length of service with no disability—from the U.S. Air Force, I was offered and I accepted employment with the U.S. Customs Service as an inspector at Progreso, Texas, then (and now) one of the more obscure ports of entry on our 2000-mile border with Mexico. I retired from that employment 26 years later—again for length of service with no disability—having served in Texas at Progreso as an inspector trainee and journeyman Customs inspector, as a supervisory Customs inspector at Roma and Brownsville, as a program officer and program manager in Washington, D. C., as a program officer at Regional Headquarters in Houston and finally as the chief supervisory Customs inspector at San Antonio’s International Airport.

I spent an eternity at Customs Headquarters in Washington, D. C. over a period of three years, the first half as an operations officer, and the second half as a national program manager. I managed to escape Customs Headquarters by requesting an in-grade transfer to Customs’ Regional Headquarters in Houston, and six months later I left Houston in the rear-view mirror—I requested and received a reduction in grade in order to replace the retiring chief inspector at San Antonio’s International Airport.

A tale of U.S. Customs vs Axl Rose, as told by me:AxlRose1

Axl Rose, one of the world’s best known hard-rock stars—then and now—returned to the United States from Mexico early in the evening on a Mexicana Airlines flight from Mexico City to San Antonio, Texas. He and his group were given the same inspection everyone else on the flight was given—well, almost the same—with the band’s reputation, their inspections may have been a bit more thorough than those of other passengers, but were without incident until Axl Rose arrived at the exit point of the inspection area.

The female Customs Aide on duty at that point was responsible for receiving individual Customs declarations and collecting duty and taxes as necessary. She asked Axl for his autograph—he obliged, then as he exited the inspection area he used numerous expletives to complain about his treatment by U.S. Customs. His complaint, directed to nobody in particular but to the world in general, was something on the order of, “Can you *&%$%@# believe that? They dump my *&%$%@# baggage and then ask for my *&%&%@# autograph!”

I followed him through the exit doors and into the public waiting area where he continued to complain loudly about his treatment for the benefit of other people, a complaint generously sprinkled with expletives. I managed to get his attention and I told him, calmly but forcefully, that just as he had his gigs to perform for his audiences, we had our own gig—to inspect persons and their baggage on their arrival in the United States from foreign countries. I told him that we worked to protect our country from harm, and also to “put food on the table and shoes on the baby’s feet.”

I explained that the Customs aide’s request for an autograph was a compliment to his “art” and to his standing in the entertainment industry, and as such he should accept it a bit more gracefully. I’m reasonably certain that it was mostly for my benefit, but Axl Rose stopped his harangue and fell silent, appeared to listen intently to my spiel, and then apologized nicely for his conduct.

I, in turn, responded nicely to the outburst of applause from the folks waiting to greet friends and family members returning from Mexico.

That’s it. That’s the story of Axl Rose vs U.S. Customs, a very brief encounter that left both of us with an indelible memory—well, at least in my case the memory is indelible. I suspect his harangue started up again when he moved out of earshot.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Epilogue:

Based on the following excerpt from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axl_Rose, my chastisement of Axl had no deleterious effect on his career:

“The only original member still part of the band’s line-up, Rose still places high in numerous polls as one of hard rock’s all-time greatest frontmen, but is also infamous for his onstage antics and high-profile disputes with former bandmates and others in the entertainment business.”

And based on the retirement compensation I receive monthly as the result of combining 22 years of military service with 26 years of federal Civil Service law enforcement, I suffered no harm from having chastised William Bruce Bailey, AKA Axl Rose.

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2009 in Humor, law enforcement, Travel

 

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Encounter with an NBA player at a San Antonio post office . . .

Personal ethics demand that I offer a disclaimer before beginning this posting:

I am not a fan of professional sports.

I am not a fan of football, baseball, basketball, cricket, badminton, volleyball—beach or otherwise—nor am I a fan of golf, horse racing, dwarf tossing, cup-stacking, thumb-wrestling or arm-pit smelling. During my existence on this earth (a goodly number of years and still counting) I have made only two contributions to the sports world. My first contribution was to the game of football (see below), and my second was to the game of baseball. I had a brief stint at age 13 with a Little League baseball team sponsored by an American Legion Post in Maryland. My budding career as a shortstop crashed and burned when I broke my right leg while sliding in to home plate—a clean break in the tibia plus four cracks, two above and two below the break. I was in a toe-to-hip cast for several weeks, well past the end of the baseball season.

My first contribution to the world of sports was also in my thirteenth year. I participated in one—only one—high school football game played under lights in Kosciusko, a small town in north-central Mississippi (my team represented Durant, an even smaller town also located in north-central Mississippi). I was a slightly-built seventh-grader weighing less than 100 pounds, and I was a lineman.

Throughout that game I labored mightily to catch the guy carrying the football and was never successful—never even came close, perhaps because I rarely knew which player was carrying the football. My participation was mandatory, but believe me, I would have quit the game in the first quarter had a certain female student (of whom I was enraptured and for whom I pined) not been watching from the bleachers.

My performance and that of the team left our coach dissatisfied—nay, our performance left him disgusted. The game ended with our final score in single digits—zero. Our opponent’s score was in high—very high—double digits. I cannot recall the score—evidently I have either buried it in or forced it from my memories. The numbers may return in later years (it could happen), but I hope not.

The coach intensified our training by increasing the number and length of practice sessions, many of which were scheduled after the end of our school day. Shortly afterward my football career ended in a scrimmage session, essentially touch-football played without helmets or any other protection. The lineman opposing me was about twice my big, very strong and very rough, and after several bone-jarring encounters with him I suffered a broken finger when his left cheekbone and my right fist came together with enough force to break the little finger of my right hand. That contact also made it necessary that he lie down for a few minutes while the coach assessed the damage and tried to separate fact from fiction. Predictably, the coach decided that I was responsible for the accident, but it was really my opponent’s fault.

He shouldn’t have hit my fist with his face.

That ended a budding career in football—I was dropped from the team, but my disappointment was lessened by the black eye and huge lump displayed by my opponent—his good looks, or lack thereof, were severely distorted for several weeks. On the other hand (no pun intended), the metal splint I wore on my right-hand finger elicited numerous expressions of sympathy from other students, among them the girl on whom my enrapture and pining were centered. Sadly, all this was temporary—shortly after my rejection by the coach and my ejection from the team, I left that school and completed the school year in a different school, in a different town and in a different state.

But I digress—that was a rather lengthy disclaimer, but I’ll let it stand because I worked pretty hard on it, so on with the posting:

The San Antonio Spurs recently made a trade with the Milwaukee Bucks, a trade which included Bruce Bowen. Cary Clack, in his column today ( June 28, 2009) in the S.A. LIFE section of the San Antonio Express-News, bemoaned the loss of that player to a rival team. I’m reasonably certain that the Spurs team, and the city, and its fans will recover from the loss, but my status as a non-sports fan in no way limits my understanding of the heartaches suffered by Bowen’s many admirers on learning of the Milwaukee trade.

Although I understand their heartaches, I cannot be numbered among those admirers. Bruce Bowen is the only professional basketball player I have ever encountered, and my memories of that encounter are not pleasant. Several years ago—yes, I’ve held this grudge for several years and I will continue holding it—I entered our neighborhood Post Office station on Henderson Pass in San Antonio and joined the waiting line directly behind Bruce Bowen.

Yes, I recognized him. When a Spurs game is on television I watch because my wife mandates it. Either I watch the game in her company or I am banished to a much smaller screen in an unhospitable back room, far from our 50-inch flat-screen plasma high-definition television set.

Bummer.

But again I digress—on with the posting:

Bowen stepped out of the line to a side counter, apparently to complete some paperwork. In the interim before he finished, several people joined the line behind me. When he finished he turned, saw the line and started for the rear. He never looked directly at me as I stepped aside and motioned for him to return to his original place in the line. He obliged, still without eye contact, with no change in expression and without a word spoken, in thanks or otherwise.

My first impulse was to say aloud, “You’re welcome,” but I resisted the impulse. His attitude and his failure to acknowledge my courtesy was in conflict with the Express-News columnist who in today’s issue labeled him “one of the most popular players in San Antonio Spurs history.” The columnist also wrote that after the trade to Milwaukee, the first thing Bruce Bowen wrote on his blog was, “. . . THANK YOU SAN ANTONIO!”

This is pure conjecture, but I must acknowledge that it may be possible—a remote possibility, but still possible—that the NBA star has obliquely thanked me for holding his place in line at the post office by including it in his blanket expression of thanks to the city when he said on his blog, “THANK YOU SAN ANTONIO!”

Do ya think?

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2009 in Humor, news sources, newspapers, sports

 

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Going cold turkey on a fishing trip . . .

I have received an e-mail request from my daughter, a self-employed graphic designer and photographer who lives, loves and works in Alexandria, Virginia and blogs at www.cindydyer.wordpress.com.

I kicked the cigarette habit in 1967. Over the past forty-two years I’ve told my daughters the story, many times, of how I escaped the clutches of the tobacco devils, a pox on them, and she is urging me to share my secret with others. She suggests Going cold turkey on a hot summer day as the posting title, but I actually went cold turkey on a fishing trip on a cool summer night.

Here is her e-mail:

Going cold turkey on a hot summer day (or something like that)…I’m reminded of the story you tell about how you stopped smoking after so many years…fishing and then going to the store and forgetting to get cigarettes, etc….and how much you dislike smokers to this day (and the way you express seeing a stunningly beautiful woman light up a cigarette—-ruins the entire image, etc.).

In the spring of 1967 after ending our work day on Friday, a co-worker and I loaded up our fishing tackle and our 15-horse Evinrude outboard motor and headed for Medina Lake some 30 miles northwest of San Antonio, Texas. We had to rent a boat at the lake but we owned the motor, having purchased it at a south-side San Antonio location which levied no tax on us—the seller declined to tender a receipt for the sale, so we were always in doubt as to whether the transaction was legitimate. A few months later my fishing partner relocated to South Carolina and I bought his interest in the motor for $32.50,the same amount he originally contributed.

This is not a plug for Evinrude, but that motor was a fine piece of fishing equipment, one that could be configured with the flick of a lever to produce three, seven or fifteen horsepower. If they don’t make ’em like that anymore, they should.

Friday night was our fishing night, year-round, rain or shine, heat or cold, sick or well—we overcame every obstacle (except sickness in his family or mine) to make the outing. We usually left the lake around midnight, but on one very special night early in the spring of 1967, we fished into the wee small hours of the morning, and I inhaled the poison from my last cigarette several hours before we returned to the city. We lived in the suburbs and in our area nothing was open at that hour. Convenience stores (they were called “ice houses” in those days) were all closed and all-night restaurants were rare—I had no place to go for cigarettes.

At this point I did not intend to stop smoking, although I was well aware of tobacco’s effect on health. Of course, I planned to stop at some point—in fact I never bought cigarettes by the carton—I bought only one pack at a time, rationalizing that if I bought a carton I might decide to stop smoking and the money spent on the unused cigarettes would have been thrown away—some really bright reasoning, right?

Somehow I made it through Saturday without cigarettes. Saturday was lawn-mowing, shrub-clipping, car-washing, child-tending and house-keeping day (my wife worked on Saturday), and I delayed going for cigarettes until late in the evening. At that point I began to seriously consider breaking the habit—rather I seriously considered trying to break the habit. I decided to see if I could make it through Sunday without smoking. I was buoyed by the fact that I would, on my way on Monday to work at Kelley Air Force Base I would pass near the Lackland Air Force Base cafeteria where I could get cigarettes (cost on base back then was nineteen cents a pack, $1.90 a carton).

You can probably guess my secret for kicking the cigarette habit. Having entered my second day without smoking, I decided to see if I could survive for two days without cigarettes, so I breezed past the cafeteria without stopping. The rest is history—I kicked the habit by going without nicotine one day at a time—days became weeks, weeks became months and months became years, forty-two of which have passed since my last cigarette, and only God knows how many more years I will have to tell my story of being a non-smoking, non-wheezing, non-coughing ex-smoker—regardless of the number of years I may have, I suspect it would be far fewer had I not stopped smoking in 1967.

So this is my secret—this is the system I used to break a killer habit:

In my brief—very brief—service in the Boy Scouts of America I learned that one can successfully reach a destination—any destination—by establishing and reaching a series of goals. On a 12-mile hike away from town and back, I learned to establish a short-term goal and look forward to its attainment, rather than looking forward to arriving at my destination. On the hike I looked ahead and picked out a goal—a large tree in the distance, or a hill or a bridge or any other object on the horizon, a goal that I could easily attain—I only needed to keep walking, telling myself that if I needed to rest I could rest under that tree or bridge, or at the foot of that hill. And when that goal was attained, I selected another, and another, and another until I arrived at my destination.

That’s my secret, and each of us has the ability to do the same—simply never say never—never say that you will never smoke another cigarette. Set a goal to not smoke for just one hour, then for one day, one week, one month and one year and continue to attain and set new goals—the chain of smoking will be broken and will remain broken if you continue to set your sights on another goal—I have set my sights, after smoking for 22 years, on completing 50 years of not smoking, and when I reach that goal I’ll select another, and if I fail to reach that goal it will be for some reason other than returning to the cigarette habit.

So far there is nothing spectacular or unique about my breaking my dependence on tobacco, but there is a Page Two of my story. In the same year in which I stopped smoking, I reduced my overweight nicotine-saturated body from 175 bloated pounds to a trim 140 pounds, completed the requirements for a bachelor’s degree and was graduated by the University of Nebraska, and stood by and supported my wife during her two major surgeries, all without the comforting solace of the smoking habit I had cemented into place over a period of 22 years.

I firmly believe that if I could break the habit without resorting to therapy, nicotine patches, psycho-analysis, hypnosis, joining an anonymous tobacco-oriented group similar to AA—in short, if I could stop smoking under all that pressure without any outside assistance at all, and forty-two years later remain free of nicotine’s grip, anyone can do it.

As an afterthought I will now address my daughter’s statement that my “seeing a beautiful woman light up a cigarette ruins the entire image.”

I must rebut that statement, at least in part—the entire image is not ruined—I still look, but only in fascination of the manner in which the smoker acts, from extracting the cigarettes from the purse, then from the pack, then the lighting, the trip to the lips, the drawing, inhaling, exhaling, flicking the ashes and finally grinding out the cigarette.

All hard-core smokers have their personal way to indulge their smoking habit. Over several years of duty at Kelly Air Force Base, I took frequent morning coffee breaks at the base cafeteria. On many mornings I had the privilege of watching (surreptitiously, mind you) a stunningly beautiful woman enjoy her coffee and a cigarette. She was always alone, and always smoked just one cigarette with her coffee, finishing both at the same time.

Other than enjoying her stunning beauty (surreptitiously, mind you), I was fascinated by the practiced way she smoked. On every draw from the lighted cigarette with her pursed lips, she inhaled deeply and held the smoke for a seemingly interminable length of time. Finally a small puff of smoke escaped from the left corner of her mouth. A few seconds later a second small puff from the same outlet, and a final small puff (same source) emerged after a few seconds more. After those three small puffs, similar to the manner in which Native Americans (Indians) covered and uncovered a fire to produce smoke signals, her mouth remained closed for another thirty seconds or so and then her lips parted slightly to slowly set free the rest of her draw, at least that part which did not remain in her lungs.

I wondered then, and continue to wonder, whether the timed sequence of puffs could have actually been a message, something akin to, Hey, look at me, I’m here, let’s get it on!, but unfortunately I had no Native American (Indian) friends—as a matter of fact, I did not then know, nor do I now know, any Native Americans (Indians).

I’m not making this up—on several occasions I told the person or persons who may have been having coffee with me to watch the smoker. I told them exactly what to expect, from the draw to the exhaling, and I was right-on every time. My daughter is correct—I am affected adversely when I see a beautiful woman light up a cigarette. Although the act does not ruin the entire image, it is definitely a turn-off for me.

Of course at my age and my stage of life, a turn-off is really not necessary, but if it were, the cigarette would do the job.


 
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Posted by on June 27, 2009 in cigarette smoking, Humor

 

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Sarah Palin: A letter to the editor, San Antonio Express-News . . .


On Saturday, June 20, 2009, the San Antonio Express-News in San Antonio, Texas printed the above letter from a reader. Apparently as an adjunct to the letter the above photo of Alaska’s governor was also printed. The photo prompted a letter from me to the editor—my letter and the series of e-mails that followed are the subjects of this posting.

Saturday, June 20, 2009 (my initial letter to the editor)

letters@xpress-news.net, YOUR TURN, June 20, 2009:

Re: Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, and her photo published in YOUR TURN today:

Please convey my congratulations to the staffer who painstakingly researched your voluminous files and unerringly selected the most unflattering photo available to be printed, and also to the upper echelon person who approved its use.

Sarah Palin’s mouth is grotesquely twisted into what can only be described as a snarl or sneer, and her left eye is squinted closed. The governor is apparently right-handed, and she appears to be taking aim at a target. It’s pure conjecture as to what, or whom, she sees through her sights.

I have zero expectations of this letter being printed. I have in the past submitted letters to the editor—some were printed and some were ignored. My experience has been that when the letter strikes a nerve, it is not published.

A prime example of comments striking a nerve and not being published is my recent submission, a letter in which I noted, and in no small measure criticized, recent changes to your publication.

I appreciate it when a letter is published because all writers enjoy seeing their work in print, but I usually feel much better when it strikes a nerve and is not published—its rejection indicates its effectiveness.

I am reasonably certain that you will not disappoint me this time.

This is the editor’s response to my letter:

From: BRichter@express-news.net (the public editor of the paper)
Mon, Jun 22, 2009 1:34 PM

H.M. – Thanks for your letter. May we publish it? I think I’ll cut all the whining about your letters not getting published when they strike a nerve. We’ll just go with the criticism of the photo in question (which I didn’t really think was so bad). Bob Richter

And this is my answer to his request to publish my letter:

To: BRichter@express-news.net
Tuesday, June 23, 2009 11:11 AM

No, do not publish the letter. I’m pleased with your response, but I now have no desire to see any part of the letter in print. Besides, I seriously doubt that the first two paragraphs would be published as written.

The word whining is a term of derision and a poor choice for the Express-News’ Public Editor, or any other staff member, to use in response to a letter from a long-time subscriber. Your use of the word was petty—you could have conveyed your thoughts just as effectively by using comments instead of whining.

I did not expect the letter to be published in its entirety—my interest was only in the first two paragraphs. My so-called whining was meant to increase the odds that those paragraphs would be published—evidently it served its purpose.

Considering your statement that you didn’t really think it (the photo) was so bad, I’m surprised at your offer to publish any part of the letter. The photo was derogatory, extremely disrespectful to a person who has earned respect, and I think you know that.

In closing, please be aware that I will strive mightily to resist any temptation to submit other letters to the editor, regardless of the subject—I will retreat into silence and make every effort to stay there.

This is the last e-mail I received from the Public Editor of the Express-News:

From: BRichter@express-news.net
Tue, Jun 23, 2009 2:32 PM

You’re right; I was wrong to use that word. I would use that with a friend, in kind of a joshing way. But I don’t know you, and it was improper. I’m sorry.

Re: The editor’s statement, “I’m sorry.”

Is his “I’m sorry” offered as an apology? If intended to be an apology, it rings hollow—it could mean he’s sorry I wrote the original letter, or he’s sorry he made a petulant reply to a serious subscriber’s letter or, more likely, he’s sorry that he offered to print my letter, albeit only partially, and it could mean that he’s sorry I refused his offer to publish it, and of course, that he’s sorry about all the above.

A bona fide apology should include the word apology, as in “I apologize,” or as in “Please accept my apology.”

The editor seems reluctant to use the word.

What say you?

 
 

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1969 C-47 flight, Vietnam to Hong Kong, emergency landing at Kai Tai . . .

The information in italics below was extracted from an Internet site. For an interesting read of Hong Kong and its airport, click here.

“The government of Hong Kong said Tuesday that a second cruise terminal would be built at the southern tip of the old Kai Tak Airport runway. Closed in 1998 when a new airport was built on an outlying island, the Kai Tak runway was famous among pilots because it required them to navigate planes through mountains and high-rise buildings before landing on the needle-like strip, which led right into the eastern center of Victoria Harbor.”

hkfly4-thumb

Way back in 1969, early on a Saturday morning with the Vietnam conflict in full sway, a twin-engine cargo aircraft, a prop-driven C-47, produced by the Douglas Aircraft Corporation sometime in the late 1930s or early 1940s, was enroute to the city of Hong Kong, just off the coast c-47 douglas skytrainof mainland China. On board the aircraft were its crew and six US Air Force military personnel, all looking forward to an early arrival and an overnight stay in the city, with adequate time for shopping, dining and sightseeing before returning to Da Nang late on Sunday.

The flight was routine until the pilot put the aircraft into a gentle bank, made a 180-degree turn and headed back toward Da Nang. The loadmaster told the passengers that Hong Kong’s Kai Tak airport and the city were enveloped in dense fog with a low cloud overcast, and visibility was severely limited. Instrument landings were the only landings permitted, and those landings were permitted only for aircraft with a declared emergency—inbound aircraft with enough fuel remaining would be rerouted to other locations, and those without sufficient fuel would be allowed to make an instrument landing

More photos of Hong Kong and Kai Tak airport may be viewed at http://simonworld.mu.nu/archives/158834.php

Everyone on the flight was disappointed by the news, but all understood the difficulties of landing under such conditions—pilots would have to depend on instruments only until the runway became visible. Everyone accepted the fact that their weekend in Hong Kong was out—no shopping or dining or sightseeing—nothing to break the monotony of 12-hour work days in a six-day work week at Da Nang, and no chance to have one night of sleep without being disturbed by incoming rockets donated to the air base almost nightly by the enemy—the Viet Kong and North Vietnamese regulars.

The rockets had no particular targets—they were usually aimed by felling a tree across a pathway in the jungle, angling a rocket on the opposite side of the tree in the general direction of the air base, then touching it off. Sometimes the rocket fell short, sometimes it overshot, sometimes it exploded harmlessly in an open area, and sometimes it fell on a building, sometimes when it was occupied and sometimes when it was not occupied. The erratic nature of these rockets made them fairly effective in preventing and disturbing sleep, which perhaps may have been the enemy’s objective.

But I digress—back to the flight from Da Nang:

Sometime after the first 180-degree turn, the pilot executed a second 180-degree turn, and the loadmaster explained that the fog had lifted, at least enough to allow landings other than those under emergency conditions. This was good news for passengers and crew—the hoped-for weekend was again in sight.

The aircraft began its descent to line up with its approach to Hong Kong’s runway in a cloudless sky, but as altitude was lost visibility decreased rapidly to near zero—only the wingtips were visible in the dense fog until the plane broke out of the fog with the runway in sight. Also in sight were cargo ships and pleasure craft and Chinese junks, with the C-47 no more than one hundred feet or so above the junk’s tall masts.

Landings at Hong Kong’s old Kai Tak international airport were always tricky, even under perfect weather conditions. A significant portion of the runway extends into Victoria harbor on man-made land, created and brought to a level above high tide with rocks, then covered with dirt and concrete.

The reason for the double 180-degree turn? The pilot had computed the “point of no return’ for the flight, reversed direction away from Hong Kong and later again reversed direction, this time towards Hong Kong. He then requested landing instructions from the Hong Kong tower, and was told that only emergency landings were allowed.

The pilot declared an emergency, stating truthfully that he was past the point of no return—he did not have enough fuel for the return to Da Nang. And in truth it was a real emergency—the aircraft’s flight, from takeoff in South Vietnam to landing at Hong Kong, ran parallel to, and outside of, the international boundaries of North Vietnam and mainland China—any landing other than Hong Kong would have to be in North Vietnam or communist China—the only alternative would be to ditch the aircraft in the South China Sea.

Bummer.

Permission to land at Kai Tai airport was granted. The C-47 broke out of the overcast just above the masts of junks moored in Hong Kong’s harbor, and the fog had thinned enough for the landing to be accomplished without incident. The aircraft, its crew and its passengers with a load of goodies purchased in Hong Kong (bolts of fine silk, various electronics, jewelry, wooden carvings, etc.) returned to Da Nang on Sunday—the return flight was routine in every respect.

I feel qualified to report the details of that flight because I was on that aircraft—that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I made the weekend flight once more on the same aircraft, before my return to the states. The second flight was also harrowing, and is the subject of a future posting—for now I will only say that the second flight imbued me with a firm resolve to not make a third flight, fearing that the “third time’s charm” bromide would become “third time’s fatal.”

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 

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Age 10—fired from a job stocking groceries . . .

My mother remarried when I was nine years old, and her new husband was not one to allow a lad at the advanced age of nine years to remain idle. Over the next seven years he assisted me in obtaining employment, either after school or between school years, in such diverse areas as delivering groceries, stocking groceries, filling water tanks in mobile homes, selling newspapers, doing duty in a self-service laundry, and clerking and filling orders in a lumber yard—the clerking job was the last but certainly not the least—it was the job that paid the most, and it was the only one that I really enjoyed.

The first job—that is, the first job I had working outside the home—my stepfather kindly negotiated a job for me to begin delivering groceries for a small neighborhood grocer at the corner of our block. My primary duty was to deliver groceries to homes in the neighborhood. My tool was a large two-wheeler—actually it could more accurately be described as a one-and-a-half wheeler. The front wheel was perhaps one-half of the rear wheel’s size, scaled down to accommodate a gargantuan basket mounted above it—such vehicles are now relics, collectors’ items relegated (thank heavens) to museums and such.

My career as a bike-riding grocery delivery boy was brief—it began on Tuesday and, through no fault of my own, ended the same day. I made several successful deliveries, but then a huge balloon sprouted out of the front tire and exploded. I pushed the bike with its groceries to the proper address, delivered the groceries, pushed the bike back to my place of employment, explained the problem, and was told that a new tire and inner-tube would need to be ordered, and in the interim I was assigned to a satellite store several blocks away from the main store.

In reference to me riding the bike with the little wheel and the huge basket full of groceries, picture this:

I was a nine-year old kid, under-weight, under-height and sometimes underfed, and that was a man-sized bike—it was a struggle for me to control it with the basket empty—when underway with a full basket, my forward progress was similar to that of a western sidewinder rattlesnake navigating a stretch of hot sand.

The satellite store did not make deliveries and therefore had no delivery bike (thank heavens), so I was assigned to stock shelves, sweep floors, police up the outside areas and accomplish other duties as directed. One of the other duties was to walk several blocks to the main store with the days’ receipts—it was never a really substantial amount of money, but the way I was cautioned would make one think that I was relocating the contents of Fort Knox.

My grocery delivering career began on Tuesday and ended on Tuesday, but my shelf-stocking and money-transferring career lasted two and one-half days—it ended at noon on Friday.

This was the situation as I explained it to my employer:

I told him that I needed Friday afternoon off, and he asked why. I had not yet learned to feign pain, or sickness, or to claim a dental appointment so I told the truth. A new movie was in town and I wanted to see it—it was the newest horror film out of Hollywood—the movie was titled, “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-man,” a sequel to the original Frankenstein film, long awaited and a must-see for ten-year-old boys.

My request was denied but I persisted—actually I insisted, and was told that if I took off to see the movie I was not to return—in essence I was fired, at age 10, from a job stocking groceries. I acquiesced to the terms, requested my pay for the three-and-one-half days I had worked, and was given two whole dollars!

Real paper money.

Greenbacks.

Silver certificates with some guy’s picture and the words “In God We Trust” printed on them.

Which reminds me of a sign often seen in bars:

In God we trust—all others pay cash.

And of course, one bar-sign joke calls for another:

Helen Waite, Owner

Need credit?

Go to Helen Waite!

But I digress—on with my sad tale of joining the ranks of the unemployed.

With the two dollars in my pocket I took the rest of the day off and relaxed in the coolness of the Varsity Theater, the only one of the three theaters in town that was air conditioned. There was a huge banner atop the building that featured Willy the Penguin of Kool-cigarette fame saying, “Come on it, it’s Kooool inside.”

Believe it or not, for those of us under 13 years of age the theater admission was only nine cents—nine cents, mind you, would give a kid access to a double feature, usually a western and a detective movie (Charlie Chan or Boston Blackie, for example), a weekly serial which ended each week with a cliff-hanger, several cartoons and loads of trailers for upcoming movies—and we could come and go as we pleased, provided that we held on to our ticket stub.

The answer to your question about the ticket stubs is “yes.” We sometimes adversely affected the theater’s daily take by passing our ticket stub to a kid who lacked the necessary nine cents for admission.

One thin dime would pay for the entertainment with a penny left over. A penny doesn’t sound like much, but that one penny would pay for any one of various penny-items stocked at the concession stand—an all-day sucker, a lolly-pop, a jaw-breaker, one of Tom’s individually wrapped peanut-butter candies, a stick of one’s favorite chewing gum, and even a long-lasting ball of bubble-gum to be deposited under one’s seat just before leaving the theater.

Oh, life was good in the old days!

I was never foolish enough to lie to my stepfather so, albeit unwillingly, I was truthful about my job loss. He was a bit perturbed at first, but loosened up when I told him about the two dollars, an amount which included any severance pay I may have earned. His secondary reaction was to discuss the matter with my previous employer, but my mother convinced him that such a discussion would be neither wise nor productive.

So that’s it—that’s how I landed my first job and that’s why I was fired, a firing that was “E pluribus unum,” which, as all know, is Latin for “Out of Many, One.”

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2009 in Childhood, Family, Uncategorized

 

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Age 13—banished from Boy Scouts of America . . .

Long, long ago in another century, having completed 16 years of life and in my seventeenth year, I told a little white lie concerning my age and enlisted in the Army National Guard of the sovereign state of Mississippi. My reason for enlisting was purely selfish—members reported for training one day each month on a Saturday. We dressed in one-piece fatigues, combat boots and fatigue cap, all of which (except for the cap) were far too big for me, and were paid $10 each for our attendance and efforts.

Big money.

My enlistment lasted for one month and 23 days, and then I resigned so I could enlist in the United States Air Force. I told a big non-white lie about my age, a lie which was duly sworn to by me, my mother and the recruiting sergeant (I was still six months short of 17, the age at which enlistment was permitted with parental consent).

A whole set of circumstances prompted that enlistment, not the least of which was the starting salary—$72.50 per month, with a guarantee of promotion from Private to Private First-class after only 13 weeks of training, providing, of course, that  I successfully completed the training. That promotion would include a pay raise of $2.50 per month for a grand total of $75 per month.

Don’t laugh—housing, food, clothing, medical and dental services and the opportunity to see the world (after learning a trade) would all be  free.

Sweet!

But I digress—back to my truncated tour of duty in the Boy Scouts of America:

Just three years before I became a member of America’s fighting forces at age 16, I became a member of the Boy Scouts of America at age 13 in a small town (pop. 2,500) in Mississippi. I was the new kid on the block, and the Scoutmaster of the local Boy Scout troop invited me to join his group. Lured by the promise of adventure, companionship, and the opportunity to learn all sorts of useful crafts and how to survive in the wilderness, I unhesitatingly signed up.

My membership in the state’s Boy Scouts of America chapter lasted even less time than my membership in the state’s National Guard—I was a Boy Scout for one month—just one month, and I was given the boot, ejected with malice and aforethought. Had the Boy Scouts of America been giving dishonorable discharges, I would have received one.

In two short weeks after I joined the Boy Scouts of America, my fascination with that organization had soured, and I was not one to keep discontent bottled up inside. When things went awry in my life, I complained. One shining example of my treatment in the troop, and of my penchant to complain, was a boxing event scheduled by the Scoutmaster, an exercise ostensibly intended to teach us self-defense and proper sportsmanship.

The Scoutmaster divided the troop into pairs, and coupled me with a boy roughly twice my big—older, taller and heavier than I. After my opponent landed several hard blows in the first round (I landed none), I stepped out of the ring. Actually, I stepped across the ring’s perimeter—it was a square marked by a chalk line drawn on the floor. Once safely outside the ring and out of my opponent’s reach, I stated forcefully and emphatically that I was quitting (the fight, not the troop). When I made known my reluctance to continue the fight and my decision to concede, I included some improper language concerning the event. That language was in reference to my opponent and to the obvious lack of fairness in the selection of sparring partners, and was applied forcefully and impartially to my opponent and the Scoutmaster.

The improper language was properly addressed by the Scoutmaster. He admonished me on my behavior, my language and my obvious lack of sportsmanship, and told me that my tenure in the troop depended on my future performance. His lecture was delivered forcefully and loudly in full sight and sound of my erstwhile opponent and the rest of the troop.

Bummer.

Two weeks later the troop went on a 12-mile hike (six miles out, six miles back) to a nature area for an overnight stay. We started our trek early on Saturday morning and reached our destination several hours later, with stops along the way so the Scoutmaster could lecture us on local flora and fauna.For much of the trek we traveled at the Boy Scout pace—10 steps running, then 10 steps walking, 10 steps running, then 10 steps walking, etc.

We arrived at the nature area and established our camp near a small lake, where we  were scheduled for a morning swim the next day before setting out on our return hike to civilization. The rest of the day was devoted to hikes along well-established trails, with the Scoutmaster pointing out items of interest—with explanations such as these:

“This is a pine tree, and these are pine cones.”

“This is an oak tree, and these are acorns.”

“This is a turtle.”

The turtle comment was prompted when one of the Scouts spotted a species of reptile idling along near the trail. I knew it was a land-based tortoise, but being fully aware that I was in enough trouble already, I wisely kept that knowledge to myself.

Near nightfall while returning to our camp, we encountered a remarkably lethargic full-grown Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake lying in the trail. It was a creature of heroic proportions—our Scoutmaster properly identified the snake thusly: “This is a rattlesnake, and its bite is deadly poisonous.” He explained that since snakes are nocturnal and hunt for food at night, this one was probably still digesting his catch of the night before.

He then efficiently and effectively killed the snake, consigned it to the bushes beside the trail so later passersby would not be alarmed by the sight of a dead rattlesnake lying in the trail—a very thoughtful and solicitous person, our Scoutmaster.

At the time my sympathies were with the rattlesnake, but considering an event that transpired later that night I came to appreciate and even admire—nay, I came to bless—the Scoutmaster for his actions.

Read on:

For our evening meal we had an open fire over which we burned, and feasted on, wieners and marshmallows. At a late hour, near midnight, one of the older boys asked if any of us wanted to go snipe hunting. I innocently declared that I had never heard of snipe hunting—as a result of my innocence, I was selected to straddle a ditch in the woods and hold open a burlap bag, and the other boys would spread out and drive any snipe in the area in my direction. I was told that the snipe would be moving very fast, and that I would feel them when they hit the inside of the bag. When I felt them hit, I was to close the bag and return to camp with my catch.

I straddled the ditch, held the bag open and listened to the others shouting and shaking limbs to get the snipe moving in my direction. I held my position and the bag firmly as the noises  faded into the distance and for several hours after that. I held my position and that damn bag into the wee small hours of the morning, until I finally realized, and accepted, the fact that I had been had, thoroughly and severely.

And during all that time I kept my head on a swivel with my eyes and ears wide open, looking and listening for rattlesnakes, deadly poisonous creatures that search for food during the hours of darkness, knowledge that I had gleaned—and retained—from the Scoutmaster’s lecture a few hours earlier. Blessed, or perhaps cursed, with deductive powers, I deduced that their food could possibly include a Boy Scout, especially one of diminutive size.

When I returned to camp all the others were asleep.

I awoke the next morning to an empty camp and footprints all over my opened backpack, a container that had sheltered my breakfast, a meal that should have included bread, bacon and fresh eggs—and would have except for the fact that the eggs were smashed and the bacon and bread slices were in the dirt. I could faintly hear the shouts and laughter of my fellow scouts—my friends—down at the lake, enjoying a morning swim after a hearty breakfast, one which I slept through because of my late return to camp.

Please be patient—I’m almost to the end of this tragic tale.

I arose, dressed, tinkled into the smoldering campfire ashes (I felt that as a Boy Scout, it was my solemn duty to do my best to prevent forest fires) and started a search for the dead rattlesnake. I found it, took it by the tail and dragged it, unseen behind me, down to the water’s edge near the dock. All my fellow scouts—my friendswere in the water and none paid any attention to me as I walked down the slope.

When I got to the water’s edge I began whirling the dead snake around over my head, and when I had it moving fast I shouted, “Snake!” and loosed the rattler toward the largest group of Boy Scouts in the water. The snake scored a direct hit, a splash-down right in the middle of the group. The boys scattered in all directions, some swimming for the dock, some for the bank, and some for open water—one boy put his head down and frantically thrashed toward the dock, sporting a rooster tail as he swam. He neglected to raise his head to take his bearings and crashed into the dock, opening a nice gash in his scalp as a result of his negligence.

When we left the nature area the Scoutmaster would not allow me to march with the troop for the return trip—I was banished to the rear of the formation and ordered to “stay there and eat dust.” That was no problem for me—I hated that routine of running ten steps, then walking ten steps, etc., etc. The troop stuck to the routine and trotted out of my sight long before we reached town.

On our return to town I was drummed out of the Boy Scouts unceremoniously, without being accorded the entertaining formalities used by old-time military commanders and depicted in Hollywood western movies.

Picture this:

John Wayne standing stiffly at attention with his commanding officer ripping off epaulets, stripes, shoulder patches, sleeve patches showing years of service and service overseas, and the chest-full of medals and decorations Wayne had earned by fighting the deadly redskins, all witnessed by the entire company, and then his hip-twitching slow walk out of the fort as the massive gates were swung open for his exit, away from the fort, the U. S. Army and his long-time fighting companions and into whatever the future might hold in store for him, all accompanied by the sonorously sad beat of the drum.

No, I had not earned the privilege of being officially drummed out of the Service—I was simply told, “You’re out. Don’t come back.”

No explanation was necessary—I knew very well why I was no longer a Boy Scout. In retrospect, I rationalized that I never really wanted to be a Boy Scout anyway—after all, I was invited to join in the beginning, and I succumbed to pressure exerted by the Scoutmaster and a few of my peers.

I was innocent—the fault was theirs.

That’s it—my enlistment in the Boy Scouts lasted only one month, three weeks short of my stint in the Mississippi National Guard. I earned no merit badges, not one, didn’t even come close to earning one. I earned no diplomas, received no recognition (other than the Scoutmaster’s acknowledgment of my nefarious activities). I never had an opportunity to assist a little old lady across the street or splint a bird’s broken wing or start a fire by rubbing two sticks together, and I never had a prayer of attaining the rank of Eagle Scout.

Joke:

Wanna know how to start a fire in the wilderness?

Rub two Boy Scouts together.

Sorry about that and I apologize, but it’s out of my control. I can’t help it—it’s in my nature.

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2009 in Childhood, friends, Humor, Uncategorized

 

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